Jim Misner on Found Object Lighting and Making Custom Lamps for Garry Trudeau

Jim Misner has been crafting original lighting since making a first lamp out of “found parts” in 1994. In addition to his lighting created from found objects, Jim designs and fabricates new custom lighting for residences, hotels, restaurants, bars/tasting rooms, and retail spaces. Notable projects Jim has created lighting for include Cavallo Point, Inn at The Presidio, Post Ranch Inn, Medlock Ames Alexander Valley Tasting Room, and Zazu Kitchen.

Hi Jim. How did you get interested in lighting?

In the 80’s I was working as a production assistant in the film and television industry in New York City. I became aware of the significance of proper lighting from watching and assisting lighting directors and technicians place and manipulate lights on set. Eventually I secured a steady weekly gig in a small NY studio doing tabletop food lighting for a local supermarket’s regional campaign. I think I can safely attribute my understanding and developing obsession with light to that experience. The principals of balanced, successful lighting are the same, whether on a 4’ x 8’ table, or an expansive film set . . . the tools just get a lot bigger.

Test bomb with fifteen lamps

There is broader awareness today about up-cycling/repurposing than there was in 1994 when you created your first found object lamp. Were you thinking along those lines, or was it more about an interesting design opportunity?

Honestly, I think it was the design opportunity primarily that spoke to me, not so much conservation in the 90’s. There were very few lighting artists that I was aware of that were using salvaged parts to create light objects that were both sculptural and unique. My friend and accomplished local lighting designer, Michael McEwen, and I were exploring similar re-use of cast-off industrial parts, each with his own personal style. We shared many of the same local design stores to showcase our work in the early 90’s and 2000’s. Never competitive . . . his work was inspirational.

Where do you find your found objects? Do you have a stockpile of stuff lying around that’s waiting for just the right project? Do clients and designers bring you objects they want you to make into a lamp?

My first source of materials was from an assortment of sellers at the sorely missed Marin City Flea Market. There seemed to be an abundance of collectible parts available in my early days.
I also have to give credit to the original Victor’s Lighting on Folsom Street in San Francisco. They had bins and boxes of old and new parts. I could cobble together lamps right there in their “workshop” and find 3–4 hours go by before I looked up from my creations. It was a great place to learn the engineering aspects of building lamps. I definitely honed my skills there and owe them a debt of gratitude for their generosity. There are not many mom and pop businesses like that anymore.

I do have a stockpile of “stuff” in my workshop. Sometimes I have something in my collection that inspires an idea to develop. Clients often have a concept in their mind that we will explore together. For one client I designed a chandelier with vintage milk bottles, crate and hardware from their family dairy.

Suspended rescue gurney chandelier

“I love the challenge of doing something I have not done before. I also like a chance to recreate something I may have only made once before. I get the opportunity to make improvements to the original with what I learned from the process.”

Any especially interesting or unique projects you’d like to share?

I collaborated on a project with cartoonist Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury) a few years back. He designed the graphics that I then made into colorful lampshades. I then created ten unique lamps with vintage memorabilia and Americana to complement the shades. He then gave them as holiday gifts to friends and colleagues.

Doonesbury on the Road lamp with found auto parts

Has using found objects influenced your overall development as a lighting designer?

I think my skill in problem solving and engineering evolved from all the work I have done up to today. I love the challenge of doing something I have not done before. I also like a chance to recreate something I may have only made once before. I get the opportunity to make improvements to the original with what I learned from the process.

View Jim Misner’s profile here.
www.jimmisnerlightdesigns.com

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