interview

Interview: Zora Ilunga-Reed on Political Podcasting, Journalism, and a Love of Public Libraries

9:00 am


Zora Ilunga-Reed is a political podcaster, journalist, and works in various kinds of media, all at the fresh age of seventeen! She's a perfect example of finding a gap in the market or something you feel the world desperately needs, and going out to create it. Her podcast, We the Ppl, is a response to the idea that people her age, who cannot vote, have little to no interest in politics, and therefore shouldn't be involved in the discussions this entails. We talk in depth about this passion project of hers, along with her writing, and how she stays organised. Zora is a fantastic young woman, and I can't wait to see all of the wonderful things she's inevitably going to achieve in the future.

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Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Zora! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, can tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are today?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I’m an almost-seventeen-year-old rising high school senior in New York City. I guess if I had to name my career, I’d say student. I think in almost everything I do, whether that’s working on my political podcast for people who can’t vote, We the Ppl, writing for small online magazines, or working in local NYC politics, although it’s cheesy, I am foremost a learner. My work with the podcast and on other media organizations though, in a word, is “journalism.”

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your writing in three words, what would they be?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
Concise, factual, easy-to-understand. 

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into writing generally? Was there something that drove you to write?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I can’t remember the first time I wrote and enjoyed it. I was probably six or seven. I have these horribly grammar-free, wordy poems and short stories in a bunch of notebooks from when I was little. I was always writing when I was in kindergarten and elementary school, but mostly fiction and poetry. Back then, to me, it was just another way of expressing all the weird ideas that would pop into my head. I was also definitely driven to write by a lot of the books I read. I used to get sucked into these fantastical stories and just want to be able to create my own.

Magic & Musings:
Tell me a little about your podcast! When did you start creating this and what do you talk about? Are there any podcasts that inspired you to move in this direction?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I created We the Ppl in the summer of 2016 out of two main things: angst and boredom. The former because of this utter lack of engagement of adults with teenage political perspectives (i.e. “Why does it matter what you think if you can’t vote?”). The latter because it was summer vacation. So far, in the year we’ve been around, we’ve covered a range of topics from Obama’s immigration policies to Trump’s budget proposal. Our goal with the podcast is to cover recent news and political phenomena in a way that’s interesting and engaging from the perspective of teens for people who can’t vote. 

I always get the question of where this idea came from and what podcasts inspired it. Honestly, I’m not even sure. I’ve been listening to podcasts since I was in middle school. This American Life and The Moth were the background “music” to my childhood. Recently, though, I’ve been inspired by political podcasts like Pod Save America, the NPR Politics Podcast, and Slate Political Gabfest. I have to attribute any storytelling or editing techniques I’ve picked up, though, to Ira Glass.


Magic & Musings:
And tell me about Clover! What does your role there requires of you?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I became a member of the Clover community last fall. As an ambassador, I’m in charge of getting more people to join the community (not a hard job at all, by the way) and sharing information about Clover online. On the Teen Advisory Board, I give some advice and provide a teenage perspective to Liza and Casey. As a big fan of everything Clover does, it’s been really wonderful to have the opportunity to work on the inside and go backstage on some of the content.

Magic & Musings:
You say you’re currently interning for a city council member. What’s that like and what does this entail day-to-day?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I am an intern for City Council Member Mark Levine. Day-to-day, my schedule differs greatly. I work about six hours a day, but those are often spread out all over the district and the city. Whether it’s doing research at the Legislative Office or helping out with constituent services at the District Office, I really get to be a member of the Mark Levine team. I’ve only been working there for three weeks, but thus far it’s been a really great experience and has provided a good look into the inner-workings of local government.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your work, what are you the proudest of and why?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
That is, by far, the most difficult interview question I’ve ever been asked. It’s also a very good one. I’d have to say that the “Why Black Lives Matter” episode of We the Ppl that I put up last August is the piece I’m most proud of. It features two interviews of teens who were at a Black Lives Matter protest in NYC that summer and one who wasn’t, as well as art and music by teenage black artists based in New York. Putting it all together was one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, moments in the life of the podcast and perhaps my life in general. I really wanted to create this collage of black, teenage life in New York and paint a picture of the BLM movement through the audio from the protest and the visual and audio art. I think I got as close as possible to my vision for that episode and it remains my favourite episode from that first season of the podcast.

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying or non-binary artists and their work. Which creatives, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I have a ton of influences and role models. With so many high-powered, change-making people it’s impossible not to. First, I’d say Zadie Smith is a big influence of mine. Whether in my writing or the storytelling that I try to do on the podcast, her ability to string together narrative and language in a delicate yet telling and, above all, true way is something I’ll always admire. I’m also a big fan of Elizabeth Hinton, a professor of history and African American studies at Harvard University. I read her book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass-Incarceration in America earlier this year and loved it. Like Smith, Hinton’s ability to marry a history lesson and a looser narrative of black history in America is admirable and something I strive to achieve in a lot of my writing. Outside of writers, I’m a big fan of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and most powerful woman in Europe. She’s one of the most down-to-earth, modest politicians I know of and has led Germany incredibly well for the past twelve years. 

I’ll keep the list short, although there are so many more (Kierkegaard, Rachel Carson, Jeffrey Eugenides, to name a few).

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I’m a big fan of public libraries. In New York, the library system is really amazing with stunning architecture, a range of workspaces, and pretty diverse locations. Whenever I need to get a lot of work done quickly, I’ll head over to the Schwarzman Building, that classic NYC library with the big stone lions out front, and head to the quiet research room. Music also helps me work, although I have to limit it to the lyric-free when I really need to focus. I have a couple writing and studying playlists on my Spotify (zora.ir if you wanna check them out!). My tastes range from classical (Bach, mostly) to rap (I have one playlist that’s just a ton of rap classics). Really I just like to listen to anything that’ll keep me focused.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively? Are there any books on writing and creativity you would recommend to others?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
First of all, I think being in a rut is actually a really valuable and inevitable experience. Sometimes creativity needs a little nudge and I like to use ruts or writer’s block moments to look for inspiration, visit some museums, or read some new books and articles. Specifically, David Foster Wallace has gotten me out of many a creativity slump. He has a number of short essays that I love rereading and, of course, his famous speech: This Is Water. 

Magic & Musings:
What are some things you like to do in your spare time when you’re not working?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
I joined my high school’s track team in sophomore year on a whim and, since then, I’ve fallen in love with running and strength training. After a long day of screen time and a general lack of physical activity, it’s really nice to go for a quick run or do a couple reps of with weights. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as a fitness nut or anything, but I’ve found that working out frequently is a great break from work and provides a good opportunity for head-clearing. 

Magic & Musings:
How would you describe your relationship with social media?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
It’s complicated. I use social media a lot to promote We the Ppl and for personal stuff, as well, but recently I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by it. There are so many resources on these platforms and the possibilities are endless, which can make all the accounts difficult to manage and control. I’m definitely hoping to take a couple weeks offline and just stick with email in August before school starts up again.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out writing and creating podcasts?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
Another really good question. In complete honesty, I wish someone had reminded me that fame and success don’t come quickly and patience is key. I think, particularly among my generation, there’s this prevalence of an instantaneous, immediate fame mentality, in part due to all these viral videos we see on social media. I was definitely influenced by the belief that fame comes quickly and with minimal work, so in the beginning I would get frustrated when episodes would get fewer listens or shares. Now, after over a year of working on the podcast, it’s been easier for me to accept that these things take time and not every episode is going to be incredibly successful.

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
Yes! I just finished NW by Zadie Smith which I really enjoyed. If you’re new to her writing, though, I’d recommend reading White Teeth or her newest novel, Swing Time, before NW to get a sense of the type of narrative she likes and her style. I’m currently steadily going through an 800+ page biography of Kierkegaard. I’m not far enough along to give a definitive “yes” or “no” to it, but so far, so good. I also adore Jeffrey Eugenides, particularly his The Marriage Plot, and can’t wait for his new book this September. 

Music-wise, I’ve been listening to a lot of the Beatles lately. My personal favorite album is 1, but I also like Rubber Soul. I haven’t seen too many movies recently, unfortunately. Although it’s kinda cheating since it’s a TV show, I am a huge fan of Silicon Valley.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? What’s on the horizon for you in the next few months?

Zora Ilunga-Reed:
My personal Instagram is @zilungareed and you can always email me at zora@wethepplpodcast.com. Oh, and you can find the podcast itself @wethepplpodcast on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, at wethepplpodcast.com, or on iTunes and SoundCloud at We the Ppl: Politics for Those Who Can’t Vote.

Interview: Michelle Nickolaisen on Determination, Blogging Emulation, and How They Stay (Super!) Organised

12:00 pm


Michelle Nickolaisen is a creator of all. They blog, make audio dramas, write books, run ecourses, market,  create YouTube videos...the list really does go on. They take self-employment to a whole new level! Today in this interview, they dig really deep into how they work and stay organised, and even though we have a lot of techniques in common, they've mentioned a lot more things that I'm definitely going to consider taking up for myself. I'm positive you're going to be as motivated by their dedication and determination as I am.

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Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Michelle! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are today?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
Sure! I’ll try to keep it short! I’ve been self-employed since 2009 (to varying degrees of success - it was more of a decision of necessity than a 'follow your dreams' kinda deal, especially for the first two or three years) and have done a variety of things, mainly project management and writing. 

My business right now is fairly complex (which is a byproduct of wanting to never be bored), but most of my income comes from freelance writing and content marketing. I also make some income from my blog and related projects (which revolves around freelancing/productivity/creativity) - ad revenue through YouTube videos, people purchasing the downloadable products/classes, other ecourse income, etc. Then there’s the Freelancer Planner (a paper planner for freelancers that I originally crowdfunded, which I plan to slowly expand into a full line of products). And then there’s the creative projects - I’m working on an audio drama (two, technically), I published my debut novel last year, and I’m working on book two, and I have a few other things in the works as well. 

Magic & Musings:
Wow! That's fantastic!
If you could describe your writing in three words, what would they be?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
Action-oriented, fun, personality-filled (I hope so anyways?!) 

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into writing generally? Was there something that drove you to write? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
I don’t have a college education (well, I have a semester of it, I guess!) but I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, basically. I’m not sure I have anything from Kindergarten, but I know there are stories I wrote when I was in first grade drifting around my parent’s house somewhere. 

Since then, I’ve been writing fairly regularly (often daily) - being a writer was an off-and-on dream (in between marine biology, artist, ghost hunter, and archaeologist, hahaha) while I was growing up. I’ve always wanted to tell stories and to persuade people to my point of view (I grew up in a very conservative area and was generally regarded as a total weirdo). Writing seemed like a natural outlet for both of those things. I was also really lucky in that one of my teachers when I was in sixth grade recognized that I had a flair for it and encouraged me to set up a blog and write every day, which was a practice I kept up with until I was eighteen or nineteen. It lapsed for probably 6-12 months, but not long after that is when I started freelance writing. 

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying or non-binary artists and their work. Which writers and bloggers, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
When I first started writing, I read a lot of Gala Darling and Danielle LaPorte, both of whom I don’t read much of any more (there are definitely some cringey posts somewhere on the internet of me trying very hard to emulate both of their writing styles, though!). At this point, I tend towards information overwhelm, so a lot of the inspiration I get is actually from people in my friends or acquaintances circles vs someone I don’t know. Two of my besties Shenee and Alexis are always creating really cool stuff, and another one of my besties does less 'internet'-y stuff, but is putting herself through nursing school while working at a domestic violence shelter doing mental health education, so I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are all inspiring in their own ways. 

Past that, it’s hard to name anyone off the top of my head - as far as influences on my work, I think Diane Duane and Madeleine L’Engle both were to some extent (I devoured every book from both of them up until I was 18 or so and still wouldn’t mind reading all the rest of the Young Wizards series!). And Another Round is one of the podcasts that I listen to when I’m trying to take my mind off things - not that it’s always lighthearted but I’m definitely guaranteed at least a few laughs per episode. 

Magic & Musings:
Oh wow, I used to be a huge fan of Gala and Danielle too! They were such a solid foundation of my love of blogs, back in the day, especially Gala. Her style was, and still is, so unique. Another Round is also a solid favourite in my list of podcasts I listen to.
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Michelle Nickolaisen:
I could talk for ages about this (and have written a lot about it, too) but here’s the cliff notes: 

I have a massive Spotify playlist that I listen to (with another one for editing that’s growing slower, and is all wordless music) while working — the genres are all over the map but the one thing in common is that they’re mostly pretty fast-paced, which helps me stay energetic and focused while working

I use Asana to help me stay organized on the small-to-medium scale (I made this video on how I use it in 2014 and the way I use it has changed a little bit, but not a whole lot - I’ll be recording a new video on it soon) so I check that every day, multiple times a day, to make sure I’m on track 

If I’m having an especially hard time focusing I’ll use the Pomodoro technique and/or Cold Turkey to help me stay focused/get rid of distractions

Every day before I wrap work, I go over the next day’s agenda and create time estimates for each task to make sure that I’m not setting the bar way too high for the next day - I used to do this with an app (there are a few options here - Plan.io, Skedpal) but now I just do it with a post-it note (if all of the tasks won’t fit on the post-it note, that’s warning sign number one!) 

Magic & Musings:
We seem to have a lot in common. I stand by Asana as my external brain and don't know what I would do without it.
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively? Are there any books on writing and creativity you would recommend to others?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
I felt like this very recently and one thing that really helped was using 750 words. The idea is a riff on morning pages from The Artist’s Way; you write three longhand pages (in this case, 750 words) first thing in the morning to sort of 'clean the pipes; when it comes to your brain. At one point, I did it religiously, and now I don’t do it every day but I do it most mornings, after it helped me out with a really bad block a few months ago. 

I’ve also found that often, if I’m in a creative rut, there are underlying issues mental-health wise — I need to take some time off work, find a better stress outlet, etc. Another thing I’ve noticed is that if I’m not consuming good enough content on a regular basis, my output tends to dry up. Even my nonfiction writing/client writing gets worse if I’m not taking in good stuff on a regular basis (whether that consumption is TV/movies, podcasts, books, articles, etc.)

Other than that, my fave resources on writing and creativity are: 

Writing Excuses (super short & actionable episodes)

The Accidental Creative (a really good primer on creating systems around your creative work & making sure it’s sustainable) 

The Creative Habit (also really practical - I tend towards practical over precious when it comes to creative craft tips) 

99u (tons of tips on creativity & productivity) 

Magic & Musings:
How would you describe your relationship with social media?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
Love/hate. I have made so many close friends through social media — actually, many of my very close friends I met online first (whether through Twitter, Facebook, or, with one, the old Punk Rock Domestic forum like ten years ago) — and I know a lot of amazing people that I never would have met without social media. But at the same time, I get so frustrated with the darker aspects of it, whether that’s unfiltered vitriol on Twitter, unwanted advice (or just awful bigotry) on Facebook, etc. I’ve done a few social media hiatuses (hiatii?) at various points and found that disengaging with it to some extent can often be really good for my stress levels (and productivity!), but then I get sucked back in because I miss engaging with the good parts of it! 

Magic & Musings:
What does ‘success’ feel/look like to you?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
I think for me, success is very linked to the idea of freedom. Some of that is strictly financial-related (having the freedom to, you know, pursue a medical diagnostic process, for example - something I’m doing right now that I haven’t been able to do before) and some of that is more general lifestyle things. I moved to Richmond from Austin last year, and I really miss my friends/chosen family back in Austin, so I’m going to move back later this year - having that kind of flexibility feels like success to me. 

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out writing?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
Not necessarily when I first started writing, but when I first started freelancing, I wish someone had told me it was okay to experiment and fail really fast. I was so convinced that people were watching my every move for evidence of being a fuck up that I didn’t change things that clearly weren’t working, which created a lot more stress in the long run. 

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Book: I listen to a lot of my fiction because I can multitask while doing so and that helps calm the anxiety brain; the last full-length book I listened to was the Welcome to Night Vale novel, but I also listen to a ton of podcasts (full list here

Film: I tend much towards TV than film (which is something I always mean to sort of remedy, but then just...forget to see movies when they hit Netflix/downloads...); on that front, I really liked American Gods - I have some quibbles with it (just like I did with the source material) but it’s interesting and incredibly nice to look at

Song: 'On A Roll' by Icona Pop - I got this in my Spotify discover playlist recently and it’s very danceable and also ridiculous, which is basically my favorite combination 

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? What’s on the horizon for you in the next few months?

Michelle Nickolaisen:
I think the biggest thing I want to say, which I know people talk about a lot already, is to just make sure to take care of yourself and focus on a sustainable workload (as much as you can). It’s super easy to get burned out or overwork yourself (especially if you have mental illnesses) and it’s always worse in the long run than just trying to create a sustainable workload in the first place. 

The best way to keep up with me and my various projects is probably via Twitter, Tumblr, or the Facebook page (but probably the first two more so — the FB page is more focused on the freelancing/business oriented projects/topics). On the horizon, I’ve got two audio drama podcasts that I’m working on (one coming much sooner than the other, but I’m excited about both!), the second novel, plus a host of nonfiction stuff (I’m just not sure what I’ll be able to finish first, so a little hesitant to speak more on that) and my regular blog/Medium posts. Plus the move back to Austin...like I said, I hate being bored!

interview

Interview: Ela Hosp on Using Multiple Media, Going to Art School, and Knowing Your Value

9:00 am


Today's interview is with the lovely Ela Hosp, an artist and YouTuber living in the Midwest of America, creating a wonderful and eclectic variety of pieces. We had a chat about their artistic past, and their hopes and dreams for their future works. Ela prompts young creatives not to change themselves for a perceived benefit, but to stay true to what they want to create. A lack of experience should not allow others to walk over you. For more inspiration, keep reading...

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Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Ela! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do? 

Ela Hosp:
Of course! I'm a non-binary artist and YouTuber who lives in the Midwest. 

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into creating art? Is this something you’ve been formally trained in? If you did study it formally, would you say this was a good or bad experience regarding allowing your creativity to flourish?

Ela Hosp:
I've always been creatively inclined. I actually didn't take any art classes until my freshman year of high school and ended up not liking my art teacher, so I only took classes through the art center in my city. I didn't even think about pursuing art as a career until my senior year, so I took a tonne of art classes to get work for my portfolio. I would consider my first "real" art class to be the foundations course I took my first year in art school. After completing that, I definitely felt like I'd been trained and had the artistic knowledge to conquer just about anything. Foundations was a bit rough for me specifically because of how my instructor discouraged our own artistic individuality and creative styles. But now, looking back, I appreciate how she stripped everything else from us and taught us the structure and fundamentals of art so we could excel in any medium.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first start sharing your art with the world and did you find yourself overcoming any hurdles regarding your confidence?

Ela Hosp:
I started making zines when I was fifteen. They were just filled with doodles and poems and playlists and I sold them for like $1 on Etsy. I remember being really nervous about people not liking the stuff I made, but actually ended up selling a ton of zines which was a great surprise. Social media, Instagram in particular, really helped boost my confidence about my artwork. It’s really great how much appreciation and support you can get on there.


Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about non-binary and female-identifying artists and their work. Which artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Ela Hosp:
According to some of my art professors, my work in terms of color is similar to Yayoi Kusama’s, which is an insane compliment. I’ve always loved her so it’s no surprise that subconsciously my work would resemble hers in some ways. I really look up to my art friends and their work is usually the most inspiring to me. I get so excited when I see my friends post something they’ve been working on. I’m just like YES! You are great and I’m your biggest fan. I have some crazy talented friends.

Magic & Musings:
I love Yayoi Kusama! I have an edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that's illustrated by her. It's so colourful and trippy; I love it.
Of all of your projects, which are you the happiest with and why?

Ela Hosp:
Probably the wearable sculpture I did back in March. I love working with fibers and conceptually I think it is one of my best and most well executed pieces.

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Ela Hosp:
Having a designated studio space is super important for me. I am 100% influenced by the environment I’m in. Since I’m not in art school anymore where they give us a studio, I had to make sure my bedroom could also double in function and be my studio. I have lockers and a pegboard and other really weird stuff you wouldn’t normally see in a bedroom. It kind of looks like a woodshop, but I absolutely love it, it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I also HAVE to listen to music while I work, and it has to be music I already know so I can sing and bop along. Sales is probably my go to music for eliciting good and creative energy.


Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Ela Hosp:
I’ll get out my old sketchbooks and give them a look through. I almost always find ideas or color combinations or themes that I was interested in but never got to carry out.

Magic & Musings:
What tools do you use to keep yourself organised?

Ela Hosp:
I think my best advice would be to find a place for everything. If everything has a place, it’s easier to put things back where they belong after you use them. 

Magic & Musings:
You already work in a lot of media, but is there another medium you would like to explore working in next?

Ela Hosp:
I REALLY want to get into needle punching. I just learned how to Turkish marble paper and I have a printmaking class coming up. I just want to learn as much as I can, I don’t think I could ever just pick one media to work with forever.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Ela Hosp:
Oh, that’s a hard one. Probably that a lot of people will try to change you to benefit themselves. Stay true to yourself and what you want and you’ll be fine. Don’t let people take advantage of you just because you aren’t as experienced as them. What you have to offer is valuable and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Magic & Musing:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Ela Hosp:
YES! I’m currently reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and it’s sooo good. I’m not usually one for dystopian stuff, but her writing is amazing and her concept of religion is really thought provoking. This is gonna sound lame but I really don’t watch a lot of movies. I’m 20 and the last movie I watched was Coraline. I watched it for the first time a few months ago and it was incredible. The animation, the soundtrack, everything, perfect. Also, I can’t stop listening to Lorde’s new album Melodrama. It hits me right in the gut in the best and most beautiful way possible and I will be a fan of her work forever.

Magic & Musings:
Lorde, our Lorde and Saviour! That album is absolutely superb from start to finish.
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? 

Ela Hosp:
This is something I’m personally struggling with right now so maybe there is someone else out there who needs to hear this. You don’t just have to stick to one thing. You can be an artist and a writer and a teacher and a doctor and a pilot and anything you want to be! You don’t have to make up your mind now or ever, do as much as you can, change your mind as many times as you want. Oh, and you can find me basically all over the internet! I’m @sweetcartilage on Instagram and Depop, and my YouTube is youtube.com/elahosp17!

interview

Interview: Ashley Le Quere on Pattern Design and Illustration, Inspiring Instagram Feeds, and Relaxation

12:00 pm


Ashley Le Quere is a surface pattern designer and illustrator based in London, creating beautiful flowing and inky designs. We had a quick chat about her work, the artists she looks at to get inspired, and the cycle of self-doubt that comes when working on a project. I hope you enjoy finding out about Ashley as much as I did!

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Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Ashley! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do? 

Ashley Le Quere:
Hi, my name is Ashley Le Quere, I am a London-based surface pattern designer. and illustrator. 

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your illustration style in three words, what would they be?

Ashley Le Quere:
Inky, flow, and happy.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into illustration? Was it something that was important to you in your childhood?

Ashley Le Quere:
I was always drawing as a child! My mum recently sent me a few illustration I created when I was really young, which made me laugh a lot but I actually liked them! I got into illustration at university. I was taking an art foundation course to try and find out what direction I wanted to go in, but I was struggling to make a decision. I went to see the head of our year and she immediately said my sketch books were full of illustrations… so I guess that was it!


Magic & Musings:
Have you received any formal art or illustration training?

Ashley Le Quere:
I studied illustration at the University of the West of England, but my pattern design has been mainly self-taught. I guess they go hand-in-hand.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first start sharing your illustrations online and did you have to overcome any self-confidence barriers in order to get to that place?

Ashley Le Quere:
Oh my gosh! All the time I am filled with self doubt! A project usually goes full circle, starting with excitement, them being anxious that it's not good, to loving it again. 

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look to when you need some inspiration or motivation?

Ashley Le Quere:
Yes, I totally do look to other illustrator, designers, and photographers to feel inspired! I have filled my Instagram with designers that I love to look at every day. Here are a few of my faves - Rose Blake, Louise Lockheart, Lisa Congdon.

Magic & Musings:
What are your favourite tools you use to create your art? Are there any books on creativity and/or working for yourself you would recommend to others?

Ashley Le Quere:
I love to create with ink. I love how it flows and I guess I feel most comfortable with it. 
A book I'm reading at the moment is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert! That I am finding really inspiring! I would totally recommend it!

Magic & Musings:
Oh, I adore Big Magic!
Of all of your illustrations, which are you happiest with and why?

Ashley Le Quere:
That is a hard one to choose! At the moment I would say my Pool People designs. It was designed while I was living in Melbourne, Australia and I guess I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for that place at the moment.



Magic & Musings:
I’m interested in knowing how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Ashley Le Quere:
Well, I do like to listen to one particular set of books while I work… but I think when I tell people they think I'm kind of crazy, but here we go! I listen to Harry Potter when I work, every day! Yup, I have listen to them all properly thousands of times, but it helps me tune out the other noise! 

Magic & Musings:
Oh wow, I love that! I can totally see how that would work.
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Ashley Le Quere:
I have recently started to work in gouache and really love it! I feels like the complete opposite to ink. It makes a very solid colour and great to layer over! 

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Ashley Le Quere:
I went though this recently and found it really hard to just relax! I tend to get guilty if I don't create and put pressure on myself (which doesn't help at all). So I guess I will have to say, just try and relax, do things that will make you happy!

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Ashley Le Quere:
It's going to be hard, but keep going! I have nearly given up so many times but soooo glad that I never actually did!


Magic & Musings:
Fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you’ve enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Ashley Le Quere:
I would recommend Big Magic for sure! One of my favourite books of all time is Wuthering Heights but I think that is a good, cozy winter book! I'm also reading Caitlin Moran's book Moranifesto at the moment, which is great fun, but also has loads of great political points! 

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Ashley Le Quere:
You can find my website at www.ashleylequere.com. I post a lot of my sketchbook on my Instagram - @ashleylequere. Thank you for taking the time to interview me, its been a pleasure :)

interview

Interview: Maya Freelon Asante on Being an Artist, Family Inspirations, and Working Outdoors

12:00 pm

Past Tense Present, 2015, 8.5”x18", tissue ink mono/photo print

*All images are courtesy of Morton Fine Art.*

Today's interview is with the incredibly talented creator Maya Freelon Asante, who creates bright, colourful, and complex artworks, sometimes combining printwork with photography. She dedicates her artwork to her grandmother, which you'll find out a little more about in our interview, and comes from a family with its roots in the African American Impressionist movement. I love the colourful nature of her art, my favourites being 'Dark Matter' and 'Divided/Whole'. Please read on to find out more about her story. Thank you for Morton Fine Art for providing images of her spectacular work to share with you today!

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Magic & Musings:
For any readers who don't know your background, do you want to tell me a bit about yourself and where you are today?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I'm an artist, a creator, a risk taker, and entrepreneur. I'm a Black woman; I always reiterate those two facts because I'm proud of them.

Magic & Musings:
If you describe your art style in three words, what would they be?

Maya Freelon Asante:
Bright, brilliant, kinetic.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into art? What first drew you to the field? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I've always loved art since I was a little kid. It's something that brought me peace and I could sit and draw for hours starting at about age five. 

In middle school I had a teacher who saw my talent and really encouraged me by offering assignments that were challenging. I attended North Carolina Governor's School and started painting, drawing, and sculpture in high school. I also discovered the artistic roots of own my family in high school. My great grandfather was a African American Impressionist painter named Allan Freelon and he worked during the Harlem Renaissance. I also apprenticed with a Black female artist, Beverly McIver.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2013, 62"x30, tissue ink monoprint & collage

Magic & Musings:
Did you have to find yourself overcoming any hurdles regarding your confidence when you first started displaying your art?

Maya Freelon Asante:
When I first started exhibiting my art I applied to lots of different exhibitions and got lots of rejections. I also got a few acceptances, which always led to other projects. I went straight from undergrad at Lafayette College to graduate school at Tufts School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I had a fast paced, accelerated journey through schooling so by the time I finished and I went straight into teaching at the college level. It was like I never left school. After two years I decided I wanted to try to make art full-time. I found art residencies, art grants, and living in a city that supports the arts are crucial to surviving as an artist. The three places I've lived in the last decade are Durham, North Carolina which has a great State Arts Council, Baltimore, Maryland which has MICA, and public art funds, and Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts offer really great opportunities for the emerging artist. I met Deborah Willis at Harvard, through the CCA conference. All of these opportunities helped build my artistic career.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your work, what are you proudest of and why?

Maya Freelon Asante:
All of my artwork is dedicated to my grandmother, Queen Mother Frances J. Pierce and it's either about living with her, remembering her as a child, using the tissue paper which I found tucked away in her basement, water damaged. She really had a huge impact in my creative life. And I'm proud of her life and legacy. Her sacrifices allowed me to be the artist I am today.

Handmade, 2013, 36"x37", tissue ink monoprint

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I'm really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or particular album of music you listen to?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I typically like to work outdoors, or in a place that can accept a lot of water because my creative process can get really wet. I also like to work in studio spaces that are outside of the home, but I recently moved into a place where my studio is in my home and I need a space that's away from my living areas. I like to listen to Spotify and the station that I'm really feeling is Janelle Monae, Phony People and No Name and The Internet.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Maya Freelon Asante:
Space to think and being quiet are super important when your are a creative person. That's when I get my inspiration. If I'm stuck in a rut sometimes I write my journal or I'll sit and meditate and be quiet and just let the creative process come through.

Inception, 2012, 90"x36", tissue ink monoprint
Magic & Musings:
What are some things you like to do in your spare time when you aren't working?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I love being outdoors, I love the water I like going on a nature walks and going to the ocean and going to the lake. I also love yoga and to go horseback riding.

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I started out doing drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography, and now merge all my media together. The two things that I'm still interested in learning are glassblowing and metal work.

Lost, 2015, 26.75”x17", tissue ink monoprint
Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Maya Freelon Asante:
When I came up in college and graduate school, Facebook was just starting. So social media hadn't popped off yet. I just started Instagram this year and it's been interesting the amount of followers I've gotten in such a short amount of time. 

Divided/Whole, 2015, 25.5”x19”, spinning tissue ink monoprint

Magic & Musings:
If there was one thing you could want to say to the world if you knew everyone was listening, what would it be and why?

Maya Freelon Asante:
The one thing I want to say to the world is there needs to be more love and peace for everybody. Be honest, forgive, and accept everybody for just where they are. I think we would have a much sweeter and loving place for everyone if we could do those things. Also we need to share our resources. There's an abundance and just a few people are utilizing them. If we shared equally it would be a lot better for everybody.

Dark Matter,  2015, 55”x44”, spinning tissue ink monoprint

Magic & Musings:
What tools do you use to keep yourself organized?

Maya Freelon Asante:
Some may say I'm not organized at all, but I say there's a method to my madness. What method you say? I'm not sure, I have to find it.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in the field?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I wish somebody told me that I could do whatever I want if I just focus on my energy on it. That it's going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of self-confidence. I started out teaching thinking that I needed to teach in order to be an artist and that's not necessarily true. If you take your business skills, you take your creative skills, and then you take your entrepreneurial skills, and if you can merge all those three together you will have ability to be great at whatever you do.

Letter to my Great­ Great ­Grandmother, 2015, 8"x21", tissue ink mono/photo print
Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone read a book you have enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Maya Freelon Asante:
The books you should read are The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and Love, Freedom and Aloneness by Osho. Those are totally personal books that have nothing to do with art. The art books you should read are anything by Deborah Willis, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, and A Natural History of the Senses. A film I would recommend is Beasts of the Southern Wild. An album I would recommend is Lauryn Hill's Unplugged - I know that album is old, but every single time I listen to it I feel totally renewed in my life purpose.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I would say to all Black female artists who are wondering - should they do it? Could they do it? Just go for it! You don't have to be the best artist, you don't have to be the most well-known, you just have to speak with the voice that God gave you and let it come out in whatever form. Come share your gifts with the world because we are waiting!

See You Soon, 2015, 42"x30", spinning tissue ink mono photo print

interview

Interview: Antonia Bonello on Art Directing for BuzzFeed, 8-Bit Animation, and the Badassery of Wonder Woman

12:00 pm


* Contains 8-bit pixel Game of Thrones gore and spoilers (seasons 1-3), as well as some Orange is the New Black spoilers, so be cautious if that's not how you roll *

Finally! An interview where I can use gifs! Today I'm talking to the extremely talented Antonia Bonello, a multi-disciplinary creative with wonderfully nerdy taste and a talent for 8-bit animation. You'll see some of her adorably brutal animations throughout the interview as she chats about her fantastic achievements in the online world, her love for Batman and Wonder Woman, and what it's like to art direct at BuzzFeed UK.

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Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Antonia! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, do you want to tell me a little more about yourself and where you are today?

Antonia Bonello:
Hi! I’m Antonia, a multi-disciplinary creative from East London and Art Director at BuzzFeed UK. Leading premium content solutions, I work with brands to create engaging branded content on the BuzzFeed platform. Specialising in retro 8-bit animation, I also create illustrations and interactive game content, most recently being shortlisted for Design Week Awards Rising Star 2016, and previously winning Silver at the Media Week Awards for BuzzFeed’s partnership with Alzheimer’s Society. I’m obsessed with Batman, love playing PlayStation, and am a first Dan black belt in karate.

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your design style in three words, what would they be?

Antonia Bonello:
Playful, detailed, nostalgic.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into design and animation? Did you study them formally or come across them as hobbies?

Antonia Bonello:
I’ve always adored art and storytelling. I grew up reading superhero comics, playing video games, and watching movies from a very young age, which I believe set the foundations for how I like to create narratives in my work. I have an inquisitive mind and love to learn how things are made, teaching myself stop-motion animation as a kid after watching Ray Harryhausen’s animations on Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, and drawing my own comics based on my uncle’s 1970’s Marvel collection. It was obvious to me that my career should be in the arts where I can continue to have fun with all these interests, so I studied Graphic Design majoring in Moving Image at Central St. Martins.


Magic & Musings:
I adore those Harryhausen films too! There's something so creepy and visceral about those animations that I haven't seen anywhere else since.
What made you interested in 8-bit design specifically?

Antonia Bonello:
My 8-bit style developed from a personal project I was working on after I had graduated. I had an idea for a game app called Rush Hour, so I decided to make a game trailer for it in hope of fundraising to get it developed. Having always played video games, I decided to make the visuals 8-Bit in style as a homage to retro games such as Super Mario and Sonic. I realised that this style could be adapted to show pop culture with a cool, nostalgic twist, hitting two beloved subjects that the general geek-culture of super fans get very excited about. I love how restricted I am designing for 8-bit, as it either looks like what I’m trying to illustrate or it doesn’t (there’s no middle ground), and you’re always only one pixel away from giving your character a hilarious pixel penis!

Magic & Musings:
That's hilarious!
Of all of your designs, which are you the happiest with and why?

Antonia Bonello:
I will always be most happy and proud of my 14 Most Brutal Deaths In ‘Game Of Thrones’ As 8-Bit GIFs animations for BuzzFeed. This commission from BuzzFeed Editorial really kicked off my 8-bit pop culture mash-up style, went viral across the UK and US gaining traction from other publications, and is how I got hired full-time to work for the Branded Content arm of BuzzFeed UK. There’s also something just morbidly cute about the different characters chopping each other’s heads off.


Magic & Musings:
It's nice to see scenes that I found so traumatising in such an adorable way. There's also been so many more since this, so maybe an updated version is in the works? *wink wink*
How did you find yourself in the position of an art director and what does the day-to-day look like in this position?

Antonia Bonello:
Having been hired as Creative Designer at BuzzFeed UK through the virality of my Game of Thrones animations, I have worked my way up to Art Director of the UK branded content Creative team over three years. My days vary a lot but usually includes attending brainstorms with the creative team where we discuss ideas for briefs, meeting with clients to pitch our ideas and how they can partner with BuzzFeed, creating illustrations and animations for branded posts, and if there is time I will experiment with personal work and new formats. Even though I lead a team of designers, I still like to get my hands dirty and get stuck in with the content creation – I believe it’s so important to not get stagnant and always want to stay on top of my game!

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Antonia Bonello:
I wouldn’t say that any particular female-identifying or non-binary artists have influenced my work per say, however I do l love the animations of Kirsten Lepore, the cleverness of Kelli Anderson’s interactive design, and the stories of Marguerite Bennett who is currently writing the new Batwoman comic books. 

Magic & Musings:
Kirsten Lepore is absolutely wonderful! Surely everyone recognises 'Hi Stranger'?
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Antonia Bonello:
I’m most productive when I put on a movie or a TV series to watch while working. I often find it difficult to concentrate on one thing at a time, so by having a movie playing allows me to listen to the story and quickly glance at what’s happening without disrupting my workflow, unlike popping on Facebook would. Doing this allows me to get lost in tedious projects that require patience, such as frame-by-frame animation, and hours go by without realising. Watching Batman: The Animated Series works really well as the story is lead greatly through dialogue and I also get my daily Batman fix.


Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Antonia Bonello:
I look through my ‘Inspiration Folder’ that I keep on my desktop, which is full of cool images that I have collected over the years. Failing that, going to an art gallery always stimulates my creativity and makes me think of creative solutions in a different way. I also find that my best ideas come when I’m about to sleep, so a nap often works too if I am really stuck!

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Antonia Bonello:
I am always experimenting with other mediums as I get bored and restless if I keep doing the same thing all the time. This allows me to adapt different styles I’ve developed and the mediums I use to fit briefs, rather than trying to fit in a rigid style that won’t necessarily be the right solution. I believe it’s important to experiment otherwise you just become stagnant and a one-trick pony, so I’m currently teaching myself video editing and hand-drawn illustration. 

Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Antonia Bonello:
My work is entirely internet-based as BuzzFeed is borne from the internet! I love the nature of BuzzFeed and the way it interacts with its audience and vice versa, which allows me to have real-time feedback. Unlike traditional advertising, I can live-track viewing figures and read honest (and sometimes brutal) comments that allow me to quickly learn, adapt and progress in ways that I had never previously thought I could, for both myself and my clients. Social media is such a huge tool for personal and commercial growth that I don’t think many people and businesses are utilising to the full potential. I’ve learnt so much about how people interact with different types content and content themes, which is priceless knowledge.


Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Antonia Bonello:
Keep working on projects that you love. When first starting out, I felt that everyone else’s work was better than mine, so I tried to mimic their styles and projects. I tried to be minimal, more graphical, and internships forced myself to design logos and boring corporate stuff. I hated doing all of this – it just wasn’t me. So, I started working on self-initiated projects in my own time that I could put my love into. In the end, it was these self-initiated projects that got me the career that I have now, as they showed my personality and way of thinking, and I now get to do what I love everyday.

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Antonia Bonello:
I recently re-read Batman: The Killing Joke, which is a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. It’s such a dark story that is masterfully written and illustrated, with twists and turns that catch me every time. I also just watched the new Wonder Woman film for the second time at the cinema. It makes me feel so empowered to watch these natural, strong women kicking ass on-screen. I kind of wish I had this film to inspire me as a young girl, maybe I would be just as obsessed with Wonder Woman as I am with Batman, although I now want to be an Amazon warrior. 

Magic & Musings:
Wonder Woman was absolutely incredible. I don't think a film has ever made me feel so badass!
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? 

Antonia Bonello:
Be you, be unapologetic and show who you are through your work! 

You can see more of my work on my website and follow me on Twitter. I’m always happy to meet new creatives, so feel free to get in contact!