Maker Profile: Lily Dawson

Meet Lily Dawson, the darling creative behind the bold jewelry line Lily Dawson Designs. Here, she talks the rewards and challenges of being your own boss in a rapidly flourishing creative scene:

Artist Lily Dawson in her studio at Cherry Pit Collective. All photos by Emma Johnson

Artist Lily Dawson in her studio at Cherry Pit Collective. All photos by Emma Johnson

When did you start making jewelry? 

I began making bracelets with a girlfriend in October 2008 after I moved back to Missouri from L.A. At the time it was popular to wear a lot of bracelets at once (“arm parties”). The trend was everywhere in Los Angeles, but hadn’t hit the Midwest yet, so without a source for these bracelets, I started making them myself.


Where do you draw inspiration for the materials you work with?

I love color and pairing unexpected textures, shapes and shades together. I create my collections based purely on materials and combinations of colors that I want to work with.


You've done a lot of great collaborations with other local makers like The Object Enthusiast. What drives that collaboration? 

Collaborations are my very favorite. I have been doing this work for nearly ten years, so my creativity has habituated itself into a certain aesthetic. When I have another brain creating alongside me, I find new shapes and combinations that I never would have come up with on my own. I have a few collections on which I’ve worked with boutique-owners. Those are always great because the shop-owners know what their customers are asking for. Those collaborations have typically been quite successful on a retail level.


What is it like being part of such a rabidly growing local art scene? 

It’s great! I remember nine years ago when my job was a novelty. It’s encouraging to see the general public associating the handmade world with accessibility. That people prefer to buy locally made gifts and one-of-a-kind pieces is not the scene that was around in 2008. It’s really cool to witness the shift from a preference for the mass-produced to a commodification of buying small and local.


Tell us a bit about Cherry Pit Collective, and the female maker movement in KC.

I have always worked out of my home until this past June when I joined Cherry Pit. I thought that there might be some slight differences in the work environments, but never anticipated such a significant improvement in my quality of life when working alongside a dozen other-disciplined artists. I engage in rich, heartfelt, motivated conversations every day with these women. When I was working from home I’d be lucky if I got a “hello” from the mail carrier. I never realized how much was missing from my relationally-connected world until I joined the Cherry Pit. Unlike other co-working spaces, we all care about each others' businesses. We help to choose the new members and the vetting process to become a member keeps in mind how well the group will mesh with one another. I feel more inspired, supported and focused in my professional and personal life than I have ever felt before. 

The Pit promotes the work of females and that speaks to the creative force that is burgeoning among women makers in this town. It’s a great challenge for females to disrupt the status quo by taking chances on following their artwork as a vocation. The more that women can assert their talents and business know-how, instead of relying on a paycheck from a male-run large corporation, the more we will shift that status quo to one that operates on a more level playing field for all genders. It’s risky to to quit your day job, especially as a female. I applaud all of the local women who are taking those chances regardless of the messages and the models that they have grown accustomed to in the past decades of predominately male-dominated businesses.


What are your biggest creative challenges? 

Staying motivated. I have had this business for so long and my personal life has changed dramatically throughout. I’ve been through a divorce, grieved the loss of my mother, various familial and relationship stress. All these experiences have helped shape me into the self-aware and introspective person I am today. Through all these changes, however, I haven’t changed my occupation. I have had a hard time keeping this job that I chose at age 21 fresh and fulfilling. Every day I reevaluate. I ask myself what it is that I need to continue feeling stimulated by this work. I have a fun job, by most accounts, so when I feel sluggish about my work, I know it’s time to start doing something differently. I will not settle for complacency when it comes to finding stimulating work to support this short, individual life that we have been given.


What's the best part about being your own boss? And the hardest? 

I have really appreciated being able to set my own schedule. The gratitude for that aspect is not lost on me. Due to the heavy emotional obstacles I have faced, giving myself time to nap, journal, cry, take yoga classes, make fancy meals midday or meet with friends when needed has been such a gift. My mental health and lack of work burnout is attributed to this permission that self-employment offers.

The hardest part is staying motivated. It’s easy to get lazy, find excuses to sleep in, nap too much, do things other than work. I’ve struggled with this for awhile. I’m really into self-care so it’s important that I also notice when I’m branding my laziness for “self care”.


What do you like to do outside of Lily Dawson Designs? 

I’m really into leading an integrated and connected life. I take lots of walks, I meditate and cook and do yoga. I just started a tai chi class. I think that the western world is really bad at slowing down. We like to always be “doing something”. Our minds get anxious simply resting in the current moment so we are constantly thinking about the next thing, the next hour, the next to-do item. It’s my work to try and stay as presently connected to who I am with, what I am doing and my surroundings as possible. I have become very clear about the things that I value and work hard to make sure that those support everything I’m doing and if not, then I need to be doing something else. Simply put, what do I do outside of LDD? Whatever I WANT to do in that moment, and with little other motivations than my immediate fulfillment.