Katie Mills, instructor of graphic design at Columbia College Chicago and Lillstreet’s Digital Arts & Photography Department and owner of Lady Faye Jewelry, was (surprisingly enough) nervous about being interviewed for this project. She signed a follow-up email: “A little nervous… but excited!” I’m not sure there’s a better way to capture her spirited and humbly quirky way of talking about her work as a teacher and as a craftsperson.
Katie’s creativity and her passion are the logic of the way she talks about her work—she tries to capture so much in one breath! On her creative history, she says, “I loved high school art classes, and my mom, when we were kids, would have us do all these projects. What do you want to do? ‘Projects!’ So there are terrible kid projects everywhere, you know? So then I went to undergrad for art, specifically graphic design, but I’ve also dabbled in a lot of fields, like printmaking. When I moved to Chicago, I interned at a letterpress company.”
On inspiration: “I think for me it’s always been my family. Specifically I always talk about my grandmother. She is, I don’t know, just one of those people that are very independent and old school. And she, in her spare time, painted. So when I was a kid we would always paint. She always, and still does, inspire me.”
Throughout my conversation with Katie, I was struck by the balance she has found time and time again in her life between her graphic design work and her metal work. “If I could just be in the metals studio all the time! Although, it’s nice to balance it with graphic design. When I was in undergrad I took metalsmithing classes, and I was a graphic design major, so it was a great balance. I enjoy being on the computer, but I really enjoy not being on the computer.” That same balance comes through in her work with Lady Faye Jewelry.
“I like working in the studio, but I also like creating the branding, doing the shows. That’s where I feel my inspiration comes from. My mom and my grandmother, they’re both able to multitask well and are very entrepreneurial. With Lady Faye Jewelry, I really just enjoy creating these pieces and branding them and talking to people, and people are interested in them.”
“The most recent pieces I created were cast from volcanic rock that I collected on a backpacking trip with my sister in Central America. I like exploring and collecting things to see if I can use them. I think people enjoy knowing the story behind the person and the process… those are the conversations I really enjoy—people who are interested in the process.”
The idea of nostalgia kept coming up with Katie. She explained the first set of rings she made at Lillstreet: “They were just kind of these quirky glass buttons. They’re from the Czech Republic. They made all these glass pieces, so I started collecting. I think I’ve always been a collector of things. I had a soap collection as a kid, which I still have. Yeah, so, I just had a little box of [the buttons], and I had saved all my metalsmithing tools that I had acquired in undergrad. So I decided to give it a whirl again.”
There’s so much more to say about Katie’s work, but we’ve also got to cover her work as a graphic design instructor!
“The classes I’m teaching are more on the technical side. The beginning—this is the software, these are the tools, this is how you set up a file. I think for me it’s mostly that I enjoy working with people! I like the technical aspect. I really enjoy teaching.”
“Problem solving is a lot of it. There’s so much information, if I don’t know the answer I’m gonna figure it out! And that’s my job, and I enjoy the challenge of figuring things out and working with students. And then, you know, they’re happy because they’re solving a problem and learning.”
For the future: “I want to take more metalsmithing classes. I feel that for a while I was just producing, like making 30 similar rings and I really want to learn new skills from the amazing teachers here. I want to expand my knowledge. There’s so much I don’t know.” And for graphic design: “I would like to keep working in the education. It’s fun to see students get excited. Awesome, you know?”
Check out Katie’s work in the Lillstreet Gallery, in her Etsy shop, and on Facebook!