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Interview - Ryan Ward of United Measures

Creative People

9th September, 2011
Lucy Feagins
Friday 9th September 2011

Ryan Ward's studio at The Compound Interest in Collingwood.  Photo - Lucy Feagins.

Amazing detailing by Ryan Ward of United Measures!

Ryan's studio.  Love those prints by US-based Ork Posters (framed by Ryan of course!). Photo - Lucy Feagins

I must admit, yesterday was the first time I actually met Ryan Ward in the real world.  That's not to say his reputation didn't precede him.  I mean, there is such a BUZZ in Melbourne about Ryan's incredible bespoke framing business, United Measures.   I've had him in my interview sights for quite some time!

Ryan really does take the time honoured craft of picture-framing to another level.  Every United Measures frame is handcrafted from Australian timber by Ryan and/or his Dad - and they never use off the shelf or pre-finished materials!  When talking to Ryan it's clear how passionate (and particular!) he is about his craft.  He is thoughtful and softly spoken and very humble about his work - he sees his role essentially as a very collaborative one, creating the perfect complement for each artwork entrusted to him.  Above all, Ryan really is a perfectionist at heart - just look at those incredible joinery details in his frames above!  Spectacular.  Wait 'til you see the fluoro pink corner details a little further down this post... omg.  SO good.

Ryan started out in graphic design, scoring a job at respected local firm Studio Round whilst still at university.  He loved working at Round, but after a few years was gradually drawn away from the computer screen, realising he much preferred working with his hands.  He spent a few years tinkering with screenprinting and framing in his spare time, gradually sharpening his skills and building up a toolkit, before taking the plunge and launching United Measures last year.

More recently Mr Ward has been working on a little side project close to his heart - together with his chief collaborator (his Dad!), he's been creating amazing little wooden toys from the off-cuts of his frames.   They're SO meticulously crafted and intricate - and a wonderful way to utilise every inch of the beautiful timbers he works with in his studio.

Ryan shares a workshop with the outrageously talented (and equally perfectionist) letterpress printmaker Carolyn Fraser, at The Compound Interest building in Collingwood.

There really is no finer place in Melbourne to have something perfectly framed.  (nb. please note - with perfection comes a short waitlist!)

United Measures
The Compound Interest:
Centre For The Applied Arts
15–25 Keele Street
Collingwood 3066

Wednesday to Friday
11:00am to 6:00pm

By appointment

Ryan Ward of United Measures.  Photo - Lucy Feagins

Can you tell us a little about your career background - what path has led to what you’re doing now?

My background is in graphic design. I studied graphic arts, multimedia and then graphic design at RMIT. I was in my third year at RMIT in 2003 when I began working at Studio Round part time. Round had only recently been established then and it was very exciting to be a part of a small team and new studio. It was also very rewarding to have grown with the studio and to have been a part of its success when it expanded in later years. While still working at Round I learned how to screen print and frame, in my spare time. I have always preferred working with my hands and was particularly drawn to working with timber. Initially it was just a hobby, but it became increasingly satisfying and it consumed me. Within a few short years as I continued to experiment and hone my skills, gradually collecting tools along the way, I had developed a humble little workshop. Then in 2009 my friend Jeremy Wortsman asked me if I would like to frame for his gallery Lamington Drive. I was still working at Round at the time, framing in the evenings and on weekends. Then in 2010 Jeremy asked me if I would like to join The Compound Interest. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity of running my own business, working with my hands and sharing a space with so many other amazing creative people.

Skeleton screenprint framed by Ryan Ward of United Measures

It must have been a big change to go from working in a busy commercial graphic design environment, to running your own very hands on creative business. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced since launching United Measures?

Learning how to run a business! It was a big change, but very satisfying. I think initially managing the logistics was one of the bigger challenges, as I operate across two workshops, one where I do all of the messy joinery, staining and painting and the other at the Compound where I finish the frames and meet customers. This was hard work in the beginning as I was working by myself, seven days a week and often 12–16 hours per day. While I was at the Compound workshop I couldn’t make any progress with the timber side of the process, so I would often finish at 6pm and head home to my other workshop and continue working there until quite late. Fortunately I have my dad working with me now, so we can divide the timber work between us.

Ryan at work in his Altona timber workshop (where the messy stuff happens!).  Bottom left - frame offcuts which later become handcrafted timber toys!

Your work can be identified by an incredible attention to detail. Would you consider yourself a perfectionist!? Do you go to bed dreaming of mitred corners and cut-out details?

I don’t like to think of myself as a perfectionist, maybe slightly obsessive. I do like to get things right and sometimes this doesn’t happen the first time around, so I have a collection of frames that weren’t quite right and had to be started again and occasionally made for the third time, until I get it right...
Fortunately I don’t dream about framing, but occasionally my fingers twitch involuntarily at night, after a lot of detailed, repetitive work.

Is everything in your own home framed to perfection? Have you EVER owned an Ikea picture frame in your whole life?

Nothing in my home is framed to perfection. My walls are sparsely clad with my learning curves and experiments and remind me of where I started. I also have the odd gold ornate frames dotted around the house, a couple of plastic ones and some shiny metal ones from the 80’s. I really should do something about this, when I find the time...

Amazing colourful hand-tinted frame details!  Love those fluoro pink corners up top (artwork by Madeleine Stamer of course)!

Is there anything you won’t or can’t frame?

Sports memorabilia.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

On Mondays and Tuesdays I start work around 8am or 9am. I spread my work sheets out and place them in order of urgency, type of wood, moulding profile, finish and joinery option. Then I begin selecting the timber moulding, I carefully inspect for warping, bends, knots and other defects to avoid. I measure and mark the timber, then handover to dad for cutting and trimming. The rest of the day is spent gluing and joining, cutting various inlays and details, nailing, routing, sanding, painting, staining, oiling, waxing, responding to emails, quoting, invoicing, ordering materials, speaking to suppliers, the list goes on. My dad and I take regular breaks, consume numerous cups of coffee or tea and discuss designs for wooden toys. Dad is often crafting little wooden toy prototypes throughout the day, turning, shaping and meticulously cutting all sorts of elaborate shapes into wood, which then slot together perfectly like a three-dimensional puzzle. From Wednesday to Friday, my day begins much the same, but around 10am I load the car up with frames to be finished and head over to my other workshop at the Compound. In between cutting various materials and mounting works, I meet with customers, discuss options and walk them through the framing process.

Ryan and his Dad tinker with their new toy range at Ryan's Colingwood studio.  These shots by Olga Bennett, originally taken for Smith Journal.

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people do you admire or take inspiration from?

I admire the work of my longtime friend and collaborator Suzy Tuxen (A Friend Of Mine). Her colourful and playful approach to design has always inspired me. Ricky Swallow’s incredible craftsmanship. And Conrad Shawcross – though he’s not Australian – I have to say his ‘The Nervous System’ sculpture is one of my favourite things ever.

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to learn Japanese carpentry and build my own house using traditional Japanese joinery.

What are you looking forward to?

United Measures is still new for me, I’m looking forward to seeing how it will evolve. My dad and I have just started a little side project, making wooden toys from the frame off-cuts, its something I’m really proud of and its nice to have a little sustainable story to tell about our frames and the toys made from the waste.

Timber toys in progress

Timber toys finished! Amazing!

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite neighbourhood in Melbourne and why?

Williamstown. I find it has a transporting effect on me, I feel like I’m in another city, a country town or a little fishing village miles away from Melbourne, yet you get one of the best views of the city. I also love being near the water.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade? – mountboards, papers, timber stains or anything else?

I source my tools and materials from all over. I have few framing suppliers where I purchase the bulk of my materials. For tools, many of mine are from Carba-tec in Springvale. Stains and paint from Manfax in Fitzroy. For screen printing supplies I buy from Jones Brothers in Campbelfield and source special papers from Melbourne Etching Supplies in Fitzroy.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I had some amazing pancakes at The Premises in Kensington, with some friends a couple of weeks back. Actually, I think I had a bacon and egg roll and then the pancakes...

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I work on Saturday, you would most likely see me dropping by Cibi to grab a coffee on my way to the Compound.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

I think the sweeping view of the city while driving over the Bolte bridge is amazing, its not much of secret, but its great to show visitors to Melbourne.

Bespoke box frame by Ryan Ward / United Measures for incredible Beci Orpin x Lomo customised camera!

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email