Interview with Photographer Andria Lo “If you have something to say, make it happen! “

I have been so busy working on Glassbreakers, but I undoubtedly wanted to keep up this blog!  Andria Lo is an amazing photographer with a beautiful, open studio based in Oakland.  You can enjoy viewing her work on her website, twitter and instagram.  Enjoy the interview and please reach out if you have suggestions for interviewees in the Bay or Oakland area.  Cheers, Lauren


What projects are you currently working on?

There’s always a bunch of different stuff! I’ve been working on photographic patterns using botanical elements and flowers. I recently did a project with the San Francisco Botanical Gardens where we went out and collected clippings based on the current season and I made collages out of them. I love working with the natural elements.




What is one of your favorite projects from the past?

About a year ago I did a project in SF Chinatown, which is a neighborhood I love. It’s insular and hard to access, but has an amazing energy; it’s its own little bubble in San Francisco.

I did the project with my friend, Valerie Luu. The piece was half street style and half profile of long time residents of SF Chinatown. The photos include portraits of these residents who have a wonderful fashion sensibility. I’m not sure if they are even aware of it, but the project aimed to honor that sensibility.

We were able to connect with these people even though there was a language barrier. We talked with them through translators. I will still see them around, and we’ll wave to one another and shake hands,­ it’s very sweet. This project was really fun though one of the hardest I’ve done, because getting people to stop and talk to us was challenging. It was so much easier for folks to say no and keep walking, but we were persistent and it ended up working out.

It was also special to me because some of the residents reminded me of my grandma. It was a project I always wanted to do, ­a senior look book of sorts. Their mix of patterns is so bold and they aren’t afraid of color and pattern. There’s also a lot of layering: a puffy coat with a couple of sweaters. In a way, it appeals to a younger fashion sensibility to because it ends up being artistic and bold.



How did you set up your creative space?

The high ceilings are a great feature because they remind me of possibility. Every time I walk into the studio it’s like a blank canvas, so I feel I could build sets or go big and I don’t feel limited. That’s definitely a privilege of the space. There’s a lot of natural light ­through skylights. I use production lighting when shooting, but it’s relaxing to work in natural light.

When I was laying it out, I wanted it to be a place I wanted to come to, but that wasn’t too comfortable, like I was working at home. I don’t have a computer set up here. While I’ll bring my laptop in for reference during a shoot, I don’t edit here and I try to minimize distractions.

I share the space with a studiomate who is also an artist, writer and teacher at CCA.  It was important to me to set up some different kind of spaces as well. I was a little overwhelmed when I first started renting it because it was so open. I thought about building a loft and having more people share the space, but as I started having shoots here, I decided to keep it simple.



What are your most important items in the space?

Besides the photography gear, I love having the plants in here. It adds a layer of warmth. I’m fascinated by plants because they are so perfect in their forms and I’ll stare at them when I need a break. I collect a lot of papers, colors and textures so when I’m shooting still life I have a rolodex of colors I can work with. Anywhere I go I’m always looking for more background
papers and things I can play with.



How do you choose your subjects?

I love food, and similar to plants, I’m attracted to the color and forms.  A lot of it is just fussing until I’m happy with the colors and composition. When I get an inkling of a concept, I’ll go to the market and see what calls out to me. If there’s some crazy produce, I might try to incorporate it. I actually have a bunch of specific ideas for what I want to do, but most of the time it ends up being not so planned out and I just come across the elements; it’s like finding one radish with a perfect cross section, and then you have to use it.



How have you navigated your career to where you are today?  Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?  When did you start doing it full time?

I jumped into full time freelancing in 2009. I was working at a San Francisco studio as a staff photographer, before going freelance, but I only decided I wanted to make the leap into photography in 2007. Before that, I was dabbling in design and working at different startups working on websites. Photography was a hobby, but I didn’t know a lot about the technical side. My interest started in college when I took a few photojournalism courses my last year. After I graduated I kept taking classes and I lived near a dark room so I’d go there. I thought I wanted to try working in either food or photography for a living. I worked at some restaurants in front and back of the house for a short while but then got my foot in the door at a studio and worked my way up there. They gave me a lot of responsibility early on and I was able to learn on the job. Then I started freelancing and it became a career.

For so long I was wondering, “What’s my career going to be like?” I kept aspiring and aspiring and just recently I realized “Oh, I’m actually doing it. This is my career.” I still have aspirations, but I feel like I’ve met a lot of goals that I worked towards but hadn’t even formulated.



In 2009, did you already have a list of clients? How did that transition go?

I was still contracting with the studio, so that was a nice baseline for gigs. I was starting to build a client list and working with graphic designers as well. Then it was referrals and word of mouth. I’ve found myself working with a lot of San Francisco art organizations and nonprofits. I can’t say that I had a clear path where one step led to the next, but it all kind of added up.



What other spaces do you find inspiring that recharge you?

I enjoy going out in nature. We’re lucky in the Bay Area that we don’t have to go far.  In the East Bay, we can drive to the Redwoods in twenty minutes (Redwood Regional Park). I definitely find this to be a good way to recharge and get some perspective. It’s nice to get out of your head to a place that’s already in its natural order.



Words of wisdom?

It can be hard to make time for personal work, but if you have something to say, make it happen! Hopefully you’ll find those projects that you’re obsessed with and can’t wait to work on. I don’t finish a lot of projects, but I’m learning how to trust my instincts more, and that’s also been valuable for my professional work.



Thanks Andria!



Next week we’ll post an interview with photographer Andria Lo.  For now, check out her work here.

JoEllen Depakakibo, Creator of Pinhole Coffee Shop in Bernal Heights “You shouldn’t get off that path or be distracted if things don’t go your way”


Where did the idea for Pinhole come from?

I’ve been in the industry since 2002.  At Blue Bottle, I started in 2006 and was their 8th employee bagging beans, working at the Kiosk (garage in Hayes Valley) and Farmers’ Market. I ended up managing the Kiosk for a few years and in 2012 move to NYC to help with some of their newer retail operations.

Pinhole was in my mind for the past four years, and I’ve actively been looking for spaces that long.  Other spaces opened up earlier but fell through at the last minute.  My experience in NYC gave me more of the ability to just do it; if you can be successful in New York than you can be anywhere.  It gave me a lot of business sense, so finding this space was great and the spaces that fell through were stepping stones to get here.  It just felt right, so it’s been in my mind for a while.



How did you come up with the name?

It just happened.  I had a boss that did Pinhole photography in Chicago.  I remember the time I was trying to think of names and wrote down things that I liked, but for some reason there was a turning point when I thought, “This is it!”  This idea of taking something small and producing something big is symbolic.  In a way, that’s what I envision the space to be.


Tell me more about your experience in the coffee world?

I’ve done a lot of different things in the coffee world. For Blue Bottle I started in production by bagging beans, I quickly became their catering manager for a bit, and eventually a retail manager. Other positions were baristaing and portering at numerous locations. Experiencing these skills gave me an appreciation of the entirety of it.


What are your initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

A creative space stimulates people and really guides people through their entire experience.  By having bright colors on the wall and that sensory stimulation, it furthers the experience of drinking coffee.  In arranging the benches, I was mindful of having them against the walls so people would be looking at one another rather than having their backs towards one another.  I paid a lot of attention to the flow of the space because Bernal Heights has a lot of strollers and  I wanted the strollers to come into the space easily and not be blocked off by tables.  We do have a communal table too so there are a few seats where everyone isn’t facing one another, but I think a communal table is nice for potentially pop-up dinners and other fun events.


Who did this mural?

My brother, Joey D. If you look at the logo it actually says Chicago 2011. There was a point of my life where I actually thought I was going to move back to Chicago. I did move back, got there and then immediately wanted to move back to San Francisco (did so in a couple of months). During that time my brother created the logo and that was the manifestation of real brainstorming. He flew over from Chicago to paint it, he didn’t finish so my friend Magnolia and Leah helped by skyping and texting. My other friend Leah Rosenberg did the wall behind us; she lives in Bernal Heights. She just approached me and said “I’d love to do your wall for you.” I never would’ve thought of doing something like this, but what’s great is that she grabbed colors from the neighborhood, she’s going to make a legend of the origins of the colors.


What are some of your favorite spots in San Francisco?

I like hiking in Lands End, running along Ocean Beach and my friends just opened a restaurant called Andytown in Outer Sunset that’s really special since they roast and bake on site. The Presidio and Presidio trails are amazing. I like to run a lot.

Restaurants: I like State Bird Provisions, Sushi Zone, Guddu de Karahi. The Ferry Building is also pretty special, especially knowing it was built pre­ 1906 earthquake.

Also, Bernal Hill which has the best 380 view of the city.


When you were younger, did you think you’d open your own shop?

Yes, there was something about coffeeshops that attracted me to them as a kid. Maybe it was the bohemian vibe. I lived in the suburbs of Chicago and I’d drive out to Chicago just to hang out at coffeeshops because they were cool. I wrote something in high school where it was like “What do you want” and I actually wrote that I wanted a coffeeshop where people can perform. I always knew, but not to this extent.


Is there a specific type of space you feel the most inspired?

Mount Shasta. They call it the root chakra of the earth. There’s something really calming and grounding about it. Just things in nature when you’re disconnected from the material things of life. There’s not that much pollution, the stars are so bright and you really feel a vortex of energy. It’s not interrupted by tech or anything; tech isn’t bad, I totally rely on it. I think really letting technology go and going back to the basics is important. Tech has been a huge resource for me opening Pinhole. It connected me with social media that’s so powerful. I was a marketing major in college in 2001 when we didn’t have social media and its effects. I just don’t think it should be the end all and be all. I love when people come into Pinhole and converse rather than work on laptops.


Any advice to those who would want to open their own coffee shop?

You will never know everything. It’s always a learning process even if it doesn’t feel great, you’ll can always have that end goal intention, but you don’t know the steps to lead to it. If you know what you want, you’ll get it. That’s beyond just owning a coffeeshop, but relates to everything in life. You shouldn’t get off that path or be distracted if things don’t go your way. Namaste. Haha.


Learn more about JoEllen, who has worked in the coffee industry for years in San Francisco, New York City and Chicago.  She just opened her own coffee house, Pinhole located at 231 Cortland Avenue, Bernal Heights, San Francisco.  Check out the interview here:

Luis Peña, film creator & photographer. “Pursue what you love. You’re going to be doing it all the time anyway.”

New Upcoming Interview with film maker & photographer Luis Pena

What projects are you currently working on?

Right now most of my work is in television, film or photography and I’ve been actively working hard to stay in that world.  Two projects I’m proud of is the commercial and short film I did this year for Appleton Estate Run down in Jamaica, and the short running film, For the Love. For the love will be in the Mill Valley film festival as a finalist in Sharp’s Art of the Amazing.


What are some of your favorite projects from the past?

For right now I’m focused on making films.  One of my favorites was an interview with Sarah Churman; she was a woman who couldn’t hear her entire life and, at 29, she got an implant and started to hear for the first time.  I saw the short clip on YouTube, called her  and said, “”Hey, I’m from Texas, you’re from Texas, can I come visit and do a short film on you?”  She said, “Yeah!”  I love that film because it’s pure, I did it for myself and I like everything about it.

Other than that, I’ve been having a lot of fun working with Mission Bikes.  With Levolights, we told this story of this woman going to a party.  It was fun night and the cool thing about film is it takes you on adventures and that’s what I like.


What are your initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

They are huge.  To say it simply, having the right space nurtures creativity.  I’ve been in larger spaces and have floundered  I found coming to a smaller space works really well for me.  There’s a great White Stripes song, and I don’t remember all the lyrics, but it goes “When you’re in a little room, you are working on something good, you might be in a bigger room.  But when you’re in a bigger room, you might not know what to do and you might wish you were back in your little room.“  I’ve always kept those lyrics close to my heart because every time I expanded out or partnered with an agency, I lost that magic of just being small.  When we built this space, it was made to be small and I built my entire company around this; the idea is that everyone is working in their own little rooms.



You mentioned you designed the office space differently than the rest of the house.  Will you talk a bit more about that?

When we remodeled the house we intentionally made the bottom floor the office.  My wife and I to go back a bit and we both worked at an ad agency.  That agency owned my company and I ran the design department out of it.  When we had our first daughter, Sadie, we realized we were working all of the time, bringing our daughter to daycare and weren’t around so we thought, “Hey, we can do this differently.”  We both quit our jobs, she started a kids’ coloring company,  I bought my company back and then moved into here.  For me, not only has it helped my creativity, but it has really helped my family.  Not only am I around to pick up my kids from school, but I can be a good dad.  Since we work a lot, we wanted to create a space that felt separate from the house. We put in concrete floors, track lighting and other elements that feel more office-like.  When we leave our work day, we close the door that leads up to the rest of the house.  We go upstairs and we don’t come down here.  There have been many nights I haven’t closed that door until 2:30 or 4:30 in the morning. If I’m working on something, it’s still better than having to close the door, leaving the house and getting into the car to drive somewhere.  I like that aspect a lot.  I like that it’s always changing. Kristen is now an interior designer, so as our house changes in style so does the office.   If you were here five years ago, it would’ve been completely different.  Her style is starting to become a bit more bohemian and collage-style.  That’s fun too since it’s always changing.


Kristen’s space where she runs Kinteriors.

What are the most important items in your creative space?

Guitar.  It’s a nice way to take a break when I’m working.  All of the art is hugely important for me.  I look at the piece above my desk.  The bookshelf is key. Even though I do a lot of internet searching for visuals, I still reference a lot of my books; at this point I have most of them memorized so I’ll think of an image and know which book it is in.  Music.  I listen to music from 8:30 to 5:30; it’s pretty nice.


How have you navigated your career to where you are today?

That’s funny because I’ve been so many things during different times of my life.  I started as an art director, which led to design – since I like that you can hold things and be tactile and interactive.   I like that you can start telling stories online with flash and that leads into video.  There are a lot of video moments happening online and telling stories in a deeper style.  So all of that led to TV which has now brought me to film.  I did a documentary a couple of years back and that jumpstarted just doing tv, film work and being a director.  This space has helped me do that because people will come to the space and I can really focus and concentrate.  I’ve spent a lot of hours just doing one thing; I don’t go to meetings or feel like I need to go to lunch to get out of the office.  It’s a really nice space to concentrate and grow quickly.  It’s the space I’m in that’s allowed that.  When you’re working with a bunch of other people, it’s hard since you’re constantly pulled in thousands of directions and people need your opinions all of the time.  I rather just do it through email or phone that are quicker.  That’s what’s nice about it.  Since this space is constrained, it customizes my business to stay small and stay unlike any other companies.

I have this confederacy of others that all work out of their own spaces.  We come together for these projects, make amazing things  on this really high level.  So I really don’t believe you need the trappings of a huge space.



How do you view the power of photography versus video?  Which medium do you prefer to use?

Video always has a leg up.  It’s moving footage and there’s sound; you can tell a longer story.  Playing with emotions and making that connection with the viewer is easier.  Photography is a lot harder.  You have one still image.  You can’t speak or say anything so the pressure on photography is greater.  It’s also fun because of the challenge.  I’ve been riding the edge of both for the projects I’ve been working on; photography and film.  It’s something I like to do, and the cameras I use are specific for doing that.  I really like both.  The things I photograph are a little bit different than what I film.  When I take a photo I think, “How can I make this the most beautiful image possible?”  I literally say that mantra over and over again; is this the most beautiful life, composition, placement, emotion that it can possibly be since I know you only get that one shot.  They are both beautiful.





Notebooks full of logo ideas.

I saw that you are really into running.  What kind of affect do you think the exercise has on your work?

Running has changed my life dramatically.  I have a lot of energy; super high energy.  I use to put it all into my work and I worked too much.  Work had an importance to my life that was too important.  When I found running, especially trail and mountain running, I found a way to put the excess energy into something that was really important.  The way it’s changed my life is dramatic.  It’s made me a better husband, father and man.  I’m calmer and more balanced in every way possible than I was previously.  I am also challenging myself in a way not associated with my family or work; it’s personal.  It’s good and key for me.  Everyone should try it or find that thing.  I started to do it to be closer to my brother.  He is a huge runner in Houston.  That’s how it started.  Now I’m way closer to him, I talk to him often and it’s improved all of these other wonderful things in my life.

On a creative aspect, holy cow, you have hours in your head.  I’m out there for hours.  It helps with ideas, projects and it mostly helps my edits.  I do a lot of writing in my head.  I’m in my head up to 4 to 10 hours sometimes and that’s huge.  You come out of it and you’re on this amazing high, all of these things solved and ideas to try.  It’s been phenomenal.  I ran today.  Haha.

It’s nuts.  You get in that groove and it becomes this beautiful community of really cool people that love the outdoors and are compassionate, kind and crazy strong.




I’m the same way.  I get my best ideas from running and being in nature.

Exactly, what’s more beautiful than nature?  It’s like when you’re out on a field or along a crest, visually there’s this openness that’s so huge.  This visual openness some people only get to experience once a year on vacation.  If you do that on a weekly basis, your mind is constantly open and you’re into receiving things.  The outdoors is everything.



Is there another specific type of space in which you feel the most inspired?

Just the outdoors.  Running, snowboarding, being with my kids, seeing how proud of them I am, doing cool things in the mountains and woods.  That’s why I live in San Francisco.  I tried living in New York City but I only lasted five months.  I left all of my belongings on the side of the road because there was no outdoors, mountains or grandeur.  I’m a nature guy.

Any words or wisdom for people just getting started in video?

I know a lot of people say this but,  pursue what you love.  You’re going to be doing it all the time anyway.  If you love what you do and do it all the time, then you’re happy in life.  You’ll also get really good at it quickly because you love doing it and you get all of these rewards.  If you love making film, then do it and don’t worry about if you’re going to make a living or not.  Just go for it.  Same with photography – just take pictures.  Especially with every creative endeavor in 2014, you don’t need a lot of money or backing.  You can be an incredible photography with Instagram.  It’s about practicing, pushing yourself and taking risks constantly and screwing up all of the time.  It’s being okay with that.  I screw up all of the time; it’s expected and every time I do, I learn and don’t screw up again. I always try to push because when you get complacent you’re not moving forward.

I got into film because of a documentary.  I had no intention previous to that moment to ever become a photographer or film maker.  I bought the camera three  days before I jumped on a plane.  That experience was life changing; it taught me a great lesson which is to give.  We have this creative abilities that can really help people.  We can take photos, films, websites, logos and there are a lot of other people that can help.  I do a project at least once a year pro bono.  The difference you can make by giving a couple weeks of your time is huge.  The amount of money they can raise because of that is enormous.  We were shooting to do a two minute film on Haiti and ended up making an entire documentary.  We raised enough money to build a school down there.  When I go back to Haiti I have many friends and I feel proud.  I did something.  It goes without saying that if you give, you get.  It might not be physical, but you’re getting it in your heart.  It’s a huge part of my life.


New Upcoming Interview with film maker & photographer Luis Pena

Enjoy this interview with Luis Pena where he speaks about pursuing what you love, work / life balance and the important role running plays in his life. To learn more about his projects, check out his work at:

Artist Jonathan Matas “It’s important to examine one’s motivation constantly”


What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on this mural for the Jewish Community Foundation in Berkeley.


What are your favorite projects from the past?

That’s really hard to say.  They’ve all been such an adventure.  I don’t really like to categorize what I like the most, since all of the paintings are equally the product of that moment, you know?

However, I do really like projects that are open-ended, so I have the ability to do whatever I want.  It’s great when the conditions are really nice and cushy for me, but I do enjoy projects with the many obstacles that mural paintings can present.  All of the obstacles and hurdles resolve themselves eventually.


What are your initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

I’ve been in temporary creative spaces, like where we are now with this mural.  So I make this temporary space my studio for a short amount of time.  It’s not to say that’s better or worse than a more traditional studio, but there are some things that I really like despite the difficulties a temporary space can present.  I like being able to work on something, put my all into it and then walk away and wipe my hands clean.   Tear the whole thing down like a nomadic approach to painting.  It really does become your studio for a week, two weeks or as long as a month.


What are the most important items in your space?

Depends what I’m working on.  It depends if I’m using acrylic, spray or another kind of paint.  I always have things to mix paint in, little cups, masking tape, painters tape, rollers, as well as drop cloths and floor boards since we always have to cover the floor properly.  Hermetically sealing the floor always takes a good chunk of time, but you don’t want to get a drop of paint on someone’s nice floor.  Then there are lots of rags and spray bottles.  I don’t like to have too much stuff, but just enough.  If there’s too much, then I start to get confused.



Do you approach your work with a specific process?

Almost never.  That goes back to the earlier answer about the projects I like the most.  Those are the ones when the client trusts me to do whatever I want.  So, I don’t have to do any preliminary drawings, and I am able to let it go where it wants to go.  It’s kind of like the paint takes on a life of its own and the project takes on a life of its own.  The quality of the paint, the colors you’re working with, the way you want it blend together, the surroundings with all the sounds and smells come into play.  The people coming in and out and wanting to talk to you or having some side conversations; it all comes in.  Having a strict agenda can be limiting, and you have to try and fight off all of the other inputs that naturally flow.  It’s nice to let it be loose and let it reveal itself over time naturally.

I really don’t have one way of working.  There’s a lot of different kinds of approaches.  Sometimes I have a general container for what I’m going to do and once that container is there I have a lot of freedom to play within that.  Sometimes it’s so open that there’s no container and I can just have pure play.  Sometimes I really try to stick to a plan step by step, but I’m not so good at that.  Some people are good at that, but it’s not my natural tendency as an artist.



Have you hit any barriers in your career that led you to where you are now?

I’ve just been doing it for a long time one way or another.  I never decided one day that I was going to be an artist.  I’ve been doing it my whole life. I started selling stuff when I was 12 and, little by little, it became my profession.  But I’ve done all kinds of stuff: I’ve been a preschool teacher, bookstore clerk, gardener, waiter; I’ve had all kind of jobs.  It’s been in and out of being an artist full-time.  Now I’ve had a good stretch of at least 3 years without having any other job.  It would be nice to think that this is the way it is now, but nothing lasts forever; maybe I’ll be working at a supermarket when I’m 50 or 32.  I’m not sure.  I want to keep going and doing it professionally; it’s really nice.


What type of artwork were you selling at 12?

I had an art show in a coffee shop near my house.  I sold some stuff there, but that was my first art show.  I even had a brief write-up in a blog, which was a pretty new thing since no one really had blogs.  I tried to find it the other day, but I never thought about  saving and archiving it because the internet can be so ephemeral.  Anyways, that’s a tangent, but I had an art show.  Then people started commissioning me to do stuff here and there.  My first commission was an abstract painting of someone’s dog.  It was a pug named Doris and it was a cool painting; I still like the painting.


Was there a time when you felt like your art took off?

I moved to the Bay and that was the beginning of a new era for me.  I was living here and meeting a lot of new people, collaborating with clients and did some work at Facebook.  San Francisco was a breaking point for me.  I was in New York City before that.  I was doing cool stuff in New York too, but it felt like a different world.  I showed at some galleries in New York and started doing that thing, but I also did odd painting jobs like signs at falafel and pizza shops.  But yeah, coming to San Francisco was when my art took off since more people got to know me – and I think my work got better too.



What’s the biggest difference in the art community in San Francisco compared to NYC?

I don’t know because in both places I’ve been doing my own thing.  I’ve never really been part of a scene.  Not to say I don’t know people in both, but I’m not really in a particular scene in any significant way.  There is a lot more hustle in New York City.  San Francisco has a much more laid back vibe.  There is hustle here that is exemplified by the whole startup thing, but it seems to be more playful and a little bit looser here.  There’s a lot more going on in New York art-wise and everyone internationally is trying to be there.  So, you’re a smaller drop in a big bucket, but there are also a lot of opportunities that can be really fun, too.  NYC was a bit overwhelming for me; I like things a little more laid back.


Is there a space in the world that’s the most inspiring to you?

Not really one most inspiring place.  I’ve had a lot of inspiring moments in a lot of different places, so it’s hard to choose one.  Right now it’s here working on this mural.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to artists? 

It’s important to examine one’s motivation constantly.  Is it for personal gain or to be famous?  I think most people do things more for the fame than even the money.  There’s not that much money in it.  Is it for money, fame or could you genuinely cultivate the motivation to have your work  be beneficial to others?  It’s good practice to generate that motivation before starting a project or ending a session.  Dedicating it to others and practicing in that way has been nice for me since I continuously monitor my motivation as an artist.  It’s easy to be really self-involved as a creative professional.  When you get a lot of praise, it’s easy to become really self-involved.


Upcoming Interview : Artist Jonathan Matas

Really enjoyed this interview with Jonathan Matas.

Full interview here :

Ivan Cash, Interactive Artist & Filmmaker “You don’t need a lot, but there’s a lot to be said about an idea”


Welcome to the San Francisco series of Inspiring People in Creative Spaces.  I’m really excited to kick it off with an interview with Ivan Cash.  I learned about Ivan’s work at AKQA when I heard about a presentation he gave before I had arrived.  Enjoy the interview and if you happen to have any recommendations for people to interview in SF, please let me know.

What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a couple of different projects.  I have an ongoing video series that I’ve been doing that’s really near and dear to my heart called “The Last Photo”.  I’ve been traveling around to different cities talking to strangers on the street asking them to share their last photo on their phone and the back story.  It’s really weird and kind of fun to chat with people in that context.  I’ve been learning a lot about anthropology/psychology, but I’ve also learned how to approach people and be as disarming as possible.  It’s a really cool process.  A simple conversation about the last photo on your phone can tell you a lot about who someone is ( not always, but most of the time ).  I’ve hit up San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.  For the last month, I’ve been freelancing at Goodby, Silverstein and most recently Creature in Seattle.  I’m pretty fortunate to have the gigs and commercial work, but I’m saving up to go on the road for the photo project.  Maybe to some southern cities or smaller ones.  I’m also working on Occupy George.  We just got commissioned by the Victorian Albert Museum in London to do an Occupy Elizabeth bank note.  They’ll exhibit one of our bills in June; I’m working with my buddy on that in New York.

What are one or two favorite projects from the past?

I screen-printed a t-shirt for the New York Knicks back in college.  It said “Don’t hate the player or the game, hate the coach.”  I sold them outside Madison Square Garden and sold a ton of shirts.  I got a ton of press coverage about this college kid selling these shirts.  That was the first time I really did a project out in the world; it was really  cool to interact with people over this and share this passion with NYKnicks fans. There’s something magical about making a shirt and seeing other people wearing it.  With this project, people suddenly wanted to ask my opinion, and it was interesting to suddenly have a voice when I felt like I hadn’t had one before.


What were you doing in New York?

I’m originally from New York, so I was home during winter break from college.  I went to about three games and sold more and more shirts every time.  I had to start hiring friends to help me.  Before the fourth game, I got arrested; three cops were just waiting for me when I got there.  I didn’t even have time to set down the box of shirts I was carrying.  I got out of jail, called a couple of newspapers and told them what went down.  The next day I was on the front cover of the New York Daily News.  It was a domino effect; I had my first fifteen minutes of fame. I built a website the next day and continued to sell hundreds of shirts through the site.  That was my first instance of doing a creative campaign even though I didn’t know it at the time.  I think part of it was a high from the ego sense and wanting recognition, but the part of connecting with people through the project was what really enticed me; the latter has propelled and inspired a lot of the work that I do.  I don’t really have an advertising background, but when interviewing, that was the project that got me a job at Venables in San Francisco.

There’s also Snail Mail my Email.  That project really changed my life; I guess every project does, but that one stands out.  I was over at Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam; I wasn’t really feeling it for a variety of reasons so I quit after six months with no plan b.  It was the hardest decision I had to make up to that point because it was my dream job, but I wasn’t happy and signed a one year contract.  The company had paid a lot of money to move me across the world.  Finally, over a therapy session, I was told “You can do whatever you want,” and I kept saying “No I can’t, this is going to happen and that,” and they finally said, “All of those things might happen but you CAN do whatever you want, this is your life!”  My mind was blown and I called my girlfriend at the time and screamed, “I realized I can do it, I can do whatever I want.”  I quit and wasn’t sure if I was going to go back to advertising.  I had been thinking of this idea for a while, of turning emails into handwritten letters, and so decided to make a website called Snail Mail my Email.  People would send me an email, I’d hand write it and then send it via snail mail to the recipient.  It ended up getting a lot of momentum; a month later over 10,000 letters got sent out, over 200 volunteers signed up to create the letters and mail was sent to over 70 countries.  A book came out of it.  That project changed my life more so than anything.  It really showed me the power of an idea; I didn’t expect all of those things to happen.


It’s really cool how your projects just take off.

It’s kind of surreal.  I ask myself, “How did that happen?”  Before the Snail Mail project was launched, I had actually just gotten dumped by my girlfriend.   There was a lot of angst, frustration and hurt energy that I redirected into something positive.  I believe that some of the toughest times can be a catalyst for change.  It was actually a similar situation for the Occupy George project: I was hurting so hard and needed to do something with that energy.  It was so intense.  The Snail Mail project let me put all of my energy into that project and connect with all of those people.  Sometimes I even wonder if I could do those projects again to the same scale if I wasn’t in such a shitty place.



Before we move on, I keep thinking about why these projects have gained momentum: there’s so much power in a simple idea done well and not convoluted.  It’s something I’ve been able to really hone.  I teach a Creative Ideas class at Miami Ad School and really emphasize the importance of simplicity.  I know I’m not the only person preaching it, but there is really something there.  You can have an idea but you also have to package it where you can explain it in one quick sentence like “this is it.”

What are you initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

I’ve become more sensitive as I’ve gotten older.  I’ve been doing a number of meditation retreats.  I am becoming more aware of how my environment affects me.  I did a month long silent retreat in March; and my biggest take away was that nature is really relaxing and soothing.  I noticeably see the difference in how I feel when I’m in nature versus a city.  I didn’t know if that is actually real, but it is true for me.  That has translated in a number of ways including this space.  I used to share it with three other people for a year and a half.  They are all good friends of mine and amazing people; it worked out organically they moved on to other things, but I was actually about to move into another space since I really wanted my own space. People work differently creatively.  For me, there’s something really important about having my own space.  I like being free from distraction, focused, and feel whatever process I want to engage in and not question it.  It’s true even in my living situation; I just moved out of a shared space that was an amazing apartment and had great roommates, but I just realized over the last year I need to have my own space.  I mentioned I’m really sensitive, so I pick up the energy of other people really easily without necessarily trying; this isn’t always a good thing, given it has some seclusion.  I never really thought of myself as someone who needed my own space, but it’s evolved that way.  I have someone that works with me two days a week that assists me.  I got a lot of responses to the job posting.  After filtering down all of the people and interviewing a few in person, I ended up going with a person who had great energy.  He is totally qualified, but it’s also just important for me to work with people that have a similar energy level.


What are your most important items and/or type of arrangements in your space?

My aunt and uncle live in San Francisco, and the moment I walk in I feel so relaxed.  Maybe it’s because they are family, but they also have a really nice apartment that is very open and light.  I really like Japanese design, minimalistic, plants.  I guess even though light isn’t a physical object, it’s the most important to me.  Otherwise, I’m not sure if there’s much that really matters.  A computer, notebook and pen.


On your website, you define yourself as an interactive artist and filmmaker.  I know for myself that I struggle with my title.  How did you figure out yours?

I have ongoing jokes with my friends about this since we’re always changing our titles.  In this world, some people just end up being doers and it’s really hard to quantify that.  I’m calling myself an interactive artist and filmmaker today, but I can guarantee you in a year I’ll be calling myself something different.  I deviated from art director a year ago and creative director sounds a little pretentious, but I use that on my business card.  Interactive artist felt all encompassing to what I do.  Just yesterday someone asked me what kind of art do I do and I didn’t know what to say.  It’s really bad.  Do I want to go the impressive route, moderate route or how exactly do I explain?  Interactive artist is broad but it at least alludes to the interactivity going on.  The filmmaker title is new and I’ve been stocking up on film equipment during the past  year.  It’s something I want to embark on more, so I include it as my title to get more gigs.  We are all making it up as we go.

Do you have a process for ideating over human centric projects?

My goal isn’t to come up with human-centric projects, but it ends up being the most interesting to me.  I would never confine myself to just human-centric projects, but I just try to be open and self-aware while I’m going through my day.   For me, there are two kinds of ideation: one is for a paid project and then personal.  I usually lie down with a notebook, pen and brief and [ scribble notes].  My creative process is living my life and constantly, in the back of my head, trying to refine and mull around an idea.  I think about how an experience right now relates to what others are feeling in this situation.  In advertising, I think it’s easy for someone to lose sight of how someone might feel in a given experience or ad, so I really try to stay true to that and pride myself on creating work that have mass appeal.  Anyway, mulling it around, twisting and turning.  I have a lot of ideas I haven’t executed yet, so there’s a list in the back of my head.


What role does technology play in your work?

Everything and nothing.  I use a computer for almost everything I do.  It depends on how you’re defining technology, but everything I do is technology-based in some form.  I really embrace technology in that respect, but I’m also really interested in what role technology plays in my life.  I think we’re more technology immersed than any other city in the U.S.  I think that can have some positive benefits, but it can also be pretty negative.  I’m thinking about getting lost in checking websites, not taking enough of a break, etc.  I actually left my computer at home yesterday and it’s something I’m trying to do more regularly.  I don’t check my phone in the morning.  I was talking to someone who said,  “Everyone wakes up in the morning and checks his/her email and Facebook.”  I was like, “Really?  Everyone does that?  I don’t.”  Maybe everyone does.  However, I am really interested in the checks and balances of technology and not unquestionably embracing it.  A theme in a lot of my work is trying to bridge the gap between humanity and technology.  With selfless portraits, you can draw a stranger’s profile picture; the insight that inspired this project was Facebook encourages breadth over depth.  You can have a lot of superficial interactions with people, so the project found a way to make them more meaningful.


Where do you feel the most inspired and/or creative in the world?

I don’t know if I can answer that since creativity isn’t limited to one space.  This is my space right now and I love it; this almost feels more like a home than anything I’ve known since moving out of my family house.

Traveling.  Even though it’s not one space, I love being on the move and open to new experiences.  Discovery is really important.

Being home.  My parents are together and live in the house I grew up in.  It’s still a trip to go home and think “Wow, I was a baby here. This is wild.”

Being in a retreat and meditation hall if really inspiring.

I don’t have one place where I come up with my best ideas.  I found that posture wise, if I’m horizontal/lying down, I’m a better ideator.  So I’ll try and lie down on that couch when I’m really trying to think of ideas.  The kernel for selfless portraits came out when I was at Facebook and laid down and within twenty seconds I thought of it.

I don’t know if nature is a cop-out answers, since it’s not space, but more and more I realize the value of getting out.

Something I’ve been beating myself up for my entire life, but realizing it’s a good thing, is having my feet in a few different worlds.  Do you know Snooki from the Jersey Shore?  I grew up going to school on the same bus as her.  My public school was rooted in culture similar to what Jersey Shore emulates, so I felt like an outsider for my whole public school experience.  I went to private school for my last three years since i was so miserable at public school.  Even there, I still have a lot of great friends, but there were a lot of wealthy people and I felt alienated by that. It was also a very creative & artistic school, so much so that I didn’t really have much confidence in my creativity there. I mean, I took art classes, but didn’t apply to art schools.  In the Bay Area, I have friends in advertising, the fine arts world and ones who don’t do art at all (meditation friends).  Part of me wants to have one community and one group and not have to bounce around, but I think the moving around in both physical and emotional space with relationships helps me maintain a broad perspective essential for coming up with compelling, wide-reaching ideas.


Any advice/words of wisdom?

I have a curriculum at Miami Ad School that’s based around ideating.  I banned the word advertising on the first day, so it’s more about the creative process.  I feel like I can say a lot about that, but the most important thing to me is just do it.  That’s how I’ve learned the most and all of the positive things that have happened in my life from a creative standpoint is just by doing stuff.  Not all of my projects are successful in accomplishing everything that I’ve wanted to accomplish, but I think I learn a lot from each one.  I didn’t go to art school, I’m pretty self taught and a huge part of that is trying stuff out and seeing what sticks.  I guess people learn different ways, but I learn by doing.  Maybe this is less about creative ideation, but I’ve done a pretty good job of connecting with people that inspire me.  It’s hard to articulate, but it’s important for me to connect with others who have different world views and are doing things I really admire.  Somehow that feels really meaningful to me.  I’ve been amazed at how accessible famous people are.   Lately I’ve met up with a lot of people I’ve had email correspondences with for years and years and that’s been really rewarding.  But yeah, I’ll come back around and say just do it.  It’s easy to feel intimidated or limited, but a domain costs $10, a tumblr is free, any smartphone has a camera or video recorder.  You don’t need a lot, but there’s a lot to be said about an idea.  A lot of the interesting artists I see coming into their own and/or even ones who are established are doing amazing work without really having expensive resources to do so.


Welcome to the beginning of the San Francisco series of ‘Inspiring People in Creative Spaces.’ I’m excited to announce the blog will be kicked off with an interview with Ivan Cash. Check out his work here :  Especially don’t miss out on checking out the following projects on his blog : Last Photo Video Series, Snail Mail my Email, Facebook Portraits and Occupy George.

Full interview :

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