Women and Permission

(I originally gave this as a talk at an AIGA "Women On Design" event in August 2017)

 

When I first set out to put together this talk, I was torn.

Torn because, well, I'm a feminist. And I believe that feminism is really about all humans being equal to each other.

I believe that catering things (be it conferences, razors, or ballpoint pens) specifically towards women, often times, is pandering at best and damaging at worst, to our overall cause for equality.

But. I am also a woman who exists in this world. A queer woman, at that. I know what its like to exist in a space, in a system, that wasn't necessarily built for me. Not built for us to succeed, not built for us accomplish the dreams we have or to go after the experiences we want in this life.

So, while believing in equality, I also have to believe in breaking this existing infrastructure that wasn't built for me. I have to bend and break and work to change this system that's around me so that there can even be room to rebuild it and make it a thing that facilitates equality. And that's a thing that I, that we, are having to work at all. the. time.

All of this to say: putting together talking points under the banner “Women On Design” put me in this quandary, right? Because what does that even mean? What do I even have to talk about?

I'm going to share with you something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I'm going to talk about permission, and how you don't need it from anybody.

 

It's 1995, and I am completely bowled over, BESIDE MYSELF, as I watch the Babysitter's Club Movie for the first time. Seeing Schuyler Fisk bring this effortless, charismatic, tomboy charm to the role of BSC president Kristy Thomas… stoppit already with that freckled face and ginger hair tucked under your backwards ball cap! I can't! But also watching as that tomboy just decided that her middle school self was going to start and operate a summer camp? Because why the heck not? "I've got my friends, there’s this space available, and a bunch of parents with money who need to do something with their kids. Of course I'll just make a summer camp happen!"

To be fair, I probably did not have a spark quite like that the first time I watched that movie. But as I revisited it on Netflix on a sick day in my adulthood not that long ago, I sort of shot up with this realization of how my 8-year-old self would have internalized that message. Whether or not I knew it at the time, it planted some real good seed in me. Thanks, Babysitter's Club!

 

When I was in elementary school, I wanted me and all my friends to play laser tag at the Hilton Fun Quest. But it was a lot of money and we were kids and our parents weren’t going to shell out that kinda cash. So I organized all my friends and supplies, put signs up around the neighborhood, and we had a car wash in my driveway. We totally crushed it, and took ourselves to Laser Tag the next day.

Growing up in Reno, Nevada surrounded by bars and casinos, I felt a definite lack in anything for people my age to do, so at 14 I started booking, promoting, and producing all ages shows and events all over northern Nevada. I did that well into my early 20's.

After a few years of working as a designer in an incredible art department, I realized that what I love most about this profession is connecting with people and solving problems… and that I would never actually be fulfilled by simply executing design briefs. I needed direct contact with clients and creative control over projects. So O started A Name Brand Co.

A few years into my growing self-employment life, when I couldn't find a coworking space in Orange County that suited my needs, I opened up my own.

 

A weird thing happens once you graduate high school or college. There's no longer a next step being dictated to you. We spend our whole lives being told the next thing to do (preschool to elementary, elementary to middle, etc), and then it's over. All of a sudden, you're the person who is calling the only shots. You decide how you're going to spend your time, what you want to make happen, what you should do next. Where you should go. What curiosities to pursue or plans to set into motion.

Maybe even more jarring, no longer is anyone telling you when something has run it's course. When it's time to put this thing down and go to the next.

It's all ours to decide. I know it's cheesy and you've heard it before, but really listen to me when I tell you that you are the only architect of your own life. Build it however you want it. You only have this one pass at this iteration of your life on this planet.

 

This is particularly important to drive home to us women. Because we largely don't believe in our own autonomy as equal participants of the world we inhabit.

Really. Even those of us who claim to be feminists or empowered or whatever. Everyone is brought up on the same stories that planted these seeds deep down in our collective psyche.

The female characters that we see in movies and stories and shows that we start consuming as soon as our eyes and our ears are functioning, those women don't really make a lot of decisions. Most of the stories we are conditioned with involve women whose sole character arc, even if she's the main character, are solely about getting someone to fall in love with them.

That's the story we get.

That's our number one option, and every other story is exceptional or extraordinary. Any other extraordinary or exceptional female story arc is also a completely common storyline for male characters.

This world that we currently live in hardly allows women any sense of identity at all, so of course it doesn't come natural to see ourselves are directors of our own lives.

 

I feel like I painted a certain picture of myself earlier on in this talk, to be sure. But those were a handful of moments in a lifetime.

I am constantly finding myself in moments where I'm still waiting for someone else to invite me to the discussion, rather than just starting the conversation I want to be having.

Waiting to be brought in on someone else’s project, rather than starting my own.

I am constantly having to remind myself that I am, completely within myself, a force.

A force that is moving through the world around me, able to make shit happen, to change courses, affect people, create art, and start things.

 

And so are you. If you've felt unsure about it before, let me be the one to clarify it for you in this moment, that you are indeed a force in this world, and you can do whatever the fuck you want. You don't need anybody's permission.

SPEND MONEY ON ART

"In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalog.

Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."

- President LBJ, 1965

President Trump and his administration have proposed a bill that would completely cut off funding to the National Endowment for the Arts

You guys. My friends. The entire federal budget that funds the NEA costs each American 45¢ PER YEAR.

Forty.

five.

cents.

per.

year.

That's what it costs YOU, as a taxpayer, for artists and creators to access money that facilitates the creation of important art, writing, and theater... this money also helps to keep museums and libraries open for the enrichment and pleasure of us as whole people, and it provides funding for public, non partisan media sources like PBS and NPR.

Call your representatives in the House and please tell them that art matters to you, to all of us. Then go use your real dollars to buy art from a local artist. Because it's fucking important.

If you don't know how/ where to call, I highly recommend the site or phone app 5calls.org

Here's a wallpaper you can download for your phone background, to keep reminding you that it's important.

The Soft Sciences of Professional Practice: Thing 4

This blog series based on a talk I did originally for a class of LCAD students in November of 2016

In college (or whatever way you learned your thing) you learn how to DO your craft: Visual hierarchy, rules of layout, color theory, how to use design programs - the mechanics of it. And if you're lucky, somewhere along the way you also get taught about doing the WORK of your craft: How to hustle new work, manage clients, invoicing, project management, etc.

Here in Soft Sciences, I'm going to talk about some of the touchy-feely, soft and squishy places in-between those two things.

Thing 4: Keep your ability to have abstract thought well-lubricated

This is one of my absolute favorite boxes of soap to step up onto.

Being able to think abstractly IS creativity, as far as I'm concerned. Being able to open up your mind and consider things differently from a fresh perspective and a new approach... that's everything. 

But if we're always doing the same things, how can we exercise the muscle of abstract thought? If your entire practice of staying inspired involves refreshing the same blogs and websites over and over again, you're doing it wrong. We have to continue discovering entirely new things. Things we don't necessarily have a metric for.

Hear me out about this metric thing. Let's just use live music as an example. Now, music is an incredibly necessary and beautiful part of our human experience. It moves us and speaks to us in ways that nothing else can. However. You've heard lots of music. You've been to a fair share of live shows, I assume. When you get to the venue, you've most likely chosen to go see the artist you're going to see. You know generally where you like to arrange yourself in the room for your optimal experience. You can tell whether or not you like the music or if you're having a good time. These are all metrics by which you can measure your experience.

But what about taking in some spoken word poetry or interpretive dance? Find an immersive theatre experience or go check out some improv comedy (Maybe you're super fucking cool and you do all of these things all the time... you are awesome and I really hope you ask me to hang out with you). But the point is: take in new experiences. Stuff that maybe weirds you out a little bit. Get your buttons pushed. Do something that stretches you open a little wider and makes you think to yourself, "Do I like this? What are these feelings I'm having? How does this all make me feel?".

I call this 'discovering new curiosities'. Take in art and experiences that you have no metric for. No way to immediately gauge if you like it or not, and therefore dismiss it. Put yourself in it, and let yourself feel what it does to you. Even if you decide you hate it, you're exercising that muscle in your brain that facilitates abstract thought, and it will absolutely improve your creative practice.

As a step further, tell me all the cool shit you think to do! I'm always looking for cool new stuff to do that will make me feel things. 

It's like that thing...

You know when you're trying to keep a writing schedule? Like the sort of writing schedule that keeps you generating content so you can post fun, helpful blogs about being a working creative, but there's such hugely important, scary things happening every single day in the world around you that it seems like such a narcissistic, stupid waste of heart-space and virtual ink to write those blogs?

Yeah. Same.

The Soft Sciences of Professional Practice: Thing 3

This blog series based on a talk I did originally for a class of LCAD students in November of 2016

In college (or whatever way you learned your thing) you learn how to DO your craft: Visual hierarchy, rules of layout, color theory, how to use design programs - the mechanics of it. And if you're lucky, somewhere along the way you also get taught about doing the WORK of your craft: How to hustle new work, manage clients, invoicing, project management, etc.

Here in Soft Sciences, I'm going to talk about some of the touchy-feely, soft and squishy places in-between those two things.

 

Thing 3: Clients (Almost Always) Make Your Work Better. Get Over It.

Okay. This is hard. I know. Especially when you spend lots of time proving your authority and expertise in your field, it can be a big hit to your ego to really embrace client feedback. Because you spent so much time and thought and energy doing it right the first time! You thought through all of the problems! You did your research! You painstakingly adjusted the spacing and the lines and the color to be fully imbued with intentionality and brilliance!

You send it to your client. They like what you did. But.. "We'd like to see a version with such-and-such...". Or, "What about trying it without the..."

If you're anything like me, initially your internal reaction to reading those words is something like a burning hellfire of rage and righteous indignation. But, at that moment, you have a choice to make. Do you want to be good at your job or not?

It's easy to forget that, while we are creative professionals, we're essentially working in a service industry. Part of being great at this job is taking excellent care of your client- which includes making sure they feel heard and understood. 

You know what works your creative muscle like nothing else? Take less-than-ideal feedback, put it through the filter of your brilliant mind, and then improve upon the already awesome work you created. It's so grueling, but the payoff is almost always extraordinary. Really. Almost always, integrating challenging client feedback has made my work better than I ever could have imagined it to be.

This is, of course, both incredibly rewarding and impossibly frustrating.

Remember! Your client is not your enemy! They are your partner in creating magic. Who else will give you money to create beautiful things? Right. Nobody. So treat your client with the excitement and respect that relationship deserves.

And hey. Sometimes feedback / revisions can go on for way too long. That's usually when we're tempted to stop caring and just give the client "exactly what they're asking for" (read: give the client shit work that you'd be embarrassed to show anyone ever). Right? But I promise it's worth the effort to push through. Swallow your pride and try to read past their words and through to what they are really trying to make happen. Stay helpful and humble. Try and always make work that you'd be proud to show off, even when the brief or the feedback is less than ideal. You should always be proud of the work you're creating.

Or you can boil it all down to this: Don't be too precious about your work. Your client is not the enemy, your apathy is. Be humble, helpful, and make great work.

 

The Soft Sciences of Professional Practice: Thing 2

This blog series based on a talk I did originally for a class of LCAD students in November of 2016

In college (or whatever way you learned your thing) you learn how to DO your craft: Visual hierarchy, rules of layout, color theory, how to use design programs - the mechanics of it. And if you're lucky, somewhere along the way you also get taught about doing the WORK of your craft: How to hustle new work, manage clients, invoicing, project management, etc.

Here in Soft Sciences, I'm going to talk about some of the touchy-feely, soft and squishy places in-between those two things.

Thing 2: Don't Be the Most Talented Person in the Room

There's this wonderful quote by the late, great Harold Ramis (you know, he played Spengler in Ghostbusters... or the male Holtzmann, as I refer to him) - He says "Find the most talented person in the room... stand next to them, be helpful."

And if you're the most talented person in the room, you need to find a different room.

I find this really, really challenging for myself personally. The challenge isn't finding people more talented than I am (believe me, not the problem at all). The challenge is that it's incredibly humbling to admit you're lacking in any kind of knowledge or skill. I feel like, in this self-employed / freelance / small agency world especially, we do a lot of posturing to make ourselves seem bigger and more "legitimate" than we actually feel. Just me? Ah, didn't think so.

It's incredibly humbling to show your lacking, to show your soft underbelly and admit you're not the most badass person here right now. But! When you're willing to not be the boss in charge all the time, but rather come alongside other people and offer support... you'll be amazed at the relationships you can build with people more talented than you.

I especially like to connect with rad women who are total bosses in completely different realms than I am. Seeing how they work their magic in a world totally unfamiliar to me helps my brain fire up all sorts of new synapses. Recently I took a Saturday to assist one such rad woman, Janelle Wylie of Lavender's Flowers renown. From 8am til midnight, I worked as a lowly grunt, assisting her incredible styling and decorating of this huge wedding in Palm Springs. I was not in charge. I was, in fact, the absolute least qualified of the assistants that day, with zero experience in the world of florals or decor or weddings in general. But I went and tried to make myself as useful as possible, and I tell you, it's amazing how much you can glean from someone when you're not trying to impress anyone. GO FIGURE.

Get uncomfortable. Reach out to people you admire or want to learn from. 

Sure, talented people with lots to offer are usually really busy. So be respectful of their time and energy. Shoot a quick, succinct email. A thoughtful tweet. A quick and courteous handshake intro at a meetup. They might not respond the way you want right away, but be consistent. Also, get rid of your expectations of how you want them to respond. Be open to whatever they have to offer, no matter how they offer it. Hell, you can even learn from the way they turn you down.

This is a humbling and difficult process, but be open to the journey of it. It may yield completely unexpected results in the form of any number of detours. But I promise you that no matter what, you will end up in the company of good people and good things to do.

The Soft Sciences of Professional Practice: Thing 1

This blog series based on a talk I did originally for a class of LCAD students in November of 2016

In college (or whatever way you learned your thing) you learn how to DO your craft: Visual hierarchy, rules of layout, color theory, how to use design programs - the mechanics of it. And if you're lucky, somewhere along the way you also get taught about doing the WORK of your craft: How to hustle new work, manage clients, invoicing, project management, etc.

Here in Soft Sciences, I'm going to talk about some of the touchy-feely, soft and squishy places in-between those two things.

Thing 1: Find Your Non-Work-Related Niche

As artists, it's really easy for us to get a little caught up in ourselves; to become really about our current style, our process, the things we're into... It's easy to get caught up in who we are as artists or professionals and forget that we are whole people. Whole people with lots of different parts of us that are worth noting and celebrating.

We live in a time where it's increasingly difficult to stand out or make a name for yourself as a creative, and you know what's fucking exhausting? Chasing after current trends, trying to add our own attempts onto the pile in hopes it'll grab us some extra follows. If we're constantly running after a train that is always ahead of us, we'll die long before we find any creative fulfillment.

It's so important to nurture the other things about you that make you you. Some of those things will directly effect your work. Some of those things won't. But when you nurture all the different facets of you, the whole machine works better. Stop taking care of yourself (emotionally, intellectually, physically, whatever), and other things begin to suffer, no matter how hard you work at your craft. Like how forgetting to replace the timing belt in your car will blow up your entire engine, at a terribly inconvenient time when you have no money saved up to buy a new car (Just like, as a for instance. I would never be so careless as to forget to replace my timing belt!). It doesn't matter how new your tires are or how frequently you changed the oil.

Not only does this nurturing of our whole selves get us functioning better on a human level, but discovering all the different dimensions of your whole person will help you connect to the world better. If you find out that you love seeing spoken word poetry performed, then seek out those kinds of events. Through that, you're going to discover new places, meet new people, feel new feelings. And those places and people and feelings will lead to other places and people and feelings. Let yourself fall down that rabbit hole and find all the things in life that get you excited and make you feel alive. Life will feel better, you'll be a better human, and you'll be a better artist. Or at the very least you'll be more interesting.

I might never be as good of an illustrator as Valerie Rustad, or as talented of a letterer as Jessica Hische, but nobody else has my talent plus my unique set of interests, passions, insights, and character. Add those things to what talent I do have, and... well shit. I'm kind of awesome.

Stranger Things

A little fan art tonight in homage to this show I'm enjoying in my evenings. 

Run

Run

Connecting Things talk

I spoke a while back at one of the monthly Connecting Things meetups.  That talk is now posted on the interwebz for you to relive again and again. I know, you're welcome.

This talk is mostly about how important I think it is to treat our clients with respect and honesty, rather than inadvertently vilify them. I had a blast sharing my story and some thoughts with such an awesome room of folks. Thanks for the time, Connecting Things!

Check out the talk here!

St. Vincent Poster

As it turns out, running a small, awesome creative agency is real hard and involves working a lot. And I always find it especially hard to make time to let myself just get inspired by something and create for the sake of creating.

I've been listening to a lot of St. Vincent lately. The music is great, experimental, exciting, and makes me feel alive. She's a phenomenal talent, and anytime I have read or seen an interview I'm so stoked on what she has to say about creating art and being an artist. She just gets like a million points. 

So, rather than just soak up all this excitement and inspiration, I wanted to make something. Inspired by the song 'Rattlesnake', this concept started forming in my brain for a while before I got to actually get it down on paper, so to speak. Rather than explain it what I made, I'd rather you listen to the song and create your own meaning. Because, you know... art.

Objectively Awesome

I am completely open to being proved wrong here, but I feel confident in declaring: California has the coolest state flag. I mean, just look at it. The perfectly subtle and unassuming red base stripe; a bear (categorically one of the coolest, most timelessly appealing animals); oh, and let's not forget that perfect star in the top left corner.

Plus, I didn't grow up here in California, so I feel less biased (and somehow more justified) making this statement.

Transient

Ultimate(ly simple) Work-Efficiency Hack

WRITE EMAILS AT NIGHT, SEND THEM IN THE MORNING.

I've been working as a freelancer for a little while now. And it's not an easy game. Turns out, without proper boundaries and time management skills, you'll end up spending a measly 10% of your time doing actual creative work (if you're lucky). The other 90% of your time you'll be frantically trying to keep up with invoices, orders, client management, and... emails.

I remember a time where I would wake up in the morning and immediately check my phone to see how many emails were in my inbox. I had just moved to Orange County and was in the beginning stages of self-employment. Something about a high number in that little red alert badge would validate me. Usually I was disappointed when I strained my sleepy eyes to see "8" in that badge.

Now it feels like I can't stop the emails from coming, no matter how hard I try. Which is great, it means I'm working!

BUT! If you're a freelancer, you are probably very familiar with answering emails, sending proofs, etc. into the wee hours of the morning. It's incredibly tiring, plus it sends the message to your clients and vendors that you're accessible 24 hours a day (I'm assuming that your dream is to have time off, take vacations, and have lots of liberties with your schedule- that's why you freelance, right?).

So here's my tip to you:

Write emails at night, send them in the morning.

Very simple. Very liberating. Very efficient.

At the end of my work day... or even later in the evening... I'll go through all of my unread emails and start composing replies and just minimizing them to my dock to send first thing in the morning. This does a couple of things:

1: Clears Your Head

Nothing like getting back to a ton of emails at the end of a day to make you feel like you're kicking some serious ass. Plus, it's easier to wind down when all that pending doom is out of your head.

2: Starts Your Day RIGHT

Again, serious ass-kicking feeling when you start your work day with a pile of replied-to emails. The world is limitless after that.

3: Helps Set Boundaries

Clients aren't seeing an 9:30pm timestamp on your emails. Trust me. Even if it's all subconscious, this is heaps helpful for your work / life balance.

4: Hella Professional

I don't know about you, but when I get an email from somebody timestamped from 7:00am - 8:30am, I automatically think that person is 100% on their game and not to be messed with.

Anyway, that's my ultimate(ly simple) work-efficiency hack for you self-employed folks out there. Use my secret well.

The Grand Opening

Since I can't always condense my observations, musings, and wit to 160 characters, I will have a blog.