Next up on Meet the Maker, we have a fellow San Franciscan who creates beautifully and intricately detailed wooden jewelry and accessories. Introducing Linnea Oliver, the founder of the small design studio Bird of Virtue. By mixing organic elements like wood with modern, laser-cut (eep!) designs, her stuff is right up our alley. Intrigued? We knew it. Let’s get started!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Linnea Oliver, and I’m a full-time artist living in San Francisco. I handcraft all of my original jewelry and accessories for men and women in my sunny studio and at TechShop.
I’m so grateful to be the latest generation in a long line of artists, crafters and makers in my family. My parents and grandparents have always inspired me with their creativity and their love of crafting, architecture, music, photography and cooking. It’s because of them that I’ve been making and selling beautiful things of all sorts since I was a little girl.
Why did you decide to start your own jewelry business? How was Bird of Virtue born?
I had been making and selling jewelry for 20 years, but because it was always part-time, it could never be anything huge because I wasn’t taking much risk. Bird of Virtue was born just over two years ago and came out of a desire to make changes in my life. At that point, I’d been working various corporate jobs for close to 15 years and realized my life needed a serious overhaul. So I quit my job, joined a maker studio in downtown San Francisco and launched Bird of Virtue.
The name stems from my affinity with British culture and their flippant term for a woman (a “bird”), and the “virtue” is symbolic of my desire to make positive changes in my own life. It’s not intended to be a proclamation that I’m virtuous, but rather, humbly admitting that I am working toward becoming a better person. The cornerstone pieces of Bird of Virtue are my Braille necklaces, which express these virtues I strive to live my life by.
In five words or less, tell us why you love to make.
To be original.
How do you choose what products you’ll create? Where do you get your inspiration for all your pieces?
I’m inspired by the patterns I see in the world, both naturally occurring and manmade forms alike. Both a trait and a curse. I’ve always been one of those people that’s very aware of little details in everything — patterns, flavors, sounds — and I think that attention to details really shows through in my work.
What tools do you use to create your jewelry?
I use the obvious tools such as paper, pencils and erasers, but also a computer, a laser cutter, various hand tools and a plethora of brushes and tubes of paint. My newest tool is a vintage Brailler.
What does the making process look like for you?
My process almost always starts by heading out into nature (Baker Beach in San Francisco is one of my faves) with a sketchbook and pencil. I then translate those sketches into my computer so I can cut them on the laser. I still really prefer to design in a tactile manner, rather than just on the computer, so I’ll cut various shapes/versions of the concept and then see how they best interact with one another to get the final version.
Then, I decide my color palettes, which can take me a long time. Jewelry is such a personal expression. I want to make sure I’ve perfectly mixed wearable shades that also compliment the design and material (wood). Finally, it’s a detailed process of hand-painting and gluing the thin layers of wood together.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
The process, learning to let go and just be me. Prior to quitting my corporate gig, I found a lot of inspiration from everyday folks (i.e. my tailor, cobbler and auto mechanic) who were clearly doing the type of work they were meant to do in this world. Finding and being yourself, honoring that and acting upon it can be totally scary, and I’m grateful to have had the support from friends and family to remind me that I’m on the right track.
We noticed that all your pieces (gorgeous, by the way) are made of wood. Any particular reason why?
I love the natural qualities and unique grain of the solid hardwoods (walnut, cherry and oak) I use in my work. Wood is also naturally lightweight and strong, which makes it ideal for jewelry. Plus, it smells divine right after it’s been laser cut (like a sweet-smelling campfire), which reminds me of camping in Wisconsin with my family when I was a kid.
What other creative hobbies do you have? Have they influenced your work in any way?
I have a degree in music and draw inspiration from the architecture of geometry and music. I’m fascinated with the mathematical components of music and the patterns that make us feel something when we hear a melody. This fascination with the mathematical, the patterned and the organic is evident in many of my creations.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?
Believe in yourself and keep on going, even when it’s hard. It makes the successes even sweeter.
How has technology changed and supported what you do?
While my preference for making and creating is still a very hands-on process, I absolutely love how technology is increasing the ways and speed in which we can create.
We saw that you have retail shows throughout the year. What goes on at those?
Retail shows are invaluable because they allow me to connect with my customers and other artists. I’ve met so many amazing, inspiring people through going to shows and festivals. Plus, my camera shutter just can’t seem to keep up with what my brain creates, so shows are a fabulous venue for me to sell one-of-a-kind color combinations.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve been talking with some other artists about collaborations, and I plan to introduce a couple of new materials, beyond wood, into my line this year. Oh, and perhaps a vacation sometimes this summer!
How much do you love Linnea’s work with Bird of Virtue? Tell us about it in the comments below and don’t forget to check out her website!