Just Play With Tad Carpenter’s ‘Sunday Suns’

Posted inGraphic Design
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There’s no denying that when we create with zero rules, we feel free. We can do whatever our minds wish, with no restrictions involved. It’s creativity at its finest. So Tad Carpenter, the co-founder of Carpenter Collective, began an experiment titled Sunday Suns to play and create without guidelines.

The result is a book that showcases Tad’s designs, illustrations, sculptures, models, and stitchings representing a sun he freely created on a Sunday. In addition, the book offers an insight into his work process and the origins of this stunning project. Each page is positive, uplifting, and entirely positive, proving that when we let our minds play, good things follow suit.

Sunday Suns is an experiment. It is play. It is half therapy and half visual journalism – a small way to inject our world with some much needed positivity and light.

Sunday Suns is the weekly project of American designer Tad Carpenter, who has taken on the simple task of designing, illustrating, sculpting, modelling, making, stitching or creating a sun every Sunday.

Truth be told, I have always felt the most at peace with myself when making something. I love the feeling of getting totally lost in the act of creating something that didn’t exist the day before. Getting the opportunity to make something for someone and do so everyday for a living is a gift. Maybe it’s not a new iPhone, but a gift nonetheless. Several years ago, I found myself slowly beginning to doubt my own creative abilities, and honestly, doubt my own self- worth because of it. Why was this happening?

Why was I evaluating my personal worth against my creative output? I couldn’t understand how I went from being a seemingly confident, self-employed designer of 10+ years to someone who began questioning literally every mark and every move I made. Was it the 24/7 scrolling culture I was part of? Was it career overload and burnout? Was it the current toxic America I was in no way immune to?

As a partner of a brand design studio that I co-run with my wife, I can truly say I love very much what we get to do for a living. Our studio really does take on the type of work I have always wanted. We design the type of work I can 100% stand behind and enjoy making. But, over time, the daily rejection and scrutiny I encountered in a world dictated by economic success can take a toll on a sensitive little artist like myself.
In 2015, I found myself struggling and frequently getting down on myself. As a human, I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, off, all of the emotional catchphrases you can think of, insert them here. All was going great, yet I was not feeling like myself and I didn’t know why exactly.

I began to feel guilty for feeling this way. I personally knew that I needed to confront my insecurities and feelings head on (in addition to confiding in people I trusted). These feelings affected my work as if a wave of anxiety and doubt was rolling into my creative process like a hurricane. I was throwing myself a pity party that had become an epic rager. The cops needed to be called to break it up. It was time to down that last beer, run out the back door and head home before curfew. But how do I get home?

After a very long stressful week, one Sunday morning I found myself unable to sleep. Tossing and turning for hours, I finally pulled myself out of bed and ventured to my home studio in the darkness of early morning. I thought I could get a head start on the week and begin revising some work for a client. Instead, I found myself not moving at all but just gazing out the window like some kind of generic sad boy in a stock photo. I sat there still, doing nothing, in the dark and watched the sun rise. While feeling overwhelmed, beaten down and maybe even a little lost, it dawned on me (yes, dawned that was a bad sun pun—get used to them), we as people tend to find joy when we are doing something we love.

It’s often that simple. It’s even something we are taught as children, “just go play” adults would tell us. I personally always thought my mom was just trying to get me to leave her alone when she asked me to go play outside. But maybe, just maybe, we were learning something much more important in those neighborhood wiffleball games. When we play we are honestly at our most happy. We are being taught from the very youngest of age to seek moments to play. “Go color” Mom would say. “Go play outside” Dad would shout. “Go build a fort, ride a bike, read a book, find a dead body” (wait, that last one was the plot of Stand By Me, scratch that one). Play has long been believed to reinforce imagination, creativity, dexterity and emotional strength. But could it really be that easy? Just start playing more and POOF, we’ll
be better? I am not naive enough to think it is that easy, but it is a good place to start. Maybe I really do need to inject more play into my life and work? Maybe we all do?

I decided to designate a specific time every week for me to just play. If I didn’t create these rules it would be hard for me to follow through. Setting up boundaries helps us all be more accountable towards our goals. I also needed a subject, a thing I could use as a vehicle to play within and through—something that could be used like a vessel to pour meaning into. I wanted something that skewed positive yet was broad and adaptive. That Sunday morning, after sitting in the dark staring away like a sad, 90’s emo kid, I started designing a single sun for me and no one else. I had no plan, no creative brief, no client, no rules, no restrictions—just me, design and play. Every week I injected this act into my life, it made me feel a little bit better about myself and my craft. By forcing my brain to look at the world through a more positive, sunny lens it helped me see the light (see, more sun-puns). Sometimes it really can be as simple as thinking positive leads to being positive.

This project has given me some powerful rewards by carving out time to create a simple sun for a couple of hours each week. It has given me permission to reflect on my feelings. It has become a vehicle to express myself and the environment around me. It has become a great way to experiment with styles which has led to new and different types of work.

It has thoroughly given me a sense of clarity. However, maybe the most important and unexpected aspect of this self-reflective experiment is how these little suns have provided hope to others.

Project Credits

Tad Carpenter and Counter-Print