To be around designer Aaron James Draplin is to be around a whirlwind of creative sparks slowly being centered into a laser of creation. Similarly, a conversation might start out loose and loud, as slowly a cloud shapes into a beam and you get right to the heart of the matter. Aaron is from Michigan, and values Midwestern values of integrity, clarity, and friendship. He is equal parts Star Wars trading cards, well-worn ice scraper, and rolled up sleeve rock ’n’ roll skateboard man hugs.
“There’s no excuses. If you’re on the clock, make it happen.” - Aaron James Draplin, during his Creative Mornings talk.
Portland is home to a large group of small and mid-sized companies that operate as many moons around planet Nike. Here are six creatives that have done creative work for Nike, usually as freelancers or employees of one of the companies inside of this cottage industry.
Justin Morris is a designer. Originally from the Queens borough of New York City, he moved to Portland in 2011 to work on Nike Basketball projects for advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy. Portland has the reputation that living can be so easy in this town, that people end up being content more so than driven. In that sense, the city can use a little injection of that certain driven go-getting hustler energy so native to a city like NYC. Justin provides just that. He recently curated a group art show, bringing together creatives from inside the agency to showcase their personal work for the local community.
Cecilia Doan is the communications manager at indie creative agency Instrument, and the illustrator behind the satirical Shit Bloggers Wear tumblr. Together with her co-worker, designer Tina Snow Le, she is working on a passion project that aims to expose and elevate the voices of minorities in media and design, and inspire others with their stories. I can’t reveal much more than this, but I am very much looking forward to it. Tina’s past includes a stint as a designer at Nike, and Cecilia worked on a Nike account at Instrument before transitioning to her current role. Cecilia and Tina are a dynamic duo with personalities that complement each other well.
Justin Hawkins is a graphic designer with a strong interest in food and entrepreneurship. After stints at Nike and Wieden + Kennedy, he combined these elements to co-found Churchkey Can Co., an intriguing beer company that is about to find its way back to the shelves after a hiatus dedicated to researching new methods of production.
Nishat Akhtar is a graphic artist raised in Philadelphia, educated in Brooklyn, and currently enjoying all of the outdoor adventures the Portland area has available. Her clients include Nike, Coca Cola, HBO and many others. We drove around from one waterfall to the next, hugged Smokey the Bear, witnessed caviar flowing straight from a freshly killed fish. Nishat took me to her favorite cemetery, at night, and mentioned she’d like to live in an all-black house. That’s just the punk rock East Coast shining through from underneath her fresh Pacific North West veneer.
Davis Priestley is a film, photo and story producer. In addition to Nike, his clients include Google, Intel, HP and many more. This bled directly into an interesting conversation on how a parent’s job might impact and shape the world view of a child growing up in the household. Davis has also worked on independent movie projects and live music events with renowned professionals like Gus van Sant and Paul McCartney. We spoke about achieving a healthy balance between the artistry of personal work, and the efficiency of commercial client work.
Does a parent whose job revolves around “selling” stuff instill different values from a job that has “creating” or “teaching” at it’s core? Davis’ father sold advertising for the local newspaper in his 20s and then went back to school to get his teaching credential at 30. He was an elementary teacher the rest of his working life. As Davis monitors his career and plans for a future, in partnership with his husband, this is a question they may muse on.
Jen Delos Reyes is a Canadian-born writer, community arts organizer and educator. There is a palatable Riot grrrl undercurrent to the way Jen places art and artists inside of society. She spent 7 years working within the structures of Portland State University to create the first Arts and Social Practice MFA program that allows artists to remain embedded in their communities to create locally rather than just on campus. Jen is also working on a book, and founded Open Engagement, an annual conference about socially engaged artwork. She’s a great example of a creative with a great variety of activities that all contribute to the same overarching goal of bringing people together and improving communities through art.
Namita Wiggers is a curator, writer and community organizer. Until recently, Namita was the director and chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Craft. This was in partnership with the Pacific Northwest College of Art. She has since moved into a role as the director of the Critical Craft Forum, which she founded six years ago to create a place to talk with people across the craft community. There are now 4,000 members engaged in real-time conversations about their various crafts, finding commonalities and learning together. On the side, Namita is also writing a fictionalized novel about her fascinating family.
Georgia Frances King is bit of a whirlwind. Both editor and arts journalist, she made her way to Portland from Melbourne, via New York. She drives a Volvo 240 station wagon that goes by the name of Helga, and when she exits she seems to appear straight out of a 1960’s film set in either Paris or a posh Los Angeles suburb. That impression quickly makes way for a more complex read once conversation starts. In between every fast-spoken witty line that makes it out, there are small negative spaces filled with silent internal references ready to be picked up for those who can keep up.
Georgia has a certain type of restless energy that seems to imply she’d rather not sit still for too long without working towards something. She is driven in the way that a Michigan winter can be relentless. Rather than pussyfooting about, she will hone in on an article’s weak spots, use saltwater to heal a wound, and bring home a story that might otherwise be imperfect.
Kara Haupt is a designer, a teacher, and the founder of Babevibes an online publication and store about the empowerment of women on their own terms. Kara is currently working on her thesis, which sets out to analyze how content can be presented online in a way that takes full advantage of the native capabilities of the medium that is the internet.
Eric Hillerns is a designer and the co-founder of Design Week Portland, the proprietor or design studio Pinch, and a passionate fly fisher. In the last three years, Design Week Portland has grown from open houses and events at 50 different creative companies to over 300. The immense pool of design talent in the city of Portland comes together to meet, collaborate, and share. The student body of the various schools are able to see what might be in store for them in the job market, and companies can scope out collaborators.
Kate Bingaman-Burt and Will Bryant are studio mates and both teach design at Portland State University. Some years ago, Kate was actually Will’s design teacher in Mississippi, and her name came up in many of the “so how did you end up in Portland” conversations I had. Much of Kate’s illustration work combines thoughtfully therapeutic personal elements with social commentary. For two years, she photographed everything she purchased, followed by six years of drawing all of her credit card statements until they were paid off. Will’s work ranges from sculptural installations, to photographic still lives, and illustrations. Regardless of the medium, the work always seems to be bursting at the seams with infectious joy.
Erika Ellis is a student, model, mother and overall creative. Erika is sophisticated and complex, yet straightforward and familiar. Her background in front of the camera inspired an interest in all the roles of the people that surround her on set. Writing, styling, strategy, photography, creative direction, and more.
Shawn Petersen is a Portland-based creative director, graphic designer, and design educator. We had a thoughtful conversation about mixing romantic relationships and creative business endeavors. We talked beginnings, ends and transitions, while walking around in gusts of wind strong enough to carry us away. Rain appeared at just the right time to fit the story being told, and sunshine came out later to make the streets glisten with promise and new perspective.
Aaron Rayburn runs his cross-disciplinary communication and design studio out of the historic Gadsby Building. His clients include Wikipedia, the Portland Timbers soccer team, and other big name, but an increasing amount of the work is actually non-client work. When I stepped into the studio, I found Aaron covering an animal horn in rhinestones, possibly to be turned into a small lamp later. Also pictured is Nukka, the dog.
Jessiah Ratliff makes parts of Internet by hand, from a seemingly endless list of stunning locations around the Pacific Northwest. He’s currently working on an app by the name of Dripper, which helps locate the best coffee shops near you.
Adam Arnold is a fashion designer who was raised in Portland, OR. He started designing as a young man, inspired by nights out, creating new outfits as he imagined who he wanted to be the next night on the dance floor. Eventually, his sense of adventure took him across the West Coast, with stints in Seattle and San Francisco. After a 12-year period, he returned to Portland to find a relatively sleepy fashion design community, and decided to play a part in elevating it to a new level. Getting fabrics locally can still be challenging, with bigger cities offering a wider variety, but throughout the years the city’s creative brand has also started contributing to an increased amount of attention.
Jeremy Pelley and Fritz Mesenbrink co-founded OMGF Co, a creative agency in the broadest sense of the word. At the time of this photo Fritz wasn’t actually distraught. He was merely adjusting his hair, but I like how this “in-between“ moment accidentally captured the benefit of having a business partner instead of going at things solo. When one is stressed out or overworked, the other can compensate for that and strengthen the unit and with a shot of realism and positivity.
David Cress is an ad man, and producer of independent films and television series Portlandia. We spoke about the parallels between the changes in both financing and consumer behavior in the indie film business and the music industry. There are many parallels to be drawn, with the movie business perhaps benefitting from a few years of delay and the ability to learn from their mistakes. The move from tangible products, to downloads and now streaming has affected both drastically. Budgets and revenue have dropped, but a well of new talent has also found their way to both businesses through online platforms and cheaper technology, leading to a surge of creativity.
Rather than look at the difficult parts of these changes, it might be wiser to look at the overall picture and relish in the fact that so much more can be done with so much less these days. When Portlandia creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein told David how small the budget was for their pilot, and what they were trying to achieve with that budget creatively, it seemed nearly impossible at first, but they pulled it together, and made it work. And to great success.
Megan McGeorge is a classically trained pianist and the founder of Piano! Push Play!. The organization helps young pianists find new ways to share their talent, and gives the public a chance to experience trained musicianship outside of the typical concert halls. It all started when Megan was able to convince the Portland Piano Company to roll an upright piano into the street for her to perform on to the delight of many. These days, Megan works with local piano companies to rescue older pianos that are in good shape, to place them in schools and community centers. The outdoor gig has been expanded into a summer series with pianos installed on sidewalks for all to play.
Jonny Ashcroft is an illustrator and art director. Originally from New Mexico, Jonny and his wife had the opportunity to move to Seattle after a big career offer, so they put their stuff in storage, rented out their house and moved. Once in Seattle, Jonny co-founded a four person agency that was staffed up very quickly to fifteen after winning a substantial Microsoft job. The work delivered was strong and exciting, but the accompanying changes in work/life balance made it so that Jonny decided returning to the freelance life was his next step. After a year, they packed up their Honda with all that would fit, including two dogs, and drove back to New Mexico. They intended to take a few weeks to renovate their kitchen and sell their house but as it goes, it took longer than planned. Once it was all said and done, the pair went on a cross-country trip they’d wanted to go on years ago when work took over, eventually finding their way to Portland with a five year commitment to stay and grow.
Holly Andres is a photographer. She explores themes of introspection, childhood and memory in images often exquisitely choreographed with the gentle hand of hindsight. Holly has had exhibitions all over the country and has been featured in NYT Magazine, Time, and many other publications.
I love the way Holly approaches her work. More composed than captured, thoughtful and thought out, every image becomes it’s own single image short film, with Holly in the director’s chair.
Sarah Hart, and daughter Hannah Sullivan, of Alma Chocolate walked me through the process of making small batch chocolates, including hand-breaking, weighing and packaging their pistachio toffee mini bar. Sarah decided to make the leap of becoming a small business owner when Hannah left for college, and ten years of hard work later Alma is a successful business and shop employing ten people. Hannah has recently married and taken on a role in her mother’s business.
Intisar Abioto is a writer, photographer, dancer, and the voice behind The Black Portlanders. Intisar moved here from Memphis, via VT and CT, and uses her camera to capture and showcase the beauty and joy of the 7% of Portlanders that self-identifies as African-American. It might be a small part of Portland, but Intisar shows the community exists and helps make it more visible.
Ainsley is a barista and the sole proprietor and creator of Palate Polish, a small batch 5-free and vegan nail polish with food-inspired names. Ainsley has been working on the project since May and it’s already available in 12 boutiques and salons between Salt Lake City and Portland in 25 colors.
Anna Zusman is the creative director for the Millenial Trains Project, a non-profit organization that leads crowd-funded transcontinental train journeys for diverse groups of young innovators to explore America’s new frontiers. Anna recently finished up a year at Wieden + Kennedy’s advertising school w+k12 and also moonlights as a freelance brand strategist.
|| More To Read and See ||
|| Visit oneofmany.co for the story behind this project, and information on upcoming cities and essays.
|| Find more photos on Instagram and by searching the hashtag #oneofmanyPortland
|| Find outtakes on Tumblr and Ello, published on a regular basis.
|| A list of my favorite restaurants and shops in Portland (OR) is available on Foursquare.
PREVIOUS ESSAY: Nashville, TN - Published November 3rd, 2014
NEXT ESSAY: Savannah, GA - To be published January of 2015.
NEXT TRIPS: Portland ME, Austin TX, and Salt Lake City UT - early 2015 || Please drop me a line if you have recommendations for creatives I should meet up with!
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