Professional SpotlightSpotlight

It is always pure joy seeing a Broadway show. The actors are insanely talented, the music is catchy, the costumes are gorgeous, and the set designs are stunning. When it comes to set design, one show in particular stands out in our minds: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a musical about Monty Navarro, an heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. We saw the show last year on Broadway, and not only did the show blow us away with its dark humor, wit, and enjoyable show tunes, but the set was so grand that it was essentially its own character.

We were over the moon when we had the opportunity to interview the award winning theater, opera, and dance stage designer Alexander Dodge. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is just one of the many incredible sets he has designed (also for which he received his second Tony Award Nomination!). Alexander has also designed for productions such as Julius Caesar, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night.

In addition to two Tony Award Nominations, a Lortel Award, a Drama Desk Nomination, and an Outer Critics Circle Nomination, he has also been the recipient of two Elliot Norton Awards, three Independent Reviewers of New England Awards, two Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, two San Diego Critics Circle Awards, and a Bay Area Critics Award. Alexander continues to impress with his attention to detail and incredible designs.

Born in Switzerland, Alexander grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended Bennington College in Vermont, spent a semester abroad in London, and later trained with the talented Ming Cho Lee at the Yale School of Drama. Alexander’s credentials and experiences with stage design makes him stand out above his peers, and even with his continued success, he is a pleasure to talk to and is generous with his time. Also, this September, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder goes on tour! If the tour is coming to your city, you’ll be able to see the amazing set design Alexander has created.

Name: Alexander Dodge
Education: BA in Drama from Bennington College; MFA in Design from Yale School of Drama
Follow: alexanderdodgedesign.com

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Alexander Dodge: Do things you want to do when you can and when you’re young. I have a one-year-old son and I’m focused on getting him to understand the idea of doing all the things he can when he can. You never know what’s going to come ahead in life that will stop you from doing something you could have done when you were young.

CJ: You majored in Drama from Bennington College. How did you decide what to major in?

AD: What’s great about Bennington is that they’re all about learning by doing and want you to dabble in a lot of things before deciding what to major in. Every year you have a work semester so my first year I worked in a gallery in Soho, my second year I worked in San Diego at the Old Globe Theater, my third year I worked at the Young Vic in London, and my fourth year I worked at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. I had these great experiences of learning what was good or what wasn’t for me. After a couple of years of that I figured out what I really liked doing. And we had a great performing arts center there – it was the same size as one you’d find at a major university but for 500 students. That was incredible. You could get lost in some of the backstage stuff, it was really cool.

CJ: You also received your master’s of fine arts degree in Design from Yale School of Drama where you trained with Ming Cho Lee. What inspired you to go back to school to receive this degree?

AD: Going to Yale was great because it was completely structured – in the three years there was only one elective class you could take. Which is great in a way and I loved being at a large university for a while. The campus was awesome, and Ming Cho Lee is amazing. I absorbed so much and it was so important being there and being around the other students who you learn so much from. So many places teach you different skills, and Ming Cho Lee was really about teaching you to become an artist. To really see, and really look, and figure out how to interpret the world around you.

CJ: How do you work with the rest of the crew to create the physical stage that the audience sees?

AD: Unlike architects we don’t have engineering backgrounds, so we’re not required to know exactly how to construct and put things together, but we make suggestions and we’re really only responsible for the look. So there’s a technical director for each project – either based at a theater or based at a commercial shop. If you’re doing a Broadway show there aren’t any scene shops here so everything gets built elsewhere. So I’ll give them a pretty good sense of the technical drawings, and then they’ll really figure out how to construct it. I’ll also give them a color model, renderings, paint elevations and all that, and they’ll then take those drawings and do technical drawings of what’s inside and what’s actually keeping the walls up. You also work very closely with the director to figure out how you can put everything together in the space you have to work with.

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CJ: You are a set and costume designer for theater, opera, and dance. What does it mean to be a designer, and what do your daily tasks look like?

AD: Today is all about finishing up a model and coming up with new designs I’m doing for a new show this summer, as well as reading a play I just got offered. So it really depends. It tends to be office time when I’m in the city, but I fly all the time and it’s a lot of travel.

CJ: When starting a new project, what does your process look like?

AD: Collaboration is the name of the game. I find that the shows I’ve worked on that have been the most successful are the ones that we all work together. I’ve also done shows where I basically hand them the set design and they go with it. Other times it’s a lot of back and forth and figuring it out together, which can feel much more satisfying. Also the director might have a take on the piece that’s important. The text is read first and foremost, then I go to the director and talk about what he or she thinks, then there’s interaction with the costume designer an the lighting designer. Usually costumes and set are what we start with because of the nature of how long those things take to create and build. We have to start right away. Nothing is by chance – everything has to be decided, down to the buttons and the trim on the jackets, the height of the door frame, and so on.

CJ: What is an important skill you need as a set designer?

AD: Trying to carve out time for myself is really good. If I don’t go to the gym in the morning and have my time, I’ll have a million excuses to not go in the afternoon. But it’s time for myself and it’s important for my own sanity. Even though I’m on the road a lot, trying to keep a business routine is really good too. This past year I’ve made a big push to carve out vacation time, because before that it was all about trying to grab a weekend here or a weekend there, and that was kind of it. But the theater is very different where we plow through national holidays and don’t really have a typical summer season because there are always shows going on. I remember once I did a show in Boston and we started technical rehearsal on December 26th and we went right through the New Year – it was a whirlwind of work at a time when you’d really love to be with your family.

CJ: Is there a cause or issue that you care about? If so, why?

AD: Something I care a lot about is LGBT youth and youth programs like the Hetrick-Martin Institute. There’s also a program called Live Out Loud which provides scholarships for LGBT youth. I also love smaller theater groups like The Civilians – they do a whole variety of investigative theater, which is so interesting.

CJ: What should a young adult who wants to be a set and costume designer do now to set him or herself up for success?

AD: I think try to get out and see as many things as possible is important, especially if you’re close to any major theater area. Even if you’re in a smaller town, take advantage of what’s there. Familiarize yourself with what you’re interested in. Try to travel to places that offer different shows. Seizing those things, especially if you want to do this business, is important. And see a variety of things – see operas, concerts, modern dance, and museums.

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

AD: Being more present and taking more time for my family and me is something that I’m really working on. It’s difficult with work, but I don’t want to be that person where my job is everything. Time with your family is not to be undervalued.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

AD: I would say don’t major in drama – branch out more than you did. I think that I zoomed in on what I knew I wanted to do, but in hindsight I’m thinking it would have been good to take an anthropology class or more science courses. In grad school I decided I wanted to be in a show for the first time, and it was great. I was on the stage at Yale University and it was such a great experience.

Alexander Dodge Qs

Images by Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Erik Fabian has always enjoyed performing. As an artist working in performance, installation, and conceptual art, Erik is interested in the interaction between people and how “space and circumstances around that interaction shape your experience.” Erik is a graduate of the Master of FIne Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his experience at grad school greatly changed his work.

While working as an artist, Erik is also the Director of Brand & PR at Moleskine America. Erik tells stories about the Moleskine brand’s values while also inspiring people to create more. We’re definitely inspired – as huge fans of putting pen to paper, we are guilty of carrying our Moleskine notebooks around with us everywhere we go to note down ideas and to-dos.

Though busy, Erik has great tips for managing his time. How does he do it exactly? By identifying two or three big goals for the day, as well as smaller tasks to accomplish. Keep reading to learn more about Erik’s successful career, his creative process, and the simple yet effect things he does when he needs to unwind or reset.

Name: Erik Fabian
Age: 38
Education:
The Evergreen State College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Follow: @ErikFabianInstagram / ErikAndTheAnimals.com

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”

Erik Fabian: Take responsibility for your own happiness, impact, growth, and future. The sooner you take responsibility for yourself the more you can enjoy your youth and make choices that will help you enjoy your adulthood. I would define “responsibility” as being able to explain your choices and being willing to stand behind your actions whatever the outcome.

CJ: You are an artist working in performance, installation, and conceptual art. What sparked your interest in art, and why specifically performance art and installation?

EF: I have always enjoyed performing. I think of it as this very big, philosophical playground and lab. It is a kind of play that gets lost as you get older. During a performance rules of interaction can be rewritten and questions about the world can be explored. I also like that performance can be so physical.

I became particularly interested in how people interact and how the space and circumstances around that interaction shape your experience. That led me to create more installations and events. I currently express this interest mostly through my role at Moleskine in creating events and partnerships with artists/cultural organizations.

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CJ: You are a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). What was that experience like and how did you determine where to study?

EF: At the time I wanted to explore performance in a broad sense…that included both the history of theater and the history of visual arts. That choice narrowed my options. You can do more tradition theater work in several places or be the conceptual/performance person in a more visual arts focused program but a mix is rare. When I met the faculty at SAIC I felt it was a pretty good fit and it was a well-regarded school and I was fortunate to get accepted.

I loved being a grad student and having the time and resources to think alongside very talented people. I enjoyed getting a stronger sense of visual art history and how visual artists work. It also gave me a vocabulary to talk about my work and other people’s work. The experience did change my work a great deal. For one thing, I wanting to experience how to make solo work after working collaboratively for a long time and had time to do that. The funny thing is that most visual artists I met had worked solo for so long and were looking for collaboration.

In the end your network is a key professional asset you take from any graduate school experience. I unfortunately didn’t want to live in Chicago permanently and left much of that network behind after the program. If you can, go to school where you want to live.

CJ: Your work explores notions of value and how we value art and the experience of performance. How do you come up with ideas and topics for your work, and what is your creative process?

EF: If I am working alone, I just follow my interests. My interests are usually are obvious based on the kind of reading and media I am consuming. I read a lot. I consume a lot of media. When working with others, it starts with conversations about interests and using formal idea development sessions. I am the kind of person who has way more ideas than time and resources to execute them.

To develop an idea into something for sharing, I set some kind of restraints around a project based on my interests, current resources and go from there. The process helps refine/reduce all my ideas and to fill in the blanks where needed. My process is a combo of doing structured, practical things and just noodling on ideas. For instance on the practical side, I start with making a calendar and working backwards, setting goals that lead to the result I want. On the looser side, I tend to draw lots of simple representation of ideas for aspects of the work.

Often I find I have clear ideas about the space and sequence of events first. I also tend to summarize the project as a kind of poster at some point. Getting on your feet and doing things rather than talking is a powerful way to move things forward when making a performance. When doing other kinds of projects, rapid-prototyping is the same kind of idea with a similar contribution to the process.

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CJ: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be an artist and creatively branch out on their own?

EF: First on the creative side, don’t ever be shy about pursuing your creative life. Everyone has a creative spark – nurture it, practice daily if you can, find what thrills you, hang out with other creative people, consume art that excites you, and enjoy yourself. With that said, I think your question is asking more how to become an “artist” as in not someone who doesn’t just makes stuff but has an audience and ultimately might be a professional.

I say don’t become an “artist.” There are too many vague “artists” in the world and the opportunities to express yourself isn’t limited to just traditional mediums like painting or poetry. You need to become something much more specific and powerful than an “artist.” “Artists” rarely have a sufficient audience to sustain a professional career. I know a ton of talented people who are doing odd jobs so they can paint or whatever and maybe get a lucky break. I have heard that most MFA graduates stop making work in six or seven years after graduation which I find sad and it should scare you. Find a niche where your interests, talents, refined craft, and the story you tell about yourself makes you very different than everyone else.

Andy Warhol isn’t an artist – he is a clever guy who took the notion of the commodification of visual goods and made his life into a metaphor for the industrial system. In doing so he created a ton of work that was easy to sell and still sells while also hanging out with kooky folks and living a life where he got to express ideas to an audience who cares.

You can write a similar blurb about any successful “artist” as well as people who express via entrepreneurship, social work, politics, or whatever. What is the blurb you want people to write about you? Write it without using the word “artist.”

On your way to living your blurb here are a couple other things I have noticed. Take your creative impulses and refine them into a craft – people with good technical skills in any traditional medium always have it easier. Identify a creative process that helps you consistently produce work – people who create a lot of work have it easier. Learn to talk about your work with non-“artists” – people will constantly ask you what you do and need a concrete response and these folks are your potential audience. Think about your work as a business and learn how the business of your relevant art market works – the people who are good at business and marketing have longer and bigger careers. Get really good, be really interesting, get good advice, handle your personal finances responsibly, and don’t let the pursuit of this professional stuff squash your creative self.

CJ: You are also the Director of Brand & PR at Moleskine America. What drew you to Moleskine and what does your job entail?

EF: I basically tell stories about the values that underlie the Moleskine brand. These values are the bedrock that supports the kinds of objects and experiences Moleskine designs and shares in the world. I also have a mandate to expand and protect the brand both as it is understood both among Moleskine America staff and in the public. If you take the time to look at Moleskine.com for instance you will see that the company has a ton of stuff going on. I help spread the word about these activities to our fans and try to inspire folks to create more.

I was attracted to the values of Moleskine and liked the design of the notebooks. The role they offered fit my experience as someone who has a background in the arts and expertise in creating events.

CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?

EF: I have sat in a privileged seat as the head of the brand at Moleskine America. Moleskine is one of the most passionately loved brands in the world and I am constantly impressed by the creative outpouring Moleskine fans put into their notebooks. I have certainly learned a great deal about building a successful brand and how the power of arts/culture contributes to building a brand like Moleskine.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

EF: There are different periods that focus on planning, budgeting, and execution of projects over the year. Most days I start by setting my to-dos and reviewing my calendar. I then jump into emails unless I have a pressing document to write. My days are dotted with meetings both with staff and external folks. Most of the work at an organization of any size is focused on alignment and focusing of everyone’s effort.

CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?

EF: I identify two or three big goals for the day and maybe two to four small tasks I want to get done. This helps me focus. I try to keep my unread email basically at zero. I keep a digital calendar up to date for meetings and create dedicated project calendars for anything important. I take notes in a Moleskine notebook of course and find being able to write/draw ideas and notes helps me be efficient because it roots the information in my brain more powerfully than typing.

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

EF: Finding time to be as physically active is always a challenge. I am always experimenting with how to be efficient at getting some movement into my week.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

EF: Walking when the weather is warm is great. I like to get out of the city and camp when I have time. I like to cook and go to restaurants. I also read a lot and consume a lot of media. I have been a long time meditator and have found a rigorous seated practice hard to maintain in NYC, but I takes aspects of that practice that I apply throughout my day.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

EF: Don’t wait for anyone else to take action. Go forward and people who are interested in your path will show up alongside you.

Erik Fabian Qs

Image: Erik Fabian, Emilie Baltz, Rachel Scroggins

Education

Let’s face it, we all spend a lot of time getting work done at a desk. Typing, writing, drawing, and organizing our way to the next deadline. Your work space can even be seen as an interesting reflection of yourself. So why not cater your desk to how you work best?

desk 1

For the simple and clean go-getter. There’s no need for unnecessary supplies or distractions. This worker is anti-clutter and prefers having only what’s needed to get an assignment done.
MUST HAVES: portable items such as a foldable book stand, small notebook, and an easy-to-carry thermos.

Desk 2

You appreciate visual company at your desk. Having inspiration at your fingertips is a necessity and your selected pile of books and magazines are always on rotation.
MUST HAVES: just the right lighting, background music, and a new stock of inky pens on standby.

Desk 3

The one that schedules time to schedule things. People ask you for the stapler, the post-its, and index cards. You are the constant email checker and enjoy the list-making efficiency of Wunderlist.
MUST HAVES: color coded agendas, caffeine, and a fully charged laptop.

Work space styles are endless, but once you figure out what your go-to items and settings are, you’re more likely to stay focused and motivated. Plus, spending some time to transform your space can add a little joy to your day to day. And behold, desk jobs can be fun!

Image: Marian Rose Bagamaspad

Culture

Halloween is right around the corner, and with that comes the stress of figuring out what disguise you’ll be wearing for the night! As a college student, you’ll likely find the need to have more than one costume at hand. Here is a list of simple, unique, and money-saving costume ideas to help you this holiday season!

1. Nail Polish

We all have a love-hate relationship with painting our nails, so why not make your costume a tribute? This costume idea is simple and can involve yourself or a group of your friends! All that is needed is a solid colored dress and white duct tape to be used to spell out the name brand “Essie” along the side. If you want to spend a little more money, feel free to invest in a white hat to act as a cap! Another cute addition to this outfit is putting a strip of duct tape towards the top of your dress with a flirty and corny nail polish name (because we all know those are our favorite thing) such as “Plum Play With Me” or “Teal Me Your Secrets”!

2. Sesame Street

Why not give a tribute to your childhood and go down memory-lane this Halloween? Gather your best friend and do a Cookie Monster and Elmo duo with the simple purchase of snapbacks dedicated to the characters as well as a few small temporary tattoos to adorn your cheeks! Pair with a black top and blue or red skirt and some black knee-high socks with Converse to complete the look!

 3. Gumball Machine

We all have a sweet-tooth especially around this time of year! Pick up an inexpensive shirt at the store and glue colored pompoms to it with all-purpose glue. Pair this with a red skirt and you’re sure to be a sweet treat!

 4. Valentine’s

Another simple costume idea involving a simple or solid colored dress is to be a valentine! Use colored paper to cute out a heart and write a phrase such as “Be Mine,” “Text Me,” or “Melt My Heart.” Attach it to a piece of yarn and wear it as a necklace to be coordinating with your friends!

 5. Retro

Everyone loves a throwback, and the easiest way to do this is to grab an old boa from your childhood dress-up wardrobe with a simple dress and bold lipstick! Top it off with some winged liner and you’ll be throwing it back to Gatsby!

Have fun, be creative, and enjoy the Halloween spirit in the air (and don’t forget to scare a friend while you’re at it)!

Image: Lenore Edman

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We first discovered Katie Leamon’s gorgeous luxury cards and stationery during a trip abroad. When we stumbled across her notebooks, we were immediately smitten. Based in England, Katie runs her own company devoted to making beautiful paper goods. Having studied art and design in school, Katie followed her passion and turned it into a successful brand. We adored learning more about the woman behind the stationery, and Katie is hardworking and very sweet. Katie shares a glimpse into her busy days, how youth interested in running their own business can set themselves up for success, and her favorite things to do in London.

Name: Katie Leamon
Age: 29
Education: Loughborough University Woven Textile BA Degree; First Class Honors
Follow: Katie Leamon | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Katie Leamon: Be open minded, try new things, challenge yourself every day, believe in yourself, and take the opportunities that life throws at you, and if it doesn’t then go and grab them yourself!

CJ: You majored in Textile Design at Loughborough University. How did you determine what to study?

KL: I loved art and design at school, and I concentrated on textile design throughout my foundation course so it was the next natural step. I then choose to specialize in woven textiles because I wanted to learn a new skill while I was at university which would not be overly accessible following my time in school.

CJ: You are the Director of Katie Leamon, a company devoted to making gorgeous luxury cards and stationery proudly made in England, which you launched in 2010. Where did your love of making beautiful stationery come from?

KL: I am a bit of a perfectionist and pay a huge amount of attention to the detail of a product, so when I set about starting my own thing, it seemed clear to me that it was going to be a high end product. Initially it was just about the design. I didn’t think about starting a stationery business, I was just building my portfolio and getting back into drawing. I have always loved paper products and stationery seemed like an obvious avenue to try and an accessible one for a young designer, so that’s where I started!

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CJ: What responsibilities do you have as the Director?

KL: I am directly responsible for the design and finish of a product, but as it’s my company, all major responsibilities come back to me. We have a great little team, but I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my work and I still take on a lot more of the daily responsibility than I should!

CJ: How did your education and past work experiences prepare you to start Katie Leamon?

KL: I worked in a small fashion design company for two years before starting up on my own and the experience of running a small company was invaluable. I did a lot of the wholesale side of things which helped when I first set out, and the design experience throughout education and work was all influential in my first collection, and continue to be.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from running your own company?

KL: Don’t try and run before you can walk. You can kill your company by moving too slowly and equally by moving too fast and making bad, ill-considered decisions. Things have a way of working themselves out so don’t lose too much sleep about things out of your control. Also, don’t hold back on making decisions. As long as you’re making decisions, they won’t be the wrong ones – the worst thing you can do is stay still.

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CJ: What is your design process? Where do you find inspiration?

KL: My design process is a little back to front… I tend to visualize a finished product and then work backwards to get it down on paper and make it a reality.

I am constantly being inspired, and normally have too many ideas, often unrealistic, running around my mind! I can be looking at patterns in the pavement to latest fashion trends, and think of something that could transfer to paper. Sometimes I don’t think we are even aware of many of our influences. I take intentional inspiration from vintage typography, I scour secondhand shops, and the images and style are always inspiring.

CJ: How did you go about the process of selling Katie Leamon luxury cards and stationery in high end retailers in the United Kingdom and across the world?

KL: I was very lucky in that my first stockist was Liberty of London; I was a successful candidate in their Open Call day in early 2011, and following that success gave me the confidence and money to try a trade show and I gained another few stockists, including Selfridges so it grew organically from then on. I think you need to know where you want to pitch your brand before you start, there is no point designing a high end product and targeting mass market chain stores.

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CJ: What can a teenager or young adult who wants to start their own luxury card and stationery company do now to set themselves up for success?

KL: Work hard. There is no way around it, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. I think it’s also very important to experiment and know your brand identity and style before you pitch to the market, have a strong unique product, and target the right places.

CJ: What would you say to people who are uncertain about starting a business? What motivated you to take the leap?

KL: I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to make beautiful things. It’s very hard at first, you’re on much less money, if any, than all of your friends, but the hard work is starting to pay off now and I would always recommend doing it if you can. I was working on such low money before I decided to start my own thing that I decided I had nothing to lose, I’d always wanted to do it, I am self-motivated, and I work hard, so I wanted to reap the benefits of working that hard for my own thing! I could get the same money from a part-time job initially, so I did that for the first couple of years while the company grew. I also had the support of my family, I shared my studio with my brother, and he paid the rent for the first couple of months and they were all so supportive. They helped me take that leap so I was very lucky.

CJ: What is the best moment of your career so far?

KL: That’s a hard one, I have a couple. My success at the Open Call day at Liberty was really the start of it all so that was a huge game changer and a huge accomplishment for me. Also, the building and opening of our production studio in Essex. We built the studio as a family, and now my mum and sister run all our production from there. It was a real “Wow, look how far I have come” moment for me.

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CJ: Describe a day in your life.

KL: My day varies largely depending on the time of year and on how close we get to a trade show! But generally speaking, I arrive at the studio at about 8-8.30am, and run through my emails while eating my breakfast. When my assistant Georgia arrives, we will run through our current projects and where we are with them. I will then catch up with my mum and sister who run the production studio in Essex and iron out any issues that might have come up and discuss any projects or new accounts that we are working on.

I then try to concentrate on the design side of things. Whether it’s working on new design projects, selecting and sampling colours and paper stock or actually getting my head down and doing some drawing. I always start with doodles in my sketchbook, then edit and try things on the computer. As to be expected with a small company, my day is interrupted with various queries, but I try to structure my day around our current projects and deadlines. Currently I’m trying to finish off our catalogue for Top Drawer, so I’m finalizing samples for a photo-shoot next week, and selecting some new envelope styles for a limited edition run of neon!

CJ: How do you balance your career roles and goals? How do you stay organized and efficient?

KL: Luckily I am naturally organized. But as a company we plan our weeks with what needs to get done and other things we want to achieve with the tasks at hand. I think you need to be flexible, you can’t plan too far in advance or you might miss an opportunity. Up to now I have let the business dictate a little of its own path, stores have approached us which has led to new and exciting things, and we obviously have goals but I think they are constantly changing and evolving. We evaluate things as often as possible and try to identify as quickly as possible if we are going off course.

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CJ: How do you like to enjoy your free time?

KL: I am a bit of a foodie so I love eating out with friends and trying the wealth of London’s food markets! I also love being outdoors and keeping active so I love camping, going to the beach, and keeping fit.

CJ: Which book had the greatest impact on you?

KL: Gone Girl, I was thinking about it for ages after I read it!

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KL: Work hard but worry less. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

It’s not every day that we see an illustration, design, or logo that makes us feel something. However, when we see Kate Harmer’s illustrations and designs, we are immediately inspired and moved.  Kate drew constantly when she was a little girl and she hasn’t stopped since. After following her passion and enrolling in Cornish College of the Arts, doing internships, getting job experience in design and illustration, and completing graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design, Kate launched her own design studio, Hum Creative, that focuses on creating and developing brands. More recently, Kate illustrated a fun book based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo.

Kate is not only amazingly talented, but she is smart, kind, and thoughtful. We are encouraged by her self-starter attitude, work ethic, and of course, her creativity. Kate not only has the ability to draw and design, but she also knows how to build an incredible team of people with serious creative skills. Through determination, hard work, and learning how to grow a thicker skin, Kate has excelled in her field, and she generously shares the lessons she has learned during her journey. Read on to learn more about Kate Harmer, a true inspiration!

Name: Kate Harmer
Age: 32
Education: BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts; MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design
Follow: Twitter / Hum Creative / Instagram

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Kate Harmer: It’s common to hear successful people look back and say, “We were so young, we were so crazy, we were so brave!” They’re talking about times that were challenging, but they are able to look back and laugh. I try to remember that I’m in that time right now for my future self. Knowing that all of these things won’t seem as hard or scary once they’re done encourages me to take big risks.

Yes, I’m 32, but that’s super young! Someday I’ll hopefully laugh at my failures and be proud of having challenged myself. Both are positive outcomes. To me, seizing your youth is embracing that now is the time to be free and brave.

CJ: You received your BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts. How did you determine what to study?

KH: My career has been a process of elimination. When I was in high school I didn’t know what graphic design was. I just knew that I liked to draw and wanted to do something creative. I went to school for Illustration and worked as an Illustrator for a while. I tried to follow my passion in a broad sense, then tried lots of things to see what I enjoyed and to get more focused.

CJ: What sparked your love of illustration and design?

KH: As a kid I would sit in my bedroom for hours and draw fake advertisements for the commercials I heard on the radio. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was thinking like a graphic designer. I wasn’t super social, so drawing was a natural way for me to process the world and express myself.

Because I drew constantly, I had good foundation of skills by the time I was looking at colleges. I definitely think most things can be learned, but you have to put in the time.

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CJ: You also received your MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design. Why did you decide to go to graduate school, and would you recommend it?

KH: I went to graduate school to learn new skills and jump start the next phase of my career, which was more about design than illustration.

I would recommend graduate school, but only for people who are really ready for change and have fully explored on their own first. I don’t think graduate school is required to be successful, and some life experience first is key. You can create a condensed learning experience on your own, but some people need help. I needed grad school to push me.

Graduate school was both awful and great. The workload was almost unbearable at times, making it one of the toughest experiences of my life so far. It was a critically intensive, so I graduated with a much thicker skin. I also made amazing friends, learned a ton, and I felt empowered to do what I do now. It was a full, amazing experience.

CJ: You are the Principal and Creative Director at Hum Creative. What do your roles as Principal and Creative Director entail? 

KH: When I first started the company I was doing a bit of everything – designing, sweeping floors, and writing invoices. Now my role is to think about this entire company as a design project. I am responsible for our overall strategy and goals, getting the best team of people together, and directing the creative process. I also play on our kickball team.

CJ: Before Hum Creative, you were a designer at Starbucks Creative Group. What kinds of projects did you work on at Starbucks?

KH: I got to illustrate coffee bags, draw lots of little croissants and coffee mugs, and help design seasonal merchandise and packaging. I was fresh out of school and supported senior designers and creative directors with illustrative tasks that were needed to fulfill their vision.

I think about that job every day while building Hum Creative. When I was at Starbucks, it really felt like everyone was happy with their jobs and coworkers. A lot of what I learned there has stayed with me.

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CJ: You illustrated the book Tween Hobo, which is based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo. What was that illustration process like?

KH: Alena Smith knows the Tween Hobo character so well. I flew down to LA to brainstorm initial ideas for the book with her, then worked remotely for the next few months. Alena sent me in-progress chapters every couple of weeks. I would read them and keep a running list of possible visuals. We would Skype to discuss and narrow them it down. Most of the process was brainstorming with Alena. I would sketch the illustrations in pencil first, and then once they looked good I drew over them in Sharpie.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an illustrator and designer?

KH: Professional creatives need to be open to criticism and flexible to change, but they also must stand up for what they believe in – when it really matters. Grad school and client work has helped me grow a thicker skin and to understand that everyone’s input is valid. You can’t be too precious about your work – sometimes people won’t like it. That’s okay. Not all battles are worth fighting… when you do push back, it should mean something.

CJ: What is the best part about being a designer?

KH: The best part of designing for me was seeing my work out in the world, successfully doing its job. As a creative director, it is so fun to see this whole group make work that they’re proud of. Knowing they worked hard, made beautiful work, and enjoyed the process is hands down the best part about what I do.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

KH: My day involves a lot of time reading emails and meeting with our internal design teams to check in on projects moving through the studio. I also meet with clients often to present work and discuss feedback. Some days are spent on the set of photo shoots or visiting the printer for press-checks.

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CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an illustrator and designer do to set themselves up for success?

KH: Make a lot of work. We look at a lot of portfolios here, and the people who really stand out have been making up their own projects and designing things on the side. Drew Hamlet, a Lead Designer at Hum, started an online radio station in high school and he designed the branding, website, and collateral for it. I’m very impressed by self-motivation. You learn so much by just being active in your field, even if it’s just practicing. Don’t wait for people to ask you to do something, just do it yourself.

It is also important to have a sense of the design community and what has come before you. Look at blogs, read design books, and absorb a design education as much as possible.

CJ: How do you like to spend your free time?

KH: I work long hours and am a homebody when they day is over. My husband and I love to cook and enjoy big dinners outside, then take our two French bulldogs on long walks.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

KH: Professionally, this team motivates me. The responsibility of having people who come to work in an environment that I make is both very intimidating and very inspiring.

My husband is very motivating and inspiring outside of work. He is a creative that has worked really hard since he was a teenager and he’s done well. He’s always wanting more and imagining fun things he can do. He’s constantly learning and dreaming. He’s a really good reminder to keep your mind open and active.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KH: I’d tell myself to be braver sooner. It took me a little while to start realizing that taking risks almost always pay off in some way. It might not always be in the way you planned, but taking on challenges is the fastest way to grow.

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