Inspiration: the good, the bad and the pretty.

I’ve spent the better part of a decade searching for inspiration. 

At its heart, everything I make and do with UPPERCASE is curated and designed to inspire me—and by extension, you, my reader. By sharing the stories of talented creatives in a wide variety of disciplines, each magazine issue or book is full of inspiring people, places and things.

But the word “inspiration” is so-often employed these days, that I hesitate to use it. “Inspiration" is diluted. When it comes to creativity, what is truly inspiring? 

the good

When something you see or experience triggers a switch to “yes!” in your creative heart, that’s the best kind of inspiration. The kind that motivates you, that fires you up, that kicks you into action. It creates a desire to do something, to harness that inspired feeling and see where it leads you. It’s joyful, pure, instinctual. It has no judgments, no preconceptions, no deadlines: it simply is. yes!

the bad

One can be inspired by another artist and while it’s ok to admire, it is never ok to copy. Imitation is not flattering for the one doing the imitating. The phrase “taking inspiration” describes this darker side. If you find yourself relying too much on other people’s work when making your own, stop. If you’re judging your work against someone else’s work, stop. Step back and look at it objectively. Make a list of all the things that you love about that person’s work and all the traits that you aspire to achieve in your own work. Going forward, use that list as your guide and your motivation. 

the pretty

I think we’re overloaded by so much generic “inspiration” that we’re becoming desensitized. We pin on Pinterest, like on Instagram… but this infinite scroll of images—however gorgeous they may be—is training us for snap judgments and short attention spans. It’s a millisecond of inspiration that burns out nearly as soon as it began and you find yourself scrolling for another hit. Sometimes a good dose of pretty is just what you need, but the next time you find yourself in a hangover of pinning and liking, revisit your selections. Was any of it inspiring in a lasting way? 

With the twenty-fifth issue making its way into the world now, my hope is that I’ve done my job well and that UPPERCASE falls into the best category of inspiration.

May you come away from reading the magazine feeling joy and optimism, with a flicker of a new idea whispering, "yes!"

 

This message was originally published yesterday in my weekly newsletter. If you'd like to receive free weekly content like this, plus a look at behind-the-scenes of making a magazine, free downloads and news of how you can participate within the magazine, please sign up here. Thanks!

-Janine

Gail Anderson: Those who can, teach.

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan, who attended the AIGA Y Conference on behalf of UPPERCASE

 

I spotted Gail Anderson since the beginning of the Y20 conference, she was chatting with colleagues and listening to the talks from the first row. Gail is a previous contributor for UPPERCASE (issue 10, see related post here) so I recognised her immediately, but I waited until the second day to approach her, as I’m a bit of an introvert and she looked rather serious and intimidating. Believe me, she is not.

New York-based designer, writer, and educator Gail Anderson is fun and kind, she is humble and brilliant, down to earth and absolutely fascinating. Gail began her presentation telling us about the time she posed for a photo with President Obama and – accidentally – grabbed his butt (!). And how she modestly muttered “I make posters” when she was asked by Barack (yes, for the purpose of this conversation we are on a first-name basis) what she did for a living.

Through her career Gail has done way more than posters, and has won a few awards, including the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Medal from AIGA. Her credentials go from senior art director at the Rolling Stone magazine to co-author of several typography books, but what I want to focus on is her role as an inspiring teacher. Gail teaches in the School of Visual Arts MFA, undergraduate and high school design programs, and has lectured about design at organizations and conferences around the world, including a recent workshop she did for design students in Saudi Arabia, which landed her an invitation to a further workshop with none other than a princess.

Gail is the kind of teacher everybody should have. She is proud of her students and supportive, yet she challenges them, inspires them and pushes them to be better. As the topic of Y20 was “design moving forward”. Gail emphasised that, for her, design moving forward has been being a teacher. She beamed with pride as she showed us the new media work from some of her grad students; it was a delightful surprise featuring catchy music and flawless editing. She mentioned that, as the students came from many backgrounds, through exercises she made them comfortable with fonts. “I forced them to have fun! They become so rigid when dealing with typefaces.”

When asked why does she teach, Gail simply answered “I have had many great teachers and mentors through my life. Teaching helps me stay fresh.”

So, I say we should eliminate that infamous quote “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach” from our vocabulary, and start showing admiration to all teachers. How else will the new generations become extraordinary professionals, if not under the nurturing mentorship and guidance of remarkable teachers such as Gail?

Brian Gartside: Doing good work & work for good

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan who attended the AIGA Y Conference.

 

Brian Gartside is a 27-year-old graphic designer and typographer whose credentials include working at Pentagram, DDB New York, and more recently Deutsch Inc.

Brian began his Y20 presentation with advise for emerging graphic designers (and anybody in the creative industry, really) discussing “Things I wish I knew when I was studying to become a Graphic Designer.” Which can be summed up as doing good work, work that visually improves the space that it occupies. Here are the highlights:

  1. Make ads that don’t look like ads (or whatever you make, make it not look like that).

  2. Become a technical expert, be fast at the things you can control so you can spend time on the things you can’t.

  3. Build a diverse library of inspiration. It will help you be more authentic as it will reduce the risk of inadvertently copying someone else.

  4. Take a break. Have a hobby. Do something else for a bit, it will help you think.

This valuable insight from Brian’s very promising career (in October of 2014 he was named as an ADC Young Gun) was complemented by the second part of his presentation, where Brian discussed what he has learned in putting this knowledge into practice and how his skillset has helped him to do work for good.

Many of the projects Brian worked on while at DDB are partially credited for the creative revival of the agency, including The Drinkable Book, where he worked as a senior designer, and which brought the agency its first Cannes Gold Lion in two decades. The Drinkable Book integrates outstanding design and cutting-edge technology put to the service of a remarkable cause developed by Water is Life.

“The Drinkable Book is a life saving tool that filters water and teaches proper sanitation & hygiene to those in the developing world. Each book is printed on technologically advanced filter paper, capable of killing deadly waterborne diseases. And each page is coated with silver nanoparticles, whose ions actively kill diseases like cholera, typhoid and E. coli. Once water is passed through the filter, bacteria count is reduced by over 99.99%, making the filtered water comparable to tap water in the United States of America.”

We all want to use our skillset for the greater good, but at time the possibilities are overwhelming and the size of the task seem impossible to bear. As Brian put it, doing work for good is easier than we may think:

  • You don’t have to save the world. You might never change the world but what you can do is help the people that can change it. If there is something you believe in, find the company who is doing that important thing without the sexy, approach the company and bring the sexy! Make something people can’t ignore.

  • Agencies love pro-bono work because you get more creative freedom. Use that to your advantage but don’t be a scam artist.

  • Dead doesn’t mean dead. Proceed as if it happening. Persistency is key.

  • Beg for favours. If it’s a good project, people will want to help.

  • Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Don’t let funding hold you up. Get it done and sort it our later.

  • Be more than just a graphic designer. These projects happen though sheer force of will. Do whatever you have to do (wear all the hats you need to in order to get things done).

As the long round of applause and stimulating questions from the audience proved, we were all really inspired by Brian’s investment and igniting curiosity, and the endless possibilities of using creativity to help build a better world.

 

*For more information or to support the Drinkable Book project please go to www.waterislife.com  Photos courtesy of Brian Gartside

On a podcast with The Marketing Mentor, Ilise Benum

I recently had the opportunity to have a chat with "The Marketing Mentor", Ilise Benum. Ilise invited me to be a speaker at the HOW Design Live conference in Chicago next month. I'm also organizing a small event in Chicago for the evening of May 4, details will be announced soon. (Sign up for my newsletter on the sidebar or stay tuned here on on Twitter.)

What I learned from design clients led to my “retirement”... and launched a whole new career. 

Freelancing was an unexpected education in marketing, time management and business development. Having left client work to pursue her own projects, Janine will share how to turn frustrations and obstacles into your advantage and how to keep motivated and inspired. You'll get a personal look at how the magazine is made.

THURSDAY, MAY 7 • 4:15 – 5:00PM

Sharon Werner on The Importance of Creative Collaboration

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan

One of the most revealing Y20 talks was Sharon Werner’s insight on collaboration.

Sharon is the founder of Werner Design Werks, a small design studio of storytellers artists and designers located in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They do both large and small projects, from brand development to packaging, for companies of any size from all over the world. No matter the size of the project, their commitment is to create authentic brand stories that people care about.

During her presentation, Sharon described how her small team works on adapting and navigating to meet the future. They follow three simple steps: listen, talk, design; and work in collaboration with other designers so they are open and flexible to different points of view. “The answer to how do we keep moving forward is collaboration.” Collaborators bring inspiration as well as expertise to their projects they are part of the process from the beginning. Freelancers and junior designers attend meetings with clients, as it is important that they hear from the client directly. There is no hierarchy in her company, she believes that is how research and creativity flows best.

Werner Design Werks’ portfolio includes a series of children’s books, Alphabeasties and other Amazing TypesBugs by the NumbersAlphasaurs and other Prehistoric Types, published by Blue Apple Books. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get a copy for my 4-year-old alphabet fan & zoologist, and Sharon kindly signed it with a cute note for him (“Tomas, T is for Tiger”).

Alphabeasties books were also a good example of collaboration between Sharon and Sarah Forss, senior designer at Werner Design Werks. The project started as a fluke, it was their own personal project and suddenly someone was interested in publishing it as a book. Sharon recalls thinking, “What can we bring to an alphabet book that hasn’t been done before? Typography, that’s what we know about!” and so the first book was born.  As the younger generations are paying more attention to design nowadays, the project aimed to demonstrate “that typography is fun, that type has a personality and can express more than simply the words being spelled.” It was a creative outlet but it not always easy to find the time to work on side projects. The tactics that worked for Sharon to push that personal project was treating it like a real project with a real client; carving up the time to do it. She emphasized the importance of giving personal projects the attention they deserve, from your website to a project you are passionate about.

Reading more about Sharon’s work I found an interview she recently did for AIGA. I thought I would include here part of it, because her collaboration working model really resonated with me and with the Y20 audience:

(AIGA): Clearly this is a model that has worked for you. I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to expand the size or staff of your studio, but you’ve chosen not to do that. Why did you made that choice?

(SW): Well, I love to work with a lot of different people. Sometimes I think when you’re in an office environment; there can be a lot of petty “officeness.” No matter what the agency, no matter what the environment, there’s just this stuff that happens that’s peripheral to the actual work. Sometimes the morning chitchat you have with colleagues is really nice and fun, but when it happens all day long, it’s crazy. I think having a smaller studio, we can avoid that, and then we can bring in people to work on very specific tasks and specific things. Then we can move on and bring in new people. You don’t get caught up in everyone’s personal issues. Another reason I’ve decided to keep the studio small is that I like to stay involved with the actual work and process. As an owner, it’s difficult to do that with more people. You tend to get caught up in the management of people.

Keeping the studio small allows us to stay more focused. We don’t need to sit down and have staff meetings. We know the status of everything that’s going on all the time. I personally like that, though I don’t know if that’s right for everyone. That’s just my personality. I don’t want to sit in a staff meeting. I just want to do the work and I want to brainstorm.”

For the full interview please see http://www.aiga.org/sharon-werner/

Sharon was featured in UPPERCASE issue #14 and at the end of her presentation she kindly agreed to pose with the magazine. Janine visited Sharon in her studio a few years ago, take a look in this post to see more.

Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua: Saying “no” to the big shots

Y20 Aiga Conference Day 2 post by Andrea Marvan

Jorge and Sandra opened the Y20 Conference on Friday morning. Sandra is a graphic designer and character designer for television and feature films, and her husband Jorge is an animator, painter, writer and director. They are a very dynamic couple with a hyper-Mexican over-the-top style, as they define it themselves. Jorge once suggested the idea of being the next Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo but Sandra fiercely rejected it “you are not cheating on me!”

Together, they created and designed “El Tigre, The Adventures of Manny Rivera”, a project that earned Equihua an Emmy. And more recently they worked on “The Book of Life”, a CG-animated feature for Reel FX, where Sandra was the lead character designer. Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Jorge, “The Book of Life” was Jorge’s life-long dream project and his love letter to their beloved Mexico.

Jorge

Jorge

Jorge’s graphic style is a bit more experimental while Sandra’s is clean and bold, yet you can see how their style perfectly complement each other, like a good marriage. Jorge is loud and fun, he uses animated sounds and a variety of voices when he speaks (after all he is a specialist in cartoon voice overs!), and Sandra laughs at his stories as if she were hearing them for the first time. They are absolutely charming and extremely talented.

Sandra

Sandra

Through their presentation, they shared stories about how their studio Mexopolis started and discussed the importance —and sexiness—of turning work down, as odd as it might sound. They are a very determined team and through their career they have been able to work only on projects they truly believe in. They have managed to insert Mexican elements in their work, even when the project had nothing to do with Mexico, and to portray Mexico proudly and with a sense of humour. “We’ve made our bosses like Mexico,” said Sandra, and I beamed.

Being Mexican myself, my opinion and my admiration for them might be biased, but their talent and creativity transcend borders and cultures. Their advice could not be more valuable to any professional in the industry: “Stick to your guns. Learn to say no, you want to work with something you can live with.” and they have ruled their careers by this principle, even if it meant quitting huge projects. Yet, saying no have turned them—as Jorge puts it—into “the hottest girl in town” because they fought for their projects to allow them creative freedom and they have stayed true to their passion. Because of this, Jorge and Sandra have been able to successfully accomplish personal creative vision and commercial success. It had also led them to fail sometimes, but that’s ok, because for them “Failure is great. Failure is the bricks of the pyramid of success.”

*Images courtesy Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua


 

Y20 AIGA Conference Day 1: Sharing a Universal Value

This guest post is by Andrea Marvan


As the sun starts to set over San Diego’s Mission Bay area, the first day of Y20 AIGA Conference is coming to an end. Participants head over the reception for cocktails and I look at the breathtaking view trying to allow everything to sink in. While I’ve always appreciated good design and I have an arts and communication background, I’m not a graphic designer and at times I worried my knowledge of design wouldn’t be up-to-date for the conference. But the AIGA talented group of designers shares a universal value: the passion for what they do and a strong sense of community. You don’t have to be in the industry to understand that.

Under the theme of Velocity, professionals from the design industry met at the at The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice on the beautiful campus of the University of San Diego, to discuss how to thrive in an accelerating landscape. The mix of presenters and their styles was for sure an eclectic one: from bold and colourful to elegant and sober.

I got there bright and early and at 8:00 am the vibe was already energizing and thrilling. Janine had donated copies of the magazine and I got excited when I overhead people saying “Oh look, there is UPPERCASE” as they opened their goodie bags.

The day began with highly dynamic Mexican designers Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua, creators of the movie Book of Life, who spoke about the importance of sticking to your guns and learning to say no—which I will elaborate more on a later post.

Following the explosive Gutierrez–Equihua team was Michael Bierut, partner in the New York office of the international design consultancy Pentagram. He began his talk by saying “Are you ready to see some black and white geometric shapes?” I thought he was being funny for following such a colourful act by the Mexican duo. He was being serious, yet his elegant, clean and crisp work was far from boring, it was exquisite. With a very clever sense of humour, a dynamic composition and an incredible creative branding strategy his team was able to say so much with so little: “A 49 square grid can do anything for us”. It certainly did.

Mid morning lead to Julia Zeltser’s talk. She is the founding partner and creative director at Hyperakt, and provided valuable insight on community engagement and working for the non-for profit sector. She closed by saying, “We need to stay flexible, current and relevant to participate in the future. I hope you stay flexible and nimble.”

After lunch I found the unexpected, as I was not expecting to cry at a design conference! Designer and documentary maker Justin Skeesuck brought tears to our eyes and got a standing ovation when he spoke on how, due to a progressive neurological disorder, he had to redesign his life and use his creativity to adapt to literarily everything: from day-to-day situations to crossing the Pyrenees in a wheelchair.

And last but not least, Sharon Werner, founder of Werner Design Werks and a previous UPPERCASE contributor closed the afternoon session with an inspiring talk on collaboration and on how a small team can achieve wonders when they follow three simple steps: “we listen, we talk, we design.”

Each and one of these professionals of the industry have a very unique perspective, style and approach to design. Their client portfolio covers a wide range, from fashion moguls to non-for-profit organizations, but they all do the same for their clients: they provide fun and creative solutions.

As the day ended with a competition (Pixels of Fury, where 3 contestants had to design a poster in 20 minutes in front of a live audience), I left inspired, motivated and ready to come tomorrow for more

QuiltCon's Lasting Impressions

Guest post by Linzee McCray

Churn Dash 2 Complementary by Martha Pederson

Churn Dash 2 Complementary by Martha Pederson

QuiltCon 2015 is winding up. Though I couldn’t help but see some of the quilts that were on the edges of the exhibition, near the vendor booths, I decided to save the main part of the exhibition for last. In addition to the quilts accepted for exhibition and judging, there were special displays, including Quilts of Gee’s Bend, Bill Volkening’s quilts from the 1970s, a sampling of the Modern Quilt Guild’s quilts of the month and of Do.Good.Stitches charity quilts.

The Rabbit Hole by Nydia Kennley

The Rabbit Hole by Nydia Kennley

Quilts submitted and accepted for entry were juried in a number of categories: Piecing, Applique, Improvisation, Minimalist Design, Small Quilts, and others (you can see them all here http://www.quiltcon.com/quilt-show/categories/).

Lite Brite by Maria Shell

Lite Brite by Maria Shell

Walking the aisles was both inspiring and intimidating. There were so many ways to consider the quilts, from the concepts behind them to the workmanship and skills used to create them. It was impossible not to think “I’d love to make a quilt like that,” and then wonder if I was capable. It was humbling to remember that while some quilters have art backgrounds or are graphics professionals, others have no formal training. Every now and then I’d see a proud quilter posing in front of her or his piece, a soothing reminder that even quilts that make artful use of color and design might have been stitched by someone who reminds me of my next-door neighbor. Part of what I find so engaging about “successful” quilts is seeing simple, accessible materials—needle, thread, and fabric—wielded by quilters with an eye for color and design. It makes personal, visual expression seem possible for those of us who don’t paint or draw.

For Tanya by Emily Coffey

For Tanya by Emily Coffey

When it comes to personal expression, there was one quilt in particular that exemplified what is most interesting to me about QuiltCon. Penny Gold’s quilt Self Portrait, Year Two (Beneath the Surface) shares her stark reality of having lost a child: it’s unlikely that this quilt would be welcome in a traditional quilt show. (Click here to view the quilt.) While quilts usually evoke color, warmth, and a soothing tone, this quilt bleakly, bravely, powerfully expresses Gold’s pain. In the same way that Jacquie Gering’s 2013 Bang, You’re Dead quilt, a handgun dripping blood, stirred controversy, contrasting a quilt’s soothing qualities with harsh reality only serves to strengthen its message. Congratulations QuiltCon, for including the quilt and giving us pause, challenging our expectations, and helping continue the conversation about what a quilt is, should be, and can be.

Gina Pina Hometown Quilt

Gina Pina Hometown Quilt

QuiltCon 2016 will be held in Pasadena, California, Feb. 18-21, 2016.


QuiltCon: Panels and Patchwork

Guest post by Linzee McCray

Vanessa Christensen class "Working with Ombre Fabrics", student work

Vanessa Christensen class "Working with Ombre Fabrics", student work

For day two of QuiltCon, I wasn’t up for the 7:45 a.m. yoga session, but did enjoy the Maker to Making a Living panel at 9 a.m. on Friday. Four industry professionals whose experience ranged from a few to 40 years shared their career paths, their aspirations vs. the reality of “making it” in the quilt industry, and the challenges of small-business ownership. While each panelist (Denyse Schmidt, Mary Fons, Heather Givans, and Brenda Groelz) looks for personal fulfillment and a life filled with making things, they acknowledged that making money to pay the rent (or “buy the kitties food” as moderator Jacqueline Sava called it) was of equal importance. I loved hearing these women riff off one another’s comments and acknowledge the satisfactions, but also the hard, hard work that goes into making careers like theirs happen.

Panel: Maker to Making a Living

Panel: Maker to Making a Living

Next up was one of my favourite lectures: Modern Materials: Quilts of the 1970s with Bill Volckening. This Portland resident found his first quilt rolled up under a table in an antique store and though he didn’t buy it at first, he couldn’t get it out of his mind and returned for it. He was initially seduced by the colors of the quilts of this era, but also became intrigued by the fabrics themselves—Dacron, polyester, and some quilting cottons—and the context in which they were stitched. (He compared one quilt to the painted bus used by The Partridge Family.) A number of quilts from his collection are on the show floor, so it’s possible to admire them in person. They’re pretty wild.

Log Cabin medallion, unknown maker, c.1975 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Log Cabin medallion, unknown maker, c.1975 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Tile Blocks, unknown maker c.1977 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Tile Blocks, unknown maker c.1977 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Woven pattern, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Woven pattern, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Grandmothers's Fans, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

Grandmothers's Fans, unknown maker c.1979 from the Bill Volkening Collection

At noon I gave a talk about UPPERCASE and expanded on the story I wrote about feed sacks for issue #24. Audience members ranged from people who had never heard of feed sacks to two women who had worn feed sack underwear as children. I shared a photo of a doily crocheted from the strings used to hold feed sacks shut and an audience member recalled a relative knitting a pair of socks from the strings she’d saved.  Another pulled the loveliest piece of feed sack material from her purse—the pink, grey, and gold apples had such a contemporary feel.

Feed sack example shared by an audience member.

Feed sack example shared by an audience member.

All day long I ran into people who wanted to talk—about quilts, about feed sacks, about fabric, about a quilt they’d seen on the exhibition floor. Those conversations are the real highlights of QuiltCon. Even after the convention center doors closed for the day, Austin was full of people talking about textiles in hotel lobbies and over dinner and drinks. The quilts and the lectures and the workshops provide fodder for getting a conversation started, but the shared love of stitching keeps them going.