Meet the Maker: I Am Acrylic

Can you Introduce yourselves and describe your practice?

Hello! We're Ruth & Brendan (or Brendan & Ruth depending on which one of us you like the most!) We met at art school back in 1999 and have been making cheerful acrylic jewellery and other things since 2004.

We cut out all the components for our jewellery using a mechanical fretsaw, then finish them off with files and sandpaper before piecing them together.

Sometimes people ask us why we don't update our practice and use a laser cutter, and we tell them that we're more comfortable with tools that we used in C.D.T (Craft Design & Technology) at school in the 1990's!

We also like how it restricts our designs and forces us to simplify things as to what we're able to cut out by hand, and we enjoy the tactile way of working too!

ruth and Brendan with acrylic birds on their heads
a fretsaw

Do you remember the first time you took your trusty fretsaw to an acrylic sheet? If so, what did you make?

Working with acrylic was totally accidental! What started it all off was when someone had dumped some fluorescent acrylic sheets outside the block of flats we lived in and being natural magpies, we snapped them up straight away!

We'd borrowed a mechanical fretsaw from Ruth's Dad (a retired C.D.T teacher) to make something or other, so Brendan used it to make Ruth a bird shaped keyring for her birthday from the acrylic. He'd made a keyring from acrylic at school, so it felt like the right thing to do with this stuff we'd rescued!

Ruth was working at Magma at the time (a book/design shop in London) and the owner suggested that we made some keyrings to we made some...they sold....and I Am Acrylic was born!

For the first few years we made things using off-cuts from our local acrylic fabricator, inspired by the off-cut colours available to come up with our designs. In the last five years we've been trying to get back to this way of working for a lot of our designs.

an orange acrylic keyring shaped like a bird

Who are your art and design heroes?

It's hard to pick favourites, but here's a few people and things that constantly inspire us!

Bold pattern designs from the 1950's-70's, folk art, Ladybird book cover art, vintage food packaging, kitsch knick-knacks from charity shops, Charley Harper, Jacqueline Groag, Clarice Cliff, many of the Bauhaus designers, Andy Warhol and many more!

After 17 years you waved a fond farewell to London and opened a bricks-and-mortar shop on Christmas Steps in Bristol. Can you tell us what the transition and experience has been like opening a physical shop/studio, and sustaining a small business?

We're accidental shopkeepers really! In 2017 we moved to Bristol to be near where Brendan grew up. Until then we'd been working out of our flat in London, and whilst this was an affordable way of working, it meant that we were basically living in a workshop, as the only space not dedicated to work was the tiny kitchen and our bedroom!

One of the things we were thinking about when moving was getting a separate studio space for the business (so we'd finally have a living room again(!) but also for the social aspect of hanging out with other makers and creatives) .

We had a brainwave that we could use a shop space as our studio, inspired partly by a visit to Copenhagen back in 2012 where we saw some lovely jewellery shops that had workshops downstairs that you could peek into!

We had a quick look at retail spaces, and just fell in love with this little shop on Christmas Steps. It had a large space to the rear that we could turn into our studio/workshop, and enough room to have a workbench in the shop too. We could also run workshops in the space.

The shop has been through a few different iterations over the years. When we first moved here, most of our work was online and wholesale, so having a shop that we could open to the public has always been an added bonus that we're still trying to figure out how best to use!

We've dabbled with stocking greetings cards and with selling vintage knick-knacks alongside our own work. But we've now settled on just having our own things in the shop, with the odd pop-up guest maker : )

The shop space itself has gradually evolved into even more of a work area, now with more tools and a giant workbench. It's really nice because when customers come into the shop, they can see us making the things that are on display, and chat about our making process.

And we're based in a wonderful community of creative neighbours/neighbouring shops, so we've fulfilled the social side of things we were craving when we were previously working from home!

ruth and Brendan in their shop

One thing I love about I Am Acrylic is the continued inventive way you recycle, repurpose and reuse offcuts and found material. What’s the most fun thing you’ve found or repurposed and made use of in a collection or product line?

I think the white flower necklaces and brooches we designed last year that are made from some acrylic that used to be shelves in the visitor centre at Stonehenge is probably the most unusual up-cycling we've done so far!

We've also got our hands on some yellow acrylic that was part of a McDonald's sign, that we've used for various things including some tiny buttercups on a summery meadow design.

Our bestselling Little Layered Lump necklaces have been a great way to use up the smaller off-cuts we have accumulated. We've also been able to use other makers off-cuts in this way, with over 400 lumps now in happy homes all across the world.

acrylic flower necklaces and brooches

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of collaborating with you on a collection inspired by our fantastic gallery building at Nottingham Contemporary. Can you tell us about how you approach such commissions and what inspiration you garnered from visiting the Nottingham Contemporary site? And dare I ask; did you like the building!?

We love the Nottingham Contemporary building! We especially loved the lace detailing in the matt concrete, juxtaposed with the shiny gold.

While we were visiting, we took lots of photos of the building from all different angles, and Brendan did some watercolour sketches while we were there, trying to pare down the building into more simplified blocky shapes.

I think in the end we made about 6 different mock-up versions for the building brooch for you to consider, also taking into account the building layout plans that you had sent us. And then between us we settled on the design we called "Simple Building number 2"!

a sketch of Nottingham Contemporary
Brendan painting a sketch of Nottingham Contemporary
an acrylic brooch shaped like Nottingham Contemporary

This Spring season Shop Contemporary is stocking the very popular I Am Acrylic Bird collection. Can you tell us the starting point and the inspiration behind the collection?

The bird range came about when two things happened simultaneously during lockdown.

We have always been in love with our garden birds and have had a few very friendly Robin pets over the years. And as with a lot of people, the birds in our garden gave us a lot of joy when we couldn’t go outside.

Brendan also happened to be doing a Charley Harper jigsaw puzzle that he'd got for Christmas.

So, inspired by Charley Harper's style of simplifying wildlife into geometric shapes, Brendan got his sketchbook out and started drawing our garden bird friends!

an acrylic kingfisher brooch
an acrylic nuthatch brooch
an acrylic woodpecker brooch

You’re well known for your wonderfully creative craft fair stall displays and can often be found at Crafty Fox markets in London. What do you enjoy and find useful about taking part in craft fairs and events?

We love doing craft fairs! As with having our little shop, it's such a lovely way to catch up with our customers face-to-face. And a great way to meet new customers too!

It's also where we have made most of our connections with other makers, which has led to some of our greatest friendships : )

We love doing the Crafty Fox Market in London. Having spent the first 13 years of our business in London, including many Crafty Fox Markets, and having a regular weekly stall in Spitalfields and around Brick Lane for a few years, we see lots of friendly faces when we go back there.

We've also loved doing markets further afield, meeting customers from different parts of the country. We've done your lovely Nottingham Contemporary Craft Fair : ) and have set up our stall in Leeds, Sheffield and also at Bestival and Camp Bestival!

It's harder to do events further afield now, as we have the shop to think about. But we have sometimes based our summer holidays around doing craft fairs, so let's see!

If we made our way to Christmas Steps and Bristol, what three small businesses or creatives should we check out?

Ooh, don't make us pick just 3! We are surrounded by so many great businesses in the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter that it's impossible to choose!

But...we'll choose three of our immediate neighbours on the Christmas Steps themselves:

Karen Reilly has been making the most beautiful wedding dresses for over 30 years now.

Studio Flax specialises in linen embroidery thread from the 1960's and preserves and reprints 1960's & 70's designs from a long-closed Swedish embroidery company called Nordiska.

Rova stocks illustrated art, design and culture books, independent magazines and beautiful stationery and other gifts from around the world.

Click here to shop I Am Acrylic's pieces online

Interview by Retail Buyer Lucy Martin.

Your support is vital

A small one-off or regular donation helps us present free exhibitions, events and education programmes across the city, up and down the UK, and around the world.

Cookie Consent