Editor’s note: We’re excited to announce the addition of a new category to our INSPIRE section – we call it Q&A. As a look ahead, at a clip of about one per month, we’ll be publishing a series of interviews with individuals who share our #makebetter mindset. The intent is to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of people we believe in. Those who get out of bed in the morning to change the game.
INTRO TO BOWEN AMES
Bowen Ames is a Portland-based stylist and art director. Bowen describes his personal evolution as that of a visual thinker, turned artist, turned designer, turned stylist, turned art director. He has an artistic pedigree – a graduate of The New School, a former art handler at The Guggenheim Museum, a theatre set designer, and the owner of an artist’s residency in upstate New York.
When Bowen arrived in Portland in 2010, he noticed that art and design were predominantly being created for commercial application, rather than exhibition. Acknowledging this shift and its impact on his chosen path, Bowen refocused his personal brand; establishing himself as the go-to guy for brands looking for rich, authentic, visual storytelling.
We met with Bowen at his North Portland studio to chat about his life experiences, career agility, and more.
Q: HOW HAS YOUR CAREER EVOLVED ?
A: It began with a vague childhood desire to be an artist. Come to think of it, I’ve been a visual thinker since I can remember. Flashing forward several years, I attended The New School where I triple majored in Writing, Arts in Context, and Theatre – with a focus on set design. Immediately following college, I worked as an art handler at The Guggenheim Museum. During this stint, I worked with world-class artists and an amazing staff, installing exhibitions that both inspired… and exhausted.
My experiences working amongst artists in New York City eventually led me to build an artist residency program on a farm in upstate New York, which combined my love of art with the outdoors. Eventually the duality of my farm and urban life (and the 7-hour commute between the two) became a complicated balancing act. I decided to head westward on a six-month adventure. This brought me to Portland where I discovered a booming design community and access to brands I could relate with.
Years later, as a stylist and art director in the rose city, my work now spans many categories including apparel, hospitality, products, and lifestyle.
Q: CREATIVE PROCESS – WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
A: I’m asked this question frequently and my answer is that I’m steadfastly flexible. Every project requires a new approach, a new process, and a new aesthetic. I assess the clients existing creative structure first and foremost – and then implement a creative approach in a way that is right for their brand. Whether it’s technical, cultural, or performance related as example, my mentality is to examine where my styling/artistic strategy fits within the broader context of the brand. I then use those insights to determine how content (video/photography) should be manifested.
From a personal brand perspective, my clients can expect to see work that evolves. Historically I’ve been pigeonholed into a certain look i.e. the rugged Northwest heritage aesthetic. The truth is this was a major source of inspiration when I initially set up shop in Portland. I took it and ran with it. However, I’ve been careful not to get too comfortable. Change is constant. Staying in one style vein doesn’t serve my studio practice. Consumers and clients alike need new things to aspire to in order to stay inspired in their respective lives.
Q: HOW DO YOU STAY FRESH?
A: I drink it all in. I’m inspired everywhere I look and moved when I look closer. From music of the mainstream, to the independently obscure, from styles of the past, to trends of today – I examine why things work and how they speak to where we are as a culture. For example, indie music came on the heels of global pop-produced records of the 90’s. That rugged Northwestern look? It coincided with the maker movement, with artisan everything, with shopping locally. More importantly, it came from the cultural confound when we suddenly realized we had no idea how things are made anymore, where they come from, or how to relate to them.
To counter that stark realization, as a society we began to take great pleasure in the things we understood. Wool comes from sheep. Wood comes from trees. Food comes from farmers. The more we can see it in what we own, the more we are connected with those things. It slowed things down a bit and this felt good. However that being said, when that became the new normal, suddenly a technically evolved approach became fresh… So we laser cut native prints into our wooden iPhone cases. We looked for sustainably made performance fabrics of the future. Brands began to pioneer hybrid clothing that marries the production demands of the future with the design principals of the past.
Q: HOW DO YOU BALANCE CRAFT & BUSINESS?
A: In many ways, I’m in a really pleasant place right now as it relates to my career. I have loyal clients, and exciting new ones. In years past, I struggled to tailor my work to speak to potential clients who were reviewing my work and looking for what they wanted for their own brand – extracting what I was providing for someone else. It was a messy way to work. I have now found the confidence to fully focus on the project at hand, and assure my new clients I will do the same for them when we sign on to work together – but again, in a way that is authentic to them.
I’ve built an amazing team of folks who work well together to unite in the process and the various productions. We communicate clearly, we put in the hours it takes to pull it off, and we take care of each other when the work begins to wear on us. As a look ahead, I’m looking to expand my presence globally. I’m ready to jet set a bit, and I have a lot of interest in working in new cities and old ones – primary markets as well as emerging. I’d also like to focus a bit more on the fashion industry as well as travel industry.
TO SEE MORE
Thanks for taking the time to tell your story, Bowen. For inspiring glimpses of Bowen’s studio, sets and travels follow @Bowen_Ames on Instagram.