Alex Cohen

 
History

This is a fact about Alex Cohen.

Insights

Alex: “This is a highlight from the interview that will get you interested”.

 
 
Interview
AC

…I don't remember exactly what my age was, but... I would play with Lego’s a lot, and I would draw. And I think part of Lego’s, for me, was…the fact that whenever I got Lego’s, I would not put them together as per the instructions. I much preferred to have a bunch of random Lego’s - like a box of assorted Lego’s, but not necessarily with instructions to them. Whereas my brother lived by instructions. So even to this day, he'll be drawn to things that are step-by-step, like the scientific process and stuff like that…and anyway I got into making…for example…I don't know why, but I remember creating this… dump truck.

I was really attached to the hinge piece. There was this one really interesting piece in Lego’s, it was like a hinge. It was a simple mechanism, but it was relatively complex for, like, a play toy. And literally you could attach it to things and create a hinge. And I remember being really intrigued by that one piece, and using it for all sorts of different expressions of whatever I was in the mood for at that moment. And for some reason the most vivid memory is this dump truck that could dump things, because it had this hinge piece. There were lots of things that I liked in Lego’s, but for some reason the hinge stands out.

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JH

That's so interesting…I mean, it's really, really specific. (laughs) That one Lego piece sticks in your mind from your childhood.

 

AC

No, it really is! (laughs) I don't know why. It's incredibly bizarre...but it's the one thing that sticks out in my memory for some reason. Because I remember playing with Lego’s for a really long time - probably five or ten years. But for some reason the one that had the most…I think…EXPRESSIVE possibility…was the hinge piece. And I remember everything from vehicles to - I had this one flat board, that you could attach things to and make, like, a landscape of things, like a city, or…I remember I made a parking lot at some point, and I used a hinge piece for a gate. That opens and closes.… (laughs) …I loved the hinge piece.

I would also draw…I did a lot of copying, actually. I would see something I liked and I'd be really impressed by it, and I'd be kind of momentarily infatuated by it. And would start sketching it, and re-drawing it, and re-drawing it. And I did this, actually, for a really long time. I use this technique even to this day - I'm much better at drawing things from real life, like, seeing it and drawing it, rather than drawing it from my mind. And I think…I don't know, I guess it's just like a time-worn thing, copying things that you like, and that's part of the creative process in general.

And now that I think about it, even as a kid, I would draw interiors; interior spaces. Like stairs, and lamps, and couches…and I don't know why, exactly…For a while I really liked stuff from this book - it was intended to help you draw, and I was really into, like, getting better at drawing. And…I'm trying to think. Why interiors? Why spaces like that?

 
 

JH

No, it really is! (laughs) I don't know why. It's incredibly bizarre...but it's the one thing that sticks out in my memory for some reason. Because I remember playing with Lego’s for a really long time - probably five or ten years. But for some reason the one that had the most…I think…EXPRESSIVE possibility…was the hinge piece. And I remember everything from vehicles to - I had this one flat board, that you could attach things to and make, like, a landscape of things, like a city, or…I remember I made a parking lot at some point, and I used a hinge piece for a gate. That opens and closes.… (laughs) …I loved the hinge piece.

I would also draw…I did a lot of copying, actually. I would see something I liked and I'd be really impressed by it, and I'd be kind of momentarily infatuated by it. And would start sketching it, and re-drawing it, and re-drawing it. And I did this, actually, for a really long time. I use this technique even to this day - I'm much better at drawing things from real life, like, seeing it and drawing it, rather than drawing it from my mind. And I think…I don't know, I guess it's just like a time-worn thing, copying things that you like, and that's part of the creative process in general.

And now that I think about it, even as a kid, I would draw interiors; interior spaces. Like stairs, and lamps, and couches…and I don't know why, exactly…For a while I really liked stuff from this book - it was intended to help you draw, and I was really into, like, getting better at drawing. And…I'm trying to think. Why interiors? Why spaces like that?

JH

Well, why even drawing? What was it about drawing?

AC

Oh, the act of drawing? (laughs) I think that's kind of my raison d’être, to a certain extent, because…that's the thing that has stayed consistent. That I go to whether I'm working or not. You know? I'll do graphic design for work, but I usually don't do graphic design in my free time. But I will draw, always...And doing it for yourself feels like a free-flowing process. Where you don't have to actually be consciously thinking about what you're doing, and it can just come out of you. Which is something that I like about it. Like, I can just grab a pen and paper, and that feeling, of having a pen and paper, is just viscerally much more comfortable than sitting there…at a piano, for example. Or at another creative outlet. Even at a computer, I feel more….even though I spend most of my life at a computer, I feel more stifled, in a way, than I do sitting with a pen and paper.

JH

Is it a more spacious feeling, or…

AC

Yeah! Spacious is exactly the right word. It feels much more spacious. Even the boundaries of the edge of the paper…they're not even real. You can draw off the edge of the piece of paper, and you can draw over other ones, and you can make other things work with it…and I did this even with graphic design, a lot of times. Like, when I'd start a project, I'd do sketches, by hand. And that process will always go much faster and come much more naturally than if I just go straight to the computer. And I think the reason I started doing that, if I can come up with any reason, was the feeling that I had. It's much more spacious, and I guess that's carried on from an early age, definitely.

JH

Yeah! Okay, so you were a kid who did a lot of drawing, and Lego’s, and… so what else? What else did you love?

AC

Let's see…I loved to run. Specifically running. I didn't love team sports that much, because I was an inherently competitive kid, but I was really…not a good loser. And I took competitive games, and sports, all different kinds of stuff, very seriously. So I loved them, I loved playing sports and games, but I was really sad if I lost. And that eventually led me to stop playing competitive sports, and just keep playing for fun. So for example, Frisbee was a good outlet for me…it has become much more respected and well-established as a sport, but it still maintains at its core… it's supposed to be an "easy" sport. There are no referees; it's all honor-based. It's supposed to be pure fun, and that's how I see it.

There are some sports that I've been drawn to because of that fact, that they're less competitive, because knowing myself…for example, when I was in middle school, I remember being hyper self-conscious about the way I looked, and because of that, I went to these sports camps during the summer - tennis camps, and sports camps, just dedicated to all sports. And I remember loving tennis, and loving sports.

But I recall so vividly, in the same breath…a match where I played my heart out. I gave 120%, and I still lost. And I was just in tears, literally in tears, at the end of it. I just took it so personally, and I couldn't cope with constantly losing stuff that I was trying so hard at. And I would just go back year after year, and never feel like I was accomplishing anything. It was discouraging. So I remember reserving my physical activity for stuff that I really liked. And that became Frisbee, for me - and that's probably why Jesse plays Frisbee now; because we played it so much with my family. My brother and I would always play it in Central Park.

That was actually a big part of my childhood. Every other weekend, I think, during the spring and the summer, we would go to Central Park. We lived in a little suburb outside of New York, and so the trip wasn't too bad; maybe 35 minutes into the city…and it was just great. We’d just go to the city, we'd play some Frisbee in Central Park, and then we'd get smoothies, and watch a movie and have dinner… and it was a nice family tradition that we had.

JH

So the essence of running or playing Frisbee, the feeling of it - again, it's actually the feeling, right? It sounds like that's what it's really about.

AC

It is! It was the feeling. Yeah, that’s what am I talking about. It's always the feeling. I think what I liked about it - I've never thought about this before, but just going out to an open field…because all Frisbee games start with waiting for people to come on. And so you're just waiting, you're throwing around the Frisbee, you're not stretching or anything in particular; you're just kind of finding your way through it. So I guess if I were to make an analogy - when you first start sketching, you may not know what you're doing, but you just draw away. So when you first start playing Frisbee, there's no structure to it. You’re just throwing around a disc, you're running, you can be going fast, you can be going slow - the process is free-flowing; there's no structure. And it can become, at any point, what it wants to.

So the whole point is getting into the zone. Like the mindset where it's an extension of that free-flowing nature. You're really, truly becoming one with that act. And you know, not every time I play Frisbee will I feel that way. Sometimes it'll come so naturally and it'll be perfect, but other times, depending on the day, my mindset, the weather, and a number of factors, it'll feel like a chore…other things will come into play.

Like, for example…I'm not generally the most aerobic person. I'm not constantly on the move. So even on days where…let's say I haven't played a sport in a month or so, and I start playing Frisbee…and let's say the mood is right…I won't even feel out of breath. Even if I haven't played in a while. And I SHOULD be. Whereas even if I've been playing every day for month, and it's just a bad day, I may be out of breath at every point. It's just like everything aligns, and it's really inexplicable. And I was noticing this the other day, when I was playing Frisbee with my friends in San Francisco. Like, I hadn't played in such a long time, but I was playing amazingly well. And it was just this total essence of collective factors that happened to work out, and it was just the mindset that I had going into it was one of…probably freedom. I wasn't tied into anything at that point. I didn't have to live there, I didn't have a job, and I was with my friends, the people that I love, surrounded by all these great things. And it was, like, a beautiful day out. (laughs) It just happened to be a really nice event in general. It's hard to explain…

JH

No, I totally get it! And…honestly, that feeling you're talking about, getting into that space, is sort of like the creative space. I don't know if this is your experience, but when you're in the zone creatively, when you're drawing or whatever, it has the same kind of…feeling of freedom. And flow, right?

AC

Absolutely!

JH

So it sounds like you experience Frisbee - that kind of movement and sport - it sounds almost like a creative act for you, or it can be.

AC

Definitely. And, you know, thinking about it now…when I see it in the context of, like, competitive sports, and sports that I just play for fun, and then I see design in the context of, like, competitive design…in art school …it's not intended this way, but…you're competing against your peers. Whenever you're being critiqued, you're surrounded by other work for the same exact project, and you're basically being judged against every single other person in the room.

And that space always felt closed off to me. I never felt like I could totally be free designing until my final semester of my senior year of college, where I took this class called Poster Design. And even though I was competing against everyone else, there was a shift in the way I saw that class. Because I was almost done with college and didn't have to take that many credits that semester. I only took nine credits, which is just three classes, for one entire semester, which was amazingly free. And I could expend all this extra energy and time and effort on one class. And so I was like, "well, fuck it," you know? I don't have all this pressure; I don't have to prove anything to anyone - I can just make this class exactly what I want, because this is the end of it.

And I produced some of the best work I've ever produced - I think because of a number of factors. And I felt truly, actually validated during that class, more so than I ever had been in those past few years. I'd always doubted myself, and my ability to be at art school, and to be a designer, and… there was never a day, really, where didn't feel like I was an impostor there; like I was…like, pretending to be an artist.

JH

I hear you in terms of the pressure being off, and you were about to graduate, and all that. But was it also the professor? Was there something about the way it was being taught, or was it the actual content of the class - what was it about…?

AC

Definitely the professor. She was amazing. She was the only professor that ever had really taken the time to compliment her students. So…a lot of the professors that I'd had previously were completely comfortable with respect to everyone's work, seeing that everyone was on the same page and had equal work to do, in terms of improving, but they would rarely compliment everyone. They would basically tell everyone how to improve their work. Which was superbly valuable - I'm not, in any way trying to downplay that at all, because it was definitely necessary for me to improve.

However, this professor, she was very good at actually expressing…just basically telling us that we were good. She would not hesitate to give us real, hearty compliments. And stuff like that really left a mark. Because one, she's an extremely well-known and well-respected poster designer, in the industry of poster design. She's been doing this for, like, 40 or 50 years. She's won many, many awards in the design community. Her word means a lot.

And she would actually compliment me, and say things that I took to heart. And I don't think I would ever become arrogant because of the compliments, because I'm just inherently really self-conscious about my work. And I think the fact that I had some validation, just one thing to hang on to, gave me enough energy to put in the extra effort. And it was just so valuable, and it was completely the professor. There were definitely other factors that played into it, but the professor was like 95% of the reason that it was so effective. That it was such an amazing experience - because of her, as a person, and what she did.

And instead of final grades at the end of the semester you get a little slip that describes your work, your improvement, and what you need to work on, and she said the nicest thing that I'd ever received from any professor - and probably…anyone. Ever. (laughs) It was the most validating few sentences. It was so amazingly profound. And for me, it just created this feeling of…it was more than validation. It was feeling at ease with the fact that I can be a designer, and that's okay. And that was the first time I'd ever felt that way. And that was just…it was a little sigh of relief. It was monumental for me.

JH

Let me back up for a second - when you were in junior high, high school, whatever, you talked a little bit about sports and stuff - but what about school during that time? Were you still drawing? Was there anything else that was coming up creatively? What influenced you?

AC

Let's see. I loved school. Inherently I loved the process of school - just learning things - I would say, other than drawing, the act of asking questions and learning about things and how they relate to one another in the grand scheme, is probably one of the things that's closest to my heart. And I think even more so…this is a pretty strong statement, but…even more so than actually drawing, and the creative act, is the act of conversation and dialog.

I don't think I've ever thought about it, but if I had to put my finger on it – it’s the space that is opened up when you have a conversation with someone who's willing to open up at the same time…to have a dialog that is not really about proving a point, or forcing your opinion on someone else. Which is the opposite of what I like. It's about actually talking about where you come from, and then listening to where they come from, and then finding that middle ground that's so eye-opening, and creates…nothing but empathy, and understanding for more things in general. So I think the beauty of conversation and dialog comes in that space that allows for this bridge to be connected to you and this other person, but also, it opens you up to everyone else who's gone through similar experiences.

So when you see that, with someone else who can go there with you, but is not coming from the same exact place as you… and then you see where they're coming from, and you actually internalize and intellectualize the things they're saying as relatable things…then that opens up all this mind-power…it's hard to explain, because it's this abstract idea of empathy. Which is, to me, just being able to relate to more people. So when you're talking to people, the more you talk, the more you can relate to OTHER people. But on more than a one-on-one basis. For me, it's like, one conversation is not just going to help me get better at talking to people that have gone through that same experience. The more that I do it, the better I get at relating to people. And to me, it's hard for me to imagine something that's more important than relating to other people in this universe where we're all in it together.

So something about school, learning, and having dialogs… in school, and high school, I was lucky enough to have some professors that were not completely by-the-book. In the sense that they weren't there just to – you weren't these empty vessels that they’d pour into, and then you had to pour it all back into a test. They would engage with you. Maybe briefly, but they were definitely willing get into things that you were genuinely curious about. And that was, I think, really vital. And I did this, in fact, since elementary school, and it was really what I loved about school. The fact that you can engage with any subject, regardless of the context, in the same way that you'd engage with something that you inherently love.

Like, art is something that I've always been interested in, but, for example, biology, I'd never thought about. But If I'm on the same wavelength and the teacher's passionate enough…if you FEEL the passion, if you can sense the passion in them, it doesn't matter what they content is. I don't care what they're talking about, as long as they're really involved and engaged, and they're not, like, talking to a book. If they're talking from their heart. It's tangibly different when they're talking through their heart. I'm using these abstract terms, but to me, they're very real, in the sense that I will actually go from shut-off to turned-on; completely by the amount of engagement they have with their own subject.

JH

Yep. I totally get that. And it IS about the heart. Because you're right; you can't be passionate about something if it's not coming from…connected to your heart, right? Passion isn't an intellectual process.

AC

No, it's not.

JH

So, the feeling…again, it's the feeling of it. I totally get that. So the teachers you had, the ones that you're thinking of right now - you're saying that it wasn't necessarily about the subject as much as it was the person, and their engagement with the subject.

AC

Absolutely. The mentors I think I would cite, in high school, would definitely be those that were most passionate about their individual subjects. My biology teacher, she was one of the most amazing people in the world. She had this insatiable urge to know about biology, and she taught it with this beautiful conviction, and she just had this great personality. Exuberant. And I think maybe my personality is more drawn to exuberant people, because I happen to be exuberant. (laughs) And so maybe that kind of helped. But she was definitely one of those people.

And actually, now that I think about it, and say those words, I almost immediately regret it; because my second-greatest mentor was a substitute teacher, and he was an existentialist, he was a pessimist, he was a realist…he never seemed super happy with his life. I think he'd gone from being a…he worked for UPS, and then he was a substitute teacher; I don't even know what he's doing now. But he's a poet, and he would teach different things and he would like, talk about it with me. And he would talk about all the things that he was inspired by. But he wasn't exuberant, as a personality. I think what he talked about was just really fascinating. And he had this…he would engage with me - it wasn't like he would be pedantic, or condescending - he would actually want to engage in it; it was visible. So I guess maybe, what I'm drawn to, is probably visible engagement. Because exuberance implies happiness, and a Joie de vivre, and it didn't seem like he had that kind of feeling, but it was definitely…a feeling of real engagement with the things he was talking about. And that's what I was relating to.

So, he would recommend a book, or a CD, or a movie, and I would go out and get them. I don't think I had ever done that before. If there was anyone that was a MENTOR-mentor, in that sense, that was him. He had my back for like three years, and senior year I got really close to him because I had all these free periods, because I chose not to take AP classes that I wasn't inherently interested in. I didn't want to waste all this time doing stuff that I wasn't really, truly passionate about. So I had all these free periods where I would talk to him in the library, and we would get things he would recommend to me, and I would read his poetry, and we would talk about all of these…anything, really. Anything. And he was always willing to engage. And when I told him I got into RISD, he was not surprised at all. He was like… he expected it. And he's one of the smartest people I know; he's just a brilliant guy. And I had always looked up to him for his sheer intelligence. He was convinced that I could go anywhere I wanted, and I was just so incredibly flattered and honored by that fact.

And one of the things that I think has carried over from that into college is that he's one of the people that validated my… my intellectual capacity. And no-one had ever done that. Because in high school, teachers would just give you a test, you would do well, but you wouldn't be validated in that way. But he was one of the people that actually, really believed in me, in that venue.

JH

Yeah. And it sounds like he really could see you; like he really saw you for who you were.

AC

Exactly! And that's kind of what was so important about it to me.

Now, if I could think of any other…in high school…I would draw in almost every single class that I took. (laughs) To me, almost intrinsic to the process of taking notes is the sketching act. So I would of course find myself drawing. (laughs) And it's funny - there's doodling, and then there's drawing, and I would definitely find myself drawing very specific things in some classes. So like, if we were talking about a war in American history, I would find myself drawing, like, a battlefield, or guns. If I was in biology, I would find myself drawing animals, plant cells, stuff that was relevant.

And I did relatively well in the classes that I took, and my teachers really liked the fact that I was doing something that no-one else was doing. So in the history, of Blindbrook High School nobody had ever gone to art school. And my school is like…I don't want to say it's super old, but it's maybe 40 or 50 years old. It's a very academically oriented school; everybody goes to Ivy League colleges, or a little below Ivy League. Super competitive. And the fact that I wasn't in that mindset, I think, was refreshing to some of the teachers. A lot of them were my champions, I think, from an early age.

I just recently went back to my elementary school and saw some of my old teachers, and they were just really happy that I was still drawing. And that doesn't really happen a lot, in my school - I don't know how often it happens in life anywhere, where kids that are drawing at a young age continue to draw, and actually pursue that for the rest of their lives. It made them happy to hear that one of their pupils actually did the thing that they were really in love with.

JH

Right! Well, it sounds pretty much like…and I'm sure not everyone was like this, but…somehow, you were given enough space that you were able to continue, no matter what, to draw. So somehow, the space was made for that. People weren't saying, "stop your drawing! Take some notes!"

AC

No! I could not emphasize how blessed I am to have been born where I was, with the people that I was surrounded by. Everyone was my champion. I don't think there's any one person that discouraged me from following that which I loved. Which is an incredible blessing.

JH

Yeah, and you know - I have to say, that really, that is a big deal. Because, boy…I'm not sure I've heard anyone say that. Not quite in that way, at least.

You know, the thing is, Alex…yes, for sure, you were deeply blessed by having these people – but what I'm also feeling as you're describing your life - it seems like you've always been so clear. Like, the most crystal-clear note of music, that just rings through, not wavering – that kind of feeling. It feels like you've always been that, and because you've always been that, people can hear that note, can see it and hear it. So that, for sure, those are great fortunes for you, but also, some of it is coming from you. I think what I'm getting at, is that, you know, it's partly because of YOU, and who you are. You know?

AC

That's interesting. And I never thought about it like that…

JH

Well, it's not the kind of thing you think about yourself. (laughs)

AC

It's funny - in that context - and now I think about it, the purest creative act I have right now in my life is clothing, like, getting dressed in the morning. It’s interesting because I had some backlash from people that I loved, like my brother - actually, it was only guys that had this…it was a little abrasive to some of my friends, and my closest people, that had felt like I had changed. The fact that I had started dressing well.

So, when I was in high school, and before that, I really didn't pay that much attention to how I was dressed. I mean, I definitely chose T-shirts from this website I really liked, that was a conscious choice, but I wasn't really consciously thinking about style. I was thinking about the t-shirt as a t-shirt; like as a means to an end, and how there can be this clever image on a t-shirt, which is a cool medium for it, but it wasn't…it never seemed to me…I couldn't really put outfits together, or…I wasn't even interested in it. It wasn't something that ever occurred to me in a way that was intriguing or had my interest.

JH

Yeah - what happened? How did it evolve?

AC

Yeah… It's so intangible, because…freshman year in college, I wore t-shirts and cargo pants, and that was my go-to uniform, prior to the summer following freshman year. And then after that summer I got a job at Banana Republic, because…for some reason, I felt compelled. I can't explain why, but I was compelled to start working at a clothing store, and for some reason I kept getting this feeling that…I just was really interested in the way that they were dressing. And I had no clothes, none, literally no clothes that matched with this style that I liked. I was like "but this is really cool. Why doesn't everyone dress like this?" So what I started doing was, I started trying to do what I could with what I had. So you know, I would see collared shirts. And I had some collared shirts, but I didn't have anything that was exactly what I wanted. So essentially, long story short, I got to a point where I was trying to create these outfits out of what I had. I would basically put t-shirts on over long-sleeved shirts, and looking back…it was definitely an evolutionary process. (laughs) And it still is…I know my taste is changing every day. And it's definitely one of those things that, over time, grows.

And I remember so vividly that summer, when I had some friends visiting. I was going through this very real transition period, where I was much more conscious of the things that I wanted to be like, and to look like. And it was definitely a visual thing. It was very heavily based on things that I saw and wanted to emulate. And that became, over time, what it is today, which is looking at things and being inspired by them, whether it's on the street, or whether it's on a blog or on a photo that my mom took. And using that, in terms of either looking at the textures, or the colors, or the combinations of them…using that and incorporating that into what I'm wearing on an everyday basis.

And that act had become the forefront of my creative process. More so than graphic design, even though graphic design is my trade - definitely the thing that gives me the most passion, the most happiness, the most satisfaction by far is getting dressed in the morning. And I have no idea why. I'm sure it's exactly the same thread from when I was drawing, when I was learning, but…the feeling has to be exactly the same. It's just that when I'm getting dressed in the morning, it feels like I have all these choices, and I have to take one and create a brand around it.

Over time, I've started to embrace different styles. So for a while, I had to pick a wardrobe, and go with that. If I started off going all over the place, it would feel really incoherent. So when I first started buying clothes, they were very…they were actually all from Banana Republic, because I got a huge discount, and that's where I was being paid, and it was easy, so all my clothes were relatively preppy. And they were a little older, but they were definitely much more formal than anything I'd ever worn before. And that's how I started dressing, V-neck sweaters and collared shirts underneath, and some slacks and Khakis and stuff like that.

And then I started moving, over time, in a different direction. So I started looking at more stuff, and liking…let's see…I liked J-Crew a lot; I went through a J-Crew phase. Actually, it's funny - I liked J-Crew, and then I stopped liking J-Crew, and then I liked J-Crew again. (laughs) It really is this adaptive, constantly dynamic process. It's really about being aware of what's happening and what you're feeling when you're looking at something. And it always comes back to that feeling that you get when you're present with something. Whether it's a shirt, a bag, a work of art - it's like…very visceral; if I see it, I see it, and I cannot see it any other way. And if I don't buy it, I'll be thinking about it for a month.

JH

Right? Yeah. It's like…gosh. I so know the feeling…. I don't know if it's exactly the same, but…like when I'm wearing exactly the right thing, on a given day…I can be more myself. Somehow I am more vividly who I am.

AC

Oh, my god. That is exactly it. No, that's a beautiful way of putting it. That's exactly what it is. I feel more of myself when I'm in clothing that I'm happy with. That's what it comes down to. Everything, literally everything I do that day, comes more naturally - it's hard to explain, but you seem to have hit the nail on the head with those words. That's exactly it.

JH

I totally know what you mean. And for me, what I know is that anyone looking at me on that day wouldn't necessarily go, like "wow! Look at that outfit!" You know? It's just how it feels to me. I can feel like "yes" - I am really who I am today. Because I'm wearing exactly the right thing. And it's almost like I feel… what's the equivalence of volume in color? It's not necessarily brightness, but I just feel more…vivid, somehow.

It sounds like, for you, the expression of your clothes is really an expression of your you-ness. And the fact that it's constantly changing and evolving is, you know, partly an expression of your engagement with the creative process. Like, you are just so…engaged in it all the time. In the same way that you have these connections and conversations that are ongoing, you know? In a way it's also a sort of a conversation. I don't know how, but…it's so cool. It's such a cool thing that you found that.

Was there one particular thing that sparked it, or was this just sort of something that…evolved? Did you see something and just go "oh my god", or…?

AC

You know, there must have been one. I want to believe that it was a Banana Republic ad that I saw; I have this inkling that it was some advertisement, and I saw the way the clothes fit someone…maybe I didn't really think about why I liked it, but I knew that I liked it. So I had to start from what I knew. So maybe I saw the words "Banana Republic" attached to the ad, so I was like "I love Banana Republic..." I must've been really attracted to that one thing, and then thought, "This is what I have to do."

And so I really dedicated myself, that summer, to Banana Republic. And for a while, people just associated me with Banana Republic, because of the amount of…I don't want to say obsession, but it was really a profound engagement with the company. And what it meant to me was much more than the company itself. It was fulfilling this part of me that had never been fulfilled before. And that summer was profoundly important in the shift to this mindset, where I feel comfortable in my clothes, and that makes a lot of difference in the way that people perceive me. And not in the way that they like the way I dress, but in the way that I feel more comfortable in what I'm wearing, so they can pick up on that change in confidence, and self-awareness; feeling like who you are, to a greater extent, is definitely tangible and manifest to everyone around you. Like you were talking about, when you're wearing an outfit that you like - maybe they don't notice the clothes themselves, but they notice you. And you act differently, inherently, because you're much more comfortable in your own skin, in your own clothing.

And so that act was much more apparent to everyone around me. And thinking about it now, I definitely was much more outgoing post-that-summer, than I had ever been in my life. I was a relatively shy person going into college. I had a group of friends that I talked to, but I never really… I just wasn't really comfortable talking to new people, and…it was just something that I wasn't really good at. But I think there was a dramatic shift internally, that summer…there was real…pride, my feeling more confident in the way I was dressing, feeling more confident in myself as a person, as an individual…as a human interacting with the world at large. It was really…very…real.

JH

Right. I totally get that. Okay so…what does it feel like now?

AC

Basically, I'm just thinking about how my mind changed from Banana Republic to liking Club Monaco and J Crew. And I think at the point where I started liking Club Monaco, I got to this point where I really was infatuated by not only the clothes, but the aura that surrounded the company. So it was the clothes, it was the layout of the store, it was the music that was being played, it was the employees and how beautiful they were. That was definitely an infatuation. I was really…not mesmerized, but…there's a word. Help me out here. "Under the spell of" or something. I felt like I wanted to be a part of that.

So I worked there for a while. And after a while I realized that although I still loved the clothing and the people, it was a lot more…insubstantial. Like, it didn't have the same substance that I hoped it would. I don't even know why I thought it would. But it was like…the people that worked there weren't that interesting, and the music got old after a little bit. Not that it was a bad thing, but it was important to have that eye-opening experience.

I only worked there for about three months, and I was like, "This is good. This is enough." And so I came away just feeling more confident. I still love the clothes, and that's fine, and I'll shop there. But I'm happy to know that I don't really want to be a part of that culture. And I think I like having facets of the culture - I like integrating parts of it into my life, and picking and choosing. But completely dedicating myself to one company - that seemed like it would not help me out. And I then realized that what I was sorting for, after that point, what my priorities were in terms of my working life was…I wanted to find things that would really help me grow as a thinker, and as a designer. So as long as I was being challenged in many different ways, that's what I was going for.

So let's say I love Ralph Lauren, or J Crew. If I were to completely commit to that one company and the content…unless I was really being challenged, I feel like I wouldn't be interested in it. And after taking in their design theory, something like that, I was aware that I was so steeped in the culture already that I wouldn't be getting enough new things out of the experience than I would be getting from something that was completely out of my field.

So the year following college, I did a lot of freelance work that was completely across the board. Very eclectic stuff. A mix of different people and projects. Basically, all I did was branding. Branding is such a vast and exquisite art. I worked with everyone from this tiny company that sold pies on the promenade, out of this little kiosk…to an interior decorator, a hair care company…my biggest project, actually, the biggest budget, was something that I did for a video software company…they were in San Francisco, and they were this multimillion dollar company that needed a re-brand. So basically, I completely planned the aesthetic - and that was amazing.

And basically, I just did all this huge breadth of work in this one year of time, after college…and I realized that it actually was who I was working with, and what I was getting out of the experience… it didn't have to be in the fashion world, it didn't have to be in menswear, it didn't have to be in stuff that I inherently liked. Really, the thing that I was drawn to was the people, and the conversations that I was engaging in, and the creative act of going back and forth, and creating something that's bigger than the sum of our parts. I realized my top priorities were to be surrounded by people that I love, and do things that help me grow, as a person, as a designer, and as a thinker.

And that's kind of what I'm doing now. I'm going to San Francisco. I really love the people there. My friends from RISD, my closest friends, live there, except one of them, who I have to convince to move there. My friends are there…I'm doing this job that I never thought…I would never have said "yeah, I'll be working for a biomedical company…" you know? I'm working with this company called Council. They have this amazing product - basically they can sequence the human genome, a very specific part of it, and they can tell expectant parents what kinds of diseases and disorders that their children might be susceptible to.

JH

Wow. Really? That's the company? That's amazing.

AC

Yeah! It is. And apparently they do this for one per cent of all the people in the United States now, and they're expanding. They're the first company to be doing this…and it's just a really interesting field. And not only am I intrigued by the field itself, and what they’re doing within the company, but also the people that work there are just brilliant. They actually all come from, like, MIT and Stanford. And it's just so inspiring to be around that level of intelligence. What's great about is that they're not pretentiously smart. They're really willing to engage, because they're still a startup, and they haven't been around for like 50 years, so they're not ingrained in the old paradigm. They're really willing to engage in a dynamic creative process of building a brand, and having conversations about different stuff. And fortunately for me, that is something that I love. That engagement. And the design team that I'm working with is really nice. They're willing to talk about the same things. It's not like I'm doing really banal stuff that, like, anyone can do as long as they have Photoshop. I'm doing interesting work. And I've only been here for a week! It has been satisfying already.

JH

That's amazing. Yeah. I mean, the thing that's so amazing about that is that you just intuitively know to sort for that. You know what you're sorting for. It's so much deeper than the surface of it…I mean, even on the surface this sounds fabulous, actually - but you're actually sorting for the deeper engagement…there's not a lot of people that know to do that, when they're looking for a job. Particularly starting out, you know? That's amazing.

AC

I think it's a blessing and a curse. Because fortunately…it's really good to know that, and to sort for that, but it also… if I'm not engaging in it fully, I cannot produce good work. I won't be able to make something that I'm happy with; I won’t be able to just meet deadlines. So like, if I'm totally engaged with it, then I will have a job. Like, then I can do it forever. But if I'm not…I'm just not really good at working at something that I don't like, or that I'm not engaged in, in some way.

So fortunately, when I'm engaged I can work around the clock, and I'm really interested, and I can have these conversations all the time. But if it's something that I'm not engaged in…which is a part of life! Like, you're not always going to be engaged with everything. But if I’m not then I'm not good at putting in 100% at something that I'm not completely engaged in. So it's good, and it's bad, and that's part of life, and I'm just learning to reconcile it and figure out how I can, you know, live a life that sustains me where I can still do what I love.

JH

Right. Well, yeah. I'm with you, of course. There's definitely part of life that is that way. And, you know, hopefully, this sort of new paradigm that we're holding for is that mostly, life WILL be that engaged. I mean, the way that it's been, for a long time, is not so much that, you know?

I certainly know that I grew up…I don't know how this belief became ingrained in me, but it was for sure ingrained in me that you go to work, and it isn't very interesting, to say the least. (laughs) I guess the thing that I realized, at some point, was that…"oh wait…here's why this feels deadening…it's because I'm not bringing my whole self to work because this work doesn't engage my whole self,” you know? And I think you and your friends and colleagues and collaborators are creating a new paradigm in which it's imperative that you DO bring your whole self.

AC

It does! It feels bizarrely generational; I'm not exactly sure why. I think a lot of my peers, especially my peers from art school - not exclusively art-school peers, but… a lot of them have done jobs at amazing companies, like Google and Apple…companies that are just doing incredibly well today - and they are still unsatisfied. And are leaving them within like a year or two of college! So they get these amazing jobs, they do it for a year, and they're already leaving it. I think they feel too closed-in, and they don't want to do that one specific thing forever. So they clearly don't feel satisfied.

And for some reason, this generation of kids been bred to…I don't know what it is. But there's something there that's imperative that you have total creative satisfaction. Or something along those lines - I don't know if that's exactly it. But there's something there that is missing from these peoples' lives that's not being found in their jobs - at these amazing companies! That hundreds of thousands of people would be happy and ecstatic to be in. They’re like…"I'm leaving." I mean, you have an amazing job! You just started, and you're already working at Apple! That's amazing! But there's something there that's…deeper. It must be coming from this place of, like…"this is just not making me happy" - and fortunately, I have a choice that I don't have to work here. So I think it's borne out of some privilege, and some deep-rooted inner creative pursuit. It's a mysterious thing, but it is definitely a pattern I've been seeing among my friends, and it’s interesting to witness.

JH

Wow. So I want to go back for a second and ask - what was it like at RISD? What was it like for you there? That's an amazing place, I hear.

AC

Yeah, it is. It is an amazing place. Let's see…where should I start with RISD? First year at RISD was foundation year. We were made to do every kind of media imaginable. It's called foundation year because it's meant to give you a foundation for all the creative acts or pursuits following that year. So regardless of the major, that first year would give you the building blocks for any kind of endeavor that you might go on to choose. Stuff like drawing, sculpting, three-dimensional, two-dimensional…we did some computer work, digital stuff…some classes required writing, some required performance art. Just across-the-board kind of work. So it basically gave us the feeling of "what's out there" - a breadth of content, and also seeing our peers and what they could produce.

You get a feel for all different media, so that when you make the choice of what major you want, you're positive that's what you want to do. And I think it was super important. It was probably the hardest year, but it was also the most memorable and interesting year, because I met all my friends. I made the connections to the people I know today that I'm closest with. I can't say that I liked the classes freshman year. I never felt like I was doing amazing work in those classes - I always felt like I was half-assing it, even if I was spending 20 hours on a project, it never felt like I was really satisfied with the work I was producing. Because I'm not really…I don't feel like an artist. I never felt like work coming from myself, purely myself, was legitimate - I don't know why; it's just a feeling I had. And I never felt really comfortable presenting, like, a work of art to a professor and defending it…

Which is the total opposite of the design process, where I can tell you why I made certain design decisions and how those decisions affect the overall intention of the work. So let's say I'm making a logo for a tech company - I can explain why I chose a certain font, and why that aesthetic choice is upholding certain intentions for the company's future. So it's much more logic-based.

And I thinking back on it, knowing that I was uncomfortable with that side of it really helped me solidify my choice to go into graphic design. Because even in high school, I was pursuing graphic design to a lesser extent. I did some Photoshop work. I did some logos…the logos I was doing were, hilariously, for myself. I had this program called Adobe Macromedia Flash. And it's this program that was basically intended to be used for making websites and animations, and not for design. It's not a design program. But you can put fonts in it, and you can draw. It'll allow you to draw, but it's not designed with that in mind. But it's better than using, like, Microsoft Word to design something really beautiful. So it would take a huge amount more effort, but you could do it if you spent a lot more time.

So I had this program, and I used it in all different ways, Like, I used it to make website stuff, and I used it to make logos for myself, just to practice, and to have fun. And I was just copying things that I liked. And actually my senior year in high school, we had to either do one of two things: we had to either do a personal project, or do an internship. And I did a personal project: I created a brand. Which is hilarious, because that's basically what I did for my senior year of college! Like, I made advertisements, I made a logo, and I made a number of posters and guidelines…I put a lot of work into it, but it was…it was hilarious, because I didn't think I was going to go into branding at all. But it was something I had been doing at the time, and it seemed like an easy thing. Like, I knew the guidance counselor well enough that she would definitely back anything that I chose to do, because she knew I was an earnest worker, and that I wouldn't just slack off and not do anything.

So she said, "Yeah! Go for it!", so I did that. And then…

JH

So wait, hold on. You did this branding project for your senior project in high school? And it sounds like it was an extension of something you were kind of just doing for fun for yourself anyway.

AC

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

JH

Okay. So you are a kid that was doing branding in your spare time, just for fun. Like, it was so intuitive…wow. That's amazing.

AC

It's hilarious!

JH

No, it's not hilarious, it's incredible. It's so clear that just following that… following the thread of who you are takes you right to the thing that you're meant to do. You know what I mean?

AC

Definitely. And…I'll go back to RISD in a second, but if I may make a leap to the present…I see now why branding is such a big part of my life. Because me, as a person…I am a brand, of sorts. Everyone is their own brand; everyone chooses how they want to present themselves. and every choice they make - what they wear, how they comport themselves, how they furnish their home, what people they surround themselves with - all are conscious choices they're making…actually, sometimes unconsciously, and that's just as relevant. But the choices they're making decide who they are as a brand; who they are as a person.

JH

Wow. That's true. I never thought of it that way, but you're right.

AC

And it's really interesting to think about, in that lens. Because I, for my senior thesis project - I was thinking about branding myself. And that as a notion is hugely intimidating. Because on one hand, yes. I like very specific things. I love furniture, and I love clothing, and I love design. And these are things that are exterior, and things that I love to do and I love to look at. But there is no way of fully encompassing who I am. And there is no way to actually synthesize this dynamic person that is me. First of all I'm always changing, and that's not something that can be summarized in a single logo or a single brand aesthetic - like, that's not a thing. You can't do that. So it felt really uncomfortable for me to start doing that. But my process, when I was doing a thesis, fortunately was that you have a lot of time to sit and think about it.

For the first month and a half I went through different iterations of branding. I knew I wanted to do branding; I didn't know exactly what I wanted to brand. So the first thing I imagined was to brand myself. And, like, how to brand this dynamic thing. Because even companies are dynamic, and so companies will go through re-brands… and so that, itself, is difficult as-is. That's just not an easy task. And so, how do you come up with something that synthesizes really beautifully the inner workings of this massive company? Or a small company that has myriad facets to it, and can change every day, but also has this specific mission statement in mind, and they're constantly pursuing really specific core values…and that's just a question that you have to constantly ask yourself while you're doing work for a company.

So when I was thinking about it for myself, it just seemed like, for me, really uncomfortable when I thought about it in terms of a human being. Because it felt too personal. It felt like…people are infinite! That's really the foundation of this thought. People are these true infinite beings that encompass the entire universe. So in that sense, it felt so uncomfortable to confine it. I mean, it's possible. You could do it. Like, I could've done this project and it would've been interesting in and of itself. But it just felt, while I was thinking about it, really viscerally wrong, and so I decided not to do it. And so that was that.

Instead, I made a company that was a mixture of the things, externally, that I liked a lot. Which was furniture, designing spaces, interior design, menswear, and then design. So this store was a fictional menswear boutique that would be in Milan, Italy, and I basically branded it…I made the logo, I made the facade for the store, I made the stationary, and the envelope, I made a stamp for it, a physical stamp, I made a business card…

JH

Wow! My gosh.

AC

Yeah! And it was real fun, and it was a very long process. I went through many different logos, and it was really amazing. It was one of my best works, and I spent like five months doing it, and I'm really proud of it. And it's not done, it's definitely not complete, but it has a lot of workings, so it's something that really had a lot of thought and time that went into it, and it's one of the things I'm really proud of. And I think that amount of time…I've never had, since then. When I'm doing branding projects, the timeline is much shorter…usually I'm working with one other person or two other people. But like, when I was doing this project for myself, my thesis project, I was working with my entire class, and they were all giving me feedback. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But what I realized was that what's so amazing about branding is that you can synthesize something that's complex into a simple thing - and that's something that was really interesting to me. And I guess that's the only way I can put it - it was just fascinating.

You know, when I was a kid - this is something I didn't mention, but - I would always bring my toys, and specifically my swords, everywhere I went. And I was convinced - I wanted one specific sword, and I'd have to bring that everywhere. I would have very specific things like that. Like, when I was twelve, I was convinced, absolutely, without the slightest doubt, that I needed a laptop. Like…I didn't NEED a laptop. Why does a kid need a laptop? (laughs) It's ridiculous. Laptops didn't become popular for like 15 years. Now people like having laptops of their own. At that time, some houses had computers, but not EVERY house. I don't know why, but I knew I wanted a laptop. And that existed in many forms throughout my life. To this day, that still happens…usually it's like, a bag that I really love. A specific piece, like an accent piece, or like a boot. Or a shoe, or something really specific that I know I need to have, and I don't know why. But it's definitely this really visceral feeling.

And that's one of those things that I see about myself that's really core, and really at the heart of me, and I think everyone has that. And there are these things that define people throughout their lives, and this is kind of what this project is about, in a sense. How this one creative spark is threaded throughout their lives in different ways manifestly, but at the core, it's the same exact thing. So I think if I may follow the thread, that is part of who they are as a brand. I see it as, like, just another way of looking at them as a person. So when I think about myself…I like to make ties to everything I'm doing, to just see it in that way. And it just feels much more like a cohesive thing. And I can't for the life of me imagine why that, over anything else. Like, why do I see it in terms of branding? I really wish I did know.

JH

Okay, well…it sounds like what you're getting at when you're doing branding is the essence of the person or the company, right? It's something essential about them, that...it's dynamic, it's a thing that's always changing, but there's something essential about it that wants to be expressed, right? And somehow this feels connected to your own style. And when you want a particular thing, a particular…whatever, like a bag…is it that somehow it feels, in a visceral way, that it expresses something essential about, you, or…?

AC

Yeah! I like that! That has to be it, because…when I'm wearing clothes…or not even wearing them! Like, I'm looking at them. Just looking at them from a third-person perspective gives you the same feeling. Wearing them is a different act, but looking at them, in their own space, looking at them as an object, even if I don't own them, is just…very visceral. And it definitely touches something that's essential in me. And I don't know what it is, but I think that feeling is the thing that exists in everyone, and that is probably the essential thing that I'm really drawn to. And that's what the brand is. That essential thing that makes them who they are. And that is carried on in everything they do, whether they know it or not.

JH

Right. Well…and when you can see that in someone else, and get the intuitive hit of what that essence is, and then create something for them…I mean…you can't even put a price on how valuable that is.

AC

Yeah. And it's not easy. It's actually very hard to do.

JH

I'm sure it is! I could not imagine.

AC

Yeah. Because the times that I have branded people…when you create a brand that really, succinctly speaks to who they are, it should evoke an emotional response, because it's so desperately them. Usually I've had people tear up, and they feel that this is exactly what it should be. And that's how it should be, but it's hard to do that every time. Because it requires such an amazing amount of things lining up. But I think it's the thing that I'm doing in the process that I love so much. Finding that essence, and condensing it. And when they see it, it's like a rush. It's just that feeling, expressed in a single mark on a page - and there's something so beautiful about it.

JH

Right. Wow. I get that. And I can feel that that is what you do. It's who you are.

So, when you were talking about being at RISD, the first year, when you were having to take all these classes in things you weren't really interested in doing…there was a distinction that you made between art and design, and I'm curious to know…what is the difference between art and design?

AC

I see it as a dichotomy. And I think they overlap in a lot of ways, aesthetically, and each one references the other in very real ways. But the process of art, more often than not, is definitely different from the process of design. So design is a mutual act. It requires someone else to be working with you directly to create something that you both feel happy with, and you both are creating…basically, they want to express something, and you have the tools to express it, so you work with them to help them express it. Whereas art, in its purest form, is self-expression. It's when you feel something inside yourself that needs to be expressed, and you spend time expressing that purely through your own means.

So there are certainly ways in which the two overlap, and I don't want to make these blanket statements, but I've definitely seen a very true difference in the types of people…in personality types. Just pure personality types that go into design, and go into art. It's definitely real.

JH

Yeah, yeah, I get that. Okay. That's not something that I've ever explicitly thought about. Because I would've said, like, "oh, well, you are an artist." I would consider that art, you know?

AC

Yeah, right. So that's another thing - that conversation is born out of the question "what is Art". That's almost unanswerable. Anything CAN be art. Context is everything with art, and if you put design in the right context, it can become art. So even if you look at a poster that…it looks like it's the most commercial thing in the world; it doesn't look aesthetically, or artistically in any way like it took a lot of emotional thought…it just looks purely commercial…even that, put into the right context, can look like an art piece. Even Duchamp's urinal is an art piece. So context is everything. Timing is part of context, so whether it's in relation to a specific movement of art and a reaction to it, or it’s something that could be considered design into a gallery, then it becomes art. It's such a hard distinction to be made, but I think the truest difference between them is the actual process of how it's created.

I consider something "design" if you worked with someone else directly to create it…it’s not completely something from yourself. It's not like "here - I trust you. Make something beautiful." It's like, "here's an engaging process that I'm working with you to create, and we're going through different versions of it. We're not going to create something right off the bat, and we understand this." And we create something better than we both thought was possible. And that's the ideal form of design, I think, in my mind. And that's not an easy thing to come to. I mean, it's not every time this happens. But I think that design can be art, and beautiful, and incredibly engaging. And art can be design - you can use an art piece for design ends. On the superficial level, if you just look at it externally, anything can be either one.

JH

Right! I get it. I so understand what you're saying…and it's so interesting, because I hadn’t thought about it in that way before…so - whether one is doing art or design, what about the creative process itself? Is the creative process the same? Like the actual…process of creating something, whether it's in the context of design or the context of art. Like, for you…what comes up for you? Just talk about your process. What is the creative process like for you?

AC

The creative process itself…I think a lot of it has to do with what I'm inspired by in the moment. And I think that's not unusual. It changes with the time; it's relevant to what is a part of the culture, and…like, my taste in font choices will be based on stuff I find recently…I don't make a conscious effort to go out and do new things, like try something new for the sake of it, but I also won't go back to the same kind of design principles or the same fonts because I know they work. So…I'm basically always aware of what's out there, and paying attention to the things and trends in the design world, and the world at large, culturally.

And then basically, after that, I'll often sketch versions of a logo if I'm doing a brand, or a layout if I'm doing a composition for a poster. And I'll just get some ideas across, to see if the composition works; create a base foundation for the design. And then either I'll scan it or take a picture of it, and convert it to an Illustrator file, and I'll actually trace it and create a digital version of that image. Or if I'm doing composition, I'll go directly to this program called InDesign, which helps you lay out text really well. And actually, InDesign is one of the best programs… after five years of using it, I'm really comfortable with it, and it just feels like I'm home if I'm working in InDesign. You're basically moving text around on a page, and you can create some beautiful compositions that way. So one of the things that I love most about the creative process is also what people hate most about it - moving letters around on a page in pixels. So, like, you move a pixel over to the right; one pixel.

So it seems, on the surface, from the outsider's perspective, like it would be incredibly tedious. And it can be. But like, you have a strong design, and you want to perfect it. So you’re moving individual letters around, and how they're spaced away from each other - that's called kerning and tracking - and individual lines and how far they are away from each other, in relation to everything else, and hierarchy…things like boldness and italics… creating a visual composition which is engaging, but engages the viewer in the right way, in the right order. And so asking the right questions, at the right moment, is imperative to creating a functional design. And that doesn't always happen in the beginning, so over time, you'll go through different iterations, and you may have to go through three entire versions of something that you really hate to get to the one that you actually like. So, more than anything else, it requires a lot of work. Just…doing it. Doing it, rather than not doing it, is always better. So I may spend a lot of time doing a poster - hours of work. And then maybe I don't like it, and I'm over it - until the next day. I'll sleep on it. And then maybe I'll do something else, and it'll take me three hours, and it'll be so much better than the one I spend eight hours on, but I needed to go through those eight hours to have the experience of seeing what was good, and what feels right for the aesthetic.

And it's this really hard-to-pinpoint process that changes every time. And it's so incredibly…intangible. You cannot hold it in your hand, because it's always changing, it's always morphing, becoming something new every time you touch it, so…it's one of those things that you have to expect to be different every time. That's why design is kind of interesting - you never know what's going to be there. Sometimes you hit a home run the first time you step up to plate - you'll just do perfect the first round, and it'll be done. But sometimes, it'll take a few weeks. So…I don't know…at the beginning, I used to think if it took longer than a certain amount of time, it was bad, or I was bad….but now, I realize, that's part of the process. That's inherent in the process. And sometimes, you need to just be with it, and its different iterations.

JH

How do you know you're done?

AC

You don't. Real design is never done. It's the same with art, you...

JH

Right, but…how do you get to the place where you're okay...

AC

Realistically speaking, if the client is happy, then you're happy. Even if you're not completely satisfied, that's okay, sometimes you just have to move on. And that's okay! And you have to let go. Relinquishing attachment to design is the most important thing. Especially if you want critique - if you want to get feedback and you want to get better at design, you have to relinquish your attachment to that design. You have to know that you're not the best, and you have to assume that there's always something more to learn, and so…if you just don't become attached to design, you can always use things, you can always improve. And so part of that becomes, when you’re finished with a product, even if you're not happy with it…if they're happy with it, you move on, you know that you can do better next time…and then you do. You're aware that you do the design, but it's not yours, right? So you create it, but it's not YOUR work. It's just work that is on the way. It's one long process. So there's no real end to design - there's not a finish, there's just…

JH

It seems so dynamic and so infinite, in and of itself, actually.

AC

It is, yeah.

JH

You never really get there.

AC

Yeah! Design is a process.

JH

And it's almost, like…it sounds almost spiritual, you know? (laughs) The point of the journey is never the destination. I mean, for me, creativity, the creative process, is a very spiritual process. And I am very spiritually oriented myself. That sort of just seems to be a given for me.

So does it feel that way? How does that…

AC

Yeah! I think it definitely is! I don't know how I didn't mention this earlier, but a huge part of my life WAS spirituality. When I was thirteen, my mom started playing the Deepak Chopra tapes, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, in our car, when we were driving places. And I would listen to it, and she would change it, and I would be like "no, go back! I want to hear that!" (laughs) She thought I wouldn't like it. And I became really intrigued by the entire concept of spirituality. This was like my first foray into it, when I was thirteen and driving in the car. And then I started reading some books, and got into Eckhart Tolle, and A New Earth became my new bible, actually. I remember making such a concerted effort - I actually went to a Deepak Chopra weekend retreat, in Rhinebeck, New York with my mom. And I remember…I went up to him…and while everyone was going up to Deepak to get, like, signatures, I remember…I didn't want a signature, I just wanted to ask one question: What's the difference between Transcendental Meditation, which is the specific type of meditation that he references a lot in his work, and the meditation that we had just done that day, because we had done mediation in the class.

And he was like "there's no difference. They're the same." So my practice became infused by those words, essentially. I internalized the fact that whatever I was doing was going to be helpful to me as an individual. So my meditative practice, it seemed like…you know, the one we had done in that class was pretty general. He was like, if you want to count, if you want to whatever…basically make it your own. So it kind of validated my own spiritual practice. And to this day…unfortunately, I don't meditate every day. But I do when I am in a mental rut, or in a space where I feel like I am not fully myself - I'll start meditating and breathing again. Breathing is probably the essence of all meditation; all kinds of spiritual practice. And I think going back to the breath always helps me realign my priorities. I don't even know how I didn't mention this, but that certainly is an incredible foundation for my entire life. And it's interesting, because what I liked about Deepak was that he wasn't purely spiritual, and he wasn't purely intellectual.

He uses both of them in a way that spoke to my natural instinct toward God - I was raised Jewish, but I never fully embraced Judaism. But I definitely embraced certain aspects of it. I've always felt an attachment to being in awe of the universe, and having this connection to something greater that myself. But it also spoke to me as a scientist; as an intellectual. As someone who's curious about how things work, and why they happened… and I think what I liked about Deepak was that he engaged both. Even if maybe not everything was scientifically founded, it resonated with me at a level that was really profound, and it has affected me ever since.

JH

Yeah! Great! I'm so with you on that. And what about…so in terms of spirituality…I mean, your dad is clergy, right? So what about your dad? I guess I'm asking more about your dad than about Judaism.

AC

Well, my dad is more spiritual than he is Jewish. We were raised in a conservative synagogue that was very bureaucratic, and had a lot of "competitive Judaism" going on, which is basically "how Jewish are you?" "Are you going to every service?" Which is so silly to me.

JH

It sounds like a competitive sport. (laughs)

AC

It's laughable. Your reaction is the right one, because that's what it was like. Going to California was not only good for my mom, it was so important for my dad, to get away from that paradigm… okay, so he wants it to be about community. He wants it to be about bringing people together through love, and not through competitiveness, or through fear, which is what it was. So he was able to go join this Reform congregation where he was much more comfortable, and there so much bureaucracy somehow; obviously he's moved on. He's on his own journey. But my dad is definitely more spiritual than he is Jewish. I think what it is about Judaism that he loves is the community that he found as a kid, that resonated with him so deeply, and that he wants to recreate now. And, like, he doesn't care about the details. He just wants people to… he loves Judaism. He just passionately loves it… and…I don't care what you love, as long as you love it. If it's being expressed in a way that doesn't hurt anyone else, and if it's only meant to bring love into the world, I totally support you.

I had a lot of friends at RISD that actually profoundly changed my life, and they were non-denominational Christians. I had never really engaged in Christianity at any point in my life, but…the way I engaged with it in the first place was…going to Bible study groups; they were encouraging anyone to come; to stop in and play devil's advocate. And not in a mean way, but they wanted to discuss this stuff. And I was like, "I'm interested in discussing God." So I went, just with my friends, and after three years, I ended up becoming one of the heads of the Bible group! And I'm Jewish! I wasn't even Christian!

JH

No way!

AC

Yeah! Oh yeah. And I went to the RISD Christian Body, which is separate from this Bible group, and I met some of the most amazingly beautiful people that I've met in my life. They were just purely good. But they weren't forcing their dogma on anyone else. They just loved Jesus, and they loved God, and they were intellectually curious…and they were willing to engage with me, and they liked me a lot, and I liked them a lot. And I went with them on retreats, and I sang songs…it was so much more about the love that they brought than about the details. So the times that I would most ardently disagree with them was when we talked about…there's one fact that we would always disagree on, which is - why do you have to make Jesus your savior… why do you have to do that in order to be a good person? Why can't you bring God's love…because there's another line that…doesn't contradict it, but it says something like… "if you are in love, God is in you." What could be more clear?

And I would have this discussion, because I so fervently believe that you can live a beautiful life and not necessarily accept Jesus as your savior. It didn't necessarily make sense to me on a personal level. And I felt like the most meaningful part of my struggle was the fact that it was a struggle. That I was questioning in the first place. And I wasn't doing for the sake of it; I wasn't playing devil's advocate just to piss them off. I just wanted to reconcile with my own self, and if I came to it in my own way, I would.

And I still don't feel 100% Jewish, I don't feel 100% Christian - I don't feel religion itself is useful to me. But I feel like the people that engage in religion, like my dad, in a way that's…I don't want to say "healthy", because that's kind of subjective, but in a way that's like… helpful and graceful together, in a way that's through love - in the end, it's just a feeling, which is what this is all based on, but… I encourage those people. And that's what these RISD Christians obviously did, that's what my dad does, and I have no problem with religion or spirituality. I embrace it in a lot of ways; I just think the core of it is…embracing things for love. And that's something that's a deeply part of my creative process, and, in fact, my everyday life.

JH

Right! Wow. Totally with you on that. It's all the same thing; it's all connected.

So what else? Is there anything else? … is there anything else that feels relevant?

AC

Just in terms of influential moments in my life… I feel like I covered a vast majority of them. I feel pretty…. I guess the word is "good". (laughs) I feel pretty good that I talked about it, because I haven't really had the chance to go throughout my life in such detail, and in such an involved way that really connected all the dots…in terms of my own life, and also creative process. And how everything I do, and everything everyone does is just an extension of their core. And I've really been kind of self-driven in a lot of ways, but it's also interesting to see it, and logically make the connections…you know, "well, I'm this way because I did this" - just logically see what things come from where. It's kind of like tracing your ancestry - just seeing where you came from. Physically, where your ancestors are from, and then tracing it to here, to now, and looking at a journey, and then seeing where you are personally, and how individual events may have affected you in different ways. And it's amazing to go through that process and actually have that conversation. I think it's really…not only cathartic, but useful. It's definitely helped put things in perspective in a way that I've never really, to the same extent, done. I think it helps really align your work with your life.

Which should, on principle, be one and the same. You should be working for what you love, and you should be loving what you do. And I think everything I do is just, probably, hopefully, an extension of that which I love.

JH

It certainly sounds like it, and feels like it. So I guess my biggest question, then, is: what do you want now? What do you want going into this next phase of your life? I know you have a great new job, and…what else? You know?

AC

Yeah. What do I want now? Hmm.

JH

It's a pretty big question.

AC

It is! Because I've been spending all this time in the last year thinking about living at home, and thinking about what I was supposed to be doing; if I should move to New York or if I should move to San Francisco. And, you know, I'm not really good at…I don't really like…actually… I hate… I went from "I don't really like" to "I hate." (laughs) I hate applying for jobs. I hate sending out résumés. It's just one of the most uncomfortable positions. Even just the résumés in general…like, making them is fun, but condensing your life into lines on a page is so…awful. But logically, practically speaking, that is the way you have to filter. I understand. But I was just so opposed to it on principle…applying to jobs that way felt so wrong that I've only done it maybe four times in my life. I got jobs from three of them.

I hate it, I know you have to do it…but the jobs I did it for were retail jobs. So I don't think anyone's hiring me based on my retail experience. They're hiring me based on my style - my aesthetic and my approachability. So in the end, I don't think my résumé did anything for me. I think it was who I am, and how I engaged with the people that were hiring. So I think that's going to be a paradigm shift also - just getting work through interpersonal - you know, connections are everything, obviously, but…just seeing people for who they are, their potential, and how they interact with a team - I think there's so much more that's valuable than work experience, where you've been and stuff like that. It just seems so closed to me. If I think about it, it feels viscerally uncomfortable.

In the future, I guess I just want to keep finding that…to just keep being aware of that which makes me happy. Or that which adds joy to my life - and that can be any number of things. That's the people I surround myself with, the place I live, the music I listen to - just to keep finding things and paying attention to things that bring me joy, but also not relinquishing the struggle with life itself. I think there's something really valuable about struggling mentally and intellectually with things that happen in life, and talking about them, and having dialogs about tough things. It shouldn't always be joy. That can't be life. You know "the man born blind knows not the meaning of darkness" because he's never seen the light. Things exist by contrast. And I think by having that experience of struggle, it adds a new depth of appreciation to things that are good, that are working, that are meaningful. And help you appreciate them more.

JH

Yeah! And it is integral to being a human. I'm so with you. So just continuing to follow that…

AC

Exactly! "Follow" is the right word. Just following and paying attention to, following that feeling, right? "How are you feeling?" is essentially what it comes down to.

JH

It really is! That is so it, honestly.

AC

It's the core! It's the core.

JH

It's just the creative truth of life, is following that feeling. I so agree. Yes!

AC

I mean, it really is the core of it. It's the crux of everything. Because it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't even matter if it's your work. It's like, finding your bliss is usually used in the context of finding work that you love to do. But as important as that is, what you love to do should be in every moment, every day. Like, whatever you're doing, in everything, should be that.

 
 
 
 

 
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