So thrilled to feature the exceptionally talented badass babe Elana Schlenker today. She is a multi-talented art director and graphic designer who runs her own independent studio practice, as well as publishing Gratuitous Type, a pamphlet of typographic smut, and is the creator of pop up shop for gender wage parity Less Than 100. I really admire that Elana placed confidence in her own skill and fascinations and trusted it would lead to fulfilling projects in the long run. Read on below to hear about Elana's daily rituals, creative community, and advice for other creative women.
+ Tell us a little bit about your work and your creative process.
I am an independent graphic designer and art director. Through my studio practice, I work primarily with artists and makers, cultural institutions, non-profits, and publishers on a wide range of projects including visual identities, print, interactive work, and environmental design. I also publish Gratuitous Type, an "occasional" magazine of conversations and projects from graphic designers and other creatives. Earlier this year, I founded Less Than 100, a series of pop up shops created to promote gender wage parity in the US (and beyond).
+ Do you have daily habits, rituals or schedules to keep you on track and productive?
First things first, I need a coffee! I also usually get up and take a long walk with my dog, Lily. There's a river a couple miles from our house, and my favorite way to start the day is to take her down there and watch her run around and explore. It's really peaceful and meditative, but also gives me some time to think about how I want to attack the day.
+ What are the greatest strengths and challenges in your career?
As a self taught designer educated outside of New York, it was a challenge getting my career off the ground when I moved here initially—I didn't have many contacts or even a particularly strong portfolio so I had to invest a lot of time in personal projects to improve as a designer and also make work that made people want to work with me. That was a huge challenge early on, but investing in personal work was one of the best things that happened for my career.
Several years into things, the challenges are more mundane: I have a tendency to take on too much (because everything sounds fun!), so I'm trying to be better about saying, 'no'.
As far as strengths go, I think the fact that I absolutely love what I do has been a huge asset. I've always been more motivated to make things than to make money, and I think that mindset has helped to lead me in the right direction. There's been a few crossroads in my career where I could have chosen more money over more interesting work, but in selecting the less lucrative but more fulfilling options, I've put myself in a position years later where I'm really excited about the work I'm doing, and that work in turn brings in nice paying jobs that I actually want.
+ What are you working on now - and what is next?
I'm working on a number of publications for other artists and publishers for the New York Art Book Fair; I have a few large branding projects that have been in progress for a while that I am looking forward to launching soon; and I am just getting started on a few different interactive projects, including an e-commerce site for a small clothing brand I really love, so I'm excited about that. I'm also working on a new publication from Gratuitous Type called Further Reading and will be launching another Less Than 100 pop up, 66<100, in New Orleans in November in partnership with photographer Tammy Mercure, who is overseeing the project.
+ And how do you attract the type work you want? Or how did you attract it in the beginning?
I've always had an 'if you make it, they will come' mentality... so when people we're hiring me to do the things I wanted, I went out and made personal projects that fulfilled those desires. Those led to better and better projects.
It's also been really interesting to see how one thing leads to another over time—I can trace great projects I'm working on right now back to tiny zines I did for my friends for fun—everything builds on everything else.
+ Who and/or what are you most inspired and influenced by?
I've been really into furniture and other product design in the past couple years and just love everything I see on Sight Unseen. They consistently cover the loveliest stuff! But inspiration comes from every which way. I really love the work of Angel Oloshove, Peter Judson, Kayla Mattes, Schick Toikka, Keetra Dean Dixon, Jessica Hans, Margherita Urbani, Jordy van den Nieuwendijk—these are just the first people popping into my mind, but I could go on and on. I guess that's why I do projects like Gratuitous Type and Less Than 100—there's so much work that I'm excited about and want to share.
I've also been enjoying Michael Ian Black's podcast 'How to Be Amazing.' If you need some quick inspiration, start there.
And then personally, my boyfriend (who is a photographer, rossmantle.com) is a really important creative inspiration in my life, we bounce a lot of ideas off one another—I have always been tentative about sharing work in progress, it's been nice to find someone who I trust enough to do that. Plus he's really good at saying 'no' to people (see No.3), so sometimes I try to channel him a little.
+ What would be a dream project or collaboration?
Too many to name! There are so many things I want to do and people I want to work with—what I love about being a graphic designer is all the opportunities it offers to dip into different worlds. I want to do as much as possible!
+ What advice would you give to other established or aspiring creative women?
Having really immersed myself in wage gap issues over the last year, there are two huge lessons I've been trying to keep in mind myself: 1) NEGOTIATE! Don't be scared to ask for what you're worth, and 2) Don't apologize! There's no reason to say I'm sorry all the time.
+ Have you found there is a strong creative community to engage with where you live?
I am back and forth between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, PA. In Brooklyn there is an amazing creative community, although people also seem really immersed in their own things. I've found a lot of fulfillment in Pittsburgh as well—the creatives I've met are really enthusiastic and open. It's a very supportive environment, which I really like.
+ What are you currently reading and/or listening to?
Everyone keeps telling me to read Elena Ferrante, so I bought My Brilliant Friend though I'm only a couple pages into it. I've also been reading Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, which is pretty fun and bleak and biting—I like the idea of reading it while another presidential election is in progress here in the US. And then I have stacks and stacks of art and design books and magazines that I need to sift through.