Jude Stewart: Patternalia

12/14/15

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As most of you know, I love a good pattern — I love drawing them, I love designing them, I love decorating with them, I love pinning them. So I was really excited when my friend Tina introduced me to her friend, design writer & creative powerhouse Jude Stewart, who has recently written a fantastic history of patterns. It’s called Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage, & Other Graphic Patterns. This book is for the pattern geek in all of us. Have you ever wondered where stripes, plaids and polka dots came from? Do you squeal with nostalgia when you see a certain fabric or wallpaper pattern from your childhood? Do you wonder about the different kinds of patterns or some of the unwritten rules of pattern making? If so, I guarantee you will love this book.

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Jude about Patternalia — why she made it and what it was like researching it. We also chatted about our own personal relationships to pattern (since we both love the topic). Today in my Interviews with People I Admire series: Jude Stewart!

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Lisa: Jude, first before we dive into the book, tell us about you. Who are you and how do you spend your days?

Jude: Professionally, I’m a writer who wears two hats. I run my own creative agency, Stewart + Company, specializing in content strategy and development for corporate clients. I’m also a journalist writing about graphic design and visual culture.

But professionally is less than half the story, right? On the personal side, I live in Chicago with the two most excellent dudes I know, my husband and 2-year-old son. I’ve lived a bunch of times in Berlin and plan on doing so again this summer. Right now I’m reading Agatha Christie novels like they’re going out of style…

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Lisa: You previously wrote a beautiful book about color called ROY G BIV. Tell us first a little bit about that book.

Jude: First off, thanks for the compliment! To explain the title, ROY G. BIV is a mnemonic for the order of the colors of the rainbow, and the book itself includes a few more shades than the “classic” rainbow, like pink, gray and black.

I like to describe ROY as a “Color-Choose-Your-Adventure”. You can read your way through the rainbow – each chapter is devoted to a single color – or you can hop around following the thematic cross-references that dot the book’s pages. If you’re curious to read all the ways color intersects with bugs or hallucination, ROY can scratch that itch for you. Patternalia follows a similar format. For both color and pattern, I found this a great way to provide a satisfying old-fashioned read while giving reader scope to explore their own interests in a potentially infinite topic.

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Lisa: Why a book about patterns? Why was this the next book you had to make?

Jude: A good chunk of ROY G. BIV deals with the history of material color – how natural dyes and artist’s pigments were produced prior to the invention of synthetic dyes. That topic bumps into textile history over and over, some of which overlapped with weaving techniques and patterns.

But I really got a running start on Patternalia when I wrote a short “patterns are back” trend article for Print in 2009. I thought it’d be fun to find several ways each classic pattern had been used over the centuries, with an eye towards discerning the source of each pattern’s personality. Well, I found a lot of fascinating material but also no one book that answered my questions exactly – which was maddening. If you’re a particular kind of curious, dogged writer, your next book really chooses you that way.

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Lisa: I’m floored at the amount of information in the book! Tell us the process of researching the book. Where do you go to find all of the interesting pattern facts & history? How long did the research take you?

Jude: Ha, forever! Seriously, the research was a bit nutso. I gathered material for about six years total, gaining confidence as I progressed that this odd book could indeed be successfully written. I amassed all kinds of books that weren’t really intended for me: military histories, symbolism dictionaries, mathematics textbooks, textile histories galore… I also relied a lot on charming librarians and hitting up my husband (who’s a music historian) and our many academic buddies.

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Lisa: What is the most (or one or two of the most) fascinating fact(s) you learned while you were writing the book?

Jude: Well, all those military histories of camouflage were totally worth the slog. The story of camouflage is infinitely weirder and more fascinating than I’d imagined. Camouflage rose to prominence in WWI to protect military equipment from aerial reconnaissance – but then it expanded like crazy during WWII to encompass all kinds of of visual sleight-of-hand. It’s a story of inflatable tanks; decoy heads, tanks and cities; magicians sporting colonel stripes; jazzy warships – it goes on and (weirdly) on.

I was also pretty amazed at plaid’s history – more properly called “tartan”. (“Plaid” derives from a Gaelic term for a certain kind of woolen blanket, however it’s patterned. “Tartan” refers to the actual family of patterns.) Nearly everything you think you “know” about tartan is imaginary. Tartan was banned in the UK from 1746 to 1782 – which fueled the pattern’s rise in popularity. But nostalgia for the pattern also made its history fuzzy and rife with frauds. Several confidence men faked finding ancient tartan guides, and most of the “family tartans” we know today are invented, with little basis in fact.

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Lisa: When I was a kid, my dad, who is a mathematician and scientist, introduced me to fractals. I became obsessed with them, looking everywhere in nature for them. In some ways I think that introduction was the beginning of my interest in pattern that eventually led to a career as an artist and pattern designer. What was your first fascination with pattern or something pattern related?

Jude: Nice! Can I borrow that anecdote? 😉 But seriously: I recall a few patterns from my childhood intensely. A tiny bathroom of my grandma’s house in Louisville, Kentucky, was tiled in black-and-white hexagons that, to my eye, looked like interlocking pandas. Her living room was wallpapered Churchill Downs wallpaper. (Louisville is home to the Kentucky Derby, so horse-love is no joke there. (It only occurred to me later that there were three framed pictures of Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner from the 1970s, and maybe two pictures of grandkids.)

I used to love staring at patterns like these, sizing them up, then sizing them down in your mind’s eye, reverse-engineering how it was made, and – later on – the pleasant difficulty of parsing really complex patterns like Islamic tiling.

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Lisa: Once several years ago, I designed my first repeat pattern that was made entirely of interconnected lines. I used to have an illustration agent, and I remember when I showed this pattern to her she paid me the highest compliment: “I can’t tell where it begins and where it ends!” In other words, she couldn’t tell where the “repeat” began or ended. Making that particular pattern was one of the most satisfying things I’d ever done. You’re a writer & journalist, not a pattern designer. Did you have the opportunity in your research to watch a pattern designer at work on the computer or drawing table? Or have you ever attempted to make a repeatable pattern yourself? If so, what was that like for you?

Jude: I would L-O-V-E such an opportunity but haven’t yet had it. I have, however, interviewed many pattern designers about their process and gotten glimpses into how they work. (See my article Sensing a Pattern for Communications Arts.)

I also admire Islamic patterns for the very qualities you describe. That centerlessness is intended as an homage to Allah, who’s everywhere all at once. They also conceived of mathematics, design and spirituality as intertwined, a beautiful way to commune with a higher plane of existence. As I wrote in Patternalia’s introduction, pattern’s whiff of infinity is exciting to me.

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Lisa: What is your favorite pattern motif and why?

Jude: I really like black-and-white checkerboard. It’s clean, fresh, dynamic – it crackles with a certain electricity. It also conveys a surprising range of meanings across cultures. B&W checks can suggest speed (in racing flags), law and order (“Sillitoe tartan” appears on police uniforms in British Commonwealth countries, and here in Chicago), and spiritual protection (in Bali, you can drape B&W-checked fabric called wastra poleng over something you want to shield).

Lisa: Where can people find you on the Internets?

Jude: I’m at www.judestewart.com, but also tweeting up a storm @joodstew.

Lisa: Thank you Jude! I hope all the pattern geeks purchase Patternalia! It’s amazing

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Adam Kurtz

11/25/15

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Earlier this year, I got a friend request on Facebook from a super close friend of my good friend & surrogate-kid-sister Tuesday Bassen (who I interviewed here). His name is Adam Kurtz and he lives in New York. We had 18 friends in common and I noticed he is a fellow illustrator, so I hit “accept.”

In the months that have passed, I’ve gotten to know Adam through Facebook and Instagram, and I’ve fallen head over heals in love — not just with his wit and wisdom — but with his work in general. A few weeks ago, Adam sent me a package containing a bunch of his amazing products which you can see here. I then started reading his fantastic series on the Life & Business section of my friend Grace’s blog Design*Sponge and my crush got even more serious. Last week I sat down virtually with Adam and asked him about his childhood, his work and his voice as an artist. I present to you Adam J. Kurtz, the latest inductee in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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Lisa: Adam, I LOVE YOUR WORK! Tell us about you. Where did you grow up and what was your path to becoming an artist and designer?

Adam: Thank you, Lisa! That’s high praise coming from you (insert incoherent art crush rambling here, then a pause where I regain my dignity). I grew up in Toronto and have always been the “creative child,” which is code for “everyone always bought me art supplies for my birthday.” We moved a few times and I didn’t have a ton of friends in my early teens so I learned basic coding and built fan sites for fun. It was making and exploring those networks of people, just before social media was a thing, that kept me entertained. So I figured I should study graphic design in college, and that’s kind of how it went! Design is so much about organizing other people’s words and images in useful structures, and eventually I decided I wanted to make work that used my own voice. I like to think that’s the difference between art and design, really. Still, my art is all about functional objects. It’s a balloon, it’s a postcard, it’s a pin. It serves a tactile purpose beyond being nice to look at or carrying a message.

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Lisa: One of the reasons I love you & your work is that you tell the truth. Also, you manage to be really funny in your honesty without being overly sarcastic or cutting or mean. Tell us about your “voice” —  and how you express it, not just your work, but also your presence on social media.

Adam: That’s my real voice! I’m kind of an idiot, lots of dad jokes and backhanded compliments. Life is big and scary, but small jokes and those shared experiences are what connects us to each other and makes it okay. The nice thing about being myself full-time (as opposed to making work under a studio of another name) as that I can be that person without worrying about being “off brand.” While there’s a legal difference between Adam J. Kurtz the human and ADAMJK the brand, it’s all still me.

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Lisa: Your work is really conducive to putting on product and you make some amazing product. Tell us what it is about having your work on pins and pennants and balloons and shirts that makes you happy.

Adam: There is something very special about taking a mood or feeling out of your head and putting on a tangible object instead of a tweet or status update. There are a lot of people posting about feeling sad or alone. There are not a lot of people communicating that with a hopeful keychain. For me, it’s therapeutic to say what I need to say this way.

My “ADAMJK GIFT SHOP” is all about exploring what a “gift” really is. Why do we buy small trinkets to begin with? Sometimes we want to remember a place we were. Sometimes we see something that reminds us of someone we love. Sometimes we are feeling sad or happy and want to commemorate that feeling with an impulse buy. Other times we needed to get someone a present because of some holiday or occasion and then we “accidentally” keep it for ourselves. The items I make are simple, and generally inexpensive. I want their value to be defined by how they are selected and gifted to ourselves or others.

I’m not a fine artist, but I don’t consider myself a store either. I am an artist who wants people to easily own something they love. If I was wearing my pretentious glasses right now I’d tell you they’re “artist multiples” but I am wearing contacts today.

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Lisa: Tell us about your new spots on Design*Sponge. I love them!! How did that come about and how much do you love working with Grace?

Adam: Writing for Design*Sponge has been so cool! Grace Bonney is a really smart and funny woman, and I wrote a guest post a long time ago thanks to another contributor, Sabrina Smelko. Grace and I became friends online, and I just kept thinking “wow, I totally agree with almost everything she has to say.” I guess it was mutual enough, because she suggested a monthly column.

I don’t consider myself a true writer (whatever that means????) but it’s been really nice to share some perspective in a fun and maybe unusual way. The response has been so great and I am happy to be a part of such a fantastic blog. Now I’m just embarrassing myself. I love you, Grace!!!!! Okay bye.

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Lisa: Tell us about your book 1 Page at a Time. What’s it about?

Adam: 1 Page at a Time is a goofy little daily journal that asks you to write, draw, reflect, or act every day. Some pages are childish, some are straightforward, and some get weird or dark. The hope is that at the end of the year you have a time capsule of who you were, and you can see how far you’ve gone. It’s loosely based on my annual Unsolicited Advice weekly planners that I self-publish. An editor at Penguin found it on Kickstarter in 2013 and we met for coffee and it just… happened? It still blows my mind, and that was like three years ago.

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There are a lot of journals out there. At first, many people compare 1 Page at a Time to Wreck This Journal, which I totally understand (and we share an editor). Then they’ll come back and be like “hey actually it’s kind of the opposite? I want to save this forever!” The title isn’t even subtle at all – this is totally about making it through, making it yourself, and coming out the other side. It can mark the beginning of a new year, a new journey, or a fresh start. Like a lot of what I make, I try to allude to mental health ideas without being too cheesy or clinical. This is a fun book, but it’s also a book that fucking gets it, because I fucking get it.

A fun part of the book is the hashtag throughout. People all over the world are sharing their pages online in several languages. Though the book reminds you that life is a solo journey and being alone with your thoughts shouldn’t be terrifying, we are also all alone together. My secret hope is that two strangers will find each other through their posted pages. What if people across the world fell in love because their outlook on life totally overlaps? What if two people got married????? Ahhhhhhhh!!!

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Lisa: And you have another book coming out? Can you give us an idea about what it’s about and when it will come out?

Adam: I do! This first book has done well enough that Penguin is like “okay please make another book, we get it, you’re weird, that’s cool.” It will still have interactive elements, but it’s not exactly a journal either. It’s even more me than the first book. It’s darker, it’s more hopeful, it’s more honest, and I really want people to get it and be like “what the hell is this?” and then flip through and feel like they’ve found exactly what they needed in that moment. It’s hard for me to explain exactly what I’m trying to create because I’m still in the middle of it all.

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Lisa: What’s the most fun or wacky illustration job you’ve ever done for a client?

Adam: Earlier this month I got to draw a ton of adderall, that was pretty great! I also do the menus for my local coffee shop in exchange for free drinks. It’s probably the best paying gig I’ve ever had.

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Lisa: What kind of stuff makes you want to get out bed in the morning?

Adam: Almost nothing. Bed is the best.

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Lisa: Where can we find you on the Internets?

Adam: I’m @ADAMJK on all the good stuff!

Lisa: Thank you Adam!! Great having you on the blog today!

Friends, I’ll be back SATURDAY. Yes, Saturday! Confusing, I know, right? I don’t normally blog on the weekends, but I’m having a Small Business Saturday Sale starting Saturday so I’ll be posting some new items in my shop plus a discount code. So stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Janine Vangool: The Typewriter

11/18/15

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{Janine’s latest book: The Typewriter, 2015}

Waaaaay back in 2006, I became acquainted with a woman named Janine Vangool. She owned a small gallery, shop and graphic design studio in Calgary, Alberta, Canada called UPPERCASE. She wrote to me to ask me if I’d be interested in participating in a show in her gallery. I was a brand new artist at the time, and so of course I was thrilled she even noticed my work! And so began our relationship as colleagues and friends that continues today. You might be familiar with UPPERCASE because for the last six years, Janine has been producing one of the most beautiful magazines on the planet — UPPERCASE Magazine. She’s also the designer & publisher of a number of books, including my very first book: A Collection a Day, which came out in 2011.

I have long admired Janine’s design aesthetic and generosity, but what I think bonds us more than anything is that we are both collectors. We love old stuff. It’s what brought us together to collaborate on A Collection a Day, and it’s what brings us together today for this interview. Janine has just published one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever laid my eyes on — and it’s all about one of her greatest passions: The Typewriter. Janine makes beautiful books, but this is by far her tour de force. It’s huge, chock full of hundreds of stunning images and historical information, and beautifully laid out and organized. If you love typewriters, this book is for you.

Today in my Interviews with People I Admire series, I present Janine Vangool!

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{photo credit Heather Saitz}

Lisa: Janine, I am so happy to feature your new book on my blog today. Tell my readers about your publishing company UPPERCASE. You mostly work on publishing a quarterly magazine since 2009, but you’ve also published several books, including this new one. Tell us about how and why you started UPPERCASE.

Janine: I actually started publishing books before I launched the magazine. I had an art gallery and shop, called UPPERCASE gallery books & paper goods, that opened in 2005. I hosted exhibitions in the front of the space, sold other publisher’s books on art and design and also experimented in selling my own products such as greeting cards, sewn goods and handmade notebooks. In the back of the space I did my freelance graphic design for clients. After a while, I enjoyed the challenge of making and selling my own wares more than working for clients, so I began to focus on UPPERCASE. The first books I published were in conjunction with gallery exhibitions.

Old School was one of the early books and exhibitions. Inspired by the aesthetics of old fashioned elementary school, dozens of artists created artwork on the theme. I was happy to have your work in that show! All the artwork was published in a small companion book.

Another successful project was Work/Life, a directory of illustration that has evolved into a series of three books and counting.

I loved publishing so much that a magazine seemed like great way to keep the ideas flowing. UPPERCASE launched in 2009. The following year I had my son and closed the physical store to concentrate on the magazine and publishing projects versus retail.

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Lisa: UPPERCASE has grown into one of the most respected independent magazines in the world. In the age of online magazines, why do people love to get, hold & look at UPPERCASE? What do you think sets UPPERCASE apart from other print magazines?

Janine: Thanks, Lisa! It is sort of strange to think about how much the magazine has evolved since 2009. It has surpassed my initial intentions and expectations in every way. It is such a privilege to still be publishing it nearly seven years on.

The one thing that hasn’t changed through it all is my love of print and so I’m always investing back into the magazine with excellent paper, fun printed features like foils, embossing, special glued-on items like fabric… I’ve also held steadfast to my belief that UPPERCASE will not ever be a digital magazine. Where other magazine might try to do it all with print, apps, digital versions, etc, I like to concentrate on what I love and know the best: ink on paper. If you’re the kind of person who strokes the paper and loves the smell of ink, then UPPERCASE is made for you!

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Lisa: Let’s talk about your new book, The Typewriter. When we first met online back in the day, one of the things that connected us was our mutual love of collecting old, ubiquitous things. You collect many things, but one of your most famous collections are typewriters and typewriter-related things. What lead to this book and why did it feel like an important book for you to make?

Janine: I could credit our collaboration on A Collection a Day for leading me down the collecting path a bit more! I have always loved typewriters, but the machines themselves are so expensive and heavy and take up so much room. But like you, I love to collect things, so I switched my focus to the ephemera of typewriters and typewriting. So other than a collection of prettily coloured Royals from the mid-fifties, my typewriter collection is made of brochures, ads, tins and various small artifacts.

To justify my obsession with collecting these things, I decided to turn it into a book. These artifacts are so intriguing, they really do tell a great story through design and copywriting, about the evolution of modern communications, women in the workplace and of graphic design and advertising as professions, too.

The history of the machine is quite complex and I’m by no means a historian or academic, so The Typewriter book is intended to be a beautiful collection of notable graphics telling its story of the past century and a half.

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Lisa: The book is filled with images and information about vintage typewriters. Tell us about the amount of research and image sourcing you had to do for the book. What was the process like? How long did it take?

Janine: Early on, I was collecting things simply because I like the way they looked. Once I decided to make a book and had an outline of topics, I searched out advertisements and things that could tell the story more completely. It was many many hours on eBay and online searches. The majority of what is in the book are things that I have collected, with the exception of some of the machines and more expensive things that are sources from other collectors.

Though collecting things began years prior, the book itself was a three year project that began with a crowdsourcing campaign. Thanks to hundreds of kind folks, I was able to raise enough preorders to fund the print run of the book.

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Lisa: The book is divided by era. Which typewriter era is your favorite & why?

Janine: I enjoy the 50s, when colourful machines were sold in pink, turquoise, teal and mint. I’m still looking for a sunbeam yellow Royal to complete my collection! I love the glamour and style of that era. My dad also restores vintage cars from the 50s, so growing up I was influenced by that era as well.

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Lisa: Inquiring minds want to know: how many typewriters do you own? Do you use any of them? How easy or difficult is it to find parts and ribbon for them these days?

Janine: I currently have a dozen machines, but some of those are on loan for the book project and I am just their current caretaker. I use my red Royal and turquoise Royal; they continue to work well. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do any major repairs and ribbons are available from online sellers.

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Lisa: If someone is interested in purchasing your book or subscribing to UPPERCASE, where should they go?

Janine: I have a website just about The Typewriter, where folks can see previews of the book and see some of the artifacts as well. My various books, back issues and subscriptions are also available here.

Lisa: Thank you, Janine!

Janine: Thank you, Lisa!

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Have a great day, friends!

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Lea Redmond: Knit the Sky

11/03/15

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Hello friends and happy Tuesday! I am back from my trip to Spain and Portugal, and I am so excited today to share an interview with a really amazing artist and maker.

A few years ago when I was still living in San Francisco, I discovered the work of Lea Redmond (pronounced “Lee”). She was setting up one of her World’s Smallest Post Services at a local shop in San Francisco, and I popped in quickly to check it out. Lea became famous for her teeenneeee weeeneee letters (see below), hand scripted and sent through regular mail; periodically she would set up a live letter-making desk where she created the tiny letters specially for folks who passed by. Shortly after seeing Lea’s work for the first time, I got a surprise email from her asking if I wanted to hang out. A few weeks later, we got together to talk about our mutual love for art, crafts and books at a local pie shop. At that first meeting, Lea began telling me about a book she was beginning to concept — a book all about knitting from patterns that guide you through recording your experience (and not from a traditional knitting pattern). Think of it as a journal of your life, not with a pen and paper, but with knitting needles. That book, thousands of hours and hundreds of balls of yarn later, is finally with us! Knit the Sky: Cultivate Your Creativity with a Playful Way of Knitting was released recently by Storey Publishing. And it’s illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators. the amazing Lauren Nassef.

I sat down virtually with Lea recently to ask her all about her background, her new book and her approach to creativity. Lea is one of the cleverest & smartest women  I have ever met. I think you will enjoy her too, and so I present to you Lea Redmond in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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{Lea holding some of her tiny letters, which she creates with her own hands and a magnifying glass!}

Lisa: Lea, tell my readers a little bit you. Who are you? How did you get started as a maker, as a knitter? What are some of the things you have done before Knit the Sky?

Lea: I have loved making things since I was a wee one. As I grew up, the pinch pots and puffy paint t-shirts of elementary school turned into the wheel-thrown teapots and hand-knit sweaters of high school. And then I largely tucked away my art supplies as I fell in love with ideas at my little liberal arts college, and busied myself with books and writing. My mother was a Montessori preschool teacher and my dad a scuba diver. Combine those influences with some clay, yarn, Thoreau, and Heidegger, and I think that sums me up pretty good.

Back in 2008 I did a quirky art project called the World’s Smallest Post Service in which I set up my tiny post office (wooden roll-top doll desk and all!) around town and transcribed letters for passers-by. I would then send the itty-bitty missive to their recipient with a magnifying glass. To my surprise and delight, people really loved it! I wasn’t trying to start a business, but this project quickly turned into my creative studio, Leafcutter Designs, that offers all sorts of thoughtful objects and playful gifts like Seed Money, Recipe Dice, and Letters To My Future Self.

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{Lea reading from her book Knit the Sky}

Lisa: Your new book Knit the Sky: Cultivate Creativity with a Playful Way of Knitting is different from any knitting book I’ve ever seen! Describe how this book is different from most (or any) knitting books out there and why it was an important book for you to make & put into the world.

Lea: My book offers a way of knitting that is full of adventure, stories, and personal meaning. It’s not instead of typical knitting patterns; it’s simply a compliment to them. The best way to explain is with examples. In one scarf project, you observe the weather and add one stripe per day in yarns that match the color of the sky out your window. In another project, you collect gumballs from machines around town, and the order in which they dispense determines the order of the stripe colors. In yet another, you knit a cowl in the spirit of the moon, which can then be worn to match the current moon phase.

Typically a knitting pattern provides step-by-step technical instructions, charts, and photographs that guide you to make a particular garment in a particular size. These patterns are wonderful, beautiful, and extremely helpful. Pattern design is tough work and I’m so glad there are great designers providing excellent technical guidance for all of us yarn lovers. Most of the playful concepts in my book work just fine with very simple garments, like garter stitch scarves or simple hats, or you can combine them with more challenging patterns by your favorite designers.

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Lisa: How do you hope this book changes people’s experiences with knitting? Or elevates their experience of creativity in general?

Lea: What excites me most is the idea that knitters might read my book and be inspired to knit something that is infused with the unique details of his or her own life. Knitting in this way is almost like keeping a journal. It’s a chance to reflect on life, honor someone important to you, celebrate something, be curious about a place, etc. It’s of course lovely that we end up with a beautiful garment, but that’s almost beside the point for me. In the end, I’m most interested in the experience along the way—the adventure that is the process. (Though I will admit that I truly love that we get to keep a souvenir!)

And even thought Knit The Sky is full of ideas for knitting, I think folks can read it and apply this way of thinking—as well as the particular concepts in the book’s projects—to pretty much any medium of life. Read the book and knit a scarf, or maybe just read the book and plan a dinner party! This way of working goes across medium and—ha ha—the sky is the limit!

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Lisa: What is your favorite project or set of exercises in the book and why?

Lea: The “Mood Ring” project is one of my favorites, probably because the mindfulness involved in making it has the potential to be extremely powerful. Inspired by those dime-store mood rings of childhood, you knit yourself a cowl that tracks your emotions for a month. Each color represents a group of emotions and then every day you take some time to reflect on your inner life and add a few colors to the cowl that match how you’ve been feeling that day. Since you can see the colors from previous days and weeks, reflecting on them might inspire you to change how you spend your time or how you react to various situations, thus affecting your future mood and stripe colors.

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{The work of Illustrator Lauren Nassef}

Lisa: The illustrations are by Lauren Nassef and they are stunning (I am a huge fan of her work!). Why did you select her as your illustrator? What mood did you hope she would be able to capture?

Lea: I agree! I am overjoyed with Lauren’s illustrations for the book. I feel so lucky and grateful to share the pages with her. I was first drawn to Lauren because of her quirky, whimsical compositions. I want to live inside some of her drawings! She takes everyday objects and phenomena and adds a little twist that sparks curiosity, wonder, and delight. I also love her careful, intentional line work. The knitting projects in Knit The Sky are creative and playful, but they are also extremely thought out and full of intention. To me, Lauren’s work with pencil and brush embodies a similar sort of care.

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{Illustration from Knit the Sky}

Lisa: How did you accumulate all the project ideas in the book? Were these ideas you’d been collecting and trying out over the course of years? Or did it happen more recently than that? Did you test them out first (either yourself or with others) to make sure they would work well?

Lea: I first posted my “sky scarf” pattern online back in 2008, so the book is really the slow accumulation of ideas since then, plus a big surge at the end! To dream up these projects, I basically just look around, then maybe read a book, and then look around some more. I find most of my creative inspiration in the details of everyday life—in noticing the extraordinariness of the ordinary. The projects in Knit The Sky are inevitably a reflection of my own life, which is why I included a section at the end about how to invent your own project based on your own life. I can’t wait to see what people dream up!

The projects in the book with trickier elements (like knitting hexagons or the butterfly pattern stitch) were tested by me and the folks at Storey Publishing before the book went to press. There are indeed a few full patterns included (for a basic hat, scarf, cowl, socks, etc.), but this knitting book is vastly less technical than most. My hope is that people mix the concepts with their favorite patterns, or even make up their own!

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{from Knit the Sky}

Lisa: If people are interested in getting to know you and what you do better or in sharing or learning from you, where can people find you online or in real life? (this is where you get to talk about your newsletter, any online places, classes, events, etc!)

Lea: For Knit The Sky related news and events, find me at knitthesky.com. There, we have a calendar of book tour events and workshops I’m teaching. You can find yarn kits to go with some of the projects and can also sign up for the Knit The Sky newsletter. I post whatever I’m currently knitting on Instagram: @lea_redmond. You can find my playful goods and other creative studio work at leafcutterdesigns.com, on IG: @Leafcutter and on Facebook: facebook.com/LeafcutterDesigns

Lisa: Thank you Lea for sharing your genius with us!

Hope everyone has a great week.

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Scott Patt // Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.

10/07/15

scottstudio

{Scott Patt in his studio}

You may recall back in January of 2014 I wrote about a new daily year-long project started by artist and designer Scott Patt, called “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” Scott started that project in an effort to engage in a more meaningful and deliberate creative experience — one that captured his everyday thoughts and experiences. That project continued for the course of 2014 (he worked very hard not to abandon it, despite its intensity) and it ended up exploding not only into a life-changing experience for Scott but also a massive body of work, a book, a gallery show in New York, a short documentary, among with many other exciting things and new collaborations in the works. I caught up with Scott recently to do an in-depth interview with him about how the project grew and evolved, what he learned, and how it changed his life forever. Scott — and all of the ways he approaches his work — are hugely inspiring to me. I think they will be for you too. I am so honored to have him as my next Interview with People I Admire.

Without further ado, Scott Patt.

BSF original paintings collage

Lisa: Scott, first tell us about the daily project you started in 2014 called “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” What is it and how did it come to be? How many pieces did you end up making in the collection? Where did you post them? What was the reaction to the project over time?

Scott: Before “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” was bigger, smaller or even funnier the project began as a desire to sketch, ideate and work more consistently. I needed a way to challenge the art that I was making to be more meaningful and have an outlet that would easily allow me to incorporate the everyday thoughts, ironies, emotions, and experiences that I often ignored because I was too busy. I wanted a vehicle that was less perfect and with less pretense to allow the work to become an extension of my natural self. Work that would connect more broadly and deeply to others because of its honesty about the way we live and the things we all experience on any given day.

The result is “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” a year-long painting-a-day project that documents our shared life experiences by exploring everyday concepts such as purpose, love, faith, ego, relationships, sex, dependency, and genuine (but hard-earned) happiness. Every day in 2014, I ideated, sketched and painted an original conceptual painting. A new piece was virtually exhibited each morning via social media and 100 Limited Edition archival prints were made available for sale on scottpatt.com. Over the 365 days, 369 paintings were created from a palette of 8 colors and thousands of ideas were conceived in over 800 pages of 7 sketchbooks. Thousands of votes were cast and hundreds of prints were sold. The culmination of this massive body of work was a socially curated physical exhibition at Winston Wächter Fine Art in NYC informed via “likes,” print purchases and favorites from throughout the year-long project.

you waving at me

Lisa: Tell us about your sketches. Did you sketch out every idea in your sketchbook before taking them to final in the project? Or did you just go for it sometimes? What was the ideation process like and how did you decide if something would “work” or not?

Scott: Most of my gallery artwork prior “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” had evolved into painstaking Finish Fetish meets Conceptual Art. My work was super-clean, glossy, highly produced and pristine. Out of self-preservation I desired a project and process less precious and raw. I just wanted to make work without the usual layers of production involved. That being said, I’m a thinker (I mean over-thinker). I love to mull things over and explore the relationships between the visual and the verbal of a well-thought-out or even ridiculous idea. The sketchbooks of these explorations became ritualistic visual diaries prospecting daily happenings via spontaneous yet obsessive color studies, compositions, alliterations and notes on their way to becoming paintings.

Every morning I would wake up, and write in my journal documenting events, ideas and feelings from the previous day. I wouldn’t overthink it. I would just write and whatever or wherever it went is what it was. I also began taking obsessive notes about things and observations that would catch my attention. In the afternoon I would come back to my writings and highlight words or phrases that would trigger a mental image or an idea. Then for the next 2-3 hours I would sketch on those concepts playing with images and/or typography until I reached something that really made me smile or things hit a dead-end. I would often draw in public places because working in solitude every day would prove to be a lonely endeavor. More importantly sketching among others was incredibly inspirational and could be highly entertaining. I liked to go down to the harbor, sit outside with my sketchbooks and eavesdrop on the tourists as they talked about their lives. Overhearing the conversations of the recently reinvigorated can lend great perspective to the pettiness, humor and irony within our own lives as well as reinforce the universality of our concerns and struggles. And it wasn’t a bad way to inspire a piece or two.

lover loving lovers love

Having to ideate, sketch, paint, post and commercialize a piece a day was exhilarating and exhausting. Even though I knew there were pieces that “worked”, trying to choose a piece each night to paint, my ego, self doubt and fear of failure would conspire towards safety and indecision. Even at piece #364 I remembered laughing out loud because it never got easier. Every evening after sketching I would take photographs of the concepts I liked best to help me physically edit away from the cacophony of the sketchbooks. This was particularly helpful in sorting through the best of the best ideas as the project progressed and hundreds of pages of sketches piled up. There were many a night that I would send texts of sketches to friends or sit with my wife Lisa to go through the sketches to help me pick a piece for the next day. The repetition and pace of the project would leave me exhausted and paralyze my decision-making. No matter how tired I was though it was always fun to see which sketches would make her laugh out loud or which pieces friends would respond to (or not). I would not have made it through “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” had it not been for the tireless support of my wife and my good friends.

I also liked to select sketches for paintings based on the day of the week. Having worked in the corporate world for 20+ years, every day has always seemed to have a particular feeling attached to it. Monday’s always felt like a ball buster so I’d post something to give others a good push or laugh to get the week going. Wednesdays were usually about getting over the proverbial “hump”. Fridays required a little something to instill the spirit of the weekend, where as a Saturday and Sunday were more contemplative. I always liked the idea of some random guy in an office flipping through their Instagram and making them laugh or inspiring them to think a little differently about their day.

sun shade shadow

Lisa: Thank you for that description of your process. I think sometimes people assume artists just sit down and draw whatever is on their brain. But it’s usually so much more than that, and you are evidence of that. I love that you share your documentation too. Let’s talk about your background. You are a graphic designer and artist, both. Talk about the intersection of graphic design and your own personal “artistry” & sense of humor in the works in this collection.

Scott: I’ve had a pretty rich experience regarding the intersection between art, design and life. I went to school with the intention of becoming a doctor and became a graphic designer (insert joke here). My career evolved into product design, specifically footwear design while I was at Nike and concurrent to it all I’ve been a visual artist. For me, the long and short of how they all relate (or not) is that Art is not Design and Design is not Art but they share similarities. Design, whether it’s in the form of Advertising, Graphic Design or Product Design is about solving problems. A great Design solution should help make your life better. Similar but different, Art can solve problems by provoking questions and exploring everyday issues from the physical and social to the psychological. In both realms there are many ways to arrive at a solution but that’s where Art and Design part ways. Design needs to work to be successful and for Art what “works” can be relative. That’s the magic.

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{observers interacting with Scott’s larger pieces at his culminating show}

“Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” wasn’t and still isn’t concerned about whether it’s Art or Design but more importantly about connectivity. Life can be a lonely endeavor. What better than to connect to others who are like-minded and share in the experience. At the opening reception for “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” at Winston Wächter Fine Art in NYC it was amazing to see how the work resonated with so many people, young and old in so many different ways. It simply proved that our stories, experiences, needs, concerns, etc… transcend generations and it’s something we all share. Our similarities are greater than our differences. For me, when the work resonates with others that’s when the world gets smaller, and life gets more purposeful.

Humor also began to play a large part throughout the project. I had always been really insecure about the inclusion of satire into my work because of the fear of it being perceived as sophomoric or unsophisticated. But I quickly realized that humor, irony and wit was my way of processing and presenting subjects that are far more complex than just a surface level quip (and it’s a hell of a lot more fun).

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{observers interacting with Scott’s larger pieces at his culminating show}

Lisa: You mentioned that this project was one of the most transformative things you’ve ever done. First, tell us about what you thought you might get out of the project when you embarked on it. Then, tell us how it was transformative for you.

Scott: For better (and worse) I have an active imagination so of course I thought about all kinds of “what ifs” for the project but I did myself the courtesy of focusing on simply making work every day. My work and my process were feeling rudderless and doing more of the same thing staring at studio walls was not going to get me anywhere new.

bsf_factory photo

One of the early and driving forces for “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” was revealed when I had started doing 3” x 4” sketches several months before its inception. Like most life changing things it was already there, it was just waiting to be discovered. On a December afternoon in 2013 while searching through 20+ years of photographs to inspire some new ideas I came across an old photo I took on an overseas footwear design development trip. It was of a mural on a factory wall that read “BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER.” It brought me back to the day I had taken the picture and the humor in its lost in translation meaning as an inspirational imperative. As I sat there staring at the photo 14 years later, the message had a profound simplicity in relation to my new quest; Do more of the good stuff, less of the shitty stuff and the joy will follow. So that’s exactly what I did and the project quickly had a name, a mission and I had a new philosophy.

What was most transformational about the project is how the unrelenting daily pace changed my process for making Art. At the beginning of “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” creating a piece a day was like falling in love with someone. I was gaga for the project and it’s all I could think about. A reservoir of thoughts, ideas and sketches flowed freely fueled by the energy of a renewed sense of purpose. But like many relationships, honeymoons can be short lived and then the real work begins. I distinctly remember laughing to myself after an exhausting first week when I realized I would have to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that for 358 more days. Or the daunting task every time I had to prepare up to a dozen pieces in advance of work consulting trips sometimes even bringing my painting supplies and scanner to paint on the road. The ceaseless appetite of the project combined with outside responsibilities and demands forced me to evolve my creative process. Never before had time seemed to pass so quickly. There was no space for perfection and preciousness as daily deadlines loomed.

#319 self abosorbed (for color)

A little less than half way through the year on piece #144 I had a revelation. Because of the project’s appetite for content, I was forced to source the material closest to me; my own everyday experiences, stories and happenings. I mined years of life-changing personal adventures, photographs, collected ephemera and alliterations that have filled my head, shelves and storage containers for years. Without being conscious of it I had achieved one of the things I had set out to discover. Through the velocity and pressure of the project, my work was being directly informed in real-time by every day life. I was listening better and observing more. The little moments that make life great were the moments that were creating the art. In 2014 these moments showed up for me 369 times; from the California desert, to a barber shop, waiting for the next wave, to the passing of a loved one, from my 4 year old niece, during a never-ending meeting and in a saying on a factory wall. What may sound incomprehensibly obvious to some (especially to creatives) is that I realized that art is not a passive companion—Art is in the living.

BSF insta 1

Lisa: How did the gallery show  and book with Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York come about?

Scott: I had intentionally not projected expectations on the results of “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” (O.K., maybe a couple projections). But it wouldn’t be until I had completed almost 100+ pieces in 4 months of work that I saw the potential of what was unfolding for the project. When I called my gallery partners to let them know what I was working on, Winston Wächter Fine Art was really excited. They loved the story, the use of social media, the democratization of the work, and of course the Art. They welcomed the inclusion of the analytics from the social media “likes” to inform the curation of the physical show. Out of 369 original paintings, we curated and framed 166 of the most socially liked and purchased pieces (with a couple personal favorites thrown in). As well, I transformed 14 of the top paintings into larger works accompanied by 2 new sculpture series.

BSF studio shot

Lisa: I remember early on in the project — maybe a few months in — you were struggling a bit and you emailed me to ask for advice about how not to give up on and how to stay engaged with it.  And that’s because drawing or painting something every day for a year is a really huge challenge. How did you approach it when it started to feel tedious or boring or stressful? And what advice would you now give to anyone wanting to do a daily project for an entire year?

#287 - don't worry (for color)

Scott: I’ve always been a fan of your 365 day projects not just because of the amazing work but also because of the stamina and constitution I imagined it must take to complete them. It was day 59 when I contacted you. “Struggling a bit” is an understatement. I’ve undertaken some crazy things in my life but this was on a different mental level than anything I had ever experienced. It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of a project like this and the intensity, will and resolve required to do something well every day let alone create, commercialize and socialize a thoughtful conceptual painting daily and then make an art show about it.

Your email reply was great because it was encouraging but more importantly it was practical. One of the things you mentioned was that during your 365 projects you had to plan pieces in advance of trips to make sure you didn’t miss a day. This helped to shift me into thinking about “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” as a job. To finish the project, make it exceptional and ensure some level sanity it required a daily schedule, especially considering I was running a design consultancy simultaneously. As soon as I created a routine, writing in the morning, sketching in the late afternoon, painting in the evening (late evening) and posting in the early morning, all that was left was to create great work.

My advice for anyone who wants to do a daily project for a year is to make sure that whatever it is that they’re doing, it needs to start with themselves. Do it because you love it and do it because you have to in order to survive and grow. There were many times during the project that it felt as if I was working within a vacuum, social media posts were not resonating, newsletters were seemingly being sent into a digital abyss and print orders were non-existent. These are the times that test your resolve and reinforce that it’s about the work and the love that you have for the work.

The other thing you mentioned Lisa is, “you WON’T regret it”.

I don’t. THANK YOU.

#50 - now 600

Lisa: You are most welcome! Where can people buy the book or prints from the project? Where can people find you online?

Scott: The prints continue to be available via my website at scottpatt.com. Each piece is hand signed in a limited edition of 100. They’re digitally printed with archival inks on beautiful 100% Cotton Rag Acid Free Paper. On the site people can also watch the short film we did documenting the project’s half way point as well as a great piece that highlights the sketchbooks.

The “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” book documents all 369 paintings as well as the story of the project from beginning to end. We did a very small run of books for the first edition and I only have a handful left. If people are interested in purchasing a copy they can email me direct at info@scottpatt.com.

For the most up to date happenings, shows, sketches and recent musings give a follow at @scottpatt on Instagram.

BSF book mock up

Lisa: What are you working on now?

Scott: In the near term, “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” has created some fun opportunities including an upcoming partnership this summer with a great global lifestyle brand (TBA) and potentially exhibiting my work with some new galleries in the U.S. As well, since the show in N.Y.C. I’ve been working on some commissions for bigger works from the series. On my wish list…I’d love to get all 369 pieces into a book of daily postcards and I’d love to do a second edition of the book with a publisher.

Bigger picture, It’s incredibly fitting that one of the last pieces I created for the project was entitled “It’s not me. It’s you.”. There is no greater sentiment to the project and work to summarize the importance and inspiration that so many people played in fulfilling what “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier” became and where it still can go both physically and philosophically.

Thank you Lisa you definitely were and continue to be a part of that!

#368 - it's not me it's you 600

Scott: A couple other amazing partners from “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” people should check out:

“Kingspoke” did amazing things throughout the project including the documentary.

“The Happening” created the amazing sketchbooks film and helped make my “Bigger. Smaller. Funnier.” font into a usable digital font.

My creative council and talented wife Lisa DeJohn

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Thank you, Scott! You are a huge inspirational force in my life! <3

Have a great Wednesday everyone!

-Lisa

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