Where Business and Art Intersect

Stacy Tarver ’16 transforms business principles into works of art.

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In almost every lecture, Stacy Tarver scribbles down a one-line idea that she wants to remember. After class, Tarver, brand planning director for Nike North America–East, turns that sentence into an eye-catching work of hand-drawn typography — coloring the letters or creating calligraphic flourishes, and often adding a cartoon. Then she shares it on Instagram, where she has almost­ 60,000 followers. Watch a time-lapse video of Tarver creating her art and read why these phrases so inspire her. 


Describe your art background.

I don’t have a formal art background whatsoever. I’ve always been a doodler. It was the way I would pass notes to friends in class when I was growing up. I do find I'm a very physical learner, which probably comes from growing up playing sports. If I go through the motions of really thoughtfully writing something down, I'm more likely to remember it. And if I can write it down in a way that is visually appealing, I'm likely to look at it more and thus remember it.

Before I came to Columbia I was doing a lot of drawing. When I lived in Portland, I would draw a little picture or quote on my coffee cup that I would get every morning, then take a picture and text it to my friend. That was our way of keeping in touch when I was out on the West Coast.

What brought you to Columbia Business School?

Earlier in my career I had written off business school. I had read a book by Daniel Pink called A Whole New Mind that basically says the MFA is the new MBA, so I started going to web design school at the Art Institute of Portland. Meanwhile I got promoted to a job in strategic planning for Nike, and once I was in that circle I was around MBAs and was really inspired by the quicker, more strategic way they would approach problems.

I've been asked, why did you choose to go to business school instead of art school? I think the unique thing about being in New York is you can kind of have all those interests and it works here, because there are people who care about and are experts in literally every niche topic that you can imagine. Had I gone to a business school in a different environment, maybe my art wouldn't be embraced like it is here.

What do you find especially inspiring about some of the ideas you’ve illustrated in this video?

The quote by Katherine Phillips, senior vice dean, is very meaningful to me, because what I wanted to get out of school, more than anything, was the confidence to lead a global business. Her saying, ‘Any institution that you walk into, you should realize that you own it,’ was just what I needed to hear at that moment. The one about “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” was from a TED talk we watched in a class where we were putting our values trees together and crafting a career that connects to that higher purpose.


T H A N K G O D I T S M O N D A Y --- #doodle #MLK #mom #notebookaccess #notes #tattoo #thankyou

A photo posted by stacytarver (@stacytarver) on


How did you come up with the aesthetic framing of holding the notebook in your Instagram photos?

I'm covered in tattoos, and somewhere along the way in my early 20s my mom was like, "Those tattoos look terrible. They’re so ugly." And so one day we were at breakfast and I told her, "I'm going to just get your face tattooed on my arm, and then you won't be able to say that it's ugly because it'll be you.” It's kind of turned into a little bit of my daily self-affirmation exercise. If I'm in a cool place or if I have a good Oreo or a good cookie at Kitchenette, then I'll take a picture of it with my mom.

But particularly as it related to business school, one of the things that she said to me was that graduate school is an exercise in delayed gratification, and if you can be patient, you'll be very successful. So what started out as a joke just between us has turned into a very serious thing where, if I learn something that is an a-ha moment during class, then I feel like I need to share it and almost pay tribute to her for being that inspiration.

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