Kristen Drozdowski is the powerhouse designer and artist behind Worthwhile Paper, a brand of stationary that includes greeting cards, art prints, decks, and notebooks. She is also the author of the guided journal, You Are the Magic You Seek: A Journal for Looking Within, which inspires self-reflection through handwritten prompts and affirmations, and features vibrant illustrations in her signature minimalist style. In this interview, I got the wonderful opportunity to learn about her creative process, her inspirations, her business, and more.
Is there a certain mindset you need to be in while you’re making art?
Sometimes I get too hung up on creating the perfect art-making environment I forget that just by sitting down and beginning, the art making actually creates the ideal mindset! I do, however, still like to set myself up to be in a state of calm and focus while I am painting and illustrating. To get myself there, I like to sit in silence for a little, take some deep breaths, get some to-do list items out of the way, and set up a peaceful and clean space. Now, it doesn’t always stay clean and peaceful! It actually can get quite messy, but a space free of clutter, both internally and externally, is a good place to start. I think the state I am in can really have a factor in how my process goes. If I am in a positive mood and don’t feel stressed, there is more equanimity and flow. I notice that if I am rushing or pushing myself, the process ends up getting hazy as a reflection and the end product might not feel right.
Are there any artists and/or art styles that inspire you, or you’ve found to be particularly formative to your work?
I find a lot of inspiration in the way Agnes Martin, Emma Kunz, and Hilma Af Klint made their work, connecting with the subtle and channeling experience and insight into something visual and often beautifully resonant on unexplainable emotional (or deeper) levels. I am also really inspired by the rare, anonymous Tantric paintings from Rajasthan and other forms of art tied to heightened states of consciousness. I think I am the most inspired by ‘accidental’ beauty. The way the sidewalk cracks from wear and pressure and breaks up a square of concrete into balanced fragments. This is by the means of perfection and absoluteness that no human could quite synthesize. Perhaps it’s not really that accidental.
You Are the Magic You Seek is a guided journal, but you’ve also made oracle decks, greeting cards, etc. Did you always consider your work to be interactive, or did that aspect of your work emerge over time?
This emerged over time, but I will say that the interaction isn’t always the first focus of the project. I sort of have to push the whole ‘this is for others’ thing out of the way to make sure I am making something that feels authentic. Often I create things based off of my own process of self-inquiry and what I need for myself as reminders, and the sharing it with others part comes after. When I created You Are the Magic You Seek it was a process of looking into my experiences of self-inquiry and bringing out the things that are helpful for me and changing the format from past-tense to instructional in the present. I love to think this is the way a project like this needs to happen, to resonate on a level of inner connection before expecting it to resonate outward and connect with others.
Are there any challenges you faced while you were working on You Are the Magic You Seek? If so, how did you overcome them?
Absolutely! Of course there is always imposter syndrome, comparison, and self doubt. This was also the first project of this scale I have worked on, and the first time really collaborating with an editor, and the first time setting up art for offset printing (usually my designs are screen printed) so there were some learning curves. The process did go quite smooth overall. I was excited most of the time, and I really loved working with Chronicle Books.
I love how one of the themes in your journal is coexisting peacefully with your emotions, rather than trying to control or admonish them. Does this mindset inform your work, either in the process of making it or in the aesthetic elements?
Absolutely. I think a lot of my own process in healing and through therapy has been about accepting and seeing all parts of myself and not trying to filter myself or push anything away, and I do notice this in my creative process also. Sometimes I start off making something I think I am ‘supposed’ to make, which is some function of projected ego and identity, but then the true me emerges anyway and I can let it happen through embracing what comes out and how, and accepting it as me.
A lot of your work could be described as minimalist. What makes you decide it’s time to step away from a project? And in general, how would you describe your relationship with minimalism?
It’s really a feeling in my gut. I know when it’s time to step away from a project when I feel the realness of it, a sense of resolve, and that nothing more (time, energy, visual elements etc.) is being called in. My relationship with minimalism really comes down to perception and peace. Visual pleasure can translate to emotional pleasure. When the inessential is stripped away, what’s left is the essential, the essence. I really find peace in that, and it’s more of a feeling or rightness and ease than anything logical or formulaic.
In your artist statement, you mention that you time your projects in accordance with cosmic occasions. How does doing this shape your work? Is there one occasion in particular that you feel is especially inspirational or influential?
I feel that natural cycles of nature are the most influential to me. The moon cycle feels particularly important. When I was first starting my painting practice, a project I set for myself was to create a painting for each moon cycle as a way of studying my own energy in correspondence with the cycle, and keeping me self-accountable for practicing. I would prepare and gesso the panel on the new moon, and see how the process went thought the cycle, ending before the new moon again. I did this for 10 cycles and kept a journal. It was such a rich experience to be with my art and the moon together. To experience the act of creation as something larger than myself in a cosmic cycle, and to notice the connections that come from directing my awareness in this way are really helpful for being in the moment. I am doing this again this year actually, but in a slightly different way, and I am excited to see what happens!
Worthwhile Paper has really flourished into quite an impressive business. Is there anything about your art style or creative process that you’ve seen change since you started Worthwhile Paper?
My creative process has gotten a lot more streamlined and intentional, and I notice that I really take care to spend time with my designs and make sure they are just right. Before, I may have rushed and pushed something through without really being with it and making sure it felt right. Progressively over time I’ve definitely introduced more color to my designs, and my lettering has gotten less flourishy and I have favorited my all-caps lettering styles. I am still inspired by a lot of the same things, but I think I am always improving as an artist and designer with time and practice and following what makes me feel good as a way to guide myself in making.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been very vocal about social justice causes. What role do you think art can play in creating a more equitable society?
Art can be such a meaningful way of communicating that goes beyond words and into tapping into our feelings, human nature, and connections with each other and the world around us. Creating art can be an act of service, an act of protest, and an act of creating inspiration and motivation for bringing people together.
These are difficult times, to say the least. Have you seen your work or creative process change in response to our current moment? Do you have any advice for maintaining a creative practice during challenging times?
Yes. I have a lot less time because I have a first-grader home for virtual school, so my creative process feels a little less spacious. My advice to myself is to honor myself for all I am able to do instead of focusing on the time and space I don’t have as much as. There is nothing good that can come of putting pressure on your creativity at this time, but know that it is always there for you to draw from when you need to make art as a way of finding peace, as a way of processing, as a way of doing work, and as a way of being with yourself in this unique moment.
What does the term “magic” mean to you?
When I really get to the essence of the word ‘magic’ for me it comes down to what feels like mysterious, powerful, and often loving energy that works to guide something as subtle as an intention to a tangible outcome.
You Are the Magic You Seek: A Journal for Looking Within (2020) is published by Chronicle Books and is available in bookstores and online.
AYA KUSCH is an editor, artist, and freelancer based in San Francisco. She grew up playing with mud, which eventually led to a love of clay and a subsequent BFA in sculpture. She is fourth generation Japanese and a third generation potter, a Bay Area native, and a former bookseller who still obsesses over the best way to organize a bookshelf. She loves good design, contemporary art that will worry your mom and confuse your dad, and sculptures that make you look up. She is currently working on a book about art from Edo Japan.