Name: Chad Kouri
Title: Maker and Doer
Location: Chicago, IL
Photo by Andy Schwegler of Letterform
Tell us about your educational/professional background.
I came to Chicago for school in 2003 to study graphic design. Before I moved here to study, I knew I didn’t have enough money to finish a four-year program, so I took all the design classes I could at Columbia and then jumped out and got an internship, which turned into a job at a marketing firm. I was there 4-5 years on and off and progressed my way up to a Junior Art Director for a very small company. Overall, my experience was that I really liked the people I was working with and the family atmosphere, but the work I was doing wasn’t very rewarding. So I started pursuing some of the things I was doing in my free time like custom typography and collage work to see if that was something I could pursue that would pay the bills and not just occupy the space in between doing the work I paid my bills with.
That was about three years ago. Another thing that motivated me to make a change was the inception of The Post Family a year previous to that. The Post Family is a group of seven creative, like-minded people, mostly from design backgrounds, that wanted to kind of get away from being on our computers for 14-16 hours a day and have a studio space where we can get together and come up with concepts and ideas to fuel our creativity on our “passion projects”, things we do in our own pursuit of general happiness. We had just gotten a space and everyone was pushing hard in our networks to make people aware of what we were doing. There’s a pretty large community of support around the idea of pursuing these kinds of goals—making things because you want to and expressing yourself through creativity in place where it’s not being forced upon you. It was fairly easy for me to really kick it into high gear and utilize some of the network I had developed over the past couple of years and jump out of the job. For a year I basically did a week of work a month at a design company to pay the bills, and the rest of the time was spent on screen printing, doing collage work, and donating time and working with Proximity Magazine, which is a very impressive, thorough quarterly contemporary art magazine in the city here.
That went on for a little while and then Edelman PR contacted me and said they really liked what I was doing within the design and art community, my illustration work, and my mindset on creativity. They said they would like for me to work for them, but they didn’t really know what I would be doing. That was about a year ago. It took us a little time to figure out exactly what the position would entail, but now I’m their Artist in Residence.
Tell us about your current job.
I work mostly from home, typically 20-30 hours a week for Edelman on everything from new business pitches to helping curate artwork throughout the office. They bring me in for general creation of ideas and to figure out how to not only have people feel like they’re in a creative atmosphere within the workplace, but also to reinvigorate some of their business pitches with different, more interactive ways of presenting to potential clients rather than just projecting a screen on a wall.
With The Post Family guys, our space has evolved to a gallery and studio space. I help coordinate events and do general promotion for the group. I also do studio tours of different artists’ space that I photograph and interview for the website just to add another layer of transparency to what everyone’s doing. That’s what we’re all about, and I think it’s a midwest/Chicago mentality of “all for one”. Everyone is willing to share skills and knowledge for the greater good of the community. I’ve been participating a lot in the art happenings around here as well. I’m trying to focus a lot more on developing a larger body of fine art work so I can start showing more often with different people. I’m finding out that generally I try to make things as difficult as possible for myself and see if I can get out of it. Fine art is the next wall to climb, which I’ve been enjoying.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to have a “No meetings before 10:30″ rule. Sometimes that doesn’t work, but I know I’m much better in the later part of the morning because I typically work until 1 or 2am when I can get the most work accomplished. So I usually get up around 10—hopefully not to an alarm—and then go to my home studio to organize things. I usually spend most of the morning doing correspondence—keeping up with people, making sure email is answered. The second half of the day is more focused on either commissioned work as an individual illustrator or work for Edelman. That’s about 60% of the day, and the other 40% is general exploring and ideation time. I typically have a notebook open all day as I’m thinking about different ideas and concepts. If I have something that comes to mind, I try to facilitate the time to at least get it down so I can come back to it. I also try to leave little bits of free time throughout the day to just let my mind wander and see what happens. I tend to doodle a lot too, though I’m finding out more and more that doodling is working.
Overall, it’s more of an organic work schedule where if I’m having a hard time working on something, I step away from it for a while and don’t try to pound it out. You’re not always going to have that opportunity, but keeping it a bit looser has been really beneficial for my process. That seems to help ideas happen a little bit quicker rather than sweating it out for a week.
What kinds of documents do you produce?
At Edelman I’ve done everything from redesigning new business pitches (PowerPoint templates) to interoffice communication stuff that is a little bit more fun and loose, such as illustrations for the employee recognition boards. I also do some concepting for problem-solving initiatives. If we have a big problem that comes in from a client, I figure out different scenarios so people can get together and brainstorm in a quick fashion. There’s everything from highly conceptual ideas to very bare bones at Edelman.
As for myself, most of what I’m creating right now is a lot of collage work, a lot of fine art work. I’m developing concepts and ideas into a body of work. I also do typography work for individuals, lately for music people who are looking for custom lettering for their website or promotions. But mostly I’m just trying to create collaboratively and set up scenarios to meet with other people and have free-form experiment in creating stuff. I’m doing a little traveling this summer to do video work with some friends in LA, and hopefully I’ll be in New York at the end of September with some other friends doing the same thing. So not so much individual documents, but more of a free-form body of work.
What communication skills are needed for your job?
I really enjoy the problem solving at Edelman. You not only have to figure out a solution to a problem, but you also have to figure out how to communicate that solution to an array of different people who have different ways of communicating. It makes for an interesting back and forth, and it takes a lot more work to push through a big idea. You have to make sure that not only is the idea good, but that you are willing to put forth the time to fight for it to come to fruition. That’s been really interesting for me, to develop my communication skills with talking and selling ideas to different people. It’s also helped in the gallery sense because if I have some kind of situation, I’m more on my toes about figuring out how to solve that problem and communicating with that person to make them feel more comfortable.
How did you prepare for your job?
Everything about me, and The Post Family as well, is that we try to be organic in our processes: let things live, let things breathe, and see what happens. Being able to roll with the punches and not really having a specific plan means you can’t really fail. There aren’t any personal expectations to live up to and you have broader ideas of what’s best. Also, being an optimist—what’s the worst thing that can happen? Even if a job goes terribly, there’s absolutely something there and probably more to learn from than something that went perfectly well. So I’m always optimistic that things will turn around.
List three of your favorite professional resources/references/tools and tell us why they’re your favorite.
Google Image Search is pretty ridiculously awesome. I probably use it every single day on every project I do, just to get some visual stimulation. I can put in one word and there will be so many different images that may not even relate to that word that draw my attention to different places. I don’t typically use those images in what I’m creating, so for my collages and other work, the Library of Congress has a great digital archive that is mostly public domain or Creative Commons. Flickr Groups for vintage ads have also proven to be full of high-res old imagery that is public domain now.
My email—my email is chaos. I have four different email addresses for different jobs that I do and it’s great to be able to work on everything at once. Everyone can get a hold of me and I can be plugged in from anywhere, so that’s been super beneficial. Early on, email was something I was utilizing. I would go out to Borders and look in the credits of magazines for the email addresses of art directors and publishers and then just cold email. I was able to develop this really rough community of people whose work I really enjoyed, and maybe there was a possibility they would like mine. It’s proven to be a really good tool. I emailed a woman that I met in San Francisco last July at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. I met her there—she was the buyer for the gift shop—I introduced myself, wrote her an email when i got home from the business card she gave me, and told her it was nice to meet her, here is some of the work I do, hope to be in touch. She emailed me and The Post Family today about a potential project that we could do together.
When you send that email, just because someone doesn’t get back with you right away doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention to you. Keep in touch really does mean keep in touch. I have people I emailed four or five years ago who are just now reaching out to me to push forward on a project. You just never know what kind of contacts you can make with a simple thing like email.
How do you stay up to date in your field?
I used to do a lot of blog reading but ever since I started writing a blog, it’s worked its way out of my routine. But I do go through link sets from the blogs that I used to read or other artists that I know, who typically have a list of friends. I’ve developed ideas just through those links from random artists.
But in general, the easiest way to stay up to date is through the community. Just talk to people about what they’re doing, what they’ve seen. I’m lucky enough to have friends and a group of people around me who are into the same things and this is what we do, we nerd out and talk. I hold a lot of confidence in knowing what’s hip through the people I know and what they’re looking at.
How would you define professional writing?
When I think of professional writing, I really think of writing as an art form. If you’re able to explain your ideas or your concepts in a very concise way on paper, the possibilities are endless because you’re able to not only explain it in a way that is easy for people to understand, but then people can explain it easily to others. It’s much easier to spread an idea and a concept.
Everyone thinks, at some point, that they’re a writer or a designer or a photographer, but there’s a craft and a knowledge that you need in order to do this. I would say one of the most important pieces to any concept is to have professionally written content that can spread. A picture might say a million words, but if you can spread a story and a narrative to other people, an actual grounding and concept, that’s much more powerful.
Do you have any tips to share with other professional writers/editors/designers?
Be true to yourself, your skills, and your internal motivations. Be confident in yourself in order to take steps to be doing exactly what you want to be doing. If it were easy, everyone would be doing fine art or publishing a magazine. Having faith in yourself, finding the benefit in what you’re doing, and staying optimistic are the most important things.
Also, don’t get stagnant. Even if you’re enjoying something so much, you need to keep new ideas coming in. Always be thinking of the next step—it doesn’t always have to be the five-year step, it can be the tomorrow step. Always keep that momentum and be truthful with yourself. In general, try to have a good time while you’re doing it. It has made a world of difference for me in the past couple years.