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Craft With Conscience: Cindy Hsu Zell of WKNDLA

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Cindy Hsu Zell of WKNDLA

Sarah Benning

Cindy Hsu Zell // Fiber artist // Los Angeles, CA


Cindy Zell is a multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. Her latest collection of large-scale fiber work features material-driven sculptures that explore gravity’s influence on form. Individual pieces serve as studies on curves, drape, weight, and movement, reinterpreting traditional techniques in rope-making. She also has a line of wall hangings and accessories called WKNDLA, which focuses on individually crafted brass pieces handmade with sustainability in mind.

Check out more of her amazing work at her websites WKNDLA  and Cindyzell.com as well as her Instagram accounts at @wkndla and @cindy.zell.

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1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

I learned how to make web sites and use Photoshop almost 18 years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long!). The internet has played a really wonderful, important role in my life and I am grateful to be able to apply those skills I learned as a child to my profession today. I would say that Instagram in particular has had the most polarizing effects. I met some of my closest friends through the platform and they have become like family in real life. It has also given me a chance to share my work with customers from all over the world. I just shipped out my first wholesale orders to France and Switzerland and I never would have had these opportunities without social media. However, it is really easy to get trapped inside the bubble of gorgeously edited photos and forget that there’s a lot more to life than likes and followers. I am making more of an effort to focus on what’s around me instead of what’s on my phone.

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

I like to make things that I need myself, which is what inspired my new collection of earrings. In those cases, it’s easy to take inspiration from my own life and style to use in the design process. I like to combine that with my favorite artists and movements, like the works of Matisse, California Light and Space, and Memphis design. Above all, I am inspired by interesting combinations of shapes and colors that I find in the little details of textiles, architecture, and nature. Everything is inspiration. A bright, cobalt blue bicycle rack I found in my neighborhood inspired a lot of my squiggle-shaped pieces and color palettes. There are so many beautiful visuals available online and on social media but I feel like people often end up looking at the same things. It’s more fun to look beyond the screen for ideas.

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3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

I have encountered infringement and it can be very discouraging. It always surprises me when there is a blatant copy (in those cases I usually reach out and politely request that they take it down. In my experience, these situations have never required further legal action) but what really gets under my skin is when it is a subtle appropriation of my style or aesthetic that I cannot prove. I looked at the previous Craft with Conscience interviews to see how other artists deal with this and I have to admit that I am not as gracious as most! It takes me a while to really let it go. I used to think that if I got angry enough about how unfair it all is, that somehow the person it’s directed at will feel it. But that’s just not how it works, and it only ends up distracting me from my own practice. My process now is to vent to a couple of close friends, get it out of my system, and then keep making and evolving. I believe that originality and integrity do matter in the end and I have to remind myself that it is not my job to patrol it.

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4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

WKNDLA started as a side hustle in 2014 and I’m currently in my third year of working for myself full-time. My advice to those who are afraid to make the leap is that it will surprise you how much you can accomplish when you give it 100% of your time and energy. It can grow so much when it’s not limited to just nights and weekends. On the other hand, I also don’t think running one’s own business full-time is necessarily the end-all be-all goal for everyone. When being creative is one’s livelihood, some of what was fun becomes “work.” To those whose creative businesses are still a side hustle, I would say to have fun and enjoy making things without the pressure to sell it. While I love working for myself, it comes with a lot of sacrifices that I hadn’t appreciated before!

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5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

There are too many! Here are some of my favorites right now:

@sight_unseen

@lrnce

@den_holm

@elo_____

@anna_beam

@kristintexeira

@kbergart

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All photos provided by the artist.