October 16, 2014

CreativeMornings, not a movement

Tina Roth Eisenberg, Founder, CreativeMornings, Chicago chapter’s debut, 2011

CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series held monthly for the creative community. Founded in Brooklyn, 2008, by Tina Roth Eisenberg of design journal Swissmiss, CreativeMornings has now grown to 99 cities worldwide. It’s easy to label CreativeMornings as a “movement.” But it’s not. Broadly speaking, movement is a newsy word. Movements are typically associated with political and religious upheavals: the agenda subversive, the rhetoric polemical, the tone aggressive, the duration short-lived.

A regular attendee of gatherings held by my local CreativeMornings chapter in Chicago, I find the ambiance comfortable, evident by social ease and anticipation, visibly marked by conversations and smiles. This is due to people who come together at a given event, enticed by the topic or speaker, and who seek stimulation for their intellect, their craft. In many instances, the same people keep coming to subsequent events to reinforce existing connections, within their shared creative discipline, and to potentially expand their circle through introductions to new people, representing other creative fields. Each takes the time to listen to a speaker elaborating on an attitude toward creativity and how it is realized. All these actions of attending, meeting, listening—experiencing a personal viewpoint about creativity and making it happen—are not tactically driven by ideology, a prime mover of movements. It’s driven by another human tendency that does not sound forced or dogmatic (as portrayed by a movement), but open and common like creativity itself: curiosity.

The original premise, of CreativeMornings, was to provide a place for a local creative community of artists, craftspeople, designers, founders—everyone with creative aspirations and ambitions—to gather and communally raise their consciousness. This enduring reception of CreativeMornings’ premise lies in its essential nature, rooted in generation to generation, era to era.

People who want to experience creativity—what it feels like and what it can achieve—don’t wait for information and inspiration. They seek it, as many bits that can be received and cultivated, whether in the moment or at an appointed time. This is not a “movement” that suddenly garners a spike of attention. It is a quality felt and observed daily, historically, because it is a native aspect of the human condition. It characterizes our living and working. It is reality.

CreativeMornings is part of something that is inherent in the human species: to be courageous in making what one desires to make, and to be a vessel open to such an influence. To help persist this effort, input is welcomed: lessons learned when faced, and stories told when unfolded. These constitute proof behind the mouthpiece of making. If the proof of experience is a body of work, creativity is its basis.

So no occupying, no reforming, no uprooting, no dismantling, no shutdown, no take down. No movement.

Waking up, feeling creative, and acting on this natural impulse. These are fundamental to being human. CreativeMornings is their mirror.

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Photo of Tina Roth Eisenberg introducing the first CreativeMornings gathering in Chicago, with speaker Jim Coudal, during the summer of 2011. View more.

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The First CreativeMornings Summit was held on October 2–3, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York. Read this article by Carly Ayres, Chief Content Officer at CreativeMornings. View interviews with ten volunteer hosts, from around the globe, of CreativeMornings chapters in this video by Bas Berkhout, Filmmaker and Co-Founder of Like Knows Like.

• • •

See my write-ups and photos of CreativeMornings/Chicago gatherings since their debut in 2011, plus my posts at the CreativeMornings Blog.

• • •

For conferences/summits/camps/meet-ups related to art, business, design, technology, writing, and more, see my list.

October 13, 2014

Human and Machine: Joseph Thompson Woodworks’ Marvel of a Jointer

Joseph Thompson Woodworks is a Charleston, South Carolina-based studio and workshop that specializes in creating bespoke, heirloom-quality furniture and decor for the home. The founders, husband-and-wife team of Joseph and Katie Thompson, recently made a substantial investment, weighing approximately 3,000 pounds and is around 70-years old—a jointer. This metal giant is used to produce a flat surface along a board’s length. The acquisition of this tool has greatly emboldened their personal approach to woodworking.

The jointer’s main parts include two tables that can be adjusted in height. Located in between them (above) is a cylindrical cutting head encompassing high-speed steel blades. An uneven piece of wood is placed on the in-feed table, set at a certain height, and moved forward toward the cutting head, spinning in clockwise motion, scraping material from the board. After the cutting head removes the board’s exposed material, the board proceeds onto the out-feed table, set at a different height than the in-feed table. The result is a board, formerly uneven, now finely flat.

For years, Joseph looked to having a larger version of  a jointer. He managed without it, but having one would accommodate bigger projects. It would further allow him to no longer be kept confined to using the smaller version of a jointer in his possession. Its rarity finally became a reality last April 17th, when it was placed (below) on a trailer from a Naval yard to its new home at Joseph Thompson Woodworks. An auspicious day, since April 17th is also Joseph’s birthday.

The jointer was built by Newman Machine Company in Greensboro, North Carolina. This company contributed to America’s effort in World War II (1939–1945) by manufacturing woodworking machinery for primarily the armed services.(1) Joseph estimates that the Newman jointer he bought was manufactured between 1938 and 1944.

Machines are signs of their times. They are also time machines, surviving, ideally not still, as their surroundings change. War probably compelled the jointer’s origin during the middle of the twentieth century. It became part of a collective effort. Now it’s been nestled into an individual workspace. The machine recovered, its original purpose of woodworking preserved. Situated into a different environment with a different tone and climate—a different time.

Placing Newman jointer in workshop of Joseph Thompson Woodworks

The jointer is a spectacle of mechanics, a formidable machine. Lots of bulk. Lots of moving parts. Lots of acoustics when turned on.

It also equips lots of potential. Joseph emphasized the contrast of the Newman jointer, which could take up to a 24-inch wooden board, compared to his other jointer, a smaller version, that could only take up to an 8-inch wooden board. With the larger jointer, Joseph saves time in working with larger pieces of wood. This results in more wooden pieces that can be flattened and assembled together to form seamless surfaces. More so, it results in an extended scope and scale of wooden furniture to envision and craft into shape. When a coveted tool is finally possessed, imagination is fed. In the case of Joseph and Katie Thompson, a flat wooden surface achieved in seconds, than hours, is much preferred. This new capability advances the reception and execution of more ambitious furniture designs for sitting, storing, working, and dining.

Machines require feeding. Oil is essential to a jointer’s maintenance—similar to watering a plant. At a glance, it has the weathered appearance and seasoned burnish of something commanding backbone and brains. As a few of its admirers on Joseph’s Instagram feed noted, “Badass!” Joseph Thompson Woodworks’ Newman jointer shares the realm of attention with chisels, sanders, mallets, clamps, and other board members of their woodworking toolkit. A maker’s self-confidence is served by tools. Together, the motives, to make beautiful things, strengthen.

Bella napping in front of the Newman jointer

If defense originally drove the making of the Newman jointer, the defense is reinforced by Joseph and Katie Thompson, who are defending the relevance of their artisanal discipline that enriches their generation, adjacent ones, and those arriving into the world of woodworking.

When Joseph turns on his Newman jointer, it roars. I suspect that its energy flows down inside him with a roar. Then Joseph roars back.

(1) More of the Newman Machine Company’s amazing history at their website.

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Photographs courtesy of Joseph Thompson Woodworks.

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Related: Read both my Designer’s Quest(ionnaire), answered by Katie and Joseph of Joseph Thompson Woodworks, and my Interview about their perspective on being craftspeople.

October 5, 2014

Illustrator Alice Stevenson, Delightfully Wandering the Natural and Urban Landscape

It was the visual form-making, playfully provoked and nurtured by both nature and cities, that attracted me to the art of Alice Stevenson. Based in London, she is an illustrator, surface pattern designer, and educator. Here, she shares her thoughts on drawing from her environment that influences her attitude and work:

On being an illustrator and a writer

From your website, you stated that you are “Inspired and informed by the patterns and structures found in nature…” Can you expand on this? What specific patterns and structures, or specific aspects of them, influence you and your work?
I’m inspired by many different natural patterns and forms. Whether it be the structure of a leaf or a coast line from a distance. There is something about the inevitable beauty of natural forms that I try and channel when I draw, paint, or compose an image.


How did you arrive at wanting to become an illustrator?
I have always loved books and reading, and drawing, so in some ways, it was inevitable. I enjoy the problem-solving involved in creating communicative imagery and working to a brief, and I’ve always liked the idea of my work going out into the world in books and on packaging, for example, as opposed to just sitting in a frame somewhere.

I enjoy the topic and sampling of illustrations of your book 
“Ways to Walk in London” (also liking the plainspoken title). 
Can you give a tour of how this book became a reality?
Hannah Macdonald, founder of September Publishing, approached me to potentially be involved somehow with the endeavour. She suggested that I potentially had a “book in me,” and through conversations, we identified that my relationship with my surroundings, and exploring on foot, are where my true interests lie. So the book was born as a written and visual exploration of the city. I began by just walking, drawing, and writing. Gradually, the format and purpose of the book began to take place. Up until the end, it’s been a real process of discovery.


Book cover

In addition to illustrating, you also wrote 
“Ways to Walk in London.” How did writing become 
a part of your toolkit to make things?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, creating content for my blog, etc., but I didn’t ever see it as a serious skill of mine. Again, it was Hannah, who saw potential for me as a writer and encouraged me to try. My writing voice proceeded to tentatively emerge.

Does writing come easy for you to do? 
And how is writing useful to you?
I find it much easier to sit down and draw, but I think this is largely because I’ve been drawing pretty constantly for a long time, so my drawing “muscle” is far more developed. I find knowing where to start with writing tough, and it certainly takes a lot out of me. I think I’m still in the process of mastering at a craft, I’m beginning to find a way of working I’m comfortable with, and techniques to overcome obstacles. It’s useful, in that I feel that through writing, I’m somehow able to think more clearly. I also feel, that through writing this book, I understand myself better, and can identify and articulate parts of myself in a way I couldn’t before. This is useful creatively and in all aspects of life.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going as an illustrator?
Sparkling water, coffee, music, Radio 4, and knowing that there’s a large glass of wine and people, or a person I love, waiting for me at the end of it. I’m fairly addicted to drawing, so stopping isn’t an option.

Your style of illustrations reminds me of the sketches by the architect Le Corbusier and the paintings by Joan Miró and Marc Chagall. Both are vigorously playful. Are these fair comparisons? How would you describe your visual style?
They are very flattering comparisons. I find it incredibly hard to define my visual style, but some words/descriptions that occur again and again are playful composition and line, decorative, pattern, detail, combined with flat colour—worlds within worlds.

Big Sur

How do you get the word out about what you do? 
How do you attract people to your work?
The usual social media channels are helpful. Through sending newsletters, contacting existing and potential clients. I have an agent too who touts my wares.

How do you practice drawing in order to feel competent 
and confident at realizing this skill?
I draw most days which keeps me pretty capable. I try to practice my observational skills from time to time, so I remember to really look at and study my subject. This then feeds into imaginative drawing.

What is your vision of growth, as it relates to your career?
I’m not sure, I’m not a very conventionally ambitiously-minded person. I would like to keep being able to work on interesting projects, and exploring my interests through writing and drawing. I want to continually improve and hone my skills, and contribute something worthwhile to the world.

What is your definition of success?
I think success is creating substantial and interesting work that comes from a genuinely creative and curious place that gives something meaningful to the world, and makes it a more beautiful place. I can’t really think of any higher achievement than that.

I very much enjoy the samples from your sketchbooks. 
Do you still sustain a sketchbook? If so, how do manage to make or find time to sketch?
I do, also I’ve not been as consistent with it over the last couple of years, I think I began to feel that I was going round in circles with it a bit. My urge to draw in my sketchbooks is definitely returning to me though. Good sketching times are train journeys, Sunday afternoons in the garden, or by a fire, in front of a film, in fact, whenever you get a chance to sit down.


On creativity, illustrating, working

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?
A rule I try and live by is to never send an email in anger.
It’s nice to be nice.

For those times when you happen to feel discouraged 
while working, how do you deal with it?
Music always heals. A brisk walk clears the head. I find just slowing down and focusing on my drawing restores my peace of mind. Also, just remembering that it’s all very temporary, and our lives are “just a ride” in the words of Bill Hicks. It’s best to cultivate a lighthearted approach to things.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute 
to doing the quality of work you want to do?
Bright and spacious, I share with some very creative and inspiring people, and there is good encouragement and camaraderie. I put pictures up everywhere of images that inspire me, and I have all my books close-by.

What tools do you use and recommend to work: 
for collaborating, getting things done, running your practice?
A very nice notebook in which to write lists and thoughts. And to doodle in. I’m a Moleskine girl, through and through.

New England

What or what in the worlds of art and illustration 
do you recommend for exploration?
I just had my attention drawn to the work of Emi Uoka, it’s understated and subtle with a melancholy atmosphere which appeals to me. I’m currently swooning over the work and legacy of Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a Swiss artist, working in the early 20th century, who pioneered geometric abstraction. I’m also currently rather obsessed with the work of Brian Wildsmith, a children’s book illustrator and painter. He created a lot of his best known works in the 60’s and 70’s, and I find the colours and combination between the figurative and abstract, within his work, delightful.

How important is it for you to follow your instincts?
For much of my drawing, painting, and image creation, I try and almost entirely disengage from my conscious mind, and let my instincts take over and guide the work. When I’m working to a brief or to a specific end, cold reason and practicality have to wade in at regular intervals to keep me on track.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to illustrate,” 
what’s your response?
You need to be happy to spend vast quantities of time alone,
and gain a great deal of enjoyment from drawing for it to be a rewarding career choice.

Church yard

How does the city of London contribute to your work? What makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?
Geographically, London is made up of lots of small villages and towns all clustered together, and you can travel between different worlds and atmospheres within it. Having lived here my entire life, and explored and written a book about it, I can honestly say that I’ve only scratched the surface of the place. I find its potential of inspiration, and hidden environments, very inspiring. I think creative people are attracted to London for this reason. Also whilst being a bustling metropolis, it’s an incredibly green and leafy city, full of public gardens. I find the aesthetic of an urban environment, interacting with nature, pleasing. I feel that all the extremes of life coexist here, the trouble with living in London is it can make other cities seem a bit one dimensional in comparison.

• • •

All images courtesy of Alice Stevenson.

• • •

Related: Illustrator Lucy Engelman, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is also inspired by nature—my Interview.

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

October 1, 2014

Patronage Package 9 of Duly Discovered





“How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World”
by Steve Johnson

“Size-specific adjustments to type designs: An investigation of the principles guiding the design of optical sizes”
by Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens

“My Grandfather’s Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War”
by Anne Sinclair

“Learning Responsive Web Design” 
by Clarissa Peterson

by Ballerina Misty Copeland

“Book Typography: A Designer’s Manual”
published by Libanus Press


Rings and Earrings by Hikaru Furuhashi


Harmony Project

Sewing Classes by Amy Alan

Girl Develop It


“Into the Flatland” by Kathleen Robbins


Lynda Barry, pioneering Cartoonist, by Summer Pierre

Sketches by April Soetarman

“Letterpress Llama” by Katie Gavenda

Watercolour bicycle by Serena Olivieri

Charleston, South Carolina by Kristen Solecki


Soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for “Gone Girl”

“Rips” by Ex Hex

“Become Ocean” by John Luther Adams

“Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone” by Lucinda Williams

“Sukierae” by Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco, and his son, Spencer

Nile Project


“Bread” by Joerg Metzner

“Faint Light” and “A new chapter” by Emily Van Ness


ADX, Portland, Oregon

Science House, New York City


“A Doctor Unlocks Mysteries of the Brain By Talking and Watching”
by Jon Hamilton

“A Man Who Knew The Value Of The Human Voice”
by Scott Simon

“Never Truly Over: Discussing Deployment A Challenge Of Its Own”
by StoryCorps

“Rethinking The Relationship Between Civilization And Nature”
by Audie Cornish

“Media Group Evolves from Covering Vice to War Zones”
by Steve Inskeep

“iPhone 6 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy S5”
by The Onion

“Be stubborn”
by Sarah Selecky

“Carl Newman And Neko Case On What Makes a Pop Song Work”
by NPR Music

“Best To Not Sweat The Small Stuff, Because It Could Kill You”
by Patti Neighmond

“Becoming a Writer: But not looking for my dream job”
by Alissa Walker

“Minecraft’s Business Model: A Video Game That Leaves You Alone”
by Stephen Henn

“Kate Bush Sells Out 22 Shows In Less Than 15 Minutes”
by Christopher Werth

“At 60 Tons, This Dinosaur Feared Nothing”
by Lynn Neary

“Deborah Rutter Becomes Kennedy Center’s First Female President”
by Susan Stamberg

“Our Use Of Little Words Can, Uh, Reveal Hidden Interests”
by Alix Spiegel

“These 5 Crops Are Still Hand-Harvested, And It’s Hard Work”
by Eliza Barclay

• • •

See my series of tweeted food for thought.

September 30, 2014

Andrew & Kelsey McClellan, the Heart & Bone of Sign Painting

Andrew and Kelsey McClellan are the couple behind Heart & Bone Signs, a traditional sign-painting and gold-leafing company in Chicago, Illinois. At the Renegade Craft Fair, Andrew happened to overhear me mention sign painter, Ches Perry, who also works in Chicago and has been designing and hand-painting signs since the 1970s.

The introduction by Andrew to Heart & Bone Signs, and their dedication to historic techniques affiliated with one of the oldest craft-disciplines in the United States, led to this interview. Here, they share their strong enthusiasm for sign painting, keenly done by hand.

On being sign painters

How did you arrive at being a sign painter? Was there an initial encounter of work, related to sign painting, that played a role in what you do for a living?
We moved to Chicago, in 2011, to attend the graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) for painting. Prior to moving, we lived in Denver, Colorado, where we met each other at the University of Colorado. In Denver, we were both painters, and had been asked on different occasions to paint signs or produce chalkboard signs. Once we graduated from SAIC, Kelsey was working at the Museum of Contemporary Art and came across the “Sign Painters” book by Levine and Macon. This really spurred a strong interest, and correlated to a lot of the work we were producing in the Fine-Arts realm. We reached out to a local sign painter, Stephen Reynolds, who was instrumental in showing us how to approach materials and techniques, specifically how to hold the quill and produce clean and uniform strokes, which is such an important part of this craft. From there, we came into contact with other local sign painters and began producing signs almost immediately. Fortunately, our mutual backgrounds in painting have provided us with a strong sense of paint and how to use it in various applications.

More recently, we have been apprenticing under Robert Frese, who is a local guilder. This has been a great experience, and we have fallen in love with the art of gold gilding, it’s almost magical at first. Like with everything, there is a learning process, in sign painting this is a constant: what’s most interesting, after a while, is how physical the act becomes, and how your reflexes are ignited when using the quill in contact with the surface of what you are painting. Understanding this, which was what we first gathered from Reynolds, really informs all of our work now—the pursuit of accuracy and speed. If you look at the history of sign painting, back when everything was painted, these attributes were the most desired in a good painter, we would both agree that is not far from what we seek to constantly achieve.

Who were your teachers and mentors in sign painting? 
How did you discover them, and vice versa, 
how did they discover you?
Stephen Reynolds was our first teacher, and more recently, we have been working with Robert Frese, although we have been fortunate to come into contact with a huge community of sign painters, whom we admire greatly, and are always learning from, based on the work they create and post. To name a few: New Bohemian Signs, Andrew Lawrence of Gentleman Scholars (both San Francisco), Josh Luke of Best Dressed Signs (Boston), Ken Davis of Coolhandken (California), and David Smith (England). This list really does not do justice to all of the artists who inspire us, but it’s a good place to start.

Sign painting is growing as a cultural phenomenon. 
What are your takes on why this is happening?
It’s great! Most likely, there is a direct correlation with the inevitable deterioration of vinyl that is visible across the country. Sign Painting for a business not only reflects an overall aesthetic of craft and handiwork that seems to be popular at the moment, but also expresses, to the audience/consumer/community, that this establishment is here to stay. The paint we use and techniques we utilize are meant to withstand the elements and last forever—that’s why you can see, throughout the country, amazing ghost signs of work produced from the turn of the century. Basically, with a hand-painted sign, you are saying this place is meant to be here and stay here.

When did you find your business Heart & Bone Signs?
We’ve been sign painting under Heart & Bone Signs for about two years, in mid-October.

A common desire and questions is: How to start? How did you start? What was the first thing you did? What were essential activities/steps taken to start and establish your company, and why were these activities/steps important?
We just jumped in, knowing we would probably mess up along the way, but not too worried to fail. In regards to running a small company, we are still learning and growing, always reaching out for new opportunities, and testing the boundaries of what we already do. The hardest part right now is finding time to push our creativity, since we most often are working on client projects.

From the documentary “Sign Painters,” the convenience of printing technology decreased sign painting’s prominence. How do you cope with technology as a competitor in the sign-painting world? And how do you put it into context in promoting your work to people with needs for signage?
We’ve only heard on a few occasions that a project would be cheaper to do in vinyl, which were learning experiences, and in some cases, only a few dollars short from a vinyl producer’s quote. Technology is frustrating at times to compete with, but it seems to work within a specific realm of consumerism that is large and way beyond our capacity as a two-person team. We like the intimacy of sign painting, knowing our clients, and being approached by passersby when doing our work. There is something very community-oriented about the process that other forms of sign production just do not have. This being said, we are the first to suggest another avenue that is better for the job than us, sometimes relief signage or vinyl is the way to go, and we are happy to work with our clients to establish what is best for their company.

Can you give a tour of how an idea, for a sign painting, gets real? For example, what were the steps and tools used to materialize the your sign for Jerry’s in Andersonville, Chicago (above)?
Often it starts with talking to the client, going on site, and really getting a feel for what they want. The Jerry’s piece is a great example, we met with the owners (who are awesome), and they described a piece that looked new, yet had been there for a while, and most importantly, would age well over time. We took their existing logo and reworked some areas of it, so that it would look timeless and easily readable amongst Chicago’s sign work. We formatted the lettering to work with the verbiage they chose, then we produced patterns, by hand, in the studio that we then bring to the site and transfer onto the building. In this case, the work was solid black, but often we do multi-colored pieces with outlines and shadows.

In your sign-painting toolkit, what is your frequently-used tool?
Other than quills and paint, it would be razor blades. Mainly used for cleaning lines, cutting tape, and everything in-between, it’s our form of a Swiss-army knife. If we show up on site and are missing a razor blade, we get pretty bummed out.

In between work for clients, how do you keep 
your sign-painting skills sharp?
Practicing lines and alphabets. We like to get a little competitive with one another and push new styles. Also reading is helpful, we’ve been lucky enough to come across some great resourceful books that we frequently go back to, as we develop as sign painters, including “Lettering Made Easy: How to Paint Signs and Show Cards” (1940) by E. C. Matthews and Phillip Albaum, and “Gold leaf techniques” (1980) by Raymond LeBlanc.

Hand-painting signs for Currency Exchange Café, Chicago. View more.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going to keep 
Heart & Bone Signs going?
Clients and other sign painters. There are some artists, throughout the country, who are really producing some amazing work. David Smith is someone we admire tremendously, he makes beautiful glass-gilded work. Colt Bowden is also doing really great work and produces a line of sign-painting zines, which are awesome to pick up. Josh Luke, of Best Dressed Signs, is also a favorite, his designs are amazing, and he utilizes color in a very fresh way.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?
It’s great to see financial growth, and could easily choose this as a signifier of growth, but honestly feel that becoming stronger sign painters—better with the brush, more intuitive design and color choices—is always the best sign (no pun intended) of growth for us.

How do you get the word out about Heart & Bone Signs? 
How do you attract customers?
We try to stay on top of social media, but are, overall, pretty bad at the Twitter game. We’ve found the best way to find new clients is through customer recommendations and word-of mouth.

I like your company’s name. How did you arrive at this?
Kelsey: Heart & Bone is a reference from Coxen Dodd, speaking about his house band at Studio One in Jamaica. The heart of reggae music is the bass, and the bones are the drums. These constitute the foundation of the musical style. Andrew played drums for a traditional reggae band in Denver, Colorado, called The Dendrites, for nine years. After moving to Chicago, we both missed the music scene so much, we bought a bass with our last few dollars after grad school and started playing music together. Once we started our Sign Painting Company, it fit perfectly with our collaborative style, the Heart & Bone of Sign Painting. We were slightly worried that it might be too visceral of a name, or not come across as a sign-painting name, but people have responded well to it, and oddly enough, we get a lot of musical references, specifically Neil Young, which we are totally OK with.

Is there a city where sign painting is most visible?
Definitely San Francisco! It’s amazing there, New Bohemia Signs specifically has done a great job as a shop to promote Hand-Painted Signs for the city. On the other spectrum would be New York, there are many talented Sign Painters there, but also Colossal Media produces large-scale advertisements that are placed on the sides of buildings, typically over 100-feet in height. They are crazy good, and it comes across so well in that environment. It would be cool to have a mixture of these two take place in Chicago.

On creativity and working

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?
Andrew: My wife is always right. But in all seriousness, communication is incredibly important, we go back and forth with ideas non-stop, and if we question anything we are working on, we ask for one another’s thoughts. We also are not afraid to speak our opinion if something looks off, this can always cause some conflict, but the end-product is our main concern.

Was there a part of your work that was particularly trying, 
and how did you deal with it?
Balance is hard, finding time in between projects to practice work creatively. It’s also hard wanting to expand, but being not knowing how or if it’s the right time. We also work out of a work/live space, this would fall into the expanding problem, and it is hard to separate home life from work life. Luckily, these are things we’ve struggled with as artists for a long time, so we have the skills to think about them constructively.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute 
to doing the quality of work you want to do?
Our workspace is in a room in our loft space in Pilsen. Ideally more space would be great, but honestly, the majority of what we do is onsite, so more space would not necessarily be the best option. Having our studio space at home is great, as we often work through the night, so the bed is never too far away.

What tools do you use and recommend to work: 
for collaborating, getting things done, and running your practice?
An important tool for our trade is the Electro Pounce. This is an indispensable tool for us. It is also hard to come by, as it is no longer produced. What it does is create perforated patterns in paper by means of an electronic stylus. It actually burns perfect dots into paper that are brought onsite and transferred onto the surface to be painted. You have to be careful when using it, however, it is easy to accidentally electrocute yourself with it.

It’s important to not put things off, always push through tough spots and aim to continue to produce work. This helps when collaborating, because we can hand projects off to one another, depending on our individual schedules and how busy we are. If you truly enjoy what you do, it seems like there is a moment, amidst the process, in which you find happiness or pleasure—this is true for both of us. Ultimately, the reward is shaking a client’s hand who is fulfilled with the end-result and hearing their appreciation for your work—this type of affirmation really keeps us going.

What kind of sign painting appeals to you? 
Who or what are your creative influences?
We were both influenced early on by graffiti. Later got really into renaissance style figurative painting, now focused primarily on sign painters/gold leafing as inspiration. We are pretty analog in our approach, but there is some amazing digital design work that is being produced, and it’s nice to stay on top of the trends there. 1960s Swiss design is also a favorite, in regards to its clean lines and approach to realism in depicting products. It’s also interesting to look at art movements like Dada or Futurism that employ design on a broader scale to communicate ideas. But if you were to look at who we follow, say Instagram, it’s mostly sign painters, graffiti writers, and tattoo artists—there is something to be said about the hand-drawn line.

How important is it for you to follow your instincts?
It’s everything. You can follow a book as much as you like, but sometimes, you have to go with your gut and use your own intuition to figure things out. Training your eye to see a certain way, depict color, see things evenly and level, mixing paints and solvents, all of this we employ on a daily basis, and it has to become instinctual or else your going to waste your time and the client’s.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to be a sign painter. 
How do I become one?”, what’s your response?
This happened a couple of times at Renegade, and we’ve been in contact with them since. Really, we suggest picking up some quills and start to familiarize yourself with the quill and your strokes. You really learn a lot through these simple gestures. Eventually begin practicing Egyptian and Script styles of lettering, but take your time, and get used to using the quill and the consistency of your paint. We always encourage people to find a mentor, or at least a peer group, to gain feedback from on your work, it’s really amazing the insight you can gain by just talking to other painters.

Chicago neighborhoods

How does the city of Chicago, Illinois, contribute to your work? What makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?
Chicago is affordable. Not sure how people manage it in other large cities, but for any artistic person out there looking for a good start, Chicago comes highly regarded. Chicago also has a strong history of sign painting and gold leaf, of which is paralleled to the city’s amazing architectural history. You can see this all over town in various incarnations, there is also a huge group of show card/grocery store painters, in each neighborhood, who have intense style, and it’s been like that for generations. All of this spurs our interest, that on top of long winters, in which you get a chance to hone your craft and strengthen your brush skills.

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Images courtesy of Andrew and Kelsey McClellan, Heart & Bone Signs.

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Related: Read my interview with Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, who celebrate the American tradition of handcrafted signs in their documentary “Sign Painters.” See step-by-step photos of Ches Perry’s live demonstration of sign painting at 32nd gathering of CreativeMornings’ Chicago chapter—my write-up.

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

September 29, 2014

Seize the Hidden: Bob Boilen, Host of All Songs Considered, at 11th gathering of CreativeMornings/Washington, DC

CreativeMorning’s global theme for March 2014 was “Hidden.” Speaking for the Washington, DC, chapter was Bob Boilen, founder of the National Public Radio show “All Songs Considered.” He spoke of a practice he exercises in his life: To look for hidden qualities in people—potentially good qualities. As the beneficiary of this action at a young age, he set the course of his career.

After college and a few jobs related to music, Boilen formed a band called Tiny Desk Unit(1). Their time in a recording studio was limited, but during this narrow slice of time, he was given the keys by a recording-studio owner to access the space after regular work-day hours. The keys came with this instruction:
“Here. These are the keys to my studio. You can come in here any night, when nobody is here. Not going to teach you how to use it. You have to figure that out.”
This wasn’t a superficial gesture of kindness, it’s a bet of trust.

Boilen took both responsibility and advantage of the recording toolkit—the studio became his learning lab. He worked alone, hidden. The recording studio seeded his development as an eventual radio-show director, primarily “All Things Considered,” which staged his creation of “All Songs Considered,” which staged his creation of its companion show “Tiny Desk Concert.” These major beats of Boilen’s career can be traced to the instant when that music-industry owner offered him entrance to his recording studio. To Boilen, this moment gradually revealed where to direct and focus his energies—love of music, all kinds, especially that which challenged the mainstream grain.

Being the recipient of someone’s gesture to see—within another—something wonderful, even extraordinary, can be surprising. This is the unsuspecting twist of giving someone a chance, choosing to avoid feeling oblivious to a person’s dormant interests, which have yet to get turned toward a way of life. The popular all-desirable convention here is purpose.

Back then, Boilen accepted the keys to play in the recording studio. It ultimately took hard work and persistence to advance these circumstances into a well-obsessed (albeit once hidden) path on which his appreciation of music became a daily reality. Boilen may have judged himself as an unlikely focus of the owner, who gave him access to his recording studio. But the owner saw something hidden within Boilen, who, in turn, saw a number of things hidden in himself—broadcasting, collaborating, composing, directing, promoting—and, instead of keeping them hidden beneath layers of reluctance and doubt, he brought them to fulfilling display.

As the lead shaper of National Public Radio’s presence in the world music scene through the shows he established and sustains, he emphasized uncovering and cascading the recognition on the many who independently make music—best put by Boilen as “somebody’s sacrifice and dream.”

Boilen concluded his talk with “Go forward. Find the hidden.” Hidden within this encouragement is an urgency to accommodate and recognize the creativity—aspiring, brewing, forming—of our (to borrow another precise wording from Boilen) “fellow human beings.”

It’s fortuitous that Boilen encountered someone, a recording-studio owner, who happened to give him the keys, which opened more than a room. The advantage of this particular time echoes this sentiment by Sandee Kastrul, who co-founded nonprofit i.c.stars, and whom I had the privilege to interview:
“In those moments when somebody acknowledges that they see you for who you are, for what your superpowers are, or for what you may be struggling with—it’s as if they give you an object made of thought, or a mirror that shows you aren’t alone.”
Belief in hidden treasures within people can yield magic.

(1) Boilen’s band, Tiny Desk Unit, influenced the name of his series, Tiny Desk Concerts, showcasing intimate video performances, recorded live at the workspace of All Songs Considered.

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Photograph by Kate Warren of CreativeMornings/Washington, DC. See the Flickr Album of Bob Boilen’s talk at the Washington, DC, chapter of CreativeMornings.

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Big thanks: to SoundExchangeNPR Music (who also hosted) for sponsoring CreativeMornings/Washington, DC, #11; to the CreativeMornings/Washington, DC, chapter Team for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in their city.

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Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

September 20, 2014

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Marielle Schmidt’s growth of ParentsWork

What are you working on—on the side?

I am on the board of ParentsWork, a grassroots Illinois parents’ network, dedicated to creating more family-friendly communities, schools and workplaces. Our primary online presence is currently Facebook, with a revamped website in the works.

It’s actually a funny story how I came about joining ParentsWork. I was a part-time working mother of three kids, under four, pursuing a new career in life coaching. I was getting some pastries at Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston and happened to overhear some grown-ups talking to a middle-school-aged girl, asking about her mother. The girl said, “Oh yeah, my mom is great, she’s doing this parents organization thing… it’s called ParentsWork.” At this time in my life, I also happened to be devouring every piece of literature on motherhood available—about the mask of motherhood, the zen of motherhood, the price of motherhood, the mojo of motherhood, the myth of motherhood, and the madness of it—so I was intrigued to hear that there was a local organization dedicated to working parents. I had also started a mommy blog where I shared my passion with the world.

At home I promptly googled ParentsWork, found the website, and then emailed the founder, Rhonda Present, to express my interest and admiration and pay my $10 membership dues to join. She personally wrote back the same day, and we met in person a few weeks later. She was seeking support in growing her organization, so she became my first official coaching client. After working together for a year, I switched gears and became a board member.

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

Rhonda and I work closely together on our Facebook page, and other ongoing and budding efforts related to ParentsWork’s virtual and local presence. We communicate regularly via text, email and face-to-face, to keep the momentum going. I publish to our Facebook page, and help prioritize tactics for growing and forwarding the organization.

ParentsWork is a nonprofit organization currently sustained by volunteers like myself, and we are actively seeking funds to expand the organization’s reach and impact. We would love to grow our leadership group to include volunteers that can help with outreach, fundraising, advocacy and marketing. Please spread the word and visit our Facebook page for contact information.

Why have side projects?

Having a side project is not necessarily an intentional act, but an act of passion. As soon as I became a parent, I became passionate about the role of parenting in our modern society, and the choices parents have to make on a daily basis, while reconciling their work and home lives. I firmly believe in the economic value of caring labor—that parenthood is just as valuable a job as any other, if not more—and closely follow the debate around work, life and family balance. As a board member of ParentsWork, I have the chance to share my views, educate others and hopefully affect future policies through our grassroots organizing efforts. It is a hot topic in this country, and I’m optimistic that a seismic shift is upon us towards more family-friendly policies.

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Diptych courtesy of Marielle Schmidt.

This debut series is provided in affiliation with 50,000feet.