March 19, 2018

Designer and Web Developer Kim Goulbourne is a Chronic Creator

It was through her nifty Web-based tool Conference Calendar that I discovered Kim Goulbourne, aka Bourn: Designer, self-taught Web Developer and proudly self-proclaimed Chronic Creator. You’ll learn why in this interview, where she shares her perspective on pursuing ideas and getting them real.

Appreciating this portrait of your Mom. What experiences/principles from her do you carry with you as sources of contemplation and ambition in your work?

I’ve actually just come to realize how similar we are. Her entrepreneurial spirit, ambition and independence has definitely rubbed off on me over the years. She’s not one to wait on anyone to get things done and that’s one quality that has been integral to my success as a chronic creator. She’s always pushing herself to think outside the box of what she can achieve and lately has been pushing my siblings and I to do the same.

How did you become a Girl Who Codes? What were some essential steps you took to make this a reality?

I sort of fell into it actually. In college, I studied Graphic Design, and the summer after my sophomore year, my mother wanted to build a website. I told her I’d design it, and for some odd reason, I also wanted to take on the challenge of building it. That summer, I picked up my first book on HTML and CSS and the rest is history. From there, I took one or two relevant classes at my school, watched tons of videos on and practiced on projects I made up or portfolio sites my friends needed.

Codeland is a conference for anyone learning how to code. All levels are welcome. 

In awe of your formidable portfolio of creative projects: 
No Questions Asked, More by Bourn, Election Rewind, Bitter Renter NYC, Founder Mantras, Send Thanks and Hshtags. How do you come up with an idea for a creative project? Can you describe this journey from notion to idea to build to launch to post-launch? What was this journey for your newest effort, You & Sundry, for example?

Most of my ideas come from experiences that I’ve had throughout my life. One could say, I’m designing the world I want to see.

When I first have an idea, I write it down in my iOS Notes app. It could be anywhere from one sentence that describes it to multiple notes exploring the full solution. Then it typically sits there for a few weeks, months and even a year (as in the case of You & Sundry). I give my brain time to subconsciously think about why I want to do it and how feasible it would be to do it right now. The ideas that actually make it to launch were the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about for a variety of reasons. There were also the ones that made it past the main two questions I try to always ask my self: “Why do I want to do this project?” and “What is my goal post-launch (i.e. do I plan to iterate)?”

Once I’ve decided to do a project, I pick a start and end/launch date—deadlines are crucial for me to actually complete anything, then I go through the motions of making it a reality.

Post-launch varies from project to project, but it typically involves a little marketing, sharing and basking in the feeling that I made it happen.

You & Sundry started off the same way. I’ve always felt uncomfortable in barbershops, and one night, I laughed to myself as I wrote down the idea for opening a barbershop for women and the LGBTQ community. I thought I was crazy since I knew nothing about the industry or brick-and-mortar businesses. However, one year later after my barber moved, the idea resurfaced, and I decided to give it some real thought in feasibility. I’m still going through the motions right now, but I can definitely say this one will be my biggest venture to date if I can pull it off.

How do you manage this massive portfolio to ensure each creative project running and humming as well as possible?

The trick here is, I don’t. Apart from paying all the hosting bills, answering the little support emails that come in and checking on each project every once in a while, I don’t actively keep tabs on all the projects I’ve done. This is because my post-launch goal typically includes this fine print: that I wont iterate. Generally because I probably won’t have the time or interest to keep working on it and adding to it (I learned a lot about myself on my first big project, Hshtags). Therefore, I’ve managed to build my projects in a way where it doesn’t require much upkeep. It solves the immediate problem I wanted to fix and that’s it.

How every project starts—with pen and paper.

Who/what influenced/inspired you to pursue your creative projects full-time and make yourself the client? Or as Seth Godin put it: “Pick yourself.”

I’ve always wanted to be self-employed and I’ve always enjoyed the process of working on my own ideas than a clients’. But it took time to get here. An opportunity presented itself for me to finally give this crazy business idea a chance so I took it. It also helped that I saved up enough in time to make this jump.

How would you describe success?

Right now, success for me would mean building a business where I don’t need to rely on client work to sustain the business or my personal life.

With all of the moving parts inherent in making your venture studio—Bourn—how do you deal with busyness and stress? What ways of taking care of yourself have proved beneficial?

Until my shoulder injury, kickboxing was my go-to activity for managing stress. Working out in general also does the trick in keeping my body and mind sharp. I also sleep a lot. Probably too much in fact, but I’m always at my best after a good night’s rest. And now that my “9-5” is my own business, I try to give myself a break ever so often, on nights and weekend to go out, relax with friends and reset.

Gave my workspace a makeover—complete with standing desk.

What software/Web-based tools that you use and highly recommend to work on ideas and make them grow, to collaborate and get things done?

My go-to tools are Trello (for organizing features, deadlines and the project overall), Evernote (for notes, to-do lists and ideating) and Google Spreadsheets (for lists that makes more sense in the form of a spreadsheet). I use all of them in some capacity to manage all the moving parts of my projects.

Sketch synced with Dropbox and InVision are my design tools. Sublime Text, iTerm and FileZilla are my dev tools. I use MailChimp for email marketing and Google Analytics.

How would you describe “good design”?

I think good design does a few things for a user. It entices. It’s easy to navigate. It’s effortless to take action without much confusion.

When/if you are approached by someone who expressed, 
“I want to have a career composed of my creative projects,” what’s your response?

My first reaction would be to dig deeper into their portfolio of “creative projects” to understand what angle they would be considering. After much back and forth to understand their goals, my general response would be: Go for it!

However, if I had to share one thing I learned (and still learning) about this process it would be that as much as you won’t want to think about money (and how you’re going to sustain yourself), it’s going to be the most crucial part of making this dream a reality. I find that as an artist or creative person, the business side of things don’t come as easily, so things like revenue fall through the cracks, but it’s vital to our success.

In these charged times, what can individuals in the design and web development worlds, whatever the discipline, do to contribute immediately to a better community/society/world moving forward?

I think using our skillsets to help, share, educate and inspire, in whatever ways we can or are comfortable with, will always be helpful. But in my opinion, it has to come from the right place or it won’t be as effective.

Madrid, Spain.

From your traveling locally/internationally, is there a destination you find yourself wanting to experience again and again?

I’m definitely a little obsessed with California but haven’t made the jump to move there yet. After my travel overseas however, I would love to experience much more of Europe and broaden my travels to South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, The Caribbean, basically as many places as I can while I still can.

How does the city of New York contribute to your work? What makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

New York is such a fast-paced city filled with go-getters. Because I identify with that culture and feeling, I think that’s why I’ve lasted so long here. I feel inspired to push myself when I see others pushing themselves from afar. I’ve walked into so many coffee shops and have appreciated seeing other people who are also on their grind.

I think it’s special for startups/business/creativity-at-large because of the community that exists here across the board. Almost every industry has a thriving community, from tech to fashion to the arts. With that community comes inspiration, collaboration and innovation.

What total effect do you strive to achieve through your work?

On a deeper level, I silently hope to touch someone in some capacity. It could be as simple as them gaining knowledge in an area that was confusing before (Bitter Renter), giving them easier ways to explore more of their city (No Questions Asked) or providing a space where they feel comfortable being themselves (You & Sundry). Even though all my projects start with me in mind, I secretly hope I’m not the only one who will benefit from it.

• • •

All images courtesy of Kim Goulbourne.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 95+ Interviews
with people who love making things.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

March 10, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Writer & Director Tara Cocco’s Comedy Chops

What are you working on—on the side?

My side projects mostly revolve around film—writing, directing, producing and acting. The last year has been incredibly rewarding. I just celebrated the release of “Strange Company,” a comedy webseries that I wrote, directed and play a small role in. My team was nothing short of mindblowing. We had no budget and most of us had spent little to no time on set. So to see how beautifully it came together was a testament to how far hard work and surrounding yourself with talented people can get you. We’re three episodes in and I’m currently writing the fourth, which we hope to shoot at the end of April!

I’ve also jumped into other writing projects: a feature-length comedy called “The Slammer,” which was a semifinalist in the 2017 Screencraft Comedy Screenplay Contest (currently in the development stage for future production), and co-wrote the first chapter in a three-part SciFi miniseries, “The Star of Elia,” (currently in production).

Because I don’t like to ever let myself get bored, I also recently joined an improv group in Louisville. It keeps the wits sharp and my life grounded in the absurd.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I’m very lucky that I have a job that I love and leadership that is very understanding of the work-life-other work balance. My full-time role covers photography, videography, design and social media for a nonprofit which requires a flexible schedule (while I’m covering events and productions on non-normal working hours). That comes in handy when I have to run off for the weekend to shoot, focus on editing an episode or hit a writing deadline.

It’s also very fortunate that both my full-time and side gigs deal in story and narrative. I like to think that the constant practice in such different industries allows me the space to think outside of the box and apply the lessons I’m learning on both sides. Particularly, focusing on comedy in my side projects gives me a fresh way to approach a marketing project in a fun, engaging way. So much of comedy is about understanding how your content resonates and connects with your audience.

Why have a side project?

For a creative person, I’m incredibly logical, structured and pragmatic—I like to Adult with a capital A. Having a side project gives me the space to be playful and expressive and me. I spent several years leaning on my creativity to pay the bills—attempting to compel people to action in marketing or making photographs for other people. My side projects are for me. They’re my mark on the world.

Before finding my current position, I spent four years as a professional photographer full-time and thought that I should focus my energy solely on honing my skills as an artist and business owner. I said no to side projects, thinking that they would diminish my commitment. I improved technically over time, but I started to lose my passion and love for the craft. It wasn’t until I started taking acting classes about a year ago that I started to figure out how to be human again, reconnect with my emotional life and start pouring myself back into my work. That was the gateway drug into the world of film. And I’ll never look back.

My side projects, by virtue of film being such a group effort, have also introduced me to an incredible community of like-minded people. Warm, energetic people looking to collaborate, hustle and make their mark, too. I mean, I get to hang out with my friends and create stories that make people think and laugh. How much more fun does it get than that?

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Tara Cocco.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

February 19, 2018

Wenting Li Realizes Her Creative Work Life through Illustration, Comics, Paintings and Inspirations Yet To Be Explored

It was Wenting Li’s winsome cover concept for Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” that drew me to her work. Here, she elaborates on her journey to becoming an illustrator and exploring

How did you arrive at the desire to become an artist 
who makes her art her life’s work?

I remember always being fascinated with drawing, from when I first figured out how to drag pencils across paper. This could be wrong, but the first thing I ever drew was a bunny-bug-person. ‘Look!’ I told my parents, who were not impressed. They have long been my most vigorous critics which has been helpful in keeping my dreams realistic, and also led to some detours along the way. And this would, as my mother likes to say, probably took more years off their lives, but I’m still not sure I’ve gotten to where I want to go, if I’m working on my life’s work yet. But I guess no matter what I’m doing, I do want to be creating things.

Your work spans illustrations, paintings and comics. 
Which area of practice was engaged first? How did 
you get interested in each medium? How do you maintain
practicing each discipline?

Comics are probably the most recent thing I’ve started doing. The comics that I read mostly weren’t like what I make myself, and I think the disconnect between when I knew about comics and what I wanted to do with comics was a difficult separation to cross. I didn’t think comics were necessarily something I had the capacity to do until I threw out some assumptions. Ink and painting I picked up more seriously at art school. I found this old bottle of Chinese ink my grandmother had left behind during her last visit over a decade ago, and really liked working with it. It’s kind of different from India ink—less emphatic, more transitional. And illustration…it’s hard to pinpoint when that started. I didn’t really understand what it was when I was in high school and racing toward a future in the sciences, but sometime during my first attempt at a degree, I became obsessed with the idea that I could be an illustrator, left the university, and went off to art school. Now I’m out of school, illustration has taken over my life and pays for my bedroom under the stairs, and it can be hard to think about doing other things. There is never enough time in a day, so you just need to sit a bit harder on the lid to make it close.

What methods/activities did you activate to help you actually 
start working and living your passion? Because “Just do it” 
is easier said than done.

I credit this podcast—“Your Dreams My Nightmares”—with a lot of my early ideas about illustration, and how to make it work—and I’m sure there’s so much more information floating around out there now. I think no matter how you get somewhere, there is a lot of see-along-the-way. I don’t regret my first school, and not going to art school right out of high school was good for me. I am also very privileged in that my parents helped me pay for a large part of my education and were very adamant that I get this education.

To add my thoughts to the art school argument, I found art school helpful (and revelatory and challenging and sometimes frustrating), and saw classmates both struggle and succeed. If you’re going to go to school, it can help to go in with a plan—certain expectations of what you want to get out of it. If you are lucky, your instructors may take an interest in you and offer guidance, but in large part, this is also your responsibility—do your research. Chase all the opportunities you can, don’t be afraid to get your degree at your pace, try to use all the facilities from different departments that will be difficult to access once you’re out of school, apply to everything you can, and try to start getting work experience as soon as possible, without letting employees take advantage of you as a young person and a student. I started figuring out freelancing while still in school, and that has been so helpful.

What experiences do you carry with you that empower 
your work moving forward?

I think as an illustrator, just everything in my head is the force behind my work. Illustration, to me, is about making connections and visual metaphors and this all draws from the data bank of being a person in the world. Particular things I am obsessed with include the intensity of solitude, the super vast beauty of the natural world (I spent my childhoods being dragged on long camping trips across the country and the states), poetics, and my entanglements with the important people in my life, particularly my parents.

Being an indie creator, what does independence mean to you?

In my creative work life, I get to work on what interests, inspires or is important to me. I get to be challenged in ways I chose for myself, I set my own pace within deadlines, I can go for a walk outside whenever I want. I get to make a lot of decisions personally and on my own. Also, I get an unlimited number of snack breaks throughout the day. And theoretically, I can go wherever I want—which I want to do, soon!

Love your cover art direction for the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) submitted for the Penguin Cover Prize (2017). Can you tell more about this project? Was this a competition? How did you discover it? What was your process/workflow like toward the final version of your illustration and graphic design?

Thank you! The Penguin Cover Prize is something you should check out if you’re a student—try out as many competitions as you have time for, although be wary of people who want actual work for free (the cover competition is a mock cover). I found the competition probably while I was clicking through tumblr or someone’s portfolio, noticed a student entry and looked up the competition. Because I’m also an obsessive reader and love book cover design, I was instantly interested. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is an interesting book. I first read it in high school, before I was really aware of the larger discourse around race in America, in Canada. Re-reading it as an adult raised some uncomfortable, provoking questions about the work. I wanted that conflict, and the conflict in Scout to come through on the cover—the cast shadow of racism. I’m not a trained designer, so my cover is illustration-focused, with some hand-lettering, and quality design feedback from the wonderful Kevin Pham. Laying something out equals lots of fiddling for me—I was just setting type on a short comic-esque piece for a really cool newspaper my friends run (“The Chunky Omen”) and that was just hours of questionable design decisions on my part. In summary: lots of sketching, lots of drawing (sometimes re-drawing), lots of fiddling.

Do you have usually a sketchbook on your person? What’s 
your frequency in making time to sketch? Is this one of 
the major ways you practice drawing and sharpening this skill?

Always! Drawing is a compulsion, and of course I make a lot of bad, loose sketches for work. But what I really love is drawing the world around me. I love-love drawing people, and I try to make time to go out and paint forms at the museum, in coffee shops, outside when it’s not winter. Probably the nicest place I’ve painted are out east at the city beaches—my travel kit is permanently full of sand now. I’m also part of a science/nature drawing group and we spend time drawing the natural world together.

What are your creative and storytelling influences and why?

A lot of creative/ storytelling influences come through reading though—short stories, longform articles, newsletters, restaurant menus, weird informational signs in national parks. And just looking at things. I love starting out through and into windows.

What is your vision of satisfaction and growth, 
as it relates to your livelihood?

I’d like to always be doing creative things. I want to do more illustration adjacent kinds of work, like teaching myself more about animation, even design, maybe trying in-house work for a while. Making more things with my hands (masks, paintings, weird socks), and sharing a studio space with cool people—I have to move out of my current space soon. I’m almost a year out of school, and not yet sure where precisely where I’m going!

How is creativity and art a coping mechanism 
in these turbulent times?

I think for everyone, looking at art and creative work is a visual respite from the other things we can’t look away from. Artists also make work for marches, for Black Lives Matter and anti-Islamaphobia and gun safety and abortion rights and general editorial issues—and these images move us, hopefully a little bit toward where we are going.

What is the one tool that helps make your work more 
accomplished and pleasant, as a result, making your life good?

Photoshop is super useful. Even if I’m making something without the computer, it gets cleaned up in Photoshop. And if you’re hardpressed, you can do everything in Photoshop, including layouts, making invoices, writing contracts, putting together a zine. I certainly have, probably in ways that would make a designer’s eyes bleed.

How do you get the word out about what you do? 
How do you attract people to your work?

In the professional sense, cold mailing and emailing hundreds of art directors who I think might hire me. Sometimes meeting up with a few of them! I have a large spreadsheet of contacts that I researched last summer. It’s an exhausting and weirdly constant process, and some information I just can’t find. It’s possible to pay for subscriptions to access this sort of information, but I’ve only heard negative things about these databases, and if it’s necessary to double-check the information you’re paying for, I figured I’d just find it myself. Being a part of the arts community also helps—I’m not always on top of this, but going to gallery openings and showing up is important. And then there’s social media, which I maybe use more casually than professionally, but you could theoretically email me through my Instagram profile which I would be very excited about if you did.

In running your creative business and managing all of those 
moving parts to live and keep yourself busy, how do you 
take care of yourself?

Also something I need to work on. The last few months I haven’t been sleeping too much, but it’s hard to find time for all the work I want to do and the friends I want to see, and I’m young right now. I try to structure my life by doing normal things like packing lunch the night before, batch cooking for the week during spare evenings, cleaning the sinks in our basement regularly. I need to go on more runs, maybe I’ll go do that right after this interview. I like to run with silence and just myself, and that’s a really nice time being alone.

If an aspiring illustrator approached you and said, “I love to draw and want to become a working artist,” what’s your response?

That’s amazing, working in the arts is a really different and special, and a lucky way of looking back at the world. Have you done your research? Do you know what to expect? Your investments and sacrifices may not necessarily pay off right away—it can take years, but if you’re very lucky and able to do the hard work, it’s possible to make the way smoother. Reach out to people doing the work you want to do, and be respectful and thank them for their time (write them an email). Do you care about monetary wealth, and do you have a game plan? If you’re going to art school in the states, especially a private school, think very hard about your student debt, against your future salary expectations. And there’s a lot out there! Creative work is very diverse, from fine art to UI/UX.

What is your patronus charm (spirit guardian) and why?

Can I tell you what my dæmon might be instead? I don’t really like to look into mirrors, but my friend Andrea has to look at me all the time and decided my dæmon would be a spider. Someone else asked me if she really is my friend—and really, Andrea is one of my closest friends.

How does the city of Toronto, Ontario, contribute to your work? 
What makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

I love being in the city. Walking around it especially while intensely alone and often after sunset, but also with others. It is full of interesting, strange things. It’s a great place for being a creative person—there are more events happening all the time than you could possibly go to, things like free lunchhour concerts at the COC, lectures on ethics at the University of Toronto, gallery openings, early morning creative talks, design festivals… The city also invests in the arts, and has area-specific opportunities, grants you can apply for, and councillors who will champion arts causes, like creating a new tax class for cultural buildings.

• • •

Portrait photographed by Rena Rong. All other images
courtesy of Wenting Li.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 95+ Interviews
with people who love making things.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

January 14, 2018

Commercial Artist Shelby Rodeffer Takes Up the Brushes to Create Traditional Sign Painting, Public Art Projects and More

It was her wonderful range of visual compositions, whether it was illustration or lettering—both channeling the characteristics of folk art, that piqued my interest about Shelby Rodeffer, a painter and commercial artist. Here, she shares her story about entering the world of sign painting and committing herself to generating more creative forms, including handmade banners.

Drawn to your tall skills at sign painting. How did you arrive at adopting and practicing traditional sign painting? Was there an initial encounter of work, related to sign painting, that played a role in what you do for a living?

I grew up in a small town just north of Nashville, Tennessee, with one traffic light. All of the signs were hand-painted, so sign painting was something that I always had exposure to. I didn’t consider it as a career until I was working at a letterpress shop and thinking of my next steps. To work for yourself in letterpress, you need to be able to afford expensive and rare equipment and also a space to store it all, which wasn’t in the cards for me as a recent college graduate. I had always had an interest in sign painting and it was at this time that the book and documentary by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon was getting attention. I decided to spend the next few years learning as much as I could about the trade in hopes that I could make a living painting signs.

A common desire and questions is: How to start? How did you start? → What was the first thing you did? What were essential activities taken to start and establish your career, and why were these steps important?

I started out watching videos on YouTube of different sign painters. The videos helped me to learn how you hold a brush and form letters, but they didn’t cover more technical aspects like surface prep, paint consistency, layout, etc. So I was sort of blindly moving forward with my limited knowledge, and I got a few jobs painting for friends and friends-of-friends. The “Intro to Sign Painting” workshop at New Bohemia Signs in San Francisco was a really great experience for me, and it also showed me that it wasn’t possible to learn everything you need to know about sign painting in a weekend (there are only so many hours in a day to grill your teacher with questions). At this point, I decided if I wanted to be serious about sign painting, I would need to go somewhere with more opportunities to learn from seasoned sign painters, so my partner and I moved to Chicago. From there, I started attending regional events and traveling to national and international sign painting meetups.

I’ve had many teachers and mentors in the past six years, and each of them have given me different nuggets of knowledge. Some of them learned from traditional sign painting schools, others learned as apprentices, and some were self-taught. I’ve paid for workshops from some of them, and then there are the occasions when you run into someone painting a sign on the street and you politely ask them for their contact info so you can bug them later.

Sign painting is growing as a cultural phenomenon. 
What are your takes on why this is happening?

When the industry began to die out in the mid 1980s (due to the advent of the vinyl plotter and digital illustration software), a lot of sign painters became vinyl installers or started new careers. This was pre-social media, so a lot of folks weren’t aware that there were other sign painters out there who were still meeting up and still working in the field. I think the documentary “Sign Painters” brought a lot of veteran sign painters out of retirement. It also shined a light on the current sign painting renaissance with younger people taking up brushes for the first time, which was a major influence on me and my career path.

In addition to sign painting, you also engage other mediums, like your kickass banners. How do you embrace other types of creative mediums? How do you keeping honing your sensibilities/skills in each one? Do you set aside alone time for personal art-making?

I’m an artist first and a sign painter second, so it’s important for me to keep up a personal art practice. As I’ve learned more about sign painting and the different avenues of lettering art, my work has been influenced more and more. I am a big advocate for keeping sketchbooks. They are very low-pressure and you can experiment with different styles without having to think about a cohesive body of work. When I work on larger art pieces, I tend to sketch every piece in the series at once, so that even if I work on the individual pieces intermittently, they will all hopefully share some of the same sensibilities from the initial sketches. The banners are extremely strenuous since I fabricate them completely by hand. I sew, paint and assemble each one from scratch and they take about 3 weeks to make, but they are always worth it.

One of the themes of your recent work is femininity. 
Is this feminism? Especially now, what does femininity/feminism 
mean to you?

When I use femininity as a theme, I am referring to the gender concept of female. Simply, I am using feminine forms and structural elements (windows, walls, stairs) to express how I feel that femme-presenting people are sequestered into socially-acceptable boxes in society. I think the recent year has brought conversations about sexism, gender-based violence and gender-based discrimination to light for the general public, which is great, but we have a long way to go before many femme-presenting people can feel safe and valued.

In your creative toolkit, what are your go-to tools, 
the ones you love using?

Grid paper is my most-used thing, that and a level. I’ve been learning how to use the iPad Pro which has been really helpful for sending quick sketches and exploring color variations.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going as a painter 
and commercial artist?

Helping other people maintain and boost their small businesses is very rewarding and keeps the job satisfying, even if I’m just reproducing a font or existing logo. The jobs, where I get to start with a blank slate and build a visual identity with my customers, are amazing because they check all of the boxes: I get to help them, and I get paid AND I am creating my own original artwork. For everything else, I try to show my personal artwork as frequently as I can so that I don’t get bummed out with less creative jobs.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to work/business?

The growth that I am experiencing now is getting to be more selective. For the past 6 years, I’ve taken on every illustration, design or painting job that’s come my way. Due to word-of-mouth and exposure that I am grateful for, I can’t physically do all of the work that is coming my way anymore. I still get a little FOMO when I have to pass something up, but it feels much better than refreshing my email every ten minutes hoping for work to come through.

What tools do you use and recommend to work: for collaborating, getting things done and running your practice?

I’m pretty basic I think. I use Google Calendar to keep myself on track. Trying to remember everything I need to do in a day makes me feel like my brain is a web browser with too many tabs open. Some days, I schedule my lunch breaks and when to walk down the street to buy cat litter, and other days it’s much more open. I’ve been using Quickbooks Self-Employed over the past year and it has definitely helped me stay on top of invoicing and expenses.

How do you get the word out about you do?
How do you attract customers/projects?

I operate through word-of-mouth referrals mainly, although I’m on Instagram and have a website for my business as well. Word-of-mouth has been really great, because it tends to mean that I am talking to more people who are sure they want to work with me and less bidding is involved. However, there have definitely been some months where I was peeking into any storefront that appeared to be in-construction and giving my business cards out.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to work 
as an artist. How do I become one?”, what’s your response?

It’s great to have a mentor or group of friends to check in with, even if they aren’t doing exactly what you’re doing. If you can find someone who is doing what you want to do, scroll way back in their timeline to see what they were doing two or three years ago. You’ll see that it doesn’t happen overnight.

How does the city of Chicago, Illinois, contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

Chicago has a lot of sign painting history and a really vibrant and diverse art scene. There is no shortage of inspiration here if you just look around!

• • •

All images courtesy of Shelby Rodeffer.

• • •

Read my Makers series interview with Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, the filmmakers of the documentary “Sign Painters” (2014).

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 95+ Interviews
with people who love making things.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

January 3, 2018

Independent Artist & Designer Shawn Smith Creates Things He Loves

Shawn Smith (self-portrait above) is the creator of character-scapes Shawnimals and Ninjatown, including new series All Shapes and Helping Hands. Here, he shares his views on working hard, as he put it, “to delight and inspire people with my art and design.”

Enjoyed your 2012 talk at the 11th monthly gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings when you talked about your toy lines and environments of Ninjatown and Professor Frederick Fliggins’ Island. You’ve evolved since then with the creation of Resketch from seeing you at the annual Show of Hands. Impressed by your sticking to your independence in making the work desire to make. How did you arrive at wanting to become an independent creator of art and design? Was there an initial encounter of making, of creativity, that helped establish your path toward becoming a “very professional creative person”?

Thanks. My wanting to become an independent artist and designer comes from seeing my Brothers draw comic books when I was a kid, further solidified by seeing some drawings my Dad did when he was younger. Then: playing games, watching movies, reading comics and other pop-cultural things sealed the deal. I loved mimicking the things I saw, but had an even stronger desire to make up my own things. It’s always been that way. Inspired by something pop-cultural, but ultimately making it my own.

“Very professional creative person”—liking this email signature of yours? What’s the breakdown here—the meanings?

It’s mostly tongue-in-cheek. But there’s a silver of truth here insomuch that I want to be professional in my dealings, since this is my livelihood and sole source of income. On the other hand, having worked at companies in the past in marketing capacities and witnessing the pretentiousness in emails, I thought it’d be funny to call myself out as a very professional creative person but keep it lowercase. I also don’t specifically say artist or designer because I consider myself both and them some (not to mention the entrepreneurial interests I have).

Can you give a tour of how one of your ideas gets real?
Take Resketch for example.

Using Resketch (above) as an example, I notice something when out and about or on the internet or as part of a conversation with someone, and that something sticks with me. Like a tiny idea stuck in the back of my head. Then it sits there, sometimes for a long time. At some point, if I’m lucky, I’ll notice something else that awakens that tiny idea and it will grow or evolve in some way. Sometimes this takes months, sometimes years. With Resketch, I visited the Creative Reuse Warehouse on the south side, years ago, and toured all areas of the facility, thanks to my friend, Marianne, who was a volunteer there. I noticed, among other things, that they had a lot of paper in the back warehouses, that weren’t open to the public. Tons and tons of it in these open-top pallet boxes. All sorts of paper, too. I thought it was crazy that this paper wasn't going to be purchased or used, and would eventually become unusable due to getting wet, becoming mildewy, or from rat droppings. As an artist, I wanted to use this paper to make awesome things, but there was SO much that was never going to see the light of day. Years past, and I couldn't figure out what I could do with such a disparate collection of paper. It didn’t click until I saw a paper sample booklet at an art supply store. The disparate collection of paper IS what makes it interesting AND solves the problem in one fell swoop. Then I created early prototypes, but didn’t do anything with it until years later, several years after the launch of Kickstarter. Launched that in 2013, since then, have been making variations on this theme, not to mention understanding how it needs to evolve to be sustainable, both environmentally and from a market standpoint.

Time flies. So true, especially while working. Even a small work activity takes large amounts to time. What is your “consistent schedule” in helping to make each day a consistently productive one? How did you make it? Did you go through versions of it to land on a version that proved effective?

Yes, many, many versions. My personality type (ENFP) struggles with structure, but there’s a couple of ways to think about this: I can either resign myself to this fact, and embrace it, or know that this is a limitation that I need to work on to overcome. I don’t know if there’s a right way exactly, but I do know that a lack of structure professionally causes me stress in a few different ways so it’s not worth fully embracing it. For me, it comes down to this: I have a tendency to get far too detailed with my daily/weekly schedule, which I rebel against. So instead I set up general times for certain kinds of work. That way I can project-manage myself within general schedule constraints, and then move on to the next general thing. I also include certain days for freeform studio time. That’s really important for me, but I think for everyone. The act of play is vitally important to innovation, however you define that.

To go into more detail, I know Mondays are going to be some form of catch-up (I try best not to work weekends so I can spend time with my wife, son and dog). However, I also know I need to get other things done on Monday, so I look at short and long-term deadlines, and break those projects down into incremental elements to make sure I can make progress. I typically choose three main things to work on daily depending on deadlines. I also have a prioritized list of three smaller things, in case I have a very productive day.

Beyond that, I try to earmark at least one day, but usually two days per work, for studio time. So far, this methodology is working for me. I use Google Keep to stay organized.

What is your vision of satisfaction, as it relates
to your chosen career?

Satisfaction is creating things that you love, and getting paid to create them. The lines between life and work are very blurred for those in creative professions, so it’s important to be mindful of this, and separate when you need to.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going?

I honestly don't know. My own drive? I think about my son and wife and dog and friends a lot, but that’s a given. They don’t necessarily keep me going with regards to my professional endeavors. They ground me so I don’t burn out and live in squalor. The impulse of creating things is what keeps me going. I suppose that’s the closest thing I have to some sort of spiritualness. Or maybe it’s just magic.

In running your creative practice, and getting work done, are there software/Web-based tools that you use and highly recommend?

Adobe CC, of course. On my iPad Pro, I use Procreate all of the time. This setup, with Apple Pencil, blows my mind every time I use it. I like how you can export a high-res layered PSD (Photoshop Document) from Procreate to Adobe CC and do any other adjustments to the file before finalizing it. Otherwise, from an admin standpoint: Google Keep, Google Apps for Business, and the native social media apps on my iPhone and iPad. I am trying not to be on my MacBook as much as I used to.

Love your distilled to-dos: “Make conscious, confident choices; Make art; Do the work; Choose happiness.” This would make for a great poster. Business development is a part of “Do the work.” What’s worked for you in promoting your work?

Marketing and networking get a bad rap because there are SO many shitty examples of this kind of thing. But I think what gets lost is the core meaning of each of these things when done in the right way. Marketing is communication. And if you love what you're doing, it’s not selling. It’s simply talking about something you feel passionate about, and hopefully finding some other folks who may have similar or analogous passions. Networking is also called meeting people and making friends. It doesn’t have to be shitty and fake. It can simply be you being present and interested and curious about what other people are doing, and being open to a tiny idea being planted in the back of your head that may grow into something awesome later. I would also like to think that there is an assumption out there that if I am a self-employed creative person, that part of that is looking for work. It doesn't have to be said necessarily, UNLESS you hear of something in which you want to participate. And then, ask, but do so in a gracious and tactful way. Nobody likes assholes, and you never know who knows who, so be real and be nice.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to make my creations for a living,” what’s your response?

Go for it, but let’s talk first. I advise small businesses and entrepreneurs on Wednesdays for a Small Business Development Center, and it’s important to know the whole story before I tell someone to jump head first. I talk about this with my clients constantly. We live in a time when you can make huge strides in doing what you do creatively while still maintaining a 9 to 5. There’s no shame in that. If anything, I applaud such folks loudly because it’s hard as hell. But yes, make things and if you want to do it for a living, be smart about it. It's not easy, but it’s worth it if you can create a sustainable business model and practice... well, and you're talented or at least good at marketing. ツ

How does the city of Chicago contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

Chicago is a great city. The art scene is stronger and more vibrant than ever before. I love it here because it’s still affordable, people are straight up, and there’s still lots of opportunity. I do wish some of the businesses (particularly tech startups) would hire local artists even more than they have been. Certainly supporting any indie artist is important, but let’s not forget about the local economy. If we don’t support it in meaningful ways (which has a lot to do with financial support), people are going to move. I don’t want to see that kind of migration.

Back to your CreativeMornings/Chicago 2012 talk, seeking the footage of it has turned into a quest beyond my write-up. What can we still do to find the video recording of your presentation?

I have no idea. Talk to the main CreativeMornings folks and see what can be done. I’d love to see it unearthed and published again. I think the core conversation is still very relevant today. Thanks for caring.

• • •

All images courtesy of Shawn Smith.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 95+ Interviews
with people who love making things.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

December 7, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Shayla Hunter Addresses and Clarifies What It Means to Be a Black Female Today Through Her 100 Black Females Project

What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is the 100 Black Females Project. It is about connecting with Black Females of all ages and having them share their personal stories and experiences of being a Black Female today. I have done many personal side projects over the years, but this is the first that went beyond the personal. The 100 Black Females Project began as a challenge which later blossomed into something I never expected.

100 Black Females began earlier this year, April 2017, while I was a graduate student at the SVA Masters in Branding Program. A component of the curriculum is completing a 100 Days Project under the direction and mentorship of Debbie Millman, the department chair of the Masters in Branding Program. For each student, The 100 Day Project assignment began as something to personally discover everyday for 100 days. I went through approximately 4 different ideas before reaching the idea of 100 Black Females. I was led to the project when I looked inward at what I was trying to avoid or not think about. I thought the idea of talking about race was going to make things too uncomfortable or be too sensitive of a topic. That is where it struck me that I needed to walk this path of the unknown. That personal journey evolved into a project that created a community for Black Females and making a quiet dialogue around being a Black Female much louder. The project is about vulnerability, honesty and sharing your true self with the world. 100 Black Females is not just for Black Females, but for everyone. Each story, thought and expression is different but can speak to someone in an unexpected way. There are many stereotypes and expectations existing in the world surrounding Black Females. With those stereotypes and expectations, people are not seen as their true selves and treated as such. I want to help break that, allow people to share their stories, know these stories matter, and should be heard. For each Black Female, I interview them with a few questions. I run the questions and their answers along with an illustrated portrait that I create. One question is highlighted on Instagram, @100BlackFemales, while additional questions and answers are shared on the website. Creating illustrations was something I haven’t explored in a long time, but it has made me more confident in working and sharing this medium.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I continue to show up for it and make it happen! It is funny, because during my graduate program, the project was something I needed to find time to accomplish and document on a daily basis, on top of all the other school work I had and working a full-time job. Yes, I surprised myself everyday! I wondered how I would find the time, but I did just that—I found the time. When things are important to you, you make time to accomplish them. I also don’t pressure myself too much about the schedule. Some weeks are easier than others, so I meet, connect, interview and draw for 100 Black Females when I can. The project becomes part of a daily thing for me. I am always looking for females of all ages to feature for the project. I find them through friends, at events, social media, the hair salon, all over! Presently, I have surpassed the original goal of 100, and the new goal is 200. Hopefully it will go even further than that!

Why have a side project?

I always believe having side projects are a great way to express one’s self-creativity. I am also a photographer and modern dancer which means I get to be a part of different communities. As I kid, I was always wanting to try out something new to learn. There was art class on the weekends, dance classes, piano, etc. I think it helped me to not be afraid of trying new things and learning. With side projects, they are something for yourself that you can build and steer in any way you want. Plus, they may open a path into something else that you never expected.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Shayla Hunter.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

November 29, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Professional Picture-Maker Liz Nugent Happily Goes Into The Wild

What are you working on—on the side?

As a freelance illustrator, sometimes it’s hard to figure out where a regular project ends and a side project begins! I’m a big believer in personal work, so I always have a few creative irons in the fire alongside client work!

That said, my most organized current side project is my Virginia Native Wildlife series. I get a lot of inspiration from nature, in particular, walking in my local park. I encounter lots of unfamiliar flora and fauna—and I wanted to get better at identifying them all. I combine some amateur nature photography with research into identifying the observation, then draw it! It’s my love letter to Virginia, a way to learn something new and a chance to practice drawing plants and animals. I find the best side projects are like that, they scratch a lot of different itches.

I also recently finished a fairly intense Inktober in which I did 31 ink drawings/paintings in 31 days, and I have an ongoing large-scale colored pencil series.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I try to make it as easy and enticing as possible. I do projects that really appeal to me, and I usually have a few of them that I’m working on. That way, I can rotate through—when I get tired of one, I have something else I can work on instead. When my schedule gets busy, I’ve found that weekly goals also really help. I find I need more flexibility than “on THIS day I will do THAT.” but meeting a weekly goal of completing X number of pieces feels satisfying.

I also try to keep in mind that these things are a long game. My creative nature is to always want to try new things, sometimes it feels like I can’t keep up with one project. But, I’m learning that’s not really the case—it’s just that sometimes it might be 6 or 8 months before an idea sparks my interest again, and that’s okay!

Why have a side project?

So many reasons! First of all, as a freelance illustrator, you need to make the work that you want to get hired to do. If you have a dream project, the best way to accomplish that is just do a version of it yourself and get it out there! I also think side projects are an important way to get to experiment. Clients (understandably) require more predictable output, so it can be intimidating to try a new technique or idea with that work. Side projects let you go wild and see what sticks—it helps keep things fresh.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Liz Nugent.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.