Sharon Burton

All it takes is a spark to set off a blaze of creativity, and no one knows that better than our first guest of the year, visual artist Sharon Burton. As a creative coach, her specialty lies in helping people reclaim their creative lives, which I think is a fantastic way to start off 2023.

Sharon talked about her coaching practice Spark Your Creative, described the different courses and services she offers, and spoke on how using joy as resilience is a key part of her work. Sharon also talked about growing up in Philly, working in public health, and shared how her time in Atlanta opened her eyes to her true calling.

If you’re looking for a creative spark, then I hope this conversation with Sharon helps you begin this year on the right track!

Spark Your Creative

Interview Transcript

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

Sharon Burton:
My name is Sharon Burton, and I consider myself a creative Jill of all trades. I am an artist, visual artist, and I’m also a poet, and for the last five years, I’ve been working as a creativity coach, for-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Sharon Burton:
Yeah. Everything about me is very much on the creative side. You name it almost, I do it or engage in it or I’m a patron of it, anything of that nature.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been for you?

Sharon Burton:
It’s interesting, I’ve been talking to a few people about that. I think overall, 2022 has been one of the most positive years in the last few years with the pandemic and all that’s been going on. I think this has been a year that I’ve been able to really enjoy who I am as a creative person. I’ve been a part of all of those three things, I’ve had some positive things that have happened. I’ve been able to get into some exhibitions back to back, which is not always easy. I had my poetry as being… was selected to be in a chatbook that includes other poets in this DC, Maryland, Virginia area. So that’s going to be published soon. I’ve made tremendous headway in a book that I’m writing, which we can talk about later. So there’s been a lot of things that have happened.

I think it’s been a year where I was able to focus a little bit more on some things, and I did a lot of spiritual work on abundance early part of the year. And though it didn’t show up everywhere I wanted it to show up, it did show up, so I can’t be mad. I have to give things to the universe for allowing me to be able to share my gifts in so many different ways, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s doing my own stuff, I’ve been very, very blessed to have some good things happen.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. Were there any particular lessons that you learned this past year? Are there ways that you feel like you’ve grown and improved?

Sharon Burton:
One of the biggest things that I’ve been really focusing on this year is boundaries, because as a creative person, you can find yourself saying yes to a lot of things and wearing yourself out. So being able to set healthy boundaries is probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year. I think the other thing is not to… I don’t know how to say this, but sometimes you may not feel you’re getting support for what you do, and to lay back and say, okay, understanding that those that will support you will support you regardless, and those who won’t won’t.

And not taking anything seriously, that’s the other thing. Giving people grace, because one of the major things I think of this time in our nation’s history and where we are going into 2023 is giving a lot of grace to people. Folks have really just been through it with this whole pandemic, and there’s a lot of grieving, a lot of grieving, whether it’s grieving our past way of life, whether it’s people that have passed through COVID or other things, but I notice people are really dealing with grief and grieving. And I think if you’re not really grounded as to who you are as a person, this is a tricky time. And sometimes we can get impatient with folks, but if we give people some grace knowing that people are doing the best they can with what they know, I think that’s the most important thing. So that was the second lesson.

I like this question. No, because I was sitting there thinking the other day, “Okay, what were some of the major things that I’ve learned?” And then I think the third thing is, never too late. Sometimes we think that… And I work with a lot of people who are interested in engaging their creativity or going back to something that they did creatively when they were younger. I work with a lot of people at middle age. And letting people know that, hey, it doesn’t matter how long it’s taken you to get to a certain point, as long as you’re making strides to that.

Those three things, boundaries, exercising healthy boundaries, exercising grace with people because we’re reemerging and we’re trying to get our footing, trying to get back, I think. And I think a lot of people think it’s just going to be right back to what they used to do and how they did things. And a lot of people, I don’t think, really realized that this is a new normal, it’s not… What you knew and how life was at 2018 is not what it’s like now. And if you’re striving for that, you’re going to be disappointed, but if you’re open to new opportunities or new ways of doing things, it will be a better situation for you.
But I think also being patient and showing grace to those like our friends and people that we know that are having difficulty and may not realize it, may not realize that they’re kind of trying to navigate a new world. And that means misunderstandings, that means emotional outbursts, that means a lot of things that… Maybe we didn’t know Uncle Joe was that way, he seems so emotional now. And just sort of understanding that Uncle Joe is doing the best he can navigating.

So those, and then the third thing was, yes, it’s never too late. Yes, it’s never too late. A lot of things that I felt was too late or I felt I was behind on, I was able to move forward with this year. And I think that people need to know that we can’t beat ourselves up over what may not have happened at a time that we felt it should have happened. I think we have to trust the universe that those things happen at the time that they’re supposed to happen. So that’s how I feel about that.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your coaching business, which is called Spark Your Creative. Tell me about that.

Sharon Burton:
Well, Spark Your Creative is about working with people primarily at midlife, those who are over 40, who want to either engage or reclaim their creative life. For example, if you gave up a lot of your creative life because you got married and had kids, or you were kind of shuttled into a different career choice. Those of your listeners that may be in my age group that came up in the ’80s, let’s say, I graduated from high school in the late ’80s and went to college in the late ’80s, so during that time period, unless you came from a family that was extremely creative, we were not encouraged to go to art school or to engage in these artistic kinds of endeavors that the millennials and Generation Z is being encouraged to do. Now it’s like, “Oh yeah, do it. Do this, do what you want to do.” But in those days, our parents were about, “You need to make money.”

And their viewpoint… And nothing wrong with that, but that’s just how it was at that time, it was the starving artist stereotype. “You’re not going to make money. You need to go into business.” And so it was all about business, engineering, healthcare, law, those kinds of activities was really big at that time. And so just like everyone else, I along with a lot of people I know did what we went to school to do to become employable. So that’s what we did.

And so what I found as I went along is a lot of people were like me that just sort of got derailed from some of their more creative kinds of goals or interests. And I am there to help people kind of develop the confidence and say, “Okay, it’s cool. You can do this. You can do this.” And help them come up with a plan to help them get back on the road to doing whatever it is that they’re interested in doing creatively. So that might be if they were doing art like visual art, if they were playing an instrument and was interested in going back to that, if they are interested in writing and writing a novel, maybe he’s always wanted to write a novel, those kinds of things. So it’s mostly cultural creatives, but I’m willing to work and have worked with people that, for example, wanted to start a podcast or wanted to put together a portfolio of their creative work. So it can go beyond just coaching and helping them unblock, it can go into some administrative things. That’s what Spark Your Creative is designed to do.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a typical day look like for you, because it sounds like with doing that kind of work, you’re probably really involved with your clients on a regular basis?

Sharon Burton:
It depends on the client, and it depends on what’s going on. If I’m working on… For example, I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sharon Burton:
I’ve done several of a course in that book. So sometimes it looks like making sure that people understand what the assignments are and giving them information such as the whole thing with morning pages, writing three long hand pages every morning. Some people, for example, they don’t know what to write, they’re just stuck. So it might be providing private portal information and support resources for some of those students or clients or whatever you want to call participants in that course. It might look like sending an email following up on a client session. It might look like doing a call with someone via Zoom or meeting them. And I guess I’m getting back to meeting in person, so meeting them and talking with them about their creative goals and where they are. It might look like engaging people on social media. It might look like making sure that I get my newsletter out in time. It might look like doing a workshop or promoting a workshop. It’s all kinds of things, it depends on the day and what’s going on. So that’s pretty much it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve mentioned the book that you’re working on. Are there any sort of other specific projects you’re doing through Spark Your Creative like workshops or things like that?

Sharon Burton:
Yes. I’m getting ready to do another Artist’s Way course, but I’m going to call it Artist’s Way Light, because that’s 12 pages, and that’s a long time to be in a course. So I’m going to cut that in half. And I do that with Delray Artisan. So that will most likely be virtual so we can allow for people from different parts of the country to participate. And looking to start that around March of this year. I think the other thing that I will be doing is creating a workshop or a course around my book, which will probably be launched maybe late spring or the fall. We’re going to see how things go with the book.

And one of the other things I do, I’m a Yoga Nidra guide, and so I don’t know if you’re familiar with Yoga Nidra, but it’s basically a meditation style of yoga where you’re not moving, you’re just still, and you listen to a person kind of lead you through several levels of consciousness. And it’s a great tool for people who are creative and need a way to unblock. And so I plan to do more of those. I was doing them around the full moon… Or not the full moon, the new moon each month, so I may be doing that again or might be doing it more around the solstices. So we’ll see how that goes. So those are just a few of the things I’m going to be doing.

Maurice Cherry:
And you also have a podcast too, you’re doing a lot.

Sharon Burton:
Yes, I have a podcast, and that’s the Spark Your Creative podcast. And the one thing I love about that podcast is that it gives me an opportunity to talk to creatives in real time about a variety of different subjects regarding creativity. And I’ve done some series’ dealing with everything from creating during uncertain times, particularly in the midst of the pandemic and the social upheaval and trying to help creative stay focused. Filling The Well is one that I did that is focusing on self-care for yourself and staying mentally and physically and emotionally healthy so you can create. But then I also interview people on a variety of different topics that are of interest to creatives, whether it’s creative anxiety, whether it’s working with essential oils, whether it’s working in a creative community, just a variety of different things.

And it’s one of my favorite aspects of my business, and it’s a wonderful way to outreach to people on topics that they may not hear otherwise. There’s a lot of, of course, creative podcasts out there, but I like to think that I do it kind of unique. And I try to engage and invite guests that are in the age group of my target population, so they see themselves or hear themselves talking about these different issues.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, that sounds great. I’ll make sure that we include a link to the podcast in the show notes so people can get a chance to check it out.

Sharon Burton:
Sure.

Maurice Cherry:
So, when you’re starting on a project, and it sounds like there’s a lot of projects that you’re working on, what does your creative process look like?

Sharon Burton:
That’s interesting. I think it really depends on what it is and what’s driving me and inspiring me at the moment. For my business, a lot of my inspiration comes from the input I get from clients and people that engage in my workshops. So if they talk about something or share a source of frustration or something that they need help with, that helps me to create programs, workshops, the book, that I can provide them as a way of support. And so once I get the idea, it’s just sort of mapping it out, talking to people. What would be engaging to you, what format, and then go with that. And that might be a podcast, it might be a blog, it might be a workshop, so it depends. And most likely, there’s probably at least two out of the three that I do. It could end up being a podcast and a blog or a workshop and a podcast or some variation of the three.

So once I get the ideal going, I just map it out and let it flow. Sometimes it can be really quick, like if I do blog topics, I just knock it out in an hour or so. If it’s a podcast idea, that would take longer because I’m usually looking for someone that could really be engaging or has a perspective that I think that would be of interest to people, so they would be able to listen and find that person interesting. And by the way, with podcasts, I don’t do famous people. I mean, if I do, I have interviewed a few popular people in the creativity field, but for the most part, I just try to do everyday people because I want my audience to know that it’s not about popular people who have resources and all this other stuff that can do these things. I want people that sound like them. “I’m balancing taking care of my grandma or my mother and getting these kids into college and…” Those kinds of people.

So yes, there are some people that appear on there that if you’re in the creativity field, but for the most part, my audience is not necessarily following those people. They may not even know who they are. I know them, but they’re not impressed by that they’re impressed with the topic. And the podcast that I have with regular people just sharing their truth is the ones I get feedback on the most, so yeah.

Now, as far as my own creative practice with my art, I decided to focus on looking at the ’40s, the ’50s and the ’60s, which wasn’t that long ago. But those were crazy and very dark. And it could be very dark times with the exception of the ’60s with civil rights really coming into view and things moving and changing. But particularly the ’40s and the ’50s because, and even earlier, because there was so much going on, there was lynchings that were still happening, there was a lot of violence, a lot of miscarrying of justice. And I wanted to find photos where people were smiling, where people were showing joy because it was a reminder to me that despite what I feel is crazy town right now, these people, my ancestors, your ancestors, our relatives, people still found a way to find joy through those dark times. And if they could give us an example about how they used joy as resilience, as a way of resilience, that could kind of inform us.

So I started the series called Joy and Resilience, and it’s been a blessing because those works have been placed in a lot of different exhibitions. And I’m still working on it, I’m still creating work as part of that series. And so when I think of my creative process, the social unrest, all of that, because that was new to your generation and mine, we didn’t experience all that. I was born in the ’60s, so I wasn’t conscious when a lot of things were going on. It’s been my way also of feeling some sort of kinship with my ancestors and with others saying that, “Okay, we’ll survive this. We’ll survive this.” So that inspired my creative process, and that inspired the photographs that I chose and the kinds of images I wanted to convey with that art.

Poetry has been a little different. It seems like relationships kind of got to that. It was my way of dealing with relationships that went sideways or relationships that I was enjoying. It just seems like whoever I’m dating… And not everybody, but certain people I’ve dated have been the muse for me to share my thoughts in writing. Out of all of the different creative processes, that’s been the most spontaneous. That’s like you get on the subway or the metro here, and I take my phone, something will come in my head and I’ll just write it all out. That’s how it comes to me for the poetry. So that’s funny because that has a whole different muse, that has a whole different process, where the others have a little bit more, I don’t know, research or contemplation to it, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. I mean, I think it’s really interesting that your different creative practices kind of have these different, I don’t know, sources of inspiration, I guess.

Sharon Burton:
Yeah, and ways of showing up.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sharon Burton:
But I think it’s cool, and that makes things so interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s kind of learn more about your origin story. I mean, you’ve kind of alluded a bit to it just now earlier, but tell me about where you grew up, where you’re originally from.

Sharon Burton:
Well, I was born in the Philadelphia, but I was raised primarily in Upstate New York, near Syracuse, New York.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Sharon Burton:
Know anything about that part of the country or that part of the state? Which is what they call Central New York, Central Upstate New York. So I went to school and graduated from high school and all that up there. My parents were very encouraging to me with art. I think that your parents have great things and not so great things, but one of the great things about my parents were they created a atmosphere for me to be a creative being. And so I really give them props for that because I hear a lot of people talk about where their parents didn’t seem to encourage them to create at all, but that was not the case in my household.

And then I went to college in Virginia at St. Paul’s, and that was sort of the point where I kind of got derailed from the whole art thing. Even though they encouraged that, it was not something… It was more or less, at least with my dad anyway, that if you’re going to do college and if I’m going to pay for it, art thing is nice, but maybe you take that up later. I think you should consider a major that you’re going to make some money and be able to live. And so I ended up going and getting a business degree in marketing. And then I worked for a while after that. When I was in college, I didn’t do any art stuff at all. No art. A lot of my peers did not know I was an artist until really in the last 10 years, they didn’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Sharon Burton:
Yeah, because of Facebook. They didn’t know. And a lot of people were shocked about it because I didn’t do it while I was there. It just… I don’t know. I think about that sometimes. But anyway, I went to work in the public sector. That was not planned. I was planning to work in the corporate and private sector, but I had opportunities in the public sector, so I did that. Primarily in public health, which was very different than my major. But I had a love of that, particularly social marketing, which was the term before social media, but social marketing. And you probably know a lot about that anyway, about the types of campaigns and stuff that focus on behavior change.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sharon Burton:
And so I really liked that. And so after I lived in Richmond, Virginia, for a few years and then decided to get my master’s, I went to Clark-Atlanta, and I got a job down there too. So I was working and going to school. And I really liked the public sector, so I got my master’s in public administration there. But that’s when the whole art thing started coming back. I was working, had graduated and started working for a major government agency down there. And every time… I don’t know if you’re based in Atlanta or know Atlanta really well, but at that time they had Atlanta School of the Arts there.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sharon Burton:
And every time I would come downtown, I lived in the burbs, but when I would come downtown to go somewhere or whatever on 75 South, and right there where 75 and 85 merges, if you’re coming from the north, if you look on your right, you would’ve saw the school title. It’s now Savannah School of Art or part of that. And I used to be like… I started getting these little… Kind of little taps in my head, I guess. I don’t know. It was just like this little voice would say, “Okay, you need to sign up for some classes over there.” And I was like, “What?” And it would always happen.

And it got to the point I wouldn’t even look at the school, because I’m like, “I can’t do this.” And at that time, I was in my early 30s, so I was like… Now it’s nothing, but at that age I felt like, “Oh, I’m going to be the oldest one in the classroom, and what makes me think I’m an artist? And maybe that was just in my head? How can you call yourself an artist? You haven’t done this stuff in… You’re not an artist, you’re just going to make a fool out of yourself.” And it kept me from doing it.

But on a dare, a very good friend of mine at the time when I was… I think it was the summer before I started working at the agency or before. Anyway, we were working together on a project, and she kind of dared me to volunteer for the National Black Arts Festival. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sharon Burton:
Yeah. And that year, it was interesting because it was a lot of stuff going on. I had been working so hard, I didn’t even realize that that was part of the culture down there. And somehow she brought that to my attention, and I was like, “Okay, cool.” We signed up, and I became a docent for one of the exhibitions. Actually, it was a doll exhibition, which was interesting because my sister ended up a taking up creating dolls, which was… Now that I think of it, that was so wild how that happened. But I also went to… Clark-Atlanta has a gallery.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm, on Park Street

Sharon Burton:
Yes. And went there, and they were talking about the exhibition that was there. At the time, it was To Preserve a Legacy, which was artwork from a number of historically black colleges and universities from across the country. I mean, it was just a jaw dropping… For me, it just changed everything. That’s all I could say. I learned so much about the art and about these different colleges’ collections. I went through the little docent training over there at Clark-Atlanta and the stuff that they were saying, and they’re talking about these pieces and these artists. And I went to lectures at Spelman that they had that summer with different artists. I mean, it just blew my mind.

And there was something that was lit inside of me. The following year or two, I ended up moving up here to take a job in Washington DC, and within two years, I think, two or three years, I started taking art classes. One starting off at the Smithsonian and then some of the local art centers in this area, and started showing my work. But yeah, Atlanta was it for me. That whole thing was just… It was just unexpected. Every time I think about it, a smile comes on my face because I was like… It was just so much fun, and we were around all these different people, and I was learning so much, and it was just sort of like, “Wow, all this is going on.” But that’s how it happened.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So as you’re mentioning all of this, I mean, I live in Atlanta, I live near the AUC, so I know about Spelman, I know about Clark, I know about the church over on Park Street where Clark-Atlanta’s art department is, even the National Black Arts Festival. I don’t know if… Does the name Leatrice Ellzy, does that sound familiar to you?

Sharon Burton:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
She was the executive director. I think she still is the executive director. She was there for a while, at least when I was working with the National Black Arts Festival. I don’t know if… It doesn’t sound like she might have been affiliated with them yet, but I am familiar with the National Black Arts Festival. It still takes place here. I think it still does. But yeah, it’s so interesting how Atlanta, I guess, I don’t know, sparked your creativity in a way. You were looking at, seeing the Atlanta College of Art, and then you’re getting inspired by Spelman and by Clark. I really love to hear that, because I think when people think of HBCUs, they don’t necessarily think of design and art and creativity and-

Sharon Burton:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
… it sounds like for you it was kind of the opposite, you really kind of got inspired by that.

Sharon Burton:
Well, it’s interesting because art and creativity apparently was very much a part of a lot of these schools. And it’s kind of interesting because when I was working with that particular program and learning so much about these different HBCUs and how they had really thriving art programs and there was a few renowned African American artists that were working at these schools, I was like, “Wow, this is some serious stuff.” And it’s not something that, as you said, that’s really talked that much about, and that was the magic to Preserve a Legacy, that particular exhibition. And I still have the catalog from that show and the poster. And matter of fact, when you first enter my home, that’s the first thing you see, is that poster.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Sharon Burton:
And it just sort of gives me a sense of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. And I will also dare say, it’s interesting, though my college was not represented in that exhibition, art was very much a part of that years ago. Matter of fact, weekend before last, some sorority sisters and I, we all pledged together, we kind of did a reunion weekend. And one of the things that we did was went by a program office that’s affiliated with the college. The college has closed, but they still are working on a number of different projects down there. And they just reopened a portion of St. Paul’s. And we went to visit, and it was interesting, there was these old yearbooks that they had around. And you had a chance to read through them. There were some from my era, and I was like, “Ooh, I guess we’re archival now.”

But there was some older ones. And there was also some photographs and information about an artist in residence that was at St. Paul’s, and how this artist was working with the students on a lot of art projects and everything. And I said, “Wow, this is something… Art has always been a part of African American culture and a part of the academic or academia.” And it’s something that I think, as you said, we don’t talk about it that much. I think the last time I did see something was… I was in New Orleans. One of the Historically Black Colleges there had the work of their students at one of the museums downtown. And I thought that was really cool to see that.

And I can’t remember which school or which museum, but it was good to see that. So I think that’s something, as you said, I would really like to see. There’s a lot of emphasis on HBCUs right now, and I really would like to see somebody really revitalize that particular exhibition, maybe put a different twist to it, maybe include a more contemporary artist than what they had in the traveling show back then, because there’s a lot of younger artists that are in different generations that I think should be showcased, and to let people know that, hey, a lot of art and culture is based at HBCUs. So I think that that’s definitely something to think about.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think that would be fantastic, definitely.

Sharon Burton:
I would love it. Oh gosh, I would love it, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So, you got inspired in Atlanta, you moved up to the DMV, what kind of made you decide to strike out on your own with starting Spark Your Creative?

Sharon Burton:
Well, prior to once I got here, I was involved in another entrepreneurial effort. That one, it actually had two… Well, the first iteration was Authentic Art Consulting, and then it was Artinista Art Advisory. And both of them were focused more on… Well, the first one was focused more on working with artists and art locations to put together curated art shows of emerging artists in the DC area. So I was doing a lot of art exhibitions and collaborating with different people on creative activities and showcasing visual art and visual artists in this area. And then I decided I wanted to focus more on the collector, making sure that art education for the collector. So I started the Artinista Art Advisory primarily was to focus on women who wanted to add art to their portfolios as a way of investment.

And so I did those, and then I became… I guess the word disenchanted with the art world. Well, it’s funny, I had hurt my back. These things start with weird… I hurt my back in 2015, and I found myself basically flat on my back trying to heal. And something just told me, “This is not for me.” The art world is a little… I don’t know if you’re involved with fine art world where you are or know how that world works, but it’s very… It can be glamorous, but it can be very cold, and it can be a little cutting too if you don’t know what you’re doing. And I became disenchanted with some of that vibe. And I felt I wanted to continue to work in the field, but I just didn’t feel like I wanted to do exhibitions anymore or interface with museum people and galleries and… Yeah, I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

And it was wearing me down, and I didn’t think my personality fit that. I’m more of a touchy-feely girl. I wasn’t hardcore. I was really into the artists and what their vision was and not necessarily, well, you got to sell this stuff and blah, blah. It just wasn’t working. And a few things had happened, and I’m like, “I don’t think this…” And so, I really had been toying with the fact of creativity coaching. And I’ve known about it, but I just didn’t… and kind of looked at it, but never followed through. And so I decided to do it because I was like… A lot of artists were talking to me about how to do things, and I felt that worked more with my personality than working on that side. So I became certified and started working kind of doing workshops and stuff in that rein, that area, and just enjoyed talking to artists and just enjoyed that whole process. And so it worked out well for me.

And I think that’s something to say too, when it comes back to it’s never too late or whatever, if you got to pivot, pivot. I think sometimes people get… And it was hard because people knew me in one area. Some people were a little resistant to deal with this other area. So rebranding yourself can be tough, but my thing is, do it, do if you need to do it. And I probably will rebrand again. One of the things that I’m really interested in outside of really dealing with artists and working with them is also working with regular folks and lay folks to deal with some of the stuff that’s going on where people need a way to express themselves, whether it’s grief, whether it’s whatever. And so that’s probably a new direction that I’ll be going on in some way in the next two years as well. There’s always something going on with Sharon Burton. She’s always thinking about something.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad you mentioned this part about pivoting. We had someone on the show a couple of episodes ago, Nikita Pope, who was also talking about the power of pivoting and knowing when you have the opportunity to do so and just going kind of forward with it. I think it takes a lot of confidence to be able to do that. And I think we’re releasing this episode at the start of the year. It seems like you have a boundless supply of creative confidence, just from what you’ve talked about so far. For people out there that are listen, what advice would you give them to build their confidence up and help engage their creativity?

Sharon Burton:
I think one of the things that I try to make sure people understand, that we’re all creative. And that might sound trite and all that, but it’s really true. We all have creativity inside us, it’s whether or not we want to engage that. So my thing is, acknowledge that you are creative no matter what. Even if you can’t draw a straight line or play an instrument, or, “I can’t do… Get rid of all that, because you are creative. For example, I know people that are great with their makeup. I mean, this is a weird situation, but this is an example. People are artistic with… Women that put eyeshadow on and eyeliner and all that. You know that’s a form of artwork?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sharon Burton:
It’s a form of adornment. And so if you can make your eyes and shade those colors and make everything pop and sing and whatever with your face, you can do art. And people don’t even think about it, but it shows up in different ways. So the first thing is, acknowledge that you’re creative. The second thing is, just like they talk about in business, and I’m not saying art has to be a business, but also think about this, what is your why? A lot of people are saying that now, “What is your why? Why are you doing this?” Well, what is it, what is your why? why Are you thinking about doing something creative? Is it just a stress reliever? Is it that, “Oh, I want to show my work in a gallery, or I want to recite poetry at these spoken word things.” Or is just, “I just want to share it with my family?” Be clear on what your why is.

And I say that because some people, when it comes to creative kinds of endeavors, you automatically find yourself comparing yourself to other people. And when you compare yourself to other people, that tells me that you’re lost on what your why is. Because if you’re doing this for you or you’re doing this to fulfill a dream that you have, it’s not about all these other people. But if you find yourself getting frustrated because, oh, she just posted that on Instagram and that’s way better than mine, and I ain’t going to show that, was that your why?

Were you going to be competing against these people, or do you saw yourself that? Or were you saying, “I want to share my art with the world. I want to make people happy.” If you’re not clear on your why, you can get derailed very easily. And yes, there’s always going to be somebody better than you, whether it’s music, poetry, dance, you name it, graphic design. There’s always going to be somebody better than you. But is that your goal to do this? Is it for joy? Is it because you want to exercise creative freedom or whatever? Be clear on that because that’s going to be your North Star when things don’t go so well.

And then I think the other thing is to find a community or a group of people that are doing what you’re interested in doing, and get involved with them. That could be an art group, it could be a music group, it could be a poetry group. And make sure that they’re supportive of you. You don’t want something that’s like people are just way advanced and you’re coming in as a beginner, but you want a group that maybe takes people at different levels that provide workshops and professional development and support for you. That’s something that I really recommend. I wish I could have done that a little earlier than what I did.

I think the other thing is just to go ahead and try and just find ways to carve out time in your schedule, whether it’s daily or weekly, to get it done. Now, a lot of people say, “Well, I don’t have time.” Yeah, you do have time. You have time when you’re scrolling your social media, you have time when you’re doing all these other things. It’s putting it on your calendar and making it a priority just like anything else in finding ways to do that. So those are my tips.

Maurice Cherry:
Those are some good tips. I like that. I think it is important to kind of really… It’s funny you say, “What is your why?” I know in business, I think they call that your USP, your unique selling proposition or something like that. But finding out the why behind why you’re doing what you want to do is important, because that really is going to fuel you when perhaps it’s not taking off in the way that you want to. Maybe it’s not becoming an instant success or you’re not instantly getting some sort of a claim for it, but if you have an underlying reason and a passion behind why you’re doing it, that’s what will fuel you.

Sharon Burton:
Definitely. And again, instead of… Because it’s just when you don’t have a why, you get derailed. One person says something about your art, and then you ain’t doing it no more. “I’m not an art…” You have to be clear on what your why is and let that be your guide. And a note on that, we have critics and we have people that provide healthy advice. And you’re going to get judged putting your stuff out there, whether it’s poetry, writing, music, if you’re into performance, you’re putting yourself out there, and it takes a certain amount of bravery to do it. I have gotten to the point I don’t care what people think.

And I guess maybe I’ve also developed a style that has improved over time. But what gets me is that when I get into a juried show, that means somebody has picked my work and they think it’s good enough to be a part of this show. And that, to me, is important. Whether it sells or not doesn’t matter to me. My thing, it’s being shown. I am contributing to the world with my art. Someone sees it, and that’s important to me. If I sell it, that’s just a piece of cake, that’s icing on the cake. But if I don’t, I don’t let it bother me because eventually I do sell it, or I give it as a gift, or it ends up being donated somewhere. It gets a home. I’m also lucky that I don’t rely on my art to live. Maybe I would be a little different if that was the case, but I’m blessed to be able to create, I’m blessed to be able to take a theme and interpret that and put that out there for people. That’s good for me.

But that’s my why. My why is about providing beauty, about sharing my gift to the world. Whether you see it as a gift or not, I don’t care. But it’s taken me a while. Because I used to feel some kind of way about my art, but I also know I’ve improved. And that’s the other thing too, if you feel that you’re not at the level you want to be, you can always take classes in anything. And now it’s even… So if you don’t find something near you, you can take something virtually. It’s not like it used to be where… Well, nobody’s doing violin lessons in this area. Well, get online, see if somebody’s doing it on Zoom or something. There’s a lot of more opportunities than there used to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, absolutely. You mentioned earlier that you’re in the process of writing a book. Is the book going to be about this kind of thing, about inspiring people to pursue their creative dreams?

Sharon Burton:
Most definitely. This is a book of affirmations and creativity tips for creatives at midlife. And it actually deals with a lot of common things that creatives deal with, whether it’s dealing with certain blocks, naysayers, people that talk about them or they’re not encouraging of their creative life. And then it has affirmations. And I also encourage you to create your own affirmation. So it’s not just, “Okay, I’m just going to use the affirmation that she puts in there.” No, I have some journaling exercises where I ask you, “Take a look at, okay, if it was a naysayer, where did you hear that before? Who was the first person that said something crazy about your art or your creative endeavor?” And then one thing that people don’t pay attention to, let’s say on Facebook or something like that, people post things and there’s always somebody that says something positive about what you post, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sharon Burton:
But we don’t pay attention to that. We don’t, we get caught up in this person over here that says something negative. And so my thing is, go on your page, go on wherever you are, and last time… Even if you emailed it to somebody and they said something, let’s write down what those folks said, because those are the people that are in your corner, and those are the people that are talking to you in a positive way and encouraging you. And those are the types of messages you need to hear. So that’s an example of that. And then I challenge people to write their own affirmations based on those messages that they can see and they can put up in their studio or whatever, and wherever in the house that reminds them that they are worthy and that they are a creative and what they’re doing is positive and good. So that’s what the book is about.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate the most about your life right now? I mean, I feel like you’re kind of in this renaissance period almost with all these creative things that you’re working on.

Sharon Burton:
That’s a very good question, Maurice. I think I’m at a place where I can show up the way that I want to. It’s taken me a long time to do that. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I was not comfortable showing up as a poet or as an artist. I didn’t even think I was really an artist. I just thought, “Well, that must have been something I like to do, but that doesn’t mean I’m an artist.” Yeah, no, I was an artist. I am an artist. I like the fact that I can do poetry, I can do art, two things that I truly love. And even writing, this has been probably… Writing this book has been probably one of my most challenging things I’ve ever done. I don’t know if you’ve ever written a book, but it is no joke, really.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s not. I’m working on my book now, actually.

Sharon Burton:
Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s no joke.

Sharon Burton:
It is no joke, okay. And procrastination and all this stuff that goes… I probably go through now, maybe because this is new, this is where my creative confidence is not as strong maybe as it is in those other areas, but it’s also new and it’s also different. But I think the thing I do like now, if something, not that I’m wishing anything to happen, nor am I bringing that energy in, but if something were to happen to me, I think I can say I am at a point in my life where I’m not afraid of my self-expression, whether people like it or not. And I think to get here, it took a long time because it took a lot of courage, it took a lot of work on myself and self-awareness, period, to be able to express myself in two ways that I love.

Even though I did visual art first, I did write a lot as a teenager. As a pre-teen and teenager, I wrote a lot of… They were actually song lyrics. They were music in my head, and I would just write the words to them. But poetry, that’s what it is really. And so I was doing both since I was very young. And to return to it and to return to it and the way that I’ve had, which is beyond my expectation or my dreams, to me, is awesome. It is just awesome to be in exhibitions, to have my poetry in a chatbook with some other poets that I admire and have that published, without me contributing any money. Hello. All of that. It’s magic. It’s just beautiful to me. I feel really humbled that the universe has allowed me to do that.

And a lot of people, they get my age and they’ve never done any of those things. And that’s why it’s so important to let people know that you can do that. I’m nothing special, except that I had the time and a little bit of the resources to make some things happen. And some things I just fell into. Like the poetry book, I fell into that group. I didn’t even know when I joined them. I didn’t know they were trying to put together a book. I just was in there and nobody said nothing. We just talked, and next thing I know, they said, “All right, we’re going to get the book together.” I’m like, “What book?” So I think sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time with the right people. And it’s okay. I’m not trying to be at Art Basel in Miami or at the art fairs in New York. If that happened, that’s beautiful, but that’s not what I’m doing all this for. I’m doing it for me. It’s doing it to share my love to the world. And to be able to do that in two things I love, oh, not many people can say that.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true.

Sharon Burton:
I’m blowing my own mind right now talking about it Because I’m like, “I haven’t even thought about that question/” Well, that’s serious. That’s a serious question.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, to that-

Sharon Burton:
A lot of people can’t say anything about that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, to that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing? What sort of new work do you want to be doing, that kind of thing?

Sharon Burton:
Well, I think what I’d like to do is, of course, continue with both the poetry and the visual art. With my business, I’d like to expand that to be more therapeutic for people because we’ve just gone through so much right now. And no matter who you are, what your color is or your background, we all have survived a very major upheaval in time. Sometimes, I don’t think there’s enough support for people. There’s not enough therapy, and some people aren’t comfortable with traditional kinds of things. And I think I want to be in a position to help people work through their self, to open themselves to self-expression in a different way.

I have a very good friend of mine who’s been through a lot. I feel he has problems expressing himself and processing a lot that has happened to him. And I think if he were to do something creative, I think he would find a way to express himself and lift that load without feeling too vulnerable. And I think a lot of people are like that. Some people are in denial that they’re not happy or that they’re not able to…

I know another friend who’s… She’s very stoic and kind of comes off as if, well, these things happen and blah, blah blah. And I’m like, “But you just lost your mother, and we’re going through COOVID, and all this other stuff.” And it’s like she acts like she didn’t lose her mom or any… I mean, she’s upset about it, but you can tell she just pushes and pushes, but she’s not expressing herself, she’s not letting it out. And that causes conflict with people. And people will say, “Well, so-and-so is a B and blah, blah, blah.” Well, they may not really be that way, they’re just not expressing themselves about the grief and the hurt and the trauma that they’ve experienced over here. And they may be using you as a punching bag because that’s the only thing that they can do. That’s the only thing they feel comfortable doing.

So I think a lot of people could use art in a way because when you express yourselves artistically, sometimes, yeah, you’re vulnerable, but it’s a different kind of vulnerability than you saying, “I’m drowning over here. I need help.” You know what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sharon Burton:
I think particularly my generation, we don’t do a lot to take care of our mental health, as we should. I think we’re learning to from the younger generation and getting a clue, but I think men and women need a lot of help. They need to work through their grief, they need to work through their anger. And a lot has happened, even before COVID and all that. But I always tell people, COVID brought out everybody’s inner child, and whatever you were dealing with as a child, COVID came right on out when people were told, “You stay in, and wear a mask, and stay six feet away from people.” People fought it, they fought that.

And then those that didn’t fight it, now that we’re coming out of it, it’s coming back, the pent up stuff. And if you’re not aware of what was going on with you as a kid… I’m not a therapist or anything, so please. But we have to be aware of ourselves, we have to be aware of our triggers are. And I think that art is one way that you can get it out without harming other people. It’s a good way. So I see myself doing more on a little more therapeutic side. I really want to do expressive art and work with people on that. I think that that’s needed, and I think that’s going to be needed for some time now, so yeah.

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

Sharon Burton:
Well, if you’re interested in the creativity coaching, you can find me at Spark Your Creative on Instagram and on Facebook. I’m mostly… Well, I’m on both, so that’s a good place to find me. My website is sparkyourcreative.com. You can join my email list, and you can get information and tips and all that wonderful stuff there. If you’re interested in my artwork, you can find me @sjbcreates, and also my poetry there. And you can find me there on my Facebook or on Instagram, SJBcreates. And that’s a private account, but if you request, I’d be more than happy to add you on. And then my website for my artwork is sjbcreativeart.com.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Sharon Burton, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I can not think of a better way to start off the year with having someone that has such a wellspring of creativity to share with people. Hearing your confidence about your creativity, I think it certainly is inspiring me. I hope it inspires other people out there as well to really get out there and start to do their own thing as well this year. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Sharon Burton:
Oh, no problem. This has been one of my favorite podcast interviews, actually. You had me thinking, so I do appreciate that. And I look forward to hearing from some of your listeners about their thoughts about their own creativity and how they express themselves. I think it’s an important thing.

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Reece Quiñones

If you’re in the know about the DC design scene, then this week’s guest probably needs no introduction. Reece Quiñones is a force for good when it comes to design, whether it’s in her role at The Hatcher Group as executive VP and creative director, or by teaching the next generation of designers as an adjunct professor at George Mason University. And she doesn’t stop there!

Reece talked to me about an average day for her at The Hatcher Group, and talked about growing up in DC and being exposed to architecture and art at a young age. She also spoke on her work experiences before The Hatcher Group, and gave some great perspective about being a long-time design educator, including what she feels design students want from the design industry these days. As a designer, you can never stop learning, and Reece Quiñones is a prime example of how you can use your skills to give back to your community!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Reece Quiñones:
Hello. My name is Reece Quiñones, and I’m the Executive Vice President and Senior Creative Director for Hatcher, a PR marketing and design firm in the DC area. I’m also an Adjunct Professor of Design at George Mason University located in Fairfax, Virginia.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s been great. Very, very busy. We ended 2021 with a bang, and I can’t believe it’s almost the end of January already. It just seems like it’s flying by, but it’s been very good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You and I talked about this before recording, but it seems like the year started and there was no kind of ramping up into anything. Everyone just kind of got to work, which usually I don’t mind that, but it has been a very busy month so far.

Reece Quiñones:
Yes, it has. It has been busy, and I think we’ve been two years into the pandemic, so there’s a lot of fatigue out there too. So with everything, with the work continuing to ramp up, with everyone feeling really comfortable with this telework, it just seems there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to still perform as companies are starting to think about how they’re going to return back to the office. I think a lot of people are really trying to say, “Hey, I’m good here.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we’re at this, I think really interesting shift in, I want to say it’s uniquely American, but it’s really something that’s happening worldwide. But I mean, we’re in America, you and I. So I think it affects Americans differently because we have such a symbiotic relationship with work. So the fact that there are going to see these large structures around capitalism and work that have been upended because of the pandemic, companies are trying to see if hybrid is a good deal, if they should still stay remote. They’re selling office spaces, they’re buy more office spaces. Companies are really trying to figure out what’s next, and I think it’s difficult for them. But then also with workers, we’re realizing in general that the work is always going to be there, that we have more power as workers than we thought, and so we can advocate for greater, better work experiences. So this is a really transformative time overall.

Reece Quiñones:
I think so too. I think Hatcher has done a really great job. They just went flexible first. Meaning if you want to work from home, you can. If you want to work in the office, you can. And if you want to do both, you can. And just really looking at that, I think has been really something that has kept people in the office and just really just love the culture that we’ve created there. So I’m just happy that we were able to move forward with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Right now, are you able to go back into the office or you’re still kind of doing things remotely?

Reece Quiñones:
We can if we want to, but most people are remote, and it’s great.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a average day look like?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s busy. One of the things that we really worked on during the pandemic when we just immediately switched over to working from home just one day to the next… I was telling you a little bit earlier, I was the only holdout. I thought for some reason that it would only last a week and then I realized like, “Oh, wait, I don’t think this is going to last a week.” I went back to the office to get my chair, to get my desktop computer and all the things that I needed. But one of the things that we really worked on is communication. So work at Hatcher is really just this wonderful realm. My team in the morning, we always jump on chat. We say, good morning like you would if you just came in the office. This morning, one of my designers saved a dog that was kind of limping in the street and we were hearing about it. The play by play, but that’s the wonderful thing about it. So we have kept a wonderful relationship. That’s always really good.

Reece Quiñones:
It’s really busy. The way I form my team is really in a way that everybody can grow in the way they want to grow. So as a part of their goals, they say, “Hey, I’m more interested in DesignOps. Can I move in that role?” Or, “I’m really interested in becoming an art director? Can I move in that role?” So I try to ensure that all of my designers have the ability to learn from each other and to learn different types of design. So if I have somebody that’s mostly print that wants to learn UX, they can do that.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah, just a really busy day. We have a great team of production that just keeps the trains moving. I have three art directors that help to ensure that the work looks great. In my senior creative role, I can normally formulate the strategy and just look at high-level creative. But it’s a busy day full of meetings, but it’s also one that’s really exciting and we’re able to really do some amazing things with amazing clients.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s really great that people are able to be flexible on the team like that. If there’s other things that they want to get into, they can do that, particularly I think within an agency kind of framework. I’ve worked largely with startups over the past five years and with those, it can be easy to just bounce from thing to thing because they maybe haven’t built out a robust network of people that work there yet. It’s mostly engineers, they may not have that much on creative. So if you want to jump into doing something else, you can just say, “I want to do something else,” and you can do it. With firms, it seems like it’s a bit more regimented because you’ve got creative directors and art directors and production designers, et cetera. But it sounds like it’s pretty flexible at Hatcher.

Reece Quiñones:
It is. It’s really important to me because I realized as I was coming up, the integration of design was really important. I know you remember a day that when there was a job description, they wanted everything like, “Oh, are you a website designer? Can you do print? Can you do this? Can you do that?” And we’re all looking at each other like, “Come on, really? What do you want?” So I did. I learned all those things. So over the years, I did UX, I did product design, I’ve done marketing communications design, advertising, environmental design, digital. So you’ve done all of it, and I realized that it really encapsulates the importance of design. That the foundational thing that you need to always know about design is basically that good design can transcend whatever medium.

Reece Quiñones:
So you need to understand how to design well, how to communicate that, how to understand your user, no matter if it’s a brochure or you’re working on a product. It’s still the same. You still have a user that’s going to use it that you need to consider. So that’s how I formulate my team and really pushing them to learn, “Hey, you want to do motion? Okay, let’s do motion. Let’s grab you, and let’s have you work on this project.” It just really grows the team so quickly and allows us to have more people that can do a certain type of task.

Maurice Cherry:
So given that, how do you approach a new project if seems like designers can be that flexible to bounce between disciplines like that?

Reece Quiñones:
My production team have learned… Again, we still have kid designers that might be really good at motion, or really good at long-form reports or annual reports, et cetera. Then we also know what designers want. I might have a designer who have asked, “Hey, I really want to work on an infographic,” and so we’re like, “Great.” Depending on the project, depending on the level that’s needed for that project, sometimes I do need a senior designer to work on a project. Sometimes I need an art director to work on the project. Sometimes it’s a team. We gather together, we look at all the projects and we assign them based on who can best deliver that project. Then if we have somebody that wants to learn, then they are also put on the team as well. And then from there, we schedule out and have a meeting, a launch, and the work gets done, and it’s always at a high quality. That’s something that I’ve been known for, for my students as well, as well as my staff, that quality is important.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look at your work, what would you say is the hardest part about what you do?

Reece Quiñones:
I love design so much. It’s really a hobby as well when I’m in my off hours. So as I’m looking over what the hardest part is, is just making sure that… I think it’s more on the client side. So it’s just making sure that they understand our process and they understand the whys in the decision making that we have. The world is so much more design savvy because of media, because of video, social media. They’re seeing good design on an every basis. Several times a day, they’re just seeing good design come to them.

Reece Quiñones:
So a lot of clients will come with preconceived notions on what they think will be appropriate for their project, and sometimes it’s not. Understanding the user, understanding the metrics, understanding the goals and the KPIs they have on the project. So sometimes I have to sit and kind of explain why we came up with a certain direction for them to understand why it works. I will say, even though that is the difficult part, it 99.999% of the time works because when you use design, when you use the foundations of design, the theories of design, and you explain it back to the client, then they’re like, “Oh, I get it. Great.” Because that’s why they’re hiring a firm for. So I think it’s the hardest part, but it’s also really rewarding as well.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so interesting now, because clients, like you said, they’re exposed to more or we’re just all exposed to more through television or streaming or whatever. They’ll come with these very elaborate ideas and oftentimes it’s like a therapy session in a way where you’re trying to get to what the actual thing is that they’re trying to do so they don’t get so caught up in the visuals or the presentation. Or just letting them know that maybe the visuals and the presentation you’re looking for, maybe you can’t get that on your budget, but if there’s a certain feeling you’re trying to evoke, then maybe we can get there by doing these other things. And so it is very much this kind of push-pull process with clients sometimes.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah. Always. Always. But you know what? It’s a rewarding thing. Our firm really is mission forward. We focus on education and opportunity and environment. So for us and just so much more, education is one of our large areas as well. With every single client, even though there’s that push-pull, there’s always this satisfaction because everything we’re doing is really to help them with their mission. At the end of the day, no matter how hard it is, you go home happy or rather you shut off your computer happy since we’re at home now. But yeah, it’s just a wonderful place to work.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit. I know you’re a native of the DC metro area. I’d love to kind of learn more about what it was like growing up there for you.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah, absolutely. Actually I was born in Puerto Rico. My family’s from there. Have no accent because we came when I was two, and we moved to Silver Spring and throughout the years I’ve moved to several areas in Silver Spring. But I’m still here, and I love it.

Reece Quiñones:
The DC area is really a melting pot. I think out of the top 10, there are two cities, maybe three cities that are the most diverse in the country within the DC area. So it was really different. When you grow up in the ’70s, you’re in school and you have 63 countries represented in your school. That was the school I went to. 63 countries. We had 63 flags in our school. Yes, it was very different. It was very different. The older I got and the more I traveled, the more I realized that the DC area is so special. It is so special. I haven’t found a place that feels like it where you can have friends that look completely different from you, speak a different language, and nobody looks at you twice. No one. Like no one. They just don’t look at you twice, because that’s normal.

Reece Quiñones:
Of course being in the DC area, there’s also almost like a different economy as well too, because you have the government here. And this is one thing that I think people who grow up in the DC area need to realize as designers and just people, that when hardships happen around the country, they’re not quite as hard here because you have the government here and the government can’t shut down. So when 2008 happened, just traveling around the country, you could see so many areas with malls closed and strip malls closed and in the DC area, there were still open. The malls aren’t doing it quite as well now, but… So it’s always important for designers and creatives to just always learn and always see outside themselves. Just don’t live in a bubble, but always look outside of your area. See how other people are living and experiencing the same things you are because it’ll just make you a better strategic designer in terms of how you can deliver to the audiences you need to reach.

Maurice Cherry:
So growing up around all this diversity and this extremely multicultural school. I mean, 63 countries in one school, growing up is a lot. Were the arts and design kind of a big part of your childhood? Were you exposed to that a lot?

Reece Quiñones:
I was exposed to art in terms of drawing, and that was really nice. Our school had a really wonderful art program as well as high school. I was introduced to photography. I would make posters and I would draw, but I actually never heard the term graphic designer at all. I went to college first for architecture, and I got into one school, but decided that architecture wasn’t quite for me. So I graduated Maryland with an art degree because at that time, I found out later their design program was closed. But I had an art degree out of Maryland, and I still didn’t know the term graphic designer. So I decided to go back to school. I went to Montgomery College just to get a two-year degree in multimedia and design. So that’s the first time I heard design with multimedia and I was like, “Okay, this is cool. Let me take it.” And I just happened to take an elective called Quark.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Reece Quiñones:
Yeah. I just happened to take it because I had electives to take and I was like, “Quark. Hmm. I wonder what this Quark is.” And that’s the first time I saw graphic design because it was graphic design, I think like 120, and it was like Quark 101.

Reece Quiñones:
I took Quark and I was in the class and I remember just having such a good time. I mean, I was going for it. I was making newsletters. I mean, it was fun. Our screens were only like 15 inches and that was like state-of-the-art back then, because computers had just come in the scene just about three or four years earlier. They kind of became mainstream. And so I was in class and the professor, I will never forget him. Professor [inaudible 00:20:48], he looked at my work one day and he’s like, “You’re really good at this.” And I was like, “Good at what?” And he’s like, “Ah, good at this.” And I was like, “What is this?” I was like, “What is this? I’m just making a newsletter.” And he’s like, “Oh dear God.” He’s like, “Can somebody tell this child what class she’s in?” And somebody’s like, “Graphic design.” And I was like, “Graphic design?” And he’s like, “Yes, you can do this for a living.” And I said, “Wait, what?”

Reece Quiñones:
And at that moment I knew everything was going to be okay. I had found my passion. I really knew that it was going to be okay. I took every single graphic design class I could from him especially, and I graduated and I got my first job as a graphic designer with the Gazette newspapers, which was owned by The Washington Post at that time. And that’s how I got my start.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious about Quark. I want to go back to that because that’s a very… You said that and my mind immediately went to like… I don’t know if this is probably the right timeframe. I’m guessing this is like mid ’90s probably?

Reece Quiñones:
You are exactly right. You’re exactly right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
It was ’94.

Maurice Cherry:
I’d have to research. I don’t even know if Quark is still like a thing now, but I remember first getting into Quark. I was in… Let’s see, ’94 I’d probably just got into high school. So yeah. I remember using Quark and Adobe PageMaker because I designed my high school’s newspaper or redesign my high school’s newspaper. Because before that we were using or they were using… And this is because I grew up in the sticks, but also I think just because publishing hadn’t reached digital fully yet everywhere, but we were still doing mimeographs.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh wow, yeah. Yep. No, no. You laugh, but my first job, we were waxing down the pages of the newspaper on flats. So it really was the turn of graphic design becoming more digital to it being more mechanical. So using Exacto knives when we needed to change a word.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
But it was such good experience. So I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s so interesting because you’re… I mean, you’re learning the tool and you’re learning how to do this. There’s no real examples that you can look at. When I think about what designers can do now and how much is out there in terms of education, they can go on YouTube. They could do LinkedIn Learning or they could do Skillshare or whatever. Like there’s so much out there. We were really winging it back then like just-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh my God.

Maurice Cherry:
… trying to figure it out.

Reece Quiñones:
We were. We were winging it and that’s why I love that class Quark, because the professor had a saying, he’s like, “Welcome to my class. Number one, do you know the Mac, or have you ever used a Mac?” And I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Some people raised their hand and he’s like, “Okay, more importantly, have you never used the Mac?” And I was about to raise my hand and the person next to me took my hand and said, “Do not raise your hand or he will kick you up.” And he kicked out two people.

Maurice Cherry:
Ooh. Wow.

Reece Quiñones:
So I would’ve never known, I should have been a graphic designer. But the one thing he said is, I’m going to teach you everything about this application, every dropdown, popup menu. And it’s up to you to create something that visually communicates an idea.” And he did. He taught us every single part of that. It was almost like a YouTube in the class. I think the way he taught really did inspire me to teach as well, but you’re right, we had nothing. We had absolutely zero. We were just going into it like, “Okay, here’s a blank page. Let’s go.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And really trying to figure it out and just see how these tools work. You could read the instruction manual, but the instruction manuals were like these big thick Bibles. It was hard to get your creativity around it when the instruction manuals were just… Well, I guess that’s the other thing. There were instruction manuals. There were like printed books that you had to go through and try to figure this stuff out. So it was… Wow, what a time.

Reece Quiñones:
They were called Bibles.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What a time.

Reece Quiñones:
Like what Bible?

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Reece Quiñones:
The illustrator Bible, I remember, I remember. I know back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your early career after you graduated. Did you stay around in the DC metro area?

Reece Quiñones:
I did. I stayed around in the DC metro area and I worked for the Gazette newspapers. And I just remember just saying, “Hey, oh, I wish I could do more in design.” I just think that people are just put around you and you need to listen to their advice. And there was a coworker named Marie. She was awesome. And she was like, “Reece, you’re really talented. I don’t think you should be stuck here.” And I was like, “I don’t know,” this and the other. And she’s like, “You know what, I don’t want to hear you complaining unless you’re applying.” And I said, “What?” She’s like, “Well, don’t complain to me about that you want more, unless you’re applying for another job.” And I was like, “There’s no way I can get a job. I’m just one year out of school.” And she’s just like, “Well, I don’t want to hear it.” And she was serious. She wouldn’t let me here until I started applying. I applied and I got my first firm job at HR communications in the DC area. And when I told her, she’s like, “There you go.” She’s like, “I’m glad it worked.” And I was like, “What?” And that’s just how she was.

Reece Quiñones:
And so I never complained about a job ever again, unless I was doing something about right. That was really good advice. And from HR communications, I went to an in-house marketing firm, which was great, because it was marketing communications and I really learned a lot about marketing. Went to focus groups, helped conduct them. And that was just wonderful experience to learn how your work is really resonating with your audiences. And I think for first time, and this was still the ’90s, I realized that it’s not what I wanted. It’s what the customer needed that I needed to deliver. Design early on, was about your skill and how you could deliver it. But when I worked in that marketing group, I really learned that I need to listen to that audience and that was really eyeopening for me and just a wonderful experience there.

Reece Quiñones:
And then from there I went to another firm, and that firm was, I think the change in the quality of my work. This firm was called [inaudible 00:27:03]. And again, they were another marketing communications firm, but their designers hailed from around the world. They had a designer from Spain, a designer from Korea, and one from the Philippines and all over. And what was amazing was this being the ’90s, I thought I knew all the programs. They’re the ones that taught me that, “Hey, oh my goodness, your program can actually merge with other programs.” And that’s when I learned that you could actually merge your files, and get this, from Illustrator into Photoshop. You could merge your layer files into… And that was way back in the day. It just changed the way I could design because now I could make montages that you could only see in magazines where you’re just like, “How’d they do that.” I’m like, “I don’t know how they do that.”

Reece Quiñones:
And so they taught me all these really deep tricks and tips about the actual programs that I think really changed the quality of my design. And again, just really an amazing group of very talented designers. I remember when I got that job, I interviewed for it three times. And the first time I went, the owner was like, “You’re good, but you’re just not what we need. It’s not quite what we need.” And I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “Can you tell me about my work? What is it that you like, what is it that you don’t like? I don’t have an ego. Let me know how I can improve.” He told me, he’s like, “I like this, but our quality has more depth. It has more layering.” I was like, “Okay, that sounds great.”

Reece Quiñones:
So I went back and I kept designing, adding more things into my portfolio. About three months later they called me in. And at that time I told them, “Well, I have a new job. I’m not going to come in.” And they’re like, “Just come in. Let’s just have a chat.” And I was like, “Okay, I’ll just have a chat.” So I went and showed them a couple more pieces and he’s like, “Oh wow, you listened.” I was like, “Well, of course.” I was like, “I love your work.” I was like, “Of course I listened.” And he’s like, “Hmm. All right. Hmm.”

Reece Quiñones:
So he had me come back to talk to the art director and I realized at that time they were trying to have me leave the job that I had just started. And I wrote a list why I should stay at the job where I was or why I should go. And I realized that even if I stayed in this new firm for six months, the level of work that would come out of it would be so much more than I could ever get at the firm that I had gone to. So I decided to go. The only job that I have ever been in less than a year, but it was life changing. It was honestly life changing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now after that, is that when you ended up joining ASCD?

Reece Quiñones:
That is correct. That is correct. That firm hit the dotcom era. The early 2000s where all the dotcoms kind of lost their funding. And that was 90% of our work. So the firm shut its doors and I was left without a job. And I was like, “All right.” I was like, “Okay, what are we going to do here?” And I told myself, “Because now you have eight designers looking for work that each have the level of quality you have…” So I started looking for work and there were jobs that had a little bit more technical motion, people were getting into flashback then. And so I would just refer other designers and they would be like, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much,” because the job wasn’t right for me.

Reece Quiñones:
But I also told myself, “I’m going to look for any job. It doesn’t matter.” And I applied to a role for an in-house designer with an in-house agency. They called themselves an in-house agency. And that was kind of in the early 2000s. And that was rare to have a team of designers that would call themselves an in-house agency. So I went, I tried and I looked.

Reece Quiñones:
And the work, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what are you guys doing here?” I realized that they were a midsize publisher for educational book and products. And I was like, “This is amazing work. I’ve never done a book before.” So I showed my portfolio and I got the job. It was such an incredible experience, designing books and just growing within that environment, that I stayed. I also had a wonderful manager. And it’s true, you stay at a job where you have a great leader. And so he saw leadership potential within myself and would give me opportunities to lead projects. And then I started leading web projects, and then I started to lead applications. So product manage. It’s a wonderful experience where I was able to do everything from… Could design applications, as well as apps towards the end of the 15 years. Could design websites, online store, hundreds of books, just everything, run the gamut, including their large annual conference. So I would do the branding around the entire annual conference. And then through the years, I got promoted four times.

Reece Quiñones:
So it was just a wonderful opportunity to grow. And I was on vacation when that was a thing, when you left the… I got a call from a recruiter at LinkedIn for a position and I remember it just wasn’t right. I was happy where I was. And I said thank you and the recruiter said, “Well, just take a look at our job description online.” And I said, “Sure, sure. I’ll go ahead and do that.” And so I clicked the link and here I am in France and I’m scrolling down, I’m scrolling down. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t think this is right.”

Reece Quiñones:
And then there was in LinkedIn, at least back then, there was a title: Other jobs like these. And I was like, “Okay, so another job like this.” So I started looking at those jobs and there was one job there and it was The Hatcher Group. And I was like, “Huh, let me just read it.” And I was like, “Oh, they’re looking for a senior VP of design. Hmm. All right. Let’s take a look at what this looks like.” And it looked good. It was everything I was doing now. And I was like, “This is good,” but they really wanted to grow what they had as a design team. So they only had one designer and an intern and they were mostly a communications firm, QPR firm at that time, and they really wanted to grow it into more.

Reece Quiñones:
And so I’m reading the description and there’s one line and that line stuck out to me. And that line was, “Above all, we’re looking for someone who is kind.” And I was like, “Whoa.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Reece Quiñones:
I was like, “Whoa.” Yes, “Wow. Who looks for somebody who is kind? This is awesome.”

Maurice Cherry:
Especially at an agency.

Reece Quiñones:
Especially at an agency. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to go somewhere, let me go to a place where they want somebody who’s kind. I think I’m kind, but I know they’re kind because they’re looking for someone who is like them.” So I knew that just from the job description. And so I applied and I got the job. And so that was four years ago and we’ve grown from one designer and one intern to a team of 16. So we’re doing some great things and I have an amazing team.

Reece Quiñones:
I focus on hiring diverse designers. I think it’s important. I think a lot of firms run into trouble when they don’t hire diverse designers because we can check with each other and say, “Hey, does this work for this audience?” Because you don’t have that lived experience. And that is very critical for me, but what it does too, is it teaches the other designers how to have a critical, but worldwide view of work that we’re doing, especially because we’re working with very sensitive topics as well in terms of education and the environment and equity within those spaces. It’s just really important to understand how the images that you use, the icons that you use, even the way it’s placed, how that reads to your intended audience and if it portrays them fairly. That’s actually something that we focus on.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to go back briefly to ASCD. I mean, that was such a large part of your career. You were there for 15 years.

Reece Quiñones:
I was.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at that time, is there anything that really stands out to you that you remember the most?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, absolutely. We had a wonderful team. It’s where I learned how to manage. It’s where my boss gave me the opportunity to take his job as he was promoted into a larger role. And it’s also where I learned to ensure that your designers can grow in the way that they want to grow. Instead of keeping people siloed into one area, I learned that it works well. It works so well for that team. We were so productive and people grew exactly where they wanted to and they became designers first, and then they learned the mediums second. So that’s where I learned that.

Reece Quiñones:
Quality was actually something that was so key to that team and to my boss. And I learned that quality is actually something that happens when the whole team works together as a unit, when everybody helps each other. And so I also hire people that don’t have egos, because we really do critique each other and help each other grow and ensure that everything that comes out of our shop has the quality that the customer expects, the client expects. But most important, I learned how to manage. I learned that if you treat your people like you’re equal, like people, you’re not their parent and you shouldn’t be, but you treat them like you’re equal. And if you’re having a problem with someone, just have a conversation and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Is everything okay? How can I help you? You tell me how I can help you.” Then you have a team that will come to you first. If anything goes wrong, my team just comes to me and say, “Hey, here’s what went down.” And then I’m like, “Okay. So how did you fix it?”

Reece Quiñones:
So we work through the solutions and we grow people. And I think that that is such a wonderful quality that I loved during the 15 years. I loved being able to go to my boss and say, “Here’s how I screwed up. Here’s how I think we should fix it. Do you agree?” And nine times out of 10 he did, “Oh yeah, that’s a great call. And you know what? It’s okay. We all screwed up sometimes.” And so I managed the same way and I think it’s really important that folks feel free to grow and to make those mistakes because that’s how you get exceptional designers. And I have exceptional designers. So I’m a very lucky person.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, definitely sounds like to be able to have that level of openness among the team like that, that really takes really, I think depthful but also very skillful kind of just management. And with being at ASCD as long as you have, being able to really learn that in that environment has definitely helped out with what you’re doing at Hatcher.

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely. Absolutely. 100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you also are a design educator. We’ve had several design educators here on Revision Path. You’re an adjunct professor at George Mason University where you’ve been since 2008. Tell me about your time teaching there. I’m curious, what are you teaching now?

Reece Quiñones:
Actually now, I start next week. I am teaching UX design as well as design principles and theory. So methods and principles, which is really the theory of design. It’s their first studio class where they learn how to design. And it’s one of my favorite classes. I’ve taught it since 2008 and I love it. I love it. I love it so much. And I love the outcome of not only the program and the students. About a fourth of my staff are my former students.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh really?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh absolutely. Oh absolutely. I snag them when I can. Absolutely. I kind of fell into teaching…

Reece Quiñones:
One of the wonderful parts of working with the in-house firms is that they have lots of benefits. ASCD had tuition reimbursement, so I was like, “Hey, why don’t I get my M.F.A. in design?” And I found a program that had most of their classes at night in the University of Baltimore. I applied and got in, and I went through that there. I learned and worked with the head of the design program at George Mason, and one day I was just sitting around and he said, “You know, I think you would be a really good professor.” And I said, “Oh no, not me. There’s no way,” because I grew up with a stutter. Just learning how to speak fluently was just really hard for me. And even now, even though I now have lived a little bit more than half my life without the stutter, I still can hear the struggle. So I just doubted myself so much and he just left it alone.

Reece Quiñones:
Years later, he called me and he said, “Hey, how about that teaching gig that I talked to you about?” I was like, “Oh, it would be wonderful, but… I don’t know.” He’s like, “I really need you.” And I said, “Oh, I don’t know.” He’s like, “Why don’t you call me tomorrow? Think about it.” I said, “Okay.”

Reece Quiñones:
The next day, I called him. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so nervous about teaching. I just couldn’t sleep. And so I said, “You know what, I know it’s a good opportunity. It’s hard to get in, but I just don’t think I can do it.” And I left him a message and he didn’t answer me back. So I kept texting. The day after, he called me and said, “Hey, I got your message. I’m sorry I got it late. I already put your name in and I can’t change it.” And come to find out, he could have changed it. But I thank him every day. His name is Don Star. I thank him every single day for tricking me into a teaching job because the first night I taught, I realized, “I love this. This is so amazing.” And you just get this vibe when you teach.

Reece Quiñones:
My mom was a teacher and she told me, she’s like, “When one of your students learns how to read, your whole body gets this shiver. You just get this vibe that, ‘Wow. What I’m doing is making a difference.'” And she’s right. I got that same vibe when I had a student who really understood a concept, understood a theory and was able to apply it and created something that looked so beautiful. And I was like, yes. And I got hooked. I got to teaching.

Reece Quiñones:
So I just got hooked to teaching. And with that first class, which was the design methods and theories class, I just had a great time. I kept teaching. There’s other classes I teach as well. I’ve taught typography, infographic design, motion graphics, and I just have a blast with it all. Like I said, I think that teaching is so important and learning how to teach those foundational skills are the critical part that I think is missing in some programs as well. Because I also interview and hire and look at hundreds of portfolios all the time, and just those little things that you can see throughout is what I teach. The things that people don’t get, or they don’t understand how to really put their work together or how to continually improve their work. So I just have a great time with it.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say things have changed since you started teaching there? Have you grown as an educator?

Reece Quiñones:
I have. I don’t like grades, though I have to grade folks, but I love projects. And so my projects have gotten more complex. They also have introduced a digital aspect to them because everything now has a digital aspect. Even if you do a report, we’re asked to do social media or a little motion graphic video that will help to launch that report. So I think I use what I see at work as a part of how to improve the way I teach. So when I see shifts in the industry or in the way clients are asking for work, I also change how I teach to mirror that, to ensure where that my students are ready for hire as soon as they graduate

Maurice Cherry:
From your perspective, and again, you’ve been teaching since 2008 and you’ve mentioned these changes, what do design students, and I guess design graduates also, what do they want from the design industry?

Reece Quiñones:
That’s actually a good question. I’ve had a couple students, especially during the pandemic really kind of reached out for co-mentoring because we haven’t been in person for two years. So they want to be ready. They want to be ready to get a job. They want to ensure that they’re not looked over. They really want to understand how their work applies in the real world. And that’s actually something that I do. As a part of every single class, I also take one class period to teach them salaries. What are you worth? What are you worth when you go out? Here’s the salary range. Here’s how you can adapt it for the DC area. Or let’s say you were going to New York, here’s how you adapt it. Let’s say you were going to Chicago, or let’s say we’re going to Alabama or to Mississippi. Here’s how you can change and see what you’re worth and how much you can ask for.

Reece Quiñones:
I also go over portfolios. I’m like, “These portfolios work and here’s why.” I go over resumes. “These resumes work and here’s why.” And I explain to them how to get ready for the real world. Why it’s important that their work is good. How they can self-edit to ensure that you don’t have one piece that looks really bad with work that looks really good, because I see that all the time. When I’m looking at the students’ portfolios, I’m like, “Why did you add that invitation?” And they’re like, “Well, because I don’t have an invitation.” I’m like, “But do you think it looks good?” They’re like, “No, it’s not my best work.” I’m like, “Well, I’m going to judge you on that.” And they’re like, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, as a creative director, if I look at this, I’m going to say somebody helped you with everything else. And the one that looks bad is the one you did on your own.”

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm.

Reece Quiñones:
And they’re like, “Oh.” I said, “Mm-hmm (affirmative).” I was like, “Take that.”

Reece Quiñones:
So I help them learn how to edit their work because as you’re coming up, you always have a couple of duds in there where you’re… They’re not horrible, but they’re just not the level of quality as some of your other work. So learn how to edit because your portfolio is the way that someone’s going to hire you. I really help them with that. And I think that’s what they’re really looking for. They’re looking for help to ensure that they can get a job, because we all know how it feels when you graduate and then you have to like make it on your own.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
That intense feeling of fear like, “Oh dear God, I’ve got to pay for everything myself.” And back then it was harder because you literally left home. Nowadays you can come back, things are changing a little bit. But back then, they were just like, “Okay, you’re gone. Bye college. You’re gone.” But kids still feel that. They still feel that fear. So just helping them know that these things can help them. And then I also do mock interviews and I do them in class so that people can see how I answer questions. I tell them, “Just ask me anything.” And I’ve gotten some really tough questions for them to see how I answer that so that they can really have a leg up when they go to their first interview.

Reece Quiñones:
And even afterwards I will help students. I give them my email address. I’m like, “Hey, you want a mock interview? Let’s do it. You want me to look at your portfolio? Let’s do it.” Just the other day, I had a student who was so nervous about an interview that they had, catchy with Deloitte, and they were just so nervous. And so they just wanted me to go over again… They just wanted to practice and they wanted to go over it one on one. So I took some time to help that student and they reached out and said that they got the job and I was so excited because there’s another level that’s hard here to the pandemic. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
So they just have that nervousness going out. I take the time for that too, because I think it’s important and I wish I had that when I was first coming out. And so I make sure that I’m there for them so that they don’t have to feel like they’re going out alone.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think what you’re doing with reviewing their portfolio and resumes and talking about salaries and doing mock interviews, that stuff is so, so, so important for designers just to get out there and know what it is that they have to do to try to compete in the marketplace, but also to position themselves in the best possible light.

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve done some work in the past with the art institutes, particularly the Art Institute of Atlanta here in Atlanta. They sort of do this thing every year where they bring in people from the local design community and they have a dinner at the school. And what they’re doing with that is one, just trying to meet practitioners out in the city, but also to get a sense of like, “What do we need to be teaching students? What out there are you seeing in the market that we need to inform them of?” Whether that’s about upcoming technologies or certain-

Reece Quiñones:
I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
… design trends or things like that, to try to stay current and keep up on top of things. It’s funny, you’re talking about your adjunct experience and I’m thinking about, I taught adjunct… Oh, this was 2012 I think. Like 2011, 2012, I was teaching like a principles of web design course-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, love it.

Maurice Cherry:
… as an adjunct. And what I tell you, it was so dated… Well, first of all, it was a BIS course. It was a business information systems kind of major. So it already wasn’t like technically really designed. You were just teaching business students enough design to sort of get by, I guess. But the curriculum was so old.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh.

Maurice Cherry:
Like when I started, they had students learning how to design web pages using tables. And I’m like, this is 2011, 2012, sometime around that.

Reece Quiñones:
I learned tables in the ’90s.

Maurice Cherry:
Me too. I learned tables in the ’90s too. And I’m like you have to teach because this was in that period where CSS layout design of course was the norm at that point. I remember working at AT&T in 2007-ish and we made the switch from tables to CSS. I mean, you want to talk about seeing grown people cry at work?

Reece Quiñones:
I know. I remember that switch. It was emotional for many.

Maurice Cherry:
In this teaching thing, I remember going to the Dean and like petitioning to rewrite the curriculum because I’m like, “You’re setting these students up to fail-”

Reece Quiñones:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
“… if you’re teaching them how to design in tables and then they go out there in the world trying to get some design jobs to say they have some HTML experience and it’s this dated. We’re not setting them up in the best light.” Eventually they did let me rewrite the curriculum. So I did teach them basic CSS and stuff, but I’m thinking like, “What if I didn’t?” Or what if another educator was just like, “Oh, this is what I’m teaching? Okay.” And just went with it. So the fact that you’re extending that out, you’re doing way more than usual. I mean, I certainly commend you for that.

Reece Quiñones:
Oh thank you. But now, what I was going to say is that that’s really important and that’s one of the things that I love about George Mason. Is that with the curriculum that I’m able to continually update it. So every single semester I update everything to ensure… Including my samples, because I want to make sure that the students have the latest and the greatest of how you can incorporate design into all this new technology. And it’s just really important to be able to do that because it’s true. Just like you said, if you don’t do that, you are setting them up to fail from the beginning and school’s not cheap, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Reece Quiñones:
Let’s make sure they have all the right tools so that they can go out and live their best life.

Maurice Cherry:
What is the design community like for you at this stage in your career?

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, it’s awesome. The DC area, as well as the Baltimore area, because I’m still connected through school, they have such a strong design community that they overlap as well at times, but it’s really strong. I’m a part of AIGA, I volunteer. I am on The Continuum Fund, which is a scholarship fund for underserved designers, and it’s just wonderful. It’s great to grow with designers and also bring up new designers and seeing them grow in leadership roles as well. It’s actually something that’s important because no matter how large your city is, the design community is actually small. And that’s the thing that I think that people need to understand. Like I’m connected with so many people around the city and know when they’re looking for someone, I can refer other people. And that’s why it’s important to always get connected to the community where you are, because it’s a great way to help you find jobs or just to grow and design or just to give back, to mentor or to help an upcoming student or designer that joins a group. So I encourage everybody to do that if they can.

Maurice Cherry:
And you’re a recent DC design fellow. Congratulations on that.

Reece Quiñones:
Thank you so much. I was shocked and honored to be named an AIGA Fellow. It’s something that’s given to just a few people and not every year. And for me to be chosen, I was very humbled and just very gracious. It just makes me want to triple my efforts in terms of what I’m doing and teaching and mentoring, because I realize now that it’s made a difference. The power of just winning that award is just realizing that you can make a difference. You can help your community just by giving back. It was a really fun experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of your influencers? Who inspires you?

Reece Quiñones:
It’s actually everyone around me, but including, and I think the most important are my students. I am the creative director I am today, I am the leader I am today because of them. They inspire me to push further. They inspire me and grow… They just have just great ideas that they use on their projects, that they come forward, that they ask, “Hey, can I do this?” And I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t see why not. Let’s have a go.” And so they keep me always growing, learning and searching for new ways to apply design. And they inspire me every day. I think that’s why I’m hooked to learning and I’m hooked to teaching because basically I learn from them. As much as they learn from me, I learn from them.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you the most excited about at the moment?

Reece Quiñones:
I think I am the most excited about how technology is informing design, how we can apply design to new things. For example, augmented reality. So AR, VR and how I can apply that within my teaching, as well as within my own firm. I love how the industry and how design has to continually change. I think that that keeps us fresh. It keeps us learning. It keeps us growing. And that’s important. I mean, I think creativity really requires the pursuit of experiencing learning and observing as much as you can. One of the things I always say is you cannot design what you don’t know. So you have to continually be curious and open-minded and just always be a student. And just continuing to learn, not only in your field, but what’s around it, and be ready for it so that you can continue to visually communicate ideas to your clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I mean, with what you’ve got going on with teaching, as well as your work at The Hatcher Group, it sounds like you’ve got a very, very bright future in terms of what you want to.

Reece Quiñones:
I’m always living in the present. Right now, I am so excited with the work I’m doing at The Hatcher Group. I recently got promoted to executive vice president, which actually allows me to do a lot more business development, not only with the firm, but with our clients. So it’s a wonderful place for me to be. In five years, I can tell you, as long as they’ll have me, I will still be teaching. That I do know. I love it. It’s how I actually relax after a long day, is I teach. And the moment I go in and I say, “Hi class, how are you doing?” Like all the stress leaves. And we just have a great time and we laugh and just learn together.

Reece Quiñones:
In terms of what I do, I hope that I’m always going to be tied to design in some way, the next five years for me, just really… It incorporates me continuing to learn. I’m always looking at the next program. I know it’s weird, but I am looking at a doctor’s program. So I think it’s important for me to continue just growing and learning within my own field, and right now just doing what I do at Hatcher.

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

Reece Quiñones:
Well, they can go to thehatchergroup.com as well as my own personal website, 09creative.com. And I am also on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/reecequinones

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Reece Quiñones, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. I mean, just going through everything that you are doing with The Hatcher Group and with education and your background and everything. I mean, you’re someone that I think a lot of people in design industry can look up to. It’s so interesting before we recorded, you were talking about how you don’t know, or you didn’t know why you received the DC fellow award. And I’m like, I don’t see how you didn’t know considering how much you’ve been, not just a practitioner in design for a very long time, but also how much you’re giving back to the next generation of design through teaching-

Reece Quiñones:
Oh, thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
… and everything. So I am so glad to have had you on the show and to share your story and I look forward to seeing what comes next. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reece Quiñones:
Thank you so much. I had an awesome time.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Sponsored by The State of Black Design Conference

The State of Black Design

Texas State University’s Communication Design Program is excited to announce The State of Black Design Conference, a three day virtual event March 4-6, 2022.

This year’s theme is “family reunion”, and there will be over 50 amazing speakers, including author and educator Jelani Cobb, and world-renowned poet, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni.

This year debuts the State of Black Design’s Resume Book initiative, so if you’re a Black design student, or you’re a Black designer looking for your next role, then listen up!

You will be able to submit your resume and your portfolio to the Resume Book, along with your institution of study and major if you’re a student, and recruiters and employers will have access to it before the event. If you’re interested and you want to be included in the Resume Book, send your info to blackdesign@txstate.edu with the subject line “Resume Book”. You have until March 3, 2022 to submit.

The State of Black Design Conference is brought to you with the support of the University of Texas at Austin, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Microsoft, General Motors, Design for America, Civilla, IDSA, AIGA, and Revision Path.

Visit The State of Black Design Conference website for tickets. Hope to see you there!

Reggie Black

Reggie Black is a true Renaissance man. He’s combined his talents as a multimedia artist, designer, speaker, and mental health advocate into an experimental playground he calls all things progressive. Whether it’s a hand-lettered design project for a client or a public art installation, Reggie is navigating through this time and letting his passions light the way.

Reggie and I really had more of a general conversation than an interview, and we touched on a number of issues: staying productive in the midst of uncertainty, the role of the Black designer during this current time, and making space for creativity to flow. It’s a little something different for our 8th anniversary, but I think you’ll enjoy it all the same.

Thank you all for keeping Revision Path alive and thriving!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Reggie Black:
My name is Reggie Black. I’m a multimedia artist and designer, Principal of All Things Progressive. I work primarily in hand type, which is this very distinctive style of hand, a hand type fonts that I’ve created and worked on through repetition for years to carve out as my distinctive language. And I use that to share and articulate thought provoking messaging through all mediums, whether it’s print, installation, all sorts of medias to just really raise questions and bring about thought to the public and our questions and just really highlighting the vulnerability and transparency of everyday life.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you been doing so far this year?

Reggie Black:
This year good. Man, I think we had an interesting ride in January. It feels like every Wednesday was like a different year, with being here based in D.C. and seeing what transpired on the Capitol and then the following week, getting a new president and then the following week. So this year not bad, but in general, Maurice, all things considered, I feel like with everything going on in the world, I feel like health is a luxury. And if you have that and family and employment, you can get up every day and just be grateful for that. I’ve been trying to focus more on that than the larger questions for now, if that makes any sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense. As you sort of, I guess, approach this year, did you have any resolutions or goals that you wanted to accomplish?

Reggie Black:
I’ve been dancing around this question and I think it’s clearly a result of what we’ve experienced in the pandemic, just living life without really, I won’t say without really questioning things, but I’ve been thinking about what is enough and that’s not the resolution, but I think it is a gateway to patience and intention for me. And I don’t really know what resolutions they have become, but I know I’d definitely as 2020 has told us all how very temporary everything can be. And then also quite how very transparent the world can be. I’ve been really thinking about, what’s the intention behind my life and what I want to do and being very specific about the work I want to share with the world. And then also, who am I as a person? Because to be perfectly frank, I feel like during the pandemic a lot was lost, a lot of business slowed down.

Reggie Black:
And so I didn’t realize that a lot of my life was connected with the work. So I had to go on this path of relearning myself and being with myself and spending more time with myself because it was normally, I guess, pre-normal times it was travel, travel, travel. So you didn’t really get that much time to have a lot of introspection. Been dancing around with those few things.

Maurice Cherry:
What are your days look like now?

Reggie Black:
Still, early rising. I’m an early riser. I get that from my grandma. And for me, I’m up, there’s meditation, there’s journal writing, which is very essential to my day, gratitude writing. I bought a WaterRower last year during the pandemic, when I realized that I was probably going to stay out the gym. So I’m doing that. Still, in work every day, still working on design projects. What I am learning is that it doesn’t have to be as aggressive as I used to think it was. And so, there’s breakfast, these conversations with my wife, conversations with my son. Breakfast coffee, I’m starting to buy more coffee table books and design books just to have time and reference material around the house to browse at and look. And so I’m doing a more of that.

Reggie Black:
It’s more research, more deconstruction to reconstruct a lot of things, just tons of notebooks all around the house I’m just jotting random thoughts and really, trying to document this process to be able to look back on it and think about where my mind was during the times and in between watching comedy on Netflix and stuff like that. So yeah, just trying to stay human in it all, still working, but realizing that we don’t have to be the machines that we once thought we did in order to get things done.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I feel like this past year has been a very interesting sort of, I don’t want to call it an experiment, a tree of this, I guess, on how our relationship to work is because I think one thing it’s amazing how quickly we’ve seen the disappearance of the American office space because of the pandemic. There were so many things about being in one spot and collaborating in person. And now all of that is largely been replaced or at least supplanted by Zoom calls and Google Meet calls and just conference calls and things like that. And sort of re-examining what it means to work collaboratively, what it means to work asynchronously, what it means to work across great distances, is something that I think a lot of people have had to contend with.

Maurice Cherry:
And to your point now with us depending on where you live in the country, being in one place that now is not just your home, it’s your gym and your kids’ school and it’s date night and it’s like, all these things rolled into one. That will cause… I hope it causes people to think and re-evaluate about, what is important? But yeah, this past year has been something for real.

Reggie Black:
That’s very true. Did you have a studio that you traveled to throughout the day? Or you’re doing everything in home or… That’s a very interesting point. And I think it takes a lot of… I think screen fatigue is becoming more real than anything and this idea of what home is, is being redefined. So just curious, are you in and out of a few different spaces, separating work from home? Or…

Maurice Cherry:
Before the pandemic, sure. So I’ve been doing this remote work thing since 2009. So by the time, I hate to say it, but when the pandemic first happened, I was like, “Oh, I can do this standing on my head.” I was like, “I got this, this ain’t nothing.” But what’s different is how other people now have to acclimate and adapt to this time, which is what I didn’t necessarily consider when it all first started. I don’t have a space. I have a corner in my bedroom where I work and I’m able to mentally… Well, I’m now able to mentally separate work from home largely through… I think I mentioned this on the show before, but I have smart lights in my apartment, so I have different lighting modes that will signal to me. Okay. This is the work lighting mode where all the lights are on and I’m working, but then this is relaxation mode where the lights are dimmer.

Maurice Cherry:
And I know this is for watching TV or something like that. And so the lights will come on and off at certain times and stuff and that just lets me know like, Oh, I need to switch gears into doing something else or I need to switch to another mode.

Reggie Black:
I love that. Yeah. That’s perfect. I love that. Figure out where you got those smart lights from. I love that. That’s a beautiful way to transform the home, right. Because it has become all one thing and I love what the pandemic has done for creativity to get people to think about collaboration. And that was really spot on when you talked about the American office and what that will look like in the future, because although I do think that office is where a beautiful place for meeting and collaboration. I wonder if the office was also this cage, that suffocated people’s imagination, right? Because you can contribute to your company from home in a way that activated certain creative senses that you probably couldn’t do in the corporate headquarters because of the culture that was embedded in there.

Reggie Black:
So it’d be interesting to hear or see or study or something, what type of new results are being generated from people being at home versus going into an office every day. Is there a difference in the modality and the thinking behind problem solving at work? I would love to just see how that could transform the workplace and the office in company culture in general.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think we’ll start seeing profiles like that certainly like within a few months. Because I feel like that’s when companies at least last year started saying, “Okay, well now you’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future.” And some companies they were just kicking the can down the road, they were like, “Oh, well we’ll be back in the office by the fall. Oh we’ll be back here by the winter.” And it’s like, no, you still will be at home. The last company that I worked for and it’s funny, we’re talking about the American workplace, they really prided themselves on having a great office space. I know about this because I wrote about how great their office space was, about how it had these different modes inside the office for working. And we’ve got this terrorist and we’ve got this.

Maurice Cherry:
And at the time that I was working there, we were about to expand up to a higher floor that was going to give us more space, more desks, a sunlit reading room and all that stuff. And then the pandemic happened and shut all of that shit down. They just halted construction and then I think it was about two months after that they laid off my entire department. I was like, Oh, well. Fast forward to now, and this is only [inaudible 00:14:09] I know just from people that still work there, they’ve actually sublet the office now, there’re no plans to go back anytime soon. It was something that the company really prided itself on, almost as much as the product itself, they prided themselves on having this really great workspace and now they don’t have that.

Reggie Black:
That’s true. Wow. That’s interesting. Yeah. We’ll see, a lot of things aren’t coming back, the reality of this all, and I wonder where the home office not the home office. I’m sorry. Yeah. I wonder where the home office lands and then I’ll also wonder where the corporate headquarters, where do they begin or what’s the new future for them? We’ll see, we will see. I think that the longer we’re in this situation, the harder it’s going to be to get people to return back to work. I do feel that way.

Maurice Cherry:
It will be. I know that from experience, it will definitely be hard to go back into an office because… So back when I had my studio in full swing, I would spend days sometimes inside of a company’s workspace or I’d work out of a Starbucks or something. I had the freedom to move between different spaces to work. But I did largely work at home and it wasn’t until I wound my studio down at the end of 2017 and got a job. And even that was a remote first job because the company was headquartered in New York and I’m in Atlanta. So it was still a remote first job.

Maurice Cherry:
But there would be times where we would have to go to the office, whether it was onboarding a new employee or we had our onsite for the year or something like that. And it was so stifling for all of us that were remote workers, it was just so stifling being in that building, list like going to meetings and stuff. It’s just the chairs aren’t like our chairs at home and the snacks aren’t the right snacks, it’s why’s it so cold in here? It’s all these different sorts of things. It was certainly difficult, but…

Reggie Black:
Which all play… That’s so interesting that you mentioned that because I feel like all of those small things that we overlook are what contribute to our productivity and where we can teleport ourselves to produce work. Right? Like if you don’t have the right chair or the right environment, a large percentage of the day is all about getting comfortable to be able to perform. And so it’s interesting. I think that it’s all interesting and we’ll really see new definitions of what commercial spaces and home offices, how they overlap and one supersedes the other.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And to answer your earlier question. So I don’t have a separate studio space.

Reggie Black:
Got it.

Maurice Cherry:
But I want one now.

Reggie Black:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Hands down, I want one now. So I’ve started already looking even just at places in my neighborhood. I don’t need a lot of space, I just want a separate discrete space for work that’s not my home.

Reggie Black:
I’ve transported and teleported into the guest bedroom. So my wife was like, “Listen, I don’t think we’re going to have any guests. So let me just go ahead and and take this over.” So it has to become the nook that I’m able to get a lot of things done and to your point to have something completely separate just to come in and make this the work studio and the office. And it’s cozy for me, it feels really good to be here. I’ve got accustomed to getting up every day and making breakfast and then coming to work. It’s weird, all these things that I have to mentally do to get prepared, like get up and get fully dressed. I can’t sit around the house in lounge wear and sweatpants. I’m up fully dressed every day as if I was going outside.

Reggie Black:
And even if nothing really, really happens that day, if I just get on the keyboard and peck away at a few emails, I feel like I’ve done enough to keep myself motivated for the next day because of what I have noticed is that for me, it’s all or nothing. I’m either super inspired or I’ve watched too much news and I’m just depressed for a week. You know what I mean? There is no [inaudible 00:18:38] in-between. So in my head, the thoughts are, well, how can I keep myself inspired to focus on the things that are in the pipeline and the things that I am working on? Instead of creating this home retreat, where I can bounce back and forth between the news and calling a friend.

Reggie Black:
I still have office time where I like do not disturb hours. And just to try to have some structure and regimen in place that allow support to constantly exercise mentally to make sure that I’m in a space to produce something. And if I show up that day and I end up with nothing, then that’s what it is. But at least I like to carve out that landscape to be able to do so. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s super important now, because you have to impose those structures when you’re working from home, because your home is the place where you really don’t have that structure. Home is where you’re supposed to after work, you let your guard down, you have a glass of wine, you relax, you chill. It’s hard to really shift between work mode and relaxation mode in the same place. So you have to put… I time shift a lot of my emails. I have a booking link, if somebody needs to reach me, it’s not like, “Oh, can I pick your brain?” No, you can pick an appointment and we can get to something maybe later on in the week or something. I have to really segment and regiment my time pretty strictly now during this pandemic that I really didn’t have to do before, but it is important to do that.

Reggie Black:
It is. And I think because we will find ourselves doing things, the busy stuff. It’s like, Oh, well, I can watch a movie and cook a nice lunch or do laundry or clean up or straighten up. But like you said, home is comfortable. And so the things that we do at home, aren’t typically figuring out a way to stay productive and work. And so the moment escape and slide off to even just go to the kitchen to get a glass of water or something, right. It’s like you think of something else that could be done while you’re at home, when really it’s supposed to be the working hours. And so I think you’re spot with having those regimens in place to keep supporting and listen, the reality is, because I don’t want to sound like I’m super buttoned up but there are some days I just don’t have it.

Reggie Black:
And it’s like, all right, I’m sitting right here and I’m going to binge watch a few things all day for the next couple. You know what I mean? And that’s just the ebb and flow of where we are right now. It’s okay to not be productive. It’s okay to not want to create, all of 220, a large percentage of it, I couldn’t muster up to produce work. I just couldn’t because the social tension, black brothers that look like you and I were being killed pretty much every day, it felt like in this country. And so the things that my creativity was fighting for, it didn’t feel important. It wasn’t important. It’s not important because it’s like, if we’re not doing anything to contribute to shifting the climate of racial tension in this country or whatever your cause is, climate change or food deserts in the country or economic disparity, whatever it is, if none of that is really happening and you’re not contributing to that, it’s like, all right, well, what I’m doing is invalid at the moment.

Reggie Black:
And so I don’t want it to appear to be like this time is a priority productivity training camp, when you have to be as productive as you can. No, if you gain a couple pounds, no out this thing, everything is okay because we’re all dealing with this differently. And it is something that none of us have experienced before. I spent a lot of time talking to my mom on Facebook not Facebook, FaceTime. And I’m starting to enjoy those conversations more because she’s like, “Listen, I’m 72. I have no idea how people are dealing with this. We’ve never seen anything like this before.” So it’s interesting to talk to an older person to hear what they think about where we are at the moment. And it’s like, this is the most mental exhausting time periods because life was open, it was everybody could be and do.

Reggie Black:
And so however people are dealing with this thing is perfectly fine. I just feel like for me, I’m trying my best because I spent a lot of years in depression, I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’m almost what, somewhere in between six and seven years sober. So I’ve struggled with anxiety, I struggle with mood disorders, all sorts of things. My ability to stay strong in this moment is really predicated on a lot of, I like to call them tricks that I have to impose on myself, to keep me moving and keeping me motivated.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m the same way with having those tricks. I’ve basically had to give myself a routine. I wake up every morning 7:00 a.m., from seven to 8:30 it’s me getting ready for work. I’ll water the plants, make some tea, all these stuff. And then for me, I’m completely in work mode from 8:30 to 4:30. I don’t answer any other emails or anything, everything is focused just on work. Because for me, I know that I’ve got stuff to do usually right after work. I end work at 4:30 and then I’ll start doing interviews at five o’clock, or I have other calls or something else that I have to do after work. So there’s my eight to 4:30 time, which is work. And then there’s my five to maybe 11:30 or midnight where I’m working on other stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I try to put that split in there, so I know this is when I need to shut this off and then turn this on. Even like I was telling you about the lights, the lights help me, those are tricks too. 11:30 all the lights in my apartment are off and whatever I’m working on, it’s like, “Okay, I should probably go to bed now.”

Reggie Black:
Yep. That’s the thing too. And I love how you’ve underscored the home. Right? We don’t want it to become like, because it’s so comfortable, we can go throughout the day and not really identify the things that need to happen. And so you find yourself at being midnight and you’re still working. You’re like, “Wait, but I’m supposed to be in bed too.” So it’s tricky, the home can transform and become whatever you want it to be during this time period. If you engulf yourself in work, you’re going to feel so comfortable that you don’t realize that you’re working that much. Or if it’s become an oasis of relaxation, you’re going to find yourself struggling to find a spark that gets some things done. And that’s why I said just having some system or a few things to keep you in line of break that, like you said to have that break in the day. Because we’re not active as we used to be.

Reggie Black:
We’re not commuting, we’re not moving our bodies, which I try to do a lot. But I have several free friends who just do walking meetings only. They refuse to sit Zooms and they refuse to sit on Skypes. So they take all of their meetings on the phone. It’s straight, I’ll get your Zoom call in number or you can call me on my cell phone and they walk the neighborhood while they’re having a meeting and take notes on their phone. You know what I mean? To find balance, to stay active, because like you said, if we’re just sitting in front of screens every day, you got to think about what that’s doing to our physical health as well. So that’s something I’m going to try to incorporate this year as well too, just moving more and getting back to it because yes, I row at home, but I still think that there’s something about getting up and getting out and physically moving your body and walking. I don’t know if [inaudible 00:26:17] or YouTube workout.

Reggie Black:
So I have a Peloton subscription, I don’t have the bike. I have the classes that you can take online, but you’re still in front of a screen, following the trainer. And so it’s much different than walking to the local grocery store to get groceries and physically moving your body. Something that happens there that just we’re missing with being dormant for this period of time.

Maurice Cherry:
The walking meetings, that’s a good idea. I’ve watched something on the news recently that I think scientists were saying that the biggest byproducts of the pandemic is going to be just how much people’s mental health is being affected, whether it’s like you said, depression, anxiety, et cetera. I was out of work for half of 2020, and during that whole job search and everything, it was a lot to deal with. Especially when you’re also seeing with other things happening in the world at the time, like you said, the social unrest, the former administration and how they’re handling all of this, it’s just like, there would be days I would just get high and just play video games all day. And that’s the day, that’s all I’m doing.

Reggie Black:
I think what I’m trying to say is that all of those days are just as important as having super productive work. Because I don’t think we’re in this space to judge what day is superior than others, because I feel like now more than ever, we’re seeing the value of life and just how important it is. And so whatever you do with that day, it’s a success, because you could not be here. You know what I mean? You just couldn’t be here. And so to have that, we got to somehow undo this badge of honor that America has imposed on us, this busy badge of honor. And I’m on that same quest too, there has to be a balance of being a human fucking being, and also being able to produce and do work. You shouldn’t be consumed by work all the time.

Reggie Black:
And the walking meetings is actually from a good friend of mine, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. She’s a good friend of mine, we met during Ted years and we’ve just become really cool and some of the best closest homeys ever. And when I heard her tell me that I was like, “Wait, you don’t do what?” And she’s like, “Nah, I got to move my body.” And so I’m constantly grabbing things from people that inspire me and makes sure that I can keep finding new ways to just to stay in this fight. You’re right. It’s a mental fight that we’re more in term with than anything.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about work. Tell me about the studio. When did you decide to start All Things Progressive?

Reggie Black:
Man, All Things Progressive. It’s a love child of mine that I’ve had in my head for a few years. And I’ll tell you why a few things contributed to the thought, working as a solo artist, I feel like when there’s not a studio or some formal structure, business structure is what I’m talking about now. When there’s not some business structure formed, what happens oftentimes I feel like when you’re pitching for larger work or larger clients, it’s weird. And this is a trick that I’ve kind of… Not even a trick. It’s like a professional hack that I believe is really stupid, but also very important. It’s a legitimacy thing. Most large companies won’t choose to work with you if you’re just a solo artist. And so it’s like, Oh, well either they don’t take you serious or they don’t think you’ll have your terms and conditions in place.

Reggie Black:
Or a lot of times they want you to be the artist when you’re saying no, I have a multitude of services that I could provide. And so, yes, there’s Reggie Black that’s the hand type artist. That’s the multimedia designer that can do a lot of the beautiful things with my hand and with type and with abstracts and all the things, but then there’s also a part of me that can do the very beautifully graphic design products or package design or identity systems, right? I have two sides of my brain that allows me to do both. And so what I realized was that in order for me to be able to empty the tool bag and access all of the things that I’ve been able to accumulate throughout the years, through beautiful mentorships and just countless hours of trying to figure this thing out, I said, well, what if I put a business structure in place that allows me to separate, if someone wants to hire Reggie Black for the bold and visceral hand type that he produces, that’s one thing.

Reggie Black:
But if there’s a graphic design job or book cover job or anything that separates it and takes me away from Reggie Black, it’s almost like a personality. And then it evolved into just having a few collaborators that I could work with and I can hire them for various projects and almost became like a think tank. And so 2018 is when I officially formed it. I had the name for a while, I didn’t really know what to do with the name, but really it’s just about trying to create value and spark things that move forward and work with clients that want to have a bowl perspective on where they’re going and what they would like to do. And so with All Things Progressive, it’s really just an experimental playground for companies and businesses and clients that want to figure out how to redefine their perspectives in where they’re going and what they want to do.

Reggie Black:
And we assess each project as such and I like to look at everything that’s going on in the market place, within that particular genre of industry that I’m being hired for and go the complete opposite, because I think that there’s a clutter that’s happening in every industry where people are just copying and regurgitating what is successful in the industry. And then when that trend ends up dying, you see all the businesses that have led themselves down that path die with it. So I’m always about how can we go the opposite direction? And that’s what All Things Progressive that every project we can assess, it’s like, all right, well, if there’s a book cover design, the author speaking on self-help well, let’s look at every self-help book cover and go the complete opposite direction.

Reggie Black:
Because it’s very easy to follow the herd and end up in the clutter. But I think it’s brave to say, well, sure, yes, I am a smoothie company that I’m thinking rebranding [inaudible 00:32:41] like, well, do we have to use green? Do we have to use the colors of vegetables? I’m always about how can we push something in the opposite direction of where people think it should be? What if we do the impossible? What if we do the unimaginable in every case and see where that experimental plate side of our human instincts take us.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been finding that clients have been more experimental during these times?

Reggie Black:
Yes. Because what I think, Maurice is happening is that everybody is realizing that everything… And I think you and I talked about this previously, everything needs to be redesigned. And right now, while the world is figuring out or trying to figure out where to go, I think this is a beautiful time for everybody to shake things up. I don’t know if we were living in like no one’s under scrutiny right now. Right? You can do something that’s completely left field and it’s completely okay because we’re all trying to figure out a way to move our businesses forward. Because what we thought worked, we saw something as large as COVID come and hit us and realize that, Oh, I might need to figure out how to not be so comfortable. And so experiment and play as becoming a part of almost the culture of companies now, because what they’re realizing is that one, you have to fight for attention now because everybody’s home.

Reggie Black:
Everybody has four to five screens at home, whether it’s the TV, the iMac, the iPad, the phone. So attention is at an all time high and everybody’s willing to consume information. And so what are you going to do to separate yourself to at least just to garnish a little bit of that attention, or take a little bit of that in the marketing department or a product that you’re building or campaign that you’re about to launch? What’s going to make your messaging stand out a bit more just to hold the attention of somebody that’s scrolling on Instagram for 10 more seconds, that it would, if you were doing things differently? And so I was just talking to one of my design friends. We talking about how you see a lot of the large, I guess old guard companies doing identity system re-brands, GM just did it, Kia just did.

Reggie Black:
There is another one that I thought was important as well. Even the CIA just rebranded. Right? And so you’re watching so many old guards realizing that if we don’t do something differently, there’s a possibility that we’ll become Blockbuster. You know what I mean? When they was completely avoiding what Netflix was trying to say or Blackberry, when they had the largest market share in mobile devices and they thought that we were all going to love Qwerty keyboards forever, then we got the iPhone. And so no one is at liberty to rest and relax in this moment of uncertainty. I think if things are in certain, let’s push on certain ideas. If things are unorthodox, let’s push unorthodox ideas. And that’s what I’m really excited about. What’s going to land when the smoke clears from where we are? And if it does land, will you be able to tell a story that was innovative and different in the midst of all of the smoke that’s happening?

Maurice Cherry:
That it’s good that companies, I think now are starting to be open to this, they almost have to. I think at this point they have to.

Reggie Black:
I think they realize that either two things happen, the brand story expires, or they realize that they aren’t the only players in the industry that they thought they were. And so they have to and they have to innovate in a way that respects the customer and respects their consumer base, but also figuring out a way to tap into new consumer basis too. Right? That’s what we’re seeing happening and everybody’s scrambling and trying to figure it out. And to add another layer on it, everybody also now realizes something they should have realized or been able to… Excuse me, identify years ago is that they had to have a social responsibility. And now we’re seeing a scramble where everybody’s trying to figure that out on the fly.

Reggie Black:
And it’s like, Nope. If that was built into the culture beforehand, you wouldn’t have to hit the panic button, when you see something like George Floyd happen. When you see something like our sister Breonna Taylor happen, when you see something like the former administration wants to put the wall and immigration and family division on the borders. If there was one company that I sincerely love is Patagonia because they’ve been that way for a while, that the CEO and the ethos of that company has clearly stated that, this is what we’re going to speak on and we’re going to speak on it regardless of what the social times are. And I think that the commercial structure has existed in a space of reactionary approaches. And I think now we have to figure out a way how to be more proactive, like Ben & Jerry’s is doing a good job, but Patagonia has clearly put their foot down in so many instances saying like, this is where we are and we’re not going to waiver about it.

Reggie Black:
And then what ultimately happens is that you see something transpire socially and they’re the first ones to respond. Nike has always done a good job, Wieden and Kennedy and their marketing teams over there, everything about their campaigns are beautiful because they’re always thinking about how can we make sure that we’re on top of what’s happening socially? Because our product typically lives in urban cities where black people and people of color are affected. And so we have to make sure that if we are speaking to the Colin Kaepernick situation, if we’re speaking to social or racial injustice in this country, we have to make sure that we’re ready to be able to articulate that at any moment.

Maurice Cherry:
No. I was just thinking, I think it was right around the time this year started. I’m like, I wonder how companies are going to react to not just Black History Month this year, but also Juneteenth. Because I think a lot of folks will say non-black folks, I think a lot of folks just discovered what Juneteenth was last year. And for many people, this is going to be a free paid holiday for them. I’m like, how are people going to jump out the window, trying to show how woke they are this year? I wonder. We’re recording this at the start a Black History Month, so that remains to be seen. But yeah.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. I agree with you. I think and that goes back to the point that I was just trying to make, in addition to support what you just said, I feel like they weren’t considering it to begin with. And so they are in panic mode because what today’s we’re recording this on February 1st, as you just said. And so they got four, five months to rally up to figuring out how to structure things. And then you’re seeing companies in Black History Month trying to rollout these large beautiful campaigns that they probably thought about two weeks ago or yesterday. So I don’t know, man. I think what it really boils down to is equality and diversity in the workplace and in the companies, when you look at a lot of the companies, VC funded companies, tech companies, everywhere across the board, people that look like you and I aren’t represented at large numbers.

Reggie Black:
And so you have a specific voice that’s speaking for the entire company, that’s offering a product to the world that it’s as diverse as America is, which we know that that doesn’t land well. And as a result of that, you end up seeing messaging that’s off and messaging that’s tone deaf. And that’s why they always have to hit the panic button because they’ve overlooked that women need to speak and be in positions of power. Black men need to speak and being in positions of power. So that there’s a diverse language and it’s not just coming from a white millennial, who started a company with X amount of dollars in C funding and they’re just doing it to be cool. We have to figure out a way ensure that people have a social impact model built in before they even get started.

Reggie Black:
Sure, we want beautiful products. Listen, I’m a student of Japanese culture and beautifully designed through and through and Herman Miller and Scandinavian design. I love all the things, I love all of that, but what I love most importantly is being able to… I love Nina Simone’s quote, “Art must reflect the times.” And I think that now companies have to identify that and figure out a way to catch up to speed, but then also realize that it’s not black people’s responsibility to solve the overlooking of what white people have dragged along in this country. It’s not our job to fix that. That’s the work they have to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that’s very true. Very, very true. So I know we’ve just spoken at length about a number of things. I want to jump into some of the projects that you’ve done. You just recently… in this conversation, you mentioned being in Southeast Asia for a while. Let’s start there. What brought you to Southeast Asia?

Reggie Black:
The entire family and it’s a trio of us. There’s the wife Shante who I love dearly, we’ve been together for forever and there’s my son, [inaudible 00:41:59], we were looking for a life change. And 2014, there was an opportunity for my wife to take a job in [inaudible 00:42:07] with their company. And we wanted our son to go to international school and then to be quite frank, I think I was hitting a wall here in America. At that time… We talked off the record a little bit, at that time that’s when Sticky Inspiration was deplaning and there wasn’t a lot of momentum happening there anymore. And we’ll talk about Sticky Inspiration later to draw back and connect the dots. But I was just out of a lot of opportunities and things weren’t really looking as promising as I thought they would.

Reggie Black:
And I felt like let’s just go away and start over, at least for me, my wife’s career was successful. My son was entering high school. So everybody was engulfed in this new chapter and we left, 2014 we moved and moved to Bangkok. And what I did know is that it was an opportunity for me to set myself apart, but it was also an opportunity for me to go and to discover something. At that time, what it was, I had no idea. I had no idea that Asia and Southeast Asia in general would birth largely the design sensibility and the style and the projects that would give me the platform to be able to come back to America. So when we got there, it was like, Hey, well, this is the new terrain that you have to summit if you will.

Reggie Black:
And so I didn’t have any relationships there, I didn’t know anybody there, but I knew I wanted to start to get my work out internationally. So it was just a matter of me just doing the groundwork and meeting people. And clearly, for the record, I didn’t speak Thai. I didn’t speak Japanese. And a lot of the places that we went and a lot of the pitches that I was submitting for, there was a lot of rejection. Recently as of last year, I just got an artist manager, which is my friend, Alison Beshai. Who’s now my artist manager, but for my entire career, I think the last 15 years it’s just been my wife and not just managing this thing and figuring it out. So everything that we were submitting for and trying to make happen, we weren’t getting any responses.

Reggie Black:
And so you and I had a conversation about starting where you are. And so I was the only thing that I knew was that one, I love coffee. And so there was a community there that was creative. And then also there was the coffee culture there in Bangkok that I loved. And I just started going to the same coffee shops every day, every day, that was my routine. I would go there. I would do a couple of hours in illustrator. I would write a little bit, I would read a little bit because this was this new path that I was trying to figure out. And funny enough, what happened is that I realized that one of the coffee shops also had this multimedia function where it served as an art gallery. And so I literally, after so many months and just going to the coffee shop every day, I was like, Oh, I would love to have an exhibition here one day.

Reggie Black:
And the owner [inaudible 00:44:59] at Ink & Lion, shout out to them because they were really gracious here you are, you have a black man coming to Bangkok in a Thai owned coffee shop and multimedia space, they took a chance and was like, well, let’s do it. And this was 2015, so we got there in 2014, it took me about a year to really go outside. As vibrant as the world sees Bangkok, to be quite honest, I was somewhat afraid of it, Because there’s 20 million people there at capacity when the city swells up on a midday Tuesday afternoon from the commuters. And it’s a huge city, we’re talking New York City, maybe times two, there’s 20 million people that swell up in that city every day.

Reggie Black:
So I just think the hustle and bustle of it and the foreigner mentality that we had to experience being black, which is whole another podcast we could record for, all of those elements frightened me a bit. And so I took this route of familiarity and I guess, did the things that I knew. And when that one opportunity for an exhibition started, there was some local press that picked it up, the numbers are few BK Magazine who did a really good job with doing a story on me there. And we’re all talking Thai publications. There is no English and documenting English culture or foreigners that come there. I started to land placement and notoriety in the Thai creative community. And so one thing led to another, one exhibition happened at a coffee shop and another exhibition happened during Bangkok Design Week.

Reggie Black:
And then another exhibition happened at another space and it all just kind of snowball. So it ended up being three exhibitions in Bangkok, one in Tokyo, which was a combination of our… When we were there, we were traveling a lot. So we would just go to different places for family vacations. And I was like, Oh, I want to show here. I want to show there. And it was just tons of groundwork, tons of rejection, the ecstasy of a gallery that I showed out in Japan, Diginner Gallery, they took a chance on me as well. So I think there was a lot of people along that way and along that journey, that was gracious enough to see the potential of my work. Because it wasn’t always like what it is now. There was a lot of discovery of me trying to find a voice.

Reggie Black:
So the work that I showed in 2015 looks completely different than the work that I produce now. And so going on that journey and having that rejection and being this kind of an ambassador for myself, it was basically like, alright, you’re here by yourself. You have to figure out a way to believe in your art and the things that you’re making because no one else will. And so three exhibitions in Bangkok, one in Tokyo, and then it landed to meeting some really cool guys Marble Print & Clay in Hong Kong. And so within that four years, it was a matter of what five exhibitions internationally, which started to garner a lot of attention back in the U.S. because I was sharing everything on social when people were seeing the momentum happen, but it wasn’t the case before I left.

Reggie Black:
So I was like, well, maybe it’s time to go back. And then the family now we decided to come back four years later, here’s where we are to the modern day. Yeah. It was a journey. It was a real journey. And I’m grateful for all of it because I think that it was something that I personally needed to go through to really just trust myself, that thing for a long time. I didn’t want to call myself an artist nor did I ever really want to own the role as an artist, because I always thought it was like, you have to have all paintings and a cool studio and large canvases to work, but I’ve always worked in language and I’ve always used messaging as the art form. And I didn’t know anybody that ever did that before. I didn’t learn about the Barbara Kruger’s and Jenny Holzer’s, and Hank Willis Thomas and the beautiful art that they produce on a public scale.

Reggie Black:
I just knew that there was street art. And then there was art that you experienced in the galleries. I didn’t know that there was a hybrid of the two, Paula Scher who works a lot in graphic design. So it was just also of discovery that I knew I had to like go on to carve out the space. If it didn’t exist, it was a testament of being able to trust myself enough to create it.

Maurice Cherry:
Before we were recording, I asked you, was there a point that you feel like your work pushed you to that next level of awareness? And it sounds like this is when it happened, this time when you were in Southeast Asia.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. I think you’re right, Maurice like 300%. And at the moment I didn’t realize it because it was just so much groundwork and we never… As creative as we never come up for air to assess the things. But what did start to happen there throughout our travels, we would go to Japan. I would pick up Sumi brushes and Sumi ink. And it was almost like the art started to be influenced by the cultural tones that we started to experience. So if you’re in Korea, and you see this beautiful art being produced in a certain way. All the tools that I use are pretty much Asian inspired. And I’m pretty sure that I use all of them wrong. I’m sure that I don’t use the Sumi brush properly. I know I don’t use a lot of the Sumi inks the way that they’re supposed to be properly used in traditional Japanese and Chinese calligraphy.

Reggie Black:
I don’t use them properly. And what I did lean into was that, I knew that my family and I, we were very fortunate to be a black family and have the opportunity to experience and travel throughout Asia. And pretty much all of that side of the world. We we went to Australia, we went to New Zealand, we traveled a lot. And to my wife’s credit, she was like, well, if we’re here, we might as well make it happen because this is a long trip. And we need to experience and see this. And so the travel started to really inform the work that I was making. And all of what you see now is a testament to having that. I like to call that an artist residency to go away and figure out because most people don’t get that time.

Reggie Black:
And so I’m very fortunate, you get into college and then as an adult, it’s like, all right, go out into the world and pay your dues to society, be an adult and pay your bills and go to work. And so what I realized is that my ability to have that four years to incubate and produce and create at that point, I had to figure out a way to make sure that, that time spent there would be able to produce a lifetime of projects and opportunities that I could make it feel like it was all worth it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So I’m curious, there’s a lot of things I want to ask you about now that you’ve really been going deep into a lot of this stuff. I was looking at your latest installation called No Records. Can you talk a little bit about where the idea came from for that?

Reggie Black:
No Records. Man. I think so many things happened last year, but I think that, that’s Alison and I that’s our highlight of the year, our pride and joy that we were really excited about. And Alison has been a great friend of mine for over 10 years. And it transpired from a good friend of mine, Amanda always like to do names when [inaudible 00:52:18] opportunities happen. So it’s like you’re giving people the credit and shouting people out along the way, because there’s this weird thing where people feel like artists are just making it alone and it’s bullshit. Nobody is making it alone. Somebody always reaches out to you, giving you a nudge or an opportunity comes from the great vine, which is essentially a person, being like there’s no, Oh, I’m just out here doing it by myself.

Reggie Black:
And so a good friend of mine, Amanda, that I also had met from the TED Residency! during that time, she reached out and said, Oh, the Dyckman Farmhouse in New York, saw your work and they’re looking to highlight this story of slaves living in New York. Because a lot of times when we think about slavery, we only equate it to the South. And we don’t think about the amount of slavery that transpired in New York City. And so when they presented that opportunity, Alison and I, we looked at the project and said, if we can’t say anything bold, we don’t want to be a part of it. And when the Dyckman house, they sent us over a lot of their archival documentation, a lot of the things that they had kept on record, but to be perfectly honest Maurice, there wasn’t any records. There wasn’t anything on file. They tried to have a lot of information that they thought was valuable to document the lives of the six slaves that lived in upper Manhattan and they didn’t have it.

Reggie Black:
And so hence the title, No Records. Because we said, listen, we can’t pretend to tell a story that is false, if the institution has pretty much given us the goal and letting us know that they didn’t even have any records. And so slaves lived here, what we were learning is that people were living in Inwood community, which is where the Dyckman house is like 207 and forgot the cross street Broadway actually. And people live there in that community every day. And they just thought that Dyckman house was like a farmhouse as an artifact or something. It’s like, no, this is where slaves lived. And we wanted to highlight that and really put that on display. And so that’s why I said, the language and the messaging has to be clear to allow people to really get what has happened here.

Reggie Black:
We don’t have to sugar coat it. We don’t need to dress it up. We don’t need to make it appear to be anything than what it is is that slaves lived here. And Alison and I we talked about it a lot and we were really thinking about the messaging. And then when we learned that there’s also a very Spanish speaking population in Inwood community, she said, well, let’s do it in Spanish too, because I feel like we have to start making art accessible and to translate the communication so everybody can be a part of the conversation and at which was my first time doing that. And I thought that it was probably my favorite part of the deliverable of the project because it invited everybody into the conversation. So at the installation, the night of the installation, there were beautiful conversation with people from all walks of life because the art was accessible and people walked by whether they saw it in English or Spanish, they was able to get it immediately and have a conversation about it.

Reggie Black:
Not being able to really know that this was something that had happened and they lived in the community. They didn’t even know that this existed. And so for me, it was about accessibility and being able to make a clean statement that this is what happens and let’s not overlook this. And throughout learning that I learned a lot of the names and places in New York City are named after slaves owners, because that’s what it was. So I lived in [inaudible 00:55:58], but I didn’t know [inaudible 00:55:59] and was a notorious slave owner. I just loved it because I lived there and the culture’s there. You know what I mean? Home of Biggie Smalls and home of Jay Z. And I lived in Brooklyn for three years and it’s another huge part of the story that gave me the skin that I needed to keep pushing forward.

Reggie Black:
And, but I didn’t know that [inaudible 00:56:20] was in the history was rooted in slave trade. And so we overlook a lot of the things by default, I think, because we tend to focus on what we deem is cool, but we don’t really utilize the resources that we have to outline a whole story. And so for that project, for me, it was like, listen, I want to make sure that I don’t leave anything uncovered here. So let’s talk about it. But most importantly, let’s make sure that it’s extremely plain, so everybody can understand it.

Maurice Cherry:
And you did that right near the tail end of 2020, is that right?

Reggie Black:
Yep. Yep. That was the end of December, December 7th, I think was the installation night. We were going to postpone it. We were going away to 2021. There was a lot of back and forth with the logistics. And I said, I think that this is an important conversation that needs to happen now. And mind you, where right off the tails of such a devastating year for black men, women, black trans, everything was transpiring in this country where police brutality and just the unjustice in this country. And I said, if we’re not going to do this now, what better time? Because I think for some odd reason, let’s just say, non-black folks feel like that this is a temperamental temporary issue. When the reality is this isn’t going away. There is no special time to talk about these things.

Reggie Black:
And it’s something that you and I have to experience every day. There is no vacation for being black. You don’t get to wake up and turn it on and off when you want to, this is the life that we live. And so if this is the life that we live, let me make sure that I’m doing what I can to highlight the things that we go through. And was it always this way Maurice? Possibly, possibly not. I don’t feel like I did my due diligence to make sure that I was highlighting the things of importance. And so when I was looking at a lot of the projects that we had on the table last year, and it was assessing things, I noticed the change in me too. I was like, you turn on the news and you see this thing happening nine minutes and 17 seconds or whatever that the exact time was when the gentlemen stood on George Floyd’s neck for, Breonna Taylor was shot in her sleep.

Reggie Black:
You look, and you see these things. And then I will have to show up to the iMac the next morning and try to design something that was beautiful to sell a product. I started to feel disconnected. Yeah, I’m a black man, but am I really using my voice to highlight the things that define the black plight in this country? And the answer was I wasn’t doing my best. And so now I’m trying to make sure that I need to make a conscious effort. My messaging sends a symbolism and it’s inspiring and it’s thought provoking. And I do a lot of work in mental health in Outland articulating that messaging and outlining that conversation. Right. But that’s a very colorless thing.

Reggie Black:
We can all experience that because human emotion is colorless, but when it comes to specific black issues, am I doing enough? My wife has, which is why she’s my wife. She’s like, listen, we all have more work to do. And when she said that to me, that was like another pivotal moment in my life. All right, you got to do more to make sure that your voice and your platform is being used and executed in the right way.

Maurice Cherry:
So something I definitely get from really from this conversation and really just from how you talk about your work is that you’re a very deep thinker. It’s not just about doing the work, but you’re really set on finding the intent and the drive behind it. How do you see the role of the black designer in this current climate? And I’m asking this for two reasons. One, I think certainly now with this increased awareness that people have about black creatives. And I would say just the struggles of black people in general, I hate that we had to get to this point this far along in human history. But one there’s this increased awareness, but two, just here on the show, one question I asked every guest last year was how are you using your skills to create a more equitable future? So I’m posing this question to you, and I’d love to get your answer to it. How do you see the role of the black designer in this current time right now?

Reggie Black:
There’s two folds to that. I think that forever, I feel like we’ve been overlooked. Like you just say, right. And I think we’ve been overlooked, but then also we’ve been undervalued. And I think we’re only called upon when it’s time to clean up something or when it’s time to make something look cool. Like when you look at the makeup of the black community and the black culture, we run the world, we run shit, we validate what’s cool. We make it cool. And then the world grabs it, right? Hip hop is the fastest growing genre in the world. And it’s only like 35, almost 40 years old. It’s a very young genre, but it’s [inaudible 01:01:19] the world. Right. And so we look at our ability to have cool, but then we look at like, we don’t own things and we’re not in positions of power.

Reggie Black:
And so for the black designer right now, I think what’s important is for us to say, okay, here’s my place in the world. Here’s my position, here’s a corporation at wants me to work or collaborate with “them”. Right. And if that’s the case, we have to make sure that we’re saying the things that are important to amplify, the topics and issues that are affecting our communities. And I think that’s the role. It’s okay. Because that’s another thing that it’s a lot is that we feel like artists aren’t supposed to be compensated properly. We need to be properly compensated for the things that we contribute and the value that we contribute to messaging. And then also we need to be able to say the things that feel good and speak to our people.

Reggie Black:
And I think that we can’t be used as pawns in the system to tell a story that isn’t accurate to how we believe. We have to reflect the times, which what I was just talking about my work, I was realizing that I was speaking to one thing when in fact the world was on fire and I’m a black man and in any given moment, I could have been shot as well. And I’m not saying that you have to abandon your bread and butter and what you’re known for. Both things can exist, but I feel like somehow they want us to exclude a specific messaging for a specific messaging. And I’m saying no, that they both need to exist right now. So it’s our obligation as the black designer to make sure that when we speak on these things, we’re making sure that we amplify a point that needs to be said that can’t be said by a non-black person.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you make space for these days?

Reggie Black:
I’m trying to get better at self care. I know it’s a hot button topic and everybody’s trying to explore it and define it for themselves. But for me I’ve always been a very inquisitive child. I’ve always been like you said, and thank you for that compliment, man. I’ve always been a deep thinker. I get it from my mom who isn’t as I guess won’t say talkative, but she’s a woman of few words, but the few words that she says are super impactful. And so I picked that up as a child from my mom who was just very intentional about what she says and why she says it. And so as a result of that, I’m trying to be intentional about how I treat myself and how I care for myself.

Reggie Black:
And I’m spending a lot of time and introspection asking larger questions as I get “older” what do I want this life to really look like for myself? And how can I give myself enough love that’s detached from the results? And just really thinking about where I want to go and how I want to impact the world. But before I get there, how do I impact and change myself? Because I think we go out with the Superman cape on every day to stand up and design and raise questions and fight for causes, which are all beautiful. But I think sometimes we go out half empty. We’re not completely together ourselves.

Reggie Black:
And as I’m going on this journey, I don’t believe that you could be of complete service to a cause, a company, a client, if you’re not really at whole yourself or have a beautiful sensibility to be able to compartmentalize that, to show up and do that work and then go home and figure out a way, how to sort your own personal stuff up. So I’m really just trying to figure out one, who am I outside of work? And then how can I bring that guy to the work to be able to impact it more?

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would have been if you’d never became an artist and a designer?

Reggie Black:
Funny enough, man, I’ve always wanted to be a business banker.

Maurice Cherry:
A business banker.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. A business banker venture capitalist. Like one of those guys Goldman Sachs with the suit on. And don’t… I won’t say don’t ask me why, ask me why. Yes. But then there’s two points to it. I wanted to be it because growing up, I felt like that was the only way, which I do feel like it’s still important, but economics is the way to freedom. And so growing up, I was like, well, let me pursue a career money, one, because that’s what a lot of my teachers told me. And that’s what was like, Oh, you need to go… And growing up without it. It’s like, well, that’s what I want. And then two, I feel like there’s not a lot of space for creative venture capitalists.

Reggie Black:
I know that the full premise of it is to fund companies to have a return, to build more companies. But I think we’re doing a huge disservice to excluding the currency of creative intellect. And somehow one thing that drives everything, but it’s the last thing to be compensated for. So it’s like we can bill big companies to connect us as fast as we need to be and share our most valuable moments. But we overlooked the importance of the everyday creative that’s trying to get an idea off the ground. And so I would love to in a perfect world start a creative venture capitalist fund where there’re these micro grants that small entrepreneurs and innovators and thinkers can apply for and receive. And I know it exists in the world.

Reggie Black:
There’re so many beautiful people doing that work Backstage Capital, who I love, she’s doing an amazing job, Arlan Hamilton. There’s so many companies that are doing that work, man. But yeah, I think that’s what I would have been, man. It’s the impossible for a lot of us. And I’m always looking to explore the edges and go on to extremes or a DJ.

Maurice Cherry:
Or a DJ.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. Or a DJ. Because I love music. And I’m still got to execute fun in your life. So on a business side, super serious side venture capitalist. But outside of that, I think that a DJ of some sort.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s interesting that certainly other countries do a lot to sponsor artists or to fund the arts. And I feel like we used to have that here prior to the last administration. Hopefully that will come back. Or we start to at least see some more investment from, I think the government towards artists. But yeah, I would think even celebrities or other businesses or things like that, you probably see this too. There’s so many big names that expect free creative work.

Reggie Black:
Sure. And that’s the part that has to be dismantled because art and creativity is the one thing that communicates every element of our lives, but it’s still one thing that’s always negotiated. Right? Everything we interact with is designed by somebody, the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the clothing we wear, there’s a designer, there’s some creative intellect that’s going on behind that. But for whatever reason, like you said, we’re always the ones that are like, Oh, well just do this for exposure. One of the person that I do have to highlight and give the credit for, somebody that I would like to, if in a big sky dream Pharrell Williams, I think that he does a beautiful job and he just launched the new, Black Ambition incubator to do this very thing.

Reggie Black:
And that’s give the black and Latino X, co-founders an opportunity to launch businesses and stuff. He’s clearly doing something that I would love to do, but in a large wish upon the sky, he’s the one person that I would love to meet and work with to some capacity. Just because his ability to see, listen, I’m a kid from Virginia Beach, Virginia. And I connect with that story. I’m a kid from Northwest, D.C. growing up in 80s pre-gentrified D.C. when it was very rough to like and see yourself to transcend this place outside of what society deemed for you to be. And so there’s a connection there as well.

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

Reggie Black:
That’s a loaded one, man. I don’t know; no one knows. Right? But I think because I don’t want to perceive to have all the answers. I don’t know what I will be doing, but what I would hope is that my work will land in places that could inspire people to use their voice. If All Things Progressive could work with clients that could inspire a new generation of business, I feel like that’s what I will be doing. So maybe it’s in the aspiring business and that’s not a business, but maybe I just need to be in a position to ignite new ideas and birth new generations of ideas, maybe it’s this venture capital thing. I know Reggie Black the artist will always be able to produce beautiful, innovative things that I love and believe in.

Reggie Black:
But I think in the next five years, somehow focusing on impact and that could be with the black artists fund that Alison and I were working on to carve out and creating a platform. I think me personally will probably I won’t say, take a back seat, but I’ll be thinking about more how I could use my platform to amplify the voices of others. To some regard I don’t know what it looks like.

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

Reggie Black:
iamreggieblack on Instagram. iamreggieblack on Twitter. And my website is, Iamreggieblack.com. So out of those few places you can find me. It’s where I’ll be man. And then before we get off, I just want to thank you for the work that you continue to do with your platform Maurice because it’s super important. And I want to thank Ashley for recommending me to be here because I think that iron sharpens iron, and I think that the work that you do connect so many people to give them the hope to see. And that’s a point that I want to make as well before we go off, the ability to see what you’re doing is a huge void that I missed in my life because I didn’t meet my first black designer until I was 25.

Reggie Black:
I didn’t know that this was a real thing. I didn’t meet anybody that could work Photoshop or Illustrator till I was 25. So your sessions and your interviews that you consistently put out to the world is hope for somebody that’s listening to this, like the little Reggie that could have been listening to this 10, 15 years ago to see that this is possible. I think that the translation and the gaps that happen here, are all exposure, people don’t think that design of some black kids, or people of color. They don’t think that this is possible because we don’t see anybody that could do this. So thank you brother. I really appreciate you, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, thank you. And thank you for coming on the show, for not just sharing your story, but also really going deep into the thought that you put into the work and also the messages that you want to put out there in the world. I really feel like we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Reggie Black in the future. I think certainly just based off what you’ve been doing so far, I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reggie Black:
Thank you, man. As long as I’ve been doing this, I feel like I’m just getting started. So thank you so much for acknowledging that. And I’m looking forward to just staying a student and stay open. And if there’s any way I can support further banger, you know where to reach me, man.

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Bennie talked about what attracted him to this role, and how he’s managed to grow into it during this tumultuous year. We also discussed a number of other topics, including AIGA and today’s modern designer, diversity and inclusion, as well as some of this year’s recent public exits from members. Bennie is working hard on building (and rebuilding) AIGA, and I’m glad we are having this conversation on Revision Path!

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Johnny walked us through his regular day at Till, and shared how his prior experiences at Mapbox and ISL helped shape him for his current role. He also talked about attending the prestigious Tuskegee University and learning computer science, and spoke on lessons about motivation and work ethic that he’s learned throughout his career. Thank you Johnny for being an inspiration for the next generation of tech!

Sponsor

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.