Making It: all about Jeff Rudell

Making It is moving along and we’re down to five Makers competing for the title of “Master Maker” and a $100,000 grand prize.

“Making It,” airs on NBC Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. “Making It” Is the #1 New-Series Premiere of the Summer to Date, a pretty great stat for a crafting show!

The six-episode crafting series is hosted and executive produced by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. We’re watching to see who crafts (and SEWS) their way to the finish line.

On week four , Amy, Nick and the Makers are celebrating the holidays…all at once!  For this week’s Master Craft challenge, the Makers each pick their favorite holiday and create a festive display for their home’s front door. The result is as fun as Christmas morning as all of the maker’s holiday doors compete for curb appeal in one epic block party. In the end, the Makers put together displays that would make any neighbor jealous, though the holiday celebrations must be cut short for one of our Makers who’s festive work lacked a bit of originality.

This week, we’re chatting with Jeff Rudell. Rudell grew up in the Midwest where his father worked at a paper mill and kept him well supplied with cardboard, foil and tissue. Today he is known for the extraordinary paper props he creates for clients such as Tiffany & Co., Unilever, New York Botanical Gardens and a wide range of print and online publications. He’s also a nationally known storyteller and a contributor to the Moth Radio Hour.

Making It
MAKING IT — Season:1 — Pictured: Jeff — (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Twitter: @jeffrudell

What is your craft of choice?

The easy answer is, I am a paper crafter. Easy, because paper is the material I use most frequently and, given my body of work, it is the material with which I am most often associated. However, it would be just as accurate to leave off the “paper” and say simply that I am a crafter. I’ve created decoupage projects using eggshells, I’ve created Valentines using onion skins, and I’ve made recognizable portraits using junk mail and recycled newspaper.

My grandmother was a knitter, my grandfather a tinsmith and tinkerer. My mother made elaborate, minutely-pieced quilts. My father was a woodworker (and could fix anything that was broken). In short, I come from a long line of people who loved to work with their hands. I do my best to carry on in all these various forms.

Making It
MAKING IT — “You Crafty” Episode 101 — Pictured: Jeff — (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

How do you think your craft specialty prepares you to win the competition?

What prepared me to win is the same thing that prepared the other seven contestants: not my craft specialty but rather my imagination and my willingness to take risks. I often work for corporate clients (making paper props for use in advertising campaigns and window displays) and as such, I frequently enter a meeting having no idea what the client wants, what the budget for the project is, and how much time I have to create something to meet their expectations. Every working crafter faces similar challenges on a daily basis. Walking onto the set of “Making It” was surprisingly similar. Since we were all so well matched to begin with, I have a feeling the show is going to be very interesting to watch.

How has your craft helped in other areas of your life?

Often, when I work for a client, I will not have ALL the resources at my disposal that I may want. Often the budgets are smaller than is ideal, or there is not quite the amount of time I might want to design and build the prop. Rather than look at these resource shortfalls as something lacking, I try to approach them as design opportunities. Likewise, when doing craft projects with my five nieces, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of wanting their work to look “good” or “right” or “perfect”. When that happens I’ll often remove a resource. For example, if we are making centerpieces for a party (which we did recently) I took away the scissors. When they said, “How can we make pretty flowers without scissors to cut them out?” I answered back, “Well, let’s see how we can do it.” The result was hand-torn edges that made the flower arrangement look even more realistic and beautiful than ANY of us would have been able to achieve with scissors in hand.

What would you say to encourage someone who wants to learn your craft?

Everyone who has ever attended preschool, kindergarten, or first grade already knows my craft. They know all there is to know about cutting, folding, rolling, tearing, and gluing paper.

What they also probably know, but may have forgotten (or gotten out of practice doing) is PLAYING. Much of the work I do comes directly from experiments and play that I do at my desk every day. The part of my job that is difficult to learn (difficult but not at all impossible) is not the craft but the design. Knowing HOW to making something out of paper is only half the question. The other half is WHAT you decide to make out of paper.

For anyone who wants to do this sort of craft work for actual clients (and to get paid for it) I would encourage them to open their imaginations and to think big. Take ideas to their extreme. Why make a tissue paper flower when you can make a tissue paper forest, or a tissue paper coral reef, or a tissue paper pair of lungs? You have to make work that causes the world to stop and take notice. The world will walk right by anything it has seen before. I tell people, to try and MAKE the world stop and take notice. You can do that with paper, with embroidery floss, with yarn, with wood, with fabric or with any other material. The art is in the vision not the version.

Making It
MAKING IT — “You Crafty” Episode 101 — Pictured: Jeff — (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Did you get to try a craft you wouldn’t normally have done for the competition? If so, what did you learn during the process?

That was one of the joys of the show (and there were many); that we all got to try our hand to types of crafts with which we had little or no experience. This was done in the spirit of fairness, I’m sure (and let’s be honest, how boring would it be to watch a bunch of experts in their particular genre of craft do exactly what you expect them to do?) What was interesting (compelling, even) was to see the contestants (myself included) come up against challenges that were clearly outside our so-called comfort zones. Here is where experience evaporated and 100% pure imagination came into play. It was a thing of beauty (mostly) and definitely good TV.

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