March 17, 2015

Navigating Climate: Katherine Darnstadt at 38th CreativeMornings in Chicago


Although Katherine Darnstadt, an architect who founded Latent Design in pursuit of projects in community development, titled her talk “Let’s not talk about the weather,” she did address “Climate,” CreativeMornings’ global theme for February 2015. Weather and climate are different. The former deals only with short-term effects. The latter is about patterns over long periods of time. Darnstadt and her team invest their work into initiatives that are integral to improving the economic, cultural, and social climates of an area for the long-term.

Climate of fear

In a recent addition to my Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) series with civic designer Megan Deal, she shared this common challenge:
“Some of my biggest challenges are generally rooted in fear. Fear of failing, fear of ridicule, fear of getting it wrong.”
Darnstadt acknowledged that fear is part of her process, both when it pertains to a project and her role as a business founder. Eleanor Roosevelt advised, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” To seek and complete essential projects. To start and run a business. These are everyday-scary endeavors. Doing the work one desires to do is iterating a severity of fearlessness to manage effectively. Roosevelt’s recommendation taken to the max.

The CreativeMornings community, from hosts and volunteers to speakers and audiences, all know fear in their own way. Everyone is vying for their preferred horizon of potential, their preferred work environment, their preferred state of the world. Fear provokes these ambitions—Darnstadt’s is fueled, even facilitated, by it.

Climate of help

Darnstadt’s talk echoed the anthem of Neal Sales-Griffin at the 34th CreativeMornings/Chicago:
“My happiness is not derived from money—it’s from helping people.”
As part of her emphasis on“Design Priorities,” Darnstadt pointed to critical—interconnected—areas of civilization, such as education, policy, health, and transit. Any of these has the stature of a vital organ. Each qualifies as a “wicked problem.” Darnstadt’s charge is to help dethrone the perception of massive challenges as formidable at any level. In the vein of Chicago-based Greater Good Studio, who spoke at the 21st CreativeMornings/Chicago, she is already accepting of the fact that, as Greater Good Studio put it:
“Unmet needs are easy to find in the social sector.”
Her firm Latent Design is not a clearinghouse to broadly address all social issues. She and her team curate according to their taste and threshold of what coheres advantageously with their agenda and capabilities. This cohesion between business and work helps Darnstadt steer her firm toward high-fidelity(1) execution, because these socially engaged efforts—a scrappy blending of architecture, urban planning, civic strategy, public relations, and disciplines in between—demand an allegiance to a worldview, which, through Latent Design’s lens, is the proliferation of “meaningful places.”

A refreshing aspect of Darnstadt and her team is that addressing the grand scale and scope of “wicked problems” with sweeping solutions is not mandatory. There are numerous teams of people persisting on grand problem-solving in a grand manner, but Darnstadt offers a nimble approach by delivering projects within communities where critical improvement is needed. This scenario is inherent with a diversity of problems to be solved. The kinds of projects that this scenario affords may be finite in their application but are grand in their impact on improving people’s quality of life, whether found in a neighborhood building or a city block. This is dictated by the small composition of her team. Yet our world is nestled with worlds, close (like a backyard) and distant (like a island nation), desperate for enhancement. Darnstadt posed self-examination to creative people of whatever practice:
“Who are we really designing for?”
A paralyzing question. It is also a polarizing cue to think and act critically. The world of a food desert demands it. The world of a natural-disaster prone location demands it. The world of a mixed-use housing project demands it. The world of new construction demands it. The world of an impoverished town demands it. The world of a crime-ridden neighborhood demands it. Need—locally, regionally, internationally—is a universe. Darnstadt’s practice of scaleable empowerment helps advance the popular stance of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Personal bubble popped once again.

Climate of change

Darnstadt’s presentation was thick with talk of “change.” A contemporary escalation of this concept is “transformation.” I’ve been historically weary of the tidings of change, pushed by the zealous locomotion of consulting and politicking displayed everywhere. My ears hardened a bit to Darnstadt’s repeated mention of “catalyst.”

But the community-related narratives that Latent Design fiercely participate in and help shape are part of a larger, daresay meta, narrative: evolution. The Darwinian view of change spans billions of years(2). Darnstadt’s work, such as facilitating a “one day build blitz” for Metropolitan Family Services to help convert “the worn-out school into a learning center” and the YMCA Meta Media lab, spans weeks, in the present tense. Latent Design’s attention and agility toward delivering a reality of change, whatever the scale and scope, coincides with a global ripple of positive efforts, no matter the scale and scope, to help make the world a better place—a meaningful one. Darnstadt stressed to not underestimate the power and influence of “collective memory,” paired with collective survival, where change is inevitable and when change remains an open invitation.

As a prelude to his talk at the 23rd CreativeMornings/Chicago, held during Chicago Ideas Week, Max Temkin, inventor of the game “Cards Against Humanity,” showed a clip of Steve Jobs’ insightful expression of change:
“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
Darnstadt and Latent Design move on to embrace the next initiative and wrestle with it, proudly in fear, failure, and impeccable freedom.

During my chat with Darnstadt afterwards, I shared that her talk had a vibrating effect of me, particularly due to what she addressed holistically in relation to architecture, education, and infrastructure. In her novel, “The Ice Queen,” Alice Hoffman wrote:
“…If the tiniest of actions reverberated throughout the universe in invisible and unexpected ways, changing the weather and the climate, than anything was possible.”
This fragment is part of a passage about a “thesis” about “magic.” Magic may be the contemporary synonym for “innovation.”


(1) Almost used “high impact” but experiencing fatigue with this phrase. Then there’s “creatives”—don’t get me started.

(2) Reminded of Chris Eichenseer’s talk about insignificance at 20th CreativeMornings/Chicago.


• • •



Soundtrack while writing:
“I Can’t See Clear” by Espers
“Lately” by Evenings
“Train Under Water” by Bright Eyes
“Nothing’s Changed” by Tricky
“Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick” by Ken Mode
“Pathways” by Milezo
“Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes
“LGBT” by Lowell
“The Waves” by Villagers
“Turbo Dizel (Turbo Diesel)” by Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra
“Some People Will Tell You” by Sarah Jaffe
“Golden Twin” by Wild Ones
“Heaven Mountains” by Move
“Tessellate” by alt-J
“So Begins Our Alabee” by Of Montreal
“La Voz Tan Tierna” by Acid Pauli

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree (Host), Vitamin TRazorfish, L&L Graphic Solutions, Green Sheep Water, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #38; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

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

• • •

My coverage: view more photos of 38th CreativeMornings in Chicago; read more write-ups about Chicago CreativeMornings.

• • •

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




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March 4, 2015

Patronage Package 14 of Duly Discovered



Apps

Coffitivity

Lit Hub

Neighborland

Blogs

Apple World Today

Food Travelist

Books

“Pete Peanut and the Trouble with Birthdays”
by Sean Hewens and Mimi O. Chun

“It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War”
by Lynsey Addario

“Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story”
by Michael Rosen

“Last Stop on Market Street”
by Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson

“Women in Tech”
by Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack

“Helvetica/Objectified/Urbanized: The Complete Interviews”
by Gary Hustwit

“Get What You Want: The Ultimate Guide
to Figure Out + Getting What You Want in Life”

by Courtney Sanders

“Go Set a Watchman”
by Harper Lee

Businesses

My Darlin’

Films

“Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers
and the Emergence of a People”

by Thomas Allen Harris

“Voyage of Time”
by Terrence Malick

Magazines

The Hand & Eye

Music

“Diamonds” by Laura Mvula

“Who Loves the Sun” by Zee Avi

“Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue” by Duke Ellington

“Love Songs You Love to Love” by Robin Hilton and Bob Boilen

“Be Still My Heart” by Postal Service

“Everlasting Light” by The Black Keys

“Hypericum” by Gem Club

“The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana

“Morning” by Beck

“Default” by Atoms for Peace

“Afraid of Nothing” by Sharon Van Etten

“Clear the Air” by Jacco Gardner

“Star” by Luluc

“Boléro Sonambulo” by Manuel Galbán and Ry Cooder

“Glow and Behold” by Yuck

“Marvel” by Thumpers

Photography

2015 World Press Photo of the Year by Mads Nissen

Podcasts

“Sales & Marketing Nation” by Christian Costa

Products

Greeting card “You auto-complete me” by Paperwheel

Stories

“In Beta Release, Apple Introduces New, Racially Diverse Emojis”
by Eyder Peralta

“Good Clothing Company Provides Independent Designers
with Low Minimum Production”

by Nicole Giordano

“The Books that Made Me Who I Am”
by Roxane Gay

“What’s It Like to Live without Electricity? Ask an Indian Villager”
by Julie McCarthy

“Spectacular video of solar flares will mesmerize you”
by Amanda Schupak

“Europe Experiments with Co-Housing”
by Lauren Frayer and Ari Shapiro

“Can a Computer Change the Essence of Who You Are?”
by Lulu Miller and Alex Spiegel

“Miniseries Explores the Ugly Fallout of a Disciplinary ‘Slap’”
by Elizabeth Blair

“Hundreds Remember N. C. Students Murdered
in Possible Hate Crime”

by Reema Khrais

“The Lincoln Memorial could have been a pyramid…”
by Phil Edwards

“The Ebola Diaries: Trying to Heal Patients You Can’t Touch”
by Nurith Aizenman

“The Tiny Desk Concert Contest Winner Is…”
by Bob Boilen

“Why you should be sharing more of your work”
by Belle Beth Cooper

“Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer”
by Rob Stein

“10 Traits that Trump ‘Likable’”
by Gina DeLapa

Bob Dylan
by Robert Love

“[Field Trip] Susan Connor NY”
by Alexandra Sklar

“Anchors Aweigh”
by Maureen Dowd

“Gotcha: Satellites Help Strip Seafood Pirates of Their Booty”
by Christopher Joyce

“How I Learned to Stop Comparing Myself to Others”
by Meredith Fineman

“FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:
This is How We Will Ensure Net Neutrality”

by Tom Wheeler

“How an algorithm is taught to be prejudiced”
by Ben Johnson

“How do you solve a problem like censoring YouTube?”
by Aparna Alluri

“Post-bankruptcy Detroit’s a bargain for corporations”
by Adam Allington

“Once a Vaccine Skeptic, this Mom Changed Her Mind”
by Jon Hamilton

“Redesigning Neonatal Healthcare”
by Simone Solondz

“Time”
by Alma Hoffmann

“22 Movies Every Designer Should Watch on Netflix”
by Mark Wilson

“Balancing Ambition and Happiness”
by Lisa Gerber

“When will Chicago get its next super-tall skyscraper?”
by Chris Bentley

“Mediocrity”
by Kandy Christensen

“A mile wide, an inch deep”
by Ev Williams

“Beloved Japanese Author Answers Questions…”
by Maggie Penman

“Fight Parkinson’s: Exercise May Be the Best Therapy”
by Richard Knox

“Former Basketball Player Scores as a Filmmaker”
by Priska Neely

Talks

“Make the SHIFT” by Marcia Conner

Typography

“Be the Change” by Jenna Bresnahan

• • •

See my series of tweeted food for thought.


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February 28, 2015

Making good things demand good craft


Joseph Thompson (above), a traditional woodworker, posted these photos and remarks, regarding a chair-restoration project for a client, to his Instagram community:


“Here’s a textbook example of how not to repair a chair. The slats don’t allow for seasonal movement, and screws jammed into tenons don’t quite cut it. I just can’t leave it like this in good conscience.”


“I’m beginning to think the person who first repaired this chair ran out of glue and used bubble gum to glue these slats in.”

Joseph’s comments are spot-on. He showed bad restoration—not just half-assed work, but a total hack job. When you closely examine something like a chair, it is easy to make this determination. With other products, not so much. Joseph’s findings reinforce the opacity of products. They also magnify the methods and parts used to make them.

Sadly, the electric can opener I’ve used, possibly made during the 1970s, recently broke. Though abrupt, it was a product that satisfied a great many openings of everything, from soups to tuna. It was a well-made product that accomplished consistently its purpose, like a chair built for sitting. I give credit to the methods and parts that made the electric can opener last for as long as it did.

Today’s products, particularly software, share moving parts, both apparent and hidden, similar to a wooden chair: the seasonal movements, the adhesive. Such factors are not only beholden to a chair, which is easy to grasp than software. Genuine craftspeople (opposed to genuine hacks) recognize them and embrace their character as welcomed constraints.

To help ensure the endurance of a product, honest craftspeople duly try to practice good methods and select good parts. They recognize, acknowledge, and know the distinct movements of the raw medium and the distinct adhesive—intellectually, emotionally, culturally—to bind it all.

The badly restored chair that Thompson is working to rectify provokes long-fundamental questions in making something:

Am I working in a manner that respects
the nature of the materials?


Am I working in a manner that serves
the quality of the product?


Am I working in a manner that benefits
the client?


Am I working in a manner that helps satisfy
the client’s customers?


In the badly fixed chair’s case, Thompson was assigned to restore—properly, this time—an 80-year old object, whose owner desires to keep using it, and likely pass it on to the next generation. At the start—generations ago, the chair was made with good methods and good parts. Thompson respects the object’s legacy by returning to its integrity and restoring it, through allowing seasonal movement of the wood, and through never practicing a blind eye to randomly choosing methods for inappropriate contexts, such as the (insulting) shortcut of applying screws to a tenon.

Thompson’s work on a wooden chair extends a challenge spanning, even haunting, human creativity: Make good things by being good, in methods, in parts, in craft—in conscience.

• • •

All photographs courtesy of Joseph Thompson Woodworks.

• • •

Related: Recklessness of Taking Shortcuts in Making ThingsHuman and Machine: Joseph Thompson Woodworks’ Marvel of a Jointer


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February 22, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Collaborative Drawings, Made for Video, by Sonia Yoon and Erika Dufour



What are you working on—on the side?

Our side project is a series of collaborative drawings, made for video. In short: timed sessions, we each work on a drawing simultaneously, following strict parameters. The drawings are swapped, and the process is repeated many times. Each drawing is an exploration in improvisation and an experimentation with different materials and processes that force us to release control over the outcome. Like having a workout buddy, these drawing sessions help us to look and think obliquely, to play and generate new ideas, and to get out of our comfort zones.

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

We meet weekly, alternating between each other’s studio spaces, and spend about five hours—drawing continuously. We are now exploring working remotely using unexpected materials and web tools as a drawing medium, like Google Documents. Every time we meet, we end up discovering an unexpected, exciting, new process that we build into the next drawing session. Despite our busy lives, we made these sessions a priority because it’s so enjoyable, it teaches us a tremendous amount in a short period of time, and we keep growing artistically. And most importantly, it has deepened our friendship, creating more creative synergy.

Why have a side project?

Transcript of a conversation

[Erika] Yeah, it’s about being more real and vulnerable, why we are putting ourselves out there, all our beliefs about being perfect, etc.

[Sonia] And trusting oneself to get through blocks to find solutions to new and weird problems.

[Erika] Totally! Yeah, embracing the unexpected is leading us to results we love and didn’t expect.

[Sonia] Truly generative and building trust with oneself, as well as with each other.

[Erika] Yes, its scary!

[Sonia] It’s really hard to be that open and sustain it.

[Erika] Judgment is all around us!



[Sonia] I love projects like this, similar to performance work I did awhile ago.

[Erika] Totally! It’s different than talking on the phone and Google Chat. It has more weight somehow.

[Sonia] It’s like you’re in my mind, and I’m in yours!

[Erika] Yes! And your mind surprises me, as well as my own mind, the less I try to control it. And the less I try to control you, the more free we both are to explore and play. We have less time to play in art these days—it’s time we have freedom from the finished outcome, and more about the process of playing and exploring.

[Sonia] I love that we can enjoy being uncomfortable and help push each other. It feels like I’m rewiring my brain when we work on these projects. Really valuable, provocative, and exhausting, and rewarding. Like condensing a year’s worth of creative insight into a few hours.

[Erika] Totally! Being uncomfortable is great, because we laugh about it and sweat, and laugh about sweating. I bet that most artists feel the sweat part, but aren’t allowed to laugh about it. You’re right about the condensing of a year’s work. It also feels like it’s the unfiltered true creative selves that we rarely let out, like being a kid in the best way possible.



[Sonia] I am also learning a lot about how my perfectionism gets in the way of my progress. I have a lot of letting go to do, every time I begin a project or consider an idea worth starting. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about resistance in the form of precision and idealizations. It’s not always practical, and doesn’t always serve an idea well to be so concerned with polishing it. I’ve applied this thinking to my everyday life, and feeling the discomfort in other contexts… trying it out and playing with it some more.

[Erika] Yes, it isn’t always practical as it forms walls between you and the world, I feel the same way, I try to be perfect as that’s what I think is what is expected from me, but then I learn that people find me hard to connect with when I am that way. Ditto. ツ It’s like being what is expected of you as opposed to being the real you. It’s really exhausting to try to be perfect, and there’s no rule book that has said exactly what that “perfect” is, so it’s like chasing an uncatchable unattainable goal.

[Sonia] I do like that I can promise myself to return to the ideas I love and explore them independently over longer terms. That’s an arena where I can develop something further, and to apply my skills of refinement. But I like bookmarking that impulse right now. It’s freeing at the same time I’m learning where my personal roadblocks aren’t helping me.

[Erika] Amen! Yes, there’s always a choice to polish something that resonates—to go deeper into that world. It’s like having the whipped cream on a chocolate shake! BONUS! LOL. ツ

[Sonia] BTW, the sunset tonight is gorgeous!

[Erika] Indeed!

• • •

Diptych and artwork courtesy of Sonia Yoon and Erika Dufour—check out her amazing photography.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


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


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

February 13, 2015

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: “So Close to the Sky” by Documentary Filmmakers Anica Wu and Emily Kinskey



What are you working on—on the side?

We are currently in Panama working on our feature-length documentary “So Close to the Sky”, a film about one of the oldest indigenous tribes, the Ngäbe-Buglé, and the rural campesinos of Western Panama. As the country rapidly develops, these native and traditional lifestyles are increasingly unsustainable, and as they fade, so do the history and traditions of Panamanian culture.

We work on commercial and documentary projects in Chicago, where we are based, but our passion has always been to create international documentary works that bring a voice to the unexplored and undocumented. The Ngäbes graced the international spotlight in 2012, when their protests against a mineral mine in their comarca (indigenous land reservation) caused the police to react with force. The protests were effective, and the mining contract was withdrawn, but these private people, who live in the remote jungle, remained largely misunderstood.

In May 2014, we journeyed across the country to discover what the Ngäbe were protecting with such pride. We hiked an ancient trail that connects the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans. The eight-day hike across the mountain range introduced us to indigenous and rural families who are passionate about their land and lifestyles, and unsure about how to continue into the future of their newly industrialized society. We are spending the first months of 2015 living side-by-side with the people we met in order to better understand their story—we want the entire film to be in their voice, with no outside opinion or narration; so it is imperative that we spend enough time in the field to be able to portray them with honesty, dignity, and respect.

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

We’re both self-employed; so managing our daily schedules has allowed us to schedule in time to work on our film. Creating a feature film is a substantial amount of work, and we knew early-on that in order to get it done, we would have to prioritize the time; so we schedule in weekly office hours together specifically to work on the film, and hold each other accountable to those hours. Oftentimes, this means early mornings and late hours on our other client work, but it’s worth it to get to do both.

Once we started prioritizing our documentary alongside our day jobs, we made great strides. We were able to put together a website and trailer, garner feedback, and attend conferences. It was through pursuing our work as documentary filmmakers, along with support from the Chicago community, that has opened the door to new opportunities in filmmaking. Our side project is paving the way to turning this type of work into a full-time career.

Why have a side project?

We had been dreaming of hiking across Panama to make this film for over a year—and with Panama changing so rapidly, we knew that if we didn’t make this film now, the situation might be nonexistent in five years. No one was going to fund us in the production of a documentary film with an empty IMBD profile—but we weren’t going to wait for someone to give us permission. This was something we knew we had to do. The people and their situation were far more important to us than our fear of our own abilities.

There’s a stigma in the film industry, especially in documentary filmmaking, that you have to be a freelancer your whole life, and that independent films have to be a side project because the only source of funding is from grants and handouts. We don’t believe that. Our side project isn’t just a side project—it’s who we want to be, it’s our investment into the legacy of our filmmaking career. Of course that’s an easy thing to say, “jump first and figure it out later” is a commonly cited cliché. But to us, it’s more like—jump first and then work as long and hard as it takes to make it happen. We’re happy to say that it is working—the work we’ve put into “So Close to the Sky” has led to client work, and that work is financing the production of our film. What started out as a crazy dream, and a side project, is beginning to evolve into a dream job.

• • •

Diptych and sample artwork courtesy of Anica Wu and Emily Kinskey.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

• • •

Directly related: Independent Filmmaker and Chief Executive Artist Ondi TimonerFaythe Levine and Sam Macon celebrate American tradition of handmade signs in film “Sign Painters”


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


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

February 12, 2015

Compelled to draw and be in awe of nature: Catharine Graff, Designer and Illustrator


Why holding an umbrella? Photograph by Thalion Graff

I was quickly captivated by the watercolor illustrations of wildlife by Catharine Graff, an artist and creative director. As she declares, she is “is passionate about all things beautiful.” Here, she gives input about her creative process, being close to nature, and working remotely.

Your illustrations of wildlife quickly grabbed my attention. 
When did you discover drawing and liking it?
I don’t ever remember not drawing. In college, I took about three years of life drawing, and I absolutely loved it. It was only about a year ago that I really got into drawing and painting wildlife—there is so much beauty there.

How do you practice drawing in order to feel competent 
and confident at realizing this skill?
Drawing has always been something I was compelled to do—there was something inside me that made me want to create. Any skill that I have comes from the desire to keep on doing it, and discovering new ways and ideas. I don’t know how confident I’d say I am, everything I make is like a little journey—I always learn something new along the way.

Watercolor is a challenging medium. What drew you 
to working in watercolor?
It’s hypnotic. For me, it is a good way to clear the mind. I started because I wanted to release emotion, and the flow of watercolour (below) was an ideal medium for that. It’s now become a meditation for me whenever I sit down to paint.


Photograph by Catharine Graff

Is there a watercolor illustration that you adore a lot? Why?
Whichever one I am working on at the moment. To me, it’s not about the finished piece, but being in the creation-process.


Reference for “Holding Breath.” Photograph by Catharine Graff


Watercolor illustration “Holding Breath.” Photograph by Catharine Graff

Can you give a tour of how this watercolor illustration, 
that you adore a lot, was realized?
I can get a little critical of my own work once it’s finished, but I did enjoy this one, I made this (above) for a friend who runs an independent magazine called Pocketful. The theme was “One does not love breathing,” and my submission was “Holding Breath.” The idea behind it was that when searching for nourishment underwater, if they find it that way, they must hold their breath. I walked to the lake with camera in hand to take reference photos, came home, sketched it, and painted it. There’s a lot of satisfaction from gathering everything, it was just lucky the geese were behaving how I had hoped.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going as an illustrator?
It helps to keep me sane. Painting is like a drug, it’s very addictive, but with less side effects. Other than maybe peace and happiness.

Though, sometimes I will look at something I’ve completed and think: wow, this is terrible, at least I enjoyed making it. But, I’ll then show it to my spouse, and he’ll give me encouragement and constructive criticism—it pushes me to keep showing and selling my work.

My Mom always encouraged me to be an artist—she was my biggest fan, even when the medium was crayons.

Your illustrative depictions of wildlife suggest a 
big appreciation of the outdoors. How do you have nature 
be a regularly nurturing influence on your creativity 
and in your work?
Well, it’s Winter time where I am, and I haven’t been out as much as I like. But, I do love a good hike or sit out at the water and breath it all in. In warmer months, I can be found wandering with my camera, collecting my references, like a squirrel collecting nuts. I’m very lucky that when I walk out my door I may see a deer or a fox or a heron. I have a great respect for nature and animals. I am in awe of it all and want to protect it.


Art supplies. Photograph by Catharine Graff

What tools and materials do you use to work on your ideas 
and make them grow on a day-to-day basis?
I have been learning more about photography to build up my reference library. And, as with the wanting to protect animals, I try to use only art supplies which do not have any animal derivatives in their ingredients. I keep a blog about this topic. I add to it when I find new information.

Considering that you work remotely, what tools 
and practices help you be an effective remote worker?
Being able to communicate through various channels is a big one. I try to keep regular business hours, and I have four fuzzy interns (cats and a dog) who are really good at shredding any unwanted paperwork. I provide a wide range of services, from illustration to graphic design to social media, so I have to make sure that I’m managing my time well.

How do you get the word out about what you do? 
How do you attract people to your work?
Word-of-mouth, as well as online. All of my social media and blogs can be accessed at my main website.


Watercolor illustration “Plumage.” Photograph by Catharine Graff

How do you stay creative?
To me, being creative is therapeutic, so, I need to create for an emotional release. It’s all very selfish. I also enjoy observing and reading about what’s going on—it’s a great way to get inspired.


Framed art. Photograph by Catharine Graff

What characteristics help make your workspace work for you?
I joke that my living room is well-named, because I live in it. It’s really become a studio. I can work anywhere, oftentimes I end up sitting on the floor while I’m painting. I will also have music going, almost always.

If a person approached you and said, “I want to illustrate,” 
what’s your response?
Do it because you love it, and you can’t not do it. Just make something—anything—and continue to do it. Tastes are subjective, someone will always love it, and someone will always hate it, but be open to criticism, if it’s constructive. Enjoy what you do.

How does the city of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, contribute 
to your work? And what makes it special for 
startups/business/creativity-at-large?
I left my heart in Nova Scotia. Where I live now isn’t much of a factor in what I do, I have clients all over the place since I work remotely. This is fine by me, since I’m by the water, wandering around—just the way I like it.

• • •

All images courtesy of Catharine Graff.

• • •

Directly related: Freelance Illustrator Lucy Engelmann, Inspired by Nature and Drawing

• • •

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


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February 11, 2015

Fashion design for chic, modern women: Maria Pinto of M2057


Part of Maria Pinto’s M2057 collection: Reefer Coat (Concrete Gray) paired with Racer Top (Acid Yellow) and Cigarette Pants (Concrete Gray)

Stemming from fashion designer Maria Pinto’s appearance at the 37th CreativeMornings/Chicago gathering held in January 2015 (read my write-up), here she extends her concise takes on pursuing and constructing her vision of “chic, modern fashion for chic, modern women.”

On being a fashion designer:

How did you arrive at being a fashion designer?
I have been creating art and designing clothes since I was thirteen. So I think it is just in my DNA!

What were essential activities/steps taken to establish 
your craft as a fashion designer?
I am not sure there is a formula to starting a creative business. My first company was born in 1991. I like to refer to it as a “Tipping Point” as Malcolm Gladwell would put it. I launched with scarves and wraps, right at the moment when the Pashmina craze hit. Thus, this trend created a new interest/desire for the kind of designs I was creating.

In making a Collection, what do you do, 
and how much time does it take to realize it?
Typically, I start a collection with researching an inspiration that will drive the mood of the season. From the starting point of inspiration to fabric sourcing to development to production to finally delivery, the process consumes six months.


Dress Forms in classroom at Fashion Institute of Technology. Source: Lill at Flickr

In your fashion-design toolkit, what primary tools do you use?
The Dress Form is the most important tool!

In your talk at the 37th gathering of CreativeMornings/Chicago, 
you “flipped the script” on snobbery—that it’s an ingredient 
to achieve success. Can you say more?
Perhaps “snob” is not the best word—what I mean is the unwillingness to compromise, to develop your eye, and to believe in what you see as ugly or beautiful.

Considering that CreativeMornings’ global theme for 
January 2015 was “Ugly”, fashion designer Coco Chanel said, 
“Nothing is ugly as long as it is alive.” What do you strive 
for in your clothes that speaks to “alive”?
“Alive” is a perfect word! What I see, as alive, in a design is this inherent, timeless beauty. It breaths!


Maria Pinto (center with eyewear) sitting with models wearing M2057 designs at M2057’s Pop Up Shop held at Haute Living

Congratulations on a successful Kickstarter campaign 
to launch your new collection M2057! Why did you 
go with KickstarterAnd what were those critical things 
you did to reach your funding goal?
I chose Kickstarter, because out of all the project-funding platforms, it is the most branded. That said, at the time I did the campaign, September 2013, my audience had heard of Kickstarter, but had no idea what it really was. So we had to do event/trunk shows to walk them through exactly what they were signing up for.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?
From a creative point of view, evolving and challenging yourself to constantly reach new levels. From a financial point of view, scaling and profits.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going as a fashion designer? 
I live for designing beautiful things.

On creativity, design, working:

At your CreativeMornings/Chicago talk, you also highlighted 
the seeking of art and experiencing it. Awesome that you 
returned to painting. “Go and see some art” is consistent 
advice. How do you go about making art a regular influence?
I keep countless journals, tear sheets, inspiration boards. I am terrible when it comes to books; I have a collection of over 600 books, and that does not include novels, etc. Books on culture, art, fashion history, photography, dinosaurs, shells, fish, botany…


Painting “Wandering Roots” by Maria Pinto

How does your work environment nurture 
and support your ability to create?
I have a very isolated creative space. For me, the door needs to be closed—to shut off all of the pragmatic business matters that are a significant part of the business process, but can intrude on creative time.

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?
I don’t have any, LOL! I try to listen, I try to learn, I try to avoid them!

What is your definition of bad design?
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. That said, bad design often stems from the lack of editing and understanding why any part is essential or extraneous.

If a person approached you with: “I want to be 
fashion designer. How do I become one?”, what’s your response?
Go to the best school, push yourself as hard as possible—the competition is fierce.

Have to ask: If you watched “The Devil Wears Prada”
what parts of it ring true for you, being a participant 
in the fashion world?
The drama, the ugliness. All of which I try to avoid.

How does the city of Chicago, Illinois, contribute to your work?
Chicago has a nurturing quality.

• • •

Majority of images courtesy of Autumn Rentsch of M2057.

• • •

Directly related: Don’t be shy at making a body of work: Fashion Designer Maria Pinto at 37th CreativeMornings in ChicagoJessica Caldwell, of Machine, on fashion design for modern badass women

• • •

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


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