Shelly Sennikoff & Joseph Richard Negro
Meet Shelly & Joe, the Makers behind MakeLight
Focused math nerd meets disorganized art troll who together, share a casual interest in photography.
"We are MakeLight and we make light. Our goal is to make your life brighter, one box at a time."
Read their story below
How’d you get your start?
Shelly: Well, I wasn’t originally thinking of starting a business.
The original idea involved glass building blocks, mini xmas lights, and photographic transparencies; a different way of presenting my photographs besides putting them in frames. I never pursued it. I didn’t have the tools or know how. That was over 20 years ago. A few years back, I described the idea to Joe, my partner, and he encouraged me to try it. So I did. We quickly realized the glass blocks were impractical. Glass gave way to plexiglass, photo transparencies became high res backlit printouts, and the mini lights became LEDs.
What inspired you to start your creative enterprise?
Shelly: We had no intention of selling them; they were just something that sounded fun to make for our own enjoyment. But, as friends came over to the house and saw them displayed, we received a lot of compliments and suggestions that we sell them. So we gave it a shot. The first box we sold was at our first craft show in May 2015.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Joe: "Music. Any music. I’m a visual artist, but for some reason, music is the most inspiring."
Do you believe formal training in your field is necessary to success?
Joe: When Shelly and I first started hitting the road and shooting locations, Shelly would shoot and print photos with crooked horizons and subjects in the least dynamic compositions possible. I, who formally studied photography and design, pointed it out. “Why do you shoot that way? No one shoots like that. It’s disorienting.” She replied “I don’t care how other people see the world. This is how I see it.” Formal training has the potential to teach that personal view out of you.
What advice would you give to those with similar aspirations?
Both: Firstly, if you’re entering this field to make money, don’t. Instead, become a banker or hedge fund manager or some other boring mainstream enterprise that will make money. Leave the creative stuff alone. In other words, you’ll need financial support of some sort to start, potentially for a few years. Both of us have boring mainstream jobs (well, one of us) that support our creative enterprise.
Secondly, ideas are everything, so make as many as you can, but don’t force them. Let them happen. Also, don’t edit, limit or judge any of them. Document them all no matter how silly, impractical or ridiculous. Pursue the ones that interest you and experiment like crazy. Realize the ones that speak to you and put them out in the world. Embrace feedback and be polite to criticism. Repeat over and over.
Thirdly, making things is fun. If you’re not having fun, maybe it’s not for you.
“We’re big fans of Beachwood BBQ, Steelhead Coffee, Fingerprints, The Creamery, The Hangar, and Wilmore Wine Bar.”
What other skills or crafts have you been working on?
Shelly: When the pandemic hit and face masks were a requirement, I pulled out my sewing machine and found a pattern that I then adapted to allow for more breathing room. This definitely helped me to sharpen my sewing skills, and so in addition to face masks I also made pillows and curtains for around the house and even tried making some clothing, although that didn’t turn out so well. We also spent a lot of time honing our wine tasting skills.
Name one thing you would like to eliminate from your daily schedule to make space for more creative endeavors and why?
Shelly: "Dishwashing. No explanation necessary."
How do you envision your brand growing in the future?
Both: Our brand is small mostly because we both have full-time jobs. It probably won’t get much bigger. However, we are constantly imagining and designing new stuff, it just might take a minute to hit the world. We just want to keep making stuff.