Interview

Curious about Curious Charts?

Dearest Reader,

Have you an interest in posters? How about art themed posters? Or, perhaps, literary themed ones? If so, Curious Charts may be the company you never knew you have always loved.

Curious Charts is a fantastic, poster-creating, wonder company run by Aurélia and Timothy Sanders of Wisconsin. A scroll through their website is an absolute feast for the eyes; their colorful posters consisting of beautiful graphic design will leave your jaw on the floor. One of their most intriguing pieces is titled “Heroic Girls in Books,” which is live on Kickstarter until September 19th, 2018. This 24×36 wall chart features over one-hundred female protagonists in celebration of women in literature. The illustrations on the poster are hand drawn and each character is accompanied by a synopsis of their story. As a lover of art and a massive book nerd, this poster pretty much stole my heart. Needless to say, taking a look at all of their creations left me with many, many questions about their creative process.

Luckily, I was able to ask these questions, as I was fortunate enough to be put in contact with Timothy Sanders, who was happy to provide me with some wonderful answers.

 

Samantha: From where do you draw inspiration for your designs? Where do your ideas come from?

Timothy: We’ve filled sketchbooks with hundreds of ideas for charts, and gravitate towards the ones that speak to our personal interests, like literature, music and art. In the past I’ve tried to sit down with a piece of paper and come up with “good ideas”, but that never worked very well. Even worse, I went through a period when I was trying to figure out what would “sell well” because we weren’t making much income. Predictably, that method was soul-crushing. So in the past several years we’ve thrown our hearts into charts that we’re excited to work on. Fortunately, topics that interest us also interest quite a few other people.

S: Out of all of your posters, do you have a personal favorite? If so, why?

T: Hmm. That’s a tough one. Can I pick three, for three different reasons? I love our Shakespearean Insults Chart because it was our first chart, created five years ago. It ended up becoming a crash course in research, design, and proofreading that took much longer than I’d thought it would. My second choice is our “Complete Van Gogh” chart, because of how much I learned about the artist in the process of making it. Last, I really enjoy our latest chart, “Heroic Girls in Books”, because it’s the first time we’ve used a chart to really share something from our hearts. We wanted to help readers navigate the universe of young adult books about strong girls characters.

S: Is there a specific message you are trying to send with any of your designs?

T: I’d like the people who see our charts will take away a feeling of fun, wonder, and a reminder to keep doing things that are a little weird, a little surprising.

S: Have any specific events stirred you to create certain designs?

T: We created a chart about the stories behind The Beatles’ famous Sgt. Pepper album. The idea for it came to me when I saw some of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the album, which was last year.

S: From where did the idea to start this business come?

T: I’ve been a graphic designer for about 20 years. About six years ago, I was designing a lot of infographics for my clients, which are those big graphics that show all the numbers and statistics about a given topic and tell its story in a visual way. Around that time, I began seeing infographic posters being sold in art print stores. They were charts about wine, or cities, or objects like cameras, and I thought, I’d like to do that!

“Whenever possible, surround yourself with people who appreciate who you are, warts and all; be suspicious of people who can’t laugh at themselves; fight like hell for kindness and justice; and spend time laying on your back staring at the stars.” -Timothy Sanders

S: Do you have any advice for creatives who are interested in starting their own business?

T: In my opinion, starting a creative business it isn’t supposed to be easy. So please be wary of anyone who says you should “hustle” or “crush it” or be confident all the time. They’re probably trying to sell you something. For me, starting and running a creative business has been a long journey that’s exciting, as well as anxiety-inducing — just like anything else that really matters in life.  I believe you’re best off by getting a business going quickly, starting small and stumbling a bit, seeking down-to-earth advice, creating things you’re interested in, and improving steadily with practice. I know that doesn’t sound glamorous, but I guarantee it can pay off. Also, if you base a business around something you care about, you’ll have better chance of sticking with it long enough to see if it works. It can be something simple, like your love for dogs — so long as you’re excited to work on it and discover where it will lead you. And most importantly, if it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you’ve done it badly: it means you’re brave. Because this stuff is scary, and I am a fan of anyone who tries to invent their own way of earning a living. Anybody who started a creative business you’ve heard of has spent years experimenting before they found what worked for them.

S: Your website reads, “Thank you for being curious.” Can you explain the significance of this?

T: I guess it’s my weird little way of saying, “Let’s all keep in mind that we’re spinning through a mysterious universe filled with light, sensations, learning, and growing – so let’s not settle for the norm.”

S: Affinity being a politically oriented website, I must inquire: I noticed that none of your posters are political, which is perfectly fine. That being said, is there any particular reason?

T: Good question. I did consider doing a chart that would map all of President Trump’s tweets, ranked by degree of insanity. But the research for that just felt like it would be too toxic. Perhaps we haven’t done a political chart because each project takes so long to create, it really helps us to have a topic that’s enjoyable to keep returning to. But now that you’ve asked this question, you’ve got me thinking about it again.

S: What inspired you to design the Heroic Girls In Books chart, specifically?

T: We have a daughter, and a couple years ago I organized a group of dads who meet once a month to talk about raising self-determined, powerful girls. We talk about how the role models girls see, hear, and read can have long-term effects. So the thought of gathering over a hundred bright and bold girl characters from young adult fiction, and charting them in a creative way, was really exciting. Specifically, we wanted to make it easier for a young reader to discover books they’d be interested in, by giving them the genres, story synopses, and plot themes, all on one sheet of paper.

 

(I love this! It is so important for young girls to have strong and smart role models growing up, especially within books; it is even more important for their parents to encourage this literary empowerment. I could go on forever. Alright, keep reading.)

S: Do you, yourselves, have a favorite book(s)/ heroic female character(s)?

T: Meg in A Wrinkle in Time is always one of our favorites. As is Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, and characters like Anne Shirley, and Liesel from The Book Thief.

S: Can you provide any insight as to the creative process of designing the Heroic Girls poster? Any specific people who were of great help?

T: Our research assistant for this project, Caitlin Klabacka, was indispensable. She helped us understand what types of girl characters we were looking for, and connected us with her fellow students and librarians, who shared their own recommendations for books and characters.

S: What went into the process of picking which characters to place on this poster?

T: Caitlin and I talked in-depth about the kinds of characters we wanted to prioritize. With her lead, we decided to favor books where girls are self-determined, capable, and confronted with meaningful challenges. This meant leaving out several books that tell stories of girls trying to gain the affection of boys, or trying to become part of a social clique. With the limited space we had in the chart, we chose to focus on characters whose fates wouldn’t be decided by outside forces, but by themselves.

S: For those who are interested in learning more about your company, do you have any social media?

T: We’re on Facebook at @curiouscharts

S: What are your favorite literary quotes?

T: Oh, there are so many! I’ll settle for three (and I can’t claim these are my very favorite, but they’ve come to mind first).

  •      “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – Arthur O’Shaughnessy, from his poem Ode
  •      “Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat.” – William Shakespeare
  •      “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” – Maya Angelou

S: I’m a big fan of Vincent Van Gogh, so I have to ask: just how much work went into creating your poster, The Complete Paintings of Van Gogh?

T: It was our biggest project yet. Three months of research and design. Just figuring out how to fit all 870+ paintings onto a single poster was a mathematical battle. I had giant grids sketched out, measuring how many square inches I could allot for the paintings, all while trying to keep it legible. Then there was the collecting of all the paintings, and playing with different layouts. It was a long haul, but it gave me a view of Van Gogh I didn’t expect. I got a close look at how his craft, his spirit, and his understanding evolved during the 10 years in which he painted. Just 10 short years! Can you believe that?!

 

(I can! Being the giant Vincent fan that I am.)

 

S: What message would you like to leave our readers at Affinity with?

T: Whenever possible, surround yourself with people who appreciate who you are, warts and all; be suspicious of people who can’t laugh at themselves; fight like hell for kindness and justice; and spend time laying on your back staring at the stars.

There is no way to top what Timothy said right above this, so I’ll leave you with this: thank you for reading. And, to quote our friends at Curious Charts…

“Thank you for being curious.”

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