Feature: Elizabeth Rice of Concrete Theory

Elizabeth Rice is a Milwaukee native who creates and designs concrete goods. Her work often features geometrical shapes and greatly involves plants and greenery. She has participated in maker markets around Milwaukee and loves contributing to the maker network in Milwaukee.

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Where did your inspiration behind Concrete Theory come from?

I am constantly inspired by design & culture around me. Concrete Theory began as a weekend project in a time when I was experimenting with a new medium each week. I was living in Austin, Texas when I planned to try something different each week for a few months.  Two weeks in, I fell in love with concrete. I have always loved puzzles and problem solving. Mixing concrete and using recycled and found objects as molds for my work is the ultimate puzzle!

What does your creative process look like when it comes to making concrete goods?

The process often times begins when I least expect it. A take-out container, an item at the grocery store, or a trip to Home Depot have been known to spark an idea in me! I begin with finding the exterior mold for the object that I want to creste. These vessels range from milk cartons, to to-go containers, coffee cups to gift boxes. The puzzle component comes in next when I need to find a smaller, interior vessel. When the molds have been designated, I hand mix the concrete and pour it into the  forms to set. Waiting until the concrete has cured is crucial and releasing the item from its vessel is very satisfying!

What’s one thing you’ve learned since starting Concrete Theory and how has it impacted your creative process?

Great question. As satisfying as the end result can be, the process of creating with concrete has been a lot of learning through trial and error. One thing that a lot of people may not know is how fickle concrete can be. I have learned that each bag of cement is variable in texture and grit. I am constantly surprised by how different materials manifest the production of concrete. For example, cardboard is too porous, aluminum does not release cleanly, and shape and size can affect the integrity of the object.

What inspires you about Milwaukee?

Being a native of Milwaukee, I have a lot of iconic memories in The Good Land. However, I am loving the influx of new restaurants, shops and buildings lately. Shapes and textures inspire me. The geometry of new buildings in contrast to the lake is breathtaking.

I am also very inspired by the community here. I have found the local business and the “maker” communities to be welcoming and supportive.

 What is your go to shop to buy plants from in Milwaukee?

 I love Rojahn & Mullaney for large orders and beautiful fresh florals & Bayside Garden Center for tropical and succulents. I always find unique plants at ModGen, Ursa, and the seasonal farmers markets (I’d love to hear where others shop for plants!)

Find Concrete Theory on Instagram and Facebook!




Feature: Emily Berens

Emily Berens is a powerhouse to say the least. She’s an Associate Lecturer at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts in the First Year Program, Coordinator for the Milwaukee Visionaries Project, Grant writer extraordinaire, and Digital Artist. Her connection to the Milwaukee community as an artist and teacher combined with her inspiring talent and work makes her the perfect first feature. She was also my first art instructor at UWM and now a wonderful mentor and friend. If you love her work as much as I do, you can find her stuff here!

Tell us a bit about your background; how did you end up in Milwaukee?

I grew up in East Aurora, New York, which is a small town not far from Buffalo and Niagara Falls. East Aurora is an interesting little town, in that it was the birthplace of the Roycroft Art Collective, which was a big contributor to the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Late 1800’s through the 1920’s. The Roycroft Collective/Arts and Crafts Movement had a big emphasis on the importance of Craft and Handmade work and materials; there were a lot of little art studios and art fairs in my town growing up. When I took a History of Design class at UW-Milwaukee, the Roycroft movement was mentioned by my Art History professor and screened in our class materials, and I thought it was really odd/funny.

My dad is a photographer who focuses on the craft of traditional darkroom studio work and he would show his photography in outdoor community art fairs every summer. My sister and I would help out at his pop-up booth, and over time I got to know a few of the other painters, photographers, and printers who would come to each show. It was really fun to be able to walk around the shows and see what everybody was working on. I think those are some of the first experiences that inspired me to want to be part of an arts- based community.

I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and moved cross-country from Upstate New York to Madison shortly after turning 18. I had been to Madison previously a few times to visit a friend, and fell in love instantly with the eccentricities of the arts community there, and the sprawling massiveness of the University community. I think when I was there 2004-2008, UW-Madison had around 40,000 students total; my parents worried I would be overwhelmed by how big the campus was. In reality, I loved how many people there were, and how everyone was always doing something different (both in the arts, and across other programs and majors).

At Madison, I changed my focus of study a few times; I studied in Journalism/Mass Communication, Fine Art (with a focus on Printmaking), and then ultimately ended up graduating with a bachelors degree in Graphic Design. I moved to Milwaukee for the first time in 2008 for my first Graphic Design job, working for a series of publications run by an area nonprofit. I moved briefly to Chicago while working towards an MA degree in Interdisciplinary Media at Columbia College, then returned to UW-Milwaukee to earn my MFA degree, graduating in 2013. Shortly after that I started working for Milwaukee Visionaries Project, and teaching at a few area Universities (a few years later I returned to UW-Milwaukee as a full-time staff member). I have been happily residing in Bay View for the past five years, living in a 126-year-old house with my husband Andy, who is a Milwaukee-area Native.

Emily Berens – (from left to right) Adams and Ohio (2016), Savannah (2016), Bricks and Mortar (2016). Mixed media.

Can you describe the Milwaukee Visionaries Project that you are coordinating?

Milwaukee Visionaries Project (MVP) was created by UWM Art Ed Professors Kim Cosier and Laura Trafi-Prats (they are amazing!) and started out in 2010 as a project funded by UWM’s Research Growth Initiative (RGI) Grant. We are an after-school filmmaking program that serves middle and high school students from across the city of Milwaukee. We just moved this past year from a classroom in a school on Milwaukee’s South Side to a bigger studio space in UWM’s Kenilworth Square East Complex; as a result, we have benefitted from a huge increase in middle/high school students, UWM student volunteers, and contributing teachers from across the city.

We are an open-format, project-based learning initiative in which we pair students with subject matter experts to create multi-media projects intended to tell their stories. Students in our lab this year have worked across an array of projects and media- from modeling Claymation puppets for stop motion filming, learning basic woodworking and set design techniques, editing footage in industry-standard software such as Adobe Premiere/ After Effects, and writing dynamic scripts and storyboards. Student film projects have shown at Milwaukee Film Festival’s Youth Show and Extremely Young Film Festival in Houston, Texas. I started teaching in MVP in 2013, and moved into a role as a supporting Program Coordinator this past year. I now work to help recruit new students and make connections between our students and members of the UWM community. My goal for MVP participants is for them to get comfortable from an early age with being part of the University and have an idea of the pathways they can take as part of the Peck School of the Arts. I also think this program is a great example to all members involved in the many different forms and formats that collaborative arts partnerships can take! Check us and our work out at mkevisionaries.com.

Emily Berens – Buffalo. Vignettes.

As an artist yourself, what kind of work do you do?

Both my Master of Arts (MA) Degree from Columbia College-Chicago and my MFA degree from UW-Milwaukee were in Inter-Media- essentially, it’s a loose term for anything and everything incorporating multiple forms of arts and technology. I like to consider myself a ‘Tra-Digital’ artist- one who blends their work in traditional and digital media. I am most skilled in the digital software end of things, but try to blend in the handmade- sketches, prints, old photos, even found paper and textures- into dynamic digital collages. My work is a lot about process- tracing the same paths multiple times, creating material experiments through trial and error, and not thinking of works of art as having a linear “stop” and “end” point. Many of my prints and short animations are continually evolving, and I will show multiple editions of them over a period of months (or sometimes, even years). I would say in both my personal artistic process and in my teaching practice, appreciating and embracing the value of learning through experimentation is key.

Where do you get your inspiration and what drives you to do the work you do?

When I was working as a Graphic Designer in print publishing, I did a lot of infographics. I honestly love looking at how information and data can be organized in different ways to communicate a message, and that is something that carries over into both my own current work and into the artists I gravitate towards. I love artists like Emma McNally and Eric Fischer, who work with nonconventional methods data representation, often pairing real data with experiments in mark-making.

To me, the very act of organization is also an art! Pinterest has honestly become a huge part of my research process in the way it allows me to group and catalogue a lot of different visual thumbnails from a lot of different places. In both my teaching and artistic practice, I am continually trying to find new ways to catalogue how ideas are spread. I keep a digital archive of work, but I also try to keep as much hand-written documentation as I can, from sketchbook pages to notes scribbled in the margins from lectures and meetings attended. When looking for inspiration, I have found that sometimes if you pull from a large archive of stream-of-consciousness notes and cull them all together quite after the fact, you find connections and threads you never realized were there before.

Emily Berens – Milwaukee (2013)

What are some Milwaukee creatives that you personally find inspiring? 

I love that in the time I have lived here, Milwaukee to me has become a city of start-ups. I am really inspired by the variety of DIY gallery, retail and creative spaces. I recently got to visit Var Gallery in the 5th Ward for the first time in January, and thought they have an amazing range of exhibitions and participating artists. Sparrow Collective in Bay View and The Waxwing on the East Side near UWM are both retail spaces that showcase a wide range of Milwaukee-area artisans and work that often has a regional focus. Redline Gallery has a diverse range of exhibiting artists-in-residence, and gallery nights there are wonderful to visit. I have also for a long time loved the work of the Milwaukee Home studio (mkehome.com)… it’s simple, but it works, and it hits you right in the feels.

What are your go-to spots in Milwaukee?

I work a LOT. And I love hybrid, non-traditional workspaces. A new favorite this winter has been the new Fuel Café on 5th street, which doubles as a coffeeshop bar/restaurant. The entire 5th street corridor in Walkers Point has had a number of great businesses coming in, ranging from galleries, bars/restaurants, and breweries. Another after-work favorite is Urban Harvest, which is just down the block from Fuel. They have great beer, board games, and occasionally host area pop-up restaurants. When not doing a pop-up restaurant, other great area spots- like nearby Transfer Pizza– will deliver to them. Colectivo Coffee on Prospect- right across from my Kenilworth studio space- is becoming an interesting venue for music performances. Smaller coffee spots- like Alderaan Coffee and Pilcrow coffee- have unique offerings and awesome customer service. With the ‘working a LOT’/ ‘not getting a lot of sleep’ part, good coffee is really important to me :).

This is Atelier

Welcome to Atelier! I wanted to make a little post here to officially introduce you to this project. I’m Hannah, a lifetime Wisconsinite and recent UWM grad, I’ve decided to start Atelier as a way to engage our community of creators in Milwaukee. I have very strong hopes that this blog will become a sharing space for artists, creators, writer and thinkers alike. From conceptual writing on the arts, to artists’ features, and all community art events in between, Atelier will be a space for all. If you would like to contribute as a writer, be featured or help organize community art events please get in touch!

To kick-off the first post here I wanted to talk about the balancing act of working a full-time job as a creative. Anyone who has ever been in this position will understand the impossibility to balancing time for creating after a long day of work. This time is the hardest by far. But there is a lot of benefit to being in a position where you can’t just be a full-time creative. Learning to make balance can be really beneficial to how you spend your time creating. It can provide a more thoughtful and well executed practice. If your time is limited, you’re going to be more intentional with what you create.

What inspired me to write about this topic was about two weeks ago, while in NYC, sitting at a bar drinking a sad excuse for an Old Fashioned (insert Wisconsin joke here), I decided to take some time off of work and spend a few days painting. Working in a digital medium can be highly beneficial but there is something quintessential about raw canvas and paints.

What I had learned by the end of my few days was that, I do indeed have my own individualistic style. My canvas ended up looking a lot like something I’d create digitally. When you don’t have a lot of time to spend developing your own style, it can seem like what you create isn’t true to you or reflective of your thoughts. In actuality, this was the opposite for me!

On my time off I also got the chance to go to the Interactive Media Lab put on by Christopher Willey, a Digital Studio Practice instructor at UWM. It’s basically an open opportunity for anyone to come and explore digital media mediums, including virtual reality! This in combination with my time spent painting kind of encompasses what I envision for Atelier, a community space where the public can come in create, learn and share plus an opportunity to focus solely on my own practice.

That being said, if you would like to work with me please get in touch! Anyone is welcome to share here, whether you want to write something or want a space to share your work. Thanks for reading!