An Interview with Kym Ventola

“Creating Boundaries,” an Interview with Kym Ventola

Kym Ventola Interview

In the midst of wedding season, local photographer, Kym Ventola, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about her work and what inspires her. She talks to us about the choices she’s made regarding her career in photography, how she sets boundaries in her life, and why it’s important for her to be as waste-free as possible.

What was your first exposure to photography? When/How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?

I was always interested in photography as a kid. I had a Kodak 110 with a cube flash. Do you remember those? I’m getting old. I think those are from the 70’s. In the mid 80’s, my parents surprised me with a Polaroid. I didn’t love it as much as my 35mm (I love the element of surprise when you pick up your prints from the lab). I picked up a more mature love of photography in my first year of college. I was super quiet about it; no portraits, no events. Street photography, I guess it was. Dang, I wish I knew where those negatives were.

I dropped out of college to travel and go on small adventures (best decision for me, not necessarily others!). It was so helpful to find myself and photography. I struggled with anxiety and I think having a creative outlet really grounded me.

Could you tell us a bit about NINE retreat? What inspired you to start it? What successes have you seen?

Definitely! This is my new baby!

“Other women are not my competition. I stand with them, not against them.”

That, right there, sums up why I started it. I’ve always had an unshakeable pull to bring women together in a safe, supportive, uplifting, educational, healthy, and peaceful place.

I acknowledge that things are better for women today than they were decades ago. Women are more independent, and though we are still fighting for equality, we are more vocal and have new tools to escape abusive relationships and workplaces. But in some ways, things are going backwards. I am deeply concerned with this new trend of using social media for validation. There’s too much emphasis placed on the number of likes and followers we have. WHO. CARES.

After a lot of conversations with women about social media, I hear that they feel depressed, lonely, and develop self-hate talk after comparing themselves to what they see on Instagram or Facebook. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” right?! It is, one hundred percent.

I’m also concerned about the number of women burning themselves out today. Women with or without children. It doesn’t matter. So many of us are trying “to be everything to everyone” and we can’t sustain that forever. In the past, I have mentored women in trying to find the “balance.” I’m the first to recognize that there’s no answer to a perfect balance. But having an outsider help you evaluate all that you are responsible for, all that you have taken on, all that you are anxious about, all that you’re afraid to try, and all that you dream of doing is invaluable. It’s hard to do alone. At NINE, these are the things we address. We want women to arrive with honesty, humility, openness, and the willingness to hear truth and solutions.

Kym Ventola bride

How do you negotiate your time between personal projects and work for clients?

Six years ago, I was humbled by the reality of putting too much time and energy into my business. I was neglecting my marriage, family, and health: it was not the life that I had intended to live. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to my old job, sitting in a windowless office, but I needed to work less. How the hell do you do that? I realized that I needed to outsource the things that I didn’t have time for and raise my prices. I was so scared that this would all backfire and I would lose business.

I re-wrote my business plan. I created a spreadsheet that allowed me to evaluate all of my responsibilities, and from that I had a clear picture of what I needed to outsource. Once I created that list of things that I no longer had time for (or passion for), I saw a new job position: Studio Manager.

I hired my first manager one month later. That was 6 years ago. I’ve had a total of three since then, and they were all incredible! The first two have moved on to new careers, but left on excellent terms! We still keep in touch. In fact, one of them helped me purchase our home last year. My current studio manager, Kimberly Goeman, is the greatest human ever. Seriously, our couples love her, too. They send her gifts in the mail. She’s a dream. We work beautifully together because we both created boundaries in the beginning and have clear expectations of our work-life. I’m also really flexible when she needs to take care of her family. We created a space for her to be able to work from home anytime. That was very important to me. I mean, isn’t that what I get to do? She deserves the same opportunity.

Has your style changed over the course of your career? If so, how?

The biggest change was narrowing down the projects that I accepted.

I evaluated all options: families, food, products, weddings, portraits, lifestyle. There’s so much to photograph.

I rated each one and weddings came out on top. I decided to only accept weddings (and engagement sessions) to be happiest. I do take on some lifestyle and product shoots here and there, but those relationships were born from weddings (couples and vendors) and I feel a connection to them.

Kym Ventola cave

What are you most interested in right now?

Zero Waste.

First and foremost, this is our choice and is in no way something that we judge others about. It’s a challenge we wanted to accept.

Back in December of 2015, my son and I watched a documentary on trash and we just stared at each other afterwards with our mouths open. My 9 year old said, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?” He was counting on me to teach him how to reduce unnecessary trash in our lives, reuse whenever possible, and recycle items in more ways than just throwing it in the recycle bin. The next day, I researched “zero waste” and discovered a woman that reduced her landfill trash down to a small mason jar for an entire year. For a family of four.

Her motto is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order).”

This is not an easy thing to commit to. It was a source of contention in our house for quite a while. I had to ask my family to stop buying anything with plastic. That means: our usual loaf of bread, the organic strawberries from Costco, the jar of almond butter, produce wrapped in plastic, plastic toys and supplies, the list goes on. Seriously. You have no idea until you start looking around (your home and store).

I donated most of our plastic containers to charity and purchased glass and metal containers. I also purchased cloth produce bags that I take everywhere I go. At the grocery store, I focus on the bulk area and fill up my cloth bags and glass jars. Now, I make our bread from scratch or I buy them from the local bakery and bring my cloth bag to save on plastic. I also make my toothpaste, lotion, lip balm and hair conditioner. I switched from lighters to matches. Pretty simple, right?

The biggest change, thanks to my incredible husband, is our compost bin and garden. It’s so nice to step outside and grab the herbs and vegetables that I need for our meals! And by having the compost bin, we have reduced the landfill waste by more than 80%. I think we take our trash can out to the road once every 5-6 weeks now.

We are not 100% zero waste. Not even close. But the few things that we have done are now just a part of our lives. We don’t think twice about it.

Oh! Three simple things for your readers to do today if they’re inspired?

  1. Buy a bamboo toothbrush! My favorite is Brush With Bamboo. “Over 4.7 billion plastic toothbrushes that will never biodegrade are dumped in landfills and oceans every year worldwide.” 
  1. Turn down plastic straws and to-go cups at restaurants and cafés. It’s okay to say “can I have that in a glass cup with no straw?” or ask for your coffee in a ceramic mug if you’re sticking around. If you’re really motivated, carry around your own coffee mug and mason jar. Problem solved!
  1. Buy reusable bags. Bring them everywhere you go so that you’re prepared when you run by the market! Pass on the plastic produce bags. Just put your produce in your reusable bag as you shop. They’ll survive without being sorted in plastic.

Kym Ventola white

What is it like for you to be a creative professional and a mom? How do these two parts of your life overlap?

It is so great. It wasn’t always, of course. I worked really hard to get here.

For the first 2 years of my son’s life, I don’t think I slept more than 3 hours each night. I was a walking zombie. I’d be home with him during the day, trying to do work in between laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, nursing the baby, shopping, and getting a little exercise. Then, in the evenings and weekends, I’d schedule photo shoots: as many as I could fit in to make enough money.

Finally, in 2010, I made a change. I hired a studio manager, outsourced much of my work, focused on getting more sleep, make my family a priority and simplified my life. I lowered my expectations, too. Less is definitely more when you own your own business. At least it is for me.

Today? I have so much more free time and I get to do more things that I love. My studio manager has taken over all communications with clients and vendors, everyone. She processes payments, creates my schedule, handles our business Facebook page, and pays the bills. She designs, orders, and ships all of our albums and prints, too. All that I have to do today is meet with couples for coffee, shoot their wedding or engagement session, and edit their images. That’s it. I chose this business structure. It may change one day, but it works for the lifestyle I want right now.

In my personal life? I’ve been the Class Rep of my son’s class for the last 2 years, and next year I’ll be a Co-Chair on Parent Council. I volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Bank 2-4 times a month. I really needed this balance of being a business owner and a volunteer. It’s something that I crave, having worked with homeless kids years ago.

I’m also much more present in my marriage. My poor husband put up with a lot when I started my business. I was so stressed out. My husband is pretty much the greatest person on the planet and I can’t believe he freaking chose me.

I feel like I’m the mom I always wanted to be. I get to take my son on adventures (sometimes work-related) when he’s out of school and I’m crazy patient with him. We have a great relationship and I love the person he’s become. I respect him, he respects me.

Kym Ventola Interview

How do you pick the projects you want to work on?

I am all about boundaries.

I mentioned earlier that I started evaluating all of my “responsibilities” and asked myself if each thing genuinely made me happy and if I had time for it.

When it comes to photography, or being in the creative field, how do you do that? You don’t take every inquiry/project that comes through your email. Ask yourself, “Do I connect with this project/the client?” “Do I want to work/shoot outdoors in the middle of the summer in Phoenix?” “Do I want to shoot very large weddings or small, intimate celebrations and elopements?” The list goes on. Each artist should take time to define their ideal projects: what they look like, what inspires you, what you have time for. Trust your instincts.

For me, I burn up when the temps are over 80 degrees in Arizona on a sunny day. I just love the cold, the rain, and the clouds. So, I decided to turn away all (full day) weddings from late May – August in Phoenix. I save my international and out-of-state weddings for the summer months, for the most part.

Also, I’m a huge believer that you will attract the type of work you want by putting that type of work out into the world. Does your portfolio reflect your true style and what it is that you want? Does your social media feed reflect that as well? If not, you have to take responsibility to either change that or accept the work you’re not connected with.

We’ve noticed you do a lot of traveling with your work, but is there anything in particular that you notice about being a creative in Phoenix? What does this city have to offer a photographer?

I have loved being a photographer in Phoenix. There is an incredibly supportive and talented group of artists here. There seem to be fewer egos here, which is fantastic. I’ve heard sad stories from wedding photographers in other cities. They feel lonely and competitive in an unhealthy way.

In Phoenix? You can be friends with your “competition.” I refer them if I’m booked and vice versa.

I love getting together with them when wedding season is over. Have you ever hung out with a large group of wedding photographers when there’s alcohol and music?

OMG, watch out.

It’s insane.

An Interview with Julieta Felix

“Designing for Change,” an Interview with Julieta Felix

Julieta Felix illustration

Julieta Felix is a visual designer at PayPal and founder of Busy Vegan, a plant-based food blog. She has lectured about design at creative conferences and universities, and has been named one of the Top 100 Creatives in Phoenix.

Her work has been featured in numerous blogs and magazines and her clients include: American Airlines, Disney, Pepsi, Subway, Bucketfeet, Phoenix Design Week, among others.

Monomyth Studio: What was your first exposure to design? When/How did you know you wanted to be a designer?

Julieta Felix: I have loved computers since day one, but I think it all started with Bob Ross in the ‘90s. I was obsessed! I would watch back-to-back episodes of The Joy of Painting and I even got my own Bob Ross kit one Christmas. After that, I moved to Mario Paint for Super Nintendo which came with a little mouse and mouse pad. From there, I moved to my grade school’s MS Paint, which then turned into Photoshop, so on and so forth!

What are some differences you’ve noticed between working at a creative studio and as an in-house designer for PayPal?

I worked at two creative studios before joining PayPal, and there is a world of difference! As an in-house designer you have the luxury of time. You can really get deep into a design problem and explore all routes we can take to solve a problem without pressing deadlines. At PayPal, the designers are exposed to user testing, which is one of my favorite things to witness—a real user interacting with your design and getting real-time feedback.

Another good thing about PayPal is the fact that you have literally millions of eyes looking at your work. That means our job as visual designers is to be trend-setters, not trend-followers, which is always challenging and exciting.

Julieta Felix portraits

How do you negotiate your time and energy between personal projects and the work you do at PayPal?

I like to do it all! I can’t help it. I’m big on multi-tasking. For example, I’ll get ready in the morning while I listen to my audio books. I’ll drive to work while I make a voice memo to friends and family that live far away. I listen to podcasts or new music while I work, and come home and cook dinner while I watch my favorite YouTubers (I’m big into YouTube). By 7:00pm, I’m done for the day and I can spend time with my boyfriend, my dogs and still have time for side projects I’m working on.

PayPal is big on work-home balance, so our managers make sure we’re not overloaded with work, that we have our evenings and weekends free, and that we can take vacations regularly!

What artists/designers have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?

I’ve always loved Salvador Dalí. His work spoke to me at a very young age and I think it has shaped the way I approach brainstorming when faced with a design problem. I love to escape and push the limits of what’s been done before.

What has your experience been like as a woman in design?

I’m going to be completely honest here. In past job situations, there has absolutely been a double-standard for women. I’ve heard horror stories from my women designer friends struggling to get the same amount of respect (and salary) as their male counterparts. Women in end-of-year reviews keep getting the words “friendly” and “organized” while men get “assertive” and “leader.”  

Luckily, at PayPal it is the complete opposite. I’ve never felt more appreciated and encouraged to think big. It’s refreshing to find a team in which both women and men are equally appreciated, compensated and are encouraged to be the best they can be.


Julieta Felix packaging

Coming from Mexico, how does your background influence the work you do now?

I try to think of other languages and cultures when I’m designing. I have witnessed poverty in my country, and now that I’m in the US with so many opportunities, it makes me want to make meaningful work, be involved in projects that can make a difference, or improve people’s lives.

A lot of your work is focused on health, diet, and animal rights. Could you tell us a bit about how design can function as an agent of change?

I am the founder of Busy Vegan, a plant-based food blog. We’re all put on this Earth and we can choose what to do with our precious time here. I chose to use my skills as a designer to bring attention to factory farming. Let’s face it, no one wants to hear about the awful practices of the meat industry and how animals are slaughtered. My solution was to show the positive side of the equation so I share recipes for delicious, satisfying meals that happen to be plant-based. This way, we get to save the lives of cows, pigs, and chickens while eating healthy, tasty food!

I also try to use my photography skills to make the recipes look appetizing, and share super easy, fast recipes that people who are busy like me can do in less than 15 minutes. With my video knowledge, I also film short YouTube videos with vegan meal ideas, and I’m working on releasing my first e-book, the proceeds from which will go towards my favorite animal sanctuary. I do what I can, and so can everybody else! Imagine having 6 billion people working towards solving some of the problems in our planet. It would be a very different world, right?

 Julieta Felix World Usability Day

What’s it like to be a designer here in Phoenix? What does this city/community have to offer an artist?

The cool thing is that it is such a tight-knit community, that most designers know each other and you can see them grow and explore different styles and techniques throughout the years. I try to go to local events, or give back to Arizona State University when I’m asked to guest-review the Visual Communication finals, or just hanging out with designer friends who share the same passion as you. We’re all rooting for each other!

Julieta Felix Bucketfeet

On Avoiding Creative Pitfalls

Creative Problem Solving

We were brought up with a romanticized notion of creativity as the personality trait of painters, musicians, and writers. However, Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” It is merely a state of critical thinking. These ideas come as a result of a problem that needs to be solved, whether it’s tangible, like Uber’s solution to expensive, stinky cabs, or if it’s a little less tangible, like re-approaching a client interaction that didn’t go as well as it could have.

Solving a problem in a creative way (i.e. originally and with a valuable result) requires conscious effort. It requires thought and intention. And like any creative craft (we’re referring to those painters, musicians, and writers again), it is not completely based in talent. A masterpiece doesn’t just fall out of someone’s brain. It is nurtured over a lifetime. It is practiced.

A valuable idea is not just an idea that makes a lot of money (though if it can, that’s cool). It is an idea that solves a problem in the most beneficial and complete way.

Here are some ways to keep yourself thinking about problems in a creative way:

Question Everything

We started asking “why?” when we were toddlers, when the part of our brain that makes logical connections started to develop. Over time, we either had this curiosity beaten out of us, or we simply lost interest. However, we need this curiosity to be truly creative—we need it to look at problems in a three dimensional way.

Noreena Hertz, in her TED talk about our addictive reliance on experts, talks about a study in which volunteers’ brains were monitored in an MRI scan while they were listening to experts speak about different subjects. While they listened, the researchers noticed the independent decision making part of all the volunteers’ brains literally turn off.

(We understand the irony of citing a source that is an expert telling us not to trust experts. We’re running with it, regardless.)

If we are not continually questioning the way we do things, why we do those things in the first place, and what we want out of those things, we will never have solutions that are valuable. We need to be able to understand why things are the way they are before we can change them.

Creativity is a direct result of idea exploration. Do not take what you’ve been taught as gospel. Be the toddler. Exercise your curiosity.

Look Behind the Problem

It is important to consider what the problem really is, where it came from, how it got here.

For example, we’re reassessing our creative brief right now, and while we were discussing user experience, development of the form, and creative ways to engage our incoming clients, it occurred to us to ask, “Wait. Why do we even have a creative brief?” Do we have one because everyone has one, and that’s just how it’s done? What is important about having a creative brief? What questions must be answered? What answers are usually irrelevant?

So, we’re taking a step back. It’s not just about a better user experience, it’s about focusing on what information is pertinent and necessary to the project, and how we can best harness trust for our team.

Often, behind the problem you are trying to solve, there is a larger, more difficult problem looming. Taking on that more complicated one not only allows you to solve the problem you had, but prevent more in the future.


Constructive conflict is a key to true problem solving. You need people that poke holes in your ideas, and you can provide other people a service by poking holes in theirs. Margaret Heffernan describes this “a fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners that aren’t echo chambers.” She describes this conflict as a form of critical thinking, a cooperative method of problem solving.

Part of killing complacency is not just asking questions, but being a whistleblower when questions need to be asked. It’s about playing devil’s advocate to fully understand a problem. 

Often, people are afraid to take this constructive conflict model seriously because there is a chance they might be wrong. According to Robinson, however, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” This is difficult because only very rarely do companies have a culture of constructive conflict. We live in a society where mistakes are penalized. Where being wrong is embarrassing. This is a completely hindering mindset to have. We need to accept that we are often more wrong than not, and that failures are “early brushes with success.”

It is important to realize that, wrong or not, the thoughts that lead people to these places are what makes constructive conflict effective. These thoughts are the meat of creative problem solving.

Be Aware of Your Blind Spots

Willful blindness is a legal concept that, Heffernan explains, declares you responsible “if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.” This concept exists outside of a legal context, and is an unfortunate psychological condition of humanity.

“Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves.”

Be aware of the fact that you have blind spots, that you will never truly be able to look at things in an unbiased way. Simply the act of knowing your blind spots creates the humility you need to look at problems in a holistic way. Not only should you question the people around you, but you should question yourself. Why do you do things the way you do them? We can no longer do things a certain way simply because it’s how it’s always been done.


Creative problem solving isn’t a method to be followed or a technique for better business. It’s a more complete approach to looking at the world around you. If you can solve problems for people in a way that is valuable to their lives, and you’ve done it in a way that is well-rounded, you are a creative problem solver. It doesn’t have to be Starry Night to be creative, it just has to be a valuable solution to a problem. It isn’t a step by step process, but merely a way of thinking.

An Interview with Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan Interview Illustration

Last week, Tim Brennan let us harass him via email. He talked to us about sign painting, about being an artist in Phoenix, and teased us with the phrase, “super secret project.”

Monomyth Studio: When/How did you know you wanted to be a designer? How did you get here?

Tim Brennan: Long story long: I moved to Phoenix in 2005 with construction experience, an appreciation for unhealthy extracurricular activities, long hair, a 1984 Ford Ranger, and a job offer. The job was working as a superintendent/general contractor. After a single summer and multiple accounts of heat stroke, I decided it was time for a new career path. Soon after, I enrolled at The Art Institute of Phoenix, simply because ‘art’ was in the title — something that has always been a motivating factor in my life. For the next few years I swung a hammer, went to night classes, and started freelancing. Fortunately, there was a pivotal moment during that time when I realized that being a designer wasn’t that far-fetched. I can’t tell you the specifics of that moment, or when the proverbial light bulb lit up, but it did, and I’m thankful for that. 

Phoenix Tim Brennan

Could you tell us about your creative relationship with Phoenix? What’s it like to be an artist here?

It’s safe to say relationships, in any capacity, are tricky and require a lot of work—much like a troubled marriage. At times, she is the best thing a person could ask for. She supports you, shows you affection, sends words of encouragement, embraces you and all of your shortcomings, makes you feel loved and holds you in high regard. At other times, she is the bane of your existence. She nags at your shortcomings, makes you feel inferior, constantly questions your motives, sends nasty texts, doesn’t give you the time of day, she cheats on you and you cheat on her, etc. But the makeup sex is fantastic and well worth the headache. 

All kidding aside, Phoenix is a great place to be an artist. All the pieces are in place: amazing talent, wonderful people, an awesome community, and a penchant for doing great things. We only need to keep doing what we’re doing and continue to support each other. 

What do you think an artist’s responsibility is to their city?

Support it. Love it. Be kind to it. Don’t talk shit about it. Don’t be negative about what it has to offer. Find its positive attributes and nurture them. 

Sunnyside Cafe Tim Brennan

How do you organize your artistic life, between working full time at an agency and working on your personal art?

Let’s just say this is on ongoing process. I have yet to find a work/life balance and don’t expect to anytime soon. But that’s the fun in it, right?! 

We’re really interested in your sign painting. What got you into it? What is challenging about it?

I’ve always had an appreciation for traditional sign painting and have studied it for quite a while. After all, it is the oldest form of advertising. However, I didn’t have the opportunity to really dive in—other than personal projects—until I was laid off last summer. I guess we can consider it a blessing in disguise (not so much), because the opportunity slapped me in face. I purchased my first sign kit and an old tackle box, and started taking jobs with little experience to speak of. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love with a girl whose father is also a sign painter of 30+ years. His name is Kurt Schlaefer and he’s taught me a lot—from creating layouts and pounce patterns, to types of paint and different kinds of brushes, to brush strokes and brush styles. You name it, he knows it. And I don’t take the learning lightly. Many people think traditional sign painting is something of the past, but with the influx of hipsters and authentic, hand-crafted brands it is definitely making a comeback. I’m excited to see that and happy to keep the craft alive, no matter the size of the project.  

Newton Tim Brennan

What artists have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?

In no particular order, Bob Case, Jon Arvizu, Kurt Schlaefer, Matt Minjares, Andy Brown, Adam Dumper, Kelsey Dake, Kurt DalenDoug Penick, Victor Vasquez, Paul Dunbar, Gemma O’Brien, Barry McGee, Drew Millward, DKNG, Christian Cantiello, Jon Contino, Jakob Engberg, Nathan Yoder, everyone at Moses Inc., and so, so much more. 

The reason? Can’t specify just one. Whether it be directly or indirectly, they’ve each influenced me in different ways. It could be through personal interactions, mentorships, philosophic perspective, life goals, technical skills, aesthetic, conceptual development and/or aspirational achievements. 

If you weren’t an artist, what other career would you consider?

Digging my own grave.

What mistakes have you made along the way that have led to beneficial discoveries?

Too many to fuck-ups to count. I’ve definitely learned something from each and every one of them. The salient life lesson: keep fucking up and you’ll learn what not to do next time. 

Dry Heat Tim Brennan

Could you tell us a bit about a project you’re working on now?

I have a couple of sign painting projects in negotiations and another collaborative mural in the works, but too soon to tell. Oh yeah! There’s also a super secret project on the docket, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it. Other than that, I have some freelance design projects, commissioned artworks and, as always, personal projects along with my 9-5. Well, really more of a 7-9, but it’s definitely worth it and I love every minute of it. 

In your career, is there anything you’re focusing on at the moment? Why?

Oophta. Everything. I’m obsessive in nature—often times to a fault—in which creating things is a necessity. It’s for the love of the craft and continuing my own journey. A happy byproduct of this is creating something that resonates with someone. Whether it be an illustration, a typographic piece, a reverse glass painting, traditional signage, design or advertising, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my hand and overall process.


With an extensive background in fine art and traditional sign painting, Tim has always been fascinated with the way artwork can evoke the inherent attributes of human emotion. Utilizing emotion is the fundamental means by which a message can be conveyed and remembered; with emotion comes successful communication. Having the capacity to engage a person through a visual dialogue is of the utmost importance. Design is pivotal — whether it be a brand, a product, a service, a movement, or an idea — there is a message. This message must be seen.  

Community Is What You Make It

Community is a word that is thrown around a lot.

Supporting the community, engaging with the community, etc. To us, that seems kind of vague. What does it mean to support a community? Why does that only sound weirdly financial? How do you engage with a community? It’s not like they’re all standing there, and you can walk up to the community as an entity and just start talking to it. There’s something else going on here, and we’re interested in dissecting that idea.

Tardis Pinewood Car Community

We started thinking about it more this weekend, after the Pinewood Classic event at Short Leash Hot Dogs. The Pinewood Classic is an annual, adults-only pinewood derby tournament (though there is a separate kids event). It has a huge turn out every year, where people have crazy costumes and amazing cars. It is not a design specific event; it’s for everyone.

This is an event that engages the community. It’s not a conference. It’s not a lecture or a networking event. It’s a pinewood derby, and it’s really, really fun (see: our super awesome Tardis car above).

“I’m wary of the word ‘community’ because it sounds very organized. I think there’s a value in surrounding yourself with people who stimulate and challenge you, who don’t just agree with you all the time. But I think the most important thing is to feel safe, seen, and understood by the people around you. I believe it was Bill Nye who said this—everyone in your life knows something you don’t. And I believe it’s important to live in that unknown and to welcome and celebrate it. That can only happen when you actually come into contact with people and not in superficial ways, but when you deeply connect with them.” — Maria Popova, The Great Discontent

Community doesn’t have to be organized or overtly professional. Sometimes words like “networking” get tossed around with community as if there is some sort of professional diamond in the rough to be found. The truth is, community is about building relationships. That’s it. Community is what you put into it. It is your time, your energy, your compassion, your humility.

“If I talk to a hundred different designers, each one will say, ‘I wish we had more of a design community in New York.’ This is a funny statement. Everybody believes that there either is a community and they’re not part of it or that there should be one and it doesn’t exist. But what we’re seeing now is that people have broken up into individual communities where there is a single person in the center of each—and this isn’t just happening in design. Part of me wants to get people really talking and interacting with each other. The other part thinks maybe there is value in the tribes, but asks how we can discover new ideas. If you’re in your own echo chamber, it’s difficult to grow as a person.” — Juliette Cezzar, The Great Discontent 

Pinewood Classic Community Event

With The Pinewood Classic on our minds, we talked to Doug Penick, the founder of the event and a local designer, about what he thinks of community:

What inspired you to come up with the Pinewood Classic event?

After having helped plan and organize several events here in Phoenix, including the ever popular Pedal Craft, I caught the bug. I love getting people together in Phoenix and watching a community grow and create together.

I grew up building pinewood derby cars with my dad as a cub scout, but during a visit home a few years ago he had fully geeked out on the secrets of winning and building the fastest car scientifically possible. I came home wishing that I had a way to participate in a pinewood derby race. I told my friend Brad Moore (half of the husband and wife team who own Short Leash Hot Dogs) about the idea, and no sooner than the words had come out of my mouth, I had an event partner and a venue. Brad and Kat have championed this event and truly helped this idea turn into a 3 year strong tradition.

How have you seen it evolve over the years?

The thing about The Pinewood Classic is that it’s based 100% in nostalgia. Most of those who are participating have a long history with pinewood derby racing. It’s a special event. Our first year we sold out to participants in 3 days. From year one, we’ve seen more thoughtful design concepts, tighter competition, and a swelling sense of excitement from the racers and spectators alike. More sponsors are now partnering to ensure the future viability of this event, and we’ve seen widespread support from local leaders and influencers.

How do you define being active in your community?

I think it ultimately comes down to giving more than you take. Phoenix is a great city, and our downtown community has an incredibly supportive culture. We love our neighborhoods because we love our neighbors, we celebrate when cool things are happening, we throw our entire support behind local business owners. This is a place where, if you have an idea worth pursuing, you will easily receive the support of your friends and neighbors. I really believe that if we can foster that culture of celebrating good people and great ideas that Phoenix will be an inimitable city. I actually believe we’re well on our way there already.

How would you encourage people to get involved in their communities?

Pay attention to people. Go outside and take a walk. If you have a good idea, share it. Find a new restaurant. Give someone a hug and a high five. Forget about Netflix, just chill. Start building your car for the fourth annual Pinewood Classic next April.