Next Chicago speaker

Elijah McKinnon

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July 28, 8:30am • Savage Smyth • part of a series on Equality

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We’re jumping into 2016 with the theme of Language. It’s a topic of personal interest to me, and one I see moving into the forefront of our cultural consciousness. Designer and letterer extraordinaire, Jenna Blazevich, will be sharing her thoughts with us. In the past year, Jenna’s been building a reputation around Chicago as not only a wildly talented artist, but as a person who puts her values into words. She balances client work with self-initiated projects through her studio Vichcraft and you may recognize her stunning lettering from Typeforce, the Renegade Craft Fair, or a patch on your best friend’s jacket.

What drives your desire to create?
The things that have driven my desire to create have certainly been different throughout my life, but the sense of urgency that I’ve felt about executing any of my ideas has been a constant the entire time. Before I began studying design in school, I was designing and crafting little art pieces for my family and friends, both because that was/is my love language, and because it was a consistent outlet for learning how to work with all of the different mediums that I was interested in. As time passed, I became lucky enough to be commissioned to make pieces inspired by my portfolio of those personal projects, and I also sharpened my design skills by working at a few different agencies. Instead of keeping my design life at a 9-to-5 and my post-work artistic endeavors separate, I convinced myself that I could launch a studio that combined them in a marketable and sustainable way. So far, so good!How does Chicago influence you or your work?
Chicago is a truly fascinating city to live in, and even more so for a young creative person. There is no shortage of visual inspiration (architecture, signage, parks, museums, people), and the design community is incredibly talented, humble, hard-working and inclusive. I’m very fortunate to get to run my business out of a co-working space that has introduced me to so many people and projects and communities, and the symbiotic way that we are all able to create there is sort of reflective of how Chicago is as a whole. In this city, there is opportunity, excitement, despair, injustice, accomplishment, failure, connection, disconnection. It’s all happening, and it all affects how and what I create. What is your dream creative project?
There isn’t a specific one that pops into my head immediately, but it would probably include collaborating with creative ladies that I admire on a large-scale installation project that was made using some insanely intricate/repetitive technique, and was inspired by a topic motivated by social consciousness and also possibly had a little bit of a sense of humor? Haha. Is this possible? Maybe one day.How do you see the relationship between your work and your personal/political values impacting one another?
My personal/political views have already been impacting my work for years, and they seem to more and more with each project. When I first started practicing lettering, I was choosing phrases that were pretty unobjectionable. Sweet and delicate phrases seem like an appropriate match with calligraphy, but I quickly grew frustrated with how predictable that felt. The more skilled I became with my tools, the more inspired I felt to use my lettering pieces as opportunities to beautify phrases that represent taking a stance on something. It feels not only important but also the most genuine for me to create work that’s inspired by what I’m passionate about in my personal life. How does this month’s theme—language—speak to you?
At first, I was really intimidated to speak on the topic of language, because I’m not a talented writer by any means. But the more I reflected on it, the more I began to understand that language is what links my entire design career together. The fake band posters I made in high school were based on lyrics pulled from a song, and my years spent in fashion school included screen printing band names and artwork on my assignments. My first design job introduced me to the concept of lettering being one’s specialty, and handwritten mail was what kept me in touch with all of my coworkers, family, friends, and mentors in the years that followed. As a person who doesn’t aim to overspecialize in any one craft, it satisfies me that one of the consistent themes throughout my entire portfolio is letters. Artwork made of words is infinitely applicable to different mediums, issues, spaces, etc., and it is extremely exciting for me to wonder what I’ll get to apply words to in the future.

This Q+A is a swan song for me as I step back from manning the Creative Mornings blog, but I’ll be sure to see you at Jenna’s talk on January 29th at Second City. Registration opens next Monday at 11am

Girls to the front!

Looking Back at 2015

This year has been really great for us. CreativeMornings started out 2015 with 104 chapters and we now have 130 chapters all over the world. We're happy to say Chicago was #5—our chapter was established in 2011 and this month we celebrated our 49th event!

Though we've been doing these events for 4+ years, we encountered many firsts in 2015. For speakers, we had our first fashion designer, architect, museum director, comedian, instrument maker, chef, mosaic artist, performance artist, street artist, journalist and quilter! We also introduced "30 Second Pitches", where 2 members from the audience come up to share something that will have a positive effect on them or our community. And finally, we had our first Partner, Braintree, who sponsored every event in 2015 (and will continue throughout 2016)!

We learned to see the beautiful in the ugly, empathize with our clients, and how taking action could change your life, among other things. Watch the video above to take a look back at some great moments in 2015. Special thanks to all the speakers, volunteers, and sponsors who made this year possible, and to you for giving our events purpose and being an integral part of our community.

We look forward to keeping this good thing going in 2016!

Photos by: Chris Gallevo, Chris Mendoza and Stephanie Strauss
Video by: Ben Derico, Alejandro Moore, Anica Wu, Emily Kosciuk, and Chris Mendoza

Audience Takes the Stage!
Friday, December 18th
8:30am – 10am

Registration opens Monday, December 14th at 11am

We’re ending 2015 strong with 3 talented creatives from our community—Jen Serafini, Anthony Roberts and Mary Fons! This trio was chosen by our team as the winners of the ‘Audience Takes the Stage’ submissions and together they bring a diverse mix of talents—from asking the right questions to quilting to making creative connections—they’ll each give an 8 minute talk on things that make you go hmmm. Come for the free breakfast, stay to get inspired and leave happy (with some awesome giveaways in hand!) It’s an event you won’t want to miss.

Call for Submissions:
Audience Takes the Stage!
Friday, December 18th
8:30am – 10am

Our audience is full of talented makers, thinkers and doers… and since December’s theme is “Time”, it’s your time to show us what you’re made of. We’re on the hunt for 3 speakers from our audience to each give an 8-minute presentation on anything related to creativity.

Think you want to do it? Don’t be shy! We want to hear from you. Know of someone in the creative industry who would be great for this? Pass this on and peer pressure them into it.  

Submission Details:
Nominate yourself by submitting the following information to no later than Sunday, November 29th:

  • Your name
  • Your occupation
  • A blurb about you (a bio works well!)
  • Applicable links
  • 1-2 minute talk-to-the-webcam video about who you are and what you’d like to speak about. (please don’t share your video as an attachment to your email — instead, share a link to your video or send it through

Submissions start…NOW! The deadline to submit is Sunday, November 29th. We will notify the chosen few on December 1st, and the event will take place on December 18th from 8:30AM - 10AM.

Let’s do this!

November’s theme is ‘Work’ and we’re turning the camera on BRAIN KILLER™—aka Brian Keller—the super talented filmmaker and visual artist. Drawing inspiration from science fiction, Japanese horror, 50’s monster movies, 80’s skate culture and fashion, his work on screen is just as notable as his art on the streets. 

Q+A time!

What drives your desire to create?
The drive and desire to create is just there. It’s always there. My brain only works this way, it’s not really something I consciously think about. It’s instinct, it’s just what I do.

How does Chicago influence you or your work?
I’m a native here so it’s kind of a double edged sword, it inspires me and repels me at the same time. I’ve seen the city change and the people change, from one day to the next it can be different how I feel about my city. Chicago is a creative city, buts it’s also a hard city and that in itself can be inspiring, the contrast of light and dark is ever present. Both of those energies can be seen in my work. I walk the line of disturbing and whimsical and I’m always fighting an internal battle of what my work is. Do I hate it, do I love it? It just depends on the day.

What are you most proud of, professionally or otherwise?
There isn’t one thing I’m particularly proud of, it’s rare that I look at my work and say YES!!! For me it can always be better and going back to what drives me, the need to make things better is a huge driving force. All that said, the fact that I do this for a living makes me proud, the fact that I feel like I haven’t had a real job most of my adult life makes me proud…and of course my children make me proud and that pushes me to be better everyday.

What is your dream creative project?
Recently I’ve been focusing mainly on the art side, after the past year at Onion Labs I feel like I needed a break from production life. But I think my dream project would be to adapt and direct a live action version of a childhood book I have. It’s called Monsters, Ghoulies and Creepy Creatures. I checked it out from the library when I was in kindergarten and I never brought it back. To this day it’s my prized possession. It’s this great collection of weird, beautiful and creepy short stories and poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins. It would be incredible to see it become a reality, design the creatures, direct the scenes and just breathe life into it.  

How does this month’s theme – work – mean to you?
It’s pretty spot on, this whole summer and autum have been jam packed, all leading up to Art Basel in Miami to cap off the year. November has been the busiest month so far. This whole month you’ll hear from me…no I can’t do that, I have to work, no sorry I can’t make it, I work…where am I? I’m at work! This month is all work for me.

Registration opens next Monday for Brian’s talk on November 20th at the brand new ArcLight Cinemas in Lincoln Park.

Shock is commonly defined as a sudden upsetting or surprising experience. Shock forces us to question our perspectives and confront new information. And that’s exactly what Rashalya Marie Brown evoked in the entire CreativeMornings last Friday. Her talk detailed the innerworkings of her creative process and explored the many themes that her work examines, all while reminding us that the “personal” always is – and will always be – “political.” In addition to fueling our creative palettes for the day, Rashayla engaged in a highly interactive Q&A that led us all into a deeper conversation about authenticity, reality and cultural expectations. Keep a look out for the video in the following weeks. Til then, explore some of the shocking #CMTakeaways below!

Gosh! I have so many feelings about today’s @chicago_cm! And not only because the speaker was a dear friend and collaborator of mine but because their experience and candor exemplified the notions that we all go through as makers, designers and thinkers. I’m so grateful to be able to sit next to people who are actively concerned with reframing narratives and challenging the systems we have learned to be untrue and invalid. Thank you, @rmbstudios for being a beacon of light and vulnerability. Thank you @swissmiss for creating a platform that allows people to speak freely about their creative pursuits. And most importantly, thank you to the Chicago #creativemornings community that asked some incredibly relevant and challenging questions this morning. Pure magic ✨

A photo posted by Miss Demeanor (@elijaa_) on

The hustle continues @jamestgreen_ #cmtakeaways

A photo posted by @rustyccook on

Next up: visual artist BRAIN KILLER (aka Brian Keller) chimes in on our Work series on Friday, November 20th. Come for the free coffee and breakfast but stay for Brian’s talk towards his solid grassroots and guerilla foundation. Tickets available Monday, November 16th at 8am. Mark your calendars! This is definitely a morning of creativity you won’t want to miss! See ya soon!

Have a powerful month!



If this image caught your eye on the cover of the Reader a few weeks back then you’re already familiar with the work of Rashayla Marie Brown, this month’s speaker. Rashayla’s prolific creative practice isn’t bound by theme or medium. She engages installation, storytelling, video projection, lecture, dance, and audience interaction—sometimes all in one performance—to explore themes of race, sexuality, spirituality, culture, and subjectivity. If that’s not impressive enough, she also writes, curates, and fosters community as SAIC’s Director of Student Affairs for Inclusion and Diversity. 

Q+A time!

What drives your desire to create?
The desire to be free. To be anything. Artists can be whatever they want.

How does Chicago influence you or your work?
The sense of collaboration and community and the numerous opportunities to show work keep me on my toes. I can never say I’m bored or alone.

What are you most proud of, professionally or otherwise?
The fact that I have consistently stayed an artist no matter what obstacles come my way. Also, that I have a solid reputation as one of the hardest-working emerging artists and Renaissance people out there. No one can take my work ethic from me.

What is your dream creative project?
To direct a film or TV show with a mixture of pop culture and academic figures and artists. I want it to be bigger than Lena Dunham when it comes to feminism in the public sphere and bring an element of satire to contemporary feminist scholarship.

What is the relationship between this month’s theme—shock—and your work?
I don’t really seek to shock people necessarily. I like the word provocative better. I make work that makes people think about their position in society, and if they are shocked by the strong emotions this brings, then I hope they are driven to process that and take ownership for their own experience.

Rashayla will be repping CreativeMornings next Friday, October 16th during Chicago Ideas Week. If you look to CreativeMornings for your monthly dose of inspiration, Rashayla will surely deliver some fresh perspectives.

I’m already pumped for Friday! Hope you are too!


Although there are many ways to understand empathy, most would agree that it is the rooted in the ability to understand and share the feelings of another individual. Last week, Antonio García, a strategist and storyteller, graced the stage to share some lessons learned on the intersection of empathy and design in his work at Firebelly and gravitytank. Antonio is firm believer in challenging oneself to be open to other individual’s perspectives. He recognizes that “empathy is an act of vulnerability” within itself. Go forth and explore some of the #CMTakeaways that were captured below!

Next up: Lifelong nomad, artist and scholar, Rashayla Marie Brown will be bringing her perspective to our Shock series on Friday, October 16th. Rashayla’s multi-disciplanary work work exploits the role of the artist as both an agent and an object of desire. This is a morning of creativity you definitely won’t want to miss. See you in a couple of weeks!

Double high five + the crisp air of fall!



Joining us this month to share his insights on the intersection of empathy and design is strategist and storyteller Antonio García. His career in socially-responsible and user-centered design has included holding posts at Firebelly and gravitytank, where he currently guides interaction design and social innovation as an Associate Partner.

If you were fortunate enough to snag a ticket to Friday’s talk, here’s a sneak peek of what’s in store!

What drives your desire to create?
Personally, it’s seeing other people’s work and getting excited and motivated to join them. I get lots of inspiration from within design and illustration but also from outside our industry: technology, streetwear, toys, video games, movies, animation, signage, stories and so on. Professionally, I’m driven to make complex things more clear. To make people care. To motivate them to take action. To spur transactions and exchange. To fight for the user. To champion the cause. To help organizations grow. To create value and push things forward.

How does Chicago influence you or your work?
I fall madly in love with our skyline every single time I see it. Doesn’t matter the time of day or angle I see it from, I’m filled with energy and excitement. I love our parks and lakefront. I love riding the train and people watching. I hate our segregation but I love our ethnic enclaves and the food and culture you find in each one. When it comes to creativity, Chicago’s midwest work ethic is unparalleled—no place hustles heads-down like we do. I love following my favorite Chicago artists and auteurs on Instagram (Kyle LaMere, Brandon Breaux, Chad Khouri, Chuck Anderson, Czr Prz, Paul Octavious, Will Miller, Andy Luce…) I’m proud of Chicago’s emerging rap talent (Chance, Saba, Taylor Bennet, Mick Jenkins…) I love our indie filmmakers like Strange Loop Studios and Kartemquin Films. There’s so much to experience and be influenced by.

What are you most proud of, professionally or otherwise?
I’m proud of the interaction design team I have the honor of leading at gravitytank. We’ve got some of the brightest, most thoughtful people working on really gnarly technology and design challenges. Everyone’s super committed to each other and the work. It’s awesome to be shoulder to shoulder with such good people who care deeply about the end-user experience and like to define the future together.

What is your dream creative project?
Creating an entire universe of illustrated characters that teach kids how to be better humans through interactive play, exploration and discovery. Basically a scenario where I get to draw a lot of cute things, talk in different character voices and work with animators, motion designers, developers and early childhood development experts to make awesome immersive experiences (digital and IRL!) for young people.

What does this month’s theme—empathy—mean to you?
Empathy is recognizing yourself in other people.

See you Friday at Leo Burnett’s Department of Design!

Last week, Jim Bachor—the artist behind the delightful pothole installations around Chicago—joined the Creative Mornings family to share a few perspectives towards our Action series. Jim strongly believes that trusting in our experiences and relying on our instincts can lead us to impactful opportunities. As he eloquently stated, “asking for permission is often overrated.” Sometimes it’s important to follow your instincts and not ask for other’s opinions. Dig into some of the #CMTakeaways that were captured below!

Mark your calendars! Our next talk will be on Friday, September 25th. We’ll be exploring the empathetic process of Antonio García, Associate Partner at gravitytank. Not only does he believe that design’s sole function is to create change, he often participates in community conversations on the topics of diversity, culture and creativity. See you in a couple of weeks!

High five!