Letting Go Of My Creative Past...

...to make room for my creative future.

This feels like the most important post I've ever written. It's taken me months and several drafts to feel ready enough to finally post this. I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions while making this decision, ranging from bittersweet to relieved and from melancholy to excitement. It wasn't something I felt ready to share until now... 

After a year and a half of shifts in my perspective, career, and creative interests, I made the difficult decision to close Pressbound, my letterpress business for the last 8 years, and liquidate my studio. This may come as a surprise or disappointment to those who have known or followed me over the years. How could I give up on something I was so passionate about? 

Financially, this decision made sense. To make money in a letterpress business you need to be all in. But in 2015 Pressbound wasn’t profitable because I chose to put it on the sidelines while going back to a full-time job. I was facing out-of-pocket costs for my studio space, which I barely had time to go to once or twice a month. It was no longer practical to keep paying for a glorified storage space.  

Internally, I was ready to let go of my creative past in order to forge a new creative future. I changed. My interests shifted. And there was a lot of creative baggage leftover from running a full-time stationery business that needed purging. This included old products, supplies, and equipment, that were a huge distraction to moving on and creating anything new. Letterpress was literally weighing me down and I no longer wanted to bare the burden of owning cumbersome equipment.

This shift in perspective may seem sudden, but it was in the making long before I started working again full-time. When I first started in letterpress nearly ten years ago, I needed to create something tangible and away from modern technology. I craved a connection with the process that sitting at a desk job couldn't offer. At the time, a lot of other people felt this way too. It was the beginning of the maker movement, Etsy, and the resurgence of letterpress. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was to have easy access to workshops, an internship, a community of knowledgable people, printing supplies and even presses when I was looking for them. Ten years ago, that’s exactly where I needed to be. That path lead to countless lessons in craft and personal growth. Something I will never forget and forever cherish. 

But years later, and only a few into running a letterpress business full-time, things started to shift for me internally. I wasn’t fully conscious of these shifts at the time but looking back I know they were present. Letterpress started to feel too restrictive. I wanted to create with more spontaneity, improvisation and whimsy. But letterpress is rigid, preconceived, and very finicky. I craved more experimentation but seldom got the chance to work in other mediums. Letterpress was my business and my identity. It took up all of my time and it was becoming a struggle. Unless I was printing something completely new (and there is a lot of reprinting when you run a stationery business), I was getting insanely bored while on press. It wasn’t until I started working at my full-time job that I was able to hear what my heart was telling me for the last few years: there’s a lot more to life than letterpress. It was time to let go and forge a new path.

I believe in the power of reinvention. And I didn't want to feel stuck on a path I chose to go down that no longer suited me. For years I identified myself as a letterpress printer. But I don’t want to identify myself based on the medium I work in. I am a lot more than that. I am a designer. I am an educator. I am a strategic thinker. I am a daughter, wife, sister, and friend. I am a nature lover and cat admirer. I love to cook, write, read, do yoga, and drink margaritas. I look forward to every Sunday that Game of Thrones is on. And most important, I am ready to rediscover the voice that got lost amongst the lead, ink, and 100% cotton papers. 

So at the end of May I put the Pressbound Etsy shop in vacation mode indefinitely and closed the door on my studio space for the last time. It was really hard to close that door. But when I did I finally felt free. And that’s how I know I’m headed down the right path.  

Want to know more about what’s next? I’ll be posting about that in the weeks to come. Be sure to sign up to receive my posts via email or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Three Ways Teaching Has Changed My Life

The spring 2016 academic semester is underway and I’m once again teaching a design course in the publishing program at Emerson College. This is my tenth year teaching as an affiliate faculty at Emerson, which is twice as long as I've worked at any one place in my life. That’s because over the years teaching, like design, became a passion and a core part of my identity. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a designer and educator (see the header to this website!). Teaching was never something I planned to do. Like so many of the most influential things in my life, teaching found me by chance and changed my life forever.

Here are three ways teaching changed the course of my life.

1. Financial freedom. For years, teaching was the financial clutch that gave me the confidence to make risky career moves without loosing a steady stream of income. It wasn’t a huge sum of money, but it was enough to get by on.

When I first started teaching I worked a full-time job in publishing. I was able to save enough money to leave my job and pursue freelance work in other areas as well as an internship at a letterpress studio all with a nice comfy “oh shit fund” in the bank incase I needed it (and I did!). Later, teaching helped pay they bills while I was in graduate school and needed to cut down on freelance work. After earning my degree I started running my business full-time but wasn’t making any profit, teaching gave me a steady income as well as benefits like health insurance that I qualified for after teaching 60 credits worth of classes.  

2. Professional Growth. When I first started teaching I felt like an imposter. I was still a junior level designer with minimal experience managing others, no experience in art direction and clueless about how to be a teacher. But I knew more than my students did about design and software and that was enough to start with. Over the years I gained confidence in my abilities as a teacher, learning from my mistakes and constantly experimenting in the classroom. I got better at giving feedback on assignments that were both critical yet encouraging. I learned how to work with student’s frustrations or combativeness. And I learned an incredible amount of patience and understanding.  

I never realized how much the skills I gained as a teacher positively impacted other areas of my professional life until I took on an intern in my business and needed to train and manage her. Later, when at my recent full-time job I noticed the positive effects in my decision making, presentation style, and ability to art direct illustrators and photographers. Most important, teaching helped me better understand how to navigate and understand the many personalities encountered in the office and to be patient.

3. The Reward. Over the last ten years I’ve had the opportunity to watch a number of my former students flourish in their careers, many as designers. For some I played a larger role than others. That doesn’t matter. Knowing that I passed on knowledge, enthusiasm, and hopefully some encouragement to aspiring minds is enough to add plenty of value to my own life. I’ve never experienced that level of impact on someone else's life at another job. And that’s a very special privilege I don’t take lightly.

So if you’ve ever considered teaching whether it be in a formal classroom, as a tutor, leading a workshop, or in an online space, the benefits really out way any of the fears you might initially have. It may take a while to find your confidence, but eventually you will. So get out there and share your knowledge and passion with the world and start making an impact!  

Like what you've read? For the next few months I'm changing my posting day from Wednesday to Thursday to accommodate my teaching schedule. Hope to see you here again next Thursday for a new post on creative living! 

Book Report: Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert

One of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. You may have heard me mention it in a few of my previous posts or on social media. This book happened to find me at the end of last year when I really needed a creative kick in the but. After deciding to wind down Pressbound as my full-time business I began to ask myself what was next for me creatively. There was an overwhelming desire to explore my creative side again and not feel the pressures of having to make it public or into a business. But I was still struggling with shifting my mind set. When I made paper flowers as the centerpieces for my wedding, for instance, that immediately turned into: well I should turn this into a business. So I needed a little reassurance that creating just for myself and for the joy of making was okay. And Big Magic delivered. 

Gilbert believes that creative living hinges on this central question: "Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” These treasures are described as “strange jewels” which are buried deep inside of us all and “the hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.” The results of that hunt is what she refers to as, Big Magic.

Big Magic Quote

According to Gilbert (and I’m a strong believer in this myself) a creative life is accessible to anyone, not a chosen few, and holds the potential to make our lives bigger, happier, and way more interesting. She tackles the wide array of emotions and excuses we struggle with when attempting to tap into our own creativity framing it under her essential ingredients for a creative life: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust. Because these things are accessible to all of us so too is creative living. Most importantly, throughout the book she reminds us that we don’t have to earn a living from our creative pursuits—we might, but if not "you can recognize that this is not really the point.” 

In this day and age it’s so, so rare to hear someone come right out and tell you to keep your day job. Which is not meant to crush our hopes. She knows that “debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams.” Take it from me, I learned the truth in that statement the hard way. Part of me wishes someone was there 5 years ago to tell me that holding on to my day job for as long as I can isn’t a bad idea if I want “to keep my creativity free and safe.” At least now I know that in this season of my life I don't want my creative endeavors to bare "the responsibility of paying for my life."

I 100% think you should read Big Magic if you have any interest in creative living. But I think it’s especially powerful if you are considering leaving a full-time job to pursue your creative dreams. And if you’ve already read the book and enjoyed it as much as I did, I highly suggest checking out the 12 episode Magic Lessons podcast that Gilbert recorded before the book was released this summer.