American designer Tad Carpenter has been drawing, sculpting and stitching together an interpretation of the sun every week on a Sunday for the last six years. His new book Sunday Suns brings together all of these radiant creations and gives some insight into how the simple act of experimental play can be therapeutic.
Described by Tad as half therapy and half visual journalism, Sunday Suns emerged from a place that will be familiar to many professional graphic designers: the daily grind of rejection and scrutiny in a world that's dictated by economic success.
"I found myself really struggling and frequently getting down on myself," Tad tells Creative Boom. Despite loving the work that he gets to create in Carpenter Collective, the studio he runs with his wife, he was beginning to feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.
After heading to the studio one Sunday morning in2015 to get a head start on his work, Tad found himself stalling, gazing out of the window, and watching the sunrise. That's when he realised he needed to reconnect with his love for design by experimenting and playing.
"We as people tend to find joy when we are doing something we love," he explains. "I really needed to get back to making things I loved and remind myself how much I truly love to make. Making art had always been therapeutic for me; I needed to find that again."
It was then that he started designing a sun for himself and nobody else. With no rules, no client expectations, and no creative brief, the simple act of drawing a sun made Tad feel a bit better about himself and his craft. He enjoyed it so much that he whipped up a sun in one form or another every Sunday morning from then on out.
"This project has given me so much," he says. "It injected me with a little hope each and every week; it really has made me look at things with a more positive lens."
And seeing as he creates logos, brand systems and strategies for a living, it's no surprise that Tad approached this activity like he was developing a brand. "How can I apply meaning in pictures or use this vessel (the sun) to pour meaning into it?" he'd ask himself.
"I start every sun with good old pencil and paper," he adds, stressing that he does his best thinking with his right hand. "I draw fast, creating thumbnail sketches, exploring the concept and composition. I try to spend more time on the idea than the execution of the design. That's not to say that some of my suns are not aesthetically driven (What can I say, I love a good symmetrical logo—sue me)."
Ideally, Tad aims to work out the concept, design it, then share it within two hours. "I want these suns to be exploratory and spontaneous, but inevitably many suns took on a life of their own and took much longer to complete. As this project grew, I found myself building sculptures, huge masks, routered wood signs, arranging photoshoots, screenprinting, painting, and installing murals. I wanted to explore new ways to output my ideas, and doing so with new materials in new creative ways became a huge part of the process."
And is there one sun in particular that outshines the others in his affections? "The most satisfying sun, or the one I will hold on to the longest, is Sun No. 173," Tad reveals. "This sun was made in collaboration with my mom. She's a fibre artist—more specifically, a rug hooker. Rug hooking is an art made by dying your own wool and then pulling loops of that wool through a still linen or burlap base.
"I made this simple design and approached my mom to help me make it into a small hooked rug. She hand-dyed the wool (she nailed the specific Pantone colours I wanted, of course) and hooked the piece for my sun. For that reason, this mommas boy will always hold this particular design very near and dear to my heart."
Sunday Suns is available to buy now from Counter-Print.