Friday, May 29, 2009

How I ended up in AZ.

Well it is finally Friday. Though when you work for yourself, weekend just means a quieter time to get designs done or work on instructions. I do not remember a weekend that I did not work on something. I think this is partly because there is always something else to work on and partly because I love what I do. 
Today was one of those days where I spent it at my desk sending and answering emails about upcoming projects and potential new clients. I made phone calls and revised my "To Do" list. This is the part of the job I enjoy the least and tend to let things pile up throughout the week so I end up doing it all in one day. I have realized that when I start the day, if I go to my studio first, I end up designing and creating all day and if I start in my office I tend to stay there all day handling business and phone calls. It is like having a split personality. But to have a successful business you have to be willing to do both consistently. 
Now back to how all this started....
How I met my husband, Matthew is an interesting story that explains how a girl from Rochester, NY ended up in Phoenix, AZ. When people ask how we met, we usually warn them that it is a long story. I offer that warning here as well. But the romantics out there may enjoy this story.
First you have to know my older sister, Stacey is married to Matthew's first cousin. In August 1996 she went to her husband's Grandmother's 80th birthday party. My sister was seated next to Matthew at the dinner. As she started to talk to him, she got this great idea that Matthew would be perfect for her little sister (me) who at the time was living in CT and Stacey felt I  needed a good man to settle down with. She spent the rest of the conversation with Matthew talking about me and how she thought we would be perfect together. She had promised to send Matthew my contact information and a photo when she got back to Georgia.
I did not know about any of this until Stacey told me about it after she had sent Matthew these stuff. She had also sent me a photo of Matthew and his contact info as well. I have to say I thought she was a little nuts. Matthew was living and going to school in Arizona and I was working and living in CT. I had never spoken to this man and had my own plans where I was going and had not traveled much at this time. I did not have a computer and really did not give this matter a second thought until a week later when a letter arrived from Matthew. As I read the letter, I have to say I was impressed and curious. Matthew later told me that he felt there was no risk in sending a letter to me and if I did not respond it would not have mattered, because he really did not know me at the time. 
Well as with the rest of my life, I was so busy at work that I did not write back until October, which is to say Matthew had decided I was never going to write back . Once I finally responded, we wrote back and forth until February. We had not spoken on the phone yet and it was really very old fashion. One day I realized I was racing to the mail box everyday hoping he had sent another letter and that I was starting to have feelings for my penpal. 
In January, Matthew wrote that he had friends in Boston that he was going to visit in March and would I be interested in driving up to meet him. It was about a 45 min. drive. I decided I would go for lunch and would bring a friend with me in case he turned out to be crazy (it could happen). I also decided it was time to call him and actually speak with him. I do not know why we waited so long to speak on the phone, but that first phone call we spoke for nearly 5 hours. We continued to speak on the phone every night for hours at a time. Believe me my phone bill was outrageous that month. As the month of phone calls progressed I went from going to Boston for lunch with my bodyguard girlfriend to going for a couple of days alone to meet him. 
Finally March 16th came and I had spent the night before trying on everything I owned to find the right outfit. I realized at this time that Matthew had become very special to me and that was why I was so nervous to meet him face to face. Through all our conversations I felt I had gotten to know him better than anyone I met before and the only thing missing was thisface to face meeting after all we had only seen one photo of each other. 
I drove to Boston, trying not to speed to get there. I always remember that I drove right past the exit I had took the week before of the Lego interview I wrote about earlier. I wondered if I would end up having to choose between these two important events. As I mentioned in that blog it was a pivotal month for me. Once I finally got to Boston and found the hotel I was meeting him at, I was so nervous I tripped down the stairs into the hotel. Once I was safely in \ the hotel and the front desk sends me up to his room. I knock on the door and I remember it took him an awful long time to open the door. To this day I accuse him of peeking out the peep hole for way too long to have the first look. He finally opened the door and we just hugged. I remember thinking how tall he was. He is 6' 2" and I am 4' 11". He asked if I wanted to go to lunch with his friends. After Lunch, we walked back to the hotel. We remember the next part differently, but seeing how I am telling the story, I will give you my version. I remember leaning up and giving him a kiss. Then he dropped down on one knee and asked me to marry him. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I asked him if he was joking (which I will never live down) and then quickly answered yes. I can honestly say this answer came completely from my heart and I did not let the logical part of my brain to have a chance in interfere.
After this magical moment, we spent the most romantic four days in Boston. After which I had to drive back to CT and he had to fly home to Phoenix. It was the hardest goodbye I have ever made. We were not sure when we were going to see each other or how all of this was going to work out. 
Matthew and I did not see each other again until May, again I have the phone bills to prove we stayed in touch none the less. He came to spent a month with me in May. We had a chance to figure out our future together face to face. I knew I did not want to live in CT and the job prospects were poor. Matthew decided I needed to Phoenix before I decided to move there and we planned for me to come and visit him over the 4th of July holiday. Once again we had to say goodbye for a month separation. 
Once July came, I boarded the plane and headed to Phoenix. I remember when I got off the plane in was nighttime and Matthew met me at the gate (you still could then). I had the strangest feeling as we walked through the airport that I had come home. I felt right in Phoenix and decided right there at the airport I would be moving to Arizona. I hated the thought of being so far away from my family in NY, but I also knew that this was where I belonged. This is a struggle I still deal with everyday, the distance between my family in AZ and my Family in NY. I wish these two places were closer and it was easier to go back and forth. But Once I made up my mind to move, I went back to CT,  quit my job, packed up my belongings and moved to Phoenix on August 3, 1997. I look back at this time and realize my move to Arizona was a giant leap of faith and a decision I do not regret. Though I miss my mom, dad and sisters Stacey and Echelle everyday I know it was the right choice for me to move. I have now been with Matthew for twelve wonderful years and I have to say I love him more and more each day.
So this is the story of how I ended up in Phoenix. Until next time......   

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Creative Process

It is already Thursday. I never know where time goes. I sat down yesterday to work on a project for a magazine that has been an idea in my head for weeks. A quilting magazine was willing to let me design a wool necklace for them to feature in their fall issue to help promote my newest book "Fabric Jewelry-Wrapped Braided and Sewn". This book is a bridge between sewers and jewelry-makers. I have been working hard to get both quilting and jewelry magazines to pick up a feature to help promote my book due out this winter. So far I have one feature coming out in a quilting and one in a jewelry magazine. So not a bad start.
Jewelry has become my new obsession and everywhere I look I see things that are inspiring new ideas for jewelry. Now here is the problem, I have so many ideas running in my head that when I sit down to make them reality I am overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. If someone were to ask me the hardest part of design, I would have to say starting the project. Once I settle down and start to work out the design and make it become something more than an idea, the rest of the creative process comes so easy (most of the time). 
Now just a quick peek of what is in my head right now (Scary I know). I am thinking about finishing up the wool necklace project (due 6/1), have to choose fabric and make a birthday quilt (due 6/7). I have several digital quilts I need to work on (due next week), ten instructions I need to write( most likely past due). I have a tablecloth that has to be made for next week's show, I have to respond to the different design opportunities I got at quilt market or there will be no work in a couple of weeks and I have to work on my new line of fabric due in two weeks. Somewhere in my head (most likely filling the cracks) are a ton of ideas for things I want to make as soon as I have a second to sit down. 
I believe what I have is "successful designer sickness" and I am truly blessed to have this. But am a little sad by how many ideas go undeveloped or possibly fade away because I did not have a chance to work them out or write them down. This is where a sketchbook can become handy. I have never been a big fan of carrying one around with me, I used to think if an idea was good enough, I will just remember it. Now I realize this is not always the case and there are times when a great idea was not used because the right job had not come along to utilize it. Then when the job does come I realize I have forgotten most of the idea to begin with. Perhaps it is a sign of age or wisdom, but now I realize how important it is to write it down.
When I have an idea in my head I usually roll it around in my brain and look at it from different angles. I try to visualize how the design will be constructed, what are going to be the challenges with the design, will the design work, do I need a certain materials or tools and where do I get them. I do my best internal designing at night (yes it cuts into my sleep) or somewhere quiet (usually the shower). I usually need to focus on the internal designing one or two nights and then I ready to start. Other designs like the wool project mentioned above had some bigger design challenges and it took me a couple of weeks of thinking about it off and on to solve most of my issues. So what some people call procrastination, I call internal designing. :). 
Once I have the idea firmly designed in my head, I am ready to try an make the idea a reality. This is when I am ready to introduce color into the project. This may surprise some because color is so important to my designs. But this is the way it works and who am I to question. I look at what the piece represents (if anything), who the end user is, what supplies I have to work with and any special requests from the client. If the product has no guideline on color, I usually will work with three different color palettes to find which one works best. Sometimes they all work and that is always a happy time.
When I started designing, I was so exciting to dive into the project, I would start with my final materials. The problem here is if my design did not go together as easily as I planned. I wasted my good materials and usually had go with my second choice. Again as I have learned this lesson too many times, I now make a test sample whenever possible. With our deadlines sometimes there is not choice but to just do the final and hope for the best. Once I start making the design, I usually have to make some changes or alter the concept some, depending on the complexity of the project and if the materials or colors dictate a change. I would say about 20% of the time the design looks exactly think the image in my head. The rest of the time I flow with the design and let it become what it needs to be. 
It sounds hooky but the object being designed has a voice of its own and the most successful designs are a happy medium between what I imagined and what the object wants to be. That is why not everyone is a designer, you have to let your self and your expectations go while designing something and interact with the piece being made. Alot of people are not able or willing to let go of the control and trust that the design will look good even if it is not what you originally planned. People want to know what the final piece will look like no questions asked. But what they need to have confidence that even if their project does not look like the original, that does not mean it looks bad. 
Mary, my mentor used to see me get frustrated with a project and want to trash it to start over. She would say that the project was fine and it was just telling me it was not finished yet. I would step back from the project and return to it with fresh eyes. I would let go of what I wanted to make and look at what I had made up to that point. I would look and see what the object needed to look finished and "listen" to its voice. Nine times out of ten, Mary was right and I just needed to add something extra, that I had not planned to make it spectacular. Looking back these "trouble designs" turned out to be some of my best work. I know it sounds a little zen, but creating is an experience and sometimes the process is more rewarding than the finished object. 
No matter how the design turns out, I am always happy and relieved when it is finished. Creating is a process and it is hard work. It is also a passion for most designers and creating is like breathing for us. I am so lucky to have a career that lets me get paid for something I would be doing no matter what. I hope that the peek inside my head was not too scary and it helps you tackle your next project Until next time..... 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Time is always an issue

Well one day back in the swing of things here at work and things are piling up. Somedays I wish I could have some quiet time to just think about the next step. But after twelve years I realized it may never come and that is a good thing because I thrive on a deadline. Strange I know, but think about things you want to accomplish. How many of them sit there undone for days, weeks, months or oh boy, years. That is because only you want it done and therefore the project does not have a deadline. This means it falls behind everything that does have a deadline. Which in my case are alot of things. The project themselves are always changing but still there is a constant presence of projects with deadlines. 
I think I have finally figured out how to mix the two, things I want to do without a deadline and things I have to do with a deadline. I try to alternate the two. For every project I have to do that I complete, I then get work on something I want to do when I am finished. This does not always work especially doing our busy times but mostly because I love to complete projects in one sitting. As I get older I am starting to realize some of my best work is done slowly over time with breaks in between. I guess you do get smarter as you get older (sometimes). 
Well this was a long explanation why there is no story today. It is because I have deadlines to meet with a couple of projects today. Until next time......

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Coolest Interview Ever!

Well it is back to reality for us a The Whimsical Workshop after eight days of traveling and a three day weekend. I have a very busy week with four projects that must be completed for various magazines, all due 6/1/09. We are also getting ready to go to the Prescott quilt show next week. We have planning, packing and finishing up the couple new samples for the show are also on the agenda this week. With all this going on it would be easy to only write once a week for my blog, and at some point that may be the case. But until then here is the next part of my story....

In the spring of 1997 my life took some very interesting turns that could have lead me in a totally different direction. I had been at S&S for almost two years. The company had fired Mary for not conforming to their idea of a corporate manager in the fall. She made me promise before she left to stay with this company until I had two years under my belt. She said I had a better chance at a great job if I did. This job was my only profession design experience and I had to agree with her on this. 
So with the two year anniversary approaching, I started to look for another job. At the time I was living in Colchester, CT. The company I worked for was the only large company (300 employees)  in the area and I believe it was the support for this small town. I knew I had to look at positions that required a move on my part. I again started to dream about designing toys or possibly working for Disney. 
I had several phone interviews, one was actually for a company in North Carolina designing "Happy Meal" toys for different fast food chains. I thought this one has possibilities until they wanted me to travel for the interview on my dime. Any company that is not willing to pay your expenses, most likely does not treat their employees very well. Besides I was making peanuts where I was and could hardly cover my rent, so there was nothing extra to take a trip with. 
Then one day in the classifieds for CT (yes the whole state in one classified) there was a job opening working for Lego! I did not even know they had a plant in CT let alone their design department was based there. They were actually looking for an industrial designer with experience designing children's projects and experience in technical writing. I thought this is it, my dream job. I sent off a resume and actually heard back from them in about a week. We set up an interview and off I went.  
At the same time that all of this happened, I had been writing back and forth with my soon-to-be husband (though I had no idea at the time) and had set up a trip to meet him face-to-face in Boston the weekend after my Lego interview. I will tell you the story of how we met in another posting because it is quite a little love story. Little did I know that this was one of those few times in life when you can actually see fate at work.   
I remember I did not have anything to wear to this interview and my coworkers and friends took me to a consignment shop to try and find something that could work. As we walk into the first shop there is a beautiful double breasted navy suit hanging on the rack. I thought this is too good to be true. Well is was a size 14, I had been a size 16 and figured it would not fit. I had been playing on the company softball team for several months and must have lost some weight because it fit perfectly. It also only cost about $20.00. 
So now I was set and off I went to Lego. I had an hour drive and I remember blasting my radio and singing along just to keep the nerves at bay. When I finally arrived at the company it was like driving into an amusement park. There were lego sculptures on the lawn and throughout the lobby. Everyone was extremely nice and I could immediately tell this was a great place to work just because everyone seemed to enjoy what they were doing. The lady behind the desk told me someone would be by to pick me up. I did not realize she really meant I was leaving the building.
Ten minutes later the gentleman I was having my interview with showed up in a car and told me we need to drive to the design studio. On the ride he explained that designers who work in a stimulating environment worked better than designers who worked in a cubicle inside a corporate setting. He explained that Lego had actually tested this theory and created a pleasing work area for their designers based on these findings. I personally think no matter what you do for a job the environment can effect your work. He said without great designs they did not have anything to sell and that all started with the company's designers. I figured any company that felt this way about designers was the place for me to work. 
We drove along a country road and I started to wonder where we were heading. This was one of those times a single woman starts to panic a little on the inside. Anyway false alarm, we finally pulled up at this amazing three story farm house. It was one of the prettiest houses I had even seen. At this point you can only imagine my excitement and how much I wanted this job and I still was not even sure what the job was. 
As we go inside, I am amazed at all the natural lighting and wide open spaces. The gentleman takes me into this large "playroom". There is a large farm table in the middle of the room with every toy imaginable. Two walls were all windows and the remaining walls were full bookshelves. He explained this is where they encourage the designers to come and play to help stimulate new ideas. They also ran focus groups with kids and adults in this room. 
Finally we sat and he explained my job would be to design Lego kits with a computer chip in them that would interact with the user. This was 1997 and nothing like this had been done. This product was designed so the user got to build a project and then train the built toy to follow their commands. I was impressed and excited to be apart of this project. 
Now it was time for me to dazzle this man with what I could do. I gave the best interview I could and hoped it was enough. He seemed to like my work and asked questions for about an hour. Then he said he thought I was a leading candidate for the position and he had a couple more interviews set up after mine and would be in touch in a couple of weeks. 
He then took me to see where their precious designers worked. There were some rooms with two desks in each. The desks were so cool. The main desk was just like any other with a smooth top. But each desk had a side section which was covered with a Lego mat and spaces to hold Lego pieces. This is where the designers could work with the Lego bricks to help test their designs.    
He thanked me for my time and drove me back to my car. I have to say I felt pretty great about the experience and now looking back believe I learned so much just from the interview. 
So as you may have guessed already, I did not get the job. But here is where fate pointed me to the path I was meant to follow. The weekend after this job interview, I drove to Boston and met Matthew face to face. We had a long distance relationship for a couple of months and I was already crazy about him. Without getting into the story (I will save it for next time), Matthew proposed on the first day we met. It felt so right and I said yes. Now he was living and going to school in Phoenix and I living and working in CT and was hoping for this job that would keep me in CT. This was quite a hurdle right out of the gate. I remember we discussed it at the time and I think Matthew said we would deal with it, if and when I got the job. He can be very practical. 
So after an amazing week in Boston with Matthew I left to go back to my life in CT and he left to go back to Phoenix, unsure of our next step but sure it would be together. I got a call from the gentleman at Lego letting me know that even though I was his first choice, another likely candidate that already worked for Lego had come forward and Lego's policy was to hire from within the company first. Whether this was true or him just letting me down easy, I will never know. Though this was disappointing, I was still glowing from my week with Matthew and the thought of our future together and the sting was not so bad. 
A month after all of this took place there was an article in the CT paper. Lego was pulling their design department from the US and sending them to work in Denmark. I realized if I had gotten the position I would have been one of the designers sent to Denmark (or possibly let go from the job). I am sure Matthew would have come with me to Denmark and we will never know what could have been. Perhaps in time I would have still started my own company and learned how to quilt, I do not know.  However I do believe everything happens for a reason and live my life with this belief. I like to look back on this month in 1997 and see it as the moment that everything in my life changed and fate helped me find my way onto the path I was meant to be on. Until next time....

Monday, May 25, 2009

Welcome to The Whimsical Workshop Studio

I thought it would be fun to start a blog about our design studio, The Whimsical Workshop. Lets start at the beginning of the story that brought me to this point of my career. I have to say I have had quite an adventure getting to this point of my life and I am a perfect example that you cannot always plan your life. This may take several posts as there are many adventures, each one guiding me to Arizona and starting The Whimsical Workshop.

I grew up in Rochester, NY and I went to college at Rochester Institute of Technology to become an industrial designer. I imagined I would design toys or something fun, unlike my classmates that were hoping to design the next great sports car or home appliance. 

After graduation I spent months looking for a job. It was 1995 and companies were cutting back in their design departments. I ended up taking a job at a company designing craft kits that were sold to schools, camps, hospitals and other institutions. I thought this was a step backwards until I met my new boss and future mentor, Mary Kortemeyer. This woman was larger than life in every sense of the word ( I will share some stories about her later, she was and is a great inspiration throughout my career). She taught me that I was a creative soul that would be happy as long as I could design and play with new ideas. It did not matter what I worked on as long as I was proud of the end result. I have to say even after fourteen years of designing products for others, it is still a huge thrill to see an idea become a reality with a life of its own. 

I only worked with Mary for two years, but in that time I designed and wrote instructions for over two hundred craft kits, many of which are still available today through S&S Worldwide. I learned how to design products on a budget, how to create product for photo shoots, how to design and layout a catalog, how to design for maufacturing and most of all how to work with really really tight deadlines. Mary also helped me understand how important it was to work professionally and with other departments such as sales, marketing and manufacturing. Little did I know that everything I learned would become the base for starting my own company.

Looking back on my time at S&S I realize that Mary saw my potential and constantly encouraged and taught me skills she must have known I would need someday whether I wanted to know them or not. Because at the end of the day she was my boss and I had to do the jobs she insisted I do. I did not like to draw, mostly because I did not think I was very good at it. Mary always made sure I had to do my share of illustration projects even though we had a wonderful illustrator on staff. Now a large part of my design success is due to my drawings. 

I never was a big fan of writing instructions, again because I was not sure if I could clearly explain how to do something in writing so others could understand. I had technical writing classes in college but as with anything in life, school is different from reality. Mary made sure that everyone in the studio not only wrote the instructions for the products we designed, she had us write instructions for other designer's products to teach us the basic steps to good instructions. She would review our instructions and taught us the difference between good instructions and great instructions by explaining what the end user needed to have explained. She would say the no matter how great an idea was for a craft project the true test of success was how clear the instructions were for the customer. If the customer could not repeat what we designed easily, following our instructions the kit was a failure. 
I have now written well over a thousand sets of instructions that range from simple craft projects to extremely complex quilting patterns. Writing and editing instructions is the other large part of my studio. Several of our clients only use this service from us. 

After reading this post, you can see how important this first design job was in teaching me the skills I would later use to start my own successful design studio. From my own experience, I would say learn everything you can no matter what it is you are doing for a job or a hobby. You never know when it will come in handy later in life. Also never stop learning new skills and trying new things, this is how I have discovered the many passions in my life.  Until next time.