We started this Becoming interview series in 2019. We wanted to hear from women in different walks of life and how they were approaching creativity, career goals, and more–mostly the WHY and HOW beneath it all. It’s been amazing to conduct these interviews and get a “behind the scenes” look at so many inspirational women! You can see them all here.
Today I’m thrilled to share an interview with Amanda Jane Jones, someone I’m lucky to call a friend. I first met Amanda when we both lived in New York City interning–she as a graphic designer and me as an interior designer. She went on to become a freelance graphic designer and children’s book author and illustrator where she specializes in publication design (she’s the co-founder of Kinfolk Magazine) and in past years started “dabbling” in product designer. Dabbling is the word she used to describe herself for this interview, but as someone who has been watching her work over the years, I can vouch for her as a thoughtful and prolific designer who can create magic in anything.
During the last 15+ years she’s made a name for herself for her signature minimalistic design that is always perfectly executed from logos to book design to products. Follow her on Instagram where she shares beautiful photos of her life, family, and myriad passion projects. She has the biggest heart and you’ll see that come through in how she dedicates not just her personal time but her work time. She’s one I admire! Now, let’s hear more from her!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in suburb of Kansas City.
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?
I wanted to be a Jazz singer! But my anxiety always got the better of me. I tried photography and quickly realized I had to talk to people a lot, and ultimately gravitated towards graphic design, which in all honesty, has been a perfect fit.
What sparked your interest in design and sharing on the Internet?
For me, in the beginning, it was a way to get more work. When I graduated, I moved with my husband to a small town in Michigan and got a design job, which wasn’t an excellent fit. So I’d work on personal projects in the evenings and on weekends, and share them in hopes of getting freelance projects. But then it evolved into this beautiful community, where my work brought friends and visa versa. It’s fun how when you put your work in the universe, it brings people looking for your own personal point of view. I’ve seen it time and time again, no matter how many times the algorithm changes.
What are three words to describe your style?
Minimal, nostalgic with pops of color
What is your educational background and how has it shaped or changed your current career?
I have a BFA in Graphic Design. My professors hated my work. It was torn off the walls, crumpled and tossed in the bin. I was told it was too simple, and wasn’t given an opportunity to intern for my school. So then I quit going to classes, hustled for my own internship in New York, and that’s kind of where I say my real education began. I interned four times! I loved being an intern. The beauty of being an intern is that you can learn first hand from people doing what you want to be doing. My most favorite internship was for Suann Song, now of Appointed. I learned early on to be a sponge. Learning from those I admired as best I could, was such a profound education.
What inspired you to become a designer/author?
My mom actually! She really pushed me to try design, and I’m grateful she did. It fits my personality well. My kids actually inspired me to be an author. When you’re a parent, it’s so easy to see what kinds of books kids are drawn to, as we were reading, I’d take note and would find myself inspired by what they were engaged with and what things they were currently experiencing.
What is one project that you are especially proud of and why?
I think my first children’s book, Yum, Yummy, Yuck. Going outside my field made me feel like an imposter, but it was received well, and I just came out with my fourth children’s book this past fall, Decorate the Tree. Watching my kids read them to each other is probably one of my proudest moments. A real dream come true.
Also last fall, on a whim, I asked my neighbor, Mike Whiting, (via DM, because I was too shy to ask in person!) if he’d like to do a collaboration with me. I immediately felt sheepish for even asking, but he quickly wrote back yes! Our small project snowballed into a big art exhibit for 801 Salon. Again, I felt like an imposter, but it turned out to be a really amazing and beautiful experience. I’m so grateful I asked!
Where do you find inspiration?
I saw Maira Kalman speak at a conference a long time ago —I have been her fan girl ever since. She said, “the most inspiring objects are books. I have about 5,000 volumes in my home library. It’s an unending source of visuals and ideas.”
I’ve always remembered that and tried to follow in her footsteps. One year, my husband added up how much I had spent on books. It did not go over well. But books are a huge source of inspiration. Also going in nature. In Chicago, when I was in an artistic slump, I used to run along Lake Michigan, and I always came back, rejuvenated from the wind and the waves with new ideas. Nature is always so invigorating to me. Also, having a clean and organized space. I am most creative when my spaces don’t feel cluttered.
How do you make social connections in the creative realm?
I think instagram has been a wonderful way to connect me with artists around the world. For all it’s downfalls, it really is wonderful for that. In person though, I’m lucky enough to have a art club that was initiated by my friend Mika Raine. She moved to Utah at a similar time as me and was looking for a safe place for self employed artists to make art and share ideas. We meet relatively often, and it’s become a night I really look forward to.
What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?
Oh! So many. I met Maira Kalman this past year, and was able to visit her home and studio. Her space was so peaceful. I love her work. I’m also very inspired by women artists of the mid century—Anni Albers, Ray Eames, Ruth Asawa. I’ve also recently been inspired by the quirky work of Sophie Taeuber-Arp. I find her breadth of work very moving. I also love, love, love Ella Fitzgerald. I listen to her while I work quite often.
What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?
I’m writing a book with Jennifer Fernandez and photographed by Momoko Fritz called Mother / Founder with Artisan books! It’s been in the works for years, but will be published this fall. I can hardly believe it’s here. It’s been a labor of love, but one I’ve been so very happy to labor on. The goal is to create a book that empowers women to find solutions beyond the traditional 9-5 job. (which generally don’t offer paid leave or childcare options.) Many feel trapped by motherhood, and we’re hoping to show ways to find freedom, financial independence and joy in this stage of life. We’ve interviewed over 60 women with a vast variety of backgrounds, to get their advice, takeaways, and failures, so that surely, every mother can see themselves in our book, and realize there is room for them.
What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from?
At a babyshower for my first, I asked everyone to give me advice, and one women said, “honestly, don’t take advice. Listen to your gut.” I’ve thought about that so many times both as a professional artist and as a mother.
What is your workspace like?
I have an office in our home! It has white walls and concrete floors! I know for some, this sounds awful, but for me it’s perfect. A big window that looks out over the valley. Artwork and books peppering the walls and shelves. I love it. I’ve never had an office with a door before moving here, so having a space that I can work uninterrupted if needed, has been nothing short of revolutionary for me.
Describe some habits that keep you motivated and productive. How do you climb out of a creative slump?
I’ve learned so much about my body and mind recently. This year I started therapy (life changing!), and started taking magnesium (most sleep I’ve had in four years!), and weight training in addition to my hiking and running. My mind is sharpest when my body is healthy, and especially so when I start the day with some blood pumping movement.
What is a typical day like for you?
Cuddle my kids! Breakfast all together. My husband takes the kids to school, and then I exercise and work! I work two full days a week and half days the rest, so I can be with my kids. It’s the perfect amount for me.
What is one skill you wished you learned when you were younger?
Oh wow. I was raised to be a people pleaser! I think many women are. I wish I’d learned emotional maturity sooner in life. The inability to say ‘No’ was huge hindrance in my early career and sometimes at a cost to my career. I’m learning and growing.
Is there anything more you would like to “become?”
We come into adulthood with all these ideas that seem so black and white, and I’ve been so grateful to learn that it’s simply not the case. I hope with all my heart, that as I continue to read, and learn and met new people and listen more, I can continue to learn and grow and become more inclusive, more compassionate, more outspoken when needed, and ultimately be more loving and understanding as the years progress.
Thank you, Amanda, for your words. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say WOW! And honestly, I can’t stop thinking of those professors who threw your work away and didn’t give you an internship…
You can find Amanda Jane Jones:
Photos by Amanda Jane Jones and Kate Osborne