Seattle artist finds Surface 2 and Skype perfect tools to help make the world better

When Seattle-based artist and entrepreneur Lauren Iida was in search of a go-to device that was light enough to carry around in her bag and robust enough to handle schoolwork, her dog walking business and Cambodia-focused independent art projects, the Surface 2 hit the sweet spot.

“After three months with the Surface 2, I’ve definitely come to appreciate it a lot,” Iida says. “I use it every day. I was drawn to the Surface from a commercial I saw, about the functionality of it. It did a lot of things I would look for in a laptop, such as having Office, and I could also surf the Web. And, it was really small and portable … It’s more user-friendly than previous PCs, more intuitive.”

After seeing the commercial, she went to the Microsoft Store at University Village, and a walk-through by a store staff member convinced her it was the right device to meet her needs, which include fostering social enterprises in Cambodia that promote literacy and fair wages.

“I wanted something that was more portable than my desktop, but more functional than my phone,” Iida says. “Often I’m running around from place to place. I’m running from school to an art show, or a meeting. I needed to be able to sit down at a café really quick, hook up to Wi-Fi somewhere and be able to write an email in a timely fashion.”

Iida also finds all the apps she needs on it – Facebook and Skype, for instance.

A longtime Apple user, she chose the Surface 2 as her first tablet over the iPad (and iPad mini) because of how useful it is – especially with the Office suite built-in. For her, it was essential to have Word and Excel on any device she chose. She takes notes and writes papers for her last semester of classwork at Cornish College of the Arts. She also uses spreadsheets to keep track of clients who trust her with their precious four-legged pets. She keeps everything synced with SkyDrive.

Lauren Iida using her Surface 2

Iida, 29, bought a Type Cover with her Surface 2, which helps not only with the work she does in Office, but also with the emails she writes that can be tedious to peck out on a smartphone. She finds typing on it to be as easy as with any laptop or desktop – and it still maintains the device’s slim and compact appeal. She’s also been impressed with the Surface 2’s battery life, display and camera.

She uses the basic editing functions in the Photos app that ships with all Windows 8.1 devices to clean up images she takes on her extended travels, which have focused on Southeast Asia – Cambodia and Thailand. Then she saves it on a flash drive using the Surface 2’s full-size USB 3.0 port, and prints a large version of the photo that she uses as a template for her intricate paper cutaways art. With Windows 8.1, she says it’s been really handy learning to use the split-screen Snap view – comparing photographs of her journeys next to the finished piece.

As she explains on her website, “The images depicted in my work are from photos I have taken in Cambodia. Each is a memory which I revisit, then recreate by hand in paper. As I cut each shape, line, and shadow, the memories take on a new form. When I’m cutting, I notice new characters, gestures, and patterns that I missed before.  It’s a way for me to process all that I’ve seen in passing. Each paper cutaway is a compilation of my original experience, my photograph and my personal connection to the places and people I depict.”

 Lauren Iida's paper cutaways

Because Cambodia is a significant passion of hers, she’s often on Skype connecting with people she’s met there and contacts who are helping her projects. One is her first children’s book, which teaches English to Cambodian children through culturally relevant content. She’s also creating a reading room, after the Khmer Rouge genocide decimated Cambodia’s language and culture in the 1970s.

She paused the pursuit of her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree in 2008 to travel to Australia and Southeast Asia. Trying to get to Thailand, she ended up in Cambodia, and she fell in love with the country, its culture and its people.

The former oil painter learned how to design furniture – and clothes. The multi-talented Iida, a Seattle native of Japanese descent who is petite by western standards, was an XL in Cambodia, so she had to have her clothes custom made ($5 a dress). The impoverished young seamstresses she found weren’t being regularly paid, so she started a social enterprise, a clothing company that found instant customers in other expats who were in the same predicament – and it thrived. Iida provided a safe place for them to stay and work, and was able to pay them a fair wage that helped keep the company afloat after she left the country.

The connecting thread of her varied interests is her documentarian nature. “When I travel, I have these experiences and I want to them share in an artistic way.” She shares them as an instructor too, teaching how to make paper cutaways at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.

“I’ve always associated artsy stuff with Apple, but I could see Microsoft was going in a more art-friendly direction. You can edit your photos and do day to day stuff,” Iida says. “The crossover isn’t very difficult.”

 Lauren Iida holding one of her paper cutaways

One thing’s for sure – when she returns to Cambodia, the Surface 2 will be in her carry-on, a must-have when art does imitate life.

Her next exhibition of paper cutaways – which reflect her experiences traveling in Cambodia and Thailand – will be in the heart of downtown Seattle at the Bocz Salon, and opens Jan. 30. On Feb. 6, she has another show opening in collaboration with woodblock artist, Bradley Taylor, “The Exhibition on Observations of Eliptical Imaging and Quantum Stratigraphical Content.” Find out more about those shows and Iida on her website.

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Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff