Who: Elli Diaz
What: Artist, jewelry designer and maker, photographer
Artist’s chosen location for interview: Her kitchen (where she prepared homemade lemonade pops for her son, gave her assistant instructions for a photo shoot, and fed her baby girl before putting her down for a nap).
Q: When you were young, what was a toy you wanted, never got, and always saw other kids having?
A: She-Ra dolls. You know, Princess of Power. And I wanted one because my brothers collected Transformers, and it was a serious collectors thing. We weren’t allowed to play with them. I was never big on toys, and She-Ra dolls were these little Star Wars figures, but they were girls. How could you not want that?
And my neighbor had like every single one, so I’d go over there all the time and say, “Can I play with your toys?” And sometimes she’d let me, and sometimes she’d say, “No. Everything is tidy, so we’re not playing today.”
Q: When you can’t sleep at night, what is the most common theme that’s running through your mind?
A: There’s constantly around 85 things to do on my to-do list, so at night I’m always thinking about how to structure tomorrow. I have a pretty unstructured schedule — there’s getting my son to school, walking the dog, feeding the baby, and also making jewelry, working on websites, doing photography, and thinking about planning a new art show. Sometimes I think about calling about buying a house one day or I’m thinking about what doctor’s appointment we have the next day. It’s a constant.
Of course, I make this to-do list at night, but I don’t always end up following it. As you’ve already seen, the mornings can be insane. But at night I’m planning out everything, which is funny because a lot of the times I’ll dream about artistic projects. I’ll dream about how to make a new piece or the best way to do it. I now daydream about crafts (laughing). I fantasize about crafts.
If I could have a day that I could fill with whatever I wanted, I think I’d fill it with painting or riding a bike. I miss riding a bike aimlessly; you know, where you aren’t going anywhere. Painting and biking are two things that I always want to fit in my schedule, but never get to, even though I have this great partner and people around me saying, “Take time for yourself.”
The moment I get time for myself, though, I start diving into the to-do list. And that’s due a lot to the decade of challenges I had when learning how to be productive. Because before that I was making things more often, but they just sat there. Now there’s the work aspect after the creation.
It’s interesting because we have a new artist at the store, and she was with her mom the other day. And her mom said to me, “I tell her all the time, be careful when you chase your passions because eventually they become work.” When she said that, I felt the words twist right inside me, and I wanted to say, “No, it’s not like that at all,” but there is this freedom in punching in and punching out. You don’t always get to feel that as an artist or a small business owner. You don’t always get to breathe.
Q: What room in your house best describes you?
A: Oh, wow. I think I live on the walls in my house. I’m all over this place.
But the kitchen represents me as the matriarch. I’ve always been the one to cook for all my friends. It’s due to my family. My family are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and my mom was the same kind of matriarch. Food brings people together, and I love having communal spaces. I always have. Ever since I was a little kid.
My house growing up was the house where you could always find all the teenagers from the neighborhood. There would be eight of us teenagers just all over the tiny little duplex I grew up in, and we were all just waiting for dinner. And that’s something I’ve always struggled and attempted to keep.
And the kitchen represents that for me; although, I really am all over my house. I mean, I write with dry eraser on my refrigerator. I can’t hold on to all my thoughts. I need a writing surface within 3 inches of me everywhere I go. It’s gotta come out; I just can’t hold it in.
Q: What is your dream object that you’d want to work with for making jewelry?
A: That’s such a funny question because my dream object would always have been silver. Those metals that equate you to being a jewelry-smith. When I started, though, I wasn’t able to use those materials.
I had to find things that I could afford. At the time, when I started making jewelry, it was cool to look super ’80s, and I was trying to make a boom box necklace for myself. That’s how I discovered Legos, which is so strange because I didn’t even grow up with toys. People assume that I was obsessed with toys as a kid, but really I make the jewelry I make because I was hunting for materials that would let me do what I wanted.
One day I want to a thrift store, found a bag of Legos for one dollar, and I made myself the necklace. Then everyone kept trying to buy it off of me. And now that I work so much with Legos, I find myself hesitant to work with anything else. The door is wide open because you can make anything — literally anything — with Legos. And you don’t have to have vats of silver and torches.
It’s fun and joyful, and I often have the kids help me make things; we’ve even started having Lego-themed birthday parties. My son even made a little backpack pin out of Legos that looked like a robot when he was four, and I still sell those.
In that way, Legos have really been my dream object. Although, I’m always looking for objects that people discard. I have all of these ideas about what we could build with recycled electronics or other objects that people throw away. I’ve knit blankets for the homeless out of grocery bags and VHS tape; you can even make umbrellas with the tape if you’re super talented. There’s all these objects we could collect and build into new interesting projects.
In other words, I’m a hoarder.