DWPDX sketchXchange with Jordan Metcalf

I believe different process’ lead to different results and so following the same process is only likely to result in similar outcomes.
— Jordan Metcalf

By Morgan Braaten

It’s almost time for Design Week Portland 2018, and we could not be more excited to share what we have in store! WeMake will be putting on three events over the course of the week, starting with a sketchXchange at the Portland Art Museum with designer and illustrator Jordan Metcalf. The talk will be moderated by Luke Choice, otherwise known as  Velvet Spectrum, and will take place on Tuesday, April 17. Get your tickets soon, and remember that the first 100 people at the event will receive an exclusive 9”x9” print designed by Jordan exclusively for Design Week Portland. As always, all proceeds from the event benefit arts education in Portland.

WeMake had the chance to ask Jordan a few questions about his work, his inspiration and his recent move to Portland, which you can check out below.

MB: We are so happy to have you in Portland! What drew you here, and how are you liking it so far?

JM: My, now, wife and I had been talking about moving for the adventure and opportunity of living somewhere new for ages, and after visiting the US and spending some time in Portland a few years ago I felt like it was a good fit for what we were looking for. I began the long tedious process of applying for a special skills green card visa and it got final approval in early 2017. We had to come to the country to get the green cards within 6 months of approval, or we’d have to re-do medical tests and some other things, and so we decided to just take the leap and commit to the move. So far it’s been great, it’s a pretty friendly, safe and creative city with beautiful surrounds, good people and great food so we’re excited to be here.


MB: Every designer has a unique origin story. Can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey up to this point?

JM: Without getting into too much detail, I started out doing print, web and eventually directing motion graphics, working full time at studios, but quickly getting bored and moving on. All the while I was doing illustration, experimental lettering sketches and small freelance jobs on the side. It was before social media and design blogs were a thing and was at the very early stages of the re-emergence of lettering as a design trend, so I wasn’t really aware that the stuff I was doing for fun had any purpose or value at all, it was just a release for me. Eventually I decided to go it on my own and thought it was worth putting these little lettering pieces online and completely leaving out all the commercial work I’d been doing up until that point. I think it was more lucky timing than anything else because I had put it all up on Behance when it was still a much smaller platform and the work got ‘featured’ when that still meant that everybody arriving on the site would see it, and it was at a time when a few lettering artists were gaining traction and the ‘trend’ was taking root, so I quite quickly landed a few international projects with Nike and that created a knock on effect I guess. The more experimental lettering work I got the more it became what I was known for and eventually became what people primarily saw my work as, but I’ve also done lots of other design and branding jobs over the years which I really enjoy.

MB: What is your creative process like, and how has it changed over the years?

JM: I have never really adhered to any particular process, I’m not sure if it’s because the type of work I’ve done over the course of my career varies quite a bit, or maybe it’s the reason the work varies. I believe different process’ lead to different results and so following the same process is only likely to result in similar outcomes. I definitely have a number of different process’ that I’ve developed to make specific types of work and so use each when appropriate. But it’s arbitrary to believe everything needs to start with a pencil sketch on paper or any other way. Tools change and develop all the time and I’ve always enjoyed embracing new tools and methods and figuring what they can add to the mix.


MB: What is a project you have worked on that you found particularly memorable and why?

JM: The early Nike work I got a couple months after going freelance. It was incredibly surreal to be random kid sitting in his small apartment in Cape Town, South Africa with a company the size of Nike willing to give me money to mess around and experiment. The world feels like it’s become smaller now, and I’ve worked with many big companies and realised they’re all just comprised of normal people at the end of the day, but at the time the distance and scale of a company like that casting it’s eye on just me, however insignificant the projects probably were in the greater scheme of the Nike brand, felt like nothing I should expect to have deserved or received at any point in my career. But with that impostor syndrome also came a great confidence boost in letting me know that the things I was excited about had value and could lead to a career that I could somewhat define and make a living off.

MB: You have an incredibly diverse style, and are great at matching the personality of a piece to fit a particular brand or project. How do you set out trying to identify the best fit for any given piece?

JM: Design is a service industry and I’ve always felt that it was important that my work be adding value to the people and companies paying for it, so making work that was appropriate first and cool second has always just been part of my approach. But there isn’t a 100% foolproof way of figuring out and making work that is “right” for a job. I just try to understand the problems, and figure out what I think might work best within what I can offer. I believe that there are a myriad of appropriate solutions for most jobs, but there are also very obviously inappropriate ones. So I guess it’s trying to avoid the patently wrong solutions and trying to do something that is considered and communicates as best it can.  

MB: What or who do you find yourself inspired by lately?

JM: I have a broad range of inspiration, but lately it’s been a lot of the people I’ve been meeting since moving to the US. There is something inspiring about getting to know the people and companies behind the work that removes the abstraction and disposability that the internet creates. Amazing illustration, design, film, photography etc doesn’t just exist, there is always a hand and a mind guiding it and I find humanising work often makes me put in the time to really look at it and appreciate it.

MB: What are you doing when you are not working?

JM: What everyone else does I guess. Trying to live well, eat well, be good to people and not die.

MB: Why do you make?

JM: I heard this idea once that the people can be split into 2 groups, producers and consumers, and I think it’s roughly true. I’m not sure any of us get a choice which one we are, but I’m happy to be making things not just consuming them.

sXc with designer and Illustrator Jordan Metcalf 
moderated by designer and letterer Erik Marinovich

Door open at 6 pm. The talk starts at 7 pm.

Alice in Wonderland

I have my dream job.
— Alice Kendall

A rare bird.

WeMake has been hosting sketchXchange for six years, but we've never had a tattoo artist speak, until recently. It was inspiring to hear about the path and process of local artist, Alice Kendall and to have her husband, William Kendall, moderate—another first! William was a natural at asking the questions, but of course, Alice stole the show.

The process of working with clients from design to tattoo is similar to the experience of any designer. You get a creative brief from the client, you research, you share initial ideas, and then you execute. The difference? Tattoos are permanent. And with designing forever art, there's not much room for making mistakes.  Finding a style and mastering the craft is what sets one tattoo artist apart from the other. Today, the art of tattooing has changed dramatically, both in style and in culture.


With the help of William, Alice arraigned her process sketches from her early career (pencil drawings) to her present day work (all done exclusively on the iPad!). A sea of birds, florals, and the occasional mouse with other tidbits flowed into each other, creating a wave effect that cascaded over two large walls. A small portion of the show hung full colored originals.

Alice considers herself to be a collage artist. Tracing portions of things found in nature to keep the drawings life-like, but taking liberties with the art to make the final pieces her own— detailed and intricate. She adds to the authenticity by taking her own photos of reference materials whenever possible.

It was a beautiful night, a great show and a nice way to end a year of sketchXchange.  

Tattooing from the heart. 

Sometimes it takes something tragic to start a new journey. That was the case for Alice Kendall of Wonderland Tattoo. It was a motorcycle accident that sparked her career and helped her buy her first tattoo kit. Back then you didn't go to tattoo school, you got a machine from the classifieds in the back of a industry magazine and you learned by apprenticing in a shop.  It was in San Fransisco that Alice started on her path, but it wasn't until she moved to Portland that her career bloomed. 

"I remember calling my friend Amanda who owned a tattoo parlor in Portland and leaving a message on her machine that I was ready to start working in the industry. Then I got a call from her the next day, she told me that I should come to Portland and start working with her. I asked if she got my message, but she had not, because they were vacationing in Mexico at the time. She just felt the urge to call me and invite me up. It was fate, or something, and then I moved to Portland."

Alice worked for Amanda and Paul for 14 years at Infinity Tattoo Parlor. At the time she often made her own needles and learned to tattoo on the fly. Infinity wasn't a flash shop, they did custom drawings, where walk-ins were always welcomed, something that doesn’t often happen today. 

When Alice left Infinity, she started Wonderland Tattoo and hired Alice Carrier as her first employee. On the day she opened, the shop was overwhelmed with callers, so much so that the phone lines went down. The response to the work she had been doing coupled by the work of Carrier, and their combined experience and style of botanical art would close their books for long runs from that day forward. You can get in, but it is a process of applying and waiting, as most of the now five artists take on new clients every quarter. 

This feminine style of tattoo art has changed the way tattoo parlors were once perceived. Wonderland Tattoo embodies these changes, with a welcoming vibe and tattooists who want to get personal with you. For Alice it's a way of researching and part of the process. They respect that tattoos are very personal and sometimes a way of healing. 

" I think it's important to create an environment I am happy in as well as others. I want people to feel welcomed, and I want to hear their stories—it's part of being intuitive in the process. I try to create a safe space were people can trust me, I don't want people to feel intimidated with the experience."


Alice has created a rarity in Wonderland. Designing form the heart and making it a mission to give back to the community. They host pop-up fundraisers throughout the year, and make opportunities to form relationships with local non-profits. For instance working with the Audubon Society, or launching a project where they will be able to provide free cover-ups for people who have tattoos related to drug use, sex work, or violence.

Take a step down into the rabbit hole of Wonderland, a place where science meets art, and the art lasts forever.

Photos by Rowan Bradley, Yvonne Perez Emerson, and Alice Kendall

Alice Kendal on Instagram

Wonderland on Instagram

See more photos on our Flickr page

Meet Zach Yarrington

Everything is Everything
— - Zach Yarrington

What: sketchXchange with Zach Yarrington moderated by Blaine Fontana
When: Friday, August 4 from 6-9pm
Where: Tillamook Station
Tickets: SOLD OUT

Guest Writer,  Angela Bayout

Tucked between working train tracks and the Willamette River is the North Coast Seed Building Studios and Zach Yarrington's space, which he shares with two design friends and his dog Victor. The 1911 building is quiet, orderly and serene, but this artist's tidy studio bursts with works-in-progress. Zach, WeMake's sketchXchange guest on August 4, has the simplest reason for wanting to make. 

“I think there’s definitely an inherent human quality to wanting to make things,” Zach says. But what it all comes down to when asked why he makes, he answers, “Why not?”

Zach draws inspiration from Portland’s supportive design community and admires the work of large-scale artists like Barry McGee, Steve Powers, and what comes out of Sagmeister and Walsh. Unlike the perception of New York and LA being competitive, difficult-to-break-into creative worlds, Zach describes Portland as a place where artists support each other, refer each other, are genuinely interested in what everyone is doing and will easily pay forward a shout out.

Born and raised in Detroit, Zach’s family held jobs that were creative in different kinds of ways: mortgage lending, steel milling and old-school corporate tech. As a kid, he was “definitely a doodler, always drawing,” with encouragement from his mom. While other boys wanted to be firefighters, it was clear to Zach from an early age that he simply wanted to work for himself. Self-discipline and frugal living came easy to Zach as he built and continues to manage his design career.

The man from Michigan made his way out West – like a magnet was pulling him, there was just something about it that calling to him.

“Being a midwest kid I had an unreasonable, romantic idea of the West Coast,” he says. His mom’s advice: "Just don’t move to California. It's too expensive."

In 2005, he ended up at the University of Oregon’s art program. He loved it for being a concept-based program that allows students to explore their own directions. Fun and lighthearted is how Zach describes his own direction. After picking up a paintbrush and doing lettering, he never looked back. Things came to a finer point when he was invited to join Forest for the Trees, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation of contemporary public art.

Zach’s first public mural was done as part of the first Forest for the Trees festival in 2013. Friend and founder of FFTT Gage Hamilton brought in Zach, knowing he had shown interest in mural painting while they were both students in Eugene. In collaboration with Jun Inoue and Blaine Fontana the “Keep Your Chin Up” mural was made. Found on NE Alberta and 21st, the mural’s message is in memory to a friend. The “K” spans over a pipe on the building—an ideal example of going with the flow in mural painting.

Zach returned to FFTT the following year to paint “Everything Is Everything” across 2121 SE 6th Avenue, a humbling message seen by Amtrak conductors and TriMet passengers everyday.

Zach's portfolio includes a live-mural for an adidas/Damian Lillard event and packaging design for Portland Bee Balm —much smaller than a mural, but has a bit of Zach in there, too.

When it comes to how to work, he likes to “find something on the wall and use it, while leveraging existing grid lines and size. First he sketches by hand and then refines a plan digitally — until real life happens.

“With every single job there’s always some unexpected thing,” he says. This was never truer than when he actually went to the site of his “This Is Your Day,” a 400-foot long mural in Sapporo, Japan’s underground. Discovering that his plans laid in Portland, which were based on photos of the Sapporo subway corridor, had to be reworked, Zach went with the flow. This approach matched the playful nature of the mural itself. Meant to be read forwards or backyards, in Japanese or English, this piece is a prime example of the pro’s use of space and understanding of how people interact with their urban surroundings daily.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain to relatives what you do for a living or what you for a side hustle when it’s creative work. Sometimes it’s hard even to explain to yourself.

Zach's mom said of his mural work: “I’m not sure what you’re doing, but I feel like it’s the right thing.”

Follow Zach.
IG: @zachumz


Meet Brett Stenson

My life is a mix tape.
— Brett Stenson

All photos by Daniel Cole. 

What: sketchXchange with Brett Stenson moderated by Adam Garcia
When: Friday, March 3 from 6-9pm
Where: Tillamook Station
Cost: Suggested $5 donation - scroll down for tickets - You'll get an Special Edition notebook designed by Brett and donated by Scout Books.

Just a 90 minute drive west of Green Bay is Sunset Lake, the most beautiful thing Wisconsin native Brett Stenson has ever seen. He was married on the edge of the water in summer. He viscerally remembers drifting on the water, fishing to Frank Sinatra. He daydreams about the lake. He feels the connection with its natural beauty and the emotional pull of happy memories. 

This intersection of nature, history, gratitude, change and beauty is where Brett lives as a human and as an illustrator. For the last three years, he has been an art director with Jolby & Friends, a Portland design and branding studio created by artists Colby Nichols and Josh Kenyon. Brett freelanced with the duo while he was in Milwaukee after leaving his job as a designer for a “sports marketing agency.” The work eventually moved him from his roots to a new playground in Portland. 

“The city is a weird, cozy shelter you found in a rainstorm. Everyone is stoked to be in this little shed enjoying the best coffee and beer in the U.S.”

At Jolby, Brett is able to explore his love of collaboration - design without ego. He embraces the idea that no work belongs to an artist, but belongs everyone. He’ll often start on an illustration and turn it over to another artist to play.

“People should be inspired by each other. You see the beauty of what you’re making together and that’s motivation enough to follow the process.”

Carving Out Your Style

Even though Brett favors collaboration, he retains a recognizable style forged from crude shapes and clean lines, his textures inspired by lake fishing or in the garage working on a motorcycle. He likes sharp angles and curated color palates with whimsy thrown into the mix.

“The key to style is thinking how it comes out of your hand without thinking about what’s new or over-composing in your mind. That’s where style starts. Take an idea and push in through your lens - that’s when it becomes your style.” 

Brett, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, pulls inspiration from memories, too. Sometimes a texture reminds him of a moment and a state of mind. He uses the emotion attached to an object to inform his design.  For example, think about a summer day on a lake. The sun plays off the slow, rhythmic waves against the dock. A texture created by the waves that feels peaceful, happy. This is the feeling he brings into his work.

"I would describe his illustration style as 2-D work that is sheared with texture, pattern, and depth making it both retro and modern. He tucks lore into his pieces without being overbearing and his eye for color is stupid-good!" Colby Nichols, Co-Founder of Jolby & Friends said.

Midwest Work Ethic

Like with many transplants, Brett misses pieces and people from back home. His grandfather was a farmer, his dad was in the Army and and his mom a single woman working her hardest to support her son from afar while instilling strong work ethic. His understanding of the importance of working hard and “earning shit” comes from a youth spent respectfully learning that “you’re owed nothing ever.”

The lessons he picked up while watching the adults in his life and are now woven into his internal fabric. After Brett quit his day job to start his own freelance thing, his former boss gifted him with profound career advice.

“He sat me down for an entire afternoon and shared his knowledge with me. He was frustrated that I was leaving, but understood.”

By the end of that day Brett had a few key insights:

  1. Build an nest egg in advance.
  2. You’re still working whenever you’re out with people. Even if you’re partying, you’re still a professional.
  3. You get to pick what you want to do. Don’t ever feel like you have to do something you really don’t want to do.
  4. Live within your means, so you don’t have to stress about money.
  5. Do shit no one else is doing.

His favorite tools:

  1. His Cintiq.
  2. The “shift” key on his keyboard – to make straight lines easily to connect points.

"Brett is an amazing maker, thinker, human and all-around creative goblin. Being in his sphere of weirdness keeps your brain moving into unfamiliar places and his 'have fun forever' motto keeps good work flowing all day," Colby said.

“I’m lucky to have a job making art for a living."  - Brett with Ole. 

Reserve your spot!