Meet Allison Connell, the designer and owner of Stone & Vein, located in Brooklyn, New York. We asked her a few questions about herself, her business, and she even shares with us a few of her favorite spots in NYC.
Introduce yourself. Where are you originally from? Where did you learn your craft and how/when did you get started? Where did you go to school?
I grew up in Minnesota, then went to college at Iowa State University for graphic design. I currently work full-time as a graphic designer for a Brooklyn-based design studio Athletics.
I first encountered marbling in high school when I was doing a teen residency program with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, but didn’t get into it until more recently when a friend signed us both up for an evening workshop. That led to experimentation on my own and taking more workshops until I’d amassed a pile of marbled papers. From that, I made a bunch of cards and signed up for a one-day local market to test the waters. It went well enough for me to keep going, so took it from there!
Where do you live and work now, and how does this environment influence your creative process?
I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Being in NYC is great because almost anything is at your disposal, from supplies to classes and workshops to interesting arts organizations and supportive communities of people. It feels like there's room for every niche in New York, so people are happy to connect you to the right people to make things happen.
Can you elaborate on your particular design process? What is your workspace like? What materials do you prefer to use?
My process almost always starts with the marbling. While some products I do (like coasters) get marbled directly, most things start with a sheet of dry, finished marbled paper. I usually sketch and prototype with scraps or rejected prints until I’m happy with the results. I keep my products simple in form because the marbling itself is what gives them personality.
I do everything in my apartment so my workspace is constantly being set up or put away. When I do a day of marbling, my living room and table get covered in plastic wrap to keep everything dry and paint-free, but gets cleaned up immediately. Otherwise, I use my desk (and often my floor) to spread out papers and assemble cards, tags and the like.
My materials are a combination of high and low: I've found that nice paint and paper are important but tend to use what's at hand as much as I can for supporting supplies. Plastic forks, aluminum roasting pans, cardboard and heavy books get a lot of use as well.
Explain the story behind the name: how and why you chose it.
The name Stone & Vein is a reference to the marbling pattern,Turkish Stone, which is also the basis for many other marbling patterns. The first colors applied get squeezed into “veins,” running between the last colors applied, which are seen in the pattern as round “stones.”
Who or what do you draw inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from both historical references and experimentation. There are a lot of traditional marbling patterns to practice and emulate, like this amazing library in the University of Washington’s digital collection. That said, I often focus on the action or the colors rather than specific results because I want to be surprised. I love the reveal in flipping over a finished print to see how it turned out.
What does being Young & Able mean to you?
Being Young & Able means that I have more energy to throw my time and enthusiasm (and resources) into something like Stone & Vein.
What are your personal pursuits and hobbies, when given the time, to stay grounded and relaxed?
Currently, Stone & Vein is a large portion of my personal pursuits since I also work as a designer full-time. Outside of both work and marbling, I find cooking and baking to be relaxing and rewarding, as well as a way to transition my mind from one task to another. When the weather is nice, I also love biking and hanging around Brooklyn’s parks.
What has been your greatest struggle/obstacle so far?
The most challenging thing has been figuring out how to grow Stone & Vein while finding the right balance with my full-time job and personal life. I tend to do things in bursts, so I will be swamped for a few weeks with Stone & Vein without giving myself enough personal time, then bounce back to the opposite to counteract it.
What’s your least favorite part of running a small business?
My least favorite part is dealing with all the financial aspects like pricing and accounting. I started Stone & Vein to get back to making things by hand, so would love if I could keep my focus on the making and building relationships, but the financial end of things needs to happen too.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself about starting your brand and business?
On one hand, I’ve been purposefully pushing and growing Stone & Vein slowly, but I’d tell myself to just dive in and do things a little sooner. It’s great to have a plan and think everything through, but sometimes I get stuck in the thinking and don’t commit to the doing.
Favorite spot to get inspired? Who/what inspires you (designers, artists, people, places)?
Not exactly a spot, but taking a shower, doing the dishes or riding the train tend to be the best activities to clear my brain and make room for inspiration. It’s the captive time and repetitive physical activities that allow my brain to wander more freely.
We love meeting over coffee at Young & Able. What's your favorite local café?
Most often, I go to Upright Coffee or Homecoming in Greenpoint, but I like to take my coffee to Transmitter Park if the weather’s nice.
Your favorite emerging designer (aside from yourself!) right now:
I can't say I have one at the moment, actually.
Top 3 favorite Instagram accounts you follow:
@lubalincenter - The Herb Lubalin Study Center posts all manner of amazing graphic design from its archives. Great type and reference!
@food52 - Food52’s cooking style matches mine really well, so I like what their community is up to.
@chillwildlife - Great comic relief!
Favorite places to eat?
Currently it's Glasserie in Greenpoint.
Breakfast or no breakfast? If yes, what is it?
YES breakfast — I would be very crabby without it! During the week it’s usually cereal or granola. I’ve been getting into making my own granola lately and buying bulk dried fruits and nuts to make my own combinations.
Any podcast recommendations?
I listen to a lot of podcasts while marbling and working on my goods, so I have a big list. Besides some standards (This American Life, The Moth, Serial, etc), some favorites include:
- RISK - storytelling
- StartUp and Reply All from Gimlet Media
- Bowery Boys – all about NYC History
- Criminal, for when you miss Serial season 1
- Everything is Stories
What’s your secret NY spot (or wherever your company is based)?
There’s an area in the northeast part of Prospect Park (I think called the Rose Garden, although there are no longer any roses there) that’s always quiet and a little abandoned. The fountains are always empty (I think it’s due for renovation), but it can be nice to find an area without many other people around.