Sometimes the best jobs are the ones we invent for ourselves. In 2012 designer Jessica Pezalla stumbled upon “a niche market for handcrafted, one-of-a-kind objects, event decor, retail displays, and art installations,” and brought her talent as an artist to the founding of Bramble Workshop in Portland, OR. While she always sensed she’d be employed in creative pursuits, she “followed an unconventional path and invented a career to match” her artistic skills. Now, as the creative director of her own studio, Jessica has figured out how to channel her flow of ideas into an established process. “I begin by collecting inspiration images, narrow those down with the client, create sketches and prototypes, source materials, and then begin the project with client approval,” she shares. With window displays for Hermès, Ella Moss, Anthropologie, and many others under her belt, Jessica brings some of her personal organic aesthetic to polished presentations in a way that satisfies her own need to create. —Annie
Portraits by Jamie Street
What was your career path like?
My path towards founding Bramble Workshop was circuitous and I never could have predicted that this would become my career. In 2009, I spent a year in northern Vermont, working at the artist’s residency program [at] Vermont Studio Center while focusing on my own artwork. I was able to immerse myself completely in what I found most fulfilling, and to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life. A lifelong artist, I received a BA in Studio Art from Oberlin College and an MFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute. After grad school, I planned to create artwork to be shown in galleries while I worked a full-time graphic design job. I soon discovered that this arrangement wasn’t working for me because I needed to spend less time in front of a computer and more time working with my hands. After that pivotal year in Vermont, I moved to LA and got a job as an artist’s assistant and then as a Display Coordinator at Anthropologie.
In 2012, I started Bramble Workshop and my first job (and lucky break) was designing a window for Hermès after being recommended by a friend. I also began creating custom décor for wedding and event planning companies. I soon realized that I had discovered a niche market for handcrafted, one-of-a-kind objects, event decor, retail displays, and art installations.
Now based in Portland, Oregon, Bramble Workshop has continued to grow and change. I have an amazing team here in Portland and the studio continues to work both locally and nationally. I feel lucky that I’m able to live in my favorite city while still working within this unique market.
Photo by Brittany Wood
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I come from a family of artists and have always known that was my destiny. My grandmother was an extraordinary craftsperson — an expert at weaving, knitting, felting, and basket weaving. Every summer at a lake cabin in Minnesota, she would teach her grandchildren a different craft, from knitting striped socks to tie-dyeing with Kool-Aid to watercolor painting on the dock. These are some of my happiest memories, and I still experience a deep sense of contentment when I’m absorbed in a project. My grandmother’s support and encouragement shaped me as an artist and I continually strive to be as accomplished as she was.
What’s the best part of your job?
By far the best part of my job is when I’m creating in my studio and that magical moment when a new project begins to come together. I also enjoy collaborating with clients and working with other designers because that pushes my work in new directions.
And the hardest part of your job?
The most difficult part of running Bramble Workshop is all the different hats I have to wear in order to run a business. I would much rather focus on the creative side and would love to find a business partner.
Photo by Zeke Ruelas
What life skills have been most helpful in pursuing a career as a creative entrepreneur?
My career and my life are intertwined and each informs the other. In 2001, I completed a 10-day silent meditation that was incredibly transformative and life-changing. Among many other things, I learned to embrace uncertainty and cultivate flexibility and an open mind. By trusting this mindset, I’ve followed an unconventional path and invented a career to match my artistic skills. In turn, the work itself teaches me openness and flexibility through the process of creating and experimenting in the studio.
Photo by Kimberly Genevieve
What advice would you give someone who would love to work in a similar field? How should they get started? What should they study in school or learn about on their own?
When first embarking on a creative career it’s important to say “yes” to promising opportunities as often as possible, because you never know where they will lead. I’m a proponent of reaching out to people whose work you admire, with no motive other than to let them know how much you love what they do. I make time to meet other creatives for coffee and these connections often lead to interesting projects and collaborations. Also, I recommend setting aside time to work on personal projects and including them in your portfolio. My work bridges many fields (Visual Display, Brand Experience, Environmental Design, Product Design) and all of these careers require an art or design degree. For me, an MFA in sculpture was essential because my art background is what makes Bramble Workshop unique, but that’s definitely not a requirement.
What else would you love to do in this field?
There are so many crafts that I would like to learn! I would especially love to learn more about ceramics, floral design, sewing, and weaving (I inherited my grandmother’s loom!).
Photo by Kimberly Genevieve
How do you stay inspired? And where do you get your ideas from?
Currently, I’m inspired by collections of small natural objects like minerals, crystals, fossils, feathers, and shells. I love creating small vignettes around my home by arranging these collections with jars of wildflowers, houseplants, and pottery. My personal aesthetic tends towards the handcrafted and organic, while my client work is more refined and polished. I gravitate towards the wabi-sabi design philosophy of the perfectly imperfect.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where I get my ideas, but after doing this work for almost five years, I do have an established workflow. I begin by collecting inspiration images, narrow those down with the client, create sketches and prototypes, source materials, and then begin the project with client approval. Every project has its own requirements (from communicating the brand to creating a site-specific installation) and I love working within these limitations.
Photo by Skot Yobbagy
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on? Or one that you are most proud of?
The project that is most meaningful to me is an Hermès window display inspired by the Greek goddess Artemis. I have vivid memories of my mother reading Greek myths to my sisters and me, and I have always been drawn to Artemis and her imagery. For the window display we created wood forms of a stag and moon (her symbols) and covered them with mosaics made from book covers. We also built environments using books as the material, such as covering a wall in leaves laser cut from botany book pages. The display was based on a very personal experience and I love that Hermès is committed to helping artists realize their vision, however esoteric.
Photo by Skot Yobbagy
What’s next for you? Are there any projects coming up you’re excited about? Or dream projects you’d like to tackle?
I’m currently working on a watercolor-inspired fall window display for Hermès and an intricate cut-paper piece for a new client. Dream projects include designing Bergdorf’s holiday windows, creating a large-scale permanent installation in a commercial space, and developing a line of home goods with a focus on textiles.