Q&A: Caleb Brown April 21 2015
From painting, to teaching himself web development to baking, Caleb Brown is a man very passionate about his various creative endeavors. And as someone who recently tasted his lemon pistachio cardamom cupcakes, I know from personal experience that he's really good at whatever he does. Check out the Q&A below about inspiration and process from this Brooklyn-based freelance web developer and passionate baker.
- When did you realize you were a creative person and how did you get your start?
I've always leaned towards creative expression in my life. When I was very young, I was a prolific painter, as proofed by the numerous boxes of artwork that my mother holds onto for some unknown reason. When I was a little older, and could actually start creating things people might want, I would spend my free time sculpting, painting, necklace making, etc. - pretty much anything to occupy my hands. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so my projects would often get turned into gifts for friends and family, which helped my creative drive.
- How did you get into graphic design/computer programming? When did you realize you could be creative in this digital space?
I started graphic design and programming my freshman year of college when I first had full-time access to a computer. My family never had a computer growing up, so I only ever got to use them at school or wherever my mom worked, so once I went to college and had full-time access to a computer lab, I really began spending all my time in Photoshop and learning HTML and Flash. My first project was making a website for my ska punk band from high school Fatter Than Taft (sadly the site is long gone). After that, I would use any excuse I could to design and build something online; class projects, friend's theater groups, photography portfolios for friends and family, etc.
- Where do you get inspiration and ideas for your designs?
I find inspiration mostly in what other people are doing online - the collective conscience. I read lots of tech blogs and try to see how people are using motion graphics and other design techniques to make unique and interesting experiences for people. My favorite blogs for inspiration are http://tympanus.net/codrops, https://css-tricks.com, http://lenscratch.com.
- You've recently taken your work from the digital world to the very real world of the kitchen. What prompted you to start this very delicious hobby?
My baking passion stems from a visit to my favorite bakery in the world, Tartine in San Francisco. I loved it so much, that when I found out they had several books, I figured I could make the things I loved without having to fly to SF. It turned out I had a knack for it and I really enjoy the science behind baking. It also acts as a kind of meditation, so when I have too much work to do and can't stop focusing on it, which happens too often, I can slow down and take some forced timeout through baking. It also makes other people happy when I make them something delicious, which I get great satisfaction from as well.
- Do you think or hope to make this hobby more of a professional gig?
I recently left my job of ten years to start freelancing and since then, I've been pretty much taking things one day at a time in regards to what my next steps are. When I initially made the decision to branch out on my own, I thought I would look into apprenticing at a bakery here in NYC to make a go at professional baking while still doing web stuff on the side. I looked into some schools and talked with a baker friend in Long Island City, but nothing really panned out, either because they didn't need something or it was too big of a commitment. People tend to burn out quickly with baking due to the hours and repetition, and I don't want that to happen, so I'm happy just keeping it as a hobby for now. I do daydream about opening a shop one day, but probably not until I'm in another city where there's less competition (hopefully).
- Can you describe one of your favorite/best moments so far in your creative life?
The best moment for me was when work that I did was nominated for a Webby award against apple.com, ted.com, and sony.com. I wish awards weren't that big of a deal to me since that kind of conflicts with my general world view, but there's something great about being recognized amongst such big players. We didn't win that time, but we would win a few years later for work on blenderbox.com.
- Everyone has one of those negative moments or experiences that makes them reconsider what they're doing. Have you ever had one of those moments and what lessons did you learn from it?
I have definitely had loads of negative moments, both big and small, but I never really let them affect me to the point of considering doing something else. I think the biggest thing I struggle with is taking on too much and dealing with the anxiety of that. Through the years, with my strong and intelligent wife's help, I've learned to deal with stress a bit better and activities like baking are a big part of that. I also take very long walks every day and I use that time to think about my work in a calm and insightful way.
- What is your creative process and schedule?
I pretty much just always work, especially now that I'm freelancing. I try to spend early mornings and weekends learning new things and reading articles that keep me up to date with the tech industry as a whole.
- What are your short-term (i.e. 2015) goals for your professional and personal creative lives? What are your long-term goals?
Short-term, I would like to get my freelancing work streamlined and strike a balance with work and normal life. Long-term, I'd like to make a product that lasts. So much of the internet is momentary, which can be a good and bad thing. I'd like to work on a product that sticks around for a while.
Q&A: Emma McKinstry March 22 2015
Today's Q&A is with jeweler and entrepreneur Emma McKinstry, a former colleague of mine and current friend. Emma's rise from making jewelry as a hobby to turning to it full time in just a few years, getting the attention of national fashion magazines and even getting her pieces on celebrities is inspirational for any maker and fledgling entrepreneur. Her designs are bold and bright and always classy.
1. When did you realize you were a creative person and wanted to make jewelry?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been working on one creative project or another. I love the feeling of creating something – taking an idea or thought and turning it into something tangible. A friend introduced me to jewelry-making in high school and from that point on, I was hooked. I find it quite therapeutic, and I love that the possibilities for jewelry design are virtually endless.
2. What inspired you to get your business started and what made you decide to work on your business full time?
I began selling jewelry as a way to make some extra spending money right after I graduated from college. During my post-college job search – and then for the first couple years working in my first job – jewelry-making was just a side project. It served as a creative release, and selling through Etsy was a good, low-impact way to make a little extra money.
After I had been working in the “real world” for a couple years, though, I realized that I wanted to work for myself, and that I wanted to work for myself as a jewelry designer. From that point on, I treated jewelry as a real business, instead of just as a pocket-money-making hobby.
A year-and-a-half later, I had started to land national media coverage for my designs and was generating enough sales to begin considering leaving my job. I finally made the decision to jump off and start life as a creative entrepreneur once I realized that the only way my business would grow any further would be if I had more time to devote to it. It was an extremely scary decision, but was the right one for me and my business.
3. Where do you get inspiration and ideas for your pieces?
Inspiration is everywhere – especially in a city like New York. I work with a lot of geometrical shapes, so I look to architectural elements for inspiration regularly. Nature is another good source of inspiration, as is people-watching. People in New York are fearless when it comes to fashion, and I often draw inspiration from one element that appeals to me in an otherwise-over-the-top street style look.
4. Can you describe one of your favorite/best moments so far of being a jewelry designer and in this business?
A range of positive experiences come to mind, but the two best moments were probably: (1) the very first time I saw one of my designs in a national women’s magazine (Redbook), and (2) the time I spotted a picture on Instagram of Olivia Munn wearing my save the date necklace – the first celebrity to wear one of my pieces. These were two milestone achievements – both very exciting.
5. Everyone has one of those negative moments or experiences that makes them reconsider what they're doing. Have you ever had one of those moments and what lessons did you learn from it?
Of course I’ve had moments like that! Experiences or situations that make you pause for a minute and question what you’re doing are just part of the territory of running your own business – but these are the moments that also always lead to me feeling more committed than ever to what I’m doing. The overriding lesson I’ve learned is that it’s okay to fail. It sounds cliché, but failure can be a really intimidating thing – especially when you’re personally invested in a project or initiative. Now, though, I see failure as a source of motivation and innovation. Whenever something doesn’t go the way I planned for it to, it forces me to think outside the box about what else I might try to achieve my end goal.
6. What is your creative process and schedule?
My creative process is admittedly a bit haphazard. I never sit down with the intention of designing one collection. Instead, I sketch whenever an idea or style pops into my head. Sometimes I’ll have a burst of creativity and inspiration and will design a bunch of pieces in one sitting; other times, I’ll go days without designing anything. When it comes time to put together a new, cohesive collection, I look through everything I’ve sketched and piece together styles that fit within my chosen theme or look for the season – and then work to fill in any holes that might exist within the resulting collection. I typically have collection designs finalized several months out from when the season will be made available online. This gives me enough time to have everything manufactured and take care of whatever else needs to happen for each new collection – photo shoots, outreach to stores and media, copywriting, etc., etc.
7. What is your favorite piece you've ever made?
I actually just got a new bracelet back from the manufacturer I work with (in Rhode Island), which might be my new favorite piece – and not necessarily because of the specific design of it, but because of the inspiration behind it. The bracelet is inspired by a signet ring that my parents both have – and which they’ve had since they were very young and dating. The bracelet design mimics that of their rings, so it holds a sentimental value to me.
8. How do you market yourself and what kind of feedback/response do you get?
Social media and public relations are the two primary ways I market the business. I use social media to connect with existing and potential customers, as well as key influencers like fashion bloggers. For PR, I pitch my designs to a wide range of media – magazines, online outlets, blogs, newspapers. Media coverage has been really helpful in generating sales – and, it’s always fun to see something you’ve designed in print!
9. What are your short-term (i.e. 2015) goals for the business? What are your long-term goals?
I started selling to independent boutiques earlier this year, and one of my top goals for the rest of 2015 is to continue to expand the list of wholesalers who carry emma mckinstry. Long term, it’d be a dream for the company to become the go-to for American-made fashion jewelry. I’d also love for the brand to expand to include other fashion and lifestyle accessories, in addition to jewelry.
10. Do you have any advice or suggestions for people who want to become entrepreneurs, especially in the creative fields?
Don’t give up. There’s always going to be an insane amount of competition for entrepreneurs in creative industries, but keep plugging away and keep looking for ways to improve your product or innovate within your business. Growth can be (very) slow at times – but if you keep working at it and keep improving on what you’re doing, the hard work will pay off.
For entrepreneurs in the fashion industry, I’ve found a few websites that I rely on quite heavily for advice and new suggestions. StartUpFashion.com and FashionBrainAcademy.com are two that come to mind immediately. I’ve also turned to HeartIFB.com, which is a site for fashion bloggers but has some advice that I’ve been able to apply to my own business. The Shopify blog is another great resource – for all e-commerce businesses.
Q&A: Dara Smith March 15 2015
I’m an avid reader of design and art blogs and one thing I like about them is the insight they provide into other creative people, their process, their inspiration, where and how they got their start and how they make a living doing what they love. Inspired by these features on other sites, I’m starting what I hope is a long series of Q&As with creative people in various fields with various backgrounds.
First up is my friend Dara Smith, who I met when we were living in the same dorm at New York University oh so many years ago. She impressed me immediately with her love and knowledge of art and her appetite for learning more. After 11 years working as a television production coordinator in Los Angeles, Dara recently moved back to her hometown of Portland, OR, where she is pursuing a career in digital marketing and social media strategies.
- When did you realize you were a creative person? What were your first creative projects?
When I was about 10 years old, I lived in a cul de sac and during the summer I put on arts & crafts classes for the kids in my neighborhood. But I didn’t really fall in love with art until the summer after my junior year in high school when I went to Paris for the first time. I don’t think I believed in love at first sight until I saw Picasso’s “Madames a leurs toilettes” which just stunned me into submission. However, it wasn’t until I started creating wedding albums for my friends when I was about 23, 24 that I realized that you can be creative without necessarily being an artist. My first projects were those albums along with my own personal journals which I use more as scrap books and consider works of art.
- What have you created, sold, worked on, etc.?
I don’t really make a living selling my creative works. I choose to give those to the people I’m closest to. I’ve considered selling my albums, but they’re such labors of love that I wouldn’t know where to begin to charge for them. However, I am currently working as a social media strategist and content creator which requires me to use my creative writing and brainstorming skills. I certainly spend an awful lot of time trying to think outside the box.
- What inspires you to create? Where do you get inspiration?
I’m usually inspired by big events – weddings, bat mitzvah’s, Galentine’s Day – and use those events as a way to show my love for my friends and family. I’ll be honest, I steal a lot from the internet for inspiration. I use a lot of quotes, a lot of pre-printed papers, anything with color. I try to take what I see online and give it a little bit of a personal touch to make it work for the project.
- What have been some of your most favorite, fun, or exciting projects?
My absolute favorite project was the photo album I made for my younger cousin’s bat mitzvah. It’s such a big transition for kids at that age, and I used the album to not only help her save the memories from that day and that party, but to also encourage her in her future. I included lists of books to read, music to listen to, movies and TV to watch along with LOADS of quotes about what it means to grow up and be a person in the world.
- Everyone has a terrible day or moment that makes them reconsider what they are doing. Have you ever had one of those moments and what were your lessons learned?
Every time I sit down with a blank book, a bunch of photos and some quotes I panic that I’m not going to be able to get it done and I want to quit before I’ve even started. But then I’ll find a quote that I really want to share and I’ll just write it out and I usually push through. I think the fact that I am working on something so personal helps me get through the tough moments of doubt.
- Are you working on any projects right now?
I am preparing to create a guided journal for another young cousin’s bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something a little different for her since her sister got the photo album and I didn’t want them to be comparing their gifts. But I also chose this project because my cousin is a bit of an artist/creative person herself and I really want to encourage that as well as encourage journal writing (I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 15 and they are my salvation).