Fine Folks//Creative Callings: Grace Barkley (& my new logo!)

I'm beyond excited to present my new logo today! It was designed and created by one of my dear college friends, Grace Barkley, a graphic designer and writer currently based in Savannah, Georgia. Along with the logo debut, I thought it would also be a great time to launch a new, semi-regular series on the blog: Fine Folks//Creative Callings (FFCC for short?). So many people from different parts of my life are doing fascinating things with theirs, and I hope to be able to share some of their stories here. And who better to start with than Grace? A few things that I love about this lady (besides her artistic gifts!): she listens deeply, has a great sense of humor, can do a mean (as in good) British accent, and makes a scrumptious chocolate chip scone.

How did you first discover your love of art?

It was in the first grade, in Mrs. Andrus’ art class. She would demonstrate how to make a particular drawing or painting, and I would follow in rapt attention. She had rainbow stripes painted above each utility sink in the classroom. One, with red, orange and yellow - warm colors. One, with green, blue and purple - cool colors. I only wished my mom would have let me paint my walls the same. Later, I remember Mrs. Andrus calling me the “girl with the pearl earring” after the poster of the famous Vermeer painting that hung on the classroom wall. She said I looked like her. At first (as an elementary schooler) I thought it was weird. Now, I think it might have been my early introduction to art history.

Grace and I (fifth & sixth from the left) had a ball serving with ASP in college with our Methodist Fellowship group.

Grace and I (fifth & sixth from the left) had a ball serving with ASP in college with our Methodist Fellowship group.

In college, you and I took a writing class called "Writing with Readers in Mind" (I may or may not have had to look that title up in my packrat email folder...), and I recall being impressed with your authentic voice as a writer even then. Did your desire to write connect with your passion for art, or did they develop separately?

I think writing was always something that I loved, but it was so wrapped up in standardized tests and stress and grade school traumas that I didn’t consider it enjoyable until college. Being shy, writing gave me a chance to formulate what I was trying to say. There wasn’t the stress of stumbling over my words like with public speaking. Writing for me is not exclusive from art-making. I consider words just another medium that I can experiment with and a means for taking a reader/viewer on a journey.

You did your MFA at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) - what experiences there impacted you the most in terms of figuring out your vocation?

I came to SCAD to study graphic design in 2011. I was ready to learn about software and tinker with programs that weren’t available at my liberal arts college. After a couple of trying quarters and a loss of passion, I took an elective in the writing department. My soul woke up. I hadn’t gotten too entrenched in the graphic design program, so I tossed those courses toward my elective credits and plowed forward in my new department.

The most powerful thing I learned at SCAD was from my professor Beth Concepcion. One day in class, she ran through a list of literally the most horrible websites known to mankind. I might have to email her for the list now that I’m remembering this. We reviewed each, first marveling that something like this existed on the Internet, and then went to work redoing the site’s wireframe. Her takeaway was this: “There is always someone who needs help with writing.” It was her retort to parents and other naysayers that wondered how their child was going to make it in this field. And here, she had a small bundle of proof from an even larger haystack of written media in need of help.

When I get discouraged about finding freelance work, I remind myself that there are plenty of people that need help. They might know they need it, or want it, or maybe they have no clue. One assumption I also learned to tackle in school was that no one is interested in your expertise. If we are passionate and learned in a subject, it is so commonplace to us that we forget it is totally novel to another. Don’t be shy in sharing what you know. You never know if the person you are talking to might need your help.

A couple of years ago, you turned me on to an organization that I wish was in my town. It's called Deep Center, and it's a nonprofit that runs writing workshops and programs for public middle school students. What did you do with the organization, and what would you most want people to know about it?

I was a writing fellow for two semesters with Deep at my neighborhood middle school. Every week, my partner and I planned workshops to share with a group of 10-15 students who stayed after school to be in what most of them considered an elite kind of club. All of the students were chosen by their teachers. Some needed more basic help with writing. Some were prolific creative writers that needed an outlet.

Deep is about writing, but it is also about providing students with a voice and ensuring they are heard on a larger scale as they contribute their perspectives to the community. After each semester of Deep, there is a reading called Deep Speaks. Writers, selected by their classmates, get to share their piece in a historic theatre in downtown Savannah. This is event is open to the public. There is a red carpet of sorts, photographers, bound books with a piece from every student, and a whole lot of middle school energy!

The thing I most want people to know is that Deep started small, as most things do. The program has grown from just two to fourteen middle schools. All students are able to participate in Deep for free. Each student is supported by a scholarship ($19/month or $228/year) to support full-time staff members, facilities and materials. This past year was special because Deep received the highest honor in the country for youth programming, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Deep’s director and one very lucky Deep kid got to accept the award in D.C. and meet Michelle Obama. There is something to be said for the collective effort of a community. If everyone comes together for a cause, things can grow exponentially. You can learn more about Deep Center here.

I've been so impressed with your ability to take my abstract ideas for a logo and put them so solidly "on paper." How do you initially approach a graphic design project, especially when it might be a client that you don't know personally and you need to get a sense of their style, etc.?

Whether I know them or not, I ask a lot of questions. I ask for examples of existing work that they like. Sometimes, I even create a private Pinterest board where we can both dump images and inspiration. One of my favorite things to do is ask the client for an image they like, usually a photograph or piece of fine art to draw color inspiration from. People derive distinct feelings from photographs and art, so it’s easier to lift colors and therefore a feeling from them. If a client just gives adjectives like “airy, clean and crisp,” it gives me something to work with, but I’m not always sure what that looks like in their mind. It helps to have a visual definition.

What's your favorite part of the design process?

My favorite part of the design process is presenting the (typically) three final options. This is where the process goes from more broad to narrow, picking apart minute differences instead of general style. I’m always curious to see which of the three concepts the client will pick. Often, we have the same favorite, sometimes we don’t. If they are determined to use a motif or style of design that in my design sense just doesn’t jive, I try and offer advice. Ultimately, it is up to the client, but I try and help them see it from the eye of someone who might be seeing their business online or in person for the first time.

You and I both work full-time in communications, and do our freelance work during off hours. How do you think your day job strengthens and influences your design work, and vice versa?

My day job gives me tons of experience working with different kinds of people. Every day I learn something about reading people and/or understanding their needs when it comes to a project. Empathy is a great skill to practice as a designer. Clients range from super pragmatic and mathematical to being really creative themselves. It is important to learn how to work with all types of people, but still assert your expertise.

My day job, though it has some design elements, is more administrative. I’m often using templates and not creating brand new pieces. Freelancing gives me a more creative outlet.

Finally: How do you celebrate when a project is done?

I'm surprised to not really have an answer here! I think it’s because I never consider a relationship with a client to be completely closed. As long as they are using my work for their business, I feel linked. Now that you ask though, I think I might need to create some sort of celebratory habit. But, there is nothing like the feeling of a happy client.

And you sure have a happy client over here. Thanks, Grace, for making me look good, and for sharing your time and talents! Check out more of Grace's work here.