Hosted by the brilliant (and beyond impressive) Perrin Drumm, we’re following up on the latest installment of Career Therapy. So, whether you were there and want to reference something particularly meaningful, or missed it and wish you hadn’t—we’ve got you covered.
More than a year since the shock waves of the pandemic were first felt around the world, we partnered with Perrin Drumm, head of publishing at A24 and founder of Eye on Design, to host Career Therapy: Working Through Uncertainty, the latest event in our series that addresses the personal and professional realities of working in the creative industry. This time, Perrin invited six leading figures in the design community to join the conversation: artists and designers Wade Jeffree and Leta Sobierjaski of Wade & Leta; illustrator Ping Zhu; art director Eric Hu, of Eric Hu Studio; and designers JP Haynie and Davis Ngarupe of Actual Source.
“One thing they all have in common,” said Perrin, “is a real dedication to their work, both conceptually and executionally. They embody this refreshing energy that’s a mix of a no-bullshit attitude with a real sincerity and a pure kind of intentionality about the way they work and the work that they make.” The speakers discussed new working processes and unique experiences that emerged during the past year; the fundamental truths of being a working designer (in good times and in bad); and they attempted to chart the trajectory of the creative industry as we push towards a better and brighter future.
Wade and Leta, who run their creative studio Wade & Leta out of Brooklyn, described the initial difficulty of not only finding a balance between work and home life, but also of having to shift their professional plans to work within unexpected parameters. While they intended to move forward and further their public-facing practice, Wade explains, “At the end of 2019, we were really trying to redirect our thinking towards things that were more public, [where] multiple people could be at these experiences at one time… A big part of us finding our feet was transitioning into what we wanted to put our energy into.” Leta further explained, “The benefit of having all your work cancelled, is that you do get an opportunity to focus on personal projects, and has allowed us to explore a few new avenues with our work.”
After work dried up and projects got cancelled in the immediate onset of the pandemic, Eric Hu echoed the sentiment of having grand plans that were unfortunately—though unsurprisingly—swiftly squashed. “I asked myself, do I want to make more money or do I want to work less, so that I can spend time on personal projects and education?” Eric has since reframed the past year, and sees this rather exceptional time as instrumental to his new chapter as an autonomous designer.
“I realized it was the latter… what I’m going to do instead is invest in projects and skills that I’ve been wanting to take on and learn forever, but I’ve always put off.”
In fact, when forced to take shelter from the pandemic, and facing headlong the likelihood of an extended and quite possibly isolating studio time, it seems that each of the speakers agreed that there was an awfully shiny silver lining to be found: self-motivated work, and ultimately, self-improvement (although what that looks like is as different for our six speakers as it is for us all).
Ping Zhu, based out of Brooklyn, had an experience no doubt the majority of us can relate to on the most basic level. Work became a stressor, and in attempting to balance mental health with creative hopes, found that the two are inclusive. Ping opened up and described how “that amount of stress doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. And [she] really tried to embrace the fact that it was okay to try and just be in that state, because we were all in this collective panic together.”
JP Haynie and Davis Ngarupe, the founders and fearless leaders of Actual Source, a studio, publisher, and shop based out of Provo, UT, were responsible for eight other employees in addition to themselves—surely that’s enough to stress anyone out on any given day, but during COVID-19? As JP explained, “I think we lost 50% of our work right away, and then it was kind of scary for a month or two.”
It seemed as though the one thing everyone agreed upon was an unmistakable and profound shift in the regular rhythm of the creative industry. And yet, it is in these moments of hardship that we are all given the opportunity to prove not only to others, but also to ourselves, the ways in which we can rechart the course, and travel in new and exciting directions. What initially felt like a dramatic halt to professional procedure and expectations, for Eric especially, ultimately made way for a surprisingly positive experience. “It ended up being the best thing I did for myself in a long time in terms of my career. ‘What do I do today? Oh, I guess whatever I want’.”
Meanwhile, Leta found solace in her work, even as it started to take a different shape. “The studio has been a sanctuary because we aren’t confined to our home every day.” And Ping too, took a more introspective turn. “I did some more journaling and personal, diary-esque types of drawings... it was really for the sake of my own sanity. I needed something to ground myself and that I could look back on later to have a review of what this time was like.”
JP and Davis were also able to reassess and turn the interruption into a period of growth that is now propelling them forward in their careers.
“We tried to learn and focus on education, even outside of design. Knowledge is design, so it’s all about the more knowledge you have.”
Without question, all of the speakers have altered their attitudes toward their creative practice. While some aspects of the industry will obviously revert back to pre-pandemic procedures, there are new learnings we can all take with us as we forge ahead. For Ping, balance has never been more important. “I’ve approached it a little more mindfully—to try and still take care of my life, my mental health, my physical health, and consider those things as just as important as my work: a good, healthy routine, something sustainable for the long term.”
Eric expressed his belief and earnest hope that some workplace adaptations will become commonplace. “We can actually have meaningful experiences through the internet; we found a way to cope.” Building on that thought, Wade summed it up perfectly: “When something’s critically pushed away from you, and you really have to reflect or redirect your energy, you usually find something interesting there, whether it’s introspection, it’s this interesting point we’ve all been able to have.”