Joelle McKenna brings the creative struggle to life in comic store installation

Creative director Joelle McKenna explains how she approached a bucket-list project for a local business: a window display for Brooklyn's Desert Island Comics.

We all experience the creative struggle on a day-to-day basis. But how many of us have actually used that struggle in our art? If you're wondering what that might look like, here's a great example from Joelle McKenna.

Joelle is a creative director based in Brooklyn who heads up McKenna Studio – an interdisciplinary firm focusing on branding, creative strategy, content, editorial design, and installations. A 2012 graduate from Boston University's College of Fine Art, she's also the creative director of Brooklyn Magazine print publication.

Recently, she was invited to craft a display for Desert Island Comics in Brooklyn's hip area of Williamsburg.

"This was a bucket-list project for me," she explains. "Desert Island Comics is a New York institution offering a diverse collection of unique print pieces created by an array of exceptional artists, writers and illustrators. And every season, the owner invites an artist to create a sculptural window display for his shop."

Design concept

She explains the thinking behind her 8'x12' installation, entitled Work & Play. "On one side, the sun represents the spirit of the noonday demon – listlessness and pressures often associated with creativity during daylight hours," she says. "Depicted shedding a tear of anguish, snipping a flower, and plucking a petal, the sun embodies hindrances to creative growth.

"On the flip side, an impish blue moon symbolising insomnia mirrors the actions of the sun – but with mischievous pleasure.

"The sun faces the street, the moon faces inside the shop. These dual aspects mirror phases inherent in the creative journey. They symbolise the initial pressure to begin, the feeling of potentially making a mistake, and eventually embracing that 'mistake' during moments spent in darker hours. These initially perceived errors often culminate in becoming the most cherished and integral parts of the creative work."

How it was made

The piece is completely hand-crafted from layered hard foam, with meticulously spray-painted gradients and delicate, hand-painted facial details.

"I always love seeing how stuff is made, and I thought it would be interesting to share some of this," Joelle explains. "It started as a notebook sketch, then was illustrated in Adobe Illustrator. Next, I created a paper dummy and had foam CNC routed. Finally, I hand-painted and assembled the piece."

You can see the full construction process on her behind-the-scenes Instagram story.

Joelle says her work, in general, was inspired by her father, who is a master carpenter and her mother, who is "deeply curious, observant and funny". She also draws inspiration from B-movie set design, Jim Henson, primary colours and Pee-wee's Playhouse. "I'm passionate about making things off-screen and using the computer as just one tool in the creative process," she adds. "Bringing ideas to life physically is always exciting."


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