Lindsey Estes is a machinist, designer, and business owner based out of downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Located on Main Street, within the heart of the Over-the-Rhine revival, is Lindsey's small (but huge with heart) shop Lucca Laser Workshop.
Growing up in her fathers machine shop, Lindsey had the opportunity to experience all of the sensory wonders of working with machines and wood. Lindsey grew to want a career combining the day to day labor of wood working and machining with her desire to make love-filled objects. From there, she grew a graphic botanical business aesthetic that is as true to its material and function. Each and every piece in her shop is created from natural wood and recycled paper. From the packaging to the tiny details inscribed on the back, it is all created by her. Long hours are spent designing, engraving, sanding, scrubbing and packaging every item.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Lindsey Estes: I’ve been in this space for two years and I’ve been in business for about four.
F-D: What did having a store front in OTR do for your business?
LE: It has done a lot-- it has helped me grow exponentially. It's more so just people seeing me and stopping in from having stores around here. The store front has allowed me to have a lot more visibility and has created a way for other businesses to see just what they can do with laser cutting and design. There is so much custom availability with what I make and do. Also, being downtown has changed me and my direction. I like to have a little bit for everyone, I like for everyone to be able to walk in, get a little something, affordability is important to me.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
LE: I just found this space. I didn’t initially intend on having a retail location, but when I found the space and I saw the orange doors, I just fell in love. It’s funny, a week or so before looking at the space I found this journal that I had when I was little. In it I had written that I wanted three things: to be an artist, a mom, and to own a store. I found this spot and figured ‘fuck it! I’ma open a store!”. So I just got started from there.
F-D: What about the layout of the space? What about it helps you work?
LE: The layout helps me stay motivated and focused. I mean, I love having the windows so that I can see outside. I like being in an area that stays relatively busy throughout the day. I encourage everyone to try to have a studio outside of their home if they can. I worked out of my home for a long time but I think that having a space outside of the home has really helped me. I mean [especially with having a retail space] I have to make work to sell, but I also have to make work to fill this shop. I have to stay motivated. And at the end of the day-- it’s nice to have a place to make work and then immediately be able to put it on the floor and feel that sigh of relief.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
LE: Yes. So, laser design is not rapid prototyping by any means, it just isn’t that quick. But it allows me to create a lot of stuff a lot quicker than most artists or makers. It allows me to make beautiful things faster, and thus I can make them more affordable. Also, living in an urban setting opened up my mind to product lines because I want something that everyone can afford. I feel like on Main anyway, [Main Street, a street with a dense population of galleries and other creative enterprises] we really try to maintain a level of affordability; and I think that is really important in the art world. Because at the end of the day, most people don’t collect or purchase art because it is just too expensive.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
LE: Coffee first. I usually start by taking my dog on a little walk around the city. I usually bring my dog here, then start by sitting at the computer and planning my day: I like to first check on all of my clients and website, just to make sure everyone is being taken care of and orders are being fulfilled. Then I usually try to spend a little bit of time organizing; just so I can clean up my mind and workspace a little bit. Finally, I move onto working on whatever needs to be done that day. It can be graphic design, sanding, scrubbing, packaging, the whole nine yards.
F-D: Does having a space that’s open to the public daily force you to be a little more put together?
LE: Yes! Of course I think that it’s important for me to keep ‘back here’ [ the workspace] as straight as possible and I always keep the store front clean, but occasionally it becomes a massacre back here and I have to reign it in.
F-D: Do you work on client work first and then play around with experimental stuff later? What is your process look like there?
LE: Experimental stuff always happens in the heat of the moment. I’ll be working on something important and then I will just get it in my head that I need to make this. . . turtle keychain. . . or something. But it's mostly just whatever needs to be done first.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
LE: I feel like I work with a lot of natural products because it makes me feel better that they will break down over time. I love geometric designs and references to botany and varieties of wildlife. But overall, just sticking to wood and paper are my most important elements.
F-D: What mediums do you work with? Or is there any new material you’d like to work with?
LE: Paper and wood. There is an eight foot laser cutter that I’d really like to get in here so that I can make some furniture in the future. So that isn’t a new material. . . but I’ll be able to work with some new designs.
F-D: How much does an eight foot long laser cutter run?
LE: Like $150,000.
F-D: Good Geesh!
LE: Yea. . . And I do plan to expand my retail. I’m potentially moving over to Findlay Market. My plan is to create a one-stop laser shop. Ideally [the customer] would be able to come in, pick whatever item they’d like cut (cutting boards, signage, trays, etc), choose a design, and then come back in a few hours and have a custom piec
F-D: So, back to your comment about making furniture. . . What kind of furniture?
LE: Well, at first I thought about tables, but also laser cut felt rugs, or large scale wooden wall art, doors. . . Also with the large scale cutter I can work with metal as well.
F-D: Can you tell us more about this process and how it has evolved?
LE: My process is a ton of digital work. All images start out as a drawing, but gets cleaned up digitally. My design aesthetic has gotten a lot cleaner. I’ve also gotten more confident-- which helps. I can also afford higher quality materials now. It's tons of little things that really add up.
F-D: A bit off topic, but is Lucca a type of wood? I know the title of your shop is a reference to wood but I was unsure how. Can you elaborate that for us?
LE: Lucca is an Italian city where the alder tree is prevalent. It is the most commonly used wood in my shop. And. . . I’ve also always wanted to name my kid ‘Lucca’. And so, that’s where the name evolved from.
F-D: What is it about alder wood that works for you?
LE: It cuts like butter. It’s super light weight but very durable. It transcribes my designs very well.
F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
LE: No. I just love to make work that I would want in my house. I’m very space oriented and I like to have beautiful things surrounding me all of the time. Every once in a while I will have something that has a narrative. If I have a really bad day I might make a really sassy card.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
LE: Perhaps my method. I really wanted to get started because of my Dad. There are three girls in my family and two of us are machinists. I really wanted that to be my job. My father has always been a huge influence and supporter of me. It’s not necessarily any individual pieces, but perhaps my body of work.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
LE: Probably my relationships outside of work. I really love being around others and I think taking breaks and making myself happy is very important for my sense of motivation. I think everyone needs that. I sometimes feel like people get really overwhelmed and they feel like they need to be making all of the time. And then they just get burnt out and suck themselves dry. I’m also really motivated by other businesses in the community. When I first began I thought that all of the other businesses were really scary-- I felt like everyone just had their shit together. They’re not, no body has their shit together. We’re all just baby adults. Everyone is so willing to help each other. Weirdly enough, Instagram has also been a huge influence and motivator-- just being able to see that everyone is just trying to make it and are just working as frantically as you are is nice.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
LE: Well, I need to get a bigger space. I’m running out of room here.
F-D: How big is the space at Findlay Market?
LE: It’s 1400 square feet of retail space and then a full finished basement. Space is very limited for me here. Having the right space to stay motivated is really important for me. It’s an architectural and lighting thing. I need good lighting, I like to feel like I can spread out. And I need to feel like the space is a representation of my work. I’m making the space work for me now, but I need more room for sure. I’m busting out of the seams.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
LE: I’d say my biggest feet is my expansion. I have a bunch of new designs that I am kind of waiting to work on until I move into the new space. I have a lot of fun wood working designs up in my head.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
LE: Yes absolutely. Laser cutting is really popular right now. I think that our generation is kind of in the heat of a new maker movement. It’s as if everyone has collectively realized that these machines that we’ve had around for forever don’t have to be used for industrial products. Access is also opening up, and people are realizing that they have flexibility with machines.
F-D: Which other artists might your work be in conversation with? Or in your case, are there any businesses that your work might speak to?
LE: I make a lot of marketing products for other companies that don’t exist yet. I try to take the branding that a client company might send me and then design and create a whole new product for them. Things like signage, keychains, coasters, bunches of stuff.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
LE: Well, ‘get an ice cream cone about it’. And 'do whatever the hell you want all of the time'. That’s pretty much mine, because I don’t want to ever work for anyone.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
LE: I tell them that I’m a laser designer and I have a retail store that is also my studio. I mean, I’m technically an artist because I’m drawing and making everything from scratch. . .
F-D: The root of the question for us comes from the idea that traditional artists almost always have a ‘day job’ or some assortment of jobs that provides them with steady income. But, and I’m assuming here, that because you have your retail space and a tangible business, that you have less of that inquisition about your income. Which is no one else’s business anyway.
LE: People still feel that way about me. When I tell them my profession they’ll tend to respond with, “Oh, that’s great, but you can’t make money doing this, right?” And I always want to ask them why they care in the first place.
F-D: (Cassandra): Yes, but do people assume that because you have a retail space, that that makes you credible?
LE: A lot of people don’t think so. I think it’s because I’m young and I’m a girl. They always assume that I don’t make money. And each time I just want to say that, well, I do. But it still isn’t any of their business.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
LE: My biggest risk was opening the store. Both having the space as well as paying myself to be here or someone else to be here. I feel like I’m always willing to make a risk and to invest in my business.
F-D: (Cassandra) When you are taking a specific risk, whatever it may be, do you feel any fear or anxiety. Or is it just not a concern for you?
LE: Oh, I get scared. Or maybe not scared, it’s more of an anxiety. But for me it’s always more of an anxiety in between getting an idea for something, and when I get to execute it. I have to just dive in and then scare myself into doing it. I’m always scared.
F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?
LE: Pssh. . . I don’t have wisdom?. . . I guess. . . my words of wisdom are ‘do whatever you want all of the time’. . . Maybe, for other artists, don’t be afraid to spend the money and invest in what you make. Invest in quality. . . Just open a credit card, guys!
F-D: It’s ok! Everyone is in debt, we’ll all be in debt together!
LE: Well, my point is more to this idea that everyone is so accepting and comfortable spending tens of thousands of dollars on getting a degree, but they aren’t willing to spend money on themselves and opening a business if it’s applicable to them. It’s just odd to me. I started this business with less than $20,000. Which is the cost of a year of tuition at a lot of schools.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
LE: I just did Crafty Supermarket. I have some work at the Made Market down in Louisville, Kentucky-- which is interesting. They have about 40 or 50 artisans coming to fill up this empty retail space within Oxmoor Mall. That begins on Black Friday and lasts for four weeks. I will also have work up at the Made Market in Columbus. And that begins on December 10th!