In 1922, a passionate young artist arrived at the Bauhaus school and found herself in front of a loom. She was doubtful about a potential career in weaving. “My beginning was far from what I had hoped for: fate put into my hands limp threads,” she later recalled. “Threads to build a future?”
With time, however, she warmed to the idea. The more she worked, the more invested she became. “[The threads] won me over,” she admitted--even though it was somewhat “against her will.” That young artist was Anni Albers, one of the greatest textile artists in history and one of the most legendary artists--of many--to come from the Bauhaus.
Trying new things is difficult, but for artists, it can also be transformative. Here’s a look at six artists who remind us of the power of reinvention. Some of them cross seamlessly between genres, while others ignore the status quo and shatter expectations, but they all share a taste for creative risks and challenges.
Ben Young grew up surfing waves. As an adult, his passion for the water only deepened when he became a boatbuilder. His sculptures often incorporate concrete and bronze, but his primary material is cut glass--the same kind that’s used in windows. And they’re usually inspired by the sea.
Young taught himself to work with glass in his garage--his parents still have the first sculpture he ever made. He’s perfected his technique over more than fifteen years, but he never stands still for too long. “I do love a challenge,” the artist admits. “I try to set myself a self-initiated project every year that is different to what I'm creating at that time. It gives me the opportunity to do something new and work with different people. I feel it’s important to break out from your norm every now and then to explore new ideas.”
Although he constantly pushes himself to innovate and explore new terrain, the handmade aspect of his work remains important. It takes time to transform solid, heavy materials like concrete and glass into liquid seascapes and vistas, but when it’s all said and done, it’s worth the sweat and tears--and a few small cuts here and there (he is working with glass, after all).
At the age of nineteen, Brandon Woelfel got his first DSLR and fell hard for photography. Always keen to accept a challenge, he had a penchant for shooting during twilight and at night, though his mastery of light truly kicked off one winter when he experimented with a new tool: Christmas lights. “Everyone does the light play around Christmas,” he told Thought Catalog in 2017. “But I felt like I just kept going with it and never actually stopped.”
Since then, he’s used almost every tool imaginable to manipulate and bend light, from traditional prisms to advanced post-processing techniques. Although he rose to fame on Instagram, his book, Luminescence proved that he’s equally at home in print. Woelfel’s dreamy, ethereal aesthetic is instantly recognizable, but he’s not afraid to push the boundaries and try new things.
While Woelfel’s style has been emulated by countless artists, including those who created a preset to help others achieve “the look,” his story is a testament to the beauty of originality--and the possibilities that come with taking the road less-traveled.
As a child growing up in Poland, Justyna Stasik has a clear memory of her Mickey Mouse coloring book. Though her artistic ambitions weren’t fully formed at the time, she started making collages in high school, using the materials she had at her disposal--including notebooks purchased from the nearby grocery store.
As an adult, she continued to pave her own way, forgoing art school and instead accepting a job designing mobile apps for children. These days, her work can be found in the pages of leading magazines--not to mention the lower level of NYC’s Grand Central Terminal--but she’s still held onto her youthful exuberance, playfulness, and willingness to break through barriers.
With a focus on graphic lines and bold colors, Stasik creates characters we can all relate to--including a popular series of naked ladies doing yoga. Part Henri Matisse and part Tavi Gevinson, she reminds us of the beauty of taking chances and staying honest.
Nick Misani has a passion for historical ornamentation--but with a modern flourish. As an in-demand designer and illustrative letterer, he’s usually juggling several projects at once, but he always makes time for his ambitious personal projects. His inspirations range from Art Deco design to 16th Century lute music to Victorian typography, resulting in multifaceted work with a surprising twist.
At first glance, his Fauxsaics look like traditional mosaic floors, built with tile and grout, but in reality, they’re digital illustrations. That’s not to say they weren’t labor-intensive; a finished artwork comprises anywhere from six to ten thousand tiles, each hand-drawn and colored by Misani. The compositions are elaborate and painstaking, and many of them are inspired by real places--including London, Boston, Mexico City, Paris, and Izmir.
As the child of two jewelry designers, Misani had a creative life from the start, but forging his own way was always important to him. “Had I just gone into jewelry design, I would probably have had a pretty clear, easy path towards that,” he once told WeMake. Instead, he’s gathered knowledge from every experience he’s had--from growing up in Milan to working for the iconic graphic design studio Louise Fili Ltd--and he’s used those influences to create something new altogether.
“I don’t feel satisfied with a piece if it is too easy for me to make,” artist and metalsmith Jennifer Crupi tells us. Her wearable sculptures don’t just highlight the body like conventional jewelry; they also distort, restrict, and reconfigure it. Inspired by gesture and movement, her work reminds us of the power of body language--especially in a time when so much communication happens online.
Even as a youngster, Crupi was encouraged to think outside the box; as she told Dazed, her mom wouldn’t allow her to use coloring books and kits, telling her instead to make things from scratch. Today, her work might be inspired by art history (particularly the gestures found in famous paintings), but in many ways, she’s traveling into uncharted territory.
Crupi’s medium doesn’t come with an instruction manual. “When I was pursuing my MFA in jewelry/metalsmithing, we were often asked, ‘why metal?’” she remembers. For a while, she worked with different materials, including wood, but she couldn’t stay away forever, and her connection to metal only deepened.
Within metalsmithing, she’s found a thousand different avenues to explore and encountered a few obstacles along the way. “I have never been too fond of the idea of creating a series and although I eventually started working in this manner, I never go beyond three or four in a group, as I hate to make similar things,” she admits. “I challenge myself to come up with new ways aesthetically to problem-solve.”
In her sophomore year of college, psychology major Amanda Smith decided to take a ceramics elective. While she had experience painting and drawing, her foray into ceramics wasn’t as effortless as she might have hoped. “I was in love with a medium I was really unskilled at,” she tells us. “In fact, I blew up my entire BFA show by firing it too fast in an electric kiln a week before I was to hang the show.”
Today, Smith has the skills, but she hasn’t lost her thirst for experimentation. “As a ceramicist, you are forced to constantly overcome technical challenges and learn new methods,” she says. “I’ve taught myself how to use different glazes, fire at various temperatures, use china paints, and metallic luster. Each of these things has changed my aesthetic.”
Her intricate pieces incorporate the usual materials--clay, glaze, oil paint--but also some surprising elements: rhinestones, gold leaf, lace, and LED lights. Her miniature worlds, though colorful and whimsical, often come with dark undertones, much like the fairytales and fables we read as children.
“There were a lot of times I wanted to quit, even in grad school, but was convinced by the people around me to keep at it,” she admits. “I went on to finish graduate school and show nationally and internationally. I feel like my medium of choice and the process I cultivated is what sets me apart from other painters. I guess that is still the most pivotal transformation I've ever made as an artist--actually deciding to go for it in the first place.”
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Header image by Brandon Woelfel.
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