Elana Schlenker, Graphic Designer
This lady takes the cake. When she's not wowing us with her beautiful and fun designs or bringing together Gratuitous Type (FAVE), she's wrangling Less Than 100, an amazing and inspiring initiative after our own hearts. We're very happy to share a little behind the scenes with this talented woman - thanks Elana!
What do you do?
I run a graphic design studio (Studio Elana Schlenker) through which I'm engaged mostly in branding, print, and interactive work. I also publish Gratuitous Type, an occasional design magazine, and am the founder of Less Than 100, a traveling pop up shop for gender wage parity.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
It's not catchy, but I try to be nice to people and not to take myself or my work too seriously. I care very deeply about what I do, but there's also more to life than graphic design—I try to have some perspective. It helps that no one in my family understands or gives a shit about what I do! :-P I also strive to follow my interests and my intuition and to make time for the things that excite me.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
In college I started my own magazine (1). Visually, it was pretty amateurish, but setting out to do something and then accomplishing it was tremendously empowering. That initial success gave me confidence that eventually fueled the launch of Gratuitous Type (2), which in turn gave lead to Less Than 100 (3). Personal work is a huge part of my practice, and I've found that putting what I love out into the world has helped bring projects I love into my studio.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
I didn't study graphic design, so I didn't have an immediate network of design peers, male or female, in those early days, but I did have very supportive female professors and later, female bosses, who were incredible mentors and advocates for me. That made a big difference.
Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?
Visiting Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument in the South Bronx several years back was a moving experience that I think about a lot.
What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?
In high school I was on the debate team and I think I was pretty good at it. I'm good at arguing—that must relate to graphic design somehow. I've also always thought I'd make a very good lawyer, but I maybe have just watched too much Law & Order.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
Ugh, there's so much I'd like to see change in the world right now! But one smaller and more specific thing that comes to mind is that there is a very bad cycle of creatives wanting to be paid and valued for their own work, but in turn, not sufficiently valuing the work of other creatives. I think if we want to be paid what we are worth, then we need to set a good example and support the people around us. When I try to hire another creative (photographer, developer, illustrator, writer etc), I try to approach the negotiation process as I would want to be approached if I were on the other end of things. I would like to see people do that more.
Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
Rachel Comey, my most enduring design crush.
How can we find our more about your work?
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Lots! I usually have close to two dozen projects in various stages going on at a given time. Right now, I'm working on several artist books and zines; designing a couple ecommerce sites; and branding a bakery to name just a few things. I've also been collaborating occasionally with my studiomate Mark Pernice on some larger scale projects, including a new independent magazine and a branding project for a luxury vegan shoe line. And I'm working on a new Gratuitous Type slowly, but surely! I also feel like it's about time to pursue some new personal work. I'm hoping to take some time off at the end of the year to figure out what that might be!
What is your dream project?
Currently, my design dreams mostly involve renovating my old (but new to me) house or doing work for product designers and getting paid in beautiful furniture and objects. But there are so many things I want to do and that I find interesting! What I love most about graphic design is that it allows me to dip into all kinds of different fields, aesthetics, and ideas. There's always something new to learn and explore and be immersed in. Oh, and anyone who will let me use glitter in their project—that's also a current dream.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
Last week I saw Big Thief in concert and they were so amazing—Adrianne Lenker has the most incredible voice! I was also just on a panel with Lenka Clayton, an English artist who makes the most thoughtful, lovely work, and her project Sculpture for the Blind, by the Blind had me crying on stage as she was speaking about it. Lenka also started An Artist in Residence in Motherhood, which she has since turned into an open source program, and it is super empowering and inspiring! She's incredible!
What places are important to you?
These days, I'm most comfortable in the house I bought last December with my partner, Ross Mantle—especially if I'm outside messing around in the garden.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
When I was seven or eight, I complained to a teacher about a boy in my class who was making fun of me for being small. She told me that I better get used to it, and I think she right.
I'd also say that it is never a bad idea to ask for more money! But that's something I'm still trying to be better about.
What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?
"What am I planting in my garden?"