The DART Interview: Lydia Ricci

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday April 25, 2019

Peggy Roalf: I understand that you were trained as a graphic designer; what kind of work were you doing when you began making these tiny sculptures from scraps—and how did the personal work influence your design work?

Lydia Ricci: I was doing a lot of packaging and branding work at the time when I made my first sculpture: The Dodge (green Dodge Dart, below). I decided to start making small cars to help deal with my fear of driving since I had moved from a big city to an area where I was required to drive a couple times a week. 

I have always worked on side projects throughout my design career. It helped me to not overthink the commercial work and not inject any of myself in a project where it is not warranted. Having an outlet to pour my more personal thoughts and passions into helped my design process be more succinct. Through this “dichotomy,” I’m more focused when solving the client’s problems so I can get back to my side-project. These projects have kept me content especially at times when the design work was in the production phase or particularly dry.

PR: How did your work in graphic design—a discipline that at its core is commercially motivated—influence your shift to this fantasy world?

LR: My strongest trait as a designer is being able to boil down a client’s needs. They can talk for two hours about their history, their products, inspiration, purpose, goals and audience. I could summarize and figure out what they needed/what they were trying to communicate very quickly in my head (without taking notes because I am horrible at typing and have even worse handwriting).

In the beginning each sculpture was paired with a piece of writing that was several paragraphs long. Then my “design brain” kicked-in and I reminded myself that every last meandering detail was not always valuable and helpful to communicate the emotion or the memory. So just as I carved away at the scrap materials I also began to carve away at the words and create one sentence that summarized the essence of what I was trying to say. By keeping the writing more concise the ideas I was trying to convey were more potent and relatable to an audience.


PR: Please tell the readers something about your connection to family archives, and how they have woven their way into your sculptures.

LR: It’s funny that you use the word “archives.” I would call it my family “piles.”  “Archives” seems way too formal. My sister and I have attempted to create some order in the home we grew up in for the last 25 years. My dad has sort of let the piles…blossom. It used to frustrate me but about six or seven years ago I started to see valuable and inspirational materials amongst the chaos. I was seeking out almost the exact same items on the bottom of thrift store shelves or the junk piles left over after a yard sale. I realized I could “shop” at my dad’s messy house and once I started he continued to unload items on my porch regularly. My studio has desks that are piled high with these materials. I attempt to keep the my own “piles” contained to one side of the small room, but it continually grows. Now this “ephemera” (I just started using this term in the past year after being included in a book with the same name by Uppercase Publishing) of old gift boxes, family records, pharmacy bags, office supplies etc etc is where I carefully select the materials for each new sculpture I created. 

PR: As you create this world of memories in miniature, has your own wish to possess objects changed? I’m thinking here about the human wish to acquire possessions that they feel represent them – are you naturally not particularly acquisitive, or has any such trait in you changed?

LR: I have never been very attracted to new and shiny objects. When I was first starting out in my career my favorite Friday after-work activity was splurging on a new dusty object at the thrift store. Today, I am surrounded by over 5 rotary and push button phones that don’t work, three oversized adding machines, 8 or 9 radios (one works), 6 typewriters (none work) about 12 staplers (one works). I love staplers the most. These are my valuable possessions. I used to have 4 broken sewing machines in San Francisco before I even had a couch. They were beautiful and I could not walk by one on a curb and not take it home. (I do not know how to sew).

Ever since I starting creating tiny versions of these objects that remind me of a significant moment, I have stopped collecting the real things. I hadn’t realized why they were so comforting before or why they made me so content until now. (Ironically, I have not given this any thought until now. I had to come back to this question last.) 

PR: I love the way you have created backgrounds that are more like sets for the pieces—was that always part of the work or is it more a part of the animations you have been doing?

LR: Actually it came out of experimentation to create the animations. I always shoot the object on a blank white background as soon as I complete it. Then I finesse the writing that goes along with the piece. For a while it seemed like enough to only show the object, up close in all of it’s imperfection. The animations have helped me capture people’s attention and tell different stories about each object. I was initially concerned that the backdrops would limit their relatability, but I don’t think that has been the case. 

PR: Regarding the animations, do you create these on commission for advertising and promotional pieces? if so, please describe what clientele, and your work and process.

LR: I have just started getting requests to use them for advertising and promotional pieces. I tell people I can make anything that doesn’t breath. I have sent the pieces out for the client to photograph themselves or I create a few variations of a video and then they select which works best, and then we go from there. 

I also had a short (4min) animation I created selected for the San Francisco Film Festival @SFFILM last week! I would love to create more animations for clients. 


PR: What would be your dream job as a designer/sculptor, working at this scale?

LR: It would be a dream to collaborate with some photographers/filmmakers/directors! I would like to tell some stories that are not my own. Create someone else’s objects or scenes or animations. 

Also, after seeing the work on a large movie screen (at SFFilm Fest) I realize these very tiny sculptures are interesting to see blown up on a large scale. I had not considered that before and it was an exhilarating surprise! They are off kilter and imperfect but they come alive in a completely different way at that scale.

PR: What would your advice to a designer/artist just entering the work force, regarding balancing the practicalities of having a job with finding time to do the personal work that necessarily needs to take second place in the working week?

LR: Always, always, always, always have a little something-on-the-side you are working on. You DO have the time—even if you stay up and miss a good night of sleep here and there (and I value good sleep). It is worth it. I took a printmaking class a couple nights a week for about 5 years just to force me to leave the design studio. It was a social outlet as well as a creative one. I think it is important to be just as disciplined about your personal work: schedule time, assign yourself specific projects and set deadlines and goals.

Lydia Ricci is an artist and graphic designer with a knack for breaking things down to their most basic elements and rebuilding them into something that resonates with everyone. Her tiny sculptures of everyday objects—made “from scraps” of existence—simultaneously evoke a sense of wonder and hazy nostalgia, and have been exhibited at galleries in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Marfa and Philadelphia. Her design work for clients like Chronicle Books and Random House has been awarded by Print and Communication Arts magazines. When she’s not creating vintage typewriters from cereal box lids and floppy disks, Lydia teaches courses in branding, design, and storytelling at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. dart-interview

Lydia is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and has also studied in St. Gallen, Switzerland and Cortona, Italy. She lives outside Philadelphia. 

Upcoming Exhibition:
July 2019-Jan 2020
Philadelphia International Airport




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