what’s in your toolbox: dana tanamachi

Portrait by Kelsey Foster

The first time I saw one of graphic designer Dana Tanamachi’s massive lettered chalk walls, I almost spontaneously combusted with joy. Her 19th-century artistic-printing approach completely stirs my soul. Anyone who has ever tried to write with chalk knows it is no small feat, and yet she makes me strive to achieve that kind of precision when I write my to-do list on my chalkboard-painted door. Darn you, Dana, for setting the bar so impossibly high! I am pleased to show you a peek into the insanely creative and graphic world of Dana Tanamachi. Get ready to want to be her best friend. — Ginny

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?

Photo Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

Dana Tanamachi: My toolbox is pretty straightforward, I think. I keep it stocked with a few packs of dollar-store chalk (non-toxic!), old rags, a flexible sewing tape measure and a wooden yardstick. To the side of my toolbox are lots of swatches and small jars of chalkboard paint samples from Hudson Paint in upstate New York. They produce almost any color I’m in the market for. I’ve also got several pads of tracing paper going at once; I’m always sketching something, whether it be layouts or letters for my upcoming projects. And of course, at any given time, there is a giant stack of old type books piled on my desk.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel _____.”

Dana Tanamachi: It’s nice to hide out in my studio, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I enjoy listening to music while I work, but sometimes, silence is just golden.

Dana’s interview continues after the jump . . .

3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now? This can be anything from blogs, books and magazines to vintage catalogues/manuals, etc.

Dana Tanamachi: I love looking through old photos of Brooklyn in the online image archives from the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s fun to be inspired by the rich history of this beautiful borough.

I’ve also become enamored with the work of my new friend Pete Vogel of Nutmegger’s Workshop in Portland. Pete hand-paints beautiful vintage-inspired signage.

And finally, I mustn’t forget Steven Heller and (my boss) Louise Fili’s newest book titled Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age. It’s been described as “a veritable festival of rare and unknown scripts between flexi-covers,” which it truly is! The images found in this book are from Steve & Louise’s joint collection of vintage type specimens, book covers, sheet music, labels and ads that they’ve been collecting for over 30 years! The amazing cover alone (lettered by John Passafiume) is reason enough to buy it. How could one not be inspired by such a book?

4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Time management is often one of the biggest obstacles for creative minds. Do you have an agenda book, and do you make to-do lists?

Photo Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

Dana Tanamachi: I seem to keep most things organized up in my head, but earlier this year, my friend Marie could sense the increasing difficulty for me to do so. So, she bought me a planner! It’s a really simple little white one from Muji that helps me keep track of upcoming jobs, deadlines, meetings, etc. I don’t open it every day, but it’s a relief knowing that the big things in my schedule are all penciled in! I also scribble stuff in these little notebooks from LilCo Letterpress whenever I’m on the train or meeting with clients.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

Dana Tanamachi: My magical power would be to answer emails instantly — and without typing. My computer would automatically read my mind and respond accordingly!

6. Design*Sponge: What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist/designer?

Dana Tanamachi: The best advice I ever received was to practice self-forgetfulness. Take some time each morning to remind yourself that the world does not revolve around you. How can you serve someone today? What words of encouragement can you offer? Look for those opportunities and take them.

My personal advice for young artists/designers is to start building a collection of resources and inspiration that is not from the internet. Step away from the computer. Go to the library, bookstore, vintage shop or flea market and have a browse. Make a nice afternoon of it. Find something that speaks to you — you’ll know when you find it! Too much of the work that is floating around online right now looks exactly the same. Social networks can be great for dispersing information and for widening your visual library. But they can also cripple your creativity if you don’t take what you find and do something different to make it your own. Let’s try to strike a good balance!

Photo Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?

Dana Tanamachi: Try some new music and have a glass of wine.

8. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration?

Dana Tanamachi: The Renegade Craft Fair is one of my biggest sources of yearly inspiration. I love to treat myself to a few fun items. Over the last three years, I’ve become a big fan of vendors like Goose Grease, Bettula, Up In the Air Somewhere and Clam Lab. I keep all my little finds on my desk, so I can enjoy them while I work!

9. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any designer/artist/craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

Dana Tanamachi: After recently viewing this video from Lincoln Supply Co., a small clothing brand out of North Florida, I just sat at my computer with tears in my eyes. I’m not even sure why, exactly. But a chord inside of me had been struck. Lincoln Supply Co. is the brainchild of designer/art director Jeremy Paul Beasley. Jeremy ensures that every t-shirt and accessory is made and handled with utmost attention to detail from start to finish. Their shop sits inside an old 1940s warehouse where they hand-dye and print these nostalgic American-made shirts. I even love the stamp that they use to indicate the size on the inside of each shirt. Jeremy’s process and philosophy harkens back to a time when things were individually handcrafted — and I’d love to take a peek inside his studio/toolbox!

10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it include?

Dana Tanamachi: Here is a small list of my favorite summer jams as of late:

“Haunted” by Leagues (I can’t stop listening to this song!)

“All Day Day Light” by The Morning Benders

“In the Sun” by She & Him (Check out the video!)

“Right on Time” by Zach Williams

“Lights Out” by Santogold (Love this video, too!)

“Bob” by The Dodos

“No Worse for the Wear” by Dylan Sneed

  1. She’s so right about internet over dose crippling your creativity. I have the bad habit of filling my head with tons of gorgeous images from the internet and then thinking that my stuff is not good enough. That’s when I know I need to step away from the computer and get some fresh air. There’s nothing like a break filled with worldly inspiration to make you feel renewed. Awesome feature!

  2. Oops, so something totally goofed with my comments. Umm, I meant what I said, I just didn’t mean to post it three times. Ha! :-)

  3. Dana is such an amazing talent and wonderful person. I’m so happy to have her as a friend. Congrats Dana on making it on D*S!!! :)

  4. What a very clever way to do the artwork! I LOVE Dana’s work, it’s definitely an inspiration and makes me smile to see it…thanks Dana!!

  5. Jill Simpson says:

    This is one of the best ever!

  6. Jill says:

    Oh, man, talk about worlds colliding! I’ve long admired Dana’s work – she’s a master of such an interesting medium and speaks deeply to my vintage-lovin’ heart – and for her to include that video link. Whoa. That Lincoln Supply Co. video is for the tour of a friend I grew up with in high school and haven’t thought about for a long time. His music really is magical too – real homey, heart-warming stuff. Thanks for making my morning. <3

  7. bianca says:

    So cool. That tag on the Nagging Doubt drawing really works! You can see a video of her in action making it.

  8. I don’t know her, but I absolutely love her. Thank you, Dana, for such calm, cool wisdom. And your talents are breathtaking.

  9. Connie Easley says:

    Incredible talent and sage advice! Unbelievable skill!

    How I wish she lived either in Texas or Washington (state). Just love her work! Thanks Amy, for sharing your friend’s website! Your kitchen is wonderful. Maybe Ed and I will get to see it sometime!

  10. Kira says:

    Wonderful interview, beautiful work! Some great advice in there, and I really enjoyed the video from Lincoln Supply.

  11. bettula says:

    Adore this gal and her incredible talent! What a great read and delighted to be mentioned.

  12. Laura F. says:

    I love seeing your success Dana! You have such a beautiful heart and it is just as inspirational as your lovely designs! Makes me miss Brooklyn…

  13. Dana says:

    Thank you, everyone! I truly appreciate the encouragement and feedback. Thanks to Grace and Ginny for making my week extra special:) Much more to come… stay tuned!

  14. Nicole says:

    LOVE her work – she’s so talented. She inspired me to do chalk typography on my own kitchen walls – I’m so happy to see her on DS!

  15. Jen Dreyer says:

    Love, love, love… saw you featured on 100 layer cake site. Now I love even more.

  16. eva says:

    her work is so beautiful. It’s like signpainting revived in black and white. Joy!

  17. Thanks for sharing Shelby. Now let’s do some beehive chaulk art! Joyce

  18. stunning work and talent! thank you for making this interview happen!

  19. jess says:

    i’ve such a crush on this girl and her work! nice job, d*s!

  20. Great interview, I re-blogged two quotes from your piece on Dana at the link below…hope I credited you appropriately. Your blog always inspiring!


  21. I love your work Dana, please continue with everything you do!

    – New music and a glass of wine seems like a great inspirational boost, I’ll be sure to try it :)




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