An August Rest | Varyer
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An August Rest

In August, we at Varyer took a break from publishing to our website. In lieu of that work, we instead shifted toward personal enrichment projects of our own choosing—and enjoyed or dreaded the end of summer. Here we share what we focused on during our August rest. Find a full compendium of recaps and resources at the end of this piece.

Kelly McHugh—Bitters (and a Wedding)

When we made the decision to spend some time doing personal enrichment during the month of August, I was really unsure of what to take on. I was in the middle of the final countdown leading up to my wedding (8/13/22! <3), and the idea of adding anything else to the plate felt like a lot. Luckily, I have truly amazing colleagues at Varyer, who helped me come up with an idea that felt both personal and like an enjoyable thing to take on: creating my own bitters.

There are so many fun things to know about bitters! First, for a bit of side research, check out this article about why the label of the most famous bitters, Angostura, is too big for the bottle. 10/10 marketing IMO! Second, bitters hold a special place in my heart. My partner (now husband) Ryan and I got married in Door County, WI, where we’ve vacationed together since we started dating about a decade ago. It was in Door County that we first witnessed people taking bitters as a shot, and it quickly became a traditional drink we have whenever we’re there. It’s a tradition not only for us: on a small island called Washington Island, which is right off the tip of the Door County peninsula, a town of 718 people became the world’s largest consumer of bitters. The history is quite interesting, but the TLDR is that during prohibition, a dance hall on the island found a workaround for selling alcohol: they got a pharmaceutical license and sold shots of bitters as “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes.” Now, Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub still has an exclusive club you can join only by taking a bitters shot. After taking the shot, you dip your thumb in the bitters remnants and stamp it on your card, which is then signed by your servers. And that’s it! You’re in the club.

Ryan took the original design and made it our own, featuring a darling photo of our beloved pooch, Mr. November.

The front and back of the bitters club card.
A shot of bitters and a membership card on a bar.

Ryan, his brother, and I joined the official bitters club on a trip to Washington Island in 2017.

Many bitters club cards.

Because of this tradition, when Ryan and I were planning our wedding, we knew we wanted to incorporate bitters somehow, beginning with a website URL that incorporated it into the title (—anyone have any ideas about what we should do with this URL now that the wedding is over? Hit me up with business proposals.) We also wanted to create our own bitters club for the event. Ryan took the original design and made it our own, featuring a darling photo of our beloved pooch, Mr. November.

We used these cards at our tables to assign seating at our head table, and wrapped up dinner with a little “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes” with our wedding party and their dates. Of course, we also handed these out at the wedding for anyone who wanted to join the club!

A stylized illustration of a married couple and a dog in a convertible.
An illustration of flowers in a bottle of bitters.

Bitters has become such a part of our brand that Ryan’s best man, Marty, even created these amazing illustrations of us for the event—printed on a tote bag and handed out to our guests. The bitters bottle might be Ryan and I’s next tattoo!

And now, back from the wedding, even more love for bitters, and it’s time to actually do what I originally set out to do: create my own bitters. OBVIOUSLY, the first thing I did was look up recipes so I could understand what I was getting myself into. I didn’t actually open any of these links, but I loved how dedicated these sites were to communicating the precise time commitment of creating your own bitters.

While I haven’t completed the August personal enrichment that I originally planned, I did have a lot of enrichment this past month: I got married and officially introduced all my most loved ones to the custom of taking bitters as a shot. While it didn’t happen in August, I do have all the ingredients at home to make my own, which I am planning on doing soon. From there, I’ll just need to wait somewhere between 168 hours and 30 minutes and 504 hours and 50 minutes to enjoy my own creation!

Adam Rodriguez—Stop-Motion Film

I'm devastated to see August go. I have one month left of being able to play my summer specific records/singles [ex: Lil Rob - Summer Nights] and I really appreciate getting up early and not checking the weather—knowing it will most likely be one thing: hot. :/ Seasons are cool though. But damn. You know that one shot in the OG Matrix - it's an overhead shot of Neo sleeping at his desk surrounded by keyboards, old CRT monitors (sick), and a bunch of cool hacker stuff? That's an accurate depiction of how the month went (minus the hacking, would be super cool tho).

An action figure looms from a dark background.
A camera is pointed at Lego characters in front of a leafy scene.
Lego characters stand behind a joint of weed.

I wasn't initially 100% set on an enrichment project and figured it would come to me eventually. I didn't want to force anything. I knew I already had to learn GSAP for an upcoming web project—which was honestly about 5 years overdue and I don't even know why I tweaked thinking it would be incredibly daunting. I kind of struggle with JavaScript sometimes but I honestly think I just needed to fail a bunch before I figured it out. Webflow is fine but its native animation stuff just looks so forced and it's just not smooth—and sometimes other libraries need to be brought in the mix . . . but I'm not hating—I do <3 Webflow. Hell, I wish they built it 10 years ago. I also didn't want GSAP to be the project—GSAP is ultimately b o r i n g & I wanted to put no one through a presentation of that.

One night I took a much-needed break from the documentation and watched the ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) doc on Disney. They're the innovators behind the evolution of modern cinema + beyond (you should watch it, it's really long, though it's not as long as the Beatles one). They made me feel terrible about not getting things done and although I felt like a loser, I was moved . . . and convinced that I HAD to attempt a stop-motion film or a video. Despite the revelation, I still had no thoughts on the subject matter and what I should do. I walked away that night shrugging my shoulders and figured it would come to me eventually.

I woke up the next morning and decided it didn't need to be about anything. Problem solved.

Now that I was fully out of the box, I figured it would be good to just try and create something/anything. I knew I wouldn't have the luxury of time on my side so I just jotted down every idea for a short that came to mind and figured I would just try and shoot what I could once I set the scenes up. I have a Fujifilm camera that I don't use enough so I dusted that off (I feel like I should note that the camera was clean) and luckily I have a decent tripod. I searched far and wide the depths of my apartment for anything that could be used in creating this . . . figures from board games, dice, floss, joints, Lego characters, etc. I have a green screen that was begging to be used once again that I also rolled out so I could create some digital shots to add in. I'll upload some BTS shots but currently in post right now . . . time has been scarce but the work is in motion. I really hope it turns out alright—I really enjoy making a film for the sake of making a film even if the purpose/intent is to just exist.

Mike Renaud—Writing

Over publishing break, I got back to writing like I did when I was younger—not for work, and not like journaling/about me. But free thought, poetry, mostly fiction. I wanted to get over an albatross that over the last decade or so, has kept me from something I used to love, just sitting down with pen and paper.

As any good Cliff’s Notes bootleg will tell you, reading these excerpts will by no means replace the joy and nuance of the full text. This is especially the case for Anne Lamott’s warm and brilliant Bird by Bird.

Here are a few morsels
that stood out, and might compel you to pick it up if you are a writer in need of guidance, or even a life-liver in need of guidance.

We need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

🌐 Jazz Robinson—Web 3.0 🌐 

I am a consumer. I love consuming—eating, reading, shopping—but mainly consuming information. It's foundational to my passion for marketing via storytelling and content development, which is why I spent my downtime from editorial direction devouring as much as I could about Web 3.0.

In typical stoner fashion, the endeavor drove me deep into rabbit holes surrounding the stability and sustainability of cryptocurrency and left me with many more questions I can't wait to continue exploring:

  • What is the usefulness of this knowledge?
  • How can it be applied within Varyer?
  • How can it be applied with/for clients?
  • How does it change the way we currently think about things?
  • How does it change the way we do things moving forward?
  • Who benefits from a decentralized web?

While I haven't answered all of these yet, I have a few takeaways based on research from white papers and LinkedIn Learning:

  • I like that it's about experience and identity, I don’t like that it’s about ownership. True stability can only be achieved by highly efficient resource distribution, not hoarding.
  • Web 1.0 = people to info, Web 2.0 = people to people, Web 3.0 = people to people, places (spaces), things (assets)
  • In MV content is persistent, which means a huge need for content production, development, and distribution.
  • Access to hundreds of millions of daily, active users (and this is just in nascent days).
  • Gaming is the most significant entry to MV; 2nd is collectors, primarily art (rich ecosystem and authentication).

If you're a Futurist, Web 3.0 matters.

Cathy Hackl, Metaverse and NFTs for Marketing

Bianca Albino—Cyanotypes

Before August began, I chose to learn how to make cyanotypes as my project. I wanted to throw my computer away and get my hands on paper. It was also one of those things I wanted to do for a long time but never got to; I enjoyed the hues of blue it produced and the possibility of developing photos at home.

For most of the publishing break I was traveling and intentionally getting out to see more nature. It was also a time when I felt compelled to pick up flowers, weeds, and leaves to press in my journal. These pieces of nature also happen to be the main medium people choose to print on cyanotypes: the sun burns the shadows of the leaves and petals onto paper and washes the background completely in Prussian blue. It felt right to me to try and get a snapshot of the present using the summer sun and these pieces of my experience in nature, and when I first tried it . . . it went so bad. My solution wasn’t balanced and when I washed it, the print completely dripped out in a faint yellow liquid. On a different occasion I forgot one of the sheets, and it completely blacked out. On a third occasion it was overcast (the Chicago factor), and I waited longer than usual to get them out, so those are kinda funky and overexposed. I tried making weird Art Deco photos of my cats with plant shadows around them, and then also tried to develop a photo of my friend Caroline sipping on Truly (not sponsored) and smoking a cigar in the park (Horner park is the best park).

I’m still trying to befriend the sun and am preparing a new batch to develop in the next few days. I think what stayed with me the most was how temporary my frustration was compared with the joy I felt when I got it to work, even if not perfectly. I will still get frustrated—hating things is one of my greatest talents—but I just love the fact that I made these and they’re mine, unique and personalized to the randomness of one day.

Life in its methods says calm down, as Di Melo sings - Di Melo - A Vida em seus métodos diz calma.

Becca Christman—Fill a Sketchbook

Something really interesting and exciting that happened to me this summer was that I was depressed the whole time!!! Since the weather is miserable 67% (exact scientific approximation) of the year in Chicago, I spend a lot of the winter’s darkest days fantasizing about how wonderful summer will be. I love sitting outside reading and letting sweat dew on my forearms. I love seeing freckles bloom on my forehead and pretending that I’ve got a good tan going. I love walking around aimlessly with friends with a drink and a snack that we paid too much for at the fancy grocery store. I did all those things this year (besides the freckles—I have bangs now 💋), but it didn’t feel the same—I feel like I missed out on my own life because of my depression which sucks and I’m so mad at myself even though I know that’s not fair.

I really didn’t know what to do for this enrichment project. I’m always kind of doing something—painting, building, sewing, destroying the infrastructure of my apartment in the name of interior design—but I haven’t really felt like doing anything for a while now. I decided to fill an entire sketchbook, which still feels like a cop out. If I was feeling better I would have done something crazy and ambitious like building a sofa shaped like a foot or tricking someone I’ve known for 5 years into thinking I was born in Finland. But I didn’t and I’m sorry. I ended up mostly painting in my sketchbook which helped because I love painting, but I feel like I didn’t work hard enough or make anything good enough which also sucks and I also know isn’t fair.

I did feel some level of achievement upon finishing a few pages, though.

I went to a wedding earlier this summer where the rabbi talked about how difficult it can be to feel joy at something so small as a wedding when the world is so big and feels so awful. I’m definitely misquoting her but she said that despite all the horrible things that happen every day, the love between two people adds to the overall beauty and goodness of the world even if it’s just by a drop. Barf!!! Jkjk. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I navigate through my depressive episode—every good little thing makes life incrementally better. If I felt even an inch of relief upon finishing a page, that adds to the goodness. If I like how the shading on a figure’s nose looks, painting the portrait wasn’t a waste. Inversely, if I hate the way something looks it’s such a small part of my reality—the sketchbook is only like 4” by 6” and is probably going to get lost when I move anyway.

I may not feel the immense sense of accomplishment one might expect from a month-long enrichment project, but I feel myself taking a little more care of myself and I know I’ll feel better one day. I feel horrible as I’m writing this but I know I’m going to have Indian food with my friends later and that will be something small and beautiful that adds to the overall goodness of life. That can be enough.

Several colorful pages of a sketchbook, including a Bassett hound, candle, and a hand holding juice.
Several colorful pages of a sketchbook, including a drop of liquid, a table scene, and a self-portrait.
Several colorful pages of a sketchbook, including a skull, stars, and an apple.

Margot Jacobs—Textile Art

My month-long personal enrichment project started as one thing and ended as something completely different. I consider myself an artist and sadly, I really haven’t felt inspired since the pandemic started . . . Let me break it down for you, that’s about 3 years.

Then, when things settled down a bit, I found myself too busy/tired/drained to provide myself with a creative outlet or even some time for a daily self care routine. I’ve tried a few different mediums to get myself out of the box but much to my chagrin, I still wasn’t really feeling it.

I assigned myself the task of creating some form of textile art hoping it would get myself to (at the very least) stand in my studio and hopefully feel something. I gathered some supplies and began to lay out some options of what I could do with the textiles I had on hand. As I worked through my options I began researching some techniques I could use. I found and old sewing book at my late grandmother's house, a mending book I had on hand, and of course, YouTube! I then set the project down to come back to later, classic. I ended up never getting back to the project and just got into my studio and made a garment for myself. So at the end of the day, I didn’t create any textile art that I assigned myself and I just did what I was supposed to do the entire time. I got into my studio. It felt amazing to create something again and I’d like to continue to push myself to keep making things. The End.

A rack full of colorful and patterned fabrics.
Bright and reflective materials are placed on top of a piece of fabric.
A decorated pegboard and shelf.
A sewing room.
A sketchy illustration of a yellow house.

A wobbly rendition of our little yellow house.

A sketchy illustration of a couch and table with a skyline in the background.

The view from my desk at the Varyer office.

A screenshot of an alt text field for a website.

An example of alt text descriptions.

Leah Froats—Urban Sketching

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. A couple months ago, I saw a really compelling tweet of someone who was using this book to learn urban sketching. I can't relocate the tweet but they made a LOT of progress very quickly which was inspiring! I’ve always been incredibly charmed by people who are able to quickly capture scenes through what seems like effortless sketching—nothing overwrought or precise, just loose and expressive drawing.

What I rediscovered over the course of the month was that I have a very hard time with new things. I knew this already, but would have liked to maybe surprise myself. On my attempts to sketch, I was both overcome with delight (I haven’t manually sharpened a pencil in a really long time?? What a nice feeling.) and self-doubt (why is it so hard to draw stairs?). The process was certainly not effortless, which of course I should have known going into learning a new skill, but I was daunted.

Regardless of the fact that I did not accomplish as many sketches as I may have liked, just thinking about sketching and reading 101 Sketching Tips helped me look at things a different way. I feel as though my observational skills have been honed, seeing the relationship between objects in new ways. I sincerely hope to continue my sketching, but have expanded my subject matter beyond just urban scenes. Putting together little everyday vignettes and drawing them is really fun, too.

Outside of my plan to sketch, I did accomplish some other things in August. I traveled to Portland for the first time (for nearly a full week, by far the longest vacation I’ve ever taken), which was an incredible delight and very inspiring in many regards.

I also started work on auditing the articles on This includes recording our internal tagging system, adding alt text so that people who use screen readers can better understand the images on the site (including hundreds of butts), adding newsletter modules to articles (you should sign up 😉), and updating related content. This has been a fun and informative process; I started at Varyer in April of this year, so it’s great to continue to familiarize myself with the work that has been done in the past.

All in all, it was a lovely month. As someone who thrives on routine and structure, I am eager to return to a more predictable cadence of work and leisure as we move into the fall. But I believe that August set me up to move into the coming months with a different, more informed perspective.

Chris Kaskie—Notion

Since the inception of Varyer, it has always been our goal to put ourselves in a position to be able to think about August in as close to the same way as the Europeans do. Dating back to when we held a festival in France and—during what is normally the most hectic time of the year from a festival planning standpoint—they would straight BOUNCE and check back once September hit.

As our society has taught us for generations—we just aren't allowed to think this way! But at Varyer, while it might not be possible ever to fully ghost August like our French friends, we do think about it as a time to refresh, re-engage with those things/humans/activities that we have been deprioritizing due to the daily grind of our jobs and life itself.

So why do I mention these things? Because as a well-trained American worker, “shutting off” is fucking impossible. Vacations tend to give me more anxiety than work itself, and an idle mind is non-existent, even as I try to drown it in various types of extracurricular activities. So when thinking about how I could remain connected to that feeling of “productivity” but also remain fully present with my family during this special time we only get once per year. Skills are abundant with us all, but when looking to explore these skills in the context of a very hectic, almost camp-counselor level of activity, I needed to find something that would be both natural to my daily flow and also helpful in terms of what the end result would be to Varyer.

This is where Notion comes in. At the end of 2020, after a year of some of the most acute stress our world has ever experienced, I had been spending a lot of time on Notion documenting my activities, thoughts, interests, links, whatever. It was just for me, kind of my own personal tumblr + to do list + idea board + journal that I could use naturally and do so in one safe place. To that end, my habits with Notion have been amateur at best. The platform itself is about as rich and dynamic as anything I’ve ever seen, and the usefulness that it presents other users and how they go so far as to operate their companies within its world, I knew that I had to be purposeful about using it for more than just me. So, inspired by a recent conversation with another old friend/CEO from a creative organization, I decided to build out Varyer’s whole “home base” in my Notion that— while never perhaps actually embraced by Varyer given I”m the only one who uses it—would be the entry point into finally exploring all that it has to offer.

The beauty of Notion is that it is in constant motion. Nothing is fixed, nothing is unshareable, and it’s malleable enough to truly customize it to make it what YOU want it to be. It feels like the one platform that could link gen alpha with boomers—a cross-generational way to simplify and organize information. It's inspired.

So to summarize, my work within notion will best be showcased in a private setting with those at Varyer, seeing what not only I have put together, but what more is needed from THEM to further flesh it out and keep its Wikipedia-style updating continuous. So as the silverback millennial that I am, this might end up being old news to the rest of the world, but it’s not something I'm afraid to share. I feel that what we can do with Notion could solve numerous problems for companies of any size, and also allow for the individual to also build their own world in a way that feels creative, exciting, and participatory (even if you’re not sharing it). I’m in.

❉ August Rest Resources ❉