Paper Plains aka Sarah Lenger designs with the daring, self-assured hand of someone who embraces a diversity of inspirations and isn’t afraid of a good challenge. At her best, she captures different moods with each design and appeals to a variety of tastes and occasions. She was most recently featured on this blog as the winner of the best religious design prize in the Holiday Spectacular Challenge, and as you can see from her winning design, she really knows how to work the “wow” factor. Let’s get to know Sarah a little bit better in this week’s Meet a Mintie.
How did your design career begin?
I originally went to college wanting to study photography. I found out about the graphic design program and decided to give it a shot–it was a juried entrance into the program. I was accepted into the program and 4 years later had a BFA in graphic design. During the summers and on breaks I worked for an amazing florist and learned so much about color, composition–weddings in general–from her.
We were booked with around 4 weddings each weekend, so I feel like I’ve seen almost everything when it comes to weddings and receptions. The summer before my senior year I interned at a small design firm in Phoenix, Arizona and wow, I learned a lot (thanks Kathy!!). After college, I worked for a civil engineering company as an in-house designer. A year later, my husband was relocated to Iowa City. I took a job with the University, and have been there ever since.
You mentioned that you’ve lived in several states and countries – which places were your favorites and how did they impact your work?
My family moved with my dad’s job every three years or so when I was a kid. We lived in Austria for 2 years. We were able to travel to Italy, Germany (at the time it was West Germany!), Hungary, Switzerland…it was great. I think some of my favorite places have been Salzburg and Graz in Austria, Costa Rica, Malaga, Spain and Belfast, Northern Ireland. My husband and I have a tradition of bringing home a piece of original art from each place we visit and I love going into shops and galleries searching for the perfect piece and taking in the local styles.
How did Iowa City become home and what is it about it that makes you love it?
We moved to Iowa City in 2005 for my husband’s job. At first I wasn’t happy about it. Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, and I went to the rival college (Iowa State)! But now I love it. There is just so much going on. From football games, to concerts, to author visits…you name it. I mean come on, I’ve met President Barack Obama, the Clintons, President Carter…my office is in the student union so a lot of activity happens around here. Especially around election time since Iowa is the first primary!
Can you tell us about people, moments, or experiences you have encountered that have transformed your perspective on design?
I had a professor in college that really stressed contrast–size contrast, weight contrast, color contrast…now that I look at my work I realize how much that advice has impacted my aesthetic. It seems like my work always has something bold and in-yo-face.
What is like being an Art Director at a large university? And working with seven student design interns?
Crazy. Working around student schedules, working with a brand new group of 20-year-old novices each year, re-teaching the same principles of design, theory, software….it’s endless. But I love them. They’re so sweet and eager to learn. And it’s like having MTV/VH1/Nickelodeon right in the office. They keep me hip and cool–haha.
Working for the U is fun too, I work on the student life side of things so my market is always 18-22 year olds. How fun is that? The only bummer is the school colors…black and gold…hard to do much with that. Plus, the Big Ten athletic conference is in my blood…my dad played football for Ohio State and my brother played football for Wisconsin. Go Big Ten!
How do you juggle a busy career as an art director, design company owner, and active Minted community member?
Yeah it’s been crazy lately! Now that I’m getting more and more into the Minted challenges and community, I have definitely noticed a new level of busy-ness. Plus, freelance is really picking up–I think the economy is back on the upswing!
There are several tools I use to make my life easier. I use Dropbox on all my computers and that acts as a back-up as well as gives me access to all my files no matter where I am. Second, I use Evernote to file all my tearsheets/inspiration. Once again, that syncs to all my computers, even my phone.
You mention in your bio that you help your clients “get noticed and make an impact in their market.” This could be a good description of your own work, which is bold, courageous, yet so darn good looking. How do you go through the process of getting noticed and making an impact?
When it comes to identity and collateral, I usually start with research– who are the competitors, what are they doing, what sets the client apart? I also ask the client to fill out a creative brief and gather ideas from that. I want to make sure that I will be designing something that stands out from the competitors, yet doesn’t look out of place.
Can you show us what your workspace is like?
I have several workspaces. From 8-5 I share an office with my friend and partner, Dan.
At home, I have a den area devoted to my design business, but I also have a laptop so I can move around the house as needed.
What kind of things do you (and forgive my slang) totally geek out on?
I love fashion. I would say that is my number one influence in my design. Chanel, Georges Hobeika, Marc Jacobs, Carolina Herrera, Alexander McQueen, Armani Privé. I totally geek out when it’s Fashion Week! Le sigh.
Your next big trip will be to ______ and you will be doing a lot of this: _____________
Well I leave tomorrow for Denver and I will be doing a lot of family things (I have a cousin getting married) and brewery tours. Really, the last two years we have had so many out-of-state weddings that we haven’t had time (or money!) to go abroad for leisure. Right now I am living vicariously through my brother…he’s traveling the world before he starts grad school, he has gone to Greece, Jordan, Australia, South America…I’m way jealous!
When was the last time you saw a design that totally blew you away and surprised you?
I am always blown away by anything on Etsy. The things that people come up with are unbelievable! Jewelry, clothing, handbags, artwork…it’s all amazing. It makes me think outside the box and make me want to work with my hands instead of the computer.
Who in the community do you really admire and what do you like about them and their work?
Oh my goodness…I love so many Minties. It’s funny because I’ve actually made friends through Minted. I chat (online/text) with Stacey Day almost every day, as well as Amy Ehmann. I admire both of them so much! Stacey and I have come to realize that we may be separated at birth. We have a lot in common and seem to have the same design style.
And finally, what advice would you give to designers in the Minted community?
Be true to your own design aesthetic. Do what you do best and don’t try to mimic another’s design style. Think like a consumer. Know your market.
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