BABE #174: KAREN KURYCKI, Owner, CMYKaren
Karen’s interest in design started around the same time she learned to pick up a pencil. Today, she’s the one-woman show (and owner, art director and illustrator) behind CMYKaren, an independent creative agency with clients ranging from international corporations to local startups. She dabbles in all sorts of personal and professional projects, combining her design skills and entrepreneurial spirit with her passion for activism and social change. Fun fact: she has been a Jags season ticket holder for the past 11 years. #DUUUVAL.
Babe you admire and why?
This might be the toughest question of this interview, and it's the first one! There are so many babes in my life I admire. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family of strong, courageous women—my mom, Mary Rita Kurycki, and my sisters, Katie Mitura and Joanna Licherdell, have made such a huge impact on my life in such a positive way. I'm gonna break the rules here and add another name, because that's what babes who hustle do, right? I think Princess Simpson Rashid, an artist and art-activist in the Jacksonville community, is just an all-around badass, has been through and done so many amazing things in her life, is a competitive sport fencer and coach, plays drums, is a breast cancer survivor, and I still see her working later than me at CoRK Arts District every night, so she gets a shout-out in this as well. I literally could go on for days with this question.
How do you spend your free time?
I do my best to find a balance between work and play—time away from work is spent on attending Jaguars games (I've had season tickets the past 11 years), mentoring young designers, spending time with my boyfriend and family, etc.
Go-to adult beverage?
I usually stick to beers as my family is pretty into the beer life (my dad and brother both brew and my sister, Katie, created Visit Jax's Ale Trail campaign), but I'm pretty open to trying new cocktails, especially if a certain place has a signature cocktail or something different.
What is something you want to learn or master?
I've dabbled in animation, and I’m determined this year to teach myself After Effects to a point where I'm making full videos. I'd also like to improve my photography skills; I have a fancy camera but would like to get better at using it. Oh, and the guitar! My boyfriend has a million guitars and miscellaneous musical instruments in our living room, and I've yet to remember anything he's taught me about playing it. One day I’ll focus long enough for it to stick.
What’s something most don't know about you?
Most of my close friends know this, but I was in operas as a kid. I performed and traveled with a children's chorus singing in German and Italian.
Tell us about your hustle, providing an overview of your job and roles.
I've been a designer/illustrator for 14 years—half of that was spent working for small agencies in Jacksonville, and in 2011 I decided to start my own business. Now I work as an independent designer/illustrator under the name CMYKaren. I work with companies that range from big international corporations to small local startups. Some clients hire me just for illustration, some hire me for design and branding and some hire me for both.
What does your typical workday look like?
I try to keep regular hours as best I can. My goal is to get into the studio around 9:00 a.m., catch up on administrative stuff and do emails or immediate things I need to finish for the day. No two days are really the same, as there's always something different to do—client projects, personal projects, AIGA (the professional association for design I'm a part of) or other community projects I'm involved with. I'm trying to flip my day to not work on the administrative duties until later in the day, and to come in and create right when I get to the studio—but I haven’t been successful in doing that quite yet.
Have you always considered yourself an artist? Where do you think that stems from?
From the time I was little I loved making stuff, drawing all over stuff, coloring, etc. I remember my parents got us an Apple IIGS when I was in elementary school and I would spend hours in Print Shop making stationery for fake businesses and for my teacher, and designing flyers and cards for my friends. Then I got really into music and sports and kind of took a break from it all, but I remember in 8th grade we took a survey about what we wanted to be when we grow up and I got "graphic designer." I went home and told my mom and she was kind of like, duh—of course you're going to be that, you love creating and arranging information in a visual way. She had worked for the Democrat & Chronicle as the features editor in Rochester NY, so she was familiar with working with designers and illustrators at the newspaper and knew it would be something I might excel at. I took art classes in high school and attended Kent State University for design, and moved to Jacksonville after graduating.
How has your art evolved over time?
In college, I focused a lot on an illustration style that was more playful or whimsical, children's book-style. As I developed my style as a professional, it began to tighten up a little, as my illustration work tends to be very "designed" and planned out, versus what artists do in jumping into a canvas and seeing where it goes. I'd actually like to loosen up a bit within my art; I think sometimes, especially when I'm on a tight deadline, I go to what I know and do a mix of watercolor and design. Over the past couple of years I've been exploring other mediums, especially in the collage world.
What are some of your favorite design projects and collaborations you've worked on?
I really love the projects that I'm a part of as both a designer and an activist. In 2015 I was part of creating the Jax Young Voters Coalition, with a goal of educating 18- to 40-year-olds in Jacksonville on the importance of voting and understanding local politics and how it works. In 2016 I collaborated with my studio mate, Summer Wood, on a project called 100 days for LGBcuTIes where we illustrated and highlighted 100 people who were fighting for the Human Rights Ordinance to pass in Jacksonville; our project got a lot of traction on social media and contributed to the conversation at that time. I also worked with Kristin Keen/Rethreaded to develop their branding and design for their first five years. It was awesome to see how that design work impacted the brand as a whole, turning a heavy subject—sex trafficking—into something that can be openly talked about, and celebrating the incredible women who break that cycle.
What is your favorite medium to work in?
I have been working with watercolors since college and absolutely love that it's a medium that is more unexpected than others—it's a lot harder to control the results compared to painting with oils or acrylics, but in turn you get a lot of happy surprises with how the watercolor interacts with other colors and with the water itself, so it keeps me on my toes. I've also been working in collage a lot lately and truly love combining unexpected images. Sometimes I take both my watercolor and collage and make tiny animations, [like I did in this project, When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip].
How do you stay organized and on top of your work while being self-employed?
Staying organized can be a challenge at times, but I absolutely love working for myself. I love having my own schedule and getting to choose my own clients. When you work for someone you don't have those same freedoms. Obviously the cons are the ever-present hustle to continue getting new clients and projects; when there is a slow month you start to get antsy, but then realize it's important to take those down times to focus on your own personal projects.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I think being a woman and a designer go hand-in-hand, as I'd say a lot of women I know are empaths. They are able to feel and understand what the client is feeling or wanting because they listen to their client before telling them what they need. Designers not only use that empathy to understand the client, but also to understand the client's audience and see something from an outsider's point of view. That's not to say a lot of research and strategy don't go into the process as well, but a combination of empathy, strategy and aesthetics are so important. In my opinion, empathy is such a key component to being a good designer.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job we might not see?
I think trying to keep the balance of personal projects and client projects is the biggest struggle for me. Sometimes you want to just work on your own stuff, but know there are projects that need to be done. It's not to say that client work isn't rewarding, but I think having a balance of creating your own work is equally important. Sometimes you aren't inspired to make anything for yourself, and that can be a real bummer.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I've collaborated or partnered with a ton of different organizations in town, from Rethreaded, Jax Young Voters, JASMYN, AIGA Design for Good, Don't Miss a Beat, RAP, ILRC, Cultural Council, Yellow House, AIGA Design for Democracy, AIGA Get out the Vote, Generation WOW—and I'm sure I'm forgetting others.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Hustle! I know that's the obvious answer, but it's so true. You have to be scrappy, and sometimes your first jobs in the industry might not be so glamorous—but you will learn so much from your collective experiences as a designer, both good and bad! If there’s something you love and excel at within the industry, make sure you're sharing that with others so they can uplift and support you as well.
How do you find a work-life balance?
I think at the beginning of my career I just constantly nonstop worked. Being in a healthy relationship with my partner, Richard, has changed that, because now I want to make sure I'm putting in enough time for both work and our relationship—it has made me step back and assess what's important. I'm much happier and more relaxed now. I've found that being super successful at something but neglecting the people I’m close to is not good for me. I always need to try for balance.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
One of my favorite quotes is actually from a really silly movie (Van Wilder), but we had it on our wall in college and it has always stuck with me: "Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere." I have to think about this a lot when I'm stressed, because sitting there and stressing over something you can't change is useless; working to affect things you can change is what living is all about.
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