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sage-making, part II

Photo of Kimberly reading "Sage Words"

photos by Deb Tracey

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Sage Words. Jet Widick, Kimberly K. Taylor-Pestell and Kristen Alden share their insights on how to manage a meaningful collaboration along with a glimpse into their creative process in this 2-part interview series.




When it comes to a 3-way collaboration, communication and cohesion is key. What are some significant elements that you put into play to keep the project running smoothly from start to finish?

KRISTEN Open and regular communication along with list-making and goal-setting. Keeping an open mind and understanding that we all need to be well and inspired to do our best work—which Jet made sure to remind us of!

JET Trust. I trusted Kristen's word. The first time we talked, I sensed a calmness and peace that I craved, and knew I had to give up this project to her. She would make the words jump, whichever way she saw fit. Kristen put this team together. I found Kristen, but she knew to make it a tribe with a passion!

KIMBERLY Honest and thoughtful communication, and a flexible openness to ideas. Looking back on the full scope of the project, I'm still amazed by the fluidity of it all. Kristen is the ideal creative director. She has a natural intuition when it comes to managing a project of this scale. She was receptive to my ideas, patient with any reservations or fears I expressed, and was understanding with the natural learning curves that come with illustrating for the first time. Kristen is a smart and tactful communicator with a talent for conveying ideas, brainstorming solutions and inspiring the best work from everyone involved.

What aspects of creative direction do you enjoy most and which are most challenging?

KRISTEN I get fired up during the ideas phase in the beginning, and feel incredibly gratified when seeing it all come together as a tangible piece in the end. The messy middle is my least favorite when I’m “in it”, as this is where the tireless hours, bumps and angst live. It’s a love/hate, really, because I know when the project is all said and done the middle is the sweet spot where the beginning and end overlap. It’s where the most growth and understanding happens, and you can't truly understand your project and collaborators without doing the hard work—the kind of work that allows for mistakes and creates intimacy, trust and loyalty.

Tackling a project of this nature for the first time inevitably allows for learning curves and discovery. Is there anything you would have done differently?

KRISTEN Yes. The digitization process! I waited until all the poems were scanned and sent to me before I brought them into Illustrator, so when there was an issue of inconsistency in line weight or if something was too pixelated, I had to manually adjust the image in Photoshop, then do extra clean-up of paths in Illustrator. I thought batching would be the most efficient, but it turned out to be extra work. Now, we’ll do one at a time so we know what pens and paper work best for the cleanest digital image.

KIMBERLY I echo Kristen. We learned that certain papers and pens made for easy rendering, while others were downright painful. I would also have spread out my work sessions over a larger span of time. I had never before lettered and illustrated something of this magnitude, and learned the hard way that my hand, wrist and neck require more frequent breaks and rest. Hand lettering in particular requires precision and steady hand muscles in order to achieve consistency and flow.

JET I feel like if you don't believe in a project, how can you expect anyone else to believe? And I SO believed in this! When winter came in the middle of the project and our bones ached, we encouraged each other. So, I would say the number one thing is to keep a gentle focus. Encourage and support each other. Allow space to breathe. No one wants anyone looking over their shoulder checking progress—instead, we took that gracefully. We knew we had a completion goal and we didn't take our eyes off it, but we took deep breaths along the way. It’s art… we weren’t doing a chore. It was work, but work from the heart. I learned that even chores can be art, but that’s for another day to explain.

What was it like holding the completed book in your hands, printed and bound?

JET The incredible joy when receiving the very first draft was like holding a newborn. It’s funny because it was about 9 months in the making from when our tribe first formed. We all loved that baby from the second she was dreamt up, or as they say, “was a sparkle in our eyes." The day the book came to my home, I was in a seaplane over the Bahamas, it was a gorgeous day and I wanted to go home so much. But, then when I got to my front door a few days later, it was even sweeter. Thank you, Kimberly and Kristen!

KIMBERLY It was an emotional experience. There is something significant about holding in your hands a physical culmination of creative energy and long hours that grew you into something new. Each page holds memories. Looking at any given page, I can immediately remember the process—how an idea formed, bits of eraser littering my desk from trying to get a sentence-string just right, late night text messages to Kristen to submit concepts or get approvals to move from sketch to ink. This project was such an incredible challenge for me personally, and seeing it in its entirety for the first time was truly surreal.

KRISTEN It was a simultaneous feeling of gratification when crossing the finish line in a marathon, yet knowing that you need to keep training if you want to race again.

With Sage Words now out in the world, what can we expect from you next?

JET A companion to Sage Words is our next project—Sage Spirit. Sage Words was a big thank you for so many important, precious people and things. Sage Spirit will have the wingspan of a bald eagle.

KRISTEN We (North Coast Post) are working on a series of animated poems from Sage Words called Poetry In Motion. We hired hip-hop artist and voice talent Elsie Swann to recite the poems which resonated most with her, and added additional sound design and music to illustrate how these personal touches bring the poem to life with subtle emotion. Enjoy the first two in the series on the Poetry In Motion YouTube channel.

KIMBERLY I'm eager to be working with these incredible women again. This time around, we want to share more of the creative process as we go. We look forward to sharing sneak peeks from the studio and some playfully-illustrated videos of what we're up to throughout the project. Sign up for my e-news to receive happy behind-the-scenes updates in your inbox.


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Poetry In Motion Series | North Coast Post

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Welcome to the personal blog of of Kimberly Kuniko, a Nikkei American illustrator, collage artist, poet, and host of cozy, virtual guided creative retreats with a new theme each month.

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