Creative Collaboration


Recap:  3/11/15

Thanks to Jenya Andreev who facilitated the Q+A and to Sara Huston for inviting us to host in the PNCA Collaborative Design Studio.

Biggest thanks to designers Taryn Cowart and Corbin Lamont, the creative collaboration behind the publication Day Job for sharing their collaborative process, successes and lessons learned along the way.

Day Job – is a collection of works by a group of talented and diverse women about making art and making a living. We initiated this project because we were and are interested in collecting perspectives from our heroes: women who are making artwork and/or making a living in ways that we find inspiring—or perhaps baffling, impossible, or effortless. We have a lot of questions, and there is something powerful in coordinating our own conversation, on our own terms, around life and work.

Their collaboration began as a proposal for the 2014 Open Engagement conference in NY in which the theme was Life/Work.

The call for submissions included this paragraph – Artists have a way of provoking new forms of being, examining and challenging the ways that we live and work, proposing alternative approaches, and suggesting ways of navigating and negotiating existing systems. What are the impacts of artists living and working in community? What is the work of art today? How has the idea of life’s work changed in the 21st century?

Taryn and Corbin knew each other peripherally in the Portland design community and from being professional design affiliates.  They decided on a printed book because in their case it was the most fun thing they actually knew how to do.  This opportunity was ripe for independent publishing and Open Engagement helped set an academic tone.  What began as a 6 month project idea became a long term collaboration.  They began by asking contributors and collaborators this questions – Make a piece about life + work or the way you make a living.

How do you form a creative collaboration organically? – Since their project Day Job is such a great example of a successful creative collaboration here are the hot tips they shared!

Create and reach out to your dream collaborator list:

  • They began with a long list.  Knowing so many talented designers they decided to filter the list to just women – in the end they collaborated with 35 women

Treat everyone as a collaborator, thoughtful collaborations:

  • Creative sharing
  • Navigating relationships with a larger group – allow the bucket to be flexible while treating everyone as a collaborator

Find your better half:

  • Collaborative skills – What works well together
  • Different strengths – This keeps things balanced and moving forward
  • Big picture vs detail – Example – Taryn able to focus on paper / color / ink and Corbin seeing the bigger picture of the project


Talk, talk, talk:

  • Talking creatively
  • Goal buddy – create goal setting together
  • Allow back and forth to happen / balance with hard deadlines
  • If you disagree, make more designs.  Show other options to your collaborator
  • Admit weaknesses – then overcome them together


-Celebrate the small stuff!


-Pool your resources, mindfully:

  • This may mean connections, personal and professional
  • Financial – This project was independently funded 1/2 and 1/2


(*all images provided by Taryn and Corbin)

Last lessons and thoughts:

  • “It feels better to collaborate”
  • Oregonians don’t do projects over the summer
  • Sharing on social media helped their project reach a broader network of people and have a collaborative “life after”
  • They were part of WCCW at LAABF 2015


Not every collaboration is as successful or creatively fulfilling as Taryn and Corbin’s.  We talked briefly about navigating communication and personalities when a collaboration is challenging.

  • Understand the scope of the project
  • Establish professional boundaries from the beginning
  • Write a collaboration agreement
  • Do you work the same way, are you going to be a good collaborative match?
  • Do your strengths and weaknesses compliment or clash, are they too similar?
  • Know the right time to jump ship in a professional, respectful way.

LWD Chicago also talked about this topic.  You can reference the notes from their discussion here

We ran out of time for more sharing but artist Chelsea Stephan wanted to share a successful collaboration she worked on called the Fisher Poet Anthology Series.  A collaboration with over 30 fisher poets (fishermen who write poems and prose about their work).

We were lucky enough to hold the meeting in the PNCA Collaborative Design Studio.  This MFA program is all about solving wicked problems and complex systems collaboratively.  Finding the leverage point and creating a solution from a holistic view.

References and Resources Discussed: