Escaping the Digital: Hands-On Risk with Designer Elan Cole

Escaping the Digital: Hands-On Risk with Designer Elan Cole

[MUSIC PLAYING] NATE: This episode is funded by
The Glick Fund and the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation,
who inspire philanthropy and creativity. [MUSIC PLAYING] We’re here in New York
City to meet Elan Cole, a world-renowned
graphic designer by day, but a hands-on leather
artisan by night. You’ve got to
check out his work. Follow me. ELAN COLE: I was always
kind of restless. I loved the idea of
making a physical thing and seeing that physical
thing in the world. What’s my vision of what
I want this thing to be? What do I want it to look like? What makes me feel good? How do I need to make it? Not just what does it look
like, but how is it made? I didn’t know what
it was called, but I was always going
to be a designer. There wasn’t a time
when I thought I was going to be something else. I’m Elan Cole. I’m a designer, and I’m
based out of New York City. [MUSIC PLAYING] At some point along
the way, I got– I realized that I don’t
actually have a skill. This is a field that
goes back centuries, and I’ve completely
disconnected myself from understanding with my
hands how stuff is made, rather than just
shipping stuff off. So actually, these
posters behind me I did all on computer,
and I did it, because I didn’t have the
confidence to actually draw it. All of the lines
in those posters are deliberately skewed. I was trying to make stuff look
imperfect in a perfect medium. Something I did– I visited
a tattoo artist in Brooklyn, and the process
completely opened my eyes. He had a sheet of tracing paper,
and he drew this like wonky circle like with a
little bit of detail. And he folded the
tracing paper over, and then he sort of
made it more fine. And he did it a couple
more times until finally, like it was iterations and
layers and layers and layers of imperfection to get
to a perfect-ish thing. And I realized that one of
the things that freaked me out the most about a
white piece of paper is that it’s a
white piece of paper and that the first line
needs to be perfect. And if you can’t get
over that, then it’s going to be really
hard to move forward. But what I love– I mean how much of a
part of what you’re doing is, in a lot of ways, you
call it practice– like play? Is it just playing? It’s all play. Yeah. It’s all play,
but it’s practice. It’s like the more I play
with it, the better I get. Like there was a period a couple
of weeks ago when I was doing– I was working with– this is one of the
prototypes of the bags. Man, that’s really cool. And yeah. And so like I would
start a stitch, and then the back would
be all pulled out, like completely messed up,
which anybody with half an hour of training on a
machine is like, oh, you didn’t set
your tension right. Right, right. Or you’re not
using the right– you didn’t thread it right. And I’m thinking like,
oh, I broke the machine. You know, so I’m finding
that out on my own. And then I’m looking
it up online. But that’s all play. It’s easy to go, I don’t
know how to do that. I’m going to mess it up,
and I don’t want to do it, because nobody wants
to make something ugly. We all want to be able to do
something incredibly beautiful, but the most important thing is
if you’ve never done something before, you know, the
head craftsman at Louis Vuitton at one point in his
life had never done that before. And it’s OK. Like mess up, because that’s the
only way that you’ll get there. In a lot of ways, the leather
right now that I’m focused on is a combination
of both the design and the manufacturing and
the artistic expression and the love of materials. So the materials part of it is– it’s all equal love. It’s all equal
fascination and focus. Like I get to go to
the leather store. I get to go talk to the
people who know leather. So this is actually
really gorgeous. Can I see this? Coming to a place
like this and working with the people who own
the store, very likely, I could find something here
that if I go to another store down the street,
I wouldn’t find. If I have an idea in my
head of what I want to make, and I go into a store, and
I go into someplace to buy my supplies, I have
complete art supply ADD. So I’m going to
go get sidetracked by some other kind of thing
that I have like a kind of blade or a kind of pen or a
kind of paper or something that’s totally
different than what I walked in thinking I want. When you build a network around
you of people, starting with I want to do this. I wonder who I need to talk to– those people then pass
on knowledge to you. You have to be really
mindful to be patient that you’re not going to
create something amazing. If you do create something
amazing the first time, terrific The next time,
you’ll probably mess it up. Like I made stuff either
in drawing or carving wax or silver or the leather,
where there’s a perfect stitch, and that’s really pleasing. And then the rest of it
is totally messed up. And then I try to
remember, OK, what did I do on that perfect stitch? But there’s evidence
of perfection. You will go through
a lot of paper. You will go through
a lot of ink. You will go through
a lot of leather. That’s OK, because that’s the
only way to get a feel for it. And you’ll find perfect
moments in those mistakes too. [MUSIC PLAYING] NATE: Hey, do you know that
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3 thoughts on “Escaping the Digital: Hands-On Risk with Designer Elan Cole

  1. I love that my closed captioning shows (awesome music) at the beginning. 🙂
    All art, music, writing and technology students should see this. Mistakes are how perfecting skills are honed. Reminds me of the book "The Dot." Half the battle is to begin the thing you are setting out to do. Maybe athletes, students and people starting in new careers should see this too. Felt more like a Ted talk speaking to how to be ok with the learning process and mistake making. You'll never know if you never DO, so just DO.

  2. I really like how he talked so much about fighting against perfectionism and allowing yourself to make mistakes as part of learning and growing.

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