If you know us at all, then you know how much we truly value being able to capture once in a lifetime moments for our clients. Even more so, we find it so important to print these frozen memories, to be able to hold them in your hands, hang them on your walls, surround yourself with them, and eventually, pass them down to the coming generations. A few years back, we chose to begin offering custom framing packages to our clients, to help encourage this process. When we came across the incredible handmade frames from Knotty Moose, we knew we had found exactly what we had been looking for. Vikki Ciostek, the woodworking extraordinaire behind it all, opened her woodshop about 4 years back, bringing over 10 years of training with her and a lifetime of unbelievable life experiences. What we appreciate most about her work is that there is clearly SO much love involved. Her frames themselves are works of art. Precious and personal, and each one as unique as the image they will one day surround. We are so very proud to be able to offer her lovely frames to our clients, and so excited to be able to share her work and a little bit (actually, a lot!) about her right here, with all of you!
Vikki was kind enough to take some time to chat with us all about her life as a world traveler, the birth of her love for all things wood, the creation of her woodshop, and where exactly she gets her creative inspiration from. Oh, and also some very important facts such as what her favorite color is, whether she prefers chocolate or vanilla, and all of her favorite things about our beautiful city of Buffalo. Take a scroll through our the photos from our in-studio shoot with her, and read all about how incredible she really is!
How would you describe yourself in three words or less?
Curious. Playful. Adventurous.
Tell us a little bit about your business, Knotty Moose!
At our core we are a custom wood shop that specializes in framing art. Wood frames are our niche, but we build lots of other wood products such as tables and shelving and we are currently moving into a whole new line of home goods. We also collaborate with artists to offer framed works that are ready to hang. A client will come to us with an idea or a creative vision and we love designing a solution that will bring it to life. I’m a firm believer in clean, functional design that can be customized to a client’s individual story. When you are surrounded by things you love – photos, art, plants, nature- it’s easy to thrive in that space.
What got you interested in woodworking?
After college, I spent some time backpacking around the world, which got me into documentary photography. Between trips, I worked various jobs to fund my travels and living, a mix of bartending/serving at night and construction jobs during the day; I loved learning different aspects of building a space. When I got the chance to apprentice as a woodworker, I simply thought it would be another fun skill to collect and an avenue to build my own frames for photography; I never thought it would evolve the way it did. I’ve now been woodworking for 10 years.
Tell us about pre-woodworking Vikki!
I was an adventurous traveler and backpacked all over the world and road tripped all across the United States. Living out of my car and taking back roads to places unknown was all I wanted to do.
What is it about Buffalo that makes you love living and working here?
Oh man, where do I start. I was a month old when I came to Buffalo; my family immigrated here as political refugees from Poland. I grew up here and it’s a magical community of people. I’ve traveled to so many places, but Buffalo always brought me back. The houses, the seasons, the restaurants, the neighborhoods, the art scene, did I say the people?
What’s your favorite color?
Blue, no wait… Ahhhh
What is your favorite thing to do in Buffalo?
Biking around on a summer night when no one is around.
What’s your Astrological sign?
How did you come up with the name Knotty Moose? Does it have any special meaning?
I used to have a dog named Moose who was the love of my life. He was a 110 lb special needs Rottweiler-Coonhound who taught me so much about slowing down and overcoming obstacles. I named the business after him, and though he is no longer with me, his spirit is still at the heart of the shop.
How do you come up with your framing designs?
The grain of the wood is what really guides my design process; every bug hole, knot, and detail tells a different story and that leads my choices on how I plan my cuts and design a piece (whether that be a frame, table, or other project.) Sometimes the hardest decision is which side of the board to choose because both are so beautiful in different ways. I handpick every board from small mills in the area, most of the stock is from fallen trees, and I always search for woods with lots of character. I have a healthy collection of the most amazing boards ranging from black walnut, cherry, oaks, maples, elm, hickory, birch, and a variety of spalted species. When an order comes into the shop, there’s a lot of options to choose from, and that allows me to get creative and customize the project to the client’s exact needs. Some of the boards in my collection I’ve had for years, just waiting for the perfect project to come around, and when the pairing is a total home run, well that makes me really love what I do.
Is your whole house covered in amazing handcrafted wooden beauty or do you prefer a different style at home?
Ha, I wish. A lot of my frames line the walls of our home, because I think it’s essential to be surrounded by artwork and life memories, but there’s a large home project ‘To Do’ waiting for me. You know how they say that the cobbler’s son has no shoes? Well, there’s truth to that.
Where did you learn to make such beautiful frames?
I learned to master my joinery from my mentor Matt Kantar; he taught me not only the craft of woodworking, but I got an extensive education on tools, machinery, and most importantly, how to tackle challenges larger than myself. When you’re trying to conquer something big and heavy, it’s not about physical strength, but smart thinking, leverage, and not letting it own you. Once I started my own wood shop, I started playing around with different woods and the craft just took me. I love being a woodworker and I absolutely love building beautiful frames out of unique boards of wood.
How did you decide to start your own custom woodwork framing business?
It’s funny, I started building frames for my own photographs. At art shows I would get more compliments on my frames than my photographs, so I started building more frames, and here we are.
Do you take custom orders or just sell what you have in stock?
Both. Last year we launched our webstore and we are working on keeping it stocked with ready made frames, package sets, and other home goods. A customer can order directly from the webstore, or make an appointment to visit the wood shop. We often have different sized frames in stock, but we mostly design frames to order.
Would you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?
I am an introverted extrovert. I am a total social butterfly and love meeting new people and experiencing new things, but I absolutely love my me time, especially because I’ve been a bartender for 13 years in Buffalo.
What is it that keeps you coming back to this job day after day?
Wood is a living medium, and every day and project is different. I love the challenge of mastering the craft day by day. Sometimes I fail, but my mentor always taught me, it’s not about the mistakes you make, it’s how you fix them. There’s a lot of ups and downs in running a business, but that’s just life and I really do love the ride I’m on.
What’s the most unique item that you’ve created?
A friend of mine is the lighting designer for the band Aqueous and I got to build them these cool wooden circles for a stage lighting installation, that was really fun.
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Hmm…always vanilla, except when I want chocolate.
Walk us through a new client experience!
For framing, I like to have clients come to the shop with their image so we can browse through different wood selections and find something that really compliments the piece. Sometimes a client can just email me the image and size and I can take it from there. For tables and customized projects, I like to visit the client’s home to get a sense of lighting, space, and existing wood. For these larger projects, it’s very important to plan out every detail so that the final product is absolutely perfect for the space and the client will love it forever. The difference of even one inch on the width of a table can make a huge difference on how a family moves around it in their space, so proper planning is essential.
What’s your favorite item that you’ve ever created?
My woodshop. Building out my own creative space and filling it with wonderful tools that let me do wonderful things is my most favorite thing that I’ve created.
What’s your favorite movie?
All of them. I love visual storytelling.
What do you like to do to wind down after a long day?
Hanging out with my dogs, my husband, or a good graphic novel. Add a knock out home cooked meal and a nice glass of wine and I’m a happy camper.
And lastly, share some fun facts about yourself! Anything that will amp up how awesome we already know that you are!
I’ve sang ‘Me, Myself, and I’ on stage with De La Soul before. Lived on a Greek island for a year. I’ve walked barefoot into the Arctic Ocean. I’ve ridden elephants through a jungle. I’ve swam with sharks. I do yoga every day. I’ve been to 49 states – all but Hawaii. I also have a short amputated thumb that I lost in a woodworking accident.