For January’s book club, we’re reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. I started reading the book during the holidays and was so inspired by it that we had to switch our schedule that we included first in our line up–it’s that good. Her view on “becoming” is that you are not static and always in the process of becoming something more or better–a new and improved version of yourself. It couldn’t have hit home more because it’s something I’ve been focused on the last few months.
I really got behind this idea especially after assuming a new identity this last year–mother. The past few weeks I’ve really been trying to focus on WHAT and WHO I want to do/be because my time is not always my own and I need to make better choices in how I spend it. This past year I’ve mostly been in survival mode as I navigate the transition into managing a new human being along with a group of people to help me watch him (turns out, managing childcare is like managing another company) all the while trying to be good at my job and admittedly, not doing a great job of it. I’ll talk more about my experience later, but it got me thinking about all the things that we can BECOME. And I wanted to provide hope in that idea as it’s seemed overwhelming to me recently. As I was thinking on the subject, I was thinking of those who I would love to talk to about my personal dilemma and then I thought, WHY NOT ASK THEM?!
SO, I decided to put our normal crafting calendar on pause and serve up some interviews with people whom I admire and find out their thoughts about becoming. We all take such different walks in life and I find it useful to learn from those who have gone before me. I love learning about failures and successes so I can make more informed decisions myself. Thus, we have about twenty interviews lined up over the course of the next few weeks. They touch on a variety of subjects in the creative world and come from different backgrounds, races, and ages. BTW, if there’s someone you’re really wanting to hear from, let me know in the comments and we can reach out to them.
I’m kicking it off with an interview with the OG design blogger, Design*Sponge founder, Grace Bonney. Grace announced last week that this is the final year of the long-running (15 years!) Design*Sponge. Her announcement comes at a time when a number of blogging and digital publishing pioneers are massively changing their existing structure and I’ve been actively interested in learning the whys, hows, what nexts about each one because the same pains they are going through are what we’ve been going through here at Lars. Learning from design publishing giants like Grace is one way that I can pay homage to the great work she’s contributed for it is because of Design*Sponge that I started Lars. For that I will be forever grateful. She elevated digital publishing with carefully constructed content, pushed for equality people, and stayed true to her values–something you don’t see as often these days. With the size of her platform, she could have done a great many things to make a lot of bucks, but she preferred focusing on creating meaningful and original content.
We are so pleased to kick off the series with Grace today.
Becoming: Interview with Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge
What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person etc.?
I consider myself a writer. Most of my life I’ve written in various forms: press releases, blog posts, magazine articles and books. And while I won’t be blogging anymore after 2019, I still proudly consider myself a blogger, too.
Who helped you “become” who you are?
How much time do you have? I think everyone I’ve worked with has shaped the way I do things in one way or another, and of course my friends and family. But these days I think I feel most shaped by the people I volunteer with every week. They remind me that you are not the work you do and that it’s a good thing to find ways to value yourself without attaching that to your professional output.
Do you feel like you’ve arrived at what you set out to do?
Absolutely not. I’m about to jump into the great unknown after this summer so I feel like I’m always on the path trying to figure out what I can do that uses the skills I have and will let me tap into something I care about. I don’t think I’ll ever find just one thing, but I’m so grateful for having been at Design*Sponge for so long. It’s my longest job so far at almost 15 years, and it’s allowed me to try so many different things, so I’m incredibly lucky to have had that range of opportunities.
What more would you like to “become”?
I’d like to become a more patient person. I’m really patient with some people and have absolutely no patience with others. It’s a part of myself I’m always working on and I’d like to evolve and hopefully improve on over time. I think the world, especially right now, requires a lot of patience and communication and I’d like to make sure I’m not missing out on the important things that happen when you sit, wait, and listen.
Design*Sponge was instrumental in helping so many transition into the digital world. Did you realize the impact you were having at the time?
No way. I think so many of us who started that early (back in 2003/2004), had no idea what we were doing. Some absolutely did and knew it would grow to be lucrative, but I always just wanted to find a place to make friends and talk about things I liked, like student design shows and funky stuff coming out of the growing Brooklyn design scene. I thought DS would help me get a job at a magazine one day (which was my all-time goal then), so I definitely didn’t imagine it being something that would stick around as long as it has. But I’m incredibly proud and honored to have been a small part of some of the businesses and blogs that are now thriving in our community.
As DS is in its final year, what would you like your legacy to be?
I don’t care much about legacy. I think it can feel a little grandiose. At the end of the day, I just hope the people I’ve worked with know how much I care about them and how thankful I am for them. That goes for our reading community, too. I guess I just hope they all know that we loved being here as much some of them have told us they loved reading here.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Learning how to be vulnerable online and own my failures as much as my (and our team’s) successes. I’ve basically learned how to fall on my face and get back up- that is a valuable life skill and will probably be the best thing I take with me into any new project. I’m not afraid to speak up, to be wrong, to listen and to apologize.
Did you feel pressured in any way to pursue a certain career path?
I’ve felt a lot of pressure over the years. I’ve had many a prominent blogger tell me I’m doing things all wrong by not scaling and selling products and doing more endorsements and taking venture capital money. But honestly, had I not trusted my gut, we would have closed a long time ago. I’ve always run our business pretty conservatively and that’s allowed us to withstand a lot of market volatility and changes and I’m really proud of that.
What did you study? Did you go to school specifically for what you do?
I went to school to study art and art history. I focused on printmaking mainly (although I was pretty terrible at it) and wrote my thesis paper on a theory that many Romanesque Illuminated Manuscripts were written by women, not men, and that the artwork was a sometimes cheeky and sometimes subversive take on life as nuns or women in that time. My professor told me it was impossible. But then this article came out
and now 15 years later I feel vindicated!
Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life?
My therapist, Gretta. She’s helped me in the depths of my darkest times and her time and counsel is the greatest investment I make in my personal health.
What’s your workspace like?
I’ve worked on my couch, crouched over, playing Netflix in the background, for the better part of 15 years. My back needs a break.
Do you like being the face of your own company? Does it have any drawbacks?
Yes and no. It’s nice to have people walk up and say hello and share a story about what DS or one of our books has meant to them. It’s like a shortcut to more personal conversations and has led to some really meaningful moments with people from our community. But if you’re the face for the “good” you’re a face for the “bad”, too. And I’ve taken a lot of hits over the years. Some have left dents, but most have taught me important lessons like not to take yourself so seriously.
What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you and who is it from?
I believe this is actually a line from an old interview with Michelle Wiliams, but she said her motto was “Whatever works until it doesn’t”. I loved that so much. I think life is always changing and a lot of us think we’ve failed if we’re always course correcting, but that’s actually totally ok. So I’ve learned to embrace that and it’s let me enjoy my life and work a lot more.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in a creative field?
Make a business plan. Make sure you talk to someone who does what you do- get an idea of what the current market looks like and wait until you can make the decision wisely and with some savings in your account if you can. A lot of new businesses are profitable right away and that’s ok, but if you don’t plan for that, you may incorrectly think your idea is a failure. But it’s not! A lot of times it just takes time to figure out a business and get it up and running right. So keep your day job and try something on the side until you’re ready to take the leap with money and advice on your side.
What’s coming up for you in 2019? And your company?
I have NO idea. I’m working on a new book pitch, but for DS we’re just having fun and doing whatever we want. We’re revisiting old home tours and artists we wrote about 15 years ago, we’re going to have some parties in different parts of the country- we just want to go out on a high note and have a good time together.
What does your dream retirement look like?
Somewhere with a golf cart (to drive, not play golf), warm weather and plenty of room for pets.
What’s inspiring you lately?
Women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. I want to spend more time with people who have seen a lot of life. They don’t have all the answers, but they do have a beautiful and honest sense about what’s actually important in life and that means so much to me.
Thank you, Grace, for showing us some lessons on becoming. Do follow Design*Sponge’s last few months as they will be doing a lot of projects that they’ve always been wanting to do. And follow along on Instagram where she shares a lot of beautiful inspiration. She always has something great cooking up and I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Where you can find Grace
Photo of Grace by Jacqueline Harriet