Meet: Cindy Hsu Zell
MEET: CINDY HSU ZELL
LINE OF WORK : SCULPTURE ARTIST
AT WKND LA & CINDY ZELL
A: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
C: Hi, I’m Cindy I grew up in Los Angeles, California and I went to USC for fine art and animation. I thought I wanted to work at Pixar, making movies doing animation work but, I realized that I really preferred to work with more tangible things and working with my hands, which made it really hard to sit in front of a computer all day, looking at digital things so, I ended up changing my major into sculpture. Right after I graduated, I worked at Anthropology, working on their displays so, I sort of learned how to weave baskets with garden hoses, how to cement and plaster, and stuff like that. I was really neat to learn all these different techniques but, I did that work for someone else, and what I really wanted was to work for myself one day. My husband and I got married two years ago and for all of our wedding favors, I made small wall hangings for our guests, so that’s sort of how I invented “WKND L.A.” pieces. People started asking for them so I started selling them. It eventually became my full-time job. Last year, I started focusing on my large-scale work using what I learned in fine art at school and sort of having my own personal art practice, where I could make whatever I wanted, and also having had “WKND L.A.” which is sort of more of my business where I make products that I try to get into stores.
A: So what how did you come up with WKND L.A. as your brand name?
C: WKND L.A. is sort of just shorthand for my favorite time and place and it’s also when I started my business, on the weekends, and so it became my favorite time. I also have a larger scale collection which is just called Cindy Zell, which is just my name.
A: How did you get into rope sculptures?
C: I really have no idea but, I remember one day that I wanted to make a rope that didn’t exist. I wanted rope that was really thick and that wasn’t manila in color, like the usual kind used in boating and stuff like that. So, I had to figure out how to make it myself and then it sort of jumpstarted this year-long obsession of figuring out how it works and creating that tension, whether or not I could dye it, and sort of figuring out what I could do with it, whether I could manipulate it or turn it into art. So yeah, it just sort of started with a small idea and then it turned into this really complicated but amazing technique that I got really into.
A: So tell me about the start of all this!
C: I think that it really helped to “take the leap” to do this full time. It was really scary to do but I knew that if I was really focusing most of my energy, physically and mentally, into another job, I could never put myself into my art and to give it a chance. So, I gave myself six months to really immerse myself into it so I could really hustle and make it work. It was a big risk though, like I gave up my health care, my 401k, and my steady paycheck so that I could have that chance to give all of myself to my art. So, I think that people liked that and responded to the fact that I put “all of me,” my dedication, into my work. That’s what I think, I’m not really sure!
A: Where do you source your materials?
C: Oh, everywhere! I go to a lot of stores locally and I order a lot of things online just to try out. I love that there’s just the world that’s open right now where you can find stuff like linen from Lithuania or cottons from Brazil, and you can try those things out and in the past not many people had that kind of opportunity or that kind of access that we have now. I love that we can just order anything online.
A: Do you have a factory that produces or dyes yarn for you?
C: For Cindy Zell, which is a collection dedicated to my large-scale pieces, no, I just buy what’s available online and thing’s I can find locally. I usually like working with clean white thread that I would hand dye. For example, I would paint on a dye color on white thread before I spin it, giving it this beautiful marbled effect that I typically do for my large-scale rope sculptures. For my WKND L.A. items which are on a smaller scale, I source materials that were already pre-dyed.
A: How long did it take before you went full-time with your own business?
C: I would say about six months, though it would be about a year before I started to believe that this could be a possibility. So making the wall hangings during the wedding when I quit my job was maybe about a year and then I gave myself six months to make it into something bigger before I tried to find another job.
A: Can you tell me about the process you go through? Do you prefer to work smaller or larger scale?
C: Both. I think that’s why I really want to hold on to both WKND L.A. and my large-scale work Cindy Zell. I like working with different mediums, different scales, different price points, and different esthetics, so I like having both. I have different websites for them, different Instagrams, like even for my large-scale stuff.
A: How long have you been running your company? Have you run into trouble since starting up?
C: Oh, lots. Always! So, I started the company in 2015, so it’s been almost two full years and I would say that the biggest thing that I’ve come to realize was when I started the business I sort of assumed that it was a very linear growth and you learn and get better and things get easier but I’ve come to learn that it’s really sort of a circle that you keep coming back to and you’re always starting over again especially in a creative field, you’re always reinventing and evolving. So, knowing that you won’t always know what you’re doing is normal even if you’re years down the line, you’ll keep learning. Everything constantly feels new, which can be exciting.
A: What is your major inspiration?
C: I feel like nature inspires a lot of my work. I like to go outside a lot and I think the fresh air just helps me think. I can always draw ideas from movement and texture and so much of my work is material driven. I sometimes see cascading ropes mimicking waterfalls or rivers in the way that they move and a lot of my WKND L.A. pieces are named after sunrises and sunsets and different times of days.
A: Are each of your pieces unique or do you make multiples of the same things?
C: For the large scale, they’re usually one of a kind and then for WKND L.A. I will create multiples of each one but they’re all by hand so they’re each a little different. I don’t usually have anything themed in seasons, I prefer making things last throughout the year and so I just come up with a design that I really love and I take the time to perfect it before I launch it and then if I decide to retire something, it’s either because I’ve made it so much or I’ve moved on to other things. So it’s more like I focus on the pieces themselves and not on this consistent schedule where I would feel rushed or stressed out. I prefer to offer timeless pieces.
A: How did you go about promoting your items, how long did it take for your work to get noticed ?
C: It helped a lot getting it all onto Instagram when I started my business. Having good photos or your work and having them shared was really really important. I don’t know how I got very lucky but, most of my stockist very early on reached out to me so, I had my pieces on Anthropology online and I had a lot of boutiques reach out and I was lucky enough to work on wholesale with them and not have to email a lot of people asking to work with them. I think it helps to just put your work out there and have really good photos of your work.
A: What was your first big break?
C: I would say having a collection of work at my local coffee shop in Los Feliz, I walked by there every time my husband and I went to dinner and I would peer into the windows and look at what art they had on display at the time and I feel like reaching out to them and them wanting to work with me helped a lot. I had my pieces up and people in my neighborhood were able to see my pieces in person which I think, really helped get my name out there.
A: What message would you like your art to convey?
C: I hope that my art tells the viewer how much work was put into it. I wanted to emphasize the process behind each piece like the fact that the rope is hand spun, dyed, and stitched together to create a minimalistic piece. I want the viewer to contrast how minimal the final piece is to the amount of work that went into it to make it look that way. With my WKND L.A. pieces I hope that they sort of appreciate that authentic handmade nature of them. Especially with the fact that I hand cut, bent, and soldered all the brass on each and everyone of them by hand and that they aren’t just machine replicated, that they’re all just one of a kind, I hope they would take into admiration of my art.
A: Did you have any mentors?
C: I would say I had a lot of peers that helped me. Being able to befriend your fellow “makers” and reach out to the community, local or abroad, especially with social media, you can just talk to anyone in the world in the same business as you are. I was able to celebrate my first wholesale order with someone who just had theirs, and being able to commiserate and collaborate and share notes and ideas was really helpful.
A: What is your favorite technique?
C: I think right now, I like spinning rope. It’s endlessly fascinating because it’s a lot of science but it’s also a challenge to control. I feel like every time I’m doing it, it’s new and I have to feel my way around to doing it again. It’s not always a perfect result but it’s really fun and keeps things interesting.
A: Do you have any upcoming events or big projects?
C: I just put up my new show called Ropetition at Rare Device in San Francisco. There are eight new pieces currently there. As for what’s coming up, I want to start a new collection of tactile art that you’re encouraged to touch the pieces. I’ve made some really big tassels and so the texture of the string is pretty interesting to me. So one of my pieces I created that’s at Rare Device, I actually provide a comb to whoever purchases the piece so that they can brush through it. It’s just sort of a way to play with fine art and something you can interact with.
A: Will you ever do a workshop?
C: Maybe! A lot of people have asked me that! I feel like I’m not a very good teacher and a lot of my pieces involve soldering or tools and I don’t know how easy it is to teach people techniques like that in a couple of hours but I’m definitely brainstorming!
CHECK OUT CINDY!