A few weeks ago we held the final Dynamic/MTL of the year on the theme of creative collaborations. We invited three designing pairs to share their process and work, exploring how sometimes one + one equals more than two. Here are our impressions and takeaways from the three talks and subsequent panel discussion.
Our first guests, Adi Goodrich and Sean Pecknold of the Los Angeles-based studio Sing Sing, take a hands-on approach to art direction, set design and photography. Prior to becoming a “duo”, Sean’s background was in stop-motion animation, while Adi’s was in set design. They met through an agent who proposed that they collaborate on a Sony commercial. Adi initially wasn’t interested, but ended up taking the gig and was pleasantly surprised that Sean wasn’t as old as she had imagined, while Sean, on the other hand, was surprised that Adi wasn’t a man! These two hit it off in more ways than one and quickly became life and work partners.
At first they weren’t sure if they wanted to collaborate, as they each had their own practices, specialities and clients. After a brief stint in New York, they found a workspace and settled in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in a former art gallery, that they now share with a number of other animators and designers. Using their varied skills in photography and animation, they found a way to collaborate on smaller scale projects in order to gain trust and build up their client base. While their styles aren’t identical, they have found a way to come together, using more googly eyes than Adi would ever have fathomed on her own.
“It’s so important to have clients that value and support you (especially when you decide to paint a horse pink).”
They described their creative approaches to combining commercial and personal work, often re-purposing sets and talent from one project to the next. More than anything, what struck us about Sing Sing was their endearing rapport with each other, and approachability towards the audience and work. This playful and supportive process shines through in their projects, where it seems that Sean and Adi give each other the love and space to take risks and push each others’ creative boundaries.
Our second pair was Montreal directing duo Melissa Matos and Emmanuel Mauriès-Rinfret, who specialise in conceptual art direction and video creation for fashion brands and musicians, often under the moniker Mauriès Matos. While Melissa’s background is in fine arts textiles, Emmanuel honed his graphic design skills with studies in Canada and Korea. The two met in the context of working with Trusst project, the creative studio Melissa co-founded in 2008.
Unlike our two other duos, Melissa and Emmanuel are strictly work collaborators, not life partners (they made this clear at the outset of their presentation to avoid any confusion!). Not that there’s anything wrong with mixing business and pleasure, but it was interesting to compare this pair’s work-only approach to the other duos on the panel. What stood out about Mauriès-Matos was how distinct their two backgrounds and processes are. While Melissa is more outgoing and interested in conceptual approaches to their work, Emmanuel’s soft-spoken nature and technical know-how provide a balanced counterpart. In this case, their separate lives seem to reenforce their creative output, where each member of the team brings something unique to the table.
“Sharing is hard, but in the end has so many benefits and builds better projects.”
Throughout their talk they explored various aspects of collaboration, from ricochet, to symbiosis, communication and sharing. They spoke about how they will often push each other to make projects better, grounding each other in their distinct “good cop bad cop” roles. Over the five years that they have been working together, of course there have been some ups and downs. They emphasized the need to be able to work through moments of tension and never take each other for granted. Their frank aproach to competition and ego within a duo was also refreshing — admitting that initially it was hard to share credits for their work, but in hindsight now they see the many benefits of collaboration. Because at the end of the day, they’re not just sharing a credit, but also space, time, authorship, and liability. In other words, they’re all in, sink or swim.
Leta and Wade
Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree are a design couple based in Brooklyn with successful practices in their own right, who also work together on select projects — having gained notoriety through their beautifully quirky Complements photo portrait series. Of our three duos, these two seem to be the most intertwined in every way, having shared a window into the evolution over the course of two years of their creative process and relationship through their elaborate photo series.
“Different backgrounds and reference points really fuel our creative companionship.”
While Leta described her background as a traditional graphic design education in New York, Wade grew up in Australia with entirely different cultural reference points and inspirations, having studied painting and sculpture before getting into graphic design. Their first photography collaboration was produced entirely in their apartment, with no separation between work and play zones. They eventually outgrew this space and realised the importance of compartmentalising, now with a separate studio.
They describe the key to their success as being positive with each other and feeding off each other’s energy. With competitive spirits, a lot of talent and a shared love of everything Japanese, they have developed an appealing combined aesthetic. Like Mauriès-Matos, Leta and Wade’s personalities seem to balance each other out. While Leta described herself as an introvert with controlling tendencies, Wade is relaxed, decisive and more likely to make fart jokes.
They presented a case-study of the visual identity that they developed for the first edition of the recent Likeminds conference, held this past August. Approaching design as a performance, they strive to be self-sufficient in using cheap materials such as papier-maché, and incorporating themselves directly in the photos shoots as models. They described a satisfaction of incorporating themselves physically into their work, not so much out of vanity, but for the ease of being involved in every aspect of the project (and keeping budgets reasonable). While they haven’t officially launched a combined studio yet, we can’t wait to see what else this pair has in store.
During the panel our duos did address some of the challenges of collaborating, such as getting through the sticky middle phases of projects, when there are so many decisions to make and you’re running out of energy, time and money. Others mentioned the challenge of leaving work at work, or managing expectations. At the end of this 9th edition, however, we were left with an overwhelmingly heart-warming feeling. While each individual in any duo needs to have their own strong vision and drive in order to succeed, we can’t help but believe that love and creativity are the ultimate combo.
Were you at Volume 9 on November 29th? What did you think? Hit us up with your thoughts below, and sign up to our newsletter for early access tickets to our 10th edition coming up on January 23rd — examining the role of artists, designers and media vis-a-vis a changing political climate.