Next Portland speaker

Adam Arnold

More info

October 16, 8:30am • Rev Hall • part of a series on Shock

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the creative community.The Design Kids (TDK) bridge the gap between students and industry within the Australian and New Zealand graphic design community. With an amazing team, Frankie Ratford and Yve Johnson work with second/third year students and fresh grads offering exposure, experience, and opportunities in graphic design, typography, illustration.


What brings you all the way from Melbourne to Portland?Good question! I run a company called The Design Kids, where we bridge the gap between college students and professionals, in the Graphic Design industry. On our site, we have studio interviews, a design directory, exhibition listings, global design competitions, an annual show (where we pair Creative Directors with graduates), workshops, jobs and internships, grad shows and so much more! We currently have around 45,000 people in our community in Australia & New Zealand, and we’re in the process of launching in the USA and Canada next. We’ll be roadtripping around for the next 2 years, building the site as we go. So hello Portland, our very first stop!


How did The Design Kids get started?I used to work for design studios as a Graphic Designer, and I found sitting at a desk wasn’t really the best version of me. At the time, I was working at Frost* Design, and I loved the company, the clients and living in Sydney but just felt generally like something was missing. After a six month trip around the world, I had a pivoting moment in Madagascar (a story for another time!), and decided even though I wanted to be in the design industry, I wanted to do more/give back so I started TDK - a platform to help graduating college students. Back in 2009 it was an online shop where we sold tees and posters of the design students work. It’s since involved into a platform to connect college students with industry and build a design community for both parties to be part of. We now provide industry knowledge, exposure and opportunities to students and graduates, with a focus on illustration, typography and graphic design. We spend 9 months a year on the road, spreading the love, doing talks, running exhibitions and facilitating workshops and design meet-ups. Basically all the good stuff!


What are your hopes and dreams for the long game of TDK?World domination! No, really. Its going to be fun! We’ll be roadtripping to 12 major cities in the U.S, spending a few weeks meeting people in each place, and a few weeks building the site and putting the content together. Then on to Canada, and then Europe. Then maybe Japan, and India. Who knows! I like the idea a design graduate in Portland can find out about Melbourne based studios, see what events are on to make connections, check out job listings and find out more about the industry before rocking up and getting a job! (and maybe volunteering at CM Melbourne, who knows!?)


Having hosted CreativeMornings in Melbourne, how similar / different does the chapter in Portland feel?

I think Melbourne and Portland feel quite similar as cities - both have a great creative community , great coffee and good vibes! Your space is very grand (and much bigger than ours!), plus I’m loving the name tags (I made loads of new friends!), but Melbourne rocks in its own way too. Plus we both have some pretty sweet donuts, so I’d say it was a tie! Thanks for having us!


Follow our design road trip around America!
@thedesignkids #tdkusa

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Michael Baran is a “bioengineer turned interactive system designer”. His work and research focuses on stroke rehabilitation therapy and application of interactive visuals and audio. His design horoscope tweet from Kelsey Snook’s CMPDX talk last month caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.


Your work involves interactive media / mixed reality environments covering areas of research such as neurorehabilitation, musical instruction and models for learning, human interaction with the workings and language of technology. What kind of results have you seen from this process and research?

One observation is the strength and necessity of interdisciplinary approaches.  Part of my work in neurorehabilitation was to think about how to craft interactive training sessions in order to maximize a patient’s recovery. Currently, a lot of research in stroke rehabilitation is looking towards automating the therapy process, so more patients can continue doing therapy at home with less intervention by a physical therapist. In order to do this, we really need to understand the tacit knowledge and approaches of physical therapists. My thinking, and argument presented to the physical therapy community, is to look towards other disciplines. There are numerous domains that have already played around in spaces such as instruction and audio and visual feedback that should not be overlooked just because the experience might seem apart. For example, both physical therapists and music instructors have an approach in progressing a person from point A to point B, helping a “student” achieve goals and provide feedback at the correct resolution along the way. Understanding what works with traditional music instruction models that have years and years of experience can help elucidate training in the other domain. I think that true innovation lies at the intersection of different fields of knowledge, because if you can properly incorporate those seemingly disparate experiences, you get past “reinventing the wheel” and have the opportunity to build real solutions in complex problem spaces.

The other observation is the need for modularity and flexibility in interactive system design. At the onset of designing a complex system you may not know all of the “right” design choices (especially in a research context where many times the whole point is to identify the more optimal designs).  Plus, technology is constantly changing (providing new or improved capabilities) and user needs will evolve.  Therefore my approach has been to modularize in the face of complexity. I like to utilize initial research to create an overall system architecture comprised of individual modules that are flexible enough to be context, technology or user specific while also anticipating new user needs that are around the corner.

What was your path to designing such a breadth of user experiences and functions?

My mindset has been to favor knowing a little bit of everything, possibly out of fear of intensely focusing in one particular area exclusively. (I know, I know…I wonder how I got into grad school sometimes too.)  In college, biomedical engineering attracted my attention because it combined my love of physics and mechanics with the complexities of the human body. I also developed an interest in rehabilitation engineering and building systems to help people with physical impairments.  That led to initially perusing a doctorate in biomedical engineering (where I even spent a bit of time working with CT scanners), but I quickly found that I had hit my own interest limits in pure neurology.  I was more interested in the technology and design of how these rehabilitation systems were being built.  Thankfully I found an eclectic group of artists and engineers that were combining interactive art and experiential learning with neurorehabilitation in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. I switched over to their program and found a passion for interactive media and complex system design and all of the research, design and development it entails.  This training really inspired me to generalize my approaches to research and design across different projects.

One of my first graduate advisors called me “fickle” (with all the negative connotation that word can hold), but I have now come to wear that comment as a badge of honor.


Who out there is producing work and research that’s exciting to you?

While these two examples aren’t brand new, I like to reference them as examples of projects that I really love for particular reasons:

One is the work of Elio Caccavale and his piece “Utility Pets” which is a critical design fiction that imagines a future in which humans will benefit from xenotransplantation. The work features a series of artifacts that represent the many ways in which humans might empathize with animals that will ultimately help their survival. I love how this piece walks the fine line between a seemingly absurd and entirely relatable experience. As a result, the audience is encouraged to grapple with large ethical considerations in a very critical yet playful way. I am a strong proponent of using embodied play to provide new ways for people to think and reflect critically on their experiences.

Another favorite of mine is a piece called “Practices of Everyday Life: Cooking” by Navid Navab. The performance creates an audio and visual landscape generated by the process and movement of a chef creating a meal. I had the opportunity to engage with some of the underlying technology, which utilizes contact microphones and innovative audio processing. Through this design, common everyday objects can become instruments creating audio compositions. This work inspires me greatly because it frees the need to provide the user with one of a kind sensor-laden items. Rather, the technology allows all of us to compose through objects and tools with which we are already familiar.

Currently what other projects do you have queued up?

I am currently engaged in the adventure of exploring Portland and trying to find where the next career step might be for me (aka I am looking for a job). I have been incredibly grateful for the amazing tech and design community that has been so welcoming and willing to meet and talk with a wide-eyed former academic. It has been really enlightening to get an understanding of the landscape of design approaches and philosophies in Portland.

Besides that, my recent creative work has been in the world of creative coding. There is an excellent Meetup group here called PDX Creative Coders that celebrates and explores the world of artistic expression through technology. Recently, I participated in a project that played a game of Telephone with code. Everyone brought a starting visualization (built in Processing), which then randomly got passed to someone else, where that person had about 30 minutes to make some modification to the visual. Each piece went through about 4 cycles of this and culminated in a review of evolving digital art through iteration.

What’s one invention you wish was currently in existence?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve always really wanted a Holodeck, which feels like too safe an answer (who doesn’t want one?), plus it feels like I’m betraying my Star Wars affinity. But I love immersive experiences and that would be the ultimate manner for creative embodied play. Who wouldn’t want to act out Luke’s trench run on the Death Star?  (There…balance has been restored!)

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Kate Bingaman-Burt is an educator, illustrator, organizer of events and workshops, and the author of three books on obsessive consumption (Princeton Architectural Press). Among the various amazing things Kate has her hands in, she’s an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Portland State University. Her clothing mind meld tweet from Jennifer Armbrust’s talk last month caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.


You were the very first presenter for CreativeMornings Portland three years ago. What are some things about your practice that have evolved in that time?

TIME ZOOMS. I gave the first CM talk in October of 2011. Amazing! A few change highlights since then.

MORE of everything, it seems. More drawing for myself and others, more speaking and workshop engagements, more planning and organizing events, more responsibilities and new roles at Portland State too.I think the area of my life that truly ramped up the most is planning and organizing experiences as well as taking on more leadership roles both in the community of Portland and at Portland State University. I am so happy to be on the board for Design Week Portland as well as the IPRC…these two organizations contain so much energy and do so much for the community and I am honored to be a part of them moving forward. This fall I step into my new role at Portland State as the Associate Director of the Art + Design School. The A+D School is in a STRONG upward momentum and stepping into this new position will be challenging and exciting. Personally, it’s one of the more nerve inducing things that I have said yes to in awhile, so I think this is a good thing. Looking forward to digging in and helping to continue to make good things happen!

You’ve talked about rule systems and automated structures within which you are held accountable for the work you continue making. What is one favorite (creative) rule or structure you’ve created for yourself?

Little things add up to a lot. The foundation of a lot of my rule structures is to develop a concept and then just do one simple and small thing that pushes that concept forward on the regular. Repetition combined with practicing in public is a powerful thing.


What’s the best advice you’ve received?

“Being bored is for boring people”. My grandma told me this. She also told me “More is More” (I don’t think these things are the greatest advice or even advice, but she said it, and it rattles around in my brain). She also was an elegant swearer and wore clashing patterns. So I have a tendency to trust people who swear well and wear loud clothing.

also: “Surrounding yourself with good people” is good too. I also like “Being kind is better than being nice.“ God, advice is weird. I am sorry that you had to read this.

My advice to you a few seconds ago would have been to skip reading question three.

And your favorite advice to give?

I probably tell my students that doing things that make you nervous is a really good thing. Saying yes to new experiences usually always leads to growth. Most of the stuff I tell my students I need to also tell myself. Over and over again. GIVE ME ALL OF THE ADVICE. Still looking for the answers. Always.


What are you obsessed with right now?

Today’s Obsessions: Scheduling software. Money. Haves and have-nots. Crafting the perfect email. Making sure people feel valued. Not getting bogged down by frustration because systems don’t work the way you think they should. Finding the perfect soft-serve cone. Effective meeting running strategies. The balance between young and old. Finding all of the The Smiths and REM on vinyl. Pens. Keeping my plants alive. Post-it notes. Making sure what I am saying makes sense outside of my body and not just in my head. Speaking up. Being Calm. Cool. Collected. but also energized. Making spaces and places. Finding the best notebook. Dogs.

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Aaron Whelton is an Assistant Professor in the Portland State University School of Architecture. He is a registered architect whose design research focuses on urban and infrastructural questions that are primarily investigated through his firm Whelton Architecture. His #botjoy tweet from Gary Hirsch’s talk last month caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.


Your portfolio presents a balance of interdisciplinary intersections with architecture, ranging from urban transit infrastructure, to single family dwellings, to the David Campbell Memorial on the Eastbank Esplanade. Would you say you’re considering the public life of architecture on the pedestrian scale and values of the urban dweller?

I am interested in opportunities to engage with clients about the design of the built environment and how their contribution to architecture can improve their own needs while also contributing to the greater good of the community around them. Those two notions are not in opposition in my thinking about design. I have been very fortunate to design a broad spectrum of project types from small private residential additions to larger civic institutions and more theoretical investigations about the future of cities. The commitment to both the individual and the collective remains a key motivator behind my thinking and design decision-making across all those scales. I also frequently collaborate with artists, community groups and other creative and curious individuals who are interested in exploring new ways of inhabiting the city.


Could you tell us more about how architecture may be presented (in the spirit of Gary Hirsch) as incomplete work, as an invitation to participate?

There are two ways that come to mind. The first is the space that develops through the design process between the architect’s intention and the user’s inhabitation of space. Despite the architect’s best efforts to design every moment of a project it is inherently open-ended because of its dependency of external agents to bring it to life. It will inevitably be used in idiosyncratic ways that can be either inspiring or horrifying depending on your point of view.The second thought has to do with architecture’s lifespan and how its use and meaning are mutable and evolve over long periods of time that transcend the initial intention. The architect Aldo Rossi wrote eloquently about this idea of architecture as a “fixed stage for human events.”

You are Assistant Professor at PSU’s School of Architecture. What do you enjoy working on with your students?

The focus of my research and design work at PSU explores the application of digital technologies in the built environment. I enjoy working with my students on integrating computational strategies into their architectural design workflows. I am specifically interested in promoting hybridized graphic representations that blur the assumed distinction between digital and hand notation. I also work with the students to familiarize them with new digital fabrication and physical computing technologies in order to expand the set of tools at their disposal for interacting with the people around them and the environment they inhabit.


What is exciting to you about architecture right now in 2015?

It is an exciting time for architecture now. In Portland, Skylab and Allied Works Architecture are producing phenomenal work that is making profound, positive changes to the city. But, thinking more broadly, I am intrigued by the flurry of activity in architecture around the idea of an object oriented ontology. Specifically, I think Jason Payne’s writing on ambivalent objects is both entertaining and incredibly insightful. I am also excited by the computational design and fabrication work of Achim Menges at the Institute of Computational Design which is challenging many concepts about how robots might participate in the making of architecture.

Who inspires you?

I am inspired to design architecture in new ways by the creative individuals I collaborate with on my projects. I recently completed Fire Station 21 in collaboration with the architect David P. Suttle. The project is located on the east bank of the Willamette river immediately north of the Hawthorne bridge and despite (or because of?) its numerous challenges - site, program, etc - the end result is a clear reflection of each of our design sensibilities and motivations.As another part of that project I also had the opportunity to work with the artist David Franklin on his project ’The Rippling Wall’ which was installed in front of the catwalk on the station’s west elevation. Franklin and I are working together on another project now and hopefully will continue to do so in the future.

I am also inspired by the work of my students at Portland State University who produce design projects that exceed my expectations and challenge the way I think about architecture.

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Samiya Bashir is a poet, editor, and a professional focused on editorial, arts, and social justice movement building. She teaches creative writing at Reed College. Her tweet from Pure Surface caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.

What brought you to poetry?

Language, precision, openness, tickle, cupid’s arrow and other assorted weaponry, an ongoing crush on the lush of what words can do.


How have collaborations impacted your work?

The collaborative opportunities I’ve found and made so far in Portland have been life-givingly transfusive. I appreciate the ways in which Portland’s arts culture is collaboratively open and curious. In the past year alone, my work with letterpress artist Tracy Schlapp, film and video artist Roland Dahwen Wu, printer and letterpress artist Daniela Ragan of Letra Chueca Press, the Poetry Press Week team which gave me the space to present work-in-progress by collaborating with both my Reed students and my beloved artist peers, and the important and powerful community of the Black Creative Collective, or BCC: Brownhall, have all helped me to think through problems, questions, and opportunities in my work with which I’ve struggled while simply isolated in the room of my own where so much gets stitched—which is also of course important too. The solitude of the room is important to the work, but so is a community of artists committed working and thinking and succeeding and failing and learning and growing and making separately and together and for a good that supercedes the individual.


Who are some of the most interesting local writers and artists?

Keyon Gaskin is the most magnetic artist to watch in Portland right now. Keyon is a dancer whose performances are dangerous, heart-wrenching, beautiful, painful, and most of all necessary. Keyon’s voice, his generosity, his take as well as his give, his loving heart, his (not un-)flinching questions, challenges, demands are important to engage with NOW. They are now and they are, he is, needed. I’ve recently stolen his toss-away warning to the gathered swarm of audience at his recent Yale Union show as the entry point to a poem—“Where you are,” Gaskin muttered mid-rush, mid-movement, “is gonna be really unsafe soon.” —because we don’t just get to consume the challenges presented to us, we get to respond. Some might say, in fact, that we must.


What are you working on now?

I have a few projects ongoing as well as just poems, poems, poems. It’s been a busy travel season, during which I’ve debuted excerpts from a multimedia poetry project I’ve been working on, M A P S :: a cartography in progress, which throughlines sound and image and umph with light, language, and fractured narrative pulled, reshaped, and remade from Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah’s Maps. Farah’s novels—here we might focus on home and place and family and diaspora and generational knowledge and legacy—are written in a deliciously different register than my own. The interaction feels a bit like dowsing wand to lightening. Magic, of a sort.

I’m also shaving the final excess from a collection of poems whose central interrogation of quantum physics theory includes questions of how our bodies, especially black bodies, might carry, sustain, and resist gender, class, ethnicity, home, place, and race, as well as the physical relationship to its own interior and exterior landscapes, under the ever-present rays of an often misguided, dominating cultural gaze. A blackbody, for instance, is a hypothetical, idealized object that emits no visible light, among other things; it appears black to observers. I am curious about this qualifier: “visible.” Who can we trust to measure our light? To tell us where and how much? How bright? How hot? Can we trust ourselves? Others? “Who are you going to believe,” asked Groucho Marx, “me or your lying eyes?”

Poems from this collection have been published widely enough in magazines like Poetry, which also framed an interesting conversation around my poem, “Consequences of the Laws of Thermodynamics,” for last April’s National Poetry Month podcast (their podcast is pretty fantastic, I’m a fan); World Literature Todaywhich chose me and my work as a cover feature and offered a thoughtful reading of two of my poems in its editorial; and Poet Lore, which nominated my 15-sonnet cycle of poems, “Coronagraphy,” for a Pushcart Prize. These poems exist in dialogue with a growing conversation about our human& relationship to the larger universe around us and how it works. And how we do. And how we don’t.

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Chloë Miller is an illustrator, designer, communicator and printer. She’s also the voice of Scout Books on social media. Her tweet from Rilla Alexander’s talk caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.

What is it about letterpress that drew you in?

A love of words and the way that they can be strung together. The first instructor that I had was a typesetting purist – no photopolymer plates in the classroom, so it was all about using letters and spacing and punctuation and color. I like the thoughtfulness of creating something one letter at a time, it’s so deliberate and precise. I like the pace of it. I’m naturally a little bit impatient, and if you try to rush through a print job, something will inevitably go awry, so the pace is a good challenge for me.

What did you learn by putting out your own products?

I learned that it requires an amazing amount of hustle, and I learned that if you don’t have a naturally business-oriented brain, you might want to consider taking a class. The best part was that it showed me how supportive Portland is. Stores were very encouraging and fellow printers cheered me on and that seemed really special. This town is so full of creatives and instead of being competitive, everyone just wants everyone else to keep making amazing stuff.

What’s a typical day like at Scout Books?

First things first: stereo goes on. Check email. I spend a lot of time communicating with people about the nature of print – what to expect from offset lithography and the ink colors and materials, how to best set up their artwork, which format is ideal for their project. Then I wrangle all the details so that when the production team gets started, everything is clear. I also prepare proofs and print files, write blog posts and manage our editorial calendar, which includes documenting interesting internal projects and client work, and also sharing how people are using their Scout Books out in the world!

What’s your dream project?

I’d love to work on some kind of map or illustrated instructions. I find that my to-do and grocery lists often become these fun and practical little drawings and I’d like to expand on that. Also, I know letterpress printers everywhere will roll their eyes, but I could really stationary geek out on designing and printing a wedding invitation suite. My sister recently got engaged, so it might be in my future!

You’ve been to a lot of CreativeMornings events. Which talk has stuck with you most and why?

I have this distinct memory of getting to work after the Anna Telcs talk last year and not being able to focus at all. Some coworkers had been there as well and we all gathered in a circle and buzzed with excitement. The theme was Crossover, and Anna spoke very eloquently about the variety of creative endeavors she’d explored and how the various experiences all had value and came together. She made me feel excited, not exasperated, about the fact that I like to write and print and get lost in Illustrator, and that I’ve tried out more jobs than I can count on both hands. Her talk left me feeling inspired and eager for the future – what an awesome gift on a Friday morning!

Community Spotlight: Alison Hallett

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Alison Hallett is a writer and editor. She currently lends her talents to Sheepscot Creative. Her tweet from Brian Hall’s talk caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.

You were the arts editor at the Mercury for a good number of years. What was your favorite part of the beat?

First I’ll tell you my least favorite part, which was having to have an opinion about everything all the time. Newspaper critics are still marginally more credible than Yelp reviewers, but nothing is living or dying on the strength of a review in a local alt weekly. What I really liked and found rewarding was the discovery aspect of the job: Every once in a while I’d write about a book or a performance that no one else had really noticed yet, and I’d get to feel like I’d measurably improved local culture by bringing attention to something deserving. That was gratifying—I liked being able to use my megaphone for something constructive. I also liked getting free books in the mail.

What prompted you and Erik Henriksen to produce Comics Underground?

At its core, it was that we knew how many ridiculously talented comics creators live in Portland, and thought it was weird that no live event showcased their work. So we made one. Beyond that, though, Erik and I both feel like comics fit in really naturally alongside the rest of the art and entertainment we consume—novels, TV, plays, essays, movies, whatever. Not everyone feels that way! So our goal with Comics Underground was to create an accessible event where people who don’t read comics could enjoy themselves even though they’d never heard of anyone on the bill. And people who DO like comics would lose their minds because we had Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction and Greg Rucka giving these really intimate, one-of-a-kind performances for $5 on a Thursday in a bar basement.

What’s the most interesting thing about taking a 2-dimensional medium into a live event?

Seeing artists address that very question—how to translate their work from the page to the stage. (Sorry for rhyming.) Everyone approached it differently. As producers, we provided a general framework, marketing, and tech support. The rest was up to the presenter. Some people narrated stories they’d written, some walked us through thumbnail sketches of their art, some brought music or sound effects, some created original work. One of our favorite regular guests, Ben Dewey—he writes a web comic called the Tragedy Series (READ IT)—basically turned every appearance into a standup set, he’d just show his comics and read the tag lines and it killed every time. We never knew quite what was going to happen.

What are you working on now?

Personal writing projects that I think it’d be bad luck to talk about in public. I can’t really complain about my time at the Mercury, but I will say that after 10 years of going to tons of shows and writing about other people’s work all the time, it’s really gratifying to stay home on Friday nights and work on something of my own. And I’m thinking about joining an adult marching band.

What’s your dream project?

I miss producing Comics Underground. If a similar situation came up—where there was some gap in the entertainment landscape that I thought maybe I could help fill—I’d be all over that.

Community Spotlight: William Deresiewicz

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

William Deresiewicz is an essayist and critic based in Portland. He gave a CreativeMornings talk in 2012 about the entrepreneurial ideal among creative millennials and in American society as a whole, based on his essay for the New York Times, Generation Sell.

He recently published Excellent Sheep, a manifesto for people searching for the kind of insight on leading, thinking, and living that elite schools should be—but aren’t—providing.

We caught up with him on the global CreativeMornings blog. Check out the additional portraits captured by Ashley Courter at the Museum of Contemporary Craft last month, when Bill came by to hear Jen Delos Reyes give her take on education.


Community Spotlight: Karen Munro

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Karen Munro is a writer and a librarian who tries to read 50 books a year. Her tweet from the Anna Telcs talk was, appropriately, about her bibliography.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.

You describe yourself as “a reader, a writer, and a librarian-about-town.” I’m interested in why you chose that order.

I think I have that phrase on my Twitter profile—and on Twitter you have to be describe yourself pretty selectively!  But I think the order just falls out that way.  You start out by reading.  If it clicks, if you’re a reader, you probably read everything you can get your hands on.  Then you start to think, I could do this.  I could make a story like this.  So you start writing.  And then you realize just how many stories there are in the world, and maybe your mind turns toward questions of collecting and organizing them…and then the next thing you know you’re making a life out of stacking stories on shelves.  (Digital shelves, maybe, but still.)

What are you reading these days?

I try to read fifty books a year, but I’m probably not going to make it this year.  I started reading submissions for a literary journal, which has cut into my general reading time.  I will say, there’s nothing like tracking your books to help you realize that you can only read so much, and that you have to find the books you love.  

This year has really been the year of the debut.  I’m stealing that from Lincoln Michel, the editor of Electric Literature—but it’s true.  There have been so many amazing first and almost-first books—books that broke out for their author in a big way after an earlier book had quieter success.

One of my favorites is Smith Henderson’s debut novel Fourth of July Creek.  It’s about a social worker in Montana in the 1980s, who gets wrapped up with trying to help an off-the-grid fundamentalist family.  It’s beautiful and rugged and tragic and just so deeply felt and written.  Everyone should go to Powell’s and get a copy.  It’s really great.

I also really loved Evie Wyld’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing.  It’s about an Australian woman working as a shepherd in Scotland, living a rough life and grappling with ghosts from her past. It’s Wyld’s second novel and it won a major Australian book award, the Miles Franklin, in an upset over much more established writers.  And the US edition has one of the best covers of the year.  

I’m currently in the middle of Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted, which is an amazing first novel about a woman working to save a man on death row. It reads half like a fairy tale, and half like a horror story.  Both Denfeld and Henderson are Portland authors writing from experience in tough worlds—Henderson was a social worker and Denfeld is a death penalty investigator.  It’s great to see them getting national acclaim for their work. 

Is being a librarian connected to your other work, or does it feel separate?

I started out as a literature librarian, buying literature and criticism and working with the university’s literature departments.  Back then the ties between my day job and my writing life were a little more transparent.  I’ve since changed tracks, and now I work a lot with architecture and design students and faculty.  

I actually really like the lateral connections—working with creative, interesting people who are primarily visual and sometimes numeric, rather than wordy.  I learn a lot.  I think there are still plenty of connections between my job and my personal creative life, in terms of energy and drive—but they’re more submerged now, and I like that.

Why the fascination with scary stories?

Oh, great question! I love scary stories, and on a whim this year I started a “scary story service,” where I emailed a scary story to interested readers every day in October.  Not stories that I wrote, but stories by amazing writers like Angela Carter and Yoko Ogawa and Ambrose Bierce and Brian Evenson. Anyone who’s interested in the collection can see it here—and sign up for 2015 if you want to.   

It was so much fun to do—searching for great stories on the Internet, mixing older, classic stories with more modern ones, and just generally curating my own personal collection of what I appreciate about the genre.  I like artfully-told tales with a dark cast to them.  This may have to do with having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, which is dark so much of the year.  Or it may have to do with having cut my reading teeth on Stephen King, who really had his cultural heyday in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Or it might be because I’m secretly Canadian, and Margaret Atwood established a long time ago that Canadian culture is basically all about survival.  Canadians have, from one point of view, a very gothic, horror-genre cast of mind.  I grew up in a mild part of the country, but in school we still learned to recite The Cremation of Sam McGee, which is a wonderful poem about freezing to death in the Yukon.  Canadians are mild-mannered people, but we know where our chainsaws are.  

In terms of your own writing, what are you working on these days?

I write fiction, which is another way of saying that I roll a big stone up an endless hill.  After many years of work, I recently put some of my stories together into something resembling a collection, which I’m now nitpicking.  It was a great exercise, actually.  I sent a first draft to my wife and she read it and said it should be titled, “Wings, Water, Love, and Death.”  She was kidding…but then we went through it together, and I was amazed.  So many wings!  So much water!  I had no idea that I repeated those themes so much.  I kind of love that title, but she vetoed it.  Fortunately.

And then at the same time, I’m getting serious with the novel that I’ve been working on for a long time.  It involves water, but no wings.  So far.

Community Spotlight: Christine Taylor

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Christine Taylor is a photographer, art director, and curator. Whether she’s shooting for clients, helping to shape the signature look of Hand-Eye Supply, or giving visibility to fashion photography in the Pacific Northwest, her discerning eye has made an impact in Portland. This tweet during the Holly Andres talk caught our attention, so we wanted to shine a light on her great work.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.

You do a lot of things, from photography to curation to art direction. What’s the throughway in your work?

There’s a natural relationship between photography, art direction and curation because for each I am shaping an environment for others to experience. The only real difference is in how you are engaging your viewers. Ideas can always have a kaleidoscope of objectives. How they are applied is dependent on resources, and where there is flexibility in use of space, light, sound and even scent (if it’s an ultra-immersive installation). Seeing the world through a constant thoughtful visualization has been a part of who I am since I was a little girl so the connection between the three practices – taking/making a photograph, showing a selection of artists work, and directing commercial projects – is to disclose a specific point of view. I’ve observed it’s a certain personality type that obsessively envisions ideas before they exist – ideas that show a specific point of view. It just comes to these kinds of people and I think my family would verify that I’ve always been a little too enthusiastic about making things happen. These three practices combined have given me an outlet for all that energy.

Tell us about the work you’re doing as Art Director at Hand-Eye Supply.

In brief, what I do at HES as Photographic Art Director is oversee photography and contribute to the entire retail branding experience. That translates into a lot of organizing to make things happen smoothly, and in the end, that takes a team of people for success. In addition, my photography is the human personality of what most people see of HES; all of the Quarterlies, ads, and the editorial content. In many ways HES has been the ideal place for me to have landed in Portland, because I come from journalism (since the early 1990’s). From there, I went into editorial shooting, which led me to college to study multidisciplinary design and concept, which somehow took me even deeper into bigger commercial photography projects, and is now steering me into lots more art direction. What an exciting ride that’s been! Being at HES has allowed me to improve that collaboration of courage, envisioning and constancy needed to complete multi-channel personality-driven projects. There are some inspiring design minds working there and that environment has made a sizable impact on my work, much of which seems to have culminated this year. One of my luminaries, Steven Johnson, adamantly tells us that the breakthrough idea has never come in a flash. He states with fact that that theory is a myth. It comes over time and through experience and hard work by trial and error, scrutinizing, and researching. One of my life breakthroughs came this year. So I believe in that!

On a personal level, HES is a great example of my nerdy brainy side, my process obsessed side. My own work motto is, “In my mind everyone is a star!”. I get to apply that ethic at HES. It’s an outlet where I have combined my youthful interest in cultural anthropology, my delight in history and investigation, and a lifetime of experience in pop culture photographing creators, style, and environment while sharing my point of view. It’s simultaneously complex and simple.

Is it challenging to navigate between the commercial and fine art world? Is there a relationship between the work you do in each?

Thank you so much for this question. Like most people with a daytime gig, creatively I have additional interests, so I am 100% committed to exploring those, in part because I honestly cannot help myself, and in part because I completely understand that without exploration, there can be no growth. It is indeed incredibly challenging at times, though. I mean, who has the time? I would like to be much more directly engaged with the art world but along with art, I have been a commercial maker my entire life now, so my knowledge is limited to a very specific point of view that’s highly educated and technical. It’s not all-encompassing like for instance someone like Dave Hickey, or any museum curator, for that matter, or even my partner/boyfriend, the conceptual painter Michael Lazarus. Those people can talk about every nuance of art and then some. I know photography and video, and after that I know what I like and why I like it and how it relates to history vs. present day - but I cannot compare too many artists outside of my own medium and hold face. The name game is definitely not my strength. But the art world plays an enormous part in my life because I choose to be in it for inspiration. The artists know what’s up first. Almost all of my close friends are active artists, serious writers, curators or vigorous designers of some kind and they are also all dedicated educators. You can imagine our conversations: “Did you listen to the In Our Times podcast the other night?” …or else we talk over teaching styles, grants, residencies, public art, art around the world, politics and LOTS of process talk. Boring stuff for most. In general, I am just a dogmatic fan, and like Thomas Edison said, “I am a sponge”. My view on life is that we learn something critical from every person who enters it, and gratitude or failure are what brings those lessons to light.

What is it about fashion that drew you in?

Fashion can be a stage to explore my conceptual ideas that involve the body, movement and expression. It can also be a powerful tool to communicate cultural views using beauty and style. For example, I always choose to portray women as having great strength. At its simplest, fashion photography is predictable; at its worst, the ideas are immature and poorly executed; while at best, it shows flawless creative freedom and diversity in what we find beautiful. All of that, and it changes constantly. To be good at it, you have to change with it. To be great at it, you need a colossal amount of resources integrated with an inherent ability to anticipate lifestyle changes before they take place. See what I mean? Its a great provocation. Not anyone can make something significant and it’s not always in the concept that makes it celebrated, nor is it always in the clothing, nor the model, nor anything one thing - yet it certainly can be.

Fashion photography is remarkably intricate. Fashion takes more than a village, it takes a world, and in that world, every single person has to be great at what they do. If one tiny thing is off – say, the makeup is too heavy, the hair is not on style, the image only shows one foot where there should be two, or a hand is hiding and looks weird, the clothing lacks a consistent overarching statement, there’s a wrinkle in the wrong place on the fabric, or the model is too thin and poorly cast - each can ruin the final images. Then time passes, and what you created isn’t even pertinent any longer. It takes a very good eye to see these seemingly minuscule things and untrained eyes will easily overlook them. In addition, what you show to the public is susceptible to anyone who has an opinion, and because fashion is a part of pop culture - everyone has one based on what they have seen in their everyday lives, which often means very unchallenging images. Ideas around beauty run deep and differ culturally as well. All of these factors make it a constant challenge. That difficulty is what keeps me intermeshed with fashion photography in my freelance life as either a shooter, a director, or an educator. Of course, for my commercial work – which is what most people see – it must meet industry standards so that it’s well received. But the avant garde I love, and it informs my commercial fashion work.

You pioneered the Fashion Photography course at the Art Institute. What was your goal with the curriculum?

Yes, to my knowledge I did, but I am not teaching right now. The goal with the curriculum was to offer an immersive experience to inspire the students to push themselves so that they have a better understanding of what is expected of a shooter in the real world of professional commercial photography. I want them to get what their competition is. Being good isn’t enough. I do this by instructing in a contemporary style, that which utilizes a bit of performance. I was not actually performing like an actor or musician, but the idea is to keep everything in class at a high level of enthusiasm using real people, real community members, multimedia and modern ways of sharing and receiving information that include things like fashion video karaoke, TED talks, music and slideshows to help train and expose students to ways of seeing and thinking about fashion imagery. I do that along with more traditional forms of teaching using written essays by international writers such as Gilles Lipovetsky and local writers like our own Lisa Radon (whom I read out loud on the first day). Through that first interaction they know the class is going to be distinctive.

It’s all designed to get them to think about what fashion photography is built upon: individuality. They need to find that in their own opinions and knowledge in order to apply it to their imagery. I want them to be able to change and shift and redefine, not just say, “Yes, I can do that.” Anyone can be technical. Not just anyone can have ideas. So I am teaching them how to have ideas, communicate them, then follow them through. In my class they learn how to properly produce a shoot. Great shooters are cultural sponges. They experience everything.

With students I am transparent and honest about my own numerous failures in New York, Chicago, Seattle, etc. I am also transparent about budgeting and etiquette. We have 3 in-person talks in class with a mix of impressive producers, designers, art directors and photographers who come to discuss what they do and what they look for in a shooter. They are expected to create call sheets, creative briefings, budgets and find their talent. They communicate and organize while they produce one fashion test shoot on their own with my direction, then they are broken into groups to collaborate with each other to produce another smaller-sized studio shoot with my direction, and lastly they form groups again to collaborate to produce one commercial location shoot portraying their own ideas. I also offer to help find internships with photographers for anyone who wants one. Oh yes, we also do critiques on all of the projects. Without non-opinion-based criticism there can be no progression as a maker.

What inspired the Notions of Beauty show?

The ‘Notions of Beauty: NW FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY NOW’ exhibit was directly inspired by the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s recent exhibition ‘Fashioning Cascadia’ curated by Sarah Margolis-Pineo. During her research she had me come in to talk with her about fashion in Portland which led to a dinner and some great conversations about manufacturing, designers and resources. It also led to the discussion of Northwest fashion photography. It is on the rise, but because Portland is mostly new to this, professionalism, originality and taste are works-in-progress. There wasn’t space or time for Sarah to take on the photo monster so with MOCC’s support, they introduced me to Annin Barrett, and what an enlightening meeting that was. Annin is the Art Institute’s astounding brainiac gallery director and she loved the idea I had to do a survey exhibition showing the work of many of Cascadia’s fashion photographers. She approved my curatorial approach, keeping the focus on the conceptual side; to show how NW fashion photographers think, so-to-speak. We hung large-format prints, and the entire space was incorporated into creating an immersive experience that I designed based on my respect for the process of the printed magazine. Included in that spacial design were sculptures, jewelry, animated gifs, a section for art directors, and publication viewing station. An entire wall was for projections of videos. The prints wrapped around the space, and it was a real joy to see a white box come to life. Included were six Northwest fashion publications that had been made in the past 5 years, and lastly Art Director Willyum Beck created a handmade catalog as documentation of the exhibit and its participants. Some of those participants included Charlie Schuck, Holly Andres, and Rafael Astorga, mixed in with more unknowns such as Bryan Kyckelhahn and BriAnne Wills. Together we proved that Northwest fashion photography is alive and well, and ready for the task in all its variety. Luckily it was a great success, but I’d like to do it even better next year.

You’ve been to quite a few of our events. Were there one or two talks that made the biggest impression?

This is true. Its early, so that means I can attend and still get to work later in the day! There are so many that inspire… but most recently, Anna Telcs was great because I have followed her work for 5 years now. Her talk taught me new things about her - that is very cool. Then, as a photographer, Holly Andres’ talk was memorable. She is a guiding light in so many ways. Her transparency and passion for her art is without parallel. She has had this experience so different from my own and yet as people we are not so unalike. Her story is really interesting and it’s awesome to have the juxtaposition of being a fan before we knew one another back when I lived in New York and saw her first exhibit there, and now to have met and know her. I find her work developing in a direction that is only more and more gripping. That’s the kind of artist I wish I had become. That’s why I photograph makers… because I wish I could do what each of them does. Its a kind of love.