AIGA: "Step Away from the Screen"

AIGA: "Step Away from the Screen"

A panel of graphic designers who work as artists outside of their client-based work

AIGA panelists

Panelists (left to right): Terri Kwant, Ben Currie, Eric Madsen, and Joe Duffy

On October 11, ACC office hosted “Step Away from the Screen,” a panel discussion and exhibition in conjunction with AIGA's national design conference in Minneapolis. The exhibition featured work by graphic designers who also make art outside of their day jobs. This included pieces of furniture, paintings, ceramics, and drawings. Furniture by Will Hopkins, creative director of American Craft, was included in the exhibition.

Before the panel discussion began, the designers were invited to explore the office, which included a wall filled with covers of 75 issues of American Craft magazine (and its predecessor, Craft Horizons), showing the visual evolution of graphic design during the magazine's existence. Our friends from The Balvenie also set up shop in the office, sampling handcrafted Scotch.


The panel began with a brief introduction from ACC's interim executive director, Monica Moses, who commented, “A disproportionate number of the artists we profile started in graphic design." She went on to illustrate the benefits of working outside the world of strictly screen-focused projects. "Making something tangible is far better for your mental health than, say, dithering on Twitter or Instagram, as tempting as those are," she said.


Brent Stickels, co-founding partner of YYES, a design studio in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, moderated the night’s panel. The panelists included painter Joe Duffy, furniture maker Terri Kwant, sketch artist Eric Madsen, and illustrator Ben Currie. Each artist had a strong presence and message to give about making the time to do their art outside of their client-based work.

Time was a recurring theme throughout the discussion. Some felt it was a hinderance, but others found it was a way to gauge creative process. Duffy said, "I lose myself when I'm painting; 25 minutes becomes a whole day." Kwant added, "Making time for making is hard."

Ben Currie

Panelist Ben Currie talks about being a graphic designer and an illustrator.

The need to make was also apparent throughout the conversation. Madsen elaborated about moments of intense concentration and creativity. One day, while he was "totally in the zone" working in his Door County, Wisconsin, studio, he felt a drop of water on the expensive paper he was working on. It took a minute for him to realize he'd shed a tear.

Across the panel, each artist felt that they were born to make… that it was ingrained in who they are. They also agreed that the work they produce, whether or not it’s for a client, is somewhat of a self-portrait. With each project, a little bit of who they are comes through, whether they intend it to or not.

Knowing this about the designers and artists in our world lends even more meaning to what they create. Although taking the time to invest in one's own art outside of work is a struggle, it was apparent that it needs to be done. "Making time for making is hard," but as these panelists proved: It's so worth it.