Margot in Japan: Tokyo Update

Margot! In! Japan!

I’m nearly mid-way through a two-week adventure here. This post is a small recap of what’s happened so far, as well as how I’m dealing with the loneliness of traveling alone in a country where I don’t speak the language and am unable to eat much of the food.

yoichi umetsu watari

Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
Definitely the most “contemporary” and wackiest art space I’ve visited. This show by artist Yoichi Umetsu blends sculpture, material design, and traditional painting techniques. Overall felt like a play space, chaotic and silly, with small moments of quiet throughout. Animatronic sculptures brought life and humor, whirring and clicking to life making their presence known like household pets. Pleased to see a contemporary space that mimics how I understand the rest of the contemporary art world, and I greeted it like an old friend.

muji textiles

Muji Gallery

Muji, if you’re not familiar, is a wildly popular minimalistic “un-branded” lifestyle company offering classically styled chic clothing, household goods, interior design services, amazing stationery, books, food, and cool kid stuff. It’s a bit like a Japanese version of Ikea. Anyway, I visited the flagship location in Tokyo and was delighted to discover a gallery in the space as well. This show showcases the stories behind the Indian-made textiles which are used in the store’s current collection. Walking through here swaths of fabric caressed my head and shoulders, with a delicate fluttering in the air was peaceful and serene.

pigment tokyo

Pigment Tokyo
Pictures don’t do this place justice. Imagine a whole wall full of nearly a thousand jars of powdered pigments in every possible spectrum of color. Then another display full of the most artful brushes I’ve ever seen. They were presented like magic wands, and it’s true even handling them I felt power rush to my hand. These beauties, handmade with real feathers each cost well over my monthly rent. I did pick up a few other brushes though, as well as a new ink set to replenish my stash at home. This visit was a healing salve on a rainy day and gave me some rainbow Pride month feelings which I’m missing very much in Japan.

tokyo street art

On loneliness
I knew going into this I’d have feelings of isolation and otherness, but I chose this because I was craving a space where I could reconnect with myself and be my own main focus. To feel what the Japanese call mono no aware, which is that feeling of being a tiny speck in complete awe of the universe, and temporariness of all things, even the self. It’s a great feeling, briefly, but turns out it’s not somewhere I can inhabit for long. Sends me rushing to commune with other humans, which also presents other barriers. Many tourists aren’t interested, I don’t speak Japanese well enough to strike up a chat with the average person, and most Japanese people don’t speak English either. I did find one meet up in Tokyo that was super fun and helpful but still working on finding one in Kyoto. Tonight’s challenge: seek out a music show. Perhaps I can find friends there.

On being gluten-free in Japan
Woof. This has been the hardest part of every day so far. I thought I might tolerate it better here due to different processing and pesticides and whatnot, but yeah nope. I think I’m actually more sensitive to it than at home just because of all the different everything and the acclimation that’s still happening. I’m still working up the courage to try a typical Japanese restaurant yet, knowing what awkwardness awaits trying to clumsily explain the modifications I need to the staff. Alas. I’ve been making due with raw & health foods, fusion places, or eating outside Japanese cuisine altogether like last night’s delicious Nepalese Tandoori. There are a couple gluten-free spots in the cities which, very handy, but it gets boring only going to the same restaurants over and over.

Planning around dietary issues and the ensuing worry on how my body is gonna handle everything I put in my mouth leaves me with less time to research the art I came here to see, as well as taking time away from actually going out and doing things. Getting over that and doing it all anyway seems to be the real work of the trip, and well also life, to be totally honest. To accept and love these parts anyway. It’s humbling and gives me much more respect for others who endure more significant physical challenges. If nothing else it fosters a greater sense of empathy, which is so crucial to a good life. That may be what makes me become a greater artist more than anything else I experience here. Wouldn’t that be interesting! Time will tell.

Here’s to more adventures ahead! 8 days left in Kyoto and 2.5 days on the island of Naoshima. That’s where things are going to get even more interesting. More up-to-the-minute posts on my Instagram and stories if you’re inclined.

Onward, until next time! Arigato gozaimasu, my friends!!

Ux Camp Talk: Design Tools for Social Justice

The purpose of this talk was to review and compare/contrast the various tools that have come out recently to help us improve our political engagement. Which it does, but I realized when speaking about these things talking about the tech itself is only half the issue, the other is how people are using it and why/why not. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all of the chatter, options, recommendations here so I wanted to really sit down and consider what I’ve found and offer some sort of method to the madness.  Cause this is what it feels like now:

When we should be aiming for this:

First, a caveat. There is no one size fits all here. There is no one thing we can do right now and have it fix everything that feels wrong about our country’s current dividedness. Lots of people are calling for bots to filter news or create data-driven fact checkers, but I’m skeptical of those. Because that puts a ton of trust in that technology in a way that I’m uncomfortable with. What if the person who created that tool stops updating it? What if another news source emerges that replaces the news sources the bot relies on? Technology doesn’t always think in the same shades of gray as our brains do, and as humans we will always need to be able to read and synthesize various sources to challenge and allow our beliefs to evolve, so we are our own best tool for this at the moment.

But. There are some pretty darn helpful things we can look at. They allow us to make waves slowly though many small moves.





Aka. High-level tech for the people.

Data Refuge is an org created by people at Penn State University for the purpose of saving, cloning, and storing climate change data in various locations around the country and the world. So if this data that people have spent years studying and collecting becomes compromised or corrupt, it will be backed up in several locations. This is a volunteer-run initiative with developers, scientists, and coders working together to preserve this critical science. They also have an artist residency program specifically designed to find new ways to make statistics and facts more visual to emotionally engage people who aren’t technically inclined. What I like best about this is that it’s a multi-faceted org, providing entry points to all sorts of people interested in slowing climate change. They work really hard to make their data and technology accessible to people, regardless of one’s skill level.

More locally is Chicago Hacknight, which is every Tuesday from 6-10pm on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart. Every week a whole slew of people who are interested in using technology for civic and socially minded projects converge. It’s like tech church! They’ve produced a number of interesting projects, such as Chicago Nursing Home Search which uses the statistical rankings of nursing homes as provided by Medicare and presents them on a map in an understandable way.

Countable logo

And then there’s Countable, which is non-partisan start-up based out of SF that breaks down congressional legislation in plain language. You can up/down vote bills, and sent both text and *VIDEO* messages to your members of congress. Like, you can basically Snapchat your public service boos at Capitol hill. What a time to be alive!

Security is a slippery topic and could be a whole story in itself. But there are a couple extremely easy things you can add to your browser to help scramble your identity. These are things that run in the background and are about as set-it-and-forget-it as they come. In theory, you could even install them guilt-free on your loved one’s computers while they aren’t looking and they wouldn’t even notice, buuuut I’m not here to tell you how to do your life.     

HTTPS Everywhere, by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) a 26-year-old non-profit dedicated to defending civil liberties in the electronic world. Pretty great source, if you ask me. HTTPS Everywhere automatically replaces the HTTP in a URL with HTTPS (the S stands for “secure”) which adds an additional level of encryption between the server and your browser. Boom, easy, finito!

Also by the EFF, we have PrivacyBadger for both Firefox and Chrome on the Mac. Similarly, there’s Ghostery for PC. Among several helpful things, this buddy removes the trackers that record your browsing behaviors and send them the third parties without your consent. They make browsing clearer, faster, and safer without requiring you to switch to a more secure or private browser.

There’s several tools that make calling elected officials easier. is great because they give you a script, but these and a a few others I looked at all require you to jump from your browser to your phone and make you dial in the telephone numbers manually. A slightly more streamlined version of this is You give them your number and they text you with the issue of the day, and a phone number and all you have to do is tap the number and you’re already doing it. 

The failure of all of these calling services is that it still puts the onus on *us* to work this into our day. It’s amazing how hard it is to actually do it. has shared their numbers, as of this month they have ~250k subscribers and of those only about 10% actually follow through with calling. Which leads me to believe the actual numbers of people calling overall are still pretty low. How can we improve on this? Accountability? Incentives? Can we simply bootstrap our way through it? I see it very much like going to the gym or volunteering. It’s super hard to get people to go (myself included here) but everyone feels AMAZING after. We gotta focus on that while we rip the band-aid off.

Further, we have Drive the Vote and Carpool Vote. Both are new tools that mimic car sharing apps like Lyft to help get people to the polls for free. I’m expecting a big push for these services when the midterm elections come around, especially in areas with voter restriction laws, or places with unreliable or no public transportation. Also curious if they will let people book rides for the elderly who may want to vote but aren’t going to use a smartphone app to book themselves a ride. A good service to keep an eye on, regardless.

Surprisingly, older technology is showing a strong resurgence these days. For many congresspeople with perpetually full voicemail boxes, and unchecked email, there is always faxing. SAY WHAT?

You can send up to 5 free faxes A DAY with, and pepper your elected officials without picking up the phone. I’ve a mental picture of the fax machines in these offices just constantly spitting out paper that slowly starts to fill the room, makes me smile every time.

Google Docs are also becoming a real tool for the people. Google groups, shared spreadsheets, and sign-up forms have been popping up wildly. It’s wonderful when we don’t have to download or learn and entirely new interface to get involved, since a very high number of people have at least a passing familiarity with Google’s tools. Though, these require a person-to-person referral. This one, for example, is a sign-up form to be a proxy for a person who is unable to use the phone themselves. Reserved specifically for the disabled, it’s wonderful that something so simple can help amplify these voices.

All this is to say that you don’t necessarily have to be on the front lines of tech to also be on the front lines of change. Simple technologies or technologies that haven’t changed much in recent years are still just as relevant, no depreciation when it comes to these.  I mean, even an oven is technology.  And can be used to make snacks for a group of civic minded friends, bc who doesn’t love snacks?!  

In summary. Make a routine for yourself. Decide what kind of bandwidth and resources you have, and we all have SOMETHING to offer, and bring it out there. Getting family & friends involved makes it less work and more social. If you come from a family with widely differing views, is there a neutral cause you can both get behind? For example, food donations are generally always non-partisan, as are book drives. Start with the causes you DO agree on and improve your bond with those before attempting to dialog about the more complex hot button issues that maybe driving a wedge between you. This is where it’s especially important for small steps, patience, and consistency. With continued openness and exposure it’s possible to find more common ground.

Because it doesn’t require a certain level of hard-won life experience to get involved with social justice initiatives.  You are already enough. Just by being here. 

Just by being here. 

Further reading:
+ Indivisible Guide
+ Tech Forward
+ Code Corps
+ Social Roots
+ Sister District
+ Swing Left

Additional image sources: GiphyHealing Schemas / The Establishment 

New Items in the Shop!

Pitch Design Union Gift Wrap

What shop you say? Well, mine. It’s only about 37 seconds old. And it’s right ova here! And it’s got paper for sale! Heavy-weight (for wrapping paper at least) stock that comes in two colors per order so you can layer and mix-n-match for a look that’s different AND helps you use up those pesky scraps that are always leftover. I’d love it if you bought some, don’t forget 25% of sales go to the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, so you’re also helping them as well as me. Be sure to order this week to receive in time for Christmas!

If this ain’t your thing (fair enough) still sending all sorts of good vibes your way. And, you can always sign up for my mailing list instead for early notifications & discounts for future items. Even your eyeballs on this post mean so much to me. Let’s toast to that and here’s to getting fired up for 2017 too!

Gift Wrap + the Holidays

Seems like there are two types of people during the holidays: those who absolutely LIVE for this time of year. They have a billion traditions, endless cheer, all YAY CELEBRATE every day until The! Big! Day! Then, there are the rest, stressed out, sick, spread too thin, pressured maintain a base level of joy to avoid being labeled a grinch and a fun-sucker. Because how could anyone not love the holidays?! When lots of people can and do for all sorts of rational reasons. Not to mention the mass consumerism which can be overpowering.

Normally, I find myself in the latter camp, but I decided way back in the heat of summer that I would make this year different. Because I knew this holiday season would be hard, this is the first holiday without my dad. What I didn’t factor in was the election and its resulting effects also definitely not helping. For me as much as for the world, I need to contribute something meaningful and in service of others. And to acknowledge the strain the holidays can be, without raining on anyone’s parade.

This led me to one of the things I often find irritating about the holidays and that is the wrapping of gifts, both in the making of, and the materials themselves. Gift wrapping is so often a rushed obligation, fodder for the garbage can, and the literal last thing on the to-do list. Ugh. Who has the time and energy at that point?

And the most exasperating is that most commercial gift wrap isn’t recyclable!!! True story! The coating that’s usually on the paper is made from a type of plastic or has glitter or holographic inclusions, or other treatments which look fancy but also are a drain on resources. Compound that on a national scale and…yikes.

So, I designed a line of FSC Certified and fully recyclable gift wrap and will be using it to package items purchased from other local businesses at two holiday events in Chicago. Sitting with people, having a chat and simply being present (puns always intended) with them while we do something nice for their loved ones. Because the very best holiday offering I can think of is a calm and kind moment of pause, one that helps both the shopper and gives to a charitable cause.


And! Here’s the next best part! 25% of sales will be given to Chicago’s Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. I picked this non-profit because they are small and hyper-local, and have been fighting pollution and increased environmental protections for over 20 years. Seems fitting because they’re exactly the type of institution that will be fighting for government assistance in the coming years and supporting them helps offset the other aspects of this project that I can’t give back such as the carbon footprint created in sourcing and shipping the various materials.

If you ARE in Chicago, it would be an honor and a pleasure to see you at either (or both?) events below, say hello, and wrap gifts for you. If you AREN’T in Chicago sign up for my newsletter to be alerted when it goes up for sale online next week.

Winterfest Handmade Pop-Up Market

Saturday, December 10th / 12 – 6 PM
The Shapiro Ballroom
1612 W Chicago Ave

Dose Market

Sunday December 11th / 10-5pm
Morgan MFG
401 N. Morgan St.
Tickets ($10) available here.

Wishing you all the best of everything this season, friends. Whatever that means to you, or whatever you need for yourself, here’s to finding it. Take care of yourselves out there. <3

Shape/Shift at Lost Arts 11/4


This is the first art show I’ve been in since 2014 and the first show I’ve co-curated (along with Rusty Cook, Chad Kouri, and Elisabeth Hass) for multi-disciplinary space, Lost Arts. Elisabeth approached me and Chad to come up with some programming to help spread the word about their new space and this is what we came up with.

We wanted a concept that that addressed Lost Arts as a raw industrial space that’s equal parts community center, classroom, art studio, gallery, and party zone.  And we also wanted to this event to bring together various groups of artists and designers who might not otherwise interact and charge them with using Lost Arts various tools like  the wood working machines, 3D printers, laser cutters, screen printing facilities, sewing machines, jewelry making equipment, and more.

From there we arrived at Shape/Shift as the theme behind the show. It’s about being in flux either creatively or through one’s identity, and the murky middle areas between all of society’s labels. Male or female? Black or White? Gay or straight? Rich or poor? Designer or developer? Artist or businessperson? Introvert or extrovert? I’m exhausted by watching so many people, myself included, contort ourselves to fit these polarizing terms especially because they have different and varying definitions. So this night is about tossing all that aside, and reframing what might have been a boundary in the past as a bridge or portal to a future that’s clearer and more flexible for us all. That’s why I chose the windows as the basis for this piece.


A window is normally a thing we are either inside or outside of. Traditionally they are viewed as a dividing line between worlds. Instead, I want to make them an opportunity, a vision for the future. The piece is also a metaphor for Lost Arts as a whole, as a place people come to cross-pollinate beyond their creative confines.


[Interior/exterior installation shots]

Using cut sheet acrylic, reminiscent of the reverential feel of stained glass, the piece is inspired by the lenses and emotional “barriers” that one experiences in the process of coming out or accepting one’s identity. Invoking shapes used on nautical flags for navigation and communication as a reminder to mind the signs, marvel at the journey, and to brave the waters with good friends.


One visual reference for this came from one of my favorite artists, Barbara Kasten (above). She builds these incredible intensely colored scenes full of MC Escher-like perspectives, angles, and reflections and then photographs them so they become a two-dimensional representation of sculpture. Talk about layers! Dang.


Also, from Le Mary Celeste, a tapas restaurant in Paris that I found with my mom back in June. They had this transparent vinyl on the windows (above) and the way it tinted the light as the sun set over our shoulder was so lovely. There’s something very cat-like about basking in a batch of colored light that I wanted to capture here.

Quite proud of this, because for so long I wasn’t confident in my non-client work or didn’t feel like the art I was producing had much direction, or was competing with my design practice. It took the better part of a year of independent sketching, painting, journaling, and simmering off and on for this to shift (heh, pun intended). And to be off the computer and build something that will live in a three-dimensional space is super gratifying because it’s the opposite of writing email or code. So! That’s what I’ve been working on. You’ll have to either come to the opening or stay tuned for the end result. 😀

–––> Event info & RSVP here <–––

Thanks for stopping by today!! (Go CUBS!)

[Photos by Rusty Cook, moi, and Debbie Labedz]