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Design Week Recap: “Perfectly Imperfect” – Dana Tanamachi

Written by
David Baggs
Published
May 23, 2016
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Dana Tanamachi is an illustrator, designer and lettering artist based in Seattle, Washington who is well known for her chalk drawing, custom typography and beautiful illustrations. She studied under legendary designer Louise Fili before starting Tanamachi studio in 2010. Most recently, she unveiled Tanamachi Goods, a line of products featuring her hand-drawn illustrations and lettering.

Those who had the pleasure of hearing from Dana Tanamachi were treated to a “conversation between friends” as the Seattle creative put it before her Typefest talk in April. Tanamachi spoke about her career, dealing with doubt and the power of anonymity. 

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Tanamachi’s most recognizable works are the large scale chalk murals which she started at a friend’s house party in Brooklyn, New York. Noticing a blank chalkboard wall she created a chalk mural tied to the theme of the party. This became the photo opportunity of the night and guests posed for pictures under her work. The mural was such a hit that she was invited to create more chalk work for future parties. In time, her work gained recognition outside of the Brooklyn friend group and earned her a commission piece for Google.

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As her work grew in popularity, Tanamachi made a commitment to not compare her chalk work to others. Avoided Pinterest and other channels, she focused on her craft unknowingly spearheading the large-scale chalk drawing style.

Eventually, she reached a crossroads in her career, questioning whether to leave her day job working under Louise Fili to pursue her own work. In the end, she chose not to leave her position, instead using it as a means to continue honing and pursuing her craft.

Speaking to those in the small auditorium at PNCA she challenged us to not jump ship to quickly when opportunities arise and instead view your day job as a platform for your dream job.

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These questions and thoughts about one’s career path usually come with moments of doubt, as was true for Tanamachi. Feeling unsure where her career was headed she struggled with doubts.

These were calmed when her father sent her a letter she had written to herself years ago. The letter listed where she hoped to be and what she hoped to be doing in the future. Reading and reflecting on the letter reassured her of her path and her goals. Tanamachi challenged listeners to write similar letters to their future self, as it can be calming and encouraging to look back on it times of doubt or struggle. While letters are one way to stay on track and reassure yourself, it’s not the only way to combat times of doubt.

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Tanamachi also spoke about the power of anonymity to battle doubt. The fear of failure of others seeing mistake being made can be crippling for creativity. Anonymity acts as one of the best creative labs because there is nothing to lose and nobody to impress. With the veil of anonymity everything is on the table and anything is possible. It is a space with no expectations and no fear that allows one to create for the sole purpose of creating.

Dana Tanamachi left the audience encourage and inspired after an elegant evening of sharing about struggles, successes, life choices and creativity. In the end, a great deal of her work was the result of personal projects. She left the audience with these thoughts on the importance of these personal endeavors, “Clients don’t know your potential until you show them.”

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Photos by Josh Lathem of PXLVUE

See all photos from our Design Week Portland Typefest events


David Baggs is a contributing writer on the AIGA Portland Communications Team. 

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