Name: Holly Guertin / Age: 26 / Current Company: Ernie and Irene / Title: Owner+Designer / Years in Business: 2 / Education: BFA 2011, Fibers, Savannah College of Art and Design
How did you get your start in the creative field?
Growing up, my family was very creative, especially my mom. In her, I saw the beauty of making and knew I wanted to go into the creative field. When it came to look for a college, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to stay in the South and I wanted the best art college for careers and the Savannah College of Art and Design was a perfect fit, especially since my sister had gone there three years before me.
I was borderline obsessed with career services, creating resumes, and building my portfolio from the start of my freshman year. I started working at a beautiful vintage shop in downtown Savannah under Elizabeth Demos, an extremely talented stylist and event planner. She has been an amazing creative mentor and supporter of my work. Thanks to her, I was introduced to Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge, who had me shadow the team at Martha Stewart Weddings during my internship with her at D*S, which led to the full summer internship at MSW the following summer. With those connections and experiences under my belt, I was able to land a great full-time print design job just outside of Philadelphia, where my husband was attending grad school.
You have worked for so many well-known and established companies, how did you know you wanted to start your own business?
Through my internships and jobs, I saw both big and small companies and the pros and cons of both. The community and closeness of a small company appealed more to me. I learned quickly from my exposure to so many successful small businesswomen in the creative field that it is a supportive and nurturing community. I knew I wanted to be a part of it, especially to contribute to the authentic, handmade philosophy that their businesses so well embodied.
I’ve also always dreamed of being able to work from home when we started our family. I love the freedom and flexibility of being my own boss and the portability of my work, without losing family time.
Where did the inspiration for your business come from?
Starting with the name, I wanted my business to be centered on our home and family. Ernie and Irene are my husband and my middle names. Well, his is Ernest, really, but if I kept it at that, then they wouldn’t be anagrams! My pieces themselves revolve around our relationships with the people and objects that surround us. Not only are the pieces completely handmade by me using time tested processes that date back centuries and encourage community within women, the materials are also all natural and as organically or sustainably sourced as possible. I am deeply inspired by the Christian imagery of sheep, and all of my pieces are either directly inspired by a sheep’s fleece or are made primarily with wool. We all need a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who is at the same time the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb. Plus, sheep are adorable and their wool has amazing properties like being antibacterial and a natural insulator as well as able to be used in so many processes like felting, spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, etc.
All of your work is so intricate and detailed. Can you tell us a little about the process and how long it takes to create one of your fiber pieces?
My “Malachos” – derived from the Greek word for “soft” – are my most intricate and time consuming, by far. A medium sized Malachos takes about 40-45 hours to create. I first crochet each “dome,” if you will, then hand sew those together with loop stitches, then stuff them with raw, virgin wool, then attach the cotton drill fabric in an almost quilting fashion, sewing through each crevice between the domes. Crocheting alone takes up about half of the time to complete the entire piece.
The “Silhos” – from the word “silhouettes” – and “Axios” – meaning “He is worthy” in Greek – are less time consuming, taking about 4-6 hours. I begin with the process of wet felting, which is the repeated action of agitating raw wool fibers while exposing the wool to alternating hot and cold water and mild soap. That forces the individual fibers to knot themselves together, forming their own fabric. Once that is dry, I start needle felting the silhouettes with more raw wool (for the Silhos) or the phrases with wool yarn (for the Axios) on top of the wet felted base. I use a special needle with small briars on it to knot the fibers into the fabric I created while wet felting. It’s the same end product, but with the needle, I’m able to have more control and can create more detail. Isn’t it cool to think that felting started by shepherds stuffing their uncomfortable shoes with their sheep’s wool for added padding?
You have an impressive list of companies for whom you have worked. How did you come to freelance for brands like Lilly Pulitzer?
I actually worked as a full time print designer for Lilly for almost 2.5 years right out of college. They came to interview for print designers at SCAD and I requested an interview since their location was only about 30 minutes away from where I was hoping to live with my fiancé once we were married. Also, my roommate through college, Abigail, interned with them the summer before and put in a good word, which never hurts.
But, I’m never afraid to reach out to a company and ask if they would ever need a freelancer, if I find that our aesthetics/voices work well together. With my other freelancing clients like Style Me Pretty and Verily Magazine, I simply reached out with confidence and we decided to work together.
You also do your own print work for phone cases. Can you tell us a little about where your inspiration comes from while creating prints?
Yes! I’m very excited about these. I am a Catholic Christian and was seeing a lot of phone cases that were trying to help believers from getting too lost on their phones and forgetting to pray or be present to their friends and communities. At the same time, beautiful floral and geometric printed phone cases are everywhere. I wanted to combine the two and make prints that reflected our Creator to remind us of Him and also give the potential for some evangelization.
You seem to have dabbled in a little bit of everything. With such diversity in your work, what advice and encouragement would you give to creatives who have a multitude of skills and talents?
I always think that maybe I should pick a direction and go with it, but I’ve never been able to because I really do love it all so much. Everywhere tells you to pick one, but why? I’m a big believer in just doing it. You want to make crazy big fiber art pieces? Go for it. You want to make phone cases too? Do it! And textile designs for fashion? Sure. Maybe I don’t have as clear a voice as someone else, but I definitely am glad I have my hand in all things that I love and feel called to.
You have a son and also work from home. How do you maintain a balance between work life and your personal life?
Nap time = everything. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do when Jack grows out of napping. I can work really efficiently, so I try to get everything done on my desktop computer within the 3ish hours I get a day for naps. Everything else, crocheting, sewing, etc. is portable so I can be making pieces at the playground or in our home. I definitely don’t sacrifice community or time with my husband and family, because those are most important to me. We have a young adult group that we love, and we switch off each week so that one can stay home with Jack while the other gets social time with our community. I’m so thankful that most of what I do, can be done amidst friends and family, so I don’t have to choose.
PS – I’m pregnant with #2 due in February, so things are about to get crazy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My junior year at SCAD, I created my first Malachos. It was shown at the Fibers Dept Open Studio and was then purchased by SCAD for their Permanent Collection. I heard it went to their campus in Hong Kong, but then was so honored to hear that it was featured in the residence of SCAD’s president, Paula Wallace, at their Lacoste campus. It was the affirmation I received there that gave me the confidence to start making the Malachos I make today.
Currently loving: the brisk mornings of early Fall
Currently reading: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Currently dreaming of: meeting baby #2 and seeing Jack as an older brother
Currently watching: Prison Break on Netflix
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Photography by Chia Chong + Holly Guertin