Studio Chats: Kaspar Heinrici
Happy Monday peeps! Today, I’m excited to share with you a recent chat with one of the most interesting creatives and humans I have ever known. Kaspar and I worked together, in design, before we both left corporate life to pursue the paths we are each on now. Kaspar’s journey, literally, has been nothing short of amazing, continuing to build his life + story traveling the world from creative stop to stop - all with his super cool and also creative wife, Ali.
Tell us a bit about yourself. My work has become a long thread of loosely connected opportunities to explore ideas about art, nature and product design that I have been curious about for my whole life. My wife and I now live a spontaneous lifestyle going wherever there is a place that needs us and a project that fits our skills and interests.
Most recently I did an artist residency at the Tierra Learning Center in Leavenworth, WA where I produced ceramic wall tiles, instructed on the use of silkscreen with ceramics, painted a mural, as well as organized workshops for preschoolers and adults with special abilities. Last October I was in Oaxaca, MX learning about the production of silkscreen inks from natural dyes and created a collection of textiles. In September 2018 I was a visiting artist at the Wassaic Project in upstate New York where I produced a silkscreen edition. Before that, in August 2018 I painted murals on a skatepark at an international school in Ningbo, China in preparation for their grand opening...and so on it goes, one project leads to the next because of our complete flexibility.
We left full time jobs in May 2017. We do not have a home or apartment which means we have the freedom to accept or decline anything that comes our way. For 15 months we traveled around SE Asia and then Europe making connections, journaling, taking notes, making sketches, reading books, having conversations with each other and strangers, searching for where we wanted our lives to go.
Spoiler alert! There are no answers, but it started the thread that we are on now. There were no big ahah moments, rather a series of almost imperceptible ones that only revealed their relevance later. We realized that the travel suited us and we needed to take the next step which is to travel with creativity as our purpose. This is now the criteria for our travel, but it was not always like this.
What is your FIRST memory of being creative? I was raised in a visually stimulating environment. My mother is an architect and my father is a fine art silkscreen printer. There was always art on the walls, which is something I took for granted until I grew up and realized that most people have to go to a museum to see the type of art that I had in my bedroom. As a child I was quiet and analytical. I was often thinking about worlds I wanted to create, questioning the world I was in (could it be that dogs are aliens sent to quietly observe the human race?) drawing things in my mind that I could not yet draw with a pencil.
I don’t think I was directed into anything particularly “creative” but I developed creative habits early on. My mom bought me bins of legos from a yard sale. There were no instructions and no pictures so I was free to imagine and I maintained an entire world of legos on my bottom bunk. Later in middle school I began drawing regularly, creating original characters, copying comic books and ultimately keeping sketchbooks. Everyone has amazing ideas everyday, but most do not become conscious of those ideas because they are busy doing other things and if they do stop to think about their ideas they usually don’t have the time to write them down or record them. I would think about visual concepts constantly and often I would try and record them in my sketchbook which I think is the first step in becoming a creative person. You have to value your ideas enough to record and describe them in some medium. Sometimes there is no clear intention, but by following an urge or playing with a material and developing a process an idea emerges.
My sketchbook drawing never stopped as I grew up. I went to college and studied Cultural Anthropology. I went to Nepal for a semester and confirmed my suspicion that travel is the best way to open your mind to new possibilities.
I worked in art galleries in Vienna, Austria, Washington, DC, and New York, NY, but I struggled to understand what my role would be in the world. From studying anthropology I had an understanding of culture and behavior. Through working in the art world I understood the importance of aesthetics in peoples lives. I felt there was a connection there that I was not comprehending yet. I would look around, deconstructing everything around me, wondering why it was made the way it was? Who picked the colors? What kind of machine shaped it that way? I wanted to be the person who made those decisions. Is that a thing? Can you be a world creator?... Like when I used to play with legos?
In my quest to find out, I took a continuing education graphic design class at Parsons, I had made yet another three dimensional model for class when the teacher half joking said, “you realize graphic design is typically two dimensional, right? She continued, “Have you considered Industrial Design?” She phrased it with the implication that she was pointing out the obvious to me. That was how I discovered my calling at 26...it was staring me in the face, but I couldn’t see it.
The universe had been keeping a big secret from me. It turns out that all the questions I had been posing to myself about why the manmade world looked and functioned as it did had answers all along, and I went to The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for a graduate degree in Industrial Design to get answers.
When did you find your way back to creativity? I thought becoming a designer was the end of the story. I combined my love of color, pattern and texture with my love of functionality and three dimensional form by getting into watch design. There is no better product to design if you want to work on highly technical products that require a level of sensitivity to color and materials. I worked on some of the coolest limited edition projects, collaborations with famous designers, launching a line of smartwatches and tackling some of the most complex design problems of my life. Watch design lasted a busy 9 years. I would joke that me and my colleagues were like dragon slayers and every major design opportunity/problem we would slay was replaced by another around the corner. But, was my work really affecting the world? Did it matter?
As part of a smartwatch project I had done to help people with their own creativity, I had read about Stephan Sagmeister who is known to be on a 7 year sabbatical cycle where designers take a year off simply to think and learn with no pressure to “work.” This was the impetus for my wife and I to take a world tour and for me to reestablish why I am a designer or to redefine what I think it means to be a designer.
Why return to creativity? Being creative is a search for purpose. When I had a full time job, I began making assumptions and only looking at the tail end of problems like a doctor prescribing a pill to solve a problem rather thank looking at the holistic health needs of the patient.
Now I look at everything from the root. What I have learned is that I want my work to be more immediate, it should be something that makes an obvious difference in peoples lives. It should involve people, local people, not just people in a far flung factory. It should take into account the environmental impact of its production. That doesn’t mean it has to be perfectly sustainable for the environment, because that is an impossibility, but it should not be superfluous.
There are no demarcation lines in creativity, so now I don’t call myself a product designer or a watch designer or an artist I just do whatever is called for. What needs creating today? What needs to be imbued with more purpose?
What’s your creative practice look like on an average day? Having a daily creative practice is important, particularly if you do not have a studio space or a regular place to go to do your work like me. My wife and I have developed a routine (I have to give her more credit for it because she is more disciplined about it than me) that came from our travels.
Stretching: You are reborn everyday so don’t just jump into the day. We start with stretching. I like to start literally in a ball and slowly wake up and stretch the various parts of my body usually doing different combinations of yoga stretches based on what is feeling tight.
Meditation: Not everyday, but as necessary. Sit cross legged for at least 10 minutes and get closer to the present moment and a sense of universal consciousness. Exercise is another form of mediation for me, I work through my problems and come up with new ideas when on a run or a skateboard ride.
Journal: I like to do this with coffee. Take time to reflect on what has happened in the last days or week. We find it is easiest to record something from everyday no matter how small. It helps with the discipline.
Now you are mentally refreshed, relaxed and ready to interact with nature, people and objects to get inspired. For me it depends on the project I am working on. I may be going into a studio to set up a silkscreen print or onto a job site to paint a mural. I need to stay centered and receptive so I actually hear what people are saying, and don’t jump to conclusions, or close myself off to a possibility.
Sketchbook: This is not necessarily daily but it is a regular practice. My method is very specific where I fill a 6x10 sketchbook (usually Moleskine, has to be compact for travel) with patterns using pencil, pen and marker. Every page gets filled and I usually use 2 page spreads.
This is the one aspect of my life where I get a bit OCD. There is something about the formula and the practice that lets you really hone in on something specific over time. Sometimes I will have a departure idea where I want to draw people or something else and that usually gets its own book. For me the sketchbook defines who one is. I love looking at people’s sketchbooks, without talking to someone you can get a detailed sense of their personality from their visual output.
Where do you find your inspiration? My main source of inspiration is the environment. I find that the natural environment is the most beautiful place. Having spent much of my childhood in Oregon, I feel at home when I am in the woods, on a mountain or in the ocean because my brain is filled with the stimulation of sounds, colors and activities that are working in harmony. When I walk around the built environment I think of ways that it could be improved, what patterns and colors I would borrow from a landscape and splash across a naked building.
Today, it is an exciting time where people realize the value of public health, civic pride, and of having beautiful surroundings, as a result there is a resurgence of interest in mural painting. For example the mural I did in China I wanted the pump track to flow like a river and the transitions in the skatepark to resemble a skyline with clouds.
Often times visual inspiration is only half the story. Talking to people is always what catalyzes an idea. It may be part of the conversation or something they show you, a meal they made, or a book they recommend that spontaneously combusts with something else that has been rolling around in your head. I don’t believe in the idea of a creative genius huddled alone in a studio, you have to interact with people to spark ideas.
Tell us a bit about your space. Because we don’t stay most places longer than 4 weeks my studio space might be in a nice warm room with lots of tools, out on a job site, in a beautiful house that was not intended to be a studio or even on an airplane, and I make do.
The main thing I have learned is not to force it. If I waited for a perfect studio situation I would never get anything done. It is more important to me to work when the time is right, when the idea hits and if I have my markers, my sketchbook, and computer with me, then my space becomes a studio.
My tools: Markers, pens, pencils. In my family it is not strange to give and receive pens at the holidays. I have bags and bags of markers. My brother and I have special zipper pouches to carry our markers. It turns out the perfect size is an old canvas utility pouch from Klein Tools. If you bring too many it weighs you down and you don’t have to be as creative because you have all the colors you need. I try to take a limited palette which forces me to find new ways to produce the color I want. This necessity has actually lead to many of my experiments with color layering and mixing. My favorite layout for my markers is everywhere...it drives my wife crazy!!!
Watercolors: I have a travel set from Koi. It is tiny, pocket sized, but that is all you need. I was stranded without my computer once and was able to make some conceptual sketches of website graphics using watercolor to satisfy a client.
Watercolor paper: New favorite thing are watercolor postcards that are ready to mail, you just have to paint them.
Computer: I am a strong believer in using the computer as a tool. I do everything by hand first, but if I am going to bring my idea into the real world I use the computer to double check that things will wind up in the right place and the colors will be accurate. Also if you are working with other people that have trouble conceptualizing your idea, a computer can help to make images that are persuasive and help with the conversation, particularly in a foreign country where using language is less precise.
Silkscreen: I have my own 4 color textile press that I just got out of storage for my last project and I was able to use one down in Oaxaca, MX. There is something about the democratizing effect of a printing press that appeals to me. A unique work of art is something to be coveted and protected.
I would rather make my ideas repeatable so that they are available for everyone. There is also the technical challenge behind making a print that I find particularly satisfying, from the design to the execution, you could keep it simple or make it very hard for yourself. The limits and restrictions of silkscreen also provide critical limitations on your creativity so that you have to become better at what you are doing.
Rapid Fire Round.
Being creative means: Humans are actually much to good at creating. Many people point to spoken language or self- consciousness as what separates us from other animals, but I think it is our ability and more importantly our innate need to create that separates us. For example beavers can build damns, but they don’t go on to build luxury condos as well. To be creative means to look at WHY you are creating and if it will be of a greater benefit to a larger community. Often collaboration ensures that you are not too attached to your ideas and keeps you honest about creative intention. Sometimes creativity means limiting yourself with constraints to force yourself into new and better solutions for executing the same idea. I had a professor who used to say with vulgar emphasis that he “created” something every time he went to the restroom. There is some truth to this. It is easy to create as part of a process, but much harder to create a final product which is of benefit to a broader audience and brings additional purpose to peoples lives.
My creative habit brings me: The knowledge that I have thought about what it is I am creating, the reason I am creating it, the good and bad consequences it will have and the resolution to move forward with peace of mind.
My advice to anyone looking to push themselves into a creative life: Creativity relies on having no preconceptions in the beginning. When you no longer see things in terms of "the way things have always been done," “common sense” or other societal norms and open your mind to the actual possibilities out there, creativity comes flooding in. It is overwhelming at first, but then your own criteria forms by which to live, unencumbered by the expectations that the world has set out for you. Just like in the design process creativity requires that you keep all possibilities on the table in the beginning and then slowly test different criteria and constraints to refine the output.
Favorite recent book: On Color by David Scott Kastan with Stephen Farthing.
Color is one of the most overlooked aspects of our lives. This book examines the level to which color actually exists, the power dynamics colors represent and the hidden ways they affect our lives.
Favorite recent movie: Roma
Thank you Kaspar! (and Ali:)
Are you an artist, a creative, a maker, a writer, a curiosity seeker? If so, we’d love to talk to you about your work, your process and what creativity means to you. Drop us a note at email@example.com with subject line: STUDIO CHATS.