• Dreamers + Doers: Haley Ann Robinson

    Dreamers + Doers highlights emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and up-and-coming ones to watch. Whether it’s starting a new business, creating something beautiful, or just daring to do things differently, we stand behind those taking steps toward something new.

    Influenced by color, geometry, and structure, Portland artist Haley Ann Robinson creates work with an interdisciplinary focus and incredible breadth of talent. Attending art school in LA, Haley has spent her career bouncing around the West Coast — looking at her multi-faceted body of work, it’s easy to see how both the vibrancy of LA and nature-filled Pacific Northwest environment have played roles in what she creates. Featuring her as part of our Dreamers + Doers series, which celebrates young artists, designers, and entrepreneurs who are doing things differently, we visited her Portland studio to find out how she got started and discover the ideas and inspirations that fuel her process.
    Photos by Michael J. Spear

    Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you live?
    I grew up in Southern California, embracing the heat, nearby beaches, and the super laid-back lifestyle. Throughout high school I quickly learned I wanted to pursue an artistic path, so after graduating I moved up to Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating from Otis College of Art and Design I made my way up the coast to the Pacific Northwest. Since 2008, it’s been a push and pull relationship between Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles. There’s something about the duality of these cities that makes sense to me. I feel like I can’t have one without the other. I’m constantly craving the social chaos of the city, but embrace the time I spend in the quiet serenity of what Portland offers.

    How did you get started in art?
    At a very young age I was encouraged by my family to embrace my artistic qualities. I spent a lot of time with my Nana in the desert playing dress up and learning how to paint. She had goats and donkeys and trees to climb, and gave me and my siblings the freedom to explore, play the keyboard, and color in mountains of coloring books. She has been a huge influence in my creative endeavors. I had numerous art classes growing up, and went to college for Graphic Design with an emphasis in illustration. I’ve always worked with my hands. From drawing in sketchbooks to making macrame rings in middle school and selling them to friends, there’s always been an itch to create.

    How would you describe your work?
    My work is functional, multi-faceted, geometric, fluid and at times contradictory.

    How did you get hooked up with UO for your collab?
    The magic of the internet! I was approached by UO to create something special and the conversation took off.

    What’s the hardest part about working as an artist these days? The easiest?
    The hardest part is staying ahead of the fast-paced trend cycle. It’s challenging but constantly forces me to always be better, to get off the computer and find inspiration in not just what I find on the internet, but life experiences, museums, books and my friends. There really is no easy part to being a full-time artist. It takes serious dedication and the will to always be working, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Any general tips for aspiring artists out there?
    Collaborate. Never stop learning. Soak up as much as you can. Quit your day job. Make it work. Dedicate yourself 100%. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to a 9 to 5.

    Has your style changed much over the years?
    Absolutely! I look back at all my college sketchbooks and laugh! I had a weird side that really surfaced in those years. Since then I’ve developed more of a style I can really stand behind. But I’ll always be expanding who I am and what I produce and perfecting those details.

    You work in a lot of different mediums – do you have a favorite?
    I find they all balance each other out. Clay is so temperamental and there’s so many steps of the process from beginning to end that could go wrong. It teaches me to be patient and roll with the punches. At a certain point, you kind of surrender to the kiln gods and hope everything turns out okay! When I’m on the wheel I’m so relaxed; throwing an object with my own hands and having that connection is like nothing else I do. That’s pretty much the only part of the process I have complete control over. Working with wood is totally different. You’re using machines that are dangerous and loud and you have to be very alert. The cuts are precise and linear. But I love both materials because the transformation of shapes is so gratifying.

    What about your process – how do you take a piece from idea to completion?
    Everything starts as a sketch. A huge part of what I do is problem solving. A lot of brainstorming goes into an idea. What materials will work best with others, how to connect objects to other objects. I often reach out for advice from jewelers, wood craftsmen, and other makers to help iron out the wrinkles.

    What’s a typical day-in-the-life like for you?
    Well, lucky for me, everyday is so different from the next. I’m so thankful to be working for myself and expanding my brand. It honestly just depends on what project I’m working on at the moment. I usually try to get in a workout of some sort in the morning and from there I can pretty much go in any direction. I spend a lot of time at my ceramic/ wood studio where throwing on the wheel, hand building, glazing, sanding, wood cutting and so much more takes place. I hang out with my mini cat Fondo at home while doing design work or assembling Geobils, dip-dying handmade bags, or organizing product, all while drinking a crazy amount of yerba mate tea. I love that everyday is a new adventure. I can pick and choose what projects need attention. It’s the best.

    What’s your studio setup like? When do you find yourself working there the most?
    I’ve made it this kind of tropical paradise with lots of plants in front of a sunny window. I have lots of crystals and palo santo and snacks. It’s in the basement of a super old building right under a goth bar. It’s pretty old but kind of a hidden gem.

    Is there something you’ve always been interested in making but haven’t yet for some reason?
    I’ve been fascinated with bringing in metal to my work for a while now. The idea of something being this molten liquid and shaping it into something substantial and heavy and solid is mind bending to me. I have such a passion for materials and mixing mediums. I hope to continue to make functional beauty, while infusing more experimental mediums.

    What are some things that are currently inspiring you?
    I’ve been obsessing over '80s furniture design and architecture. Designers such as Ettore Sottsass, design power couples such as Josef and Anni Albers. The experimental photography of Guy Bourdin. Loving so much of the work that Carl Kleiner is producing as well. Color, color, color!

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