Designer Q&A: Eric Trine

We sit down for a very insightful Q&A with the "Maker of Things", Eric Trine. Eric Trine, 29-years-old Educational Background: BFA Sculpture - Biola University 2007. MFA Candidate ('13) in Applied Craft and Design - Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft.

How did you discover your passion for making furniture? I discovered my passion for making furniture by actually making furniture. I have a passion for making - and with furniture it's nice that the things I can make can actually be used in a functional way. So, I like the making of the item but I really enjoy seeing what happens to it after it's made. I love seeing how people enjoy my pieces - how they put them to use.

What is your day-to-day work life like?
Well, this year has been tricky because I'm in graduate school - and I'm on summer break right now. So I'm just trying to crank out as much work as possible before I have to start again in the fall. My ideal working schedule is to work from home in the morning then head into the studio from about noon to 8pm and work on projects. In the mornings I like to read, respond to emails, think, and then I'll get to the studio and prep for a few hours, and then I'll work non-stop for about 4-5 hours.
Does what you studied in school apply to your current job? If not, where did you learn the skills you use at work?
Some things apply but there are different criteria at play in school vs. the marketplace. An object can get an A+ in a classroom but it doesn't mean it's ever going to sell in the real world. Similarly, a lot of objects that get made and sold out there would literally flunk you out of art school. I'm really interested in finding the crossover space - where the world of fine art and commercial art collide. Making a living making stuff is really hard to do - it's hard to find that sweet spot of feeling comfortable about the business of art. I think that's the main reason I do so much "applied art" these days (the furniture and stuff). It's easier for me to be comfortable about my work when I know there is a specific applied purpose for it.

What inspires you? Thrift stores, garage sales, antique malls and flea markets. It's not about finding old stuff or nostalgia for me, it's about finding stuff that doesn't have a name or a brand associated with it. I love finding weird one-offs. Right now I'm super into old crappy ceramics - the kind of pieces that students make in high school ceramics classes and they give it to Grandma as a Christmas present. You know, the types of things that sit in a garage until they have a garage sale, and then after no one buys it it gets donated to Goodwill, and then it sits on the shelf for years. I guess I'm inspired by the stories behind things but as you can tell I also like to make the stories up myself! I also love just walking around hardware stores or lumber yards. I like to look at raw materials rather than finished pieces.

The Best part of your job:
Making stuff for people to enjoy in their homes. I love that I get to be a part of shaping their home experience.
The most challenging thing about your job:
Making money - it's really difficult to actually figure out a way to make money making handmade things. I'm doing well enough to take care of myself, but to actually support a family is really difficult.
Any other industrial/furniture designers you like?
I really enjoy work being done by some of my peers up here in Portland - Grant McGavin, Phloem Studio, Jason Rens to name a few.
Do you and your wife have favorite spots to vacation or travel in America?
We haven't done nearly as much traveling as we would like, but who does? When we lived in Southern California, we really enjoyed going up the coast to San Luis Obispo/Morro Bay area. We recently did a drive along the Northern California/Southern Oregon coast and that was absolutely amazing. We loved that!
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
1. Learn how and when to say Yes and No. It's important to know exactly why you are saying yes or no - know the criteria that's operating behind your decisions. Are you doing this project for a good cause, or for money? It's totally fine to take on a project just to make money as long as you know that you're taking on the project just to make money. The problem comes when you are trying to satisfy competing criteria.
2. Work smart and as hard as you can.
What is the most important thing you have learned since starting and running your own successful business?
Definitely the answer I gave to the question above: Knowing why I'm saying yes or no to an opportunity or project has been so key.
Best moment of your career so far?
I think it's been an accumulation of all the little moments - making custom furniture for people is really satisfying. Getting little write-ups on blogs or in print has been awesome. Getting to work for awesome companies and people, like Poketo, has been really rewarding.