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La Petite Mort: Michael Ventura of Sub Rosa Talks Creative Side Project

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally featured in the Print Fall 2016: Special Typography Edition as A Little Death by Karli Petrovic. Grab a copy before they’re gone!

La Petite Mort: A Creative Side Project by Sub Rosa

Words by: Karli Petrovic

What happens when some of your design firm’s brightest creative ideas end up on the cutting-room floor? If you’re Michael Ventura, founder and CEO of Sub Rosa, you find a new way to share that brilliance, sometimes garnering a cult following along the way. Thus La Petite Mort was born.

“Not every great idea has a client willing to pay for it,” Ventura says. “This got me thinking about creating another outlet—a client-less one—so that we could explore ideas without constraint. The team was excited to explore this not only as a means of expressing themselves, but also as a unique way to collaborate with colleagues they might not ordinarily work with on a daily basis.”

Ventura says La Petite Mort, which translates to “the little death,” a French euphemism for an orgasm, is exactly what it sounds like: “a little orgasmic release of creativity.” Released biannually on the summer and winter solstices, the magazine is a collection of artistic entries from Sub Rosa employees and select friends and family with unique takes on the current theme. Although Ventura selects the themes and writes the foreword, Foreplay, he says the themes tend to come to him, rather than from him.

“Over the course of the few weeks before announcing our next theme, I just keep my antenna up,” he says. “I listen to the conversations around the studio. I see what signals the world is putting in front of me. And inevitably, without fail, a relevant and appropriate topic reveals itself.”

The most recent issue is centered around metamorphosis, a topic the contributors embraced in wholly different ways. Jessi Brattengeier, Sub Rosa’s junior art director and resident DJ, graphically charted 35 years of hip hop history. The issue also includes a personal essay about coming out, a hidden poem that can be read by holding the piece up to the light, and an update to the original 1860s version of the “Game of Life,” which trades “ruin” and “ambition” milestones for 21st-century versions like “fear of missing out” and “herbs for wellness.”

Such a robust collaboration takes a lot of work, but despite the crunch when other client-driven demands take precedence, Ventura says the Sub Rosa team relishes witnessing their creativity come to life.

“There is nothing better than seeing everyone’s faces light up when the new issue arrives and their hard work is memorialized in print,” he says, noting that people outside the company are also collecting each edition. “It’s really gratifying to know we’re creating something that other people want to read.”

As for his favorite issue? “Our next one. Always our next one.”

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