A Handmade Tale: Creative Minds

Branching Out

Jeweler Liza Rifkin uses items found in nature to make one-of-a-kind pieces.

Liza Rifkin spends hours scanning the branches of the saplings that line Clinton Avenue for just the right twig to cast in her unique silver and bronze jewelry. "I am constantly stopping at trees and investigating," admits Rifkin, who favors delicate and gnarled varieties. Named Liza Michelle Jewelry, her line of earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces are cast almost entirely from Ohio City twigs with a few crystals and stones sprinkled in for good measure. Rifkin uses the lost-wax casting method, an ancient sculpting practice that dates back at least 5,000 years, to make each tiny, true-to-size plaster mold. Molds heat overnight in a 900-degree kiln — burning out the twig inside— so that Rifkin can fill the space the next day with precious metals. "I loved the organic nature of the twigs," she says. "I could do something one-of-a-kind each and every time."

Toothy Matter. Rifkin got started in college casting raccoon teeth from a skull found in her parents' yard. After graduation, customers commissioned the jeweler to cast their wisdom teeth. "One woman had all four of her teeth pulled," she says. "I made molds of them, and then she had a pair of earrings and necklaces made of each of them."

Male Bonding. While her dainty pieces have feminine appeal, Rifkin had customers frequently requesting items for men. So she designed leather-and-twig wraparound bracelets with guys in mind — and found they're a best-seller with women, too.

Heavy Weight. Rifkin selects twigs based primarily on thickness, texture and weight. "If it feels light but is bulky, translated into metal it's going to be very heavy," says Rifkin. "That's always the thing I have to keep in mind. You know, That's a really cool form, but it's going to weigh 10 pounds if I cast it in silver."

Wheel Appeal

Potter Gina DeSantis crafts colorful pieces for everyday use.

Gina DeSantis swore off clay after her first experience working with the muddy medium in a high school art class. "I had a clay flower that broke," she recalls. "I was really mad." The boycott lasted until her first year at Lorain County Community College, where, after passing by the ceramics lab, she switched her major from graphic design to ceramics. "I love making something that becomes a part of someone's life," DeSantis says. "Maybe each morning you reach into your cabinet to grab your favorite mug, and I made that mug." She launched her Gina DeSantis Ceramics line of well-crafted mugs, bowls, tumblers, serveware and more in 2006 and became a full-time artisan this summer. "Sometimes I try to make a shape, and it turns out completely different," she says. "There are so many stages to ceramics, and it suits my attention span very well."

Color Theory. DeSantis works in classic white or vibrant purple, yellow, aqua and lime green. "I don't really do brown," she says. "I'm not earthy." But balancing style and beauty can be tricky. "Not every glaze looks good on every form," she says. "You have to play with the collection — make the pieces before you figure out what glaze should go on what piece."

Wax On. Her favorite line is one she designed with Screw Factory studio mate Burning River Candle Co., combining DeSantis' cherry blossom and faux bois patterns with the candle company's lemongrass and lavender scents. "It's just really fun to collaborate with another company," DeSantis says. "You have to think outside of what you like."

One-stop Shopping. In 2008, DeSantis launched the Screw Factory's open studio event, which draws nearly 2,000 shoppers twice a year. "I was like, OK, I'm in this really cool building with these really cool artists, and no one knows about this building," DeSantis says. "Now everyone knows about it. It's snowballed."

Fine Prints

Brian Andrew Jasinski's Grey Cardigan illustrations mix fashion with whimsy for a winning combination.

Clevelanders have been attracted to Brian Andrew Jasinski's whimsical, geometric prints — from feminine bunnies holding blushing bouquets to tattooed sailors flexing at octopuses — since the graphic designer launched Grey Cardigan in 2009. But something changes when Martha Stewart chimes in: Jasinski was selected as the design category winner and one of six overall finalists in the 2013 Martha Stewart American Made Audience Choice Awards, which attracted more than 1 million votes globally. "To see, literally, the world embrace your work was incredible," he says. The illustrator hand sketches then digitally designs two collections of several prints, sold at local boutiques and pop-up markets, each year. "I love to watch people rifle through my prints and see which one speaks to them," he says.

Fashion Backward. Jasinski finds inspiration in '20s through '60s fashion. "There was more formality in the everyday that has since been lost," he says. "I put my figures in these peculiar situations, and then dress them very well." A petticoat-clad girl tugs along an elephant, for example, while a high-haired woman entertains birds in her cagelike bustle.

Choosing Sides. Jasinski created a print that expresses Cleveland's East-West divide, poking fun at it with two businessmen glaring suspiciously over their shoulders and holding up gang signs for an E and W. "This print is almost a wink at the ridiculous nature of people's fear to cross the river," he says.

Crowd Pleaser. Events such as the Cleveland Flea, Made in the 216 and Cleveland Bazaar are more than just markets for Jasinski's work, he says. "Seeing the importance our community puts on artists — and watching the impact their support has on our local economy — is great."

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