Jordan Taylor

If I had to give an award for “Most Chill Revision Path Guest”, Jordan Taylor would win the prize with no competition. But don’t let the relaxed vibes fool you, because his skills as a designer and creator are anything but laid-back. And even better, he has roots here in Atlanta. Keep listening to learn more about this hometown hero!

We started off talking about his recent move to NYC, and he gave a peek behind the curtain of being a designer at the world-famous design firm Pentagram. From there, Jordan talked about growing up and attending college in Atlanta (taught by past Revision Path guest Nakita M. Pope!) We also touched on a few other topics, including Atlanta’s design scene, and what Jordan wants to see more of from the larger design community. Jordan is a uniquely talented, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of his work in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Jordan Taylor:
I’m Jordan Taylor. I’m a graphic designer at Pentagram. I work on a lot of different projects, mostly branding, but a fair share of editorial and motion design, a few websites here and there.

Maurice Cherry:
How has the year been going so far?

Jordan Taylor:
My year has been pretty great. I recently moved to a new place for the first time. I’m now living out in Brooklyn, New York. I moved up here for work and it’s been a chance to go on new adventures, see different things, meet new people. It’s been pretty interesting. A lot of changes.

Maurice Cherry:
When you sort of look at the year in general where we’re at now, we’re recording this right now in mid August. Is there anything that you want to accomplish before the year ends?

Jordan Taylor:
Oh, I’d say that right now I’m in a place where I’m trying to figure out what my next thing is. One of the things I really want to accomplish for the years over is starting to make those steps toward whatever that looks like, whether it’s an expression of self or new business endeavors. Just starting to really get back into more self-activated things. You know how they say you are always going to need to fall a couple times when you’re on your journey somewhere. I’m ready to start taking those baby’s first steps toward whatever new horizon I’m heading toward. I feel like I’m in that kind of place.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now, you’re at Pentagram, which is a extremely, extremely well known design consultancy. Talk to me about that.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. Pentagram is so many things. I’m there now. I’ve been working there coming up on two years in September. When I started, it was as a remote position. I started as an intern, but I was working from home still down in Atlanta. The journey there was just so unexpected. I just didn’t think that it was a place I was going to get to. When I started really diving into design, you get introduced to different ways of doing things and what brand design looks like and who the kind of designers to know are. You find out about different names and you end up finding out about Pentagram.
It just is a crazy experience to walk in there and actually see these people in person and not from even a crowd for some sort of forum that they’re putting on. It’s been really interesting just even beyond the partners, you have all the people working there on the different teams and you find out how a team works and how they approach projects and different ways that people think. It’s like a big incubator. It is really been… The way I got there was so much so of just putting my head down because it was the middle of the pandemic and just trying to get to the best place I could after leaving school.
So in a way, I don’t always fully take it in, but in those moments that I do, it just really hits me and it’s like, “Oh, I’m actually in here every day,” if that makes sense. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of just like air of ridiculousness to me. It’s actually worked out to this level.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it’s hard to put into words. I mean, I’m listening to you stabber to talk about it. But I mean, I can imagine you’ve got such design heavyweights like Michael Beirut and Paula Scher and Eddie Opara whom we’ve had on the show episode 234 if people want to check that out. But I can imagine having that much, I guess, the weight of it all is probably a lot to think about from your perspective.

Jordan Taylor:
And then at the same time I still have work to do every day. I still have four or five projects to work on. So it’s a balancing act. You try to make yourself known and get to know people. But at the same time, you’re still trying to keep the main thing, the main thing, and I guess do the work that got you there.

Maurice Cherry:
And you’ve done that. I mean, you’ve done the work that got you there. It’s not like you just walked in off the street into Pentagram. Like you said, you had your head down working and we’ll get more into your background or your story, but you deserve to be there.

Jordan Taylor:
Absolutely. Yeah. I say all these things about how it feels to be there, but I don’t think I ever really felt I didn’t belong, maybe just that I didn’t expect for anybody to actually figure that out, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a typical day look like for you at Pentagram?

Jordan Taylor:
A typical day for me when I first started there as an intern, one of the big things that I was really aware of was that I was probably not going to understand how anything worked. So I would reach out to my mentors, one of which was Louis Mikolay. He used to work at Collins. Now he’s at Apple. I reached out to John Ferguson and McCoy Smith. I just asked them, “You all are professionals. You all are in this design world. How do you actually keep track of all the things that you’re supposed to do in the day? How do you know how much time to allocate to a project? If you got multiple projects going on, how do you know when to start the day or when to end the day?” Because it was working from home and starting out. Everything was a little too soft for me.
Long story short, I got into making to-do list to start the day or sometimes I make one to fill out the whole week. If I knew what the week had, coming ahead of me. After that, it really depends on the day to day what point I’m at in the week. But I’ll usually try and get the smaller projects out of the way or the little things, or just check my emails and make sure that nobody is kind of hitting me with a curve ball before I really get my day started.
And from there, I collaborate with my team to make sure that I know what their expectations are for the day. And then it’s working things out. If I am on a magazine project like Netflix Queue, it may be a lot of concept. And so it’ll be like, “We’re building a deck to introduce to the client. And then from there you might break away from that side of it and go to the print side and you’re coming up with different concepts and directions.”
So you’re doing a lot of art directing, but then right after that, I might have to create animation assets for a branding project where we’re trying to activate the brand for a presentation. So it’s a lot of flipping switches is what I call it. It’s a lot of flip this on, flip that off, go over here, do this. And then you just end up at 6:00.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s the day.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You, I guess, touched on some of the projects you’re working on. You mentioned this magazine, Netflix Queue. What kind of other projects and stuff are you working on?

Jordan Taylor:
The projects I’m working on right now, I can’t really speak about. Some other projects I have worked on before, we did a wonderful rebrand for a college out in Pennsylvania who that was transitioning into university status called Moravian university. I worked on tech brand who was building out a whole kind of workspace system along the blockchain. So you really had ownership of your information called Skiff. I also work on the ACLU magazine that comes out twice a year. So it’s a wide range. And then there’s things that I help out with in spots here or there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re doing print projects, digital projects, kind of a little bit of everything, it sounds like.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. A lot of flipping those switches and within those, the Netflix magazine has a digital arm and a print arm. So I’m on both of those.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sometimes we might have to create a cover animation for the website and then you also have to create print stories. I mean, build out those assets. So your vision for the brand in all these different formats and it’s all happening at the same time. Whereas with the ACLU magazine is strictly print, but it involves a lot of art directions.
So I’m commissioning illustrators. I’m commissioning photographers. I mean, we’re like staying on the pulse of what’s going on with the Supreme Court to find out what their rulings are going to be before the next issue. And then with something like Moravian, you just got old fashioned branding. So you’re building out color systems and typography and things like that.
I mean, it sounds exciting to be able to use your skills to bounce from project to project in that way. One of the last big creative projects I worked on actually was also a print and digital magazine for my former employer, because I just got laid off. But for my former employer, I was putting together a print and digital magazine. The first issue is out. Actually the second issue was ready the day they laid our whole team off. So I don’t know if the second issue will even see the light of day, even though it’s literally at the printer on the shelf. Don’t know if anyone’s ever going to see it.

Jordan Taylor:
Sounds like Limited edition.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And the third issue we were in the middle of working on, which was actually going to be on Web3 stuff. We commissioned illustrators. We had all the same things you were mentioning, writers, all that kind of stuff. Don’t know if that one is ever going to happen. I love the magazine thing because it was my first time ever working on something like that. I would love to do more things like that.
It just seems like two things with Pentagram. One, you get to work on so many different types of projects. And two, I guess, because Pentagram just has this like… To me, maybe not to other people, but to me it has this untouchable… I don’t want to say cult status because its name happens to be Pentagram, but it’s one of those things like, “No, don’t apply to us. We will choose you to work for us.” Like that sort of thing. I don’t know if that’s just part of the mystique of Pentagram, but I like that.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. I mean, I conflict on that. So a bit of how I actually ended up finding the position, I had joined Where are the Black Designers slack channel. [inaudible 00:14:28]

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Mitzi.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. One of the project managers at Pentagram posted the opening and I was like, “Oh, this is crazy. I don’t even know they did this.” And the week went along and I was like, “Oh, should I do it, should I not?” I applied through there, but that’s not usually how it happens and it’s something that Pentagram is trying to get better about is like casting a wider net and bringing in more perspectives.
I don’t know. The idea of that exclusivity, it creates the mystique you know, but I feel like in a world where we’re starting to just keep reconsidering these ideas of diversity and inclusion, when you’re at the top and you think you know what’s best, you don’t really allow anyone else to come in from the outside and influence and keep you there, you’re just moving off of… I don’t know. I feel like it makes it easier for you to lose sight of what’s actually going on around you if you’re not actually interacting with the people, so to speak.

Maurice Cherry:
I get what you’re saying. I totally get that because I think a lot of agencies probably have that same sort of problem. Yes, they want to have a level of exclusivity with the work, but I guess they don’t want to appear like they’re for everybody I suppose.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. It’s a tough balance, which I get. Look, just as a person who felt like they were on the outside, looking in and very much based on what I have come to find out just being in the workplace is not a common way of finding out about openings there. I just would hate to for the other person who’s in that same position and just wasn’t on the slack channel that day or that week.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. They just missed out.

Jordan Taylor:
And they’re just as good as I am. I just think about stuff like that and I’m like, “Oh, it conflicts me a lot.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s switch gears here a little bit. I want you to remain conflicted in the interview, but because this is about you and about your skill. Like I said, you deserve to be there certainly. Let’s switch gears here. Let’s talk about you. Tell me where you grew up.

Jordan Taylor:
I grew up 30 miles east straight down Act 20 from Atlanta, Georgia in Lithonia. It’s a Black suburb. It’s a pretty decent place to live. It was a lot quieter until Atlanta’s always constantly growing and expanding. So people started moving out there a lot more. But I was out there since I was two years old, like ’96 and then I moved out of the Atlanta area last October.
I spent a long time out there, just deep in that culture, moving around town, making friends. I was a part of the Atlanta public schools system throughout with a little bit of DeKalb County Schools in elementary. I feel like a country bumpkin sometimes being in New York now. But I feel like my experience in my kind of neck of the woods was just so interesting. I just got to see so many different things and so many different ways to live out my Blackness, I guess. My whole family is from the Atlanta area. So it just was a really warm, just loving experience the whole time. I miss it a lot. I think about it every day.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you grew up in Atlanta during a time. I mean that to me feels like peak Atlanta like the Olympics Freaknik ’96, that whole time. I came to Atlanta in ’99. So right after that. But I’m from Alabama, I’m from Selma, so I’m not that far from Atlanta. I’m roughly about three hours. We would always come to Atlanta, honestly, every summer or every time, I don’t know, our class did well on the SATs or something. It was always like, “We’re going to Six Flags. We’re going to Six Flags.”
So I’ve always been in and around Atlanta and then finally moved here when I was 18. But I know exactly that feeling that you’re talking about. And it’s something that I’m sort of exploring a little bit, because I’m working on a book proposal. And as I’m working through it, there’s such a positive thread of Blackness throughout Atlanta that I don’t think a lot of people really get.
I think people see Atlanta, they see the entertainments, they see the music. They see, “Oh, it’s a really Black city.” But it’s a warmth, I think that a lot of people don’t really understand unless you’re either from there or you’ve really lived there for a long time. I mean, I feel like I got it a little bit just from visiting so much, but certainly my formative years and my teens… Not even my teens, but really my late teens and my 20s in Atlanta is just irreplaceable. It’s hard to put that feeling into words about the… It’s not even so much of a positive Blackness, but as much as every example of excellence that you see around you is Black.

Jordan Taylor:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I think sometimes that can be hard even for other Black people to see depending on where they grew up. But Atlanta really sort fosters that and it’s not in any sort of weird supernatural extraordinary way. It’s like excellence is just all around you.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. A very casual Blackness.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s such a good way to put it, a very casual Blackness. That’s such a good way to put it.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. For me, people are constantly on this notion of Blackness is not a monolith. That’s what I mean, what we’re both talking about with that casual Blackness. I wouldn’t put myself in a certain frame. I always talk to my friends like we all played sports, but we all like anime. We all ended up doing different jobs. I have friends who were in the arts, but I also have friends who are paramedics, and I also have friends who are party promoters.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no division.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, there’s no division.

Maurice Cherry:
I a hundred percent know exactly what you mean. I mean, I went to Morehouse, so I absolutely know of what that division can definitely look like. But yeah, man, I mean, you grew up here in a great, great [inaudible 00:20:49]. I can tell why you miss it. I can definitely tell why. Was art and design kind of a big part of you growing up here?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say it was, but it was more from a sense of… It was something that I was just always interested in. You get older and you look back on your life and you realize you were doing things the whole time that were preparing you for something you didn’t even know you were preparing yourself for. So it wasn’t more so that design or the arts was constantly around me.
Nobody in my family is like a designer. My mom is a school counselor. My dad works at the EPA. It was just constantly something that I was interested in. I watched a lot of TV, a lot of Cartoon Network, a lot of Nickelodeon, a lot of Disney, a lot of anime, a lot of Toonami. Those kind of things are what introduced me into the arts and made me appreciate art a lot more.
So I think the first thing I ever tried to draw was Goku on one of my school notepads. And from there, I kept drawing and drawing and doodling. But it wasn’t something that I really embraced as something that would ever be a part of my future. It was more so just something that I enjoyed and it was an outlet for me. It helped me express something that I really cared about. And then I got opportunities later on in high school to express those things in different ways. I knew I had that drawing talent and my mom would put me into these art programs over the summer to learn more about the technical side.
I did one in old Fort Worth at this summer camp where we had to choose a discipline. So I went with the drawing one, because it was the one that I was the best at. I got those things, but it was never something that I thought that I was actually ever going to be doing with my life. When I was about to graduate high school, I planned on doing engineering. Focusing on that is part of my college curriculum. Because like I said, I was preparing myself for things that I didn’t actually know were available to me. I was like, “Okay, well I’m good at math and science, but I also want to create things.”
I didn’t know how to express that completely. So my dad was working at the EPA. I was like, “Oh, he’s an engineer. Maybe I’ll be an engineer and maybe I’ll get to tinker on things or build something one day. But it wasn’t something that I was fully embracing. I definitely went to the high museum way more during my college days than I ever did during grade school.

Maurice Cherry:
But it sounds like your parents though, at least supported you in that, I guess you could say at that point was a hobby, was you really liking art and drawing. They didn’t try to dissuade you from it.

Jordan Taylor:
No, they never dissuade me from anything. I think I get a lot of my laid back kind of attitude from them because they’re very much… They were very much always, as long as I handled what I was supposed to be doing at school or whatever, then they would let me do whatever I wanted to in the peripheries. They never really tried to shut me down from anything and I always appreciate them for that.

Maurice Cherry:
So you ended up going to Georgia State University. And Atlanta’s got some well known design schools here. I mean, let’s see. If you were… I’m trying to think was it… No, Atlanta College of Art wasn’t around during that time. But I mean, we had Art Institute of Atlanta. I think SCAD was just maybe starting to have their campus here. I don’t recall. But there’s also things like the Portfolio Center, et cetera. I don’t know if Georgia State really is ever in that conversation of great design schools or curriculums in the city. How was your time there?

Jordan Taylor:
I really enjoyed my time there. So my introduction to Georgia State came a bit later in college. I transferred there. I first off went to Fort Valley State University. It’s a HBCU like an hour south of Macon, I think, near Warner Robins.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep, I’m familiar.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. Oh, you know about Fort valley?

Maurice Cherry:
I know about Fort Valley.

Jordan Taylor:
That was where I went because I thought I was going to be engineers. My mom was like, “Okay, go to this agricultural school. They have an engineering program. You can do that.” And while I was there, I found out more about graphic design. I would hear about it here and there on the internet, but I didn’t know how it worked. I found out what Adobe was. I was like, “Okay. Well, my laptop is not good enough to do any of that kind of stuff.”
But I ended up taking an elective my second year there and it was for graphic design. I think our first project was that we had to create a fake brand and then we had to make envelopes for the brand. Our teacher taught us how to use the blend tool. We could use the blend tool if we wanted to, but otherwise we had to just come up with something else. Long story short, I got an A in the class and I was like, “Wait a minute. I just made something and it felt like art.” I got an A and I don’t really want to be an electrical engineer. That’s fourth floor.
I called my mom right before I was about to go back home because the semester ended and I was like, “Hey, I looked it up. Georgia State has graphic design program.” Because I think I looked into all those other schools, but like I said, my mom never stifled me from anything, but she always made me very aware of what she could and couldn’t do. So I knew she wasn’t about to pay for me to go to SCAD.
I called her, I was like, “Hey, I got an A in this graphic design class. I want to transfer up to Georgia State.” I’m going to major in it. They have a program up there. She was like, “Wait a second. It is the first semester. Could you at least finish the next semester and make sure you want to do this?” I was like, “No, I got to go.”
But she made me finish that next semester. I spent that whole semester in my free time learning how to use illustrator. When I finally started, I was so eager. I started taking classes at Georgia State over the summer because I wanted to get in there because I couldn’t use my laptop. I was using the school stuff at Fort Valley to design. I was like, “Okay, I don’t want to spend a whole summer not working on this because I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know how good any of these people in these classes are about to be when I start.”
So I spent that whole summer in the Georgia State computer lab, just working on Illustrator. Photoshop, I was kind of like, “Ah, there’s kind of too many different ways to do things on there. I’m just going to keep doing Illustrator.” I mean, I had a great time in Georgia State’s graphic design program. I would say to anyone that’s thinking about it based on our conversation right now that it really helped cement a lot of the basics and a lot of the fundamentals of what design is, how do you approach it? What does it mean to create a creative identity?
I took a lot of the introductory classes because it’s broken up into two different sections. So you take the intro classes and then you have to go through a portfolio review to get to the final stage and actually graduate with a design degree.
I didn’t make it to that second part because I was missing a project. I learned so much from the experience that I knew I could design. They even said it. They were like, “Some people might not make it. That doesn’t mean you’re not good.” There’s plenty of people that don’t make it. Because there’s so particular and they have such a hard cutoff in terms of the numbers because of the size of the program right now.
They really encouraged you to keep going and that’s what I did. I was like, “I know what I’m doing. I know how to build a brand. I know how to use Illustrator and Photoshop. I made all these projects. I didn’t do all this for no reason.” So I just stuck to it after that and stayed in contact with all my teachers from all my introductory classes because they continued to keep their doors open for me. I would definitely recommend it.
Anybody thinking about going to SCAD or those other art schools, I would say to look into Georgia State because their program is really great and they really supported me the entire time.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, it sounds like they really kind of helped prepare you to get out there and be a designer. Even though, as you said, you didn’t go through and do the project portion of it, but you still came out with enough know-how to know how to be a designer.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you enrolled at The Creative Circus a couple of years after you graduated from Georgia State. What made you do that?

Jordan Taylor:
I enrolled there because after I didn’t make it to the second portion of the design program, I continued to work. I started trying to find different outlets for what I could do. So I was like, “Okay. I’m not in the program.” So I would do things for people here and there. I got a intern position at the APEX Museum, which was right down the street from the Georgia State campus. It’s a Black history museum. They really gave me a great chance to try and do my things in actual application and step with their own identity.
There was just something in the back of my head, as I kept learning about design and learning about Eddie Opara, and Michael Beirut, and Paula Scher and those kind of people. There was something beyond that, that I didn’t really know how to do yet. So along with those other things that I was doing in terms of working, I was also trying to meet more people that were also designing.
So I joined the AIGA student chapter in Atlanta and I ended up meeting one of the teachers at The Creative Circus because the meeting I went to was at The Creative Circus. So I got to see little bits and pieces before I walked into our meeting space. I was like, “Hey, is this an art school?” Because I didn’t even know what it was. It was like off a Cheshire Bridge off of a back street.
She was like, “Yeah, this is an art school.” I was like, “Do you all have a design program?” And she was like, “Yeah, we have a design program.” It was a Nakita Pope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Nakita. Love Nakita. She’s been on the show before.

Jordan Taylor:
She’s like, “Yeah, we have a design program. I’m actually one of the instructors for it. If you ever want to come back, I’ll give you a tour. You can sit in on one of my classes.” She let me walk around for a bit before I had to leave. And they have all the work on the walls from previous students’ projects. I saw that stuff and I was like, “I don’t know how to do any of this.” I was like, “I thought I was good at it and I don’t know how to do any of this. But if they know how to do this, I think I can figure it out.”
Long story short, I talked to my mom. I was like, “Hey, thinking about going back to school. It’s going to cost yada, yada, yada.” She’s like, “Wait a minute. [inaudible 00:32:11] stick with me.” That took some discussing because my parents had already paid for four years of school. So I went there. It did what I expected it to… It took me to a whole nother level in terms of understanding. What it really helped me with was concepting, being able to build an idea and then flush it out graphically in a multitude of ways.
So what I learned from Georgia State in my introductory classes was that what makes a good logo, how to pick out typography, things like that like the building blocks. And then when I got to The Creative Circus, they really pushed those different levels of self expression and leaving no stone unturned when you’re trying to tell the story of something. So it all came together to put together the picture.

Maurice Cherry:
And for folks that don’t know or haven’t heard of The Creative Circus, it’s this private for-profit college recently closed its doors, which is such a big loss to the Atlanta design community. I hope they come back one day, but The Creative Circus and Nakita Pope who you mentioned as an instructor there. I think I’ve been there a couple of times. I know, I remember seeing, I think it was Douglas Davis had given a talk there when he was doing his book tour for his book about creative strategy and the business of design.
Nakita and Douglas knew each other because they both went to Hampton. Although, I don’t know if they went at the same time or not, but yeah, The Creative Circus, great, great resource to the city. Sad that it’s closed. But no, it sounds like you got what you needed from there. And you also have interned at a few places in Atlanta. You mentioned Apex over on Auburn Avenue. You interned at the Mammal Gallery, which is downtown Atlanta. You interned at MetroFresh Uptown. These are three somewhat different types of design experiences, it seems like. What did each of those places really teach you?

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, they were so interesting looking back on them. It was very much, I was still in that phase of trying to scrounge together different experiences any way I could. I was out of college and I just had to dive into things that I was interested in. I was like, “I love my people. Let’s go to the Apex.” I was like the Mammal Gallery back then. I’m not even sure if the Mammal Gallery is still open, but they used to put on concerts where they would bring in these underground performers or these emerging artists. I was really into that because that was the mix tape era and SoundCloud era.
So I was like, “Hey, I love this place. Let me ask if they need a graphic designer.” Because everybody needs a graphic designer. And then with MetroFresh Uptown, that was taking something that I needed and trying to bring something that I wanted into it.
So I got the job because I needed a job because I was working. At The Creative Circus, I made it past the first quarter and it was time for me to try and figure out how to keep paying to be there. I’d done a lot of food service jobs. I picked that one up because I had heard about… I don’t even remember how I heard about the opening, but I’m not going to dwell on that. And because I was working at a new location for them, I was like, “Hey, do you all need signage? Do you need somebody to draw murals? Do you need somebody to make pamphlets for you to pass out in this office building? I could do all that stuff.” And it worked out from there.
But it prepared me for what I would do like the next internship that I was in for a really long time because it gave me a chance to be a part of something and know what the identity was and how to bring that out in that graphic language.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And that other place that you’re talking about, that’s Atlanta Contemporary. You were there for pretty much, almost five years. That’s a really long time. Talk to me about what that experience was like.

Jordan Taylor:
I love the Atlantic contemporary. I talk about the place all the time. For anybody who’s listening and is in the Atlanta area, it’s free every day. I think they’re only closed on Sundays. They might be closed on Mondays now, but they’re definitely closed on Sundays. It’s a contemporary art space, but it’s also an art center. So they do a lot of events where they bring in the community and they have children’s events. They do weddings, all that kind of stuff.
But it was that kind of last step in finding things that I was interested in. I was like, okay. So I worked at a Black history museum. I’ve done things for music space. I’ve done things for restaurants. What else am I interested in? If I could ever get a job at a museum, that would be really cool. I was like if I could ever actually make graphics for something based in the arts, that would be incredible.
So I went around to all the spots that you can think of. I went to the High Museum, I went to MOCA, I went to the Atlanta History Center. I was just Googling these places and then I would spend the day and go to them. And eventually, I went to the Atlanta contemporary. I was like, “Oh, do you all have any openings?” They were like, “No, we already have a graphic design.” I was like, “Oh well, okay. Do you do internships?” They were like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Do the interns do any graphic design?” They said, “No.” I was like, “Well, if I intern, could I do some graphic design?” And they were like-

Maurice Cherry:
You were trying. You were trying to get in there.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. And they were like, “I mean, maybe. Sure.” So I just took those opportunities wherever I could get them. It was a chance for me to interact with the community because people would come in for different exhibit exhibition openings and people would have the artist talks there and things. They had a whole pavilion in the back where they housed certain artists within their studios. So I got to interact with there. That was cool.
But then here and there, if they had an event, they were like, “Hey, Jordan. Could you make some signage? Hey, Jordan, could you make a flyer? Hey Jordan, could you do the vinyl descriptions for the artwork this month?” It would trickle in slowly. I built up a rapport with everybody that I was capable of doing these things. And then it turned into a full time position after that. When I got that chance to do that because the previous graphic designer had actually moved to New York because I had been there so long, I recommended different ways of going about how they express themselves with their social assets and things like that.
I was like, “Hey, I feel like this could speak a lot more clearly to what you all actually have going on here.” It’s so interesting and fun here. I think that this could be expressed a different way. So it was a chance for me to build a proposal. And then from there, it really bled into a lot of things. I was creating their monthly social posts. I was creating special animated assets whenever they had a special event going on.
I was doing their event graphics. I was doing the way finding within the museum, or within the art space, excuse me. And then I was also still doing the vinyl descriptors for the exhibitions also. And then I even got to help with one of the art pieces one time. They had this mantra that they wanted to put on the wall, but the guy walked in with just… It typed out from a typewriter on a piece of paper and he was like, “I wanted to look exactly like this, but on the wall.”
I was like, “Well, aren’t you the artist? You don’t know how to do that? But that was a chance to really collaborate with the artist and get their vision across, but then also I had to collaborate with the more practical people, the vinyl makers and figure out how I could create his vision and make it sense to them as the go between. So it was a lot.
I mean, I met a lot of incredible people. Just an invaluable experience. It pops back up every time I’m trying to do something. Earlier when I talked about flipping those switches, that was the first place where I really had to flip switches. I might animate, but I might be doing social stuff, but I might be making a visitor’s brochure.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like you really spread your wings there creatively. You got to do a lot of different things.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, because of the nature of the space as a contemporary art space, it was very open to new ways of doing things or new approaches. They had their shareholders or their investors that you had to run things by in the final round. But all in all, it was very, like you said, a great experience to spread my wings and figure things out on the fly.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’re currently in New York. Of course, that’s for work for Pentagram. But I’m curious when you think of your time here as a designer in Atlanta, what was the design community and scene for you? How would you describe it maybe to someone outside of Atlanta?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say the design scene here… Or in Atlanta. I’m not there anymore. It’s a lot broader than you think it is. There’s a lot of incredible people just kind of like… You got to get in there, but once you get in there, there’s a lot of amazing people out there doing their thing, making their way. What makes it different from what I’ve encountered so far up here in New York, New York is very much a design city. It’s like, “Oh, the subway system and this and that.”
But in Atlanta, what I really liked about the community out there is everyone was very much so making a way for themselves and finding their pocket or their niche and figuring things out. And the community comes together for different things like AIGA events and stuff. I would say the a G is a good way to find out what people are doing and find your group or what you’re most interested in. But everyone out there was being really resourceful or everyone out there had found their groove. They knew how to work it through all the ups and downs. One of my mentors, his name was Joe Price.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I know Joe.

Jordan Taylor:
You know Joe?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Taylor:
Great. He was freelance, but he had been freelancing for so long when I met him. He just was constantly like… He’s so good at rolling with the punches. Even during the pandemic, he just knew how to figure things out. But at the same time, because it’s such a more kind of non-mainstream thing to be a designer, I guess, he’s so quirky. I don’t think he thinks he is. Joe has pet squirrels in his workspace. It’s a little nook in his backyard. Just full of different design ephemera just all over the place. Just stacks of books on books, on books. It’s really incredible. I think it’s pretty great, but you got to get in there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Taylor:
You’re not just going to get swept up in it, you got to get into it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Joe gave me the coolest piece of, I guess, design swag or ephemera that I’ve ever gotten from anyone. But I mean, I’ve been to conferences and I’ve talked to people all around the world. This was years and years ago. No one else has ever given me anything this cool. You’re going to laugh at this. It’s a beverage koozie like you put on cans.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. But it’s a paper bag. You see folks on the corner get a 40 or whatever and they’re drinking it right out the paper bag, it’s a paper bag koozie. And it’s actually a bag like you put the can like a regular 12-ounce can. You put it in the bag, and it’s got his logo on it. It is the coolest thing I have ever gotten from any designer anywhere. And I’ve gotten posters, books, figurines.
And the thing is, I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t know where Joe got those from. I don’t know where he got those printed, the website of the bottom of it no longer exists, but I still have it. It’s in my silverware drawer, in my kitchen. It is the one coolest piece of design thing I ever got. It’s just a paper bag koozie. It’s paper bag on the outside, but it’s insulated on the inside. You just put a drink in it and then you feel like you’re drinking out of a paper bag. It’s the coolest thing.
No, that sounds amazing. I never heard that. I’m going to have to ask him about it because that sounds incredible. It’s all crinkled and you put a paper bag and it’s like… All that.

Maurice Cherry:
And from a distance, someone will think you’re just drinking out a small paper bag or something, but no, it’s a beverage koozie. It’s so cool. It’s so cool. Did you feel like there were any sort of particular challenges that you had to face here as a designer that you might not be facing in New York?

Jordan Taylor:
I think the main one is just that… Like I said, it’s not a super… It’s just not as popular of a career path, I guess in Atlanta. So when it came time for me to find a career path or find a job or a gig, it was a little difficult. I found myself ending up at the same spots whenever I would try and find different avenues. The amount of times that I applied to Turner Broadcasting, it would shock and appall you. I applied to play so many times throughout college.
After college, I was constantly Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, TNT, blah, blah, blah. It was so many times. And then as I got more into the design community, I found out more about different places that were available or even design shops like Matchstick and so forth. But I just think that there just aren’t as many options as there might be up in New York.
But like I said, when you meet more people in the community, everyone has figured out their way and found their kind of niche and how to move and the space. But for me starting out, it was a little… There wasn’t as much of a depth of options as I thought they were going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you ever get an interview with Turner?

Jordan Taylor:
No. I never got past the video interview part. I did the submitted questionnaire and then one time I got to do a video interview, but never actually got to go there in person and sit down with anybody.

Maurice Cherry:
You’ve got a line in your bio that says your approach to design is similar to one of your patented long walks around town. What does that mean?

Jordan Taylor:
Okay. It’s not like long walks on the beach type of thing. It’s actually a connection.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, unpack that for me.

Jordan Taylor:
Like I said, when I moved back to Atlanta after Fort Valley and I decided to become a designer, I would have to go into the city. So for five years I was going into the city every day from my house in Lithonia. So I was taking public transit. I was taking MARTA every day. I would get on the bus. This might be too granular for your wide audience, but I would go to Indian Creek and then I would take the train into the city. And then I would either have to walk or take another bus wherever else I was going.
So doing that constantly is what I mean by those patented long walks. And what I mean when I say that my design is similar to those is that if you spend enough time on the ground, just walking everywhere, you’re going to see some interesting things. You’re going to appreciate more of what’s going on around you because you’re transitioning from a more forest area because there’s so many trees in the Atlanta area to like you go through the urban areas and you’re passing by restaurants, you’re passing by clubs, you’re passing by all these different things.
You see a lot of weird stuff. You see a lot of interesting things. You might see some not so great things. But it all leaves an impact. I think that’s what I mean when I say it’s my patented long walks on the beach. So things might get a little weird. I might try and take some interesting left turns here or there, but it’s all for the sake of giving that impact.
I want you to feel like you’re actually a part of the journey. I want you to feel like a story is being told to you. I want you to feel like there’s a lot of meaning and purpose behind what’s going on here. Because I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t have that sense of purpose to get up, leave my house and go do all these different things every day.
When I was going to find my different internships, I walked there. When I was going to school at The Creative Circus, I walked there. And by walking, I mean it included public transit, but my feet were on the ground. I was like-

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Jordan Taylor:
… back and forth. It’s weird. It’s fun. It’s got a lot of purpose behind it. I feel like that’s how I design.

Maurice Cherry:
As you started saying that, for some reason that just reminded me of the first verse of Elevators from Outkast where you’re talking about taking MARTA through the hood, trying to find the hookup caught the 86 Lithonia headed to Decatur.

Jordan Taylor:
I rode to 86. That was my bus.

Maurice Cherry:
My bus was the 13 because I went to Morehouse and I was living in the west… Oh, well, I wasn’t living in the west end when I was at Morehouse, unless it was on campus. But I used to live in Buckhead in the Darlington before the Darlington got run down and now it’s like multimillion dollar condos or whatever. It used to be the 23, now it’s the 110. But I take the 23 to Art Center. I take Art Center to Five Points. I take the 13 from there. And it puts you off at the strip of Fair Street and Brawley, James P Brawley, which is the Clark Atlanta strip. That was class every day. I remember it finally. I have not ridden the 13 in years, but I remember that very fondly.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. I feel same way. Whenever I go back home and I see that bus when I go visit my mom or whatever, it’s a very funny feeling. Just like, oh, that used to be my life. I spent plenty of days running that thing down.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, me too. Running down to 13. People that are not in Atlanta don’t know this, but the buses are terrible. There’s only a few that are fairly reliable. The 13 is pretty reliable. The 23, which is now the 110. The six to Emory is pretty reliable. I would imagine the 86 is probably pretty reliable too, but a lot of in-town buses, good luck. If you miss it, you’re waiting 30, 40 minutes for the next bus. It’s ridiculous.

Jordan Taylor:
No, absolutely. I mean, the 86, it came, but I wouldn’t say it’s super reliable because I would have to show up 10 minutes early or I’m going to be an hour late because like you said, it might show up on time. It might show up 10 minutes early. It might show up 10 minutes late. But either way, if you miss it, you’re waiting another 40 minutes until the next one. No, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember taking the 23 and sometimes what happened is… I don’t know if this happened on the 86, but the driver would get out and go into McDonald’s and get something to eat. Just leave the bus, people on the bus waiting to get where they got to go, but they got to get a McGriddle. They got to get their food and come… You better not be mad about it either because they’ll put you out.

Jordan Taylor:
No, thanks. But my bus driver would always… Well, it didn’t happen all the time, but he stopped. I had a few bus drivers stop and get out and walk and go get some chicken wings and they come back. They would walk to the gas station.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep. Oh, man. That’s a very particular just Atlanta transit thing that, that’s funny. I think about that and I just get a warm feeling like nostalgia.

Jordan Taylor:
But like I said, it’s ridiculous. It just is Atlanta. It just is that journey.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about design?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say for where I’m at right now, the best advice I was given was not too long ago. I was talking to Eddie Opara, just trying to take advantage of the situation I’m in. I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to meet this man.” I was like, “Okay.” We just had a conversation. I told him where I was at like where I was talking about earlier, how I feel like I’m just in this space where I’m trying to figure out what’s next. What do I want to keep doing? Or how do I keep moving forward? What he told me was that what you got to do as a designer is kind of figure out what your voice.
You spend all this time learning the building blocks, learning the technical things like, “Oh, how do I use After Effects? How do I use InDesign?” And all this kind of stuff. But sometimes you can get lost in that and not realize that you have a way of expressing yourself. You have a voice. I feel like I do those things, but I don’t have my own world that I built out a vision for how people just immediately are like, “Oh, Jordan made this. This speaks to his sensibilities.” I’m very much more so in the production stage of where I’m at right now.
So I think that was something that, “Oh, was really helpful to me.” He was talking about how you have to pick what means the most to you. Is it about paying it forward in which case maybe you do a lot more kind of teaching or instructing? Or is it about expressing the essence of what we do. In that case, you might do a lot more forums and TED talk type things.
But it was really helpful just figuring out what means the most to you and how do you make that known to people? What is your identity as a designer?

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really good advice.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Next time you talk to Eddie, tell him I said what’s up.

Jordan Taylor:
Okay. Yeah. I should see him soon, so I’ll tell him.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Jordan Taylor:
I think what keeps me the most motivated is just… I know there’s so much more coming. There are a myriad of things that have gotten me to this point like the music I love, the artwork I love. I’m constantly making mood boards on Are.na or Pinterest of things that I think other people are doing and that are cool and they push me forward. But I think the things that keeps me the most hopeful for what’s coming in the future is that I know I have a place and I know that I’m in control of it ultimately. I just have to keep going forward and seeing what’s next, looking for those new opportunities.

Maurice Cherry:
What more do you want to see from the design community? I feel like you are at this very unique place as not only just a young designer, but also a young designer at a place that has such a storied reputation, I would say. What do you want to see more of from the design community?

Jordan Taylor:
I want to see more of Black people. I want to see more of me, more of us. I just want to see more of it. I think that we’re such a creative people. Our influence is so ridiculous. I think that when you think about that in the grand scope, the statistics around how many people of color are like, or how many Black people are designing is so disproportionately low when I’m thinking about the kind of impact we have on the sway of things in the American culture.
I think that also something that I want to see more of is just based on my background and I guess a little bit of just being around my mom all the time. I want to see more people designing at earlier ages. I want that kind of stuff introduced to kids earlier and earlier. I think with the onset of the internet and TikTok and all those kind of things, I think it’s becoming a little more standardized at earlier ages and younger and younger kids are getting into it.
But I did a talk for my mom’s elementary school a few months ago, just introducing them to what design is and the amount of feedback I got from not only the kids, but the teachers that didn’t know that it was an option and were just so blown away about the possibility of what design is and what it can do. I think that just needs to continue happening.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Jordan Taylor:
In the next five years, I want to be doing more work that speaks to who I am. I wanted to speak to my interests. I wanted to impact the people that I care about the most. I wanted to continue to be as proud of my work as I am right now. I feel like I’m really proud of what I do, but it also isn’t a hundred percent mine. So I think that’s where I see myself in five years. Just really taking more ownership of my designs and applying them to what means most to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work and everything online?

Jordan Taylor:
You can find me on Instagram, @jiggyjordan. It’s J-I-G-G-Y-J-O-R-D. I have a website. It’s a keywordjord. K-E-Y-W-O-R-D-J-O-R-D. Other than that… I mean, I have an Are.na page. I enjoy that a lot. I’ve been really getting into that. Do you use Are.na at all?

Maurice Cherry:
This was back in 2019, 2020, I worked with a designer, this really cool student named Perjohn. We used to work at Glitch together. He kind of turned me on to Are.na at first, because he was using it kind of as a sketchbook of sorts. I’ve never used it outside of that though. What is it like?

Jordan Taylor:
So to me it’s a cooler Pinterest. I find a lot of design inspiration on there visually, but I see all kind of people doing different things on here. I’ve seen entire mood boards that are just full of random ideas. I’ve seen tons of people making video references, motion references, entire mood boards that are just free type faces. I mean, I enjoy it a lot. It’s a little grungy and underground, but that speaks to the stuff I like.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll have to check it out. What’s your name on Are.na?

Jordan Taylor:
It’s just Jordan Taylor. I think that’s the best way to find me on here. That’s the other thing. It’s a little hard to discover people on this thing, but I’ll message you. And if anybody else has any trouble finding me, they can let me know, I guess, on Instagram or something.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Jordan Taylor, I want to thank you so so much for coming on the show. I really wanted to have a young Atlanta designer on the show. I know you’re not in Atlanta anymore, but I think just your story of quiet perseverance and drive from growing up to going to school and even pursuing these internships, I think that’s something that a lot of people out here need to see, because I think we see enough of the alternative, which is I went to this fancy art school and now I went to this fancy agency or whatever.
I think people see enough of the alternative and don’t see the folks out here that they’re quietly grinding. And I get the sense that you’ve really been quietly grinding, building your portfolio, improving your skills. And that’s gotten to where you are now at Pentagram of all places.
I can’t wait to see what you do in five years, man. I’m really going to be keeping an eye out for you. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jordan Taylor:
Oh yeah. Thank you so much. I mean, this has been incredible. I appreciate it.

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Ayrïd Chandler

We’re off to the Caribbean this week to talk with the incredibly talented Ayrïd Chandler. Ayrïd is the head of her own studio, Ayrïd by Design, where she offers graphic design services with a focus on brand and identity design. She also teaches at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, where she’s helping to educate and inspire Trinidad and Tobago’s next generation of designers.

Ayrïd starts off talking about her goals for the year, and from there we get into the differences between being a designer in Trinidad vs. being a designer in America. She also spoke about what draws her to brand and identity design, and talked about entering Savannah College of Art and Design, moving back home, and how she’s making a name for herself there. Ayrïd’s path really shows us that as Black designers, we share a similar sense of community no matter where we are, so you’re never alone. Huge thanks to Rebecca Brooker of Queer Design Club for the introduction!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Ayrïd Chandler:
My name is Ayrïd Chandler. I am technically an officially a graphic designer. I run my own business firm studio, one-woman show called Ayrïd by Design here in Trinidad and Tobago. I primarily work on branding identity projects. Apart from that, I am a part-time lecturer for design at the University of West Indies St. Augustine, which is here in Trinidad. There might be other things I’m [inaudible 00:03:15] that I do, but we can get to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. How has the year been treating you so far?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Whew, it’s been interesting. I feel like 2022 has started kind of with a bang in a different way. I mean, things are changing with the pandemic, but then World War III question mark. I feel like a lot of stuff is just happening globally. I don’t know about you, but as a creative, all of those things kind of impacts me a little bit. I feel like because of the weight or the toll that can take on mentally consuming all of the information all the time. It kind of puts it own on things.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But apart from those obvious things, the year started actually with me doing a lot more than I planned on doing. I ended up being a creative director at the local agency here, working on ruling out some digital products. And then that got pause due to pause and investments. There was a lot of shifting happening, where I went from working on external products to focusing more on Ayrïd by Design, instead of juggling the two. Feel like that was a mouthful of your very simple question, but that’s all the year has been going for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting about as you kind of alluded to about World War III and I promise for folks listening, this is not a political podcast, but I’ve been kind of keeping my eye, just I watch the news every now and then just to kind of get a sense of what’s happening. I mean, as we’re recording, this conflict has been going on now for roughly about six or seven weeks.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It doesn’t show any sign of abatements. It’s tough to kind of see, of course, all the devastation that’s happening and the general pleas from the President Zelensky. Yet, I know people that are actively traveling to that part of the world without a care in the world, and I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I’m like, look, I know you’re a few countries away and maybe that distance means something, but like, I don’t know if my American self wants to be in a war torn part of the world right now, but that’s just me.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, no, I mean, I have friends and family in Europe and London and Germany and life is normal. Life is like every day, no big deal. Then I have a friend who is actually Russian, but she lives on this part of the world and she’s just like painting a picture for me of what that means and life, I mean, the war is really from what I understand only happening in, I mean, certain parts, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s not even affecting the country as a whole. It’s like say, and there’s a war in the US, but it’s really just happening in Washington. The rest of the US won’t really be in war. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I think it’s a very similar kind of situation where we just think, well, the whole of this thing is being affected when it’s really just a portion. But I think it’s just the fact that we are getting all of the imagery, we’re getting all of the information live. Like it’s not like before in the previous war, there was no social media. There was no, you know what I mean? It took a while to get news update. We’re getting everything instantly. I think that is what’s making this so different, at least for me. I mean, I haven’t existed in a war before, overtime.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s just new.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s also different to be completely honest that it’s happening to Europeans.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When this is what’s happening to Syrians and Palestinians, and there were news about these sorts of things happening, there certainly wasn’t this level of focus on it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Nope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Geopolitics aside, is there anything in particular that you want to achieve this year?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yes, I do, actually. I would like to achieve financial independence and stability. That is the main goal for me this year. And what I mean by that is actually having the profit that the business makes then stuck up to a point where the business kind of can run on its own and it’s more sustainable. Right now, I think we’re still very much in those early stages of, I won’t say paycheck to paycheck, but month to month, certain projects will definitely make a difference, that kind of thing. And so, being able to kind of get that stability within a personal business that one might have, they had a day job, I think that’s kind of the goal that I’m aspiring to for this. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk more about your firm Ayrïd by Design, what made you want to start your own firm?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I came back home in 2012 after I graduated from college. I haven’t realized that I’m one of those people that didn’t go the traditional route of started off with a day job and then decided to leave and do my own thing. I kind of always worked on my own. I went straight from college, well, not straight, like mainly from college to freelance to registering my business. Honestly, I was freelancing for six years and I discovered all of the different things of how business worked in Trinidad and basically, my banker was like, “You’re commingling your funds, right?” I was like, what does that mean? She was like, “Well, you’re passing business funds into your personal bank account.” I was like, what do you mean business funds like money that I’m earning? She was like, “Yeah, you’re supposed to have a business account for those things.” I was like, oh, I did not learn this from school. I never heard this before.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I don’t know anything. And so, that kind of took me down a trajectory of the researching things and finding things out and talking to different people and that kind of thing. And also, it came at a point in my life when I really wanted to ground myself a bit and set roots on structure and stability. It was a kind of a natural make sense progression of, okay, no, you need to make things official. You need to go and register your business name. You need to be a legal, registered entity. You open your business banking accounts. I got an accountant. Like I did all of the things correct to make sure that I was set up properly and that led to so many different opportunities, which was great, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it’s interesting, you mentioned that about it, not you being taught in school. I know that there are some schools that do have some kind of entrepreneurial program, but even for folks that want to just strike out on their own like, I know so many people have done over the past year or so because of the great resignation, like that kind of information isn’t super, I don’t want to say it’s not super available, but it’s certainly not something that is I think talked about a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, when I started my first business, I had the same issue. I was co-mingling personal funds and business funds before kind of getting my taxes back and getting audited and then realizing, you know what? I should probably separate these funds, which makes more sense. It just makes more sense.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. For sure. Also, to your points of like information being readily available, I mean, I’ve a 100% agree from being in the US system, at least for my college and my education, that information is way more readily available for you guys. But in the Caribbean, information is still kind of pretty hard to get in terms of the structures of things. And so, you have to do a way more research. You have to actually speak to another human being. It’s not as easy as go look it up somewhere because our websites are still… We’re very much kind of a little bit behind. I’d say we are a decade behind in terms of that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, but decade is a lot though, I mean.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, I mean.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad that you mentioned that it is different like that in other countries, because certainly I think what’s shown here in the US is about sort of being a digital nomad and you can work from anywhere if you work remotely and this kind of thing, and I mean there’s limitations.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was blessing for us…

Maurice Cherry:
What did you say?

Ayrïd Chandler:
… in a weird way. The pandemic was a blessing for us in a weird way because it forced us to get things like online banking, which we did not have before.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. Things like apps on being able to pay someone who banks somewhere else in Trinidad was a challenge, which set up a challenge usually for business. At least to me as someone who, I mean, I learned banking with like Chase and Wells Fargo when I was in college. I was accustomed, getting paid by the company that I worked on in Atlanta taking out my iPad at the time, scanning it on the app and having the money in my account. Then I came back to Trinidad and someone would pay me with a check and I’d have to go sign in a bank line, deposits that check and then wait four to five business days to access the check. It’s very different realities and that affects business as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Walk me through like a typical day for you.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. I always like to say no day is typical and every day is very different, but to paint a kind of a picture. I would start the day, usually catching up on emails. I have an assistant who I work with and she helps me establish what my to-do list is and what are the priorities in terms of clients, et cetera. I usually would have a meeting or two and these will all be online. It’s usually me chat, checking in with a new client, having a conversation about what their project is like, that kind of thing. Then it’s usually like four hours, especially if I’m working on a new branding project of just computer one on one time with zero disturbances. Well, I try for it to be with zero disturbances, but I have a dog that likes a lot of attention.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I usually just go into this whole work where the world does not exist and I’m in my creation mode. Then after that, it’s kind of, I do whatever I want in terms of relaxation, et cetera, and prep for the next day. The reason why I say it’s like there’s no typical for me is because that might be like a Monday, whereas if you were to ask me about a Wednesday, what tomorrow, it starts with me teaching my students, because I teach on Wednesdays from 9:00 to 12:00. And so, a Wednesday would start with me teaching and then most likely doing, having no other meetings for the day, just to kind of clear my head and focusing on getting tasks off my to-do list kind of knocked off. But I would say like if it was to broaden it a bit and talk about a week and a general week, it would be typically a little bit of teaching, many meetings, lots of discussion with my assistant as well as someone that I recently started working with who was kind of helping me structure systems and processes within my business.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Like set it up for a more sustainable model. A lot of just talking things through, talking steps through, talking like, okay, what is the process from the time I engage with a client to the final stage where they receive the final artwork, like what are the steps? When do they fill out the creative brief form? When do we meet? When do they make their first payments? When do they make their second payments? So stuff like that is kind of, what’s been happening a lot lately. Of course, well, the actual design work within those probable period.

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work with? Do you kind of work along clients in the particular industry?

Ayrïd Chandler:
No, I would say I work across multiple industries, both within the creative sector as well as corporate, as well as I think anything in between, best clients would be a paying client.

Maurice Cherry:
Hello?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Those are always great. No, but the ideal client for me is someone who’s a little bit open and clients who trust me, I think is what I am leaning towards noting is so important in the creative process. I work a lot with, I mean, well, as an identity designer, someone who’s there at the beginning kind of creating the logo for your new business, your new baby, your new idea, your new project or whatever. That’s kind of, I would say like 75% of the work that I do. I’m there at the beginning, right? I’m there with this person and they’re like, well, this is this thing that I’ve always wanted to do. And finally, getting started and I want to open a bakery or I want to create a new product. Those are kind of the SME as we call them that come to me and who I work with. And so, those are, I would guess the ideals right now, because they’re fun to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it about identity design in particular that appeals to you?

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s an excellent question and I’m now like I have my hands down and I’m thinking deeply to answer your question. I think I’m good at it and I know that sounds kind of weird and conceited a little bit. I don’t mean it in that way. It’s just that it feels kind of second nature to me. It feels like the thing that I am meant to be doing and I’m able to do well. Even when I was studying design in college, like that was the thing, that was the part that made my brain tingle.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I guess when we did a different courses, maybe someone more into web, their brain might have tingled when we were doing that. But for me, being able to tell someone’s story visually is really, really appealing to me. And so getting into this, the background of why you’re doing this and how you want your customers to feel and what is the best way to put all of those things together to kind of become the new face or look of your business, your project, your company, whatever. It just it’s really exciting for me. Like I love it, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When a company or an individual contacts you about a new project, like talk to me about that, what does your process look like?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. It’s changed recently, so I now know it officially. Usually, an email comes in and it will go straight to my assistant and she would kind of be their first point of contact. They’d be like, hey, I’m interested in finding out more about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Most of the times, people want a quote. That’s usually where the first thing they want to know is like, if they can afford you or how much it’s going to cost and that kind of thing, at least here. What I do is we send a form that I’ve created that helps get information from the client to create a creative brief, because the typical client wouldn’t know what a creative brief is outside of certain industries. It’s just not common knowledge.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I created this form that allows them to answer certain questions that ultimately creates a creative brief for me. But it also does things like ask, what’s your budget, et cetera, et cetera. What are the actual deliverables that you’re looking for? It kind of lays all of that out for me. Then from that point, we send a quote and it includes things like the timeline, how long the project will take, and it also lays out the kind of rules of engagement. Like, when you’d get your first invoice, when you’d get your second invoice, who has ownership, who’s rights and credits, all of those things are kind of I include my, what you would call like a contract within the quote process. From there, the client either says yes or no, and usually it’s yes, thankfully.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sometimes, we need to meet and chat a little bit more about the project, sometimes we don’t. There’s some clients who I literally have never had a meeting with because they’ll just so very clear and they’re answering the form as well in their emails. And they’re like, “yeah, no, I don’t need to meet you, it’s fine.” But most of the times, there are instances where we’ll meet and just talk about a project a little bit so I can get a better sense of what it is that they’re looking for.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Then, I begin and head to phase one, which is usually sending, creating a document to send options for them, whether it’s one option based on their budget is on what they sent, whether it’s two options, whether it’s three options and I go through this process of research based on the industry. The great thing about what I do is that I get to learn about all of these different fields and lives and businesses that I would never have otherwise been exposed to. One day, I’m looking up all of the information about NFTs, the next day, I’m looking up real estate and how that works in Trinidad.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just go like a deep dive into whatever the industry is so that I can understand it. I can see trends. The great thing about this, that I get to go this deep dive into different industries, what people are doing, and so I research the trends within the industry. I research things like what colors do people use? What are the font styles? I’m really good at observing patterns for some reason. I feel like that’s like little secret thing that I have. And maybe not, maybe that’s what all designers do and I just am giving myself more importance than necessary. I tend to like just pay attention to all the trends, pay attention to all the details and then go back to the original notes that the clients gave me of what they want, what they want to achieve and marry it all together to achieve this perfect for them outcome.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I send that off, then comes the pain taken part of waiting for client feedback, which I think is always like, it’s like the best and worst part of the project for me, at least because it can go either way. It can go, I hate this and you’ve not understood anything that I said, or it can go, oh, I love this, and this is what we want to move forward with. From that point on, it’s just back and forth with the client, whether it’s edits, whether it’s tweaks, changes, colors, fonts, et cetera. Then we get to the end when they finally made their final decision, I package all the wonderful files for them and I hand it off and I say, here’s your child. Goodbye, good luck. That’s kind of how I do it.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, your process sounds pretty thorough from start to finish.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. I try to get as much information from clients as possible because that ideally is what helps me create. I think I’ve kind of figured out a way to eliminate as much as possible that back and forth period. Whereas in the early, when I first began, the back and forth was long and tedious and I didn’t ask as many question upfront as I do now. I wasn’t really designing for them. I wasn’t solving their problem. I was designing for the thing in general. I was designing for like, say someone wanted a logo for real estate. I was designing a generic real estate something. I wasn’t designing real estate but based off of what they wanted to achieve.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, I think when I finally figured out that I needed to be more in tune with the clients as well and asking them the right questions so that they would know, like not necessarily asking them what they want, because that’s not really what I want them to tell me, but more so what are their goals? What do they want to achieve? Why are they doing this? All of those questions help me then make sure that they have what it is that they need. I have noticed in the past couple of projects that I’ve wrapped up, that the back and forth period is way shorter as a result of that because of those questions upfront.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s usually really good to get as many qualifying questions as you can, because one thing it does also like you’ll quickly find out whether or not this is a project you even want to do. If it’s something you want to take on, if this is a client you even want to work with and certainly like, as you do more projects and as you mature in your business, you get a lot quicker at getting to the root of it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good that you kind of have that thorough process.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re originally from Trinidad and Tobago, tell me about what it was like growing up there?

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s been amazing. I enjoy being part of the Caribbean and I think growing up here was fun, I guess, would be the word I would choose. I am a carnival baby and what that means is that a huge part of Trinidad’s culture. And I say part of, or not the only thing that is Trinidad, because we have so much more to offer, but a huge part of it is our annual, I guess, street parade is what would be the best way to describe it. But it’s really a season that kind of begins right after Christmas, straight until the February or March, depending on the year, because it usually lines up with whenever Ash Wednesday is. It’s usually Monday and Tuesday before, so similar to Rio, I think also similar to New Orleans, all of our carnivals kind of line up around the same time, but I grew up playing kiddies carnival, which happened before the main Monday on Tuesday parade, trust that ability to express this freedom and creativity and this open way always really, really fascinated me.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, when I say I’m a carnival baby it’s because like from the time I was five years old, I was engrossed in this culture and I was playing these things. We say playing carnival, we say playing mask, that’s kind of how we refer to it. It was great. Like I was ready like the first time my mom told me, like the first time she took me, she was like, testing me out to see if it was something I’d be interested in. When I realized that it was only one day, because I thought I was going back like the next day, like how you go back to school every day.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And she was like, no, you have to wait until next day. And I was like, what? No, tomorrow. So yeah, I would say growing up is very unique. I would say, I mean, I don’t know how many foodies there are out there listening, but if you’re a foodie, Trinidad is definitely a place to enjoy all of the flavors. I mean, moving to Atlanta directly from Trinidad for college was an awakening because I didn’t realize how much I loved our food until I left Trinidad, so that’s always really interesting. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You didn’t run into any good like Trini spots here in Atlanta?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yes, it took me a while, because I mean this was 2008 to 2012 was when I was there. I didn’t have as much information and that first year was just me getting used to the fact that I am no longer home and dealing with the culture shock, which I didn’t think I would have. Because I was like, well its people where speaking English, there’s no language barrier, but learning, appreciate you or appreciate it, it meant thank you. That was like [inaudible 00:27:43] I guess. I was like, what do you say? Appreciate it, man. I’m like, what? There was a lot of back and forth with that in that first year for sure. And getting used to cafeteria food was also very interesting, lots of tilapia. It was weird time. It was very weird time, but I know I did eventually find some Trini spots there and I also started cooking for everyone and so it worked out, eventually.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Atlanta has a pretty big like overall Caribbean population, especially for students. I went to Morehouse. In the whole AUC area, especially when I first got to Morehouse, that was first time encountering anyone from the Caribbean outside of a bad impression that I might have saw in a movie or a television show.

Ayrïd Chandler:
[Inaudible 00:28:34].

Maurice Cherry:
I’m from Alabama originally so it’s just like one state over.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
But I remember getting to Morehouse and meeting Jamaicans and Trinidadians and Saint Lucians and at first thinking like everyone just sounded the same because I could kind of understand it, but I couldn’t understand it. But then also learning just the differences in everyone’s culture and the food, that’s where I introduced to roti and doubles and everything. Yeah, I know what you mean by the culture shock. I think Atlanta, I think for a lot of people when they first come to Atlanta from anywhere, it’s a bit of a culture shock.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, for sure. Also, I mean, I don’t want to sound like a little bit of an alcoholic or anything, but we drink at 18 in Trinidad, when you guys drink at 21.

Maurice Cherry:
Legally.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Legally, but like going to the club for me and being told that this was before you all changed the law. This was back when like at midnight on Sunday, the bar closed because y’all didn’t serve on [inaudible 00:29:42]…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
… on Sundays. That was huge for me. And not realizing that I couldn’t like walk along the street and drink a beer because that’s just a thing that we do here, Savannah was kind of like a safe haven for me because you can kind of do a lot down by the river.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so, I was always kind of running away to Savannah just to get a bit of what I learned for you a little bit just like a little bit of home, but yeah, all of those things that you like you don’t think about that are things until you experience it and you’re like, oh, this is something that I have never experienced before. Interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, now your dad worked in advertising, was that kind of your first introduction to the world of design in a way?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I feel like it could be, possibly. I grew up watching commercials and critiquing them with my dad. That’s just kind of a thing that happened in the household and never did I put the two and two together and be like, oh this is a Korean, this is a thing that I would then be doing in the future. It was never that direct or that straightforward. I would be… And my dad works at [inaudible 00:30:51] in Trinidad for many years and after school, that’s just where I ended up. And we would be the office until eight, nine every night because advertising, at least here, I know globally, it’s intense but here is many late hours and long hours of just making sure that clients are happy. I don’t know that I ever made the connection with this is like a profession or a thing that I can do or wanted to do.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I knew like very early on that I wasn’t never going to work in advertising because of the demand and the hours that it puts on someone. I think everyone was really surprised when I was like, oh yeah, I want to do graphic design because it was not a, well, I’m following in my dad’s footsteps or I’ve been exposed to this thing, to this long and this is what makes sense. After did languages in school afternoon, even do art and well, what we call secondary school that you guys would call high school. It really wasn’t like a very clear cut sort of thing that happened at all.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It kind of became a, well, what do you enjoy doing and what are you doing naturally? I was a person that was like creating event programs in school for our masses. I went to like Catholic girl school and we’d always have weekly masses and I was doing the program for those kind of things. I was there and illustrate [inaudible 00:32:13] in on my dad’s computer, that kind of stuff. It came that way, as opposed to like me watching this person that I’ve lived with my entire life kind of doing this thing and following him, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. I mean like, I mean, I grew up, my mom was a biologist and I never wanted to really go into science I think because I was always around it, and I was not to say that I didn’t have a passion for it or a proclivity for it. It’s just because it’s around, it doesn’t necessarily mean, oh, this is the thing that I want to do. Like, she was like super surprised when she saw that I was really into writing. Then when I went to college that I majored in math. She’s like, what? She didn’t really understand where that was all coming from because she thought I would either do… She thought I would either do biology or like pre-med or something like that, and I had no interest in it whatsoever.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What was it like SCAD for you? I mean, you mentioned that first year kind of being a bit of a culture shock, but how was it overall?

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was great. I mean, I was finally happy to be doing something that I enjoyed in a school structure because prior to school, like just to be completely transparent here. When I graduated from secondary school, high school, I had a 1.96 GPA.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I got into SCAD with a 1.96 GPA, let’s just put that there.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
This system here just didn’t appeal to me at all. Like I was doing it because I had to and not because of… And I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t engaged, it wasn’t anything like that. When I got to SCAD, it was like, oh my gosh. Like all of a sudden, I’m getting to do subjects, I’m choosing. All of a sudden, I’m getting to participate in this thing that I have actively decided like I’m interested in. It was the first time of me enjoying an academic setting at all, and it was great. I think we had some really great professors in the graphic design field. They made a huge difference for sure. Definitely, finding community and bonding with different people in different walks of life, from different parts of the world was really fun as well.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was also really active in student life. So I was like an RA. I was the youngest RA at the time because usually you’re only allowed to be an RA once you get into your second year. But by the end of my first year, I was an RA and then I became CA and I also was one of the loud ones who probably administration did not like, but I got the food to improve in the cafeteria. Well, what we call the hub in Atlanta and I met with like the manager of the food, situation was like, how can we improve this? And can we change up the menus? Can the recipes can change? Like you’ve been cooking the same thing for the past two years, what’s going on? And so yeah, there was like a huge shift that happened literally my final quarter was when the results started to show. The food that they serve now is amazing in comparison to what we got. I still take small credits every now and then I’m like, you’re welcome guys, you’re welcome.

Maurice Cherry:
You paved the way.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But yeah, no, it was great. It was really, really nice to just be in a setting that foster learning a thing that you already figured out that, that’s what you want to learn. You know what I mean? Like it was fun.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. After you graduated, like tell me about what your early career was like? Because I’m kind of curious about this period right after you graduated and you were in Atlanta before moving back to Trinidad, because you kind of alluded to that a bit earlier.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Sure. [inaudible 00:36:16], well, for graphic design, we used to have this event called Out to Launch and basically it’s a reverse kind of portfolio review session where we set up booths. We, being the students, set up kind of a little booth about ourselves and our work. And then SCAD invites perspective employers and businesses and companies within our field to come and meet us. And so, we kind of sell ourselves at this kind of trade show kind of set up. It’s called Out to Launch and it’s for the graphic designers. It was meant to then introduce us to folks who we would then get jobs with after graduating. It’s in that final quarter and everyone, the pressure was on from that point in terms of, we were very much an interview stage and I was calling everyone and having interviews with folks, et cetera.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I had the option for OPT for a year, which allows non US citizens to stay and work in the US for up to a year after they graduate, legally. I guess the hopes is that a company loves you so much that they would then sponsor you so that you can get a work visa and stay on permanently. I interview with many folks and for some reason did not get through with many opportunities. Eventually, I connected with a company called Atleisure. I don’t think they exist anymore, but at the time, they were an outdoor furniture design company. They were based near Grant Park area, and they were looking for an in-house graphic designer to work with them, for things like instruction manuals and labels for their product. When I say outdoor furniture company, I’m talking things like patio furniture, umbrellas, that sort of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That was my first job. For three months, I was there, it was an internship. I was the in-house graphic designer. They would provide things to like Target and QVC. Those were like where they were selling these things. They had the furniture designers in-house who were creating their designs and then sending it off to China. Then I was like on the phone with China folks to get the instruction manuals and then design it with the established brand that they had. I had to tweak the brand a little bit because the brand was really rough when I joined. I was like, no guys, this is nuts, and I tried to tweak it a little bit, but there was only so much I could do because it was already registered and that kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was a really, really interesting time. I mean, looking back now, I see how that job helps me for a lot of the things that I’ve since done in a lot of the projects that I’ve since worked on. In the moment though, I will admit that I was very sad because in comparison, I had classmates who were interning at Nike and who interning at Apple and who were interning at Coca-Cola. Then there’s me like just interning at this furniture design company. I’m like, what gives guys?

Ayrïd Chandler:
There was definitely that internal sort of am I good enough? What’s going on? What am I doing with my life kind of thing. But I also was that person who even when I left to go to college, knew that I didn’t want to stay and work in the US. I knew I eventually wanted to come back home. I think maybe that’s what folks saw as well in my interviewing process, even though I wouldn’t have said that out right. I think maybe seeing that I was not as dedicated or connected to staying in the US, so work permanently because they would’ve been looking for folks who they could then hone and then have a staff afterwards, so maybe that was a thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I wonder for young designers particularly here in Atlanta and this is something that I have, I’ve discussed it with business folks here with studio owners and things like that. For design graduates that are just coming out of school right now, Atlanta is a tough city to break into for your design career just overall for a number of reasons. One is, I mean, I would say the business culture here particularly, but it’s not like New York. It’s not like Silicon Valley. It’s not a city where you can sort of start out at maybe a more design forward or design focused company in that way. Like even some of the big names, like Twitter or Square or things like that. They may have offices here, but then they don’t really have a design department. They’ve got sales here or engineering or something like that. It can be tough to get in on the start like on the ground floor and then agencies are hard because agencies want you to have agency experience and you can’t get agency experience without working at an agency.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s like that kind of rough go of getting in and so I know a lot of folks, particularly at… It depends on the school like I worked at AT&T for two years, this was way back in like 2006, from 2006 to 2008.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I worked at AT&T and there was a direct pipeline from the Art Institute of Atlanta directly to AT&T like a direct pipeline. People graduated from there, they got referred by someone that they knew and so they start in house at somewhere. Then from there, they would either go on to the CDC or they’d go on to Northrop Grumman and they’d live just kind of this mid tier designer life so to speak, nothing fancy, nothing great, but it’s a paycheck, that kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I think the design community in Atlanta and I’m firing shots here. It’s just not that… I think for a designer just starting out, if they really want to sort of make an impact, it’s really hard to find a company here where you can do exciting work. If you end up at a good studio or something, maybe.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s tough. And so, I know that a lot of graduates end up leaving, you left, but a lot of graduates end up leaving to go somewhere to a more exciting locale with better prospects.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Better career prospects in general, not just entry level stuff.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. Most of my class left, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I would say when they like maybe two or three folks stayed in Atlanta and they got through it like Coca-Cola. For the most part, people yeah, for sure. I think New York and LA was where folks ended up. That’s a huge relation to SCAD and just kind of the grip that they do and making sure that you get an opportunity somewhere…

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Ayrïd Chandler:
… once you’ve graduated.

Maurice Cherry:
Because the school itself is a, I mean, it looks great on the resume anywhere you go, they say, oh, you went to Savannah College of Art and Design. That’s going to at least get you an interview, so that’s great. But here in the city, it’s tough. And I mean, I’ve heard this from art students that went to art school. I’ve heard this particularly from HBCU students. I’ve even heard this from people that have went to Georgia Tech or Emory or Georgia State. It’s just, it’s Atlanta is a tough design city in that aspect. I will argue it until the cows come home. It’s just tough. I mean, I had to start my own business to really further my career in design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
I graduated in ’03 with a math degree. Of course, I didn’t want to go into teaching so I did customer service jobs. That …

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
… sold tickets at the symphony. I was a telemarketer for Atlanta Opera. Like I did boring stuff. Then I got my first design gig, believe it or not from answering a classified ad in the back of Creative Loafing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh, okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I answered it on a whim. That was my first design gig for the… It was for the state of Georgia. I did that for about a year and a half. Then from there, I went to AT&T, quit AT&T and then started my own studio. The reason I quit AT&T is because I could see my career hitting a glass ceiling already and I had only been a working designer for roughly about three or four years. I’m like, I’m not going to get any further here. I was registered at A Queens and I was like putting my resume out there and no one wanted to even interview me.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m just like, I was going to move. I was trying very hard in like the last, like 2008 or so, I was trying very hard to move to New York. I had friends that were up there that were like, well, we know a broker, we can connect you with because I’m like, I’m not going to further my design career staying in this city.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It didn’t change until I broke out and started my own thing, which is very similar to what you did. You left, you started your own studio.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. How does one with a math degree then do design? Walk me through that.

Maurice Cherry:
I tell people that math really teaches you how to think and so what helped me, particularly when I started my studio with being a math major, and this is going to probably sound a bit weird, but you write a lot of proofs in math. Math is all about proving things once you get like past a certain level, like you leave the numbers behind. It’s all letters and symbols moving forward. And so, you’re proving things like why is zero less than one? Why does one plus one equal two? And you would think like, oh, because it does. But then you have to prove it through all these weird theories and all this kind of stuff. Going through all those logical steps taught me how to put together a brief for a client, taught me how to put together a proposal, taught me to look at a problem and find more than one solution.

Maurice Cherry:
Like being able to abstract that out into a way that made sense is how I’ve done that. I would say everything from that has been just honestly just self-taught. I read a lot of books. I watch a lot of courses. Oh my God, when I worked at AT&T, for example, there was a Barnes and Noble that was nearby my apartment and I would go to that Barnes and Noble on a Saturday and get some of those Photoshop’s tips and tricks books. And I have my little point and shoot digital camera and just sit and just take picture.

Maurice Cherry:
Because I’m like, I don’t have $40 to buy this book so I’m just going to take pictures and I’m going to go back home and I’m going to look at the pictures and try to recreate it in my cracked version of Photoshop that I downloaded from some sketchy place that hopefully won’t give my computer a virus and just did a lot of practicing. There was a time where I went through and tried to figure out what every tool in Photoshop did, every single one.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, I’m going to figure out what each one of these things does. And then that helped me out once I actually got into a production environment, because then I knew these kind of things that Photoshop could do, that other people didn’t because they only knew maybe layers or something like that. And I’m like, oh, well actually you can make an art board and do this, this, this and this. And folks were like, how do you know that? That kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was a lot. I taught myself a lot about design. I’ve not taken a single formal design course.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I always envy folks who can be self-taught. I’ve tried to like try to learn things on my own and my brain, I don’t know what it is. I’m one of those people that needs to be in this formal setting and someone else is showing me the ropes in order to learn. I hate that about myself, honestly, because I’m so envious of folks who can just have that self discipline to learn a thing. I find it so fascinating and amazing, and I envy you right now, just a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ll tell you, it doesn’t help when you have to go and apply for a job because you can put all that self taught knowledge on there and the first thing they’re going to look at and see is like, oh, you sold tickets at the symphony?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah. That’s what I did.

Maurice Cherry:
Or they see that A, you don’t have the education and B, you don’t have the work experience. Whether I knew it or not, it didn’t matter once it got into that sort of setting like. Certainly, for my first design job, I really had to prove myself by creating a portfolio overnight for the job that I ended up getting. Then even for AT&T, I remember they gave me a take home test. They were like, we want you to make a three page website and there’s two types of businesses you can choose from, a bridal boutique or a motocross event. I said, you know what? I’m going to take the bridal boutique, the person, the interviewer was a woman. She’s like, what? You don’t want the motocross. I’m like, well, first of all, I’m feeling some sexism here, but I’m going to take the bridal boutique and I’m going to work with that and I made a little bridal boutique shop and they were impressed and I got the job.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just feel like that’s the easier option as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Like motocross, what do you even do with that?

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, dirt background.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I’m not [inaudible 00:49:39].

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Tire treads, rough stencil type. I don’t know.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I just feel like bridal boutique is a better way to show off your design skill.

Maurice Cherry:
But I have to do, but yeah, I did a lot of, oh my God, just so much playing around in Photoshop, just trying to figure out what stuff did, but eventually once I had design experience under my belt, when I started my studio, for example.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That was when I said my design career took off because clients don’t care where you went to school.

Ayrïd Chandler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
They don’t care where you went to school. They just to know if you can do the job that they’re paying you for. And so, I did that for roughly nine years and then I closed my studio down and got back into the working world. But it is what it is.

Ayrïd Chandler:
What made you close? Sorry, I feel like I’m interviewing you now.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, it’s fine. It’s fine. The market changed. I mean, when I started, I started my studio in like 2009, late 2008, early 2009. And back then, WordPress was really started to take off and so I had gotten good at making WordPress themes.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
That was something that really kind of let my career take off. I had gotten together with someone who was running for mayor for Atlanta. And wait, you were probably here during that time. What years were you in Atlanta?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was there 2008 to 2012.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Lisa Borders had run for mayor in 2009 and I was on her campaign. I was her director of new media.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
I made her website, her Twitter profile, her MySpace page to…

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
[inaudible 00:51:16] how long ago that was, and she didn’t win. She came in third place. But one, that experience really like connected me to so many other people, influential business people and donors and things like that. By the time the campaign disbanded, I had a Rolodex full of leads that I could then call on and be like, “Yeah, I can do this job. I can do that job. I can do that job.” But I’d say by the time 2017 really rolled around, the market had changed. WordPress was still a big thing but then you started having the rise of a lot of site builders. You had Wix, you had Squarespace, and then for clients, it suddenly didn’t make sense to have a $5,000 bespoke website from WordPress when they could just pay Squarespace $8 a month and throw something together themselves. It became harder and harder of a sell to make that happen.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Eventually I just kind of wound it down and got back into the working world.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Interesting. Interesting. Thank you for entertaining my question.

Maurice Cherry:
No, no problem. I mean, the thing is when you’re working for yourself, you always kind of have to keep an eye on just what’s happening in the environment like.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
I picked up different services. I stopped doing different services for a while, I’d say, right around the mid 2010s, I started doing diversity consulting. I had no business doing diversity consulting. What they saw was like a black person in design and this was around, I guess, maybe year two or three of doing Revision Path. And they saw me doing this podcast and companies were like, “Yeah, we’ll write you a check to come and tell us what we need to do to bring in more black people. I got to do work for Netflix and I did work for Vox Media. Now, I would say in hindsight, that was purely situational.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Not to say, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t know what I was doing. In hindsight, I would say that, because the money is spent now, but in hindsight I was like, “Yeah, you know what you need to do, change that job listing language.” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s a good idea.” And I’m like, I don’t know what I’m doing here.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It did. You definitely did, because that sounds like good advice.

Maurice Cherry:
But it helped though. It helped though.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I think it’s obvious for us, but it’s not obvious necessarily. Like if you don’t live it and if that’s not, like if you’re not aware of the mistake you’re making, it’s very easy for us to… It’s your design training, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s very easy for you to… It’s your math training. You’re seeing what the problem is and you’re calling it out.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s very simple.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, there’s one company. I can say the company it’s Vox Media, but I remember I was doing consulting for their product team and they were saying that, well, we don’t know, like we’re trying to get a sense of how many people of color on our team and we just don’t know how to find that out. I was like, “Well, did you do a survey? Did you count?” They were like, “No, we haven’t.” I’m like, “Oh my God, how do you not count?” That’s like the… But they didn’t know that so they put out a survey and they got numbers behind it because this was at a time when a lot of tech companies were starting to first report, like the percentage of black people as part of their creative workforce.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, they’re like, well, we want to try to get behind it and figure out the number and see what we can do to improve it and everything. I was like, “You should do a survey.” That’s a great idea. Here’s $5,000. That’s a great idea. Okay. Look, I’ll take it. If that’s all you need to hear, pay me 5,000 more, I’ll tell you something else. But in hindsight, I would say very situational that it sort of occurred in that way, but in general, yeah. I just wound it down because the market itself was changing. It was harder to do the kind of business that I had did before. And while I was changing, my business was changing with the times, also the podcast was taken off.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There was a point where the pod… I was bringing in more money with the podcast than I was with the studio and I really had to look and be like, well, what am I doing here? I could just focus on the show.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And not have to chase down checks from clients.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s amazing. Congrats.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s something where every year you kind of just have to like take stock and see what you’re doing, see what you can change and improve.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
If you can go where the market goes.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. I feel like, so my thing is like, I’m always, like I have a foot in terms of observation of the market in the US. Then I have the very real reality check of the market in Trinidad, which is completely different. I think this year as well, I’ve been trying to stop comparing the two. I’ve been trying to stop kind of beating myself up a little bit about, well, if you’d stayed in America, maybe you would’ve had this much and blah, blah, blah. And kind of just dealing with the reality of what it is to run a design firm in Trinidad. It’s definitely a challenge for sure, a 100%. No one’s going to pay me 5,000 US to tell them the things that I tell them all the time. That’s just not the reality of our situation here. It’s kind of sad on one end.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It’s kind of like, oh, I wish you people would just get with the program. Then on the other end, it’s like a nice challenge because it’s like, you get to be at this start of hopefully something different, something new, helping make a difference, helping improve a culture of what design could be in Trinidad. I mean, when I graduated from college, when I came back in 2012, at the end of 2012, there were no graphic designer jobs, like people don’t know what graphic design was. That wasn’t a thing. And the fact that now, like when I look through job listings, there’s graphic design of those, there’s graphic design of that, et cetera. To me, like that shows like, okay, in 10 years there’s been change. At least, I can say things are improving. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Now, we just need to get them to pay graphic designers what we’re actually worth and stop trying to get a graphic designer, who’s also an animator and a copywriter all in one, which is a huge thing here, locally. No, we want one person to do all the things and pay them a quarter of the price. That’s like the realities and I guess it answers one of your first questions as well of like, how come I would’ve started my own thing is because you could make more money doing your own thing than you could working somewhere, which is wild. That’s wild to me. Like the fact that there’s more stability as a designer, like freelancing and working on your own and trying to figure things out than having that stability of well a paycheck.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, that’s absolutely how it was when I started my studio, I felt like I could make more money, but also, like I said, I had just hit a plateau in my career. I don’t know where I would be now if I would’ve stayed at AT&T and didn’t break out and do my own thing. Because aside from just the freedom of entrepreneurship, it gave me a lot of confidence just in my skills overall, because…

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure.

Maurice Cherry:
… at AT&T and T I was like part of a team. The way that they had a structure was they really pitted you against your coworkers. Like it was really more of a competition than a team kind of thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s terrible.

Maurice Cherry:
Once I left, I really felt like I’ve got a couple years of design knowledge under my bill. I know what I’m doing. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I could at least figure it out and come to terms with the kind of work I want to do and the kind of teams I want to be on and stuff like that. Because I was calling the shots myself, it made just a lot easier in terms of me being more confident, because at the end of the day, you know this, you have to hunt what you kill, I guess is how you put it. Like, no one’s going to be responsible for bringing the work in, but you.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Unless you happen to have a salesperson, but other than that, you have to be the one that’s the face of the company, especially if your name is part of the company, like you got to be out there…

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… selling it all the time.

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. Definitely. I definitely learned that very quickly. It kind of happened naturally though, similar to how you kind of leap off points would’ve been working with that mayor. Well, going up the mayor person, I guess my equivalent project would’ve been working with our local film festival. That was one of the first design jobs that I got. And back when I moved back home, it was really just an internship, but I got to work alongside an art director, Melanie Atro, who is pretty awesome.

Ayrïd Chandler:
It was a really strong brand that it was already created. Every year, we just kind of roll out all of the different elements for the festival, whether that’s signage, whether it’s the poster, but what that allowed me to do similarly to you was network in a country when networking is not as… It doesn’t happen as organically, or as officially as when I was in Atlanta, I’m going to AIG, AIG buzz events and that sort of thing, like that was what I was accustomed to. I was like, oh, I’m going to go to this networking event and meet these people and talk and blah, blah, blah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And then I got back to Trinidad and I’m like, where are the networking? And everybody’s looking at me like, what are you talking about? All of a sudden, I’m in this festival with all of these different creatives, doing all of these different things and I’m meeting this sponsor. I’m meeting banks and all of these different folks who are part of this community that I would have been completely removed from for four years while I was in college.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And that definitely led to all of the connections, like some of the friendships that I even have to this day are from that moment and that time. Definitely, would not change it. I don’t know where I would be now, similarly to what you’re saying, I don’t know where I would be now if I was still working on Atleisure, for example, or right after Atleisure, when I came back home, I would say, my equivalent of your AT&T job might have been like this bank take that I took where they advertised it as a desktop publisher.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And this is a time when I have my graphic design degree and I’m not seeing any jobs with graphic design on it. I find this thing, I’m like, what is a desktop publisher? I’ll look it up. It was like, it said something like someone that designs long documents or brochures and annual reports and that side of things. I was like, oh, okay, well, I can do that for a bank.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Day one, I had no computer. Day two, they gave me no… Like I was sitting at the desk, no desktop on it for me to do any desktop publishing. It turns out they just wanted someone to design PowerPoint presentations for their managers to do a transitionary, blah, blah, blah so I didn’t last, I didn’t last a month, I don’t think. I was like, no, this is [inaudible 01:02:31] I didn’t have to open PowerPoint any time in my four years at SCAD. And right after that was when I found out about the festival looking for a graphic design intern, I was like, oh my gosh, someone wants a graphic design or specifically in Trinidad right now on that, and the rest was history. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, aside from your design firm, you’re also a writer, talk to me about that.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was [inaudible 01:02:59] an aspiring writer. I’m not a writer. I won’t put myself just yet, but what I do is in my downtime or my free time, I go to a lot of writing workshops because like I told you, I’m not a self-taught person. We have this other festival here called Bocas Lit Fest, which is our literary festival. They put on different events and workshops all the time and I’ve been to a couple of them. I mean, I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. I’m like one of those people, I was always writing cheesy poems. I kind of over the years, just put a little bit more energy towards writing every now and then but this year, I put the most energy, I would say towards it, because I entered emerging writer’s thing. I entered Bocas Emerging Writers like competition, scenario, fellowship, sorry is the term.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I was actually shortlisted in [inaudible 01:04:01] and I was like, okay, you really need to start putting a little bit more energy into this writing thing and stop seeing you’re an aspiring writer and just be the writer that you want to be kind of thing. But yeah, really, I use writing as way to get out of my head a little bit. I find as a designer and as someone that works primarily alone and not necessarily on a bigger team, that it’s a lot of thoughts just floating around in there always, like the brain is constantly flowing and writing allows me to take all of those thoughts and kind of put it somewhere, which I really, really enjoy. So yeah, and I write about me or about experiences that I’ve experienced. Yeah, I like it.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you think you’ll ever kind of branch out and write about design?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I would love to. So I have a blog. I do write about design on there, sometimes, but usually it’s in a critiquing manner or it’s in a, this is how, this could have been better. It’s more like me critiquing the design society in Trinidad rather than me writing about design formats or structures kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But I see myself doing both because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do simply because we don’t have it, one. Actually, technically I did write about design. I actually co-wrote a book called How to Get Paid for designers here locally in Trinidad and like talking about what the pricing is like and how to get those things done? Why you should I have a contract, stuff like that, but I guess that’s more business of design than design specifically.

Ayrïd Chandler:
But I also had this feature on my social media page on Instagram called Just A Tip, and I used to give design tips on Tuesdays and I wanted to turn that into something that I do on my blog or maybe a newsletter that continues and it’s a little bit more direct in terms of suggestions and that sort of thing. There’s room for it to answer your question, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
You could be the voice of Trinidad design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Some people would say that I kind of am and I run away from that a lot. Like that terrifies me the idea of being the person for anything that’s… I feel very badly about speaking on behalf of other people. I just want… Let me, I’m speaking for me, myself, Ayrïd Chandler. I’m not speaking for Trinidad or Trinidad graphic designers or anything like that. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think a lot of writers are like that. They have their own quirks and stuff, but I think as long as you’re talking about your work and your process and even just writing about yourself, like you mentioned, that’s a good thing. Writing is one of those things it’s called a practice for a reason. You kind of have to keep doing it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from writing, you also teach, you’re doing a lot.

Ayrïd Chandler:
I do.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re running your business, you’re writing, tell me about your teaching at University of West Indies St. Augustine.

Ayrïd Chandler:
A couple years ago, I was hanging, I was on a rooftop event and met a fellow designer who was one of the folks that I first worked with here and kind of guided me and did local design scene. And he was like, I just started teaching and they’re looking for more lecturers, are you interested? And I was like, I don’t know. I was like, I’ve never given teaching a thought, like I am I qualified? They’re like, “Yeah, you just need to be a practice and designer and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, “Hey, sure, let me try.” And literally within 15 minutes, he had messaged the person and the person messaged me and I had a meeting the next day to talk about lecturing to university and my mind was blown and they were like, “Oh yes, we were looking at your work and we think that you’d be great for this blah, blah, blah.” I was like, okay.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Before you knew it, I was teaching year two students about design basics and going from practicing design and to applying all of the things that I tried to search up all of my SCAD syllabi to get some kind of inspiration. Then before you knew it, I was putting together my own syllabus and the rest is what it is. And so, I started, this year was my third year teaching this course. I’m a part-time lecturer. It’s only during the first half of the, well, first quarter, third of the year, I guess, for the second semester that starts in January. And yeah, I get to talk about design and teach design and kind of help shape what other folks are doing that process and cut in conjunction with working with interns at my business, kind of inspired me to then start teaching courses as part of my business.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Because I realized one that I actually really liked teaching, which really, really surprised me more than anything else. I was really, really shocked and I’m not sure why I was that shocked. I guess I just never thought of myself as someone who would have the patience to teach, because I feel like it’s very much like a devotion on one of those things where it requires you to remove yourself from yourself a little bit and kind of very much make sure that what you’re seeing is resonating with someone and helping them. Teaching is basically helping another person. And I guess design is also helping another person and they’re both kind of the service industry thing.

Ayrïd Chandler:
And so maybe it does make sense that I enjoyed doing both, but I also noticed, and working with the interns that I worked with, they were coming from another local school and a lot of things were like lacking. They didn’t know some basic design things that I felt like they should know. We also have a huge self sort community in Trinidad. And so I thought, okay, cool, let me put together some design foundation basics, at least, that folks can reference. I’m talking about things like knowing the difference in a JPEG and a PNG and a PDF, like basic. And that also really went really well and so I’m actually preparing now to do the next, which would be my third offering of courses so far, but yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re writing, you’re teaching, you’re running your own business. Like what’s the best thing about all this work that you’re doing?

Ayrïd Chandler:
What do you mean the best thing?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean I could ask what’s the worst thing. I mean, I would imagine that you have some enjoyment out of this, Ayrïd?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. Honestly, I am one of those people that likes connecting with other human beings. I never thought I would’ve like, if you asked me this 10 years ago, that would not have been what I said. I very much am one of those people that enjoyed my alone time. I’m an only child. I like doing stuff on my own, solo traveler here, like all of that stuff. But I quickly realized over the past couple of years that I enjoy connections, I enjoy connecting with other human beings. I enjoy that experience. All of the things that I’m doing, I’ve realized that is the one common sort of thing that’s happening. I am able to step out of myself a little bit, step out of my world and connect with someone else in their world. That’s great. Like I enjoy that so much and it kind of makes life a little bit easier to live, at least, for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Ayrïd Chandler:
For sure. Like right in this very moment in time, I would say I need a little bit more and I think maybe that’s what writing does for me in terms of satisfying that creativity. I think, yes. Sorry, I feel like I am creatively satisfied, especially when I wrap up a branding project and the client is happy with it. I was like, I know I did the right thing and I know I hit the mark on what it is that they were looking for and also, what it is that they needed?

Ayrïd Chandler:
When they say things like, oh my gosh, I wasn’t expecting this, or like I get a lot of those kinds of reactions, which is pretty wild and fun and interesting. I think that does kind of satisfy that creativity, but I am also at that point where I’m at that 10 year mark. Because I moved here 10 years since I graduated from SCAD. I am feeling that itch of like, what now? What more? Where else? What can I do differently? Like what is the next step for me? You know what I mean? Like where do I go now? Do I pivot as we’ve been talking about so much on these past two years? Do I learn a new skill? What’s the next step in terms of that creativity and that flow and what I want?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Where do you see yourself for the next five years? What do you want this next chapter of your life to be?

Ayrïd Chandler:
I definitely want to teach more. I would love to be able to get to a place where I can go from being a part-time lecturer to maybe a full-time lecturer. I think that would be really awesome. I kind of really see myself becoming, I want to step more into that brand identity designer shoe out of that whole graphic designer shoe, where I still kind of float around, meaning I still do anything under the hat of graphic design.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Even though, I focus a lot on branding, I kind of want to like be like, I am a brand identity designer and I am the person that you come to for that specifically and that alone. I kind of I want to eliminate as much options and kind of zone in and be more specific and intentional with what I’m doing. In five years, I’d like to be able to impart that knowledge more, more talking workshop opportunities. Hey, if I can give a TEDx talk in five years, that would be awesome. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Ayrïd Chandler:
That’s kind of where I see things.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your firm, about your work? Where can they find that online?

Ayrïd Chandler:
Ooh, I make it very, very easy. So I have my website. I technically have two, but for my business Ayrïd by Design, A-Y-R-I-D bydesign.com. That’s my website. I’m also the same thing Ayrïd by Design on Instagram, I have a very kind of unique name. I think I’m the only Ayrïd Chandler of there. So from a time you type that in, I think most of my stuff comes up, but those two places are kind of where you can start. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Ayrïd Chandler, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for just sharing, not just your story, but also I think giving us kind of a behind the scenes of what it’s like to run a business, particularly running it from another country and showing people out there, as you said, kind of right before we started recording, you said you wanted to let folks know that they’re not alone and that there’s a sense of community. And so, I hope that people will listen to this and they’ll sort of get exactly what you’re talking about. Like a lot of the experiences you shared are universal experiences to a lot of designers, to a lot of entrepreneurs. And so, even as you do your work with writing and teaching and everything, you’re not alone out there.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ayrïd Chandler:
Thank you for having me. I enjoyed this.

Keisha Okafor

We’re halfway through the year! Summer’s here, and I thought it would be a great time to feature an extraordinary young designer whose work I recently discovered — Keisha Okafor. Her work is brimming with energy and vibrancy and joy — feelings we all could use a bit more of these days.

We start off talking about freelance design, and Keisha told a bit about how she helped make one of the features Google Doodles for Black History Month 2021. Keisha also spoke on her signature design style, talked about one of her dream projects, and gave some great advice on being an illustrator. Keep an eye out for Keisha — I think we’ll definitely see more of her work in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Keisha Okafor:
My name is Keisha Okafor. I’m a freelance illustrator. And I would say that my work I’ve been using depicts joy and celebrates people. I really like to use bright colors and bold patterns.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going so far?

Keisha Okafor:
It’s been going pretty great. I actually just went freelance full time. So that’s the thing. But before that, I’ve been working full time in design as a production designer, actually for print and also doing project management. Ironically, I was managing all the print projects I was doing. So kind of like a one-woman show. So all of that was very technical and like sending client emails. And then out of work, I was doing illustrations and drawing and working with my freelance clients. So it’s nice to have more time this time, but honestly, it’s been going pretty well. I mean, I know the whole pandemic is still happening. In my mind, it’s not even close to being over, but as a very, very heavy introvert, my day-to-day isn’t really that different, I be inside. So I’m still watching Anime, still playing video games. Yeah. Outside of work is pretty normal to me because I wouldn’t be outside anyway.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Wow. So yeah, you just went freelance. That’s a kind of scary thing to do to make that leap of faith. I mean, did you feel like you were prepared for it when you did it?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. I definitely did, which is surprising because years ago, would have been terrified, but I did a lot of planning, I watched so many seminars and workshops about going freelance, like what do you need to have in place before you do that? And I also saw enough clients coming in and projects coming in to where I believed like this is going to keep happening. I’m not just a Juneteenth, Martin Luther King Day illustrator. I can do this 365. So once I saw that and all the other planning I’ve been doing for the past several months, I wasn’t as scared as I expected to be.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good. That’s good. I mean, oftentimes, we’ll have the designers that are here on the show that either are freelancing or they’re thinking about going freelance, and making that leap can often be really scary. I mean, you said that you had some preparations in place, which is good. I mean, to know that you can step out there and have at least some sort of a foundation, so you’re not necessarily going at it alone, but you have, it sounds like you had some major things already planned out before you made the jump, like clients.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. I also had savings. That was like my main thing. I didn’t want to jump with like $25 in my account. So with all the freelance money I’ve been getting, luckily because I had the full-time job, I was able to save all of that pretty much by pretending that I didn’t have it. I was tricking my mind, like, don’t spend this, this is for your future. Like, don’t wild out and buy stuff, but I’m also not naturally a big spender. My biggest splurge last year was getting Netflix, the two accounts. Yeah. I mean, I bought video games, but I would’ve done that anyway, but yeah, I got Netflix. So that’s like an idea of something I think about, a purchase that I would think about for a while before doing so. Was able to save all that money to have bought a year’s worth just in case nothing happened, which I don’t believe that was going to happen, but just in case, I had enough money to live off of that.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a very smart move.

Keisha Okafor:
Thanks. I take risks, but it’s very calculated because I get very scared, just the idea of going freelance is so scary. So I just wanted to make sure I have things set in place, I thought it through that I’ll be good.

Maurice Cherry:
What made you decide to go freelance? You said you were working as part-time gig, did something happen or did you just feel like it was just time to go?

Keisha Okafor:
Honestly, just in general, the jobs I’ve had, it was a full-time job too. Boy, was I tired anyway. It was just like, no matter what job I had, it ended up being rinky-dink. And by rinky-dink, I mean, no matter how confident I am, no matter how competent I am at the job, no matter how much work I do, how fast I go, I’m still getting treated like I’m entry-level or like the level of a recent graduate in my pay, in how I’m talked to when I ask questions. And I’m just getting tired of that. And because I saw that doing freelance wasn’t as intimidating as I thought, I was just like, let me better myself and make sure that I’m handling that side for myself, that I get to advocate for myself and also determine what I’m worth.

Maurice Cherry:
That is a big reason why I ended up going freelance back in 2008, the company that I was working for was treating me in that same way, like I felt like I was being undermined or belittled or patronized too, even though I’ve got the skills to be there and I’m cranking out top quality work, you still feel like you’re almost treated like a child.

Keisha Okafor:
Yes. Oh my gosh. Yeah. This past job, the work I was doing, it took four people to do before I got there.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. And they’re not a startup company. They’ve been around for many years over a decade. And even taking on that work, they still saw me as a rookie. And I’m like, “Really after all of this?” So I could see that that wasn’t really going to change anytime soon. They would give me compliments, but I’m like, “But my pay isn’t changing.” And when I say things and give suggestions, it’s just going over the head and out the window. So I’m just like, “All right, I see where this is going. I’m out.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What does a typical day look like for you right now? I know you just started freelancing, but have you started getting into a good rhythm?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. Generally, I have a Trello account, where I have all my freelance projects that I’m working on right now and just different to-do lists, broken down to all the small steps, just so I can see overall what I need to work on. So if there are any priorities or upcoming deadlines, I’ll then write a list, a to-do list of like at least three things I want to get done during the day, like I want to finish this sketch or I want to finish this piece, send this email to the client, things like that. I usually start my day at around 10 o’clock. I am not a morning person at all. Also, I have a cat who only wants to be pet in the middle of the night. So from like 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM, she’s crawling on my chest, like, “Pet me, pet me.” And I’m like, “Let me sleep.” That’s why I start at 10:00 to get back some of that sleep I lost.

Keisha Okafor:
But yeah, I usually start eating cereal, see if I have any emails. I don’t really get too many emails, but I’m also someone who like, I get through them. So I usually only have like three tops. And then I just start the work I’m doing. And if, and then I just keep reviewing that Trello list with my deadlines and checking things off. And if I’m like at the right pace, because I’m trying to pace myself doing a little each day to make sure I hit the deadlines early, instead of like binge doing it all in one day. So once I hit that pace for the day, if I’m done, then I’ll take a break and rest for the day. Yeah. That’s generally how it’s been going so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The best thing about freelancing is really setting your own schedule and then no one can tell you to change it. It’s completely up to you. So if you want to stay in till 10:00 AM, till noon, you can do that. No problem.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. It still feels like, I feel like a kid beginning summer break, but then I’m like, “Keisha, you’re an adult.” Make sure you get stuff done, which I always do. But waking up at 10 o’clock and being like, “Well, time to get this started.” That still feels wild to me. I’m like, “I get to do this. I planned for this and it’s happening.”

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, I first heard about you this year from your work you did for YouTube’s Black History Month campaign. I think they did four different illustrators and artists for each of the four weeks in February. Can you talk about that? How did you become a part of that project?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah, that still blows my mind. This was like maybe a week before Christmas. I randomly get this email saying, “Hey, Keisha, I work with YouTube. Want to work on this project about Black Creativity for Black History Month?” I immediately thought it was a scam. And then I googled everyone that he mentioned just to make sure kind of just like, who are you? What the heck? His email didn’t say @youtube.com. So I was just like, “Oh, I don’t know about this. Let me just double check.” But I googled everyone and then their LinkedIn pages were like, they’re designer at Google, engineer at Google. I’m like, “Oh, okay. So he was serious.” So I immediately said, “Yeah, I am available to do this. Are you kidding me?”

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. And then probably a week or so later, I met with like a small design team at the YouTube. And they were just telling me about the initiative that they had and they want to work for artists celebrating History Month and wanted to have all the artists make art around black creativity. And that was it. They were like, “You can make that whatever you want it to be, but it just needs to be around black creativity.” And they gave some keywords, like forward-thinking, hopeful, bright, like that. Literally, those were the keywords they gave. So I pretty much just took that and ran with it. But also in the back of my mind, I’m like, “Okay. Okay, Keisha, this is YouTube. You got to show up, you got to show out. So like, do it, do the thing.”

Keisha Okafor:
So initially, I was planning on doing portraits of women who in math and science from the past just to celebrate them. But then they wanted something, when they said forward-thinking, that’s why they gave me the idea of having children in there, like giving like a hopeful idea instead of looking to the past, wanting people to look to the future as well. And I was the one who chose math and science, just because normally when you think of creativity, I usually think of a paintbrush, like dancing and music.

Keisha Okafor:
And they also mentioned that they didn’t want to hit the normal black stereotypes. So like a boombox and people doing break dance. They want it to steer away from that. So I personally like math. I still, even at my big age, I watch PBS Kids shows about math and science. So I figured that would be a fun thing to do, a fun thing to go around. And that’s in that forward thinking idea, it was me having like women in STEM, showing young girls the magic in front of it. So that’s where the idea came based on their feedback. That’s how that idea came to pass.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. And once they approved it, I was just going with it. The main critique was at first, I made everyone dark skin and almost the same tone. And they were like, “Oh, can you give it some variety?” I go, “Oh yeah, no problem.” And then they wanted me to use like, I was being very literal at first. So like the sky is blue, rockets are gray. And they were like, “Can you use like some of the colors that you use? Like the ones that you use.” And I was just like, “Oh, okay. So you actually want me to put my spin on it.” I was putting all these rules, adding all these rules to myself. This has to be very literal. If I’m drawing math, it needs to look like math. But once they said that, then that’s when I went crazy with the colors, like, “This guy could be pink and yellow and purple.” So yeah. Then I added my own spin to that. And that’s pretty much how it turned out.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I have to say it looks amazing. And for people that haven’t seen it, we’ll make sure to put a link to it in the show notes so you can definitely check it out. I mean, I get that kind of forward feeling, that forward-thinking notion from that. It’s interesting enough, I had discovered an organization, I think they either left a comment or I saw it somewhere else on the web, but because your piece was centered around STEM, I had discovered this group called Black Girl MATHgic, like Black Girl Magic, but MATHgic. And I mean, I love math too. My degree is in mathematics. So I saw that, I was like, “That is so cute.” That was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like it’s a program, but then they also sell some merch for fundraising and stuff. I was like, “This is really dope teaching young black girls math fundamentals and stuff.” It’s pretty cool.

Keisha Okafor:
Oh, that is so amazing. I just love that so much. And the lack Girl MATHgic, Oh my gosh.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like you working with YouTube on this was like a really kind of collaborative process. Are those sort of the best types of clients for you to work with?

Keisha Okafor:
Yes. I would say that working with YouTube was definitely like ideal client. They were very responsive, followed the schedule, they communicated so well. And they were also really nice, like we’re working with big clients, I just assumed like they were going to be very strict and we need to have it look a certain way. They want to work with people, but they want it to look a certain way, it’s what I expected. But working with them, I really saw that they wanted me to show myself in there and to put my own spin. When they said, put your own spin on a theme of black creativity, they actually meant it. That’s why I mentioned the thing with the colors. That was like very refreshing for me, something I really enjoy, like the great communication, being responsive, when things were delayed, they adjusted the schedule to match the delay. I was like, “You’re amazing.” Yeah. I really enjoyed them as a client. And those are things that seeing that it’s possible, those are things that I start to look for when I’m working with people.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s go back to freelancing just a little bit more. When you have a new client or you’re approaching, let’s say, a new project, what does your creative process look like?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So usually, I try to get as much information from the client at the beginning as possible because a lot of people say, “Oh, just do whatever.” But they actually have something in mind. So I try to ask a lot of initial questions, just to get an idea, like, do you have an idea or do you actually want me to give you my ideas? I just want that to be clear from the very beginning before I start doing research. And then I also asked like a lot of technical questions, how much do you want the resolution to be? What size? What’s your timeline? Because if it’s a small timeline, then I won’t try to do this super complex thing. I’ll make it simpler.

Keisha Okafor:
But in terms of like the creative making the thing once that’s settled, I usually do a lot of research on stock websites. I like iStockphoto, just to get an idea of like composition, and if it’s something I’m not familiar with, I can’t just think of 35 math formulas off the top of my head. I just got f of x imprinted in my mind, but I need more. So I like to look at stock websites just to see what kinds of things are default, their body poses, body expressions, what do real people look like? Because I don’t want every person I draw to have the same face, but different bodies and different hairstyles. That feels weird to me, but I like when other people do it.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So I like to go on stock websites just to see if anything is giving me ideas, is it inspirational? Is it good for reference? And once I get that, I’ll start sketching out different ideas, trying out different compositions, just to see like, does anything look good? Can I draw this thing? What are the hands going to look like? And then usually, that’s when I start going back and forth with the client, seeing what they think of my ideas.

Keisha Okafor:
But if anything’s going in the right way, usually, that’s also the time I’ll ask, “Do you have any other ideas once you see this, a better idea of what you’re looking for kind of thing?” And then once that happens, I’ll either revise it or start going with color, again, make more ideas, send that to them. And then it’s usually just a back and forth, giving them the art and then getting their feedback. But as I’ve been working and seeing like how easily that can turn into a 100 revisions, I put limits like, okay, we’re going to have two rounds of revisions. And if you want more, this is going to cost. So yeah, I say back and forth, but it’s back and forth like twice just to protect my time essentially.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, even with all of this, are you also thinking a lot about, let’s say, colors, like a color story or anything to go along with a new project? Or does that come naturally?

Keisha Okafor:
Sometimes it comes naturally, but I also have a Pinterest board just full of different pictures that are like, it’s either a fashion outfits, stationary, graphic design branding, things like that. But if I don’t have any ideas, I’ll just pick from that, like, oh, let me try this, or since I’m on social media a lot and have a lot of artists I follow, there are just some artists I like the way they use color. There’s an artist, her name is Olivia Fields. And one thing she likes to do is have a very monochromatic color scheme, but she uses value so well it’s still very interesting to look at. So if I’m thinking about that lately, I’ll like, let me try to use a monochromatic scheme just to see what it look like if I do it kind of thing. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just trash it. But yeah, it can either come from other artists, that Pinterest board or I’ll just start off with, I want the main color to be yellow and then I’ll just randomly pick colors and adjust it based on that.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So I want to switch gears here a little bit based on what we were talking about prior to recording. You mentioned you’re from North Carolina, that’s where you grew up. Tell me what it was like growing up as a creative kid in North Carolina.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. I will say my grew up story isn’t similar to like the ones I hear on interviews. People will be like, “I drew all the time, I love drawing.” I drew some of the time and I was mostly watching cartoons, animated movies, just a lot of TV, playing a lot of video games. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I even decided like, oh, I want to do something art related. It was from seeing the Incredibles. I saw the behind the scenes animation thing. And I was like, “I want to be an animator.” But then once I got closer to picking a college and saw what animation was, very quickly, it was like, no, I don’t want to do that.

Keisha Okafor:
I want to draw because I used to draw like a little bit, when I say every once in a while, I mean like a handful of drawings per year. I wasn’t really, I liked to draw, but I wasn’t sitting around drawing all the time because I was just overthinking it so much, I would draw, one time, I drew the Powerpuff Girls, like just very stiff Powerpuff Girls poses and look like them. But then I took it to school for the next few days and showed everyone. I was like, “Praise me. I’m a good artist. Look at me.” And then didn’t draw for like the next few months.

Keisha Okafor:
That was me as a kid artist, but still very much enjoyed it. I took art classes in middle school and high school. And I would say that’s where my artistic skills and sense and interests started to grow. I wasn’t doing anything like extracurricular. I was just taking it as an elective. So by the time I got to college, I was like, “I don’t have any other interests. I want to be an artist. And I’m hoping college will unlock the key to figure out how people actually get paid to make art.”

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, you went to North Carolina State University, which we’ve had several alums just here on the show that have went there. While you were there, do you feel like they really prepared you to become a working designer out in the world?

Keisha Okafor:
Now, when I look back at it now, I’m like, “Oh yeah, they actually did.” But at the time, I didn’t think so at all, because it just felt very vague, because I also, I majored in art and design at NC State and I thought that meant I’m going to paint, like be an artist. They attach design to it. But they really mean art, right?

Maurice Cherry:
No.

Keisha Okafor:
It was like the first week they were like, “Hey, I know you guys like to draw and paint, but we’re not teaching you to be artists, we’re teaching you to be designers.” And in my mind, I was just like, “No, what is design? Oh, no.” Looking back on it now, I see they were teaching us how to think like designers and how to problem solve. And that’s something that’s been so helpful. And also, with drawing, making sure you understand the foundations of drawing, that’s something that I’ve been using a lot as well, but really that problem solving thing and also how to think like a designer, I would say that’s been the most helpful in my design career. But in terms of like how to get a job, how to make a good portfolio for a job, nope. I’m just like, “I wish I did something about it.” But now that I am working and have had jobs, those design fundamentals have actually been very helpful.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, after college, you ended up for a while moving out to LA, what prompted that?

Keisha Okafor:
It was actually like one of those moments of close family member passed away. So it was just very much like life is short kind of moment, let me try things that I would never do, just you never know you get this chance again. And growing up, watching a lot of TV, California always looked cool. And that was one of my bucket list thing, like I want to see what it’s like to live in California. So once that chance came up, I just went for it, oh, man. So scared. I was sweating on that plane just, Ooh, oh my gosh. I was so scared. But yeah, that’s how I ended up getting there.

Keisha Okafor:
And really, my goal was just to see, like, can I go there and survive? Can I do enough to make sure I don’t have a flight back in three months? And I ended up staying for four and a half years, going on five years. I came back to North Carolina at the end of 2019, months before, I mean, months before COVID happened. So I am so, oh, I don’t have family in California. So that’s why I’m like, I am so glad I moved just in time so I could be near my family and at least know they’re safe in person versus a phone call from like 3000 miles away.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, while you were out there, did you get a chance to really experience the LA design scene?

Keisha Okafor:
I don’t think so. When people say that, I’m just like, “So where’s the scene at? And how do I get there?” My only experience was through the jobs I had. And comparing it to North Carolina, the main difference I noticed was that things were way more fast-paced. Yeah, that was like the biggest difference I noticed. And also like, but this is with anything. Once you see the process behind things, it takes that bale away. Things aren’t as glamorous as I initially thought, like I had a job at a media buying agency, where I was editing album covers for social media posts or resizing banner ads that will be put on YouTube, like watching the YouTube video and seeing of like, oh, this looks so like, well, one it’s annoying, but also seeing like a big artist with an ad, I’m like, “Ooh, fancy.” But hearing the media buyers trying to get the space and make it and asking me to resize things and how crazy that process can be, I’m just like, “Okay. These are just regular people trying to just do their jobs.”

Keisha Okafor:
And I would say a big thing that just in general in the workforce, I’m just like, “Man, people procrastinate so much.” I thought that was like one of those warnings I got in college, like, you’ll never be able to procrastinate when [inaudible 00:27:40], but adults do that all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
All the time.

Keisha Okafor:
Yes. Oh my gosh. And it happens so much. When I was working on those album covers, I was just like, “Come on guys. Just please send me the picture so I can resize it.” But it did help me build up efficiency because there were such fast turnarounds. I was used to working at a fast pace. So coming back to North Carolina, that’s how I ended up, when I mentioned earlier doing the work of four people, because I was used to working so fast. Like when things are slower here, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It felt normal. It helped me in that sense. But yeah, you asked about the design scene. I would also love to know what the scene was like, where was the all people? Where were the people at? What do design people do? I didn’t really get that question answered.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it’s interesting because like, you mentioned earlier like, well, where is the design scene? I think designers carve out their own scene based on who they’re working with or working for, who they have met or inspired by. I’ve been to LA only once, I went in the beginning of 2020 in February. And I found that it was just like real, it was just so spread out. I mean, Atlanta is spread out, but LA is way more spread out. I’m like, it takes forever to get anywhere. Like if you’re going to go somewhere, you better hope it’s on your side of town, you don’t have to cross over and go down. It’s so big. I was there for two weeks and I know I only saw maybe like a 10th of LA. It’s so big. So big. I mean, I guess when I asked about like how the design scene was, I’m curious if it was different from maybe the design scene that you knew back home in North Carolina, like you mentioned, it was more fast-paced, but were there other differences?

Keisha Okafor:
That’s a good question. I will say, like you mentioned, because everything was so separated, it was kind of like, if you weren’t in that neighborhood, we’re not going to meet or we’re not going to meet often. So it ends up being like pockets of communities that I would notice. So I had a lot of animation friends because they lived in Glendale and Burbank and they were interested in working at Cartoon Network or Disney TV.

Keisha Okafor:
So I would meet those people in Burbank and Glendale, but then the people who were interested in more of graphic design or stationary, I talked to those people down near the beach because that’s where a lot of the agencies were. It was like, I could find pockets of people in different areas, but it was so rare for them all to come together just because how long it took to go places like, like literally, Google Maps will say something is maybe 10 miles away and you think, oh, I’ll get there no time. That’s an hour trip one way. I’m just like, “This doesn’t add up.” But then you take the trip and I’m just like, “That took an hour. Oh my gosh.” So it’s just like people aren’t going to make that. Even people who were natives, they weren’t really going to make that trip on a regular basis. So it was just like pockets of communities that I would have in the different places I was at depending on where I lived and worked. That’s how I ended up seeing the people.

Keisha Okafor:
But I feel like in North Carolina, everyone is in Raleigh, you’re in Raleigh, I can get to the edge of Raleigh, the top, it will take like 20 minutes. So to me, compared to being in LA, I’m like, “That’s not a big trip at all.” So I feel like people are taking more initiative to meet up, and I’m sure that’s because of COVID as well, have like a lot of meetups and groups and workshops and stuff. Whereas it would be like a once in a lifetime thing to do, I’ll take this trip one time an hour for this workshop, but don’t count on me to come every week.

Maurice Cherry:
And the web is going to change things too. I mean, there’s events and workshops and things. A lot of stuff has come online just over the past year that before either didn’t exist or it was just inaccessible because of location or something like that.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. Adobe MAX, the first time I attended it was last year because it was virtual. I lived in LA and it happened there every year, but I just was not about to sit there and pay for it not only, but just go there and talk designer talk. Sometimes I feel like there could be a prestige that some people might have, like, hello, I’m art designer. I integrate things together. They use all the design words and I’m not very good at that. I’m just like, “Yeah, make pictures.” So being in that environment isn’t something I would want to pay to do. So it was nice to be able to attend the virtual version because I never would have went otherwise. Yes, there were so many conferences and things I’ve never heard about that I got to hear about because it was virtual and people I got to meet because of that, which is nice to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. As I was going through your work, I saw your illustration work and your portrait work, which is beautiful, but your patterns, the patterns on your website are absolutely gorgeous. I love that you have in your bio, on your website, you mentioned that you’re an artist and designer depicting joy. What does it mean for you to depict joy in your work?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So in terms of people, you’ll probably see that I draw a lot of black people. And one thing that makes me happy about black culture and just black people in general is just seeing us love the things that we love, however we love it. It just makes me really happy to see all the different facets and ways that black people just are. I get so excited. And I feel like when I draw that, that’s where I’m trying to convey just how excited I am to see black people as they are, doing whatever they like, looking as cool or as goofy or as happy as they are. I feel like that comes through with the people.

Keisha Okafor:
And in terms of the patterns, I really like music. But when I hear music, I tend to see a lot of different shapes and colors just moving together. That’s how I see the song. Like me drawing those abstract patterns, it’s usually me listening to music and drawing whatever comes to mind. So just kind of like the happiness that comes from listening to music, that energy is something I’m trying to capture in the patterns. And I like for it to fit together kind of like different sounds fit together in a song, that’s how it shows up in the patterns.

Maurice Cherry:
And when you’re even doing these patterns, it also seems like you’re drawing from nature some too. I don’t know maybe if that was just the particular collection that you were doing, but I saw a lot of kind of tropical themes and leaves and stuff like that. It’s just very, very stunning work.

Keisha Okafor:
Thank you. Yeah, the tropical thing is I just love the way tropical scenery looks. I also think it’s nice, like all the different leaves and like patterns that you see within leaves, I think that’s nice as well, but also sometimes, if I draw too many triangles and circles, I’m like, “Let me draw something that people can recognize.” So it ends up just being leaves and flowers for some reason. I’m not even a big flower person, it just ends up coming out, or I’ll just look up pictures of flowers. But yeah, I really love tropical weather and themes and stuff. So I just end up drawing it a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
I have not met a Nigerian that didn’t like bright colors. So you’re definitely onto something there.

Keisha Okafor:
[inaudible 00:35:22]. I love that. You’re right. You’re right.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you get your creativity back if you are feeling uninspired, like say you hit a block in a project somewhere you’re working on something, what do you do to get that spark back?

Keisha Okafor:
So when I am inspired, I have a bunch of hidden Pinterest boards. And then I also have a notebook where when I’m inspired, I just write down ideas of things that I think will be cool to make. So when I am feeling blocked or uninspired, I’ll look through that Pinterest board. One is just called Black, and it’s just black people, just random black people that I can find on Pinterest. It used to be really hard, but I saved so many pictures and looked at it that Pinterest has realized this girl likes to look here black people. So now my homepage has that.

Keisha Okafor:
So I’ll either look at that Pinterest board, just kind of seeing people do stuff or I also have some with just colors or textures or shapes. I’ll just look through the Pinterest board or I’ll look through that list of ideas that I have. I’ll either do that or I’ll just take a break. Turn the thing off, turn the computer off, turn the iPad off, watch TV, play a video game, take a nap and then come back. Yeah. And then if there’s like a time crunch, I’m just like, “Well, honestly, think about the money.” I’m like, “Girl, do you want to get paid?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So I just do it no matter what I’m like, okay. Just loosen up. Then I’ll take a five minute break, loosen up, get some water or something and then come back and just do it.

Keisha Okafor:
Or another thing I’ll do, sometimes I’m not a good singer, but I love to sing. So I’ll just turn on Spotify and then just force myself to sing along out loud as bad as it’s going to come out, just so to get my mind not overthinking it. And then things usually come out better. If I have, like my mind is focused on me singing, even though like, what notes? What notes am I hitting? So that helps me have a bit of more energy and looseness to the art that I’m making.

Maurice Cherry:
One thing that I would do when I was working on projects is I’d always build in at least a week into the sort of like project plan, because I mean, I think the expectation, certainly, I think from clients, but oftentimes, for us as freelances, as designers, the expectation is we’ll get the work and we’ll just be able to knock it out, like we’ll sit down and we’ll know what we do because the client has brought us on for our expertise. So we have to be the expert.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, depending on how, if you set up a project rate or hourly rate or a day rate or whatever, sometimes clients will try to nickel and dime you to try to know like, well, how long did it take you to work on X, Y, Z, and blah, blah, blah? And I certainly early on in my freelance career, that was a mistake that I made. And then eventually, I switched things over either to like a project rate or I do like a day rate or something like that. I’d build in like a week of time because there’s no telling.

Maurice Cherry:
And for me, it’s almost like creative insurance, like I may need it in the future if something happens, like what if I get sick? Or what if I just am not feeling it? And I can take that time out of the bank sort of because I’ve built it into the project and then I can, like if I take a day off and then decide to come back later and do it, then that way I’m not impacting the project because I built that time in there. It gives me permission to not have to be a machine when it comes to like creativity because sometimes the ideas flow and sometimes they just don’t.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’ve certainly been at that place where you’re at, where you’re like, you just have to think about the money, like think about what this is going to do. And then you soldier on or you push through it. But yeah, that’s one thing that I would do is I just build in the time because the good thing is if you never use it, then you come out early and the client is happy. And then if you do use it, the client is still happy because you came out on time.

Keisha Okafor:
Right. That’s great. Because I learned in the design world as well, especially when I was at that media buying agency, it was an open office and there were only like eight of us. So sometimes I’ll work on stuff, they just be standing over my shoulder, “How long do you think it’ll take?” I’m like, “Please. Oh, I think it’ll take me a few hours rolling.” It wouldn’t. It would take me shorter than that, but I like to add in that buffer, just like you said, like if something happens, I can still turn it in when I said I could, but also giving myself that insurance, like you said, to make it.

Keisha Okafor:
But in terms of the illustration projects now, those few hours turns into a couple of extra days or maybe an extra week, like you said. Yeah. Especially when people say they have a tight turnaround, things never are as tight as people want it to be, especially with getting revisions and just getting feedback, especially if there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. So it is way better to add in more time for that kind of stuff in the beginning, like you said.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now when you were in school, when you were back at North Carolina State, let’s say, I think that was maybe probably around 10 years ago at this point, right?

Keisha Okafor:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Where did you see yourself career-wise by this age where you’re at now?

Keisha Okafor:
Honestly, by the time I graduated, I was just like, “Am I cut out for this?” Honestly, because I thought, again, like when I was 18 entering college, I thought, okay, college is going to give me the roadmap. And by the time I am a senior, I’m going to know exactly what I want to do, how to get there and I’ll be able to get there. But that didn’t happen when I was a senior. I felt kind of similar to how I was as a freshman, like, what? Like, what am I doing? I need to find a job.

Keisha Okafor:
So I mainly, the main goal I had, I was like, Keisha, please have a job, please have a job and an apartment that you can pay for with your job. I had very, very basic goals for myself, have a job that’s something related to design. Yeah, that was pretty much my only goal. I wanted, the idea of freelance sounded good, but then at that time, I had no idea how to do it. So it wasn’t even, it was more like a fantasy more than like me seeing myself there.

Maurice Cherry:
I didn’t go to design school, but it is something that I’ve thought about in terms of like, do I need this in order to have this legitimacy for myself as a designer? Because I’ve been self-taught and I did a little bit of work at companies, like I worked for the State of Georgia for a while, I worked at AT&T for a while. And then like, I really had just felt like, you know what? I got this, I could start my own studio and do this and really do it myself. And I’ve learned so much really just in the time that I had my studio doing things by myself, but they never really teach you entrepreneurship. I mean, again, I didn’t go to design school, but even with the work that I was doing, by the time I started my studio, I had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and still didn’t know anything about freelancing. I was really either making it up as I went along or I was asking other freelances. I was really gaining this education while I was also trying to run my business.

Keisha Okafor:
Absolutely. Because in design school, in my senior year, we had this class that the description was literally, we’re going to prepare you to get a job. But when we actually took the class, they were like, “You need a website. Do you know what a website is? You can make websites on Squarespace.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? This is my senior year and you’re teaching us that we need a website. Of course, we do. What are you talking about? How do you get a job? Please tell me what to put on my resume and how to get the people to actually hire me.”

Keisha Okafor:
Even then, like being in design school didn’t make that difference. It’s almost like they’re out of touch with what was happening in the world. Like they got the art skills, but getting a job or even being an entrepreneur, that wasn’t even close to being thought about in any of my classes. I would have had to talk to alumni who are already doing it. And kind of like you said, they were figuring it out on their own or like having outside resources to figure that out. So I definitely don’t think going to design school will or not going to design school, you won’t really be missing out honestly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, by the time I really started figuring it out, I think I was about, I don’t know, I think maybe I was about two or three years into my studio and from just talking with other freelancers and picking up, because sometimes you just have to get, unfortunately, you just have to get burned a few times in business before you learn that lesson or whatever that particular lesson is. But I think by the time I was like, by the time I hit my fifth year, I had it down pat at that point, I knew about contracts and proposals and getting things done and everything just ran smoothly, but it took some time to get there.

Maurice Cherry:
So yeah. I think now, because freelancing is an option for so many people, whether they do it either independently, like you’re doing, or if they do something like working via like a design marketplace, such as ThemeForest or Envato Elements or Envato Market, whatever the thing is that Envato has with all of the different websites and stuff, Fiverr, even those kinds of things, Upwork, there’s ways that you can use those tools to manage your business better, but it’s still, at the end of the day, it comes down to really knowing what those fundamentals are and knowing what works best for you. I think certainly, when I was doing business, there’s not an all-purpose solution for like being an entrepreneur. I wish there was. But once you learn what works for you in terms of cashflow and payments and client communication and everything, then you’ve cracked it, you’ve cracked the code pretty much.

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. A lot of the stuff I’ve learned even about graphic design because NC State does have a graphic design major, but I majored in art and design, a lot of the stuff I learned about graphic design was just learning by doing. It ended up being like the jobs I had, more doing stuff for family and friends was really the stuff that prepared me for the different jobs. And I’m learning that that’s the same thing that’s happening with freelance as well, like the classes that I take, the people, the Instagram artists that I’ll DM or Instagram friends I have, I’ll DM, those things have been really helpful. And also, like you said, being burnt, having bad clients, that helps me set better boundaries for future clients, like knowing what to do. So yeah, that’s definitely something I’m in the process of right now. I’m definitely looking forward to the part where everything runs itself.

Maurice Cherry:
It’ll get there probably I think sooner than you expect. Before you know it, it’ll just flow. It’s sort of like a… I mean, you watch anime, it’s like the Avatar State. Eventually, you’ll be able to just invoke it and you’ll be good.

Keisha Okafor:
Awesome. Avatar is one of my favorite shows. So I love that you said the Avatar State.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you obsessed with at the moment?

Keisha Okafor:
Speaking of anime, so I’m watching this anime called Fruits Basket. It’s a silly premise. When it’s like, if you hug someone of the opposite gender, they will turn into Zodiac animal, so like the Year of the Horse, or a cat, rat, like things like that. But you end up finding out everyone has these crazy backstories and there’s this whole curse and things like that. So I’ve just been binge-watching that show basically, because I’m so curious to see what’s happening. Other than that, I’ve been playing a video game called Mario & Sonic at The Olympic Games for 2020. I’ve just been going through the story mode. There was one, it’s the triple jump and I keep getting disqualified. So I got mad and turned it off, but I still think about it because I’m like, “I’m going to win.” Yeah. I would say those two things.

Keisha Okafor:
Also, I have a cat. I’ve never had a pet before, but I got one a few months ago, honestly, off the strength of seeing other black people on social media have cats and they seem to enjoy it. And I always wanted a cat. So I ended up getting one. So I spend a lot of time peeking over the couch, seeing what she’s doing or looking for her around the house and just smiling really big. She gets annoyed, but I think she’s used to it. I would say I’m pretty obsessed with her.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Do you have like a dream project that you would love to do one day?

Keisha Okafor:
That’s a great question. I would say the only dream project I had, I got to do it last year. So I got to illustrate a deck of playing cards and I pretty much did the art direction for the whole thing. So you mentioned the tropical idea, there was a running idea I had for a long time of joining black people in the tropical space, kind of like an oasis, a place where they could freely celebrate themselves without all the isms in the world that black people carry. So I pretty much made the deck around that and got the job black people being happy or silly in that tropical environment. And that was something I really enjoy doing. If I think of like a future project, it would be a similar thing, but in a different format. I haven’t figured that out yet, but definitely enjoyed doing that deck of cards, but I’m not sure if that’s like a book or like a coffee book or like a storybook, but that’s kind of like something that I’m juggling in my head right now.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the best advice that you’ve ever been given regarding what you do as an illustrator?

Keisha Okafor:
Interestingly enough, I would say the best advice I have is more of like a you as a person. So like, not finding your identity in the work that you do, you’re more than the work that you do. You are enough as you are. Like those kinds of things I’ve seen have made the biggest difference for me. Yeah, a lot of times the artsy-fartsy, mumbo-jumbo, it just slides off of me. I’m just like, this sounds, but when I draw, what does that mean? So hearing things like, I’m more than the art that I make is very freeing for me to be able to just have fun with it and do stuff that I like. And I don’t have to judge myself based on how well I drew today.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I can see how that, I mean, well, one, I see that is good advice just in general, like, make sure that you don’t get too caught up in the work, but also realize that you put your own identity into everything that you do as well.

Keisha Okafor:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next like five years? Like this whole pandemic craziness is over with, it’s 20, what? 2026. What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Keisha Okafor:
Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I was like, “Will the world still be turning at that time?” I think it would be.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope so.

Keisha Okafor:
You’re right. Me too. Honestly, I hope I’ll be doing bigger projects, projects I’m really excited about. I’m enjoying the projects that I’m doing right now. So more, just like an extension of the kinds of things I’m doing right now getting to illustrate different people, doing things, really hoping to get into the Children’s Book World, be able to illustrate them to children’s books. That’s something I’m looking forward to. And also, I want to get my patterns onto products. So one thing I’m hoping to do also in five years is to have my products on things. Yeah. More of like, just like all the different ways I can get my work out there, either on products or online in different formats. That’s something I’m hoping will happen, just as I grow and do things and get better at art, have it just spread onto different formats as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything that you’re doing online?

Keisha Okafor:
Yeah. So you can find my work on my website, which is keishaokafor.com, O-K-A-F-O-R. You can also find me on social media on Twitter and Instagram, mostly Instagram @keishaoak, oak as in oak tree, O-A-K. The reason why it’s like that is just so you know how to pronounce Okafor. But yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at, Instagram, Twitter and my website.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Keisha Okafor, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I have to say, I just love how joyful and colorful and vibrant your work is. Like I mentioned, when I discovered you from the work that you did at YouTube, I was just looking at your website, like, this is so fun. And I have to say that it’s rare to see a designer put that sort of joy into their work, but I am really excited to see what sort of work you’ll be doing after this interview, after people get a chance to really see your work, because I feel like this sort of vibrancy and joy in life is what we need right now. We need to be seeing more of this everywhere. And so I’m excited for people to really learn more about you and learn more about your work. And yeah, just thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Keisha Okafor:
Thank you for having me. I am hope, really excited for people to see my work too. And I really appreciate all your kind words. Yeah, I definitely, I’m just like, if I’m going to draw, I’m going to have fun with it and I want everyone else to have fun with it too. So definitely excited to see where it all goes.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

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Brent Rollins

This week’s guest is a true creative changemaker. If you’re a hip-hop fan, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen his work somewhere over the past 30 years. He’s your favorite designer’s favorite designer. For our monumental 400th episode, meet the one and only Brent Rollins.

We have a wide-ranging conversation where Brent goes into some of his current projects and collaborations, and shares a bit about his creative process when starting on something new. Brent also talked about growing up in Los Angeles around the entertainment industry, how he helped co-found Ego Trip, and we have a great discussion around Black design aesthetics and defining success. Brent is someone who has been a huge inspiration to me as a designer and a creator, and having him share his story for this milestone episode is truly awesome.

Thank you all for supporting Revision Path!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Brent Rollins:
My name is Brent Rollins, and the short answer is that I’m a multi disciplinary designer, the long answer would be that I’m a creative who collaborates with people, organizations that are passionate and sort of driven in their mission to kind of spread their ideas and positivity to the world and to sort of create guiding paths for people.

Maurice Cherry:
How is 2021 been for you so far?

Brent Rollins:
You know what, man? 2021, I’m ready to go. 2020 was actually the year that I was like, “Let’s do this. Weird. I’m ready to make some stuff happen.” Well, we know how that sort of ended up. So I think it’s been… I think a lot of people, including myself have been kind of bubbling and if you’re driven and if you have ideas and you’re creative, you’ve been using this sort of sabbatical or this time or this kind of slower period to think about things and formulate things and come up with ideas and plan. Like the people that have passed unfortunately, I know a few people that have been affected by the virus and stuff. So my heart goes out to them, but for those of us who are alive, this is a moment for us to be alive and to embrace that, and to really like… This is a blessing in that sense, if we haven’t been devastatingly affected. This has been a blessing to have this moment, to think about what we want to do and what we want to accomplish into what’s a forced introspection.

Brent Rollins:
And I hope rather that people kind of use it to better themselves. So, that’s what I’m about, man, I can’t wait for this year, unlike I’m ready to go.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I have talked to a lot of people that are saying that this is going to be like the new roaring 20s in a way?

Brent Rollins:
Oh, man. Is it ever? This is going to be yo, roaring 20s, baby boom, it’s going to be crazy. I think, come June, July, this is going to be wild, bro.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, No. And I think even now, there’s this sort of like, I can feel this renewed energy in the air, especially as people are starting to get the vaccine. And even as some places are starting to relax restrictions, things are starting to open up again. So, people are anxious to get back out there and experience the world, whatever that may look like.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. Some people unfortunately continue to experience the world and they didn’t really care, no shots, no judgment. But for the rest of us hopefully like I said, we’re sensible enough to kind of use it to our advantage and kind of make plans and sort of think about things. And it’s really funny because at the top of 2020, I distinctly remember thinking, I can’t tell you where it was, but I can distinctly remember thinking. I was like, “Man, the world is moving really fast. This thing needs to slow down.” It was like I felt just how much stuff was going on. Because I live in New York City, and I see construction going on everywhere. And I see all this stuff happening. And it just felt like things were kind of out of control. And so it was… Like I said, it’s been a weird, mixed, I guess, [inaudible 00:07:08] and kind of blessing that this thing sort of forced everyone to slow down.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What does a typical day look like for you now?

Brent Rollins:
It’s funny, because I was never a very structured person, and I’ve become a little bit more regimented. And I actually really enjoy it. Or I feel like I need that. So, typical day for me right now is I’m in this kind of like new cycle. So, I’m actually implementing kind of new sort of regimens that I didn’t really do. So, I don’t know how typical it is. It’s only like maybe four months old. It seems like this has been Rollins’s day. But I typically go to sleep late, just because I’m a night owl. And I don’t get much sleep. So, I sort of wake up maybe about five or six hours later. And kind of like I want to read and sort of see what’s going on in the world and fix myself a little pot of coffee, and maybe take a little walk, get some air, get out the house, kind of just sort of take in what the environment has to offer, and start working on one of the multiple sort of projects that I got going on.

Maurice Cherry:
And what are some of those projects? I mean, as much of them as you can sort of talk about at liberty.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. It’s really funny like… Because I was thinking about before this interview, I was like, “Man, you know what? I can’t really talk about the things that I’m working on right now.” Not because they’re secret, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. A few of the things that are maybe like projects for people, again, like people that are doing sort of very interesting, sort of passion projects, or things that have sort of a larger good, I think that’s the kind of stuff that I can maybe talk about, as far as there’s this brother Waajeed, who is a DJ based in Detroit, who is pretty well known. And Detroit as you know, has amazing music history. And so, Waajeed has got this fantastic opportunity to open. I don’t want to call it a school, but he is spearheading this project to create a… I think it’s called underground music academy. It’s sort of a place for people to sort of engage in musical creativity. And it’s on this Boulevard in Detroit, that has a lot of insane Detroit musical history. So, I’m working on the identity for that. And I’m very excited about that.

Brent Rollins:
Some of the other projects that I’m working on, are really entrepreneurial projects that have been in the works for the past year. One of them, I had to put the brakes on because of COVID, but is still moving and I’m super excited about it. And I really can’t wait to sort of show the world what that’s about. But the short story is that it’ll be a sort of a restaurant or cafe or something. And then the other project, there’s another entrepreneurial project that I kind of don’t want to talk about. But I’m also very excited about. Other than that, yeah, everything else is really working on stuff for people for short films and some album covers and things that… Or people that I’ve creative history with, people that really want to kind of put something out into the world that’s a little bit different. I’m at the point in my sort of life or career, or however you want to talk about it, or however you want to think about it, where I just want to be a little bit selective, and I’m okay.

Brent Rollins:
I need to figure out… Everything has to… You have to make a living. But I can be a little bit selective about things because I don’t want to depend on those projects for the things to make a living, I’d rather have the entrepreneurial things be the things that I use to make a living.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Brent Rollins:
And that way, I have more control over the creativity, because it’s my projects. And then if I’m working with anybody, it’s going to be because I really believe in what they’re doing. There are people that have hit me up via social media. Man, people are like, “Yo, I’m doing this, would you do an album cover for me?” And I’m like, “Number one, you don’t talk to people like that.” You know what I mean? I also am like, “I’m not getting your hustle, but I’m also… I want to lend myself to projects that I feel that I understand and I feel have some sort of worth and value, and prove it to me.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting how Twitter… And I guess you could say social media as a whole. But it’s amazing how Twitter has kind of almost flattened the… Like it’s flattened the hustle in a way. People will talk to you on Twitter in any kind of way. They don’t know who you are, and to that respect, I guess it’s that way with social media in general, they’ll just approach you on like some, “Hey, can you do this for me?” I get so many people that will… I wouldn’t even say that they write to the show, they tell the show, “I don’t know why you haven’t interviewed me yet.” Who are you? Person with no website and I can’t tell what kind of work that you do and you have 100 followers?

Brent Rollins:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting how social media kind of flattens out in a way. People just don’t approach you with the same kind of not necessarily gravitas, but just the same sort of urgency. It’s just like, “Hey, do this for me.”

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. Well, I mean, people don’t… I can get into my old man, I’m going to put my old man pants on right now. It’s a little bit of number one, you should just learn if you’re going to… Like I said, if you’re going to approach people, show some respect, if you really like their work, at least be like, “Hey, I really like your work, this is what I’m trying to do,” and come with some humility and be like, “I’m doing this thing, would you be interested in it?” Yes, no, if not, I understand. I don’t really appreciate this sort of informality. I think social media enables people to be in contact, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Brent Rollins:
But it doesn’t mean that you should abandon sort of what has been traditional decorum and sort of like, just respect in terms of like how you approach people. I wouldn’t talk to any of these kind of design heroes that I have, as though they were my peers, they’re not my peers. Those are people that I look up to, and they’re deserving of that respect. And you’re right, yeah, as far as flattening, I think most of the people or a large amount of people that are using social media, it is flat, because they’re all peers. So, they can sort of approach people like that, but then there are other people that are within that space that are old like myself, that are like, “No, man, this is not how you run up on folks.” I didn’t run up on people like that. I was very-

Maurice Cherry:
Respectful?

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, respectful. But whenever I’d meet people that were in a particular state, I would just approach them [inaudible 00:13:57]. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

Brent Rollins:
I think that that’s… Not that I’m suggesting, “Yo, I’m better than you,” but I’m just kind of like, “Come on, man, I’m a grown man. Don’t talk to me like that.”

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And also, it’s clearly when someone’s approaching in that way, it’s one way transactional. Like, “What can I get?”

Brent Rollins:
Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
“Can you do something for me?” Not like, “How do we help each other out in that kind of way?”

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, yeah. But you know what? I mean, if you’ve been doing anything for a moment, and you’re worth, you’re like us all, you can filter out who’s real and who’s not.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s true.

Brent Rollins:
And even the people that are not, maybe they haven’t found their tribe yet, but you can tell that, “Oh, you’re looking.” If you can identify the people that are like the junior use.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Brent Rollins:
Like, “Oh, yeah, no, I get it. Yeah, this person, they’re definitely on that vibe. And you know what? I’m going to put you under my wing because I can see that in you, and come along for the ride homie.” So, yeah. Oh, man, people hacked up on social media.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you’ve mentioned all these different kind of projects. First of all, I have to say I love the way you kind of just slowly was like, “Yeah, this is DJ in Detroit Waajeed.” You’re not talking about what Waajeed from slum village.

Brent Rollins:
No, no, no. Not at all.

Maurice Cherry:
Just like, “Yeah, this guy, he’s starting a school.” Doing the thing like, okay, all right. But when it comes to all these different projects that you do, what does your creative process look like when you’re starting a project?

Brent Rollins:
That is depending on the project, but I think that… I do a little research depending on what it is, one of the things that I try to tap into where… It’s really funny, because I have a great appreciation for sort of like, very learned kind of design approaches. But I think I’m really like a designer that came from an art background, I think, or more so just the act of creativity itself. And so I approach things in a way that’s more about emotion. And oftentimes, what is the feeling that I got when I encountered X? And so that’s what I’m trying to tap into in terms of like that sort of intuitive sort of feeling. I’m sure there have been moments in your life where there’s been some baby… I’m going to just use music, because it’s such a common denominator. When you… There was like maybe a club that you were just like, “Oh, man, that club was just… That was it. Because the DJ, the music was just right, and the vibe was right and the crowd, and the this and the that, and the…” All those kind of things.

Brent Rollins:
That’s a feeling. And if it’s done right, there’s a visual component to it as well. And so what I look towards is tapping into that visual trigger. That’s the thing because that’s my language. So, that’s the thing that whenever I was in any of these kind of environments, that’s what I latched on to, as my sort of like, this is my flotation device, this is what’s going to keep me up in this space. And I’m going to use this design thing or this visual thing and I’m going to sit back on my floaty and chill, while I’m observing the rest of the stuff that’s going on. That’s kind of like how I go. The creative process is about tapping into that vibe, that thing, that emotion that people get that is very subconscious. If you’ve been to the Caribbean, or certain countries, I don’t want to say third world countries, but just developing countries or something. There’s like the smell of like gasoline and burning jungle foilage. I was exposed to it as a young age.

Brent Rollins:
And then as an adult, I go back to those places and I’m like, “Oh, whoa!” It’s like automatically, it’s something that I totally forgot about, like, boom, it just triggered me. And I was like, “Oh, I’m back here. I’m ready to roll.” So, that’s what I’m trying to try to reach for, is to think about those kinds of things.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So yeah, you try to tap into a certain… You said like a visual trigger or a vibe, or a feeling and then you kind of build out from their sounds like?

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s really funny man, the emotions and the memories. Like I said, people don’t necessarily… Sometimes people don’t remember them. But when they see them, they get excited. Like, I love remembering things that I’ve totally forgot. Sometimes there’s a thing that maybe happened to me as a child, or that maybe I went to, and someone else will bring it up and I’m like, “Oh, whoa! Oh, man, I totally remember.” I love that. That’s like the best feeling ever, because you’re taken back to something that you had kind of pushed in the… It’s like in the back of the storage room. It’s like if you have stuff in storage, and you kind of go through things, and you rediscover them. Like recently, I was going through my parent’s garage sort of cleaning things out. And kind of came across two boxes of old comics that I had left behind when I left Los Angeles from New York. And I hadn’t thought about those comic books in 20 plus years, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brent Rollins:
It’s not that I… I knew that I had comics, but I had got to the point where I just sort of disassociated and attached myself to those as possessions. Comic books are really important to me, the stories and the illustrations were… Some of the artists were very significant to me, and rediscovering those comic books in the back of my dad’s garage, and kind of going through it, man, I got a little teary eyed because I was like, “Oh man, a few comics.” I was just like, “Oh, man.” Because I decided to sell them because I haven’t looked at these things in so long. What’s the point of keeping these things? I just sort of resolved to sell them. I was going through some of the comments, I was like, “Man, do I really get rid of this? Oh, this is so awesome.” And it was like, yeah, I reconnected with something that I completely forgot about.

Brent Rollins:
So yeah, when I do… So, take it full circle. So, when I do design, there’s a tinge of nostalgia I guess, in some of the things because I think that’s what people are relating to, in some cases. And then other cases it’s like, “Well, I want to do something completely new.” And how do you do that? Even when you make something new, it’s rooted in something because if you do something that’s too new, you lose people. So, you want to put a little bit of something familiar in it.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting you mentioned that sort of tinge of nostalgia, because I feel like there’s… We’ll get into the work that you’ve done with Ego Trip and Rap Pages, et cetera. But there’s a very temporal quality to your work that is kind of evocative of the 60s and the 70s in different ways. I think one, there’s this sort of like collage, mixed media kind of thing that I see you do sometimes. But then there’s also… And maybe I’m thinking of the more visual stuff that I see on television, but it’s also like a nod back to projectors. And there’s an audio element of a film reel, or noise grain that you see on film and stuff like that. And then just even the playful way that you use typography, it’s almost like you see those old school horror movie title cards or something. I get what you mean about that kind of tinge of nostalgia. But I think that’s a pretty big theme in your work though.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. The thing about using that as a device, it’s funny, because I don’t know what… I really want to talk to some younger designers now and kind of get where their head is at, because when I would resort to those options, it’s because that’s what I know is familiar to people. And the idea of design, in my world design meaning kind of visual communications, graphics, that type of design. It’s really about I want to communicate with you. What’s our shared language? What are our shared memories? What is our shared sort of commonalities? And when I pull from those kinds of things, this is very conscious. Those are things that I want to trigger you. I want you to be like, “Oh, I get it.”

Brent Rollins:
I think there’s the idea of design as ornament and sort of fireworks, where it’s like, “Yo, I’m doing something new and this is [inaudible 00:22:39].” And you’re going to get about five people that understand what you’re doing, which is cool. I’m not against that. I love that kind of stuff. But the idea of design, my foundation, or my understanding of design is rooted in the old idea of what a graphic artist was, which was communication design. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brent Rollins:
So the idea of, I’m trying to reach you, I’m trying to talk with you. And for me, the shortcut is shared experiences. For me, the shortcut is what I’d surmise as being the things that we grew up with. And that’s how we begin to talk to each other. That’s kind of where I’m coming from. When I was doing that kind of stuff, it was based off of… It’s not the nostalgia because it looks… Sometimes that nostalgia can be about the kitsch factor or whatever.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm, okay.

Brent Rollins:
I could… Man, I can go [inaudible 00:23:33].

Maurice Cherry:
I was actually careful not to use the word kitsch. So, I’m surprised you brought that up.

Brent Rollins:
Well, it’s sort of like the idea of… Well, when I say kitsch, I think… Let’s talk about the 70s for instance.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Brent Rollins:
And when you see things that are about the 70s and particularly black culture, it’s always expressed in these very kind of superficial, simple… It’s like the lettering is groovy, whatever that means.

Maurice Cherry:
Hobo standard kind of… I know what you mean. Yeah.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. You think of afros as kitsch. It’s a little bit kitsch, right? People don’t look at afros as… They don’t look at afros as what it was, which was like this assertion of black identity and being sort of proud of kinky hair and all this other kind of stuff. They look at it as being a style. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Brent Rollins:
And how big it was, or how large your afro was. And sometimes there’s this sort of… There’s definitely like a silliness to some stuff from the 70s. I think that’s the sort of kitsch thing and it becomes like this kind of joke. I think about that movie, Black Dynamite, which avoided it because it was… That movie wasn’t… It took place in the 70s, but it wasn’t about afro jokes.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Brent Rollins:
It was, but it wasn’t. It was really like a very loving, sort of understanding about that sort of aesthetic. But it was deeper than an afro jokes. I don’t like afro jokes. I don’t like afro jokes… [inaudible 00:25:10] my fist on the table. Yeah, it’s not about the kitsch today, kitsch isn’t about… It’s about like, “Oh, I remember that vibe.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to tap into.

Maurice Cherry:
So you mentioned Los Angeles, where you’re originally from. Tell me what it was like growing up there.

Brent Rollins:
Oh, man, what a weird place! I have a love and hate relationship with Los Angeles, because it made me who I am. So, I can’t hate on it. And there’re some really beautiful things about the city. There are some other things that I didn’t like, because I grew up around the entertainment industry. And so it was just sort of like a preoccupation that… Yes, it generates money and it generates attention. But sometimes I have to wonder why people sort of got into that world. But the world that I grew up in, was a middle class, black neighborhood called Windsor Hills, which I love to say, the Issa Rae’s character on Insecure, she’s from the neighborhood that I grew up. So-

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Brent Rollins:
They got to her and when that show came out, I was just like, I just couldn’t believe that anything was shot in my neighborhood. I’m like, “Oh, my God, they’re shooting there, they’re doing a scene there or some other place.” And it just blows my mind. So, I have to admit, it’s like a place that I’m very proud to come from, even though ironically, when I was growing up, I wasn’t. It was very conflicting because it was a neighborhood that in the 60s, I would say was probably… It was… I think my understanding was predominantly white, predominantly… A lot of maybe Jewish people who lived also in the neighborhood of Windsor Hills, View Park, Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills, that area. And I think as black people started… I like to say or not like to say, but I kind of refer to the 60s as being like when black people actually arrived in the United States.

Brent Rollins:
That was when actual opportunities started opening up in the same way that other immigrants sort of arrived in the United States and they have to kind of scrapped their way, they’re at the bottom, but they still have this sort of legitimate way to sort of move on. In some ways, the 60s was kind of like that, finally being able to participate. And so a lot of folks who had been able to get like civil service jobs, or other types of sort of middle class jobs started buying into the neighborhood that I grew up in. And so, I think that was great to see. Some things I didn’t necessarily like, because I don’t… I had problems with sort of the kind of class segregation that was apparent and less about money, but more about social segregation. And the idea that… The idea society was something that I kind of struggled with. I grew up around people that… I want to make it very clear, I’m not knocking something like Jack and Jill or those kinds of organizations.

Brent Rollins:
I think at the time, I wasn’t part of those things and I didn’t understand them at the time. So, my limited understanding was, this was just a weird, boujee, kind of whatever, I understand it, or have a better appreciation of it now in the sense of… The way I like to think about it, is if your parents, regardless of the situation that they come from, they want something better for you. And so, that sort of situation exists because they want their children to succeed, or they want their children to have a guaranteed better life. But I didn’t understand that at the time. And so even though my father worked in or rather was trying to make his way in entertainment during that time, we ourselves were not probably as well off as maybe the people that were around me. So, that kind of gave me a different sort of perspective on things.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I remember Jack and Jill growing up, but I didn’t think it was just some boujee black people. Like, seriously. But then I grew up as folks who listen to the show know. I grew up in Selma, Alabama, and it’s like at the end of the day, we’re all poor black people in the country. I think when I was looking at it from sort of as like from a teenage perspective, and I don’t know if it’s this way for all of Jack and Jill, but it certainly was this way back then in Alabama. It was by sort of social class of course, but then also by skin color. Pretty much everyone in Jack and Jill was light skinned and I am not. And it’s like I would have people say, “Well, you would be so good at Jack and Jill, but you know.” So, if you were just a few shades lighter maybe and this other thing that we had, we’re like…

Maurice Cherry:
And this was in high school, I don’t know if this is even a thing or if this was just a thing endemic to our high school, but we had these high school fraternities and sororities that were based off of black fraternities and sororities. So, you had the mini Alpha Phi Alpha, we’re the African Knights, and like the mini AKAs, Alpha Kappa Alphas we’re culture Rama, and the mini Delta Sigma Theta, were delta teams. And I never understood any of it. My mother was in a sorority, my mother’s a delta, but I didn’t get it. Like, “Why are we doing this? This doesn’t make any sense. You’re just sort of lording this imaginary social position over someone else for what?”

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. It’s funny, I don’t… Again, I don’t really understand the motivation for that. I could say that as I’ve grown older, I don’t want to say I’ve grown more boujee. I’m not going to say that though. I’m not going to say that I don’t like nice things. Let’s put it that way. But I don’t really quite understand that point of view. An interesting thing that… And I don’t know how this connects, really. But what comes to mind is, I got the opportunity to work with Don Cornelius.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow!

Brent Rollins:
And one of the things that he said to me was, black people don’t recognize class.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Brent Rollins:
And which sort of defies what we’re talking about.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brent Rollins:
But in some ways, I understand what he’s saying because at the end of the day, in the United States, we’re all black people. We’re all structurally, socially, second class. And so, that’s our commonality. And I don’t know, I just thought it was a really interesting statement from him. I think we are people in general, I don’t know. Sort of seek to separate ourselves. But at least in the United States, there’s still this thread, that we’re all on the same boat.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think in the south, certainly there was probably just an additional… There may have just been an additional element of wanting to… I don’t know, maybe have what white people had in some way?

Brent Rollins:
Sure.

Maurice Cherry:
I wonder if that’s part of it. For example, like I mentioned the high school fraternities, we had both a cotillion and a beautillion. I had a beautillion that was stupid. But like you-

Brent Rollins:
Congratulations.

Maurice Cherry:
Thank you. But you’re like-

Brent Rollins:
Black tie.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s like, “Oh, you’re a distinguished man of a certain age.” And it’s a whole thing with like, they do a cakewalk and you have to be in a suit. A tux actually, be in a tux and you do the waltz. It’s so stupid, I don’t know if any other… I hope they don’t still do that. Because when I think back on, I’m like, “This is like some midnight in the garden of good and evil kind of shit. This is weird.”

Brent Rollins:
I’m going to offer the inverse of that. I think that there’s an opportunity to create expressions that are highly developed. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I think that, to your point, when it becomes about emulating the surface aspects of white culture, then that’s where it becomes problematic. But if you’re celebrating the things that are great about your culture, I think that’s a different point of view. And maybe that’s not the way we’re going to solve this problem, or be able to put a suggestion box to Jack and Jill, but maybe that’s how it transforms, or maybe there’s some other organizations or people who are less about that sort of take on things. And more about, “This is what’s beautiful about black culture.” And we should celebrate those things. And we should aspire to those things. I think that that’s the thing.

Brent Rollins:
There should be a quality and execution and decorum level that a lot of cultures have that are had been sort of codified and sort of expected like we were talking earlier about like, I go to Japan or something like that. I expect Japanese design to be kick ass. Or even like Scandinavian design. I expect it to be pretty damn good. And so that’s okay to me to be like, “Are you at that level?” No. And when you reach that level, dope, we’re going to knight you. You know what I’m saying? It’s like, you did it. We have a sense of that with music in terms of it doesn’t matter necessarily what genre it is. And even if you don’t like it, you might be like, “Okay, I’m not really necessarily feeling this particular take, but I can tell that it’s the person behind it, they put a lot into it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah

Brent Rollins:
I think music is like one of the things that black Americans do very well, and is worldwide considered to be of excellence. And we have grown up and been exposed to something of excellence, that when it’s time for those who decide to participate into those avenues, even when they’re doing something new, they’re trying to shoot for a particular bar.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right.

Brent Rollins:
And I think that having those kinds of standards, absolutely. I think that I see no problem in that sort of higher culture participation. Does that make sense?

Maurice Cherry:
That makes sense. Certainly, I get what you’re saying about when you’d look at another nation’s culture for example, there’s a certain expectation there. And I think that’s because that play that particular aesthetic, similar to what you’re saying with like black people in music, it’s been distilled and exported in a way where you already have a presupposition of what it’s going to be before you even know what it is. Like if you order… I’ll give you an example. I ordered some pants from, I forget what the… It was something I saw on Instagram, that was probably my fault. But I saw some dope pants on Instagram and I was like, “Oh, they’re like some Japanese, Myketo pants. So I expect when I get them, they’re going to have a certain flattering cut or something different than maybe you wouldn’t see with American apparel or something like that. Not the brand, but just apparel in general.

Maurice Cherry:
And like for black design, I think that’s a moving target in a way, because it’s going to depend on your experiences, where you grew up, where you pull inspiration from. I just had a German American designer on the show, Julian Williams, who is currently in Amsterdam. Young kid, 25 years old, has done design work for Karl Lagerfeld, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, has this very distinct, bold graphic type of graphical design. But then he also pulls inspiration from voguing and the ballroom scene that he’s a part of. And so it’s all a part of his general design aesthetic. Is that black design? Because he’s a black designer? Yes?

Brent Rollins:
Absolutely. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
But I’m saying like it’s like a moving target, because then you could look at your work, and your work is definitely very steeped in like I said, these kind of references from the 60s and the 70s, and this tinge of nostalgia. And a lot of what you have done has kind of set the… I feel like has set the visual cornerstone for an entire culture when people think of hip hop design, it comes down to a lot of the stuff that you did with Eagle Trip, a lot of the stuff you did with Complex, these very interesting graphic styles. That also is black design.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, that’s the goal. Like I said, it’s not one… What you’re alluding to, it’s not one thing, it’s not one particular genre, but is when you enter that space, it’s going to be executed at a particular level. It’s going to be… It’s going to cover specific things. And there are sort of expectations that you get. Like jazz is totally different from R&B and is totally different from Samba, is totally different from reggae, is totally different from dancehall, but it’s all black music, right? It’s totally different from the blues, it’s all black music, they all sound different, right? But there’s this thread of expression and commonality. And when these genres develop themselves, the execution is you can’t deny it. So, that’s a goal, is to create things that even though they’re not in one particular space, or they may jump from place to place, which is what’s going to happen, you want them to leave a mark.

Maurice Cherry:
And I will say speaking about how kind of having black design being internationally recognized in a way similar to how black music is, a lot of your work has been exhibited in group exhibitions, both here in the US, as well as internationally. What does it mean to have your work kind of shown in that kind of fashion?

Brent Rollins:
When my stuff is recognized internationally, it means a lot because a lot of it was pre-internet and that means that the people that decided to talk about design or whatever, they’re seeking, they’re looking for. They’re looking for content like anybody like anything or anybody now, but they have a certain standard in mind. And there’s a filter that they have in their head. So, what I’m most proud of, I guess, is publications and people that have reached out to me. Yeah, like I said, particularly before the internet was popping. Because they were like, “Oh, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen a few of these things. I really was affected by this, or this was a music artist that really meant a lot to me. And I see that a couple of other artists that mean a lot to me were represented visually by this guy, Brent Rollins. And so let me look into it.” That’s a good feeling. And to know that people around the world who are on the same wavelength as you, and who are seeking out things, find you. That’s incredible.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brent Rollins:
That makes me feel good. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, we’ve talked about Ego Trip, just kind of briefly touching on it. But I want to go more in depth about that. You came on as our director, you’re kind of one of the co founders of this group with some titans in the industry, Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, take me back to that time. What did it feel like sort of coming together and building something like Ego Trip and the work that you all were able to do?

Brent Rollins:
Oh, sure yeah. And we have to remember the one titan who is always like never wants attention, was Gabriel Alvarez. Yeah. I mean, Ego Trip was kind of like… We were like a band. And in some ways for that world, we were like a supergroup. And I got to know… I started working with Gabriel Alvarez when I was working at Rap Pages, got the gig through very awesome, incredible woman named Sheena Lester. And Rap Pages was an early sort of competitor to The Source Magazine. And-

Maurice Cherry:
Larry Flynt.

Brent Rollins:
Larry Flynt, my man. Yeah. Enough respect to that guy, rest in peace. What a person to work for. I didn’t work for him specifically, but just to know that he was in the building, what a… Very bizarre to be early 20s and working for a pornographer. But yeah, he had started this magazine, Rap Pages basically to kind of reap some attention that The Source was getting. And Sheena had taken it over, after maybe a few issues, I guess. And we wanted to build an editorial team. I was one of the later people to join, and one of my compatriots, there was Gabriel Alvarez. So, between myself, Sheena, Gabe, Blau, Dorothy, and I apologize if I can’t remember Hannibal and some other folks that… Nikki, incredible person. We kind of were a little kind of a group who kind of wanted to take on The Source. At the time, that was like the main kind of hip hop music magazine. It was the first and undeniably significant. But we sort of had our take on things or whatever.

Brent Rollins:
But we had hired freelance writers, and among them was Sacha Jenkins, and Elliott Wilson, and I’m not sure if Mel… I believe Mel may have been hired as well, as a freelance writer, but that’s how I got to know those guys. Or that’s how I made first contact with them. And after a few years of working at the magazine, Gabe had moved to New York to work with Sacha, on Ego Trip. And Sacha Jenkins, who for people that don’t know, I would say in recent years, he’s probably known for producing these documentaries called, I believe it’s called Fresh Dressed, which is about hip hop fashion. He also directed this Wu Tang documentary on Showtime. And so he’s been… And he’s also in a punk band and all this other kind of stuff. And Sacha has always been doing all these kind of great self-started initiating things and had this sort of fledgling magazine, or zin rather, called the Ego Trip.

Brent Rollins:
And Ego Trip was… It was coming from the perspective of mainly, mostly writers of color to talk about hip hop, with a love and reverence, but also an irreverence towards the subject matter, and also had interest in other music such as punk rock, indie rock, what have you. And so, as Sacha would say, it was like Rolling Stones, but the inverse. So Rolling Stone would mostly cover rock, and maybe occasionally do hip hop. And so, Ego Trip was the flip side of that. And so that’s how I got to know those guys, and I eventually moved to New York in 1997, because of having some contact with Sacha. Sacha had sort of said, “Hey, we need to step up our magazine visually,” sort of invited me to join the team for no money, but more just out of like an outlet to do something creative.

Brent Rollins:
I looked at myself, as the Terry Gilliam to everybody else’s John Cleese, and the rest of the Monty Python crew. As far as being the visual person, I understood editorial, and I also wanted to do sort of humor. We were doing a lot of funny, goofy stuff. And so I had my take on how to express that. And eventually, that became the collage. There were… The magazine itself was instrumental to me in terms of my creative development, because it was very DIY, it was like, “Let’s just take…” We used to do precursors to memes called Ego Trip Ads. So we would find these funny images from Jet Magazine or, or Ebony or something like that. Just older magazines, like ads of black people in Burger King ads and write funny captions to them. But the captions were always like hip hop lyrics. And then we would kind of put the little slug like Ego Trip.

Brent Rollins:
And so basically, they became ads to fill in the unused ad space in the magazine. But they were fun. They helped us sort of develop our creative voice and make the magazine more individual and sort of unique. And so, that’s how I kind of got down with them. I had myself this irreverent take on hip hop and sort of making fun of hip hop, but loving it at the same time. This was the vehicle for it. And so, once we got together, yeah, Sacha was working, I think at Vibe Magazine. Elliott was working at The Source, Jeff was writing for a lot of other music magazines and Gabe, he’s the glue and like I said, he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves because he’s very much behind the scenes, he doesn’t want the attention, but he is the funniest MF around the planet, and super creative.

Brent Rollins:
And so, collectively, yeah, we kind of just became like Voltron, like superhero group and looked at the magazine as a vehicle to express just how we… Just things that we were interested in, and also to try to put it to… Like every issue, I only did like the last three issues, but it felt like making an album. And each issue got more and more personal. Like there’s running… It’s a magazine literally with like running jokes. Because if you turn the pages, you’ll see a reference to something that came earlier, and we made it this kind of like goofy puzzle. And it became semi… Everything in Ego Trip became this… It started blurring the line between music, journalism and autobiography.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. How was it received at the time?

Brent Rollins:
I think you’d have to ask a lot of journalists maybe how they thought about it. I guess at the time, no one was doing what we were doing. And I don’t say that to sound like arrogant, I just mean in a sense-

Maurice Cherry:
No. Hey, talk your shit.

Brent Rollins:
But I’m not [inaudible 00:48:30]. It wasn’t usual for people to get together to be like, “Hey, we want to talk about this with this particular voice. That isn’t straight ahead. So, when we got together to do that stuff, we just had fun. We would just goof around and just make jokes and it was like one of the… Those guys were like my brothers, brothers that I never had. And so, like I said, it’s kind of like we were sort of a supergroup. Yeah, we used to do some stupid things. In my head, I’m thinking about this time we kidnapped this journalist.

Maurice Cherry:
Wait, wait, wait. What?

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. Yeah. So, there’s this journalist who writes for the New York Times now named John Caramanica.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, my God! Okay. No, I’m sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

Brent Rollins:
Wait, do you know…

Maurice Cherry:
I know of him because of some of his shitty reviews. But no, go ahead.

Brent Rollins:
So, I can’t remember what he was interviewing us for, maybe it was for our first book. I can’t remember probably. But we were like, “Okay, this is how we want to be legendary.” So at the time, we used to have this one office on 16th Street in Chelsea Market, and we used to have this really dope… The fourth floor, we had almost all to ourselves. We were sharing it with this graffiti brand named Bullets of Brooklyn, but they were never there. So, we kind of just had the run of the space. And then for reasons that I won’t get into, we had to vacate that space. And so we ended up moving into the basement of the building. So, we wrote our first book in the basement of this building on 16th Street in Chelsea. And so, there were pipes of bolus than you’d hear like toilet flushing, and you’d just hear all this sewage going by and stuff like that.

Brent Rollins:
And then we have this room in the back… We only have like two rooms, we have this one room that was where, if you see the cover of our book, the book of Rap List, that was the room that we shot this in. And we were like, “Okay, I guess we’re going to get interviewed.” I think it was probably for the New York Times, and we’re going to get interviewed and we can’t just do a normal thing, man. We’re like, “We’re Ego Trip dude, we’re [inaudible 00:50:49] this shit.” So we told them to meet or show up someplace in the Chelsea Market, which is like this kind of food court now. This glorified food court in Chelsea. And we had this really cute girl who was a friend of ours, go meet him and she was like, “Are you John Caramanica?” He’s like, “Yes.” She’s like, “Come with me.”

Brent Rollins:
We wanted him to have a story to tell. So, she leads him… I can’t remember if she… We weren’t there. So, I can’t say exactly. But I believe she probably blindfolded him at this venue, and probably walked him outside across the street and then walked into the building took him downstairs in the elevator. He shows up, he’s blindfolded, we walked in [inaudible 00:51:39].

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve still a thought of the fact that he just went with this woman and got blindfolded, just went with her.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, man. It’s like, what is he going to do? Is he going to say no?

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true, yeah.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. He did it. So, it was just funny.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you say kidnapping, I’m thinking like somebody got shoved in the back of a panel van or something. He sounds like a willing participant in this case. Well, go ahead. Go ahead.

Brent Rollins:
I can imagine that for someone in his position, it must have been definitely strange. He thought he’s going to an office to talk to somebody, he’s being blindfolded by some attractive young lady and brought to who he doesn’t even know where he’s going.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Brent Rollins:
This white van as far as we’re concerned. She takes him into the back room and we have the lights down low. I remember exhaustion now, Jeff and I we’re back there. So we had turntables in there. And I remember because I was in the other room. I just remember Sacha had something… He had some record on the turntable, and he kept looping it. So it was just super creepy. He was just scratching it, [inaudible 00:52:50] just back spinning it. Super creepy thing. And then we instruct Caramanica to take off his blindfold. And then the guys proceeded to talk with the flashlight under their heads.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow!.

Brent Rollins:
And then they do the interview. And finally, it’s time to leave. I do remember Jeff going like, “It’s time to go.” And I do remember Jeff now going like, “Hey, thanks. Thanks for coming by, you know what you got to do now, right?” He’s like, “Yeah.” So we asked our friend to… The young lady to blindfold him again. We span him around a few times, and he exited the building. And the rest is history.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow! That’s a wild story. That’s a wild story. So, Ego Trip eventually evolved from this magazine to a book, to several television shows. I mentioned prior to us recording how I remember watching those shows on VH1 as a teenager, the White Rapper Show and Miss Rap Supreme, and Race-O-Rama and everything, and just being so… Well, maybe not so much the reality shows, but certainly, the visual elements from like Race-O-Rama and stuff like that being so enamored with… I had never seen anything like that before talking about black culture, hip hop culture, that kind of thing. I’ve never seen it done in that way. And it blew my mind. It was really… I have to say it was kind of an early design reference for me, I wanted to make stuff like that. I wanted to be able to kind of have that sort of tongue in cheek irreverence towards culture in that way, in a way that felt familiar, but also felt kind of new and fresh, unlike something that you haven’t really seen before.

Brent Rollins:
Oh, man, thank you. Thank you. Yeah. I think that was again, the… For me, that was a little bit of a Terry Gilliam in terms of all the crazy animations that you would see from Monty Python. That was my inspiration in the sense of the humor of stuff. And how do you express that stuff visually. And everything that we were doing in Ego Trip was really… It’s funny, because I’d like to think that we… I don’t want to say that we originated things, but there definitely wasn’t any sort of bigger reference. And it’s funny how meme culture has years later sort of assumed some of the similarities to what we were doing. So, was it a human thing? I don’t know. But it was in terms of like pairing these references and music lyrics to things and doing so like tongue and cheek, but I don’t know, but we definitely did it early. And so yeah, for Race-O-Rama, each episode, or there was three series, I’m sorry, three episodes in the series.

Brent Rollins:
And Race-O-Rama was this kind of fun house idea. And the idea that looking at race through this sort of voyeuristic lens. And so each of the shows was blackophobia, which used sort of the visual language of horror films, and pulp alien invasion movies and stuff like that. In Race We Lost, which was pulling from the visuals of like… I mean, I love this time square CD, porno theater graphics and all that kind of stuff. And the other one was, “Dude, Where’s My Ghetto Pass?” Which was kind of like this we call an urban safari. So this idea of cultural sort of, not necessarily appropriation, but this sort of… Everything was about the voyeurism of race, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brent Rollins:
So, once we started thinking about those kinds of things, it was just like, it was just super fun to kind of riff off of them, because our take on on discussing race or presenting race was about the idea of not so much making fun of it, but at least making it less about some of the typical things or things that people would immediately associate when you’re talking about race. Particularly at that time, that series was based off of… Well, that series sprang from a book that we wrote called The Big Book of Racism. And that was a book that Dana Albarella, our beloved editor, who also produced our Ego Trip’s, Book of Rap Lists, she had moved on from St. Martin’s Press to HarperCollins, which was headed by Judith Regan, who was kind of a big shot in the publishing world, particularly at that time. And so we had the opportunity to do that book called The Big Book of Racism.

Brent Rollins:
And our thing about that book was that it was about race, because that was our secondary preoccupation after hip hop, the title and the premise kind of started off as a joke. And then we actually kind of started really getting into it. The thing about that book was we wanted to talk about race in a way that people could relate to, because generally, when people talked about race, they talked about sort of the history and we’re talking about the history of race from the arrival of slaves in America, up until the civil rights era. And so… And it tended to be very academic. And our lens as far as how we related to each other and joked with each other, was always through the lens of popular culture. And so the idea of doing a look at race through the lens of popular culture, was an interesting challenge. It was a crazy challenge for us.

Brent Rollins:
And on top of that, to bring attention to things and to make fun of it, or to joke about it, in that sort of sarcastic sort of coping mechanism kind of way. And it was really hard because we wrote it during 911.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh!

Brent Rollins:
Which really… Yeah. There was a point where we had started writing that book, The Big Book of Racism, and then 911 happened and we were just like, “Man, we don’t hate anybody, we’re critiquing things.” But it was very difficult. But we kind of decided if we’re going to do this, it’s going to be… If we’re going to fail, it’s going to be a magnificent failure. We were just like, let’s… Man, I’ve never doubted myself as much. I don’t edit and perhaps I’m speaking for the rest of the guys when we were doing that thing because we were just like, “Should we do this at a time when people needed unity?” And we’re just writing, not so much a divisive book, but a book to sort of in our minds, illustrate why people of color feel the way they do based off of the treatment that popular culture has presented. And so that was always my interest personally, was understanding how popular culture affects the perception of people. And so like I was saying, a lot of the academic books spoke to a very specific audience. And our goal was to be anti-academic.

Brent Rollins:
Chock full of information and intended to be sort of ingested sporadically wherever you want to enter it, but also for you to walk away to understand like, “Oh, damn, this country is built on race, there’s so much race in this country that people want to not acknowledge. And here’s our sort of listical way of doing it with jokes.” With comedy, but trying to make it apparent. That’s the role of an artist, is to make you see things that are right there in front of you.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Wow! During 911. Yeah. That was certainly a very interesting. I think that was definitely a pivotal point in the country as it relates to race relations. Because aside from that, you got the formation of the TSA and how that has changed. Just so many things around screening in airports and stuff like that. But it really turned the dial on how race relations were in this country.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah, there was a lot of internal examination going on. And that tragedy. Tragedy sort of expose what you’re made of, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brent Rollins:
Even just the recent craziness that we, as a country have been going through the past few years, it’s ultimately I guess, a good thing because it’s being brought to light. And then you see where people are trying to reach out and where people are trying to find those commonalities, and that common ground, and where they’re not. And so that just reemerges.

Maurice Cherry:
I know that you have worked with Ego Trip for a number of years, but during that time, you also were the creative director at Complex for a while. What were some of your memories from that time?

Brent Rollins:
I was creative director after Ego Trip, we had sort of kind of fizzled and disbanded.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, okay.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. So there was a period where I was kind of back to sort of doing… I was always kind of working on independent projects concurrently while doing Ego Trip, when Ego Trip was in sort of in full rev, that’s where I spent the most focus on. But there were always opportunities to do album covers, or things like that during that time. But complex kind of came about because actually our former Ego Trip intern, Noah was an editor at complex and he sort of, he needed, I like to call myself a substitute teacher, because the previous art director had left, and they needed to finish a few issues. And so that’s when I kind of came in to work on the magazine. And then what was interesting about working there, was I came in and sort of helped finish the issues. And I was like, “Okay, cool, this is fun.” Got to work with some younger designers, and really start to exercise my kind of delegation, and start to teach in some ways or pass along whatever information that I could and knowledge that I could to other people, and to learn how to shape things.

Brent Rollins:
Because when you’re creative, you tend to keep it to yourself and you do things that you don’t need to do. Like you don’t need to scan, you don’t need to… If we’re talking about graphics, you don’t need to do the silhouetting. You don’t need to do that stuff. Maybe you do it sometimes out of necessity, and maybe you might get really good at it. But the bigger thing is just really putting all those pieces together. So it was a great exercise to learn how to orchestrate a symphony. And that’s kind of what I refer to myself as a creative conductor, because at a certain point, it’s less about my actual hands and more about my actual thought and how do you put all those elements together. And so Complex became from a magazine, and this is during start of the decline of print as a popular media form, and the ascension of the web as the dominant media form. And so Complex, all the business heads behind it, were very perceptive in terms of growing that business.

Brent Rollins:
And so that’s what also kept me there, was learning. I learned about media when we were doing stuff with VH1, but the opportunity to work with teams of people and to build a business really, was exciting. That was an exciting opportunity because now, I’m dealing with for the first time in my life, a generation of people whose references are different than mine. And I’m now in this position of also learning from them. So, I like to learn new things. And I get excited by new stuff. And I’m always looking for that new drug. Like, “Yo, I need to get high again, give me that design crack. Give me that culture crack.” That was an opportunity to stay plugged in and to learn new things. And also to be able to work with people. And also Ego Trip as “successful” as we were, we hit a wall in a sense, and going to Complex was an opportunity to sort of flex some different muscles and to see…

Brent Rollins:
Ego Trip was patronizing in the sense of that we had the VH1 give us money. VH1 gave us money and before that the book publishers gave us money. But we were not successful in the sense of able to generate money ourselves. So, Complex was an opportunity to sort of look behind the curtain and then kind of step behind that curtain and see how business, or how entrepreneurial minded business grows and develops and becomes like this media titan that it is today. So, that’s what kept me there, was to learn from the younger designers, to help shape them also, to pass on that information and that knowledge, and they would also show me some things or helped me… I used to say they helped me think. Because they would try different things and I’d be like, “No, no, no, no, no.” They would create these different options… I’m a good critic, I think. As a graphic designer or a communication designer, or that kind of visual designer, you’re taking these kind of existing elements, and arranging them versus an artist necessarily who kind of create something from scratch.

Brent Rollins:
So, they would create these things from scratch in some ways, or create these options and then I can look at them and be like, “Oh, yeah, no, no, no, no, no, this is not communicating, or this is not tapping into that feeling that we were talking about before. This is not communicating this thing.” And helping to shape them. So, that was immensely satisfying. And working with celebrities is interesting and fun. And traveling around the world is great. And so, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you define success now?

Brent Rollins:
Success is kind of about satisfying the need to create projects that actually propel ideas and culture. And I guess that’s maybe always the idea of success for me. I think the idea of monetary success, yes, I’m not going to say that that’s not important. But I’ve come closer to this understanding of when my time is up, for me, what am I putting forth in the world, or what’s my legacy? And so I can’t do everything myself, there are things that I’m working on that are about personal vision, but as a group, we can accomplish a lot of things. Ego Trip as a group, we accomplished things that we didn’t think we would ever accomplish. Working in Complex, we accomplished things that were in that… The metrics for that world, we surpassed them. And so for me, when people tell me that they’ve been influenced by something that I did, or they show some sort of appreciation for the things that I’ve done, and even more so when these things are attached to something that has some sort of cultural importance, man, that’s a great feeling.

Brent Rollins:
I want to keep doing that. For me, that’s the metric of success. Again, know how to make money, [inaudible 01:08:48] money, love me some money. But we’re put on this world to do things. And so I’m happy and fortunate that whatever mark I’ve made in the world, I’ve been able to do. I think the thing about it is, it’s also fleeting, and it’s also like you got to keep doing things. Success is also somewhat short lived. You know what I mean? I’m happy to inspire people, but I’m also like, I want to inspire more people and I need to keep doing to continue to be relevant, not because I’m trying to be the cool of the week, but because a large enough body of people are viewing and affected by the things that I work on. Right now, that would be the marker of success to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. That’s a very interesting answer.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I guess because I’ve been kind of dropping these little pins like throughout the interview like your work, and the work that you did with Ego Trip, the work you did with Complex, is really like been a cornerstone in the design style of when people think of hip hop culture, a lot of that boils down to work that you have done, whether that’s been magazines, we didn’t even touch on the album covers that you’ve done. I feel like a lot of people are inspired by your work, but they may not know that it’s from you, maybe.

Brent Rollins:
Oh, yeah. It’s funny. The thing about [inaudible 01:10:15] is because it’s still kind of being done in the service of whoever. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people who more or less are like, “Hey, Brent, I like your style.” I had to develop a style because the more you do something, the more people recognize it. And then if they like it, then they come to you. But in some cases, yeah. There’s been the suppression of Ego in the sense of, it’s not about me, it’s about I’m doing this for someone else. And so yeah, there’s been things that I’ve done that maybe people don’t see that thread, I have a good friend, Phil McMillan, who he was another designer. And he’s… Some people are really in tune with it. He’ll be like, “I saw this and I was like, yo, I think Brent did that.”

Brent Rollins:
So he sees it. And so whatever is the essence of me creatively shows up in those things and he’s in tune with that, and he can find that. And there are other people that can do that too. And so that’s a much more honest relationship, when you can work with those people, because that means you guys are on the same wavelength. And so that’s… I found that those have been the best projects for me, is when people come to me because they do know, because they are familiar with the things that I’ve done, and they’re like, “That’s the vibe that I want.” And it’s freeing because it lets me be me. I’m a designer in the sense that I’m problem solving, but I’m also an artist in the sense that I’m trying to express something emotionally and I connected with those people. And so, yeah. Ramble, ramble, ramble, ramble.

Maurice Cherry:
So, is there a dream project that you would love to do one day? I feel like you’ve done television, you’ve done magazines, you’ve done album covers, you’ve done a book. What’s next? What do you really want to do one day?

Brent Rollins:
There are many dream projects that I want to do. There’s personal projects that I’ve finally started initiating. One is really getting into furniture design.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, okay.

Brent Rollins:
Yeah. And so I had gone to Italy in 2019 to start that. I’m working with a friend of mine over there. And then just the nature of the project really meant that I couldn’t restart it until the warmer months. Totally happens and dashes those dreams on the Mediterranean rocks. That’ll still happen. And then I have a sort of a creative… The dream projects, yeah. I mean, it’s really more about when does Brent start putting his own voice forward more? Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Brent Rollins:
My voice has been forward in people’s projects, and mostly because I’d never… I would probably say that there’s one critique with myself, it’s like I devalue what I think I have to say. I have an idea… I actually started this project during the pandemia, I’m going to is like Black Star Wars, and let people kind of go from there. But I started some stuff in making models, telling friends who are also creative, and they got super excited about that stuff. And they’re like, “Oh, man, I wanted the soundtrack.” And you got to have this character do this, and you got to do that. And it’ll happen. And I’m not afraid to say it. I thought about like, “Should I even talk about this?” But hall yeah. But really, just more personal projects are exciting. My father was a phenomenal creative person who passed away recently.

Brent Rollins:
And my mission I guess, is to let the world kind of see what this guy who inspired me, what he did, and with the hope that maybe he also inspires other people, so that’s also another project. Man, I got a lot of projects. God, I got a lot of things. Yeah. Like I said, 2021 let’s go.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I hear you. Well, Brent, just to kind of wrap things up here. Where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Brent Rollins:
I guess online you can look me up Brettrollins.com under my website that really needs to be updated. You can follow me on Instagram, my handle is Brentronic, B-R-E-N-T-R-O-N-I-C, and then at that point, by the end 2021, hopefully you’ll be seeing my name in a lot more places when you won’t even try.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Brent Rollins, I have to thank you. Just thank you so much for coming on the show. I guess prior to us recording about how much of a design influence you’ve been to me seeing your early work, and it’s been just such a pleasure to one just introduce you to the Revision Path audience, I have a feeling that people are going to listen to this. And they’ll be like, “Wait a minute, he did that!” They’re going to now know that you are the person behind so much iconic work out there. It’s just been a joy to talk to you, it’s been a joy to hear about the work that you’re doing. And I want to see what comes next absolutely, because I have no doubt it’s going to be hot. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Brent Rollins:
Man, thank you so much. And I know other people will say the same thing to you, man. But dude, you’re doing God’s work. Thank you so much for doing Revision Path.

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Joseph Cuillier

“If you don’t see it in the world, see that as an opportunity.” Wise words from this week’s guest, the one and only Joseph Cuillier. Joseph is perhaps most well known for The Black School, an experimental art school teaching Black/PoC students and allies to become agents of change through art workshops on radical Black politics and public interventions that address local community needs.

I spoke to Joseph fresh from his move back to New Orleans, and he spoke on how the city feels now in the midst of gentrification and other new developments. We also spoke on his work with The Black School and the school’s principles, the unique studio model that helps fund the school, and how he works to center Black love in such a unique learning space. Joseph is truly building upon a family legacy to help educate the next generation and beyond!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, tell us who you are and what you do.

Joseph Cuillier:
My name is Joseph Cuillier and I’m an artist, a designer, and the founder and co-director of The Black School.

Maurice Cherry:
How are you holding up these days?

Joseph Cuillier:
Good. I am good. I just recently moved from New York City. I lived in Harlem for about five years, and Brooklyn before that for about five years. I just moved to new Orleans after 10 years in New York, and I think I’m much better because of it for a lot of reasons. There’s been a pandemic and people have been trapped in small apartments, in cold climates, and it’s good to get away from that. It’s good to be closer to family, I see my family a lot even though I lived in a different part of the country from them. I would come home holidays and summers, and that was difficult not being able to see my family. Being closer makes it so much easier. And trees and sunshine man, that’s a long way. That’s long way, and good food, and good people, and good music. Everything that makes New Orleans great is healing me at the moment, at this traumatic moment for all of us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to go to new Orleans so bad.

Joseph Cuillier:
Come through and let me know.

Maurice Cherry:
I will as soon as all this pandemic mess is over, and I feel comfortable jumping on a plane I want to go to New Orleans.

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. Hopefully sooner than later.

Maurice Cherry:
I know you’ve been away for 10 years, but does the city feel different to you now?

Joseph Cuillier:
It is very different. To be clear, I moved to New York from Houston. I was living in Houston at the time, but both sides of my family are from new Orleans so I would always be here. Holidays, summers, things like that or whenever, a birthday party, it’s family reunion, just to come down and see family. I think new Orleans is going through a lot of the things a lot of black cities and black communities around the country are going through. There’s gentrification, there’s new things happening in this city for better or worse. And I think a lot of people feel frustrated because they’re not being included in the decision-making of the new thing.

Joseph Cuillier:
Or the new thing is coming and that means you have to leave which is messed up. There’s a lot of displacement in New Orleans, and in a way it’s a little bit more kind of celebrated due to the aftermath of Katrina, and the displacement that man-made disaster created. It is very different but in a lot of ways it’s still the same. There the blackness, there’s deep love, there’s deep creativity that is just baked into the city that I don’t think gentrification is strong enough to ever change that. Natural disaster or anything I don’t think is strong enough to change that.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been kind of working and moving through this pandemic? Was that a loaded question?

Joseph Cuillier:
That’s a layered question. A layered question. What does that mean to me as a husband and a father? What does that mean to me as a designer or an artist? What does that mean to me as a person that creates platforms? A person that brings people together to exchange knowledge? First it’s been difficult but not insurmountable. Our family, we found ways to make the best of it. We found ways to still have romance between me and my wife. We have our indoor dates or our out in the park dates. We found ways to meet with folks, meet up at the park, chill on the porch, chill at the patio, things like that. And as a kind of artists and designer it’s been a shift. For me it’s been less about making work and showing work and more about purpose, more about spirituality, more about laying foundations.

Joseph Cuillier:
And before the pandemic we were rolling, I talk in the we because I don’t do this work alone. My wife is my partner in life and in our endeavors, our ventures in the world. Shani Peters, she’s an artist very much in her own right doing really big things. And also just the work I do is very collective, I bring people together to work on issues and problems much larger than one person could address or transform. This slow down gave us the opportunity to refocus and think about the long-term vision for the work. The Black School was in New York, it was functioning as this kind of school that was mobile in architecture, so we would attach ourselves to host other schools, would be high schools, middle schools, youth organizations, art institutions, and we would do programming and collaboration.

Joseph Cuillier:
And now we couldn’t really do that, we couldn’t get people together. I mean we shifted some stuff to Zoom, but it’s only so much that could shift and keep going the way the world was turning. We shifted to thinking about where we wanted to take the organization. After all these years of programmatic success doing the art school, doing The Black Love Fest, doing the design apprenticeship, we felt like we really needed a space of our own. That meant sharing that idea with the people and be like, “What do you think? Is this something you would support?” The response we got was overwhelming yes. Folks came out of the woodwork, we ended up raising 300K to build the community center in my hometown of New Orleans. We’ve raised money for staffing the school, we’ve made all these connections of people who want to support in any way they can.

Joseph Cuillier:
Long answer, the shift, the slowing down, the re-jiggering we had to do to work in this moment meant that we had to do some deep thinking, and some deep listening, and have some deep conversations to really think about, “We’re standing still, how do we see the future? How do we want to see the future?” Because we have a moment now to really think about the future. And for us that meant moving to New Orleans and trying to build a school, trying to build a radical black art school in the Seventh Ward.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s jump more into The Black School, because I’ve been hearing about it for years now from different folks who I’ve had on the show. I was a mentor at… Well, I guess you could call it the mentor. I don’t know. I think they called it mentorship at NEW INC in New York City. I don’t know if that’s where I first heard about it, but I definitely heard about it during my time kind of mentoring and helping advise folks there. I really want to learn more about in essence what this radical black art school is all about. For those who are listening who may not know, can you just talk a little bit about the school and its mission? And we can sort of dive in from there.

Joseph Cuillier:
The Black School is an experimental art school that teaches young folks and old folks black history, design, activism. And the idea is radicalizing our people to envision a future where we’re not just tolerated, but a future that we create, that we build with our own hands so it’s a radical black art school.

Maurice Cherry:
And now there’s a lot of different principles that the school follows, among them self-love, prison abolition, environmental justice, LGBTQIA rights. How are these principles reflected to students?

Joseph Cuillier:
Well, the principles were developed by students. The first workshop we did was we did this community engaged research. This high school in Brooklyn, we went around the surrounding area and within the school. And we asked folks what you love about your community? What you want to change about your community? And what The Black School should teach? And based off of that feedback we got from folks we did this principle, this platform creating exercise, where we just went through the things, the issues, the ideas that folks are raising. And then we distilled them down into these overarching principles. And we’ve continued to add as we go, especially looking back to ancestors, the history, the things that were laid down for us before we even got here. And we took those kind of principles and built this larger kind of I guess rubric to learn from.

Joseph Cuillier:
And that includes self-love, it includes black love more specifically, and includes all the guiding principles of many different black radical organizations. We took inspiration from all these different ways black radicalism has popped up through feminist initiatives, queer initiatives, art movements. And that’s kind of how we came up with the principles, and we share those back in our card deck, we share them back in our website, we share them back in the topics that we explore in the school. Maybe a workshop will be based on this one principle or these two principles. We are making sure our young people know what we stand for, know something that possibly they can stand for, and are aware of a political language to describe the experiences that are happening in the world.

Joseph Cuillier:
They may see white folks from out of town moving into their grandmother neighborhood, they may see the cost of living in their neighborhood going up, they may see the bodega start to sell different things, but they may not know what gentrification is. And they may not know the history or the tactics that folks have used in the past to fight those issues. It’s our idea that we create learning tools, and learning opportunities to share that back with folks so they can know what to do, so they can know that they don’t have to recreate the wheel every time they see a problem. They can just build on what’s already beneath them.

Maurice Cherry:
And now the interesting part about the school is that it also contains a design studio, is that right?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. The Black School studio is full service design firm. We do client work. I’m traditionally trained as a graphic designer. It was a matter of seeing the teaching that I’m doing. Since I graduated that’s not just something I do on the side, but at the center of my practice. And the studio allows me to do that to the greater extent. We do client services, we have experienced upper level designers, but we also have apprentice. And the design apprentice are young folks, high school age who have no experience in graphic design. We teach them the basics, the fundamentals of graphic design, typography, image making, grids, all of those fundamental things. And then we teach them Photoshop, Illustrator InDesign. And then once they know just those basics, then we put them on actual client projects so that they’re learning on the job from seasoned designers.

Joseph Cuillier:
And we’re collectively creating too, because I mean what company doesn’t buy and sale, or trade on black cool? What company doesn’t use black youth culture to move their message forward or sell their products? It’s our idea that instead of having all these people coming into our community take the things we create and sell them back to us, how about we talk to our community? How about we communicate with each other in the ways we know how? And how about we harness the power and energy of black youth culture, a culture that has made it all around the globe and back? And right now black youth culture is the culture, so how about we harness that power? And that’s the idea, that’s the vision behind the design school being rooted in a school… I mean, that’s the vision behind the design firm being rooted in a black school.

Maurice Cherry:
And how do the studio and the school work together? Does the studio help fund the school or what are some ways that they work together?

Joseph Cuillier:
That’s the vision. When you’re doing this type of work it becomes very easy to become very reliant on grants, donations. And that may be fine but what happens when funding trends change? Right now black people and black liberation is kind of a hot topic but 10 years ago it wasn’t, we were in a post-racial society. What if we go back to a post racial society quote unquote, and these foundations start funding other causes, other issues more aggressively. I mean is what we’re doing really self-determined? If that’s the case, in my opinion the answer is no. Not to say the money we get from foundations isn’t cool, that’s our money, that’s the money, the wealth our great grandparents have generated for this country. But being realistic we need our own.

Joseph Cuillier:
I believe in black nationalism. I think we need our own everything, but we definitely need our own sources of revenue if we’re going to run a sustainable organization. The idea from the design firm is the design firm can generate income, earn income and fund the school. Now it’s two years old so we’re not there yet. We’re still kind of trying to figure out how it works, how it functions but that’s the idea. But the school and the design firm they’re kind of tied together. And we have students from the art school that come through the design firm. Students that show a little bit more interest, students that maybe want to learn more about graphic design specifically, students that may need opportunity to make some money, need a job, or a seasonal job or something.

Joseph Cuillier:
This is our way of generating income for our community. Because it would be irresponsible to go to black youth and be like, “There’s economic future for you in art.” Because honestly I’m a professional artist, my wife’s a professional artist, and it’s hard to make money out of art. It’s hard for us. We do all these other things and generate income in all these other ways, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable setting some young people that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, that are economically oppressed. I would be irresponsible to tell them, “You know what, you can make a living in art.” I mean you can, but I need to give you the tools, I need to give you the map, and the pathways that I found to make a living in art. And design is one of those pathways.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. I mean, that makes sense, you want to definitely… Especially with kids at that age, they see a lot more than I think we think they do in terms of picking up on patterns and behaviors and stuff like that. And it is one thing to say, “We’re the black school and we want to do these things.” But then also… Or even as you’re saying, making money as an artist but then having to do these other things. You don’t want to lie to them essentially.

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. I don’t want to send them out in the world unprepared like what we call real art schools do. Sending their students out in the world without necessarily the tools to do the most basic of things, sustain their lives. It wouldn’t be a radically black art school, it would be just an art school if we did that. We do pay our students. It’s a very different way of looking at schools. We pay our students to learn because we believe our students need it. If you’re not flipping burgers or stacking grocery sales, how are you going to generate income for yourself, for your household, if we’re asking you to come spend this time with us learn about black politics, learn about home design, learn about the nexus, where they meet. We have to be realistic about what the needs are of our young people while they are in our care.

Maurice Cherry:
And then this might… I don’t know, this might be a silly question. I think basing some of this off of my personal experience, but as you’ve been doing this have you been getting a lot of black community support financially?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. We did a crowdfunding campaign to go fund me. I mean, everybody supported, black, white, Asian, Latinx. Everybody supported, saw the vision, but a lot of our support was from black folks. Monetarily, just connections we made. The black folks at Adobe reached out, folks that work there. We found ourselves in very different places, and we find ourselves with a lot of resources that the story being told about us is like we all come from a lack. But there is a lot of resources in our community. [inaudible 00:25:25] showed up with those resources, made what we do even possible. If it wasn’t for the black community there would be no Black School.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, as we’re recording this, and it’s interesting because we were supposed to do this a while back. And I know you were moving and everything, had a bunch of stuff kind of going on. But I had written back then… And just so people who are listening, this was… When was this? About the fall last year I think we were supposed to record initially?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I wrote down about how several major cities in the US have been protesting against the death of black people at the hands of police. Fast forward to now, same thing. And then you of course have all these companies that are committing themselves to at least saying black lives matter. Although it’s now been shortened out to BLM and I feel some kind of way about that, how quickly people just sort of roll it off the tongue. How are you talking about these things at the school?

Joseph Cuillier:
That’s funny that you say it because there is this linguistic activism, insane black lives matter. I never thought about that, shortening it to BLM defeats the point. But you’re right, you got something there. But I’m sorry I was distracted by what you just put on me there genuinely. Say again the end of your question.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How are you talking about what’s happening now? I guess I could say two black people, but there’s a lot of shit happening to black people right now. But I’m speaking specifically about people protesting against the death of black people at the hands of police, companies that are now kind of coming on and giving their support and saying that they support black lives even if it’s just for show. How are you talking about these sort of metacultural thing at the school?

Joseph Cuillier:
How are we talking about it? It’s hard for me to say specifically to this moment, but generally it’s been a while now that the light bulb came on for me. And I realized that history is a cycle, and you say from fall to now we’re in spring, this cycle has turned over once more. And our folks are in the street, and companies are pandering pretty much to the movement the same way it happened this past summer. This happened when I graduated from Pratt around the same time while I was at school. I was in graduate school for design and Trayvon happened and it was there… It wasn’t there that happened. Everything that’s happening now has happened to a lesser extent. It’s more intense now but it was happening. Then Eric Garner happened a couple of years later.

Joseph Cuillier:
Well, I’m referencing George Zimmerman getting off, because that was a moment for me because I didn’t see him getting off. If I’d only looked at history, of course he was getting off. There was no way he was going to jail if I looked at history. But we get into these moments where we just forget about history, everything’s out of the window, we live in a new world. But history tells us this cycle of black people being brutalized comes to a boiling point and black folks said, “No more.” And white folks say, “Let’s figure this out, let’s make this right.” Then time passes, white folks stop caring, black folks continue to be brutalized, boom cycle continues. That’s why The Black School exists, to be 365 know.

Joseph Cuillier:
Every day of the year to yell that we need our own. How many times are white folks going to have to tell us no before we realize the answer is no. You want your freedom, you want your justice, you want economic opportunities, the answer has always been no. We ask they say no, we ask they say no, we ask they say no. And the cycle happens where the no’s are replaced to, “Maybe.” The no’s are replaced with, “Okay. Give us some time.” The no’s are replaced to, “Later.” But always behind all of that facade it’s always no. This moment still weighs heavy on my shoulders, it’s not like it doesn’t affect me anymore. But I know that this is just a cycle, I know they’re not going to stop killing us.

Joseph Cuillier:
I just know it and it’s not because I’m a psychic, history tells me. 400 years in this country tell me, if I opened up the books they wrote it’s going to tell me. I just got to take that note and say, “I’m going to build with my people. And my vision and what I would love to see in the world is a black nation for Black Americans.” Of course there’s a lot of black nations in this world, but a nation for Black Americans, that’s my goal. And if that’s not the answer, cool, but that’s the direction I’m walking in. We need all of it, it needs to be ours. What that looks like I don’t know, but we need our own.

Maurice Cherry:
What does it look like to center black love in a learning space?

Joseph Cuillier:
I think it looks like we all have seen it in our own experience. Maybe it’s learning from your mother over the kitchen table, or maybe it’s learning from a grandfather out in the garage and the driveway. There’s all these ways we learn in our community that are rooting in love, and rooting in care, and rotting in blackness. I think we can look to that, go back to history, we look at our personal histories and what kind of learning spaces felt loving, and felt effective? What kind of learning spaces worked for me? You’ll probably think of your living room, you’ll probably think of your kitchen, you’ll probably think of your backyard. That’s where we’re taking inspiration for the architecture of the school. Whether that be bricks or just how we’re structuring the curriculum, how we’re exchanging when we’re in this space, how we’re talking to each other, how we’re laying out the desks.

Joseph Cuillier:
We don’t even have desks, because when I think about the ways I like to learn it wasn’t in the desks. It was maybe over a work table, maybe it was an artist studio and it was over a work table, maybe it was in a circle on the floor. It’s all these other ways that are not being showed or even explored in the conventional school. One way is asking folks what they want to learn, not walking into a space with any assumptions. Before we start a workshop we ask our students what you love about your community? What you want to change about your community? And we may show up with screen printing supplies, or collage materials, we may show up with part of the workshop. But the rest of it, what we’re making, why we’re making it, who we’re making it for, that comes from the students.

Joseph Cuillier:
We are sharing the skills we have and the resources we’ve been able to generate and acquire, but it is an exchange. They are sharing their experiences, they’re sharing their needs, they’re sharing their passions, and that’s the learning community. It goes both ways, it’s not a teacher at the front, students lined up at the back. They are empty vessels, I have the knowledge, I put the knowledge into the empty vessels, they go out into the world [inaudible 00:34:30] repeat. It’s not like that. It’s really about you know about this very specific thing in the world, I know about this other very specific thing in the world, let’s put it together and what could we build?

Maurice Cherry:
Now there’s a third part to The Black School. I know we talked about the actual school itself, we’ve also talked about the studio. There’s this sort of third component to the ecosystem which is events. How have you been able to keep that going even with this sort of pandemic that’s keeping people apart?

Joseph Cuillier:
We haven’t kept it going. We have done workshops which is events, but specifically Black Love Fest, our music festival we do, we just paused it. Right now it’s going on the second year. We do it every summer, so last summer we didn’t do, this summer we’re not doing it. When it comes back it will be in collaboration with the New Orleans African American museum so it will be in New Orleans. The past three years it was in New York city two years, and then Houston at Project Row Houses.

Joseph Cuillier:
If you’re into the black school and the work we do check out Project Row Houses if you haven’t already, because they are the precedence that we’re working off. They’re the antecedent, they are the ancestors when we’re talking about ancestors that have done it, are still doing it. We essentially paused it, which was needed, we were tired anyway before the pandemic even came. And there’s no sense in getting people together and potentially hurting the people that the whole intention of the festival is to care for our people. It would just be a contradiction. And honestly I’m Zoomed out. I’m Zoned out.

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Joseph Cuillier:
No more Zoom so we’re not doing a Zoom festival. I don’t think the intention behind the festival would even translate to Zoom. The intention is a barbecue, a cookout with some guiding principles behind it that we’ve talked about already. We can’t recreate everything in the digital space, we can’t create the real barbecue that we’re trying to create in a virtual space. It just makes sense to pause it, again do some deep listening, some deep thinking, some deep compensation. And then bring it back when we’re ready, when the world is ready for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, when we started doing… Or we were going to do a live tour in 2020 with Revision Path. I had been talking to a couple of AIGA chapters, and we had started the tour. I started in February in LA, did a show out there in Leimert Park with a local architect. It was great, standing room only. And when we’ve done past events… And I get what you’re saying, it’s the actual space itself that becomes this crucible for fellowship that you just can’t recreate over a Zoom call. Even when we’ve done events in New York, we’ve done events here in Atlanta. And for me the best thing about the event is when it ends, and people are still staying around talking for an hour, hour and a half, the venue-

Joseph Cuillier:
Stacking up their plate metaphorically.

Maurice Cherry:
… Right. The venue’s kicked us out, we’re standing outside and folks are like, “Well, let’s go to a bar and keep talking, or let’s go to a restaurant or something.” That kind of fellowship you just can’t do the same thing over Zoom. When the lockdown sort of first started happening and the chapters were getting back to me like, “Oh, well we can do a Zoom call and we can do this.” I was like, “I don’t want to do that. I’m already Zooming enough for work and I don’t want to have to try to do the same thing over Zoom.” One, because it’s just not the same. What I think the audience gets out of it aside from listening to the people, is to actually meet up with other black creatives in their city that they may not even know about. The fact that the event exists means that people are coming to it, and without that actual physical event then it’s just not the same.

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. There’s a lot of things the internet can do, what you’re describing ain’t one of them. We haven’t figured that out yet with the internet. I think the intention is to love up on each other, the vision is to create this movement that will get us to where we need to go. When we’re doing the festival in Project Row Houses, Fox News actually came by. The local Fox chapter not the Fox News, but the local Fox station came by. And they asked me, “What is this about? What are you doing?” And I was like, “This is a movement. The purpose of this is to start a movement for black love, and to center black love at the center of what this country is.” Don’t we deserve it? Don’t we deserve to not just be tolerated, but to be loved after all we’ve done to literally build this country, to expand the freedoms and the rights of this country, to fight for them, die for them.

Joseph Cuillier:
I mean I was a little more and more crass. I was like, “The intention is for America to pay reparation, and dissolve, and reconstitute under black love.” I told Fox News that, they did not air it but that’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do. And we’re using the vessel that is the cookout, that is the street art, the public art, that’s some part of our culture, that is the performative nature. You dress up, we sing, we dance, we do all of these things that is just natural to our way of being, our blackness. And I think that it’s worth the wait, if it takes two years for the pandemic to subside it’s worth the wait. So we’re just going to wait.

Maurice Cherry:
Now kind of switching gears here a bit from the school which we’ve talked about for a good while now. You mentioned being in NYC, but you’re originally kind of between Louisiana and Texas. You kind of mentioned you kind of went back and forth a bit. Being in that sort of part of the South, I’m pretty sure art, music, and design were kind of a big part of your growing up, right?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it didn’t look like graphic design or fine art, but it’s definitely been with me since day one. The story I tell growing up in Baton Rouge, where I went to elementary and middle school. And my family we would go to Southern University football games, and it’s a HBCU so we had tailgate. All day before the actual game in the evening, we would barbecue or have a seafood boil. And this was every weekend which is crazy. The amount of food that we would buy, cook, eat with people, it’s crazy that we did this every weekend. I’m realizing that as I’m been growing up, and I am doing seafood boils now, I’m hosting them or I’m hosting a barbecue. But the funny moment that I always remember is maybe the week before the season started, my mom came home with a handful of clothes like the Polo’s and the Tommy’s. The things we were wearing at the time. And the other brands like the Sean John, and all that, and the FUBU.

Joseph Cuillier:
And it was such a moment of joy. I can see now that I was being brought up and cultivated into fashion design. I was being made a connoisseur of design. That may have been the intention consciously, or maybe an intention subconsciously, to have just a big stack of fresh clothes just thrown on my bed like, “Here, now you’re set for the whole season.” And as long as I can remember I’ve loved fashion, I’ve loved clothes, and I think that kind of introduced me to design. But when it came time for me to figure out what do I want to make myself as opposed to not just being a connoisseur but a creator. And I tried fashion, I tried street art, I tried a lot of different things, but graphic design was the thing that I don’t know, just came the most natural to me. And learning about it, learning the history of it, it was fascinating to read about the Bauhaus, read about the International Style, read about the shifts that were happening in art and design in a world that was creating these new ways of thinking, and these new ways of making.

Joseph Cuillier:
And technology too, also being so [cordially 00:44:20] in term with it. And that kind of put me to graphic design to study that. But even with that, the medium, the form making was interesting to me, but I think of myself as the designer that doesn’t really care about design. I know about the Bauhaus, I’ve been to the Bauhaus, I’ve been invited to the Bauhaus but I don’t care anymore. At the time I did, but right now I’m way more interested in learning about Orishas. I’m way more interested in learning about my family history, and how that relates to New Orleans. I’m way more interested in learning about black radical politics. The work I do is me just taking those ways of making and those ways of seeing, and just imply my interest to it. And as a result I think I look a bit different than most designers. Like my career, the things that I make, the things I put out and produce with these skills, in a lot of cases may not even look like design, period.

Joseph Cuillier:
But I think that’s my approach and it comes from those early influences, those early cultivations that my family placed on me. I come from a line of educators. My grandfather Joseph Cuillier, Sr, has a school named after him in New Orleans on the West Bank. There’s reasons for me to approach art and design from the lens of a educator. And it was kind of put into me before I even realized it was there, it’s been there. Growing up in Houston, being around Project Row Houses at the time that I was discovering fine art, it kind of put in pressure in my head like, “Oh, that’s fine art.” I learned about fine art in a city that took a very different approach to art. Thanks to the folks that Project Row, and Rick Lowe, and all the artists, and collectives that came together to create their vision. To be clear, Project Row Houses is a organization that started from this artists being challenged by young people in his community.

Joseph Cuillier:
They came to the studio, the folks from a local high school, and they saw what he was painting and they were like, “We don’t need you to paint about issues happening in our community. We know the issues. Who is this for because it’s not for us. You’re a creative person, how about you do something about it? How about you use your creativity and try to apply that to the issues and see if you could get some moving and shaking.” To have that down the street while I’m in college, and I’m just starting to go to galleries, and just starting to go to art spaces, it kind of made me think, “Oh, this is fine art.” When really it’s this ghetto eyes pushed it aside version of fine art that hasn’t really been supported in the same ways like an object maker is supported in the fine art world. Someone who makes paintings and sculptures. Long story long, the way I came up and where I came up has everything to do with the type of artist, the type of designer I am and I’m grateful for it. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s been this thing that’s been going around lately around this concept of decolonizing design, where I think the notion is that you’re sort of introducing different sort of design cultures or things. It’s a person’s teaching practice or design practice in order to break them out of particular I would say just Eurocentric design sort of standpoint. Would you say that’s what you’re trying to accomplish with The Black School? Is something similar to that?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yes. And I’m just trying to decolonize not even in a metaphorical sense. I’m literally trying not to be a colony anymore. My wife was talking on this call and she was talking, and it was a group of folks from around the world. I don’t remember the country. Or I would’ve know the callers to even know the country. But it was an African sister and she was saying that decolonization has nothing to do with America. Africa we were colonized, what y’all got over there is something different. But really the opposite is true. I mean, not the opposite but we are still a colony. The colony never ended, we never decolonized. I feel like design, the tools we have to transform are tools that we can use to just de-colonize, period.

Joseph Cuillier:
I do believe decolonizing design is a part of that. We got to learn about the contributions of black folks to the design discipline. But we also have to learn about the contributions of black folks, period. We got to learn about the contributions of black folks to revolutionary thought. We’ve got to learn about the contributions of black folks to cultivating land, to building economic engine systems. And I think that will help you as a designer of course, but I think it will help us to the eventual goal is liberation, freedom, justice, these bigger ideas. Because I think design has that power. I have a deep faith in art and design, not the art world or the design world, but the actual mechanisms, methodologies, the act of creation.

Joseph Cuillier:
I think we can not only make it look sexy as far as revolution. I think we can make it look good because we have the skills to do that, but I also think we can do it if we use design in ways that are decolonized. It doesn’t have to be all about client services, that can generate revenue, that can generate income, that could generate economics in a community, but it also can be about… There’s an issue of gun violence, maybe we can design our way out of that, and it’s not going to be about typography. But there’s this certain set of perspectives and approaches that we use in design that can translate to bigger problems we see in our communities.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days? I mean, I feel like… And just for people that are listening to this, we’re recording this the week of April 19th, we don’t really know… Both Joseph and I don’t really know kind of what may transpire the next few days, that by the time you listened to this podcast might’ve already set some shit off. But it’s a rough time for black folks right now, which is an evergreen statement these days. But what keeps you motivated to keep going?

Joseph Cuillier:
Family for sure. Baby got to eat so got to get up and do what you got to do to make sure that happens. I just got this book and I just came back from Jackson, Mississippi. Freedom, by Edward Onaci, I think he pronounced it. And it’s inspired by another book of the same name, Dr Imar Obadele. And Obadele was a part of this black radical organization called the Republic of New Africa. And their vision was to take the southern states of the United States, so from Louisiana to Georgia and build a independent black nation. Which is one of the most creative, imaginative visions I’ve had or I’ve witnessed for black liberation. I’m super inspired by the work of those folks. At the moment that’s what I’ve been reading about. I just came back from Jackson, Mississippi, where they tried to get it going. And we obviously don’t have a black nation in the borders of the United States, but they got…

Joseph Cuillier:
Or folks inspired by that movement have bought all of these properties in West Jackson. We’re staying at this co-operative for New West Jackson that owns 67 properties in the hood. And they’re building farms, they’re building housing, they’re building economic engines in the space to employ people, to bring money to the space that has been all but abandoned. Isn’t crazy. Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, and if you drive around Jackson you come away with a clear idea that white folks in Mississippi don’t care. They do not care that it’s their capital, it’s like 90% black. And all you got to do is roll through West Jackson and you can see how much folks do not care. You would think, “Oh, this is a image of this state that we are projecting out to the world.” That does not matter, not to the white folks in Mississippi. And this cooperative has…

Joseph Cuillier:
Like you turn the corner onto a block and it’s like just walking into a oasis after walking through hundreds of miles of desert. It’s beautiful, the houses are beautiful, the land is beautiful, the people what they’re doing, and their vision for the world is beautiful. That’s one of the things that is inspiring me. I’ve really been into kind of reconnecting Afro spirituality, Afro spiritual practices like the hoodoos, and the voodoos, and Orisha based Yoruba kind of religious concepts. That’s been super inspiring to me today, I mean for the last couple of years. But right now it’s something I wake up thinking about, going to sleep thinking about, and it’s a lot of different things. My mind goes and gets pulled in a lot of different directions. Like yesterday my tufting gun arrived in the mail. You know what a tufting gun is?

Joseph Cuillier:
It’s a rug creating machine and it looks kind of like a gun, but the gun shoots yarn through a back in fabric you would use to make a rug. That’s one thing that I’ve been super inspired by. In that instance, buying that comes from my still love and interest in fashion. And it’s showing up in my practice as like I’ve been making these textile art works lately for the last few years now. I’ll create a collage, and Photoshop, print it out on fabric. And then sew it together, or make some new kind of construction out of it, some new kind of architecture out of it. That’s super inspiring to me, riding my bike is super inspiring to me, my wife and daughter. I lack no shortage of inspiration which is a good thing and a bad thing, because it distracts me from finishing one thing. Get super excited about something, then move to the next thing, then move next, but I’ll always come back.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Has there been a piece of advice that has stuck with you over the years as you’ve gone through life, as you’ve built out the school and everything?

Joseph Cuillier:
It’s hard to call anything to mind specifically. I think there’s lessons learned that may not be succinctly wrapped up in statements of advice. With certain lessons you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t, which sound depressing. But it’s taught me that you might as well just do what you want to do, because either way you’re going to end up at the same place. You might as well just say F it and be who you want to be, do what you want to do. Because I mean you could fake it, and be unhappy, and still not reach where you’re meant to reach.

Joseph Cuillier:
Or you could just live in that thing and deal with the initial discomfort of just being in your skin, and being who you are. But I think eventually you will end up where you need to be. I really believe in purpose right now more than ever, because I’ve been forced to sit down and think about that a lot. I believe what’s meant for you is meant for you, can’t nobody stop or take that. But it takes time for folks to really figure out their purpose, and it’s not just like a goal, it’s a moving target. I say figure out what that is for you, and live that unapologetically. Just go hard.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing? How do you want to… I imagine of course you’ll still be wanting to build out the school, but what does 2026 look like?

Joseph Cuillier:
Whoa, I think I need to put some pen to paper about that very soon. But hopefully the school… Not hopefully. What it looks like is the school will be built, will be functioning, doing art and civic engagement initiatives with our local community. That may look like our design workshops, or apprenticeships, or a community garden where we’re feeding ourselves food from the land. Hopefully it looks like me still creating, making things. I think of myself as a person who does two sorts of things, or artist or designer who does two sorts of things. I make things, object making, and I make experiences, platforms, producing and sharing knowledge.

Joseph Cuillier:
And I see those as two different kind of sides of a coin and hopefully I have a balance. Right now it’s real tilted towards the platforms, the community building, but I would love to spread it out a little bit more evenly. Hopefully The Black School is up and running to a degree where it’s second nature. We have our rhythm, we have our stride so it allows me, frees me up to do all the things, follow all those inspiration, and passions, and pursuits that kind of make me happy, and fill me with joy and fulfillment.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you, and about your work, and everything online?

Joseph Cuillier:
On Instagram, you can follow me at Joseph Cuillier first name, last name, or at The Black School. On the interwebs you can go to my website, josephcuillier.com or theblack.school. Not .com, not .org, .school, so theblack.school.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Joseph Cuillier, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Really thank you for talking about the school, and really how you’ve built it out, what you’re trying to do in the community. I’m glad that we were able to spend a lot of time really diving into what it’s about, and its structure, and of course what you’re trying to do in the community. I think it’s something that is super important and I really want to see kind of where this goes from here. Thank you for coming on the show, I appreciate it.

Joseph Cuillier:
Thank you, brother. Appreciate you, appreciate what you do. You’re building this platform for folks like us to just share knowledge, share experience, share space, it’s super appreciated.

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