Colorado Creative Series: Richard Ljoenes

Colorado Creatives Series

In support of #AIGAatHome, we have launched the Colorado Creatives Series, an opportunity to celebrate and showcase local creatives in our area. Our Colorado Creatives will share a little about their creative process, some of their most worthwhile investments, current reading lists and more. Enjoy!


Richard Ljoenes, Aesthetica Creative


He, Him, and His

Where can we find you?


How have you adapted your creative process during this time?

My studio is in my house in a converted garage so things haven’t changed all that much for me during these past months, with the exception of a 4-year old assistant who’s now always around to “help” out on my designs.

What are you reading, listening to or watching right now?

My main area of work is book covers so I typically always have 2-3 manuscripts to get through. Currently in the middle of a couple novels and a non-fiction book on Autism. As far as listening goes I enjoy a lot of podcasts these days, some faves are Reply All, Being Freelance, and Looking Sideways. Music-wise I’ve surprised myself lately getting into classic metal stuff, Sabbath, Metallica, etc.—a genre I’ve never really been into. I’ve been steering clear of the telly for a couple months (of all the times to choose a TV sabbatical!), but looking forward to dip into the latest Ozark season among other things.

What is one piece of advice you can offer to other designers right now?

Nothing that hasn’t already been said by others, but… Use the extra time. Rethink your process, do the stuff you never find time for. Do projects for yourself or start working on that pitch idea you’ve had in the back of your mind for a decade.

What are 1-3 designs that have greatly influenced your life?

  1. I happened upon Vaughan Oliver’s cover for Pixies’ Doolittle in a record shop in the early 90s. I had heard about the band, didn’t really know their music, but the artwork blew my mind. It made me realize there was something very cool (a career) called graphic design (well, I didn’t know what it was called exactly, but somebody was making a living creating these amazing looking things). It also introduced me to one of the world’s best bands, and the best designer/design studio in the world.
  2. Some years later I discovered Raygun magazine, and particularly Chris Ashworth’s cover for their 50th edition (featuring Oasis) is burned in my memory as one of the finest pieces of cover design.
  3. After my design career somewhat accidentally stumbled into a book publishing gig (and frankly feeling a bit lukewarm about it), I went into a Barnes & Noble and saw John Gall’s series design for Kobo Abe (done in collaboration with Ned Drew) and was immediately exhilarated about this new career direction I had never before considered. 

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

Not a direct failure of mine, but my last full-time gig came to end when the company tanked (or went on an indefinite hiatus, anyway). Sudden unemployment was a bit of a shock, but this is what led me to open my own studio—something I very well possibly never would have had the guts to do. Now I question why I didn’t do it years earlier.

Among other lessons is not to take on more work than you can handle. In my third year (after finally getting a website up) my business started going really well, but after two mediocre first years I didn’t dare say no to a single project, and quality suffered in some cases. Some of those clients didn’t call again. That was a tough lesson, but a very necessary one. Never sacrifice quality for quantity.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

After working off the dining table for the first three years of my company, setting up a proper studio has made a world of difference in productivity and feeling inspired. The missus is starting to tolerate my face again too

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Being a former smoker I have a terrible oral fixation, and have had hundreds of pens explode in my mouth when chewing on them over the years. I have now discovered (after one too many IKEA builds) these tiny wooden dowels that I have quite the surplus of, which turns out is an excellent chew-toy for myself. If no-one is around I may pretend they’re a cigarette. 

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

WORK-WISE: I’m a perfectionist and a procrastinator and the combination of the two is a slow-burning hell. I try and never let this affect clients’ deadlines (well, almost never), but it surely has affected the work/life balance thing. So I’m working on ditching the procrastination aspect. Starting tomorrow.

LIFE/HEALTH-WISE: I’ve been a runner for most of my life, and the last five years (ok, decade) I’ve realized I really hate running. Moving to Boulder last year, there was an awful lot of hype about hiking—something I’ve always kind of made fun of as an exercise (we don’t even have a verb for that in Norwegian, it’s just called walking). Anyway, much to my surprise, I love it now and try to make it up to Mt. Sanitas every day.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

I turn into a barbarian and consume a Costco size bag of gummy bears.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on covers for a couple Norwegian novels from my homeland.

By AIGA Colorado
Published May 27, 2020
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