Do you remember the cover art of the records that your father owned? How about the pattern on your grandmother’s linoleum floor? If you do, how useful are these things to your work today? To designing a social media graphic say, or growing your Pinterest following? Most likely you think they’re irrelevant.
But these things are important to Eric Kass, a designer whose work has appeared in more than 55 design books and 30 gallery shows throughout his twenty year career. For Eric Kass the evocative is valuable, it is to be captured, pinned down and kept for future use. It is inspiration for his design work, grist for the creative mill.
If you’ve ever wondered where design inspiration comes from, Eric’s answer is – everywhere.
“I love the sense of being around all of this stuff. To know it’s seeping into my work.”
For Eric, curating is an instinct that spills over to Pinterest, where he’s pinned nearly 4,000 carefully selected images into glorious, sometimes inspired, boards.
And Pinterest adores him for it. To date he has amassed over 170,000 followers.
Steeped in inspiration
Eric claims to have a hoarder’s mentality, but if he does it’s paired with exceptional taste and the intentionality of a master curator. Nothing is extraneous, everything is there for a reason. Eric doesn’t really hoard, he collects; and since Pinterest has made his collections public, he curates.
“Always first it’s curation,” he says. ‘Knowing what’s good and what isn’t. That’s design. That’s editing. I take the internet and I edit it down. I take this big mess and make it meaningful to me.”
Eric is not your typical Pinterest influencer. Eric Pins because that’s what Eric loves to do. He’s been approached by brands to push their products to his 172,000 followers, but he’s never taken the money.
Before Pinterest he collected things in the real world. “Things piled up,” he says. It was almost impossible to keep it all straight and still have the best of it on hand when he needed it – to pull inspiration from the chaos.
One day, on a whim, he started tearing out pieces from some of his old magazines and books and gluing them beside each other into a great big book which he started calling his Bulging Book of Ephemera. Whilst The Bulging Book was essentially unpublishable, it struck a chord with other designers and featured in a number of design books.
Creativity is often found in the unexpected connection of two seemingly unrelated ideas. The Bulging Book of Ephemera inspired Eric in that way, and today some of his Pinterest boards do the same.
Black + White
His board // black + white // is a masterclass in creative Pinterest curation. It’s description simply reads “* monochrome mania *”.
Eric is also a talented copywriter. As much care goes into his board titles as the most ardent Pinner, but far fewer characters.
“I use the board // black + white // to explore the connections between unrelated items. I look through it and ask myself what do these things have in common besides being mono-chromatic?”
His boards and his Pins flout the usual rules of Pinterest marketing. I suspect he knows that using keywords in his board names and descriptions would make him more discoverable, but he doesn’t seem to care. For Eric the joy of writing is coming up with great copy to complement his design and curation, and keywords don’t come into it.
Not a keyword in sight
In an Internet where you can’t spit without hitting a blog about social media marketing, Eric has somehow risen to the top, like the proverbial cream, without following the usual playbook. It’s refreshing, and it sets him apart.
Finding Eric Kass on Pinterest is like stumbling by chance off the street into an unmarked back alley bar that just happens to be the hippest spot in town. You got lucky.
And he admits that so did he.
The big break
He’d been Pinning for a while, just for himself, an online expression of a lifetime habit, when Enid Hwang (Pinterest’s 4th employee and Community Marketing Manager) discovered him. She recommended him to Pinterest’s audience and suddenly his following on the network exploded.
“I’ve always wanted an audience for what I put my heart and soul into. I want to be part of the conversation. That’s the last part of the process – having someone interact [with your work].”
He’s just as deliberate with his beautiful Instagram presence, but he hasn’t been nearly as successful there.
“Nobody cares,” he says, “Some of it is just luck. This one person just got me in front of a lot of people and it blew up from there.”
Words that many of us should take to heart. Luck is a factor. Lightning can strike at any time. Or not.
Being a master curator can’t hurt though.
Training the eye
When it comes to training your artistic eye Eric says, “At the start you either have it or you don’t. Listen to your gut and believe in what you see and like. Everybody has preferences, but that’s subjective. My talk at the recent EtsyUp conference was about the difference between the subjective and the objective and how to move from a subjective viewpoint to an objective one. ”
Eric is often pushed to provide an easy formula for people wanting to improve as artists and designers (by me for example ? ).
After his EtsyUp talk one lady approached him to talk about the design she’d recently done for her business cards. She wanted to know how to make it better.
His advice boiled down to – go onto Pinterest and find other designs that you like and incorporate your favorite aspects of those designs. Beyond that his advice tends to either get mystical, or at the other extreme, very practical.
“Go to school for design, get a degree and then practice design for twenty years. It’s experience, it’s practice. It’s still a craft for me, I’m still learning… I have an innate drive to organize, and that’s design.”How to become a good designer: 'Go to school for design and then practice design for 20 years.'
Words that put me in mind of Ira Glass’s inspiring advice for artists to capitalize on their great taste and overcome their creative limitations by producing a lot of work. There’s no getting around it, experience counts.
For Eric, growth is so essential to design that he doesn’t even really like to be called a graphic designer. He prefers the way doctors refer to themselves as having a practice. He likes that it implies continuous learning. For this reason he refers to his business as The Fine Commercial Art Practice of Eric Kass.
Turning exposure into business
Has Pinterest success been lucrative for Eric and his fine commercial art practice?
Yes and no. The boards that contain his portfolio of work are not very successful. “People aren’t into that,” he says. Yet people find him through Pinterest, and some of that translates into new clients.
Where he’s gotten business, Eric puts it down to his online presence being a genuine representation of him as a human being. “I’m not asking anybody for anything.” Instead his Pinterest account is a window into how Eric sees the world, and for some people that’s enough for them to know they want to work with him.
“There are tons of other designers out there. I often ask myself – ‘Why does this person from California, or wherever, want to work with me?’ I think it comes down to this. My Pinterest, my blog, my website, it’s all about me: it’s really specific.”
Eric Kass puts himself out there in such an authentic way that I’m betting you already know in your gut, just from reading this profile, whether you’re one of his people or not.
If you are, take a moment to follow him. He’s a rare bird; you’ll not find another quite like him.
For a more tactical guide to Pin curation, check out our post – Pin Curation: The Cornerstone of a Strong Pinterest Strategy
David is Tailwind’s Director of Marketing and Growth. He is a former journalist who wrote for The Times and The Financial Times, a marketing agency co-founder, founder of Confluence digital marketing conference, father of two, and early morning writer. He grew up on The Isle of Wight in England and lives in Oklahoma City.