Artist Profile: Allie Kushnir - Chicago
Hi Allie! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Logan Square, Chicago, a neighborhood and a city that I love. I met my husband in a painting class about 8 years ago and he is still my favorite person. I love to learn and if I had endless time and money, I’d spend both on various types of education. I am especially interested in art, health, and social/environmental impact. I am a vegan, a runner, and while I care about animals a lot, I have no desire to own one.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I actually went to college to study psychology, something I very much wanted to pursue. But I haven’t ever been able to avoid an urge to physically create art, so I quickly began incorporating art classes into my college curriculum.
For one reason or another, I ended up moving away from psychology once I graduated. I tried so many different avenues as I attempted to figure out what felt right (all artistic). I wrote for a design blog, I studied graphic and web design, worked in an art gallery, designed displays at Anthropologie, and even worked as a freelance photographer. At the same time, not long after graduating, I really missed painting. So my mom actually found a woman named Jill King who taught painting out of her studio in Evanston and I decided to join the studio. Once I started painting there, I couldn’t leave Jill’s side for about five straight years. She has been one of the most influential people in my artistic life, someone who encouraged me to take my art seriously and has inspired me to see it differently. I could go on and on about her, but the point I’m trying to make is I’m not sure I would be doing what I am today if she hadn’t entered my life when she did. Jill King. Look her up. You gotta meet her.
Were you always interested in art and design?
In many ways, yes. But I am interested in so many things! I could have easily ended up in an entirely different line of work. As a child, I loved any opportunity to create. Many of my favorite Birthday or Christmas gifts involved some sort of creative project. I think what I’m learning is that while I am certain I could find fulfillment in another career path, I don’t think I would ever live happily without maintaining the practice of art-making.
What led you to start a business and brand surrounding your artwork?
Well to start, probably restlessness. For a long time, my main focus was oil portraits. They were very time consuming and took a lot of focus. One day I came across some simple abstract watercolors and they just looked like so much fun. So I started playing around…but things don’t ever really stop there for me. The paintings started to pile up and I had to figure out what the hell I could do with all of them. So I busted out my miter saw, cut up a bunch of wooden blocks, and mounted the paintings onto them, with a hanger on the back. I hoped that if people didn’t have to consider framing, the paintings would sell. Once I got them into a couple shops around Chicago, I had the confidence to keep going. I wanted to make artwork that had a function, so next came stationery, and then after lots of trial and error, textile design.
Have you always lived an environmentally conscious lifestyle? If not, what made you transition into living with more intention?
I have always been concerned about my overall impact, but I was uneducated. I cared a lot about the obvious things like turning off the lights, saving water, recycling, but I really didn’t even know what I was leaving out. I sort of forgot about this until now, but I remember going on a class field trip to a landfill in college. I was shocked and disturbed by what I saw and I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t everyone do this? Maybe something would change if people just saw it…“ But of course it isn’t that simple.
I think it is really easy for people to see the pain and suffering of others right in front of them and know that they need to help or have a desire to relieve them of that suffering. But environmental problems seem to be in their own special category. It is something so intangible and to many of us, nearly impossible to wrap our heads around how seemingly harmless, everyday actions could in fact cause such harm. I get it. I have been in that boat. But I guess the point I am trying to make is, we all want to help those in need…and so many more people will suffer if we don’t address the inherent danger in neglecting our planet.
Could you tell us more about The Ones That Will? When did you decide to begin this series?
Yes, gladly! I already had my product line up and running and while I operated under ethical guidelines that were very important to me, I rarely mentioned them in association with my brand because I didn’t want to turn people off. But then at some point just last year I took a step back and thought, “What am I doing? Of course I want people to associate my brand with an ethical lifestyle!” In fact, with so many other amazing businesses out there, I want everyone to know just how accessible a conscientious lifestyle can really be! So instead of just selling things, I want to amplify the voices of those who have committed to pursuing a life that is driven by conscious consumption in different ways. So we started working on The Ones That Will, a mini web series profiling 5 different businesses who do just that. The videos encompass things like health, wellness, minimalism, eco friendliness, plant-based nutrition, even community empowerment. I have a little experience in video and luckily my husband has become an extremely skilled video editor as well, so we had a pretty organically assembled two-person dream team from the start.
What are your hopes/goals surrounding The Ones That Will?
There is such a big shift happening right now towards mindful living. I love it and I want to do my part to strengthen it. I know that to some, the lifestyle I try to encourage isn't familiar enough for it to even seem feasible. My hope is that if we all continue to normalize a mindset that is more conscientious, then a mentality that puts it out of reach will begin to shift.
Beyond that, we plan to start filming Season Two this Spring/Summer. At this point, just about all of our subjects for the next season will likely be Chicago or Midwest based, but eventually, we would love to expand to profiling people all over the country and beyond. We have some ideas for longer documentaries and various categories within The Ones That Will, but we’re not quite ready to announce anything just yet!
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Artistically, my passion is not something that can be explained or justified…it is just something that I am pulled towards. Beyond that, I feel a responsibility to consider what my choices contribute to. I am not a religious person and I don’t have children, so it isn’t as if faith or my own child’s future inspire me to advocate for sustainability and thoughtfulness. It is just what feels right. We have to look out for one another or there will be nothing left to look out for.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face in your work?
There are a number of things that I struggle with…one is simply not having a formal education in anything I have pursued! I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in fine art and here I am, pursuing a career in textile design, maybe videography, and...I don’t know, social entrepreneurship? I am constantly learning as I go and often wishing I could go back in time, get the education first, and then pursue the career. Other than that, the biggest hurdle I have struggled with is ongoing self-doubt and insecurity. It is so amazing how our brains can alter our reality. Insecurity can be blinding in that it can make one forget who they are and lose the ability to truly sense how others perceive them. I don’t like it and I don’t like the hold it can have on my work. But it comes in varying degrees and it seems the key is to ONLY surround yourself with people who think you’re a Godsend and flatter you incessantly. Just kidding, I don’t know the secret…like I said, my education in psychology ended at the undergraduate level.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Ultimately, I believe we need to support humanity above all else. If what we are striving for is equality, then I think it is important to lead by example. Of course, unfortunately, total gender equality just isn’t a current reality, so that leaves women with a need to support and lift each other up. Culturally and statistically women hold less positions of power than men. For generations, women have been taught to compete with each other because only a few can succeed. But functioning with this mentality will only hold us back. If we continue to support one another, I think we will eventually see an advancement of women as a whole.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Oh my, SO many!! You may regret asking this, because of how much space I’m about to take up.
- Jill King, of course. Talented artist, inspiring human.
- Ariele Alasko – Breathtaking woodworker and sculptor. When I first came across her work, a number of years ago, I was entranced. For a moment, I even thought I wanted to become a woodworker myself. She just makes it look so spectacular.
- Claire Wolfe Boockmeier of Wolfechild – Stunningly beautiful children’s apparel. I would give anything to be able to design and sew garments like her.
- Hillery Sproatt – I met her through various Renegade shows that and used to dream of one day owning her work. Then my husband surprised me with one of her blankets as a gift about a year ago and that with my pillow from her Unison collaboration may be my most coveted possessions. The two have made it into many backgrounds of my own product photos.
- Erin Ireland is a food reporter, food photographer, recipe developer, and just a major influencer when it comes to all things vegan. She is so honest and unapologetically genuine in the way she presents her ethics. I used to worry that talking about the things that concerned me regarding the environment or eating certain foods would annoy others, so I mostly avoided it. But watching her has given me more courage to address important topics and understand that a voice with good intention, is always a worthy one.
- Hallie Bateman – She creates very clever, funny, and endearing illustrations of her life. She just came out with a book that she developed with her mother about what to do when she is gone. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
- Eileen Fisher – Oh how I’d love to spend a weekend with this woman. She just seems so kind, so genuine, so relatable, and so considerate of the world. Her company makes an effort to support women and the earth, so there is really nothing not to love about her.
- Sarah Silverman – I bet you never expected me to put a comedian on here! But my, I’ve really fallen in love with her in the last year. Sometimes the way she speaks about larger issues feels like she’s speaking right from my heart. She is funny and creative and certainly opinionated, but she connects with people who think differently without demeaning or patronizing. I think that empathy is so imperative in creating positive change and she seems to share the sentiment.
That is NINE and it doesn’t even feel right to stop there. But I fear I must, or this could go on for days.
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
Whoa! I can’t believe I babbled on about self-doubt before even coming to this question. I guess it’s as pervasive as we all thought. Well, I think the only thing I’m ever truly able to do is persist with tunnel vision. I like to consider the big picture, but I don’t allow myself to sit in it for too long, because fear and doubt will begin to bleed in. I pick a goal and I focus on that goal in that moment. Once I have accomplished it, I feel a boost of confidence and I ride that wave for as long as I can.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
Last year I attended the Maker’s Summit in South Carolina and that was really wonderful. I have also taken a few Creative Live courses that have helped get me focused. Otherwise, it has been so useful to connect with other designers and likeminded people to find some direction and share various tips. This year I will be attending the Heart Series conference and Paper Camp, both in LA and I am certain I will return with so much inspiration.
What are you trying to learn right now?
We are currently working on learning the best way to expand the reach of The Ones That Will. At the same time, I am constantly researching the best ways to make my product line the most ethical and sustainable version of itself.
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
It is not easy for me to narrow it down, but believe it or not, this is me trying my best.
- Dill Pickle - Great grocery store in Logan Square, selling lots of local foods. Plus, I get giddy about any opportunity for zero-waste grocery shopping and this is certainly the place for it.
- The Art Institute - Duh!
- The Garfield Park Conservatory - We got married here! I love to take most people who come to visit. It's an incredible oasis.
- The 606 - One of my favorite places to go for a run or a long walk.
- Chicago Diner - Vegan junk food!
- Lula Café - Delicious fresh food in season and a beautiful atmosphere. Best brunch around!
- Palmer Square - Really nice little park in Logan Square, I love to walk here when people come to visit, or run laps around the trail.
- Modern Cooperative - Very cute shop in Hyde Park with a great vintage collection and independent designers' work; including mine!
- Sprout Home + Garden - There is no way not to love this shop. Very knowledgable staff regarding all things plants, but the newer home store across the street is amazing.
- Ipsento 606 coffee shop - cute, bright space right off the 606.
- Bang Bang Pie Shop - They don't have any vegan pie or biscuits available just yet, but they do have a delicious vegan granola with almond milk! It is right down the street from us and sometimes when it is warm out, the pie smells waft into our front yard. We love to sit outside and drink coffee on their huge backyard patio as soon as it starts to warm up. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that more vegan options will eventually be added! For now, they do at least have a number of vegetarian friendly options.