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East Van Roasters

Bean-to-bar (and cup) chocolates and coffees with a social mission in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

by Hans Aschim in Food + Drink on 17 April 2014

Cacao, Canada, Chocolate, Coffee Beans, Coffee Culture, Single Origin, Vancouver BC, Social Enterprise, Socially Responsible

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Just a short walk from Vancouver, BC's historic Gastown neighborhood lies East Van Roasters. Situated in the city's Downtown Eastside neighborhood, the airy facility fills the surrounding blocks with a nutty, toasted scent. The recently opened non-profit roaster buys fair trade coffee beans and cacao from around the world, then takes them from raw commodity to craft product. "Sourcing directly from organic farms, the cacao beans used in the shop are roasted, hand-winnowed, ground, conched, tempered and molded behind glass for all visitors to experience," says Managing Director Shelley Bolton. Located in the Rainier Hotel—a facility providing treatment for addiction for marginalized women—East Van Roasters provides employment and skill-building for women making the transition back into the workforce. "We offer opportunities that are life-altering and lasting by providing a compassionate and dignified work environment," Bolton adds.

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Even with the large amount of social good on the to-do list, product quality still comes first at East Van Roasters. Skilled roasters and chocolatiers pay attention to detail, and are commitment to their balanced roasts. The house espresso blend is rich and smoky without being bitter. Meanwhile, the single-origin chocolates each have their own bold, unique character depending on the batch and place of origin—ranging in flavor from herbal and fruity to deep notes of balsamic vinegar. Bolton strives for local ingredients whenever possible, and because of this it's not uncommon for the menu of sweet treats to change daily—with bars paired with fruits from the nearby Okanagan Valley.

If in Vancouver, be sure to stop by East Van Roasters for an house-roasted treat and keep an eye on their website for new products and updates.

Photos by Hans Aschim

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Interview: Aaron De La Cruz

The San Francisco-based artist on his new Ace Hotel mural and embracing imperfections

by CH Contributor in Culture on 17 April 2014

Ace Hotel, Artist Collaborations, Artists, Designers, Graffiti, Hotels, Palm Springs, Travel

by Eva Glettner

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Prolific artist Aaron De La Cruz was initially inspired to paint because he idolized his older brother. His now-signature style—which bounces from design, graffiti to illustration—is highly stylized and technical, blending influences from Mayan art to modern street stylings. While meticulously created, surprisingly, his large-scale murals are painted entirely freehand.

The artist's black and white silkscreened art graces the walls of Ace Hotel rooms thanks to an idea conceived by Arkitip founder, Scott A. Saint Angelo back in 2009. And now, visitors at the Ace Hotel, Palm Springs will also be mesmerized by his recently completed mural on the side of the famed Commune event space. De La Cruz spoke with CH about process, self-education and embracing imperfections.

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When I was around seven, he took me to the side of a freeway and painted a batman logo with our last name inside of it. I was then hooked on the idea of drawing whatever you wanted, however you want.
Tell us a little about your artistic background.

I have a background in art most of it being self-taught, but I did spend four years attending art classes in school. I was always fascinated by drawing as a kid as my older brother was really good at it. Wanting to be just like him, I tried the best I could to be better than him and I always wanted to hang out with him and his friends and skate and do bad stuff—they would skate around town and paint walls. But he was much older (by seven years), so having me around was a pain in the ass for him. I was lucky enough from time to time to hang with the big boys and one day, when I was around seven, he took me to the side of a freeway and painted a batman logo with our last name inside of it. I was then hooked on the idea of drawing whatever you wanted, however you want.

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The girls I would sit next to in class used to write these letters to their boyfriends in jail and I was blown away by the amount of detail that went into the penmanship.
How did that passion progress?

Years later, I found myself doing graffiti, life drawing and cursive lettering (the girls I would sit next to in class used to write these letters to their boyfriends in jail and I was blown away by the amount of detail that went into the penmanship) and kept this habit up all the way 'til it was time to go to college. I went to a city college in Fresno where I took art classes for the first time and met a really cool teacher who encouraged me to create a portfolio and helped me get into art school. I then attended CCA in Oakland/San Francisco for three years where I received my BFA.

Your signature style is done entirely freehand. How labor-intensive is it?

The physical part of painting comes quiet easy, as it's something I have been working on now for more than 10 years now. The only labor-intensive part is working on a ladder or hanging from something while painting. I’m slowly teaching myself how to paint with my left hand now, which is hard at times.

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How do you keep the lines perfectly geometrical?

I used to kill myself with trying to get it as perfect as possible and starting over when I would make a mistake, but now I like to work with the imperfections I make, as it causes me to work harder to balance out the composition of each piece.

You use both paintbrushes and aerosol—do you have a preference?

I rarely use aerosol—mostly just to fill in colored areas if I'm not working on a large piece with color in it. I prefer to paint with a brush using ink (marsh) or house paint and a roller.

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The choice of colors for the Ace mural were based on a cup of fruit you would buy from a Mexican street vendor.
How did you decide on the pops of color on the Ace wall?

The choice of colors for the Ace mural were based on a cup of fruit you would buy from a Mexican street vendor. After spending the first day on location at the Ace, I spent time talking to many of the staff—who happened to be Mexican or part—and after explaining what I wanted to do, they were just as excited about it as I was on the idea for the cup of fruit. So I felt it was the right thing to do. The layout of the mural was inspired by a piece that I had done before, where I worked with 11 cancer patients and each of them filled in a circle with a color of their choice that they mixed themselves.

Do you ever pre-sketch your pieces?

I don’t ever sketch the actual piece I paint—at least, not yet. I have a general idea of what style of designs I will be painting at times, but that can change depending on the mood I’m in, the surface I’m working on or design of the space I’m working within. They all effect what happens. Sometimes with commissioned work, I have to show a general idea of what the layout will be, but the client knows that everything I’m painting will be in the moment.

Images courtesy of Aaron De La Cruz

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Him: The Website

Bjorn Johansson's new interactive project, inspired by Spike Jonze's "Her"

by Mike Giles in Culture on 17 April 2014

Films, Tech, Web Design, Websites

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We were first introduced to digital creative Bjorn Johansson’s work a few years back when we profiled one of his projects, Big-Ass Message, which allowed users the ability to create full-screen, text-based messages across the screens of co-workers and friends for amusing results. Since then, he’s been hard at work at his day job, yet still finds time for self expression. His latest endeavor titled “Him” is an interactive site, based in the world of Spike Jonze’s film titled “Her.” Much like the character Spike created, "Him" the website has an interactive element allowing users to converse with the pseudo “operating system" that Bjorn has created. You can chat with it about the complex or mundane, and even play with its knowledge of pop culture—it finishes the sentence “What’s the time?” with, “It’s time to get ill." Currently the site is limited to those who use Google Chrome and have a microphone, however Johansson feels these technicalities just help him illustrate his elaborate proof of concept. He spoke with CH about the project's inspiration and plans for its future.

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Where did the idea stem from?

The seed for the idea was planted a while ago when I learned about Google Chrome’s speech recognition capabilities. That instantly struck me as something I wanted to use for a project, even though I had no idea what that project would be. A few months later, I had a meeting with Avery Lipman, who is the COO of Republic Records. It was an interesting meeting, but we never got around to talking about what I could or would like to do if I got a chance to work with one of their artists. Nevertheless, that’s what I left the meeting thinking about. And then finally, while doing research for another project, I just happened to learn how easy it is to incorporate computer generated speech into a website. With Spike Jonze’s “Her” fresh in my memory, all these things just came together in my mind. And the outcome was the idea to make a "Her"-inspired website you can talk to, with me replacing Theodore (the film’s protagonist) and at the same time portraying myself similar to a music artist. Add to that the fact that I’ve been a Spike Jonze fan since he wrote for Grand Royal magazine in the mid to late '90s, and the whole thing felt like an even better idea.

Just how easy is it to incorporate Google Chrome’s speech recognition into a website?

The basic functionality can be achieved with just a handful lines of code. Customizing the implementation takes a lot more work though—depending on what you want to use it for.

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What do you hope others will get out of interacting with the site?

I just hope people realize what a badass digital creative I am! Due to the fact the there’s a pretty high threshold to enter the site—Chrome only, no mobile, mic required—I consider this project a very elaborate proof of concept. Speech-recognition is a very nascent concept on the web, and I think it'll take a few more years before it breaks through and becomes mainstream. When that happens though, hopefully people will remember this project.

Do you execute these ideas as a way to simply express yourself outside of your day job, or as way to ideally get them sold or marketed to allow you to work on them full-time?

This project in particular was almost exclusively about self-expression. Even I have a hard time seeing how voice recognition could be put to good use for something like an online advertising campaign at this point in time, due to the previously mentioned hardware and software requirements. However, I believed in the idea for this project so strongly that I wanted to see it come to fruition anyway. It was also a great opportunity to finally do a photo shoot with my very talented friend Aaron. Connecting with other creative individuals is the most rewarding part of embarking on any kind of project outside of work to me. I usually don’t consider the possibility of “selling" the ideas I use for my side projects, because I have so many other ideas that I’m just waiting for a chance to present to clients.

Images courtesy of Bjorn Johansson

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