July 16, 2017

Fascinated with Letterforms: Freelance Designer and Calligrapher Bella Schilling


Her hand-lettering, dabbling in typeface design, with a fandom of Ru Paul, piqued my interest in Bella Schilling and her letterform-driven work. Here, she shares her attitude and practice of every day being national writing day.

How did you arrive at what you do as a calligrapher and designer? Was there an initial encounter of lettering/design/typography that played a role in your path toward becoming a typeface designer? 

I studied Visual Communication at AUB [Arts University Bournemouth] which was a mix of graphic design and illustration. Back then, my work was heavily illustrative, but it wasn’t until my final year where I got accidentally obsessed with calligraphy. My classmate and fellow type nerd, George, had a copy of “Calligraphy in the Copperplate Style” by Herb Kaufman and Geri Homelsky, and he let me borrow it, which was a bit of a mistake on his part, since I never really intended on returning it. I spent all my time after class, and time during class, going through reams of graph paper, practicing Copperplate and Blackletter. Calligraphy and lettering became an escape for me, but I didn’t think it would lead anywhere. However, at the end of year show at the D&AD [Design and Art Direction] awards, I met my tutor’s best friend, Tom Foley, Type Developer at Dalton Maag, who looked through my lettering sketchbooks and advised me to move to London and apply for a Type Development internship at Dalton Maag. So I did.

What were essential activities/steps you took to start 
and establish yourself as a calligrapher and designer?

Just making sure I kept practicing all the time and honing my skill set. I ensured that I remained focused on my goal, and continued to push myself even when I didn’t feel like it sometimes. For the first few years living in London, I had to balance working a full-time day job with freelancing, as well as working on my typeface and other personal projects. I reached out to Victoria Rushton for some advice on getting my foot through the door, and she introduced me to the wonderful Alphabettes network, for which I am ever-grateful.



How do you keep up with your lettering discipline? 
Do you have a lettering regiment? 

I wouldn’t say that I have a regiment per se, but I did take part in 36 Days of Type for the first time this year which was so much fun! I didn’t plan how I wanted to do it—I just wanted to see what I would come up with on a day-to-day basis. Towards the end, from the letters to the numbers, you can see that I figured out a distinctive style. But it was so exciting to develop new type design ideas I had wanted to experiment with, and 36 Days was a good excuse for that.





Do you also practice writing and mailing personal correspondence? Easy to make this assumption. Feeling you make more handwritten messages than emails. If not, surely derive pleasure from pen and ink than keyboard and pixels.

Yes I absolutely do! Where clients and projects are concerned, everything is discussed via email, of course. But my best friends and I write to each other on a regular basis. They are both teachers (Alice in London and Anna in Paris), and they share my love for stationery and handwriting. I’ve found that it’s a very cathartic activity, but it’s also so much fun picking out various papers and inks, and adorning them with decorative stamps, tapes and so on. Highly recommend!

How is typography, from drawing letters to designing typefaces, 
a coping mechanism in these turbulent times? 

Typography has always been a problem-solver, and it’s there to serve a purpose—from being able to navigate your way around the airport, sending a text…the list is endless. But it’s also a great tool for expression of thought and protest. One example that comes to mind is the signage that was used for the Women’s March—several ’Bettes used their fierce lettering skills to make some great signage. Another example is Resistenza’s (Giuseppe Salerno and Paco González) “Love Wins” font, which is a collection of hand-lettered phrases designed to celebrate diversity and spread the love. It’s free to download, and you can use it to create signs and banners for the Pride celebration (or any other day of the year).





How did you arrive at the idea of making your Dita Display 
(ace name) typeface? What was the process in getting it real?
Is it available to buy? 

I created Dita Display during an extended internship at Dalton Maag. I had no experience in type design whatsoever when I started, and I began by sketching these Bodoni/Didone-inspired letterforms. I made a display face without even realising it, since it’s super high-contrast and has asymmetrical serifs. Working closely with Ron Carpenter, I then went on to develop text, italic and bold weights. A couple of years later when I began learning Russian, I designed a Cyrillic weight too, with Krista’s (my mentor’s) expertise. Dita isn’t available to buy, because it was such a steep learning curve, and, knowing what I know, there are a lot of design decisions I wouldn’t make now. But I do have another typeface I’m slowly working on that is very different to Dita, and I’m excited about it! (Fun fact: I called my typeface after Dita Von Teese, in case you didn’t guess already. I’ve admired her since I was about 14 years old).



How did you get to work on writing invites and envelopes 
for Hermès Paris? 

As of about two months ago, I am now a contracted freelance designer and calligrapher for Lamplighter London (founded by Chiara Perano) which is a lovely boutique design and calligraphy studio. Chiara has a mad VIP client list (such as Mulberry and Nike), and a couple of weeks ago she asked me if I wanted to write the invitations and envelopes for Hermès’ Autumn/Winter Womens’ Wear Collection. I would have been a fool to have said no! It was an intense two days—I was super nervous not to make too many mistakes, and my calligraphy had to be meticulous (letterforms as on point as possible, all writing had to be completely central, with an equal amount of spacing between lines and words), and everything had to be completed by the end of the next day. I think they came out pretty well, though, and Chiara and the client were pleased, so that’s all I could have hoped for.



What is your workspace like? How does it contribute to doing
the quality of work you want to do? 

At home, I have a small desk next to the window in the living room. It’s a little cosy but I manage to work efficiently. I am a bit of a neat freak and it certainly helps my workflow to be organised. At the Lamplighter studio, there’s lots of great working space—it’s really light and I have access to lots of other materials, and Chiara’s advice/critique of course.

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

My vision of satisfaction is to have enough good, exciting work to keep me going, both financially and creatively speaking. I’d love to work on more high-profile clients, take part in more collaborations, and continue to learn new skills and meet new people. I’d love to have my own studio one day, or a creative partnership. All that being said, it’s really important for me to take time out and go travelling. I love London, but it is very exhausting at times, and I feel as though I need to take time out and re-charge when I can afford to do so.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going? 

My amazing partner, who is so encouraging and continues to push me to be better, as do my wonderful friends. I’m also very lucky to come from a family of artists, so creativity has always been a huge deal. Being part of the Alphabettes community is invaluable—I have my mentor, Krista Radoeva, as well as a huge network of other brilliant and supportive women, who are always willing and able to provide technical and emotional advice. And I also have this huge driving force within me, that I often forget is there, because it’s wrapped around anxiety and self-doubt, because I can’t and won’t do anything else.

How does the South London contribute to your work? And what 
makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

I think it’s funny that London gets compartmentalised—despite being the same city, people identify with being East, South or West etc, whereas I think the whole of London is special when it comes to being a creative—it’s full of amazing, supportive people. When it comes to South specifically, I think there’s a tight community of people who are all trying to do similar things creatively. Often they understand that you have the same worries and stresses that you do, so they help you however they can.



Being a fan of RuPaul, do you have a favorite animated GIF? 

Haha! Hmm, that’s a tough one. It’s hard to pick a favourite. I think maybe this one where Ru is in hysterics whilst being roasted by Coco Montrese. I think it epitomises who Ru is; she never takes herself too seriously and…if you can’t laugh at yourself, how in the hell you gonna laugh at somebody else, right?!

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Majority of images courtesy of Bella Schilling.

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

• • •

Explore too my Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) series interviews with Type and Graphic Designer Krista Radoeva and Type Designer Victoria Rushton, plus Side Projects series interview with Amy Papaelias, who co-founded Alphabettes.org, a network and blog championing the work of women in type design, typography and lettering.


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July 14, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Plant Nerd Kaitlyn Rich’s Botany & Herbalism



What are you working on—on the side?

I document and write about my personal herbalism practice, making my own clothes, and everything in between on my blog Nettles + Chickweed.

I’ve always been interested in plants. One of my earliest memories is picking rhubarb with my preschool class. There was a family who lived next door to my school and had a beautiful garden and kept chickens. I remember the neighbor explaining the leaves were poisonous and the vibrant pink stem was edible. While I’ve worked and volunteered with various urban garden and farm programs, as well as played around with making my own herbal remedies, it wasn’t until several years ago that I started more formally learning about plants, botany and herbal medicine with The Arctos School in Portland, Oregon. Through blogging, I am able to give myself time to reflect and process what I’m learning.

In other side projects, I also run a very small candle-making business called Lumi. You can find my candles online or in person at Lowell. This summer, I’m looking forward to putting together some new products. I love taking tealight candles with me on my travels. They help me to clear the space energetically and feel settled in a new place. I also harvested one of my favorite herbs, mugwort (Artemisia), on a recent hike. I’ll make this into a salve, which I like to apply on pressure points, to encourage relaxation and dreaming, before bed.

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

I work full-time as a user experience designer. My side project time is limited to evenings and weekends. I never feel like I have enough time, and my personal to-do list is always growing faster than I cross things off. But I’m a very task and goal-oriented person, so to-do lists are what I lean on to prioritize my projects and time. If something has been on my list for several weeks, I get tired of seeing it and dedicate time to complete it. Or a project will be on my list for months and this cues me in to re-evaluate if that project is one that I still feel passionate about, or if it’s time to let it go.

I’ve also been focusing on finding balance among my needs to be productive in making and completing things, slowing down by decreasing feelings of urgency, and appreciating where I am at in this moment in time. I think as designers and doers, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create a perfect and fully formed end product. But, in taking time to re-focus my energy, I remind myself not everything needs to be complete in an instant, but can grow and evolve over time.

Why have a side project

There’s so much to learn and do—it’d be harder not having side projects! I’m motivated by learning new skills, techniques, crafts and concepts. Side projects are the perfect way to indulge in my ever-changing interests. Also, side projects are great opportunities to learn something new or commit to a goal with a friend. You can keep each other accountable, share what you learn, and it’s a foolproof reason to set aside time for hanging out.

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Diptych courtesy of Kaitlyn Rich.

• • •

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.


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July 7, 2017

Historian Sarah M. Dreller Starts Conversations on Modern Art & Architecture, Making Them Relevant to The Present


Photograph by William Whitten.

The historical range of art, design and architecture, boosted by advocacy in education of these forces, at Sarah M. Dreller’s Twitter feed piqued my interest. Here, she gives an insightful and in-depth look at her discipline, as it applies to our creative landscapes and built environments—beyond the surface.

“To demonstrating how modern art and architecture are relevant to contemporary life.” How do you make this mission statement of yours happen?

I do a couple of different things. First, I try to start conversations about art with the question “What do you see?” and I immediately follow up with “Why do you think you saw this first?” or something like that. Then I offer a bit of background about whatever folks say as a way to contextualize their responses to the art overall. This approach reverses the dialogue from the very beginning so that I’m not automatically an authority figure telling people what they should think is important. Instead, I want to help people discover what seems authentic about a given work of art or architecture for their own lives or communities or worldviews—with the hope that their lives will be enriched by that new self-knowledge going forward. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I’ve found that making the conversation about peoples’ experiences of art nurtures a sense of relevance organically. And it’s much more fun for me!

Next, I view my scholarship as a form of participatory citizenship. My projects always revolve around a question that I feel is pretty relevant to contemporary life: How have organizations of authority (governments, corporations, etc.) used art strategically to maintain power? I mean, all thinking people alive today recognize that powerful people are constantly trying to manipulate our perceptions of them and their organizations in order to stay in power. That’s a basic fact of life at this point. I try to push beyond just understanding how politics, money, culture and history get woven together into a particular kind of messaging, though—my hope is that the act of exposing these systems will subvert them.

And, finally, over the last year I’ve gotten increasingly interested in digital humanities (DH) as a way to promote a more nuanced appreciation of the human-made world to people outside of academia. I’ve been experimenting with building different kinds of websites on my own and I’ve recently joined a project at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities about the history of visual satire as a form of non-violent political opposition. That particular theme seems very topical and I hope what we do with it will make a difference. I also consider my Twitter account to be a version of my digital humanities contribution since I use it to offer some art historical context for what is going on in the world today. My instinct is that DH is relevant largely because it informs and engages people in ways that are less intimidating, structured or authoritarian than academia.


World Fairs special issue of Architectural Forum, June 1939, with original spiral binding. Cover art by Will Burtin. Edited by Howard Myers and published by Time Inc. I’m currently writing a book about Time Inc.’s mid-20th century campaign to popularize modern architecture. My research draws from my PhD dissertation about the history and significance of Architectural Forum, the company’s flagship building industry magazine from 1932 until 1964.

How did you get drawn into the worlds of art and architecture history and historic preservation to become a part of it?

My parents were both connected to the arts when I was a kid—my dad had a PhD in African-Brazilian literature and my mother was a docent at various museums throughout my childhood. One of her longest-term docenting gigs was with The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, so I spent hours (literally) sitting in front of The Hallucinogenic Toreador (Salvador Dalí, 1968–70) in my tween years. We traveled quite a bit too and there used to be stuff they/we collected in our travels all over the house. For instance, something I spent a lot of time studying was the big, detailed print of The Garden of Earthly Delights (Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1480–1505) that I believe my parents purchased during one of their trips to the Prado in Madrid.

I realized there was a potential career in something having to do with art history during a trip to Spain when I was 13. My dad and I were at the El Greco Museum in Toledo and someone was purposefully cleaning a painting in the gallery so that visitors could watch the process. It’s cliché to say this, but it really was like a lightning bolt hit me in that moment! The idea that I could actually be around real art all the time and make a living doing it was very appealing. I was pretty focused after that. I started college as a double major in art history and chemistry, in fact, with the intention of getting a PhD in one of those fields and working as a painting conservator.

Meanwhile, I had a close friend in high school who was adamant about being an architect. Through all our family travels in the US and abroad, I had had some pretty fantastic personal experiences with great buildings and human-made landscapes, so it wasn’t hard for me to get excited about architecture too. I took drafting in high school and my parents were very supportive of architecture as a possible college major. But when my dad took me to visit the closest architecture school, the dean went out of his way to emphasize how difficult the profession is for women—and, unfortunately, my 17-year-old self let that guy talk me out of the idea of being an architect. To this day, I really don’t know if he was a sexist jerk or a well-meaning educator, but I’m sure I’m not the only woman with a story like this. And I’m not talking about something that happened many generations ago, either!

Anyway, in my mid-twenties I did start a professional master’s degree in architecture, but it was pretty clear that I really ought to be involved with understanding and protecting historic buildings rather than creating more new ones. I wasn’t a bad designer, I don’t think, it just turns out that my heart isn’t really connected to expressing myself in that way. And I wasn’t quite ready to give up on some version of art conservation as a career choice, either. Importantly, those few years in architecture school laid the foundation for my understanding of architecture as more than just an art. In particular, I learned how social it is as a practice, and I got some insights into the technological and business aspects too. I can’t imagine being the kind of historian I am today without that experience.

I started my MA all over again in an architectural history program with the intention to move into the PhD program immediately after that. I was totally worn out by four years of full-time grad school by the time I was finally done with my master’s, though. So instead of continuing in school, I got a job doing research and writing preservation planning reports for Carey & Co., an architecture firm in San Francisco that specializes in protecting historic buildings. After about three years, my boss took me aside one day and informed me that she eventually planned to offer me partnership. I had only just turned 30 and was so flattered! But at the same time, it occurred to me that I probably would never get the PhD I’d been thinking about for so long if I held a really responsible position at a busy firm. So that was the real turning point. I mean, I was pretty good at preservation and I enjoyed it, but I felt like there was something missing. Then I was offered funding at a doctoral program here in Chicago and I decided that was my chance to take my career in a different direction. I still miss actively contributing to the preservation to actual buildings.


Photographing Mitchell Park Domes, an endangered mid-20th century landmark in Milwaukee, WI. Photograph by Clark C. Christensen.

Based on your Twitter feed, you see a good amount of shows 
at galleries or museums. How do you make the time to go?

I’ve never thought of visiting museums and galleries as something I have to make time for. Experiencing actual art and architecture is part of my job—it’s probably the most important thing I do to remain qualified to talk about art and architecture. It’s also part of who I am as a person. I literally crave direct personal experiences with art. Some mornings, I wake up needing to go for a run, for instance, and other mornings I wake up needing to see some art. Everyone has their “things” that they can’t live without, and this is one of mine.

What galleries or museums should really 
be experienced in person?

In the United States, I would say the Getty in L.A. and the Smithsonian campus with the National Gallery of Art around the National Mall in D.C. should be bucket list experiences for everyone. These are two places where you completely inhabit the world of art and it inhabits you—it surrounds you, colonizes all your senses, causes you to lose the concept of time and space, exhausts you with the vastness of human creativity while also energizing you with humanity’s potential to transcend. I am really lucky to have visited both the Getty and the Smithsonian many times when I lived in California and Virginia.

There are many fine museums and galleries abroad that I could mention here but one of the experiences that really enriched my life was my visit to the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) in Mexico City. I was especially impressed by the Aztec Sun Stone (early 16th century) which was so much larger and more textured in reality than I had imagined. I went to this museum during the time when I was also visiting a lot of pre-Columbian archeological sites, most of which were still being excavated; perhaps my experience at this particular museum was so meaningful in part because it was so contextualized for me at that moment? Still, everyone I’ve ever talked to about the Museo Nacional de Antropología has agreed that it is a really spectacular place that needs to be experienced in person. These sculptures are power embodied, and you feel that viscerally when you stand in front of them in a way that is simply not possible via photographs. They act on you. And then when you multiply that by the amount and quality of the museum’s holdings as well as the number of different cultures the collection represents—truly, the overall experience is hard to put into words. Or, at least, it is for me.


Examples of “Study in the Plastic Use of Paper” student work. My history of modern architecture course, 2013. The “Study in the Plastic Use of Paper” exercise was developed for the Bauhaus Preliminary Course by Josef Albers in 1927. I have used it regularly in my own teaching since 2010 to help architectural history students appreciate the dynamic nature of Bauhaus instruction. I also hope that re-performing Albers’ exercise with students contributes to the Bauhaus legacy's ongoing vitality and resonance.

In addition to your teaching, you write, short to long-form, like books. What are your must-dont’s to teach well? What are your must-dont’s to write well?

For teaching art and architectural history, the big thing to avoid is the traditional darkened room/slideshow/prepared lecture format. The performance is physically exhausting for the professor as well as profoundly boring for the students. And it’s also the cliché that perpetuates public disdain for art history as a discipline! Get the students moving, thinking, talking, debating, making, connecting. As much as possible be a facilitator for their learning experiences rather than a “font of knowledge.”

For writing, the worst thing you can do is allow your writing time to become vulnerable to distraction. Writing is a creative act, whether your story is fictional or not, and you must Must MUST protect whatever you need to do it well. Everyone has a different definition of the perfect writing set-up: my two favorites are a quiet room with a view on a stormy day and the middle of the night with good task lighting and a beautiful piece of chocolate cake—but learn whatever it is that makes you most inspired and be absolutely laser-focused on constructing that arrangement as much as possible.


13 Buildings Children Should Know by Annette Roeder, 2009. Part of the 13 Things Children Should Know series published by Prestel.

Speaking of books, which do you recommend highly 
to get familiar with the history of art and architecture?

This depends a lot on who the reader is going to be—especially in terms of how much jargon s/he can tolerate and the kind of illustrations s/he will need to get the general idea. As a general rule, though, I usually start by recommending the “13 Things Children Should Know” series. It’s supposedly targeted to kids around 10 years old but it’s actually great for any age! Both of my kids love the book about buildings and my husband (a historic preservation architect) and I enjoy looking it at ourselves. The basic idea is that the authors choose 13 representative paintings, buildings, art techniques, etc., and then dedicate a few pages to explaining and contextualizing each one. These books are thoughtfully illustrated and offer a surprising amount of technical information without going too deep for the average child/person. Choosing only 13 examples of any given medium is extremely limiting, by definition, but on the other hand, I have used this as a talking point. Are there any examples that don’t seem important or representative enough? Is there anything you would have included instead? Etc.

What is art? And what is architecture?

Art, for me, is any human practice or human-made object that advances consciousness.

Architecture is an art medium (both as practice and object) that is concerned primarily with sustaining human existence through the provision of shelter.

Regarding art, who or what quickly comes to mind 
as a good example—and experience?

That’s a hard question since a bunch of artworks come to my mind quickly simultaneously. How about I offer you one example from my own recent experience? Earlier this year, I was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see the works from their permanent collection that the curators hung after the president’s January 27th immigrant travel ban. As I was walking through the galleries looking for a specific item I turned around and came face-to-face with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Now, I’ve seen this particular painting countless times in person and in books, and I honestly hadn’t even thought about seeing it on this particular visit. But it literally stopped my forward momentum—almost comically so! The bodies are essentially life-sized so there’s no way to avoid the fact that you’re looking at five naked women. But Picasso’s portrayal of the human form is so disjointed, flat and awkward. There’s a real tension in this painting between reality and unreality. And the anxiety of that—never quite having complete faith in your own vision—really resonated with me metaphorically about the point modernity has brought us to today in our country and the world. Trying to negotiate my own anxieties was mostly why I was at MoMA to see those other artworks, in fact. And Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 110 years ago, so in that moment, I also felt like my personal anxiety was connected to five generations of people who have looked at this painting before and felt similar connection to their own lives and zeitgeists.


Front entrance, National Academy of Sciences Building, Bertram Goodhue, Washington, DC, 1919–24. Detail of a photograph by Carol M. Highsmith. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. I wrote my masters thesis about how and why Goodhue strategically referenced ancient Greek and Egyptian scientific heritage in his NAS Building design.


Aristole bronze door panel by Lee Lawrie, front entrance, NAS Building. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.


Chemistry medallion designed by Hildreth Meière, Great Hall dome, NAS Building. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Regarding architecture, who or what quickly comes to mind
as a good example—and experience?

I’m the kind of architectural historian that thinks of architecture as a practice as much or possibly even more than as objects (i.e. buildings). So what comes to mind immediately as a good example of a consciousness-advancing experience is shadowing an architect for a day to see what s/he actually does. I can’t tell you the number of times people have wistfully told me they’d choose to be architects if they could get some sort of magical “life do over.” It happens routinely, and while I genuinely think it’s wonderful, I also think it’s based on a very idealized notion of what architectural practice is. I suspect folks would discover that architecture is much more collaborative than they imagine, that there are a lot more different kinds of architects than they realize, and that the pace of architectural creation is startlingly slow. Once you understand all that, you can really start to appreciate what it actually takes to produce a truly transcendent building. Sometimes it boggles my mind that any really great architecture gets made at all!

(I’ve done a fair amount of researching and writing about how perceptions of architectural practice have evolved, so anyone interested in the history of this stuff could certainly contact me.)

Anyway, shadowing an architect isn’t realistic. So if I had to choose a specific work of architecture I’d say the Alhambra in southern Spain. Again, this is based on my own personal experience, but I think many folks must leave there changed in some way by their visit. What continues to impress me each time I go is the creators’ total commitment to design. Every aspect of the Alhambra as a thing and as an experience received some thought—and I’m not talking about just architectural details although they’re extraordinary everywhere you look. I’m also talking about the smellscapes and soundscapes that were obviously designed (especially the integrated gardens) and the extremely sophisticated sense of procession that produces all sorts of dark-light, warm-cold, small-big sensory juxtapositions that impact your body as you move through the architecture in space-time. I’m not sure I would want to travel back in time to live at the Alhambra long-term since there is also a pervasive implication of control that I would probably have hated after a while. But visiting, for me anyway, was a consciousness-advancing and life-altering experience.

In our time, how is art and architecture relevant?

The human urge to create is timeless, so in that sense, art and architecture are always relevant. But I also think that this quality is what makes art and architecture particularly relevant today because it gives us touchstones (literally and figuratively) of knowledge and connectivity in an otherwise relatively unknowable and discombobulated world.

I’m going to try to explain what I mean without too many philosophical acrobatics!

First of all, I don’t agree with a lot of what Karl Marx said, but in 1848, he and Friedrich Engels described modernity in a way that resonated with me when I first read it: “all that is solid melts into air.” (Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, Chapter 1) In particular, I think they were right about the fact that very little seems fixed anymore, that so much of what used to give life structure is now negotiable and ephemeral. There are days when it seems to me that virtually nothing is solid—it’s all just air that blows in one direction, then the other, then dissipates, then re-forms elsewhere in some other similarly insubstantial fashion, and so on. A surrealist dream-like quality, in other words. And as a former chemistry major, I really like the idea here that solids melt directly into air. That is to say, the pressure of change has become so intense that we’ve skipped the expected progression through the liquid stage altogether. The metaphorical implication is that this sublimation is, in itself, part of the source of our anxiety. Anyone interested in knowing more about all this could take a look at the introduction to Marshall Berman’s book All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, which has been really influential on my thinking on this topic over the years.


First edition title page of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experince of Modernity by Marshall Berman. Orginally published in book form by Simon and Schuster in 1982; partly based on articles published in 1974, 1978 and 1981.

There was a time in the past when no one would have thought about life this way as a general rule, which means there have obviously been some profound shifts in the assumptions that underlie society’s structure and operations. I see the French Revolution and the late-18th century as the beginning of modernity as we know it today, although some historians would argue with me since we have the Renaissance in the 15th century and World War I in the 20th century as valid starting points for modernity, too. My point, though, is that pre-modern people generally accepted things as they were; the notion that life could be anything other than more-or-less settled didn’t enter into most people’s minds. And now this is simply not the case in much of the world. Many of us assume we have some real power to shape our own destinies. In other words, this notion that nothing is necessarily fixed is a character-defining element of our particular moment in history rather than a fundamental element of human existence overall.

I promise I’ll get back to how art and architecture are relevant in a minute, but I want to say one other thing first. Many of modernity’s changes have been really positive, especially political and socio-economic self-determination. It’s just that life is messy! Self-determination is wonderful but it’s also fatiguing to be constantly sifting through information in order to make educated decisions. I would certainly not want to revert to a world in which I had no choice of political leadership and effectively no opportunity to figure out for myself what my social and economic contributions to society would be. But that also doesn’t mean that it’s all puppies and rainbows to be forever responsible for my own destiny in a world that is permanently in flux.


South Elevation, Meriwether House Historic American Buildings Survey, 1997. Measured drawing delineated by me. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Survey number: HABS VA-1358. I was a member of the HABS team that documented the home of the Meriwethers, one of Virginia's most historically significant families. The measured drawings in this survey were nominated for a prestigious national award. Architects and historians like me have documented nearly 40,000 historic structures and sites since the beginning of the federal government’s Heritage Documentation Programs in 1933.


South Portico and Window Detail, Meriwether House Historic American Buildings Survey, 1997. Measured drawing delineated by me. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Survey number: HABS VA-1358.

And finally I’m back to your original question: how are art and architecture relevant in our time?

My answer is this: If you view the human urge to create as timeless and the current sense of being unmoored as specific to our time, then you’ve got an opportunity to combine the two meaningful ways. I’m talking here in particular about things you learn about yourself, your communities or the world when you thoughtfully engage with created objects or practices. As soon as this new self-knowledge inspires empathy for past generations and/or enriches your ability to navigate the present and/or strengthens your ability to move into the future, art is relevant.

For consistency’s sake, I’ll also push against the Marx-and-Engels description of modernity—“all that is solid melts into air”—by suggesting that relevant art today is energized air condensed into solids. There is a whole body of thought/work around the notion that art’s role in society is to reveal the invisible forces that impact our ability to shape our own destinies. So I’m aligning myself here with that set of ideas rather than adding anything particularly new. More importantly, though, much of the control these forces have over us comes from their invisibility (they are airy) so when artists expose them (make them solid), their power can diminish significantly. The big question is whether people can understand the physical works of art enough to actually enable real change in their own lives, their communities or the world—that’s what I mean when I talk about advancing consciousness and creating new self-knowledge. Frankly, without that, you’ve just got some nice stuff made by some well-meaning people while racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc., remain as powerful as ever.

I have chosen to emphasize architecture since that’s the most solid of all the arts and also typically among the most difficult for people to understand.

Anyway, this is turning into a much longer answer than I intended, but I do want to add one quick thought here in closing. Critical thinking and looking are essential to getting any real consciousness-advancing meaning out of art. And critical thinking and looking are also essential to successfully shaping our destinies in today’s changeable world. So engaging with art critically is, in itself, one way to sharpen a very life-relevant skill. This is the part I focus on primarily as an educator, especially in my introductory courses where the vast majority of the undergraduates are not art history majors. In fact, I would venture to say that helping non-majors develop their critical thinking and looking skills is one of the most personally satisfying parts of teaching for me, because it feels like a genuinely relevant contribution to their future lives and to society as a whole.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute 
to doing the quality of work you want to do?

I typically work from home, but I’ve been shifting my workspace around for a while, so it’s hard for me to answer this question in detail. During the years, I was really writing my dissertation, I found a wonderful co-working place exclusively for writers called the Writers WorkSpace. That made a big difference. It’s quiet, thoughtfully planned and decorated, everyone respects each other’s right to protect their “zone” and the owner/manager is a kind, supportive person. I loved being part of that community for the time I needed it.


My favorite art historical desk ephemera. Clockwise from top: Xochiquétzal postcard, Woman of Willendorf magnet, photocopy of Alan Dunn cartoon, The Lover Crowned detail postcard, small Amazonian village scene painting.

Something that will definitely be part of my new home “office” is the collection of little art historical items I’ve picked up here and there over the years which really have resonated with me, personally. I can tell you what’s scattered across my desk right now: a magnet with the Woman of Willendorf (24,000–22,000 B.C.E.) that I got at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna; a detail of The Lover Crowned (Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1771–73) that I bought at the Frick in New York; an illustration of Xochiquétzal (Moon Goddess as Priestess) from the Codex Borgia (c. 1400) that I got at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City; a small Amazonian village scene painting (signed by L. Caetano) that I bought from a street vendor when I lived in Brazil; and a really clever architecture-themed cartoon by Alan Dunn (Architectural Record, June 1937) that I discovered when I was working on my dissertation. Each one of those has a story behind it, but I really draw a lot of inspiration from looking at all of them as a group simultaneously.


Aerial view of the Esplanade of Ministries looking toward the National Congress complex, Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia, 1956–60. Photograph by Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz. I’m planning a future journal article that will ask how the immense cost of constructing Brasilia impacted public opinion about the city's architectural and societal value.

How does Chicago contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

This is an almost impossible question to answer in my capacity as a scholar-historian, because I’m often so mentally focused on past spaces and times that I can’t really engage with Chicago in the here and now. That kind of self-isolation is necessary to this particular vocation, but it’s one of my least favorite aspects of the job.

As an art/architectural history educator, Chicago has been absolutely central. There’s so much of the real thing to see in this amazing city, why sit in a classroom looking at slides and listening to me drone on? For my art history courses, the students visit as many museums as I can justify going to and I give them lots of experience-based assignments. For my architectural history classes, at this point I’ve organized those around the idea that we’ll be out in the Loop roughly once a week—assuming I can find someplace to go that is connected to that week’s theme! In a 16-week semester, I usually end up taking students on about 13 “site visits.” It’s physically demanding, for sure, although I adamantly believe the students learn much more than they ever would sitting in at desk in a classroom and I hope they enjoy it more too. The larger point is this: for all my classes my commitment to learning via experiences with actual art/architecture is authentic to who I am as a person. I’d teach like that no matter where I lived, in other words. Chicago’s rich art and architectural legacy allows me to fully explore that side of myself and my career, and for that I’m really grateful.

• • •

Majority of images courtesy of Sarah M. Dreller.

• • •

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July 1, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Freelance Writer & Editor Madeleine Dore Explores “Extraordinary Routines” of the Creative Community Around the World



What are you working on—on the side?

In 2014, I started my online interview project Extraordinary Routines as a way to uncover how creative people go about their days.

I was initially inspired by something Miranda July wrote in It Chooses You: “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”





The aim of the project is to hone in on this idea of coping and illuminate the challenges experienced by creatives through exploring their daily life. The interviews are mostly long-form, and diving into a subject’s day has helped me to uncover pragmatic tips on the creative process as well as advice on how to live life a little better. 

The project has since grown into live interviews, articles, art projects, and I regularly experiment with my own habits and routines—from a blind dating experiment, to a 30-day habit challenge. I’ve also spoken at writers festivals, delivered talks, hosted panels, written a monthly column for The Design Files on the topics of routine, creativity and more.

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

What started as a way to build my own interviewing and writing portfolio funnily enough led to a great job as the Deputy Editor at ArtsHub in Melbourne.



I spent two years balancing the project with full-time work. This meant conducting interviews after work and transcribing, editing and uploading interviews on weekends. I’d often fall into the trap of beating myself up for not having a set routine with my blog about routines—say releasing a new interview every Monday—but I found that there was still a community of readers who looked forward to each new interview, even if it was ad-hoc. It taught me a lot about not getting caught up in our own rules, expectations or perfection—with a side project, do what you can and put it out there.

After a few years of juggling both a full-time job and my side project, I found that I was getting enough freelance work, as well as corporate commissions, to be able to quit my job and sustain a freelance career. 

It’s been an interesting adjustment learning how to find balance as a freelance writer and expand a side project: Do I monetize Extraordinary Routines or keep it purely as a portfolio? Do I focus on finding corporate work, or spend more time pitching to dream publications? How long do I work each day? I decided to turn to other freelancers for advice and put together the lessons learned in an article earlier this year: “Lessons on being the worst freelancer”!

Now I try to view all the work I do as interconnected, and instead of aiming for a perfect balance, seize the biggest opportunity on offer. This has meant traveling to NYC for three months, interviewing incredible creatives in Australia and abroad, working with new clients, and more.

Why have a side project

I’ve long believed that if you can’t find the job you want, create it. Extraordinary Routines initially came about when I returned to Australia after a stint overseas in Denmark. I was unemployed, directionless and missing the life I had overseas interning and working for a local English newspaper, creative agency and magazine. I missed interviewing and meeting interesting people, and needed to find a way to bring that experience into my current life.

 It was competitive to find paid or established roles in this specific niche, so I decided a side project was the way to go—to both build my portfolio but also explore a curiosity. I’d long be fascinated by how other people spend their days and often found myself skipping to the question about daily routines in magazine features, and thought it had enough scope to form a project of its own. 

For anyone who is feeling frustrated by the lack of opportunities after graduating, or stuck in their current job or career, I highly recommend tinkering with a side project. It can be as big or as small as you wish—a daily commitment to draw something or write a line of poetry—or a fully-fledged blog. I’d also emphasise the accessibility of side projects—unlike unpaid internships, we have complete creative control over our own projects and they often propel us further than working for somebody else would. We can dial up or dial down how much time and energy we put into our own side projects, too.

Whatever it is, having something of your own can create freedom in an opportunity that you can’t even imagine—most of the work opportunities, friends I’ve made, and experiences I’ve had in the last two years all stem back to Extraordinary Routines. 

In a recent interview, cartoonist Chaz Hutton puts it perfectly: “For me, it was never a strategic move to make this my job. It was a side project that was almost like a raft—I had my career as an architect that was the stable boat, but someone else was always driving. So I made my own little raft to kick off the side, and even if it was never sea-worthy, it was my thing, my little beacon of hope. Without your own little raft, it can be so easy to become disenchanted.” Build a little raft of you own and see where it takes you.

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Diptych courtesy of Madeleine Dore.

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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.


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June 28, 2017

Marcel and His Letters: Graphic Designer Carolyn Porter’s Bold Passage in Typography, History, Writing and Publishing


I discovered graphic designer Carolyn Porter’s book project in February of 2016. Her debut work of nonfiction “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate” has been published this year. Her noticing of correspondence—composed in exquisite handwriting—at an antique store turned into a typeface design, then turned into a wholehearted pursuit in World War II history and storytelling. All sparked by Porter’s curiosity. Here, she shares her typographic odyssey.

How did you arrive at what you do as a graphic designer? Was there an initial encounter of visual communication that played a role in your path toward becoming a graphic designer?

When I was in high school, a friend’s older sibling was studying graphic design. I had never heard of “graphic design” before. The way they described the discipline as combining words, images, and data seemed to be a perfect fit with the way my brain works. At the time (I graduated high school in 1987), only a few colleges in the Midwest had graphic design programs. I picked the school that seemed to have the most established program.



Incredible experience of making your book “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate”—Congratulations! What was the timeline for this project? What were tasks that proved integral in managing this comprehensive project as smoothly and productively as possible?

I studied typography in college, but at the time, desktop publishing was the new emerging technology. It would be years before I learned about the existence of type design software. I have a particular love of old-timey handwriting, and sometime around 1997 or 1998, I saw the font “Texas Hero,” designed by Brian Willson. [Ed note: “Willson” with two ‘l’s is correct]. It was the first time I had seen a font that mimicked the look of old handwriting, and I was smitten. I immediately knew I would someday design a font that replicated the look of old connected cursive, though it would be years before I found Marcel’s actual letters—which is what I used as the “specimen” for my font.



I worked on the project for years—evenings and weekends when I could carve out time—before I had one of Marcel’s letters translated into English (the letters had been written in French). That sounds silly now, but when I first started working on the font, it didn’t matter what was in his letters. For the purposes of the font, all I cared about was his handwriting.

In 2011, when I first began searching for information on Marcel’s fate, the notion it might become a book didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t keep detailed notes. In late 2013, after receiving the legal permissions I needed to write the book, one of the first tasks was to recreate the timeline: What did I learn when? When did I establish contact with this person or that person? What documentation did I have? It took a month to assemble a detailed timeline, but it was invaluable for framing the story.

As far as the overall structure of the book, I knew I wanted the story to begin with the translation of Marcel’s first letter, and I knew how I wanted it to end (though that ended up changing a bit as the story continued to unfold). I storyboarded all the things that happened in between, which allowed writing each scene or chapter to feel achievable.

During 2014 and 2015, I took several writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. It’s an incredible resource for writers of all skill levels, and for those with interests that range from poetry to fiction and nonfiction. They have a wide range of online classes for those that aren’t in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Check them out.



What was the writing experience for making “Marcel’s Letters”? What’s your relationship with writing? Did you have a writing schedule? How many rounds of drafts? Did you work with an editor? Et al. Do tell.

I don’t know that I have so much a “relationship” with writing as I had a drive to tell Marcel’s story.

With the exception of the final months before the manuscript was due to the publisher, I maintained a full load of freelance work. I wrote evenings and weekends.

How many rounds? Each chapter went through dozens of rounds of edits (book chapters organizer above). I intentionally didn’t keep track of specific version numbers. I did not want a number to define completion.

Since I was unfamiliar with the publishing process, and it seemed like an intimidating, daunting world, I hired a book development editor. We started working together after I had already drafted a 70-page book proposal and had all but the last two chapters written. The book proposal is essentially the marketing plan a publisher will use to assess the viability of your project. The book development editor, Jill Swenson of Swenson Book Development, helped me polish the proposal, and query literary agents. Once the publisher Skyhorse, New York, purchased the book, I went through additional rounds of edits with my Skyhorse editor.

What are your writing tools? Do you use notebooks—If so, 
is there a brand or more you enjoy using?

I’m not brand loyal to a specific paper or notebooks, but don’t even think about messing with my pens! I almost exclusively use Uni-ball Roller Pens with a 0.5mm point. They are cheap, easy to find, and perform consistently.

There’s a strong (and highly welcoming) pattern increasing of designers as writers, not only as bloggers, but as storytellers of fiction and nonfiction. Other examples include art director Elaine Chen’s debut novel “The Good Brother” and designer Jack Cheng’s “These Days.” How do you feel about this pattern? How do you think this pattern came about?

Graphic designers are already storytellers—it’s just that we usually spend our time and energy crafting and amplifying our client’s stories. Many of the skills that make designers good—being astute observers, pinpointing the essence of the story, studying culture and history, curating details, cultivating emotional responses—are the same skills a storyteller needs. Designers are often the behind-the-scenes magic makers; why not transfer that skill to something more public, and craft and amplify our own stories? I think more designers should write!

In addition to the books you mentioned, I’d also offer a shout-out to Robin Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012). That was a fun read, if for no other reason than the protagonist was a graphic designer. Robin uses the term “media inventor” and encourages others not only to invent content—the words, pictures and ideas—but to experiment with new formats, tools and technology.

I don’t know that it’s a new thing for graphic designers to be writers. Think of Steven Heller. But, I wonder if more graphic designers are publishing, because there are more platforms available, or that they’ve seen others do it. I don’t know.





How did you find your publisher in Skyhorse Publishing?

Most big publishers will only consider manuscripts from writers represented by literary agents. So, the first step was to secure an agent. My agent then submitted the book proposal and manuscript to acquisition editors for consideration.

Publishers are risk averse and need to feel confident there will be an audience for the book. As far as I know, there has never before been a book that weaves together the design of a font and a World War II history/mystery. Publishers had nothing to point to in order to know if people would be interested in the story. The book was passed by a number of acquisition editors before we found one who loved the story enough that they were willing to take the risk.



How did you find your type foundry in P22?

In 2012, I attended TypeCon, an annual typography conference. A fellow type designer introduced me to Richard Kegler, one of the founders of the P22 Type Foundry. I showed Richard preliminary proofs of the font. He expressed interest in my project and told me to keep in touch. A year later, when the font was nearing completion, I reached out to Richard again to show final sample proofs. After inspecting the font files, Richard offered to represent the font.

P22 represents a curated collection of fonts based on art, history and design—including fonts based on the handwriting of Cezanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, Timothy Matlack (scribe of the Declaration of Independence)—so I was thrilled they wanted Marcel Script to be part of their collection.

Describe your path toward publication: habits, feelings, 
lessons, mistakes, antidotes, amulets, whatever else 
comes to mind.

Publishing can be a brutal industry. It would be too easy to get discouraged and give up unless you have an absolute commitment to share your story. Any time I got discouraged, I came back to the fundamental truth of the project: I needed to share Marcel’s beautiful and heart-breaking words of love.

Lessons learned? Surround yourself with people you trust. Be patient. Be persistent. Listen to your gut. Stay true to your vision, even if that means saying “no.”

One of the people in the book, Kathy Horton, lost her battle with cancer weeks before the final manuscript was submitted to the publisher. Kathy was one of my project’s first and biggest cheerleaders. I have tried to carry her spirit forward, not just on the path to publication, but in all areas. So, I would add this to the list of lessons learned: cheer loudly for your friends.





With Marcel Script being your first typeface design and book, has this seeded a creative direction for you becoming a typographic archaeologist and author?

Combined, the font and the book have consumed fifteen years. I am open to the option of more writing or being a “typographic archaeologist”—love your term, by the way—but first, I need to take some time off. And by that, I mean limit work to my regular daytime job. When I’m ready to jump in to the next project, I’ll jump in. But I need a break first.

Time will tell if I pare back client work and dedicate more time to writing and/or type design. Ask me this question again a year from now, OK?

Appreciate the fact that your discovery of Marcel’s original letters, the inspirational source of your typeface Marcel Script, happened at an antique shop. Do you visit often antique/vintage stores? Are there other stimulating places you feel are inspiring and help nurture your creative sensibilities?

During the last few years, all of my time and energy has been devoted to the book. So, no, I have not spent much time visiting antique stores. However, I have been known to scour eBay for old type or handwriting specimens in the early morning hours when I can’t sleep.

I think inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere if you’re open to seeing it. Travel is always a way to expose yourself to new colors and patterns and cultures. But, less expensive options can be found closer to home: go to a museum or art festival, watch an old black and white foreign film and pay attention to editing choices, go for a walk in the woods and look at patterns and colors in nature.

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

Oh, wow. That’s a big question. I speculate any measure of satisfaction will change at any given time. Some days, kerning a headline can elicit a moment of blissful satisfaction. Other times, it’s hearing about a client’s success, or the pride in completing a well-crafted project. Other times, it’s knowing I have freedom to say yes or no to a project.

Sometimes satisfaction seems entirely elusive, to be honest. Satisfaction seems to require time for reflection and our industry is changing fast.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going as a graphic designer
with the current addition of typeface designer?

Type doesn’t pay the bills. Not for me, anyway, and not with one font. A recent online survey showed more than 50% of type designers were full-time graphic designers. I enjoy being a graphic designer, which is a good thing because I rely on that as my primary source of income.

During the previous years, my business has changed a bit in that I’ve been designing more iPad apps. Those have been a lot of fun to work on, because in addition to using traditional graphic design problem-solving and layout skills, the projects include animated elements that bring design to life in a way that can’t be achieved with print. Think: 360˚ swiping and pop-up elements.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to design 
and write,” what’s your response?

Do it! Do it even if it doesn’t turn into a book. Tell your story. Tell the stories of other designers! Help people understand the value and importance of design.



How does the city of White Bear Lake, Minnesota,
contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups
/business/creative community?


White Bear Lake is a suburb north of St. Paul. While it’s a lovely place with a charming history and a big, beautiful lake, I wouldn’t call it a hotbed of creativity. It is, however, close to both St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Twin Cities has a vibrant community of creatives: designers, photographers, fine artists, craftspeople, letterpress printers, etc. The Twin Cities also has one of the most active AIGA chapters in the country, and is home to a kick-ass community of lettering artists and type designers.

• • •

Majority of images courtesy of Carolyn Porter.

• • •

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June 26, 2017

Enjoying the iPhone as a Tool for Creative Expression: Elise Swopes at the 64th Chicago Chapter Meetup of CreativeMornings


Of the many uses of the iPhone, its utility as a powerful piece of the creative individual’s toolkit is undeniable. At the April 2017 gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, Elise Swopes affirmed her fascination with the iPhone, especially as a camera. Specializing in photography and design, Swopes, who calls herself a mobile artist, adopted the iPhone as her go-to tool for self-expression. Her massively followed Instagram feed is a rich diet in magical realism, covering the amazing diversity of terrain, from nature to the built environment—in several instances, an element of the curious is imaginatively inserted. While writing this recap, I tended to spell her last name as Swipes, considering the gestural mobile interfaces of our times.

The first generation of the iPhone was launched on June 29, 2007. In January of the same year, Steve Jobs made a rippling announcement:
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been—well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. 1984, introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone…are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone…”
The iPhone has both democratized and diversified access to photography and its craft. Swopes represents one of the billions of people who find prolific play in the iPhone’s ease of photography. With each new model, there are improvements—increased megapixels, additional sensors, robust software, better lenses, and more. By its iterative design and engineering, the iPhone naturally (and expectedly) ascended to the status of “the world’s most popular camera.” Swopes recognized the privilege to be born into an era that included the invention of the iPhone, a device whose major affordance was to incite creativity. There are rants here and there of mobile phones wildly killing creativity. But Swopes remains positively defiant in perceiving and practicing her usage of the iPhone as a means to follow her creative instincts—having fun in taking advantage of the creativity-charged toolkit of her time. Cheerfully declaring herself as an iPhone Photographer, not an “iPhoneographer.”

In Swopes’ case, as with countless other users, the iPhone is the most delightful tool in her world. A tool to create, no different than a stone, a tree branch, in one’s primordial hands. Most of all, an instrument that equips her, even encouraging her, to make the time to look and take a picture—something made that was worth making.

• • •

In her article “How Apple’s iPhone changed the world: 10 years in 10 charts” for technology news publisher Recode, data editor Rani Molla wrote, “The iPhone transformed photography from a hobby to a part of everyday life.” Check out too Apple’s Web-based series, consisting of less-than-a-minute videos set to chillaxing beats, about how to take optimal photographs with their iPhone 7.

• • •

Big thanks: to AgencyEA, Entertainment CruisesOdyssey Chicago (who hosted), Green SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #64; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who 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.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

• • •

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




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June 9, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Industrial Designer Carmen Liu’s Explorations to Create Immersive Experiences



What are you working on—on the side?

I don’t have a particular side project right now—although I’m planning for one. I’m always on the lookout for ways to create an immersive experience and change the perspectives of those who participate.

Regarding past side projects, my favourite one is the “100 in 1 day” event in Toronto, where we placed mini trampolines into the ground, so when people walked along the path (photo above), they could opt to do it a little differently and jump along the path! On the day of the event, we sat across the trampolines and watched people cautiously approach them with curiosity, and then a crack a smile when they realized they can jump on the trampolines. “100 in 1 day” encouraged small scale “interventions” within a city.

Other side projects were smaller explorations like how can I send a high-five virtually to my friend? And how do I create a jig for ½-scale bicycles?

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

It’s hard to have a full-time job that requires your attention and intellect, and then a side project on top of that—so there’s a fine balance, as if working and making dinner wasn’t keeping me busy enough! At times, it feels like I’m having two full-time jobs, except one pays me in money and the other pays in feelings of satisfaction. However, I love doing both types of work. I keep a calendar that monitors open calls for proposals and events that I would be interested to be a part of. This way, I can somewhat plan ahead with regards to having interesting work to submit.

Why have a side project

Side projects keep my day-to-day life exciting! Working on side projects allows me to stretch my imagination and learn new things I wouldn’t do on a regular basis, and is both fun and rewarding. Expectations set around money and time become secondary (within reason) to the discovery and creation of the imagination. It also gives me agency to make change in the world in a very quirky way. Side projects become a space for exploration that can be shared with others.

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Diptych courtesy of Carmen Liu.

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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.


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