Five years ago, Jason Robinson, ’93, MA ’95, started waking up, night after night, thinking about things he wanted to create—handmade wooden tables, cool light fixtures, sculptures. It was like the makerspace in his brain suddenly got switched on and wouldn’t turn off. So, he started tinkering at the kitchen table, and the next thing he knew, he’d taken his life savings and opened an art and design studio in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“The funny part was, I didn’t know how to make anything at first,” says Robinson, who had spent the previous four years designing humanitarian aid tools for UNICEF and, prior to that, had run his own graphic and digital design company. But through a series of trials and errors, experimenting with wood and resin and a basement 3D printer, he began to turn his nighttime visions into real-life objets d’art: a cylindrical table that can be split into two end tables and a handmade dimmable LED lamp, for starters.
‘I had to know if I could do this, even if I went broke, even if it didn’t work out.’
“I had to know if I could do this, even if I went broke, even if it didn’t work out,” he says. Now he’s a full-time artist whose work leads him in several directions. Since the pandemic hit, he has found himself increasingly influenced by social issues, like Black Lives Matter, and what he describes as a growing sense of disconnection in the digital age. My So-Called Digital Life, Robinson’s sculpture of a woman surrounded by a video screen of social media channels, was exhibited in 2021 at Design Miami, and his original Laguna Table was selected for 2022’s Launch Pad, a showcase for emerging home-decor designers at WantedDesign Manhattan.
And while his new career has blossomed, he has, of course, had moments of doubt. “At one point, I was thinking about trees and these bushy canopies and thinking about origami and blended them together into an idea for a table,” Robinson says. “The whole thing collapsed on me, literally. I felt like such a fraud. I thought, ‘What are you doing, man?’”
It was never Robinson’s dream to be an artist. He’d never considered it. “I didn’t think being an artist was something you could do. I didn’t know if that was a respectable career.” But now? “I guess I am an artist,” he says, still surprised at this.
Tracie White is a senior writer at Stanford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.