Briar Levit

Associate Professor at Portland State University

Director/Producer of Graphic Means

Collaborative Project with  Oswin Tickler,

Interview by:

Whitney Mokler 

April 20, 2020

W: Historically have you found yourself feeling the most creatively fulfilled by the work you do professionally or outside of that?

 

B: I have, yes. One of my first jobs was working for the Discovery Channel Store, which usually lived in malls and sold science related toys. I was making all of their signage and that lost its luster pretty quickly even though I was right out of school. I started making a zine with my friend and had an outside project within months of me starting that job. Once I got my job at Bitch Magazine I was juggling two jobs and living in these two spaces, one corporate and one very indie. I was feeling very fulfilled working at this feminist publication with really smart people who thought like I did. I didn't have total creative freedom because I had to work within the brand of Bitch, but I definitely had a lot of control. It was a place where I was meant to be; where I connected with the people I worked with politically and socially. It wasn't great financially, but I made it work. It was very fulfilling for me because I was learning constantly through the content I was reading and the experience I had working with my colleagues. I had the opportunity to commission all these amazing illustrators and learn about managing print in addition to designing the page layout for the magazine. It meant a lot for me to be able to work on a national project that had meaning to the people that were interacting with it.

W: What types of design or art do you partake in to fuel your need for creative outlet?

B: From an art perspective I think about a risograph print I made for a Bitch event which was about some of the early African American Suffragists. When I have time I like to work on outside projects. For example, one I did was about modular synths. Lately, I have been writing and researching. The last big design project that I worked on was making titles and collateral for my documentary film Graphic Means, which follows the history of graphic design. Design became the scaffolding for my research and that will be the case for the project I am working on now. It's a book of essays about women that most people haven't heard of in Graphic Design. Women who are not from the canon and incredibly popular, like Paula Scher or April Greiman, but women whose work we would recognize without having a name to attribute to the work. Examples would be women who were setting type with monotype machines or drawing the type for monotype and things like that. Along with the research I will have the ability to work on the designs and collateral for the project. That is the kind of stuff that excites me; pulling together content and designing the way that content will be interacted with. A hero of mine is Ellen Lupton because she writes her content and also shapes that visually. Louise Sandhaus is another who does her own research and designs the books she writes. I'm actually super excited to be collaborating on a project with her right now putting together a website that will be a crowdsourced digital archive of graphic design examples from throughout history. So, I get excited doing work on design and art related projects, but it's in a more meta, bigger picture, art directing kind of way. Over my career I have always worked on really content heavy projects.

W: How do you find your creative drive impacted by times of high stress? Including right now as we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

B: This is a struggle for me, to be honest. I shut down quite a bit, myself, and end up reading or taking in other people’s creativity. That said, at times, I’m able to funnel my stress into work itself, which helps feed productivity, and therefore feeds my mood (upward). But this all varies, and I can’t predict it. During this pandemic, I’ve really been up and down. Having structure and commitments in my life helps tremendously—school, family, and existing professional collaborations.

W: What are 3 tips you have for finding creative inspiration/outlet when in isolation or a high stress environment?

    Make small projects and works. It feels good to finish just a little something—that perhaps you can give to someone?

    There are lots of ways you are creative that don’t involve pencils or a mouse. If for example, cooking feels good—embrace it! For me—I’m really enjoying working on my kid’s aquarium and daydreaming about decorating and caring for one of my own.

    Don’t worry if you aren’t creative today or tomorrow, for a week, or more! You’ve got to take care of yourself, and your loved ones. This is NOT an art retreat.

"There are lots of ways you are creative that don’t involve pencils or mouse."

W: My next question is, if you could create any project right now with unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would it be? But it sounds to me like you're already doing it.

B: I am. I'm already doing it now. The lucky thing about academia is that you get to work on the projects that you're the most excited about regularly.

W: Living the dream! That's where we all want to be.

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