January 18, 2016

Vigorous health found in wellness & art: Artery Ink’s Mara Natkin & Gloria Ramirez

While going through the Etsy Pavilion at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, I encountered the handmade work of studio Artery Ink. Their human subject matter and the style through they interpreted it got my attention. Here, the founders Mara Natkin & Gloria Ramirez share their story of making their craft a fulfilling livelihood.

At the One of a Kind Show, I was quickly drawn 
(pun surely intended) to the subject matter of your work: 
“art + wellness.” How did you arrive at this idea?
Ha-ha! We do love a good pun over here! Both of us, Gloria and myself, Mara, have been artists our whole lives. The ART part is easy. Gloria, who grew up in Mexico City, went to school for Graphic Design, and I had grown up with many artists in my family. I continued practicing all sorts of art through grade school, high school and then ended up going to the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design for illustration.

We met in Milwaukee and knew that we wanted to do something with our art but “what” was the big question—we had no idea. We both worked in the service industry as waitresses, letting time pass by, without worrying much about it, eating a lot and drinking a lot too! It was in May of 2013 that my aunt passed away from a long battle with breast cancer. My grandfather died within the same week as well as Gloria’s aunt. As with any death, it can be very life-changing. After that, we really started learning a lot about the human body and how to take care of it. We realized we were, in fact, not taking very good care of ours at all! So we started to change what we ate, and we started to work out a little bit and making those small changes impacted our lives in enormous ways.

One night, Gloria woke up in the middle of the night in tears because of a stomach pain she was having. This kept happening for a few nights and we thought maybe she should see a doctor. We found a naturopathic doctor in Milwaukee and made an appointment. We went to see Dr. Sarah later that week, and she explained to us that Gloria was suffering from some major inflammation, which is caused by all the food we had been eating and all that we had been drinking! I couldn’t believe she was telling us about inflammation because we had just been reading a book called “Crazy Sexy Diet” by Kris Carr, who talks a TON about inflammation too! We thought this must be true, how have we not heard about this before? After explaining digestion to us, she sent Gloria home with a list of food items to stay away from and some other suggestions.

We followed this “anti-inflammatory” way of living for a month and we have never gone back. Our taste pallets changed drastically, and we were experimenting with cooking all sorts of new recipes every day. At one point, I thought to myself, “I am having SO much fun learning about how food can heal your body, and I’m having so much fun cooking and looking up new recipes, and reading about it—darn, I wish I was this excited about doing some sort of art project.” Then BAM, why not combine both ideas (art and WELLNESS) and somehow encourage other people to take better care of their own bodies by eating healthier!

How many show/venues do you go to in order to promote 
and sell your handmade products? How would you characterize 
the experience of working the craft-show circuit?
When we started our business, we were both also working at a restaurant, so our time was split in half. It was sort of like a side thing. We thought “this seems like a cool idea—we’ve got to give it a try!” We applied for a bunch of events in the Milwaukee area expecting to get into a few, but we got into all of them! We scheduled out our summer so we had an event (or sometimes 2) each weekend, so about 3–5 events per month. We had to take off weekends at the restaurant and cut down our schedule a little bit. Doing these shows was so eye-opening to us, because we started to meet SO many people who were also following their dreams and creating something that they loved and making a living doing it! Once the summer had ended in the first year, we had maybe 1 or 2 holiday shows, and then it was over—so basically back to working 5–6 nights at the restaurant and picking up shifts.

When it came time to plan our second summer, we really beefed it up, and we knew we wanted to expand into the Chicago area as well. I was born and raised in Chicago and still have family there, and Gloria was also born in Chicago and had frequently visited the city all throughout her life. It seemed like a no-brainer that we should be selling there. We went all out and we applied for triple the amount of shows we did the year before. We ended up having 12–14 shows per month this year, which meant we were in constant motion. This year we completed 31 events (which is actually 60 individual days of show—some are 2, 3 or even 4 days long). Midway through summer, we took the plunge and quit our restaurant jobs. We knew that what we had created was special, and if we had all the time we needed to work on it, it could really take off. It was a tough decision to make, and we didn’t make it easily, but in the end, it had to happen.

We think it is SO important for a newer business to do as many shows as possible, because it’s such a great way to interact with the people buying your art. Yes, shows are a TON of work and can be exhausting, but it is completely worth it. You can see what people buy the most of, you can see the way people react to your product, you can hear what they want and what they say about it, you can take special orders or listen to amazing stories that they have to tell you. In our opinio,n there is no better way artists should start their business than to apply for some shows and TALK to people! People are so much happier buying a product knowing that you made it, and you take pride in making it and listening to you tell them about it. People ask us at every single show, “Are you the artists?”, and when we tell them yes, the reaction is always a good one. Being there in person and selling your artwork really gets the product out there and then, because of that, people will go to your website. Nowadays, with technology booming, everything is online. There is something so nice about doing events and talking with people face-to-face; nothing can compare to that.

I was also attracted to your line work and the resulting texture.
How do you achieve your visual compositions? 
Because they’re compact with visual patterns.
Both Gloria and I LOVE patterns and have our whole lives. We have two very different styles of artwork and very different techniques, but we use both in our business and they complement each other. Gloria sticks to her pen and paper, with traditional drawing. Ever since she was young, she has been attracted to black-and-white lines, and with lots of repetition, she has mastered the art of it. My artwork is more graphic and all digital. I do use a pen tablet, which then connects directly to my computer, so it feels very much like I’m just drawing normally. A lot of our inspiration with pattern comes from nature, which is where our love of patterns really began. We love to be outside, walking, camping, being in nature in any way. When you look inside the human body it is very reminiscent of the natural world outside, and it contains so many amazing patterns and connections—it is art in itself.

How did you arrive at wanting to become artists 
who make their art their livelihood?
Art has always been a big part in both of our families. Whether it be wood-working, cooking, metal work, ceramics, mosaics, or acting we both grew up surrounded by creativity. The thing that made us want to turn our art into a business, other than just pleasure, is the message that our art gives out. We have become so passionate about living a healthier lifestyle that we couldn’t just sit here and enjoy it ourselves. We want everyone to feel this awesome! We sometimes sit on the couch and talk to each other, and say, “If we had one wish, we would wish that everyone in their life time could feel this good in their bodies.” We decided it was our mission to encourage and inspire people to feel like that! Maybe they just need a little nudge, or a little more info. That is why we include a little health, wellness or human body fact on the back of all of our cards and prints. We get all of our facts checked by our naturopathic doctor, too. The information we give out is JUST as important as the artwork, and maybe some info about the human body would make you appreciate your body more. Or maybe a little info about strawberries or peas (above card) would encourage you to include some in your diet!

How do you practice drawing in order to feel competent 
and confident at realizing this skill?
With every drawing, we get better and better. I wonder what our drawings will look like in five years, because even in two, they’ve changed so much. Like with any skill, practice makes perfect. With every drawing, we try out new techniques and different styles. We always try to get Bristol Smooth Surface paper for the original drawings, and we prefer Espon when it comes to printing and the quality of our prints!

Sometimes people come up to us at a show and ask “How many artists are there?”, and when we say “Just us two”, they always look surprised. It makes sense, because we have had some of the same cards or prints from the very beginning, and some that we just created last month—and with time, they all get better and a little different. Drawing is very important to us, and our business is on staying fresh. Especially with greeting cards, you always have to be coming out with new designs, and new images. That forces us to draw almost every day which is a great thing!

When and how did you arrive at the idea of Artery Ink
And how did you keep this idea? Did you write it down? 
Did you doodle it?
I love writing, so the first thing that comes to mind when I have any idea is to write it down. We had a lot of lists, but we mostly went on walks and talked about ideas. Ideas become reality when you share them with other people and you start talking about them. Like I said before, because of our lifestyle change, we felt that we needed to share this information in a fun and different way that related to our artwork. When you have a strong mission behind art, it makes it more powerful and guides it. Once you have found a concept you are passionate about, the rest flows!

What were some of the first things you did in taking Artery Ink 
from an idea to a reality?
One of the first things we did was research our name, buy our domain name, register for an email, design the logo, and ask our naturopathic doctor if she could check our facts for us. We then researched like crazy for the best printer around, the best paper, and little cellophane sleeves. We also had been seeing someone about doing our taxes, and he happened to mention he could help us with our business finances and bookkeeping. What do you know—perfect timing or what?! He helped us right away get a sellers permit and the correct documentation for selling taxable items. We were very careful and wanted to do this the right way; we didn’t want to have to go back and fix things later on. I think we both got that skill from working in restaurants for so long. You always have to take a little extra time at the beginning to make sure you got the correct order; otherwise, you’ll waste time later bringing the order back to the kitchen for them to remake it.

What still feels raw, and this doesn't mean bad nor good, 
from when you started Artery Ink until now?
The thing that comes to mind right away is our website and online sales. Neither of us, by any means, is a website builder. We created the website we have now through Wix, which is very user-friendly and relatively easy (it’s gone through about 10 phases, each time a little better than the last), but it is in no way near where we want it to be. It is very important to have a web presence nowadays, having a website is better than having none, but we both know it needs to be better. Through starting a business, we have come to realize that everything takes time, and we cannot do it all at once. We just have to make the best of what we have and continue to grow and adapt and work towards what we want. Sometimes we look at each other and say, “Can you believe we have a business?”, because being a business owner is still a very raw feeling to us as well!

Speaking of started, how did you make yourself committed 
to start? Because “Just do it” is easier said than done.
Easier said than done, is ohhh SO true. It was a culmination of being sick of working at a restaurant, and feeling lazy, and knowing we both have talent in art and not using it. We went to a farmers’ market one day, during the summer, prior to our starting the business, and we walked into this little craft section, and there was a booth with just one guy selling the cards he designed and printed. And we looked at it and thought to ourselves, “We could do this!” And the worst part is that we had wanted to start a greeting card line for a long time and just had been too distracted or unmotivated to do it. For some reason, seeing someone else do it with ease, got the fire going, and after that day, we decided to do it 100%. Every day we took one step to create a product we would be proud to sell. Some steps are small and not scary, like doing a drawing, or researching and applying for events, while others are bigger and scary, like buying a $1,000 printer, or applying for a business credit card, but we reminded ourselves every day: “One step at a time.” And the very next year, we were at the same farmers’ market selling our own cards too!

What is your work schedule like in making all of your artwork? 
And how do you manage your time?
Time management is very tricky, especially going from having a “work” schedule imposed on you to making your own. Our schedule varies, depending on the season. In the summer time, while we are doing events every weekend, we are working every day: printing, folding, stuffing, making signs, keeping items fresh, counting and doing inventory. We don’t have a very strict schedule during these times, it’s basically work until the work is done. On our slower months, we try to keep stricter hours.

We also feel like we are more productive when we stick to a healthy routine, which includes cooking, a little exercise, yoga, reading and writing—so we schedule time to do those activities as well. We work between 8–10 hours, probably 5–6 days a week, during the slower times, but regardless, we do something related to the business pretty much every day, whether it be an hour of drawing or updating the website, or taking new photos, or sketching out a new idea. The best two pieces of advice we can give anyone who is struggling with sticking to a schedule is (1) make a list of what you are going to do the next day right before you go to bed. You wake up and you already know what the plan is, (2) when you have your own business, you will be working basically ALL the time—there is no time off, so it is even more important to force yourself to take time for yourself to rest, take care of yourself, and remind yourself of why you love this. Then start again, making sure you enjoy every bit of the process.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute 
to doing the quality of work you want to do?
We are both big believers in creating a space that you enjoy being in. Otherwise, you just won’t get anything done! Our workspace has changed a lot. When we first designed our “studio”, we didn’t know what we would be doing in it; all we knew was it was going to be some sort of art, but that was all. Now that we have established ourselves a bit more, we know a LOT more of what we need around us and what we don’t need, and that has changed the space a lot. This year, we ordered a lot of our supplies in bulk—and when you go from 2 packs of paper to 25, well, you need a more efficient way to store it! It was very disorganized, but after the holidays, when we had a moment to breathe, we reorganized and made it a lot more efficient. The thing about the workspace is that we know it will constantly change. If we add a new product or start doing larger orders, we need to change something up. Keeping a clean, clutter-free space to produce our artwork has always been the best for us. The moment we feel uncomfortable, cluttered or unmotivated, we know it’s time to change up the space, and we will do so. A few things that a great workspace needs are good lights, and for us, at least, good music! We alternate between calming meditation radio for when we are feeling zen, and Katy Perry when we want to feel pumped, excited and encouraged!

What kind of art/illustration appeals to you? 
Who and/or what are your creative influences?
This is always a hard question because our main influences are not specifically a person or a specific artist; it comes more from nature. Like I said before, we are constantly entranced and amazed by the natural world. Flowers, plants, trees, the sky, the earth, animals, gardening, growing food, and how everything relates. We love so many different kinds of art and different kinds of music. Traveling has always been one of our favorite things to do, and we have been lucky enough to visit many places so far in our lives, and seeing the way other cultures and people live is also very inspiring and life-changing.

In running Artery Ink, what are some bona fide “best practices” 
in working well, in working as best as possible?
EAT BREAKFAST! Oh my gosh—just like we encourage through our artwork, accomplishing ANYTHING is easier when your body has been fed well. What you eat affects your mood, and everything works much better and goes smoother and you get more accomplished when you’re in a good mood.

Make lists, lots of lists. Carry a notebook with you wherever you go, because you get the greatest ideas at the most random times and you MUST write them down.

On a more serious note, one thing that we always talk about is ENJOY THE PROCESS. We remind each other of that every day. It’s not the result that’s the fun part, it’s DOING it. Once it’s over, it’s done. Even if it’s something that you don’t specifically enjoy doing, we remind ourselves to go into it positively. A lot of tasks seem overwhelming when you think about doing them, but we also remind ourselves to “just start it.” Once you make the first move, you’ll realize it isn’t so hard and you will actually be done faster than you thought!

Do you use any software/Web-based tools to run your business? 
If so, what digital tools do you use and highly recommend?
We use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for all of our artwork. I do all my artwork in Illustrator, and when Gloria is done with her drawing, we scan them and tweak them a little in Photoshop, and we do the entire layout for our cards in Illustrator. I have been using Illustrator for many years, and I love this program. It’s so versatile.

Who and/or what keeps you going in keeping Artery Ink going?
Other than jamming out to Katy Perry, we have a lot of things that keep us going. Most importantly, it’s each other. We are so lucky to have started this business together; it has made the whole thing so much easier to have two people, two minds, two sets of hands vs. one. We can bounce ideas off of each other and when one of us feels stuck, we call the other one over and say, “What should I do with this?”, and when someone with fresh eyes sees a piece of work, they often have all sorts of new ideas you’ve never thought about before.

Our families have been so big in our success as well. Always supporting us and coming to our events, offering help prepare for large events, coming with us to help set up our stands. We also have met some of the most amazing customers who tell their friends and families about our artwork so they come support us, too. We also have some customers who buy a few things every time they see us, because they want to keep the collection growing! We hear the best, most amazing and sometimes crazy stories about people’s triple bypass heart surgeries, or their dad’s lung transplants, or how watermelon saved someone’s life! We would never want to stop hearing these stories and meeting these people, they all keep us inspired to make more art and always give us new ideas.

For people who want to start a business focused 
on something handmade, what is your advice?
Our advice would be to stay true to yourself and do what you love to do, not necessarily what you THINK people want. Secondly, think about the cost of your artwork. We decided right away that we wanted our artwork to be relatively cheap. We could go out there and sell originals for $600, or $1000, but that leaves only a slim amount of people out there who will buy the artwork. Instead, we make cards $5 and prints for $15–20 so everyone can buy one. Put it into a frame and it looks professional. Not everyone is rich, but everyone should be able to buy a piece of artwork for themselves or as a gift, and you’d never know it was only $20 when it’s framed and hanged.

How do you handle disagreements while you're working?
We don’t really disagree too much. When and if we do, we will definitely always discuss both viewpoints and usually figure out some compromise, or we will try out both ideas and see which works, OR we will go back to the core of why we started the business and see which idea coincides with it better.

What does independence mean to you?
As it relates to creativity, making, working.
Independence to us means doing our own thing and not being worried what people will think of it. Feeling like we have a freedom of expression without being judged. Some artists get caught up in wanting their artwork to look specific or like someone else’s and it’s great to have influences but you have to let your own voice be heard (or in our case, shown) when you create.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?
We grow every day—our minds are constantly expanding because we have so much to learn. Growth to us is trying something new every day and evolving. The way we think now is not the same as it was a year ago, or even last week. We remind ourselves to always be open to new ideas even if we don’t think we like them at first.

How do you get the word out about you and Artery Ink’s work? 
How do you attract customers?
We do a ton of shows, and whenever we go out, we always talk about our business and connect with people everywhere we go. Word-of-mouth is the biggest help, and keeping your product consistent yet fresh keeps people intrigued and coming back!

If a person approached you and said, “I want to draw 
and sell my drawings,” what’s your response?
We would say, “Awesome! Go for it—believe in yourself, don’t wait, and the time to do it is now.” We are lucky that working in the service industry has given us a lot of practice in talking to people and engaging with them, so when we do events it comes very naturally to us. If you are an artist maybe on the shy side, practice makes perfect so get out there, SMILE, say “Hello”, and talk to everyone that stops by!

How did you discover and arrive at the name for your business?
We originally wanted to go with PUMP because the heart is a pump and we thought “get pumped” was a cool thing to say in regards to getting excited about taking care of your body. When we thought about it more, we realized we also wanted it to relate to art as well—so we started thinking about words with “art” in them, ARTery was perfect! We also added the INK at the end because all of our work is ink-based, whether that be pen and ink or printer-ink, or screen-printing ink, it’s all ink!

How does the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, contribute 
to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/
Both of us grew up in big cities in Mexico and Chicago, so coming to Milwaukee for both of us was a downsize. We realized that it was a great advantage to us, because there is less competition, and it’s easier and cheaper to start up something. Milwaukee has changed so much since the time we have moved here, and now the art scene is growing rapidly. We have SO SO SO many AMAZING local craft fairs, farmers markets and festivals every single weekend. There are new all-local shops opening up every month, and Milwaukee has the best city pride around. We wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else to start up our business. We do want to travel the world and bring our artwork to as many places as possible, but Milwaukee will always be our home and we love it here, and we love all of the people who have supported us and helped us grow. We couldn’t have done it in any other city. The opportunities for artists and small businesses in Milwaukee are outstanding and continue to grow every single day.

Do you attend the Milwaukee chapter gatherings 
of CreativeMornings?
We currently do not attend, but have heard a lot about them and have a friend who partakes in some meetings. It’s on our list, but we have been caught in a whirlwind these past two years and are just catching up right now!

• • •

All images courtesy of Artery Ink.

• • •

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

Please consider supporting Design Feast
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December 30, 2015

Keeping it weird: Artist Brian Keller at 47th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago

Source: Chris Mendoza

November 2015: Visual artist Brian Keller spoke at the 47th gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings. Keller began his career at digital-cable channel G4 in Los Angeles. He wrote, produced and directed TV segments, including in-studio interviews with celebrities. Feeling homesick, he returned to Chicago where he established “Brain Killer,” a studio where he pursues his passion for making art, whether in the form of music videos or branded communication for clients, such as The Onion, Red Bull and Threadless. Two aspects of his talk instantly grabbed me: his childhood influences and their role in sharpening his long-term creative focus.

Video games. Anime. Manga. Godzilla. Skateboarding. “Star Wars.” These are among the influences that affected Keller, who kept calling this strong vessel of aesthetics, whose collective influence grew on his imaginative approach to projects, a “big wealth of creativity and knowledge.” He immersed himself in this material—the signs of the times. Its eclecticism is apparent. It formed bridges to his current work, like the anthropomorphic characters and landscapes, found in comics, he casts and renders in his murals to the textural language of street culture he surveys in his documentary footage. They all heed the call to “Keep it weird”—Keller’s goal in whatever he sets his mind to draw, paint, photograph and film.

Indulging in one’s formative influences is a priceless investment over time. Keller immersed himself with stimulating matter that charged his brain and set the tone for his life’s work.

The cumulative effect of genres and their unfolding impressions is proven by the genre-mixed films of Quentin Tarantino. While Keller’s brain is packed with comics (and more), Tarantino’s brain is packed with music (and movies), as he shared with Charles McGrath of “The New York Times”:
“I’ve got a huge record collection, and I have a record room off of my bedroom. It looks just like a used-record store, with record posters and bins of records broken down into genres. That’s a big part of my think tank. 
When I’m getting ready to write a new movie, or thinking of the story and starting to zero in on it, I’ll go in the record room and start trying to find music for the movie—other soundtracks, songs, whatever. When I do find a couple of pieces, that’s two or three steps closer to actually being a movie. Now who knows if those three songs will end up being in the finished movie? But it gets me a little further along.”
Genres can help galvanize a full-time passion. Throughout his talk, Keller’s drive for “bigger, faster, better” opportunities to express his attitude, his taste, his style, was aptly expressed when he said, “Fuck it. I’m going to do what I want to do.” This is the fierce beat of CreativeMornings, with Chicago-chapter speakers demonstrating this desire, ingrained among humans—to express oneself, that is, as poet Dana Gioa brilliantly encouraged: “To provoke thought into form…”

This can also be extended to the defiance of doubt when it comes to doing meaningful and ultimately rewarding work. Jim Coudal, who collaborated on Field Notes and was the inaugural speaker of the CreativeMornings chapter when it launched in Chicago, summed it up perfectly: “Risk is the time you wasted. Keep swinging.”

• • •

Big thanks: to BraintreeArclight Cinemas (Host), Deskpass, Publican Quality MeatsGreen Sheep WaterBraintree, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #47; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make 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-up and photos.

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

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

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

November 29, 2015

Politics as usual: Artist Rashayla Marie Brown at 46th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago

Source: Chris Gallevo

At the October 2015 gathering of CreativeMornings/Chicago, Artist Rashayla Marie Brown presented a sampling of her creative work expressing her manifesto: “The personal is political.” Like most, if not all, constitutions, it’s loaded. Brown addressed a lot of charged topics during her talk: race, identity, representation and stereotypes. These areas, each a respective universe, are expressed through her photography, spoken-word and dancing performances. To me, Brown was a miner. Deeply mining a one-of-a-kind mineral source: the self—that is assembled, projected, perceived, interpreted and reinterpreted.

I left Brown’s talk exhausted, because the wormhole of self-consciousness popped into existence. If a person were to be portrayed as a Photoshop file, the layers would be infinite: layers of ancestry, biology, experiences, history. Besides being a walking sack of chemicals, a human being is a social creature, compounded by the reality of Brown’s view: a political creature as well.

I question the scope and frequency of Brown insistence that “The personal is political.” This is a fascinating claim. Is one constantly flecking off political vibrations like dust with each personal act—verbal, nonverbal and in between? For example, when one is polite, is there an underlying political agenda, whether there’s intent or not?

Are there human acts that are apolitical? When one asserts, “I don’t do politics,” is this truly unbelievable? The spike of self-consciousness strikes again.

In navigating a multicultural and social world, politics everyday and everywhere may most probably be the reality. I’ll try to not suspect every human factor as politicized, that every smile isn’t an instrument of politics, but a self-contained instance of goodwill, nothing more, nothing less, per one politically prone example.

The inverse of “The personal is political” can be absolutely (and consequentially) true: The political is personal.

• • •

Big thanks: to BraintreeHavas Worldwide Chicago (Host), DeskpassGreen Sheep WaterBraintree, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #46; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make 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-up and photos.

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

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

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

November 6, 2015

Empathy reloaded: Interaction Designer Antonio Garcia at 45th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago

Source: Kyle Eertmoed

At the 45th gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, interaction designer Antonio Garcia addressed the concept of “Empathy,” CreativeMornings’ global theme for August. His talk focused on truly understanding another person and what she or he is feeling, compared to the ease of being presumptive and condescending. To act in a hospitable manner. He issued a the tall order: “Be excellent to each other.” It serves as homework, for humans excel at behaving inconsistently, particularly toward each other.

Garcia is another vessel, among millions, for promoting the “Golden Rule.” In its popular form: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” In its flipped form: “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” He echoed the maximum maxim that historians traced back to antiquity. The earliest iterations are from ancient Egypt:

“Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.”
(circa 2040–c. 1650 BC)

“That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”
(circa 664 BC–323 BC)

From ancient China:

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”
—Confucius (circa 500 BC)

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain,
and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”
—Laozi (circa 500 BC)

From ancient India:

“…by self-control and by making dharma (right conduct)
your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself.”
—Epic “Mahābhārata” (circa 800–700 BC)

From ancient Greece:

“Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
—Thales (circa 624 BC–546 BC)

“Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.”
—Isocrates (circa 436–338 BC)

From ancient Persia:

“That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another
whatsoever is not good for itself.”
—The Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism (circa 300 BC—1000 AD)

Garcia is part of mass communicating a legacy-deep principle, a popular challenge to be mindful of, in practice. Yet, there were moments when Garcia himself sounded insensitive in his talk. While championing the importance of primary research, going into the field and talking with “end users” to help inform a project, he proclaimed another method of conducting group surveys as “stupid.” I thought about companies who rely on this activity in order to help, if anything, give access to findings that surveys, whether in the form of focus groups or not, can provide. How does Garcia’s quip affect all those who specialize in making and analyzing surveys, who make it their livelihood? Some input from end users, whether through surveys or not, can prove better than none.

The Golden Rule, like other virtuous aspirations, was never meant to be easy to execute moment to moment. But it is, to channel the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, a “differential equation,” not a “boundary condition.” As humans excel at doing and redoing, the drive to realize human solidarity remains relentless.

After Garcia’s talk, there was a tweet by creative director Will Miller, who made a presentation at the 22nd monthly gathering of CreativeMornings/Chicago (my write-up). Miller called Garcia “a hero to all!” My quick reaction: “Whaaaaat?” I associate such a noble label with people who directly save people’s lives. For example, recall Chris Mintz, an Army veteran, who helped save Umpqua Community College students from a gunman loose on its campus in Oregon on October 1, 2015. Mint even tried to minimize the dangerous situation by talking to the gunman. During his courageous engagement in bringing students and staff to safety, and his attempt to influence the gunman, Mintz was shot five times.

So, at first, I dismissed Miller’s accolade. Then dwelled upon it. Once my reaction simmered down, I thought about Garcia having accepted the invite to talk and offering his perspective, expressing a timeless theme, “Empathy,” and clarifying its potential benefits to a room filled by mostly strangers. I remembered former CreativeMornings/Toronto host Kyle Baptista’s testimony at the first CreativeMornings Summit (my recap). He shared his feelings on organizing and managing a CreativeMornings chapter:
“The biggest reward is sitting at the back and watching a room of 200 people. Some loving the talk. Some not loving it at all. And sometimes, it’s one person in a room of 200 who needed that talk, at that moment.”
Miller was that one person, like others, who needed Garcia’s talk. And still others who’ll view it online, who may be in need of Garcia’s talk. A timely need fulfilled can be described as “heroic.” A change, at whatever level, and however short-lived, in steering human behavior toward practicing and projecting the humane, the humanistic, can be taken as heroic. To borrow a much propagandized verb from the consulting world, empathy “scales.”(1)

It’s a reassuring fact that we live in world where empathy can be noticed and, at the same time, support the cautious confidence in humanity.

(1) As does karma.

• • •

Garcia is a member of “innovation consultancy” Gravity Tank, where the first gathering was held to launch CreativeMornings in Chicago. This was the 5th CreativeMornings chapter, established by Mig Reyes. From Brooklyn, New York, the inventor of CreativeMornings, Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. Swissmiss, gave a warm welcome in person. Jessica Hische and Veronica Corzo-Duchardt were in attendance. Read my write-up and photos.

• • •

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
—Harper Lee, Novelist, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960)

• • •

Big thanks: to BraintreeLeo Burnett Department of Design (Host), Onward SearchDeskpassNatalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #45; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make 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-up and photos.

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

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

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October 31, 2015

Boldly weathering storms: 8th gathering of the annual Cusp Conference in Chicago, 2015

The 8th Cusp Conference was held on October 7th and 8th in Chicago. Its lens is wide, on purpose. The contrast between speakers—their culture, their passion, their discipline, their point in life, is high in order to broaden one’s exposure to practitioners and their chosen focus. Though each presentation is a short-lived slice into a topic, most probably never known before, let alone investigated, the effect is curiosity stimulated. And curiosity is a human quality in need of nourishing.

Storms faced and embraced

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”
—Willa Cather, Novelist

Mike Ivers, President and CEO of the Yuma Community Food Bank, and a staple Cusp Conference lead speaker, set the annual gathering’s tone by invoking a long-term challenge: “Embrace the storms.” A bold invitation to bear witness to the unexpected, the inevitable, and to take advantage of this act as a tool to produce something great.

This charge was echoed by each presenter of Cusp Conference 2015. Each chose a storm of instability and claimed it as their personal duty by taking on the storm—with a storm of their own.

Aesthetic intervention

Ivers was followed by Mary Cummings, one of the U.S. Navy’s first female fighter pilots, who is witnessing robotics encroaching on the human skill set. As the director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, she and her team study the evolving interaction between humans and machines. Their focus is on the social and ethical repercussions of this dynamic.

I imagined the pioneering science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov, who was also a biochemist, sitting among the audience and scrutinizing Cummings’ every utterance. He wrote the “Robot” series, consisting of 38 short stories and 5 novels. Their main characters were “positronic robots,” artificial beings imbued with a “positronic brain” that gives them a form of consciousness. Asimov posited “Three Laws of Robotics.” The first of which dictated: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

On one of her slides showed the header: “The rise of the robots?” An open question. My reaction: No longer a question, it’s a fact. In adjusting Cummings’ question from an Asimov angle, per his first rule of robotics: Will the rise of robots be benevolent?

An attendee I met at last year’s Cusp Conference discussed with me how automation is affecting his job as a software developer. I believe that the world of code, even when virtual robots are used for diagnostics and repair, constitutes an art. It’s this aesthetics of appreciation and application that humans possess in idiosyncratic spades (for now).

The aesthetics of transcending boundaries (e.g. geography, politics) was upheld by Howard Belk, Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the global branding agency Siegel+Gale. He announced a new project called “Border Crossing” organized at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. This multidisciplinary program, influenced by the timeless unifying current of the Bauhaus, was conceived as an active anchor of culture in “The City of Brotherly Love.” The envisioned participation in this initiative connects with one kindred example I heard about recently on National Public Radio: the new cultural center, Centro Cultural Kirchner, in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, whose Culture Minister Teresa Parodi proclaimed, “Culture is an investment for this government, not an expense.” In the drive to further cultivate Philadelphia as a remarkable epicenter of ingenuity through their “Border Crossing” ambition, Belk speaks to the positive energy that cities, with their evolving infrastructure, could harness and circulate.

Multicultural collaboration

The collaborative spirit continued with glass artist Joel Berman’s studio, where his team reflects a tapestry of cross-cultural imagination in pushing the pliability of glass (above). It was impressive to hear Berman’s ethnic diversity in his business, which fulfills social entrepreneur and other Cusp Conference speaker Eve Blossom’s description of a company as a “container for collaboration.” From Berman’s mentions of spirited discussions and enjoyment of different cuisines, his business can be portrayed as a neighborhood block party of collaboration.

Existential exercise

Social innovator Samantha White delivered a strong and seamless monologue. Her amulet from childhood into the present day was a collection of plays by Shakespeare. She turned her sanctuary in the Bard of Avon’s stories into a mobile theater for the people in Detroit—aptly named Shakespeare in Detroit. On the Cusp Conference stage, she relied on timeless Shakespearean methods of expression: thoughts, voice and eye contact. Standing still, beaming tall like a poetic siren. A compelling reminder that words—written, spoken—carry in value and unfold in meaning. The vibrations of words can prove lasting. The volume of words matters.

The virtuous—but flawed—characters expressed in Shakesperean plays nestled into Tim Leberecht’s promotion of romanticism in business. Leberecht is the chief marketing officer of NBBJ, a global design and architecture firm. He coined himself as a “business romantic,” which was also the title of his new book “The Business Romantic.”

Romanticism: mystery, spontaneity, wonder. A sense of awe to complement the number-crunching, results-driven personality of business. Romanticism is a tonic to keep the cold, hard math of business warm to the touch. It was refreshing not only to hear Leberecht’s emphasis on the shades of emotive communication, aligned to romanticism, but to also hear the need for both worldviews: entrepreneurialism and romanticism. Though the two can certainly eclipse one another, their benefits are best reaped when both are joined, as opposed to an either/or model.

Historical insights

History is a glorious recorder and a residual teacher. Archbishop Desmond Tutu distilled history to a vicious lesson: “We learn from history that we don’t learn from history!” Jessica Metcalfe tries to correct instances of this by being a champion of her own history as a Native American. Metcalfe is Turtle Mountain Chippewa. In addition to writing her doctoral dissertation on Native designers of high fashion at Dartmouth College and the University of Arizona, Metcalfe created Web-based destination “Beyond Bucksin,” focused on bringing and spreading awareness to Native American-made clothing and accessories.

Metcalfe’s advocacy of her cultural heritage isn’t rote preservation, it’s sensitive vigilance. To help keep the legacy of her culture intact, Metcalfe makes sure her background is in the foreground, with precise respect, through diligent historical examination and curation of Native American craftspeople. A refrain was the critical integrity of cultural authenticity. She reminded us to be sensitive to a group’s language and narrative when adopted and simulated.

I sensed tension during Metcalfe’s presentation, between the stewards of a culture and those who, with and without intent, overlook a culture’s deep heritage. I wondered if there is a threshold to mine and govern cultural details, particularly in the midst of phenomenal practices like collage, remixing and sampling.

Metcalfe’s reverence for history was echoed in the presentation by Brandon Oldenburg, who co-founded Moonbot Studios specializing in animated filmmaking. A wholehearted appreciation of history captivated Oldenburg when he learned about the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933. This grand event’s theme was technological innovation. A noted celebrant was Radio Flyer (above), known for its popular red toy wagon. Oldenburg seized this as a symbol. It was cast as a major character in his studio’s latest animated film “Taking Flight.”


There are general observations accumulate with ease. Most disappear. Some remain present long after having been observed. They become specific in their nature. Specificity feeding clarity. These are the observations that somehow gel with possibility. They turn into a project, even reaching the status of a quest.

From observing her grandfather with Parkinson’s, Lily Born (above), who was 8-years old at the time, took note of his difficulty in drinking liquids. He often tipped his cup. Born turned her observation into a challenge taking the form of the anti-spill Kangaroo Cup. Now 12-years old, Born is pursuing her other ideas in helping to improve people’s lives.

Matching the situational awareness of Born, Dominic Wilcox observes common objects and their afforded context—turning both into material flights of fancy. Ordinary objects imbued with extraordinary contexts. While being charmed by his inventions, such as the first GPS-equipped shoes to the dual cereal crane and milk lubricant (broadcast on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”), I was dubbing Wilcox as the da Vinci of delight, unexpected and welcomed.

Sonic therapy

Composer Victoria Deiorio creates soundscapes for the theater and the big screen to help audiences experience music in original ways. Whether it’s a play or a movie, sound gives ambient weight to the flow of stories. She imbued the auditorium with samples of her work. No visuals, only the effect of sound. Slices of her musical scores were matched with a scene she narrated.

After the conference, I happened upon the new album “Tape Loops” by Chris Walla of the band Death Cab for Cutie. Its analog arrangements and instrumentation, using piano and electronic keyboard, sparked a meditative quality. It was a fitting discovery aligned to Deiorio’s presentation. I shared it on social with Deiorio who tweeted back: “This is why I love what I do… making people think about what they don’t normally think about.” I dwelled on the phrase “normally don’t think about.” Because there is the typical sight of Apple’s iconic white earphones. Beats’ colorful headsets are also a popular sight. The Web is a massive sonic gallery, which includes curatorial destinations like DesignersMX where you can “Create finely-curated mixes with music that moves and cover art that’s beautifully designed.” The state of engineering has enabled a world of sound. This is particularly apparent in efforts to record and study the creative, social, political, historical dimensions of sound, such as Aporee, “an online audio archive where people upload field recordings” from all over the globe, the series “Close Listening” by National Public Radio dedicated to identifying sounds in nature, and the Library of Congress’ plan to preserve the “Sounds of America.” Speaking to a packed audience at the 41st monthly meet-up of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, sculptor and luthier Ian Schneller showcased his making of one-of-a-kind horn speakers, which could be inserted into stories of the steampunk genre. There is also the relentless wave of sonic selfies. A glowing example of which is the non-profit StoryCorps, whose recording booths have documented the many experiences composing the oral history of America. This audio tapestry has been advanced with the launch of a mobile app. Furthermore, there is the sound of the Big Bang. More than these amazing feats of audio access, there is the affectionate reverie uniquely possessed in the sound of a loved one’s voice. This is equivalent to kissing a photograph, holding hands, a salute, or feeling for temperature. My belief is that the human awareness and invoking of sound, in life, in art, is a normal mode.

Musician Robin Sukroso shared with the audience how he expanded the range of a single instrument. In his case, the guitar is his maker’s studio. Leveraging the latest availability of electronic components, he invented the ACPAD, the world’s first wireless MIDI controller, attachable-with-ease for the acoustic guitar. This seamless device equips him with a variety of effects, in percussion and textures, marrying music done by hand and music done electronically. A one-person band. Sukroso’s ingenuity with musical instruments recalls musical duo Buke and Gase, whose distinct sound is due to their handcrafted instruments (that inspired their name). Producing the sounds in their heads through musical instruments of their design.

Will power

Amidst the merciless storms of consequences worsening our planet, environmentalist Suzanne Hunt shared some “bright spots” of human intervention to cope, even counter, the terminal effects of pollution. The source of these noble attempts is “Will,” as Hunt revealed. The execution of nobility boils down to this factor, ever-elusive, at the same time, ever-accessible.

Exercise of will is both the proposition and pride of I Am Adaptive™, a non-profit co-founded by crossfit trainers Marilyn and Ellyse Zosia, who took the Cusp Conference stage to share their plights in overcoming personal struggles. Their saving method: physical fitness. They champion a crossfit community, guided and nurtured to help overcome disabilities: emotional, mental and physical.

As an athlete, singer-songwriter and actor, Sami Grisafe is a captain of will. She closed the Cusp Conference with her story of pursuing goals others could not intuit readily, such as being the first female to play the quarterback position in a varsity Division I football game in the state of California, the first female to throw a touchdown pass in a world championship tournament, and the first girl in her community of Redlands, California, to join a boy’s baseball All-Star team.

Currently, she is recording her new album supporting both the LGBTQ community and the right of marriage for all. These events testify to an epic tale of will, if used, can contribute to a different, ultimately positive circumstances through which to excel and seed the next experience. Grisafe’s telling of her origin story led me to my conclusion, that she pushed herself out of her mother’s womb—fighting alienation since the moment of birth (recalling biological anthropologist Julienne Rutherford’s Cusp Conference 2014 talk about the placenta as the defining force of human life).

Bright spots

Hunt’s phrase “bright spots” remained with me as an essential summary of the 8th Cusp Conference. Each presentation related trials of varying magnitude. Most too big in scale for human comprehension, too big for human engagement, too big for human imagination. Echoing previous gatherings, the 8th annual iteration of Cusp Conference in 2015 delivered proof of defiance to the residual perception of any problem, whatever its composition, being too complex for human effort to put a dent in. From the never-ending assembly of wicked problems, each presenter picked a place to invest their energies and stuck with it. This stickiness goes under various names: persistence, courage, perseverance, including the much propagandized label of empathy.

Storm on

The 8th Cusp Conference offered another big morsel of human demonstration. Each presenter: part storm chaser, all parts storm facer. Each left a unique impression. Together, they left an imprint for any attendee to inherit: Make your storm of interests your strength—in the process, granting a piece of the world a second life.

• • •

Big thanks: to Multiple, Inc., and the volunteers who made Cusp Conference happen in 2015; to the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Chicago, for hosting.

• • •

See more of my photos, including anticipation, of the 8th Cusp Conference. Furthermore: my write-up and photos of the 7th Cusp Conference in 2014, plus my write-up and photos of the 6th Cusp Conference in 2013.

• • •

Read more of my coverage of events related to design and creativity.

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October 15, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Design of Healthcare by Joyce Lee, MD

What are you working on—on the side?

Design and Making. I am passionate about integrating patient-centered participatory design and the maker movement into healthcare.

This side project started when I fell into design by accident. I started designing/“making” tools for food allergies with my son, including a series of YouTube videos, educational nametags, cardboard creations and mobile applications. And along the way, I started working with a talented group of individuals (healthcare providers, patients, caregivers, artists, designers, librarians, curators, entrepreneurs and gamers), forming a collaborative innovation network called HealthDesignBy.Us. We’ve been prototyping different ways to integrate design and making into health, including patient-centered design workshops for co-design of health tools and technologies, the pairing of patient advocates with design students to create educational materials like comic books and emoticon apps, and a new model of diabetes education using participatory game design. We’ve also been working on creating a maker movement for health. If you can, you should join us for the We #MakeHealth Fest on October 25, 2015, in Ann Arbor, Michigan!

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

It’s a passion project for me, so I make time for it! Luckily, I am now integrating this work into my role as a researcher and healthcare stakeholder. I know that the integration of human-centered design and participatory design into healthcare will be transformative—I just have to prove it to the nonbelievers!

I’ve also embraced the methods and tools of design in my clinical practice. I have come to the realization that doctors are designers—we design clinical experiences everyday. I have, therefore, been tapping into the methods of goal-directed design in my encounters with patients, and in the use of design artifacts for improved collaboration with my patients.

Why have a side project?

My “side project” has allowed me to meet up with a diverse and stimulating community of designers, patients and entrepreneurs, and has expanded my approach to problem-solving as a clinician, researcher and mom. There are transformative solutions for health that I can now pursue, because I have adopted these methods of creation and have some amazing co-collaborators! Check out B’s [my son’s] awesome making activities from last year and for our upcoming Fest!

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Joyce Lee.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

• • •

Joyce Lee spoke at the 6th Cusp Conference in 2013.
See my coverage: write-up and photos.

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.

October 1, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: The Coaching Fellowship by Jane Finette

What are you working on—on the side?

Two years ago, I created The Coaching Fellowship. What started as my personal goal to give back and coach a handful of young women leaders in the impact space, is now a tri-annual non-profit program which receives thousands of applications from 40+ countries and has awarded fellowships to more than 250 women. I have enabled and created a network of scores of coaches around the world, who—just like me, donate hours of their time each month to empower some of the brightest young female minds and souls of our generation.

My original idea to give back, took on a complete life of its own when my initial personal blog post, offering 3 pro-bono coaching places to young women leaders, snowballed, and I received dozens of applications. The overwhelming response demonstrated to me the strong desire for young women globally to excel in all areas of their lives. They knew about the great benefits of coaching, and yet at this early stage in their career, coaching wasn’t a luxury most could afford. In those first few weeks, I was able to find coaches for all 41 applicants. Within three months, I was planning our first formal program offering 50 coaching fellowships to extraordinary young women leaders.

Our fellows are social impact entrepreneurs, scientists, non-­profit leaders, activists and more—all united by the impact they want to create in the world.

I wholeheartedly believe coaching helps young women at a crucial point in their career. And through The Coaching Fellowship, we are bringing forward a new generation of global women leaders intent on transforming our planet.

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

I’m a firm believer in investing your time wisely. Time, as we all know, is a precious commodity, and what we spend it on drives our impact, and ultimately what we bring to this world. I do not see The Coaching Fellowship as a side project so much as ‘part’ of my work. I feel compelled to do this meaningful work—it’s almost like it chose me!

That being said, on a daily basis, it can be hard to juggle working, family, staying fit and work on The Coaching Fellowship. I do something every day, there are always emails to answer, I connect online with our fellowship community, and, of course, my mind is always thinking about what’s next! The work for the Fellowship will ebb and flow with the application-and-program timing. As we now receive thousands of applications a year, that requires a lot of attention from myself and our selection committee. And the onboarding process of new fellows is hours of early morning calls around the world! Furthermore, I’m constantly talking to new coaches who want to come and coach with us. Would I change a thing? Absolutely not! I’m able to do this work, because I love it so much! I make time, I prioritize. That does mean I have to say ‘No’ to things, but for now, the Fellowship is incredibly important to me and many others—I’m happy to do it!

Why have a side project?

As described, The Coaching Fellowship pretty much happened by accident, it grew out of a necessity. And to be honest, I fought it for some time, until it got so big and so popular, I simply could not ignore the opportunity to create this significant impact in the world.

The Fellowship, at its core, gives me energy. Sure, I work on it in the early mornings, late evenings, weekends—but it fills me with a sense of contribution and giving that’s hard to find anywhere else. I’m proud to be the person who brings together a group of the most excellent coaches and extraordinary young women change-makers around the world.

I’m a believer in following your passion. I hope that can be aligned in our days jobs too, but we do have more than one passion. Someone once said “our spirits are too big for our jobs” and I would have to agree! We are more than our ‘paid’ work, even if we love that paid work! I think we are wired to give and create, and my greatest wish is that more people would start their side passion project—who knows where it will lead!

• • •

Diptych and image courtesy of Jane Finette.

• • •

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.