Experiential Design

Ascender Previews 'Rising Above The Smoke" Exhibition for Colorado Black Health Collaborative



Leverage agile frameworks to provide a robust high level overviews. Iterative approaches to corporate strategy foster collaborative thinking to further the overall value.

Ascender curated and designed "Rising Above The Smoke' an mobile exhibit and education-to-action platform that explores the Black community's history with menthol tobacco. It shares examples of exploitation and resilience--from forced labor in tobacco fields during slavery in the United States to the targeted marketing of menthol products during the mid 20th century this exhibit sheds light on social injustices affecting Black health.

“Rising Above The Smoke” is an exhibit that explores the Black community’s history with menthol tobacco. It shares examples of exploitation and resilience–from forced labor in tobacco fields during slavery in the United States to the targeted marketing of menthol products during the mid 20th century this exhibit sheds light on social injustices affecting Black health.

“Rising Above The Smoke” is a mobile exhibit and education platform that explores the Black community’s history with menthol tobacco. It shares examples of exploitation and resilience–from forced labor in tobacco fields during slavery in the United States to the targeted marketing of menthol products during the mid 20th century this exhibit sheds light on social injustices affecting Black health.

The exhibit visually builds on visual and public health themes from a successful four hour webinar that CBHC hosted in 2021. Artifacts included late 19th century hatchet and tobacco leaves, vintage tobacco advertising–including figurines and print messages from the 1980’s-the early 2000’s that featured negative, stereotypical imagery of African Americans using tobacco.

The Art of The Visit: Storyboards & Production Design

Pre-visual concept art, storyboards and post production color and lighting FX for our award winning short film 'The Visit'. All concept art was hand drawn by writer, director Paul V. Grant.


The film is now available for streaming on Vimeo and YouTube.

Additional streaming platforms will be announced soon! www.ascenderfilms.com/thevisit #previsuals #storyboards #conceptart #style #vision #productiondesign #productiondesigner #paulvgrant #lighting #lightingdesign #drama #bts #filmart #directing #storytelling #production #camera #harriettubman #frederickdouglass #conceptartist #film #shortfilm #filmmaking #ascenderfilms #avidmedia #borisfx

Limited Edition Framed Giclee Print From 'THE VISIT'

"Harriet's Approach" Framed, Still Image Accepted into Collection of Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center

Exclusive Print "Harriet's Approach" Donated to Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center 

On Saturday, June 25th  we were honored to have this framed, giclee print titled ‘Harriet’s Approach’, a still image from our film ‘The Visit,’ accepted into the collection of the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center in Cambridge, MD. It’s depicts Tubman, standing before a massive plantation home. It’s symbolizes the long struggle for women and people of color against massive systems of social, economic, and political power.  The Ascender team attended a hike through historic Thompson plantation where Harriet Tubman was enslaved and co-hosted a screening of our award winning film “The Visit” at the museum, later that afternoon.

It was truly a remarkable day, learning about and discussing our shared American history.   Thanks to all who joined us in Cambridge, MD for the morning hike/tour of the former Thompson plantation (where Harriet Tubman was enslaved) and our film screening at the museum!

#filmart #filmstill #limitedediton #giclee #prints #gicleeprint #art #artwork #film #indiefilm #women #filmmaking #justice #interpretative #history #community #museum #ascenderfilmsinc

Ascender Films, Inc Founder, Paul Grant receives 2020 Award from The Balm In Gilead, Inc.

Ascender's Founder, Creative Director Receives '2020 Special Recognition' Award from The Balm In Gilead, Inc.

We are Grateful to have received this 'Special Recognition Award' last week from The Balm In Gilead, Inc. during their annual 'Healthy Churches' Conference.  I'm equally proud that content we produced almost ten years ago has remained a source of education, inspiration and fundraising for their critical work to help communities of faith to improve health outcomes among African/ African-Africans  throughout the United States and across the Diaspora.

Ascender Films is a Proud Sponsor of Association of African American Museum's (AAAM) 2020 Virtual Conference

he work we have done with African American museums and cultural organizations has been some of the most meaningful and important work that our firm has done.  That's why the Ascender team is very proud to be a sponsor of the AAAM 2020 Virtual Conference, taking place this week, August 5-7th.  It is important to support these organizations. But it's also crucial that we keep our finger on the pulse of great work all across the country. There are so many stories that need to be told and these institutions do the best job of preserving those stories for generations.  Here's to a great conference week!

#AAAM2020 #blackmuseumsmatter #history #culture

My tech travel setup

MacBook Pro

Robert Capa, a famous photojournalist once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” It’s not just about zooming in with your lens, either. It’s about getting physically closer to people and getting to know them better. It’s also about spending a little time with a stranger before taking their photo. That helps build the trust and comfort that’ll come through in your pictures. Walk up to your subject with a simple wave and a smile to help communicate that you mean no harm.

Ask permission to take a photo if they speak the same language as you. If you don’t share a language, try learning some basic phrases ahead of time, gesture at your camera and ask through expression. Of course if someone doesn’t want their picture taken, it’s imperative to respect their wishes and move on — people are always more important than photographs. National Geographic writes that “making great pictures is primarily a mental process.” What makes you want to photograph the person or place? How might you describe it to a friend, and what adjectives would you use? Are there details you can focus on that tell a story?


Maybe it’s a dry, arid desert, captured by focusing on the patterns of cracked earth. Or a prairie that’s photographed with the horizon at the bottom of the frame, to help create a sense of the open sky and tranquility. Or maybe it’s the story of a deft artisan, fingernails covered in wet clay as she molds a pot. When you’re on the road it can be tough to eat right and make sure you get all the right nutrients. I started taking daily supplements of Multi-Vitamin, Fish Oil capsules and Vitamin D and it helps a lot. Especially the Vitamin D since I don’t get to see the sun a lot during the winter in Sweden.

Sennheiser HD-25 Headphones

It’s difficult to recreate the grandeur of a vast landscape in the confines of a picture frame. But one way to add a sense of depth to your photos is to compose them with objects in the foreground that support the scene. It can be as simple as a winding road through a national park, or some rocks to show off the local geology.

If you’re taking photos of people during normal daylight hours, a quick way to get more flattering light is to move the person out of direct sunlight. The light is much “softer” and doesn’t cast stark, unflattering shadows across their facial features. Even better, have someone stand next to an open door or window as the single source of light.

The new brand identity

I stumbled upon the concept of margin while reading a post by Michael Hyatt, which led me to design my ideal week. Richard Swenson, M.D. (who wrote the book: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives) describes margin like this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Last year I wrote about why booking too far in advance can be dangerous for your business, and this concept of margin so eloquently captures what I had recognized had been my problem: I was so booked up with clients that I wasn’t leaving any margin for error, growth, planning, or reflection. I wasn’t really growing my business in a sustainable way; I was just booking one client after the next. At the time this seemed like a good thing: doesn’t growing my business mean getting more clients?

A long redesign.

What if instead of booking up to 100% capacity (which more often than not ends up being closer to 120%), we only booked up to an 80% capacity?
What if we left more room for growth (personal or professional) and stopped being one with “busy-ness”?
I spent nearly a year turning down every new project (and even getting rid of old ones) so that I could reduce my workload, build in more margin, and create what is now Digital Strategy School. It takes time to build margin into your schedule.Write a book. Create a program. Update your contracts and proposals (which has been on your to-do list for how long..?) Spend more time with your family. Go above and beyond for a client. Learn something new. Actually follow through on the things that have been nagging at you for a long time.

When you design your ideal week, you start to see that the time you think you have is often not in alignment with how much time you actually have.

After designing my ideal week, I had a much clearer idea of how to create a framework for my week that would empower me to feel more focused by theming days of the week, and even parts of the day. SO simple, I know. Some of you have been doing this for ages and you’re already a pro, and some of you who saw my schedule said “woah, that’s so rigid, I need more flexibility!”

Structure enables flexibility.

If you’re not sure how much time you are actually spending on various tasks, use a tool like Rescue Time (their free version is excellent!) which runs in the background and tracks where your time is being spent. It can even send you weekly reports so you know exactly how much time you wasted on Facebook, or spent in your email inbox! You can assign different websites or programs/applications on a scale of very distracting to very productive, so you can see at a glance things like: which days of the week you’re most productive, which times of the day you’re most productive, and the sites on which you’re spending the most distracting time. Turns out I’m consistently “in the zone” around 3pm in the afternoon; so instead of trying to tackle highly creative work first thing in the morning (when my brain is barely functioning), I handle it in the afternoon, when I know I’m at my peak!

Creating more margin has been game-changing for my business.
What would be possible for yours?

Some amazing buildings

Minimalism and geometric.

When you are alone for days or weeks at a time, you eventually become drawn to people. Talking to randos is the norm. I’ll never forget the conversation with the aquarium fisherman, forest ranger, and women at the Thai market. It’s refreshing to compare notes on life with people from vastly different backgrounds.

When you meet fellow travelers, you’ll find they are also filled with a similar sense of adventure and curiosity about the world. Five days of friendship on the road is like five months of friendship at home. It’s the experiences that bond you together, not the place. A rule I followed that worked well: be the first to initiate conversation. I met some incredible people by simply being the first to talk.

Long term travel is different than a luxury vacation. The point is to see the world, not stay in a 5-star hotel. During the trip, I stayed on a strict budget. The goal was to spend no more than $33 per day on accommodations. After a year, I was able to spend only $26.15 per day by booking through HostelWorld and Airbnb. When I wanted to meet people, I’d stay in a shared room at a hostel. When I wanted to be alone, I’d book a private room with Airbnb.

Take the cost of your rent or mortgage + food per month and divide it by 30. This is how much it costs per day to live at home. You will find that it’s possible to travel the world for roughly the same amount. Or, if you live in an expensive city like San Francisco, far less.

An universal language.

I was surprised how many people spoke English (apparently 1.8 billion people worldwide). Places where English was less prevalent, I made an effort to learn a handful of words and phrases in the local language. Even though it’s passable, I do desire to learn another language fluently. You can only take the conversation so far when all you can say is: “¿Esto contiene gluten?”

It’s possible to communicate a lot without saying a word. For instance, I left my phone at a restaurant in Chile. I pointed at the table where I was sitting, put my hand to my ear like a phone, then shrugged — 2 minutes later, my phone had been retrieved.

I was recently quoted as saying, “I don’t give a shit” if Instagram has more users than Twitter. If you read the article you’ll note there’s a big “if” before my not giving of said shit.
Of course, I am trivializing what Instagram is to many people. It’s a beautifully executed app that enables the creation and enjoyment of art, as well as human connection, which is often a good thing. But my rant had very little to do with it (or with Twitter). My rant was the result of increasing frustration with the one-dimensionality that those who report on, invest in, and build consumer Internet services talk about success.

Numbers are important. Number of users is important. So are lots of other things. Different services create value in different ways. Trust your gut as much (or more) than the numbers. Figure out what matters and build something good.