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

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

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


 

Linoprinted wallpaper by Marthe Armitage

"You have time to think and so one idea grows out of another." – Marthe Armitage

Thank you to Noa Ambar Regev for the link.

Inspired? Enter your work for the Printmaking issue of UPPERCASE (out this spring).

Cutout / Decoupage exhibition in New York

There's a recently opened exhibition of artwork influenced by Matisse's cut paper artwork on display at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York until January 24. Featured artists include UPPERCASE reader Virginia Fleck and our issue #18 cover artist Sarah Bridgland.

The Future of Magazines

It was my pleasure to be invited as a guest on Grace Bonney's (Design*Sponge) radio show / podcast After The Jump today. Along with Paul Lowe and Paul Vitale of Sweet Paul magazine and Michele Outland of Gather Journal, we discussed the future of print media and what it's like to be a small publisher today.

Calling Card: A Gathering of Stitches

A Gathering of Stitches is offering some amazing retreats next year! Participants will have the opportunity to work intimately with some really talented and generous teachers in 2015. 

Sherri Lynn Wood of Daintytime will be spending two intensive days teaching a small group to quilt with curves, April 30 and May 1, using the extensive facilities of AGOS. Wood’s first book, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters will be published by STC Craft in March of 2015.

In July, Amy Butler and Heather Jones will lead a small group through their colour stories, and how to translate them into quilts. This exclusive retreat will take place at the luxurious Point Lookout resort in Northport, Maine.

The dynamic trio of Carolyn Friedlander, Chawne Kimber and Rebecca Ringquist take up residence at the Medomak Retreat centre in Washington, ME, in August, for a long Slow Stitching weekend. Slow down and connect to needle and thread or floss in a summer camp setting with a small community of stitchers.

For the garment sewists, Lauren Taylor of LLADYBIRD will spend four days exploring the joys of making clothing at AGOS. Start the Fall with new skills for creating your very own handmade wardrobe at this September workshop.

Thank you to Samantha Lindgren for her support of UPPERCASE magazine through the purchase of this Calling Card ad.

Step away from the computer

Looks like a fun time can be had at Grafisch Werkcentrum Amsterdam.

Inspired by Little Golden Books

UPPERCASE magazines on display at this past weekend's New Craft Coalition.

UPPERCASE magazines on display at this past weekend's New Craft Coalition.

Did you know that UPPERCASE's spines were originally inspired by Little Golden Books? I've always loved their eye-catching golden spines and wanted my magazine to have a similar recognizable shelf presence, even when displayed spine out. Using a silver foil for issue 23's spine brings that idea full circle. It's nice when childhood inspirations still apply to your adult life!

ReWorks Monthly Recycling Challenge

I’m pleased to introduce a new face and new monthly feature to the UPPERCASE blog. Solita Work is the proprietor of ReWorks Upcycle Shop in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood. Solita uses the skills she honed during years in graphic and exhibit design to curate and style the spacious and eclectic shop. Everything in the shop is made with some form of recycled, upcycled, repurposed or reclaimed material. You’ll find coat racks made from old rails spikes, purses from vintage license plates or a cast iron tub transformed into a cozy sofa. The business reduces waste, but also inspires people to redefine their understanding of waste. 

"It is so exciting to see how far artists, designers and crafts people have come in finding ways to reuse materials originally destined for our landfills,” says Solita. "Not only does the shop bring in talent from around North America but also gives me the opportunity to continue to be creative through in-house product development, graphic design, retail displays and community connections.”

In its third year, Solita has big plans for her shop, hoping to rearrange the configuration to make way for a "making area” which will allow her to do sewing and make objects for the store. The new studio area will also be available for makers-in-residence to create their own work or be inspired by the treasure trove of interesting objects and textiles that she as amassed in her back-room storage. Word has gotten out that Solita likes to find uses for discarded things, so she has often been the recipient of good quality items that need some TLC before they become new products. Last week when I visited the shop, Solita showed me some opaque glass bottles that were previously emblazoned with branding. She’s experimenting with sandblasting new designs and illustrations to upcycle them into new products that will be available for sale in the shop. Solita thrives on the challenge.

This brings us to the ReWorks Monthly Recycling Challenge. Every month, Solita will post an old item to be recreated into something new. She will pick her favourite entries and share them here along with the following month’s challenge. If she likes the idea enough, she may even offer to help you develop it into a viable, new product for sale in Reworks Upcycle Shop. 

ReWorks Monthly Recycling Challenge: Blue Jeans

This month’s challenge is to create something wonderful from an old pairs of blue jeans. Blue jeans are a durable staple item in just about everyone's closet. Inevitably, blue jeans will rip or tear at the knee or a pocket but that doesn't mean that there isn't still lots of good fabric left over for repurposing. Show us what you can do with that leftover fabric!

I have included a few examples to help get your inspiration flowing. Blue jeans have already been made into comfy pillows, a wildly creative bear rug and a colourful hand bag. I look forward to seeing what you make.

To enter the challenge, please email good quality digital photographs of your creation (800 pixels wide at 72 dpi) to info@shopreworks.ca. Entries must be submitted on or before the last day of the month to qualify for the challenge. Entries must also include your name, contact information and a brief description of your creation. If you have any questions about this challenge, please direct them to Solita at the email listed above. UPPERCASE is not involved in the administration or adjudication of this challenge.

Denim bag made by UPPERCASE reader Jane Bernstein. 

Denim bag made by UPPERCASE reader Jane Bernstein. 

Denim whale by Mevrouw Walvis

Denim whale by Mevrouw Walvis

Hervé Tullet's new book, Mix it Up

If you haven't experienced a book by Hervé Tullet, seek one out. His books offer fun experiences that use the format of the book to play with creative concepts. His latest book, Mix it Up! demonstrates how colours combine to form new colours and tints. It's a great book about mixing paint... and you won't get your fingers dirty!

Hervé is in Toronto next week, leading a hands-on art event for children on Wednesday, October 8. On October 9 at 2 pm he will be drop by Type (883 Queen St W, an UPPERCASE stockist) to sign copies of his new book.

Lisa Congdon's Art Inc.

Lisa Congdon's new book Art Inc. photographed with an original painting that Lisa gave to me.

Lisa Congdon's new book Art Inc. photographed with an original painting that Lisa gave to me.

I'm pleased to be part of the blog tour for Lisa Congdon's just-released book, Art Inc: The Essential Guide for Building your Career as an Artist. I've witnessed Lisa's growth as an artist and I am happy that we have collaborated quite frequently over the years.

In the early days of UPPERCASE, before it was a magazine, I ran a small gallery and bookstore. The exhibitions included artists from around the world, and Lisa was a frequent participant. (During this trip down memory lane, I'l be linking to old posts and articles on an antique version of the UPPERCASE website.) I exhibited Lisa's work as early as 2006, for the Big Little Show.

Her work at the time was mostly collage-based, with touches of painting and geometric decoration. In 2008's Old School exhibition and book, I sent artists packs of school-related ephemera for inspiration and inclusion in artworks. Lisa's submission in a shadow box was one of my favourites. (Old School is out of print, but you can see more here.)

In 2009, a theme of Bonfires was presented both as a gallery show and an article in an early issue of UPPERCASE. (Issue 3, out of print.) By this time, Lisa was doing much more painting and incorporating handlettering in her work.

The vintage ephemera of her early collages would later play an integral role in our biggest collaboration, the publication of the book A Collection a Day. In 2010, Lisa embarked on a year-long project to document her collection daily online through photos and the occasional drawing of arrangements from her curious collections. I began following her daily blog post right from the beginning and for months I thought to myself, "This would be an amazing book." I was expecting a baby that March and put the idea aside thinking that some big publisher would swoop in! But even late nights with a new baby couldn't dampen my interest and to my great pleasure, Lisa agreed to publish the book with me!

At 448 pages, this thick tome of a book is packaged in a collector's tin where you can keep your own little collections. Full of vintage ephemera, inspiring typography and curious oddities, A Collection a Day is a highlight of the UPPERCASE library.

Baby Finley in one of his first gigs as hand model.

Baby Finley in one of his first gigs as hand model.

Finley opens the tin to reveal the book inside.

Finley opens the tin to reveal the book inside.

Here's Lisa at the opening and book launch for A Collection a Day at The Curiosity Shoppe in San Francisco.

Here's Lisa at the opening and book launch for A Collection a Day at The Curiosity Shoppe in San Francisco.

So that brings us to 2011 and the release of Collection a Day. Meanwhile, Lisa's illustration career was on at full speed. Lisa was also a profiled artist in 2011's Work/Life 2: the UPPERCASE directory of illustration.

Lisa's studio in 2011.

Lisa's studio in 2011.

Fast forward to fall of 2013, Issue 19, and UPPERCASE magazine featured Lisa's travel sketchbook from a trip to Iceland. She also wrote and photographed an article about Alvar Aalto for that issue.

Over these years, Lisa has learned a lot. She is someone who pushes herself to learn, to improve, to explore uncharted territory. She has shared the stories of her high and lows, the ups and downs, on her blog in her forthright and personal style. With the release of Art Inc., she has created a precise and inspiring guide on how to make a career as an artist. Published by Chronicle Books (and illustrated by Work/Life 3 artist Karolin Schnoor), Art Inc. is the go-to companion for advice on how to start your journey as a professional artist... and how to stay motivated and to grow your artistic practice as you mature in your art.

Many congratulations to Lisa on adding 'published book author' to her long list of creative accomplishments. I'm honoured to have worked with you so many times along the way.

 

Art Inc. is available to purchase directly from Chronicle Books or wherever books are sold. The other books mentioned are by UPPERCASE and available in my shop (if they're still in print). Lisa has signed copies of A Collection a Day in her Etsy shop as well.

A French diversion to enjoy

Thanks to Diane at Tag Team Tompkins for the link!

"It is almost impossible for me to create without colour."

Columbian artist Ximena Escobar has taken the concept of paint by numbers into a completely different medium. By cutting up coloured felt, she assembles portraits of beautiful women with florals. "This medium is very special to me because the colours also have texture and that makes my work richer and more interesting," she explains. "It is a medium where I can't mix the colours, every one of them is a solid block, so I need to use them in a way I can blend the colours without mixing them. That challenges my work and takes me to some interesting and exciting results."

"Colour is a very important element in my work. It defines the mood of what I am creating, it is also the way I communicate my aesthetic no matter which medium I'm using. Colour inspires and challenges me all the time."

"Colour is part of what I am as an artist. I was born in Colombia which is a very tropical and colourful country. It is almost impossible for me to create something without colour, it is how I communicate what I want to say."

Ripe bananas and other outtakes from issue 22

Cover artist Shelley Davies was wonderful to work with. And she is always so generous with her creativity! Above's an "outtake" called Ripe Banana.

I asked Shelley to make the collage for the cover because of her affinity for working with paint swatches, her love of incorporating type into her work and her overall exuberance for bright colour. Here are some more colourful compositions from Shelley. 

Here are some roughs that Shelley made when working on the cover. We decided that the radiating colour wheel was more dynamic, but these studies are nice on their own!

Perfect explorations of colour by Sophie Smallhorn

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Just discovered the stunning works exploring colour and form of London-based artist Sophie Smallhorn

{ via Present & Correct }

Jason Taylor's Everyday Objects

Jason Taylor was featured in Issue #21, and has an exhibition this week at The Harley Gallery from June 11 to August 10, 2014. 

Here is an excerpt from Fun with Function written by Vinciane de Pape

Jason Taylor is an established, UK-based artist and industrial designer whose innovative work plays with the form and function of readymade objects. His line of lighting and furniture designs has been sold internationally and exhibited in museums and art galleries around the world. Jason brings an artistic sensibility to his design process and enjoys the restrictions and challenges of creating unconventional products inspired by mundane objects.

Finding early on that he enjoyed manipulating and inventing simple designs from objects like tin cans, Jason pursued an education in design to follow his passion for experimentation and to further develop his skill set.

“I chose to do a 3D design course because of the techniques I could learn in different materials, but the focus was mainly on functional objects,” he explains. “An object would become my starting point and I developed different paths I could go down, such as developing a different function for it or remaking it in a different material.”

Somewhat frustrated with the compromises required by the commercial side of product design, Jason decided to go back to what he does best—experimenting with objects. This is when his Everyday Objects project came to life.

“I learned with a previous project that I could be more productive than I thought, and I also enjoyed the sculptural side,” Jason describes. “But what would be the reason and how could I make myself do it? I had seen other people do everyday photography projects and then thought of the double meaning of ‘everyday objects’ and I had to go for it.”

To read the full article about Jason Taylor in Issue #21, click here.