Membership Spotlight: Karen Kurycki (Incoming President)

Leadership is a role people find themselves in many times over throughout their lives. Leadership is often categorized as a duty, or responsibility, but I am partial to thinking of it as a quality. Many times people are placed in roles of leadership, and either step up to the challenge or crash into the depths of failure. Although, admirable to be given a role and taking it on, there is another group of leaders out there that aren’t placed in a role, they take it on.

Working for work’s sake — This is an expression I’ve never really put any thought toward until recently. This is what it’s like putting efforts toward a non-profit organization such as AIGA Jacksonville, taking one’s love for what they do and just doing it! It’s not about reward, although there is a certain self-satisfaction about doing something for good, something for the betterment of other people, or growing and bettering one’s self at their craft in order to continue doing more work for work’s sake.

This is the quality of true leadership. It’s also a quality possessed by our incoming AIGA Jacksonville President. In part two of two specialized membership spotlights, get to know a little more from the latest member of our creative community to volunteer, and take on this leadership role, Karen Kurycki.

(check out Karen’s Designers.MX mix here)

From around the age of 3, Karen Kurycki carried bags and bags of crayons, paper and various art supplies around—so much so that her family members endearingly referred to her as “the bag lady.” For every holiday, birthday, special occasion—her one request when asked for her present wish list would be two simple words: “art supplies.” But Karen’s love for art was not as apparent to her when growing up as it was to her parents. In second grade she started taking piano lessons, got heavily involved in singing and also took up the clarinet. She struggled to balance her love for music with her love for sports. From first grade until college, her passions involved music, a softball mitt or a volleyball.

Fast forward to today. Karen is a designer/illustrator working for herself under the name CMYKaren. She realized her love for design and illustration and works extremely hard every day (including weekends and vacations) to get where she wants to be in the industry. Within the past year, she has done work for some high-profile companies, including The Washington Post, Nike, Emirates Airline and TBWA. Her work has been featured in Print Magazine’s Regional Design Annual, and she has won numerous local and regional AAF Addy Awards with the agencies she has worked for. She contributed to the book 1000 Ideas by 100 Graphic Designers published by Rockport in 2009. Her illustrations can also be seen in the book, Things Drunk People Say, available at Urban Outfitters. Her work has been recognized on popular design blogs, including HOW’s Top 10 Websites for Designers in February ‘11, FFFFOUND featured gallery, DesignWorkLife, QuiteStrong’s Lust List, August Empress, GraphicBirdWatching, and the Behance Featured Project Gallery. In her spare time, Karen enjoys collecting ’80s paraphernalia, creating customized personal t-shirts for every home Jags game and singing karaoke.

It’s no quick skip and a hop getting to the role you are at today, so just as we started out with Varick’s interview… let’s talk about starting out. When first coming into AIGA, what is it that got you involved, and kept you involved in the journey to where you are now?

I first got involved in AIGA as a student member while in the Visual Communication Design program at Kent State University. When I moved to Jacksonville in ’04 after graduating, I attended a Cocktails and Creatives with my new boss, Kurtis Loftus (who was actually one of the founding members of the AIGA Jacksonville chapter) and met a bunch of people through that, including Russel Quadros who was chapter president at the time. I started volunteering at events throughout that year with my best friend Sarah Butsch and joined the board as Volunteer Chair the following year. After attending my first national leadership retreat in Miami a few years later, I decided I wanted to start a high school mentoring program for the chapter and co-founded Discover Design with Florence Haridan to make that happen. I was Outreach Director for two years, overseeing the mentoring program and running other outreach events, transitioned to Vice President and now I’m extremely honored to take on the role of AIGA Jacksonville President.

You’ve also recently taken a bit of a role jump in your career as a designer as well, could you talk some about your decision and transition from the corporate world to “ridin’ solo” as a full-time freelance designer?

Making that decision was definitely not an easy one! I had worked 5+ years at the Kurtis Group in Jax Beach as an art director and really enjoyed my time there and the accounts/clients I had the opportunity to work with. I then took a position as Senior Art Director at BroadBased Communications, where I also really enjoyed my time, but I realized my passion was more on the illustration/watercolor side of the spectrum and I was yearning for more and more projects that allowed me to explore my illustration skills. As more freelance opportunities started to come in for that kind of work, I realized I had to just take the leap of faith that I would be ok on my own, and I have been solo for about two months now.

Your personal blog shows your skills as an editorial illustrator, and your fondness for wordplay and laughter… how did you come about doing this project, and what’s the most absurd thing that you’ve ever overheard?

I started the blog in January. I needed something that would keep me on schedule to do more illustration and I have a lot of crazy friends who say a lot of crazy stuff, so I kind of just figured, what better way to document those crazy/funny things than to illustrate them with my personal spin on it?! I’ve had so much fun doing it (lately not being able to keep up with it as much to focus on my new business…I’ll get back, don’t worry.) And the most absurd thing I’ve heard?? Oh man…so many things, but I think maybe the Booby Trap conversation between my sisters? or the Hot Air balloon millionaire was also kind of crazy. (Check out the blog…they’re both up there) ☺

This is a tough question, but yes, I’m going there. What would you say is the one thing (or person) that has inspired you the most?

The person or thing that has inspired me the most? AH! So many things have inspired me in this world obviously, but hands-down, if I had to pinpoint one thing that has had the most impact on my life, it’s having such a close family, and especially the support of my mom. I could not ask for a stronger support system than what she, my dad and my siblings have given me. From driving me all over Rochester (NY) growing up, for music lessons or softball games to just being there to listen to me—my parents were always encouraging and helped me find my true passion in life. I can’t say enough about the bond I have with my family and the utmost respect I have for my parents, the hardest working, loving, understanding people I know.

Professionally, my biggest influence is Jerry Kalback, my former illustration professor at Kent State who really encouraged me to push my watercolors and develop my own style within that medium—he’s just an all-around, great person and great teacher. (and awesome illustrator! Check out his work here!

Lastly Karen, it seems to be an unspoken desire for chapter presidents to leave their mark in the organization… Can you share with us some of your goals or focused initiatives you are striving to see in action during your term as President?

There is a lot I’d like to accomplish during my presidency—I always strive to be the best I can be in anything I take on and this will be no different. My passion has always been with outreach/volunteering—to try to find a way of using our abilities as designers and design thinkers to help other organizations/initiatives get their messages delivered in Jacksonville. There is no reason individual designers can’t give at least 5% (a lot of us give more!) of their time to pro bono projects, for the good of the city—I want to encourage people to understand the benefit of doing this, and if they can’t give back through a monetary donation, their skills/time are even more valuable. I’d love to continue with the excellent programming the chapter has done the past few years, while putting an emphasis on our members’ needs; really find out what kinds of programming people want to experience (which I have already put some time into) and pay attention to the quality of events while understanding the best way of communicating that to our members. I’m really looking forward to the experience, am SO excited about the team I am working with and am very open to the possibilities of what we can accomplish during my term!

You can find more from Karen on her website:
To get a dose of Absurdity, check out her blog, Absurd Overheard.
or, follow her updates on Twitter as @CMYKaren

—jim, programming co-chair

By aigajacksonville
Published July 13, 2011