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It All Starts With a Doodle: Behind the Scenes With Our Creative Director

Pacific Standard’s art director reflects on some of her favorite graphics from the print magazine in 2016.

By Taylor Le


Taylor Le (far right) working her visual magic. (Photo: Terence Patrick)

Any time I read a story I always have a sketchpad. I doodle, and when we’re planning art for a story, I start by reading a draft — it doesn’t have to be complete, it can have notes scribbled in the margins; I read it just to get ideas.

I draw a lot and I never throw things away. It’s always good to keep around — you never know when you could use it.

Sometimes I have a few sketches per story in my notebook, sometimes just one thing, and then I meet the story editor and talk it out: Is this the right direction? The right feel, mood, message?


Sriracha, One Last Thing, September/October 2016. (Photo: The Voorhes)

Here is the back page from our September/October print issue, called “One Last Thing,” which is a quick social reading of an everyday object with a bold visual. (Don’t miss Francie Diep on Sriracha, featured above.)

For this spread, we chose the Voorhes, a husband-wife duo based in Austin, Texas. I love their quirky style; I also love their beautiful lighting. They can take an inanimate object and breathe life into it. Robin, the wife, does all the prop styling, and Adam is the photographer. Their use of color brings excitement and energy into our pages, and that’s something very important to me.


Sugar feature, January/February 2016. (Photos: Helena Price)

When we were illustrating Francie Diep’s big feature about sugar (“The Former Dentist Uncovering Sugar’s Rotten Secrets,” January/February 2016), I found Helena Price sort of by accident—Helena is actually a portrait photographer. She’s from San Francisco, where Francie’s story was based, and came to me by referral. Her portfolio was beautiful, simple, and very human. I was open to seeing what she could do with a cube of sugar and loved that she was up for the challenge.


Prison Tattoos, One Last Thing , July/August 2016. (Photo: Sam Kaplan)

This was really fun — our first ever “One Last Thing,” by Ted Scheinman, about the technology and history behind prison tattoos. Initially we had talked about maybe approaching a couple of prisons and seeing what we could get from the commissary, but we weren’t sure that would happen, so I reached out to a colleague, Todd Weinberger (former creative director of Inked magazine), who told me that building a tattoo gun is super easy. So we got some instructions and links, and I was thrilled because I realized, “Whoa, I could totally build this too!” Then we hired Priscilla Jeong, a props stylist, and she built it. (Nicholas Jackson keeps saying he will get a Pacific Standard tattoo using this machine.)

My goal with “One Last Thing” is to make this last page jump at you — after reading through pages of text and heavy material, you sort of want to wake up the audience — like coffee or tea after a meal. Hence yellow. (We tried green and gray. But yellow is more fun.)


Laura’s Law feature, January/February 2016. (Photo: Joe Toreno)

One of our regulars is Joe Toreno, who shot the balloons for Jeneen Interlandi’s feature on Laura’s Law (“How Can We Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Before Tragedy Occurs, Instead of After?” January/February 2016).

When I was reading the story I had this image of a balloon floating away from the bunch. With a heavy topic like this, conceptual images make a story slightly easier to swallow and understand.

That’s Joe’s wife holding the balloon; their whole family has modeled for us. His wife appeared on the July cover, and his son appeared in September 2015.