Elana Schlenker, Graphic Designer / Art Director
💭 Thoughts on working more softly, enjoying new beginnings, and Barilla pasta’s Spotify playlists.
Thought Enthusiast is an AdHoc Project where we chat with fascinating thought leaders across various facets of music, tech, and culture whose work we admire, simply asking “what’s on your mind?” and “why do you care?” 💭
Elana Schlenker is the principal of Studio Elana Schlenker, a design practice established in 2011, through which she has worked with clients like A24, Aperture, CalArts, Dusen Dusen, Google, the International Center for Photographer, Meta, The New Yorker, the Walker Art Center, and many others (including AdHoc!). Elana is also an occasional lecturer in the Image Text Ithaca low-residency MFA program at Cornell University. In her spare time, she gardens, trolls Facebook Marketplace for vintage furniture, and recently published a zine of reviews of Home Depot's 5 ft. Posable Skeleton with LED Eyes because why wouldn't she?
🎯 Current focus
My practice is medium and industry agnostic, which means I usually have a pretty varied lineup of projects in the works. Right now I’m excited about a lot of them: a contemporary art museum rebrand that’s just rolling out; a new book design project with A24; naming and branding a burger startup; and designing a website for Wah-Wah, an Australian label that creates wild music-inspired knitwear. The common denominator in these projects is teams who themselves are doing exciting stuff that complements and inspires my own work, and who have afforded me a level of trust that really facilitates a joyful and fruitful creative process.
💫 Creative community inspiration
I have been thinking about my friend Eric Ruby, an artist who put up a one-night show of his photographs at a Fraternal Order of Eagles outpost in Minneapolis. I love the informality and unpretentiousness of the whole thing and it also hits close to home, having basically been raised in an Eagles club in Pennsylvania by my dad. That world has always felt so far away from the creative community I belong to now, and it makes me smile imaging them colliding in this way.
I also just got back from leading a design workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts residency this week, and am feeling really energized by the conversations I had with faculty and students there. There was a really palpable sense of community, openness, and self awareness in the program that resonated with me and made me feel excited to get back to thinking about and making within my own practice.
🌻 Daydreaming about my garden
Cooped up inside in January, I daydream a lot about my garden and what I’d like to do in it in the coming year. The BBC’s Gardener’s World — an extremely untimely choice as it has been on the air for over 50 years — is a lovely reminder of what it feels like out in the garden in the springtime, and it’s so gentle and soothing that watching it is basically self care. This viewer video that aired on the show last year, brings me to tears every time I watch it. On my to-do list, I just picked up Nicola L. Life and Art, which l’m really excited to dig into, and am dying to go see Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things — he’s my favorite director.
🍦 Working more softly
I started my own design studio without ever having worked within one, and I’ve always grappled with whether I was doing it wrong — mainly, am I missing out on something by not expanding into a larger studio? But I’ve come to realize that being small allows me to work more softly, be more equitable with my collaborators, and have more freedom in my life and work. So I am focusing on embracing this model more fully, and taking time to articulate what it is exactly, and what it means specifically for myself and my clients, so I can continue to practice it more mindfully. And, unrelated, I am trying to eat more vegetables.
🧑🏼🎨 Taking the mundane into the abstract
Braulio Amado is a prolific graphic designer whose unique, versatile style has hugely influenced visual culture (imho). Something I find especially inspiring is his ability to take seemingly mundane images and transform them into dynamic abstractions, and the way in which he often generously shares this source material and process.
🌞 Enjoying new beginnings & setting goals
I have always loved beginnings: mornings, Mondays, the start of the school year, the start of the calendar year — it all feels so promising to me. So I have been looking forward to the New Year to make some resolutions for the months ahead. In particular, I feel really excited to set some goals around personal creative projects—something that I haven’t had much time for in recent years—and to see those through. In particular, to get my hands dirtier and try to physically make more things, just for fun.
📚 Vintage interior design books and magazines
I’ve become pretty obsessed with vintage furniture and product design in recent years, and have recently started picking up old interior design books and magazines as a resource for discovering new (to me) makers and objects. It feels a bit more focused (and at times, more surprising) than diving into the void of the internet.
Right now my Clyde balaclava is a life saver on winter dog walks.
Barilla created a bunch of Spotify playlists that are exactly as long as it takes to cook their pasta (there's a different playlist for each type of noodle). These were made in 2021, but I just happened upon it this morning — so it counts? Anyway, I love when brands embrace technology and social in a way that’s unexpected but also feels completely organic to their product. This is a great example of that!
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