Orange County – Artist
Sean’s an actively curious individual. He’s also very opportunistic. As a teenager he roamed the hallways of his high school and the streets of his home town with his finger tip not necessarily on the pulse of a math book or said social gathering, but on art and culture. Instead of going to college he started a company. Sean’s school is life, and his friends, family and peers are his teachers and fellow students. He transitioned from an entrepreneurial space to an intrapreneurial space and then back to an entrepreneurial space. He’s crisscrossed the country with his wife, Sara, in a VW Westfalia. He’s made a home out of a studio. He’s found a way when a way wasn’t readily available. Adventures are his fuel. Today, Sean’s making generational furniture and creating otherworldly pieces of art, pursuing his passion for precision as well as the abstract and unfamiliar, all in an ongoing effort to produce pieces that will inspire rich conversation and community. If you’re like me, Sean’s interview will remind you that it’s imperative to do the best you can to live each day with purpose – When we do this, we give ourselves the best opportunity to excel well beyond our imagined future aims.
TSP: Can you please share a little bit about your past? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done?
SW: I grew up in the suburbs of Orange County. Every chance I could get I was either skateboarding, surfing or messing around with random art projects. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always pressed my self to push the needle so to speak in whatever it is I’m doing. I’ve also always been challenged by the idea of pursuing an expected path. Not that I’m innately rebellious; maybe just filled with questions that don’t have readily available answers.
I started two clothing companies; the second one lasted for 4 years, which was from ages 18 to 22. I burnt out, and ended up taking a design position for Hurley, an action sports company in Costa Mesa, Ca. Restlessly, I worked there for 2 years. I was there because I thought I needed some structure, mentoring, consistency. Ultimately, I left. The desire to make things with my own two hands drew me away from a consistent paycheck, great peers and all of the other benefits of working for established company. Not rebellious, just curious.
TSP: What’d you do next?
SW: After I left, I started to fully focus on art. I littered the garage of my house with canvases, art supplies and other random tools and trinkets – My roommates at the time probably loved that! I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing or where I was going, but it didn’t matter to me. I was doing what I knew I should be doing. In those moments, you can step in any direction and it’s the right direction. You know? Somewhere during that time I started making furniture. To me, there’s something about things that endure, that become more full with age, that really move me. They’re humbling. I am in love with making tactile things. The kinds of things people will enjoy and use, and hopefully benefit from over the course of their life. Life’s quick. We only have so much time on this precious earth. But a piece of furniture, a well-built, well-loved piece of furniture, a piece of you, can travel along with generation after generation after generation.
Oh, and I got married! My garage studio transitioned to an actual studio, and my wife, Sara, and I found a simple little place to call home. Soon after getting married, we embarked on a cross-country road trip. We wanted to see America. We live here, yet we’ve only seen a small sliver of its Wonder and Beauty.
TSP: A cross-country road trip?
SW: Ha. Yeah. We’ve been on quite a few more trips since that one, too. It was two years, two months and two days ago when Sara and I bought the VW – A 1987 VW Westfalia. It was pure freedom. For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to roam across the country in that car. The Westfalia wasn't the most reliable; but that's the point. Adventure starts when something goes wrong. Thank you Yvon Chouinard.
I remember when the VW broke down in Florida. It was hot, humid and late. We were hungry, strapped for cash and alone. We finagled our way into a rented car and bought a tent at a Wal-Mart while the van was getting some TLC. We had no real plans to stay in Florida; it ended up being three of the most enjoyable days of the trip.
Be open to breaking down; life’s too quick to not pause from time to time.
TSP: So this trip inspired a series of trips, what is it about the road that attracts you?
SW: Road trips are liberating. While on the road, I’m wholly present. I’m there immersed in the moment. I can stay as long as I like. I can see the colors, feel the textures and hear the tones of distant neighborhoods, communities and cities. There's also a nice little thing about being on the road: in some locations there's no cell service. When we were in Glacier Park, we had no cell service for well over a week. We were just totally present, Sara and I! We soaked it all in, totally undistracted. I can almost feel that no-bullshit, crisp morning air right now.
TSP: What are you up to now?
SW: I’m currently in my loft above my studio, sipping on a Moscow Mule. It’s well into the evening and there’s a guy playing Pearl Jam on an electric guitar a couple doors down. It’s actually quite nice. Since I can remember, I’ve loved Pearl Jam. My wife is reading on the bed, as she does every night, and there is a helicopter buzzing around in the night sky above.
We have what we need, here. It’s not necessarily all that we want, but I love that. We’ve been working to surround ourselves with items that are going to enrich our life, not overwhelm us with unnecessary choices. Life’s too short to get stuck in a grocery aisle staring at a million different kinds of toothpaste, you know.
But back to the question, I’m focused on art, furniture and staying open to what’s ahead. The art is free flowing, to me, and usually has a mind of its own. Furniture is different. It’s very calculated and formulaic in nature. For me, art is problem creation, and furniture is problem solving. They compliment one another. They give me balance.
TSP: What’s it like living so close to your work?
SW: Living in my studio, I've found that I work a lot more, which can be both good and bad. I certainly think about my work a lot more; I see it so much more. As a result, I’m constantly ideating while simultaneously refining. It’s nonstop. There’s a scale to my work that I’ve only recently begun to explore, having literally lived with it now for quite some time. Imagine being at the highest point on Earth. Stand there for a moment. Picture it. It’s intoxicating, the view, the air, the humility. But you can’t stay for too long. The environment can only sustain you for but a few minutes. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been able to tap into from time to time. It’s a miraculous feeling, really, and I love it.
TSP: Do you feel like you’re ever too close to your work?
SW: At times I do, sure. I guess the biggest challenge is not unintentionally blinding myself to breakthroughs, being so close to my work. In order to solve problems you need separate yourself from them. So I’ve become very intentional about my time away from the studio. I spend most of my mornings at the beach, either surfing or just walking along the ocean as the day starts to rise from its slumber. It’s there where I’m free to roam, both literally and conceptually. We all need a place like that in our life, I think.
TSP: Where do you hope to go next?
SW: I’m in the process of exploring what it may be like to open a studio/showroom that is attached or at least somewhere very close to our future house. Honestly, I am really excited to have some more space. Ha!
I'd love to build a Creative Lab where Creative people from across the world can come together to dream up, investigate and make things that will benefit society – things that challenge us to look at and experience the world differently. There'd be a place for people to read, sip on coffee and commune. There’d be a place for people to build, deconstruct and re-build. There’d be a place even, potentially, for people to stay. It'd be a second home for people. At least that's how I'd want people to feel.
But it’s difficult for me to look too far ahead; I could’ve never of imagined I’d be where I am today. I’m not saying I’m in opposition to or without care for my future. I guess I’m just saying it’s important to focus on what I’m trying to do now with my art and furniture, to focus on betterness, while leaving room for interpretation of the incalculable.
Further out, I want to design and build my own house. That’d be nice, for Sara and I. But for now I really look forward to having a house again. Nothing extravagant. Something simple, with a kitchen, studio, yard and dog. A place Sara and I can call our own.
TSP: How do you plan to get there?
SW: Being a creative professional, it's really hard to achieve balance. You have to have balance. Otherwise, you're on a fast track to burn out. I've been there, and it's not fun. For example, during the day, through my work, I'm extremely intellectually stimulated and challenged. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted. In order to balance that, I need physical exercise, too. It's this physical exercise that gives me balance and helps me rest. And it's when I'm able to rest that I'm also able to find incredible inspiration.
It’s easy for me to get sidetracked, so I also need to remain focused. I need to see where I’m headed, but I need to focus on where I’m at in this moment. I also need to take time to really see, hear and feel the things, people and places I’m fortunate to be around. Like a plant needs rain, I need to do all that I can to catch and soak in my environment. It’s life giving. Lastly, I’m going to be bold in the face of discouragement. I’m not going to be dissuaded by a bump or even a mountain in the road ahead. I’ll be the first to tell you that where I end up, that my Creative Lab, may not be exactly what I have envisioned, but that’s not the point. The point is to get there, and with a spirit that's ready to adapt and evolve as needed.
TSP: How can we, the TSP community, help you get there?
SW: Ask me when I'm opening up the Creative Lab. Then, ask me again. Keep asking, actually, as much as you can. That will keep me on it. Ask me what I’m seeing, hearing and feeling. Ask me what I’m learning. Ask me what I’m making, whether it’s art or furniture.
Swing by my studio. Sit around one a table I made; critique it. Look at a recently finished (or not) art piece; tell me about what you’re thinking. To the TSP community, reach out. Let’s have a coffee and talk about all that’s been covered above. It’s through a conversation like that that you’ll help me most.