Lever debuts first office building to use mass timber construction

The future of tall

The Architecture Foundation of Oregon partnered with Lever Architecture to celebrate Albina Yard last week. A four-story, 16,000 square foot building, it houses Tanner Goods and The Wayback on the ground floor, with creative office space in the three stories above. Opened roughly a year ago in September 2016, Albina Yard is the first office building in the country to use mass timber construction.

Lever Architecture, the company that designed the building and later relocated to it after founder and principal Thomas Robinson fell in love with its beautiful Mount Hood views, is well known for pioneering the use of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). Their other high-profile CLT project, Framework, in Portland’s upscale Pearl District, is likely to become the first wood high-rise in the U.S. It will showcase ground floor retail space, five floors of office space and five floors of affordable housing.

Cross-laminated timber ceiling

Cross-Laminated Timber or “CLT” refers to an engineered wood building system designed to complement light and heavy-timber framing designs. This system has many advantages over its steel and concrete competitors, such as strength, structural flexibility, lightness (75% lighter than concrete!), and energy efficiency.

The energy efficiency element of CLT buildings ranges from carbon sequestration—one cubic meter of wood stores one ton of carbon dioxide—to the prevention of air leakages and thermal gaps through its uniform paneling. In the case of Albina Yard, sourcing was yet another element with energy in mind: its timber frame and Douglas Fir CLT panels were all locally manufactured and prefabricated in Riddle, OR, just a few hours drive south of Portland.

An attendee in conversation

This front to end approach to sustainability in the built environment is part of what Robinson refers to as the “forest-to-frame” approach. Akin to the farm-to-table movement of the culinary world, it aims to foster better relations between architects, contractors and timber suppliers.

Studying cross-laminated timber

Speaking of good relations, The Wayback, one of the two businesses housed in the ground floor of Albina Yard, opened its doors to eventgoers looking to enjoy a cocktail and some artfully spun tunes.

The Wayback interior

The Wayback DJ

As with any successful event, the AFO and Lever arranged to have catered nibbles on all floors and complementary wine, provided by L’angolo Estate—another Lever project success.

Platter of olives and meats

Assorted fruit platter

L'angolo Estate wine

Celebrating the Northwest Film Center’s 45th Anniversary

The Northwest Film Center (NWFC) celebrated it’s 45th Anniversary last Thursday, November 10th at the Portland Art Museum’s Kridel Ballroom. This celebration was a three-part affair for the NWFC, starting with the Northwest Filmmakers Summit in the afternoon, a shorts program screening with a guest judge for a brief Q&A session with filmmakers thereafter, and of course, a big ‘ole party, the Watch.Learn.Make Party.

I photographed the shorts program introduction and Q&A, followed by the party, but I can’t help but show off out of order. I had never been in the Kridel Balloom before, and it looked just lovely all gussied up for the party…

The Room

Kridel Ballroom

In addition to your usual tables and chairs, the Watch.Learn.Make Party had two screens set up on either side of their central projection to show segments of filmmakers’ work throughout the evening.

Screen on display

Every table was adorned with a standing paper promo for the Give Guide. The Northwest Film Center is one of less than 150 nonprofits in the Portland area that were chosen to participate in this annual holiday giving affair, focused on generating donations of $10 and up from people aged 35 years and under. It’s an exclusive drive that is much anticipated in the Portland area.

NWFC Give Guide table setting

The Booze

It’s Oregon, so it wouldn’t be a night on the town with out some Pinot Noir. Elk Cove Vineyards provided 2014 Pinot Noir, which was the gold medal winner at the Cascadia Wine Competition in 2016.

Elk Cove Pinot Noir

I had a touch of déjà vu rounding the beer selections from Sierra Nevada, as I noticed Owl’s Brew on display. A friend and colleague gifted me one of these artisanal tea cocktail mixers over two years ago before it was “a thing.” I’m a huge tea lover, and was happy to see their brand making its way up the event ladder.

Owls Brew and Sierra Nevada beer

That brings me to the food…

The Nibbles

I’m a small woman, so finger foods hold a special place in my heart (and I’d wager to say, in the hearts of most artsy folks, judging by the selection I’m about to share!). This platter below boasted a beautiful display of protein skewers, ranging from chicken to shrimp to roast beef. A peanut dipping sauce anchored this wheel in the center.

Chicken and shrimp skewers

For those with the good fortune of lactose tolerance, this lovely cheese wheel with onions and sun dried tomatoes sprinkled on top awaited. A wreath of crackers kept this festive appetizer company.

Cream cheese spread

These fashionably sliced egg rolls were layered around another platter with dipping sauce, providing a crunchy alternative to the protein skewers mentioned earlier.

Egg rolls

Did  I mention that Masala Pop donated a variety of their delicious handmade Indian-spiced popcorn to the event?

Masala Pop popcorn

The jar in the forefront of this image is a Chai Masala with Assam Tea flavor, but the table also sported Saffron Rose with Sea Salt and Savory Masala with Papadums.

The Shorts Q&A

As I mentioned before, part of the 45th anniversary celebration was the screening of award-winning shorts followed by a question and answer session with a guest judge. This overlapped slightly with the party, but I nipped over before and after the screening to snag a few images. Filmmaker Services Manager, Benjamin Popp, introduced the guest judge to get the evening going.

I’ve now seen Benjamin at multiple NWFC events, and I’m delighted to say that he always wears a smile on his face. Popp is every photographer’s dream!

Benjamin Popp on stage

Following the screening of the seven shorts, the guest judge invited all seven filmmakers up to answer a few of his questions, followed by some burning inquiries by audience members.

Q&A with shorts program filmmakers

The Whitsell is always a little aesthetically challenging given its lack of upward facing stage lighting, but I made out well with some images of the filmmakers from either wing of the room.

Third filmmaker comments

Fifth filmmaker speaks

Seventh filmmaker comments

The schpeals

As soon as the shorts program Q&A wrapped, folks headed back to the Kridel Ballroom for some brief words by the leadership of the NWFC and the Portland Art Museum (PAM) before digging in to the festivities.

Bill Foster, PAM Director, started out:

Bill Foster on stage

Audience response to Foster

Bill was followed by NWFC Education Director Ellen Thomas, who made a pitch for supporting film education through the Give Guide. As I mentioned earlier, the Northwest Film Center is one of less than 150 organizations that was selected to participate in this annual holiday donation drive focused on folks ages 35 years and younger.

Ellen Thomas pitches the Give Guide

Audience response to Thomas

It’s no surprise that Thomas’s speech was particularly captivating to the rising filmmakers in the audience. Not only are they the target audience for the Give Guide campaign, but they also form a significant part of NWFC’s educational focus.

The Guests

As the evening progressed, I met some lovely film supporters in attendance, like Ron Craig of the Astoria International Film Festival (AIFF). AIFF screens in the fall of each year in Astoria, Oregon, where none other than childhood favorite The Goonies (1985) was filmed.

Ron Craig and co

It wouldn’t be a party without some dancing, right? These two lassies below enjoyed some pinot noir and pinot gris, courtesy of Elk Hill Vineyard, as they rocked out to the tunes of XRayFM.

Dancing women holding wine

One of the honored guests of the evening was Brooke Jacobson, founder of the Northwest Film Center. Brooke may have had a cane, but her legacy and determination made it seem like more of a prop than a necessity. Go Brooke!

Brooke Jacobson and co

As the evening came to a close, I snapped an image of the Northwest Film Center’s staff—the very folks who worked so hard to make this evening a reality.

NWFC Staff

A quince-idence and winter prep at North Portland’s community orchard

Quince up close

As many of you know, I frequently volunteer my photo services to Portland-based nonprofit, Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP). They may be a small team—three coordinators covering programs and communications, and one executive director—but PFTP manages to host 100+ harvesting events each year at the homes of registered tree owners and at their five community orchards. On top of this, they also organize monthly hands-on educational events at each of these orchards, specializing in the instruction and practice of a variety of topics related to organic fruit tree care: pruning, pollinators, pest prevention, disease management, irrigation, soil health, and more.

All orchards’ educational series wraps in October/November of each calendar year with a final session on winter orchard prep. In the case of Fruits of Diversity Community Orchard (FoD), nestled in the Portsmouth neighborhood of North Portland, this year’s session was unique indeed. To the delight of many, it included the harvest of a hardy late season fruit that thrives in the Northwest: quince!

Introducing quince

The very word may conjure a big fat blank for you—and you’re not alone! That’s why everyone who signed up for this work session gathered ’round for a brief introduction and a few pointers on quince and winter orchard prep by PFTP’s Orchard Programs Coordinator, April Jamison.

Orchard quince harvest and mulching

It was a sunny day, especially for October in the Northwest, so volunteers circled up in the back of the orchard in the shade of the very trees there were destined to harvest. April, featured at center below, gave a great intro to this curious quince fruit, starting with a history, followed by some culinary traditions from around the world, and harvesting tips.

Orchard quince harvest and mulching intro

I studied abroad in Spain, so I was familiar with membrillo, the wine-colored paste that is often paired with a hard Manchego cheese. But what I didn’t know, was that quince formed the base for it. Membrillo basically quince cooked with sugar for a couple hours. Another fun fact from this brief meditation on quince, was its use in savory dishes. Evidently, it’s quite tasty when cooked down with a saltier partner, like pork shoulder.

Mmmmm, pork shoulder…

Harvesting Quince

The quince at Fruits of Diversity Community Orchard takes on a apple-esque shape. It’s a big more squat and more vibrantly yellow than any Golden Delicious I’ve ever set eyes on. Nevertheless, you harvest quince much like you do apples: either by hand or with the use of harvesting poles and ladders.

By Hand

Harvesting quince by hand

Quince trees can vary in height from 10 to 20 feet, depending on the varietal, the environment and its care. For branches in arm’s reach, you can simply lift and twist the fruit to remove it from the tree. Hannah, one of Portland Fruit Tree Project’s vital interns featured above, focuses on the these branches.

With Picking Poles

Harvesting quince with picking poles

More adventurous harvesters can use something called a harvesting pole or picking pole to reach higher fruit. The basket attached to the top of this telescoping pole has unwoven wires at the top that form teeth that effectively grip the fruit at the stem, helping to wiggle them free from the branch. The piece of foam at the base of the basket provides some cushioning so that the fruit doesn’t bruise upon release. This is less of an issue for hard-bodied fruit like quince, but a very important consideration for softer-bodied fruit, like plums.

Fruit picking poles are especially useful because fruit at the top of a tree generally receives the most sun, and is frequently the location of the tree’s best crop (or the most overripe crop, if you harvest late! Hopefully you don’t!).

With hELP (ALWAYS). Plus these nifty aprons…

One of the most enjoyable aspects of a community orchard work session, is that of the the team.  Harvesting fruit is hard work when you have more than one tree, and especially when those trees are loaded with fruit. Nonetheless, with the dozen volunteers at this work session, this group was able to strip 3+ quince trees clean in just an hour. There were even a few late season figs on the opposite end of the orchard that they were able to pick.

Finger wagging over quince

PFTP is a largely volunteer-run organization. They even have volunteers who sew harvesting aprons, like the one you see on the volunteer pictured at left above. These colorful aprons have big pockets in front and zippers on one side that allow harvesters to conveniently store multiple pieces of fruit until they are ready to empty them out into milk crates for weighing and storage. This way, they don’t have to constantly make trips back and forth from the tree to the crate to drop just a few pieces of fruit.

Quince in milk crates

As you can see above, this work session easily yielded more than 100 pounds of quince. In line with PFTP’s tradition, each volunteer was awarded a share of the fruit to take home, and the remaining high-caliber produce was donated to a local food pantry.

Preparing The Orchard For Winter

I spent ten years of my life in California, so when I think of an orchard, I see rows of trees. Followed by more rows of trees. And a few more rows of trees (for good measure).

Winter orchard prep

But the great thing about Portland Fruit Tree Project’s orchards is that they are whole system, whole community spaces, that are meant for both people and plants alike. Part of that philosophy means that they carefully cultivate understory plants. What’s that? Think of it as all the plants growing beneath the trees (the “tree canopy”). When smartly chosen, they can send up valuable minerals from deep in the soil, attract predatory insects that will attack pests, and fix nitrogen—the most important nutrient for healthy, happy plants.

But like the orchard’s fruit trees, the understory and ground floor require regular care. That’s what the second half of this Fruits of Diversity work session was about…

Mulching

Raking the orchard

Applying mulch to the base of fruit trees in late fall helps protect them from the winter cold. It’s like giving your trees a warm down jacket instead of a lightweight windbreaker. The key to mulching is removing the weeds around the base of the tree before shaping the mulch around it in the shape of a ring. If you’ve ever mulched, then you know how handy a rake can be in moving that organic matter in place. This smiling volunteer made a good choice to save her back with that rake!

Weed Removal

Weeding is always an ever-important task in the orchard and garden alike. When winter sets in, the ground gets harder, making it particularly difficult to remove these organic squatters, so it’s best to give the orchard a good weeding before “putting it to bed” for the winter.

Digging up invasive plants

Ideally you remove a weed roots and all, which an often be tricky by hand. That’s why Wasingolo, pictured above, has decided to enlist the help of a digging shovel. By the looks of his face, I think he got it in the end.

Wheelbarrowing orchard debris

Judging by the amount of debris this strong-armed volunteer is hefting away, Wasingolo wasn’t the only one!

staking Young Trees

Securing trees for the winter

Though it’s frequently unnecessary, some newly planted trees may need a shoulder to lean on during the winters months of the year.  Factors that help determine this are 1) how much wind they will be exposed to, 2) if the tree is already bending quite a bit without support, and 3) if the root system is rather small relative to the tree. If you’re worried about someone making off with your tree, staking it might also be a reasonable deterrent.

Taking Inventory

Interns pose with quinceAs I mentioned above, the community orchard program at Portland Fruit Tree Project is not just about spreading the word of holistic orchard care; it’s about bringing people together in a space that welcomes different interests, abilities, ages and backgrounds.

The orchards bring together emerging leaders in the community, such as the two fall interns pictured at left, as well as partners focused on doing similar work.

One of the pillars of Fruits of Diversity is its partner, Village Gardens. A project of Janus Youth Programs, Village Gardens works to grow economic and leadership development through food. In addition to their support of FoD, they offer 80 garden plots to affordable housing residents in North Portland, support a children’s garden program, sponsor a summer farmers market, and much, much more. The three smiling faces below are from the Village Gardens network.

Village Gardens Team

Though there was one family that had to leave early, I was able to snag an almost complete group photo of 18 of the volunteers, and PFTP staff and interns, who contributed to the day’s work.

Orchard harvest and mulch team

Judging by the tree height behind them, can you fathom that this orchard was planted in April of 2013, not even four year ago?

3 economical ways to tell your company’s story at work

I recently designed a poster series for Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP). It hangs on the wall space just outside their two offices.

pftp-triptych

PFTP needed an economical way to highlight their three central programs to passersby in their building: harvesting, community orchards and tree stewardship. The previous display was a cardboard trifold with spray mounted paper and photos…

Old PFTP display board

…so the laminated gator board-mounted 3-piece was a mighty improvement.

Many staff members made note of the number of people who had positive feedback about this change, and it got me thinking about how we tell stories about our work at work—and in particular, how small companies do it. Since they don’t have waiting areas or receptionists who can spontaneously deliver the low-down to a curious onlooker, expectant interviewee or potential stakeholder, small companies need an office that speaks for itself more than their larger counterparts. The ability to utilize their space to wordlessly express their work is paramount.

The obvious challenge in this situation is of course, that small companies don’t have the funds to hire a designer, to purchase awesome decals or to put up lettering that will make gingerbread icing look like child’s play. So what resources are left?

Having worked for smaller operations for years, I’ve seen a number of different design choices that put together a brief list of 3 different options that I’ve relied on for companies with limited budgets who want to show the kind of work they do without breaking the bank. Here’s what I came up with:

1. FedEx Posters with gator mount

As much as small companies tend to want to support other small companies, sometimes it’s just too darn difficult to do it for everything. I’ve had a number of pieces printed through FedEx, including Portland Fruit Tree Project’s poster above, with great satisfaction. They are big enough that you can submit something online, but delightfully flexible, in that they’ll allow you to email a specific store with a file if you can’t figure out how to indicate your print preferences via their online platform. If you don’t have a dedicated graphic designer or communications person on staff, this is very helpful.

FedEx also has regular coupons available online—I generally go to RetailMeNot—and religiously includes them when you pick up orders for them. For the nonprofits out there, they also offer a 10% discount to you if you create an account with them in advance.

These posters are also great because they are lightweight, durable, moveable, and can be laminated (in case you accidentally throw your morning coffee at it. You can also easily hang these, and allow for re-hanging with Command picture hanging strips.

What’s the cost out the door? PFTP paid $200-ish for three 20×30″ posters—which are non-standard size—that were color printed, mounted on gator board, and laminated to boot.

2. Mpix Standouts

Mpix standout sample

An image from Mpix’s website.

I found out about Mpix through their owner, Miller’s Professional Imaging, which creates photo products exclusively for pro photographers. Mpix may be aimed towards so-called amateurs, but there’s nothing amateur about their product. These standouts are quality prints mounted on 1.5″ thick pieces of foam board. They arrive with 4 pre-made holes in the back to allow for easy wall mounting, though there is the option to simply stand them up on a desk or other flat surface.

They come in a plethora of sizes, so that even if your small company doesn’t have photos taken on a big fancy camera (which tend to shoot in a 2:3 ratio), you’ll be able to print them without having to crop off a vital part of your image.

What’s the hit? The smallest standout starts at $30, but if you get on the Mpix list for promo codes that will take the price down when the time comes.

3. Premium Shutterfly Books

The above two options are great if you have control of your wall space, but many small companies don’t have a lot of easily utilized wall space to their name. Maybe you have brick walls and vaulted ceilings, maybe your walls are covered by dry erase boards, and perhaps you are further disadvantaged by the lack of any reception area (that’s a lot of lost wall space). What kind of portable story device can you make available to clients, partners and passersby to explain your company’s work? That’s where premium books by Shutterfly come in…

Shutterfly premium book

An image directly from Shutterfly’s website boasting about this admittedly deserving product

Shutterfly markets these books to wedded partners-to-be, but I can assure you, they are just as functional for sharing words and images related to many, many other events and causes. They are highly customizable, available in a variety of sizes from 8×8″ to 11×14″, and the Shutterfly interface allows you to easily upload images from Instagram and Facebook if desired. The pages lay flat for easy reading, and the cover can be made of a range of materials, from leather to crushed silk, depending upon your needs.

Pricing for the 8×8″ book starts at $70, but similar to FedEx and Mpix, they have frequent sales and promo codes that you can access by signing up for their list.

Planting and Pruning at Green Thumb Community Orchard

April with orchard flags

The saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” But judging by this beautiful morning last Saturday, we may have gotten it backwards!

Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP) had a busy day organizing two related events at Green Thumb Community Orchard last Saturday, April 9th. In honor of of community orchards month, Green Thumb hosted two educational events focused on both fruit tree pruning and plantings.

Tools for orchard care

While pruning involves some smaller-scale tools, the work involved in preparing the soil and planting new growth in the orchard necessitated quite the selection of heavy duty rakes, pitchforks and shovels.

Volunteers sign in

As with any event, Portland Fruit Tree Project asks all volunteers to sign in at the beginning of the event. This lovely lady pictured above was ready for some sun with her wide-brimmed hat. I couldn’t resist honoring her preparedness with a quick snapshot.

Volunteers circle up

The day’s events spanned three hours and two general subjects—pruning and planting—so it was important to corral everyone at the beginning to makes sure folks knew what to do and where to go.

Bob explains pruning techniques

Long-time PFTP Program Manager, Bob Hatton, took a chunk of volunteers to the west side of the orchard, adjacent to the Brentwood-Darlington community orchard, to teach pruning techniques on the rows of espalier trees.

Deciding where to prune

The blossoms were so beautiful, even from afar, that I’d wager to say some volunteers may have had to fight moments of distraction during the pruning demonstration.

Senior volunteer plants understory

One of my favorite parts of educational programming at PFTP, is how intergenerational it can become. Our regulars consist of parents and kids as much as they do parents and grandparents, and grandparents and grandchildren.

Volunteers laughing

There was a slight hitch in the plans for last Saturday’s programming, as a guest speaker was expected to attend, but volunteers just laughed it off. A few hours in the sunshine lightens the hearts of most.

Green Thumb orchard volunteers

I love taking group photos at the end of community orchard events, because unlike PFTP’s harvesting events—which more often than not accommodate just a dozen or so people—the orchard session have virtually no limit on attendance. It’s amazing to see nearly thirty people get together on their Saturday to work together in the dirt.

 

Redesigning space with Tobin Dane and Edison Box

I recently wrapped up freelance work with one of my favorite clients, Tobin Dane. A small but mighty operation in a trendy office space sporting colorful murals and industrial chic shelving by Portland-based artists, Tobin Dane creates start-up companies in a wide variety of industries. Since moving to Portland, owner and founder Tobin Goodgame has focused business on concepts that concern many city natives, space being one of them.

According to Metro News and the U.S. Census Bureau, our fair city was the 15th fastest growing large metropolitan area in the country from 2013-2014. We are also a hub for entrepreneurs and startup companies. This then begs the question: when space is at a premium, where do we live and work?

In answer to this anxiety-inducing question, Tobin Dane created Edison Box: a startup that creates custom live-work-play spaces for the sustainably-minded urbanite. These space are made from upcycled shipping containers that are insulated, wired, and delightfully plug-and-play upon arrival. They come in different sizes to meet your various needs.

It was clear from the get-go, that we were going to need a full-service design agency to properly brand and deliver the message of Edison Box. To that end, I whipped something up to pitch the idea to the likes of Cinco, Sincerely Truman and other talented folks like that.

Here’s what hit the keys:

Space.

The dimensions in which we exist and move. The distance between two points. A period of time. An (in)finite element that shapes each one of our lives.

Space influences our days and nights, our work and play, our movement and our stillness. From space, our hopes and dreams, aspirations and genius are seeded and determined.

But like any garment fit to flatter, space is the individual’s domain. That which inspires one mind may dull another. That which fulfills one mission may fail in another.

We’ve come to revere the force of space, to acknowledge its place in the creative process. That’s why we’ve dedicated years of exploration and (de)construction to the design of custom space solutions, physical structures of your essence manifest, that ignite innovation and empower your reach like never before.

Marriage to mitzvah with a little help from Wix

Last fall a lovely family from the Los Angeles area approached me to design a website for their son’s bar mitzvah over the 2016 Presidents’ Day Weekend. They were so darn friendly and excited to save on paper, I quite happily agreed. To add cherries to sundaes, my good friend and mentor, Tamara, of Tamara Leigh Photography was in charge of head shots for their dapper tween, so there was no question that I’d have a selection of stunning photography to consider in my design efforts.

The client and I wanted an economy website with short-term and ad-free potential, that was youthfully playful yet clean. After reviewing some custom and template avenues, we ended up choosing this Wix wedding site template. “Wedding?” you ask? Yep!

The original template was for the much-anticipated nuptials of Zoe & Amelia in 2023 (they were clearly planning ahead):

Original Wix template homepage

But with a few changes in color and content, I came out with something a little different for Saben (the star of this website and the weekend festivities).

Saben's homepageI kept the homepage (above) fairly simple and pattern-free, especially considering our choice of photo, which already boasts some geometric wall design.

event-resized-900w

Drawing inspiration from the app culture of today, I decided to make most of the site buttons a simple monochromatic circle with a self-explanatory icon centered within. Each of the icons linked to the appropriate subpage of each menu button. Like many big occasions, this one had to accommodate some local and out of town guests, some very close family members and some friends, so I made a couple of dropdowns to indicate the events available to each.

shabbat-dinner-resized-900w

Friday night “shabbat” dinner was an event for everyone, and so merited a handy dandy interactive map.

plan-resized-900w

I added a “Plan Your Visit” dropdown with some helpful subpages to direct those guests who might be less familiar with Los Angeles, our traffic patterns and weather. Speaking of weather…

packing-resized-900w

I couldn’t resist this one. It’s odd, but so many of my own out of town guests during my years in LA never thought to bring more than flip flops and shorts. But like any desert, temperatures can actually drop quite a bit at night despite the warm days.

Transportation page screenshot

And of course, I would be remiss if I did not include some tips for the most important consideration of an LA visit: transportation. The rise of Uber made for a fourth option and a delightfully distinct icon for inclusion on this page.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the user-friendliness and customization options of the Wix template process. My previous sites were built in WordPress and Blu Domain, so this was an exciting opportunity to expand my horizons in site template platforms.

 

The secret sauce of great public speaking

Public speaking event

I recently went to a fantastic Artist Talk at the Portland Art Museum (PAM) by my good friend Avantika Bawa. In addition to being an active contemporary artist and curator, Avantika’s CV boasts an exhaustive list of residencies and shows spanning the continental US, Canada and Asia. She is also Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV), commissioner of the Oregon Arts Commission and co-founder of Drain: A Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture. Ambitious and humble, creative yet grounded, she is a constant source of inspiration and mentorship. It’s no surprise she was invited to lead an Artist Talk at PAM.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with PAM public programs, the Artist Talks Series is a monthly opportunity for artists to lecture on exhibited works and relate them back to their own practice. Avantika’s talk centered around Richard Artschwager, whose work was on display at PAM. In fact, her talk actually took place in the gallery displaying a collection of his pieces.

An American painter, illustrator and sculptor, Artschwager is well-known for his “blps”—lozenge shaped marks that he installed in subways, galleries, and other architectural features and facades. These simple shapes interrupt patterns of disengaged looking and inspire attention to architecture and space.

Up to this point, we had all been seated amidst examples of Artschwager’s work, facing both Avantika and the screen on which she loaded a digital presentation of key text and images from her speech.

The introduction of architecture and space however signaled a shift in the presentation towards that of the Portland Art Museum itself.  Avantika introduced Pietro Belluschi, the Portland architect who designed the main PAM building. Just as architecture and space played a role in Artschwager’s artistic statement, so too did they influence our experience of that Artist Talk; Avantika led us out of our chairs and the comfort of Artschwager’s work, and onto an interactive walking tour of the building’s galleries. We experienced firsthand the interplay of architecture and art, noticing the relevance of “typical” museum features, like the benches we so often see throughout our meandering visits.

What’s in the secret sauce?

After Avantika’s talk concluded at the entrance of PAM, I was truly impressed. The fluid marriage of style and form in her lecture and the creative use of space and movement really joined us all together in a temporary but engaged community of art smart listeners.

How did she do it? What’s in the secret sauce of great lectures, presentations and public speaking events in general?

Intimacy.

I was delighted to be one of under twenty attendees at this Artist Talk. The more intimate settings made it easier for us to make eye contact with Avantika (and vice versa), and in effect, to gently guide ourselves away from distractions, whether physical (the temptation to text), or mental (nagging questions like, “Did I put that wool sweater in the dryer?”). Purposefully limiting attendance to a public speaking event can also generate a sense of exclusivity, which can in turn set the stage for greater audience engagement.

Humor.

“Put a blp on it.” A play on Beyonce’s hit song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” this was just one of many witty recommendations that punctuated Avantika’s presentation. This sprinkling of humor kept our attention fresh and focused, frequently drawing us back to the event at hand through a spontaneous and collective laugh. It levelled the playing ground, making the talk about a community of people interested in the same thing, rather than one person talking at a bunch of people.

Visuals.

Preaching the importance of visuals in contemporary pedagogy seems like old news, but a good thing can never be said too many times. Some of us learn best visually, or with a combination of auditory and visual cues. Visuals are also vital to dissolving any sense of knowledge hierarchy amongst audiences. In the case of Avantika’s talk, they served to familiarize the newbie art listenership to the works in question, while providing more advanced art connoisseurs with a sense of satisfaction as they reconnected with imagery of the art that they had so eagerly anticipated.

Movement.

By leading us out into a walking gallery tour underscoring the themes of her talk, Avantika once more kept us engaged. Some people (myself included) cringe at the idea of a long seated lecture; between the discomfort of my seat and the dancing of my fidgeting feet, I am often challenged to keep my focus under these conditions. Incorporating movement and hands-on experience in this way was not only reinvigorating, but it added to my understanding of the concepts at play.

Context.

Being surrounded by the very art that we were discussing really grounded this talk, making it relatable to a wide range of people. Now, a gallery is not the most appropriate context for every speech, so it’s important for presenters to ask themselves, What physical space will help engage my listeners in the intellectual, emotional, and psychological space of my presentation?

Who’s got schwager?

In this day and age, public speaking is almost a guarantee in our professional lives. And while it might give many of us the chills, it doesn’t have to be that way. Success in presentations and lectures of this nature lies in a basic understanding of humanity: connection. We want to feel like we’re special, like we’re part of a community of equals, where our differences are considered and embraced. When that is achieved, education and action are imminent, for in the end, what are public speaking opportunities if not moments to inspire change?

Try your hand at incorporating a sense of intimacy, humor, visuals, movement and context in your next speaking gig, and we’ll see who’s got schwager.

Here’s what a landing page makeover looks like

This past week, one of my favorite friends and clients, HCA, approached me to freshen up images for the landing page of its new website-to-be.  Each of these images will represent one of the core programs that HCA provides across its whopping portfolio of 70+ apartment communities!

For those of you who may not know, I worked full time with HCA for several years before I turned freelance. Though my responsibilities grew during my tenure, content creation – writing, editing and photography for a myriad of print and online platforms – formed one important part of my role. Needless to say, it’s tough to always find the editing time your inner Virgo desires when image creation is not the only item on your checklist.

…But then, as if in answer to that small creative voice that never quite accepts the 80/20 rule, this opportunity arose for me to return to many of my own photos and make them even better than before. Who could say no to that?

SET 1:

The original image had a really unappealing yellow tinge to it that lent a certain antique feel. The colors of the chalkboard and rug were also not as punchy or primary as the palette that HCA desired for its landing page. Using some crafty selections adjustment layers, I was able to make the back wall a nice bright white and give the chalkboard and rug the lift they needed. I also downplayed the orange hues of the teacher and student’s skin tone from before…Check it out!

(BEFORE)

ESL program before editing

(AFTER)

ESL program after editing

SET 2:

This is not your typical humdrum image (PUN! I love puns…). A great action close-up, this shot needed some love on a few different fronts. For the final edit, I warmed the white balance, bumped up the exposure and punched the colors towards a more primary palette. It’s subtle, but I also burned the drum surface a bit to really bring out the textured surface and that sense of disciplined use.

(BEFORE)

Drums close-up

(AFTER)

Drum beings played

Set 3:

Drums aren’t just for dudes. Karen Carpenter, Cindy Blackman, Sheila Escovedo, Moe Tucker (to name a few ), and now this little lass below, have all touched the beat of our hearts. Like the drum shot above, this image errs a little on the blue side. The subject is also underexposed, as is frequently the case when shots are backlit by daylight. I punched the colors and added a touch ‘o’ sharpening to give us that nice crispy, stock photo feel.I also turned up the temperature and used some selections and levels adjustments to better expose our musician-in-training.

I also want to note here that I always try to do my best to be a socially responsible editor, particularly when it comes to race. Perhaps you remember a while back when a lifestyle magazine was widely criticized for “whitening” their cover celebrity, Beyonce. Bringing up the exposure in this photo did lighten the subject’s skin (as it would for anyone), but I gave my best effort to do so across the board in both the foreground and background, so as to maintain the integrity of her skin and race.

(BEFORE)

Close-up of drum student

(AFTER)

Close-up of drum student

Stay tuned for the new HCA website, where you’ll see my work on their landing page!

8 questions you should ask before recruiting volunteers

Volunteer shirt

“Why don’t you just find some volunteers to help you out?”

This is one of the most common suggestions that a nonprofit will receive in its lifetime. “Volunteer potion” (as I like to call it) makes an entrance in conversation almost as much as the party line, “Aw, you work for a nonprofit, GOOD FOR YOU!”

Having volunteers to support your organization’s programs and events can be a wonderful thing for both companies and volunteers alike. Volunteerism gives many people an organized way to give back to their communities, to meet new people and to simply feel good about themselves. From the NPO’s perspective, volunteers can be a great help in times of need. They can add some fresh fare to your team and they can even attract promising candidates for that job opening you’re bound to have.

Though there are many advantages to volunteerism, it is not the one-size-fits-all solution to the plight of the modern nonprofit. Often in our rush to solve the continual resource challenge of our existence in the most cost-efficient way possible, we forget that volunteer programs are not actually free. True, volunteer labor is free, but you should also be considering the labor and materials costs involved in volunteer recruitment, training, scheduling, oversight and appreciation. If you don’t, you could find yourself paying the consequences in the form of quality control issues, dissatisfaction amongst the demographic you serve or disgruntled volunteers inclined to drop a less-than-flattering review on your VolunteerMatch profile.

With all of these potential risks and rewards to consider, how do you know if volunteerism is right for your company? Here are a few simple questions I recommend asking yourself before you seriously pursue a volunteer model:

1. What will volunteers be doing?

The type of duties that your volunteers will be performing can greatly influence the time that you devote to recruitment and training. The more specialized the skillset, the longer it can take to find the right volunteer and/or the smaller the pool of candidates. Many people have the ability to register participants at a cause-oriented walk, but fewer will be able to teach a  Photoshop class to teens.

2. WITH WHOM ARE YOUR VOLUNTEERS IN DIRECT CONTACT?

If volunteers are going to be continuously working directly with the demographic that your nonprofit services, you will probably want your recruitment process to be more extensive. You may want to consider the use of an application, interviews, reference checks, and perhaps even background checks. Do remember though, the more complex your recruitment process, the more time it will require. Which brings me to…

3. How much time can you commit to volunteers?

This is an extremely important consideration because, unlike your volunteers, you are actually being paid. If you need 40 working hours to recruit and train volunteers for a 2-hour event, then volunteers may not be your best option. You might be better off putting a call out to your Facebook page for help, or asking staff and interns to put out feelers through their own social networks.

4. how much time does training require?

It can be very effective to organize one catch-all volunteer orientation and training that is appropriate in both subject matter and geography for all volunteer positions; however, if your volunteers live in distant cities and will have vastly different responsibilities, small group or one-on-one orientations might be more appropriate. While arguably better from a relationships standpoint, these are not the most time-efficient options. You have to ask yourself: is my time investment up front worth the anticipated benefit of this volunteer?

5. Are your needs ongoing or one-off?

If you are looking for volunteers for a one-time event, you may not need to vet them as closely as you might for a longer-term commitment. For longer-term volunteer posts, you want to make sure you find a great fit for your organization, someone who can represent you and your company well over time, to many different people and under potentially changing circumstances. Again, this recruitment process can take more of your time.

6. Can you provide direct oversight?

I think that some level of direct oversight is key to enduring volunteer programs and positions. Since volunteers aren’t being paid, it’s important to acknowledge their work, and the best kind of acknowledgement—better than words of encouragement via email or phone—comes from your presence. If your ability to interact with volunteers during their shifts is limited, you may put yourself at risk of a higher turnover.

7. CAN YOU show appreciation?

Acts of appreciation may very well be the #1 reason why volunteers decide to continue with a particular organization week after week, month after month, and perhaps even year after year. Your appreciation doesn’t need to be fancy—a heartfelt card will do in some cases—but it should be included in your program vision. Make sure you are in a position to reward a job well done before you begin recruitment.

8. are you thinking long-term?

Last, but certainly not least, it’s important for you to take a moment to forecast your ability to sustain a strong volunteer program over time. Volunteers can get very attached to the populations with whom they work with and vice versa. It’s also a lot of time and effort on your part to develop a volunteer program in the first place. Do justice to yourself, your potential volunteers and the population(s) you work with by approaching your program-in-the-making as a longer-term commitment, not just a fair weather fancy.

There are certainly many other factors and nuances that an organization should consider before contemplating the creation of a volunteer program, but these are some helpful starter questions to get the newbie started. Beneath it all, this list attempts to remind us that volunteerism is a two-way street. Not only are volunteers providing a service to your organization, but  your organization is also providing a service to volunteers. Whether your volunteer positions offer a sense of life purpose or valuable means to jumpstart or transition a career, it is important for organizations to honor the mutually beneficial nature of this relationship by giving a volunteer framework adequate consideration before launch.