Posts Categorized: Phoenix

An Interview with David Hildreth and Silas Kyler


David Hildreth and Silas Kyler are the creators of Felled, a documentary film about urban lumberjacking. In conjunction with the movie, they created a book called The Art and Craft of Wood.

Could you tell us a bit about how Felled came to fruition?

David: Felled is the story of saving a dead neighborhood tree that was headed for the landfill and giving it new life and purpose. It’s about finding worth and beauty in something that everyone else sees as trash. Silas and I worked together on a bunch of different video projects over the years and talked about making a documentary together. After a big monsoon storm Silas told me that he thought he’d stumbled upon a good story for a short documentary. Silas and his friend James found a big tree that came down in the storm and started on a journey to turn the tree into lumber for furniture. I think Silas just had a good intuition for the topic and realized that he was meeting really interesting people along the way. It turns out that when a tree comes down in someone’s yard the wood generally just goes to the landfill. That’s a huge waste of resources that could otherwise become beautiful furniture or art. So we started shooting the process and after a while it was pretty clear that we could make a feature length piece about the whole issue. We happened upon a subculture of people who are fundamentally offended by that waste and were doing great work to turn trash into something more meaningful.

Is there a community of urban lumberjacks in Phoenix? How did you access this community?

Silas: Yes! Discovering that people were doing this work around the Valley was one of the main things that pulled David and I into this story initially. Starting out, I really wasn’t sure if recycling urban trees was a thing in Phoenix or not, but after doing some searching, mainly through Craigslist, I got in touch with a couple local sawyers. As it turns out, there are a bunch of mills in the valley that use local wood, all working pretty much autonomously. Through the course of producing this film I would say the community aspect has begun to grow, which is exciting. It seems like Facebook has really become a major word of mouth marketing medium for these businesses, and I’ve seen more and more of these businesses connect. More importantly, word is getting out about what they’re doing.

What has the experience of making the film been like? What goes into making a feature length film?

David: I was involved with a few other features before, but this is the first I have a hand in directing. It’s an enormous amount of work. We’ve essentially spent all of our free time for the last 2.5 years engaged in shooting, editing, or promoting the film in some way. We had a preview screening a month or so ago and someone asked how much time had been spent on the film. I answered that essentially every single evening and weekend since July ‘14 and the audience had a good laugh. Obviously that’s an exaggeration but some days I look back and it feels like that’s exactly how it’s been. Since we started production we’ve both changed jobs, we’ve both had a kid (my first, Silas’ third), and I don’t even know how many times I’ve gone into the office the next day on just a few hours of sleep. I think that’s just the reality of documentary filmmaking. It’ll be interesting to see what documentary filmmaking looks like in 10 years, but from what I see, the vast majority of documentaries will be a side hustle like Felled. The economics of filmmaking just work out that way. We’re incredibly lucky to have had a lot of help from friends and family.

How did the book become a part of this project?

David: We put out the first trailer for Felled last year and had some great success with it being shared all over Facebook. From that came a lot of interesting opportunities including a book deal with Quarto Publishing. It’s certainly not the first woodworking book on the market, but urban lumber brings an interesting twist on traditional woodworking. It’s exciting to take what we’ve learned about urban lumber and give people a step by step way of engaging with this wasted resource. We’d love for the book and the film to inspire people to look at the trees in their neighborhoods differently. Trees aren’t just a good way to clean the air and provide shade. When they die, they could be your next dinner table. Across the country we’re seeing people take this overlooked resource and turn it into something beautiful.

How did you go about writing it?

Silas: Starting out, the task of writing The Art and Craft of Wood was pretty intimidating to me. I had never planned to go write a book and I had never considered how to approach such a project. It felt like I was entering a big, unknown world. Thankfully, the book follows a pretty standard how-to format, so the structure was straight forward when we got down to it. David always accuses me of being a linear thinker, which is totally true. Being able to build the actual projects in the book and take a lot of photographs along the way gave us a nice linear workflow and foundation to build upon, which pleased my brain. Our editor, Jess, has been great through this whole process as well, and working through all of this stuff with her has been an incredible benefit.

Anything that has been deemed worthy of being published, especially in a physical book carries a certain authority, which is something that blows my mind about this project. Being a self-trained woodworker, I never held myself as some sort of expert on the topic. As I dug into the technical instructions in the book, it made me question every procedure I would describe, which led to a lot of extra research to make sure I wasn’t committing some kind of craftsmanship malpractice.

Have you had any unexpected things happen throughout the course of this project?

David: We are blown away and very grateful for the way Felled has been received. The people we tell about the project are excited and want to know more. Most people have never thought about what happens to the tree in their yard when it dies and everyone can recognize that sending that tree to the landfill is a waste. It’s refreshing to be able to make a positive film and maybe along the way inspire people to build some furniture and art that they can pass down through their families for generations to come.

You’ve been working on this project for quite a while. How did it influence you?

Silas: I’ve never worked this long on a single creative project before and I think it’s really unique how spending several years of my life on Felled has changed the way I see the trees in my city. Before I started this project I had never heard of the term “urban forestry,” but now I find myself going to urban forestry conferences and talking to urban foresters with ease. This process has taught me that, in many ways, modern society sees urban and suburban areas as the place where we consume resources, leaving the extraction of resources, or production of goods to those places outside our cities, or even our country. As cities have grown and people have spread further and further, it is apparent that a consumer relationship with our world isn’t very sustainable, and seeing what’s around us, as part of a wholistic system, is really important. This can start with something as simple as a tree, and understanding that it is part of something larger. I guess I’m just describing sustainability, but learning how to use a fallen tree, and discovering it’s place in a larger system just made that concept a lot more tangible to me.

An Interview with Brandon Barnard

Brandon Barnard Interview

On paper, Brandon Barnard is a cinematographer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. In practice, Barnard is a creative in pursuit of new ways to move audiences through visual storytelling, connecting the dots where dialogue alone cannot. From personal projects like his Audience Choice Award winner, “Paint Life Beautiful,” to National American Advertising Award winning projects at Kitchen Sink Studios, where he is the Director of Film. Barnard navigates the world of modern film with relentless creativity, fresh perspective and wonderful execution. 

Brandon Barnard canyon

Could you tell us a bit about your background? What got you into filmmaking?

My background is kind of a mess. High school was a struggle and the only place that I really applied myself was in Mrs. Henschen’s photography class. It was the only time in my life that I felt good about something that I had made or done. Once I moved on to college, I decided that I wanted what everybody else who was successful had: a business degree. I was very wrong. After a few years of dropping classes and failing, I had only a handful of credits and no certain direction. I had to make a decision.

I boiled down my remaining options to x-ray technician school and film school. I thought about this for weeks and really stressed because I knew that it would change everything I did going forward. My father is a physician and so I am familiar with the environment of medicine, but ultimately, I chose film. I chose film because that was the direction I was heading anyways. X-ray technician school was just another way to take pictures and it took me a while to realize why I looked into it.

After choosing film, I had straight A’s through both of my degrees.

Brandon Barnard interview

What was your process like for making “Paint Life Beautiful”? How did this project come to be? What did you learn from it?

“Paint Life Beautiful” was an idea that came from my good friend Mark Susan. He and I spent a lot of time in downtown Phoenix really absorbing it all. We were looking for something, and at the time this seemed to be it. He found this incredibly talented and humble person who was sort of ok with us following him around for a few months. It was a funny relationship between the three of us (myself, Mark, and Sentrock) because Sentrock didn’t know us and probably didn’t trust us. Picture this, a crazy Asian guy and a big bearded white guy want to follow you around for a few months and dive into your life story. Would you be skeptical? It took a few months, but Sentrock finally realized that we were just trying to tell his story without any bias. We wanted to showcase how special he was and really just build a film that was relatable to everybody in this nation growing up disadvantaged.

All in all, this project taught me way more than I could have imagined. I learned that if you want something, you have to go for it regardless of your situation. I could have easily not been a part of that film had I not been proactive. Simple as that. This whole project also taught me that there is this wonderful community in downtown supporting creatives, and when we premiered the film at Film Bar, it could not have been better. We were in post-production for a while with a few remaining shots still needed and it was starting to drag on. Then one day, we learned that Sentrock was moving to Chicago to pursue an art degree, and he was moving in two weeks. We decided that the film had to premiere before he left Arizona. We worked a deal with Kelly at Film Bar to premiere in a week. Mark and I edited and shot every night leading up to the premiere. We anticipated that we would get about a hundred people to show for the single showing. When five hundred showed up, we were in awe. The night was a success and I was officially going in the right direction.

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

I am the type of person who really doesn’t pay attention to big name directors. I find myself attracted to smaller creatives/filmmakers who have shown that they can match the level of creativity of those big name directors on non-existent budgets. There is a huge relatability factor for me when it comes to influencers. While Darren Aronofsky is my favorite feature director, I would be better prepared to talk about the work of people like Salomon Ligthelm, Anson Fogel, Brandon Li, Matty Brown, Skip Armstrong, or even collectives like Super Top Secret, Big Lazy Robot, MK12, Gnarly Bay, Sherpas Cinema, Brainfarm, and Forge just to name a handful. These are the guys that are truly pushing the industry in my eyes and I am always eager to see what they cook up next.

Brandon Barnard

How do you negotiate time between personal projects and work you do for Kitchen Sink?

Kitchen Sink Studios is my personal work. I try to incorporate all of my personal projects into the pipeline here at Kitchen Sink because it is beneficial across the board. I work with a team that pushes the boundaries further than I could alone. Erick Lashley and Kyle Gilbert are my main guys and there is no project that we can’t handle together. With this mentality and the openness of KSS accepting pro bono work as a mainstay of what we do, it seems we are constantly producing amazing pieces. Of course, when we are super packed with paid client work we might have to dial back on other projects but for the most part, we are constantly working on other films. If you don’t continually push yourself, you won’t get better.

What is it like being a creative professional and a dad? How do these two parts of your life overlap?

Being a dad is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me. My son Jack has taught me so much about life and what’s important and I am only just beginning to incorporate my newly gained perspective into my work. The balance of hours is the tough part and I know that it will always be hard because I just really want to spend all of my time with him. I am beyond excited to start teaching him everything I know and I can’t wait to see a camera in his hands.

What sort of films are you interested in working on in the future? Any grand concepts?

Cinematography has always been one of my biggest passions. Naturally, I’m driven to push the way viewers experience a film based on the visual elements while trying to remain proactive on the audible elements as well. Since so much time is focused on the technical side of filmmaking, it is often tough to keep the story in mind. In the last couple of years, the team at Kitchen Sink and myself have really been putting emphasis on driving the story. Ultimately, story is what holds a lot of the weight. Without a solid story, you are just making pretty pictures that won’t capture emotions. As far as upcoming projects, there are a few good ones on my radar for the future and there are a couple solid ones that I am currently working on. I can’t wait to share them, but right now they have to stay secret.

Brandon Barnard Vermillion

Could you tell us about “Vermillion”? What was the process of making that film like?

Vermillion was a trip. Nine days on the river in the Grand Canyon and I loved every second. Our Creative Director, Doug Bell, approached me wanting to shoot this film that explored both the brotherhood of good friends in a really special place and also the spiritual side of the river and the environment surrounding. We had a really good idea for how we wanted the film and story to come out, but we also left a few elements to be determined by what we encountered while we were out there. In all, we walked away with some really amazing footage and a ton of stories. We wound up transporting all the gear in these tiny little aluminum boats that could barely hold all of the pelican cases and I totally thought that we were going to wind up ruining something, but somehow all of our gear survived. This film was a really awesome experience to make, but it was even cooler seeing how much other people like it.

Brandon Barnard

What’s it like being a creative professional in Phoenix? What does this community have to offer?

Phoenix is an awesome environment to grow in. There is so much support in the local community and I am only still here because of that support. Before starting at Kitchen Sink, I was in the process of moving to LA. I really wanted to surround myself with creatives that I looked up to and I had no idea that this whole community in downtown Phoenix existed. I even moved to Phoenix from Chandler so that I could really immerse myself. At this point, I could not imagine a better place to be.



An Interview with Jon Arvizu


Jon Arvizu is a local artist, designer, and screen printer. He was kind enough to let us intervene on his busy schedule to ask him some questions. In this interview, Jon talks to us about his interest in midcentury modern architecture, why he loves silk-screen printing, and what he appreciates about Phoenix, as an artist.

Monomyth Studio: Could you tell us a bit about your background? When/How did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Jon Arvizu: As long as I can remember, art has been at the top of my mind. Certainly by 3rd grade I was heavily into drawing and making things. I’ve never been the best, most talented, or top of my class. Dealing with adversity has always pushed me toward improving, learning new skills, and getting better.

MS: A lot of your work draws from midcentury modern architecture, pop art, and Southwest/West Coast culture. What about these aesthetics interest you?

JA: Mid-century design is part of our shared experience living in the southwestern US, so it’s something I can relate to. In Phoenix, we don’t have a long history of architectural styles to draw inspiration from, and this is something unique to the area. Postwar architecture has solid roots functionality and clarity of purpose; I’ve always admired those qualities and aspire to implement that character into my own work. In addition, beautiful sunsets, a laid-back lifestyle, and a unique environment give us so much beauty to draw from. Inspiration is all around us.

Jon Arvizu Sarmiento

MS: What do you love about the process of silk-screen printing? How did you get into it?

JA: I always wanted to try it as a student, but never got the opportunity in school through classes or workshops. So as an adult, I sought out an education in the basic workings of the medium. I achieved creating a few small format prints in my studio with a very basic setup. I separated the art into screens and had a local print shop help me with the materials. Those test prints had varying levels of success but were not as exciting as I hoped the process could be.

When a friend turned me on to a Mono-screen printing workshop at the Mesa Arts Center, it led to a whole different approach to screen printing. Combining elements of the mono-printing technique and the immediacy of mixing inks with handmade stencils, it allowed me to craft a unique style and produce art in a way I found exciting and inspiring. 

Contract work is my bread and butter, it pays the bills and sometimes provides me enjoyment. I have learned over the years that client projects are not the same as making art for myself. I WANT to make prints, I have a NEED to make them. It’s very satisfying for me to complete a design that works for me. As an artist, it keeps me going: complete a design that makes me happy, and move on to the next thing.

Jon Arvizu screen print

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

JA: No artists in particular, I love the fine arts and art history. I also love graphic art and design and try to incorporate all media and influences into my work as I see fit.

MS: Could you tell us a bit about Trapdoor Studio? How did it come to fruition?

JA: I worked at corporate and in-house graphic design jobs out of school with varying degrees of success for my first several years out of school. I learned a lot about what I like, and more importantly, what I don’t like. In 2002, I left my last corporate job and started freelancing with design firms and ad agencies to make my way.

I’ve always told myself, “I’ll work on my own until it doesn’t pay the bills.” Plenty of ups and downs come with owning a business, but throughout the last 14 years, I’ve managed to carve out a career doing what I enjoy. Over time the “career” has expanded to passion projects, extended education, risking, failing, and applying that knowledge to help make a living. The efforts I’ve made over time have allowed me to express myself as a creative and an individual.


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

JA: Making my own schedule helps a lot. I write DAILY checklists: projects to deliver to clients, passion projects, skill-building, experimenting, production design, paperwork, self-promotion. There is no clear path or standard rules to follow. If I’m inspired to finish a project, I allow that to take priority over everything else.

I set reasonable deadlines with clients as much as possible and that allows for more flexibility in working creatively. There are always exceptions, but creativity isn’t a science, so allowing proper time for multiple takes on a project is key. 


MS: What’s it like being an artist and business owner, and also a dad? How do these parts of your life overlap?

JA: All things are inter-related. I have young children, so I love being able to share art with my kids at home and at school. Art Masterpiece projects at their elementary school is a great way to interact with all the kids and impart some practical arts education on a personal level. As a family, we work on art projects together for their birthdays, holidays, and encourage them to experiment and get their hands dirty.

It goes without saying that young families are VERY time consuming. There is never enough time, but taking care of family, work, and my health are top priorities at the moment. I occasionally come up for air and spend time with friends to balance myself out. Just keep chipping away at life as best I can.

MS: What’s it like being an artist in Phoenix? What does this community have to offer?

JA: I have always been independent and driven to create, so I don’t ask a lot of the community. I would say being an artist in Arizona is challenging: there’s no correct path to walk for creative or financial success.

Many people here don’t have experience viewing art as a valuable resource for building culture and community. The art scene is historically underdeveloped, but there are MANY individuals making great strides toward bridging the divide. I am inspired by the efforts and growth of our community in the past 15 years, feel privileged to have created a place for myself, and enjoy some recognition as a creative talent. 



Illustrator, Designer and versatile Artist Jon Arvizu has been professionally involved in the graphic and fine art industry for over 17 years. His illustrations and design work have been featured a variety of publications and has worked with a myriad of clients including Netflix, Popular Science Magazine, Red Robin, Frito Lay, Quaker, Oreganos and The National Football League.


Jon’s handmade serigraphs and fine art prints are available online at and through a handful of local retail partners in the Phoenix area.


Jon has recently collaborated with his talented wife Jenn to create a line of thoughtfully designed graphic t-shirts and accessories for thoughtfully designed people.Take one illustrator, add one witty project manager, toss in two spirited minis… and you’ve got a whole bunch of certified boisterous fun.

An Interview with Liz Magura

Liz Magura Interview

Liz Magura is a native Phoenician. One of the few, perhaps? With an undergraduate degree from Loyola Marymount University and a lifetime of swimming under her belt, Liz has a knack for being resourceful, looking at the bigger picture, striving to solve problems on the daily, oh, and bringing a smile to a meeting or two. She strives to create engaging user experiences and visual design is her expertise. Her experiences extend across many verticals and brands including the Phoenix Suns, Aetna, Ryland Homes, PGi, LOCTITE, Valley of the Sun United Way, and most recently, University of Phoenix. Liz is going into her second term as President of AIGA AZ and is a member of the Phoenix Design Week planning committee. When she isn’t living and breathing design or managing projects and teams, she enjoys spending time with family, friends, her boxer pups, traveling, gardening, country music—live concerts at that—or enjoying a nice glass of champagne.


Monomyth Studio: So, you recently changed jobs, and we’re curious, what are you doing now?

Liz Magura: Yes, I did! I am a Senior UX/UI Design lead with University of Phoenix. The position is really unique in the sense that they’ve been without a UX team for a small amount of time and are now beginning to implement this design practice back into the organization. The cool thing about working in this type of industry is the chance to improve the experience for studentshelping them navigate through applications and websites in simplified ways. Not to mention the building I work in has a brand new UX Lab where we have the ability to do all kinds of studies to validate designs we’ve created or that are currently in use. Score!

I also have the chance to lead a small team, work closely with UX researchers, product managersoverall, an entirely new experience. I’m looking forward to getting my hands far into the products and experiences that are in place and helping to design new ones through the summer.

A lot of your work is focused on UX/UI work. What about this facet of design interests you?

I think this sums up my interest nicely:

“Never forget the WHY: why you’re designing this product, why people will use it, why you made the design decisions you did. Document the Why. Explain it to whomever will listen. Put it in your wireframes and in presentations. The Why should drive everything, because it’s what gives the product meaning, a story, a theme.” – Dan Saffer, VP of Product at Mayfield Robotics; designer and author

I think ultimately my drive to focus on UX/UI design comes from the desire of wanting people to have great experiences. Functionality is the key to great design. If the beauty of the design trumps the functionality of the design, chances are you will end up with a frustrated user. I want to know their pain points and how we can make them better, with their help. Through my career I have become more of a people person: I enjoy entertaining guests at my home, going to dinner, happy hour, parties, festivals. I have a way of connecting with people and making them feel welcome. I think this plays into my outlook as a UX/UI designer.

Liz Magura Interview UX

We can only imagine how much work it is to be the president of AIGA AZ. Why is it important to you to volunteer your time in this way?

Oh, gosh. Well, I’ll have to tell you my journey of AIGA for it to all come together. So here we go!

I started as a member of the Los Angeles chapter when I was in college at LMU. One of my professors pretty much ingrained it into my head that this was something that all of us design students should join and be a member of. I attended maybe one or two events throughout the two years that I was a member of the LA chapter, only because of how intimidating the design scene was. I may not have been as much of an extrovert during those years, as well.

Once I moved home to Phoenix after graduating from LMU, I was doing my best to reach out to anyone and everyone I could to get some sort of design job or internship. Through that process, I also made sure to follow AIGA AZ and keep up with what the chapter was doing.

I think it was within the first year that I was living back home at my parents’ house that I’d noticed a call for board volunteers with AIGA AZ. I can’t specifically remember if it was on Facebook or if I’d signed up for the e-newsletters, but regardless I reached out to see what joining might take. I emailed expressing interest, sent my resume along (boy was it short) and I remember Jim Nissen interviewing me for a programming chair position—what my design experience was, why I wanted to join the board. It was definitely intimidating, but I made sure to speak strongly and attempted to remain enthusiastic (which wasn’t hard) about Jim inviting me on board. And here we are, going into my 7th year on the board. How crazy is that?!

So why is it important that I volunteer my time and currently serve as president? I may not have known this when I joined the board back in 2009, but now that I’ve come this far, I can see it more clearly now. Design has a loud voice in pretty much every aspect of what we do in life. As a designer and leader, it’s my duty, responsibility, and honor to lead our design community as president. What a lot of people may forget is that AIGA is a national organization—there are connections that can be made beyond your local chapter and that’s pretty darn cool! There is a whole network of people that you can reach out to and pick their brains about anything—design, experiences, the good companies to work for, the most frustrating part of financing for a freelance business, client mishap stories—the list goes on and on. With technology at our fingertips these days, Slack for one, we can ask someone a question 3,000 miles away who will respond in a matter of seconds. And now you have a conversation happening and quite shortly thereafter, a new Facebook friend or Instagram follower.

Overall, my role as president is to empower others, especially those on the current board. Ideas don’t need to come from presidents and vice presidents, decisions don’t need to be made by presidents and vice presidents. I’m not a dictator, but a cheerleader and supporter. Helping each board member make their own decisions and providing guidance when it’s most needed. It’s always the team that makes the president role rewarding.

Liz Magura Interview AIGA

 What do you see as the biggest need for the Phoenix design community? What would you love to see?

That’s a hard one. I think the best thing to see is people believing in the design community that’s here. I think continuing to spread the passion, noticing the fun, the ability to build meaningful relationships, the constant desire to showcase talent—all of those things play into our design community being great and continuing to be great. It’s interviews like you all are doing to showcase the talent we have right in front of us. So for that, thank you!

Maybe one of the things that always sticks out is how last minute our community seems about things. I’m curious why that is. Work and life always get in the way, but is there a time when we can just commit to something and make sure we’re there? Perhaps we need more confidence? I know we have a great support system within our design community, but maybe we need to hold each other more accountable.

How do you manage your time between your full-time job, side projects, and being the president of AIGA AZ?

I have always been a busy person and have enjoyed being involved in every which way, whatever the thing might be. It can make me insane sometimes and I can occasionally feel like I’m in over my head. Being an athlete for most of my life has taught me a lot of what it means to manage my time, work efficiently, and strive to be a better person. I think the discipline of being an athlete has helped me lead my career, pushed me to continue to learn, granted me heightened experiences and always reminded me to be the best that I can be. So I thank my parents for that!

A lot of the time, I attempt to prioritize, but sometimes, I might be feeling the need to do one thing over the other.

Dedicating the early years of my career to all of these things can only help me in the long run. There are so many people within our community that have way more things in their lives to manage and that’s entirely more impressive.

Liz Magura Interview

What has your experience been like as a woman, being such a prominent community figure in a male-dominated industry?

Being a woman can definitely have its challenges, but I feel like I’ve learned to rise up and embrace it. I’ve worked with many talented women and men, and it’s hard to really ever feel like men dominate this industry any longer. Perhaps their voices become a bit louder in a conference room. I remember my mom saying to “speak up!” throughout my younger years, and it’s definitely applied to my life.

We have a new Executive Director of AIGA who’s a woman and the current president of AIGA is a woman. I’d say there are some pretty great figures in the industry right now that solidify this shift and create confidence in women rising in the industry.

What does Phoenix, as a city, have to offer its design community that is unique?

Phoenix has a lot to offer. There are these statistics out there that college kids, here, graduate and move away to get experiences in places like LA and NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those cities, but when it comes to feeling at home, making connections, having great job opportunities available, and getting valuable experiences for life and design, Phoenix has those things. We somehow are able to uncover these unique aspects that make up the design community and it continues to thrive and get better each year, simply by the people who make this place what it is. Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the mindset that this IS a place for you. Make Phoenix your home and create in it the life that you want. You have to do this anywhere anyways, why not do it here?

An Interview with Safwat Saleem

“Cheaper Than Therapy,” an Interview with Safwat Saleem

Safwat Saleem Interview

Safwat Saleem is a graphic designer, an artist, an illustrator, a film-maker, a writer, and is just a generally awesome at things kind of guy. Much of his work is satirical, politically charged, and forces us to take a look at subject matter that might be uncomfortable through the accessibility of humor. He met with us recently to talk about his art, his role as a TED Fellow, and how creating functions as a cathartic act. He was incredibly gracious with his responses, and it was a sincere pleasure to spend the morning with him. Then we all ate breakfast food together. It was pretty great.

I say graphic design because essentially that is what I do as a job. That is my skill-set. That’s how I earn most of my living. It’s also a term people understand. Artist is a really vague term that  can mean anything at all. So, it’s the easiest way to describe what I do, but I know it’s such a loaded term. I’m an artist, but let me tell you more.

I became a TED Fellow in 2013, and then I became a Senior TED Fellow in 2015. So, the Fellows program is essentially where every year they choose about twenty people to come to TED and speak on the TED stage. They’ve got astrophysicists and they’ve got researchers; they’ve got people doing amazing things that I don’t even understand, but they’re cool people. The biggest thing is that you get to be with this group of twenty people who are doing incredible things and you get to learn from them. They become your lifelong friends. Some of my closest friends are people that I met at TED.

“And Everything Was Alright” was essentially what I considered the very first creative project that I did. It was a project about the day in the life of a lonely bear who wants to travel to space. It was a picture book, a short film, and a gallery exhibit as well. That project was the first time that I thought of myself as an artist because it was one of the very first times that I did a project where I was the client. I come from a graphic design background, and no matter how good the work might be, how satisfied you are with it, at the end of the day you’re always working on someone else’s vision. It’s never as satisfying as working on your own vision. My work is my voice, and when I do projects for myself, I’m speaking. So, in hindsight, that project was the most important thing that I did for myself. It’s cheaper than therapy.

Art is a very cathartic process for me because it’s how I make sense of what is happening in the world and what is happening in my surroundings. It’s the act of processing something that might be beyond me, that I can’t immediately make sense of. Like the attacks in Paris happened, and I was not sure how to process this. So, I just started writing, I started illustrating, and what came out of that was a long, illustrated essay about how I process something like that being a Muslim in America. It’s just me trying to figure out how I feel about this, and how I can make sense of it.

Being an artist in Phoenix is incredible. Because it does not have such a big name on the national level, I think people are more open to trying things, and that helps. I’ve seen Phoenix change and evolve. It’s just incredible. We have such thriving art scene now. I’m excited to see where it goes. I’m excited to be a part of more shows, work with more people, and make more art.

I’m Safwat Saleem, and I’m a graphic designer and an artist—I think.