Finding Joy in Creativity & Community with Ilana Foglia
Interview led by: Lauren Strybos | fromtreetosea.com
A big welcome to Ilana Foglia of The Small and Savage Wild! Ilana’s touching piece in Issue 3 serves as a beautifully written tribute to her mother as well the strong, supportive group of women she left behind. Today we explore the importance of leaning on your community and connecting with others as a means of combating the blues we so often come across in our day-to-day lives.
Hi Ilana! So happy to have you on the blog, let’s start off with a bit of an introduction.
I'm a transplant to Los Angeles, originally from South Florida. I moved out here 6 years ago to pursue working as a film editor and photographer. I have been working in the film business for the past six years and I am currently working at a motion graphics company. I love working with video & photography, specifically telling a visually engaging story. I think this partially stems from dancing in a professional children's ballet company for most of my life & minoring in it in college. I started shooting 35mm & 120mm film photography as a teenager and spent as much time as I could in college when I wasn't working or in class, or in the dark room. I'm an avid camera, plant and record collector (which I think shows through in a lot of our photographs). I recently lost my mom to breast cancer so I spend a lot of time engaging in things she and I both loved (growing plants and music) as a therapeutic way to feel connected with her still. I started The Small + Savage Wild with my boyfriend Jeremiah in February 2015. Jeremiah and I are both have an extensive background and passion for shooting film photography. We can regularly be found with our pup Huxley on Saturday mornings heading to downtown LA, hitting up a coffee shop and wandering around the LA Flower Market. We'll either cook dinner at home and have some friends over to hang in our backyard or we might go out to one of our favourite local restaurants and catch a movie at the ArcLight.
I absolutely love the name of your business, The Small + Savage Wild! What inspired the name and how do design elements of your work tie in with it?
I was making linoleum prints from photographs I took back when Jeremiah and I first met. I was always drawn to animal skeletons and abstract nature images and came upon the name "The Small Wild". At the time Jeremiah was in Grad school getting his MFA in studio art & installation and had frequently used the name "Savage Lumber" here and there. After we made our first bookshelf we started talking about making little things to sell online and spent MONTHS trying to find a name that fit us both. We finally realized that if we combined the two names we felt so closely identified with that our company name would reflect us the way we wanted it to.
As you mentioned, you run The Small and Savage Wild with your partner Jeremiah. I imagine there must be some benefits and challenges that come with working as a team. In what way do you celebrate successes / work through difficult days together?
There are a lot of benefits to working with a friend, as well as challenges, that become magnified when they are also your partner. But the best part, by far, is the ability to creatively work through issues in the company that become part of the bedrock of the relationship. We're able to continually inspire each other and support each other: when one of us is tapped out that week we have someone right there to pick up slack when we need it, and because we are not just a business it means we have much more flexibility with each other. It also means when one of us has a bad idea we don't need to sugar coat our response, allowing us to brainstorm the best ideas we can without needing to compromise taste. We have had our fair share of ups and downs as any normal couple that works and lives together would have. We make sure to take time off after we have particularly stressful work period to spend quality relaxing time together.
Could you walk me through a bit of the process you go through when designing a new piece? How do you stay inspired, and where do the blues find a place in this process?
Most of our current collection, The Classic Collection, was designed and born completely out of utility. When we first began working together at the beginning of our relationship, we would sit down over breakfast, listen to our favourite record of the week, and deciding what we wanted to make for our home. This process organically transformed into the process we have for designing for TS+SW.
We both constantly stay engaged with literature, music, art and pop culture in general so those things definitely have some influence over our design. We each come up with concepts in our own unique ways and they come together perfectly over a cup (pot) of coffee. Our designs happily tiptoe the line between art and function, which is exactly where we like to be.
There are days that we, as normal people, get overwhelmed by the stresses and pressure of running a small business on top of full time jobs. On top of that going through the grieving process as an individual and as couple takes its toll. When we hit these lows all the stresses with the relationship, and everyday life are amplified. Making the same few styles over and over can get frustrating for me so I make a point to carve out some time in the wood shop to make something new for myself. That was how the Horizon shelf and the Infinity stand came to be.
Running a business (on top of dealing with everything else life throws at you) can definitely be exhausting at times. Have you had to give up anything to run your business? What has been your favourite moment since creating The Small and Savage Wild?
I think the one thing we’ve truly sacrificed is our “free time”. Jeremiah and I both work full time jobs on top of TS+SW. There have been endless weekends where all we do is make product, lose sleep and don’t leave. I have woken up at 5am, driven Jeremiah to work, come home and gone straight out to the wood shop, worked until about an hour before I have to go to my day job/ quickly shower, change, walk the pup and run out the door to a full 10 hour work day. On top of all that I would then come home ( long after 5pm) and pack up the orders made that morning to ship the next morning.
I think my favourite moment is when people recognize our business name and immediately blurt out ‘oh I love your work’. Those moments make my 14 hour work days absolutely worth every second and the exhaustion quickly fade away as I get to know this person who appreciates our creations/time/energies.
Your piece “Atlantic Blues” in Issue 3 Maker’s Magazine was so incredibly heartfelt and really resonated with me. How do you find yourself drawing strength from your community when going through difficult times these days?
Just two months after I lost my mom we made the first triangle shelf as a project to improve our home. I began slowly meeting more and more creative women as I fell deeper into mourning the loss of my mother. Being able to connect with these women as I was feeling the absence of my mom in my life made me feel like I was connecting with her in a way. Their positivity and support was the kind of positivity I needed to draw me out of my pain and sadness. It was a distraction. Just spending time with these women fuels my love of making and building a community, which in turn reminds me of my mom. I know she would absolutely adore the women I’ve surrounded myself with and that in itself brings me comfort. TSSW allowed for Jeremiah and I to connect and bond in a new way during an especially hard time and gave us a way to create together.
Most people eventually find themselves experiencing ‘the blues’ or some sense of sadness / uncertainty about their work or even everyday life. How do you work through these phases and do you have any tips for folks who may face similar challenges?
Life consists of so many ups and downs and running a small business is no different. We get burnt out from time to time and for me, I immediately feel like I’m not doing my best, and that I’m letting my company and my partner down. We have had to learn to not be afraid to realize and accept when we are feeling over loaded and to take time off. That way when we are working we are giving TSSW our all. We have learned to lean on each other as support since we are a couple outside of TSSW. It’s important for us to make sure our entire relationship is not about TSSW so we can still be there for each other. We also have a really amazing group of friends. About a year ago I met Grace Gulley back when she was beginning to put together the CYL Community. Being apart of that community has been such an amazing resource for me to keep me from losing perspective and being surrounded by positive voices. I feel like having that community helped take any extra tension off my relationship and helped me bond with other women going through the same trials. Surrounding yourself with a strong community makes all the difference in the world.
Continuing on this notion of fostering community, do you have any upcoming collaborations you are looking forward to? What are you most excited for in 2017?
We really enjoy working with other makers. That has been such a great aspect of running our own business. We have plans to create original work with makers such as Catherine Willett, an illustrator out of New York, Grace Gulley, a fiber artist from Los Angeles. Additionally we plan on making custom trade show displays for independent clothing designers in Los Angeles, as well as studio displays for Le.Lou.Ula, an atelier out of Canada. We thrive on creative projects with our peers that allow us to create truly unique spaces.