Craft and glitter guru Stephen Brown does it all. Whether he’s working with a team of skilled craftsman designing his own elaborate ornaments for the holiday season or dreaming about what festive holiday event to throw next, it’s apparent that Stephen is in a constant 24/7 holiday mode that has fueled his successful career. A current judge on TLC’s Craft Wars, Stephen has previously worked in New York City as a costume designer and now focuses on perfecting his line of Glitterville holiday partyware and ornaments. Check out his views on holiday festivities and much more!
Your exciting ambition to “make every day a holiday” begs the question: what is your ultimate favorite holiday, and how do you usually celebrate it?
I have to say that I love all the different holidays and the creative customs celebrated with each of them, but the big ones that consume most of my thoughts are Halloween and Christmas, which is probably not a big surprise to anyone.
For some, Halloween is a spooky time, but at my house it’s all about costumes, cupcakes, candy, and, of course, crafts. The whole month of October is usually dedicated to preparations for the Glitterville Orange and Black Ball, my annual Halloween party. The guest list has ranged from twelve people for dinner to twelve hundred for a full Masquerade. The night is filled with turn-of-the-century party games, exotic animals roaming the yard, and gifting. Every guest gets a take-a-way treat bag filled with handmade favors and goodies to remember the affair.
I am usually out of town for most of December, so I miss a lot of the festivities that go with the season. My house looks like Scrooge himself must live there until we fly back into town around the 20th to get ready for the holiday party that’s always held on Christmas Eve. This means finding two live 12 foot trees that are perfectly shaped for the front hall and music room and a forest of smaller ones for the rest of the house in only a couple of days time. The good thing about owning an ornament company is that you don’t have to worry about what to put on the trees; I worry more about what not to use, because there are lots of old favorites and some newly created ones that no one will have seen before.
Once the trees are up and decorated, I turn what’s left of my attention to the food. In the early days of throwing the party, I worked night and day creating delicately decorated treats that, I must say, went almost completely unappreciated and untouched and left me thinking “why”? After years of hosting this party, I learned that people who venture out on the evening of the 24th will not be convinced to eat dessert, any dish involving crab or meatballs, and they most certainly won’t consider sampling something that requires a utensil to eat. While this seems peculiar, my team and I concluded that people have so many sweets at their own homes on this night that they are not looking for more. Also, while crab and meatballs may be swell on any other night of the year, it is just too messy to risk drizzling sauces and such down the front of a beloved and bedazzled holiday sweater that someone will most likely re-wear again tomorrow. Once all of this is taken into account, we stick to making piles of savory finger foods like cheese straws, mini yeast biscuits with fillings, etc. and a giant bowl of eggnog, which is what most of the guests are actually looking for.
Christmas day is spent resting up from the previous week and getting ready to fly out of town again the next morning until February or March, at which time I return to a tree free house with everything packed away until we do the whole thing again next year.
You’ve created some totally unique holiday items for Glitterville. Can you walk me through the creative process of imagining the original design, traveling overseas, and eventually holding the finished product?
Well, I’m not sure I really have a “creative process,” but my process is often creative…which means I don’t have just one way of working.
My mind is always thinking about what I will make or design next, so when the idea comes, I immediately record the thought into my iPhone or doodle it down on a sheet of white paper that is always with me — even next to my bed! I then sort all of my notes and start to make sketches of the ones I think will make sellable products for Glitterville. I will usually carry the sketches around, bend or lose them, re-do them, and color them with my favorite Copic markers. Now, they are ready to be turned into actual items like cupcake punch bowls and party hats.
Bringing the drawings to life requires us to hop on a plane and fly around the world teaching various artisans the exact methods I would like for them to use when creating these new items. Sometimes we see the sample on that trip, and sometimes it requires us to return or approve the samples by email. Believe me, this process can be both fun and frustrating at the same time because something that seems simple and straightforward to you may be completely foreign to someone else trying to read your mind. Eventually when all of the pinks and other colors, and the shapes and glitters are right, we will approve them to be sent to our showrooms and displayed. Then, suddenly it all seems worth it.
Who is your biggest artistic inspiration?
The colors and movement of Disney, the bleak and beautiful worlds of Tim Burton, and the everyday implication of fine living brought to the world by Martha Stewart probably influence me to a degree. However, most of my inspirations come from things I love like sugar cake decorations and things made from tiny pieces of frowsy chenille stems.
You’re currently a judge on TLC’s Craft Wars! What’s your favorite part about your role on the show?
My favorite part is that I get to be the judge and not the one being judged! Having my skills put against a ticking clock, Tori Spelling, and a panel of judges, who are only there to judge, would be far less fun than sitting at the table with Jo Pearson and Erica Domesek disagreeing about what someone should have done with their glitter and glue.
Your website describes you as a child being in “post-holiday doldrums” after every big celebration. At a young age, what sparked your artistic interest, and what were your creative outlets?
I don’t think most creative people really have to be sparked; I think the fire is already burning inside and you just need a lifetime of kindling to keep it going! The obsessions I had as a child that inspired my creativity are a lot of the same ones that do it for me today. For example, a lot of my life has been spent dreaming of cake frosting being squeezed from a pastry bag onto beautiful cakes and candy. As a child, I loved weddings and baby showers because I knew both functions ensured me a slice of cake that would be highly frosted and decorated with small trinkets of some sort plunged deep into waves of sugar, an ideology that’s easily seen in a lot of my work today. My other passions included every holiday, pop-up books, flat painted theatre sets at a local community playhouse, and of course, anything covered in glitter!!!
What were some of the television shows and movies you worked on as a costume designer in New York City, and what was that experience like?
Oh, my goodness, this subject is a crazy one with lots of winding twists and tales too long to tell. I will say that working in TV and on the soaps thrilled me daily. Being behind the scenes on Broadway was the ultimate theatrical gig, and doing period movies such as October Sky with Jake Gyllenhaal and crafting couture for Mariah Carey in movies like Wise Girls was always super fun for me. Those experiences have made me who I am today…questionably crazy, slightly dramatic, and a lover of anything that sparkles, — from glitter to granulated sugar.
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