Seattle's thriving artist community has everything from blacksmithing and fine art to music and leatherworking. Here, meet four favorite artists are doing what they love, and see a few more favorites that make great gifts.
Bill Erickson: Erickson Longboards
Just blocks from Ballard’s thriving retail district sits an unassuming red building, what looks like a remnant from the neighborhood’s blue-collar start. A small sign in the window above the door—Ballard Woodworks—is the only indication of what’s inside. It’s here you’ll find the workshop of Bill Erickson, the owner of Erickson Longboards. He makes classic longboards and intricate cutting boards.
It started when he made himself a longboard: “I don’t want some longboard that’s got skulls and crossbones and tribal tattoos all over it,” he said of his thoughts at the time. “I want something timeless and classic.”
With some help from his dad, Erickson made his first longboard from a piece of walnut. Then, after being laid off from his job, he decided to make a go of selling his product, starting at the Fremont Market.
“I had all this beautiful wood, and I thought, ‘I could make some cutting boards,’” he said. Now his scraps are turned into one-of-a-kind cutting boards that could be hung on a wall as art.
“I keep trying to one-up myself on every cutting board I make—try to make each one weirder, more interesting, more thought-provoking,” he said. Each cutting board takes him about a month to make, even after four years of creating them.
“There’s a lot of work that is involved. It would be tedious if I didn’t enjoy it. But I do. I love it,” said Erickson.
He can usually be found at Pike Place Market a few days a week, when he isn't traveling the world.
Ryan and Michael Barrie: Hardmill
Ryan and Michael Barrie’s company, Hardmill, also is headquartered in Ballard. The idea for Hardmill started when Ryan, who had worked in kitchens while going to college, couldn’t find a sturdy apron to use at home. He recruited his brother Michael to help, as Michael had experience in wood working, metal working and upholstery.
“After moving to Seattle [from Idaho], Ryan moved in with me, and this just made sense,” said Michael.
Added Ryan, “It’s been a fun journey. Fun seeing it grow from bedroom to garage to the workshop we’re in now.”
The company makes beautiful aprons from leather, waxed canvas and denim, knife rolls and a line of bags and custom products.
Their handmade goods have even gotten the attention of Hollywood celebrities: “We did a whole bunch of wine totes for the actor Kyle MacLachlan—his winery is over in Yakima, so we did a whole bunch of those for him as Christmas gifts,” Ryan said.
Leah Lawrence & Billy Bartel: Baleen
You might have seen Baleen’s line of minimalistic, affordable jewelry—the three-year-old line is carried in 24 states and Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The Ballard storefront has been open for seven months. Behind a pair of barn doors in the airy shop lies the production studio, which hums with activity almost daily.
“Basically, good design for everyone was our mantra and focus,” said Leah Lawrence, who owns the company with her fiance, Billy Bartel.
Each of them had previous creative endeavors—Lawrence had a line of swimwear, and Bartel created a men’s jewelry line. Their goal for the Baleen line is to create quality jewelry that’s affordable—items fall in the $24-$68 range—and beautiful.
“We wanted people to be able to purchase it and not just admire from a distance,” said Lawrence.
The jewelry is popular, and not just with locals: “We had a guy who had a layover in Seattle,” said Bartel. “I can’t remember if he was flying from Ottawa, [but he] had a layover in Seattle and drove from the airport to here in a Smart Car and drove back to the airport.”
“We feel very loved having the shop,” added Lawrence.
Susan Fedore: Una
Susan Fedore has been an independent fashion designer for the last nine years with her line, Una. She started making her own clothes in high school and says she’s always loved working with her hands. Her women’s styles include dresses and tops made with sustainable fabrics that she creates at her in-home workshop.
“I guess I’m kind of a dreamer-slash-idealist, not so much a realist,” said Fedore. “I had the idea that I wanted to do my own thing in a really rough sense. I did some research, sort of did a business plan—it was really skeletal. You don’t really know what to expect until you get into it, but I knew I wanted to keep it locally made [with] sustainable fabrics as much as possible.”
Her go-to design, of which she’s created a number of iterations through the years, is the Greta Dress.
“I took the prototype into Velouria and Tess [the shop’s former owner] was like ‘I need more of those.’”
In the years since, the dress has seen color changes and small style changes, but remains popular with customers.
“There’s that whole notion of, when you’re making stuff by hand, you can put a little love into it,” said Fedore. “You put some undivided attention into it, it means something.”
Find Fedore’s latest creations at Velouria.
More Made in Seattle Picks for the Perfect Gift
Fran’s Chocolates: These decadent treats are a favorite far beyond Seattle—the Obamas give Fran’s Salted Caramels as gifts. The chocolates are handmade at the company’s Georgetown location, and visitors can peek into the production floor through a viewing window. While there, be sure to try the drinking chocolate and pick up a box of Salted Caramels for the flight home.
glassybaby: Hand-blown glass vessels provide gorgeous, flickering light to any space—glassybaby vessels come in a huge variety of colors, but beyond the beauty, the company gives 10 percent of every sale to nonprofits that provide assistance to people in need. Visit the Madrona store and hotshop and watch local artists create each piece by hand.
Pine + Boon: Jess Marie Griffith started her line of handbags in 2013. Her leather totes, cross-body bags and pouches feature unique details including hand painting and fun shapes and colors. Find Pine + Boon at Moorea Seal, Velouria or Prism.
Herbivore Botanicals: Founded in 2011, this Seattle company creates bath and skincare products with only natural ingredients tested on humans. The products are carefully created to benefit your body and mind, with soothing scents and thoughtful packaging. The beard oils make a fantastic gift and the facial bar soap is perfect for travelers. Find their products at Baleen, Glasswing, Moorea Seal and KOBO.