We had the good fortune of connecting with Tracy Sunrize Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tracy Sunrize, how do you think about risk?
I hate to admit this, because it reveals a great weakness of mine, but I do not think about risk very much. Risk is for people who can afford to lose things—I can’t afford to lose anything, so I must stay safe. Because I am like the tortoise and not the hare, I carry a picture of myself inside as a tedious sort of person where my career is concerned (certainly as compared to many of the brilliant people I went to school with); I have never felt that I was living up to my potential, or making a difference, or saying anything new. My education (and upbringing) taught me that this meant I was essentially a failure, and certainly a bore. I now realize, though, how frequently I have leapt into situations without a support system or safety net in place—school, my business, where I live, whom I interact with. When I think back, I remember how often my actions, small and huge, shocked people, whether they admired me or thought I was foolish. I thought all my life that I was absolutely risk-averse, but it’s never really been true: in fact I’ve always known that I might not get what I want, but that I definitely won’t get what I want if I never even ask for it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My favorite professor told me I was an “additive designer,” referring to my tendency to collage wee narratives onto old books or paintings from thrift stores, or even into my own work. I don’t get much opportunity to build projects this way in real life, but I still like to remember this attribution. It is true I will generally err on the side of more-is-more (colors, textures, typefaces) when working up a layout, and pare things down only near the end. It would be a great challenge for me to build anything austere. Typically my work is somewhat playful and nostalgic, and if I’m lucky, a little bit amusing.
It’s hard to articulate how I got to where I am. I thought I was doing what everyone was doing: working, all the time, any time, on anything. If someone offered me work, I took it. If it was something I didn’t know how to do, I took it anyway, terrified, and looked up how to do it. Sometimes I went to work at an office, then came home and worked on something else. Sometimes I worked at home, then went out with friends or on a date, then came back home and worked until morning. This went on for years and years, and in a way I sort of hoped it would go on forever, even though I knew it was completely unsustainable from all sides.
Arriving to this point in my career wasn’t easy at any step, but is there a person who has had an easy career path? Everything is relative of course, and some had an easier time than I, while others suffered hardship I’ll never understand. I do have moments of self-pity, like anyone with crushing student debt! On the other hand, there is no one I wish to trade places with, and no moment I wish to return to and live over again. I am the one who made the choices that brought me here. Remembering that every day helps me to also remember that I could—if I wanted to—choose something else.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Frankly, most of my best friends know a lot more about LA—and about everything—than I ever will. But let’s say this *one particular friend* came to visit; she’s a real homebody, but I don’t want to spend all week inside watching TV! So, where would I take her? I’d probably try to take her shopping, which is the primary activity she enjoys; Melrose Trading Post might be a pretty good bet, or maybe some bougie indie shopping in Silverlake (or both, why not). I think she’d love to have a drink at The Dresden (I haven’t been there in 20 years, hope it is still cozy) and, while this friend eats less than a bird, she would no doubt join me for a bite at Canters and maybe even House of Pies? Although I’d be pretty stunned if she actually ate any pie. I’d love to take her to the Huntington Gardens; it’s a bit of a drive, though, so instead we might try the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden which is tinier but still beautiful and very near my house, and which (bizarrely, delightfully) welcomes dogs, which honestly is the only sort of place I ever go, anymore.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Any success I enjoy is due entirely to the support, advice, encouragement, and example of my friends and peers, who have taught me everything I know about being an excellent human (which is the only way to be an excellent designer). Also Cary Grant, who said that he liked acting, but it was really just a job.