We had the good fortune of connecting with Calvin Waterman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Calvin, what role has risk played in your life or career?
My first lesson in risk came Christmas Eve when I was two and half, which is also my first memory. My best friend Emma and I were having a stair jumping contest. She went first and jumped a single step. I went full X Games Mode and jumped down six stairs and ended up spiral fracturing my leg. I spent the night at the ER and left with a bright blue cast in the morning. In that moment, I learned every action I would take is a calculation in risk/reward, maybe in that case I still could’ve won with a three stair jump and left with all my legs. Now I use risk as a motivator, dipping my toe into things that feel risky if I see the reward as net-positive on my life. At 24, I left my corporate job as a senior designer at a large branding company and got a studio space as I began to look for freelance work. The goal was always to start a design studio of my own, but leaping into that all at once felt too risky, so I took baby steps to space all that risk out. It was a huge salary cut and I was spending more money to have a place to work, but it was empowering. At the same time, my now-business partner and fellow RISD graduate Max Ackerman and I began to pitch projects together. After about a year of freelancing independently and together frequently, we got into the position of pitching bigger projects and needed some structure. We started Violet Office together in 2015 out of necessity and with the desire to reach a bigger audience. What I deemed ‘too risky’ at one point in time became a natural progression.
What should our readers know about your business?
I run Violet Office, a brand design studio, with my business partner Max Ackerman. We create brand identities, digital products, and physical objects. We started the studio in 2015, opening up a satellite here in LA about two years ago. Our primary focus is branding; helping businesses figure out who they are and how they want to express themselves to the world. We work with our clients from concept to implementation and launch. As a small studio, we have a lot of flexibility in how we work and the type of work we do. We have done giant corporate re-brands, like Vevo or Uber, while at the same time pursuing work that speaks to who we are, such as doing a 3D music video for St. Vincent or creating Good Glyphs, a collaborative dingbat typeface and fundraising platform. Running a business, especially one where you are selling creativity, is about creating a value system for yourself that guides your decisions. Making a living is important, we all have to eat, but making $ the singular pursuit can lead to questionable decisions and crappy work. If you feel like you are missing something in your practice, create your own opportunity; do a pro-bono project for something you give a shit about, start a conversation with someone you look up to or even just make a painting. Find the balance that feels good for you and lean into it.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The first week I moved to LA, my friend Justin Wickwire took me on an unforgettable and insanely nerdy tour of all the famous skate spots I grew up seeing in videos. It was such a rad introduction to my new home. I have been skateboarding pretty much my entire life, so moving to LA, the birthplace and mecca of skateboarding, has kind of been a trip. We did all of DTLA pretty much, Wilshire 15, Staples Center Hubba, JKwon (I admit I had skated here before) Arco Rails, Library Gap, Brick Banks…the list goes on. It was totally surreal! We were standing there tripping out on the tricks that went down at the Staples Center hubba, when this lady coming up the stairs wanted to make sure we were ok because we were just staring in amazement at some random piece of architecture. It was great.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I gotta shoutout my step-dad Mike Kippenhan, for letting me skip high school for a few days to finish my college applications, and for inspiring my first and last stick and poke tattoo in seventh grade. And for taking me to punk shows. Thanks Mikey!