September 11, 2018

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Digital Transformation Consultant Sally Lait Turns Her Admiration of Japanese Details into Animated Art



What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is natsukashii.art, which is a site that houses my ongoing quest to capture some (quite niche!) beautiful Japanese details that I’ve encountered over the years—specifically train station stamps and manhole covers—in digital form.

Both of these items have a bit of a cult following, with many people going out of their way to collect photos. Before knowing this, on an early trip to Japan, I ended up being struck by the wonderful design and the care that had been taken to enhance the manholes—something that in the UK we don’t do at all. In addition, I loved the shameless nerdery of being able to collect stamps at train stations, and how each one was completely individual—again, it was a beautiful creation in an unusual setting. This stayed with me, and I started to collect more, weaving them into future trips. The photos and stamps then became synonymous with happy memories from time in a country that I love.

“Natsukashii” (懐かしい) is one of those great words that doesn’t translate well into English. You’ll find it commonly explained as related to the concept of nostalgia, but it’s a warm yearning, prompted by something that you’ve seen, heard or felt. I started the site because I had these photos and stamps, and they would always give me this good feeling when I looked through. I wanted a reason to do something with them, and to spend some time in the memories. As I work in digital, I’m also always looking for an excuse to learn new things and improve my skills, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to teach myself about creating vector-based illustration and to animate them. At present I’m only using CSS to do so, but for some of the more complex pieces I’m thinking about exploring some of the JavaScript libraries that are available.

My last trip to Japan was in July and I managed to collect an enormous amount of new source material, so much that I’m not sure which ones I want to focus on next!

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

With great difficulty! Even the more simple designs take a very long time to vectorise (especially with my lack of experience), and then it takes me ages to get the animation to a point I’m happy with. The first couple were relatively simple, but I’m currently working on one that feels like it’s taking forever! In between my work and other hobbies, I don’t have a huge amount of time, so progress has been slow, but that’s OK because this is for me rather than anyone else.

My work requires a very different kind of head space, and so it’s sometimes difficult to flip into a mode where I’m feeling more creative, and less technical and analytical. However, I enjoy that the mindset for this is very different to other things that I do, and I tend to find myself gravitating towards it whenever I need something relaxing and satisfyingly repetitive.

Why have a side project?

Part of the motivation with this project is to be able to get better at playing with new things (both around design and technology), and creating with absolutely no pressure from external factors. I’m able to explore areas that are interesting to me at any point in time, and take it in a totally different direction if I wanted to. Even if things remain unfinished, I try not to give myself a hard time about that, because I know that I’ve enjoyed whatever time I have spent working on it. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with a subject matter that I love, and which always makes me feel happy whilst doing it.

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Diptych courtesy of Sally Lait.


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


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