"We like to make information interesting."
INTRO: Brainstorm is an art print and illustration studio founded by collaborators and spouses Briana Feola and Jason Snyder. They started in 2007 and unintentionally built a business out of their creative endeavors. I came across a few of their framed prints in Young Blood Boutique back in 2014 and it was love at first sight. As soon as I started this conversation series, they were on the top of my list. It took some time for us to connect, but we had a chance to chat via email recently. Below you'll find Briana and Jason's thoughts on process, adventure and the daily hustle. Lightly edited for length and clarity.
Environment + Geography
Stephanie: What are some of your favorite aspects of living and working in New Hampshire?
Brainstorm: Our location in New Hampshire is so ideal. We love all the fresh air, for sure. We’re so grateful to live and work in a place that is a couple of hours from an incredible mountain range for hiking and snowboarding and 30 minutes from beautiful beaches. Lakes and rivers galore. We can be in Boston or Portland, Maine in an hour (or NYC in three) if we need to get our city fix. NH has an awesome culture of thriving small towns with great beer and food. Farmers markets. Great people. Awesome yard sales. All good things!
S: How much does your physical environment impact your work?
B: Very much! If we feel cramped or stifled or uncomfortable in any way, being creative is a total bust. It’s definitely interesting to see what prints and projects come out of what years. We lived in Philadelphia and were inspired by the food and the hipster bike scene. We lived in New Jersey and we did a lot of gardening stuff. We’re so inspired by our current studio space in New Hampshire, with its bright and historic vibe. Also, being so close to natural elements is great for us to tune out, which is a must for our work and process.
S: What do your current workspace(s) consist of? Do you like to stick to your studio or move around? PS: I love the "How we work" portion of your website.
B: Thanks! Currently we do almost everything in our studio. Illustration, printing, packing, shipping, etc. We definitely like to take a laptop and work remotely on computer-y, business things, but a lot of our work is very hands on and you need to be in the studio to do it. We’ve moved a lot over the course of our relationship and business, but we’ve finally found a studio that fits our needs and plan to stay for a bit. Thank goodness, because we keep adding equipment every time we move!
Media / Motivation
S: Do you consume media (podcasts, music, videos, etc.) while you work?
B: Something is always on. We’ve got playlists out the wazoo (a quiet studio sometimes can feel like something is wrong). We like to keep it upbeat, especially when we’re printing or doing anything physical like packing for a tradeshow or a craft show, building displays, etc. More mellow when we are on the computer or illustrating/painting. We like to listen to playlists on chanceswithwolves.com (DJ from Brooklyn) or reverbarationradio.com. We occasionally listen to a little Howard Stern to keep our hand in with pop culture and listen to some great interviews with interesting people.
S: Are you involved in any creative communities at the moment?
B: Doing a little self reflection lately, we realized we’re on the border of many different communities (we think it’s the Internet that allows us to do that). We’re in the handmade craft show community, the letterpress/stationery community, the screenprinted gig poster community. While we don’t fit in perfectly with any particular one since we make screenprinted art prints, we are able to learn, ask questions, and feel connected to like-minded entrepreneur types from all over the place. Thank you, Internet!
S: What motivates you to get started on new things? What gets you to the first mark of a project?
B: Sensing we’ve been focusing on business too much, less on creative...that tends to spark a fire for new work. Usually a self imposed deadline can keep pieces coming. Upcoming seasons and tradeshows put the pressure on to keep releasing new work, which is a strange thing to consider since what we do is very handmade and very artistic by nature. We have to balance the business with the creative. We walk a very interesting line of making original artwork and selling it on a bigger scale. Also digging through old books and visiting thrift/antique shops can light a fire under our butts to make something new and fun. A tiny illustration in an obscure textbook from 1967 can spark an entire suite of prints. You just never know.
S: How do you describe your work to other people?
B: We like to make information interesting. A lot of our prints are educational and this is just something that we gravitated towards once we started working together. We like our prints to be conceptual, but not overly so. We love posters as a medium to convey these ideas because they're approachable and affordable. We also like to keep a sense of humor in our prints. Once we start taking it too seriously, then what’s the point?
S: Do you have a preference between the analog and digital parts of your work?
B: Every print we make employs both analog and digital processes. We usually start on paper with pens or watercolor, work our way up to a scanner, and then manipulate in the computer to clean it up. Then it either makes it’s way to film positives for transition into screenprints or hits the digital printers. It depends on the piece. We enjoy doing both because they really balance each other out. After working on the computer for a while, it’s nice to get on the press to print an edition of posters. And it works the other way too - after printing a five color run of 300, it’s nice to sit and work on something to get off your feet.
S: What are some of the biggest challenges, surprises and learnings from starting Brainstorm?
B: There's been a ton of challenges and surprises. Nobody can prepare you for what it's like to work with your spouse...it's the BEST and the WORST all at once, (but mostly the best!). Neither of us have a background in business, so our journey thus far has been an interesting one. We were surprised to find out how effectively a business can run while learning about business as you go. We’d always assumed that people who own businesses have this wealth of knowledge beforehand that they can rely on, when in reality a lot of people learn on the fly. That flexibility and that quick ability to adapt is what really allowed our business to grow. Starting up a creative business with a lot of student debt was (and still is) a big challenge to overcome because that’s money going out the door that could be invested back in the business. We still value college and what that debt allowed us to experience and learn (and we got to meet each other too!), but creative startups can really use every dollar. It all plays back into our flexibility, (going with the flow, rolling with the punches, etc.) and we’re proud of that.
S: When you're researching content for a new project, do you have any particular ways of going about that? Any favorite places for resources or information?
B: A lot of that starts in books from the studio. We hunt thrift stores and antique shops for paper ephemera that strikes our fancy. We’re always growing our book collection because having the images and information offline is key. And a lot of old books have some really great illustrations that are solid jumping off points. Google and Wikipedia are obvious resources and we’re super grateful that we have the Internet. It’s so strange to think of running a business or starting any kind of project without it.
S: Do you have any new adventures, travels or projects coming up that you'd like to share?
B: We’re showing at NYNow in August 2015. It’s our first time bringing Brainstorm to this show (booth 7343!) and we’re excited to see what relationships come out of the show. We have some new products coming out but you’re going to have to wait until the show for the reveal! Two weeks after the show we’re officially getting married, so that’s been a big summer project! We’ll be doing some retail craft shows in September and up through the holidays. We’re just generally excited for 2016. We feel like we are finally hitting a creative business stride and we’re pumped to see what’s ahead!