Emily Johnson

EC Design jewelry is hand-forged and fabricated by artist Emily C. Johnson. Often described as subtle but edgy, EC Design jewelry is a playful mix of raw hammered metal work, simple geometric shapes, and unexpected details. With its clean design and mixed metal color palettes and gems, Emily’s work appeals to both first-time ring owners and jewelry aficionados alike.  Emily received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in sculpture from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2002.  She worked as both an assistant curator at a contemporary art gallery and as a gallery director for a high-end custom jewelry gallery in Minneapolis before pursuing her jewelry line full-time in 2009. She continually draws from her fine art background to create unique and sculptural pieces with clean lines, great contrast and utter simplicity.
Photo by Louisa Podlich
Talk about the beginnings of EC Design Studio. What inspired you begin this endeavor?

I have always made and sold jewelry. From custom colored friendship bracelets in 5th grade to bead work in Jr.High to wire work in High School and while at MCAD. But I didn't think of it as a career until I was 25 and going through my quarter-life crisis. I was at a creative but dead-end job building displays for Anthropologie. Using up all my creativity for someone else's business was not satisfying. So I thought, if I didn't have a job, what would I be doing with my time.  It turns out I'd still be making and selling jewelry. So I went back to school for silver and goldsmithing at the now defunct MCTC Jewelry Manufacturing and Repair program and mixed what I learned there technically with my fine art background from MCAD and the result was EC Design!

Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?  Yes, my mother says I told her I was going to be an artist when I was 3. You name a craft, I've probably tried it! I've always loved working with my hands and creating. I originally planned on being a Fine Artist and went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to get a BFA in Sculpture. I loved making art, but making a living at it is much more challenging. Jewelry seemed like a much more viable creative option, especially since I have been making and selling it since 5th grade. I also felt I could reach more people with jewelry; it's personal like fine art, but being worn on the body every day is so much more intimate.
How have the items you make evolved? How have you evolved as an artist and businesswoman?
My jewelry has evolved a ton. Bead and wire work was far too limiting for me. Learning silver and goldsmithing and gem setting totally opened up my creative world. I started out making fun more fashiony jewelry, but it quickly transformed into finer jewelry and wedding rings. I never thought I'd make wedding rings because I thought people just wanted huge blingy diamonds in boring rings.  It turns out they don't!  That's just all that traditional jewelry stores sell and the public needed to be exposed to more unique and personal options.
As a business woman I kind of feel I hit the ground running. I was setting up a "shop" in my bedroom and selling crafts to my family since I learned to use a calculator. But I am always looking to learn and evolve. I love reading business books and listening to podcasts on money and business. Talking business with my amazing group of self-employed girlfriends is one of my very favorite things to do. We are always learning from our peers.
You describe your work as unique and sculptural pieces of jewelry, with clean lines, great contrast and utter simplicity. Where do you find inspiration to make jewelry? 
I find inspiration in the little bits and pieces of materials scattered all over my bench. I work in piles and sometimes those piles become something beautiful. But of course I'm influenced by my fine art background. The basic principles of art and design get drilled into you in school and I can still hear my professors words in my head. My favorite piece of advise was to use as few elements as possible to make your point.
How has living and making in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through EC Design Studio? 
I can't imagine making and living any where else! Minnesota has so much to offer artists: affordable living, a vibrant arts community, huge studio buildings that are full of inspiring artists and are also affordable, galleries and boutiques and a community that appreciates locally handmade everything! And of course amazing arts funding! I was fortunate enough to get a Minnesota State Arts Board grant this year that is allowing me to expand my Minnesota presence outside of the Twin Cities.  Including my new website which just launched:  www.ecdesignstudios.com
Do you like to experiment with different materials or techniques in your work? 
I do! I love taking classes and reading books on new and different techniques. But it is always a challenge to add what I've learned into my current work.  I keep so busy with my gallery orders and custom designs. I really have to set aside time to experiment and make new work. I was given great advise by a internationally known jeweler I took a workshop with to set aside at least one day a month to just play and experiment. You have to remember to play.

Do you feel like your work allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself?

We have such an amazing arts and fine crafts community in Minneapolis; I am so honored and excited to be a part of that. I think it's a big part of our jobs as creators to educate people on why handmade work is so important. We are losing our hand skills as a nation. Technology needs to be just a part of our lives, not out entire existence. Being able to make something with your hands is so satisfying and important, we can't let those skills die out.
The process of making custom wedding rings can be very rewarding in itself.  You are meeting with two people at a very happy and joyous time in their lives. It's very humbling when they chose a piece of my work to represent their love for the rest of their lives. I get to make an object that represents love, I can't think of anything bigger than that.