Aleksandra Zee, Woodworker

Aleksandra Zee knows her way around a power tool and isn't afraid to show it. It's nearly impossible to talk about this skillful woodworking lady without bringing up just that - the fact that she is a lady. When most people think of bandsaws, drill bits and two-by-fours the image they conjure of a tool-wielding individual is probably not one that quite fits Aleksandra. But thanks to gutsy dames like her, that image is being swiftly redefined, and we couldn't be happier. Aleksandra is a badass artist in her own right, and the first thing considered should be her amazing work, not her gender. Stepping away from a serving job and investing in a studio space with her best friend Katie (also a woodworking genius), this brave babe has taken the leap. Aleksandra is more than on her way to a career that most artists can only dream of. Today Lisa Says Gah takes you inside Aleksandra's sawdust covered East Oakland studio to hang with her precious pup Jack and see what it's like when your 9-5 and creative outlet is one and the same. Enjoy! 

LSG: Hi, Aleksandra! Thanks for inviting us out to see your space. Can you walk us through your path? What kind of stops were on the way to where you are now? 

I am originally from Southern California, and I moved to The Bay right out of college for a job as a display artist at Anthropologie. I worked there for about three years, really diving into woodworking and installation art. After those years, I made a decision that instead of trying to make a name for myself within a company, it was more important to my creative soul to make a name for myself as an artist. So I quit. 

My first studio was in the basement of my apartment, and I worked there every free second I could when I wasn't waiting tables. My craft began to pick up, and take new form after I focused on honing my energy. I quickly realized that I needed a bigger space.

After the basement studio, I moved into a studio on Market Street with my best lady friend Katie Gong. She is an amazing woodworker/furniture maker, and she was the one that hired me at Anthropologie and taught me the basics of woodworking. We shared the Market Street studio for about a year and a half. During that time things picked up enough that I could quit being a waitress and pursue woodworking full time. Last January, we got the opportunity to move our shop to the most amazing warehouse in Oakland and that's where we are today. I get goosebumps every time I walk into work - I still cannot truly believe that this is my 9-5!

LSG: When did you know a career in the art world was for you?

Ever since I was a child I knew that making and doing with my hands was a passion - if I didn't create, I felt off and unsatisfied. 

LSG: Why wood?

I fell in love with working with wood back when I was creating displays for Anthropologie. I adore the imperfections and all of the beautiful different types of wood. It's amazing how you can manipulate it, or just leave it completely raw. I love being constantly challenged by my material. 

LSG: Where do you find inspiration and how do you organize it? Can you take us through your process and concept? 

I find so much inspiration when I travel. From day trips to the redwoods, to sitting in front of the ocean or longer trips to the desert. I love being outside, nature and its colors and patterns and textures truly inspire me. The ocean and the desert have my heart, and I'm always filled with so much inspiration when I am near either of those places. 

LSG: Can you speak to your relationship with creative struggle? 

The creative struggle is an everyday thing. It manifests itself in so many different forms, from self-doubt, fear, problems with materials, deadlines and being emotionally elsewhere. I can’t say that I don’t have my days where all of that comes crashing down, but honestly I have brought the practice of meditation into my daily routine, and that helps me remain present. Being present within my mind, with my material, in my workspace always helps and lends to my productivity and overall making of work that is successful. What I create is made up of smaller bits that make a larger product, and in that process I create muscle memory. When really focused on working, I get to leave my whirring thoughts for a bit and become fully present with what my hands are making. 

LSG: What do you have to say to those trying to “make it” in creative fields? 

Never stop making, doing, and pursuing what you love. No matter how hard it seems, those tiny successes are all the more worth it when you work your ass off for them. 

LSG: What is your relationship with fashion like? How do/do you see fashion intersect with art? 

Fashion for me is functional, simple and clean. I am drawn to neutral colors and simplicity. For me, my most favorite items in my closet are my vintage Levi’s and my Outlive the Bastards denim shop coat, basically all denim on denim. 

LSG: What are requirements when it come to an article of clothing? Do you have separate wardrobes for work and life, or are the two one and the same?

The two are for sure one in the same. It is important to me for my clothes in the shop to be comfortable and durable, but also articles that make me feel good. I love wearing all denim, overalls, vintage Levi’s, my denim shop coat. The only thing I try to keep out of the studio is any black. The studio is full of sawdust, and that just makes a mess, so when I do get a bit dressed up and not in the studio it's all black for me. 

LSG: How do you feel about the art world of the Bay Area? Why do you chose to live here?

I love the community of artist in the Bay. I feel so fortunate to live and work in a community of artists that not only support each other but share opportunities with each other. Meeting an artist that I am inspired by only opens more doors to inspiration and collaboration and new exciting opportunities. The mentality of makers in the Bay is like none I have come across, and I am so lucky to be a part of it. 

LSG: We know that an artist's work is never done but when you take breaks, where might one find you on a sunny day off?!

I love to be in front of the ocean. I grew up in a beach town and being near to the ocean every day is something that is a part of me. My boyfriend and I adventure and take our pup Jack out. We are always chasing those days when we can escape and go be outside. 

LSG: Is there anything special in your studio/home neighborhood that we should check out? 

You should check out my studio mate Katie Gong, she is an incredible woodworker/furniture maker. She inspires me every day to try new things and keep working hard. Here is her website! 


Aleksandra Zee