Each day, I thank my lucky stars for all the talented and creative people in my life who all continue to amaze me. Many years ago -- long before social media, avid blogging, and smartphones -- I was cutting my creative teeth at The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where I made many friends for life. Friends like Jodi Levine, who has been a creative inspiration and an even better person and friend. After almost two decades as an Editor at Martha Stewart, she's put out an amazing book of her craft work using candy as a medium and so generously sat down with me to chat about it. Yes, I said candy.
David Stark: Were you a kid that loved candy? Did your parents let you indulge?
Jodie Levine: I did love candy as much as the next guy but I wasn't allowed to have much of it. Eventually I became fascinated with collecting pretty candy much more than I liked eating it. One of my roommates at RISD was a glassblower and I loved seeing what she was doing and learning about different glassworking techniques, like millifiori. Cut rock candy is made in a very similar way to millifiori glass with different colors fused together and pulled into a cane and sliced into segments. I collected hard candy for a while but it is an unstable thing to keep around—most of it faded or started deteriorating! That’s what got me into melting candy, like some of the projects in my book…the closest I’ll probably get to glassblowing!
DS: Where do your inspirations come from?
JL: For a long time (and this was pre-internet so, obviously, before Google Image or Pinterest) I collected vintage craft books, booklets and magazines. Old Dennison’s crepe paper instructional booklets were my favorite. I used to get these at tag sales but then Ebay came along and—boom--jackpot! I still love these old resources but I find a lot of inspiration by Google-image-ing funny words related to whatever I’m thinking about. Also, just looking through my bins of materials or going to the supermarket or hardware store can be the MOST inspiring. Especially when I’m feeling stuck, I remember that my best inspiration is the material itself, playing with it. Just START making stuff!
While I was an editor at Martha Stewart Living we had to continually come up with original homemade Halloween costumes and one year we decided to do no-sew costumes and wound up using a lot of supermarket materials: coffee filters and drawstring garbage bags and it was one of my favorite projects.
I don’t know if you feel the same way but constraints inspire me too. I don't think I could be in my studio and just make work. I guess it's not only constraints but also a problem to solve, albeit—in my case-- not very serious problems, like activities for kids, funny birthday cakes, or holiday decorations! I’m also inspired by the challenge of working in this crafty world but trying to keep things modern and, for lack of a better word, un-crafty, and elevating the everyday materials.
David, so much of my favorite work of yours has been along the same theme, celebrating common materials, though on a MUCH grander scale…your Post-It note installation was amazing, what you do with cardboard, fluorescent flagging tape…you’re my hero!
DS: If time and money were not an issue, what would be your fantasy project?
JL: Wow, I love this question...I would get all my creative friends and other creative people that I admire together to collaborate and fill out the blog…or create a digital magazine along the same everyday-materials theme as my book and upcoming book.
My book partner and photographer, Amy Gropp Forbes, and I dreamt about making a series of books focusing on one material each (marshmallows, hard candy, paper towel tubes, etc). Once I start playing with one material I don't want to stop. I feel like there is endless potential and I get new ideas just by playing with the stuff. For the format of our book if had to stop and move on to the next chapter but it would be fun to have time to explore the potential of each material endlessly…and create a community of creative contributors and see what they come up with!
DS: Do candies from different countries inspire you differently than a walk in an American candy shop or aisle?
JL: While traveling in foreign countries I love to stop in sweet shops, food markets, stationery stores, office supply, and hardware stores. The packaging always fascinates me—I have to restrain myself and not buy it all up! I also collect paper bags. The colors, patterns, and typography inspire me in a general way but maybe not as much for specific projects or as a material to use in a project.
The candy I like to make stuff out of is the really basic easy-to-find stuff like gumdrops, Necco wafers, peppermint swirl candies, or marshmallows. It's fun to transform classic recognizable stuff plus a lot of it is pretty plain and a perfect blank slate material.
DS: I find you to be a kindred spirit in many ways. We both went to RISD and majored in art disciplines that are ultimately different than what we do today. For a young artist, how do you characterize your journey from what you studied to what you do now, and what advice do you have for creative people starting their artistic careers after school?
JL: When I look back at my time in art school, I loved every minute of it but I also felt a little lost in that I didn’t fit in to any one department. Going to a school like RISD was such a luxury. We could try out different departments thanks to the winter session. I was happiest floating around and trying jewelry and metalsmithing, printmaking, woodworking, etc. but I felt like I had failed as a fine artist since I was majoring in painting.
The world has changed so much since I was in school and the word ‘craft’ was perceived very negatively. The whole design/DIY/craft world has exploded which is great for those of us that like to make stuff and dabble with lots of media and don't fit neatly into the art school categories. It is a crowded field now but it is within your power to tell your story and get your work out there via a blog or social media. But there has to be something authentic there. And the best way to find out what that is to make a lot of whatever it is you like to make. That will help you find your voice. Keep going until you find your specific weird niche. Respect your obsessions. It will all make sense later! According to my friend’s mom (who babysat me when I was little) all I wanted to do was make clocks, with paper plates and brass paper fasteners. Every day! My next book is all crafts made from supermarket materials…with a chapter of paper plate crafts! And I feel like I just scratched the surface. I wish I could spend a month making stuff out of paper plates!
I look back on what was distracting me from my fine art work and it was what I have ended up doing professionally. But I am so grateful for my fine arts education. It gave me the creative tools needed in any area of design like color, composition and an appreciation for the natural world.
Out in the world there are so many creative jobs that we aren’t told about in art school: stylists, crafters, event designers(!), window dressers,… ! Keep your eyes open to anything that inspires you and ask lots of questions!
DS: I agree 100%! We can't wait to see what else you have in store for us!