Business Profile

Dec 11

Somerville Design Profile: Emma Weisman & Emily Garfield

For the Design Annex by Diana Limbach Lempel

This Saturday, December 3, 2011, Union Square Main Streets hosts a Winter Craft Market on Union Square plaza and inside Precinct. It’s a great opportunity to check off some holiday gifts, shop local, and see what some amazing Somerville artists and crafters are up to! For a sneak peek, here is a special installment of our creative business profile series, featuring a couple of awesome Somervillians whose work will be on display this Saturday. We’re excited today to share the first craft visual artists in the series. Meet Emma Weisman and Emily Garfield! We especially love Weisman’s Little Monster character (as much as she does!), and Garfield’s detailed imaginary maps.

Emma Weisman

DA: Why is Somerville the right place for your business?

EW: Somerville is a great place for my business because there is so much support for local artists. I’ve participated in Somerville Open Studios for four years in a row, and love the strong sense of community. There are so many creative people in Somerville, and it is very inspiring! It makes me work harder to put myself out there, to show and sell my work, and to meet other artists.

DA:What is the hottest thing about your business right now?

EW: The hottest thing about my business right now is my Little Monster character. I’ve been focusing on children’s illustration for the last two years, and slowly Little Monster has emerged as a funny, scruffy, darling little creature. I feature him in “Little Monster Guides” – - framable instructional comics that are sweet gifts for a child. Little Monster’s Guide to the Perfect S’More is my favorite.

DA: What do you hope your business will be known for in the future?

EW: I would love to continue with Little Monster, eventually writing some full length children’s books about him. Eventually, I would like my business to be a pleasant mix of illustrating children’s books and doing illustration commissions for children and adults alike.

DA: Are there any other projects you’d like to share with us?

EW: My favorite project I’ve been working on recently is Little Monster Customized Alphabets. The customer gives me favorite, personalized words for each letter of the alphabet (S is for Somerville, A is for Art, etc) and I make an 11×14 illustration in which Little Monster is depicting each word. These make great unique baby shower gifts!


Emily Garfield

DA: What makes Somerville the right place for your business?

EG: I’m originally from New York City, and while it would seem to make sense to move back there to be an artist, I’ve found a lot more opportunities here. The things I do are generally considered craft, and there’s a lot of interest in that here. I’ve also found it easy to get involved and meet artists, and that leads to a lot of opportunities that I probably wouldn’t find in a more competitive art environment.

DA: What is the hottest or newest thing at your business right now, the piece or project you’re most excited about?

EG: I’m always coming up with new things, so the very newest things haven’t yet had enough time to get a response! So far people have been excited about my new map-design holiday cards — besides craft fairs, I’m also selling them at Blue Cloud Gallery in Ball Square and 13Forest Gallery in Arlington. I also continue to experiment with my singed flower designs, and recently completed a few large necklaces that have attracted some attention.

DA: What do you hope that your business will be known for in the future?

EG: Although I also do jewelry and other crafts, I think the map drawings are the most unique and interesting project I’m currently working on, and there are still a lot of ways I could go with the idea.

DA: Are there any other favorite projects that you would like to tell readers about?

EG: In terms of maps, I think that the woodblock prints are my most recent project, but I’m particularly interested in the large maps I’ve been working on lately. They’re the same level of detail as my usual ones but about four times the size.


Nov 11

Somerville Design Profile: Albertine Press

By Diana Limbach Lempel


Today, we meet Shelley Barandes, who runs the inspiring Albertine Press. Barandes produces graphic design and letterpress printing for private and business customers, creating projects from wedding invitations to corporate materials and handmade printed books. What makes Albertine Press so “Somerville” is the hand-made feel and use of traditional methods, but using very contemporary design. Today, I’ve chosen to print my whole interview with Shelley Barandes, so that you can learn about her business — and about letterpress — in her own words. Some of it’s a little technical, but I think you’ll be glad to learn about this really special printing technique.


DA: Let’s start by talking about letterpress. What makes it different from other kinds of printing or design products?

SB: Letterpress is a relief printing technique whereby raised forms are inked on their surface and then pressed against paper to transfer the image and text. Traditional printing uses hand or machine-set metal type and metal image cuts but many printers now use photo-polymer plates which allow for a nearly unlimited range of type and design. The depth of impression so prevalent in contemporary work is a more modern aesthetic; any impression at all can damage the old type. Between the new polymer plates and increased use of thick cotton printmaking papers, an impression you can see and feel is readily achieved and the tactile nature of that very impression is one of the things that sets letterpress printing apart.

DA: So, why should someone think about working with a letterpress printer, rather than a graphic designer?

SB: Why should someone work with a letterpress designer? If you’re set on the letterpress aesthetic, no one is more equipped than a letterpress printer to understand the possibilities and limitations of the process. We regularly work with other designers to print their projects, and we are always happy to advise on ways to make the most of a design intended for letterpress printing. I’ve taught workshops over the years and find that graphic designers especially enjoy learning to set type and understand the physical process of arranging letters and words on a page – a reminder of the basics of their own trade.

I started letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts in New York. Suddenly I was spending less and less time doing architecture and more and more time printing custom projects for family and friends. Soon enough I had my own presses and Albertine Press was born.

DA: Why is Somerville the right place for you to locate Albertine Press?

SB: Somerville has been an incredibly supportive community in which to grow a creative business. Somerville residents have an amazing awareness and appreciation of both the hand-made nature of our work as well as the fact we are also a local business, and they go out of their way to patronize us because of those facts.

DA: What’s new and hot for you right now?

SB: Our latest and greatest is that we have a brand new invitation suite featured in the fall issue of Martha Stewart Weddings (the lead image here is our suite). We took the opportunity to also give our website a facelift, including many new images of our latest custom wedding work.

DA: What do you want Albertine Press to be known for in the future?

SB: Right now at Albertine, our time is prety evenly divided between our wholesale catalog (all of the greeting cards, note sets, coasters and journals we sell to stores across the country and to our fans at local craft fairs) and custom design and printing (mostly wedding invitations, with a healthy side of business cards and other projects). I’m working on a longer-term plan to bring more fine art prints and limited edition book arts projects into the studio, both my own work as well as collaborative work with other artists.


Oct 11

Somerville Design Profile: Costume Works

By Diana Limbach Lempel, Design Annex


If you were at Fluff Festival, then you’ve seen what Liz Perlman of Costume Works can do. The costume company made the Pharaoh of Fluff headpiece, and that’s only a taste of the incredible characters that Costume Works brings to life. I visited Perlman at her workshop, just outside Union Square, in the run up to Fluff, and was blown away by how active and creative this business is. Just like all the Somerville businesses I meet, Costume Works is committed to working by hand, producing high-quality products, and working closely with clients large and small, local and national. I think it’s a great one to get to know.
Visiting the Costume Works workshop is like stepping into another world. Perlman’s eight employees are consulting designs, sewing costumes, cutting fabric and making patterns, and there are period costumes and wild cabaret outfits hanging from the ceiling and pretty much everywhere else. It’s an independent costume shop, which means that it’s not affiliated with a particular theater or performing organization. They work with theaters and costume designers from Boston, such as the Boston Lyric Opera, Cambridge Revels, and Hasty Pudding Theatricals, as well as Disney’s cruise ships and theme parks, and the Big Apple Circus. This means there is always something fun and new going on, from sequined 70s disco drag queen outfits to 19th century peasant dresses, and Liz Perlman keeps busy.


DA: So, how did you get into costume making in the first place?

LP: I was involved in the theater in high school, so in college at Harvard I decided to get involved in the costume shop. This became a job at the Loeb Drama Center (now the A.R.T.), and after that I became a freelancer. Running my company involves production management and technical expertise, which I learned at the A.R.T. and freelancing, and in my subsequent job working for another independent shop. Now, the staff and interns I get are often already very experienced technically, having come from specific training programs in costume fabrication.

DA: That makes me curious: how are costumes different from home sewing?

LP: Well, first of all, performers have to wear their costumes everyday, sometimes multiple times a day under bright lights and sometimes under physically demanding conditions. So costumes have to be much more durable. Second, it’s more than a garment ; the designs need to communicate something about the character the performer is portraying, so often there is more fabrication than design required. Third, there are several different people that I am listening to while making costumes. There is the performer, the designer, the director and the producer of the show. It’s hard to communicate the time, labor, and fabric costs of custom clothes that all of these things require. It’s all made by hand, one at a time, with lots of craftsmanship, and everyone is paid a decent wage and benefits. We’re committed to this level of work so it’s more expensive for our clients than ready-to-wear clothes.

DA: What makes Somerville a good place for your business to locate?

LP: I’ve lived in Somerville since 1982, right in Union Square. The artistic presence in the city is so strong, and I was really excited to find this location mostly because of the warehouse space itself. It’s fantastic, with lots of natural light. I really wanted access to the T when I started here. We’re now we’re well-served by bus lines. If the Green Line does ever actually come, then I’ll have everything I want here. It’s close to stores, 93, downtown, the airport, has on street parking, and it’s a reasonable rent for a lot of space, which is one of the big factors in helping us stay afloat, and helps us keep prices lower than, say, shops in New York. We love being in the Boston area because of the community of other costume shops that’s here. We’re more flexible because we’re independent, but the spirit between all the shops is very collaborative. And the internet has changed the way we source all kinds of materials, so we can get fabric, materials, jobs from beyond our current location.

DA: What’s the most exciting thing happening at Costume Works now?

LP: We just finished a job over Labor Day for the Big Apple Circus, which is our newest client. Circus costumes were a whole new thing for us because there is a range of acts where the costumes have to facilitate the extreme body things that circus performers do. It was a very unusual set of designs — very sophisticated, operatic in scale, and we learned a lot along the way. We’ve also got a new project for a Disney cruise ship, and we love the designer. We’ve worked with him before, so were excited about that. We’re also very excited to have so much work at this time! Our regular clients have scaled back a bit, but are still with us! These new projects and national clients keep us even busier.

DA: What do you want Costume Works to be known for in the future?

LP: I want us to be known for producing a high quality product with a capable client interface. We spend a lot of time with our clients, so our process is very collaborative. We have to fit the performers to make sure the costume moves with them — that’s part of the creative process. It’s completely tactile. So you really can’t outsource easily. It’s an unusual business in that respect.


DA: Is there anything else you want to share with us, that you’re especially proud of?

LP: That’s a tough question to answer. I’m proud when the sketch comes to life. It’s all in the photos: when we go from sketches to a product, and see the final result, and know that we nailed it.


Sep 11

Somerville Design Profile: Templeman Automation

By Diana Limbach Lempel


“This is my new project,” Chris Templeman of Templeman Automation likes to say. He’s a tinkerer, a problem solver. In his office, part of the converted Ames Envelope factory on Properzi Way, prototypes for new hardware projects are strewn about the floor and tables — a hacked Playstation here, a robot kit there. Then there’s the shop, and this is where Templeman gets really excited. It’s filled with wood saws, CNC router machines, and more tools than I can count or name. This is a business committed to innovation through experimentation and personal connection to technology, and it is thriving.

Chris Templeman started his company ten years ago, primarily on contracts with the Department of Defense funded through Small Business Innovation Research Grants for R&D. This program is great, he said, because it allows the small businesses to retain the intellectual property on its projects, hopefully giving them the opportunity to develop a successful innovation business. Templeman and his team used lots of open source software in order to build their products. Now that the business is established, he’s experimenting with ways to give back to the collaborative community that he benefitted from.

What I especially like about Templeman’s approach to his business is the clear thread he sees between his work and Somerville’s commercial past. “History lingers,” he tells me. The shop is located in the Ames factory’s old machine shop. He loves that today the businesses sharing this space — furniture makers, screen printers, model builders, and more — keep manufacturing and fabrication alive in a building originally constructed for that purpose. When I ask him about the tech industry in New England, he explains that the Northeast is “the place” for hardware companies, not just because it’s home to education centers like MIT and business clusters like the Rte. 128 corridor, but also due to the region’s manufacturing legacy.

Chris Templeman and Templeman Automation encapsulates the richness of Union Square businesses: history, community, innovation, experimentation. Small businesses, big clients, super-sized impact.

Here’s more, in Chris Templeman’s words.

DA: Why is Somerville the right place for you?

CT: Templeman Automation started in my basement, here in Somerville, and now that I’ve moved to an office I still like to be here. All of the guys who work here also live in Somerville, in a 1 mile radius. They live in Union, in Davis. We like the short commute. I also like that Union Square has tech nerds and art people together, which brings people together who look at problems from multiple angles. Artists also make a place more interesting — it’s no good to have a monoculture, especially now that our products are becoming more customer-centric and we need to collaborate with creative people to make our products better.

DA: What is the hottest thing going on at your business right now?
CT: We’ve started working on two projects that will produce DIY kits to enable experimentation and tinkering at home. One of them is a kit for a “touch table,” a large cube with a 32-inch screen that combines with a modified projector in order to create a customizable touch-screen computer. The other is a “personal PCR,” an at-home kit to replicate DNA for genetics experiments. Our model is Sparkfund, a company in Colorado that’s made a successful business out of kits for electronic experiments. These are our first consumer products, and I’m excited to interact with like-minded people.

DA: What’s different about the tech community now, versus a decade or two ago?
CT: The same people are experimenting, but now we’re better funded, with business and technology connections. It’s hacking grows up.

DA: What to you hope Templeman Automation will be known for in the future?
CT: There’s no one product, or one project, that I want us to be known for. I want us to be known as a place to go to solve problems.

Aug 11

Somerville Design Profile: Artisan’s Asylum & Sindrian Arts

By Diana Limbach Lempel


Meet Judah Sher, a self-proclaimed “renegade designer” who just recently moved from Cincinnati to Somerville in order to start his business, Sindrian Arts.  I first met Judah at July’s, and was immediately excited to share what he’s doing with all of you, because it’s exactly in line with our values here at Union Square Main Streets.  His end goal, as he describes it, is “to help small local businesses of all sorts to compete directly with large corporations.”  And how does he hope to do this? Build a machine that can build other machines, literally giving the tools of production to other small fabricators like himself.  It’s called a Kikori open source CNC router, and he thinks it’s the key to “slow design, open-source, local production.”  You can learn more about it by watching Judah’s Kickstarter video , or by reading his blog post on his topic here.  We’re excited about Judah’s work because it brings manufacturing back into cities and gives small businesses the power to make their own products.  It’s like bringing the high-tech concept of open-source software to the old-fashioned idea of making things with your hands.


So where does one make a Kikori open souce CNC router, you might ask?  Why, at Artisan’s Asylum, of course!  Artisan’s Asylum, a “fab lab”, or “micro-manufacturing” space in Somerville is home to tinkerers, hackers, crafters, and entrepreneurs alike.  They make things from scratch, with their hands and with machines, in a practice that is quickly disappearing from our communities.  Asylum leadership and members nurture a collaborative community of skill sharing, keeping skills in our communities alive and active.  They hold classes on everything from how to mill wood, follow a sewing pattern, or to weld a robot.  They participate in public fesivals and host a bike hacking collective that builds crazy “nerd bikes” and takes them on rides.  But they are also nurturing a whole crop of businesses who have DIY at the heart of their enterprises, like Sindrian Arts.


It’s places like the Artisan’s Asylum that made Judah want to relocate his business in Somerville, rather than staying in Cincinnatti. At Artisan’s Asylum, Judah can access the tools, technical assistance, and space to build his fabrication machines and to experiment with new products. But more importantly, as he told me, he was looking for a place where people not only had creative ideas, but had the initiative and resources to make them into reality.  We talked with Judah and Gui Cavalcanti, President of Artisan’s Asylum, so that you don’t have to take my word for it.  We’ll ask the same questions of every business and entrepreneur we interview, so you can get a good idea of what’s happening here in Somerville with the arts, business, manufacturing, and keeping it local.



Gui, tell us more about why Somerville is the right place for Artisan’s Asylum to locate?

GC: Somerville is the perfect city for a shared space workshop space like Artisan’s Asylum. It has the second highest number of artists per capita in the United States, and is home to a hugely diverse population from all walks of life. We’re representative of all of the different kinds of creativity, craft and design already present in Somerville – we just give the community a focused outlet and the tools to express its energy. With a city plan that sprinkles factory, residential, and commercial spaces next door to each other, we really couldn’t ask for a better host.

DA: To both of you, what’s the hottest thing going on at your business right now?

Just at the start of Artisan's Asylum's big move into large digs on Tyler Street.

GC: We’re expanding, in a big way — moving from a 9,000 square foot space to a 25,000 square foot one, hiring our first full-time paid staff, and incorporating more than 65 new studio spaces for artists, artisans, manufacturers, inventors and anyone else who likes to make things with their hands. We’re expecting our community to triple in size, and to be able to expand our programming to include youth education, sponsoring our own regional competitions, and ongoing communal making projects.

JS: Right now I’m focusing on getting the Kikori open source CNC router ready to be sold as a kit.  Once that’s ready I’ll be adapting the design for a smaller 2′x4′ version as well as an angled machine designed to take up less floor space.  Finally, I’ll be working on add-on modules for the machines that will allow them to scan 3D objects and work like lathes.

DA: What do you hope for your business to be known for in the future?

JS: My end goal for Sindrian Arts is for it to serve as a model for other small business who want to practice local manufacturing.  Because CNC technology is so versitle, it could be used to produce products for a wide range of businesses, from custom furniture to toys to kinetic sculpture.  I want to help people start these businesses.

GC: In the future, I hope that crossing the line between arts and manufacturing is much more commonplace than it is now, and that there are communities organized around doing just that all over the country. I hope we’re known for being one of the first incubators of this kind of business, and most organic of these. And for having been a little crazy to try it when we had no way of knowing it would be such a huge success. I hope that we continue to push the envelope, challenging society’s assumptions of what “work” and “art” are, and bringing creative fabrication to a constantly growing community.


DA: Tell us briefly about your favorite project or product to date.

JS: Probably my favorite product is the mechanical portfolio case.  It took me a long time to get everything to work together the way I wanted it too, but I’m very happy with the end result.  The best part is watching people’s faces when I open it for them for the first time.

GC: Last Christmas break we hosted a DIY Secret Santa at the Asylum. It was amazing to see the gifts people came up with. It was such a refreshing change from all the silly store-bought gifts that so many people exchange at holidays and often end up re-gifting, or just throwing out.