We had the good fortune of connecting with Mel Sage and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mel, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I think about risk as a necessity in order to grow and succeed. Risk has played a monumental role in getting me to where I am today. I began my career in architecture, working as an associate at a firm in NYC. There came a time when I realized I needed a change. I felt myself wanting to shift my career and the risk of leaving the security of my desk job made me feel initially uncertain. I followed my gut and threw myself into starting my own business. This began my journey as an artist, an invaluable part of Sage Woodworks now. I learned so much of what I now do through my time in architecture and I wouldn’t change my path at all. If I never took the risk, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am today.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My design ability came from both architecture school and working in the field. I was frequently tasked with creating site models for building designs, and came to really enjoy making the models. The process involved taking topographic maps and digitally converting them into layers that would eventually be cut on a laser cutter and assembled by hand to form the elevation of the land. I was drawn to the aesthetic of the stacking and the organic curves. My artwork is a translation of this process, inspired by topographies from different areas of the world. My clients will often give me a destination to which they’re tied, and my piece will pull from the topography of that place. What differentiates me from other woodworking artists is the three-dimensional quality of my pieces. I find that the way they jump off the wall at you is fresh, modern, and original. I recently commissioned three large pieces for the Hilton Garden Inn in Camden, NJ. It was super exciting to work on a large project for a well-known brand and I would love to do more of that in the future. My biggest challenge right now is exposure. I used to attend as many markets and shows as I could each year. Since the pandemic started, I’ve had to adapt to solely promoting my work online. Things like maintaining a website and building an Instagram platform take a lot of time and energy on top of a busy schedule of production. I’m constantly seeking new, creative ways to gain exposure during these uncertain times. I face new challenges every day, but being my own boss and putting my name and brand out into the world makes it all worth it. My biggest lesson has been to resist internalizing others’ comments or critiques. That’s always been hard for me but this path has forced me to fully face that fear. Each piece I design is an extension of myself and learning how to not let others define that has been truly fulfilling.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I started Sage Woodworks in Philadelphia a little over two years ago and only moved to San Diego a year ago – right before the pandemic hit! There’s so much more of San Diego that I have yet to see. That said, I would definitely take them surfing; that’s one of my favorite things to do. We’d go to Tourmaline Beach (one of my favorite spots), partake in a bonfire on the beach, and bike down the mission beach boardwalk and around the bay. We’d go on a few hikes – I especially love Torrey Pines and its beautiful cliffside ocean views. We’d check out Balboa Park and North and South Park. I’d probably take them to get coffee at Communal Coffee and maybe for a cocktail at Kindred. We’d go to the OB dog beach and get tacos from one of the places on Newport Ave. We’d also have to walk around one of the many weekly farmers markets. In terms of other food ventures, we’d have to get breakfast at Harry’s in La Jolla and Morning Glory downtown to see some of the amazing interior architecture by Basile Studios. We’d do dinner at Fish Shop and George’s and really any of the spots in Little Italy. If we were to go out and do something more social (hard to imagine), we’d go to The Comedy Store in La Jolla and maybe a rooftop spot downtown!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My partner Dave is such a source of support and encouragement for me. He’s been there through my entire journey. When I had doubts about making a career change, he fully supported my decision and helped me to figure out all the details of the switch. Whenever I’m feeling uneasy about an aspect of my work, he’s there to discuss it with me. Recently he’s even helped me with some of the structural components of my projects. I’ve been working on some bigger pieces lately and he’s gone on Home Depot runs and assisted in crate building for large shipments. I won’t say that I couldn’t do it without him, but it would be a lot harder without his support and guidance.
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