Duration: Two years.
Location: Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City.
Key creatives: Heather-Mariah Violet Dixon and Abigail Kerns. Heather-Mariah grew up in the fields and forests of Whidbey Island, Washington, and Abigail grew up in Golden, Colorado, at the foot of the Rockies. We met in college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where Abigail received a BA in design and a BFA in studio dance, and Heather-Mariah received a BA in design and a BFA in studio arts with a concentration in printmaking.
Career paths: Growing up homeschooled with artist parents who instilled in her the value of creative fervor, Heather-Mariah often spent her time gluing, papier-mâché-ing or drawing something. From crafting zines to choreographing ballets, a creative career was always an easy choice for her. By the time she graduated from college, she’d been doing freelance design for local businesses and ran her own clothing company, selling her work worldwide.
While designing and art directing at various agencies across New York, Heather-Mariah always kept a roster of “night and early morning” freelance clients to pass the time. She forged relationships with emerging brands and realized her passion for building businesses from the ground up. As her side projects started eclipsing her full-time gig as a senior designer at M·A·C Cosmetics, Heather-Mariah decided to run Studio HMVD full-time and build the business of her dreams.
From a young age, Abigail explored the arts through movement and dance, eventually discovering an interest in visual art in high school. Throughout her time in college, she explored different ways of connecting her passions, intending to pursue both dance and design full-time. Moving to New York City seemed the obvious choice, so she bought a one-way ticket.
Throughout her early career, Abigail discovered the force of administrative and operational work and how it uplifted creative processes. She often found herself in roles that enabled her to develop structures and harness power for creatives, helping others do the work they were meant to do. When her longtime friend founded Studio HMVD, she knew that was the place where all her passions could connect. Now, she finds beauty in timelines, proposals and back-end processes that keep a burgeoning design studio on the straight and narrow. Alongside Heather-Mariah, she designs, builds strategies and styles a mean shoot.
Cultural influences: Studio HMVD draws inspiration from ephemera that hasn’t been influenced by design education: bodega packaging, flyers stuck in doorways, old advertising and signage that hasn’t been updated to suit the tastes of the modern era. We pair those influences with the classics; trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art bring up fascinations with Renaissance sculpture, Russian constructivism and printmaking throughout history. Abigail and Heather-Mariah are also inspired by visceral textures and forgotten scenes: an abandoned storefront, faded junk at the dollar store or a scrap roll of linoleum from a carpet warehouse that’s on its last legs.
Favorite projects: Some Light at the End was a large undertaking and professional milestone. Designing a book cover to cover gave us the opportunity to develop a comprehensive world for readers to delve into. The subject and information were complex, and designing the book was a long process. Also, every page is hand-ragged!
Our work for men’s skincare brand HETIME also comes to mind. We assisted with launching a brand that hadn’t yet seen the light of day by asking, “What’s the face that gets revealed the first time the curtain is withdrawn?” We tried so many new things for the HETIME brand, from set design to styling, and built a large asset library that has helped inform its ongoing art direction choices.
Approach: Studio HMVD has developed a process that embraces our quirks while being highly thorough. We believe that structure provides us and our clients with the creative freedom to make distinct work each time. Our collective experience and expertise allows us to choose the type of work that best suits the studio’s style and ethos while covering a broad range of mediums and outputs.
Aspirations: At this moment, we absolutely love the work we do, which is the metric we weigh against when determining the long-term strategy of our business. In five to ten years, we hope to be just as in love with the work we’re doing—and if not, then doing something else entirely!
Philosophy: Googly eyes and pom-poms make everything better. Typography is incredibly important and one of the defining factors of being a graphic designer in the design field. Type is the personification of a brand’s voice and should be treated with the utmost importance and care.
Anything else? We’re entirely self-taught within photography and styling, and learning more and more as we go. We get weird around 4:00 p.m. and believe that Thursday is the 4:00 p.m. of the week.