On Collaboration

by Kevin Barrett Kane

There is a large amount of emphasis on “collaboration” in both the design and entrepreneurial world at the moment, and although we agree that true collaboration is a healthy exercise, we find that the concept is often and easily misconstrued, very often by the very individuals who are so adamantly supportive of the idea.

The etymology of the word holds some evidence for this—from the Late Latin collaboratus, past participle of collaborare, meaning “to labor together.” This may seem a bit obvious to you, the reader, as the etymological translation is about as similar to the current definition as possible. In its frequented contemporary use, however, collaboration is often seen as a metonym for cooperation, and this is where we find fault. By the powers of language and social stigma, collaboration is seen as an honorable endeavor (“Let’s collab, bro!”), whereas cooperation is often misinterpreted as an obligation (“You know what we do to prisoners who do not cooperate? We hook zem up to zee box.” Steve Martin…anyone?) But, let’s go back to our simple exercise in basic etymology and Latin. As is so evidently the case, to cooperate means “to operate together,” while to collaborate means “to labor together,” as mentioned.

Now, if this is all just seems a long-winded frivolity with some bearded hipster at the dive bar known as Semantics, you’re right! But stay with me for a second.

The problem with this mis-identifying term—collaborate—is that it is a really beautiful concept, but the word is being used to refer to concepts well outside its definition. That’s all well and good (and common practice) in the English language, until someone gets upset. And those who are upset are the ones doing the actual collaborating.

How I feel in "collaborative" meetings.

How I feel in "collaborative" meetings.

We, the oh-high-and-mighty-whistle-blowers at The Frontispiece, are sick of the proliferation of false collaboration! You see, true collaboration is a practice in empathy as much as it is in collective effort. The goal of collaboration is fundamentally reliant on the intellectual and laborious pursuit of a common goal by a group. It is not a conference room meeting with stale scones where everyone goes around the table and shares their opinions. Neither is it sitting behind your chief designer who keeps mumbling under his breath about The New Typography while you secretly wonder if he’ll ever let you do any actual work. True collaboration is feeling as though you and your peers form a collection, a single body of effort, dedicated to a single cause. This effort can include argument, frustration, and discordance, and nearly always does. The important thing is that every confrontation in pursuit of the final goal is felt and dealt with by all.

In my time as a designer, I have had the enormous pleasure of working alongside some incredibly talented individuals from varying fields of expertise. Some of them I have collaborated with, to enormously gratifying effects. Others I have cooperated with, though I do not frown at these experiences, and many I consider just as rewarding as my collaborations. And so I come to the true intent of this didactic post about creative togetherness. Two extraordinary artists, innovators, and true collaborators with whom I have worked to complete multiple art projects, entrepreneurial endeavors, limited edition artworks, and pitchers of fine beer, have recently struck out on their own in search of personal success. The Frontispiece has been somewhat instrumental in the genesis of both endeavors, though we do not assume to take any credit away from these exceptional individuals. I’d like to spend some time talking about them each, after which I will direct you to their new websites, where you can support them as you have us.

The man. The myth. The legend. It has been an immense pleasure to call Shae a close personal friend for the last 4 years. I met Shae in my first printmaking class at CU, and we quickly bonded over our love for the vaguely inappropriate Flight of the Concords song “Sugarlumps,” and our mutual interest in discussing apocalypse preparedness plans over cheap IPAs. As anyone who has met him can attest to, Shae is one of the most genuinely compassionate individuals, whose unyielding dedication and unprecedented skills as an artist and intellectual combine to form one of the truest reincarnations of the Renaissance Man. I do not speak lightly when I say that Shae is an artist worth your undivided attention. From a background in printmaking, specifically stone lithography, he has taken a very recent turn into painting, where he nearly immediately discovered a niche in wash-based, chaotic abstractions that exude simultaneous feelings of tranquility and overwhelmedness.

We recently featured one of Shae’s gorgeous paintings on the cover of our Public Domain Project book, Moby-Dick. The 5” x 8” cover does very little justice to the original 6’ tall work, and if you ever get the chance to see the painting in person, especially as the triptych shown below, we suggest you take it.

You can see more of Shae’s work at his website, here. If you are interested in his work, he has paintings and prints available for sale by contact, and relies on commissions (like the one you want to order from him) for a living.

Another individual whose dedication is only outweighed by his kindness, Dane is a professional photographer, entrepreneur, and outdoorsman with all the tools necessary for surviving and thriving during an apocalypse (and yes, in Shae and my discussions on this topic, Dane is often brought up as an essential asset to our survival). I first met Dane in an interview for the Creative Director at FG Press, an endeavor that he imagined and co-founded with Brad Feld. Soon thereafter, I found out that Dane was a photographer with unprecedented skills both behind the lens and behind the screen. Exploiting his talents as an image taker and maker, we began a silent anti-stock photography campaign as a dedication to the form of book design and a statement against the stock-image driven publishing world.

Dane shooting for the cover of Eliot Peper's Uncommon Stock: Power Play. The final cover was shot completely in-camera, with only minor levels adjustments for print quality done on the computer.

Dane shooting for the cover of Eliot Peper's Uncommon Stock: Power Play. The final cover was shot completely in-camera, with only minor levels adjustments for print quality done on the computer.

The results of our efforts. Dane and I worked together on similar cover photoshoots for all three of the Uncommon Series, by Eliot Peper.

The results of our efforts. Dane and I worked together on similar cover photoshoots for all three of the Uncommon Series, by Eliot Peper.

I am proud to say that due to Dane’s help and willingness to collaborate on cover shoots, FG Press did not publish a single book under my creative reign featuring stock photography or graphics of any kind.

After many months of teasing, Dane recently announced the launch of Downy Flake, a photography studio representing a broad range of highly exquisite images taken by Dane on his many solo adventures into the wilderness. The title of his endeavor is so named after a Robert Frost line, and each print available in the gallery is appropriately named after a chosen poem by the American master. The Frontispiece helped Dane to establish his graphic brand/identity, and we are excited to share this project with you by our fellow entrepreneur and creative. 

You can visit Dane's new website here: Downy Flake. We know you'll love his work.