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Courtney Ahn

courtney ahn design is a creative studio based in portland, oregon

What artist(s) have influenced you the most? And why?
I think like most want-to-be artists growing up, I’ve always been drawn to the artists you learn about in school: Picasso, Mondrian, da Vinci, etc. And while I’ve always felt inspired by their techniques and vision, I’ve also felt a strong distance from these classic artists because they are disproportionately white, male(well, at least the ones we are taught about), and portraying subjects that simply aren’t relevant to me. And while there’s no shortage of amazing female artists, designers, and illustrators of color I’ve felt inspired by throughout my creative career, both colleagues or celebrities, I think I’ve felt the strongest influence from the artists I know absolutely nothing about. That one flier posted outside my favorite coffee shop, absolutely wonderful. That mural on the back of a super cool thrift shop downtown, love the abstract forms. That sweet illustrated menu at the expensive smoothie place, I love everything about it! I feel probably the most inspired by the outside world, all the signage, architecture, and graphic details that go into every place you inhabit with seemingly no trace at all.

What is a moment (or what) makes you feel most creative?
This is actually a very difficult one for me, because as someone who would describe themselves as very analytical, I often feel conflicted about feeling creative. I’d love to say that I feel creative when I’m immersed in drawing, but that isn’t necessarily the case. For me, every project and piece I take on is often very calculated, an idea formulated from personal and outside findings designed to do something: whether that’s solving a problem, reaching a new audience, or making an impression. I think I feel the most creative when an idea comes to light, that kind of aha moment when you realize you have the perfect solution for a problem you felt wasn’t easily solvable. Solving problems, no matter how mundane the solution, makes me feel very creative.

What’s the hardest part of your work?
I’ve felt consistently the most challenging part of being a creative is managing the monetization of doing what you love. I think it’s every artist’s dream to live solely off their passion, but what happens when that starts to come to fruition? If I’m doing this 8 hours a day, will I like it anymore? Will I want to illustrate in my free time when I’m doing that all the time? Will I get tired of doing this? I’ve definitely felt burnout plenty of times in my creative career, and in return felt very conflicted when I realize what made me burnt out was what I thought I wanted to be doing. For me, it’s been incredibly challenging to find that balance between doing what I love and still wanting to keep my passion for it as well, and continues to be a daily battle.

What is something about your process that no one knows about? In general, I’d say I’m very transparent about my process with my clients and fellow creatives, it’s certainly not anything out of the ordinary. However, I do think that probably very few people, probably only my partner and roommate, know that I make dozens of checklists for everything. And I mean an absolute insane amount of checklists, probably up to 70 for a small project describing every small remedial task: send email about X, receive reply about X, respond to X. etc. There’s something about checking off a task that makes me feel so productive, even when I know it’s quite miniscule.

What do you love about yourself and your art?
I would have never been able to answer this question a year ago, but I’ve recently discovered how to respect myself as an individual, and relearn that loving yourself and your passion isn’t self-centered. I’m proud that I’m a woman of color doing what she loves: pursuing a career in art and design in an industry space that is predominantly white, male, and conservative. I’m strong-willed, independent, and expressing myself in a way that makes me happy. I love that my work is diverse, colorful, and always portrays my beliefs. I am proud to be able to inspire women, people of color, and other marginalized groups that they are capable of great things.

Courtney Ahn (Courn) Founder & Designer

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