Through my work, I've pondered the way we define ourselves through design, architecture and other visual representations. This page has links to my published work and unpublished ideas, and to influences like typography, philosophy, political cartoons, and my prolonged journey in Japan.
I’ve always written about creative people because I grew up in a family of creators. I see the world as a collection of individuals leaving small but important messages, delivered in the moments of contact between product (poster, sculpture, architecture, product, fashion) and viewer, resident, user or wearer.
The best day is a day when I can hear the passion in another’s story, the childhood discovery of that evening light that led to a career as a photographer; the silence of the tea ceremony that invigorates a graphic designer; the trip to Chiang Mai that intensified a young student’s desire to write, just to capture it all. The second best day is the day I write that story.
I describe myself as a nonfiction freelance writer, but what I really do is tell the story behind the person behind the thing. The thing can be a shop, a brand, a building, an oevre of paintings. Let the critics critique. I care about the individual and why on earth this is the path he or she chose, the product he designed, the color scheme for the brand she built.
I write what’s needed: website bios are the short form, full monographs, the long form. In between in size are articles for magazines, newspapers or blogs. I’ve written books from my own proposals and responded to creators, editors' and publishers’ requests as well. I also edit and provide feedback on projects of all sorts, in response to requests from creators, editors and publishers as well. Feel free to contact me with your idea.
Bill Kinser, designer and teacher (1931-2002)
To my dad design was not an art, but a trade, with simple, verifiable rules. Dad was fascinated by the transformation of logic into visual symbols and the use of those symbols to persuade. He taught me to look at the world as a puzzle that could be decoded, and delight in the dreams that lead people to attempt grand acts. The interviewer in me came from my dad, who took me everywhere with him and talked with everyone he met about what they knew and not what he knew. With Dad I visited gas stations, design labs, sale barns and photographers' houses. Dad collected ancient books for their typography and printing, and was forever fascinated with the kinship between social history and visual history. Read More...
Charleen Kinser, animator, designer, craft writer, editor, creator (1933-2007)
It's been my favorite never-ending job to describe my mother's world. With her whole life she's taught me how to edit the details to describe character, though her characters have most often been three-dimensional. After a powerful career in animation, shortened by marriage, she worked her design education at Chouinard Art Institute into her life as a mother. She spent my early childhood in Illinois and Pennsylvania working freelance as the crafts editor for American Home Crafts, doing weird, memorable one-off commercial projects like a line of a half dozen 3 foot-high Orphan Annie dolls for a Chicago store window, and a huge 3-d soft sculpture hot dog (with mustard) for 7-Up. And she wrote books. I remember most clearly her working on Outdoor Art For Kids, (Follett, Chicago 1975 [TK]). My late brother Tom and I were the guinea pigs and models for the crafts, and the stories inspired me to write. In the late 1970s, when I was becoming conscious of the world, Mom established Charleen Kinser Designs, which for 26 years was a small group of artisans creating characters Mom designed to be played with: toys made by hand for an international market. She gave teenage me my first writing job: to describe these creatures in story and doggerel. The production crew finally disbanded in 2002, but for Mom's one- or two-of-a-kinds, I still write the stories. People call my mom 'whimsical', but like all good characters, hers are real, and I think of my writing about them as non-fiction. More...
Life in Japan
My freelance work in Japan taught me by example that man is inherently flexible, intellectually and physically. We can understand any point of view, any value system. We can take on any way of life. From the beginning, almost all of my friends were Japanese, and--in their language--I asked them to elucidate their values, their habits, their emotions. Japanese is a good language for this kind of talk. In 1990, I married a Japanese, an artist from a family that for generations had held a Shinto shrine on the southern island of Shikoku. We moved into a thatched farmhouse in the mountains north of Kyoto. We began a family. Sheer immersion in the same rural life my neighbors lived, with their centuries-old festivals and their easy belief in animism, made their concerns mine, and their values mine.
A tutor at St. John's once told a class pursuing Pascal, "translation is impossible." After so many years in a foreign culture that became my own, I still long to prove him wrong, if only slightly. More...
Every writer has stories he wishes he'd pitched or wishes he'd sold. Below are two from the early 1990s that I remember with regret, each for a different reason. In 1999, when I met a young Japanese thatcher who'd visited the UK, studied thatching there, and dreamed of thatching a Japanese house with the much more efficient British methods, I went to my dad with my great idea of writing about this young thatcher. His response depressed me at first: "if the dream isn't realized, there IS no story; there's just another young man with a dream." That one comment burned me up so much I determined to make the dream come true, with or without the young thatcher. In 1999 I brought over a British thatcher to work with yet another Japanese thatcher, and together they performed the first cross-cultural rethatching of a 100 year-old Japanese farmhouse. The first thatcher, the one with the dream, ended up dropping out of the thatching business altogether, depressed by the weight of his dream. But other thatchers did join our project, and through TV and newspaper exposure, magazine articles and lectures, it went on to influence many more. When I'm discouraged I remember the truth I learned that year: A dream is just a dream.
Okishima, Island of the Heike