While scrolling through Instagram, we stumbled upon Uptown Woodworks, a local Minneapolis company that creates custom wood wall art. We fell in love! Their clean, but homey designs appealed directly to our minimalist and adventurous hearts. Anita wanted an art piece for her living room and with her upcoming wedding, it seemed that personalized artwork was the perfect direction. She reached out to Garrett and Harrison of Uptown Woodworks and discussed creating a wood sign of the Great Lakes - she is getting married on Lake Superior after all.
We caught up with them to talk about their special order process, how they started making wood wall art and what its been like since they opened their business just two years ago. See our interview and some of their amazing pieces (including Anita's newest wall art) that they've made in the interview below.
We love your signs! How did Uptown Woodworks come to be?
Around Christmas 2015, Garrett was looking for creative outlets outside of his day job and found Nordeast Makers in Northeast Minneapolis. With just a monthly fee, the maker's space gave him access to heavy duty equipment including laser engravers, CNC routers, 3D printers, and other tools. Being a mechanical engineer, Garrett quickly learned how to use the equipment. Around the same time, he and I moved into a new apartment in Uptown. Neither of us had much for art or pictures to decorate our walls, let alone furniture. We both had done some woodwork and lots of DIY projects with our fathers growing up so we decided why don't we just make our own wall decor? One of the first things Garrett created at the maker-space was a four foot Minneapolis skyline. When he brought it home, I was blown away by it. Like Garrett, I also had an itch to find a creative outlet because I used to have so many growing up. I have always been interested and had a knack for all types of design, but one of my favorites was interior design & architecture - particularly classic, simple design that uses natural elements to bring the outdoors inside. This was a light bulb moment. I immediately wanted to get involved in what Garrett had found/started. One of the best things about Garrett is his willingness to be a spark and just try things or make things happen. He and I sat down shortly after he brought the skyline home and we began to brainstorm what else we could make. We also began looking at opportunities to showcase pieces we made to see what others thought. We saw the State Hockey Tournament was coming up so we impulsively purchased a booth and created different variations of two hockey/tournament related designs. At the tourney we got a ton of great and encouraging feedback as well as sold all of our art. After this, we designed many more pieces that were influenced by things that were important to us, would look good in our space and/or were part of our identity such as a Lake Minnetonka lake map. As we created these pieces and shared them on our social channels, people began to take interest and ask for custom pieces for themselves. Garrett had been searching for ways to 'engineer' his way out of his 9-5 engineering job and as of early March 2016, business became consistent enough for him to pursue this full time!
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
I enjoy that creativity is involved. It allows me to create things that are completely unique that I can't get anywhere else. It's also really rewarding to find out other people feel the same way about the stuff we are designing/creating and want to buy it. I also enjoy learning all of the areas of how to run your own business - right now we have very little risk because we do not have a our own shop yet. It's amazing to be learning so much about how to run a business without having the stress of paying off a large loan or something. It's like we're getting a crash course MBA while also getting to experiment...and not being afraid to make "mistakes". Garrett and I also thrive off of customer interaction. We love it. We love meeting new people, getting feedback on our work and talking with them about an idea that we can help them bring to life. Most of all, we love seeing the expressions on people's faces when they see their finished artwork for the first time. It never gets old.
I really like the freedom to make decisions for myself and being involved in every aspect of the business. I also love working with my hands and creating a lot of custom artwork. The combination of multiple responsibilities and creating custom artwork keeps things very fresh and interesting. I take a lot of pride in helping people express what’s important to them in their homes. It’s pretty cool to think about the fact that something you created will be hanging in some of our customers homes the rest of their lives! I also absolutely LOVE what a challenge it is to build a business and how rewarding it is to see it come together little by little.
We love meeting other business owners who were friends before business partners. What’s it like working with each other? What advice would you give someone in a similar partnership?
Being friends before business partners helps with a lot of things. Since we know one another so well, we trust each other and depend on each other, which is a foundation that must be set for the success of any small business/partnership. Another thing that we feel is essential for success for a partnership is making sure both people have very different skill sets and strengths that can help the business. This makes the partnership much more dynamic and productive. Garrett is a mechanical engineer and I am a digital and social marketer yet we both love working with our hands, selling things and the beautiful struggle called entrepreneurship. Lastly, we think it is critical to have others to bounce ideas off of no matter what is being discussed or created. Almost everything we do is collaborative because it’s a simple form of checks and balances. We see things and think about things very differently which really helps being critical and strategic.
What’s the most challenging part about your line of work?
Definitely identifying the critical growth factors of your business AND staying focused on them. When you're a two person business, there is always far more to do than time allows and you can easily get distracted by many things. Being able to recognize these things and staying disciplined to the strategy we have created are a constant challenge. We keep getting better and better at managing these things together. We are strong believers in "Make a plan, work the plan."
How do you come up with the different designs?
We take a lot of inspiration from our surroundings and our community for the main focus or subjects of pieces. However, for the piece's details like stain combinations, we draw inspiration from literally everywhere - people's outfits, cars, photos of interior design, nature, other artist's work that are working in different mediums, other brands, animals, sports teams - the list is endless. Most of our designs come down to a few characteristics and we must answer yes to a few questions: Do we have an emotional connection or Nostalgia to it in some way? Would we hang it in out own place? Would it look great in many different spaces (industrial, modern, rustic, classic american, etc)? Are we proud of it? Is it simple/minimal? If we design something and it passes these questions, we either show the digital design to other people and get feedback or we skip ahead to just making a few prototypes and then get feedback on them. Something we would like to change is the perception that using wood makes something rustic. We are cautious to use that term when describing our work because we feel it is only a piece in the pie chart. We strive to have our designs compliment all sorts of environments whether it is industrial, classic, modern - not just in a rustic space or the likes of a cabin.
Anita had a really amazing experience ordering a custom piece and loved how her wall art come out! For those who haven't placed an order yet, can you walk through a special order process?
Our process typically looks like this:
Step One: Get Inspired! Take a look at our site or social media for past projects you like.
Step Two: Send us an email telling us what you are thinking for a custom piece. We appreciate as much detail as possible like size, colors, fonts, etc. These references really help us make sure we are producing exactly what you are envisioning. The best thing ever is when people have a vector file (ideally a .ia file) that we can use to cut out or laser engrave the design instead of creating the design ourselves.
Step Three: We send a digital mockup to you. Once we settle on the details of the piece with you we then request payment. Once we receive payment, the piece gets added to our production queue.
Step Four: We produce your piece over the course of the next 2 weeks.
Step Five: You pick up their piece locally or it gets shipped to its new home!
Do you have any trade shows coming up?
The only one we have on our schedule as of right now is the Uptown Art Fair this summer, August 3-5!
Anything else that you’d like to share?
We love to help you express what's important to you by turning your ideas into wooden wall art so don’t hesitate to reach out!
*This post is made in partnership with Uptown Woodworks. As always, all thoughts & opinions are our own.