Samarskaya for Ladies, Wine & Design
Originally published by Ladies, Wine & Design (Summer 2017)
Ladies, Wine & Design: We love and respect your work and what you’re doing in the industry. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today
Ksenya Samarskaya: Am very flattered to be included!
My expertise is in visual communication, which spans the gamut from macro contemplation of brand marketing, what signals work in tandem to communicate a whole, to the micro details of typographic point structure.
I’ve managed to amalgamate a variety of disciplines into my current practice. A mathematical upbringing taught me to disassemble complex problems into manageable bites. Early classic art instruction trained me to physically shift the way I look at things. A migratory childhood gave me an awareness of cultural dualities, teaching me to let go of any assumptions of normal and always. Contemporary art degrees and post-degree work added yet another framework layer and hammered in the responsibility that comes with creation.
LWD: Did you have any women mentors or inspirations as you came up in the industry?
KS: Growing up, whether from a culture seeped in subtle sexism or my personal biology, I never identified as female. I identified with my social peers (who happened to be boys), with the books I read (probably all male authors), artists I heard about (also predominantly male). I neither found nor looked particularly hard for women role models.
When it comes to mentors in my industries, it also hasn’t been so clear-cut. If I ever talk about sexism, I always aim to separate the ideology and the act of it from the gender of the individual. Patriarchy damages men as well as women, and women aren’t immune from propagating power-structures they’re comfortable with, or that they’ve managed to secure a foothold in.
LWD: What’s the best piece of advice you were given in your life?
KS: One takeaway came from a conversation with my photography B.F.A. advisor Dan Powell about his experiences. The cliché abridged re-wording for it might be “find your own tribe”. After eighteen years of schooling one’s used to having things presented as a straight hierarchy, so it’s pretty vital advice as the greater world is more nuanced. It’s important for everyone (esp. those not already mirrored in the canon: the next generation, women, poc, radical thinkers, explorers, innovators) not to forget that. A rejection can simply mean you’re in front of the wrong audience, so instead of aiming lower, you should be aiming higher, or off to the side.
LWD: Do you have any advice you’d give to other women who are aspiring creatives?
KS: Trust yourself. Ask a lot of questions. Remember that advice-givers (whether it be about life or for a single project) don’t have all the facts, are often tinged with survivorship bias, and don’t have skin in your game.
LWD: What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work
KS: Finding ways back towards the energy of being an absolute beginner. How to keep adjusting my work along with the world, and not get stuck in the fear that the expectations I create for myself can exact.
LWD: Anything new you’re working on these days?
KS: Beyond designing myself, I have been thinking about how to better communicate, empower, and inspire design awareness. I just wrapped up a term serving on the board of AIGA/NY, am spending this summer traveling and judging competitions, seeing what’s happening across the globe in the contemporary and younger design set, and am looking forward to collaborating with the amazing folks at Harbour.Space University on a curriculum that I’ll be teaching at the start of 2018.
LWD: What are you reading these days?
KS: Admittedly, some of these I’ve set down and picked back up too many times, but the current books on rotation feature*: Feral by George Monbiot, Witches of America by Alex Mar, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, Design as Art by Bruno Munari, The Radicality of Love by Srećko Horvat, The Drop Edge Of Yonder by Rudolph Wurlitzer, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Against Everything by Mark Greif, Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay, Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher
LWD: What do you think about work/life balance?
KS: It involves hard choices. Time is limited, and different privilege affords different opportunities.
LWD: What keeps you motivated, and what helps you unwind?
KS: Collaborations and utopian visions keep me motivated. Minimal textured landscapes help me unwind.
*Since it’s been some months since I first answered these questions, I can update the progress on m’ reading: Feral by George Monbiot (paused about halfway in, but have prob. read every one of his articles since), Witches of America by Alex Mar (oh, good reminder, forgot about this one!), Bluets by Maggie Nelson (completed, it’s lovely), Design as Art by Bruno Munari (is amazingness, can read again and again), The Radicality of Love by Srećko Horvat (ended up setting this one down several pages in, possibly not for me), The Drop Edge Of Yonder by Rudolph Wurlitzer (wonderful, but Slow Fade is turning out to be even better), Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (forgot this was on the stack as well, haven’t opened yet), Against Everything by Mark Greif (half the essays are on fire, half I’ve yet to read), Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay (some lovely stories, but didn’t match where my head has been this fall), Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher (great anthropological tales and factoids, am mostly through this and have been recommending it all around).