December 2, 2016

Life, Work, Tools: Alex Mendoza, Sign Painter



What is your tool—the one that helps you 
do the things you do?

Quill sign painting brush. I use several brands including Andrew Mack, Luco and French Masters.

How has this tool helped you?

I have been able to do a lot of lettering and graphics with a quill. It is the king of sign painting brushes, because it is the most versatile. I can achieve fat strokes to fill in a letter, thin strokes to outline a letter and a fine point for tiny details. There are a few other brushes out there, including flat and liner brushes. For lettering, you can use a quill to paint script, casual and block styles. In my opinion, it would be harder to paint those alphabets with a flat or liner, but every sign painter is different. If I could only have one brush, it would be a quill.

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Images courtesy of Alex Mendoza.

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Explore these other Design Feast series: Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) / Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire) / Makers / Side Projects


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November 18, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Femke van Schoonhoven, Designer, Writer and Podcaster



What are you working on—on the side?

My friend, Charli Prangley, and I would often chat about issues we face as designers and freelancers. After a while we realized, ‘Hey, we should be recording these!’, and our side project “Design Life” was born.

“Design Life” is a podcast about design and side projects for motivated creators. We saw a gap in the podcast market for a conversational show about design and the issues young creatives face. As female serial side project addicts, we felt there was a need for more female voices in the podcast and design industry, and that we had interesting stories to share.

We release an episode every Monday. Our conversations are about design and the issues creatives face as they try to progress their careers, juggle side projects, stay motivated and bring ideas to life.

Along with the podcast, I also interview underserved creatives in “The Creative Series.” I grew tired of seeing the same popular and famous designers being featured in all of the magazines and publications, so felt there was a need to showcase the lesser known, but equally as talented and inspiring creatives in our industry.

Lastly, I write articles and help people pursue their side projects through my newsletter and website Femke. I love helping people by sharing my stories, struggles and experiences. Common topics that I discuss are things around running an effective freelance business, dealing with clients, work/life balance, overlapping the day job with a side project, clear mindset and imposter syndrome. You can subscribe here.

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

One of the best things I’ve learnt, since working on side projects, is that there is no such thing as more time. It’s up to you to make time for things important to you.

Since adopting this mindset, I’ve managed to accomplish far more in my side projects than I initially thought was possible. I make time for the tasks on my to-do list or the meetings that I have by treating them as priorities and scheduling them in my day. As I have a day job, scheduling and making time for my side projects is the only way I’ll get the opportunity to work on them.

Establishing a routine has also been immensely valuable for my productivity. I wake up at the same time every day and spend the first two hours on side projects before logging in to my day job. This time in the morning provides me with uninterrupted and dedicated focus time.

Lastly, you have to have passion for your side projects. If you lack passion, you’ll find excuses to not work on them. Choose a project that you know you’ll be passionate about and know you’ll want to commit to, even when the forces are against you.

Why have a side project?

There are so many benefits to starting a side project. Maybe you want a creative outlet to fulfill a passion of yours that’s not currently being fulfilled elsewhere. Alternatively you might want to grow an audience through helping and teaching people by sharing what you know. Your side project could be something serious or something completely fun—it doesn’t matter!

There’s so much to be learnt from a side project. For me, my side projects help challenge me in areas that are unfamiliar territory, learn and grow, and develop relationships with an awesome community of people. It’s incredibly rewarding when you’re able to help someone with something they’re struggling with.

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Photography by Owen Williams and Charli Prangley, courtesy of Femke van Schoonhoven.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


Please consider supporting Design Feast
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November 17, 2016

Life, Work, Tools: Lisa Hazen, Writer, Editor



What is your tool—the one that helps you 
do the things you do?

Notebook

How has this tool helped you?

Most of my go-to tools are electronic—my iPhone, my laptop, my time-tracking apps (Harvest!) and QuickBooks. But the one thing that I absolutely cannot live without is totally analog. It’s a simple lined notebook where I track pending projects.

This humble journal serves a variety of immediate purposes—helping me see at a glance what awaits me each day, providing a constant reminder within eyesight of what I need to tackle next. But it also provides a chance to reflect on what I’ve done (“Thank goodness that’s over!”) and keep a tangible record of my efforts. Sometimes I’ll literally write something down that I recently completed just for the satisfaction of crossing it out. Flipping through it gives me a sense of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

It’s important to mention that just not any notebook will do. First, the journal absolutely has to be from Chronicle Books. I worked there for eight years, and they have the best journals. Secondly, the design must provide some sort of aesthetic or familiar inspiration. I’m currently using the Forest Animals Journal, because it’s darling and reminds me to look out the window every now and then.

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Images courtesy of Lisa Hazen.

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Explore these other Design Feast series: Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) / Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire) / Makers / Side Projects


Pay it forward by supporting Design Feast
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November 16, 2016

Visual Exploration by Graphic Designer Jonathan Sangster in His Handmade “Concept Containers”


Graphic designer Jonathan Sangster’s “Concept Containers” reminded me, in a visceral way, the fascination with compositions on paper. Line and shapes converge in each volume of Sangster’s tactile series. Here, he elaborates on this project’s purpose in the creative life of, as he put it, “a visual person.”

How did your series of “Concept Containers” originate?
The series came to life, because I needed a place for all of my impractical ideas to live. All of the ideas revolving around texture, pattern and contrast that are leftovers from other projects.

What is a Concept Container?
A Concept Container is a receptacle for the physical output of ideas that might be useful in the future. The idea for these books also came out of my thoughts on the “appropriate” use of a paper book in the digital age. My body of work, despite being made up of primarily physical objects, exists as a digital portfolio. I was educated as a print designer, and I love books, but does my portfolio need to exist as a physical book? Probably not. The Concept Container series (instances of Concept Container Volume Two below) allows me to store my ideas in a format that I am passionate about creating.







How did you make yourself committed to start 
the Concept Container series?
The commitment is something that comes out of my need to create, design and make physical artifacts. I enjoy it greatly. Curiosity has a lot to do with it. What a particular pattern looks like when it’s stretched and distorted. What two different pages look like when they are physically forced to interact. How meaning is adjusted by juxtaposing different ideas on a single spread. I’m curious about many things. I like to push myself with “what ifs.”





What’s your decision-making and workflow
in realizing a Concept Container?
The process is slow and usually spans months before I decide to combine different visual collections into a single book. I never think about the book as a whole and then make pages for it. I typically take images or print-outs from other projects and archive them. I’ll revisit them occasionally and enlarge them on a Xerox machine, overprint different pages onto each other, or take photos of pages and reprint them. This type of process allows me to work, or visually play, without pressure. After all of this, I’ll take different collections of pages and start to imagine what they’d look like in a single book. I start arranging the sections, or chapters, based on the individual themes, dominant visual similarities, or striking differences. Once I’ve arrived at a satisfying collection of chapters, I trim the pages and bind the book by hand.




What tools and materials are used to make the series? 
My hunch is that each is handmade, totally.
Your hunch is correct. I like the idea of trying to create a book using only “analogue” techniques. The constraint of making books in a digitally-minimal way is interesting to me. Sometimes I use Adobe Illustrator to create a pattern, but not typically. I use a scanner and Xerox machine pretty heavily to create the pages. Aside from that, I use scissors, scotch tape, a ruler, an X-Acto knife, a paintbrush and bookbinding glue.



What’s the frequency of making a Concept Container?
I wind up making one every few months. There isn’t a set schedule. I’d make them all the time, if I could.

Width and height? How did you settle on these dimensions?
The pages all start out as 8.5 x 11 inch pages, but they end up being a little smaller after I trim the edges. Sometimes I plan on making smaller books, but can never bring myself to eliminate so much of the original images.

Is there a set pagination? How do you determine this?
The pagination is determined by the individual visual theme of a chapter. I try to arrange them so there is a visual flow, or logic from page to page and chapter to chapter. Sometimes I arrange pages in the order of their creation. Contrast sometimes plays a larger role and sometimes similarity plays a larger role.

How many do you generate? How many pages?
I usually make many more pages than are included in the final book. I eliminate pages that I find to be redundant or pages that do not represent a theme well.



What’s rewarding about making Concept Containers? 
The idea of making something (instance of Concept Container Volume Four above) that does not necessarily have to exist is a type of luxury to me. I can be somewhat utilitarian, and these books are a type of indulgence for me.

Are there challenges in making a Concept Container?
If there are, what are they? And how do you deal with them? 
I don’t think that I would say there are challenges. Not in the making or production, anyway. The challenges are more existential, I think. As a designer, I typically create things when it is my job to do so, but I do not like to be limited in this way. So, what is a designer that isn’t creating work for communication? Where do ideas that do not have a purpose or a home exist? The challenge is determining whether questions like these need answers.

Who and/or what are your consistent creative influences?
Most of my creative influences are varied: Christopher Wool, Ryan Duggan, Shingo Okazaki, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Empty Bottle, Carl Sagan, Oliver Sacks, Asrai Garden, David Bowie, Anthony Burrill, Jessica Hische, Starshaped Press, Cormac McCarthy, J. G. Ballard, IDEO, Jehnny Beth of Savages, Eye magazine, Cy Twombly, Edward Fella, Gemma O’Brien. It’s a long list. I think that’s enough for now.

What is your advice to nurture curiosity and turn it into a project?
Stop trying to justify curiosity. The fact that you are curious is enough to pursue an idea. Do things because you can. Do things because you enjoy them. Exploring and adventuring helps. Do that too.

At this time—and please correct me, you’re at four volumes 
of Concept Containers. Who and/or what keeps you going 
in keeping the series going?
I’m not sure that the series is going to keep going. I do know that I am enjoying making them right now. I will keep making them until I do not enjoy it any more.

What effect do you strive to achieve from making 
Concept Containers?
I like the idea of being able to hold and touch my ideas—as a way of thinking in the future. These books help preserve my past self.

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All images courtesy of Jonathan Sangster.

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


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November 14, 2016

Becoming a Working Artist: Ryan Duggan at 56th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago


At the 56th monthly CreativeMornings gathering in Chicago last August, artist and printer Ryan Duggan started his talk with the inspiration that led him to his life’s work. Not a surprise that the roots of what he does for a living are traced back to home, especially his father:
“Art was always a pretty big thing in our family. My dad always drew. It was something that both my sister and I took to early on. We really liked drawing.”
Identifying the source of one’s lifelong passions is the gift of reverie. It provides the fundamental baseline driving one’s desire, and ultimately one’s purpose. In Duggan’ case, he committed himself to take advantage of some of the world’s best natural resources: ink, color, shapes, alphabets and words. Turning them into posters for bands and skateboards, even making a series of prints starring shitting dogs amidst postcard scenes.

That Duggan’s prolific body of work reflected his interests was apparent. His keenness on screen-printing and the enduring form factor of posters reminded me of a past CreativeMornings speaker, Jay Ryan, who spoke at the fifth monthly gathering of the Chicago chapter back in 2011. They’re artistic brothers from different mothers—sharing advocacy of rock bands, storytelling and typography. All made tactile through the shared technique of printmaking, involving drawing, stencils and rubylith.

Like his contemporaries, Duggan keeps fulfilling his purpose—in remaining an artist.

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Stemming from Duggan’s sharing of childhood experiences that ultimately cemented his life’s direction, I have a fetish for discovering creative people, who recall definitively the start of their creative leanings. The following are a few examples where family happened to play a significant role, whether they knew or not, in instigating their children’s future:
“Both my parents are artists—my mum is a painter, my dad an illustrator. My grandparents were artists and illustrators too—I’m the third generation. So drawing and art was always a huge part of my life. I drew from the moment I could hold a pencil and made little clay sculptures and paper dollhouses and all sorts of things. I think I was always quite serious about it. When I was a bit older, five or six, I began making tiny illustrated books—most of them are on the topic of cats, girls and death. So I guess my kind of illustration was always on the cards.”
—Kaye Blegvad, Designer, Illustrator 
“I grew up watching my father do various little woodworking projects and I always wanted to design something for him to build. I grew up eating at a pine dining table he built in high school, it was in my grandparents’ house for a long time, then my parents’, and now we have it in ours.”
—Katie Thompson, Woodworker 
“I used to spend a lot of time in my father’s studio. It was a magical place. It was on the top floor of our house and it was a great place to lie down on the floor with a big sheet of tracing paper, some pencils or magic markers, and draw away. And he would draw his books, and I would draw cars and airplanes and soldiers or whatever else a little boy likes to draw.”
—Richard Scarry, Jr., Artist, Illustrator
For more actual stories by people discovering their labor of love, check out my book “Become: On the Origin of Passion.”

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Big thanks: to BraintreeGreen Sheep WaterLyftTEKsystems (Host), for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #56; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-ups and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.

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My coverage: read more write-ups about CreativeMornings; view photos of CreativeMornings/Chicago gatherings.

• • •

2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.




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November 8, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Emily Wisser’s hand lettered “Oui, Sir!” prints and collaboration on Maker Mornings



What are you working on—on the side?

I have a couple of side projects that I’m working on. The first one is a line of hand-lettered valentines aimed at people in the web/tech design field, using funny and oft-cheesy pick-up lines for web designers and developers. I’ve always loved a good play on words, so it’s fun to be able to combine the process of brainstorming clever phrases with hand lettering—another thing I love—to make these cards. The website Oui, Sir! Prints (after the phonetic pronunciation of my last name) currently only has the line of cards, but someday, I hope to add on other printed materials. I have a few fun ideas for mugs and posters up my sleeve.

The second side project I’m working on is called Bright + Bloom, which is an organization geared toward developing creativity in people’s everyday lives. Creative expression isn’t always appreciated outside of disciplines that are seen as “creative” fields—it’s a phenomenon I have observed in the tech world and in school, most notably. Starting with Amazon, my co-founder Constance Wellman and I are trying to change that; so far, we’ve been running a monthly series called Maker Mornings where we invite employees to participate in a freeform creative activity. There are no constraints, requirements or deadlines. People come drink coffee, listen to music and meet people from other teams while they work on the activity of the month. We’ve had really positive feedback so far, and we’re working on plans to create other programs like a speaker series, workshops and more, to engage anyone with an interest in creativity—both inside of Amazon and far beyond. In the meantime, we also have a blog and social media to share our thoughts and events to inspire others.

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

With my lettering projects in general, it’s a big time commitment to get the work from the concept phase to the print phase. The valentines took several months of sporadic evening and weekend free time to complete, from sketching and refining to scanning and finishing. Usually when I have a lettering project I’m working on, I listen to podcasts or have a movie on, while I sketch compositions over and over. I still have a handful of sketches I haven’t yet turned into digital prints, which I think will be a good project for this winter. With Bright and Bloom, we meet once a week for a few hours at a coffee shop to work on things together. If we don’t finish everything in those few hours (usually we don’t), we’ll make a list of things to accomplish by the next meeting.



Why have a side project?

It’s funny, because even in writing about these side projects, I’m thinking, “Man, these things I’m working on are actually pretty time-consuming.” But when I’m working on them, it doesn’t feel that way. I get into the flow and time just flies. These projects make me think in a completely different way than I do during the workday, and I find that balance to be really energizing. In the professional post-school world as a designer, working with clients and technology constraints, it’s rare to get complete creative control. That’s not an inherently bad thing; it’s just the nature of the work. My mentor at my first job told me to find something—a project, hobby, anything—that was all my own and not work-related, and that advice has served me well over the years. With the valentines, for example, that project was completely mine from start to finish, and even though I spent countless hours on it, it was purely enjoyable for me. Having a side project that energizes and excites you can be a great way to de-stress, express your creativity without constraints, and balance out that need for creative control you may not be getting in other areas of your work.

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Images courtesy of Emily Wisser.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

November 7, 2016

Life, Work, Tools: Sharon Poggenpohl, Editor Emeritus of Journal “Visible Language”



What is your tool—the one that helps you 
do the things you do?

MacBook Pro running Mac OS.

How has this tool helped you?

Working on fairly long-range communication projects (1–5 years) requires a stable platform of tools. The migration of work-in-progress from one computer and software system to another can be an impediment. I am reminded of the philosopher Martin Heidegger who wrote about “ready-to-hand” and “present-at-hand” in his magnum opus, “Being and Time” (2010). “Ready-to-hand” is a tool you seamlessly work through while attending to and absorbed in your project. “Present-at-hand” characterizes when the tool fails to perform and one is forced to see it as an object requiring some workaround or remedy. When the tool doesn’t perform, this makes for frustration. A tool that is sturdy and reliable is a pleasure to use. My relatively old computer is “ready-to-hand.”

I resent and resist the planned obsolescence that is so much a part of digital tools. The new tool sometimes requires a learning curve that far outweighs whatever benefit it provides. And the so-called obsolete tool is not easy to get rid of. If no friend, family member, or school is interested in it, then we pay a service to collect it for recycling in some third-world country. This has nasty repercussions for those doing the recycling because of the heavy metals and toxic materials within. This obsolescence is a product of selfish short-term thinking that plays on people’s desire for status, coupled with corporate greed. The ethics of this are at least questionable.

The value of what we do is in our project. The tools are essential helpmates but not the focus of the value produced. On an even more personal level, “ready-to-hand” supports what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” (1990). This is a state of mind with high concentration on one’s project. Flow is “…the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” Well-designed tools, like my Mac that we use seamlessly, are part of getting to “flow.”

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Images courtesy of Sharon Poggenpohl.

• • •

Explore these other Design Feast series: Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) / Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire) / Makers / Side Projects


Pay it forward by supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview in this newly launched series focused on Tools that positively influence life and work, show your appreciation by supporting my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn how you can help.