Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Last night I attended my first talk at the Design Exchange in Toronto. Outside of an educational curriculum, I had very little experience in attending lectures, particularly here in Canada.

Given my biased against Toronto (and attitude that it will NEVER measure up to London), I did not expect to find such an intriguing event taking place in this city.

Coinciding with Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show, on at the Design Exchange until this Sunday, the topic was happiness. Nine Canadian creatives shared their knowledge of happiness, moderated by the Globe and Mail's Editor of the Arts, Gabe Gonda. The variance between each speaker was quite interesting.

Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines happiness as:
1) a state of well-being and contentment
2) a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Children were repeatedly credited for provoking the experience of happiness, even those who didn't have any of their own cited those belonging to others as 'inspirational.'
Many included simple pleasures, which I will illuminate as I discuss each presentation. 

Landscape Architect Claude Cormier commenced the "pencha-style" lecture. His presentation consisted solely of his work. Initially I thought he must have misunderstood the purpose of the assignment, unless we were meant to make the unconscious connection that his portfolio and pink sheepskin couch attributed to his contentment. The audience was quite amused at his project title "Pink Balls."

I really enjoyed the next speaker, Architect from Superkul, Meg Graham. She turned this opportunity into a project and gave us an honest account of her personal life. She took us through her exploration of what made her happy, beginning with making lists, which she said takes her to a "higher place of mind." She referenced Stefan Sagmeister's "The Happy Show," and broke down her likelihood of being happy based on the model Sagmeister used in this exhibition (50% genetics, 40% activities and 10% life conditions). For Graham, happiness was lattes and croissants, her family (specifically the genetics from her mother), time to herself, new projects and feedback.

Co-owners of Blok Design, Graphic Designers Marta Cutler and Vanessa Eckstein shared the following presentation. Eckstein was passionate in expressing her thoughts on the subject and overrode Cutler's demure persona. They called happiness a brand, stating it wasn't something that could be acquired through pursuit, but rather an illusive moment that finds you. I liked that they touched on creative process, something I struggled with constantly as a designer. The "creative path is not something we choose" but something we can't escape. "Feelings and intuition are all that matters," and we should dare to be naive. Their presentation centered a lot around children, how we should take note from a child's fascination with what is immediately in front of them, and pay attention ourselves. Cutler and Eckstein find moments of fleeting bliss through daily chocolate and green tea. I can relate.

"True happiness is buffalo mozzarella," according to Architect Ralph Giannone. I loved his humorous delivery of subtle self-mockery.
Giannone admits he has a penchant for the "joys of domestic chaos."
Curvy buildings made him happy, as does traveling virtually (insert plug for one of his projects). He feels rewarded by debating on the City of Toronto's Design Review Panel.

Interior Designer Christine Ralphs took a different direction. I appreciated her sharing art that brings her contentment. It was hard to identify with a woman whom owns 15 houses (and unabashedly shared this unnecessary information) and associates beaches, martinis and dogs with happiness. However, it was clear that Ralphs is a genial ball of love. I could relate to her fervor for photography and her curiosity at how the Olsen twins could be so accomplished yet look so miserable. She's an adventure addict and loves the rush of being out of control, which provided an explanation for her admiration of Kate Moss's ability to be unapologetically Kate Moss. She closed with a clip of Obama singing Al Green. She won me over with Obama.

Charismatic Fine Artist and Illustrator Gary Taxali was the most enjoyable to listen to. Happiness according to him is "doing things the way you're not supposed to," "a meaningful space," and "being silly." He imparted the audience with wisdom from his parents, "silliness is creativity." I agree. Taxali is in an enviable position. He is able to do the work he loves, give himself new creative challenges (taking on all mediums) while being paid and giving back. He said being an artist requires an ounce of self-delusion and a lack of control. Taxali also confirmed "print is alive," easing my current fears that my education had not provided me with enough digital training to subsist as a modern day designer. Thank you Taxali. His closing statement reminded us to "honour the past, live in the present and the future takes care of itself." I was surprised when he later said hello to me on the stairs although I had never met him, which eased my apprehension at attending these 'networking' type events. Because of such a simple kind act, I felt more comfortable at the idea of approaching professionals in the industry to acquire tidbits of advice.

Taxali was a hard act to follow. My mind was already preoccupied bouncing around his sentiments. Actor and Producer Arsinee Khanjian explored quotes by great thinkers. They made her unhappy. The Mediterranean Sea was a place where she found contentment. Nature also inspired the same feeling (though she hates camping). She spoke about children in poverty who had no shoes, who likely experience more genuine moments of happiness, not caused by material items. Khanjian told us we should view happiness as a reward, and not a goal.

Despite believing he veered off course, Artistic Director of Luminato (and Rufus Wainwright's hubby) Jorn Weisbrodt's interview with his grandmother was extremely engaging and relevant. He was correct in assuming that no one knows more about happiness (and most things) than a 100+ year-old woman. I was hardly distracted by the slideshow of smiling old people in the background. I was too engrossed to take notes. The solitary aspect of his presentation that stuck with me was the unfolding story of his grandmother's marriage. All that remains in my notebook is this: Happiness was "with children and managing ones tasks," and love had to grow between her and husband, who was older and whom she had to look up to. The intensity of their kiss did not change as they aged. A good husband equalled a happy life.

What did I learn from these perceptions of happiness?
Rewarding work is essential. An even balace of work/play is necessary, as is a good sense of humour.
Being personable and passionate will take you places. Learn from observing others (especially the simplicity of kids, even if you don't want any). Ask questions. Make mistakes.
Be adventurous and accept challenges.

My mother often tells me to do what I love, and the rest fall into place. I think she might be on to something.

Monday, February 25, 2013

London on (dusty) film

Finished editing the VERY dusty photos of London from the OM10. Turns out my flash works quite well! 

LONDON LOVING (for a little bit)

I was in London again, after a year-long absence. It felt like I had been on a lengthy holiday and finally returned home.

I've been trying to find some inspiration since it hasn't found me after I moved back to Canada.
There were some great exhibitions on at the time — Man Ray at the National Portrait Gallery, the Taylor Wessing prize (also at the National Portrait Gallery), a wildlife photography exhibition at the Natural History Museum, the Rain Room at the Barbican, etc etc. Sadly most were sold out or had MASSIVE queues due to my timely visit during the students half term. I did make it to see the Taylor Wessing photos.

Just being immersed in the city and the inherent culture was enough to get my creative juices flowing. I spent one day walking along the canal taking photographs with Emilia and Aaron. It felt great. I will post the film photos after I get my negatives developed and scanned. I thought a lot about reorganizing my flat upon returning to Canada, and turning into a proper live/work studio. 

I've decided I need to start working towards the career I want. I have a few goals: learn web design to redesign my site, and to create a well-curated portfolio. Also to network with other designers by attending events for creatives (two this week) and contacting them. Emilia and I are exploring options for publishing our wish book

In the meantime, here are the snazzy snaps taken on my iPhone!