Creative Influence

Any mature creative type is likely to have a long list of names of those who have been an influence to them in life. For me, many of the influences border on cliche. There’s the beauty of nature—especially flowers, leaves, birds, animals and bugs. There are designers and illustrators like Louise Fili, Charlie Harper and Ralph Steadman. And of course there are stylistic influences like Native American art, Mexican folk art, illuminated manuscripts, Tibetan thangka paintings, the arts and crafts and art nouveau movements, even grafitti and street art.

I recently was able to visit New Mexico again (left), one of my favorite places in the U.S. and also where one of my biggest influences in life now lives. Debra Fritts, an incredible clay sculptor, was my greatest advocate in high school to keep making art. Her classes changed the course of my life forever. Surprising me with an award in art on graduation day (right) shook me from my awkward lack of self-confidence to beaming pride that would spur me on for years.

I recently was able to visit New Mexico again (left), one of my favorite places in the U.S. and also where one of my biggest influences in life now lives. Debra Fritts, an incredible clay sculptor, was my greatest advocate in high school to keep making art. Her classes changed the course of my life forever. Surprising me with an award in art on graduation day (right) shook me from my awkward lack of self-confidence to beaming pride that would spur me on for years.

While studying art in school, the many famous artists throughout history like Georgia O’Keefe, Van Gogh, Picasso caught my interest. But there are also more recent artists, designers and illustrators like Andy Saftel, Lauren Kussro, Jaq Belcher. Tord Boontje, Vladmir Stankovic, and Nate Williams whose work that I connect with. There are so many more I could list

Even lesser known are the influencers in my life who set the stage.

I don’t know that I can pinpoint the exact moment that I put pen, pencil or paintbrush to paper. I do know that my mother often had crafty projects for my siblings and me growing up. I remember making pot holders, weaving squares of unknown objects on a child-size loom, and of course coloring between the lines in coloring books and paint by number sets for days on end. Even now, the smell of linseed oil takes me back to those early days. We always had Play-doh and crayons ready when the inspiration struck. Drawing from life also provided endless focus with such exciting subjects as the pet parakeet and horses. All these kitschy crafts and artworks likely helped get that creativity muscle flexed early in life.

My siblings and me playing with the ever entertaining Play Doh—focus so strong I couldn’t be bothered with looking at the camera!

My siblings and me playing with the ever entertaining Play Doh—focus so strong I couldn’t be bothered with looking at the camera!

“Let’s pretend” was often at the beginning of my sentences in interactions with childhood friends. There was even the time that, during pretend “school,” I as the “teacher” gave “students” the assignment of designing an invitation to a party. Parents were confused about where the pretend party was when the invitations made their way home. The skills at event planning would come at a much later date in my creative career.

Some recent personal work is taking monoprints from a few years ago and collaging paper flowers, stitching, beads and embellishments to them. The result combines my loves of printmaking, bling, and paper arts. It’s a fine line between craft and art in my world.

Some recent personal work is taking monoprints from a few years ago and collaging paper flowers, stitching, beads and embellishments to them. The result combines my loves of printmaking, bling, and paper arts. It’s a fine line between craft and art in my world.

All of those childhood masterpieces (ahem) are long since gone but the creative spirit is still thankfully thriving.

The thing about the creative life is that there’s encouragement that almost always comes with it—sometimes the encouragement comes from within and sometimes from external sources like teachers, friends and family. Oftentimes the spark isn’t fully comprehended until later in life. It’s a process of exploring with a good dose of curiosity and experimentation. I’m super fortunate to enjoy that process and quite happy to share it with clients, friends, family and sometimes with no one at all but myself. The creative muscle sometimes leads the way and I certainly love the ride it provides. Now back to the work that I love!

Social Order

I wonder how the famed artists, illustrators and designers from days gone by might feel about promoting their work through social media channels. Can you imagine how the notoriously brilliant artist, author and fellow-introvert Dr. Seuss might have felt about it? Somehow I think he would still have great fun with it all. Clearly someone who came up with such memorably playful lines to entertain kids for generations would be able to lighten up about it. Or maybe he’d just hire someone else to do it for him.

Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
— Dr. Seuss

An introvert often considers socializing an option. An introverted business owner considers it a much more strategic necessity. In either role, a lot of thought can go into the planning and oftentimes it needs refining and redefining. As many a business person is apt to do, this introvert has found herself in that process of late.

Since social media has come into play for businesses, it can feel like a wonderful gift and time-saver to share a message with the mere click of a button, especially in contrast with recent times when social media wasn’t even an option available for businesses to even consider. Its advent obviously created a new order and the way we use it keeps changing.

Today, few successful business owners can broaden their audience without a social media presence. It’s no longer considered a wise choice to be off its channels. For very long anyway. It’s certainly a crowded and fickle place to be though.

In particular, artists are able to share their work with the world now and get instant feedback through the number of likes and comments. At its best, we can gain new clients. At its most challenging, the response may sound like crickets. The algorithms can be elusive but they can also create great new connections.

For someone who manages their own social media, there can be a lot of guesswork that goes into what followers and connections will respond to despite our best research. Sometimes there is seemingly little reward when algorithms change and trends fall away. Nevertheless, finding the perfect post is a perpetual process of experimentation, observation and education that continually needs refining, much like building relationship skills.

Fortunately, the same social network we rely on for promotion also provides multiple online forums for artists so that we can tap into the wisdom of others experiencing some of the same challenges and successes. It’s a gift to have complete strangers with huge followings freely share their wisdom.

Recently, I gave myself a mini break from social media and found it to be rather liberating. Scheduling posts, checking on followers’ responses and what those whom I follow were up to online, all in the midst of getting the paying work done, can be quite a juggling act. It was a little uncomfortable at first to break from it all—like I was putting some of my hopes and aspirations for my business on hold—but ultimately it was a relief to find more room for the real live social network of phone conversations, lunch meetings, outings, business networking events and so on with clients, fellow creative types and old friends. And of course the decision to end the mini-break was always readily available.

In my mini break, I discovered some great new projects with great new clients—one of which was through a friend who follows my posts on social media. I also started some personal projects, met new friends and acquaintances, and even learned new skills through video conferencing.

Time and again it has been proven to me that the face-to-face (or even just voice-to-voice) connections are where the greatest things happen. It’s an art that I don’t want to lose in a time where it’s seemingly getting more difficult to truly connect. We can easily forget that others have their successes, milestones and hardships behind the email exchanges and the social media postings until we learn about each other’s lives through actual conversations. This more real connection also invites an exchange of questions and answers that don’t come as easily through digital means, whereby building a foundation for more meaningful curiosity and its creative results.

During those face-to-face connections, I discovered people were still seeing examples of work previously posted. The algorithms of social media attempt to lure us back in. Taking that break was a good idea but I’m back at it, renewed and inspired to find my own personal happy balance.

Postings on social media continue to be important, especially as someone who works in a solitary setting (which the introverted side of my personality thrives on creatively speaking). I somewhat jokingly call social media my proverbial “water cooler.” Just as important, it helps lay the foundation for establishing and reinforcing my ever-evolving brand. I am a creative type after all—that evolution is part of the flow of my business model and the best way to announce a new skill or share a new style.

Streamlining promotion and communication is of course important in business but I’m happy to know the human connection is still available. It’s one of the many things I love most about running a business. Let’s discuss it sometime!

Theodor Geisel (otherwise known as Dr. Seuss) spent his workdays ensconced in his private studio, the walls lined with sketches and drawings, in a bell-tower outside his La Jolla, California, house. Geisel was a much more quiet man than his jocular rhymes suggest. He rarely ventured out in public to meet his young readership, fretting that kids would expect a merry, outspoken, Cat in the Hat–like figure, and would be disappointed with his reserved personality. ‘In mass, [children] terrify me,’ he admitted.
— Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

A Greener Blue Planet

I’m such a big fan of BBC’s Blue Planet and Blue Planet 2 series. If you’ve never seen them, you really must check them out. Even if this isn’t typically your sort of television entertainment watching, you might find it surprisingly addictive. Personally, there’s no other documentary that gives me such joy. Seeing the diversity that’s under the surface of our oceans provides a glimpse into the ever creative life force of our beautiful blue planet. It’s a fascinating and profound reassurance of life’s abilities to evolve, survive and thrive even as we all ultimately succumb to this very same force. The BBC has provided a stunning display of imagery that never ceases to inspire my creativity too. (And who can resist David Attenborough’s gift of story-telling alongside ingenious soundtrack editing?)

One of the other things watching this BBC series brings up for many is how important it is to recognize that we humans aren’t the center of the universe. Have you been watching the slow banning of plastic straws and single use plastics? According to The Printing Report, “In response to public pressure following the airing of the TV show, in June 2018 the fast-food chain McDonalds, which uses 1.8m straws a day, announced that it will stop using plastic straws in all its UK restaurants by 2019.” Fast Company reports that, “As of July 2018, U.N. Environment and WRI found that 127, or 66%, of the countries they surveyed have implemented some type of policy to regulate plastic bags.”

The BBC continues to educate us. A recent article states that, “The natural world contains about 8.7 million species, according to a new estimate described by scientists as the most accurate ever. But the vast majority have not been identified - and cataloguing them all could take more than 1,000 years.... The team warns in the journal PLoS Biology that many species will become extinct before they can be studied.”

Our “footprint’ on this planet with any product consumption or design is more relevant than ever. It impacts the entire planet. While consumption will always be part of our existence, breaking out of habitual patterns of consumption that are less wasteful is increasingly important. Are there other ways to reduce that footprint? Innovation and creativity coupled with foresight are sure to lead the way.

Some companies are jockeying to be part of the solution. Not just the small companies like Aardvark Straws but also those who carry a lot more weight in the marketplace and consumer identification. (Thank you Starbucks, Disney, Hyatt, American Airlines and more!) Innovating companies that embrace the idea of less single-use waste will be increasingly valuable to consumers. (Trader Joe’s, I love you but wrapping so much of your produce in plastic really isn’t necessary, is it?) Printing Report tells us that, “Trailblazers include Triocup, an all-paper cup that folds over at its top, thereby eliminating the need for a plastic lid on your coffee cup, and Frugal, which has developed a new paper-cup material that is easier to recycle. This all-paper approach has a significant advantage over combined material products that can be difficult to recycle.”

Clearly, during the evolution process for less waste, paper is positioned to make a “greener” comeback. Rather than resisting it, I embrace the challenge to attempt greater innovation.

Paper is one of the primary tools a designer uses to make a well-crafted piece for print products. For many of us, it’s one of the most exciting aspects of the design process. The trailblazers in the industry set the stage for us as designers to continue the ripple effects, benefiting all of us.

When I first entered the world of print advertising and marketing, the numbers of paper mills were seemingly the same names that had historically provided paper to us for decades. The same swatch-books of papers that designers referred to may have been on the shelves for a couple of years with little obvious changes. Like today, you still had the varying grades of papers and sheet sizes with some of the more popular papers stocked in local supply houses while some still needed to be ordered and shipped from the mill in another state, days if not weeks in advance of deadlines. But the heavyweight paper mills remained the same.

In recent years however, the graphic paper industry has had to innovate like few others. Selection has simultaneously increased and decreased. Not only has the demand for types of paper shifted, but the ways in which paper is printed has shifted. “Greener”practices have come to the forefront. With online sales increasing, digital printing has become increasingly popular as print quantities have come down. There seems to be a broader spectrum of colors, textures, and finishes but a smaller number of suppliers. Shipping is more of an intercontinental process when ordering paper versus a strictly transcontinental shipping process. Paper manufacturers are buying up other paper manufacturers that were once major competitors.

All of these industry shifts lead a designer like myself to have a treasured close connection to their vendor rep at the local paper house (thank you, Kelley at Athens Paper!).

Printers are also finding ways to innovate. Recently, I had to good fortune to use one of these latest innovations for a large non-profit’s annual fund-raiser held here in Nashville. This black tie event is their largest annual fund-raiser — a lot of class and sophistication were called for in the design process. We branded the event utilizing digital printing with gold metallic ink (yes, you read that correctly: metallic digital printing!) on a series of pieces that included save the dates, invitations and reply cards, and event programs all printed beautifully on a textured Classic linen stock. This year, $1.3 million was raised at the event! I’d like to believe that the paper helped to play a part in serving the needs of the community while keeping quantities printed to a minimum.

Innovation will lead us all to creating a “greener” blue planet. I want to be a part of that process when I can. What’s not to love about that? Won’t you join me in these efforts? Reach out anytime you have questions about a project and I’ll do what I love to do for you and your project!

Gray Days Call for Color

Where I reside, there have been more rainy, gray days than we are used to. I’ve begun to think we are turning into a rain forest. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to get me down—my work load has consisted of back-to-back events so it’s been nice to watch the weather outside my windows while meeting deadlines. And of course we all know that without rain there would be no flowers. Until they really begin to blossom, here are some that I’ve created. Spring is on the way…and I continue to find ways to do what I love to do. I hope you are as well!

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