Justin Parker and Andi Kovel are the talented duo behind Esque Studio that specializes in modern blown glass. The two aim to create functional, concept-based glassware that is designed as beautifully as it is made. The name Esque comes from the suffix ‘in the manner of" and is a nod to the outside influences that inspire Andi and Justin’s work. The 20 year collaboration between the pair began in 1996 in Brooklyn at the Urban Glass studio and has moved them all the way to Portland to open their own studio. They both mentioned the nature in Portland and proximity to the coast and Mt. Hood as an added bonus to the scenery change. We were so impressed by the simplicity and modern design that the two produce out of their industrial North Portland studio. Their work has reached the eyes of many, with stockist like Design Within Reach and Anthropologie. Esque has also done some amazing collaborations with some of our favorite Portland makers like Cedar & Moss. Other collaborations have included companies like the W hotel, Hugo Boss, Sephora, Donna Karen and Ralph Lauren. Enjoy our visit at Esque Studio with Andi And Justin!
1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?
My brother has lived here for a long time (Jeff Kovel, principle/partner at Skylab Architecture), so Justin and I would visit on our way from Brooklyn to Pilchuck Glass School in the summers. I'm from New York, but went to school in Colorado. Portland feels like the perfect meeting of the two. We also recognized the potential for growth here, and knew it would be a great place to live and get in on while the city was still growing. We moved here in 2001 a few months after 9/11. Justin and I were living and working in Brooklyn, and it really felt like the end of the world. We both realized we didn't want to die there, so we packed up our car and dog, and lived with my brother and his wife until we found our own place. I can't imagine being as happy anywhere else.
2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?
Watching the development (some would argue the birth) of the "craft" movement in Portland over the years has been really exciting. It spans every field you can think of and infiltrates every neighborhood. The DYI spirit is alive and well.
3. How did your brand start?
We didn't like the glass we were seeing, and loathed the idea of the "glass gallery" and the "glass artist". What really inspired us was the material itself. The fact that you could draw something on the floor in chalk, and the next morning be holding it in your hands. Justin and I worked as glass blowers for hire and I'd look at the work we were producing for other fine artists and would think, we can do better then this. I grew up around modernism – forms and colors just make sense to me. I love the subtitles of a line, and how much that line affects the piece if you angle it out, even the slightest amount. Justin came up with the name Esque, referring to the suffix meaning "in the style of; resembling" as an intentional nod to outside influences and inspiration.
4. What has been your biggest obstacle?
Time. I get ahead of myself with designing, and as soon as I settle on something I want to have it finished, photographed and published immediately.
5. What or who inspires your design?
We really get inspired by the physical qualities of the material. What does the glass naturally do, what can we force it to do?
Justin and I work from different influences and inspirations. His signature pieces push the material in unexpected ways through scale and technique. I’m inspired by our cultural and natural surroundings, and like my objects to have concept and content, to surpass a mere functional existence. My work is most often rooted in conceptualism and fine art. I always start from a sketch. In creating work from drawings, I’m able to free my work from the confines prescribed by the material. Justin creates from the material itself. He designs with the glass in hand, and is able to stretch the forms by playing off of the physical attributes of the glass. Justin loves to play with optical qualities and distortions. I love to impose sculptural forms and conceptual meaning.
6. What are your favorite things about Portland?
I've grown to love fog and moss and slugs. I live in the forest, and it's so incredibly beautiful to see the sun's rays breaking through the fog and tree branches in the winter.
7. What is your favorite part of your studio?
Definitely the heat of the furnace, the tools we work with, and the glass as a material. When hot, glass is the consistency of honey. It glows and drips and moves in this slow graceful manner. It is unlike any other material in it's beauty. It is truly mesmerizing. Then is cools, and is rigid and cold and fragile. It has amazing contrast in it's hot and cold states. We torch things a lot. Our most common solution to a problem is “torch it”. All of our tools are glass specific, and are the same exact tools that have been used since glass blowing’s inception. Glass as a material is similar to clay, except that it’s 1800 degrees farinheight so you can’t touch it. All our tools act as extensions of the hand. We use shears, pinchers, wet newspaper and wood.
8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?
I'd have to say the stereo. Can't work without good tunes blasting.
9. Tell us two truths and a lie!
Justin makes the city's best Tacos
I dream I'm skiing every night, and
I am actually right handed.
10. 5 things you can’t live without.
Mini, Henk and Mabel (our three dogs), scissors, and an open flame.