A couple weeks ago, I heard my neighbors talking in Chinese. I asked Ricky, “Do you speak another language?” “Yes, Cantonese, Mandarin, Shitty French…”
I explained this project and he pointed to his wife, Irene. “She’s the one who can write really well.” Irene and I chatted for an hour about where they met, why they moved stateside and how she’s ‘old school Chinese’.
She showed me how to write Mandarin properly using a tiny watercolor brush and some napkins. Then Ricky and Irene gave me a Chinese dessert and some tips on the best restaurants in town (hint: not in Chinatown).
I bought a giant Chinese calligraphy brush and some rice paper the next day. Some folks practice calligraphy for a lifetime. This is as good as I got in just a few weeks.
Grain Edit: You run a small studio. What do you enjoy about being on your own, as opposed to the design firm environment? Do you feel you’re missing out on anything from not being in a design studio?
Dan Stiles: I miss the scene you get at a studio. Lots of hip people turning you onto bands and clubs and whatever shoes are cool at the moment. Its nice to be part of a group, to go to happy hour together, to make out with the temps, to keep up on trendy design. But at a firm you are turning out Design Product on an assembly line, you usually aren’t actually making your own design. You get direction from the Art Director who tells you the idea and then coaches the final product out of you. Or conversely if you are the Art Director you come up with an idea and tell someone else to make it. Whoever has their name on the door is working hard to bring in high dollar work in order to keep the machine running, which often means taking monied clients who don’t really want great design. Great design is risky. Many clients prefer simply good design, which is far lower risk. I tried having employees for a while, I was miserable. I became a bureaucrat, managing deals, managing people, managing payroll. I’m a designer, thats what I do. I used to think clients wanted a big firm, and in some instances they do, but in my case I’m selling Dan Stiles. They come to me for my design, not for the design of some poor kid attempting to decipher something I sketched on a napkin because I’m too busy filling out paperwork to do the work myself.
Michael Buchino is a poster artist, illustrator and designer in Portland, Oregon. His nescient Twitter ramblings can be found via @buchino. He is reachable by email via michael at buchino.net. His now-quiescent blog Beard Revue was named Best of Portland in 2010.