October 30, 2014

Cusp Conference 2014: Turbulence tamed


October 22 and 23, 2014: Mike Ivers, of the Yuma Community Food Bank, opened the seventh Cusp Conference at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art with this charge: “Turn turbulence into triumph.” It inspires resilience in the face of current events. Its meaning, from one relative state into another, coheres with these themes that I found to flow among the event’s speakers.

Origins

The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins said, “There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.” This came to mind as I experienced biological anthropologist Julienne Rutherford’s presentation about the innate connections between our bodies and the fetus. She duly noted the body as “a distinct part of our existence.” Whether or not it is truly good or bad design, the human body is a fascinating reality, and poetically speaking—a work of art. She also noted the “aquatic world of the fetus.” This brought to mind the aquatic composition of both our bodies and our planet. The human body is mostly water—approximately 60% as an adult. The surface area of the earth is 70.8% water. Water takes the shape of us and we strive to reciprocate.



Rutherford posed a deep question: “What is a placenta?” It is the organ, which connects the developing fetus to the wall of the uterus, to support pregnancy and birth of a new human being. To exceed the flatland of this definition, the placenta is portrayed, by Rutherford, as the original shaper of our lives. It is a highly influential medium, between mother and child—“From womb to womb” as Rutherford (above) elegantly put it.

In the conclusion of his book “Interface Culture” (1999), Steven Johnson stated, “The interface came into the world under the cloak of efficiency, and it is now emerging—chrysalis-style—as a genuine art form.” If the fetus is a floating world of signals and information, the placenta is its anchor, the ultimate interface of the imagination, whose potential scope Rutherford does not underestimate.

Accessibility

When openness is achieved, access is gained, whether it is to dialog, information, services, technology, and more. Behavioral scientist Nicholas Epley shared experiments, which he led, that investigated philosopher Aristotle’s claim that humans, are, “by nature, a social animal.” Particular emphasis was given to people’s expectations about social interaction. The findings revealed the mistaken projections by people regarding face-to-face conversation. Participating in the studies, people—who jumped to conclusions that personal interaction would be shallow, on account of themselves or the stranger to which each was prompted to draw into conversation—wound up being wrong. Whether the setting was a train car or a taxi cab, people experienced a positive, even uplifting, effect after talking to someone, even when the interaction was short-lived. My habit of greeting people, within the close quarters of an elevator, felt justified.



In her talk, Mariame Kaba addressed a bleak reality that defies the social engagement prescribed by Epley. She revealed the deep-cut alienation of the incarcerated, especially the youth, in prisons throughout the U.S. (above). To Kaba, prisons excel at achieving a “Hell on earth.” In his epic poem “Paradise Lost,” John Milton expressed:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
Her vision of “A world without prisons” speaks to systems made to promote humanity, rather than be systemic in their disinterest of the human condition.



To be within reach of sensibility—a sanity check—is what Trisha Prabhu is advancing, with her long-term solution to cyberbullying. Called Rethink, adolescents are prompted with a prime directive to reconsider their harmful words, and prevent the harm that would have been done to the message’s recipient and to the adolescent messager her/himself. Play is pressed on as a stimulant. Pausing, for self-examination, is equally, if not more, significant. Access to timely intervention is defensive serendipity.



Kel Smith spoke about accessibility from a user-experience standpoint. He testified to the excessive tidings of empathy. Innovation is also excessively prophesized. But Smith’s goal of “innovation” is direct: “To extend human capability.” The results of this dictate do (adding to the excess of another used term) “scale.” They can be grounded, appear deceptively moot, but are effective, as in the example that Smith highlighted: curb-cuts (below). Subtle in presentation, but to a visually-impaired person, a critical landmark of orientation.

Ingenuity

Regarding the process of making products, engineer Kim Blair recommended, “Taking time for divergence.” This withstands the consulting-culture’s entrenched insistence to “accelerate.” Blair’s reference to patience in doing right, with due diligence, was refreshing to hear, in comparison to a business climate bloated with the rote command to “Hurry up!”



When founding her non-profit initiative The Future Project, Sallomé Hralima crafted a manifesto that included this call: “Schools help students create action plans for their dreams.” Calling herself a Dream Director, Hralima illuminates the here-and-now of students, who are captains of their respective lives, which Hralima wholeheartedly advocates and is driven to help steer. Dreaming and living intersect. She is in tune with the author Fyodor Dostoevsky who wrote, “A dream! What is a dream? And is not our life a dream?”



Designer and inventor Tom Lawton (above) declared that there is a fertile source of ideas: “Everywhere.” Lawton’s imagination is fed as a parent, as a resident in Malmesbury (in the county of Wiltshire, England), as a photographer, and as a traveler. These roles enchant Lawton, for they enable him with possibilities to gather keen observations in order to arrive at creative possibilities, as Lawton simply put it: “I live life true to myself.” Much is advertised about galvanizing the quality of authenticity in making things. The living that Lawton cherishes—at home, his town, abroad—produces a multi-faceted source, in tune with his preferences, which compels him to stir ideas, authentically.

Equity

When Genevieve Thiers proclaimed, “I am a woman in tech,” pride ensued, alongside a restless struggle. Thiers amplified the glaring absence of women in technological fields. This gap is noticed on many levels. For one instance, the cover design of Walter Isaacson’s new book “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution” (after his biography of Steve Jobs) does display Ada Lovelace, the first female programmer, among male figures sharing the publishing spotlight. It ups her singular status as a popular choice representing women in the timeline of technology, but also validates the greater vacuum of female technologists in both the news media and documented history, where women are mainly viewed as prolific members of entertainment, compared to other fields.



Thiers gave to-dos for immediate adoption:
  • Politicians, “make coding mandatory in schools from kindergarten up!”
  • Media specialists, “make shows about imperfect girl hackers/techies and give her role models!”
  • Investors, “do not invest in a VC fund unless it has a real commitment to including women in its ranks and consulting them regularly so as not to miss out on big opportunities in industries traditionally run by women.”
The fight for gender respect is also embraced by Anne Gibbon, an officer in the U.S. Navy, and who is also a fighter—literally. During her senior year in the U.S. Naval Academy, she became the first woman to box on the side of Navy, earning a TKO in her first fight. Her primary boxing lesson: “If you don’t pay attention to the present moment, you’re going to get hit in the face.” The present tense is tactical awareness. Gibbon’s transition from a military leader, in the U.S. Navy, to lead designer, at BMNT Partners, with an allegiance to the discipline of boxing, is high in contrast. Gibbon takes her advice “to be uncomfortable and to be in the moment” and keeps proving it. Not to just assert herself in the present tense, she walks the talk.

Teamwork

Solo work offers a primary entrance. Feats are done by the individual, but the mind can be lonely. Independent accomplishment is deeply felt. When the accomplishment is stretched among other minds, accomplishment satisfies the depth and breadth of effort. This is the sustained completion of a moving goal, worked on, most of all, shared.



3D animator Kate Ertmann pointed to the fidelity of success, as a range of opportunities to help shape positive circumstances—as she put, “Success is the level of impact you have on people.”

Charna Halpern, co-founder of The iO (formerly known as ImprovOlympic), reinforced that work must not be a dry exercise of mind over matter. To help lighten work’s mechanics is humor, which, from an improvisational-comedy angle, fosters both kinship and collaboration. Halpern pioneered improv as a “theater of the heart.” In this type of work environment, no gatekeeping of ideas, instead, ideas are freely extended and bloomed into play without prejudice.



The talk of Roger Jackson, creative director at Teague, was a proactive ode to teamwork. He shared Teague’s participation in “The Bike Design Project” of non-profit Oregon Manifest. Their submission was voted the winner. Based on the demo-videos, Teague’s version of, from the competition’s description, “the ultimate urban utility bike,” was the apparent choice, particularly the functional (as you’ll see) versatility of its handle-bar concept. Teague’s design-and-prototyping team consisted of five individuals who realized this idea together. Minimal team. Maximum magic.



Founded by his father, Joseph, in 1971, Bill Haley has nurtured and guided the Jackie Robinson West Little League in Chicago as player, coach and, recently, director. In August, 2014, his team of 11 and 12-year-old boys won the United States Championship at the Little League World Series. Their victory more than captured the imagination of the city of Chicago. The team captivated its heart.

Music

The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Pianist Nicole Lee gave interludes, mostly from the classical repertoire. The conductor, Benjamin Zander, believes that “No one is tone-deaf.” Lee celebrated this fact.





Singer-songwriter Elle Casazza, and her band, gave a live performance of lounge-tinged pop to triumphantly close this year’s Cusp Conference.

Cues for living and working

Taking a cue from Julienne Rutherford, probing our origins, in whatever capacity, from one’s armchair to one’s office, is openness to introspection about the nature of things—of ourselves.

Taking cues from Kim Blair, Saliome Hralima, Tom Lawton, people are cabinets of creativity. By dreaming and doing, humans can prove to be capable of making magic.

Taking cues from Genevieve Thiers and Anne Gibbon, removing history’s malignant plaque of exclusivity—the respect of gender being one of many dominant issues—contributes to the collective grasp of diversity everywhere.

Taking cues from Kate Ertmann, Charna Halpern, Roger Jackson, Bill Haley, utilizing vulnerability—to sketch, to state an opinion, to ask questions—builds trust, the absolute requirement to gel as a group. Essential here is the determinant of hope. From his Little-League team’s winning of the U.S. Championship, Haley thought about why this team’s story, this time, brought together a city. His conclusion: “The team symbolized hope.”



A memorable meeting at the conference was the Mocks family—parents Bill and Tracy with their daughter Samantha. Bill shared that they, together with his and Tracy’s son, Will, are regular attendees of the Cusp Conference. It’s their family tradition. This impressed me! Bill also shared that they’re not the only family who attends. One of the ultimate gifts is perspective. The Mocks are giving their kids a portfolio of worldviews to settle and ripen over time. It corroborates the likelihood that their children will persist the practice by providing such a platform of life-affirming wonder to their counterparts, kindred, “womb to womb,” and beyond.

Speaking of the beyond…

Deborah tweeted, “I am edified, exhilarated and exhausted. And I can’t wait to do it all again next year!” 2013 speaker Joy Lee cites the Cusp Conference as a motivating reminder “to realize how many amazing people there are in this world.” Ruth Mason describes it as “a life-altering, mind-altering, perspective-altering event.” Mason furthermore posits, “Two days of being challenged about who you are. Are you man enough?”

These impressions are from attendees who were positively affected. Their standpoints adjusted in dimension. Mine percolated. During, and more so afterwards, my striving, to connect bits of wonder in order to make something wonderful, gained more in volume as a sensibility.

Building on its predecessors, since 2008, the seventh Cusp Conference gave more stimulating passage to concepts and realities for consideration. The beauty is the mystery of how these cultural offerings—delivered by twenty-five presenters over two days—will unfold in influence and play a part in one’s work, one’s life. This is a relevant comfort that can help hone one’s attention to the things one finds brilliant. It can also nourish coping with turbulence, mitigate its grip, and replenish triumph.

• • •

Big thanks: to Multiple, Inc., and the volunteers who made Cusp Conference happen in 2014; to the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Chicago, for hosting.

• • •

See my photos of the 7th Cusp Conference. Plus: my write-up and photos of the 6th Cusp Conference in 2013.

October 24, 2014

The Rainbow Connection at The First CreativeMornings Summit of 2014


Source: CreativeMornings/New York (@NewYork_CM)

In 2008, Swissmiss, aka Tina Roth Eisenberg, established CreativeMornings, a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. What started with one chapter in Brooklyn, New York, now includes 99 CreativeMornings chapters around the world. On October 2nd and 3rd, CreativeMornings held its First Summit where chapter organizers and their volunteer teams—175 folks with creative hearts and minds—traveled to where CreativeMornings originated and met in person, for the first time: sharing, learning, motivating.

“Color” was CreativeMornings’ global theme for September 2014. It was the perfect lens through which to reflect on the debut gathering of chapter hosts and their teams, who represent a spectrum of creative disciplines and places.


Source: CreativeMornings/Bogota (@Bogota_CM)

Color of anticipation

Social media was tickled, before the Summit officially began, in anticipation of it. Altaira Northe, a member of the CreativeMornings/Toronto chapter team, tweeted, “Countdown to one of the best two days of my life.” Her statement was the keystone in an arch of collective sentiment as the Summit drew closer.

Color of reception

Brooklyn’s Invisible Dog Art Center, its first floor, served as the charming venue for an evening social. Before embarking on the activities of the next two days, organizers, with members of their teams, delightfully basked in one another’s presence, previously felt faraway—through their respective hosting initiatives—now turned into an opportunity to get acquainted face-to-face, amidst an enchanting spectacle of details throughout the space:

There was a nod to futurist Buckminster Fuller in the form of a mini-geodesic dome, whose exterior was accented with CreativeMornings-chapter pennants, and its interior set aglow, like a planetarium, and accented with a constellation of printed fun facts about different organizers.


Source: Ben Hallman (@nowandben). View also a glimpse of its construction, documented by Sally Rumble, CreativeMornings’ Chief Happiness Officer.

There was a levitating cursive version of the CreativeMornings name, rope-crafted by Brooklyn-based display artist Michelle Bablo.


Source: CreativeMornings/Grand Rapids (@Grandrapids_CM)

Furthermore, a screenprinting set-up conducted by RealThread, from Orlando, Florida. They administered free shirts and printing for the Summit.


Source: Ross Drakes (@rossdrakes)

This reception set the mood for the next two days, which were scheduled to the brim with creative immersion, focused on lessons, observations, ideas, and expectations in managing and enhancing a CreativeMornings chapter. As Taylor Medlin, host of the CreativeMornings chapter in Raleigh, North Carolina, eagerly put it: “In NYC about to start a day of inspiration with CM Chapters from over 30 different countries at the CreativeMornings Summit. Can’t wait!!!”


Source: Rita Elise (@ritaelise)

Color of appreciation

At the onset of the first full day of the Summit, in her welcoming address to CreativeMornings chapter organizers and their volunteers, Tina addressed the crucial act of trust. Her affirmations: “Trust breeds magic”; “By letting go and trusting, we’ve really created a global labor of love.”

Human relationships, which endure, are rooted in trust. It is both seed and springboard. The naturalist Henry David Thoreau proclaimed having “faith in a seed.” The founder of the Collaborative Fund, Craig Shapiro, took notice of Tina’s invention of CreativeMornings during its initial period. He called her to a pivotal (and proverbial) lunch meeting. His intention: to ask(1) her for the opportunity to help advance CreativeMornings’ team and series of chapters. Tina acknowledged this moment in 2011. Craig’s ask was an acknowledgement of Tina’s work in fostering a creative community and galvanizing its perennial goodness. Faith in a seed, acknowledgment in action.

Like its other gatherings worldwide, the first CreativeMornings Summit was realized by people satisfying a lot of different roles: organizing, sponsoring, volunteering, pitching in, reaching out. All involved are acknowledging the present and future tense of a community vibrating with inventiveness, in their chosen craft, in their chosen city.


Source: Trish Ang (@feesh)

Color of cities

As part of the wave of anticipation for the Summit, Sally Rumble, CreativeMornings’ Chief Happiness Officer, tweeted a photograph of postcards, produced by MOO, that declare themselves like flags, signifying each city’s chapter that compose the international presence of CreativeMornings. A tapestry of creative cities. Urbanist Jane Jacobs believed, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Making is a city’s capability. It’s innate in everyone. It produces aesthetic and pragmatic things, contributing to a location’s landscape and its sense of place, physically, emotionally, intellectually. These human-made things visibly unfold in dimension and mass, shaping civic pride. The Summit celebrated the human achievement of the city—the creative city.

Color of encounters

The playwright Tennessee Williams defined time as “the longest distance between two places.” The same can be asserted about creativity, naturally open to gain mileage. The Summit celebrated the communal proximity between chapters and the people running them. Miles were bridged when colleagues at a distance mutually feel like kindred spirits in the flesh. Ben Thoma, host of the CreativeMornings chapter in Austin, Texas, advised, “Look around. You’re surrounded by beautiful CreativeMornings organizers.” I’d like to infer that the “beautiful” is the beauty of honesty, diligence, and participating in something wonderful.


Kait Ebinger, CreativeMornings Photographer. Source: Ross Drakes (@rossdrakes)

Color of effort

Venue, food, speakers—these choices define the cultural template that attendees desire to see populated and animated at their local CreativeMornings chapter. The underlying effort to keep this template consistently top-notch is invisible. It demands raw human power.(2) CreativeMornings—its global family of teams—is realized on this fuel, high in commitment and calories. Every chapter gathering is recognition of human effort—not just the triumphs, the suffering too. During the first day’s exercise of organizers sharing their impressions, informed by running events for their respective chapter, vulnerability was highlighted by Brandon Webber, host of the CreativeMornings chapter in Edmonton, Canada: “CreativeMornings is a platform to share our successes and struggles in our cities.”

Effort, stretched and honed over time, is a privilege to witness, in CreativeMornings’ case, month to month. The Summit celebrated the continuum of attempts made in the letter and symbol of creativity, situated in the present, poised to build the future.


Source: @MarkBusse

Color of the future

On the second full day, IDEO designer and partner Fred Dust led collaborative brainstorming exercises, with organizers and their team members, to visualize the around-the-corner generation of CreativeMornings. Small groups of participants were prompted to draw and describe ideas oriented toward evolving the CreativeMornings frontier with, as Marcel Proust once said, “new eyes.”(3)

The collaborative brainstorming channeled the shared wonder, held by chapter organizers and their teams, before the Summit commenced. It’s a colorful wonder for the friendly potential of people and the urban environment within which they engage. A colorful wonder for people sharing their trek of ideas and expressions of them. A colorful wonder for creativity and the perspective it can bring.

To put a CreativeMornings spin on the end-of-a-rainbow scenario, one would find a group of people—strangers in fact—welcoming small talk leading to spirited conversations. Believing in doing good work. Their ambition is to learn from each other, since they share the same direction of striving to put a positive “ding in the universe.”(4) Their hard-earned experience would be amplified for everyone to glean nuggets of self-examination, awareness, and observation, even signals to explore, collaborate, and make. It would be a group of people, getting together, and genuinely giving reciprocal bursts of courage(5), camaraderie, and imagination, without arrogance and gatekeeping.

At the Summit: new professional connections were made, new personal reflections were provoked, new possibilities were staged. Josh Goldblum, host of the Philadelphia chapter of CreativeMornings, proactively said, “Incredibly excited to attend the CreativeMornings Summit! Looking to bring some big ideas back to CreativeMornings/Philadelphia.” This selfless act of not confining informed principles and practices, instead, turning these ingredients into a care package of perspective for everyone’s advantage, demonstrates the profound benefits-in-progress driven by a quality that Tina distilled as the meaning of CreativeMornings: Generosity.


Source: Carly Ayres

Color of now

The Summit’s second full day ended with a dinner-dance party, coupled with a talent show at the Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation. Another generous opportunity to fortify rapport with other participants of the CreativeMornings community and ride the narrative energy of the past two days, which were dedicated to improving and sustaining a chapter’s vitality, and, at the same time, that of its host-city and the CreativeMornings community-at-large.


Source: CreativeMornings/Boston (@Boston_CM)

Another special event in the after-party festivities was marking the sixth birthday of CreativeMornings. Its first Summit concluded with sparkling reverie of how evolved Tina’s creation has become, of the many who regularly need it to stir and elevate the quality of their creative pursuits, and of what memories are waiting to be fulfilled.


CreativeMornings ship illustrated by Adam J. Kurtz. Source: Ben Hallman (@nowandben)

The following day quickly arrived amid the enriched excitement that preceded it. Apparent in the social-media-ripples were spikes of withdrawal, expected after an event that gathered people who, in the manner of naval captains and their crew, have been steering the CreativeMornings ship and devoted to strengthening its course.

Attendees steered their ways to their next destination. I assume mostly returned home, or landed in another city, or extended their wandering in Brooklyn. Whatever the next scene, hearts were electrified. Aspirations pumped. Brains massaged. Thrusters on full. One coinciding destination was the immediate future. To recall another to-do encouraged by Tina: “Never stop having fun.”

Fun is the destination for creativity to thrive.

Here’s to anticipation of going to the next local CreativeMornings gathering: to feel inspired, to acquire a sense of community, to be better, and to experience wholehearted fun in the process.


(1) “Ask for opportunities.”—One of the pieces of advice given by Debbie Millman, of radio show “Design Matters,” in her presentation at the First CreativeMornings Summit.

(2) Echoing the phrase “raw human power” from this CreativeMornings-related post of mine.

(3) As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

(4) As Steve Jobs said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.”

(5) “Confidence is overrated. Courage is more important than confidence.”—Another piece of advice given by Debbie Millman, Chair/Co-founder of the Masters Program in Branding at School of Visual Arts, in her presentation at the First CreativeMornings Summit.


• • •

The First CreativeMornings Summit was held on October 2–3, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York. Read this pre-Summit article and Summit Recap 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 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.

• • •

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

• • •

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.

• • •

Photographs courtesy of Joseph Thompson Woodworks.

• • •

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.


Italy

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.


Canal


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.


Mindmap

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.

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All images courtesy of Alice Stevenson.

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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



Apps

Cloverpop

Pixate

Books

“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

“Firebird”
by Ballerina Misty Copeland

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

Craft

Rings and Earrings by Hikaru Furuhashi

Education

Harmony Project

Sewing Classes by Amy Alan

Girl Develop It

Exhibits

“Into the Flatland” by Kathleen Robbins

Illustrations

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

Music

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

Photography

“Bread” by Joerg Metzner

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

Places

ADX, Portland, Oregon

Science House, New York City

Stories

“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.

• • •

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.