Becoming Emily Henderson

What do you consider yourself ? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business  person, educator, etc.? 

These days I identify most with being a design content creator and writer. 

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what  you do now? 

I was born into a Mormon family in rural Oregon. A big family with a lot of crafting and DIY.  I learned from a very young age the fun of thrift and how much can be done from so little. Hence my deep and intense love for all things vintage. But, what my childhood really taught me was how to work VERY hard, of which I am extremely grateful for because it’s one of the big reasons I’ve been successful. 

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger? 

Growing up in the 80s in rural Oregon, no one really knew Interior Designer was a career choice you could do. It was Teacher, Doctor, or Lawyer so I grew up thinking I would be a teacher like my parents and studied history and english in college. It wasn’t until I worked at Jonathan Adler and met stylists that I became interested in a creative career. Now I can see that most of my interests merged (writing, history, and design), which isn’t as rare as it sounds in the creative world. You collect knowledge throughout your various interests and sometimes the culmination of it all directly affects your career.

What inspired you to become a designer? 

When I was in my 20s living in New York I was a shop girl at Jonathan Adler and that’s where I met stylists and learned what a stylist even was. I couldn’t believe people got to shop and borrow and make things to style out sets for their job and I thought that sounded really fun. So that experience plus my love for vintage is what got me interested in styling and interior design. 

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

The Mountain House I designed and renovated is my favorite place to be. I designed it for my family (and friends) to enjoy and we love spending months up there during the summer. It’s open, airy, warm and inviting. It has this very special positive, calming energy that I can’t get enough of. 

We’re so excited about your new book! Can you tell us more about it?

My book, The New Design Rules, is all about empowering and educating through the renovation and decoration process. It has all the construction vocabulary, distilled renovation process (and my preferences) with the intent to communicate effectively with your contractors so you don’t get man-splained, make as many mistakes, fight with your partner, and feel like a total failure. And yet it’s full of beautifully styled inspirational shots of homes – kitchens, bathrooms, living, mud and bedrooms, office, basements, and more 🙂 It’s all about knowing the rules so you can creatively break them. 

What is your design process like? Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

I use Pinterest to get some initial ‘look and feel’. When I first start designing a room I will pin a bunch of rooms until I can get a sense of what style/feeling I am going for. 

I always design a room by asking myself  “how do I want this room to feel?” Every room is different, truly, and the process is driven more by the needs and wants of the room than a step by step process. But I always try to design the space with UTILITY in mind – not in a boring functional way, but more ‘how do I want to USE the room’, which easily separates the family room from the formal living room. I lean into comfort on most things these days, knowing that we gravitate towards rooms that are the most comfortable (so why not make every room extremely comfortable?). 

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present? 

I’m all over the place. I find that the people I admire the most have such different style than what I want in my own home, so I try to analyze WHY I love them so much and be inspired by their work, then create my own version. I love Beata Heuman, Heidi Caillier, Jessica Helgerson – all their work is so inspiring. But more livable spaces I also love Amber Lewis and Sara Sherman Samuel. I think what they all have in common (despite being so different) is confidence, clarity and comfort. And they attack that in such different ways, aesthetically. 

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a  personal motto? 

​​”I don’t know the key to success, but I do know the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” As someone with a large following of readers who watch my every move pretty closely, I know that I have to act from my inner moral compass, listen to my close team, friends and family and make decisions based on experience. Trying to please everyone is simply as impossible as trying to be perfect and once you realize that, your life gets so much easier. 

How do your surroundings influence your work?

I’m a huge nature lover and need to be outside to calm down this dumb ruminating brain of mine. So while I don’t think I design specifically around nature themes or anything (although I have done many a tree mural now that I think about it) I think after being in nature is when I do my most grounded work. 

What is a typical day like for you? 

I am currently mid-renovation and right now there are a lot of things happening FAST so I usually start my day going to the farmhouse to make decisions. Then I write for a few hours and check in with my team. I have two kids that have reached the wonderful ages of 6 and 8 which makes them pretty independent and extremely fun to hang with. As a design content creator in the wild west of digital media I have to really monitor my time to ensure I don’t work 80 hours a week. Right now I feel relatively balanced with a great team and a decent work life balance but it took YEARS to get to this point and it wasn’t easy (lots of nervous breakdowns and Eckhart Tolle if you know what I mean). 

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

When your life is on social media there really aren’t any secrets, but I have a strangely good sense of direction 🙂 In the fall I’m going to start teaching myself photography – I have the camera, I know angles and lighting, I just don’t know how those buttons work so I’m extremely excited to take some time to learn that next year. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

The best advice I can give is to simply START. You can’t let fear or perfectionism get in the way. 

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your  business? 

There are a billion ways to run a healthy business and frankly we all have to figure out what works for us which can often be a messy process. But I kept my overhead pretty low for years and it wasn’t until I had a large team and a big overhead that I struggled financially. It’s a process that I needed to go through to learn what is best for me, but just know that bigger isn’t always better for creatives running a business. I spent the first 5-7 years of my career building my portfolio, proving the value of our work and working my ass off with the help from my team, so at this point we charge a lot for our time and services because we know the value of our work. But it takes years of figuring that out (and maybe you’ll do it a lot faster). 

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

I’m shifting more into the teaching and mentoring phase of my career. I don’t have the same lust for new marketing ideas that I did 8 years ago, but I do feel passionate about synthesizing what I’ve learned and passing it on – both in design and career. While I still blog about swimsuits and tanning lotion because it’s good for the business, my passion is still creating good design content. As soon as we are done with the farm I want to start working with my brother (an aspiring contractor) and do projects together and document them, with a more hands on approach. 

Becoming Cassidy Demkov

Please write a short, 3rd-person bio about yourself

Cassidy is an artist and surface pattern designer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. She enjoys designing intricate hand-drawn & painted floral patterns. Her art & patterns are inspired by her love of traveling,  flowers, animals and vintage things. Her love for art began at a very young age; from the moment she could pick up a crayon her grandma & family was always encouraging her creativity. 

Cassidy has always had a love for art & architecture. That love is what originally drew her into the interior design field for many years including a summer spent studying in Florence, Italy. Her favorite part was working with the textiles & home decor. Her passion for color and pattern made her dream of designing her own textiles. When she was given the opportunity to return to college for Visual Arts & Graphic Design she knew she had to pursue it. While she was finalizing her Visual Arts degree she accepted a temporary job to gain experience which led her to creating art & patterns for paper collections. This opportunity gave her a lot of experience designing patterns & paper products. However, she still wanted to design her own textiles so after 5 years she left to pursue her dream. 

Currently, Cassidy works as an illustrator & surface pattern designer and has designed multiple fabric collections currently licensed by Cloud9 Fabrics. She also licenses her designs to be used on a variety of products such as women’s clothing, baby products, pet accessories, stationery & gifts. In addition to this she has started a small but growing stationery line where she incorporates many of her patterns & illustrations. She hopes to expand this stationery line into including a variety of stationery & lifestyle products. Most recently she has been spending time developing more designs and patterns for wallpaper, home decor, pillows and fabric which she plans to put more focus on in the next few years.

What do you consider yourself ? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business  person, educator, etc.?

I would consider myself a few things including artist, textile designer and illustrator. 

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what  you do now?

Mostly in Salt Lake City, Utah but I did live in Texas for a period of time when I was a child. My grandma and family always encouraged my love for art and creativity. 

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

My love for animals made me want to be a veterinarian until I realized what that really involved. Then I had being an Interior Designer in my head for a long time. I remember even dreaming up how I would design my dolls’ houses and decorating my own bedroom. 

Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?

There are a lot of people who have been influential, including artists, designers and creatives I admire. I have also definitely had a lot of encouragement and support from friends and family to be able to do what I am doing now.  

What sparked your interest in art?

I remember my grandma always being so creative and really admiring her. Even her home decor and  garden always seemed very unique to me. The first piece of art that really caught my eye was “The Girl with a Watering Can” by Renoir. She had a print of it in her hallway that is now in my home. This interest grew over the years. Then, when I spent a summer in Florence and had the opportunity to see original works of art like Botticelli’s, the appreciation grew even more.

Years after that I have had some great opportunities to travel. My travels have always been focused on seeing historical architecture, museums &  gardens. This has had a huge influence on inspiring my creativity and design. Visiting so many beautiful villages, estates and gardens has influenced the design of my own home and garden.  

What inspired you to become a surface designer?

I was inspired to become a surface designer because it gave me a way to collaborate with other brands I admire. It also gave me the opportunity to see my artwork come to life on their products. Seeing a flat design come to life on fabric or a product that someone will use in their daily life is very rewarding. Anytime I am in a store I see products and instantly think of how I would design them or what patterns of mine would look good on them. I especially love designing fabric because I instantly get to see the way my designs inspire  another person’s creativity and all of the different things that are created with the fabric.  

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

I don’t necessarily have one individual piece, but I am proud of my stationery collection. It started out as a little side project to sell some of my designs on cards at a local shop, Salt & Honey Market. This little passion project quickly grew to become more than just a side project. 

I am also really proud of my recent fabric collection, Flora, because I was able to see so many of my floral patterns come together in one single project. This project took a lot of time and detail but overall it came together really well.

What is your design process like? Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

Anytime I am traveling or in my own garden I take tons of pictures of flowers. I save all of these images in folders so I have inspiration when I want to design a floral or other project. Sometimes I just go to my garden directly when the weather permits and I gain a lot of inspiration there. I spend time arranging bouquets or gardening which always inspires me to draw.

Then I sit down and sketch ideas. This is often ideas for future projects that I can easily reference. From these sketches I refine my ideas and patterns. After sketching, I trace over them to get a really crisp, detailed illustration. Depending on the style or detail of the project, I do additional layers with paint or more pencil drawings. From there I scan these drawings into Illustrator to create the final patterns. 

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?

I received a set of Beatrix Potter books when I was a child and I was always fascinated by all of the cute drawings in the stories. I loved her style and creativity. Recently I visited her home in the Lakes District of England where I learned more about her life. I have grown to appreciate her as a person just as much as her art. She used a great deal of her wealth from the sales of her books to preserve land in the area she lived.  

Other artists and styles of art I really love are many of the Dutch Masters florals and impressionist artists including Renoir, Van Gogh and Monet. I definitely hope to work on my fine art skills in the near future. I would love to be able to create some of my own floral masterpieces.  

As far as textile designers, a few I greatly admire are the hand-painted interiors of de Gourney, the botanical prints by Josef Frank and the design work of Dorothy Draper. 

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a  personal motto?

A few of my favorite quotes, which I have incorporated into my own work and life are: “Even the smallest one can change the world,” (Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter).

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful-that will be my life,” by Elsie de Wolfe.

How do your surroundings influence your work?

My surroundings have a great deal of influence on my work. I am much more creative in the months that  I am able to spend time outside in my garden and in nature. I think this is why I enjoy illustrating flowers so much. The little animals that live out in my garden have been featured in a quite a few of my designs because they inspire me. They make me smile every time I am gardening.  

What is a typical day like for you?

This varies a bit depending on the season. An ideal day is one where I am able to wake up and spend the early morning entertaining my pups and sitting in my backyard. When it is warm enough I like to spend the morning out there working and planning out my day. Once I have my tasks planned out for the day I get to work. This varies from day to day. I have days that are dedicated to my personal work projects and creative work.

Other days are focused more on client projects, my stationery brand sales, and packing/shipping products. I think a lot of people think being an artist means getting to just sit around drawing  flowers all day. But I do have to do a lot of other things like sales, packing/shipping, ordering products, restocking stores and even some accounting.

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

I don’t know that I have any secret talents, but I have a few skills I am working on and would like to focus more on in the future. One of these is floral arranging. Another is focusing more on some fine art skills such as oil painting. I would love to someday be able to create and paint florals like some of the Dutch Masters.  

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

I personally think that there are so many wonderful online classes available. Having a budget for taking online or in-person classes will always make you a better artist, even if the class isn’t necessarily directly related to what you do. I have found that even something like a gardening class can easily spark my creativity. I also think it is important to try out many different art styles and constantly learn new skills. Doing this has helped me find the things that I enjoy creating. It’s also helped me realize that even though some things inspire me, I don’t necessarily enjoy them myself. Another piece of advice is that  you won’t be great at anything without continued work and practice. It takes a lot of experimenting to develop a skill. 

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?

This one is really tough because what is available or works for one person doesn’t always work for another.  However, I can say that if you really want to pursue your dream, you have to be willing to work for it. You also have to do the research. It requires a lot of trial and error. Another piece of advice I have for new artists is that you cannot expect to be successful immediately. It takes time to learn, grow and really refine your work. I highly recommend looking for jobs that will allow you to do this.

Once you are no longer growing or feeling fulfilled, it is time to move on from that and look for your next step or opportunity. This may even mean taking a step back financially so you can move forward. Leaving a full-time job to work for yourself means taking on so much more responsibility and sometimes even a pay cut. Personally, I’ve had to make some lifestyle changes because of this but my progress is worth it to me. I’ve been fortunate to have lots of support and understanding from friends and family. I have had to work much more than I did when I could just clock out and go home for the day.

Also, being willing to invest in yourself and business is big. You will see more growth by  doing so. Sometimes you have to work multiple jobs to help fund your dream. I actually started my stationery line to bring in a little extra income each month and now it has grown into a much larger portion. I have also had to do freelance jobs and pick up projects that I didn’t necessarily love. By working the extra hours and doing these things I have been able to continue working towards being able to pursue my own projects full-time.  

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

This is a hard question to answer because there are so many things I would love to become. Career-wise I would like to see myself focus more on my home decor and interior textile designs in the near future. I’d love that to become a larger part of what I do. It’s difficult because I originally had home textiles as my main focus but along the way I have found that I still have a passion for designing stationery products, clothing and other non-home decor related things. I hope that in some way I am able to balance all of the things that I enjoy designing and creating.  

What is your long-term goal? or What do you hope to accomplish within the next 10 years?

I’d love to have more opportunities to collaborate with more brands while I also grow my stationery and home decor lines into their own unique things. I hope to grow my business to a point where I don’t  have to “do it all” and I can focus more on the parts that I am most successful like the creative direction  and illustration. 

 

You can read more of our Becoming interviews here.

Becoming Olivia Herrick

Please write a short, 3rd-person bio about yourself.

Olivia Herrick is a graphic designer based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota,
best known for her playful, vibrant, and positive artwork. Though you will often find her glued to her computer at her studio, Olivia finds her greatest inspiration in the great outdoors.

What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?

I consider myself a graphic designer!

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?

I grew up in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Our house was adjacent to a bunch of wooded land and a pond, and we spent nearly every second of every day outdoors. It was so blissful. I have extremely fond memories of my childhood and it deeply impacted the way that I interact with nature today. My mom was an art director/graphic designer before becoming a stay-at-home parent, and her love of color and general aesthetic sensibilities also influenced me greatly.

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

By the time I was about 13/14 years old, I knew I wanted to be graphic designer! I got the bug pretty early. But before that I think I went through an interior decorator phase and also the quintessential veterinarian phase as well.

Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?

My parents. My mom was an art director/graphic designer and taught me from a very early age to see life through a creative lens. She’d point out beautiful colors or save type from magazines that she loved. My dad was an inventor and has an incredibly creative mind. Not in the same type of “technical” creative way that my mom is creative, but he really instilled this deep desire in me to think outside of the box and problem solve. I sometimes refer to myself as an “idea woman” and my dad is the original idea man. He is also one of the hardest workers I know and set a great example of what it means to give something your all.

What sparked your interest in art/design?

I went to a small school that placed a heavy emphasis on the arts, so from 5th to 12th grade I was exposed to a wide variety of mediums and spent a lot of time in choir, theater, photography, painting, drawing, ceramics – you name it. I came to have a deep love of the arts and expressing myself creatively.

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

One project that I am especially proud of is my upcoming children’s book and first word flashcards products – they are currently scheduled to release this fall! I made both for our daughter, and then worked with my publisher to bring them to a broader market, and they are just two pieces that I am extremely proud of and feel are quite personal to me given their origin story.

What is your design process like?

It really depends on the project–my work is different every day, which I love. I might be working on a visual branding project, or a brochure, or food packaging, or a product for retail. It keeps me on my toes! Almost everything starts with sketching of some sort, followed by an exploration of ideas. I try to get a wide variety of concepts out of my head and onto paper/the computer and then move into refinement.

Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

I try as hard as I can to stay off Pinterest and social media when looking for inspiration and really try to ground myself in the real world. I love the library, I love design books, I love clippings from magazines, old packaging.

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by a community of incredible artists – one perk of social media is being able to connect and build relationships with people that I have never even met in real life! Lately I have been especially fond of following artists in other disciplines – a current favorite is Madison Holler of @rubinskiworks, who does the most stunning beadwork.

What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?

The library is one of my favorite places in the entire world – I have 3–5 books checked out at all times! Right now I am reading The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck. TV-wise, I love easy-going shows. We just rewatched The Office and Parks and Rec. I have found that I don’t have a lot of emotional bandwidth for dramatic television anymore after becoming a parent! Music-wise, Ben Rector has a great new album out called The Joy of Music. I highly, highly recommend!

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was from my 11th grade history teacher. Her mom passed away and when she eventually came back to class she could tell that we all wanted to say something but didn’t really know where to start. She stood at the front of the classroom and told us that all you really have to say is “I’m sorry.” You can start small. But you should always find the courage to speak up, always find the courage to connect.

It has impacted my life in many ways – I think we all have moments where we want to reach out to someone / offer condolences / connect / check in, but we don’t really know what to say or how to say it, or if we should even say anything at all. But ever since that day in 11th grade I have made a point to always reach out. And I have never regretted it.

How do your surroundings influence your work?

I would consider myself someone who can work well almost anywhere! But I definitely feel the best in a relatively neat, simple space. I work out of my studio which is a small but mighty space a few miles from our home. It is perfect for what I need!

What is a typical day like for you?

Right now I am working from 8 AM – 2 PM each day – these are the hours we have childcare at the present moment! Motherhood has deeply impacted my ability to go with the flow over the past three years. I used to work from 7 AM – 4 PM every day. Now I get twice as much done in half the time. It’s incredible! I typically wake up at 6, journal and have coffee, spend time with my daughter, and then head to work.

At work I typically try to kick off the day with what I call my “daily design practice” – it’s a 5–20 minute creative warm-up prior to beginning client projects. I tackle emails, and then I generally try to have 2–3 major things I am focusing on each day. I try my best to pack my lunch (and about 100 snacks) each day as well, but am not always perfect when it comes to that! My productivity has really improved in the past year and I find that I am able to stay on task significantly more than I was able to in the past.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

Don’t be afraid of being terrible at first! It’s a journey, and it takes time. It’s going to take some blood, sweat, and tears, and creative pursuits are no different. I recently took up playing the piano for fun and it has been such a good reminder that improving at anything takes deliberate practice and a humble heart!

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

I play competitive amateur golf! It is a huge part of my life and something I have been doing for the past 20 years. I play around 8–10 tournaments annually on both a local and national level, and train with my coach year-round. It is such a wonderful sport and has had a profound impact on my life.

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?

Yes! I am a huge advocate for running lean. Prior to this year, I would outsource a fair amount of work to designers I hired, but it consistently left me feeling stressed and overwhelmed. In 2021 I decided to try something different and take on less work, charge a bit more, and do it all myself. I had my best year yet by every measurement, and was able to allocate those funds to hiring in other categories of my life (childcare, mental health, etc.)

Generally, I would also say do not be afraid to acknowledge that you want to make money. Do I love graphic design? Absolutely. Do I believe it is truly my calling in life? 100%. But… I am still running a business. I think that there is just a general expectation that women need to be led by their heart rather than a desire to generate revenue. In my experience both of those things can be true. Yes, I love my work. And yes, I want to make a living.

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

More at peace, more content, more grateful, and more present.

What is your long-term goal? or What do you hope to accomplish within the next 10 years?

I am someone who is hesitant to map out too many concrete dreams for the extended future, only because time and time again the most wonderful (and terrible!) things that have happened in my life and business have been way outside of anything that I could have ever imagined for myself. But I think I can safely say that in the next 10 years I hope to keep creating, to continue to solve visual problems for my clients, to say yes to new challenges, and to be a present, patient, and joyful wife, mother, and friend.

 

You can read more of our Becoming interviews here.

Photos by Clara Jones Photography

Female Author Booklist

Female Author Booklist

We’re excited to share this female author booklist with you! There are some amazing classics in here. While I haven’t read all the books on this list, I have read a few. The ones I haven’t read are highly recommended from multiple sources, which tells me they deserve to be named. We tried to pick a variety of books, ranging from older classics to more contemporary reads, and from a variety of genres. Hopefully there’s something for everyone here!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This book is the ultimate classic that every woman (and man!) should read. We need more books with strong, female protagonists. This is definitely a frontrunner in that category. Jane Austen is such a legend, we couldn’t leave her off this booklist.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Speaking of strong, female protagonists, Jo March is a role model for every young girl (and woman!). I grew up reading this, so maybe I’m biased, but I had to add it to our female author booklist. This is a beautiful book if you want to read a civil war era book about the struggles women faced written by a women. Louisa May Alcott’s perspective just can’t be paralleled by the male authors of her time.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This isn’t the first time this book has made it onto our blog. We LOVE Michelle Obama, and we LOVE her book. In fact, when we read her book for our book club, it inspired our entire becoming series. You can read the interviews in our becoming series here.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Another one of my all time favorite books, Jane Eyre is a moving story about a fiercely independent orphan and her journey to find freedom. I love the strength of women this book shows. And did I mention Charlotte Brontë? I mean, all three of the Brontë sisters are essentials to the category of strong, independent women. The fact that three female authors all came from one family at the time they did, historically, is a feat to be reckoned with.

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsberg

We couldn’t make this female author booklist without including RBG. I mean what. an. icon. I think she speaks for herself. The legacy she left behind is remarkable and we would all do well to take a leaf out of her book. Or at least read it.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Looking for greek mythology with a strong, female heroine? This is the picture of female empowerment. A 2018 New York Times bestseller, this book has proven itself. And dipping your toes into greek mythology is always a pleasure.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Joan Didion died in 2021, and what an iconic writer she was. This is a beautiful memoir that I haven’t read yet but is 100% on my list! It delves into the year following her husband’s death and how she had to deal with her daughter’s health issues in addition to her own. Just reading the summary feels powerful, so imagine getting to read every word from the source itself.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another book I haven’t read yet but that definitely piqued my interest! This one delves into the sexual abuse facing fertile women in near-future New England.

The XX Brain by Lisa Mosconi

This is the perfect book to help you understand your brain and body as you age. It contains groundbreaking research on women’s health and how our hormones affect brain and body well-being as we age. More importantly, what we can do about it.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Nigerian writer Adiche explores women in relationships in a series of powerful short stories. It doesn’t take very many pages to write something impactful when you write like Adiche.

Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson

This is a must read (really, any of hers can’t go wrong). They’re definitely on my list! Arguably America’s greatest living literary author, Robinson has won nearly every major literary prize, including the Pulitzer. Her novels explore the human condition, faith, and the origins of our modern discontents.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer

New York Times bestselling historical novel about a group of people on the Isle of Guernsey under German occupation and how books connected them and gave them hope during a time of darkness. And that movie?! I mean, come on.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a classic sci-fi novel set on a planet where every person is gender-neutral and the implications of how that plays out in society.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates

We had to include Melinda Gates on our booklist. This book is an eye-opening memoir that explores, among other things, the horrors and hardships experienced by women worldwide, and the ripple effects when efforts to eliminate poverty focus on lifting women.

A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Ever seen Call the Midwife? I’m the first to admit I’ve watched every episode. Well A Midwife’s Tale is also a diary, this time of a female medical practitioner and ancestor of Clara Barton. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is thoughtful and intentional in her research and explorations of the diary. The information she exposes throw open a window into the life of an 18th century woman and the society she lived and worked in. 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

National Book Award Finalist, the story centers on a Korean woman in Japan. It’s also soon to be made a film!

More Inspiration

Looking for more books to read? Here’s a list of books and media by black creatives. Here’s a list of a few more book recommendations we made a few years ago, too! Interested in what we’ve read for book club? Here are the posts.

 

Becoming Nina Cosford

Please write a short, 3rd-person bio about yourself

Nina Cosford is a freelance illustrator based in the seaside town of Hastings, UK. Her work centres around storytelling and capturing the woes and wonders, ups and downs of everyday life – particularly themes experienced by women. She loves to travel whenever possible and never goes anywhere without her sketchbook!
Nina Cosford illustating

What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?

Overall, I’d refer to myself as a creative. Professionally, I’m an illustrator.

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?

I grew up in a small Surrey town, about an hour away from London. My bedroom window looked out onto the North Downs – chalky cliffs and wooded hills – which I would draw countless times in all seasons. I was lucky to live in a place with lots of history, pretty architecture and stunning natural landscapes. It really got me looking at places and people from a young age and encouraged me to document my surroundings through observational drawing and imaginative writing. I think that urge to document and respond has stayed with me ever since, both as a person and as a creative professional.

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

Ha! A lot of things over the years…an Egyptologist, a detective constable, an astronaut. Funnily enough, I don’t recall ever setting out to be an artist or work in the creative industry – it just gradually happened as my life went on.
Nina Cosford illustration

Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?

Lots of people! But I guess a lot of things can start from home. My dad is a freelance commercial artist so I grew up observing how he worked and how seriously he took his craft. I think that inspired me to see the arts in a more legitimate light unlike many other young people who can – sadly – often be discouraged from pursuing a creative career. I just thought “of course you can draw for a living” because that’s what I could see and thought it could be as normal as any other job. Whilst I wasn’t actively guided into being a commercial artist, I wasn’t discouraged. I felt a sense of unconditional trust and support from my family which I was fortunate to have. This gave me the space and confidence to make my own choices.

What sparked your interest in illustration?

I’ve drawn for as long as I’ve been able to hold a pen. I have an inherent need to observe, record and respond to the world around me. I find that illustration is such an effective and powerful way to capture a moment, idea, message or feeling.
Nina Cosford illustration
Nina Cosford illustration

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

Back in 2019, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to create and self-publish a book about the Trans-Siberian Railway. I was amazed and touched at how much support and encouragement I got. It really was the trip of a lifetime travelling from Moscow to Beijing by train, through the stunning landscapes of Siberia and Mongolia. I felt so happy and lucky to be able to do something so epic and turn it into work as well.

Nina Cosford book

Another “pinch me” moment was last year when I first saw and held the sketchbook I’d designed! After years of using sketchbooks (my favourite stage of the creative process) and endlessly searching for one that ticked all the boxes for me, I decided to take a leap of faith and design my own. It’s feels pretty surreal to be making work in a product I’ve 100% designed myself and to see lots of other people using it too! It’s something I’m super proud of.

Nina Cosford sketchbook

Nina Cosford sketchbook

What is your illustrative process like?

Generally, I start a project by studying the brief, researching the client I’m working with, and considering the audience and context the work is going to be made for. Once I have all this information, I think up different ways of approaching the brief. That means trying out different elements, compositions, angles, colour schemes etc. Once the client is happy with an approach, I crack on with mocking up finals or jumping straight into the final execution. Sometimes I do a piece early on which I end up preferring to overworked pieces later made, and try to retain or revert back to the energy and feeling of the earlier works, if that’s working better.

Nina Cosford illustrating

With self-initiated work, I generate work far more spontaneously and particularly like to work when I’m on the move or between jobs. When I start working on something, I often begin by making lots of scribbles and notes which turn into tiny roughs. I play around with different composition options until I develop the one I think is best, which I then scale up to a bigger rough. Next, I either trace this to make the final piece from, using a mix of brush pen markers and coloured pencil (if I am working physically) or I make the final artwork on my iPad (using ProCreate and the Apple Pencil).

Sometimes I just photograph the finished (physical) drawing on my phone and share it straight away, other times I scan it in and tweak it on the computer; it depends on what the piece is for and how refined it needs to be. I do enjoy the immediacy of uploading a piece I’ve just drawn – straight from my sketchbook – as it still feels fresh and raw and not too overworked. I also quite like having more than one project on the go (whether another commission or a self-initiated project) as it breaks up my schedule and bit and keeps it all feeling a little fresher.

Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

It’s always hard to pinpoint an answer to this question. It sounds cheesy, but I try to be inspired by (almost) everything or at least have an interest in most things. The best inspiration can be found in the most unusual or unexpected places. As much as I admire the work of other illustrators / artists, I find it’s best not to look too closely or too often as this doesn’t always give me confidence – comparison is not a good habit!

Instead, I love going to museums, browsing Pinterest where I have dozens of specifically themed boards, listening to film scores, going for walks outside, looking at buildings, rearranging my shelves and making displays, sitting in coffee shops, people-watching, journalling and travelling as much as I can. These habits help to refresh my head and eyeballs and allow me to step outside of myself.

Nina Cosford sketchbook

Nina Cosford illustrations

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?

It’s easy to get into a funk, especially when your job relies on being inspired, motivated, creative and productive like ALL the time (and there’s only one of you!). I think it’s really important to identify when it’s time to take a break and when it’s time to “just get on with it” (that motto helps me get through a lot!).

Nina Cosford quote

How do your surroundings influence your work?

Over the pandemic, particularly during the lockdowns, I was mainly working from home and, whilst I was fortunate to be able to do that, it wasn’t my ideal working environment. I found myself getting so easily distracted and that line between home mode and work mode became blurrier and blurrier. Instead, I love going into my studio to work (which is in a shared building in town, a 10 minute walk from my home).

I really appreciate having my own space, playing whatever music I’m in the mood for and cracking on with tasks at my big desk with my ergonomic chair (cannot stress how important a decent chair is!). My room is full of all my art materials, inspirational books, my drawing archives, a comfy armchair to read in and all sorts of weird and wonderful trinkets I’ve collected over the years. It totally feels like my own space.

Nina Cosford materials

What is a typical day like for you?

Being freelance, each day is often different which keeps things varied and interesting. But I also like patterns and routine, so I try to implement these where I can, however unpredictable work can be. The day usually starts a little on the slow side; sitting still with a cup of coffee or tea and making a to do list in my sketchbook. I often doodle the date or a title which helps to warm up my hands / creativity (and can be a useful form of procrastination too ha!).

It totally depends on my schedule and what projects I have on, but I try to tackle the more administrative (or boring) tasks first, and then spend the afternoon drawing or putting stuff together (the more creative aspects of my job). There’s so much more backend stuff that goes into being a self-employed illustrator! Research, time and project management, admin, negotiating contracts, managing my accounts, self-promotion etc etc etc! Drawing is just the fun bit on top

I’m a keen walker and love being outdoors so appreciate the walk to work (I have a studio away from home). I find fresh air and visual stimulation really important for my eyes and head and like to be able to ease in and out of work mode. Walking always helps!

Nina Cosford illustration

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

Over lockdown, I taught myself to needle punch. It was challenging and frustrating at times but eventually I got the hang of it and ended up really enjoying it! I think it’s super important to channel one’s creativity in more than one way. Our jobs don’t have to define us and I believe everyone is creative – they just need to find their outlet. To self-teach, I used YouTube tutorials (it’s amazing how many resources there are on the internet), books, blogs and some advice from people and friends who had also tried it before. Don’t be afraid to ask others. Just give it a go!

Nina Cosford illustration

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

I make video game music! I’ve played piano since childhood and studied music technology at college. I regularly compose and practice on my Nord keyboard as I don’t want to forget how to play. A few years ago, when my partner Ali asked me to make a 16-bit style, retro-inspired soundtrack for the video game he was making, I jumped at the chance!

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, see what your peers are charging and how they generally manage things, keep all your receipts, have a separate business account to keep everything tidy, try your best to live and spend within your means and learn to recognise when you can / should invest back into your business.

What is your long-term goal?

I’ve never been great at setting goals (long term or short term). I barely know what I’m doing next week! Saying that, I think it’s super important to keep stepping back from your work / life / self to acknowledge where you’re at, what you’ve achieved and where you’re headed. I like to do this through journalling and book in little “catch-up dates” with myself every couple of months. When it comes to looking toward the future, for me it can just be a vague outline or a feeling of what I think I want. And I guess that is to always pursue a creative life – not just through my illustration work but in how I live, my relationships with others, with nature and with the world.

What Iris Apfel Can Teach Us

Iris Apfel June Book Club Artwork

Who Is Iris Apfel?

Iris Apfel is one of the most iconic women in the history of fashion. This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned her! Here’s another post where we share some of our musings about Iris. Self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet,” Iris Apfel started as an interior designer with an innate interest in fashion. She really became known when her noteworthy wardrobe made its way into an exhibition at the Met. From there, her career as a fashion icon blossomed.

She didn’t stop there! At age 98, she signed a modeling contract with IMG, blowing all former female model stereotypes out of the water. She even came out with her own sunglasses line a few days before her 100th birthday! From interior design, to transforming the definition of modeling, to her eclectic and show-stopping style, to simply living a full life, Iris Apfel can teach us so much.

Embracing Maximalism in an Age of Minimalism

We are living in an age of minimalism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always against minimalism. When done correctly it can be lovely. The problem is that it’s become an overwhelming default that squashes so many opportunities for creative expression. If you’re interested more of my thoughts on neutrals and default colors, read this post. Anyway, I’m not here today to focus on minimalism. I’m here to talk about Iris Apfel, who is an example of totally owning gorgeous maximalism. Iris Apfel can teach us so. much. Here’s how she can help us embrace maximalism when minimalism is so overwhelmingly present.

What Iris Apfel Can Teach Us

Don’t Fear Patterns and Colors!

I remember buying clothes with my mom as a kid. She’d always offer up the same advice: “pick something that will go with everything!” There’s a myth that’s been circulating for many years that neutral solids match better than colors and patterns. My mom’s not alone. Many people stick almost solely to neutrals, not because they don’t like color or pattern, but because they feel intimidated. Which is totally understandable! Neutrals are, admittedly, easy.

But are they satisfying? Iris Apfel sure shows us that there are many, many examples of bold color and pattern combinations that look exquisite together. They’re less common because it’s intimidating to jump into so much color and pattern, but maybe that’s what makes them so wonderful. So to those wanting to incorporate more patterns and colors into their lives but feeling intimidated, remember that Iris would tell you to go for it! You can do it, just be confident in those bold choices and don’t let others dissuade you. As Iris would say, “When you don’t dress like everyone else then you don’t have to think like everyone else.”

The Bolder the Better

Speaking of bold choices, is anything every really too much for Iris Apfel? Probably not. She teaches us that, rather than airing on the side of caution when it comes to your wardrobe, go big or go home! She would probably put it just that candidly, too.

She’s the perfect example of really diving into colors and patterns and showing us that bolder really is better, in her case. After all, she did say, “color can raise the dead.” When you own bold patterns and colors like Iris Apfel, they are striking, completely show-stopping, and do much more than any combination of neutrals could to. So be all in! The key is to be decisive and intentional. A half-hearted effort just doesn’t produce the Iris Apfel effect.

Mix and Match!

Another one of my mom’s common statements was something along the lines of “don’t wear multiple patterns together, they don’t go.” Well Iris Apfel would most likely say the exact opposite: Why opt for a neutral that goes with everything when you can go for a wild, wacky combo? And who says multiple patterns can’t compliment each other exquisitely?

Rather than always going for black because it will match everything in your wardrobe, try branching out. Unlikely combinations can sometimes be best.

Speaking of unlikely combinations, don’t fear mixing high and low fashions. Iris Apfel was famous for shamelessly mixing designer brands with flea market finds, and patterns, colors and textures of all different eras. The eclectic mix became her signature, and she knowingly broke all rules and conventions. Isn’t the saying something like “learn the rules so you can break them?”

Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize

Don’t let me finish out this list of what Iris Apfel can teach us without including accessories. Iris’s iconic glasses, boas, and bold bangles with forever be remembered. Nothing is too thick, chunky, or big for her. Accessories can do wonders for an outfit that feels like it needs a little something to be complete.

And again, Iris Apfel audaciously merged antiquity with modernity with striking success.

Dress for Yourself, Not to be Stared At

Above all, fashion is and should be very personal. It’s all about you, or it should be. As Iris says, “I don’t dress to be stared at, I dress for myself.” Iris has us convinced that fashion should be fun, and it’s the most fun when it feels true to YOU. Ultimately, “The important thing is to be comfortable so you can get on with your life.”

In the Shop

If you’re looking for something to remind you of Iris Apfel, check out our shop! Nothing helps with inspiration like seeing Iris Apfel’s face every time you open your book and see this bookmark. Or looking up at the wall by your desk and seeing this print! If you’re wanting to prep for the holiday season early this year, we’d recommend this Iris Apfel ornament.

More Inspiration

Loved this post on what Iris Apfel can teach us and want to be inspired by other amazing women? Check out our Becoming series, where we highlight female creatives and how they became who they are! You can also be inspired by these in the mood for posts, where we draw style and design inspiration from artists, creatives, and things we love throughout history.

One last note before you go: Iris Apfel has collaborated with H&M to release a new collection this spring 2022–STAY TUNED! I’m positive we’ll have more to say where that came from.

 

 

 

 

Becoming Jennifer Tran

Meet Jennifer Tran

Jennifer Tran is an artist and the founder of Papetal. She is best known for her
work with paper flowers, which is encapsulated in her book Flowersmith, A guide to
handcrafting and arranging enchanting paper flowers. After years of collaborating
with fashion clients, (e.g. Hermes, Gucci, Daniel Wellington, Anthropologie etc.), she
took a break from the flower world to explore new mediums. In 2021 and completely
by chance, she stumbled across pasta making and discovered the limitless
possibilities of flour, water and salt. Jennifer Tran’s pasta is the expression of her
love for colours, textures and forms; and is the culmination of her experiences in
flower making, botanical illustration and painting. Her pasta designs are like her
flowers; enchanting, whimsical, playful and most of all, imaginative.

pink and green checkerboard

 

 

What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator,
maker, business person, educator, etc.?

I’m a maker of all things practical and accessible. I enjoy designing and making
pretty things that everyone can appreciate, make and enjoy. With pasta, the
materials that I use can be found anywhere. And I pass on the techniques on
Instagram, so that everyone can have a go as well.

purple, green and orange pasta

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have
influenced what you do now?

I grew up in Hanoi, in an artistic family. My father was an actor, who loved taking me
to all his events. If he was shooting a movie, I would be sitting behind the cameras
pretending to direct. If he was performing on stage, I would be sitting backstage
chatting up with his crew. I grew up in a world filled with colours, lights, cameras and
actions. I performed quite a bit as a kid and had always wanted to be performer with
an audience as big as my father’s.

When I came to Australia at age 19, the dream of being a performer did not
eventuate as English was a struggle. So I turned to visual arts as another form of
expression. I was trained as a sculptor & installation artist at The University of New
South Wales, with an Honours first class. I used light as a sculptural medium and
produced mainly light installations, which worked out very well for me, academically.
But I had very limited audience because what I used to make could only be
appreciated in a gallery context. After graduating, I had a change in artistic direction;
I wanted to create for everyone and not just the selected few. With this goal in mind,
I turned to other mediums that were more accessible such as paper, and now flour,
water & salt. And I sought a bigger audience through social media.

patterned pasta

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

My book, Flowersmith, which I had put a lot of work and a lot of love in. I wrote the
manuscript, made the flowers and took all the photos myself, within 3 months. During
that time, I slept for about 3-5 hours a day, struggled to eat due to stress but did not
miss a single deadline. I went at it with the strength and the spirit that I had never
seen in myself before. I am proud of the commitment and the determination that I
had displayed during the production of my book.

pink and black pasta

Your recent work with pasta is blowing us away! Can you tell us more about
it, and how you transitioned from working with paper to pasta?

It was unplanned. During Sydney’s 16 week lockdown in 2021, I wanted to make a
care package to send to my family as I couldn’t see them. While I was looking for
ideas, I saw my friend’s beetroot ravioli on Instagram. I was so surprised as I had
never seen red pasta before. I wondered what other colours of pasta there were, so I
started searching. One thing led to another, I began to experiment with my own
recipes, and was so surprised by the similarities between paper and pasta. In my
book Flowersmith, I showed readers how to use turmeric and paprika to make
pollen. In pasta making, I am able to use these spices, along with a number of
superfoods to colour my dough. Besides materials, I have been using the same
design principles in both my flower making and pasta making. When you scroll
through my Instagram, you’ll see the common threads in colours and compositions.

 

flower pastapurple striped pasta with flowers

Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

I find inspiration in textiles and fashion design. I actually got the idea of making plaid
pasta from a friend who teaches fashion design. He commented on the similarities
between one of my earlier experiments with patterns from the 70s. So I started
looking into textiles and have been able to apply some of what I’ve learnt into pasta
making.

red, yellow, green and pink pasta

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?

I look up to Benja Harney of Paperform, for his inventiveness, skills and style. I also
admire the designs of Beci Orpin and Alice Oehr.

What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?

Definitely live music, or what to expect of it in 2022. I love heavy metal but missed
out on both Iron Maiden and Metallica’s concerts during the pandemic, so I look
forward to their return to touring, hopefully in the near future. I will also be going to as
many live concerts as I possibly can.

circle pasta

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it
from? Do you have a personal motto?

“Making art makes art” is a piece of advice from my mentor at University, which I
have carried with me throughout my professional career. It’s a reminder that while it’s
important to dream up new ideas in my head, I need to physically interact with my
materials, cutting, moulding, mixing, joining and shaping them. For instance, with
pasta, it’s through various experimentations with superfoods that I discovered new
colour mixtures; colours that I wouldn’t be able to see just by thinking about them.

How do your surroundings influence your work?

My partner is a valuator and my closest friends are scientists. They’ve taught me
how to approach both art making and problem solving methodically. For instance,
when I was writing my book, I had a bit of struggles with Dahlia. So I dissected a real
flower to examine the layers and how each petals were joint. It was this scientific
approach that allowed me to create my perfect dahlia at the time.

purple pastapurple pasta circles

What is a typical day like for you?

I have a day job in research infrastructure, so I have my 9-5 like most people. Before
I start work each day, I would spend about an hour sketching up new pasta making
ideas in my diary. I only get to make stuff on Sundays. On those days, I wake up at
5:30am, jump into my water rower, shower then breakfast with a piece of cake and
Vietnamese coffee. After loading myself up with sugar, I would go right into preparing
pasta dough, which usually takes me through to lunch. Then the rest of the day is
just playing with colours and patterns. I try to finish cleaning up by 6pm, so I can
spend the rest of Sunday with my partner.

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

I haven’t discovered my secret talent yet. The one skill that I’m working on is speed.
As my pasta designs are consisted of multiple layers, which dry out very quickly
when exposed to the air. If I don’t work fast enough, the whole design would dry out

and all the time and materials would be wasted. I’m okay with wasting time but feel
quite guilty when I have to dispose of pasta dough. So my goal is to practice and
practice until I work faster than the speed of my pasta drying.

patterned pasta

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing
your business?

Be on top of your expenses. When I was running my flower making business, I kept
an Excel spreadsheet for everything, so I knew how much I had spent, how much I
needed to put aside for tax, how much to reinvest in the business and how much I
could put away for that dream holiday etc. Knowing my expenses kept me out of
debt, and allowed me to price my work correctly.

pink and black stripe

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

I just want to learn to take it easy and stop being stressed out about the little things.

What is your long-term goal? or What do you hope to accomplish within the
next 10 years?

I don’t have a 10 year plan for my creative life, I only take things as they come.

Becoming Hallie Bateman

Meet Hallie Bateman

Hallie Bateman is a 32-year-old writer and illustrator. She is the author of 3 books, Brave New Work (MoMA, 2016), What To Do When I’m Gone (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Directions (Workman, 2021). She and her husband Jack have a dog named Spinelli.

comic illustration in four panels of a couple hugging and talking. In the first panel they say "I love you" and "I love you so much." The second panel has them looking happy and surprised. The third panel has one person saying "wait-" and in the fourth panel one figure says "are we old enough to get married?!"

What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?

The term I use most is “artist” because it feels most freeing. But I also say “illustwriter” sometimes because it’s silly and accurate. 

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?

I grew up on a mountain outside a former gold rush town in Northern California called Sonora. Most people haven’t heard of it unless they went gold panning there on a field trip in 3rd grade.

Growing up on a mountain really rewarded creativity. There weren’t any other kids around, so my brothers and I had to make our own fun. For me, making art was how I played. I wrote, drew, took photos and made movies. My brother and I invented languages and drew comics together. 

I still think making art is the most fun way to spend time. It still feels like play. 

A painting of a moth dancing under a spotlight.

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

I wanted to be a veterinarian for my whole childhood. We had lots of animals (llamas, pigs, emus) and I was obsessed with them. I drew, photographed and wrote about them. But I didn’t enjoy math or science in school, so the veterinarian dream faded. 

I was pretty uncertain about what I wanted to be until my junior year of college, when I started drawing more and I realized illustration was a career I could pursue. I’d never known any professional artists so this felt like a wild realization to me at the time. 

painting of a woman sitting on a bench in a museum.

Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?

Lynda Barry is my north star. I discovered her work around the time I realized I wanted to make comics. Her work totally opened my eyes to what was possible with comics. 

Three panel comic celebrating Lynda Barry

The rawness of her work is part of what makes it so powerful. Seeing that made me realize there weren’t any rules, I didn’t need to go to art school to be an artist, and the imperfections in my work could be part of its power. 

ink illustration of a man crawling through the desert saying "paper..."

What inspired you to become an artist?

Even though I didn’t realize I wanted to be an artist until college, looking back, I’ve always been an artist. It doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s who I am. I care about making art more than almost anything else, so I’m going to try to make art for the rest of my life. 

illustration of a person pushing up their sleeves at a table in front of an empty book. It's in blue, and there's text that reads "I don't know what I'm going to write. I don't need to know. Right now I'm just rolling up my sleeves."

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

I’m proud of the book I made with my mom, What To Do When I’m Gone. It feels like an unbelievable triumph to have collaborated with my mom the way we did. And we’ve gotten so many messages from so many readers who said the book touched them deeply. So I feel especially proud of that. To have chipped away at human suffering a bit.

Photo of a book, What to Do When I'm Gone, on a white background

Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

I don’t have to look too hard. It usually comes down to just paying attention. A few months ago I was sitting in a hammock in my backyard, and I heard a rustling noise. I looked around and spotted a baby mouse on the ground nearby. He was barely breathing. In his little hand was a bougainvillea flower. 

I lost my mind trying to figure out how to help him. I paced the house, googled furiously, but couldn’t figure out how to help or what to do. I sobbed uncontrollably until my husband came home and consoled me. We decided to place the mouse somewhere his mom might find him. I’m almost positive he died, but we couldn’t admit that to ourselves at the time. 

Later, I drew the mouse. I had to. 

That’s usually how it works. 

painting of a mouse holding a bougainvillea flower in a gloved human hand.

How do you make social connections in the creative realm?

Again, paying attention! I pay attention to who’s around me, both in virtual and physical spaces. Being an artist is pretty great for making friends, because people are expressing themselves. It feels easier to find friends. Everyone has their little beacon shining. 

Illustration of people and a dog walking in paths across a white background. There are red, white, and blue lines trailing behind each of them. Text in the middle reads "It's a miracle we ever met."

What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?

Books: I’m currently reading Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book Dead Man Walking. It’s about her experience as a spiritual advisor to men on death row. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking. I’m trying to learn more about the criminal justice system in this country. 

Movies: I recently saw The Parking Lot Movie and have been telling everyone to watch it. 

Shows: My husband and I are pretty deep into the Up series right now. It’s a British documentary series begun in 1964. The filmmakers follow 10 men and 4 women through their lives, beginning when they’re just 7 years old and checking in with them every 7 years. Right now, the subjects are in their 60s. It’s a mindblowing work of art and I can’t believe it exists. In addition to giving me so much to think about for my own life, it’s given me a deeper understanding of my parents’ generation. 

Music: I’m really into Green-House these days. I put it on when I’m drawing or writing and just get in the zone. It’s so soothing and beautiful. 

Painting of a person jumping on a trampoline in a green backyard

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?

My cartoonist pal Corinne Mucha gave me amazing business advice years ago. She said she judges a job by asking herself the following questions: 

  • Will it be fun? 
  • Does it pay well? 
  • Will it advance my career? 

If it’s all three, take it. If it’s two out of three, take it. If it’s only one, turn it down. 

Black and white ink painting of three figures standing on a hill and singing to the moon

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?

My advice would be to really treat it like a business. If you’re like me, that won’t come naturally to you. So ask for all the help you need. 

I am fortunate that my older brother Ben pulled me aside in my mid-twenties and very politely told me to get my shit together. And offered to help me do that. At the time, I didn’t treat art like work. I had no boundaries. I planned poorly and pulled all-nighters frequently. I was underpaid and overworked and still treating my job like it was a fluke, and I’d be found out any day. So I hadn’t figured out a lot of logistics. 

Ben taught me how to ask for more money, how to organize my finances and to value my own time. He taught me to quote clients accurately. If something was going to take me 8 hours, shouldn’t I be paid more than if it would only take me 3? He taught me how to keep a schedule and (mostly) stick to it. 

Since his intervention, I’ve been a lot happier. I still call him frequently with questions. I’ve always been bummed about not having an artist mentor, but I think most artists need business mentors more, anyway. Someone needs to show us how to make money. 

a pink piece of paper with the following written in ink: directions when it's good, try, try to enjoy it. Things are allowed to be good.

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

Although it kinda terrifies me, I want to become a parent. I hope that’ll happen in the next few years. 

painting of a car moving down a dark forest road with bright yellow headlights beaming ahead.

What is your long-term goal?

This is a hard question for me to answer right now. For years I’ve obsessed about the future and forced myself to set big, scary, ambitious goals. I’ve pushed myself to run towards what scares me creatively and professionally.  

The pandemic has shaken some of that drive out of me. My art is too busy being my coping mechanism for me to ask much more of it. 

Plus, I’m a little sick of striving, of never being satisfied with anything because a bigger goal always falls into place. Recently I had to admit I’m currently living the dream my former self worked really hard to make real, and it’s incredible. I work with brilliant people, doing work I truly enjoy doing. I am alive. I am married to someone I adore. We have a cute dog. For once, I’m not planning and plotting. 

I want to give this moment its due by actually experiencing it. 

an ink painting of someone sitting on another person's shoulders picking a grapefruit on a sidewalk

Find Hallie Online

You can find more of Hallie Bateman’s work on her website and on her Instagram @hallithbates. Don’t forget to check out her books Brave New WorkWhat to Do When I’m Gone, Love Voltaire Us Apart, and Directions, as well as other writings.

You can read about more inspiring artists in our Becoming series. If you’re especially interested in reading about artists, check out our interviews of Michelle Franzoni Thorley, Rachel Kiser Smith, Tricia Paoluccio, Lynne Millar, Julie Marabelle, and more!

all images included in this article are courtesy of Hallie Bateman.

Becoming Katie Kortman

Katie Kortman wearing bright prink and blue pands and a blouse standing by the ocean.

Meet Katie Kortman

Katie Kortman is a fashion designer, fabric designer, painter, teacher and dancing queen. She creates abstract paintings which she turns into fabric, sews into fabulous clothes, and then dances in them around her living room (and now sells them!). She is originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, but currently resides with her husband and 4 children in Japan. Katie is one of 16 designers competing on Season 19 of Project Runway. 

Editorial photo of women modeling Katie Kortman's vibrant designs.

What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?

I consider myself an artist who loved fashion so much that she became a Fashion ARTIST! I guess at this point I’m a designer. My careers and creative avenues have changed and morphed over the years from Fine Artist to teacher, but I guess now I’m a designer! 

Katie wears a pink, red, green, and cream dress with red clogs. She's standing with her arms raised to demonstrate the dress bodice and sleeve flowiness.

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?

I grew up in South Florida and attended a school for the arts from 7th to 12th grade. I got to be immersed in that creative environment during my formative years and it showed me that I am most happy when I am creating. I couldn’t have pursued any other path than a creative one. My mom always told me I could do “anything I put my mind to” and I think that has been in my subconscious all these years. I truly believe I can do anything if I work hard enough! 

Katie Kortman modeling one of her outfits: a vibrant pink overjacket and pink and green pants.

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

I dreamt of being a fashion designer, product designer, or graphic designer. When I got to college though…. I studied PAINTING! 

Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path? 

I think the fact that my husband is in the Navy and we move every 1-3 years has caused me to constantly change what I do. If we’d lived a normal live-in-one-place life, I would probably still be a high school art teacher, because I really loved that! I like that living all over the world has caused me to try different things out and evolve so much.

A collaged photo of Katie in three different eclectic outfits with a painterly, bold background.

What sparked your interest in fashion? 

I subscribed to every teen fashion magazine in high school and ripped out ads for all my favorite colorful playful ads to inspire me. Over the years I found that the stores didn’t have quite what I wanted…Not enough color, not enough fun! So… I started sewing my own clothes. 

Katie Kortman modeling a vibrant dress and holding fabric plants in front of a pink wall

What are three words to describe your style?

Bright, Bold, Playful. 

A woman models a dress next to a red building. The dress is pink with large abstract shapes in magenta, blue, cobalt, and bright green.

What is your educational background and how has it shaped or changed your current career?

I have a BFA degree in Drawing in Painting and a Master of Arts in teaching. I spent years studying color, and all the elements and principles of design. All of my art studying and training definitely influenced my entire career path! 

Katie works on a yellow jacket while standing by a dress model. Katie's wearing a pink, red, yellow, and green colorful dress.

Have you ever made a big career switch? If so, what prompted that? Are there aspects of a prior career that you incorporate into what you do now?

My main job has been my kids since I had my first 12 years ago, and I’ve had a bunch of different jobs while doing that! I was a display artist for Anthropologie straight out of my undergrad, sold paintings in art galleries, got a masters and taught high school art, owned my own hair accessories business, taught paint and sip classes out of my home while living in Bahrain, taught high school art again, became a fabric designer, and recently became a fashion designer! It’s been an evolution for sure. 

Editorial photo of women modeling Katie Kortman's vibrant designs.

What inspired you to become a fashion designer?

After years of sewing, and 3 years of exclusively sewing my own clothes, I went on Project Runway. In my youth I’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, but I hadn’t spoken that dream out loud in a very long time because I never thought It could happen without a fashion degree. After filming the show this summer, I was completely driven to pursue fashion, not just for myself.  I came home and immediately began working to get a line ready to launch in the fall! 

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

Just going on Project Runway. It was a DREAM come true!!!!

Katie stands by a dress model working on a green blazer design.

Where do you find inspiration for new creations? 

They come as I work. I pull out fabrics and play with them as I sew, seeing what they want to become. 

How do you make social connections in the creative realm?

I joined Instagram purely to connect to other creatives and to have conversations about the things I was making. I appreciate having that platform for this reason! 

Editorial photo of women modeling Katie Kortman's vibrant designs.

How has social media influenced your work?

If it weren’t for social media, I wouldn’t have ever been “discovered,” and therefore been compelled to learn fabric design, and the casting people for PR wouldn’t have reached out to me to try out for the show! I owe so much to social media! 

Katie on a beach wearing a pink and blue bathing suit she designed. It has two pieces, and the top is a 3/4 length sleeve tankini. The bottom is high waisted.

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?

Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, and Matthew Ritchie are some of my favorite artists, and I really admire Rachel Burke of @Imakestagram, Michelle Norris of @tropicophoto, and so many others.

What books, movies, shows, or music are making you excited these days?

Project Runway season 19 of course!!!!!!!! And I am part of a book club so we read all different things which I love. I would stick to similar types of books if it weren’t for book clubs that pushed me to read something else! And I love hip-hop music the very most, but when I need to get pumped up I often put on Electric Light Orchestra, Queen, or the Beatles (music my dad raised me on!). 

A model wears Katie's pink overjacket with a yellow top underneath and white pants with colorful details. The backdrop is pink with yellow and pink rectangles.

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?

My mom told me “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And I have carried that with me my whole life. It is so ingrained in my mind, that I have never even questioned that advice! There have been a few things in my life that I couldn’t MAKE happen just because I tried hard though, and that was very frustrating! Haha. 

What is your workspace like? Has it changed at all since the beginning of the pandemic last year? 

I have a nice open studio space in my home, right off the living room and kitchen. I like to be able to work while also spending time with my family, so I always keep my space in a central locale. My creative space changes every time I move, and during the pandemic I moved a crossed the world to Japan. In my current space I have these pretty Shoji doors that let in translucent light, and I love them! I love my room to be neat and tidy, but when I’m knee-deep in projects it’s rarely that way!

Katie Kortman and her kids sit around a sewing machine and work on a project.

How do your surroundings influence your work?

My surroundings influence me only in how inspired I feel to create. Most of my inspiration comes from within, so I can be creative anywhere. But having a lot of natural light and space is really important for me to feel energized to create! 

Describe some habits that keep you motivated and productive. How do you climb out of a creative slump?

I love routines and I hate wasting time. I always have projects out and ready to be worked on, so that if a moment presents itself I can work on something. I usually have “to-go” projects ready, sewing projects, and phone projects. So you might catch me at a girl’s night sewing on buttons, at swim practice cutting out patterns, or at a kid’s doctor’s appointment editing photos on my phone. No time is wasted if I can help it! I also make sure I workout every morning. I work really hard for about an hour or so, and that really does provide the energy and fuel to get me through the day! 

Katie Kortman wearing rainbow striped pants, blue boots, and a blue blazer with lines and dots.

What is a typical day like for you? 

I am up at 6 to get my kids to school, then I workout for 60-75 minutes, shower, get dressed and get my youngest to Yochien. Then I work until I have to pick up the youngest from school , and I get about 30 more minutes to work before the rest come home. After that, I do bits and pieces of work in between homework and dinner time! I often work after they go to bed as well. I try to be in my bed by 10:30! 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

The internet is your best friend right now! In-person classes are the best, but if that’s not an option, there are so many places to learn. I am self-taught at sewing, fashion design, and fabric design and some of those things I learned from internet classes! 

Katie wears a blue dress with painterly yellow marks and red details. Her earrings are yellow, her headband is blue with red splotches, and she's wearing blue and green wedge sandals with red and yellow socks underneath.

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

I just did a sprint triathlon on a whim last weekend (we signed up less than a week before and didn’t have time to train for it), and I loved it SO MUCH that now I’m working to actually train for one! I am looking to get a road bike, which is NOT as easy as the Townie bike I rode for the triathlon! Haha. SO that will be a skill I’m working on! I also learned to knit during the pandemic and I’m continuing to work on that skill! 

Katie poses under a sheer magenta piece of clothing.

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?

I saved up money from all the blogging, IG “Influencer” gigs, and Fabric Designing and didn’t spend anything because I wanted to save it for something in the future. I wasn’t sure what it would be for, as I was saving it, but I knew I’d want to launch something in the future (I’d been saving for about 2 years). I used this money, plus some money from our family account, to fund my Fall 2021 Collection! 

A model wearing a green Katie Kortman blazer with a pink, white, and blue top underneath. She has a headdress made of fabric leaves and she's standing by a pink and yellow wall.

Is there anything more you would like to “become?” 

I feel like I’m just now becoming a Fashion Designer, and never in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever happen. I have so much to learn and so I would still like to work on becoming a legit Fashion Designer!!!

What is your long-term goal?

I have no idea. Umm….. I’d like to do a runway show at NYFW??? I’d like to expand my business to greater levels, and have it sold in Brick and Mortar stores… maybe even Anthropologie?

Katie Kortman modeling a vibrant dress she's designed.

More Inspiration

Make sure you follow Katie Kortman on Instagram @KatieKortmanArt and @KatieKortmanClothing so you can keep up with her exciting work. You can also sign up for her newsletter here to be among the first to see her new clothing line coming out this fall!

You can also read more Becoming interviews here. If you’re especially interested in fashion, you’ll love reading about Stacey Fraser, Romy-Krystal Cutler, and Whitney Lundeen.

A woman models one of Katie Kortman's designs – a blue and purple dress– while holding a plant.