career by design: cia grad fills his days with art, design, music and magic

Jason Tilk’s wildly imaginative BFA thesis project foreshadowed the multi-disciplinary artist and designer he would become. He constructed an installation of giant insectile sculptures made of glass, aluminum and stainless steel. The wasp had a motion sensor to signal its legs to open and close when visitors approached. He blew the glass by hand and designed the other components using 3D computer modeling.

Today, the 1997 Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) graduate is still passionately creative, multi-talented and pursuing several creative outlets. By day, he’s an award-winning designer named on 13 patents (and counting). By night, he’s a Vaudeville performer of songs, jokes and "bad" magic tricks, and the organizer of a recurring burlesque life-drawing event.

A Maker by Nature

With his mother a painter and father a man who could fix and build just about anything, Tilk grew up surrounded by people who made things. "I was given a crayon as a kid and I pretty much never put down a drawing implement," he recalls. By the time he reached Medina High School, he was taking all the art courses offered and attending summer life drawing courses at CIA. He also played the sax and was in every drama performance. Tilk enrolled at Ohio University so he could do it all: theater set design, sculpture and jazz saxophone.

At some point during his freshman year, Tilk transferred to CIA, where his perpetual curiosity led him to pursue all matter of creative subject areas. In addition to lengthy studies in the Glass Department, he took classes in Industrial Design and Jewelry and Metals. Looking back, he realizes he squeezed the most he possibly could out of his college education.

"I loved CIA," he says. "If there was something that I wanted to learn, I knocked on that department’s door and I tried to learn it. I realize that you could focus completely on one thing, but at the same time, CIA is great for people like me who want to learn it all."

Upon graduation, Tilk was awarded the top presidential scholarship, the First Agnes Gund Traveling Award.

Career by Design

After graduation, Tilk taught for three years at CIA before moving on to General Motors, where he spent four years designing cars. "It was amazing -- there was history and lineage there of the highest design that had ever rolled out on four wheels," he recalls, adding that while fantastic, it just wasn’t the right fit. "It was always about what cars could become and what transportation might be. I was more about how something works and how users interact with it."

Where Tilk ultimately did find the right fit was at Nottingham Spirk, the Cleveland-based business innovation firm. He started there in 2004 and has tackled increasingly complex projects ever since. Recently, those projects are medical in nature. In fact, Tilk was lead designer on two of Nottingham Spirk’s most successful recent medical innovations.

The CardioInsight ECVue™ Sensor Vest maps out a heart’s electrical signals and replaces an inconvenient and unwieldy system of 25 to 30 heart monitoring strips that take more than 45 minutes to apply. Tilk devoted two years to the project, designing the vest to fit a wide range of body types and take less than five minutes to apply. The system has won several patents and more are pending.

His other recent medical design assignment is the HealthSpot Station, a "telehealth kiosk" that was named a Product of the Future by Popular Science. Patients will use these self-contained booths to remotely visit a doctor via a Skype-like connection. As lead designer, Tilk was tasked with making the unit small while still building in all the necessary diagnostic tools like thermometer and blood pressure cuff. Other requirements included insulating the kiosk for patient privacy and incorporating systems for ventilating and sanitizing the unit.

"It was a pretty massive undertaking," he explains. "We started out with giant cardboard models. We tried to design for a clean, pleasant user experience. You want people to be relaxed when they’re in here, especially because they might be in here under duress."
On a roll after these two major successes, Tilk currently is working on another medical product. "It’s just so exciting to work on things that make life better for people," he says. "I think that’s one of the most exciting things about my job at this point in time."

An Awful Lot of Vaudeville

After a long day of design work at Nottingham Spirk, Tilk finds that music is the best form of relaxation. His wife, musician and performer Danielle Tilk, gave him an accordion for Christmas four years ago and he taught himself to play. "It went from me and my wife playing music and learning songs at home, to all of a sudden we’re on stage and being funny."
They call themselves Pinch and Squeal, employing the tagline "an awful lot of Vaudeville." The variety act incorporates songs, jokes and "bad magic," says Tilk. He and a friend also started a local franchise of the national Dr. Sketchy phenomenon, which features paid models wearing themed costumes. It's "life drawing meets burlesque. It’s about supplying a fun, creative event for artists to get out, draw from a live model, and socialize."
In addition to the performing and life drawing, Tilk has organized wacky events like the Cleveland Urban Iditarod, a mid-winter shopping-cart race and food drive that raised more than a ton of food and $1,300 cash for the Cleveland Foodbank.

His latest eccentric endeavor will debut next month at IngenuityFest. Called Voix de Ville!: Pop-up Theater and Cabaret, the circus tent as entertainment venue will host a mix of magic, Vaudeville, sketch comedy, music, circus and sideshow.

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