Creator Focus—Adrienne Ciskey

I haven’t received any cease and desist letters, so this train rambles on! This week’s Creator Focus is on interdisciplinary artist, Adrienne Ciskey. Adrienne and I have always been nerdy, designer friends, but then she went back to school for something called a “Master’s degree,” won some sort of prestigious award for her thesis project, and is now a Ground Floor artist at Hyde Park Art Center so I have to fake an interview just to get time with her.

Also, interdisciplinary artist sounds like something Kanye would have on his resume. Just sayin’.

All aboard.

It’s been a long road, give me some background on how you got to this point.

I don’t know what point I’m at, but basically the last 10 years of my life have been “hey, I know that I’m one of those creative types, lets try to figure out what that means and how to make it work.” After flailing about as a photographer and graphic designer, I landed in grad school in 2012, and in 2015 graduated with a Master’s of Fine Arts in this big fancy thing called “Interdisciplinary Arts and Media,” which honestly is a degree of “hey, you have an idea for some art? Go make it.”

When someone ask what you do for a living, how do you describe yourself?

I sold out of being an “artist” full-time in 2016 and work at a non-profit now, using my arts skills to basically handle anything my department needs in terms of “digital media,” so anything from videography to podcasts to photography to, weirdly, running a weekly Facebook Live event for the department.

You know I’m not going to let this “interdisciplinary artist” thing just go away; what exactly does that mean?

It means I’m not necessarily defining myself by a specific medium – I’m not a photographer, or painter, or sculpture, or performance artist. So it lets me dabble in whatever is the right form of medium to complete an idea – so in grad school, I got to experiment a lot, including learning how to handmake books, some interactive large scale installations, and then settling on board games as a medium – something that, of course, means that every traditional artist ever is like “but games aren’t art!” and I spend more time explaining “yeah they are” then I do having them learn about my actual creations.

Regardless of background or job title, artists are creators. What drives you to create?

It’s the easiest way to express an idea – at least for me. I always saw myself more as a researcher who doesn’t write papers or give lectures but instead tells everyone about the research through a “thing.” Right now, that thing is board games; before, that thing was photography, mainly.

Money and time are no object—what do you do to scratch the creative itch?

Honestly, I can’t create without the time component – without a deadline, I’ll admit to putting creative motives aside in favor of every other thing. Being creative, for me, is really hard work – while it’s the NATURAL kind of hard work for me, it still is an incredibly draining and daunting task to put yourself out there in any artistic capacity. I would say there is no itch in that regard. Which is not the most motivating or exciting answer to this question, but hey, its probably good for someone else out there to know that you can still make it in this type of field even if you’re not always striving and drawing and making and what have you!

This is going to sound cheesy, I’m aware, but what’s one thing you think is paramount to pass on to the next generation of creators?

That creating is about more than the gallery, more than the online recognition, more than fame, more than being known for XYZ art project/thing. You can use your creativity in loads of ways – seriously. Especially if you go to any formal school for it, they’ll stress that if you’re not being an artist 100% of the time, you’re shit. But I get to scratch my creative itch at a seemingly-boring 9-5 job, ‘cos instead of defining my creativity by the things I make, I define my creativity by how I think about things. And I touched on this before – it’s ok if creating is hard and isn’t a passion 100% of the time!

What kinds of projects are you working on now?

For the day job, I’m in the last phases of designing a book for publication – the subject matter is personally boring, but I get to see through not only researching something, but writing content, creating layouts, learning about publishing options, marketing it, etc – that’s really COOL, even if it is for a desk job and not a subject I care about. For the “art” side of my career, I continue on my path of thinking about gaming as an empathetic experience – so for that, I’m expanding on my thesis project, Bitter Pills (a game about living with chronic illness) by designing a literal expansion to the game, as well as running a podcast called Greatway Games where we talk about gaming and culture and how these experiences we have with others should be seen as more than just “oh we’re having fun” but also as ways to expand our own ways of thinking about things.

What about personal projects?

I mean, I’m currently embarked on the most personal project of all – I have a small human growing inside my body and it’s VERY weird and draining a lot of my energy. But the small human is literally going to be part of the expansion pack for Bitter Pills – since that game focuses on daily life with a chronic illness that specifically targets the female reproductive system, the expansion has to be about what it’s like when you go out of your way to go against what your body wants to do in that regard.


And now the fun stuff.

Top three television shows created this decade.

Does this mean “going back to 2007” or “only since 2010?” Because the former means I get to include Parks and Recreation, right? Since I’ll fudge for that, the other two will be Veep and Fargo. If you won’t allow Parks and Rec ‘cos that’s technically 2009, add Better Call Saul to the list.

Who is your favorite Transformer?

I’ve never seen Transformers, except for watching them film once here in Chicago! I think there’s one that turns into a bee? Or looks like a bee? Anyway, save the bees, I’m pro bee-former.

Choose one to keep forever: Comic Sans or Papyrus.

Comic Sans serves a purpose when used correctly. Papyrus does not. Ban Papyrus, always. I read about how Comic Sans is actually really good for people with dyslexia, too, so I definitely am on-board for that.

Favorite board game to play while drinking.

Look, as long as you don’t spill anything, any game is a good game to play while drinking. Hmmm. You probably want something with a small footprint, so a card game, that plays quickly and doesn’t loose its luster if you keep playing a million times in an hour, so I’m going with a tie between No Thanks! and Fuji Flush.

You heard it here first, folks. She’s basically Kanye. My thanks to Adrienne Ciskey for putting up with my silly questions. If you know of anyone you’d like to see interviewed here, hit me up on Twitter with suggestions!

For more about Adrienne, find her online