Get to know Abby Clawson Low
What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, art director, designer, illustrator, maker, business person etc.?
So, I went to school for and worked in the art direction / graphic design world, but over the years I have done illustration work, artwork, product design, run a business, and made a whole lot of stuff. I wear many hats!
Who helped you “become” who you are?
Definitely my parents and grandparents get credit for planting the creative seed. They all had a hand in some sort of creative pursuit, so it was just a matter of time before some of it rubbed off on me. Especially my mom—she is a type of creative super-hero / MacGyver character—she can make/do anything with any available materials. She helped my siblings and I paint our own rooms bright colors on a whim when I was a kid, she refinished and reupholstered furniture, sewed clothes and costumes, did watercolor painting, took stained glass classes, floral arranging, worked in interior design, etc. So I was always watching her and learning from her.
And when I was in grade school, my dad bought an Apple Macintosh computer (the first retail model). Each Saturday, I would sit at his desk at the computer and draw and paint using those early computer programs (MacDraw and MacPaint). I loved that you could create anything on screen and then print it onto a piece of paper. It was incredible and completely addicting. My dad noticed that I loved drawing and creating on the computer and told me I should be a graphic designer. I was eight years old. I thought that sounded cool, but didn’t really do anything with that until much later.
Do you feel like you’ve arrived at what you set out to do?
I feel like my career and experience in design is in a constant state of evolution, so no, not really! I’ve seen big and little changes in the 20+ years I’ve been working in the creative industry—with each job change, each child we’ve added to our family, each move, and each big project and life experience I’ve had to modify how I design and make art, and approach my work. And this is good for me. I like change. I want to keep learning and seeing things in a new light.
Where did you study, and what did you study?
I attended Brigham Young University’s Visual Arts Department where I received a BFA in Graphic Design. I think my education really helped in producing work from a broad array of assignments similar to those that one might find in an advertising agency or a small design studio. The BYU design program also has a field trip to New York City that every junior class takes in the winter. It was during this field trip that I was able to meet with some of the nation’s most notable designers and art directors, tour their studios, and most important, set up an internship for the following summer. This was where my career in New York City began.
What’s your dream job? What’s your goal with your work?
I think I’m doing it! With the way things have worked out so far, I have been able to be selective about the projects I work on—I am also a mother of three young sons—so my free time is valuable to me—I only take on work that I really want to do and feel is a good challenge. Lately, I have been doing a good mix of pro bono work in the community and at large along with some paid projects that come in organically. I like that. And I love working with organizations that are doing good in the world and making a positive and meaningful difference in peoples’ lives. I feel good about the charitable work and am happy to be involved in it. I also loved working on my book This is Mexico City while we were living abroad in Mexico. It was such an intense project that really pushed me out of my comfort zone as a designer—since my role was threefold: author, photographer, and designer. I’d definitely love to do another book project in the future. We’ll see! I do thrive with a flow of varied and interesting work!
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m proud of the talented and generous people I’ve been able to connect with through my work. That has been the biggest gift of what I do.
[Brittany’s note: I had the immense honor to attend Abby’s book signing in Mexico City in October of 2018 and she brought together a wonderful group of creatives. It was such a treat for me!]
How did your childhood influence what you have become?
I had a lot of freedom and independence as a kid. Back then, kids would walk to and from school at a young age, on weekends play outside from morning until night with no one hovering over them. I could explore the neighborhood, build forts, start clubs, make and sell stuff, and figure the world out. And my mom was very resourceful and made everything. Watching her make and create through my childhood it was evident that I could make or do anything, too with some practice and creativity. So, I think I learned to approach life with that same creative confidence.
Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life? What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you and who is it from?
Design MW, where I got my start, was a fantastic learning environment. I often refer to the time at my first job as a type of grad school because JP and Allison Williams were great teachers as well as being amazing designers and art directors. They travelled quite a bit. And when they returned from a trip they would bestow us with amazing finds (unusual office supplies, beautiful papers, and obscure examples of design from distant places: books, magazines, ephemera). Needless to say, they were very generous and loved sharing what they saw and found.
One thing my first boss, JP Williams, always said was, “You’re only as good as the obscurity of your sources.” I think this is some of the best advice. Almost everything has been done already, yet, there are resources out there that aren’t known, that haven’t been used, that inspire, that are fresh and new – it is important to be constantly looking at new, old, and different things. and not necessarily items that fall within a designer’s world. Visit an office supply store, go to a hardware store, peruse flea markets, travel, look for different ways of using everyday objects and apply that knowledge into your design solutions – this is where great design can happen.
As far as advice for designers starting out, I would recommend being very wise about how you choose your first job. As I found, sometimes the better paying jobs aren’t the ones with the best experiences or work. The best choice will be one where you will walk away with a great book of work you did which will allow you to work almost anywhere.
Having grown up in a large family, there was nothing I wanted more than independence. However, when I started working at Design MW, I quickly learned that collaboration was the best way to creatively solve design problems. Whether it was through shared pieces of inspiration (a book, a vintage magazine, a piece of art) or through a a brainstorming meeting, the best solutions always came through some kind of collaboration. We all have our strengths, but one of the greatest strengths is the ability to recognize that others have strengths and viewpoints that we can also benefit and learn from.
I think it is important to surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you; people who can teach you how to approach your work and solve problems in new and different ways. It is vital to always be open to learning from others. Everyone has something to teach and share that can make you a better designer. There is always something new to learn, see, do, hear, etc. Many of my favorite projects were ones that evolved over time, that came together as I was designing them. I also recommend not being afraid to step away from the computer. And enjoy the process.
What’s your work space like?
I work from home in a home office. I’ve had the same desk chair since I went out on my own in 2007 — a vintage Herman Miller desk chair with an emerald green upholstered seat. I think it came from the IBM offices. My desk is one that I had custom made by a local metal worker while we were living in Mexico City. I use the same model desk lamp I had at my first design job at Design MW — a Tolomeo Mini Table Lamp. I keep my desk pretty tidy or else I get distracted and cannot focus. I am proud of my office supplies: stapler, tape dispenser, etc.—all are sturdy workhorses! I definitely nerd out on office supplies. I like working in this particular space because it has three tall windows and gets great natural light with a street view. I can always see what’s going on in the neighborhood while listening to tunes or a podcast and jamming away on a project.
What does your dream retirement look like?
I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop designing or making things. As long as my hands still work I want to be involved in great projects that keep me challenged and engaged in the creative world.
What artists/designers/creatives do you look up to? Both historical or present.
I love the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán — his use of color, light, texture is sublime and incredibly inspiring. Seeing and experiencing spaces he designed for the first time changed how I see everything. I also really look up to the body of work Fredun Shapur designed for Creative Playthings. I’m a big fan of Canadian designer Don Watt and the branding work he did for Loblaw’s generic product line “NoName” or “SansNom.” Some present design icons I look to for inspiration are friends and designers: Alex Lin Blair Richardson, Erin Jang, Fabien Cappello, Mary Matson.
How has social media influenced your work?
I know a lot of people are down on social media—I mean there are some pretty compelling reasons to dislike it. But, for me, it has been a lifeline during a time in my life where I have been in the trenches as a mom with young kids—with nap times and schedules that don’t permit a ton of cross-pollinating with other creatives. Especially through Instagram, I have been able to connect with people whom I would have never met otherwise and have made good good friends through those online connections. Once I started my blog and studio (Hi + Low), almost all of my press and work opportunities came exclusively through people finding me through some kind of internet portal. So, I am grateful for these technologies. I do wonder where I would be in my career or what work I would be doing if I didn’t have this instant access to so many creative and like-minded individuals and work through the internet world.
What’s inspiring you lately?
It’s ever-changing, but now that we live in Texas I have become completely fascinated by this part of the United States since I have spent the majority of my life on the two coasts and in or near big cities. As a family, we’ve done some long weekend road trips visiting the surrounding states like Oklahoma and Arkansas and New Mexico. There’s so much to learn about and see. I also am a sucker for 1950s and 1960s brutalist buildings, churches, and homes. I think living in Mexico City really gave me a taste for the unconventional and interesting architecture that is so abundant there and now I’m hooked. I also get really excited about books and have a good number of them! A few recent favorites: “Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men” by Rosey Grier, “A Final Compilation of Books from the Simpsons” by Yellow Pages, “What Do You Mean, I Still Don’t Have Equal Rights??!” By Cathy Guisewite, and “Playgrounds del México Moderno” by Aldo Solano Rojas.
You can find Abby
Website of Abby
Thank you, Abby, for this wonderful interview! And stay tuned for her collection in our Print Shop soon!