Artist: Michelle Engel Bencsko
Location: New Jersey, USA
Web site: Cicada Studio
Blog: Cicada Daydream
What do you create?
Printed fabrics both in 100% linen and a linen/cotton blend. I also create home accessory items with my fabrics. It's sort of secondary, but I feel it gives me good perspective, and also, I enjoy doing it.
When and why did you decide to start your business?
My business officially began in 2004, when a lot of things in my life went up in the air, then came firmly to the ground. I met my now husband, who helped and supported me to realize my full potential and dreams. Over the years Cicada Studio has morphed from one focus to the next- taking it from purely graphic arts, to greeting cards, to gift items and housewares, to finally textiles. I have never felt more comfortable than being in this particular skin. I have always loved textiles, it's been my professional career for over 15 years and now, I have embraced these skills, have created my niche and learned the art of focusing. I can't see myself veering from this for years to come... if ever.
Where do you get your inspiration for your projects?
I'm mostly attracted to color and balance. I find that I get a lot of this in many places, but nature is probably the biggest resource. That's sort of vague, I know, but I can't really be too specific. My eye is always sharp for things of interest. Nature offers that most to me. I am also heavily influenced- though not always literally so- by art nouveau, art deco and elements of the 50's and 60's (though almost every decade of the 20th Century holds something for me). Fine artists such as Josef Albers, Milton Avery, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra, Christo and Andy Goldsworthy, just to name a few off the top of my head. I'm also a big fan of good marketing: I love concise, clean ideas with a pinpoint perspective and driven focus. So, I can easily say I'm influenced by a lot of things. Basically, I keep my eyes, mind and heart open.
Which of the tools you use is your favorite?
At the risk of sounding like a geek, my iMac. I really do love my computer. Of late, I have been actively challenging my hand's on roots- those skills exist, but the computer and I understand each other well... and in my mind, it's where I shine. I am a very fast thinker, and the computer can keep up with me and I love the rush of getting things done instantly. Everything begins with a sketch- in my opinion, a rather lack luster one- but working with Adobe Illustrator really helps me to create the vision of my concepts accurately and fluently. Unfortunately patience isn't one of my virtues! My second favorite tool is my X-acto blade.
What keeps you motivated?
People. People enjoying what I do. My husband's support and belief in what I do. My family and friends, too. I am genuinely thankful for every person who takes an interest in what I create, including the author of this lovely blog. Without an audience, it would be just for me. As much as I like to create, I find I don't always create for me alone- I want to connect with someone else. If it's truly a personal project, chances are, I wouldn't share it. Another thing that keeps me motivated is seeing something I dream up become a reality. Each time that happens, it propels me to the next project. It's like a momentum I can't stop.
What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
The conception has always been my favorite part. Somewhat contrary to the above statement about my favorite tool being a computer, this is part I most enjoy. I believe the reason for loving the computer is to make my concepts reality quickly... so I can go on to the next idea quickly... because for every one idea I have, there are most certainly 5 more right behind it. It just seems there isn't enough time or energy to get them all done. And in all honesty, they probably aren't all worth pursuing, but that spark of concept is potentially something bigger and I want to see it happen if possible. I give it a good try. I also enjoy doing pattern repeats. To me, it's fun- almost a break from work.
How do you get the word out about your work?
Self promotion has always been a challenge, but I've felt very comfortable exposing and promoting myself through my blog. It's about 80% creative, 15% personal, 5% fluff. I think that's me in a nutshell! The thing about promotion is you seem to only have one opportunity at a given moment and that one face to show your stuff. With the blog, I have daily opportunities and can wear a few faces. And again, getting back to people as a motivator, nothing has been more motivating than the support and interest shown to me on my blog. As a result of all this positivity, I've been a bit stronger in the self-promotion aspects and have contacted people I admire, and forums that I'd like to be a part of. It's been a good life lesson, all of it.
What is your main goal for the next 6-12 months?
More than anything I'd like to find a manufacturer and rep for my linen and linen blend collections. I am managing OK with the self-production, but the profits are slim and the free time even slimmer. I have two wonderful boys and a loving husband and I want more than anything to have more time to relax and enjoy life rather than keep up with the dailies of producing and promoting- along with the other 100 things a household requires of you. I also want more time to be creative rather than producing goods. My professional life for the last 15 years has been of design director over a staff of talented people, working with a team where each person does what they do best, and I genuinely enjoy working with people to their strengths- and my strengths don't lie in production, so it would be great for me to work with those who do it well.
What advice would you give to someone starting a creative business?
Stay focused, find what you love to do and do what you're good at. It's fun to try all sorts of new things and it's even educational in ways that you don't always realize. Never regret the turns you might make in the interest of "trying". I bounced quite a bit from one thing to the next over the last 4 years. At the beginning of this year, I resolved to really buckle down and stay true to my one idea of making textiles. It's been a pretty tireless pursuit, but that's literally what it took for me to get where I am at this moment... and I'm not where I want to be yet. So, if there's something you really want to do, you have to DO it- and do it with everything you've got. No one is going to hand you your dream, but the dream is completely within reach if you go out and make it happen.
What’s the most important thing you’d like people to know/understand about your work?
That my work not arbitrary. That I take the time to really pull it together as a whole. As much as I want and need each print to stand alone and be great for what it is, it's the collection that is my main focus, then the pieces fall into place. I'm all about the "series". I love merchandizing, big-picture projects, deciphering what works and what doesn't and considering all the elements to make a whole. Each print has a reason for being there. All this is not the most important thing for me that the customer realizes this- certainly, it's just as wonderful if they love only one print alone, but this process the means to my end, so I am hoping it's evident.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned while running your business?
That I can't do it all. Or, maybe, I sort of can, but then I'm not functioning at 100%. That's not what I want for myself or my family, so this has to change. I definitely need people. Which leads me to two other lessons I've learned: it's not always easy 1/ to find those people and 2/ to allow them to help! I get in such a groove that it's all mine to do, it's hard to give up the reins to another person, but without a doubt, it's something I will have to do and soon.
If you had the time, what new craft/medium would you like to learn or use?
I'd like to get back into silk-screening. I recently took up, after about a 20 year hiatus, lino printing. It was great fun and I had good success. Unfortunately, that "time" thing isn't allowing me to really get into it the way I'd like. I'd also love to learn to throw pots on a wheel better. I took a class and loved it. Loom weaving looks like great fun too!
What's your definition of a perfect day?
To get up at 6am and not feel tired or achy and have about 2 hours solid to myself before the family awakes. I'm a morning person and I find my solitude is often at night, when I'm worn out from the long day- that's not the best time for me to work. Also, it's a real drag to know that when I'm done with the tasks, there's no one awake to share that exhilaration. I just drag myself up to bed and pass out. That's so not the life for me!
But really, I've had lots and lots of perfect days that didn't include what I stated above- life is wonderful at giving you lots of perspective and experiences and perfection comes in all sorts of ways and events. But if this little daydream of mine could happen on a near daily basis, I'm pretty sure I'd have little to complain about.
Thank you Michelle!!