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How an Art Director at the New Yorker Unwinds

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Apr 26 2018

By day, Rina Kushnir works with illustrators and designs layouts for the New Yorker. But on her own time, she paints leaves she collects in her Brooklyn neighborhood, meticulously studying their patterns and adding dots of oil paint, punched holes, and patterns.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese

For Rina, these tiny pointillist masterpieces are about more than just a side project. “Because I have a fast-paced, collaborative job, I love having an environment that allows me to slow down and reflect,” she says.

Years after she and I worked together—back when she was an associate art director at Wired—a friend took me to see her show in a Brooklyn coffee shop. Though the concept was simple, the work was incredibly engaging. I caught up with Rina to learn more about her art, her process, and how “_leafiness_” (her handle on Instagram) helps her meditate and stay creative.

In one sentence, who are you?

An art director, artist, and nature lover.

What do you do? How did you learn it?

I was lucky to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York with amazing mentors and teachers.

In my free time, I paint leaves, though that happened by accident. I live in Park Slope, where the leaves are really beautiful in the fall. I started picking them up on walks, and I happened to have some oil-based pens from a glass project I had done. I got inspired by the shapes of the leaves, and started using the pens—it just happened without me even thinking that much about it. I find it extremely soothing. Many people work together to figure out what goes on a magazine page. It requires a lot of communication, understanding, and clarity. But with this, there’s no one else to weigh in. It’s my yoga.

3 favorite possessions?

1. Black and white photographs of my family in Russia, where I was born. I moved here with them from Moscow when I was 18.
2. Jewelry from my grandma that I never wear but always keep.
3. A collection of handmade paper that I haven’t found a project for yet.

What does a typical work session look like?

I usually get the idea for what I want to do with a leaf in the morning, then do the repetitive work in the evening. Most of the time, I don’t listen to music, but if I do, I listen to meditation music. Otherwise, I end up analyzing the music instead of focusing on what I’m doing. It’s important to be fully in control of your process. It really teaches me to make decisions and be confident in them.

How do you get over creative block?

Fortunately with leaves, I haven't encountered creative blocks yet. It really puts me in a different state, and helps quiet my mind when I make decisions.

What was the last item on your to do list?

Go to the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. I want to learn different techniques for collection and preservation.

How do you see the world in 2078?

I hope that technology will get better at allowing us to manage and do things faster and easier, but I also hope that in the process of getting there, we can maintain the environment that we need to live.

What’s your number one bucket list item?

I want to live in Italy and speak Italian. The language is so beautiful.

Who are you creative crushin’ on lately?

My crush right now is the artist Sheila Hicks. The thing I absolutely love about her is that she’s still inspired and creating art at the age of 83. No matter how small or large her work—big, sculptural balls of wool fiber, or something tiny—it has this amazing impact. She’s so fluid in expressing any possible emotion. It’s so important to have that in your life, especially over such a long period. To me, she is the luckiest person on earth.

  • Elise Craig

    Editor, IDEO Blog
    Elise Craig is editor at large for the IDEO blog. She has written for Wired, Marie Claire, and the New York Times magazine, and loves stories about ordinary people doing interesting things.
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