Workin’ On It

New Laconic
8 min readNov 30, 2018

As creators, what can we learn from our childhood self?

How do we pack the exuberance from our pint-sized days into our work now?

Chances are, there might just be eerie parallels between your youthful creative passions, and things you make today.

Workin’ On It will show you how your creative past meets the present.

Workin’ On It is a hand-produced zine about creative growth. Its twenty-two pages are stuffed with inserts — opening up the zine is like an explosion of color and intimate creative work.

The zine is a collaborative effort to “tap into youthful audacity.” We might think of it in relation to the many films and stories that mine childhood innocence and creativity, from Big, to 13 Going on 30 and 17 Again.

As a zine, Workin’ On It offers us a beautifully designed, refreshing collage, like roots blooming into the present day.

Below, we talked to Hsu and Boyd about Workin’ On It and their unique collaboration.

New Laconic: What is Workin’ On It, as a concept, experience, and material thing?

Daphne Hsu & Hart Boyd: Workin’ On It is a project about creative development. We ask people who make things to investigate how their current practices relate to their earliest creative efforts.

Our first issue features artists, illustrators, and designers who share an early example of their work alongside a more current piece. Each set of work is accompanied by a written explanation.

Some of the participants write about how preoccupations from childhood manifest in their more recent work. Others write about how early lessons have changed their work. The design of the first issue references scrapbooks and paper portfolios. The participants’ work is printed on different paper stocks, and inserted into an unbound 5.5” x 8.5” book.

NL: How did the idea originate?

DH: Hart and I were both leaving a design studio where we worked together. He approached me with the idea for this zine as something for us to work on together in our unemployment. Hart was inspired by a James Turrell quote from an episode of Art21:

“I think I was maybe five or six, and my grandmother would begin taking me in and sitting me in the quaker meeting house and we would just sit in there together. There’s this time where you’re no longer in first day of school, but you actually come and join the meeting. And I remember asking my grandmother, ‘What are we doing, what am I supposed to do?’ and she said, ‘Just wait. We’re going inside to greet the light.’ I like that. This idea, to go inside, to find that light within, literally as well as figuratively. And so I was very interested in this sort of literal look at it. Of course I’m still trying to figure out exactly what she meant.”

HB: When I was a junior in college I watched that first Art 21 series and that part of the Turrell interview alway stuck with me. The more I was around artists and the more I read about artist’s progressions the more this seemed to be a universal condition, but also something that remained quite personal to each artist.

I thought it would be interesting to have a publication of these moments to shift the focus from the work itself to the deeply personal quests the work is trying to resolve.

Also, I spent a chunk of my 20s in a few different coordinator jobs. I talked to people about themselves a lot and found that most people are more interesting than they think they are.

DH: I thought of Yayoi Kusama, whose work often responds to her childhood. From an interview in BOMB Magazine, she explains:

“Those paintings, 2 or 3,000 in total, were rapidly sublimated within myself and developed into sculptures. In other words, underlying the mirror room were my early paintings. To create an endless mirror room had been my long-cherished dream.”

The name of the zine coincidentally references a J Dilla song of the same name. I like how casual and scrappy the phrase “workin’ on it” sounds. The idea never changed from the beginning — only the format changed over time.

NL: What was the process of making it?

DH: We initially wanted to print everything on a broadsheet newspaper, but found that it would be too expensive for the small run we wanted to produce. We developed the format of the first issue based on what was immediately available and feasible for us to do, and what felt most appropriate for the content.

Along the way, we — although, really Hart — had a lot of good and inventive ideas which you may see play out in future issues.

HB: What finally got us to solidify the format for the first issue was when we made a last minute decision to pitch the zine to a friend [Jayme Yen] as something she could take with her to the LA Art Book Fair, which at the time was just a few weeks out. We got approval and that is what pushed us to actually finish the zine in whatever conceptual version it was in.

NL: What was it like to work together?

HB: I initially put things in motion, but Daphne quickly had to shoulder the responsibility pulling me through the actual creative ideation process for this whole thing. Daphne is much better than I am at creative work and turning ideas into objects. I tend to be someone who has a lot of ideas, but also horrible follow-through.

I can be a workhorse for repudiative production work though. I shine in the beginning and the end and Daphne is perfect for the that middle part, where most of the difficult work actually resides. I feel really fortunate that I was able to work with her on this project. She really helped me to understand what it takes to materialize an idea.

DH: I always felt like the process was collaborative. We’d meet 2–4 times a month with things to show each other; we’d talk through ideas, ask for feedback, and make some progress.

I think we are a good balance of ambitious and realistic — we both had and continue to have big dreams for this project, and we’re also able to identify what we’re capable of at the moment.

With this first issue, we ended up doing what perhaps each of us feels most comfortable doing: I did a fair bit of the design, and Hart nailed the materials and printing. I think this opens the door for each of us to have a hand in other parts of the process for future issues.

NL: How did you find and assemble the contributors?

HB: We essentially cold-called a lot of people around Thanksgiving in 2015, hoping that if could get people while they were visiting their families they would be more likely to have access to childhood works.

Everyone we talked to was interested, but only ten people were able to find work from that earlier time in their life. Our goal was to be in a rage of 10 to 12 people, so we lucked out.

DH: We were interested in what people have held as lifelong fascinations. The people we invited to participate in the first issue are friends, colleagues, and former classmates.

HB: After we got work from all the participants it was about a year of starts and stops and several design restarts.

NL: What were some references you thought about during the process — whether you liked them or not?

DH: We thought of a lot of different ways to represent the variety of work included in the zine. How do we make a computer rendering and a crayon drawing look good next to each other, while suggesting the material qualities of each?

I had the Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E exhibition at the Henry fresh in my mind. There was a case full of commonplace books, which are tools for readers to collect excerpts from different written texts in one place. These books reflected the personalities of their creators and maintained the physicality of the saved texts.

I also looked at Mono.Kultur’s Kim Gordon issue, which is made up of multiple paper stocks, sizes, and colors, all of which served different purposes to tell Gordon’s story.

NL: What did you learn from making Workin’ On It?

DH: One of my main takeaways from this first issue is that the production needs to be able to scale easily. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to make one copy of an issue, factoring print time, cutting, folding, and assembling.

Until now, anything I’ve made with a complicated format that I had to put together has been a much smaller run. I also feel quite proud that Hart and I have made something together, from start to finish and with complete ownership, and (shout out to New Laconic) have been able to put it out into the wild for people to see.

HB: I would say that my lessons are identical to what Daphne stated. If I’m being really honest though, I would say that my biggest lesson was that I’m a pretty lazy designer. Working with Daphne allowed me to see some of my bad habits. I’m also proud that I was able to make this together with Daphne, we really made it happen as a cohesive unit, which is an experience I have not had before this.

NL: What have reader responses been like?

DH: The response to our first issue has been good. People like the concept, which is very relatable. It’s fun to see people’s early work and read about people’s processes, and then reflect your own. Readers also like the variety of paper stocks and the scrapbook feel.

NL: How has the process changed you?

HB: After doing this I’d say that I’m more aware of my own habits, good and bad, when it comes to design and creative work. I think I’m more realistic about schedules now, still not totally there yet though, but more so than before.

When we started designing this zine, Daphne and I wanted this to be as simple as possible design and material-wise, a folded one-sheet, it’s interesting how it evolved into a complex assemblage of materials.

DH: I feel really energized! I keep coming back to how straightforward the core idea, and how varied the responses we were able to get because the prompt is so personal. This project honestly helped me reframe my own career.

NL: Thank you Daphne & Hart! We fell in love with Workin’ On It at first sight, and can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

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Workin’ On It #1 is available online at New Laconic

Want to learn more about Workin’ On It?
For news and more, check out the zine’s Instagram
Hart Boyd’s website and Instagram

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