INTERVIEW: PARTY OF ONE
GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Anything goes as long as it works, even Cheetos, seems to be the motto for New York-based multidisciplinary design studio Party of One, which consists of not one but two crazy creative minds: Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht.
Ladies, could you tell us a bit more about yourselves?
Melissa: I grew up in Austin, Texas and studied Graphic Design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Since then I have been living in New York, working in small studios, agencies, and in-house at Etsy. Two years ago I went fulltime freelance, and am now working with Nicole as Party of One.
Nicole: I was born in New York (from a very long line of New Yorkers) and grew up misplaced in Massachusetts. I moved back to New York to study Fine Art at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. I have worked in art, design (and education and construction) and have also combined my creative practice with Melissa as Party of One.
How did you first meet?
Melissa: The very first time we met, Nicole was interviewing me for my first real job out of college at Etsy. It was pouring outside and I came in completely soaked and panicked trying to pull it together and still look professional. Then this lady came in covered in tattoos with a bandana in her hair and black pigtail braids and I figured this place would be pretty cool to work at. From there, we were on the same team for almost four years.
Nicole: I was taken with Melissa’s beautiful and thoughtful work and chill vibes immediately. I was really happy to have her join the team.
Melissa, how would you describe Nicole?
Melissa: Witchy Cancerian Magically Creative Nimble Fingered Forever Enthusiast Friend and Mamma. Always wears skirts (except for that one time).
And vice versa?
Nicole: Fierce Sagittarius Insanely Talented in All Things Tall Only Child Organizational Genius Kind & Forever We Got This!! Friend. Does not cook.
How and why did you start Party of One?
Nicole: We started Party of One Studio after working closely alongside each other for four years. After Etsy, we would meet up to experiment with process-driven cathartic art projects, exploring new materials and themes with little concern for the outcome, which were mostly ugly little sculptures. This practice led us to creating impractical and ridiculous piñatas — and our thought that these could be good vehicles for mini exorcisms (the smashing of them), a party for one. We share so many interests in design, photographic treatments and hand-built elements. After two years of experimenting and taking on jobs together we are really excited to formalize our collaboration in a studio.
What do you bring to the vast world of design?
Melissa: We are kind of an odd duo, and with those differences we encompass a broad creative and cultural perspective within our work. I come from a more traditional graphic design background, while Nicole studied fine arts and has had experience in multiple creative trades before we started working together. Beyond that, I am a Mexican American who grew up in the South while Nicole is a New Yorker and mother. By working together, we provide a wide range of skills, solutions and references that flow between the art and design world. These combined aspects make us much more nimble as a duo than if we were of the same age and background.
Nicole: We will bring it every day!
In June 2017 you did the wonderful illustrations for a series of food essays for Eater on the Road. Can you tell us how you did that? Did you make all the objects yourselves? And then? Once the scene is set, you photograph them?
Nicole: We loved working on this project. The authors’ essays were amazing – each beautifully wove food into these personal and moving essays. We aimed to create thoughtful sculptures built of symbolic and actual food items referenced in each story. We hoped they would read as weirdo postcards, highlighting little bits and pieces of the journeys. We planned in advance what these would look like generally and then built and photographed all in our studio. It was really messy. We had to race to capture images before they melted or got too smelly. We had a really good time.
Melissa: Hot gluing Lo Mein to a plastic water bottle was honestly my favorite part.
For the World Money Gallery you made “a feminine self-care haven to soften lady pain”. If only for the brilliant wording I had to ask you about that! What was the image for and what is the orange stuff? Some kind of comfort food?
Nicole: I am just going to jump to the Cheetos fingers! Cheetos are cheese flavored puffy junk food snacks. We smashed up a bag of them and applied them to artificial fingernails and to Melissa’s fingers (true heroine, they were STICKY).
This image was for a benefit gallery show titled, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Bleeding, designed to talk about menstruation and raise funds for those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. We were tasked with creating an image to pair with this tip, “You can lessen the actual period cramps by taking painkillers ahead of time—don't wait until you're a ball on the floor”.
Add some salty snacks, candles, hot water bottle and a sheet mask – and you get our image.
What plans or upcoming projects do you have in store?
Melissa: We recently signed the lease on a brand new studio space in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) and are so excited to get it up and running! We used to find ourselves working in more cramped spaces when we were starting out, so this is a breath of fresh air and should really help expand what we can do with our photographic work.
How does the collaboration work? One does this, the other that? Each a specialization? Or together?
Melissa: It is a constantly evolving process, but luckily we had a lot of practice working in close proximity under tight deadlines during our time at Etsy. A lot of the work we currently get is cross-disciplinary, which really helps us divide and conquer based on our strengths. We both enjoy the initial concept process, so our brainstorms for projects tends to stir up a ton of different ideas, executions and references.
Once we get started, Nicole’s mastery of materials always leads to great improvisational solutions, whereas I always feel more comfortable planning the structure and story of a project before I can let go and create. As a result, we often bounce back and forth and usually end up with a better solution than either one of us would have come up with alone.
What other designers/artists do you admire?
Pipilotti Rist, Mike Kelley, Nadia Lee Cohen, Adi Goodrich, Donald Glover, Aleia Murawski + Alex Wallbaum and all our creative friends working hard to do what they love.
Journalists often complain that graphic designers don’t read. Comment?
Nicole: Is this a thing? We are both readers, I’m actually kind of a news junkie. While we are definitely visually driven, we research our projects, often aim for a back story or a conceptual solution. We love editorial illustration. Journalists (and editors) — we are your friends.
It’s a very competitive world for (graphic) designers. Any word of advice for our young aspiring artists out there?
Melissa: One thing I really struggled with while transitioning out of college was feeling like things have to look a certain way in order to be good. Coming from a graphic design background, there is a certain emphasis on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. particularly from a typographic or compositional perspective. Don’t get me wrong, ugly design does exist, but feeling like I had to follow certain preordained rules gave me some hesitation about experimenting and trying new things for fear of messing up.
As a result, it took me some time to find my voice and be honest about the kind of work I wanted to create. Photography is a great example—I am not professionally trained, but I have worked very hard to fill the gaps in my knowledge because that’s ultimately how I like to present my work.
So, in a nutshell, my advice is be honest about what you want to make, and don’t let the threat of imperfection keep you from doing it (even if that means you make a lot of ugly work at first).
Nicole: I kind of do everything ‘wrong’ but I love the magic that happens with experimentation and I feel most comfortable straddling art, illustration, and design.
For a young aspiring designer, my advice would be to not worry so much about your path or title, you most likely will change course several times over the next few years, working in mediums and with technology you could not have predicted. Really, there’s no real finish line you’re racing to career wise — what would that be?
INTERVIEWED BY PETER SPEETJENS