5 & 3/4 Questions: Marmalade Bleue
1. Describe yourself and your work.
I'm an art director from Columbus, Ohio, in my fifth year of illustrating and designing lettering out of food and objects. This is the most challenging, fun occupation I could possibly have, and I've probably oiled more lobsters than you. My job requires conceptualization, sketching, sourcing materials, prototyping, lighting, styling, copywriting, shooting still photos, stop-motion or video, and retouching. Paramount to my work is the element of free-handing: There are no grids, stencils, or tracing, which requires me to not only solidify a concept but also learn how to wield every material. I liken this creative flexibility to switching from paint to a computer to weaving and still producing professional-grade work.
Because I often eat my words, I prefer my language clever, authentic, and intentional. If my work isn't emotionally evocative, if the message isn't layered through the copy and overall presentation, I haven't done my job correctly. Some of the occupational hazards are surprisingly life-giving: I balance on table tops in yoga positions for hours building type, endure both delicious and revolting smells, and deadpan stare-down the pizza guy when he delivers ten extra large, uncut pies and slowly close the door on my "party of one."
Time has always been a limiting factor, one I enjoy challenging. Due to the fleeting nature of these projects (they almost always end up discarded in the garbage), I've learned to harness the degradation process in the way of stop-motion animation. As I've become more versed in timing and consistent lighting, I've learned to enjoy the termination of each image, appreciating the beauty in the breakdown of hours of work. If I've learned anything from this line of creative work, it's this: The opportunity is now. No risk is too large, and the payoff is wildly entertaining.
2. How did you get started?
First of all, nobody taught me how to do this. I didn't get hired at a fancy agency or attend a prestigious art school; I made up my job. My degree was in illustration, and while I loved telling stories, I was terrible at painting and rendering finished scenes. In searching for a less traditional approach, I applied myself to photography, sculpture, interiors, and design, finally striking a chord with typography. I loved letterforms and how they conveyed an inherent meaning, directing the viewer by association. I found solace in the rules of design and strove to incorporate order into my subtle and brushy illustration style, landing on lettering as a specialty.
When I graduated, the market was in shambles and I spent several years floundering in food service and retail, all the while becoming self-loathing and grumpy. I wasn't able to find work doing the type of design I wanted and therefore spent more time doing the work I thought would pay my bills. Because I was broke, I was struggling to afford art supplies and began experimenting with things I had on hand—excess paper, commonplace items, and food. I sat with a friend at a cafe and explained that good design is like a cup of coffee, a multi-sensory experience that engages a viewer with toasty aromas, warm temperatures, and textures. After I lamented the lack of this depth in my work, she encouraged me to literally letter out of coffee.
Working in analog was a great experience; I felt free to experiment and explore, sketching with food as I went. Eventually I documented the work, propped the scene with materials I used to make the pieces, and took photos at an angle to prove the lettering was real. This workflow involved all of my past creative pursuits, creating a bespoke hybrid designer/illustrator/photographer/art director position. I expected bloggers and tiny agencies to hire me; however, big brands were attracted on my friendly and approachable style.
3. What piece of work best represents you and why?
Probably the "Boo You Whore" candy corn lettering from my project with fellow Tina Fey lover, Shauna Panczyszyn. [The project is aptly titled Mean Trills, a shout-out to the movie Mean Girls, which Fey wrote and acted in.] I'd wanted to letter this quote since the side project's inception but was looking for the right execution. Candy corn seemed appropriate with the "Boo" and the festive party scene in the first third of Mean Girls. I spent three days trying to find the right application until the simple, concentric, sans serif caps emerged. The concept is cheeky, a slight spin on the original phrase, and deceptively simple, almost like the candy fell out of a bag into lettering. This image always elicits a laugh and speaks to anyone who has seen this required piece of comedic gold.
4. What are you into currently?
I had a transformative moment with virtual reality this past March. This sounds dramatic, but it's the first time I've had such an invasive, artistic experience; the viewer is disembodied, which allows design to encroach on a person's space. Conversely, the viewer can hover and invade an immersive event. I realized real life will have to augment itself once this technology is widely available. Audiences will demand more thoughtful, engaging experiences than ever before. My lettering has always been immersive and multi-sensory, but only to the crew and client present on sets. I want to bring these smells, sounds, and experiences to the viewer. I'm currently partnering with collaborators from beyond the lettering community to explore these territories.
5. What are three things you’ve learned that young creatives should know?
When people say "Do what you love," they mean that an enjoyable job, one that bubbles out of your soul and fills you with satisfaction, will also decimate your energy, try your patience, make you wring your hands. More is required of you because you're more invested. Like a mediocre job, you will want to quit a thousand times, but only if you absolutely love something can you withstand the lows that make the highs worth the effort.
When choosing inspiration, look beyond your industry peers. As T.S. Eliot says, "Borrow from authors remote in time, alien in language, or diverse in interest." If your greatest references come from direct competitors, this alienates members of your vocational community—your advocates and keenest eyes since so few understand this line of work—and creates dissonance. There are now a slew of food and dimensional typographers, whereas I was the only one five years ago. When each displays diversity of technique and message, we can coexist happily, cheering each other on. How can so many people design primarily with Adobe Illustrator CC and still find work? Because there are tech, food, sports, etc., divisions of design, within those packaging, promotional, and social subcategories of designers. By leaning into your language and hobbies and looking outward from generic design, the greater community can prosper from an influx of new ideas, ideas you contributed. Anyone at any skill level can improve the industry in this manner.
I can tell when a successful creative has a chip on their shoulder; it peppers everything they present with a tinge of resentment. Every creative has at one time been dismissed, insulted, rejected, passed for promotion, in some cases laid off or fired. Every. Single. One. What you do with these setbacks determines how you handle your success. If you harbor resentment towards naysayers, bad bosses, or egotistical classmates, your successes will be bitter on the tip of your tongue. However, if you can make restitution with yourself and others, all the positive aspects of success will negate those initial setbacks.
5¼. Favorite color? I've been transitioning from pumpkin orange to robin's egg blue. I'm sure there's a subconscious reason, but looking at my business name everyday has likely taken effect.
5½. Favorite website? Sadly, Twitter. The platform hosts everything from news to the arts to the best memes, the thinking man's Facebook, and my favorite haunt. Sorry, not sorry!
5¾. Pet peeve? Spider photos on my timeline. I don't need reminders of the hundreds existing within two feet of my desk.