Taryn Cowart

Taryn Cowart, part hippie + part punk, is a designer and art director in Portland, Oregon. This is her first interview EVER.

BS: What do you do for a living, and how did you get there?
TC: I’m currently a design lead at Atelier Ace, the studio behind Ace Hotel. At Atelier, we work on a lot of graphic concepts, signage and art proposals for secret new hotels — and a lot of the boring stuff that comes along with in-house work, like, hotels just do tons of marketing and advertising. And we put on events and make products. It’s really a lot of fun variety though, and I work on an awesome design team of all women. We’re very close to the work and the brand, working through ideas and growing like crazy. It feels sometimes like we’re a bunch of kids running things. It’s a pretty good place to be.

I’m also in a weird space right now where my free time is spent building my career outside my day job. I do a ton of a freelance projects on my own and collaborate with my friends Nicole and Sarah as Multi Studio. I don’t know what I’m looking for just yet. Full time freelance?

Before working at Ace, I worked at Scout Books, a notebook brand that grew out of a print shop called Pinball Publishing here in Portland. They are amazing. Before that I went to “design school” in North Carolina, and I put that in quotes because it wasn’t design-y at all — it was an art program with a computer lab. But my school had a long-running art and literary magazine with an insane huge print budget, and I somehow ended up running it, doing design and production. (These days it is very hard to imagine college students running wild with $20k to produce a book!)

I have a lot of anxiety about the legitimacy of my work and like, how self-taught and non-conceptual and DIY everything in my portfolio is. My design experience is very much rooted in marketing needs, making things scrappily and for small businesses. I need to figure out what the heck my design perspective is and where it comes from — I think maybe this is why people go to grad school.

BS: Do you believe everyone is creative?
TC: Yes! But, I think I am saying that because I think it’d be cruel to say no. I had an art history professor in college who theorized that creativity is impossible to teach; which might be more true, though as a youth I thought that perspective was awful.

I think it’s less about creativity as some super secret skill and more about learning how to tune in to your creative self. Some of us have felt the joy of that — of making things — and so we prioritize tapping into it more and want to do it again and again. Other people lose touch with it early. Sometimes even creative people are too distracted or tired to make space for creativity at all. Sometimes you just have to read a book that’ll ignite that spark and you feel like the world is alive with ideas! (This one is my favorite for this.) And also… I think a lot of it depends on how you’ve been taught to see yourself in the world.

BS: Tell me about your first meaningful work experience.
TC: I had a very great time working at a bagel shop in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as a teenager. It was good, hard work, I got to read the newspaper every morning, eat a lox sandwich, and get outta there to head to the beach at 2pm.

BS: How much of your work is autobiographical?
TC: Absolutely none!

BS: What song would you use to kick off a road trip?
TC: I like to listen to Ys by Joanna Newsom, in full, because all the songs are very long and complicated and I know all the words. Emily is the first track. Listening to very loud music in a car is one of my favorite things in the world.

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