We Love Arts: Carolyn Sewell Interview

You can’t walk down the street without seeing a sign.  Signs are there to inform or instruct you, to get you to stop, go and yield to pedestrians. But what good do these signs do if they are difficult to read, provide an unclear message, or get lost in the peripheral?  Graphic design was established as a result of these glaring errors, and developed a universally recognized profession in which people are trained to convey a message, to a target audience, while following the principles of design.  However, the profession has outgrown the average political advertisement and cereal box, and now is an appreciated art form.

Award-winning designer and blogger, Carolyn Sewell, displayed her yearlong project Postcards To My Parents at The Fathom Gallery this September. Every day from July 23, 2009 to July 23, 2010 she sent hand-drawn postcards to her parents with messages of love and adoration, snarky quotes from friends, family and television, and the occasional drawing of a gnome.  Sewell currently resides in Arlington, VA and shares creative (and sometimes not so creative) graphic design with the masses on her blog Pedestrian Typography.

We Love DC: What is your focus as a designer? What is your work all about?

Carolyn Sewell:  As a designer, my focus depends on my client. If the client is myself/friend/family, then I push for hand-drawn type and quirky copy. With paying clients I try to push my personal style, but ultimately it comes down to what they want. And if a gross stock photo on a blue background will get me paid, then so be it. A girl’s gotta eat, right?

WLDC:  What inspired you to create the collection, Postcards To My Parents?

CS: Quite simply, fear. A recent death in the family really shook me up, triggering irrational thoughts about losing my parents. So on the plane ride back from the funeral I had an idea, but I needed a symbolic start date. So I waited until their wedding anniversary on July 23, 2009, made them a card and put it in the mail. And then repeated this for the next 364 days.

WLDC: What makes this collection stand out?

CS: I think in a digital world, the hand-made can’t help but stand out. And that love letters are a dying art (and postage is so expensive) makes a daily postcard seem rarer than it should be.

WLDC: If you could be hired to design anything, what would it be and why?

CS: It’s gonna sound cliche, but I’ve always wanted to design for a band. Whether it’s a concert poster or album package or sticker I think the creative collaboration would be challenging and fantastic. Plus I love free tickets.

WLDC: What do you think is the biggest typography faux paus? What is your favorite font?

CS: The abundant misuse of quotation marks makes my hair stand on end. A car shop tagline that says they’ll “fix” your car is not a good sign. As for favorite font, there are many great ones, but even more crappy ones. I’m always attracted to the font that doesn’t exist—someone’s handwriting. I crave the imperfections, the wobbles and goofs.

WLDC: Do you use a MAC or a PC?

CS: Mac.

WLDC: What was the biggest advice you can give to an aspiring designer?

CS: Don’t put so much pressure on your 9-to-5 job being what inspires you. It’s exhausting. Instead, stop talking about the things you love and start making the things you love. You’ll live longer, I promise.

WLDC: What inspired you to create your blog, Pedestrian Typography?

CS: I have so many childhood memories of family car trips, listening from the backseat as my parents pointed out humorous or misspelled signs. For me, the looking never stopped. So after I got a digital camera one Christmas I decided to make it my New Year’s Resolution to post a photo a day, which I kept up for 2 years. Although I still take photos, I don’t post them as regularly as I used to.

WLDC: What does blogging mean to you? How has it influenced you and/or your work?

CS: Ever since I started working for myself, out of my home, I have become a bit of a blog addict. Right now my Google Reader has me subscribed to 300+ blogs. It’s my connection to the outside world, keeps me current. It’s extremely hard to be innovative in a vacuum.

WLDC: What about DC excites you?

CS: I think DC’s best kept secret is that it’s not all suits and marble. There’s a group or activity for everyone, and if you stay here long enough you’ll find it. And that’s exciting.

WLDC: Where do you go to find inspiration in DC?

CS: I’m a sucker for art and design lectures, so I volunteer at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in order to attend their lectures for free. I love nothing more than to listen and take sketchnotes that I can later refer to for inspiration. I’m also a total nerd who likes to plop down on the floor of a bookstore, surrounded by art and design books.

WLDC:  Does DC have a most graphically challenged and/or graphically beautiful neighborhood?

CS: I would say H Street has the most amazing collection of storefront signs, and U Street has the best collection of graffiti.

WLDC: What are you working on now? Do you have any new projects?

CS: In addition to my client work, I’m also working on a Postcards To My Parents book, as well as building a screenprinting studio. I have my eyes on you Crafty Bastards.

WLDC:  Where can I purchase your work?

CS: As of right now, nowhere, but look for some new t-shirts of mine on New Standard very soon. And once my studio is up and running, I plan to sell my screenprinted items on Etsy.

Samantha can often be found daydreaming by the Rothkos of the East Gallery, sketching store facades along 14th, and snapping photos with her vintage polaroid at 9:30 club concerts. Since moving to DC in 2007 to get an MFA in Interior Design, her eyes can’t seem to be peeled away from the beautiful things in this city. Send any visual art, architecture, or design related news her way via Samantha (at) WeLoveDC.com

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