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Artists collaborate to raise awareness of area design talent

Jody Williams and collaborators have created The Citizen Project, an initiative to shed light on area talent.
Set of four American flag inspired screen prints

Set of four American flag inspired screen prints /Rudy Malmquist, Courtesy of Citizen Project

Underwriting support from:
Jody Willams

Jody Willams /Eric Tank

Williams' studio

Williams' studio /Eric Tank

Local illustrator Jody Williams has seen continued success with clients such as Herman Miller, Whirlpool and Steelcase. Apart from his corporate work, he has organized a team of equally successful creatives to indulge in a collaboration that he calls Citizen Project. The first such collaboration was themed on the 200 year anniversary of Francis Scott Key's writing of the "Star Spangled Banner." 

Each artist has created one image to form a set of four unique versions of interpretation of the American flag, screen printed on premium stock paper.

The team consists of Brian Edlefson, designer; Terrance Weinzierl, type designer; Michael Nykamp, illustrator and Williams. The four have known each other over the years of working in the creative field. 

"I wanted something apart from the day to day that we could on our own get together, get inspired, do something fun, collaborate [and] meet up," says Williams. 

Each year, one project theme is chosen to collaborate on. This year's project was themed on the 200 year anniversary of Francis Scott Key's penning the "Star Spangled Banner." Each artist has created one piece as part of a four piece set. For his Color Wave, Williams used a drip paint on white paper method and then photographed and imported the image into Adobe Illustrator. 

 The dynamic of the project is open to change and doesn't necessarily mean the same four individuals will be working together. The number of collaborators could be as many as 20, depending on what the project entails. 

"It's an entity that continually morphs into what it's going to be and I try hard not to put the clear boundaries on it," says Williams.

As a mechanism to gauge the interest in such a project, Williams chose to use Kickstarter, a popular vehicle for crowd funding and raising awareness. The project surpassed its goal of $7,500.

Williams would like to see the project take on a philanthropic element. 

"In the future I'd like to do something that benefits a nonprofit or giving the proceeds to a veterans group or doing something that's a little more generous," says Williams. 

Kickstarter, however, does not allow monies received to be given away. 

A Kalamazoo native, Williams earned his bachelor's degree from Kendall College of Art and Design before graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York City where he started doing editorial work for entities like Time Magazine, The New York Times and Encyclopedia Britannica. The experience fast tracked his move into the corporate illustration he now does in Grand Rapids. He works out of an 800 square foot modern studio on Grand Rapids' northeast end where he's been for the last five years. 

One of Williams' intentions with The Citizen Project is to raise an awareness of all the great talent in Grand Rapids.

"What I do like about it is we very purposefully wanted it to be local this year. It might spread a little more nationally next year. But we wanted to highlight local designers, local talent... I constantly see local corporations going to the East Coast or West Coast to hire good design work. I'm a firm believer that it's here," says Williams. "I don't think you need to go to New York City and sign a 50 million dollar contract to get good work. I think the local design talent is here and I hope that the local companies keep hiring local. I think Grand Rapids is an amazing town." 



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