Welcome to our newest tradition, Maker Monday! Our Store Manager, Marissa, gets to know a little bit more about the makers of The DIME Store. We believe in bridging the gap between our customer and the maker -- and this new project is a great way to learn about the person behind the product!
Kristen Bigley of KKB Metal Studio is newer to the maker scene but you would never be able to tell. Kristen, a Denton-native and long time artist, is full of experience and wisdom. This week we chat about how she has passed along a love of the arts to her children and take a deep dive into her process.
Let’s start with your background: where did you grow up? How did you end up in Denton?
I was born in NYC, and lived there until I was 5. At that point we moved to Denton in order to be closer to my grandparents. After high school, I was ready to get out of little d, and moved to Ft. Worth to attend TCU. I received a BFA in Studio Art with a Sculpture emphasis and moved to Colorado a year later. After 15 years in the Denver area, I was given an opportunity to relocate to DFW with my job, so we chose to move our family back to Denton for the amazing community here. Ironically, growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out and live in a larger city. I didn’t expect to miss Denton, and certainly did not imagine moving back here until I realized how special of a community it is. We’ve been back 5 years now!
What was your journey as a maker? How did you end up working with your medium?
I grew up around creativity and artistic pursuits from both sides of my family and in high school really narrowed my focus to pursuing the arts. Originally I planned to major in graphic design, but the tactile nature of sculpture ultimately was where my heart was happiest. We didn’t have a metals program at TCU, and I was very intrigued with exploring anatomical figurative work which led me to a series of pieces for my BFA exhibition that included life-size bronze and ceramic figures that were very introspective and an exploration of adolescent psychological awkwardness. With shifting focuses on growing a career and family, I taught myself to knit and kept my hands busy, but didn’t have a studio or much time to work. As I was exploring ways to “work smaller” in my practice, metalsmithing just made sense. I’ve always loved handcrafted & unique jewelry, so I set out teaching myself the techniques and setting up a bench in the house. That was 4 years ago and I launched the business of KKB METAL STUDIO a year later.
What’s the narrative you heard growing up that made you feel confident enough to pursue that in college and how are you continuing that with your own kids?
It’s just how we live our lives. I married an artist, my husband is a painter and sculptor so there’s art everywhere in our house. For fun we go to museums. There’s just an appreciation for design and visual aesthetic in everything we do with my kids. We encourage what they want to do but we try not to force anything on them. So my son really is more of a musician so we’re really encouraging that, but my daughter is naturally already drawn to all the things she can make with her hands. So now I’m just trying to encourager her towards “Okay, instead of anime maybe we do some still life or try and do some traditional/classical things”, really encouraging her to explore.
How did you balance full-time work, being a maker, and all of the other roles you play?
This is the biggest challenge of all. I’ve been working FT and traveling as a district manager for the last two decades so the studio really has been my creative outlet and passion primarily on the weekends. I’m happiest creating and yet there is so much more that goes into running a creative business than studio time. I will often place orders and do admin/pack up orders at night after the kids go to bed. If there is a deadline coming up like a show, I start planning out my timeline for production months in advance to ensure I have enough prep time.
Where do you draw inspiration?
My inspiration comes from a variety of sources. I’m drawn to shapes and forms within nature, such as seed pods, lichen and insects. Equally, I’m inspired by mid-century modern design and more tribal adornments or relics from a future society. Mash all of of that together and you end up with what I like to call “modern adornments”. Texture and imperfection mixed with modern and sometimes minimal sensibilities. The people that inspire me are the ones that are pushing boundaries, they’re taking this medium and doing unique things with it. I’m a meticulous craftsman but I allow the process to evolve the piece in it’s own way.
So what you start out with, might not be what you end with?
Right, I don’t sketch very often on my designs. So I’ll have an idea and I may start with doodling it but I really have to just get in there and start pushing metal around. Even in school when I was in sculpture, in every step there is something that might happen that changes the sculpture. A lot of my stuff might have blowouts in the wax stage and I would leave it because that told the story of the process and the history of the piece. So that’s really where I like texture and the process that creates the piece. I’m not trying to force my will onto the piece to that level; I find it very frustrating if it doesn’t go my way so I’ve learned to really try and enjoy that. I think it actually makes the work better and it’s a more freeing and enjoyable process that way.
You made The Water Pod Collection, which is one of our exclusive lines, can you speak to that process? Why is it called “Water Pod”, how were you inspired for the project, etc?
Nature has always been a real inspiration, I’ve always been drawn to these pod shapes. It’s actually a water cast pod in the sense that the way that each pod is mad. You melt silver wire above a bowl of ice water and it beads up to a point and then it gets too heavy to hold onto the wire and it drops. When it hits the water it either makes an unusable clump that gets recycled, a cornflake-style flatter shape, or it goes into a bell. It’s really impossible to control what the outcome is because it depends on the temperature of the water, the temperature of the metal, the height of the metal from the water, etc. so each one is unique and I find that process almost meditative. They all have a little personality and quirkiness to them. It’s really just a fun process and I love the result because it’s organic, fire and water mixing to create this piece, it’s alchemical and really cool.
Being a Maker, I’m sure you know the necessity of social media. How have you navigated different platforms and the “comparison game” as a Maker?
Instagram is where I put most of my social media efforts. I’ve become friends with some incredible metalsmiths and makers through that forum, as well as being able to communicate in a very real time way with clients about what I’m working on. Comparisons were definitely a challenge for me in the beginning when I was just putting myself out there as a maker. I think I’ve found a good balance of appreciation for others work and confidence for my own style that it is less of an issue for me now. I do still struggle with how much “authenticity” to share on social media vs. using it purely as a marketing tool. I think because I tackled this craft without really knowing what I was getting into, social media has been more about me understanding what was really out there: “What is contemporary jewelry, what is traditional jewelry, what is minimalism, what do I like and where do I fit in?”. It’s been more of a tool to understand technique and know that there’s so much out there that I will never do and I’m pretty okay with that.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell teenage “Kristen”?
Embrace your quirkiness and stop trying to “fit in”. I was painfully shy growing up and a bit of a late bloomer socially, so I’d tell her to own it and leverage those differences as strengths.
Kristen, thanks so much for your time and sharing your story with us. I want to end on a fun note: what is one movie you think everyone should see at least once in their life??
I’d have to say the original Star Wars. It’s amazing to me when I find out people haven’t seen it! It was the first movie my parents took me to, at a drive-in in NY. The power struggle of good vs. evil, the mythology of the hero story, all come together in such a powerful way it has created a cultural phenomenon that has not only held up but grown over the last 40 years. (Side-note: I’m a sucker for really good sci-fi and dystopian future stories but I generally prefer to read a book instead of watching a movie).