Fellow designer and VCFA graduate Ryan Slone joins Lorilee on the podcast. Ryan is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at University of Arkansas’ School of Art. He shares his creative journey, from his childhood in Arkansas to designing at Pentagram. The two discuss the differences (and similarities) between agency and academic life and how grad school shaped their approaches. Today, Ryan’s research focuses on social-advocacy poster design, and his award-winning work has been featured internationally.
- On Ryan’s playlist: “Moon” – Kanye West
- His creative trajectory
- Being a young designer at renowned design firm Pentagram
- Why he left agency life to teach
- Parallels between client work and the classroom
- Balancing work and life
- Recapturing the fun in making
- Communicating complex social issues through design
- One tool for our G&G toolbox
Mentioned in this episode:
- “New House” – Michael Bierut
- Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Graphic Design program
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Episode 8 – Ryan Slone
[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey. I’m Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.
Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is a member FDIC equal housing lender.
We have such a fun conversation ahead of us today. My guest is my good friend, hip hop loving dad, and designer Ryan Slone. Ryan and I went to grad school together at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we both got MFAs and graphic design. Now he’s a graphic design professor at the University of Arkansas School of Art. He’s a professional juggler of work-life balance, and today we’re going to be talking all about that. We’ll also dive into his story about discovering his love of design and passing it on through teaching.
Welcome Ryan. Thank you so much for being here and joining me on Ground and Gratitude.
[00:01:55] Ryan Slone: Thank you so much Lorilee. I’m super excited, honored to be here, and, uh, this is my first podcast, so I’ll do my best.
[00:02:04] Lorilee Rager: Oh, that’s great. Don’t be worried one bit. This is my, this is my first podcast to actually ever do so we’re in the same boat and we’re in it together. Good. Good. Well, we’ll start with a big, really hard kickoff question right out of the gate. Here it comes.
[00:02:21] Ryan Slone: Uh oh. What is design?
[00:02:23] Lorilee Rager: That is, that is a hard question. But first, before you answer that one, first, I need to know what song is on repeat on your playlist today.
[00:02:34] Ryan Slone: That’s a great question. Okay. So, um, this is going to be a polarizing, uh, answer, but I am a big Kanye West fan. And that’s, a lot of people, I don’t know, it’s either you love them or you hate him, right? And so the new Donda album I’ve been spinning a lot. Um, there is a song called Moon on that album and it’s really just this beautiful kind of a haunting echoey kind of melody. Um, and so I’ve just been playing that all the time. Like, in the car, you know, driving the kids around to soccer and football and whatever else. So, um, that’s what I’ve been, and in the classroom a bit. I’ve been, actually been playing it in the classroom a lot, like just that whole album, um, with the students. So, I think they like it. I don’t know. Is Kayne, is he cool anymore? I don’t know.
[00:03:33] Lorilee Rager: You know, I mean, I am the keeper of cool. So I’m going to vote yes. But I would say, my 17 year old and 14 year old, love it and have played it non-stop too. And that’s why I’ve heard it. I probably, I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t have listened to it. I liked him back in the day when he first came out. I listened to him a lot. And, um, but what they’ve played for me, like while I’m cooking supper is really, good. I really have enjoyed it.
[00:04:02] Ryan Slone: Yeah. That’s cool. My kids have started, so they’re 9 and 12, and so, two boys, younger, a little be younger than yours. But they’ve been listening to it, but also they’ve been listening to a lot of like the new, like new hip hop. Like, which is really interesting, it’s really different, you know. It’s like this mumble rap kinda slow, like, lean heavy kind of thing. Trippie Redd is like a big one that they like. Juice World and, yeah.
[00:04:34] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s the same thing my boys are listening to. And I, I like it. I mean, you hear some old pieces. And then I like showing them the older songs and being like, hey, look, this is actually from here, so listen to this. And they’re trying to learn the words to some Beastie Boys songs. So I kind of feel like, um, I’m, uh, gonna win parent of the year.
[00:04:56] Ryan Slone: That’s awesome.
[00:04:57] Lorilee Rager: So, yeah, that’s a good, good song. Good, good choices.
[00:05:02] Ryan Slone: That’s been on my, that’s really what I’ve been spinning lately. Um, I know there’s, there’s some other stuff, but that’s the main one.
[00:05:11] Lorilee Rager: That’s the main one for now. I like it. I like it. Well, you proposed a question before that, what is graphic design? We won’t go there, but I would love to know your what I like to call origin story. Being, um,a new teacher, it’s a project that I had students do. And, um, they read a essay by Michael Beirut, who we’ll talk about later, um, about his first story or memory as a child of buying a new house in the sixties and, and like, it was his origin story of going from an old house to a new house and how it was designed. And so it made me just think about, oh, you know, Ryan and I are great friends. We met in grad school and went through that incredible experience together. And I was like, but you know, I do know a lot about you and you know a lot about me, but I don’t really know your origin story. So maybe tell us a little bit about, you know, how’d, you first get into, you know, design.
[00:06:17] Ryan Slone: It’s a great question. I mean, I’m thinking of two moments in my life where I would maybe consider origin stories. The first of which, um, is when I was in kindergarten. So I was like, what, five, six? Um, not that I was like designing logos and stuff at that age, but I, there, there was a moment in art class, um, where I started, I kind of realized that I was a little bit different in how I processed things, um, visually and how I sort of saw the world. Um, and what happened was, and I dunno, I feel like my mom told me this story later on as I got older and that’s why I remembered it because it’s pretty vivid. But I used to, um, paint everything black, like every, for like, it was like my black period. This was like almost like a whole semester, a whole year. So we would have, uh, you know, just like arts and crafts in, um, in, uh, art class. And I would just get out, I would just take the black paint and people would be, you know, drawing sunsets or whatever, uh, little smiley, happy faces and dogs, and, um, if that’s even realistic at that age, I don’t know. But, but what I would just, I would just like take out the black paint and I’d just pour it and I would just try to cover as much area as I could with black paint. And, um, I did that for such a long time. I don’t even realize why I was doing it, but I do remember my art teacher like shamed me in front of the class that like told me that it was wrong to do that. And I hid under my desk, like a good rest of the day. And it was like, there was some trauma there and I didn’t, I wasn’t able to process it. But I just knew that like I wanted to be different. I just wanted, I just wasn’t interested in what, maybe what was expected of me. And so, yeah, that was like my, that was like my first sort of like, I guess, early realization that, um, that I, I enjoyed being expressive. But I, I didn’t, I never really felt like I fit in very well.
[00:08:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And you weren’t going to just do what everybody else was doing. Right, what I would say, right out of the gate, you went for, yeah, exactly what you want to express without seeing, oh, what are they, looking over and over their page and looking over on somebody else’s page, you know. Which we learn as adults comparison is, it’ll kill you. So that’s really powerful memory, um, from your childhood self, you know, that, that I’m sure was part of, you know, trajecting you into design.
[00:09:00] Ryan Slone: I mean, I think so. I, um, because you know, and it, in a good way, I, I never really, um, you know, rejected art from then on. I really embraced it growing up. Um, and so I don’t really, but I always, I always did feel like I was kind of pushing against something when I was creating. Um, challenging what was expected of me or, um, you know, fighting against the boundaries of an assignment, leading all up through college.
Um, but the other origin story that I was going to say happened later on when I was in high school and it was more closely tied to, I guess, what we more closely perceive design to be. Um, I graduated high school in like the late nineties and it was like, uh, I don’t know, it was in Missouri. There, there was like a lot of, um, like, drunk driving. It was like a really popular thing happening. But like, like there was like, there were these Project Graduation, I don’t know if you’ve had it, but
[00:10:08] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah. That’s right, right. And they would park like a crashed car out in the front yard at the school and scare you to death, yes.
[00:10:15] Ryan Slone: That’s right. That’s right. So I feel like we got in just like a few years before, I think graduation night in high school would have just been amazing, like parties everywhere and people just let go. But for whatever reason, when I graduated because of what had happened with, um, you know, kids getting hurt in drunk driving accidents on graduation, I, they had this thing called Project Graduation where they would literally take the whole senior class that graduated and lock them into like a YMCA. It sounds stupid. It sounds like ridiculous.
[00:10:50] Lorilee Rager: It sounds crazy now but yes. I had one too you and you couldn’t leave.
[00:10:55] Ryan Slone: Yes. You couldn’t leave. And we didn’t have cell phones. I mean, I’m 18 and would walk around and played basketball, or like I can’t even remember what I did. I just, I, it was the strangest thing. Anyway. Um, I was asked by this girl, uh, to design a t-shirt to promote Project Graduation. And, um, and so it was the first time that I was sort of given like a prompt, um, to sort of respond to. Um, and yeah, I mean, I don’t, I, I drew this like stupid, like, they were like, uh, I took like the mascots from the other, like, rival schools and made them gargoyles. And I think, I, I don’t know. Oh, I had, it was a joker, it was a joker theme, this weird looking joker, joker guy. But I remember it was kind of controversial because I kind of made fun of the other mascots in my drawing and they weren’t sure if it was going to go through and the parents had to vote on it. Anyway, it, it went through. But it was really cool to like, be at this event with all my peers and friends and we were all wearing this t-shirts that I, yeah, it was just this little drawing, um, you know, Springfield, Missouri. But I, but shortly after that, I kinda just like, was like, this is what, what is this? I really like this process. Um, I like working with people. I like using my skillset as a illustrator to sort of make something, make an artifact that people enjoy. Um, and so, yeah, and then, so that led to a, uh, uh, to sort of like, I guess, an education in graphic design. So, yeah.
[00:12:46] Lorilee Rager: So when you went to, um, your undergrad, you know, when I started, I didn’t know, I didn’t declare a major, cause I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. So once I started taking art studio classes and stumbled into the mac lab, I was like, ooh, what is this? And what is this macro media programs and work, and. Tell me, when you got to, yeah, when you got to college, is that, did you just know or declare your major already or?
[00:13:16] Ryan Slone: I kind of didn’t know. Um, yeah, I think I, yeah, I declared my measure, my major right away. I switched schools, but I did declare it right away. Um, I went to a local private university my freshman year and then found myself, like, going home all the time, eating dinner with my parents and sometimes sleeping at my, in my old bedroom. Just because there was just like, there wasn’t enough boundaries there, you know, I was like five minutes away from where I grew up. So my best friend at the time, um, decided to go to the University of Arkansas and I lied to my parents and told them that I’m going to University of Arkansas because they have a great graphic design program. Like mom, it’s an amazing, you will be really, really impressed. And at the time they did not. What they do now, where I am now it’s being built up. But at the time it was just like a really small, there was like one professor. Um, you know, it was more of a fine arts program. But, um, but anyway, it, it worked and I got there and you know, I really I’ve left a few times, but I’ve kind of been here ever since, which is kind of wild to think about.
[00:14:31] Lorilee Rager: It is, it is. Well, you know, that is a big transition time in all of our lives, turning 18 learning freedom, like you said, going to class. But just that, it’s a crazy adjustment, I mean, to go from the restrictive K-12 rules to do what you want. And I did the same thing as far as like going home a lot and staying at home and sleeping there and just kind of feeling my way through that first year of college, not even sure what I had to ask permission for and what I should or shouldn’t be doing is in, so I, I totally relate to that for sure.
[00:15:09] Ryan Slone: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s hard to really, it’s something that I have to remind myself now that I’m a teacher too. Um, I sometimes forget, like, you know, how young people are and that that’s not a, that’s not like a diss or anything. It’s just, um, they’re super talented, but, but like some of the things that they just haven’t experienced, like emotionally. Um, you just have to kind of remember that sometimes that you have to manage those expectations. I certainly, when I was, uh, I mean, when I was that age, I just, uh, and it’s funny, like, I have like an attendance policy, or I did, but I remember when I was in undergrad, I barely came, you know. Like, so many classes I missed. Um, it was funny, too, when I got the assistant professor job, the, my old graphic design professor, like joked, like on Facebook, how I never went to class. Ad now here I am, like, you know, asking people to show up to my class.
[00:16:17] Lorilee Rager: That’s how, where I teach is where I graduated from. And I went to lunch a few weeks ago with, with some of the retired professors. And one of them said in the kindest way, she said, I remember you as a student and you, you just didn’t show up a lot and you were hungover a lot and you, I just, I’m so amazed at what you turned into, because I just didn’t see it in you in class. And I was like, um, thank you. I think.
[00:16:44] Ryan Slone: Yeah, I know, right? It’s like, it’s a compliment, but I, yeah.
[00:16:50] Lorilee Rager: But at 19 and 20, I had no idea what I was doing and probably had not even done my own laundry, my sweet mother had been doing that. Or getting my own groceries or those types of responsibilities that are so far beyond the classroom and what you’re trying to learn a brand new program and learn right now, InDesign and Illustrator and how to do web and how to do layout and composition.
[00:17:13] Ryan Slone: Yeah. It’s managing your time, juggling, juggling everything, yeah.
[00:17:19] Lorilee Rager: Right. Absolutely. So, okay. Tell us how you got from there in those days to, to Pentagram.
[00:17:28] Ryan Slone: Yeah. Yeah. It seems like, it seems like a bit of a leap because we’re talking about the middle of the United States in Arkansas. Um, what I think, what was the seminal moment is when I went to my first of two grad schools. Um, so the Portfolio Center, which is Miami Ad School Portfolio Center down in Atlanta. Um, I just decided to go there after my undergrad. Um, I don’t even really remember why. I had an internship locally, and I felt like I was a little behind in some aspects, and I’ve always just loved, um, you know, just, just the act of learning and pursuing, you know, design. And so I thought, well, this would be a nice thing to do before I get a job. I’m not, probably not quite ready emotionally or mentally to just to get out in the world yet. So I went to Portfolio Center, um, which was this amazing like program. And every, uh, every year they have, um, the Art Director from Pentagram, New York come to the school and they do like this kind of competition, thing, workshop. Um, and they choose a designer, uh, from that based on the project prompt that they give us and, uh, yeah. I fortunately was one of, I think, three that were chosen. And then, so next thing I know, um, yeah, I’m in New York and living in Brooklyn and, uh, by myself, um, and working with, um, amazing people from all over the world. Um, Michael Beirut was my, was, uh, it was on my clearance team. He was my boss. And it was like a really, just honestly, it was a really great experience. A lot of people, I think, with their internships and where they, like, their first job, it’s always a little shaky. But I, I really owe a lot to Michael and sort of my development. He was, um, super, just like laid back and no ego. He was from the Midwest too, but like he would give a lot of, um, power to the designers, the really young designers. I mean, he would collaborate with us, um, gave us sort of a lot of control on, you know, things that are like the New York Times stuff and stuff for Yale School of Architecture, um, like just stuff, like really huge institutions important, um, companies.
[00:20:02] Lorilee Rager: You wouldn’t think an entry level designer would have their hands on.
[00:20:07] Ryan Slone: Never, never. And I even remember, like he would come down and give me like napkin sketches of a poster, a logo, or, uh, something that he designed. And, but he would also always say like, but if you have any more, just throw your ideas in there too. And I would, and they weren’t as good as his, but, you know, he would propose them to the client. And, uh, it was, it was just like a really, a nice confidence builder to be in that environment and have that support. And so it was a short amount of time, but, um, I learned so much, um, from that and, uh, yeah. And, and, and, uh, I know, I remember when I first started there, the, um, the art director said, where are you from? And I said, Missouri. And they said, you wear, you wear, wearing your shoes, you wear shoes. And I didn’t get it .And then I realized, oh, Missouri, hillbilly, no shoes. Oh, got it. Okay. Like, I was so like, in my own world, like, I didn’t even realize, you know, what New Yorkers thought of people. It was a funny experience. So I was just always like being thrown these, um, these different perspectives and points of view, but it was, it was really an amazing experience.
[00:21:32] Lorilee Rager: That is. It sounds really amazing.. Well, so jumping forward again, kind of closer to where we are today, and speaking of the south where we live, you and I both, and going to Vermont, um, I felt the same way. Just as I began to tell people, well, I grew up on a Kentucky grain farm and live in Tennessee, near Nashville. And obviously my accent sometimes gives me away just a hair. But I, they’ll say that, oh, do you eat a lot of Kentucky fried chicken? And I’m like, no I don’t, but I get it. Um, but you know, we met at, um, such a great place in Montpellier at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I was I’m at the beginning of my wanting to teach journey and you already were teaching. So I was just wanting, um, to know if you could share a little bit about why you wanted to teach, um, and just, just really what brought you to that. Because that’s where, that’s where I have, you know, just recently gone through. And it’s really been a beautiful thing that I needed. So I wanted to hear your story too, of why, why did you want to teach?
[00:22:50] Ryan Slone: Yeah. So I never sought out to be a teacher. I never thought I would be a teacher. Um, my mom was a teacher. My wife is a teacher. Yeah. And so I, maybe that’s a part of it, but it was never something that, on, um, on my to-do list. I didn’t think I would be good at it. Um, I was, you know, I just, I didn’t really, I just never even thought about it. And so what happened to me was I started, um, working in agency life and, um, it was good at the beginning. And then I, you know, as, as with many people, it started to not be so good and I, I really kind of felt, um, stuck and that I wasn’t, I was just like, uh, so comfortable where I was, you know, um, and I started to lose the desire and the spark that, you know, got me in this industry to begin with. And so what I started to do was I started, I started to, uh, there was like this adjunct teaching position open at a local university. And, um, I knew someone who knew someone who taught there and I just decided on a whim one day to do it. Um, it was like an hour drive. I would, I would leave work at 5, 5:30. It started at 7:30, um, ended at like 10, once or twice a week in a different state, even. So, yeah, so it was, uh, it was, uh, and, you know, there was, the pay was nothing like it was. But I mean, I, I, uh, I just, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it. It sort of, it just reenergized me in a way, it just woke me up. And, um, it forced me to like work differently and to, to, just to not, just, cause I was just the same, same, same every day, you know? Um, and I really started to develop, um, this, this love of teaching and building relationships with students and connecting with people. And it, um, challenged me to think in different ways. And so it was just like a semester, it happened. The thing was the spring semester and, and I kept doing it like every semester there out for about five years or so. Um, so just one, one or two nights a week. Um, but it, but what I realized quickly was that if I wanted to pursue this as a career, I needed to get a terminal degree, um, which is what led me to VCFA. And then that’s a whole other conversation, um, because at that time, when I started VCFA, when I met you, I was teaching at the university I am now in an instructor position. Um, but being in that space totally then flipped what I thought an educator should be, you know, but in a very big way. It just, like, I thought I kinda knew what I was doing and I, and then I was like, you know, I’m with all these like brilliant, you know, empathetic, inclusive, loving people, this whole community. I was like, I want to bring this magic or this, this little bit to what I’m doing. And I remember I’d come home from every residency and, and I would just be like, that was like this long therapy session. I move, I’d walk into the classroom and I would just like meet with the students one-on-one and we’d go over time, but I would just be so calm and I would have such, like, clarity because I, you know. And it was like, this is, this is like this, what, what is this? That you’re like, right. Like you, even now that we’re gone it’s like, we’re still like, what. What did we, what was this thing?
[00:26:49] Lorilee Rager: What did we just live through? That was this, this amazing, um, Easter egg world, like you just said, empathy and loving people who still appreciate design and use their power for good instead of evil. Instead of shaming you, like your kindergarten teacher. Who just embraced you. And it’s, yeah. And I totally agree.
[00:27:13] Ryan Slone: I felt like I was late to the party, like the first year, I, or at least the first residency, I kept thinking, I’ve that, you know, I should’ve done this a long time ago. And I remember the very first, um, small group conversation with Matt Monk, and he like two or three times, he’s like, you’re not too late. This is the time. You’re not, you know.
[00:27:35] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah. I felt too old too. I was like, this, this isn’t gonna work. Um, I’m in my forties. This is, this isn’t gonna work. I’m too set in my ways or I’ve had 20 years of, of, of be cleaner design, more grids, work harder, faster, be more critical life. And I just can’t believe how that mindset totally changed in just this two years of this daily practice of figuring out who we are and why we’re here and how it all connects to design.
[00:28:12] Ryan Slone: Yeah. I mean, yeah, you’re right. I think for you, I know for you and for me both, it was pretty immediate, you know. Like, it didn’t take months and months. I mean, it was like our first residency, our first time there that, that one, one week or so. Um, uh, you know, where it just sort of like things start. And I don’t think I realized it at the time. I was aware that changes were happening inside me, but I didn’t realize, um, what was happening to me until I then sort of reentered my comfortable space back home.
[00:28:50] Lorilee Rager: Yes. They call it the rocky reentry.
[00:28:53] Ryan Slone: Yeah. The rocky reentry. And especially talking to people from my past, like that are, like, that, it’s really, it’s, it’s like really exposed like how different I am now than what I was just from a lot of different perspectives.
[00:29:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That is interesting because I think you, and I, um, know each other now in that sense of the way we grew and changed in our own paths, but still parallel through grad school. So it’s interesting when people from our past do just, just outright out of the blue, say you’re really different, like in a good way. It’s really like this level of peace and less anxiety and less fear. I mean, yes, fear is always still there. But it’s just a level that I didn’t ever expect. I just wanted to get the MFA, learn more about fonts so I could go preach it to some children. And that is not what happened.
[00:29:57] Ryan Slone: We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Well, I mean, I agree. Like I wanted, I, I went there because I needed a degree and the great thing about VCFA was, uh, this little residency, uh, you know, format. It works for so many people. Um, I didn’t have to quit my job. I didn’t have to uproot my family and move across the country. I could keep doing what I’m doing. And I think that was interesting because I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t expect it to be such a massive change just because everything in my life is sort of the same.
[00:30:33] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I thought it was just one week every six months. And then you came back to your reentry and you just kept doing your same things.
[00:30:40] Ryan Slone: Yeah. Yeah. I know. Yeah. It’s it’s uh, it’s uh, they should, they should put this on their website.
[00:30:49] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. This has turned into a VCFA love fest.
[00:30:53] Ryan Slone: Yeah, the infomercial where it’s just us crying.
[00:30:56] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, testimonial. We’ll put their logo, yeah. That’s right. Well, well I think, um, you know, I relate so much to your story of just needing another outlet to that creative desire we grew up loving as a child. It’s just the grind that I think eventually gets to some of us. And, and I did the same thing. It’s just on a whim, helped a friend who, um, needed a maternity leave that turned into multiple other surgeries and just covered her class for her. And I walked out of that classroom so energized and so just almost, my eyes were just reopened to, there are, you know, good curious, brilliant students out there that still want to learn this. And maybe I have something to share. Maybe my story, um, will help their path a little bit along the way.
[00:31:52] Ryan Slone: Yeah. No, I totally feel that. I feel like there’s like this desire, innate desire to give back to, uh, to people. And I, and I started, I, I do kind of find some similarities, looking back for me, practice versus teaching. I really, I always enjoyed the interaction with, um, my collaborators and the people I worked with and clients probably more than even the work itself, a lot of times. I take with me and I think that translates to how, how I sort of work as a teacher in the classroom, is just, um, you know, like breaking down that hierarchy and meeting people where they are and building relationships and building trust. And, um, yeah, so I feel like in a lot of ways, like, it makes sense for me when you look at it. Um, I’m still able to produce and do work, uh, to research, but the majority of my time really is about that interaction with, with people and, um, and that leads right into what design can do for communities and people. And, um, so I think it’s all intertwined in there. It just took a while for me to figure it out. And I kind of had to take, I had to take that risk, um, to just try it. Because I’m not usually also one that likes to take risks and just starting to teach was a bit of a jump for me. So, um, I guess there’s a lesson in there to do more of that.
[00:33:30] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Just, just to take the risk and try. Just try. Right. I love what you said to you because you saying it was just, I just realized that myself as an aha moment of the process of being a designer and the making and producing something is where I started. And it was fun for a long time. But then I began to enjoy the community, the relationships, the conversations, um, assisting someone to problem solve and help them think of other tools or avenues and consider this, consider that. And that’s the part I absolutely love. And you do that with employees and coworkers and clients. And then yeah, that shift just naturally shifts to students, and it’s exactly the same relationship. And I love how you said yeah, you break the hierarchy, um, and, and it’s not me up at a podium lecturing something. I’m sitting down at the table with them, which is something you told me to do.
[00:34:35] Ryan Slone: The, yeah, well, I mean, and just to see it modeled firsthand, and that’s another thing for, for both of us is to be teachers and then also at the same time students and this VCFA world, but to see how, um, Silas or, you know, Nikki or Ian or, or any of the, how they would talk to me, how they would communicate with us, how they would relate to us, how they would, um, you know, you know, just really connect in ways that, that got to the heart of like who I am. Like those, those moments, whether or not they realized it, were like, uh, just transcended how I, how I, how I thought I used to, like, I completely went back to the classroom, a changed person just with those interactions with these people and in that, in that grad school space. Um, and, uh, yeah, I don’t know. It’s, it’s something that, um, again, it’s like, it’s, it’s one of those things where I feel like it just comes back to people and connections and, um, I want more of it now. That’s the thing that I’m kind of like, being like, I want, I want to pull those pieces from that space again and that nourishment, um, you know, having been out for a little while.
[00:36:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I totally totally agree. Um, yeah, I’ve never had a more human experience with a professor or a teacher. Again, you go to K-12 and it’s completely desk in a row, person up front at a bigger desk that’s a bigger louder shouter, intimidating, it’s just a scary experience. And that’s the model. And then even college, it’s very similar. It’s just individual buildings and you get to walk outside in the grass to that next version of the same thing. And then to walk into somewhere like VCFA where you were just sitting shoulder to shoulder, you know, sometimes in just exercise pants and chatting about their real life authentic lived experience and how it related to something globally and how design was a piece of it the whole way. And I think it changes things in the best, biggest ways for teachers to teach.
[00:37:09] Ryan Slone: A hundred percent I mean, when I first met Ian, my thesis advisor, the very first week on campus, I mean, he hugged me, right. This stranger gave me a big hug. And then, you know, we had, you know, I probably cried in front of him and vice versa that first week of knowing him, right. And it’s like, wow, if someone can be that vulnerable and like loving and, um, authentic with me, and this is my, this is my teacher, like, right, like, what am I doing standing up, you know, with a PowerPoint making all these rules. Like what? What if I sit down with them and talk to them first or ask them, you know, like just it, there’s those ways to connect with people and I’ve found that in the classroom for me, it’s just, it’s really, it’s, I think the students get more out of it. Um, I’m not saying I don’t teach, but I mean, um, um, I am just like building this connection with them and, um, I, it’s just the whole you’re teaching the whole student, the whole person. It’s not just these little banking systems. So yeah.
[00:38:27] Lorilee Rager: Yes, the whole person. Yeah. Yep. Yeah. That’s beautifully put. Yeah, that’s right. So, so good. So good. Well, jumping off from that, tell me with all of this amazing, you know, graphic design, origin story and all you’ve lived and teaching. I want to talk a little bit about your work life balance and, um, you know, how do you juggle it all, um, with your posters? I definitely want you to call it, let’s call this section pausing and parenting and posters. That’s the new stuff you’re into. So, I mean, currently.
[00:39:05] Ryan Slone: It shouldn’t be like, how, how are you not juggling it? And I would just tell you what I’m doing, because that’s the truth. How are you dropping all these balls?
[00:39:13] Lorilee Rager: What balls have you dropped today?
Yeah, what balls have you dropped today. I won’t tell, I’ll tell you. Um, yeah, it’s, it’s crazy. Like, so, um, you know, it’s, I have, so I use, I don’t know, maybe I’ll talk procedurally. I have a notion document or a notion where I list out everything that I do for the day. And I try to really break apart my day with certain tasks. So whether it’s teaching or it’s research, uh, or just engaging with the family and the kids. So I do try to have that structure and I usually try to fill it out two weeks, so I have like a two week calendar. I don’t, I use iCal, but I don’t really use iCal. It’s just, it’s, I like being more of a visual person. I like to have everything sort of written out. So I, I like that.
But in terms of like the juggling, I mean, it’s wild right now. It’s crazy. And especially like after COVID, um, so we’re back in person on campus. Um, so, um, I’m not able just to go up to my office and work. Um, I’m traveling to campus, that’s a whole thing. And then my kids are, are very like active kids in sports, and so, and my wife’s a teacher also, she’s an elementary art teacher, so we’re always doing this. We’re always, um, strategizing, it seems like, and figuring out who takes what person where they go and blah, blah, blah. And so I find myself on my laptop at, you know, soccer, practice answering Slack messages or emails. And so I, I’m not the person to ask about balanced. I, I really, I really respect some of my, some of my colleagues. They have boundaries with, you know, like where they don’t answer emails, they don’t check things at a certain time. And I, um, I wish I could do that. I really do. I, I’m the weird person that if I see like a little red icon on my phone, an unread message or an responded text, it just drives me crazy. And so, um, but you know, all that to say, I don’t, I don’t feel completely burdened by it. Like, I feel like it’s just like, it’s just all feeds into each, it’s just like part of it. Um, I’ll be working in front of my kids and get their perspectives or Olivia is my wife’s perspective on my work or, you know, well, you know, like, I don’t know. There’s just, that seems to sort of, that’s just where I am right now in my life, I feel like. And it’s a, it’s a part of my life that it’s wild and it’s insane, but, um, it’s probably gonna slow down I think.
I don’t know if it ever will, but that’s what I think it’s, the juggling is more, to me it’s more important to prioritize the juggling, like you said, in breaking things out. I have a, a best self journal that’s actually hour by hour and I fill it out. Literally, you know, gym, morning pages, check emails, you know, all the hour by hour and it’s, it’s down to the kids.
[00:42:30] Ryan Slone: Will you share that with me? I want to see that.
[00:42:33] Lorilee Rager: Yes I will. I love it. And when you do that and I do my one week at a time, usually on Sundays, I fill out the next week. Um, but I go ahead if I know of something coming up the next week. But I’m like you, iCal has like the big, hard hitting, you know, 30,000 foot view, ballgames, practice, all that, and then I plug those in. But the juggling is more important to me almost than the boundaries. I think I could, so if I say I know I’m going to check Slack at six, before we have TV time booked in for the, you know, me and the boys, then I don’t have a problem checking Slack at 6:00 PM. I really don’t. I, I, my students need to hear feedback so they can continue working. And I feel justified by, I set in that intent of that time. And then, then I also set the intent of that hour with the kids, and then I get my reading hour to myself, and then I go to bed. But I’m like you, I admire the teachers that are like, I will not be checking anything after five, I will not do anything on the weekends. And I’m like, hey, if that’s what helps you, but the level of anxiety come Monday morning, I couldn’t function.
[00:43:43] Ryan Slone: Totally. I totally, I couldn’t agree more. I love that idea of, I, I really try to work, um, to work in times to just be present with my family. And I’ve, I’ve done that to some extent, but, but I’m not the best at it. So it’s something that I’m trying to work on. I love that idea of just like, like scheduling it in, you know, like, like you would, uh, a meeting or whatever.
[00:44:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. My 14 year old, you know, in a sweet way, just demands it. And he wants my phone face down, he wants to be hanging out and showing me music. I mean, that’s, that’s when we listen to Kanye’s music. They were like, they were like, okay, tonight, we’re going to listen to this song and this song, and look at this Tik Tok and look at this funny YouTube and this is what I learned at school. It’s like a full hour of just intense communication from them. And they love it.
[00:44:37] Ryan Slone: That’s so cool. I love that. That’s great. I mean, well, I feel like for my kids, as they’re getting older, there’s, there’s less of that sort of, those moments of like sharing what’s going on in their lives. Like, you know, I I’m kind of that dad, who’s like, what’d you do in school today? Did anything funny happen? Like I try to engage them at probably the wrong time, right when they get home and they want to get on YouTube and get a snack and I’ll pepper them with questions and they’re like, you know, they’re exhausted. They don’t wanna listen to my questions I just repeat over and over again. Um, but I love that because I feel like you’re getting, you’re getting, you’re getting more, more honest, honesty, just like better engagement when you could just put everything down and share time with them. I think that’s great. I’m gonna do that.
[00:45:28] Lorilee Rager: And again, like you said, Tuesdays, Thursdays, there’s golf and other things, but we know on Mondays at seven and usually Wednesdays, we try to do it for about 30 minutes and, um, and then Fridays. But like tonight there’s homecoming, they have a ball game, so we won’t do it tonight. I’ll take them to the game and make sure they have everything, but that’s actually helped us in a stress level of, I learned a couple of weeks ago we had to get a homecoming shirt, we had to order homecoming flowers, we had to get pants and belts that fit, you know. Otherwise I don’t think, I don’t think I would have known or been tracking that and we would have been scrambling today and my anxiety and anger would have been through the roof and made it a miserable experience for them.
[00:46:10] Ryan Slone: Yep yep, yep. Been there.
[00:46:12] Lorilee Rager: Um, yeah. So wrapping up, I do want to hear a little bit about your posters because I know you have been just, I mean, just making some amazing things and winning some amazing awards.
[00:46:27] Ryan Slone: Oh yeah. It’s kinda wild, um, how it’s, um, how it’s kind of happened. I mean, so basically like going back to, um, I think that, I think an interesting part of like my design trajectory has been when I started to teach, I also started to pursue, um, poster work, like social cause like poster work. And I would, and so those are two sort of outlets for me, um, to maybe escape a little bit of the mundane. And so I would, I would enter the, well, they weren’t really competitions. There were more like, um, sometimes I’ll just give myself prompts. I, I don’t, I really can’t tell you what it is about the poster that led me to that format because it, it, it is consistent if I think back to, um, when I started design, something about like that visual, it’s always just been a comfortable way for me to express something. Um, and I kinda, and I, so I, I really fell in love with it a while ago. And anyway, fast forward to just a few months ago, um, there’s nothing like the, uh, the motivation of, of tenure, you know. I wasn’t, I, I, I, so I’m like, okay, well I have my degree, I have my assistant professor position, I’m in a institution now where it’s a tier one research institution, so there’s a high priority on research. And, um, I never really knew what my research was going to be. What I, what I basically decided sort of like organically was that I, I just thought after grad school I was like, did all this work, um, produced this thesis book that I was really proud of. Now what am I going to do from here out? And I started just to brainstorm, uh, do what I want to do. So I decided, I’m going to make some posters. And what happened was, um, I started by connecting with people in the community and the global poster community. And there’s a really big community of poster designers all over the world. It’s not, there aren’t that many in the United States. Um, but I would just reach out to these people on social media and I scheduled zoom calls and I met with them. I’m meeting someone today as a matter of fact. Um, and so I, I think, I think I just really focused hard on trying to learn like how to make this, uh, this specialty, how to make this, I guess, this focused interest into, um, a research focus. And, and anyway, so I’ve connected with a lot of people and I’ve been, um, invited to some conferences to design posters for specific events. Um, and yeah, so, so the last, I guess six months or so I’ve, I’ve, I’ve done quite a few, um, have just really started to, um, really just started to focus on it from a research perspective. And, um, yeah, I don’t, I don’t really, even, it’s weird to even think about it because when I was in grad school, I wasn’t, I did, I did some poster work, but, um, I feel like I rediscovered it after grad school knowing that it was an aspect of my life that I wanted to sort of like uncover a little bit more. And I absolutely love it, there’s probably nothing more in the world that I would rather do. Like, um, I just, I love having a prompt, I love having, um, I love having the constraints of a visual, I love being expressive. Um, I like to make, I’m a maker, so I just like to do stuff and I like to get it out in the world and get feedback and, um, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really, it’s, it’s a, it’s a really, I don’t know, fun format. It’s like, it’s interesting.
[00:50:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah I was going to ask, you know, if it was fun because I think, uh, I think grad school taught us that it’s okay, this is supposed to be fun. Why are we taking design so damn serious? Like this is supposed to be fun. We are makers. And I think that that spark opened back up in us, in grad school of, yeah, it’s supposed to be fun. Like go back to your childhood fun memories. What did you make and what did you do. Or, um, and you had said you just, you approached it, I think you and I had text a while back and you said something about, you just approached it, like, or email or whatever, but you just approached it like grad school. Like with that same work ethic and passion, and I think that’s what made it successful. Tell us about that, yeah.
[00:51:37] Ryan Slone: Just like a packet, yeah. So I, um, I sort of strategized, had a plan of people that I wanted to talk to. I have, um, poster competitions, events, um, workshops. I’m just really trying to go at it, like my old self would be afraid to do that. I would be afraid to just approach a stranger and talk to them or afraid to try something because I thought I would fail. But I’m just like, I don’t give a fuck, I’m just going to do it, see what happens, you know. And, and I think that’s another beauty of, of VCFA is it’s given me the confidence to just kind of not care. And, you know, I know it’s something that, um, I enjoy and I want to do it. And, um, some people are great at writing, like academic papers and, um, presenting at conferences and for, and I’ve done a little bit of that, but for me, I think it really comes back to the act, the physical act of making it. What’s so great about the posters that I’ve been doing is I’ve been going material, analog, and using India ink, you know, I’ve, I’m really going back to when I was a kid, I feel like I could, there’s, that, you know, there’s no judgment. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have a client, I don’t have a boss. And maybe he doesn’t like my solution or whatever, you know. Like it’s, um, it’s pretty liberating in that respect. And, um, yeah. So, yeah. Yeah. You could see them behind me.
[00:53:12] Lorilee Rager: I know. Very good. Very cool. Um, and the, one of the things you had said, or I read in your bio was just about, um, which I think is just beautiful, the social advocacy of poster design, and it has a long standing history of recording our struggles. And when I think of that, I think of such brilliant historic posters that, through history, when right now, when you do go back and look and what they meant, and, and, and for like you were saying peace and social justice, and.
[00:53:47] Ryan Slone: Yeah, I think like, it’s, I think it’s interesting too, because I think, um, for everything that’s happening socially in the United States, um, right now, like Instagram, social media, I mean, in a lot of ways people are expressing those thoughts, uh, through the little, you know, the little, the little static square, right, we share a little square. Um, and posters are really just an extension of that. And, um, it’s something that I’m interested in, it’s, and how I, how the two could be combined. And it’s actually, uh, It’s actually really kind of where I want to go in the classroom, is how to sort of bridge those two things. Uh, because the students that I have right now are very, very like vocal and interested in, in, in, um, it just social causes. And, and they, and I really try to inject that into all my work, because I want them to feel that the design matters and it can have a voice and it can have an impact on things. And so, um, you know, my, my extension of that as the poster, there’s maybe something completely different. Um, but, so it’s, it’s, it’s really it’s, I don’t think it’s going to go away. And I feel like sometimes, you know, at least in America, that posters were sort of like, um, uh, I guess thought it was like advertisements and, um, there, there’s still, there’s all, all the, I guess like all of the, uh, the history and sort of the, the elevation of it as a medium really happens globally and other, other countries. So, um, I’m finding that there, in my research, that it’s such an expansive and large like, um, community out there and I’m, I want to inject more of that into my classroom and what I’m doing personally.
[00:55:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. It’s really fascinating work. It really is. I think of even from a child to church bulletins or bulletin boards in the community, or on telephone poles that we’re like come tonight to this meeting, this is an important thing, we need your help. And that same version has transferred into Instagram. And like you said, that need, it brings up needed dialogue and, and, and helps, you know, complex social issues. So I think the poster research is fascinating. I’m very looking forward to learning and watching more as you continue, so.
[00:56:23] Ryan Slone: Thank you.
[00:56:23] Lorilee Rager: You’re welcome. We’re just about out of time. So my one last hard hitting question.
[00:56:28] Ryan Slone: No.
[00:56:28] Lorilee Rager: I know. We’re definitely gonna have to have you back, we have so much to talk about. But the last hard hitting question is what tool, what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? Just something that maybe helps you get grounded or gives gratitude. It can be, it can be anything. Quote, song, meditation, flower.
[00:56:51] Ryan Slone: Okay. I, um, let’s see. This, that’s a great question. I, I think I hope you get a good variety of answers. I’m going to say, I’m going to say one thing and it’s, uh, it’s more for me, but I’m hoping that the personal becomes the universal or I hope it helps someone else out. But, um, for me, it’s a good bike ride outside.
[00:57:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah.
[00:57:22] Ryan Slone: So there’s, it’s not a run, not a walk, not a jog. I get on a damn bicycle and feel the wind and it moves and go fast. And you know, and also, when you’re on a bike you can’t be listening to any music, you can’t have your phone on you. It’s very dangerous, don’t do that. So I would say a good bike ride. And I’ve, I’ve been kind of a cyclist for a little while and it’s kept kind of going like this.
[00:57:52] Lorilee Rager: Up and down.
[00:57:53] Ryan Slone: Um, I just got a mountain bike. There you go, up and down. Um, I, I just got a mountain bike. And so, um, I found that just getting out and just like literally moving away from wherever I am. Um, there’s also like the spiritual sort of like connection with nature or the ground or the environment, you see things differently on a bike. You see things, like there’s a different scale to things than there would be in a car on foot. It’s really interesting. You appreciate like terrain more, uh, I think climate and all those things. So that would, I would throw in and just, it can be any kind of road bike, mountain bike, tricycle, but.
[00:58:37] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, you talk about throw back to childhood, how much fun was getting a new bike and getting just away, out of your parents’ face and, and
[00:58:47] Ryan Slone: That’s a good point. Yeah.
[00:58:49] Lorilee Rager: I think it’s a great thing.
[00:58:50] Ryan Slone: Maybe I should say, not a commute, that’s another thing. It should not be a commute.
[00:58:54] Lorilee Rager: You’re doing it for fun.
[00:58:55] Ryan Slone: It shouldn’t be home to work, or work. It should be, it should be sort of like the free, the free fall kind of experience.
[00:59:03] Lorilee Rager: Yes. I think that’s brilliant. And there’s so much research that already points to getting outside, moving, getting your heart rate up, all of that. But being on a bike again, um, is something that a lot of people probably don’t do, and doing it for fun. Like you said, not as a commute. I love it. It’s perfect. It fits perfect in the toolbox.
[00:59:22] Ryan Slone: Wear your helmet.
[00:59:23] Lorilee Rager: Yes, wear your helmet. Don’t text and bike.
[00:59:27] Ryan Slone: Don’t text and bike. Yeah, I know.
[00:59:30] Lorilee Rager: Well, that’s awesome. That’s great. Well, um, that’s, that’s all we have time for today, but thank you so much for being here. I so appreciate it. It’s been great.
[00:59:40] Ryan Slone: Thank you Lorilee. It’s amazing to watch, to sort of watch you grow in this, ah, in this space. I’m just so proud and happy to see you. And, uh, we’ve, I feel like we’ve only been around each other for maybe like two weeks of our lives, like in person, I feel like we’re already so close. It’s crazy.
[01:00:06] Lorilee Rager: It’s so weird how the pandemic and, uh, a low residency program made me closer to you and some of our cohort than any other humans I’ve ever lived with or been around my whole life. And I cherish it and I’m so grateful for it.
[01:00:21] Ryan Slone: Same, yeah.
[01:00:22] Lorilee Rager: So thank you. Same here.
[01:00:24] Ryan Slone: Thank you.
[01:00:25] Lorilee Rager: All right. That’s it.
[01:00:26] Ryan Slone: Is this where the outro music plays?
[01:00:28] Lorilee Rager: That’s right.
Thanks again to Ryan for bringing such great energy to our conversation and sharing his story and strategies to navigating life. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more info about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for some more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.
The Ground and Gratitude podcast is produced by Kelly Drake and AOMcClain, LLC. .