After quitting her day job as a graphic designer in May 2016 to enter an intensive type design program at Cooper Union in New York, Aspacia Kusulas traveled to Iceland, Russia, and Finland among other cities for several months with her brother. In September 2016, she returned to her home base in Los Angeles to make the leap into creative self-employment. At first, she was nervous about securing enough freelance gigs to stay afloat, but things turned out better than she expected. In fact, she’s constantly busy flexing her lettering and type design skills for branding projects, in addition to catalog work and teaching calligraphy workshops—not to mention her Minted designs. “I really enjoy the freedom,” she says. “Sometimes it feels a little bit like I’m not working, but I am.”
“Abstracciones Vol. 3” wall art by Aspacia Kusulas
At 35, she’s accomplished a lot, but we have a feeling she’s just getting warmed up. Aspacia’s ultimate career goal is to establish herself as a letterer, calligrapher, and type designer. “I really want to focus more on type design—it’s a personal dream of mine,” she says. Having grown up in Mexico, with Greek heritage, she has a worldly view of how art and culture collide. As for her design style, Aspacia thinks it’s hard to define. “Sometimes I feel whimsy and playful, sometimes I feel edgy and bold, sometimes nostalgic and complex. I would say my work is the result of juxtaposition of my favorite things which translate to an eclectic style,” Aspacia says. “I strive to place the old in a modern context.”
Here Aspacia talks about what drives her, scares her, and the little things you wouldn’t know about her unless she tells you right now.
Minted: You have Greek roots but grew up in Mexico. Can you tell us more about your family’s heritage?
Aspacia Kusulas: I was born and raised in Zacatecas, Mexico, a colonial city known for its old, pink buildings, baroque churches, and silver mining. It is a small city, but full of culture and the arts. Growing up with Mexican and Greek customs was really enriching. I was exposed to a wide range of cuisines—something I still love very much—and attended many unique and vibrant art festivals. My dearest aunt took me to a lot of plays, concerts, and exhibits and those experiences imprinted on me deeply, so much that I knew I wanted to do something artistic when I grew up. I moved to Los Angeles in 2005, and I have been living there since, but nowadays I’m spending time in both Mexico City and L.A.
You received a B.A. in Graphic Design from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico. Do you think there are any differences between studying graphic design in Mexico and the U.S. or other countries?
One of the major differences in studying graphic design in Mexico is the strong cultural foundation you receive that informs your practice. Mexico has a unique cultural identity, and there is a long-standing design heritage that reflects that. What I learned in my alma mater was that instead of this hindering the creative process or boxing you in aesthetically, it can actually teach you to understand the implicit parameters of visual culture more formally and thus help you to use those principles to adapt to any design situation while still asserting myself as a Mexican designer when it makes sense.
How did you “balance” your former full-time job as a graphic designer with your Minted work?
When I was working full time at my former job, I always wished I could have more time to work on all the ideas I have. This is essentially to say I didn’t have that balance in place. Usually after work, I did some exercise, cooked dinner, and then worked on Minted or other projects until 2-3 in the morning… or later! I admit I’m a night owl, so once I’m in the zone, I lose all sense of time and this can really affect my days. Now that I’m self-employed, it’s challenging to create that balance even with all the time I have, but now I am much more mindful of my routine and strangely more disciplined.
What was the Type@Cooper type design program like?
The type design program was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was a very intense program and involved quite a commitment. Classes were held from 9am – 9:30pm Monday through Thursday and you were required to work on the weekends to complete your final project, a complete font minimum, in three weeks. I was so inspired and humbled by the talented people who attended the program and by my amazing professors that I always was full of energy to keep going. My classmates and teachers were from all over the world. I really loved the diversity in every sense of the word. I learned so much from the multiple perspectives, ideas, and outlooks, not to mention New York City itself which is simply a blast to live in.
I have loved all types of letterforms since I can remember. I think in the design world it’s a very important element of what makes a design good. Good use of type can really add a great deal to the quality of your design and that’s why this is one of the aspects I really connected with Minted when I started to participate in 2010. I admired the fact that Minted was really paying attention to type, and I attribute this to Minted Artist and Creative Director Annie Clark who I believe was the driving force. Initially as a designer I just admired type and tried to use it the best way I could, but as I’ve grown I’ve wanted to understand letterforms themselves (their history, how they changed, developed and evolved over time) and that’s why I started practicing calligraphy and now type design.
You teach calligraphy; when did you learn calligraphy, and do you think calligraphy is still relevant today?
I really enjoy teaching. It’s very rewarding to me when students appreciate what they learn and they leave happy after the class. I started learning calligraphy about four years ago in Los Angeles. My mentor DeAnn Singh has been very inspiring and supportive in my calligraphy journey as a student and as an instructor. But also I learned from Ewan Clayton at TypeCooper who is such an inspiring individual in any sense. He is very knowledgeable about the history of handwriting, and his classes were so humane and interesting. I’m still learning and looking forward to this summer and learn from calligraphy legend Sheila Waters at the Letter Works Calligraphy Conference.
I think Calligraphy is very relevant today because is the foundation of our handwriting and letterforms we still use today, not only as a designers or typographers but in everyday life. Influential type designers have looked at calligraphy as a fundamental part of their design process. Besides the useful technicalities and its interesting historic aspects, practicing calligraphy helps you to develop other skills such as discipline, concentration, patience, attention to detail, constancy, and so much more. I think calligraphy is a beautiful art that should be preserved because of all these qualities.
What’s one of the most interesting things about you that most people wouldn’t know unless you tell us right now?
Not sure if it’s interesting or more just macabre, but growing up, my father—who was a doctor and embryology professor at our town university—would take me to his class occasionally and let me look at the jars of malformed embryos. They really made a strong impression on me. To what end, I can’t really explain… nevertheless I became a normal person.
What drives you?
Deadlines! Challenging situations! For some reason, I need to be constantly doing something. I need a project, a design, a dessert tart, a scarf…anything. And oftentimes the more difficult or challenging the situation, the better I do.
What scares you about your current path? What excites you?
Of course, the unknown is always scary, but at the same time it’s also so exciting. I’m energized to have flexibility in my daily routine to work on projects that I am passionate about—Minted challenges, typefaces, stationery and calligraphy product lines with my brother—and the flexibility to travel and to grow my teaching opportunities between Los Angeles and Mexico—hopefully other cities, too!
If you could change something about the world in general, or your world specifically, what would it be?
This is a very complex and philosophical question, especially in these turbulent times. What I would change if I could it would be to eradicate the injustice of oppressive systems in the world and bring more equality to people’s every-day lives. How to do this realistically is beyond me.
How do you interact and exchange ideas with other artists and creatives?
I love to listen to other artists point of view and processes no matter what they do or their background. I always try to identify with some aspects of their process or thinking and that enriches my own approach and sparks inspiration. Funnily enough, letters are often the link to those similarities and sometimes collaborations result in connecting over the littlest details.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Never give up! You’ll always want to put down the pen and find something else to do but stay with it and you’ll see yourself improve and new opportunities develop!
What’s your family like?
I grew up in a very close family. From a Mexican and Greek family all my uncles, aunties and cousins would regularly get together. We had so many reunions and gatherings, not only for special dates but we even just to get together for a Greek holiday or all together on vacation! I think now that everyone is older it takes a lot more coordination. A few years ago, I got divorced and decided to stay in Los Angeles, but the rest of my family is still in Mexico (my brother is in Mexico City and my mother is in Zacatecas) so it’s very important that we still try to get together in either of our home cities or plan a family trip somewhere in the world we’ve never been.
What challenge or obstacle have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome it?
When I first moved to L.A., I was a graduate and didn’t know anyone in the design industry. It took me a while to understand the landscape. But discovering Minted really helped me grow into my own as a designer and build connections. For me it was a great resource and the community is so lovely and supportive that it definitely contributed to me becoming a better, more confident designer.
Aspacia’s Minted Community Experience
What’s your most memorable Minted community experience?
I love the Mintie meetings and visiting the Minted headquarters in San Francisco is always fun, but I have to say NSS is a great experience. I’ve been twice and hopefully there will be more to come. It’s always fun to recognize the faces from the thumbnail profile pictures and identify them by their beautiful work you’ve been admiring through Minted.
What’s your favorite Minted art or design that another Minted artist created and why?
It’s very hard to pick just one. I love so many designs from all the talented designers that I admire but I will go with “Passage” by Kelly Ventura. I just love her sensibility.
What makes the Minted artist community unique to you?
I think is the most valuable aspect of Minted is the camaraderie, the diversity, the constructive critiques, and the inspiring spirit. These are the things I love the most about the community.
“Love Is Strong” wedding invitation by Aspacia Kusulas
Aspacia’s Inspiration & Favorite Things
Who inspires me: The Minted community, fellow designers, friends and my family.
Favorite website: currently for design, Good Design Makes Me Happy and for type, Typeroom
Favorite design tool: Wacom tablet
Favorite font: Any Didone because of their high contrast.
Favorite color combination: mint and black
Favorite design resource: old books for calligraphy and lettering for reference & internet
Favorite place in the world: So many! I can only narrow it down to two: Paris & Tokyo
Favorite fashion designer or brand: Comme de Garçon, Marc Jacobs
Song in my head: “Leaf off” by Jose Gonzalez
Favorite Instagrammer: Currently, @presentandcorrect
Artists and designers I admire: Paula Scher, Louise Filli, Jan Tschichold, Herb Lublin, Paul Rand, Tony DiSpinga, Ken Barber, the list goes on.
About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.
Published May 4, 2017Comments Off on Greek-Mexican-L.A. artist Aspacia Kusulas finds creative bliss in letterforms