Marilee Sweeney

Owner/Creative Director at Gastronaut Design

letterpress//illustrator experiments done at IPRC

Interview by:

Whitney Mokler 

May 12, 2020

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

 

M: I think I spend the bulk of my time doing design work that's related to my professional work whether it's paid or not. I am personally inspired by making things that someone else will use in their daily life. That's actually what fuels me, to be useful as a designer. In that way I am very much a designer and less of a fine artist. 

 

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

 

M: I love to go to the IPRC and play around with all the printing equipment that they have. Learning how to letterpress has taught me some of the foundations of typography as we know it today--now I understand leading, en dashes and em dashes based on the lead type objects they are emulating. Manual kinds of processes with risography or letterpressing ink onto paper seem to fire up a different part of my design brain, which takes me to unexpected places in my work.

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?

 

M: That's a great question. To be frank, I was considering diving into design sabbatical for a few months before the pandemic happened, which involved self-isolating. I've been working independently from home for some time, and it's a good fit for me. I went to Montessori schools till I was twelve and am pretty self-directed for that reason. I has also figured out how to bribe myself to get out of bed in the morning by running to the coffeehouse for something delicious. 

My goal right now is continuing those habits and then trying to layer on top of them with new explorations into AR and VR. 

 

I do get motivated by being around people, so figuring out how to keep that energy going and staying engaged is the main challenge for me right now. I’m spending a lot of time on the phone or zoom with friends and family, and thinking about ways humans can connect better in virtual spaces. Having the communities of AIGA and League of Women Designers has been really important--we're all in the same boat figuring out how to stay creative and inspired together. 

 

One of my professors at Parsons gave us great advice about how to motivate new projects. He told us that you have to spoil yourself and put yourself in the environment that you find inspiring, surround yourself with whatever gets your blood racing a bit faster. Go to the beautiful book store, listen to the record that gets you in the mood, have a glass of wine and read that beautiful art magazine. That's all a little bit more challenging right now. I can't just go to Powell's or go to the art and typography section of the library and look at beautiful books. Obviously, we live in a digital age so there's this infinite wealth of visual yum out there, so I am switching up my normal to that world.

W: Expanding off of that a bit, in general when you're feeling super stressed how are you able to work through and push yourself to keep being inspired and creative when you are feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders?

 

M: I think for me partaking in simple creature comforts like taking a break and having some amazing food helps, or speaking to someone that really inspires me that's going through the same thing. Gardening is super cathartic for me. I am fortunate to live in a house that has a garden I have been working on for a couple years. I can go outside and prune the trees, work on propagating my succulents, or snag some beautiful flowers and put them in my house. 

There's just something really therapeutic about seeing the cycle of nature continuing year in and year out. I have wine grapes on my back porch and they look totally dead until right before they go nuts. It's nice to see that restoration built into nature. I'm often really inspired by nature and organic textures, so the cycle of life and rejuvenation is really helpful to my design brain. I've also found that in these times I need to be fair with myself--taking the time off if I need and allowing myself to process what is happening is important.

"You have to spoil yourself and put yourself in the environment that

you find inspiring"

W: I think you have somewhat addressed this a bit, but what are some tips you have for finding creative inspiration/outlet when in isolation or a high-stress environment?

 

M: I think it's a great time to look back into the art history you have learned and read about those people's lives and look again at the work they created.

 

I have also been really enjoying the bumper crop of podcast content right now.  Clever is a podcast from Design Milk that I thought was particularly awesome for now because the host is extremely positive with her guests. There is an episode with Stefan Sagmeister that specifically talks about sabbaticals and how it's good to take a break, which I think is really relevant right now. Some people may have more or less work and if you have less work, perhaps you could treat your design mind to a sabbatical. Gray Magazine has also been doing really cool interviews on IGTV with local PNW designers.

 

Going on walks around my neighborhood is really helpful-- long walks up to Peninsula Park that I would not normally take time for. Really observing and looking intently at nature is incredibly inspiring. I generally have a pattern where I try to work and focus on something for fifty minutes and then I take a ten-minute break. Recently, I realized because I'm more sedentary than normal, that I can work for fifty minutes and then I can take a walk around my block to try and replicate the normal amount of movement we get in our regular day to day lives.

 

The Antonioni film 'Blowup' and the band London Grammar are my favorite multi-sensory snacks right now. I gotta find the right music to get my brain humming on the right frequency. When all else fails, a nice cocktail can also do the trick. I learned how to make Vesper Martin is recently which has been delightful at the end of the day.

W: If you could create any project right now with unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would it be?

M: I would create a way for global designers to come together and create really beautiful models and design work together. I would be the person that makes all the textures look really beautiful in the space. I’d collaborate with someone who figures out the dimension detailing and how all the pieces come together.

 

I've seen some presentations from The Wild in which groups of architects meet in a virtual room. While there they all have their own avatars and can move, manipulate, and critique an architectural model together. To me that is really compelling platform to strengthen global collaboration. I'm really interested in global culture and looking at differences and how they can be both fun and challenging. I think that's important to build places to enable better global idea exchange right now--people seem to be retreating into shallow thinking about others or differences. For me differences are delightful and my dream projects would be about embracing global culture and really diving into bringing cultures together to collaborate.

"I think it's a great time to look back into the art history you have learned and read about those people's lives and look again at the work

they created."

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