Blobs, Blocks, and Confetti: In the Studio with Wes Bechtler
December 16, 2021
Wes Bechtler has been tufting for less than a year, but his mastery of the craft has already allowed him to make designing and creating rugs a full-time gig. On the second floor of a converted Bushwick warehouse, his live/work studio is full of plants, light, and—of course—rugs. “I needed a place I could make plenty of noise,” he says. Given the knee-high stack of finished pieces, the dozen or so rugs spread across the floor, and the handful of works-in-progress on the large frame by the window, it’s easy to imagine that Bechtler’s cut-pile machine never stays quiet for long.
Originally from New Jersey, Wes grew up with a woodshop at home and worked as a carpenter throughout college, at William Paterson University, attending classes during the week and working home-renovation jobs on the weekends. During that time he also rented his first art studio, where he began painting and making furniture. Years later, it's clear that the attention to detail that woodworking requires informs Bechtler’s tufting practice. While the fun color combos and unpretentious patterns of his rugs are certainly appealing, it’s the super-clean execution of his shapes and edges, and the almost factory-plush quality of his piles that makes his rugs so satisfying to look at. Or, better yet, to walk on.
The obvious question first: how did you get into tufting? What do you like about it?
I’ve always been interested in all aspects of design and am constantly exploring different media. I saw a video of someone tufting and thought, “Oh wow, I need to do this!” It was around the holiday season, so I asked my family for a tufting gun. Of course, no one knew what I was talking about. Shout-out to my sister and mom for getting me started.
My favorite part of creating has always been the process more than the final product. It’s incredibly therapeutic to throw on music or a podcast and get lost in the studio; you’re in your own little world, and it’s no different with tufting.
A scroll back through your Instagram shows how elements of your work—like the confetti motif and contrasting colors—carry over from your furniture into your rugs, but the effect is really different in tufted form. I’m wondering how working in fiber has changed your approach to these choices. Or your aesthetic overall?
Working with fibers has definitely changed my approach to color. With painting, I always mix my own colors and am able to get pretty precise in defining the hue, tone and value of each. Tufting has changed the way I go about choosing palettes because I have some limits in the variety of color—I work with certain manufacturers, so I’m limited by the colors they produce—but I’ve really enjoyed this new challenge because it leads me to choose colors and combinations that wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice. I also just love going to the fabric store, looking at and feeling all the different yarns.
I love the use of the confetti pattern in your work. It reminds me of the Memphis Group, East Coast brick walls, and parties. What draws you to this pattern? What inspires you more generally?
The confetti pattern has always had a place in my heart, but it didn’t show up in my work until New Year’s Eve of 2015 with my longtime friend Colin (@colinmlyon). This was right after college, and we didn’t want to go to a local party and see a bunch of people from high school, so we stayed in and made this confetti-themed painting instead. Confetti’s become a staple in my work since then.
My friends are a huge source of inspiration. Sometimes that inspiration is as simple as watching them pursue their own practices and hone their crafts, which inspires me to do the same. Colin is someone I’ve made work with and around for a long time. I wouldn’t say our work is similar, necessarily, but it’s definitely in dialogue.
You recently showed a cool rug in the Spring/Break Art Show. What was the idea behind the piece? It's got a pretty unique shape.
The theme of the Spring Break Art Show this year was “Medieval”. The first thing that came to mind was making a rug for the space in the shape of a moat—a large square border with a small opening in the middle of one of the sides. I liked the idea of walking into the room and through the gap in the rug, so the viewer would have to be within the circumference of the rug to look at the art on the walls. It was the biggest rug I’ve made so far, but it came from a pattern that my followers are pretty familiar with, the Blob Rug, which normally has a cream background. I used a blue background for the moat piece to resemble water.
You’ve just launched a very nice website where folks can buy your rugs. Congrats! How do you balance the business end of being an artist with the actual studio work?
It’s been a bit challenging trying to find a balance between tufting rugs vs. promoting and selling them. I love creating in the studio, and prefer that to the back-end work like photographing final products, updating my website, and promoting myself. I’m still trying to get better at all that stuff.
What do you like to do when you’re not tufting?
I love spending time outside, whether it’s going for a walk around Brooklyn or popping into NYC galleries, going for long bike rides, or playing basketball. I try to hang out with friends whenever I can, especially now that things are opening up again.
What do you know now about tufting now that you wished you’d known in the beginning?
To be honest, it’s all little things like using two strings of yarn instead of one, or that prep work makes all the difference by saving time in the long run and leading to a solid, final rug. One thing that has totally been a game-changer for me is using buzzers to clean up my lines as I work, before going onto the next color, instead of just trimming everything at once at the end.
There are so many different stages to tufting—from building the frame to stretching the cloth, from sketching out the rug to mapping it on the cloth, to then tufting the rug, gluing, cutting, hemming, backing and trimming it. People don’t think about all these steps when they’re looking at a final rug, but they’re all truly important in leading to a quality end-product.
What are you excited to tuft next?
I’m really excited to start tufting bigger pieces. I used to be hesitant about making larger rugs because they’re typically more expensive to make and harder to sell. Luckily, I’m starting to get to a place where I feel more comfortable putting extra time and money into a single piece, and I’m glad that people have been interested in them.