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.