A Q&A with author Michelle L. Stephens: ‘Venturing into the unfamiliar’

[Update: Before Design Kompany became a roving atelier to gather people’s stories on the spot in real life, we were gathering perspectives in our online community, behind protected-pages at this blog. This post was originally an exclusive for a forum, ‘The Village,’ on work, life, and relationships.]

TODAY I INVITE you to read a short email conversation with Michelle Lynn Stephens, a poet I’ve been in touch with since the time we met at a fun open mic. We share roots in Durham, NC, and recently reconnected when I hosted a tweet chat about self-publishing. That opened a space for an entirely new conversation, in which I got to know more about where things have gone for Michelle since we met. Here’s our interview, which took place over email through the spring of 2017. This piece was originally published as an exclusive for our online community, S P A C E.

 

Venturing into the unfamiliar

DK: We talked in our email conversation about journeys. And leaving, and how that can inspire us. Can you talk about this a little bit?

Michelle L. Stephens

MS: How interesting that you should ask this question, as I met you at the beginning of my open mic journey! I am definitely the adventurous type. I love trying new platforms and traveling to different venues. I have met so many wonderful people who have been very supportive and eventually became my creative village.

DK: Can you tell us about what you’ve written, so far?

MS: My book is The Divorcée Chronicles. And I co-authored an anthology, Single Mama Dating Drama.

DK: OK. Besides writing and traveling, I think we also talked about family. And… dating? 

MS: The sequel to Diary of a Divorcée Diva is all about dating, but nowhere near finished. There is a tad bit of dating adventure in the first book and my short story in the anthology is about getting back out there after divorce. The anthology is focused on single mothers, so that may be where you are remembering the parent thing.

DK: But then, there is the massive adventure of parenting right? The ultimate adventure into the unknown? 

MS: Kids are fun and inspiring! The only downside is losing sleep sometimes when they are young and finding courage to let them go off own their own when they are older… While my toddler is my only biological child, I have had a plethora of little ones in my life and don’t feel particularly new to parenting. I have always taken care of children and it feels very natural to me.

My mom tells me that I wanted to do whatever she did with my baby sister, such as feeding her, combing her hair, rocking her and such. I took care of my baby cousin, I have several godchildren who call me ‘Ma’, I volunteered at daycare and after school care programs as a teen… I once had stepchildren who I adored and I take my niece and nephews around with me quite often.

DK: After we met in Durham, where have the journeys taken you?

MS: My circle in Durham encouraged me to share my talents with so many others. I may have been afraid to venture back out after my California dreams faded into the working world, if it were not for my arts experience in Durham. It is a place that embraces and supports the arts tremendously. The path from Durham led me to the next town over, then to major cities like Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia to share my words. I gained the confidence to submit my work to some heavy hitters in African American literature and became a part of a book project that turned into a #1 National Bestseller. My territory is ever increasing and I dream of seeing my work on the big screen someday, but I would also like to remember where I came from and remain a part of the circle that started me on my way.

DK: On your way… to where? Curious.

MS: I have back and forth from the DMV area often, as my significant other takes on mostly government contracts. I love the arts up there as a spectator, but unfortunately have not been able to participate much as an artist. I have no support system there, as far as babysitting goes. There’s always a book festival, library event, or museum to stop by in DC and the scenery is quite inspiring…

DK: Venturing out seems important to you.

MS: I am a firm believer that venturing out into the unfamiliar serves to strengthen your creativity. It opens your eyes to things you have never seen and expands your worldview. I have not traveled as far as you have, but testing the waters up and down the East Coast has been very fulfilling. Even before I began doing poetry and publishing, I was off to California and exploring the performing arts world. I experienced being among the best performers, in the audience of great theaters, in studios, filming for television on Hollywood sets, at casting and modeling agencies and briefly attempted to form a singing duet. My time there was amazing and continues to influence my writing and stage performances today. There is, however, a time for stillness when it is time to gather your thoughts on the page.

DK: Who are your favorite artists?

MS: My favorite artists are two alumni of North Carolina Central University, my late aunt, educator Barbara Tuck Ebron and the incomparable Ernie Barnes, a Durham native.

DK: Art venues?

MS: My favorite museum is the Smithsonian American Art Museum. They have very diverse exhibits with everything from presidents to Native American experiences to African American musicians and writers on grand display.

DK: Can we share an excerpt of one of your books?

MS: Yes…

From The Divorcée Chronicles: Diary of a Divorcée Diva… 

I never felt so free as I did on that flight to LAX. The sky was the limit and I was literally on top the world, looking down on it from Cloud Nine. No one could tell me anything would ever go wrong ever again at that moment in time. After chatting it up with Darren a little bit about my hopes and dreams as always, he suggested that maybe I should look into moving to Cali, too. It would be the perfect place to start a totally new path in life and get away from all my troubles. I daydreamed myself about it right on to sleep.

“Good evening, passengers. This is your Captain speaking. I hope you have enjoyed your flight. We are approaching our destination and fully expect a safe and uneventful landing. Thank you for joining us. Have a good night.”

Waking up to stare out the window at the stuff that dreams are made of was surreal. The view of the Concrete Jungle, with all that water surrounding it, was amazing. I saw nothing but miles and miles of highway and bright lights! I had on my cute little sleeveless cotton dress that was hit just above the knee and got a rude awakening when I stepped onto the tarmac. The cold, sweeping air hit me right in the face.

“Whoa!! How can it be freezing in California in the middle of July?!”

“Kay, this ain’t Cackalacky. Ain’t none of that humidity out here. Don’t you know this is the desert?” Darren was always so thorough in his ex-planation of everything. Always had been, even back in the days when he was trying to tell me why we needed to break up and just be friends.

“You gone love the way it feels outside tomorrow when the sun is out, though. I’m telling you, Kay. The wea-ther is addictive.”

“Ok, I’m just gonna have to trust you on that one ‘cause it’s just freezing my legs off right about now!”

That night as I looked out the 12th-floor window of the hotel at all the lights that put the dark, tree-lined streets back home to shame, I was hooked and my mind was made up. If the rest of Cali was like the view from here, I was gonna call it home and soon.

The next day, Darren and I headed out to paint the town. He was right about the weather being gorgeous and we checked out the usual tourist traps like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater, then watched the many talented hopefuls acting out at Venice Beach. We toured the star homes and rode past all the famous places like Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Capitol Records, and the Hollywood sign. We even checked out South Central and in the words of Ice Cube himself, I gotta say it was a good day.

“Tomorrow we’ll go look at the apartments I found online”, Darren said.

“If you decide to move here, you can just find something when you get to town because people move in and out around here all the time. It’s not like back home.”

DK: Thank you! Last question: What’s the best advice you ever got?

MS: Never give up!

Trust the creative process, find the art and magic

[Update: AS OF SEPTEMBER 2017, DK is making Atelier S P A C E. But before we began roving the world gathering people in real life for conversations about the creative process (and hands-on programmes designed to get us doing instead of just thinking about doing), we used to have these conversations in virtual spaces. The Q&A series that we made for our online magazine, S P A C E, continues to be a place where we return for inspiration. A past life in journalism led to the style of asking questions and diving deeper to explore what it is a person cares about most, what she wants to say about her work and how we can contextualize it to make what we learn relevant to a broader audience. Everything we do in S P A C E has to do with the connections between people, with interstitial spaces. That is why we are starting to share more openly some of the early Q&A’s that were originally exclusives for our online community, S P A C E, which subscribes each week to our ongoing conversations, learnings, resources, links, and musings about how we make, who makes, where we are, and why we do this work. For more information about S P A C E, go here.]

 

A CONVERSATION TODAY with North Carolina ceramics artist and a personal friend, Ronan Kyle Peterson.

Here is what he had to say about our theme this month, IMAGINE. We are discovering some shared interests in, amongst a few other things: work, cycles, and practice.

DK: I’ve seen your work evolve quite a bit in the last decade. What is it you are up to?

RKP: Essentially, I am dealing with effects of agents of growth and decay and how these agents shape and embellish the surfaces of stones and the skins of trees. Employing an earthy background palette stretched across textured but quieter surfaces, I wanted to upset that quiet earthiness with intense splashes of vibrant color, patterns, and glossy surfaces not commonly associated with tree bark or the rough surfaces of rocks amidst fallen leaves.

DK: Tell us your thoughts on ‘work’—what is it, who is it for, and why does it matter?

RKP: ‘Work’ noun-wise, would be the pots that I make to sell. Which references my ‘job’ or the verb ‘work’ that I do to make a living. The work for me is learning about color, how colors work together, how color and pattern changes perception of form, and how color pattern and texture can affect a person’s mood or perception of a pot.

The work that interests me, or the energizing part, is figuring out forms for functional purposes—cups and mugs for drinking, bowls for eating or serving from—and decorations or surface treatments that complement and complete the form.

DK: Why do you do what you do?

RKP: I make… because it makes me happy, fulfills a need, keeps me searching. I’m just infinitely blessed that others, customers, want to buy my pots and are interested for the most part in what, the work, that I am doing. It doesn’t matter in a larger context, but it does matter to me, because in the doing I am happy.

DK: Is that where the magic is? In the doing?

RKP: For me, the magic is in the making or the doing. Talking, wishing, and hoping do not get the job done. The magic is in the doing.

DK: A lot of people say they wish they had more time be an artist, make music, travel, write a book, and so on. What you would say to them?

RKP: I guess I would say, you just have to make it happen. And it will not just happen. A lot of times there has to be a sacrifice of something else: sleep, long meals, vegging out, tv, income, family time, socializing… Making time or sacrificing something else to make time seems to be hard for some people, because they are energized and content through socializing, etc. For me, working, making new work, exploring new forms, colors, combinations, that is what energizes me.

DK: What does rhythm mean to you?

RKP: Rhythm recently is not contained in one working cycle. Work is started, but not finished until later, spilling into the next cycle, and the next. It used to be frustrating, but I have found that through continued experimentation with form, color, and pattern, that ideas tend to belong aside one another: they are a continuation of thoughts I build on. I guess this speaks to an overall rhythm? I’m making a healthy offering of cups and mugs each cycle, but I have more larger pieces waiting to be finished. Now it is kind of nice to think more about the larger pieces, figure out different decorations and surface approaches that fit better, better than my original plan. I’ve started reglazing older pieces, [and] making different lids for jars. Revisiting sometimes resolves some deficiencies of the pieces. I have a general set of forms, but I’m trying out new things, mostly decoration-wise, every cycle.

Testing
PROTOTYPING. RKP’s instagram feed (and this image, in particular) caught DK’s eye for our sequence RHYTHM. ‘The image is from a kiln loading with a friend,’ he tells us. ‘Just showing how potters test glazes, not actual product or work, more process to figure out what glazes to use and how they will look in the firing.’

DK: Imagine two young people, maybe teens, who are thinking about artistic pursuits having a conversation, perhaps at a museum somewhere, and they know virtually nothing of the real experiences of people like you who have reached some sort of acceptance, it appears, in the methods you are using to make and do and share. What would you tell them?

RKP: I would say be patient. It takes a lot of time, and failing and observing, to figure things out. One thing that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind is how much help and support I have: I’ve worked for many potters with different styles and aesthetics, I have in-laws who let me use some of their space for a studio, I have galleries who work with me and for the most part allow me to bring them work that I choose to make. Growing that network, that support system, I think, is pretty crucial. And being patient, humble, and open to comment, advice and opportunities.

Discover more about RKP at his website.

Get S P A C E

On quality and intrigue, a conversation with line and music

A Q&A WITH ERLING SKORPEN, a jazz artist, on what makes something intriguing. ‘When you listen to a concert, and you notice that the musicians are really into what they’re doing. When you can feel the energy in the room, and there exists a special atmosphere there. That’s the feeling that best describes intrigue for us.’

IN DENMARK I got to hear a pretty neat collection of intriguing bands at a weird and fascinating spot in Copenhagen called Mandags Klubben 5e. (More about them, another time—so fun.)

But for today I want to share an interview with someone intriguing I met, whose upcoming album is another thing I’d like to share about in a future post as it has a connection to one of our own pieces of work, The Book of Songs, in an abstract, tangential sort of way. Abstract and tangential, now that I think about it, is exactly what was awesome about being there on that day last autumn.

Let me expand.

Loved the sound of a young group called Gunslinging Bird Quartet, and started drawing in ball point pen and off the page—two new things for me, at the same time. I later asked trumpeter Erling Skorpen about the style of music he and his bandmates play, and why. Free jazz.

DK: Cool show, can you tell me about your band?

EK: Through years of playing and exploring different types of music, we all found a common interest in this type of jazz music. It’s merely a process—we might part ways with this aesthetic in one year or ten years. This is the music we all love, and which inspires us right now.

DK: What makes you happy?

EK: When we are playing music and it really works out. Drinking coffee. Pleasant surprises.

DK: How do you define intrigue?

EK: When you listen to a concert, and you notice that the musicians are really into what they’re doing. When you can feel the energy in the room, and there exists a special atmosphere there. That’s the feeling that best describes intrigue for us.

DK: How do you define quality?

EK: When music is honest and it connects with the audience. When you really hear that these people mean what they do.

MEMBERS OF the band are: Trym Daniel Rødvik – alto saxophone; Erling Skorpen – trumpet; Alex Riris – double bass; Amund Nordstrøm – drums & percussion.

Discover Gunslinging Bird online here: Soundcloud.com/gunslinging-bird.

Arts and culture, conversation and the story

IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE, as Erling says and which is exactly why I enjoyed being there. Mainstream can get in the way of real connection, in my opinion. When you bumble into the unexpected and find intrigue, there is something *! that happens.

Magic?

Magic.

It’s delight these days, I’m convinced, that makes up the aesthetic of a new kind of ‘beautiful.’ And when I say ‘delight’ I don’t mean some user interface or an app. I mean, real life. What is the role of music in society? What is the role of poetry, of design? To make artfulness, I think. To meander, to open hearts.

But what’s your take? Comments welcome. —DK

This post originally appeared in the INTIMACY sequence of our eZine, S. P. A. C. E.

Bitcoin 101: How does the alternative currency stack up?

This Q&A was originally published in DK’s weekly eZine, S. P. A. C. E.

RECENTLY ON TWITTER I ASKED about options for transferring funds online. That’s how I got introduced to cryptofinance expert Raffaele Mauro.

In an email Q&A, he helped me understand how Bitcoin stacks up.

Here is how our conversation went:

Easy Bitcoin
Easy Bitcoin

‘SMALL AND GEEKY.’ Learning about Bitcoin from cryptofinance expert Raffaele Mauro (@Rafr). Here is a Q&A, in which he helped us understand in simple terms why Bitcoin is misunderstood, and the vastness of its potential.

AS: What is the ONE thing you wish everyone could grok about Bitcoin, something that most people simply don’t see/know right now?

RM: The most important thing that most people don’t see is that Bitcoin is not just another form of money or digital currency. Potentially, it is the ‘economic layer of the internet,’ a new protocol with huge potential impact like SMTP was for email/messaging. Beyond that, the blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, opened a gigantic space of exploration for a new wave of decentralized applications.

AS: What hurdle is keeping us laymen from grasping the potential of Bitcoin?

RM: Four reasons: 1) Bitcoin is not the most convenient solution for most day to day, traditional transactions in developed countries; 2) The design of most Bitcoin applications is poor and not user friendly, complex operations are accessible only to techies; 3) Cool applications and platforms are still in their embryonic form and there are no standards; 4) The Bitcoin community is still small and geeky.

AS: I’ve been reading about blocks. What would you say is the drive for Bitcoin miners to do the work they’re doing? Will they stand to make a ton of Bitcoin? Curious what’s the incentive for people who are doing the work to lay the infrastructure for this. And is it big enough, I wonder, to build something truly interesting?

RM: Yes, today miners and mining farms are mostly motivated by the economic incentive. There is still a small number of miners who are motivated by the intellectual excitement (understanding software & hardware challenges) but generally speaking, small scale mining is not sustainable. On the other hand, there is an entire space of developers and contributors to the community where the intellectual challenge could be the main motivator with potential economic gains as a side effect (generating skills useful for Bitcoin companies).

AS: This next one is really open-ended. If you could change anything at all (sky’s the limit here) about the way people buy and sell and trade in any currency, what would that one thing be? Why?

RM: Currency operations should be like email: fast, easy and accessible to anyone.

AS: Sounds idyllic. Any drawbacks?

RM: Bitcoin has several drawbacks

  • Rigid monetary supply (on the same time a benefit and a drawback) and therefore high volatility
  • Technical vulnerabilities (examples: 51% attack, block size problems)
  • Transaction speed
  • Despite its decentralizations, there are strong network effects and “third parties” are still re-created
  • Inequality
  • More recently: flame wars among developers

AS: What can we expect to see next?

RM: I see 4 potential scenarios:

  • BASIC. Cryptofinance as sub-industry of Fintech innovation
  • OPTIMISTIC. Blockchain as the new payment layer of the Internet, like SMTP for email Internet of Things powered by blockchain technologies
  • PESSIMISTIC. Bubble & crash in cryptoasset (second mega-bubble) Bubble & crash in VC in vestments in Bitcoin startups
  • UTOPIAN/DYSTOPIAN. Decentralized technology radically disrupts governments, organizations and financial institutions


To learn more, check out at Raffaele Mauro’s Slideshare presentations >

Other thoughts?

What do YOU think? What else is out there, what’s on the horizon?

And if you are using Bitcoin, how is it working? Lessons learned? —AS

This Q&A was originally published in DK’s weekly eZine, S. P. A. C. E.

‘A sprinkle of magic dust’: guest post by idApostle on 25 years of logo design

Editor’s Note: This post disappeared for a bit, but now it’s back. Also find it at Steve Zelle’s blog, here. (Editor’s Aside: Steve, pretty cool about the quote! Fancy that.)

 

Steve Zelle of idApostle comments about the creative process ahead of “Make.”

The Process of Imagination, Analysis and Action

By Steve Zelle

The creative process involves tangible actions juxtaposed with the intangible mystery of creativity. It often suffers under a linear approach and blossoms when you dare to ask “why don’t we try ….” It’s what makes something more than just an idea. It offers a result via the marriage of imagination, analysis, and action.

For twenty-five years, I have been involved in logo design. For the last year, I have also run a site that showcases the creative processes of other logo designers—sixteen to date. My intentions with the site were to better understand the creative process, improve my own and increase awareness about the value it provides.

After all this time, I have learnt that the creative process never looks like this:

The creative process never looks like this.

In fact, the creative process of logo design truly is impossible to diagram, although many of us try in order to put our clients more at ease with it. It can’t really be put into distinct phases although many of us also try to do this in hopes that potential clients will feel more comfortable investing their time and money. In truth, I have found that the creative process requires a leap of faith from everyone involved. Its elusive nature manages to move a project forward, backward and sideways simultaneously.Â

The creative process is chaos wrapped around structure and held together by a sprinkle of magic dust.

The studies on Processed Identity show that while all designers approach projects in a unique way, the creative process—the time spent reading, writing, having conversations, organizing, editing, prioritizing, mind mapping, creating mood boards, sketching—”is essential to developing a deep understanding of a client’s needs. It’s what inspires and enables us to create something beyond the generic and adequate. In my experience as a logo designer, the creative process has proven to be my most valuable tool. It’s also crucial to a wide range of other disciplines including science, philosophy, architecture, art and writing.

We have all experienced occasions where it is clear the creative process has been minimized. It’s not difficult to recall poor user interfaces, cliche solutions, and ideas executed with seemingly little thought as to how the end user will engage with them. In contrast, by embracing and investing in the creative process, it’s possible to create moments of joy, satisfaction, and delight.

It is unfortunate that the creative process is constantly in need of protection from budget cuts, deadlines and non-believers. It seems to be the first corner cut. You need clay to make bricks[*]. It takes time, energy, dedication, and the willingness to build, knock down and build again (over and over).

I have learned that I best serve my customers by looking at the logo as simply a by-product of the creative process. I have also learned that protecting the creative process is essential and non-negotiable.

About the Author

Steve Zelle is a logo and brand identity designer based in Ottawa, Canada. He operates as idApostle and is the founder of the community driven design website, Processed Identity. You can reach him through his website or on Twitter.

*Paraphrased from: “Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently, “I cannot make bricks without clay!”, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.