June 17, 2019

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Freelance Graphic Designer Jess Lewis Took the “36 Days of Type” Challenge



What are you working on—on the side?

36 Days of Type, a personal project to animate all 36 letters and numbers of the alphabet with cities across the world. 36 Days of Type is a project organised by designers from Barcelona that invites designers, illustrators and graphic artists to express their particular interpretation of the letters and numbers of the alphabet. Participants are challenged to design a letter or number for each day, showing the ability to represent the same symbols simultaneously and from thousands of different perspectives. I decided to take part to try and force myself to experiment more with animation and push myself outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t end up finishing the whole series, due to work commitments, but managed to complete all the letters.

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

I originally started designing one animation per day. I quickly realised that if I wanted to finish the series, I’d need to get more organised, and so, started doing a couple per day so I could schedule them. Unfortunately, other work began to build up and I eventually ran out of time.

Why have a side project?

Being a creative freelancer, I always feel that I should focus on client work over personal projects, so it was nice to spend time doing something different and having some time for myself. I don’t often get a chance to spend a big chunk of time enhancing my skills and it was really beneficial setting myself a personal daily design challenge.

• • •

Portrait and animation courtesy of Jess Lewis.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

June 6, 2019

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Designer Sarah Jackson’s Animated GIFs of Crime, Philosophy of Design and More



What are you working on—on the side?

Everything I do feels like a side project! What makes them “side projects” might vary, depending on what I consider to be that day’s “main project.” For example, I was working on my Master of Design full-time for the past two years which made my design work the side-project, perhaps?

Former side-projects include (but are not limited to): competitive salsa dancing, building a series of children’s books about jam, and creating/hosting monthly Philosophic Salons on a variety of topics. But right now, I guess I have three side projects on the go:

The ABCs of Crime
A series of GIFs that I’m illustrating and animating to go through each letter of the alphabet as applied to crime: A is for Arson, B is for Burglary, C is for Corruption, etc. You can find them on my Instagram (currently working on K!).



Philosophy of Design
This ties into my design-thesis work, but I’m very interested in the philosophy of design—why we do what we do and how we understand it. Furthermore, I’m interested if we can change what we like: how do you change designer’s tastes, aesthetics, what we define as “good” design? This side project currently doesn’t amount to much besides thinking about it, but I wholeheartedly believe it counts!

Sleeping
Can sleeping be a side project? I have a serious goal to get at least nine hours of sleep every night and not ever wake up before 10am. Ongoing endeavour.

Upcoming
I’m planning on starting a project about whales, because I think they are beautiful and majestic, and I’m worried about our oceans.

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

With great enthusiasm! LOL. I am a master procrastinator, and these are the projects that I fill my time with when I need a break from my client-design work.

Why have a side project?

I’ve never had a side project for the sake of having a side project. I’ve spent my life pursuing things that stimulate my creative heart, things that bring me delight. Sometimes that’s design, sometimes it’s training as a competitive salsa dancer, sometimes it’s building GIFs about crime.

• • •

Portrait and animation courtesy of Sarah Jackson.


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


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

May 29, 2019

Illustrator Cornelia Li Is Greatly Intrigued by Ideas and Emotions Through her Art for Books and Editorial Projects


I first discovered Cornelia Li’s work in National Public Radio Correspondent Allison Aubrey’s report “From Gloom to Gratitude: 8 Skills to Cultivate Joy”—for which Cornelia made a beautiful illustration (where the wonderfully drawn koi caught my eye). This led me to discovering her artwork for children’s books, like “Voyage Through Space.” In addition to the cosmic perspective, here she shares her perspective on becoming an illustrator, a creative discipline she is passionate about—and it shows in her art.

How did you arrive at the desire, ultimately the decision,
to become an artist who makes her art her life’s work?


My interest in being a visual artist stems very early in my childhood. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always used drawings to communicate ideas and emotions (such as cartoons of my dad’s teeth falling out or stinking when he didn’t shower for one evening). I am fortunate enough to have parents who supported me through this decision and have always encouraged my interest in art.

It wasn’t until university that I learned the concept of “illustration.” Immediately, I found the use of visual language as a means of problem-solving very intriguing. I like the idea of having a real-world application for my art, while maintaining my own artistic vision and voice, and being an illustrator just fell naturally in place for me.

Your work spans illustrations, murals and books. Which area of practice was engaged first? How did you get interested in each medium? How do you maintain practicing each discipline?

I started with and still predominantly work in editorial, as it is relatively accepting to new talents and was easier to break into for a new graduate. I enjoy coming up with visually interesting and meaningful representation for the variety of topics and the thrill of the fast turnaround time. The process of working on an editorial usually starts with reading the articles, which actually educate me on many topics I would not have actively learn.

Book illustration is something that I only got a chance to work on more recently. The narrative approach that many of the book projects require actually contrast nicely with the more metaphorical approach taken with editorial illustrations. It gives me the mental breaks I need!



What methods/activities did you activate to help you actually start working and living your passion?

Going to art school, being introduced to the art community, and constantly feeling inspired by the talents surrounding me definitely keep me motivated in both creating art—and learning to be better at what I do. Getting business advice from profs and design forums are also vital to being a sustainable illustrator, as you are not simply an artist but also the runner of this one-person business.

On a more day-to-day basis, my way of staying motivated is really just sitting down and starting to move the pencil (or Stylus), and my mind will settle into working mode.

What experiences do you carry with you that empower your work moving forward?

As an illustrator, I don’t think there are any aspect of life experiences that’s completely unrelated to my work. My work is the product of my mind—and my mind is an accumulation of different life experiences. In particular, I draw inspirations from literature, observations of people and nature, including past and contemporary masters. I also try to be on top of news relevant to my industry.

Being an indie creator, what does independence and growth mean to you?

Being a freelance artist isn’t just a job, it’s also a lifestyle. Going back to the point that every life experience contributes to my work, my mind is always engaged in searching for visual inspirations and possible solutions. On the management side, I try to keep a routine, even though I work from home; it’s easy to get wrapped up in work and forget to take breaks. I usually start the day at around 8:30–9 in the morning, dealing with the most challenging and thinking-involved tasks, then going down the to-do list. I try to end my day at around 6, go out for a walk, and make time to do other things such as reading and cleaning my place. I also have a cockatoo-studio mate named Charlie who perches himself on my desk top monitor and occasionally destroys a thing or two.



When you engage an editorial illustration project, can you walk through your process? For example, how did you realize “Quebec Science: Ordering Genes”?

Over the years, I manage to develop a pretty consistent process with editorial work. I usually start with reading the article, take notes on key concepts and points, then begin thumbnail on paper or on the computer. While the art director requires 3 concepts, I often explore many more, of different visual symbols and metaphors that can most effectively convey the article. Once the concept is approved, I move on to the final illustration. For editorial, I do the final illustration (below) almost exclusively in digital media.



Congratulations on launching the book “Voyage Through Space”! How did you connect with the writer-collaborator for this project? And how do you maintain, as Astrophysicist Neil Tyson puts it, a “cosmic perspective”?

Thank you! I was really fortunate; it was Quarto Publishing who approached me first after discovering an editorial piece I did (below) for the “Financial Post” depicting an astronaut harvesting stars. It has always been my dream to illustrate for books and I was so thrilled to get the email. After going back and forth with the author/editor, the wonderful Katy Flint, and the art director Nicola Price (who created amazing layouts!), we decided the book will be visual heavy with full spreads, starring a young astronaut and her canine companion who will accompany young readers during their exploration through the solar system. Together, they explore the sun, the eight planets, in addition to the astroid belt and Kuiper belt, finally arriving at a glow in the dark poster of the solar system.



The team at Quarto was attracted to the texture and colour of my work, and wanted to bring those qualities to the depiction of the planets and other celestial bodies. While it is important to maintain factual accuracy, I also took the creative freedom to accentuate the most visually stunning elements of the planets, with the goal to create images that readers can immerse themselves in. I was pretty happy with the final result!







Do you have usually a sketchbook on your person? What’s your frequency in making time to sketch? Is this one of the major ways you practice drawing and sharpening this skill?

I actually don’t work in sketchbooks but loose sheets of scrap paper. I find that while working in sketchbooks, I am always afraid to ruin them, which actually inhibits the flow of my creativity. Because my sketching process is an exploration of ideas, my sketches are actually quite ugly and illegible compared to artists who have beautifully rendered sketchbooks! That said, I do make chicken-scratch sketches quite often, as it is a way to keep my mind active. My current goal is to explore the analogue medium more, so perhaps I will return to a proper sketchbook soon.

What is your vision of satisfaction and growth, as it relates to your livelihood?

I like to further expand on the types of project I do. I am currently working on personal projects in hopes of expanding into the publishing realm further, to work on book covers and middle-grade novels. I am also hoping to collaborate with design firms to work on campaigns. Further down the road, I am also hoping to collaborate with a designer brand—and design scarves for them!

How are creativity and art coping mechanisms in these politically-charged, ever-turbulent times?

I don’t think art is a coping mechanism so much as a mode of discourse. The visual language allows an artist to express their opinions or represent certain standpoints in the discussion of these issues, and through these discussions, hopefully creates resonance in the audience.

What is the one tool that helps make your work more accomplished and pleasant, as a result, making your life good?

Photoshop. It’s a powerful program—and with Kyle Webster’s Brushes, continuously good at mimicking the analogue medium with the benefits of time efficiency and control+Z. That said, I do want to get back into the analogue medium more. As convenient as the computer is, it cannot replace the touch of the pencil on paper.

How do you get the word out about what you do? How do you attract people to your work and hire you?

Like many artists, I started out with sending out postcards and cold emails to art directors. With internet and social media, it’s a lot simpler to find contact information. Entering competitions and trying to meet art directors in person also really helps. These days, not all my work comes from direct promotion; my published work is sometimes discovered by art directors and leads to new assignments. While it is really important to actively and consistently promote your work, I think having a strong body of work is what ultimately leads to jobs.

Social media is also extremely important nowadays and an excellent way to form a long-distance community. Admittedly, I am still improving my usage of social media.

In running your creative business and managing all of those moving parts to live and keep yourself busy, how do you take care of yourself?

This is only something I’ve recently gotten better at! These last two years, I’ve been trying to freelance as much as I can while doing a full-time job. Earlier this year, I got very very sick from overworking. After that, I decided to quit my full-time job and give full-time freelance a shot. As I mentioned earlier, I have a more established work schedule now; I force myself to disconnect from work in the evening for reading and other activities. I’m also living with my parents at the moment, so I have the privilege of not having to cook!

What’s your inspiration diet like? Who and what do you recommend to help stimulate creativity, even help overcome creativity-block?

I think we are fortunate to live in an age where resources and information are so readily accessible. I follow a variety of designers, artists and publishers on various social platform whose amazing work I find extremely inspiring. I also look for inspirations in old masters from the golden age of illustration.



If an aspiring illustrator approached you and said, “I love to draw and want to become a working artist,” what’s your response? What are some initial must-do steps to help kickstart such a career as productively as possible?

It’s a wonderful feeling finding your passion in life! The most important thing is finding your own artistic voice, and finding the audience for your work. Think about if you want to work for a studio or be a freelancer. The freelance lifestyle can be lonely and challenging, and not immediately rewarding. Develop a consistent and sustainable work habit. Engage in the community and support fellow artists. It’s also very important to take care of your health!

How does the city of Toronto, Ontario, contribute to your work? What makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large? Have you attended the CreativeMornings chapter?

I actually live in the suburbs outside of Toronto and don’t go to the city very often. That said, Toronto is a vibrant city for creative workers with an active network of designers and artists. There are many art communities and galleries, like those at 401 Richmond Street, which gives young artists the room to grow and explore.

Have you seen “Crazy Rich Asians”?

No. I read the plot summery on Wikipedia instead.

• • •

All images courtesy of Cornelia Li.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 105 (so far) Interviews
with people who love making things.


🖐🏾 Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is on Patreon!
Lots of hours and pride are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find inspiration from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a fun souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

February 2, 2019

Accountability by Design: Christine Gaspar, Community-Engaged Designer and Executive Director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy


Photography by Steph Goralnick

One of the most provocative and memorable talks at the 11th (and last) annual gathering of the Cusp Conference in 2018 was by Christine Gaspar, the Executive Director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy—“a nonprofit organization that uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement particularly among underrepresented communities.” Here, she gives her opinions on her organization’s community-driven work that rigorously fuses research, design and activism, including her insightfully grounded lens on the overly advertised quality of “empathy” in the design community.

Since 2011, you’ve been a fan of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)—how did you discover this organization and their work?

I first came across CUP at an exhibit at the Storefront for Art & Architecture in 2001. It was about building codes. I was in grad school for architecture and urban planning at the time, and saw a blurb about it in a magazine (maybe “Metropolis”?) So the next time I was in New York, I checked it out and fell in love with the combination of seriousness of the content (“Building Codes Save Lives”) and the playfulness of the presentation. I started following CUP’s work after that.

Fascinated by the fact that the Center for Urban Pedagogy states design as is: design. Not people-centered design, social design, civic design, among a great many other labels. Would you qualify the kind of design work you do? If so, how?

I love this question! I think we do modify it in various ways in different contexts, and I think the most common way I personally describe it is probably as “community-engaged design.” But I mostly think the labels are pretty unsatisfying and don’t quite get at the values we care about. At its heart, I believe that good design IS design that brings people into the framing and understanding of problems, and into the shaping of solutions. So in that way, design is adequate.


Center for Urban Pedagogy project “Figuring Out Health Insurance”—“illustrates how health insurance works, basic rights under the Affordable Care Act, and how to get insurance—including reduced price programs.”

Your talk at Cusp Conference 2018, Chicago, reinforced the importance of making the complex clear. Who, past/present, do you view as motivational examples of this human act? 

Personally, I’ve always had a fondness for children’s books and feel like the best ones can really convey so much with an economy of words and images. (One favorite that comes to mind is “Popville” by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud which has no words.)

I think an obvious precedent for CUP is the “Schoolhouse Rock!” series from the late 70s which used songs and animation to make opaque topics, like how legislation works, both understandable and memorable and maybe even a little fun.

The work of Otto Neurath (1882–1945) is an important touchstone as well. His ideas really resonate with CUP’s model, too, in that he saw his role as a “transformer” that would bridge between, on the one hand, the social sciences and the data they generated and, on the other, the public and its understanding of how that information affects them. He really believed in the power of images to convey meaning regardless of one’s literacy or level of education. He said, “Whenever the fate of individuals and communities is at stake, we need some comprehensive knowledge to help us make our own decisions. It is for this that I think visual aids are so important, especially when we wish to educate ourselves and others in citizenship.” I think I pulled this from “Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis” (2008) by Nader Vossoughian, published by the Netherlands Architecture Institute. That feels very aligned with what we do and why.





The composition of CUP teams—artists, designers, educators, activists, researchers—is awesome. What are some don’ts in managing multidisciplinary collaboration?

Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Don’t confuse interdisciplinarity with “we all do all the things.” There is this trap that some collaborations fall into. I also think it’s how some people unfairly knock participatory design processes, claiming that having untrained people do the design work weakens it. The trick of good interdisciplinary collaborations is to have clear roles and expectations, and to create a strong framework within which each person can do the thing they’re really good at, and contribute to moving the project towards its goals. You get more than the sum of the parts if you do it that way. And it’s important to question what we count as “expertise.” Often, people who are the target audience and can give the most important information about existing problems or how something should work are not seen as having equivalent expertise to trained designers—and that’s just not the case. Lived experience is real expertise, and no designer however well-trained can adequately solve a problem without the contributions of that expertise.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the mundane: scheduling things, following through, setting clear goals and deadlines, defining roles clearly. These are the things that you never read or hear about but they’re the things that make projects successful. They allow for the creation of trust and they make it so everyone can focus on their work.

Don’t assume everyone has the same reference points or understands the same jargon. Diversity of experience is actually a great thing. But if you don’t address it by finding a way to create a shared language and process, it can derail a project.

Based on your masters work, how does architecture and city planning feed/influence your work?

I’m not sure how to disentangle that from how my brain works! I also have a background in policy and I spent a lot of my undergrad education thinking about how policy gets written, why and then how it plays out on the ground. The combination of that with architecture and urban planning helps me think about the issues we work on at different scales, and helps me link the larger conceptual understanding of them with the more practical understanding of how things work in the day to day. My architecture education helped me develop ways to be creatively productive and not so precious about my work as I’m creating, and gave me a lot of practice at visual communication. My urban planning education helped me understand interdisciplinary collaboration and gave me lots of technical skills. But I think it’s my liberal arts education that helped me understand how to break down complex things and communicate clearly with words. My undergraduate program in Environmental Studies at Brown was also really grounded in the communities of Providence—and we did a lot of participatory action research and work with communities that to this day informs my understanding of how to work with communities you are not a part of in ways that are respectful.

I also draw a lot on my own experiences as the child of immigrants. So many of the projects I’ve worked on address things I saw happen firsthand to my family, especially to my mother, who was a domestic worker. I was often given complex material and asked to help her understand what it meant because I could read English better than her, even though I was just a little kid. That plays out in families every day and is the kind of context we really think about in our work.

I don’t mean to be overly critical of architecture, but in some ways I think architectural education’s biggest impact on my work is in giving me examples of the ways I don’t ever want to work. For a supposedly forward-thinking field, architecture is so regressive in its practices. It’s still so misogynistic, it’s still so white and privileged. I always struggled to find my place in it, and I was often made to feel explicitly excluded from it. But at some point, I realized that I just totally reject the idea of the heroic exceptionalism that contemporary architecture education is predicated on. I still have very strong ties to architecture, but most of them come in the form of working with other individuals who have gone on to shape careers in some form of socially-driven work and who have similarly shaped their practices as rejections of that model of practice. (I got to work with some of them to create this.) I do think architecture is an amazing field, and I really appreciate how it gave me tools to think about looking at the world and creating new things. I’m excited to see what it can do when it makes room for more voices.




Center for Urban Pedagogy project “What Is Zoning”—“the toolkit includes a set of activities that break down density, bulk, land use, and how proposed rezonings could affect neighborhoods.”

Stemming again from your Cusp 2018 talk, your push to replace empathy with accountability was positively provocative. Can you restate and expand on this dynamic? How can people, particularly designers, work in a truly accountable manner?

My beef with “empathy” is that I think it’s become distorted and used as cover for some pretty bad practices. In my talk at CUSP, I referenced an article I had just read in which a designer was arguing that a great way to build more empathy into one’s practice was to do this activity where you imagine what someone else is feeling in their day-to-day life. He gave the example of a barista. I know this happens to be an extreme version of this idea, but he was basically doing the exact opposite of what a practice of true empathy would ask of you. He is trying, within the limitations of his own experience and privileges, to imagine what someone else might be experiencing without having any interaction with that person whatsoever. There is a profound arrogance in believing that you understand another person’s plight, even if you do get the chance to speak with them about it, let alone if you are just imagining in your own head. I likened this to the moment in which many thoughtful, progressive men over the last year or so were shocked to hear about all the pervasive ways in which the women in their lives accommodate, work around, or otherwise have to live with sexism and sexual harassment in their day to day lives. They couldn’t imagine this because it was so outside the realm of their own experience. They had to be told and shown over and over again that this was a real thing. If we rely on our own experiences and perceptions, as this designer above suggested, we perpetuate our own biases but also our own blindspots.

I’m arguing for a recognition that empathy means something specific and that we don’t ever truly have “empathy” for another person’s plight. We should still work to understand it, though, and we can only do that by talking to or otherwise directly engaging with those people and learning about their experiences. We have to have the humility to understand the limits of our own knowledge and to recognize the strength and power of that person’s expertise about their own experience—and our need for that expertise to inform our work.

That means we don’t get to imagine their experience in our own bubble and then imagine how we might design to solve some problem we perceive them as having. It means engaging them in the design process, paying them for their time because it has value to the work we are doing, and understanding that you’re not going to “fix” it for them or “save” them, but that the best you can do is stand beside them and join your resources to theirs and work together to make change.

I think that accountability can be built into the work. We try to do that in a bunch of different ways at CUP, and I think we could be (and are working towards) doing more. We have stakeholders from the communities we serve be (paid) jury members to help us select projects; we have criteria we use to select projects and we make that public so people know how we are selecting and can hold us accountable if we fail to meet those goals; we have a methodology that always brings members of impacted communities into the design process and we pay them for their participation; we have a deeply collaborative process that requires not just CUP’s sign-off to be complete, but also the community organization we’re partnering with and the designer; and we do evaluations of our process with our partners at the end of each project to make sure we understand how we could be doing better.

In a way, what I’m arguing for is for design projects that are socially motivated to have a clear articulation of whom they are accountable to and how. I see a lot of work that is about certain target audiences, but the way the project is funded and structured, and who gets to make decisions about it suggests that the design team is accountable to an entirely different set of people.

I remain curious about the term “design methods.” I admire CUP’s collective practice of them, from stakeholder interviews/workshops to prototyping—to drawing (more on this later). Though practiced a lot, it’s not popular to say, even claim, compared to the ever-popular term of “design thinking.” How do you select which design method(s) to use per project?

We think of our process as being a coherent methodology, with a bunch of interconnected parts, and then we make adjustments to the particular techniques we employ based on the specifics of the topic or our partners. For example, we usually do some sort of stakeholder research at the beginning of the project with members of the target audience, but in one project we do that through one-on-one conversations because our partner is a direct service organization and we’re joining them in their client meetings; for another we do it as a focus group because our partner is leading a training session; and for another we do it in small groups because the target audience is children in foster care and we need to meet with them with their caregivers. It’s really the specifics of the context that help us determine what’s appropriate, and then we try to work within those constraints.

Many of the techniques we use are ones that people associate with “design thinking.” But we don’t frame our work that way because we’re trying to frame it in around the way we work with our partners, which design thinking doesn’t take a stance on. For us it’s the accountability pieces and the relationships that are core to the methodologies.

One of my favorite quotes is by the novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” What are activities that you and your team do to maintain the relationship with clients after recommendations/results are made?

I love this question, too. I feel like we are really into maintenance. We have ongoing relationships with almost all of our former project partners, whether through our regular check-ins to see if they’re still using the project and what impacts it’s having, or through other projects with them, or through collaborating with the organizing networks they’re part of. Many of our partners use not only the tool we created with them directly, but other ones we crated with other organizations. So it’s a real ecology we’re part of. It’s another way we continue to be accountable to our partners. We keep seeing them, and we have to live with the reputation that our work with them creates for us.

How would you describe CUP’s work culture? How do you and your team keep your work culture going?

It’s very collaborative. In our projects but also in our decision-making about a lot of things, including how we hire. We have a lot of conversations about how we are doing things and how we could or should be doing them.

It’s a little weird and funny. There is a lot of laughing when we are together.

We take a high level of care in our projects. There are lots of reviews and revisions. Not everyone is down for that but it’s important to us. It’s not about perfectionism; but it’s about ensuring that our partners can trust us to get things right so they can really use them in their important work. We don’t take that lightly.

We’re always trying to figure out how to do better. We constantly tweak things and we regularly talk about what we got wrong, what we could do better.

It’s also a really sane place to work. Our work is hard and we are all pretty wiped out at the end of the day, but everyone goes home after 8 hours. We have an actual 40-hour work week. I’ve worked really hard to make that happen, and it takes real commitment to do it. We see it as part of how we can be a more equitable organization. You can work at CUP and have a sane life, a family, an outside art practice, things that keep you whole and sane and not burning out, and that also make your work stronger. We might get paid a little less than if we didn’t do that, but I think it’s important.




Center for Urban Pedagogy project “ULURP” (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure)—“the process by which major land use changes get reviewed and approved in New York City.”

In doing the purposeful, collaborative and interactive work you do in demystifying complexity in public policy, how do you keep fit your creativity, critical thinking—your sanity too?

The truth is that the thing I find most grounding and nourishing these days is spending time with my husband and our three-year old. I guess it’s a cliché, but her joy at the smallest things and her lack of awareness of the worst things happening in the world are just really nice to get to inhabit if only vicariously. We read together a lot (see previous question about my love of children’s books), we cook together, and we go to museums. I don’t think I read as much of the didactic text as I used to at exhibits, but I really get to see them in a new light.

I had stopped reading anything non-work related for a while, but I’ve really come back to it and am enjoying reading fiction again. If I’m totally honest, though, my husband and I often drown our sorrows after a bad news day by watching “Nailed It” until we’re crying-laughing.

What’s your media diet like? Who and what do you recommend to help be aware of current affairs/culture/your community and the world?

I sill pay for a “New York Times” subscription and think having professional journalism is critical.

Like all of us, I’m feeling really ambivalent about social media these days. For me, it’s kind of a mix of hearing about amazing cultural things, getting intense local political news from friends around the country, and also for hearing opinions I really disagree with from people in my family and friend circles with whom I diverge politically in a pretty strong way. It makes me grit my teeth, but I try to stay out of my own bubble. I mean, the truth is that most of my Facebook feed is amazing, strong, hilarious, thoughtful women of color talking about art, social justice, or art and social justice. So that keeps me coming back. I also resisted Instagram for years but finally gave in and my feed there is 100% illustrators, and it’s kind of a soothing space for me. I pop in and out of Twitter, but mostly through work or things my husband forwards me about football.

I also read a bunch of newsletters regularly, some local New York City neighborhood based stuff, but also Nonprofit AF, AIGA Eye on Design, Next City and the newsletter from the Furman Center at New York University (a roundup of recent news about planning, land use, real estate), Grain Edit, among others.

I’ve gotten into podcasts in the last year (after my husband started hosting one and I kind of had to get with the program). WNYC’s investigative series, like “Caught,” “There Goes the Neighborhood” and “Aftereffect” are amazing and tell really important, complex stories that intersect with a lot of the work we do at CUP. I love “Still Processing,” “2 Dope Queens” (I’m listening to the Michelle Obama interview on repeat), “Ask a Manager” because I’m always working on that part of my skill set, “Respectful Parenting” because I’m also always working on that part of my skill set, “99% Invisible,” “The Vocal Fries” (about linguistic discrimination; I highly recommend the “They/Them/Theirs” episode), “Dr. Gameshow” for laughs, and the “Splendid Table.”

With being in these politically-charged times, how are you coping and channeling what’s happening into your design work?

In some ways, I think it’s easier to process what’s happening for folks who already work in social justice spaces, partially because all of the things that are happening we already saw happening, they’ve just intensified; and partially because going to work every day feels like a way to fight these things happening.

That said, the work we’ve been doing has gotten a lot heavier for a bunch of reasons. We’ve been working on projects for audiences like parents at risk of deportation trying to set up guardianship for the kids, or children who are victims of crime and have to testify in court. It’s a lot. One of our goals for this year is to learn more about vicarious trauma and how to process it. It’s something that people in direct service fields like social work have been doing for a long time and that we can really learn from.

In terms of channeling it into our design work, I think we’re increasingly more conscious of the ways we collaborate with folks and the ways that design contributes to or disrupts oppressive ideas and narratives. For example, we see a lot of stereotypes often unthinkingly perpetuated in illustration. It’s something we talk a lot about in our projects; things like how racial or ethnic signifiers might be presented or how illustrators often default to one body type/size/proportion, or how ideas about gender are presented. The assumptions that get packed into design work can be harmful if they’re not interrogated.

In your creative work-kit, what are your go-to tools, the ones you love using because they prove reliably effective?

I don’t know that I have really good answers here. I love a notebook and a pen. I am an obsessive list-maker.

Naming game: what’s the non-erudite version of the Center for Urban Pedagogy?

Oh man. I wish I had a good answer for this one. I think I’m too close to it. I don’t know how many times I’ve told someone our name and they’ve just said, “That’s terrible.” But the thing that’s really won me over about it is that, when we talk to community organizers, they almost immediately make the connection to Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (1970) and it helps ground our work in something that’s relevant and meaningful to them. I think it buys us credibility in a way. And then when we work with community members, they really just think of us as CUP, and what’s more accessible than a simple household object?

How does New York City contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

Well, we work at the intersection of design and social justice, and in New York City we have access to so many incredibly skilled designers who want to collaborate on meaningful projects. At the same time, we’re in a city with an incredibly rich and robust community organizing culture. There is so much important organizing history here and a real sense in the communities that we work with that organizing matters and that it can lead—and consistently has been the thing that has led—to meaningful social change. Our work exists in support of organizing work, and without that, I don’t think we’d have been able to develop this model.

Speaking of New York City, congratulations to you and CUP on your partnership with the Drawing Center in participating in their annual Winter Term series of creative programming in 2019. How did the relationship originate between CUP and the Drawing Center? How is drawing critical to CUP’s continued success?

The Drawing Center reached out to us last year about participating in Winter Term, and we were really honored and excited. I think almost everyone on staff was already a fan, and because we spend so much time in social justice and community organizing spaces, I think we’re always genuinely surprised when folks in the art world recognize our work as part of their world, too.

It’s also exciting because we got to overlap with some folks from The Drawing Center last year when our organizations were both participants in an initiative to help introduce more anti-racist practices into arts organizations—The Race Forward Arts Lab. Knowing that both of our organizations are committed to those values made it even more meaningful to be collaborating with them.

Opportunities like this are not ones we usually seek out (mostly because we don’t have the time or resources to), but they’re really important for us. They help us tell our story and share the work that we do with broader audiences. We’re a little bit like that saying “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.” We work with all these organizations to create visual explanations of really complicated issues, but we’re pretty bad at doing that about our own methods! This exhibit is an opportunity to do that and it helps us keep reaching out designers who will want to collaborate with us on future projects, as well as helping to share some of what we’ve learned along the way with other folks who want to work in similar ways. It’s not the kind of thing you can apply for a grant to do, but it can have major impacts for us as an organization.

• • •

All images courtesy of Christine Gaspar.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 104 (so far) Interviews
with people who love making things.


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December 31, 2018

Cusp Conference 2018: It’s Time


One of the things I cherish most about the annual Cusp Conference in Chicago is the seemingly random nature of it—up to twenty-five speakers from disparate industries, on stage, sharing the fuel behind their work. Motivational to learn what it is that truly drives people to actf on their life’s commitment—and the resulting patterns across different disciplines. It’s a glimpse into their long-term focus and its by-products of determination, passion and joy. In 2018, time and flow were the standout patterns of the Cusp talks.

Time
“…In time, it could have been so much more
The time is precious I know
In time, it could have been so much more
The time has nothing to show…”
—Culture Club’s song “Time (Clock of the Heart)” (1981)
Time and its perception were consistently addressed at Cusp 2018. Winter Olympics 1994 silver medalist, John Coyle, recalled the memory-fidelity of lasting summers. Master electrician, Janet Liriano, delivered a meditation on the four seasons. Time was a major ingredient in bioengineer Chris Maurer’s self-generating architecture and food entrepreneur Tyler Huggins’ eco-edibles where both of these inventions capitalize on the natural wonder of mycelium, the fungal vegetation whose accelerated growth and structure are being open-sourced for good. Physician, Ben Ku, and digital creative director, Breonna Rodriguez, ranted about the toxicity festering in their respective fields over time. Ku’s resolution was design, particularly taking advantage of the design method of prototyping in collaborating outside the medical bubble to iterate different and improved solutions for popular scenarios in healthcare, such as effectively comforting soon-to-be mothers before childbirth. Breonna Rodriguez addressed the sanctuary of family by embracing the formative years of her much younger sister as a meaningful force in dramatically adjusting her engagement of work/life balance.

The most transformative benefit of time was given by Chelina Odbert, the co-founder and executive director of the Kounkuey Design Initiative, “a non-profit design practice that partners with under-resourced communities to advance equity and activate the unrealized potential in neighborhoods and cities.” When she highlighted the before-and-after states of their community-design work in Kibera, a division of Nairobi, Kenya, there was an immediate reaction of awestruck from the audience.



The interdisciplinary efforts of Chelina and her collaborators, especially inputs from community experts, is an eminently grounded rally of the global ideal best-stated by anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901–1978): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Like in previous Cusp gatherings, the presenters are doing their damndest to make use of their time in meeting their respective calling: chronoception (John Cycle), textile circuits (Janet Liriano), bioterial architecture (Chris Mauer), sustainable food (Tyler Huggins), healthcare via human-centered design (Bon Ku) and conscious living (Breonna Rodriguez). Their time on the Cusp stage was a privileged peek into their daily mission statement. Making time to steadily fulfill the ambitious arc of their craft. Appointing themselves to a portal of effort they discovered and decided to go through, forging their own creative license by picking themselves.

Flow
“I am rooted, but I flow.”
—Virginia Woolf, Novelist, Essayist, Critic
Paired to the fascination with time, “flow” happened to be another apparent theme among the Cusp 2018 presenters. A few of them highlighted this phenomenon—but it was author, Meta Wagner, who revealed finally its architect: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high) wrote the landmark book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” (1991).

The “flow experience” is essentially achieved when purpose and joy are united. Illustrator/animator, Chris Sickels, acknowledged his primary source of flow: life. “Life experience feeds my illustration”—as he said while kickstarting the tour of his meticulous storyboarding-turned-world-making process that channels, to me, the animated work of Jiří Trnka (1912–1969). Writer Tara-Nicholle Nelson’s source of flow was inherent in her presentation’s opening affirmation: “I believe in the power of words.” Gamer and game designer Ashlynn Sparrow’s flow-origin was a role-playing game, released in 1997, that became one of the greatest games of all time—as she gleefully stated, “‘Final Fantasy VII’ changed my life.” Her revealing moment was reminiscent of the epiphany that inspired the pioneering game designer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi: 1988, Tokyo, in an arcade, he discovered “Tetris” (1984) and confessed, “I put many coins into that machine. It was such elegant perfection.”

Flow can be synonymous with simply the sensation of pleasure, even peace. A scalable experience, from the solitary act of writing (Tara-Nicholle Nelson) to the collaborative act of developing a game (Ashlynn Sparrow). Flow is also an equal-opportunity event when one blossoms and re-blossoms. The poet, Sharon Olds, declared frankly: “I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky.”

In and on the cusp

With Sharon’s sentiment in mind, each Cusp presenter is acknowledging the element of luck in doing what they do. Each one feeling profound pride in what they’re contributing to their professional communities with the empowering perk of pollinating disciplines elsewhere. Each person defining and harnessing their flow. Again, this is the reason I cherish the Cusp Conference—it centralizes an eclectic group of people, sharing their projects, which ultimately compose their life’s work. The Cusp Conference advocates the human varietals of time and flow—amazing with each instance, to receive a snippet of the work that people drive and, in turn, drives them. Getting a glimpse of the progress of their decision—the flow of intent they dedicated themselves to answer and accomplish.

Changing things—and minds

Following the last presentation, when Dave Mason, one of the co-founders of the Cusp Conference, announced that 2018 is the last year for Cusp, it was unexpected. Looking back, it’s not surprising. “Cusp” is shorthand for transition. Since 2008, the Chicago-based strategic design firm, Multiple, has hosted the Cusp Conference for an 11 consecutive years. Up to 25 presenters annually; 11 one-of-a-kind opportunities to feel unanimously unexpected. A total chance to take in the sheer diversity of inspiration demonstrated across the humanities, sciences and business.

Over the years, noted role models have spoken at Cusp: TED founder, Richard Saul Wurman, who coined the term, “information architecture,” robotocist, Ayanna Howard, architect, Michelle Kaufmann, Frog Design’s founder, Hartmut Esslinger, designer, Yves Béhar, and more.

A couple of top-of-mind Cusp presenters whom I gladly recall were Bill Haley, coach of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, founded by his father, and who won the United States Championship at the the Little League World Series 2014, plus Dr. Gary Slutkin who treats violence as a disease and continues to apply his attention, energies and expertise in reducing violence.

Innovative singer-songwriter, Björk (whom I could easily envision performing and presenting at a Cusp Conference) said, “If optimism ever was like an emergency, it’s now.” The annual Cusp Conference gave a highly varied and liberating serving of optimism through its eclectic composition of speakers—each one realizing an optimistic angle. An angle of professional practice that is both home and storm to each speaker. In total, converging into a prism of possibility and hope. Glowing evidence that there are people actually working hard to change things in order to make the world a better place, from their immediate surroundings to an overarching context.

Organizing an annual event, packed with presenters, spanning two days, is an intense effort. Lots of moving details. Whatever the future of the Cusp Conference is, its past tense–consisting of humans realizing good things at whatever level in whatever discipline—echoes in the present.

Time. Flow. Here’s to tending both in 2019 and hereafter.

• • •

Past Cusp Conference talks can be (re)experienced at Multiple’s video archive.

• • •

Big thanks: to Multiple, Inc., the volunteers and producers, such as AV Chicago, who made Cusp Conference happen in 2018; to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, for being the sole venue.





• • •

Explore my additional coverage of the Cusp Conference in my written series on Events centered on creativity.


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November 16, 2018

The Best is Yet to Come: Maria Montes Improves and Grows as a Freelance Designer, Illustrator, Letterer and Calligraphy Teacher


Designer and Artist Maria Monte’s work in illustration and letterforms is tremendous—and fantastic in scope. Been revisiting her wonderful work over the years. Excited about her opinions on creativity and craft as part of my Design Feast series celebrating remarkable Makers. Here, Maria gives a detailed peek into her world, from her beginnings to getting established to continually improving her illustrating-lettering talents to shaping a creative community—and being shaped by it for the better.

How did you arrive at the desire to become a designer and an artist who makes her design and art—her life’s work?

My grandmother has been a huge influence in my life. She was a fashion designer and a dress maker. With her support, at the age of sixteen, I started to cut and sew my own garments and I loved it.

At the age of eighteen, I applied for a fashion degree. I was not convinced that you can make a living as a fashion designer, so I decided to enroll simultaneously in a graphic design degree. That year, I spent my days drawing fashion silhouettes and my nights typesetting in Pagemaker and QuarkXPress.

In 1995, while studying fashion and graphic design, Paco Rabanne released XS. I remember discovering the perfume’s packaging. Something about these letters caught my attention and I could not stop thinking about them for months. By the end of that academic year, I decided to specialise in graphic design so I would have the opportunity to learn more about letterforms.

Graphic design, typography and illustration have been part of my life since then.



What were essential activities/steps you took to start and establish yourself as a calligrapher and designer?

First came calligraphy, then typeface design. Through textile design came illustration and finally lettering as the sum of it all.

I learnt calligraphy for the first time in 1996. During my first year at university, we had to study nine months of formal calligraphy as a compulsory subject.

After working as a graphic designer for a decade, I felt that I needed to go back to the foundations. I consider typography the main tool for a graphic designer and I felt that I needed to up-skill my knowledge.

In 2011, I enrolled for a postgraduate course of advanced typography in Barcelona. During that course, I studied formal calligraphy again with Keith Adams and Oriol Miró. I was shocked by how something you love so much can be forgotten for so many years. I grabbed my calligraphy nibs again and I have never let them go.

After my postgraduate course in Barcelona, I came back to Melbourne and started a collaborative project on textile design. I learnt how to illustrate, create patterns and all things related to CAD from my bedroom. I rediscovered that drawing was another one of my big passions.

My collaborative textile project was going really well—I was illustrating all day, every day and learning a great deal of new stuff.

The experience of learning type design in Barcelona was so good, that a year later I decided to enroll in a condensed program on typeface design at the Cooper Union in New York City.

Type@Cooper was a turning point in my career. By that time, I was illustrating full-time and writing calligraphy every morning as a personal development. At the Cooper Union, I learnt a new method of drawing type by hand, and I decided to apply the same methodology to illustrating textiles.

In 2013, one of my typography teachers at university died and I received an email asking for submissions to pay homage to Josep Maria Pujol, a great typographer, teacher and type historian. This motivated me to send my first lettering submission to a group show.

Lettering made so much sense to me. I see it as the result of combining my interests in writing letters and drawings patterns, which is drawing letterforms.

Nowadays, my practice sits between graphic design, custom lettering projects, illustration commissions, textile design and calligraphic-personal development. I currently teach calligraphy workshops in Australia.



Very difficult to select which work of yours to dive into. One that I keep revisiting is your awesome “We Cannot Not Change” print. How did you arrive at this idea? What was your process/workflow toward this realization of typography and illustration?

“We Cannot Not Change” is a personal artwork originally submitted to a group exhibition in Melbourne, Australia.

The inspiration behind this piece comes from two events that happened during my attendance at ATypI Conference, Barcelona, in 2014. During the second day of the conference, Raquel Pelta gave a fantastic talk called “Graphic design and typography for social change.” I admire Raquel very much and her talk was very inspiring to me.
 The second inspiring event at the conference was typeface designer Erik Spiekermann’s sending of a mailing tube to ATypI containing a poster with the message “You cannot not communicate.” Spiekermann’s poster referred to one of the five basic axioms supported by communication theorist Paul Watzlawick:
“One cannot not communicate: Every behavior is a form of communication. Because behavior does not have a counterpart (there is no anti-behavior), it is impossible not to communicate. Even if communication is being avoided (such as the unconscious use of non-verbals or symptom strategy), that is a form of communication. ‘Symptom strategy’ is ascribing our silence to something beyond our control and makes no communication impossible. Examples of symptom strategy are sleepiness, headaches, and drunkenness. Even facial expressions, digital communication, and being silent can be analyzed as communication by a receiver.”
Combining both ideas “Graphic design and typography for social change” plus “One cannot not communicate” gave me the inspiration to create a piece based on the idea of change, the theme of the group exhibition.

The first idea behind my artwork “We Cannot Not Change” was that in our physical human nature (illustrated in the background), change is inevitable. The second idea was that change is imperative to improve social conditions, create a sustainable living, respect nature as our own family and take responsibility for our actions.

Change must be as driven of a force toward responsible consumption and production; more inclusive, safe and sustainable cities and communities; universal access to water and clean energy; awareness of the effects of climate change and the conversation of the sea and its ecosystems.

I will use a fragment of Raquel’s talk to close my idea:
“Experts say that we are in the middle of four huge scale crises (financial, energetic, food and democratic) and citizens are demanding substantial changes, the question arises, what is the role of graphic design and typography on these changes? Could they become agents of social change?”
One of my favorited quotes is by the novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” How do you maintain your calligraphy/lettering discipline?

Calligraphy, lettering and typography are all about learning to see and understand that the foreground (positive spaces) and background (negative spaces) have both the same volume of importance.

As a beginner at anything, it’s very common to say “this is shit,” or my personal all-time favourite “this is not good enough”—whatever “good enough” means.


I learnt Copperplate calligraphy in 2011. I sucked at it for a very long time. This style of calligraphy never came natural to me and it has taken me many years to reach a point where I am feeling comfortable with the pointed pen and finally feeling the flow.


My teacher Amanda Adams once told me, “Your pens are like your dogs; you take them for a walk every day no matter if it rains, it’s cold or hot, you just do it.”


In my personal experience, there are no shortcuts, only practice. And if you decide to put your pens down to sleep for a few weeks/months, be prepared to feel all the shakes again, guaranteed.



How is typography, from drawing letters to designing typefaces, a coping mechanism in these turbulent times? How are design and art helpful in these turbulent times?

Letterforms are a tool for communication. We now have access to multiple platforms where we can amplify our voice and talk about the issues we really care about.

I ask myself this question many times: What responsibility do we, in the design sector, have? As designers, we translate our client’s ideas. As artists, we become the vehicle for our own ideas. Are we using our knowledge and skills for designing for good?



Is there a work of calligraphy/lettering/typography that you keep admiring, that you happen to re-experience?

For some reason, I go back often to the logotype “Families,” designed by Herb Lubalin in 1980. The simplicity and visual clarity of this logo makes me reflect on the importance of a great idea expressed in a very concise and minimalistic way.

I recently watched a talk by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman where he mentions that the idea is first and craft must come second. And this has resonated deeply with me.



How did you arrive at the idea of making your Green Fairy typeface? What was the process in getting it real?

The origin of my Green Fairy font family is the lettering I designed in 2015 as part of my illustrated cocktail artwork called “Absinthe. La Fée Verte” (The Green Fairy).

Right after creating the full-colour artwork, I designed a fountain-letterpress print version in collaboration with Ladies of Letters, a.k.a. Carla Hackett and Amy Constable, from Saint Gertrude Fine Printing.

At the beginning of 2016—and thanks to the project @36DaysOfType—I found the motivation, most importantly, the deadline, to draw the rest of the twenty-six letters of the uppercase alphabet.

I started 2017 with having my first two calligraphy courses sold out, so I took this amazing opportunity to devote myself to Green Fairy for nine months straight.

I purchased the font software Glyphs and I started to re-draw all twenty-six letters of the uppercase alphabet again, followed by the numbers, currency symbols, diacritics, punctuation marks as well as spacing and kerning.

Font Production Process

Green Fairy was born as one weight, but quickly turned into a layered/chromatic font.

Green Fairy’s characters have been specifically designed to accommodate its loops and ornaments following a modern font structure.

Green Fairy Font has four chromatic weights:
1. Green Fairy Outline

2. Green Fairy Dots

3. Green Fairy Stencil

4. Green Fairy Full

The Outline weight has been created as the base or structure for the other styles. You can combine these weights as well as add colours to obtain multiple effects and type styles.

Green Fairy font has also three combined weights (combos) to simplify your workflow, for these occasions when you only want to use one single colour in your font:
5. Green Fairy Dots Combo

6. Green Fairy Stencil Combo

7. Green Fairy Full Combo

Green Fairy is the result of an intense nine-month-full-time personal investment and I couldn’t be happier with this release! The font is now available commercially at MyFonts.



What is the one tool that helps make your work more accomplished and pleasant, as a result, making your life good? In your creative work-kit, what are your go-to digital tools, the ones you love using because they prove reliably effective?

I get bored easily, so my favourite part of my work is being able to jump between analogue and digital mediums or combine them both, if possible.

My desk is divided in two areas, the analogue and the digital one. I spend at least 2 hours a day writing. When I am teaching calligraphy at my studio in Melbourne, I focus these daily hours of practice on the specific calligraphy style that I am teaching that weekend.

In the analogue area, I have an A2 lightbox that I use on a regular basis. Most of my lettering work starts with calligraphy, so once I have a good calligraphic sketch, I start to redraw on top of it using paper, a mechanic pencil and a fine marker.

For my calligraphic work, I started to use a portable easel and my neck feels better. I use Brause & Co. nibs and bamboo pens with walnut ink or liquid watercolours. For my Copperplate calligraphy work, I use Nikko G and Zebra nibs.

I have recently purchased an Arttec bond layout pad and I love it. The paper is Bleedproof 70gsm which allows you to see the guidelines clearer. If I want to create a beautiful original, I use a few different papers depending on budget. From Canson watercolour paper 300gsm, to Canson Basik 370gsm, to Moulin Du Gue 270gsm to handmade paper.

In the digital area, I have a vertical mouse (due to my back problems) and a Wacom tablet. For my lettering and type design work, I use the Glyphs app. Accounting app Xero is my new best friend; I started using it last year and I am loving it.

And lastly, I have a big annual calendar stack on my bedroom’s wall, and I use fluro colours to map out the entire year; it helps me to have a bigger sense of my time instead of just having a weekly vision.

How do you get the word out about what you do? How do you attract people to your work?

Firstly, by word-of-mouth. Normally, recommendations come from peers, people who have worked with me in the past, or students who have attended a calligraphy workshop.

Secondly, via social media.

In running your creative business and managing all of those moving parts to live and keep yourself busy, how do you take care of yourself?

In 2015, I experienced a massive creative block after my first solo exhibition; I learned that this is called “post-exhibition blues.” So this year, after opening my second solo exhibition in Spain, I was not going to make the same mistake again.

Going for a walk in nature is one of my best recipes to give myself a break. Physical activities, where my body moves more and my brain works less, typically work for me. And that is exactly what I did in July and August this year.

Being surrounded by friends and family, and disconnecting from social media are pretty good remedies to keep myself healthier mentally.

Now, I’m back at my office in Melbourne being conscious about having a better work/life balance if that exists. I’m reminding myself the importance of doing exercise, and taking distance from my work, as I get too obsessed sometimes.

If an aspiring illustrator/letterer approached you and said, “I love to draw and want to become a working artist,” what’s your response?

Good shit takes time. Social media, smart phones and instant messages are creating the illusion that things happen in a blink of an eye, getting an instant, short-lived result of gratification.

These are a few things I have learnt along the way:

Never stop learning
Work very hard, trust in your potential and find the people who believe in you and stick to them.

Keep yourself fit
Stick to your daily practice (whatever it is) and record/file all your work in progress. Being able to see your own improvements is one of the biggest motivators to keep you moving forward.

Find your tribe
Being surrounded by other creative people that inspire your work and being able to collaborate with them is one of the greatest advantages of our industry. So please take it: be generous, share your knowledge, connect, collaborate and support the shit out of each other.

Do you want to work for a company, be a freelance artist or both?
Being a solo full-time freelance designer means you have to absolutely believe in what you do; have the passion and tenacity for it; don’t give up when things go wrong or very wrong; hope that all your hard-work will somehow pay-off and have faith in yourself—and that’s a lot of things to carry on mentally on a daily basis. The idea of freelancing is not a romantic one.

Find as many resources as you can. Talk to as many people already doing it as possible and take care of your finances.
I would recommend to go to the Association of Illustrators and read, especially if you live in Australia, “The Barefoot Investor.”

How would you describe “good design”?

I have recently read a very interesting thread on Twitter by art director Eric Hu that made me think a lot about the idea of good design and plagiarism versus sincerity.

On this thread, Eric mentions “It’s not about making a solution no one could have thought of, it’s making a solution that makes people realize no other solution would have been more appropriate. Do that and it will be its own thing.”

And while reading it, my mind went straight back to Lubalin’s “Families” logo (1980).

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute to doing the quality of work you want to do?

Community and studio culture are the most important elements in my workspace.

Having people around that respect, support what you do and understand the emotional mindset of a freelance designer is very important to me.

Being surrounded by other creative people that inspire your work and being able to collaborate with them is the second great deal about my studio.

Other factors that count is having natural light, a good internet connection and a space where you don’t freeze in winter and don’t dehydrate in summer.

I feel really lucky to be at Rotson Studios since it gives me the opportunity to work and teach calligraphy in the same space.



Who and/or what keep(s) you going as a designer and an artist?

My life motto is “the best is yet to come.” Keeping myself positive is the key for not losing it.

The inspiration behind my work comes from my day-to-day life. The people I am surrounded by, my neighbourhood, my partner, my family and the nature in Australia.

What is your vision of satisfaction, as it relates to your chosen career?

I have done a couple of conference talks. Both of them have been super-positive experiences and the satisfaction I got from them was worth all the stress before going up on stage.

In terms of my craft, satisfaction is a feeling that only lasts for six months. After that period of time, I look back at my own work and I can only see mistakes. This is, in fact, a good thing, as it means that my eye is improving and I am growing as a designer.

What drew you to relocating yourself to Australia from Catalonia? How does Australia contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

I moved to Australia looking for a big adventure, wanting to learn English and work as a graphic designer overseas to strengthen my portfolio.

My original plan was getting sponsored by a design studio, spend two years in the country and then move to NYC. It’s been twelve years since I moved to Australia! Living in Australia has definitely changed my work. I think my dressing habits are now aligned to my work, whereas before it wasn’t like that.

Australia is a young country full of opportunities. We are building our own story, and there is plenty of room for young and upcoming voices.

From splitting your time between Melbourne and Barcelona, any traveling pro-tips?

I never imagined I would spend twelve years in Australia, so I never had an strategy regarding airlines. I always chose the cheapest option available, and that sometimes became the most expensive one.

Once I purchased a one-way flight from Melbourne to Barcelona for only 480 euros. The flight’s duration was forty-two hours and I would never do it again! My ankles were the size of my knees by the end of the flight, I got sick and I experienced the worst jet lag ever.

Second tip: Don’t fly with Aeroflot, it can be the most scary experience of your life!

If you are planning to visit three or more cities in different continents, I would highly recommend booking a round-the-world ticket.

If I could go back in time, I would have picked a good airline and become loyal to them from the very beginning. By now, with the amount of flights I have done between Melbourne and Barcelona, I would have accumulated enough points to fly for free or to upgrade and treat myself for once!

Nowadays, I use Singapore airlines, Qatar or Emirates. These flights have only one stop over and the duration is between twenty-one and twenty-three hours which is “pretty fast” considering the distance.

Lastly, I take Melatonine natural tablets for the first seven days in Europe; they help me to get a good sleep.

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All images courtesy of Maria Montes.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of 103 (so far) Interviews
with people who love making things.


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