In The Studio With Christine Wisnieski
Photographs by Billy Delfs
Christine Wisnieski is a Cleveland, Ohio-based designer who has created the dream boutique agency where paper and DIY crafts meet graphic design and branding. We get a peek into her airy studio loft while learning more about her work and process.
Can you tell us more about your company and what you do?
I started my graphic design studio almost four years ago after spending years as an agency art director. The studio focuses on crafting brands and design projects of all shapes and sizes; logos, lettering, packaging and from time to time develops DIY projects for creative organizations like blogs and museums. As a small studio, we hand-select the projects we pursue. We work on anywhere from three to eight projects at a time—most tend to be brands we are developing from scratch, a few are existing ones that we evolve into something new and more current. I tend to like variety—it keeps me on my toes. We embrace a thoughtful approach to design, balancing function and creativity.
When I started out on this journey, I worked from home where I enjoyed eggs for lunch and conference calls in my pajamas. During year two, I looked for a little more separation between life and work and moved my office into a studio space in downtown Cleveland. The space is located less than a mile from Lake Erie and housed in a building where maternity garments were once manufactured. It is industrial, bright and airy, and a mix of found and custom-made. You’ll spot a few ‘do it yourself’ projects and some in-progress work. This May will mark the beginning of the fourth year. Sometimes I think how did I get here and then I think—thank goodness I am.
What is it about paper in particular that fascinates you?
I’ve always had this romance with paper. It began at an early age with my father taking my sister and me to campus art stores. They were like gigantic candy stores filled with paper—newsprint, drawing, tracing, marker and chipboard. I wanted it all.
What does your typical day look like?
I hop out of bed around 5:30 am and head to spin. By 7:00 am, I’m sipping a decaf from Rising Star and on my way home to check email and grab a shower. When I arrive at the studio, first thing I do is review the project list and make a plan for the day. If the project manager or intern are in (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays), we have a quick meeting to review project status and assign tasks for the day. After the plan is set, we get to work. Some days there are meetings, new business, accounting or washing dishes mixed in.
Normally I bring in lunch from home. When the project manager is in, we like combine our lunches and make a little feast. This usually happens on Fridays, as we have little left in our fridges! After lunch, the day is pretty straightforward filled with design and some miscellaneous administrative tasks.
I end the day around 6:00 pm. I try not to work too late or on weekends, I like to savor that downtime. On days I don’t spin, my husband joins me at the studio after his day and we head out for a run together. We are home by 7:30 pm to cook, catch up on shows and cuddle with our cats. Lights out is usually sometime between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm.
What inspires your work as a designer?
I am inspired by clients and their stories, beautiful materials, savvy finishing—I love to dream up ways to bring things to life in an appropriate, functional and beautiful way.
How do you come up with ideas for your DIYs?
The DIYs I create are either commissioned projects or something I dream up. I spent six months creating DIYs for Erin Loechner’s blog, Design for Mankind. During that time, I worked with found items and reimagined them in a modern and fresh way like an old folding chair, a rusty stapler or a pair of sneakers. Other times, I need something—so I come up with a way to make it. My husband is often my co-collaborator, he’s an engineer by trade and is extremely efficient when it comes to production and troubleshooting. I wanted to feature design projects in the studio’s entryway, so we crafted a simple shelving solution using with wooden dowel rods and double-sided screws. You can find that project along with a few other DIY projects on Grace Bonney’s Design*Sponge.
Outside of your work, what sparks your creativity?
I love to cook. My husband and I spend our down time either making food or running so we can eat the food. We each have our area of focus. I bake bread and research recipes. He is a master of pasta, braising, combining multiple recipes and a wiz when it comes to knife skills. We have a kitchen ruler on hand to measures the size of our dice!
Did you grow up in a creative household?
As I child, I loved to make things. My father was trained as an architect but didn’t make a living in it. My grandmother had a wild and crazy soul and she was always creating. They all nurtured my passion. We imagined things and made them. My father built us forts, swing sets, beds, balance beams—I think he may have inspired my ‘make it yourself’ drive.
Favorite font all of all time?
Freight Sans—simple, strong and flexible with a wee bit of personality.
Favorite DIY of all time?
For the blog Design for Mankind, I reimagined an old folding chair simply by painting it bright coral and adding a pop of pattern. The project was extremely well received by readers and was later featured on numerous blogs and publications like Better Homes and Gardens. You can find the full step-by-step here.
Go to work snack?
Candied peanuts—I’ll never grow out of them.
What are you currently listening to?
Stuff that might put most people to sleep—Indigo Girls, Madeleine Peyroux, Holly Williams, Dolly Parton.
Any advice for readers wanting to start their own design business?
You don’t need to have everything planned out, at least I didn’t. I had a dream, a few goals and figured it out as I went. I met people along the way, took on projects maybe I didn’t expect and all of a sudden arrived in this place because of them. The journey is just part of the fun!
What is your intention when you create?
To create functional and beautiful work. When I am designing for a client, I’ve been hired for my aesthetic and experience — I develop solutions to fit with their needs and goals and in the end often grow their businesses. Non-client work like DIYs or painting is more about the art of making. I like to sit down with an array of materials and just see what happens.
To keep going! I love this little space that I have carved out for myself. I’d like to grow the studio to be a place that fosters creativity while also meeting project demands with grace and gusto. I’d like to get back into product design at some point—perhaps evolving some of my DIYs into products or bringing to life some of my art in the form of wallpaper or fabric. Working in a medium beyond paper is thrilling to me!