Blending fantasy and reality
An inspiring approach to photography
Light, color, and composition
Seeing beyond reality
April Greiman’s work defies concise definition. For 30 years, she has explored imagery, words, and color, arranging them as objects in time and space to create what she sometimes deems “transmedia” artwork. She has exhibited, lectured academically and professionally, and taught at top art and architecture schools. Today, she teaches and inspires students at the Woodbury University School of Architecture and leads the design consultancy Made in Space in Los Angeles. She sat down with Photoshop.com to share how her life has come full circle, from loving art in grade school to inspiring and educating the next generation of budding artists, designers, and architects to organizing an exhibition of artwork created by her greatest mentor.
Photoshop.com: When did your creative side emerge?
April Greiman: Very early! I always loved art materials in grade school when I was growing up in New York. That passion turned to taking commercial art courses in high school and oil painting in our family basement, as often as I could. I also worked summers at a big produce farm in the area called Van Ripers Farm. They hired me on weekends to design the display of their fruits and vegetables. I made cornucopias and pyramids of fruits and put colored boards behind the produce to catch people’s attention. I laughingly refer to this as my first design job! For years after I left the area to go to college, the farm continued to call my mom to see if I could come back in the summer and work for them.
Photoshop.com: You studied at the prestigious Basel School of Design in Switzerland. That’s a long way from working on a produce farm outside of New York. Can you describe your path to Switzerland?
April Greiman: I started out at the Kansas City Art Institute studying graphic design and ceramics, with some photography thrown in. While I was living on campus, there was a gallery exhibition showcasing large posters of legendary Swiss graphic designer and educator Armin Hofmann, who was the director of graphics program at The Basel School of Design. The elegance, simplicity, and clarity of his design work was and will always remain timeless for me. I was enthralled with the minimal elements he employed, such as black and white photography, fused with graphic shapes or typographic content. I literally felt dizzy seeing his posters in full scale for the first time. He then came to lecture at my school and I brashly asked to meet with him to show him my portfolio. I was surprised when he invited me to continue my graduate studies at The Basel School of Design, but I took him up on his offer and went to Switzerland right after my graduation with a BFA.
Photoshop.com: You’ve done a lot of amazing work since leaving Basel. Is there a project you’re particularly proud of?
April Greiman: I believe I was the first woman to design a commemorative postage stamp. The 1995 stamp, the 19th Amendment, celebrated 75 years of women’s voting rights. I layered images of two women’s marches: one depicting suffragettes in 1919 at the U.S. capital; the other, the National Organization of Women in the 1970s. Then I chose to layer the words “progress, freedom, and equality” and wove those through the images. The work featured several “firsts.” 150 million impressions were printed of the stamp in Gravure, or rotary printing press. The multi-layered typography and images were complex. The finished product was fairly controversial at the time, because the look of the stamp was non-traditional, referred to more like a cutting-edge entertainment graphic than a traditional postage stamp.
Photoshop.com: There is a blend of unique creativity and technology in everything you create. From a technology standpoint, which Adobe solutions do you use for your projects?
April Greiman: That’s almost like asking me what I use to breathe. Adobe Photoshop CC and InDesign CC are my core go-to tools. I sometimes use Illustrator CC. I use Photoshop to virtually paint, just like I used to do in our family basement back in New York. I love layers because I can experiment freely, and unexpected, delightful things happen by chance. It’s an exciting adventure. InDesign, however, is what I’d call my master tool. InDesign is where everything—images, typography, and other elements—ultimately merge.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite project, what grabs you about it, and how you created the resulting image.
April Greiman: I really like the 8,200 square foot public art commission wall mural that was commissioned in 2007. It’s called Hand Holding a Bowl of Rice. The work spans two buildings at the entrance to the Wilshire Vermont Metro Station in Koreatown, Los Angeles. It was exciting for me as my ultimate transmedia project to date because it embraces my photographic, videographic, and painterly interests, as well as working in the built environment. To complete the project, I shot video images, chose the right image, and then refined and prepared it to scale in Photoshop.
Photoshop.com: Can you share some of your teaching experiences?
April Greiman: I have taught workshops in graphic design and architecture over the last 25 years in a number of prestigious programs and schools. Much of my work has surrounded architecture, and I understand some of the language and concerns of architects. At the core I teach what I refer to as “information and typographic hierarchy,” and composing “objects” in space. It’s incredibly rewarding when I see the light turn on inside a head and I can see that they are thinking in new ways about space and information in it.
Photoshop.com: What are you working on now?
April Greiman: I’m going through a period of amazing synchronicity that makes me feel as if I’ve gone full circle—yet I’m starting all over again on a new creative path. I am curating and designing a show at the Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles for Armin Hofmann’s breathtaking silkscreen prints. I am so deeply honored to be doing this, as he is my former teacher, mentor, and one of the greatest colorists in the world. The show, Armin Hofmann Farbe/Color runs November 14, 2013, to January 19, 2014, and includes other programming, lectures, and presentations. Since I was young, Hoffman has been such a force in my creative life and my admiration for him has never waned.
Also, I’m working on a public art commission for the City of Seattle along the Waterfront and the design will be unveiled next year. It’s an installation that includes an augmented reality component, and designed by a newly formed group of collaborators, called D2O, with Laurie Haycock-Makela, Michael Rotondi, Dale Herigstad, and John Ford.
Photoshop.com: What’s next for you?
April Greiman: Continuing with what I call “design in real time,” my husband and I own a bed and breakfast with a therapeutic water spa on site in the Coachella Valley. Our motto is “design is transparent to the experience.” This pretty much sums up all aspects of my business, lifestyle design, and it brings together mind, body, in space. From a color palette, to the virtual miraclemanor.com, to the food, organic or sustainable bedding, body treatments, and textiles we use, it's all focused on the environment—the space, both physically and psychologically.
And meanwhile, by contrast, we are now engaged in the virtual re-brand of a wonderful organization, the George Greenstein Institute, which is dedicated to education in arts in combination with (neuro-)science for kids and culture.
In terms of being an artist—merging and blurring disciplines and big ideas—my journey will never end.