Studio Visit: Tend Living
You may not know Britt Neubacher by her first name, but you probably know her orbs quite well. Britt’s brightly colored eco orbs have been front and center in Pigment’s front window since we first opened, partly because the succulents and cacti need all that sunshine, but mostly because we are so in love with them. Britt’s hanging dry terrariums puzzle many (we constantly get asked if the plants are real, if they’re planted in only the sand and how the heck they grow in there), and we love her for her ingenuity. She spends her days working in her airy studio space, located in a detached garage in South Park, creating all kinds of plant life goodness for her company Tend Living. When she's not designing orbs for us here at Pigment, she may be working on centerpieces for a wedding, a living wall for a client or bouquets for a bride.
Britt shows off one of her signature eco orbs stuffed with colorful sand, cacti, moss and found objects.
Q: Hi Britt! We love your work and are really interested to hear your story. Let’s start with this: how’d you end up starting Tend Living?
A: Well, I was working in social services, mostly with youth in crisis. I got a Master’s in Women’s Studies and I was totally devoted to working in the social services sector forever. But it became pretty clear after about 14 years that I was not a lifer and that I definitely did not deflect the stress very well. I found that getting my hands in the dirt in my garden was therapy for me. It kept me sane. A friend of mine gave me a piece of this orb glass, I think she bought it as a candle votive, but she still wasn’t really clear what it was and she said “I think you could do something really fun with this.” I just imagined a little wee world. I really liked that it was round and sort of represented the earth shrunken down in this tiny environment. I stuck a stag horn fern in it and another friend of mine came over and was like “That is amazing. I’m going to put you into a sustainable design show at Design Within Reach.” I ended up creating a bunch of different biome orbs, all representing different micro environments and they all sold. And that was sort of my launch.
Q: Did you worry about leaving your steady job?
A: Yes! I was thinking about health benefits and a steady paycheck, you know, all of that. Finally I stopped asking questions and stepped aside and sort of let whatever was trying to speak through me and it said, “Go for it!” It’s been a really amazing way to sort of heal what I realized were some patterns and maybe even wounds that I had developed through social services.
Q: What’s been your favorite part about your new career?
A: Working with nature already connects you to this deeper place within yourself that’s so grounded and simple and not mental. Every day I’m just really learning how to be heart forward: open my heart, silence my mind and let it come.
Lots of lush succulents live in Britt's studio waiting to be used for her next project.
Q: How did you become involved with Pigment?
A: I did a Ray at Night show and Amy approached me and said I want to open a store and I want it to be your work and my work. I need a place for people to be able to access my work more easily and I think we can pull this off.
Q: So was Pigment your first order?
A: Pigment was my major retail launching pad. For sure, Pigment, with the prominent sort of exposure in the front window and all of that from the get go was definitely my best venue for selling my work.
Q: Why did you name your business Tend?
A: I originally chose Tend because I wanted an action word, something that really embodied what it meant to tend to the earth and that it’s participatory rather than observant or passive.
Q: What do you love about the orbs?
A: I love the glass so much because it’s a peek-a-boo environment where you can really transport yourself by going into this translucent, illuminated little realm. The orbs were definitely the thing to launch my business, but I got pretty quickly into interior design with plants. I wanted to bring plants into the home in a modern way.
An in-progress wooden planter box is ready for its finishing touches.
Q: Why do you love working with plants?
A: Not only are plants easier to work with than people; it’s a universal language. Whereas I sometimes felt a little disconnected with people because I was so committed to social justice and I just felt that there were so many wrongs in the world, when I started working with plants I stopped fighting and it felt really good.
Q: Were you concerned with how the orbs would grow over time when you first started?
A: I had my own concerns in the beginning. Obviously plants really like room to grow and then there’s the issue of there being a small amount of soil and how do they maintain their nutrients. You know, there are a lot of questions. But we’ve learned how to take care of them. The thing that I was always committed to is the idea that people were going to become more engaged with plants with these because they were going to require care. It’s not this passive thing. It’s going to need you and you need to get in there and play with it and start that dialogue. The transformative aspect of this particular art form is key to its intention. It’s living art, it’s going to change, it’s going to grow, and it’s going to die. It’s a continual process.’
Q: Were you nervous about letting Pigment provide customers with all the DIY tools to create their own orbs?
A: Yes! Amy worked really hard on me for a long time and she finally broke me down and I really haven’t looked back. I knew a lot of that was ego and that I didn’t want to give away the tools to my craft. But I realized that’s really counterintuitive to what I’m doing to begin with. I want to show the information; I want people to take a more active role in caring for nature and the earth. It’s forced me to innovate a little bit more, where I’m not defined by my orbs anymore. It’s helped me to grow.
Britt shows us some of her favorite plant babes out on the patio.
Q: What’s your favorite kind of job?
A: I’ve really enjoyed the bigger installations, when I’ve had the opportunity to do living walls and transform a space. But I think I’ve probably gotten some of the most satisfaction out of the weddings because there’s so much emotion in weddings that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the thrill of it all.
Q: What do you snack on while you’re working?
A: Well, I live on kombucha. It’s my fuel, and kind of my food too. My hands are always filthy so it’s easier.
Q: Do you listen to music while you work?
A: I like listening to music, but I end up listening to a lot of talk radio. I love Radiolab and This American Life. One of my favorite ones is called “On Being.” It’s very thoughtful and all about religion, ethics and ideas.
L: A finished eco orb hangs out at Britt's work station R: Her endless supply of plants gets lots of light outdoors.
Q: Any advice for those looking to start their own business?
A: There’s a real element of fearlessness you have to embrace. If you just keep showing up it’s kind of amazing how the universe really wants you to be well and do your thing.