Kez Sherwood is a West Coast multidisciplinary designer/artist living and playing in B.C., Canada

Vision 2020 talk during Coast Modern Show

Kez Sherwood

I found some of my sketches from when I was 16 of the stunning metal coffee service of Marianne Brandt and ceramic tea service of Grete Marks, both with strong lines and geometric forms.  I didn’t know then that they both went to the Bauhaus, what that meant, their significant contributions and of their famous contemporaries.  Both of these women worked towards success in post school years till the Nazis ended the Wiemar era.  I am just as excited about this work today as when I was stunned by it as a teen.

The period of early 1900’s to prewar – Bauhaus, De Stijl, Eileen Gray, Gerrit Reitveld and companions are hugely influential to me. The quote “less is more” attributed to Mies van der Rohe resonates with my design side.

Asides from the simple, minimal, pioneering style and quality, what I think worked so well about the Bauhaus is that it was the first school to teach industrial design and their workshops had to be self sustaining so the students gained hands on experience in making and marketing.

On to the next pre/post war generation with too many greats to list.

Charles and Ray Eames said that design is a method of action—a constant, dynamic process. They also said that the role of the designer is basically that of a good host, anticipating the needs of their guest.

Mass production was central to their thinking. Ray once said that “anyone making one thing, that’s very nice to make one thing but to be able to keep the quality in mass production is the only reason we have been working so hard. A well know Charles Eames quote is “The best, for the most, for the least.” This I find to be a central inspiration for me yet as most of us know the design work from this era is no longer affordable.

Back to the 1800s – I discovered William Morris when I was making ceramic tiles in my early 20’s.

Morris was a leading member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, best known for his pattern designs on fabrics and wallpapers. His vision in linking art to industry by applying the values of fine art to the production of commercial design was a key stage in the evolution of design as we know it today.

Despite its high ideals, the Arts and Crafts Movement was essentially flawed. Their opposition to modern methods of production and the tendency to look back to the medieval world, rather than forward to mechanization was what eventually ended the movement. Their socialist ideal of producing affordable quality hand-crafted design for the masses sadly failed as the production costs of their designs were so high that they could only be purchased by the wealthy. Also, any movement which continually looks to the past for its inspiration must have a limited life span.

I appreciate that Morris was not afraid to be and explore more than one thing. I feel that the ideals of the arts and crafts movement parallel some of the design/ build principles of today. This movement and designers such as Massimo Vignelli liberated me to be comfortable with being a multidisciplinary creative, to forge ahead to experiment and try new things on my own.

So on to us kids and this uber inspiring room full of design. We have learned so much from these amazing people and owe much to them. We have managed to move forward and embrace the future! We live in a time where design, craft, fine art, experimentation and technology merge and expound.  We value quality, sustainable materials, amazing new composites and methodologies.

Technology has put us on a new and exciting playing field yet has increased the amount of info, stimulation and competition.

Ultimately we face the same central “arts and crafts” problem of producing affordable quality hand-crafted design for the masses that cost so much to make here, they have a high price tag.

So, how can we educate our society to understand our expenses? Eyes glaze over at the mention that while one billable hour of $65-$100 might seem high there are so many unseen costs. For ox + monkey there is commercial rent, insurance, welding gas, materials, tools, consumables, machinery, utilities, communications, advertising, admin time, project management, travel, subcontractors, professional fees, business, government and member fees, leasehold improvements, vehicles, computers, office supplies, bank loans, packaging, conferences, trade shows, donations, staying relevant with upgrading and new design work and of course taxes.

If you are a local business who supports other local businesses it means paying higher prices for base goods and supplies with no tax breaks which of course affects the bottom line. In turn, we cannot be competitive with some foreign products on the market as our base costs are their retail price points. We are in a different ball game.

So if it is tough or impossible to compete do we stop trying. If we are far away from educating consumers, what new paths and models can we pursue?

While it would be great if industry Canada stepped in to shed some light on these realities, I think I’m just cycling up the wrong hill here.  When I hit a steep hill on my bike, sometimes I tack it from one side to the other, creating a new curve.

It’s this new curve that I would like to explore with other makers here, a different way of marketing our work and thriving.

here are some ideas I’ve had over the years.

– Cooperate collectively /share costs/ hire an organizer to exhibit, market and promote each-other’s work

– Possibly create a digital and or paper catalogue of local work

– Perhaps have a small retail space

– A sales referral system where we promote each-other and give a percentage to that person for making the sale

– Where a 50% retail mark-up is too high, hire a distributor that promotes and sells our work and gets say 20%

– Offer each-other a cost + 20% deal on wholesale materials that we have access to

– Share workers to keep them employed F/T amongst several companies

– lobby the government to reinstate grants to go to foreign trade shows

– have design jams

In my opinion, we are a talented crew and there is no reason why “Canadian” design shouldn’t be as synonymous as some of the big hitters out there and I think we can work together to solve some of the challenges we face in working towards that.

Thank you for being here tonight. Thanks to Bjorn Enga and Sandy Buck for instigating this very important dialogue. I also thank GPAG and volunteers for donating and hosting the space tonight. If you would like to support GPAG you can donate, become a member, sponsor or volunteer.