An artist and a carpenter team up to create public art

JP Costello and Erin Guido of So Fun Studio

 

(Q&A with JP Costello and Erin Guido of So Fun Studio)

What services does your business provide?

So Fun Studio is an interactive design collaborative that creates joyful and lighthearted public art and products.

How did you get your training?

So Fun is a collaboration between two artists, Erin Guido and John Paul Costello.

Erin studied printmaking at Indiana University and urban planning at University of Michigan. She is currently a project manager at LAND studio, a public art and public space nonprofit in Cleveland. She is also a mural artist and has multiple works up around town.

John Paul started in the trades with a metal fabrication company and then worked as a carpenter. He now has his own design and fabrication business and works on everything from residential and commercial furniture to more unique jobs, such as a custom bamboo motorcycle seat or a twenty person foosball table. He is a self-trained artist and creates wooden sculptures.

Tell about some interesting projects that you’ve worked on.

We collaborated on an interactive art show at the Akron Art Museum called Please Touch in spring 2016. After we completed that show, we formalized So Fun Studio because we knew we wanted to create more interactive art works together. It made us so happy to watch museum goers have fun touching, changing, and playing with the art work. The world needs more moments of joy!

So Fun Studio Please Touch installation

TODAY I FEEL, a kinetic artwork with wheels that spin freely from one another, is probably the most successful installation from Please Touch. The sculpture is roughly 6’x6’x6′ and made of 15 wheels, each with 30 sections of hand-painted alphabet and punctuation. Users can display their “feelings” by moving the wheels and changing the text. Currently, TODAY I FEEL is on display at the Cleveland Public Library.

So Fun Studio Today I Feel sculpture

 

Since Please Touch, we have participated in gallery shows and created art work for public events. For example, DANCING MACHINE is a full-scale teeter totter with characters attached to gears that “dance” as you teet and tott. It was on display at the Ohio City Street Festival and Gordon Square’s Hip2BeSquare outdoor summer event.

So Fun Studio teeter totter

Most recently, we built I HAVE MANY, a 4’x35′ interactive billboard installed on a building rooftop at 78th Street Studios for the 2018 CAN Triennial, a curated contemporary art festival featuring artists from Northeast Ohio. From the ground, people can pull cords that are connected to one of four indexing gears to change the displayed words. There are 256 different versions of the artwork depending which combination of words in the sentence the user selects.

What materials do you use?

The recent interactive artworks are constructed from Baltic Birch Plywood for the main body, along with wooden gears or indexing pins. We also use metal, plastics, or off-the-shelf materials, like bicycle gears, when necessary for different moving parts. We normally use acrylic paint or exterior house paint for the added graphics, lettering, and illustration.

Do you have employees/collaborators or work alone? 

So Fun Studio is the two of us, although John Paul’s father has majorly helped many times with construction and installation when time is crunched. Our friends also have helped multiple times with painting the pieces. We are lucky to have so much support!

What is the mission of So Fun Studio?

We aim to use art and design to bring moments of joy, humor, and imagination to anyone and everyone!

I understand that you are HGR customers. How did you find out about HGR Industrial Surplus?

Word of mouth from other artists and builders. We remember first walking into the facility and the feeling of excitement, like a kid in a candy store.

What kinds of items have you purchased at HGR Industrial Surplus, and how have you used them?

A few metal carts and a table or two along with miscellaneous little odds and ends that sparked our interest.  We currently are on the hunt for a metal lathe and mill; so, we will be back in soon!

What inspires you?

Erin is inspired by street art, pop-up books, playgrounds, walking around cities, and anything that is colorful and happy. John Paul is inspired by nature, cityscapes, abandoned buildings, Whirligigs, and practically anything else with some sort of motor.

JP Costello catan wall
designed by JP Costello
JP Costello hinge stairs
designed by JP Costello

Cleveland artist creates home décor products from reclaimed materials

Susie Frazier in front of welder

I know that your career in reclaimed art started when you rescued broken slate roofing tiles being torn off of buildings. Why did you do that?

I saw the tiles leaning on the side of a random building as raw material that was neglected. There was something so beautiful sitting there broken. It prompted me to buy an industrial-grade wet saw so that I could cut the fragments into small pieces that could be used for creating mosaic surfaces. I guess that I saw myself in the tile as I went through periods of neglect and wanted to be scooped up and turned into something new. It was subconscious. We learn and heal by doing. It was the beginning of my therapy. I went on to create an entire product line of picture frames, mirrors, benches, and tabletop accents that I sold through stores and galleries coast to coast. Now, 20 years later, I design products in a wide variety of reclaimed materials, including wood, steel and glass.

Did you create art prior to that time? Were you always an artist?

I have been selling my handmade creations since I was 14 years old. Eventually, I began freelancing as a graphic designer and worked in sales and marketing. In 1997, I was between jobs and bartending at night so that I could have time to make and sell my functional art during the day. Starting and growing is thematic for me. I found that I missed the process of building with my hands when using a computer all the time, but working with reclaimed construction materials was a bit of an education back then. This was before the term Going Green had been coined or the Maker Movement was a thing; so, people had to be taught about why industrial salvage was so amazing.

How did you go from being an artist to having a business and a fabrication shop that sells to top U.S. companies?

I spent many years selling my handmade art, furniture and gifts at festivals and trade shows across Ohio and beyond. Every year taught me something new about consumer buying habits, my products’ unique selling features, and how to drive more sales. In 2010, I grew out of the festival scene and set up a permanent showroom inside 78th Street Studios. Once I presented my work in a more sophisticated manner with an actual point-of-sale system, I was able to attract more serious customers who wanted me to create custom furniture, wall features, corporate gifts, and high-end home décor. Once the demand grew, I had no choice but to farm out aspects of production to various fabricators I trusted. That was the only way for me to scale.

How has your work evolved?

I went from being known as just a fine artist to being a successful product designer to now expanding into interior design services. Recently, I curated the two-bedroom model suite of a 306-unit multi-family housing development at The Edison at Gordon Square, filling it with custom art and furniture that I designed with the help of many local makers in Cleveland.

Who is your favorite artist?

Andy Goldsworthy, a prominent eco-artist of our time, works with found organic materials to create biomimic outdoor sculptures. He then takes photos as they decompose over time. It’s stunning work. Since I’ve been focusing more on accessories and small furniture these days, I have been very interested in other product designers and what they are doing. I’m a huge fan of Nottingham Spirk and all the products they’ve invented for major brands around the world. They design for function not just beauty, and that’s very important to me.

The Cleveland Bolo, jewelry by Susie FrazierWhat kinds of items are you currently making?

I just launched a new jewelry item a few months ago that I can’t keep in stock – The Cleveland Bolo. It’s made from real leather and scrap pieces of .5” square steel rod from my buddy’s metal shop. It’s very simple but modern. Other makers in town build tables out of reclaimed wood, and, sometimes I will dig through their piles of scrap for discards that I can repurpose into some small product. I call that polyclaiming, when the material is on its second or third generation of being repurposed.

Why did you locate at 78th Street, and why Cleveland?

In 2010, I went out to look for a location where people were already starting to migrate for art and design. 78th Street had the only thing going with dozens of makers in one place, as one destination. Plus they had the marketing and programming to back it up rather than simply being a sleepy live/work building.

I’m from the Southwest – born in Los Angeles but grew up in Scottsdale, Denver and Boulder. The desert and the mountains have definitely influenced my aesthetic. Right out of college in 1992, I married a man from Cleveland, and through that experience I also fell in love with the city. Before that, I had never been further east than the Mississippi. Ultimately, I became fascinated with the organic and industrial paradox of Cleveland, which has inspired my design aesthetic from the beginning. We truly are a forest city.

What made you decide to make Movers & Makers, your TV show that was piloted locally on WKYC and is being shopped to networks right now?

Having been in business for 20 years with a distinct brand around handmade, artistic products, I felt it was time to share my story with a broader audience both inside and outside of Cleveland. The purpose of Movers & Makers as a TV show is to propel the Maker Movement and my role in it through an entertaining platform. I see great value in giving more air time to the creative process and not just to the before and after. Besides, there’s a huge audience of women out there who are strong DIY champions and who are capable of things their mothers weren’t. Through woodworking, welding, and computer technology, they’re making all kinds of things and becoming entrepreneurs in the process. That’s what it’s all about. I love the instant gratification skills, like welding, and showing women how easy it is to try something new without fear. By following the furniture or art projects my team and I work on, Movers & Makers shows America that when you apply your creative mind, amazing things are possible. People don’t have to be intimidated.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working in your studio?

I really enjoy yoga, which grounds me physically and spiritually, but I’m a huge fan of horses, hiking, walks along the beach and dancing. I was also an all-state shortstop in high school; so, I love throwing the baseball around. Three years ago, I got behind an indie folk rock band as a manager and helped them produce and promote two albums. I have three kids — 15, 13 and 12; so, I guess I just wanted them to see by example how to experience the richness of life.

Have you shopped at HGR?

In 2010, I became a customer when I heard about HGR from a guy in my building. I told him that I was looking for a rolling cart. He sent me to HGR where I met Tom Tiedman, my salesman, with whom I’ve worked all these years. I’ve repurposed carts, cleaned them up, and inlaid reclaimed wood to make killer side tables. Recently, I bought a bin of washers that were welded into a sculptural award for Crain’s Cleveland Business. I’ve also purchased practical things like filing cabinets and office equipment.

What’s next?

In the coming weeks, my partners at Mont Surfaces and I are launching a webisodes series about my Reflective Design philosophies for creating a sense of calm through various home improvement decisions. I’m a big fan of designing mindful spaces, so the furnishings, the materials, and the colors support well-being. Sourcing salvage items that hold special meaning for the homeowner is a huge part of that. The series will be posted at www.susiefrazier.com, or you can come to one of 78th Street Studios art walks, called THIRD FRIDAYS, taking place on the third Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. We will most likely run this on a monitor throughout the night.

What is your philosophy?

Making the brokenness beautiful.

coffee table from recycled wooddriftwood wall design