Diana Balmori | Landscape Designer, Principle at Balmori Associates

Diana Balmori at Balmori Associates in NYC
Diana Balmori is one of the most forward thinking and innovative Lanscape Architects, merging landscapes with urban environments.  Her new book, Drawing and Reinventing Landscape, will be published this spring.      Photographs by Kristin Gladney.

Q&A with Diana Balmori:

Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from. 
I am Diana Balmori and I come from many different parts of the world. Born in Spain, brought up in England, Argentina and the US.

How do you describe yourself as a creative and the kind of work you do?
I describe myself as a creative person. But everyone in the world is born creative. The difficult thing is to keep creativity alive after childhood.

As the founder and principal of Balmori Associates, what does your job entail?
My work entails setting a direction in the different projects that we have, while allowing to be interpreted by the designer’s creativity. But it does mean thinking theoretically, it does mean sketching, drawing.
Diana Balmori at Balmori Associates in NYC
Your firm focuses on the interplay between landscape and architecture.  What is your unique creative approach or philosophy to combining these two fields?
My firm seeks an interface between landscape and architecture. However, all through the twentieth century they have been kept apart.

How did you figure out what you wanted to do?
You have to keep figuring that out your whole life. I’m still figuring it out.

How did you get to where you are today? What has been career path? 
I don’t see my life as a career path. I have no idea of where I am today. I see life as a pilgrimage, not in the sense of a religion, but as a constant sense of discovery, and it is never completed, completing it is death.

Has anything or anyone influenced your life, therefore gave you direction or helped steer you along on your professional path?
Many people influenced my work and my life.  Over-all the greatest influence has been that of my Dorothy Ling, a major intellectual and artistic figure and my mother. In my discipline, Beatrix Farrand. I should also mention many writers, painters, sculptors and poets who have been important to my work.
Diana Balmori at Balmori Associates in NYC
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, what is one of your favorites?
Favorite projects are those related to rivers. Why, because it allows me to work on land and water, and their interface.

What are you currently working on?
Projects on water: Memphis, Hoboken. ( HUD Team), Argentina on the river (Paraná) as well experimental project on Gowanus canal.

You’ve published a number of books, and your office is also filled with books.  How do books play a role in your life and work?
I am a book lover.  The book is a most extraordinary invention. It is a very accessible form of storage of human activity, more accessible than that of electronic media.

You’ve conceptualized and had two very unique dresses created. One is made of paper (with the pages of your book A Landscape Manifesto) and one made of wire mesh. How do these dresses serve as a metaphor?
It strange to call what I have done dresses. It has nothing to do with fashion or clothing. It has to do with concepts. I wanted to illustrate a Manifesto point “putting the city in nature”. When I came to the point in two separate public presentations, I put on these costumes. They were a metaphor for nature. And I was putting myself into nature. Melissa Kirgan was the executor of these costumes based on these ideas. One, made out of paper, had the text of ‘A Landscape Manifesto” printed all over it. The other was a wire frame with dried flowers and live leaves attached to it.
Diana Balmori
When are you most creative?  When do the best ideas come to you?
Complete concentration is always critical to being creative. I have noticed I can develop great ideas when I’m in total quietness. And when swimming I have noticed that one goes into a sort of dreamlike state conducive to thinking. Also when walking, without a destination or a time constraint.

What is your creative process for starting to conceptualize and work on a new project?

What is something important that you want people to know about you?
I don’t want people to know about me. I want people know about my ideas and my work.

Who inspires you?  Where do you get inspiration?  
Inspiration is a complex process. Art inspires me, poetry, architecture and landscape inspire me, people inspire me.

Balmori Associates in NYC

Any aspirations? Something you’ve always wanted to do or a dream assignment?
I have many aspirations. My office has a separate section called BAL/LAB, separate from our commissioned projects, in which we pursue such things as dreams and aspirations.

Please describe how your creative brain works.
I have no idea how it works. I know that I have a daily battle to keep myself working creatively.

Any interesting stories about the work you’ve done or an experience you’ve had?
Choosing one at random: the experience of looking for trees for a special project in Japan. Japanese colleague and landscape architect Masahiro Soma set up a day trip to northern Japan to look for trees that had grown naturally in a forest and not in a nursery. This is highly valued in Japan unlike the choosing of trees grown in the US nurseries where all have the same size and form. For this we needed to get a permit to look for these trees on private land, something akin to a hunting permit. You have to find trees no farther than 200 feet from the access roads so that they can be reached by equipment and trucks for removal. You pay the owner for quantity and size of trees removed. Some great maples were what we took from here.

How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
I don’t define success; exteriorly I suppose it is being known. Interiorly I suppose it is feeling you are on the beam when you work on something.
Diana Balmori in Costume
What is the best advice you’ve ever received in general, or about how to be more creative?  
How to remain creative is the main issue. Advice from Dorothy Ling: singing, painting, drawing, writing. And surrounding yourself with creative people.

To learn more about Diana Balmori and Balmori Associates, please go to  www.balmori.com.

Lez Rudge | Partner and Colorist at Nice Shoes NYC

Lez Rudge | Partner and Director/Colorist at Nice Shoes
As a colorist/grader, Lez’s job is to materialize the objective of the creatives he collaborates with (directors, editors, writers, art-directors) to enable their vision to be enhanced and personified through the use of color. The combination of hue, tone, contrast and saturation can magically transform the visual to reinforce the intended emotion.

Q&A with Lez Rudge:

Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you’re from. 
I was born in Singabore, spent time in Oz and now live in NYC.  I’m one of five kids. My mum was a nurse and my dad was a singer.  I’m the husband of a fantastic wife, and the father of three inspiring boys. I also have a dog named Elvis.

How do you describe the kind of work you do?
Currently as a colorist/grader at Nice Shoes NY, the majority of my work is tv commercials. I occasionally work on features, music videos and anything in between.
Lez Rudge | Partner and Director/Colorist at Nice Shoes
What has been your career path?
I got into this business thinking I wanted to be a sound mixer, since I previously had a background of deejaying. Fortunately while at a post house in Singapore, I stumbled upon color grading and have not looked back.

Was there anything or anyone in particular that influenced your life, therefore gave you direction? 
My parents love of music and movies are the biggest influence on me as a creative. I was exposed to all kinds of aural and visual art, and to me they have always blended. Sometimes a scene will provoke memories of a song and the very opposite of a song causing me to imagine visual scenarios happens too.

Describe your style.
I am driven by strong visuals; whether it be glossy and elegant or gritty and sexy. The primary focus is the emotion of the characters coming through.
Lez Rudge | Partner and Director/Colorist at Nice Shoes
Do you have any creative rituals?
I try to pick a bunch of music that will inspire the relevant emotion. For me, sounds are huge stimulants.

Where do you get inspiration?  
Collaborating with other creative minded people – not only people labeled as creatives but also those who innately have a creative/artistic soul – some of the most artistic and creative people I have met have been accountants/producers/IT people.

Is there someone you’ve always wanted to collaborate with?
It changes constantly, musicians, actors – I love the fluidity of falling in love with various sparks every now and then.
Lez Rudge | Partner and Director/Colorist at Nice Shoes
What is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
It still makes me choke up when I see a tv spot I worked on for Make a Wish Foundation called “Beetle Boy”. It was a true story about a teacher pretending to be a villain, and with the help of the town the enabled a cancer stricken boy to live out his wish of being a super hero who saves the day.

Are you involved with anything else creative outside of your work at Nice Shoes? 
Mostly because of my love of beautiful imagery and the need to create, I am actively pursuing directing. I have already shot a few beautiful spec spots and have recently finished a music video/fashion commercial for a clothing label called This is A Love Song and for the singer Fa’Vela Punk.

What are your plans for the future?
Although I love being a colorist, I am definitely plotting a course to pursue directing full-time. It will obviously not come easily, but I’ve never been afraid of working hard for the things I love. I am blessed that I have made many friends in the industry who have expressed their support for my future endeavors.
Lez Rudge | Partner and Director/Colorist at Nice Shoes
How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
Success to be is being appreciated and valued for what one has to contribute.  I think my biggest strength is collaboration – I love bouncing ideas off others and absorbing (maybe not always agreeing) what their opinions and point of view might be. The moment I love is when someone mentions something I may have never even thought about, and I say, ” Wow, that is cool”.

Do you have a favorite quote?
It is from one of my favorite movies called Joe Versus The Volcano, and I’ve always believed it to be true :
“…almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

To learn more about Lez Rudge, and to check out his work, go to www.niceshoes.com and for his director reel, go to https://vimeo.com/channels/lezrudgedirector.

Maryanne Butler | Head of Design at Framestore in NYC

Maryanne Butler of Framestore
Maryanne Butler, Head of Design at Framestore in NYC. Framestore is a collective of artists and creatives, famously known for their photo-real computer generated animation and digital visual effects, most recently for the feature film Gravity, which won the Oscar Award for best visual effects.  Photographs by Kristin Gladney.

Q&A with Maryanne Butler:

Please tell me a bit about yourself, who you are and where you’re from. My name is Maryanne Butler (maiden name Lauric). I come from the land Down Under but hate Vegemite and NEVER wear my Uggs outdoors. I’m married to a Pom (Australian name for an English person), have two American-born children and live in Brooklyn, NY.

How did you get to where you are today?  
Right place, right time! I answered an ad to be a runner for a design company during my summer holiday whilst studying graphic design. The company turned out to be Animal Logic, one of Australia’s biggest post-production houses. I had never considered moving images before so I quit uni and stayed on with them. Best decision I ever made.

How did you figure out what you wanted to do?  
I knew I wanted to design, but imagined it would be for magazine layout or poster art. However, my “aha” moment was day one at Animal Logic. I remembered them showing me an animated dog for a shoe commercial and I knew I wanted to keep hanging out with these people! The work was like nothing I had seen before.
Maryanne Butler Head of Design at Framestore in NYC
 How did you learn digital arts? 
On the job. It was the mid-nineties and there were no schools for digital compositing, which is what I began my career doing. There were endless night shifts and some graveyard shifts. It was hard but I was working alongside the best digital artists in Australia and I kept reminding myself of that fact. Learning inside the industry was invaluable and the talent around me was inspiring.

What is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on? So hard to pick a favorite! I really enjoyed working on Alex Gibney’s documentary feature “We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks”. We designed almost 33 minutes of graphic animation for the film and I never knew that they could be so integral to the story telling. Gibney was a really great director to work with and truly valued our teams input. The results were beautiful and impactful. It was a unique experience and I was really proud of our efforts.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve just wrapped on a great campaign for Benjamin Moore paints. The concept was around real paint coming to life and telling a story based on the name of a particular shade. We were given the opportunity to work with an amazing practical effects company in Hamburg where we shot paint at 2500 frames per second being pumped and thrown out of various vessels that produced the most amazing shapes and images to work with. It was an ambitious project as it was based on quite an abstract idea, which made it all the more exciting to work on.

What do you love about the work you do? 
I love that it’s creative and collaborative.
Maryanne Butler Head of Design at Framestore in NYC
What does “being creative” mean to you?
I think being creative is about being able to express yourself.

Outside of work, what other creative projects are you working on? 
If I’m not constructing the world’s most intricate train tracks for my children then you might find me singing for Framestore band Mental Ray & The Keyframes. Otherwise I have about six Moleskine diaries on the go full of unfinished lyrics and ideas for short-film musicals.

Who inspires you?
All working mothers of the world!

How do you define success?  
Success to me is being happy and my family drives that every day.
Maryanne Butler Head of Design at Framestore in NYC
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do or someone you’ve wanted to collaborate with?
I would love to work on a Broadway musical with Prince and Nick Cave.

What is your dream project or assignment?
I would love to be able to create graphics for a live concert or theatre production. I recently saw the Damon Albarn musical “Monkey: Journey To The West” and was really blown away by Jamie Hewlett’s costumes, stage and screen designs and animations. A project that scale would be amazing.

Any interesting stories about the work you’ve done or an experience you’ve had?
I was once told that I “must be a lesbian” by an old-school aging director in Australia who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that 1. He was working with a female compositor  and 2. I wouldn’t sleep with him. Growing up in a traditionally male-dominated industry was full of stories like that one – but thankfully now there are so many female leads and artists that sexism barely exists anymore.

Please describe how your creative brain works.
With lots of Twinings English Breakfast tea.
Maryanne Butler Head of Design at Framestore in NYC
Any advice for someone interested in following in your path?
Go with your gut! The biggest and best decisions I have ever made were based on my gut instinct, and that’s why she is always being rewarded with hamburgers.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?  
Respect your job. That one’s from my dad.

To see more from Maryanne Butler and Framestore, go to www.framestore.com

Jon Jackson | Executive Creative Director at Huge

Jon Jackson in his office at Huge in NYC.  Photographs by Kristin Gladney.

Jon Jackson in his office at Huge in NYC. Photographs by Kristin Gladney.

Q&A with Jon Jackson:

Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from. 
I am originally from Los Angeles, and now live in New York; I have yet to realize that Vans are not a four-season shoe.

How do you describe yourself as a creative and the kind of work you do?
I am a designer. It is pretty vague but it has allowed me to work on so many different types of projects and for wildly different brands.
Jon Jackson, Executive Creative Officer at Huge in NYC
As the Executive Creative Director at Huge, you’re largely responsible for the creative culture within the company.   Please explain what this entails, and what it is like to manage other creatives.
For me, managing creatives at Huge is an amazing opportunity; there are so many talented people to learn from and to be inspired by. The challenge is that people are all so different, so what pushes one designer to get to the next idea might make another shut down. Getting to know people is the best way to manage and there is no substitution for time spent with the team. So sitting in a room debating, laughing, and throwing around 100 bad ideas to get to the one good is a great way to push our work and ideas.

And, that’s one thing that is so great about Huge. No one cares where the good idea comes from; we all just want to get there and make something cool. I love making things; it’s a big part of what gets me excited to come to work each day (Not that I don’t also love timesheets and management meetings).

How did you figure out what you wanted to do creatively?
Growing up, I was always drawing, creating games with my brothers, and just creating stuff. The problem was that these great visions in my head of cool things I wanted to make never matched up with the final product. So once I started getting into Illustrator and Photoshop, I finally felt like I could make exactly what was in my head. After that, there was no turning back.

How did you get to where you are today? What has been your career path? 
It has been a mixed bag of fortunate events and hard work. I was actually hired by the Walt Disney Company before I had even graduated from college, which was fortunate. They hired me to do digital work without my having formal experience, which meant a lot of hard work. But then I fell in love with the immediacy of digital media. I love the ability to keep improving your work in a way that’s not possible with print work. While I focused on digital, I also kept my experience well-rounded by doing freelance work outside the digital space. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to create everything from snowboard graphics to editorial illustrations. The excitement of doing something I have never done before definitely drives me as a creative.
Jon Jackson, Executive Creative Officer at Huge in NYC
Have you had any metors?  Has anyone helped steer you along on your professional path?  
I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and insane designers on the planet. One of my first CDs was Howard Brown, who always had the most inspiring things to share. He had so many books and swipe, and would bring them into the office daily. He was like the analog version of the site ffffound long before it existed. Joe Stewart, who was the ECD at Huge before me, was really a great friend and mentor. Perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve learned from him was how to manage creatives.

What are a few of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
For me, projects become favorites for a lot of different reasons. The billboard project I did before I moved to NYC from LA (http://adiosla.com) is one favorite, if only because of the reactions that I received from it. Obviously, work that is close to the heart is always special, so the poster invitations (http://cargocollective.com/lagraphica/Jon-Nicole) that I created for my wedding are also high on my favorite list. And, the last project you work on is always top of mind, so launching all of the new branding and the new website for Huge (www.hugeinc.com) is also a favorite.

You’ve recently redesigned the Huge website.  Tell me about this creative process and why you decided to do a redesign.
We have grown so much since the site was last designed and we wanted to celebrate that growth with a nod to where we are heading. So, we elevated the branding to be more sophisticated and built a website that shows off our culture and all of the work that we have been doing across offices.
Jon Jackson, Executive Creative Officer at Huge in NYC
Describe your style. 
I am definitely of the Dieter Rams school of thought: as little design as possible. I like making things beautiful, but not to the point where you’re sacrificing the purpose or the story that you’re trying to tell. I also really respect craft. I want to think about every element on the page; nothing should be present just to be there. So, I guess my style could be considered clean and functional, with a high degree of polish.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Not sure if this would be considered a ritual, routine, or just an addiction – but I do drink a lot of coffee.

Where are you most creative?  When do the best ideas come to you?
I am most creative around other people. I love talking through ideas, sometimes until I have exhausted every possible angle and annoyed everyone in the room. When working out an idea, I love how off-track conversations can sometimes get, but how those conversations will very often end with a really fresh idea.
Jon Jackson, Executive Creative Officer at Huge in NYC
Who inspires you?  Where do you get inspiration?  Be specific if you can.
For me, inspiration comes from so many places. I love looking at how things have been done before. I have a collection of old encyclopedias that have amazing illustrations from Charlie Harper, which are incredibly inspiring. I also look to fine art, and the work of Brooklyn artist Kevin Cyr and Chicago’s Cody Hudson. And, I love Spike Jones’ films and Kyle Alexander’s photography. There is so much incredible work going on across mediums that I pull inspiration from… Instagram, Behance, Tumblr, Twitter and even Pinterest included.

How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
I define success differently now than how I did when I was designing everything myself. Making sure that the project is well-designed and interesting is paramount. Now, I feel success is also measured by the growth of our designers and writers. The more that people can learn and grow from a project, the more valuable our department becomes and, in turn, the more we can push our work to be better.

One thing that I think has made me successful is always having a vision. I tend to have very strong opinions and I’m always willing to share my ideas of how something should work or be handled. I guess I learned at a young age in tee-ball: always be thinking about what to do if the ball comes to you. Today, I just replace the ball with design challenges and business goals.
Jon Jackson, Executive Creative Officer at Huge in NYC
What is the best advice you’ve ever received in general, or about how to be more creative?  
I think the best advice that I have received is that you are going to be wrong a lot – and that is OK. In fact, it is better than ok. Being wrong and learning from your mistakes is the only way to get to what’s right. The sooner you realize you’re wrong, the better; but without trying and failing, you will just be stuck with results that are only fair.

To check out more from Jon Jackson and Huge, go to www.lagraphica.com and www.hugeinc.com.

Stephen Niedzwiecki | Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD

Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
Stephen Niedzwiecki in his office in New York City.  As the Founder of YARD, a strategic image-making advertising agency, he has been able to combine his two passions – his love of music and his desire to create. Photographs by Kristin Gladney.

Q&A with Stephen Niedzwiecki:

Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from.
I’m originally from NYC, but as a kid my family split our time between the city and Israel – which is where I was first really exposed to a culture that centered around music and celebration; all of the social gatherings there were centered on music. As it turned out, music became a major influence and it still continues to influence and play a huge role in my creative life today.

As the Chief Creative Officer of YARD, what does your job entail?
YARD is boutique – so I work with the entire creative team and the client relations teams to create really compelling imagery that’s also strategic and long-lasting. As much as I’m directing and steering creative projects, I’m also constantly being inspired by the creativity of our team here.  
Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
How do you describe YARD as a creative agency and the kind of work you do?
YARD is a New York-based agency with a focus on fashion, beauty, wellness and luxury lifestyle brands. On the one hand, strategically driven shops typically lack the creative vision (and courage) to push the creative envelope and stay ahead of the fashion curve. By contrast, creatively-led agencies are often distracted by the next hot trend (or model or photographer) and miss the opportunity to really understand where the brand is coming from and what motivates the target consumer. At YARD, we’ve struck the right balance of brains and beauty.

And as brand stewards and storytellers, YARD acts as a true collaborator for client teams. We’ve got a pretty great track record of leveraging deep consumer and cultural insights to create, revitalize and build brands like Tumi, Banana Republic, John Varvatos, Converse, Perry Ellis, Timberland, Rockport and G.H. Bass, among many others.

What has been career path that led you to where you are today?
I’ve had a totally unconventional path. From working in New Yorks iconic clubs in the mid to late 80s as a bartender and DJ, to working in-house for brands like Nautica and GAP – starting YARD was not something that I would have predicted. But I had been doing freelance work for awhile, building brands and bouncing around at agencies in the UK – and when I got back to NYC, a friend of mine who was a big casting director asked me if I wanted to share a workspace. It was the first time I had to pay rent and so I figured, “why not start something?” I knew there was a space for an agency that was more than just image-driven, but was also strategic. So I started building a team of talented people to work with and I committed to keeping it independent. We’re still privately owned today, which gives us the freedom to be creative and stand apart.
Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
What is the story behind the name of your agency: YARD?
When I was living on the West Coast working on GAP, I was spending a lot of time in Orange County in these very ‘Edward Scissorhand’s-esqe’ neighborhoods, and realized that even though people’s front yards tended to all look alike, their backyards were totally different. People had really made those spaces their own; it was like personal branding. And so the name is really an analogy for what we do for brands today. Nothing we do is cookie-cutter. 

How did you figure out what you wanted to do?  Was there anyone in particular that influenced your life, therefore gave you direction?  
My parents always encouraged my artistic interests, giving me painting lessons from a young age, etc. – and my father used to take me to carnivals around New York, which is where I first saw a sort of alternative lifestyle. From an early age, I was drawn to people who were taking chances and experimenting with being different. But when I got to college, my parents wanted me to be pre-med. To appease them, I decided that I would do medical illustration – which was a dying art even then – but at my very first autopsy, I passed out. I knew I had to do something different but I didn’t even know that branding and advertising existed as a career path until I met the boyfriend of a friend’s mother who was making it big in European advertising. That’s when I knew I wanted to try it. It was my ‘aha!’ moment.
Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
How did you learn to do what you do? 
I got the most experience when I was freelancing at Estee Lauder. They asked me if I had experience in 3D design and I said yes, but of course I didn’t. Classic ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ story. I took the job and worked my way through it, including accidentally stabbing myself in the groin with an X-acto knife and being rushed to the hospital. It was taking that chance and going for it that led me to become a design director for Origins.

What are you currently working on?
YARD is lucky to be working on a lot of projects at the moment, ranging from heritage brands that need a little boost, to cutting-edge packaging projects and global campaigns for luxury lifestyle brands. Believe it or not, I’m working on all of them to some extent – with the support of a great team, of course.

Describe your style. 
The whole point of starting your own company is that you can wear whatever you want. Growing up, my style was retro rockabilly; today, it’s aging rocker.
Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
What do you love about the work you do?  
I love the people who I meet. Whether it’s internally at YARD or within the teams we work with on set, I’m inspired by collaborations and feel honored to work with so many talented people each day.

How has Rock and Roll influenced your work?
I’ve been lucky enough to combine two major passions – my love of music and my desire to create. Before YARD, I had huge success using music for GAP and it showed me that it was a powerful combination when done in the right way and for the right brand. Now I’m going into my ninth year working with the designer John Varvatos. The whole basis of the platform we built for the John Varvatos brand was the ‘Rock N’ Roll Gentleman,’ which uses iconic musicians shot by legendary rock documentarian Danny Clinch. As a result, I’ve been able to meet and work with some of the most amazing legends in music history.
Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
What is one of your earliest Rock and Roll memories?  
I can remember being 8 years old and playing with 45s on a turntable. Back then I was listening to Jefferson Starship and The Archies – but pretty soon my older brother’s taste in rock started to have an influence on me. When I was 16 I saw Queen at MSG and Frank Zappa at a small college theater. Those are unforgettable.

Where do you find inspiration? 
Everything inspires me. That’s the beauty of living in NYC. You take the subway and you get inspired. I make sure not to live in a bubble so I can always experience that. You have to be open no matter where you are, not boxed in by any boundaries so you can see inspiration around you. It’s not about where you’ve come from or how far you’ve gotten, it’s about living in the moment. I go to shows 3 or 4 times per month, not just to be inspired by the music but to feel the energy of the crowd. And I talk to my five year old for hours. No one has fewer boundaries than a child.

Is there someone you’ve always wanted to collaborate with?
When I think of the John Varvatos campaigns specifically, there are so many musicians who are long gone who I wish we could have worked with. The Clash. Johnny Rotten. Jimi Hendrix. It’s endless. I’ve also always wanted to do a campaign for Triumph motorcycles; every agency wants a car campaign, but for me, it’s motorcycles. Growing up, I always had friends with bikes and Triumph was the epitome of cool.
Stephen Niedzwiecki, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of YARD
How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
Success is when you’re still happy doing the thing that you do. It’s about being happy with what you’ve chosen because you’re doing it on your terms – the way you want – and achieving the vision that you’ve set out to achieve. That applies to me personally and to the brands that we work with.

Any advice for someone interested in following in your chosen path?
My advice would be to follow your creative heart. If you’ve decided to be a designer or work in a creative field, there’s a reason for it and you have to be passionate. After all, you studied the art for at least 4 years in school. So don’t follow the paycheck or the success; follow the work and the journey. If you do this, then both the paycheck and the success will come.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?  
When you’re happy for others, happiness comes your way.

To see more from Stephen Niedzwiecki, check out the YARD website:  www.yardnyc.com

Kathleen Cheevers | Assistant Designer at Kate Spade New York

Kathleen Cheevers, Designer at Kate Spade New York

Q&A with Kathleen Cheevers:

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in NYC.
I moved to NYC from Kansas City almost two years ago to pursue a career in fashion.   My husband and I decided to move here after I was offered a design internship at WHIT.  We knew we wanted to leave the mid-west for a while and when the opportunity presented itself we jumped!
Kathleen Cheevers Assistant Designer at Kate Spade, at home in Brooklyn
What has been career path? 
When I went to college the first time around I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or study.   I ended up with a BA in Communications and no idea what I was going to do with it.  I worked as an executive assistant for several years in Kansas City and quickly realized that the role wasn’t going to hold my attention for much longer. Around this time I had hosted a bachelorette party for a friend and decided to make her a fun (and very simple) outfit to wear out for the night.  I enjoyed making it and started thinking back to all the design/business ideas I’d had over the years for bags, shoes and clothes.   A few months later I had enrolled myself in a 2-year design program and quit my job.

How did you learn to do what you do as a fashion designer? 
Going back to school started the learning process for me but it was the year of intern/freelance work I did after I finished my program that made the biggest impact. One of the things I love about design is seeing the evolution of a collection from the initial stages of concept development/inspiration to the finished product and I was lucky to apprentice with designers who exposed me to so many parts of this process.

How would you describe your personal style? 
My style…I’m pretty laid back in terms of my personal style.   I’d say I’m a bit tom-boyish at times.  I love clean, minimal, basic shapes that are easy to wear and comfortable but also chic.
Kathleen Cheevers, Designer at Kate Spade New York
What do you love about the work you do? 
To me, the most important thing about fashion is how it makes you feel.  I love how fashion can really empower people to feel sexy, confident, playful, smart, strong, beautiful…the list can go on.   Even if you are at home in your favorite t-shirt, it makes you feel good!

Where do you get inspiration?  
People! I love people watching and NYC is the best for it.  It’s inspiring to watch how people express themselves with what they wear.

But inspiration can really come from anything.  It can come from the past or present.  It can start with just a color or shape.  It can come from nature or art.  Just anything that makes your look or think twice.
Kathleen Cheevers Assistant Designer at Kate Spade
Any interesting stories about the work you’ve done or an experience you’ve had?
I’ve had all kinds of crazy and fun experiences in the garment district in NYC but definitely one of the coolest was seeing Anna Wintour in the flesh! She looked just as amazing as I’d always imagined she would… the hair, the glasses, the dress…it was all perfection.
sketches by Kathleen Cheevers Assistant Designer at Kate Spade
Any advice for someone interested in following in your path?
Buckle up!  It’s not always easy.  And it’s definitely not as glamorous as most would assume.  As with any creative industry, it’s a melting pot of passionate personalities so there’s never a dull moment!

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Ha, well the most frequently given piece of advice I hear in this industry is “You’ve gotta fake it till you make it” but my favorite recently received piece of advice is “Don’t take yourself too seriously”.
Kathleen Cheevers Assistant Designer at Kate Spade

John Lin | Creative Director at Fila

John Lin Creative Director of Fila

Q&A with John Lin:

Please tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is John Lin. I was born in New York, about an hour north of the city. Except for the 4 yrs in college, I’ve lived in NYC all my life.

What does your job entail as the Creative Director at Fila?
I work on everything — national ad campaigns, packaging, in-store, online, outdoor, branding, internal marketing. I just finished working on a video series for the web. So I work on a lot of different mediums.

 How do you describe your self as an artist and the kind of work you do?
Well, I would not describe myself as an artist. I have a client, and at the end of the day, my work needs to sell either a product or the company. I try be artistic with my work, but it’s far from art.

How did you decide to get a motorcycle? 
Before graduating college, I had little interest in motorcycles. Then these two photographer friends I met after I moved to NYC both had one – I learned how to ride and I was hooked. I was going to get a Honda, but then waited a year to get the Ducati. I had talked about it so much during that year, that friends chipped in money to get me a helmet for my birthday. So I kind of had to get one. It is both the most stupid and the most awesome decision I’ve made.

As for how I decided on the Ducati – the first time I saw one was parked outside SoHo Billiards on Houston St. I must have stared at it for 15 minutes. The design was so hypnotic.

There are dozens of reasons I could give you, but honestly, motorcycles are cool and the Ducati is beautiful.
John Lin Creative Director of Fila
What does your motorcycle have to do with creativity?
Well, the design of it kind of follows my aesthetic – the bike has classic lines, but with a modern twist.

Riding the motorcycle pretty much involves avoiding death at every moment, so your mind is pretty occupied with that. The wonderful thing is, while worrying about bike angle, revs, corner approaches, road conditions, other vehicles, etc., you stop thinking about all the other life-stresses. A good ride is cathartic, and a clear mind is receptive to ideas.

Why does working in advertising appeal to you?
Some kids had posters on their walls growing up. I clipped out ads and taped them to the wall. At the time, I thought it was the most creative outlet that was still a profession.

What other creative things are you doing outside of work? 
Absolutely nothing. When I was younger, I was able to work after I worked, after I got back from my work. Nowadays, my age cannot sustain that level of energy and focus. However, I do find inspiration in almost every part of my day. I remember coming up with a concept for a project I was designing a few years back – waiting to cross a street in Chicago and seeing a bus covered in soot (which became a stained coaster visual for a smoothie app). I still get ideas throughout everyday life, but now they’re primarily funneled towards the job. The job provides a pretty good platform to get ideas produced.

How did you get to where you are today as the Creative Director at Fila?
My father is a scientist.  My mother worked for IBM in Data Systems management.  My sister is a lawyer.  My family does not quite understand what I do.  I’m not sure where it came from.
John Lin Creative Director of Fila at home in Manhattan
What has been your career path?
It was not a direct path at all. I forced my way into a job at Allure magazine the summer of my sophomore year in college (’91). At the time, I was undecided whether or not to pursue magazines or advertising. I decided after graduation to go into advertising. Then Vogue magazine called and that was that.

Since then, I’ve been working mostly in magazines, and also fashion advertising (which is not at all like agency work). I ran my own studio for a while, a dozen years or so. I worked on almost everything – from CDs to books to catalogues. I’ve done graphics for skateboards and T-shirts; logos for a shoe store and a hair-transplant doctor. I worked on a Russian news magazine, a photo mural for the Atlanta Olympics, and a cookbook to give you abs. There was no master plan at all.

For a while, I thought my work was spread too thin, not having a singular focus in one medium. Now, I find the broad skill set an asset in my career.

How did you figure out what you wanted to do? 
Here were my first career choices:

Car designer, ages 5-11 – I would design cars down to their wheels & dashboards. It got so bad, that after I was recognizing cars in the dark by their tail-lights, my dad hid his subscription to Road & Track.

Sneaker designer, ages 12-14 – I started running, then the 1st Air Jordans came out. The head shoe-designer at Fila has described sneakers as “cars for your feet.” (He’s a car-nut too.)

Cartoonist, ages 14-20 – I started reading Bloom County, and then Calvin and Hobbes. I used to draw my own 4 panel cartoon in high school & show select friends in order to get feedback. I read somewhere that Bill Watterson, the creator of C&H, was drawing bottles of bleach for a supermarket circular, all the while submitting to the newspaper syndicates before he hit it big. I decided a career in advertising or magazines would be a better temporary staging area before my strip went national. I had a weekly strip in the college paper for 2 years. I then realized I had to be happy in order to be funny, and college wasn’t exactly a happy time. So I decided to dedicate myself to mags and advertising.

Was there anyone in particluar who influenced your life, therefore gave you direction?
My cousin, and architect & professor in Los Angeles, had a heavy creative influence when I was 5 yrs old. He was the coolest guy in the world, and drawing and making things was therefore super-cool.

How did you learn to do what you do? 
Since I was in high school, if I saw something that I liked, I would examine what exactly I was responding to; If I didn’t like something, I would try and figure how to make it better. I still try to approach work that way, both with mine and the other things I see.

There were maybe 3 bosses in my career that taught me, everything from typography to client relations. I’ve had many, many bosses that taught me what not to do. Design (and especially fashion) are sadly not especially nurturing fields.

I feel like the best sign is if you look at past work and are dissatisfied with it. It’s the most honest (and embarrassing) indication that you’re still growing and learning.
John Lin Creative Director of Fila at home in Manhattan
Please describe how your creative brain works.
In order to “think outside the box”,  you need to define the box first. When you know the parameters, only then can you begin to explore the possibilities. An art director friend of mine once had a client with unlimited budgets. I have no idea how to create under those circumstances. My experiences are more like the following:

— David Mamet said “A traditional recipe for genius: inspiration, a plan, not enough time.” — The client wants the project to be done: 1) Done Quickly; 2) Done Cheaply; 3) Done well The rule of 3 is: You can only pick 2.

I feel like all this is problem solving, like anything else – mechanical engineering, political science, etc. You just use different tools to fix the issue. Design has to be both left and right brain. It has to be smart; it has to be informed. The designer is positioned at the focal point of photography, writing, corporate branding, campaign messaging, etc. – it’s up to him/her to put it all together and have it make sense.

What are you currently working on?
This past year I’ve been working closely with the Product Director and VP of Footwear Design in developing our Men’s Heritage line. Earlier this year, we shot Jerry Stackhouse, a Fila athlete first signed in ‘96 whose signature shoe we were re-releasing. Later this year in California, I’m going to direct a shoot of another former Fila athlete, current Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson. I also just finished directing a 12-part film series that showcased various independent stores all across America.

Describe your style. Is your personal style different from your professional style?
Style, like clothing? There are still some things I have, that I won’t wear out of the house, let alone to work. My inner me wishes it was still ‘93 and I was still 22. Other than that my motto is “There’s a time to wear shoes, and a time to wear sneakers.

As for style as it pertains to my work, I design for the client. I have worked on YM, Vogue and Maxim magazines, and those pages do not look the same. I do try and approach design not from what could be done, but what should be done. Make look cool, but not for cool’s sake; Design with purpose, blahblahblah and a lot other boilerplate design- er-isms.

Now as my own client, I am horrible. It took me 10 years to design my 1st business card, and my email changed 7 years ago & I still haven’t decided on a new design. And that is why I do not have any tattoos.

What do you love about the work you do?
At the end of the day, creating something out of nothing is kinda neat.

Anything unexpected about the work you do?  Something you didn’t know before you started on this path?
3 things … 1) Back in junior high when I wanted to be a sneaker designer 2) My interest in rap music in the 80’s & 90’s 3) My obsession with basketball and the NBA around the same time

… these 3 things have REALLY helped me out in my current position. This has been a pleasant surprise.
John Lin Creative Director of Fila at home in Manhattan
Where do you get inspiration? 
I try and draw inspiration from things beyond just advertising and graphic design – right now it’s mostly film and architecture. Music can also have a profound effect of my work, so DJing while working on the project is a crucial step.

I’ve become more and more interested in the creative process itself, and how those processes in different fields can be applied to my work habits.

What is your dream project?
If I was dreaming, I would like to direct a feature-length movie.

Any interesting stories about the work you’ve done or an experience you’ve had?
Sure. I started a chapter in my auto-biography. I wrote it back in ‘09. It’s about getting fired from Vogue magazine. http://tinyurl.com/mv2wj5l

How do you define success?
To give a quick glimpse in my upbringing … since I was a kid, I never wanted to specifically define success, because if I didn’t achieve exactly that, then I would have failed. At that time, my example was if I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I turned 30, but I didn’t achieve that til I was 31, does that constitute failure? Nowadays, I still follow that thinking, but the rationale is more like – I would hate to hold myself to the definition of success I had from the past.

When I was younger, I was motivated more from a fear of failure than a desire for success. Now, I just want to do the best I can & try not to be an asshole along the way.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
My cousin, the architect, lived with me for a few years when I was 6 yrs old. I really looked up to him. So I made a model car and showed it to him, hoping to impress him (he was r-e-a-l-l-y good at building things). He took a look and said, “The best thing to do, is to throw this away and start over.” It may have been a little harsh (he was 13), but to this day, sometimes I beat an idea into the ground & hit a wall, and the best thing to do is throw it away and start over.

That may not be the best advice, it certainly was one of my first. I’ve gotten great advice through the years. I have them all written down in my phone.

To learn more about John Lin and to see his work, check out http://johnlin-nyc.com and www. FILAis.com.

Khadijat Oseni | Urban Nomad

Khadijat Oseni for Portrait of a Creative
Portraits and interview by Kristin Gladney.  

Q&A With Khadijat Oseni:

Please tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Khadijat Oseni, aka KO, and I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I suffer from jetsetter problems and have a heavy addiction to passport stamps (laughs!). In all seriousness, I’m a true urban nomad in the sense of the word as being nomadic is in my genes. Just tracking where I was born and raised is a mini-geography lesson in itself! Was born in California, lived in Nigeria until I was about 10 years old and have hailed from Brooklyn ever since, excluding the one time I decided to live in Australia for about half a year. I naturally have a roaming spirit with a thirst for learning and adapting to different experiences and environments.

How does travel inspire creativity? 
Travel eliminates the barrier of a comfort zone therefore shifting and expanding your perspective of yourself, how you view the world as well as how you interact with others around you. Everyone always has a travel story that would have never been able to replicate itself in their “real lives” so traveling is like living in a waking dream state that pushes you to face yourself (both positively and negatively) in a limited suspended space. Depending on how you choose to travel, whether taking a vacation or a trip (there is a big difference between these two), it can either offer a creative pause to quiet the mind, recharge your energy and emotional levels in order to dive right back into your daily routine or travel can invigorate and heighten all your senses in a manner you’ve never experienced before, therefore shattering your entire perception of how you actively view everything in front of you thus completely resetting your priorities in life. You can gain as much or as little as you invest into your journeys as with anything in life and the unknown elements and levels of sensitivity you experience physically, mentally and emotionally when you step out into a new environment is always inspiring in itself.  My simple formula: movement =energy=creativity!! (laughs).

How do you describe your self as a creative and the kind of work you do?
I’m a cultural critic & cultivator, writer, curator, connector, problem solver, lover, molder, maker, producer and rule breaker.  I don’t invest in titles so much as ideas and people. With the solid combination of a great idea and a core group of people that are crazy enough to subscribe to its potential and impact, there is ample opportunity to create, grow and be reverent. The type of work that I do will always be about cultural preservation for everyday consumption.
Khadijat Oseni in NYC for Portrait of a Creative
You recently left your job as a photographers’ agent at Stockland Martel Inc.  What does this job entail?  Why did you leave?
Being a photographers’ agent is a very special role and it’s a bit of a secret society because on the surface of observing the business, the average individual doesn’t even know that such a role exists unless you’re in the thick of working within it. Unlike other major creative businesses where advisory roles are divided amongst managers, agents, publicists, sales/marketing executives, producers and so on and so forth, as a photo agent, you wear all those hats and then some including shotgun rider & therapist.  What I would say to anyone with the least amount of interest in this role is, it is a lot of fun if you truly love what you do; but can also be an insurmountable amount of pressure if you’re not fluid enough in your thinking, so constantly flex your creative muscles.  The best sales people are the ones that are constantly moving on their feet and thrive under pressure.

Despite how much I loved my work as an agent, as well as everyone that I worked with during my time, I decided to transition on because I simply discovered after almost 7 years that it is not my life’s work and I still have unfinished business with some of my other skill sets. May not be as sexy of a story but I’m a gal that’s in it for the long haul (laughs). I found the right opportunity to take a creative break to explore and experiment without boundaries, not many can or are willing to place themselves in such a high-risk position but I damn sure am enjoying the ride and life in general! Creation is about fluidity, movement and energy; you cannot create if you are not moved to change and that relentless aspect brings you pleasure, it’s as simple as that!  I would love for everyone to refrain from calling my renaissance an “Eat, Pray, Love” adventure, it’s more of a badass Western set to Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free” or Betty Davis’ “They Say I’m Different” thank you very much! (laughs).

What are your plans for the future?  
My immediate future plans are to travel and continue to document my perspective of the world thus far via blogging through my “Jetsetter Problems“ platforms on Instagram and Tumblr. Travel is what I’m most passionate about, has always influenced my creative process as well as strengthened my ability to relate to various people. I’ve been blessed to have stepped foot on all our continents except Antarctica which is on my list as well! There is still a lot of mental preparation involved for that trip. While I am not on the road, I plan on expanding my knowledge of social media and digital strategy as a story-telling medium, which inherently is THE world we live in and now serves as our collective unconscious in many respects.  As far as career-wise, I have become increasingly fascinated by lifestyle branding and can easily see myself falling into this niche once I emerge from my creative hiatus.

How did you get to where you are today? What has been your career path?  
I got to where I am today, which importantly still isn’t a point of arrival and in my opinion will never traditionally be such, by merely not being afraid to end up in the wrong direction. It has been a balanced diet of hard work, dedication, being open and honest with myself, as well as maintaining a healthy dose of humor along the way. My career path has been a beautiful, varied mix of internships, mentorships and salary work in music, photography and the arts ranging from talent scouting, photo & copy editing, artist management, event coordinating and arts-based NGO work.

How did you figured out your path thus far?  Was there anything thing or anyone in particular that influenced your life, therefore gave you direction?  
As cheesy as it may sound, I have always been able to figure out my path by following my heart and intuition. It’s the plain simple truth that is elusive and can’t be bottled up but always yields a 100% of a positive result. As a creative, it is always important to align yourself with progressive thinkers who are passionate about what it is that they do and remain open and humble to seeing every task you take on, big or small, as a learning experience because this is the genesis of building character and longevity. Some of the best advice I have ever received as well as the career opportunities that have paved my path thus far have spawned from the most unlikely encounters, just genuinely listening & connecting with people and being present in the moment.
Khadijat Oseni in NYC for Portrait of a Creative
What does living a creative life mean to you?
Living a creative life means having the freedom to be open to your inner child-like mind of just sheer curiosity of figuring out how objects and emotions work together on a basic level from the birth of an idea/feeling to the eventual relevance the result has to the human eye/mind and getting to deconstruct and reconstruct this medium over and over again in different forms in order to curb from reaching the point of boredom. It means wanting to ask along with also wanting to experience why things feel, smell, taste, sound, look a certain way and why you and others have a connected, visceral reaction to them on a subconscious level.

What are you currently working on?
I’m beginning to open up my years of experience in numerous fields as a creative consultant currently on a special case-by-case basis, working on starting to blog my travel adventures for fun during my creative hiatus along with also collaborating with a couple of artists in various mediums that include but are not limited to photography and textile design. Lots of experimenting in the works and it’s all been fun so far.

Describe your style.  
In terms of fashion, I’m definitely a mood dresser so the color palettes, patterns and textures I wear on any given day are guided by my headspace in the morning. Apparently today I decided to roll out of bed as an urban peacock! (laughs) My style is also influenced by my travels, music, art, and general cultural environment.  Vintage naturally falls under this umbrella and I’m usually drawn to fusing unusual colors and patterns together in a classic yet edgy manner. As far as my business style goes, as the title of one of my favorite musical compositions by Thelonious Monk reads, “Straight, No Chaser”!

Any aspirations? Something you’ve always wanted to do or someone you’ve wanted to collaborate with or a dream client or dream assignment?
Hmmm right off the heels of discussing travel, a dream assignment would be to go on a street food tour in Asia with Anthony Bourdain…that would be epic!  We’re still dreaming right?! (laughs)

An aspiration of mine would be to align myself in a mentorship role through my next career hat that empowers young people to travel at least just once in their lives as a means of self-discovery. I’m still amazed by how many people I know that have never owned a passport in their lives.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
One of my favorite creative routines is to simply rest my mind between headphones and drown inside a tune. It’s a great way of grounding the concept that not all passing thoughts need to be caught, if they get lost, it simply wasn’t part of the melody.
Khadijat Oseni in NYC for Portrait of a Creative
Any interesting stories about the work you’ve done or an experience you’ve had?
The most interesting experiences that I’ve had thus far have come from being about to meet and work alongside some of the great minds that I studied in history books and that helped influence my love of the arts. It makes everything come full circle. One of my fondest memories was the time I had the honor of meeting the master photographer, Irving Penn during my college days as an intern in the visuals department at The New Yorker. I was entrusted to head down to his studio to receive and deliver one of his noted, original prints. Expecting to pick up and sign off from a prime gatekeeper, out comes Mr. Penn himself along with his assistant to personally hand over his valuable print to me. He shook my hand as if I was an equal even though I was an intern and graciously and gently introduced himself and offered to get me a cab to complete my delivery.  That meant everything and still does till this day not only because he was/is one of my creative heroes, the moment was especially potent since I was not bearing a “title” demanding that level of respect yet received it nonetheless.

How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
Success means understanding that the act of succeeding is a transient process that constantly needs to be reworked.  Therefore, failure in some form or another, is always a natural reality within this equation. Those who are successful over a sustained period of time are people that are not really concerned about failing, are crazy enough to actually invite fear into their space, take risks and enjoy the process of feeling uncomfortable in the hopes of an unimaginable height/outcome.  It’s spirited, trained endurance and hard work towards an unmarked finish line.

Anything else you’d like to share?  
Try not to lose sight of nurturing your inner light throughout the process of whatever it is that you do. At the end of the day, you want to enjoy the person you have become as well as your output.  Time neither speeds up nor waits for anybody so move at your own pace, if you’re shifting with energy that is authentic to you, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be so just keep your rules simple on the road- quality over quantity always wins and people matter.
Khadijat Oseni in NYC for Portrait of a Creative
Would you like me to provide a link to your website and/ or blog?  
Sure, come along for the wacky ride! I will be tracking my upcoming adventures as well as lamenting about previous ones pretty much daily on Instagram (@jetsetterproblems) and sporadically via Tumblr at http://jetsetterproblemsworld.tumblr.com/. I also have a fun, freeform, creative mood board space on Facebook called KO: https://www.facebook.com/setsailwithko. I may be shifting its focus soon though, we shall see!

Kathy Delaney | Global Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness

Kathy Delaney at home in Manhattan.  Photography by Kristin Gladney.

Kathy Delaney at home in Manhattan. Photography by Kristin Gladney.

Q&A with Kathy Delaney:

Tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you are from.   
I grew up in the Bronx; contrary to what most people guess when they meet me.  Most people think Southern California, which is hilarious to me.  I guess I come off super calm and Zen.  Little do they know I am a born and bred New Yorker and angst-ing on the inside pretty much all the time.

Please and explain what your job entails as the Global Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. 
It’s my job to make sure that our output is buzz worthy and business building. No pressure!  I also make sure that I bring out the very best in the individual creatives here. I’m a big believer in collaboration and love the fact that really productive creative brainstorms spontaneously happen all day long around here.

How do you describe your self as a creative and the kind of work you do?
I try to keep it as real as possible. It’s all about creating and inspiring work that is soulful and human-centric.  The challenge is to uncover the real human truth and let the creative expression explode from there.

I trust my instincts – for coming up with creative work and managing creatives.  Everyone is unique and requires different motivation to achieve amazing results.  I like to take a very individual approach to managing people. It requires more time, but is worth every minute.

Kathy Delaney Portrait

Kathy with her dog Sadie on the terrace.

Are you working on anything else creative outside of your work at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness? 
I was just named one of two inaugural Presidents for the very first Cannes Lions Health and Wellness Jury, which is exciting. Creativity is what advances business and innovation across all industries, and I’m thrilled that Cannes is recognizing this with its first-ever Health and Wellness category.  Having an award show that communicators in the industry can strive for will raise the level of work in this industry to new heights.

How did you get to where you are today? What has been your career path?  
I worked full time through college and had a day job as an assistant in the creative department of a big agency. After sharing my schoolwork with some of my supervisors, I got promoted to studio assistant cutting matts and helping art directors make their work presentation-worthy.  It was great ‘in the trenches’ learning.  All the while I was taking night class at the School of Visual Arts and putting together a portfolio that ultimately landed me a job as a trainee in the creative department of the same agency.

How did you figure out what you wanted to do?  Was there anyone in particular who influenced your life, therefore gave you direction?
My Irish grandmother was the ultimate storyteller.  She would take me for walks when I was a kid and make up elaborate stories about the homes we were passing and the people who lived in them. Of course I believed them as gospel, but they were completely born from her imagination.  She had a gift of ad libbing and inventing, and never once read me a story from a book.  My love of inventing stories comes from her.  That’s what we do for brands, we tell stories about them.  And the better the story, the more successful a brand becomes.

Kathy Delaney Portrait on Terrace in Manhattan

How did you learn to do what you do? 
I met my husband of 20 years, Steven, while I was still in school. We were both night students at SVA.  I was mucking about with classes that were not really specific to being an art director. (Steven likes to say he found me drawing cow skulls and got me into typography—not that far from the truth.) He literally wrote me my own curriculum that got me on the path to creating a good enough portfolio to be hired as a junior art director.

What is one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
There are so many! Crossroads Community Services is my current favorite. It’s an effort that Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness has created to help the homeless in New York City by raising awareness of the real mental and physical benefits tied to performing acts of kindness.  I’m so excited about that work and the extraordinary team that created it from literally nothing.  I am truly honored to be a part of it.  It’s starting to go viral, and people in other countries around the world want to get involved and raise awareness in their respective cities by doing drawings that extend the campaign’s message globally. To do something that is truly going to make a difference in the lives of people who have so little is incredibly humbling and energizing.

What do you love about the work you do?  
Seeing people realize their own potential is the biggest thrill in the world. Giving someone the confidence and the freedom to create work they didn’t think possible.  That’s my favorite part.

Kathy Delaney Portrait on Terrace in Manhattan

You have an awesome apartment in NYC.  How does it play a role in your life, work and creativity?  
My husband and I both grew up city kids – he in Manhattan, me in the Bronx.  We bought this apartment because it had an insane amount of outdoor space for a New York City home.  To come home at night and be able to go outside and look at the stars is a novelty that will never get old.  I find it incredibly grounding yet inspiring at the same time.

Please describe how your creative brain works.
I have no idea. I’m afraid I will stop coming up with ideas if I discover there is a formula behind my thought process.

Describe your style.  Is your personal style different from your professional style?
My personal and professional style are actually pretty similar. Again, it’s all about going with my instincts – when it comes to creating, managing people, and how I pull together a look in the morning. I just listen to my inner voice and go from there.  It doesn’t lead me astray…usually.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
I read as much background as possible. It’s good to get all the literal stuff in your brain, and then let go. Go for a run, go see a movie. Walk the dog. When you least expect it, an idea will come, and then off you go.

Kathy Delaney Portrait in her Manhattan Home

What do you think makes a successful advertising campaign?
Campaigns that get into the fabric of our culture, and the minds and hearts of people.  When consumers develop an ‘unreasonable passion’ for a brand, you know you did it right.

How do you define success? What has helped you to become successful?
It’s always been about the work. I can’t stand politics, but unfortunately they still exist in our industry. It’s distracting and detrimental to the creative product. My M.O. has always been heads down and focus on the work.  It has served me well.

What is the best creative advice you’ve ever received?
You are only as good as your last idea, so keep them coming!  I was a bit scared as a junior when a supervisor said that to me, but now I am grateful. It’s so true in this business.

To learn more about Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, go to http://www.saatchiwellness.com/.

Alison Klayman | Director, Producer and Cinematographer of Documentary Film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Alison Klayman

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, is a feature length film about the famous international artist from China who is known for his outspoken political activism and for being openly critical of the Chinese Governments’ stance on human rights.  Ai Weiwei was one of the collaborators who designed the Beijing National Stadium (aka the Birds Nest) for the 2008 Olympics.  Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was the winner of the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize 2012, among many other awards.  Alison was recently named one of New York Times 20 Directors to Watch.

Q&A with Alison Klayman:

Tell me about yourself and where you’re from.
I grew up right outside of Philadelphia.  I went to Jewish day schools all my life.  Then I went to Brown University. I always wanted to have adventures and travel a lot, and I feel like being at Brown was where  I learned (from other students) that if you want to do something, just do it.  That’s kind of the difference between someone who has traveled, or written a book or done anything and someone who hasn’t.  They just did it. There’s no special secret.

Did you go abroad while you were a student at Brown?
I did. I studied in London.  The academics were great, but part of why I’d heard it was a good idea to study in London was that  you could work hard and then you could have a lot of time off.  It was a very self directed study.  There were a number of weeks when I didn’t have to be around, so I traveled a lot in Western Europe, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.  Studying abroad in London was about being close to the rest of the world.

How did you get into documentary filmmaking?
I did some photography in high school, and I always really liked taking pictures.  I was into photography at college too, but not in any official way.  I really got into film from a background in radio.  I did a lot of radio throughout college.   I think audio is a really important part of filmmaking.  It is important to have high quality audio in a film.  If you have low quality audio but a great picture, it will greatly impact how your piece is viewed in terms of professionalism.  I also think that in radio, there is such a strong focus on storytelling, and that’s obviously really important in a film too.

Alison Klayman, Documentary Filmmaker

How did you end up in China creating a documentary film on Ai Weiwei?
I went to China because I wanted to be a journalist and do documentary film.  I had studied history, I had worked in radio, but I didn’t have anything that was specifically connected to China.   I had done a student film in college with a good friend of mine, and she was going to stay with family in Shanghai for a few months.  I didn’t want to just get a job when I graduated college in 2006.  I wanted to have my own adventures.  I asked if I could come with her.  This is what brought me to China.  It intrigued me, and  I started learning the language.   I wanted to continue learning the language, and China is a great place for freelancing stories.  It is a place where there is such a high demand for news.   In staying there, I tried to have many adventures and to make the world my teacher. I got different jobs on movie sets and in other contexts where I had to use Chinese.

About two years into my stay in China, I was trying get some more freelance video work, not just work in radio and print. I had the chance to get a journalist visa, which is great in terms of becoming more marketable. This helped lead me to meet Ai Wei Wei.

My roommate in Beijing was curating a show of Ai Weiwei’s  photographs for a local gallery where she worked.  She asked if I wanted to make a video to accompany the show.  (I had recently worked for the Olympic website and had just purchased a video camera.)  She mentioned that there was a lot more to this show than just the photos on the wall, and no one was documenting it.  It  all started with this small project. Ai Weiwei  liked the video that I did,  and we got along well.  I think he is an  incredibly complicated, charismatic and provocative figure, and creating this first video helped establish a little bit of trust and basis for continuing on a larger project. This was my film school.  I figured out how to do it as I went along.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a filmmaker?
A good thing I did in the beginning, which I should have done more of, was watch my footage.  The first video I made, I shot twenty hours for what ended up being a twenty-minute video.  I’d shoot in the morning and I’d come back and log it and transcribe it.  I made the whole thing in a couple of weeks.  Watching my footage helps make you better, because you’re constantly looking at ways you can improve.

How did you decide on the story line for your film on Ai Weiwei?
In terms of story, I came into it with so few preconceptions and no preconceived notions of what I wanted this film to be. I just felt that I wanted it to be the best and most in depth look at Ai Weiwei; and whoever he was would be what the movie was about. If he was going to be a phony, it would be about him as an art world phony.  If he gets into trouble, or is somehow always getting out of trouble… I wanted to reveal his character.

Alison Klayman


I had this hunch that this film about Ai Weiwei could have a greater importance because I felt that to understand him would reveal more to the audience about the complexities of China.  That was about as thought out as my story was when I first started filming.  Themes emerged as I was shooting, such as free expression or about the power of the internet; but mostly I was just trying to uncover him, and this worked out really well.  I think that is a great recipe for making a film that ends up being about bigger issues, or deeper political issues.  The more personal and specific a story, the more universal a story can be read by audiences.

How did you determined when you would film Ai Weiwei?
It was really great that I lived in Beijing.  It wasn’t about planning a shooting trip.  Although he gave me amazing access, the relationship was not that he would suggest to me when to film or that something was about to happen.  He wouldn’t tell me when I should or shouldn’t come by, because he has his own team recording his activities and so I wasn’t the primary focus of his personal documentation.   I feel that there were so many days were it was just me kicking myself about missing things and thinking to myself, “Oh that would have been so good, and this would have been a great scene or storyline”.  I just couldn’t be there all the time.  There were also a lot of things that I chased and I did successfully film that didn’t end up in the movie, but living there allowed the relationship we had to be really causal so I could just come unannounced.  I also wasn’t interviewing him that much. I don’t think he would have tolerated that, but I could film him being interviewed by other people.

I got to know people in the studio, especially people who were running his schedule, which changed over the years; but there were certain points when I could call the scheduler and say “So what’s he got this week,” so I could choose wisely.   The important thing was catching him on trips, because he is an international art star.  When he travels, he goes to look at art work that’s being made, he’s going to install exhibits and be admired internationally and he’s also doing trips for his activism purposes (which is a different set of people who I would  have to eves drop on in order to realize “oh he’s going there this week”  and ask his permission).  It’s like stalking someone and then making sure you’re there at the right time, in combination with just showing up, because you never know what’s going to happen.  For example, in the movie when  I got the scene when his mom comes to visit him… that wasn’t planned at all.  He said  to me” You know my mom is coming over,” and I was really shaking with excitement because I felt that was going to be a hard interaction to catch if I asked for it, but I kind of lucked into it.

Did anyone influence your interest in becoming a filmmaker, or did it just happen organically based on your past interests?
I think filmmaking came about because of my interest in history, journalism and politics.  For me it is all connected.  I’m also interested in art,  and I guess that’s what connects it all.   I have always been interested in these things and it probably does have to do with my parents and upbringing, but I can’t think of anyone specifically who influenced my interest in filmmaking.   Although now,  I feel like I will continue to be influenced by Ai Weiwei. I think it is just about ballsiness.

Art is often a reflection of the artist…
I feel like I was trying to be really true to him, but obviously it’s all my choice in terms of how he’s framed in the film.  Also I think there are some things we do share. In Never Sorry, I  highlight the “fuck you”  kind of stuff too, because I like that kind of stuff. I like things that are like that… that are a middle finger to authority or power, I think that is where fun and important art comes from.    It’s no coincidence that the film is a pretty good reflection of  Ai Weiwei in terms of irreverence in terms of humor and irreverence.  I think that it is healthy for people and societies to be able to laugh at their circumstances.

How did you support yourself  in China while you were filming Ai Weiwei?
I was filming Ai Weiwei over the course of two years.  The first year, I was really filming him on the side of being a full-time freelancer.  I’d just gotten a journalist visa, so news outlets were interested in hiring me because I was official.  When you’re doing TV or radio, you’re also allowed into all the government briefings.   After the first year of filming, I was able to get support from some foundations in the States so I had an actual budget to do stuff with Ai Weiwei.  In the second year of filming,  I wasn’t paying myself, but I had my expenses covered.  Therefore I wasn’t going into pocket for airfare or for buying tapes or new equipment.  These things were covered by the grants, but otherwise I was living off of savings.  I did a couple little commercial gigs. I tutored some students for their bat mitzvahs.  These were some things I did in Beijing so I had a little bit of pocket money.

Alison Klayman, Documentary Filmmaker
Why did you move to NYC to edit your footage?
I came to New York because  people had suggested it was a good idea, and at first I didn’t understand why.  At first I thought, “Can’t I just edit it myself?” and then I realized that I had so many hours of footage and so little outside perspective that I needed to work with someone who had a different perspective and who was not living in China.  I felt like this was very important if I wanted the film to be resonant globally.  I needed someone whose head wasn’t thinking about China all the time, and who knew how to help me with the story. So, I moved to NYC to edit the film. I was really terrified financially because didn’t have the side gigs.  Before in Beijing,  I did have side gigs;  and if I needed to make a little bit of money, I knew how to make money in Beijing.  I didn’t know how to make money in New York City.  The rent  in New York is a lot more expensive.  Everything is just more expensive, and I really was nervous.  At the time, I didn’t know whether the film was going to yield money or not.

How did you get your first break?
Frontline contacted me.  They had seen a little clip of my footage that I had put up when the New Yorker did a piece about Ai Wei Wei.  They said they were looking for China stories and they saw my video.  I think this shows that you you never know where things are going to lead. Frontline asked if I would be willing to do a piece for them about Ai Wei Wei.  I was able to live off of the money I got from Frontline until we  sold the movie.  Once we sold the movie, I was finally able to get paid for all the work I had done on Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.   I  squirreled away the money I got from the film and from speaking about the film,  so I was able to start another project.  In the back of my mind is always… what’s going to be next, and I’m really excited.

To learn more about Alison Klayman, go to http://alisonklayman.com/

For the official website of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, and to watch the trailer and the film, go to http://aiweiweineversorry.com/