It’s no easy job finding someone who publishes great work under the description of ‘typographic smut’. But lucky for us, we managed to find someone who does – introducing, graphic design extraordinaire; Elana Schlenker.
Aside from the smut, entitled ‘Gratuitous Type‘ Schlenker owns an outstanding book of work ranging from print to identity with pieces for digital also. As if that wasn’t enough already, way back when in 2013 Elana was added to Print magazine’s New Visual Artist list, a prestigious annual distinction that recognizes the industry’s top 20 creative talents under the age of 30.
We sat down, over the internet mind to find out a little more on where it all began, and what’s coming up next.
In terms of an interest in design, where did it all begin?
As a child I loved books so much, not just for their stories, but for their form and pictures. At a very young age I wanted to be an author and illustrator (and to live in Australia, it was very specific because there was author/illustrator I liked who lived there and I think I just wanted to be him).
As I got older, I also really got into magazines — nothing special in the beginning, just anything I could get my hands on. They offered a glimpse into the wider world, and the excitement I felt in reading them at some point transferred into an excitement in the idea of making them. That interest eventually led me to the broader field of design.
How did you come to start Gratuitous Type?
I’ve always wanted to make magazines. In college, I started a small culture magazine, which was a really great experience, but also very difficult at some point to keep going because it relied entirely on the goodwill and interest of other students who helped run it, all of whom were of course balancing their own interests and coursework in addition to this project that was so important to me.
It was a wonderful and incredibly formative experience for me, but after a few issues I walked away from it, as I felt I’d sort of outgrown it and was already in New York trying to focus on my life here. I didn’t expect to want to start up another publication again, but after another year or two I started to feel a real itch to make another magazine.
From my prior experience, I realised I wanted to do something that was smaller and more self-sufficient, relying less on others to put it together. I kicked around the idea of a design magazine for a while, then I went to Berlin (which included pilgrimages to shops like Motto and Do You Read Me?) and I was so inspired by what I saw there that by the time I came back, I knew I was ready to start this next thing.
More than anything, Gratuitous Type really just came out of my own love of magazines and an interest in finding an outlet to try out ideas I had about editorial design. It was also a great excuse for me to reach out to people I really admired, and get to know them and pick their brains—all under the pre-tense of a magazine interview.
In the beginning, I really expected to do one issue and then that would be that. I didn’t have any bigger plan. I really was just starting out as a designer and didn’t expect anyone to have any interest in my viewpoint — why would they? So even the name, Gratuitous Type, was sort of this initial way to excuse myself—it’s gratuitous, I’m doing it just for the sake of it.
And then you know, the problem with magazines is they’re living things. There could always be another issue, another opportunity to make something better than what you made last time. So there were all these things I wanted to do differently after I published the first issue, and that led to Issue 2. And then I had more ideas and those became Issue C. And now Issue 4 is in the works… it’s evolving as I evolve as a designer.
What you’re up to at the moment?
I’m working on Issue 4 of Gratuitous Type and also putting together a GT show for KK Outlet London, which will open in October. The show will feature contributors from Issue 4, but it won’t be a straight reproduction of the magazine—I’m thinking a lot about how I can translate the spirit of the issue to this physical space. Beyond GT, I’m working independently as a graphic designer, mostly for artists, creative organizations, and small businesses.
I’m especially excited to be working with Conveyor Arts on a few different projects for their publishing imprint, a catalog for a group show of drawings that’s opening in Beijing at the end of this year, and a project with the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) that I’m collaborating on with illustrator Leslie Wood (who is great, check her out!).
What does the future hold?
I really don’t know! I’ve only been working independently fulltime since this past October, so it’s all still really new. I’m mostly focusing on Issue 4 and the KK show right now, as well as some of this client work. I also collaborate frequently with my boyfriend Ross Mantle (he shoots most of the work in GT for me), and so there’s definitely more of that in my future. At some point I think I need to sit down and write a business plan or something, but for now I’m taking things as they come and having a really nice time.