Interview: Janet Galore
One of the things we want to do on this blog is highlight interesting people who are doing creative things in the hope that they'll inspire you just as much as they inspire us. We'll be featuring interviews with these creative individuals, starting right now! Our first interview is with the one and only Janet Galore, Creative Director in Amazon's Concept Lab, an active member of the Seattle arts community, and all-around awesome person and creator. After speaking with her, we immediately wanted to go for a walk or peruse art books and make playlists to get us in the creative zone. We hope you're as inspired as we were. Enjoy!
Janet, what do you do and why do you do it?
At Amazon I’m a creative director and I’m working in a group called the Concept Lab. We specialize in looking 3-5 years ahead into the future and thinking about new customer experiences. It’s kind of like a UX R&D lab. I’m very interested in emerging technology and things we’re not sure what to do with yet—technologies might be helpful, they might not. Technology itself is kind of neutral, but design is not. Even though Amazon is a big company, it has a lot of impact and I hope I can have a positive influence and design things that help us be more of who we want to be and help us interact in a more human way with all the ridiculous gadgets we have.
I grew up in Seattle so I’ve always been involved in the art community here. My mom was an actress in the theater and I would go to plays. She was always making stuff. She didn’t think of herself as an artist, but I had a lot of artistic influence growing up. Now, that has evolved and throughout my career I’ve been really lucky to balance the work I do professionally with what I pursue artistically, and I like to keep them separate. I have a lot of respect for people who are full-time artists, but for me I need both sides. My husband and I recently bought an old grocery store on North Beacon Hill and we’re renovating it into a live/work space. We have a large studio space and we've hosted some pop-up shows and events, and over time as we finish it out, we'll have different artists come do residencies and installations and things like that. And I do some of my own artwork too, which tends to be project-based; I'll typically do a couple pieces here and there. Partly because I am interested in technology and engineering, I need to offset that with artistic pursuits. It informs the work I get paid for, but I’ve always identified as a bit of an iconoclast. I think it’s healthy to question society and your place in it. Art keeps me fresh.
I think of myself as an interdisciplinary artist. I tend to use some elements of digital graphics, usually film or animation. The last two bigger pieces I did were installation and included some physical pieces I had made and some digital element, like projection of mapping onto objects. I did a piece last summer projecting mapping onto shipping containers outside. More recently I’ve been really interested in art that’s representative of a larger narrative.
How do you fuel your creativity?
I get ideas from a lot of different places. I get influenced and inspired by things I see in social media or what I’m reading. A lot of times, we’ll go to book stores and cruise the latest things and look at art books. I’m a fan of Surrealist and Dadaist art and graphic novels, so I’ll often look at other artists’ work. I get a lot of influence from science and what we’re discovering there. I'm really fascinated by the fact that art and science are parallel paths to seeking the truth, but they’re coming at it from different practices. When I’m reading science stuff or more avant-garde art stuff, I'm thinking about those things.
What is your go-to creative tool?
I always carry a small sketchbook with me. I’m not one of those beautiful sketchbook people, but the act of writing things down or drawing things is important to processing the idea. Another answer to that would be music. If I think about getting in the creative zone and the feeling of excitement I get—almost like an adrenaline rush—it's like, "I have an idea and I want to do this!" it’s often associated with certain kinds of music. I love all kinds of music, so I use it for different things, but when I think about working and making art, music is the bedrock of that. I have a lot of Spotify playlists I make for different moods. For work-work I have interesting ambient playlists. For writing, I have really slow ambient music like Starts of the Lid. The stuff that really gets me inspired artistically is spoken word like William S Burroughs or Brion Gysin—kind of obscure sound collage and industrial recordings. There’s a certain part of history and way of looking at the world that gets me going.
Who is your creative role model?
I have many of them. One at work—someone who has a lot of skills I don’t have and I admire—is Mike Dodge. I admire him because he’s a musician, he’s a photographer, he’s published his own book, he’s got a great personality, and yet he’s a very humble person. I know he does a lot of other creative things that I don't even know about. At work he has this knack for looking at something and coming up with something that seems out-of-the-blue yet simple, and then he is able to integrate it in a very clever way. I really respect his applied creative output. Another person in my life is a local artist and filmmaker named Curtis Taylor. He used to have a space he lived in that had a stage in the front and he’d do these intricately produced cabaret shows with talented friends. They were small, but amazing. He’s a fine art painter, scene painter, and film maker. Professionally, he does art direction and props for films. He has a wonderful way of having a vision and then bringing a group of people together. They would do operatic performance and puppetry, and he'd just create these sublime moments. He did that for many years. He’s still a huge inspiration of mine.
How do you inspire your co-workers to be creative?
I think the most important thing is keeping a sense of openness in the way you think or move around. Getting people away from the computer or having a sense of play is really critical. If you feel too bound up in whatever process you’re using to get things done—especially during the ideation phase of things—it limits you. Having a sense of playfulness is very important. I’m lucky to work on a team where we all encourage each other that way. People are able to take short breaks to share a new idea or have a Nerf war or watch a video that takes you out of your routine. Planned creative activities can work okay but having that feeling of “this is a safe space, we can be goofballs.” is fundamental. We all need a safe and playful environment to be our best.
What would you suggest to people who don’t work in what might be considered a "creative environment"?
It's harder, but you can do it for yourself, with headphones or giving yourself a timed break to go read something. Living on the Internet, we're constantly shifting our attention, but we're not really focusing, so giving yourself time to do that can help. With a team, getting everybody to go out to lunch together, especially if it’s something a little unusual—like "hey, we’re gonna walk to the park and go to this taco truck." Having a goal or destination. We’ve had walking brainstorms before. We’re lucky to be near a park by the water. So I think making time for little breaks—finding an opportunity to put yourself a little bit outside your comfort zone is so good. It doesn’t have to be a formal thing, even just having one other co-conspirator can do a lot. Since we’re in retail, sometimes we’ll think about how people are shopping, so just walking around and doing thought experiments or watching people and asking yourself questions about what they're doing and why. That can be really fun with others. We are physical creatures, but we often lose that perspective at work because we're standing or sitting at a desk and just typing. And when you get out and walk—even just walking—it changes your mindset. There are a lot of studies that show that it helps you be more open and creative.
How did you get involved in the creativity community in Seattle?
Some of it is just long-term friendships. Especially now with the city growing, it’s easier to plug in than it has been in the past. I used to read The Stranger calendar—I still do if I’m not sure. Also just going to openings and meeting people that you connect with artistically. If you talk to people and connect to their work, those are really meaningful relationships. If you’re more of a maker person, there’s all kinds of meet-up groups happening. Hackathons are happening every year—Hack the CD is one of my favorites. The other thing is to volunteer. When I was just getting plugged in, I started volunteering at the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), and I ended up being asked to be on the board, and then I worked there. Offering your help is a natural way to get involved.
How do you keep the balance?
I haven’t always had a good balance. I’m mid-career so I’ve been able to try a bunch of different things. Creativity is really cyclical. We can’t expect the same things from ourselves all the time. We all have things that happen in our lives that we have to deal with and that emotionally affect us in different ways, and we also have times we feel strong and empowered. What I've observed is that in total creative output I go up and down, but I also oscillate between work and outside. So sometimes when work is intense, I’ll lower my expectations for what I can do outside. I’ll still keep a trickle going—keep some lightweight, fun things to do—but don't put a lot of pressure on myself or get down on myself if I haven't been in a show in a while or something. On the plus side, if work is feeling confined or I’m feeling really on top of things and I feel like have the bandwidth, I can find time to make art or support others in their art. We in this industry are privileged to have the flexibility—we don’t typically have to work two jobs to make a living, we don't have to punch a time clock, so I think it's about using the time outside of work wisely. Like, "I’m going to set aside time this Sunday to work on this thing" and being conscious about it. Sometimes you do have to veg out and that’s okay, but be intentional about that, too. Sometimes I have to sacrifice one or the other, but then I'll shift my attention back. I'm OK with directing my energy where it needs to go and being comfortable with the flow of it.
For more on Janet, check out her website.