Etsy Alums Celebrate Collaboration
& Year-Round Summer Vibes
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
After working closely together at Etsy, WNW Members and creative duo Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht decided to keep the party going and form their joint studio Party of One. With their latest project, Melissa and Nicole are exploring the very nature of their collaborative spirit. Below, we talk about what they most appreciate about each other’s style and skillset, as well as the process that went into creating “Summer Empties,” an ultra-collaboration converting hoarded cans into both painted vases and odes to summer.
When did you two first collaborate on a project and how did that lead to becoming regular creative collaborators?
Nicole: Melissa and I worked closely together at Etsy on the in-house brand team for four years. Early on I believe that we recognized a similar desired outcome for the look and feel of projects and a similar ambition in each other. We would work shoulder to shoulder after hours and once even coming in during a snowstorm to do our best to create something detailed, unique, and magical.
Melissa: When we both eventually moved into freelancing, it felt natural to continue collaborating. After a couple years of working independently and creating personal projects together—including a series of cathartic piñatas—Party of One was born!
How does your working relationship inform your joint studio Party of One?
Nicole: It is a constantly evolving process, but luckily we had a lot of practice working in close proximity under tight deadlines during our time at Etsy. A lot of the work we currently get is cross-disciplinary, which really helps us divide and conquer based on our strengths. We both enjoy the initial concept process, so our brainstorms for projects tend to stir up a TON of different ideas, executions and references.
Melissa: Once we get started, Nicole’s mastery of materials always leads to great improvisational solutions, whereas I always feel more comfortable planning the structure and story of a project before I can let go and create. As a result, we often bounce back and forth and usually end up with a better solution than either one of us would have come up with alone.
What do you appreciate most about each other’s styles and skill sets? Which of each other’s projects is your favorite?
Melissa: Nicole brings an effortless quality to her work (despite it actually being incredibly meticulous!) which is a hard thing to duplicate if it doesn’t come naturally. That creative spontaneity helps us keep things loose, take risks, reinterpret materials, and generally brings a levity to our work together. One of my favorite Nicole projects is her editorial illustration for the Village Voice—the concept is really strong, and it has this controlled chaos through her use of one material in a ridiculous way. Plus those little eyes always get me.
Nicole: I appreciate Melissa’s bold sensibility, her ability to commit to an idea, plan it out thoroughly, and her perfectionistic drive in bringing it to life. Melissa is fierce and inwardly competitive; she’s always striving to outdo or better her last work. She’s a force to be reckoned with and I admire that strength. It’s very hard to choose a favorite project but a top fave would be from the animated Halloween series for Edie Parker. They are elegant and spooky, no easy feat and I’m so impressed by the motion and styling coupled with the fact she shot and modeled in these all alone like a true boss.
Tell us about Summer Empties. What was the inspiration and goal for this project?
Nicole: I started hoarding cans, and really wanted to find an opportunity for us to incorporate our trash into a project, circumventing the perfection we strive for with an imperfect base.
Melissa: We then stared at them for a few weeks trying to decide how to use their crumpled shapes until the idea of collaboratively painted vases dawned on us. The exquisite corpse idea happened naturally as we both started working on a “vase” on our own, and quickly realized how different our styles were within the loose summer prompt we gave ourselves. As we paid more attention to each others techniques, the process materialized!
Nicole: Their sweetness marries the melancholy of our alone together studio name with a sprinkling of an “it’s five o’clock somewhere” summer vibe. Truth be told, by 4 pm one of us is usually suggesting.
How did each of your respective styles shine on Summer Empties? How did this project push your individual and joint creative boundaries?
Melissa: I started by taking the form pretty literally, so my first design was like a Party of One beer can label (hint hint, we are taking requests). I quickly loosened up after seeing Nicole’s process and started incorporating her collage technique with some of my more graphic details. The final result was honestly very freeing for me!
Nicole: I wanted to try and let myself make a mark, and just freely respond with another with no real attachment to the outcome, focusing more upon growth and discovery across the span of cans. That technique shifted as specific imagery and themes emerged after I began to adopt Melissa’s method of applying (literally —we wound up making little tissue paper transfer sheets) graphic details.
What was it like incorporating an exquisite corpse method on this project?
N: Roping people in to making ugly things is hard
M: Being loose is hard when you want to plan every detail.
N: I understand that you can’t tell someone to be free.
M: I like to be free, I like to make rules.
N: What is freedom anyway? I think it depended on the music we were playing.
M: Gerry Rafferty’s “Down the Line” fueled this whole project.
N: This project demanded commitment but you know, like, for fun free time.
M: Did that answer the question?
Do you still enjoy working alone or does it feel like something’s missing without bringing in another creative mind? What does collaboration mean to you?
Melissa: Working together so often has definitely shifted the way I work independently—I think I always have a little subconscious whisper of Nicole in my ear, whether I want to hear it or not. That being said, my work has really grown through our collaboration, so I usually appreciate having that perspective to draw from—even when I’m channeling it into something personal.
Nicole: I do enjoy that working alone gives me the opportunity to go non-verbal and perhaps meander a bit more. At the same time, I value that Melissa and my collaborations require a high level of communication and clarification that often can lead to sharper and stronger concepts and outcomes.
What is your favorite thing about summer?
Nicole: Hot weather, outdoor drinks, sandals.
Melissa: Beach beers + cheetos
Who are some other WNW Members whose work you admire and why?