and both spent their formative years enamored by graffiti artwork and bold color, probably then unaware of how the art style would one day inform their daily work — and connect them to each other in a joint collaborative with their equally talented wives.
The story of Portland, ME-based begins with Will, who was born and raised in Philadelphia. “I grew up writing graffiti and painting, with strong interest in art and design,” he shares. “When an artist residency opportunity brought me to Maine in 2010, I discovered that Maine suited me, and made it my home. Shortly after arriving in Maine, I started a small hand painted sign company, called . One of my first jobs was at a friend’s new brewery, Oxbow Brewing Company, painting murals in their brew barn and signage around the property.” Will then brought on his wife, fine artist , painter and muralist Ryan Adams, and his wife , a painter. They form a collaborative of independent artists, sign painters and muralists who have worked with one another for a number of years and recently decided to formalize the relationship under Better Letter this year.
Ryan, who was born and raised in Portland, shares, “I began my artistic journey by emulating the work from my comic books as a kid, but when I received the by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant at age 10, my life became consumed by bright colors and bending letter forms.”
Tessa dips into many other creative streams in addition to co-running Better Letter with Will, Ryan and Rachel. “I have discovered that I thrive on the day-to-day variety! I have an active studio practice that I try to give 20-30 hours a week. I occasionally work as an artist assistant to a local sculptor, which is a fascinating window into the world of material and dimension.”
Rachel came to Portland from the Boston area by way of her printmaking degree, which she graduated with from the Maine College of Art. “My mother is an artist and art teacher and my father is a writer so I grew up with a huge appreciation for colors and shapes and a love for textiles… Applying pattern to multiple surfaces excites me and I loved the repetitive nature of the process.”
All of these unique backgrounds — each of them deeply rooted in creativity — results in a dynamic portfolio at Better Letter, of which projects include , , , , and more. The collective spectrum of Will, Tessa, Ryan and Rachel’s collaborative work is undoubtedly the result of the group each nurturing their own individual art practices, and today we’re taking a peek into the respective studios of each artist. Tune in after the slide show below to find tips from these duos on how to successfully (and peaceably!) work with your spouse or partner. —
Image above: Rachel, Ryan and daughter Zoe in their basement studio. “We had this idea that because we were having a baby we had to get a house and move further away from the city… maybe join a book club and take up extreme couponing,” Rachel jokes. “We rented a house just outside town when I was pregnant as a test run of what it would be like to be somewhat responsible for a house. It was a hot mess. The garden looked like Jurassic Park after about three months. So we decided to buy a multi-story town house and have the basement be our studio. We are still in close proximity to downtown and Ryan’s mom lives in the same complex (built-in childcare). It was kind of a no-brainer.”
Photography by / @
(except where noted)
Tips on working with a partner or spouse
Have fun! (it’s working with your best friend)
Don’t shy away from being honest; the greatest respect is shown by holding the other person to their best ability.
Realize that most artistic pursuits demand making stuff that doesn’t work out right away, so be patient and understanding of the necessary failures involved in the pursuit of success.
Go on dates; leave the work environment aside from time to time and remember to celebrate the other sides to life together.
Learn from their strengths. Chances are, they’re incredibly badass at something that you’re not.
Don’t bottle up feelings. Have an open line of communication.
Unfiltered honesty is the best policy. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, and it is always best to express those opinions in an uplifting and productive way.
Be aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses — it will help a lot in figuring out how to tackle certain problems.
Learn how to duly note and properly disregard criticism if you are confident in your direction.
Always keep in mind that you are on the same team with the same dream, so individual success is a success for the team.
Establish a lead for each project, and let that person have the final say.
Be specific when you ask for creative feedback.
Establish boundaries. Don’t ask for the other’s opinion on new work when it is just emerging.
Keep a sense of humor, and remember how fortunate you are to share this interest and
Agree that it is okay to mutually neglect household chores when you are both in the throws of a deadline.