The Perks of Being an Adobe Creative Resident: Part 2 with Kelli Anderson

In May of 2015, Adobe began their first creative residency program. I was lucky enough to meet with Becky Simpson and Kelli Anderson (via phone call) to learn about what exactly it means to be an Adobe creative resident and how the program is giving back to the creative community.

{One year of living as an artist—FREE}

Semi-Permanent. Sydney Convention Centre. 11 May 2012. Photo by Andrew Quilty for Semi-Permanent.

Semi-Permanent. Sydney Convention Centre. 11 May 2012. Photo by Andrew Quilty for Semi-Permanent.

If you check out Adobe’s creative residency page, the first thing you’ll notice is their tagline:

“Fostering creativity. Empowering artists.”

And after speaking with Becky and Kelli, I can’t think of a better way to describe this program. The ladies have been given the opportunity to spend a full year working on personal projects that otherwise may have been overlooked or placed on the back burner to make room for potentially better-paying freelance work. How? Adobe, after carefully selecting them from a pool of talented artists and designers, is taking care of Becky and Kelli for the year by paying them a salary as well as handling their living expenses. The catch? Becky and Kelli must focus on their craft and explore their strengths and weaknesses as artists with all eyes on them. This is my interview with Kelli about her experiences with the residency thus far.


If you haven’t done so yet, check out the first installment: “The Perks of Being an Adobe Creative Resident: Part 1 with Becky Simpson”!

I asked Kelli what her reaction was after being chosen as a resident. Without missing a beat, and with a smile that could be heard via my Polycom conference phone, she divulged, “I was just really, really excited!” And who wouldn’t be? Kelli went on to explain that she had been trying to work on personal projects over the past year by using her savings and picking up freelance projects, “which is really hard to do!” Any artist struggling to make a name for themself knows the difficulties of leaving behind their personal projects and picking up paid work instead. It seems to be the only solution these days to avoid becoming the archetypal “starving artist.”

“Sometimes you can get a good balance,” Kelli went on, “but if the projects you’re working on reach the same level of ambition and production, then they really are like full-time jobs.”

Finding a spare moment to work on the things you’re truly passionate about can be difficult, but the residency has helped ease the burden of bills and time constraints for both ladies, and, in Kelli’s opinion, “[taken] the risk out of what you’re already intending to do.” In return for this risk-free lifestyle, she and Becky are expected to give back to the community by “actively sharing their creative passions and processes” via “conferences, workshops… and social media.” Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Well it only gets better.

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{Trailblazing. Or what it’s like to be first}

Being the first is awesome in some cases—first in line for ice cream, first person to comment on a YouTube video, first man to walk on the moon. Other times, “first” isn’t so great—first atomic bomb, first break up, first awkward school dance. Kelli revealed what it felt like, in her opinion, to be one of the first Adobe creative residents.

Kelli: “I definitely feel pressure. Not only is it attention like, ‘this person has free rights to do creative work, what are they going to do?’ (I think that does induce a little bit of performance anxiety), but just the fact that I know I can look back in history and see how many creative people really had to struggle financially to do their work. A lot of my friends are stuck in day jobs they don’t like, and they have these projects that are just dying to get out…” She paused for a moment, “And the fact that I am given this opportunity to do it, I feel like I have a big responsibility to the community.”

Kelli may be feeling the pressures of being one of the first Adobe residents, but it hasn’t slowed her down at all. In fact, she seems more inspired than ever to work hard and give back.

“We don’t have a very robust system in America to fund the arts like in other countries, so it’s a really, really unusual opportunity, and it’s really special. So when I’m up all night working on a project, or I’m grouchy because I’ve been working too hard and haven’t taken a break…I just try to put it in perspective and say this is actually super special, and I’m kind of doing this for everyone.”

{Gaining Insight from the Best Mentors}

The residency didn’t just pop up over night. There was a lot of work and research put into the creation of the program (click here to learn about Rena Tom and her involvement in the creation of the residency). After learning from hundreds of creatives what works for residencies, and what doesn’t, Becky and Kelli were assigned internal and external mentors to help them through any roadblocks they might encounter.

In addition to the mentors, there’s residency coordinator, Libby Nicholaou, whom Kelli refers to as her “creative fairy godmother.” Libby’s role, as she explains, “encompasses several responsibilities.” The residents meet with Libby weekly to talk about their projects while Libby makes sure both ladies have the resources they need to finish their work. She also introduces them to people who can help move projects forward and works with a number of Adobe’s teams to promote Becky and Kelli’s work to “ensure their success.”

Kelli, who’s never had a mentor prior to the residency, praises the relationships she has created, saying, “It’s really cool because usually when I do independent work, I’m completely on my own. But now I have a support group of people, so my projects are getting more and more ambitious.”

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{You Can Write a Book (and other cool things, too!)}

If you had a full year to focus on your talents, no strings attached, how would you spend it? Would your procrastination get the best of you? Do you have the motivation to wake up early and work, even when things end up more difficult than you had thought? Kelli keeps herself motivated by starting her day off in a creative way.

S3310“I have an ongoing series on Instagram called “Made with Rules.” […] It’s like a really fun, quick way for me to get directly at form and color and space and shape and really play with the elements that make up design.” She wakes up around 6 or 7 a.m.—“when the lighting is really nice”—to photograph her #madewithrules projects. Color correcting and Photoshop happen in the afternoon, and posts are usually live by 1 or 2 p.m.

In addition to the Instagram series and redesigning her website (which is an entire project of its own), Kelli is also publishing a book to be released “let’s just say spring” of 2016. The book—a pop up series of six functioning contraptions made almost entirely from paper—is a project, Kelli admits, she “wasn’t fully prepared for.”

“I thought, ‘I designed this book. I’ve created the guidelines [that] showed where everything needed to be cut and folded, and I created the cover.’” Because the book is so interactive and involves precise measurements for the contraptions to work (think miniature planetarium or a working camera made from paper), the most difficult part has been scaling the book and finding the best way to mass produce it. “I kept thinking, ‘my work is done! The hard work is done!’ But it’s only kind of the beginning.”

So far, This Book is a Planetarium has gained a lot of interest and support from all different people. Kelli hopes the book will “[empower] kids and also designers so they can look at [it] and say, ‘okay, you can do this with humble materials [like paper and glue], what else can I do?’”CreativeResident_KelliAnderson


{Learn About Yourself}

There’s something about designers that I’ve noticed: They never seem to run out of creative juices. As a writer, I regularly get stuck in a rut. Sometimes the words seem to write themselves, and other times, well, lets just say the procrastination monster holds my pen hostage while beckoning me to the warm, red glow of the Netflix tab on my computer. Where does someone find 365 days of inspiration? Kelli says hers comes from her endless curiosity more than anything else.

“If I’m curious about something, I don’t really want to focus on anything else but that thing. It’s almost like tunnel vision. I don’t know if I particularly look for things, there’s just always something I’m curious about or something I have a hunch about.”

Much of Kelli’s work (at least recently) has involved physically building designs from paper materials. Her online portfolio showcases her knack for everything from typography design to icon creations, but her true passion seems to lie within the physical world of interaction. According to her, “it’s the physical world that brings the richness of reality that the digital world doesn’t quite have.”

As she described to me her artistic process of developing a question and then testing for answers, I couldn’t help but make connections to the scientific method I learned back in school. First, she has a question; next, she creates a hypothesis; then, it’s on to the tests until and answer has been found.

“Yeah! No, I have something to say about that!” she was suddenly very excited, more so than before. “I feel like people are usually like, ‘oh art and design are the complete opposite of the sciences,’ but a lot of the methodology and how we figure things out is similar! Like, you have a theory, and you think something is going to work. Even if your theory is something as simple as, ‘I have an illustration. I think pink will look good here.’ If you think that, what do you do? We don’t debate it with people—you don’t go to a committee or anything—you try it and see if it works! … You look at it, and when you put that pink dob on [the illustration], it either works or it doesn’t, and there’s a reason for that. […] We’re learning how to listen with our hands and listen with our actions; that’s why it never gets boring.”

There you have it, folks! The incredible Adobe Creative Residency and the even more incredible women who were lucky and talented enough to be involved. Want to stay updated with the lovely ladies and all of their hard work? Check out Adobe’s Inspire Blog as well as their personal blogs and social media shared below!

Becky Simpson: Blog, Instagram, Twitter

Kelli Anderson: Blog, Instagram, Twitter

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