Collaboration Alert :: JROCROxPE

A common refrain from us freelancers/self-employed, work-at-home people is how lonesome and isolating it can get. Not just the physical “being alone” part, but how the work itself starts to feel disconnected from the rest of the world or in a weird little vacuum chamber.

Sometimes when you really need some feedback to push it, this is bad. And sometimes it’s good because you’re able to create weird little original pieces without too much influence.

In my case, on a particularly self-loathing day last year, it was both: I had wasted so much of my workday spiraling into the abyss of Instagram that out of desperation just to create SOMETHING of my own, I doodled a self-portrait in my sketchbook and posted it on my own feed. It was me, hiding behind a sign of shame (like those poor dogs on the internet who destroy a living room while their owners are gone, or eat Costco-sized rations of Cheese Puffs or whatever). And it said, like a confession, “I didn’t make any art today. I was too busy looking at other people’s art on Instagram.”
People responded to it well, and then, I kinda forgot about it.

Then months later, a woman who had hired me for some calligraphy and became a friend here in Portland, who also happens to own Paper Epiphanies, reached out with a proposal to collaborate on a line of cards with her for spring 2019 release.

When we went to lunch to chat about her vision for it, lo and behold, the illustration she referenced was that weird, sad, confessional Instagram post.

We decided to structure the collab in the same way: womxn communicating their hearts through signs. Some are more confessional than others, but the formula worked across all our designs.

After a few weeks of going back and forth on copy suggestions, revisions, and edits, it was time for me to do the artwork. At our first in-person review, a few were first-draft shoo-ins (otherwise known as the BEST most VALIDATING feeling as an illustrator) and a few just were not working for us.
Our initial artwork deadline ended up falling during a semi-last minute trip to London my husband and I were taking, but with the magic of the internet, and the flexibility of self-employment, I was able to get her all final art files from across the Atlantic in time for our production deadline.

The result?
Ten heartfelt, honest, specific, usable greeting cards, and the first JROCROxPE collab. I’m so proud of it and hope you love it!

The cards are ONLY available for purchase over at Paper Epiphanies BUT, I am happy to announce that I have exclusive rights to two designs to sell as 8x10” letterpress art prints.
One is the “I’m in awe of your strength” message, which is so perfect as a gift to a struggling or triumphant friend, partner, or loved one.

And the other? Of course it’s the original inspiration for the line:

Both are available for purchase right here on this old website. Bop over here to throw a few in your cart!

Women Who Draw

In 2017 two of my favorite female illustrators (Julia Rothman and Wendy MacNaughton) teamed up to solve an industry problem. As they put it,

Like so many great things, Women Who Draw started in the bathroom. Julia Rothman was sitting and thumbing through back issues of a prominent magazine, when she noticed that most – in fact ALL – of its covers had been illustrated by men. She went through her whole collection and found that out of 55 magazine covers done in 2015, only 4 had been created by women. She called Wendy MacNaughton and together they agreed something had to be done. Instead of complaining to the press, they decided to solve the problem by increasing the visibility of all the talented female* illustrators. In early 2017, Julia and Wendy launched Women Who Draw to highlight illustration by women, women of color, LBTQ+ and other less visible groups and make it impossible for any publication, art director or editor to ever again say “I’d hire more ____ if i only knew where to find them.”

I knew from the day it launched that I needed to be a part of the directory, but apparently found every excuse under the sun to delay my submission. I’ve been trying to get out of my own way more, and finally just a few weeks ago MADE space for myself to work freely and creatively without deadlines or client constraints and was shocked at how much was waiting to be made in my hands.

I got a new coat that I love dearly and illustrated myself wearing it, and that’s what I used for my submission and now it’s offical. I’m in the Women Who Draw directory! Please hire me.

One of the other challenges I was confronted with in the submission was that there is an opportunity to indicate your religious affiliation and ethnic background. It was a new exercise for me to publicly identify as an Agnostic despite growing up ardently Christian, and to claim my Middle Eastern-ness. That one was a little harder. I kept doubting myself and thinking my name doesn’t sound Arab enough, I barely speak any Arabic anymore, I’m only half Palestinian after all. But I do think it informs my identity, how I view my global citizenship, my understanding of diaspora (my mom’s aunts and uncles and cousins live on four continents as a direct result of losing their homeland in Palestine), and my relationships with my family, both immediate and extended. So I checked that box and now it lives there as a little fact, next to my name.

Jess Astrella Women Who Draw.png

Event Calligraphy for David Yurman

Sometimes something is so magical it takes a year to really process it.
Sometimes, you might just be lazy and/or poor at blogging. 

This is kind of both?

Last spring, Kristara Calligraphy reached out and asked if I'd be interested in traveling to a few different cities to help her cover a number of events at which she'd been hired to provide live calligraphy services. The client was David Yurman and they were debuting their new Continuance line of delicate, gold and silver looping jewelry. 

Despite messy timing with a cross-country move in the same month as the first city, I obviously leapt at the chance. I was so honored that Kristara trusted me with her business, and thought that I was a peer enough of hers to take on some of the dates, so despite being a little nervous, I agreed to travel to Sacramento, Dallas, San Francisco, and Chicago in March and April. 

It was career-affirming, fun, weird work.  I can't tell you how many lovely strangers would ask me, "you... got... paid for this? What an amazing job."

I agree. 

Because of my background in high-touch retail, I felt right at home in both the DY boutiques, as well as the department stores (including my old stomping grounds, Nordstrom!) and just got to sit at a little branded table and personalize custom David Yurman edition Moleskine journals as a gift-with-purchase for customers.  

The most popular and requested style was a simple continuous name in lowercase gold script across the length of the journal- though I got a few requests for monograms and little sayings, too.  It did take a few minutes each event to get used to having people watch me work - but it quickly became one of the best parts of the job for me because the clientèle got such a kick out of it. It's fun to watch people do what they were born to do.

And if I was born to walk this good earth in high heels and calligraph luxury journals, then so be it.  Such a career highlight for me and a great excuse to spend a few nights away in a nice hotel by myself, too! 

Grateful to both Kristara Calligraphy and David Yurman for the opportunity and hope it's not the last. 

Somehow it's 2017 and we aren't in a nuclear war with North Korea yet but some bloated reality show egomaniac is our president and Beyoncé has three kids all of a sudden and also Prince isn't on the planet anymore and I live in Oregon again.

Time flies whether you're having fun or not, I am here to say.

Things I would like to take some time to process include:

1) I started a company last fall in Austin called Boarding School Collective. It is where to go for all wedding-related design needs from me and my growing team of talented femmes. We do everything I used to do solo, but better now, and as a team.  If you have questions about our offerings, including invitations and envelope calligraphy, you can learn about those here. Any emails sent to about wedding work will simply receive a response from, which, incidentally, is who to email with any questions!

2) My husband and I left our lovely, warm, cactus-y, taco-y life in Austin to pursue some roots-putting-down here in my home, the Pacific Northwest.
We bought a house that is actually an absolute tire fire and are in the middle of remodeling it. If you like that kind of thing, of course I started another blog about it called Not Quite Primrose, and you can find it here. 

Someday we hope it looks like this:

But this is what we had to start from, which is why I'm not taking on much freelance design work this summer:

Instagram posts about the house are tagged as #notquiteprimrose so you can follow along if this kind of horror show is up your alley.

3.  I took a wonderful 5-week course on Children's Book Illustration in the spring online, via Make Art that Sells. We were given the choice of three provided texts to illustrate over the length of the course, and submitted assignments once per week for review. Every day we were given opportunities to experiment and explore and offer positive reinforcement or constructive criticism to the other 200 students in the class through our private Facebook group. It was intense, intimidating, informative and inspiring and affirmed a future career goal of mine.   

The rest of this summer is Boarding School heavy (working on hiring a third teammate in Austin, designing/printing/assembling/shipping five custom invitation suites, and prepping for a busy fall of weddings), finishing up and shipping out a bunch of back-ordered custom work via JRoCro, an trying to get this house in livable order. 

Wish me luck and come help us paint!

You know how when you have leftovers in the fridge and you're out somewhere and you remember that they're home, just waiting for you? You practically salivate as you get in your cab and picture yourself putting on your grossest college sweatpants and settling into the loving arms of your sofa while you watch reruns of real estate shows or some documentary about a murder and blissfully mow down on whatever squishy, chewy delight was waiting for you in that styrofoam container?

Bear with me, but that's how I felt about working on this invitation suite for Rebecca and Spenser.

As soon as I hung up from our initial call, I was hoping like crazy I'd get the job because of all the little bits and pieces Rebecca wanted to incorporate.  As an artist, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into them.

You know what else it was like? When I was a little kid and got a new coloring book, if it had princesses or mermaids or basically any female face in it, I'd get supremely jazzed about coloring in their lips. Someone can psychoanalyze me and hit me with a think piece on that one, but  I can't explain it other than it was just satisfying.

Rebecca and Spenser did hire me to create their suite, and the parameters that had me so excited included:

• wanting to to incorporate the venue (Mission Carmel) and the setting (Monterey/California's Central Coast) by way of texture, pattern (Spanish tilework!) and color (navy blue and terra-cotta/salmon tones)

• a custom marriage monogram/crest that tied in both a poppy and a rose

• needing a way to invite guests to a separate location for the reception

• creating a map for the wedding weekend activities

There were just so many opportunities to create tasty detail morsels that were actually functional and not just pretty, which is my favorite, and so with Rebecca's blessing, I dove in.  

The results:

My favorite parts were:

• getting to illustrate Mission Carmel and then also finding a home for it on the sashes so it wouldn't just get lost in the map

• painting and then creating a pattern of the Spanish tilework that we used as an envelope liner and on the back of the RSVP postcards

• making those little stickers out of their marriage crest to use for sealing the tiny vellum envelopes with the reception cards!  

•Rebecca's vision for a classic, clean calligraphy look

I've read an anecdote about children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak a few times and I absolutely love it: 

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

While I have received zero reports of any invitees consuming my work, that's kiiind of the visceral reaction I'm going for. Maybe not like actually eat it, but I want an invitee to open that envelope and see the scrumptious little thoughtful details and think, I want to keep this  - this means something, and then let it hang on the fridge for a few months after the wedding has passed, smiling at it when they go in for those leftovers.

A totally incomplete guide to finding your creative-career bliss

One measure of success that I wasn't anticipating is that I now receive fairly regular emails from other creative upstarts or people wanting to switch careers who think that I might hold some keys to fulfillment and career-bliss. 

I am honored that people care what I think or that I might have something useful to say, so I take these emails seriously and spend a lot of time trying to thoughtfully respond.
Or at least - I did. You'd be surprised how many times you can write a long-ass email and not get so much as a "thank you" for it!  I have tried not to take this personally or be bitter about it but let's be honest - it's rude and it's a waste of my time, which any self-employed person knows is precious.  

And *while* we're being honest, I have done the same thing. Have you? You get all excited or inspired to get the nerve up to write someone these soul-baring questions and then you hit "send" and... you forget all about it. When the person eventually finds time to write you back or shows that they've invested in you- you've either moved on, lost the spark, or think you have to plan some kind of elaborate "thank you" gesture that never gets done and sent. I STILL do this. I have like, 3 thank-you cards sitting here waiting to be sent like a dummy.

So, in the spirit of recognizing my own failings, and wanting to pay forward the generosity that others have shared with me (but still save some time on emailing), I would like to share some of what I've learned as a creative-business-lady in the last 2.5 years right here. I will periodically come back to update this, so I hope it can serve as a kind of evergreen FAQ.  Feel free to share it. 

First, a section on calligraphy + lettering, specifically.

Q. I would like to do what you do. I used to try calligraphy when I was young but gave it up to work and raise a family. I'm old now, and a late bloomer. Is it necessary to go to art school to do what you do or are you mostly self taught. Any advice for beginners? I'm not steady of hand like a younger person might be so something easy to start and not too discouraging. I enjoy your blog very much. You are blessed with an amazing gift. Thanks for sharing it.

A: First, thanks for your kind words! That’s just about the nicest, most validating thing to hear so I appreciate you taking the time to say it.

Second, I was actually a self-taught beginner. 
I went through a pretty intense 2-year arts program at my public high school, and did a few terms at university as an Art major, but as far as lettering and calligraphy goes - I bought a friend/mentor take-out dinners for like, 7 tutoring sessions before I moved away from NYC so that he could reteach me the alphabet, and since then, I’ve just been kind of winging it + building on that knowledge.

I knew I wanted to pursue a new career in lettering and illustration and felt woefully unequipped to do so (especially having some very talented graphic design and artist friends to whom I compared myself) but I had to start somewhere. Granted, with no kids or looming debts or real responsibilities, it was easier for me - plus I would not be able to support myself without the generosity and patience from my very loving and encouraging partner. I know that, and am grateful every day.

But, I intentionally made some decisions to get to this place of freedom and took some risks and so here we are.

So that’s my confession. My caveat is that I have too much respect for the art and craft of calligraphy to call myself a calligrapher yet. I practice a form of calligraphy called “modern calligraphy” or “pointed pen” that is more freestyle, but I couldn’t write a thing in formal Spencerian or Copperplate to save my life! 

Advice, as unqualified as I am to give it:

1. Start with lettering. I mentioned that my very talented friend and mentor (despite being like 6 years younger than I am), tutored me in actually relearning the alphabet from scratch. I’d initially contacted him with some questions about calligraphy tools and he whoa-Nellied me and asked what I really knew about lettering. I said I had been told I had nice handwriting, and wanted to learn how to use that professionally, at which point he probably rolled his eyes and suggested the tutoring arrangement. We started with the basics. I mean Kindergarten BASICS. He re-taught me the Roman alphabet starting with majuscules (“upper case” letters) and then miniscules (or, “lower case”). My homework was just to write the alphabet over and over again. I’d listen to music and write bits of lyrics, I’d sit in coffee shops and transcribe snippets of overheard conversation. I practiced a lot. I still do. 

2. Practice. A lot.

The purpose of relearning the alphabet was to get a fundamental understanding of how letterforms are built, what pieces of them are essential and make them recognizable, and the proper strokes to put them together. This becomes imperative in learning calligraphy - understanding upstrokes and downstrokes, which is how you can achieve those beautiful thicks (swells) and thins (hairlines). Buy a book! Watch tutorials online! Follow great calligraphers and lettering artists on social media and absorb their work. And then practice until you start to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. (Hopefully not, but, probably).

3. Know your tools.

Lettering artists argue that you can use just about anything to letter, so no excuses if you don’t have the “right tools”! But I would argue that calligraphy is a bit different and does require some specific tools. You will need:
- a clean, flat or slightly inclined, smooth work surface

- a comfortable chair or stool at the proper height

- smooth paper. I like Rhodia notebooks, but artists like Molly Jacques recommend something with guides, which makes sense. 

- a pen/nib holder (best to start with something oblique and inexpensive)

- nibs (totally depends what style you are going for. Do some research online and read product reviews or visit calligraphy forums to explore). My recommendation for beginning nibs are the Nikko G, Nikko Zebra, and Brause Rose. You can buy all of these at John Neal Bookseller.

- a flat, inexpensive paintbrush (to load the ink onto your nib. You can move towards dipping the nib into the ink, but, I feel like that takes some practice).

- ink.  Lots of options here. Walnut ink seems to be popular, but I haven’t tried it. I have tried Bombay Ink, but it’s pretty runny and finicky in my experience. I prefer to use designer’s gouache. It’s cheap, but you have to work with it and play around with adding water to get the right consistency.  The “right” consistency can vary according to nib and paper type, but, it should stay put in your nib for a few lines of text, and run off the nib smoothly without catching or blobbing on the paper. Mix in some gum Arabic if you like.

And then just play and experiment!
Be fearless in making ugly stuff for a while - it will shake out into something prettier, eventually, I promise.

Other than that, I would recommend just taking a workshop or class if you can. Something that allows you to dive in, focus on just the task of creating lovely letters, and boosts your confidence in the process.


now, some less-specific, general career switching notes

Q: How did you get started? How did you know when to leave your old job?  I assume you just jumped in?

Sort of!

You are right in that I have a background in the arts with some training, but mostly have relied on the fact that creating has always just came naturally to me and, yes, makes me happy.  After working corporate jobs for six years but always frenetically generating creative side projects, the time came for me to just listen to that voice that was screaming inside me and looking for a way out into the world.

I truly had no idea for a long time how to pursue visual arts as a career.
Especially living in NYC, with a talented graphic-designer roommate, I felt like I’d missed the boat and didn’t know how to catch up.  I was working at a fun job with amazing coworkers (including my now-husband) and making a good amount of money but I always knew it was temporary - when that situation started to get less fun, M. and I decided, essentially- "let's get out of here and build the life we want."  

I don’t remember the official declaration where I was like, “Yep, we're gonna move to Austin so I can be a calligrapher” or at what point I realized I needed to honor the creative in me beyond just hobby. 

As I mentioned above, the first step towards officially exploring it was to arrange some lettering tutoring sessions before leaving the city with Ray Masaki.

I loved doing it, had always had good handwriting, and it seemed like a more practical application of my skills than “art” in general. I had no idea how it would look as a business beyond that. But I committed to learning some basics to explore it and was grateful to have found a person willing to mentor/tutor me patiently for a few months.  

Not only did he make me relearn the alphabet from scratch, but he made sure I had a deep respect for what I was learning to do and a deep respect for everything I could not yet do! I think in this DIY YouTube/Etsy/Pinterst culture it’s easy to think “oh man, I could totally do that!” and while that spark is important to getting started, I think a firm foundation of knowledge is also useful - you gotta learn, and then at least know about the gray areas of what you don't know about yet

I still feel like I’m winging it sometimes and am insecure that it shows in some ways. If I could do it over, I probably would have taken my re-education a little more seriously rather than learn everything the harder, slower way. (Lookin' at you, Adobe Creative Suite).

I also have to admit that a big break came for me fairly immediately:

Right before I moved to Austin my best friend, who works at a creative agency said,  “Hi I need you to come in and do some illustration work for our client, Starbucks. I can pay you $x for two days of work.”  

And that was it.  I was officially a professional.

No one else in their office knew I’d never done paid work before - I showed up for the shoot, and the production schedule that day said in print “Talent: Jessica Crowell.” That confidence boost was all I needed to get started in truly believing I could do it for a living.


1. Seek out a mentor or tutor! Take someone to lunch whose work you admire, or someone who has a job that you think would make you fulfilled and challenged (also happy).  Pay them to tutor you in a specific skill set for a few weeks, or ask if you can job shadow on a project. Be an “intern” on the weekends!

2. If you have a partner, make sure you guys discuss all the possibilities and that (s)he is on board with all the outcomes, and that (s)he is excited for you! Don't be afraid to discuss the financial realities of what's about to go down. Are you still going to split rent, groceries, entertainment, etc. the same? There is zero room for resentment, here so make sure you're on the same page.

3. All it takes is one project or gig to put on a resume that says, “Yep, I can do this. I am a pro.” to get you to believe in you, and therefore, other people to hire you.

4. Focus on the work. Do it in your free time. Develop your skills, your style, your brand.  Make it good, then make it better. If the work is good and you present yourself professionally, the business will come.

Q: Did you work part-time at a stationery store or full-time? 
do you still work there?
Should I get a part-time job related to my own career pursuits?

I did! But my last shift was Christmas Eve 2015. I worked there 30+hrs/week for about a year+4 months.

I got the store job after living in Austin for about 7 months (during which I’d been freelancing willynilly - taking whatever work I could get after an abrupt career switch) and badly needed some structure. Working from home alone can be rough on a type-A gal. 

It wasn’t a financial imperative at the time, and I only was working 10-20 hours there per week at first so it was truly the perfect complement to the freelance work I was doing: I was visible in this specific community of Austin and started to be viewed as a resource. I became familiar with products, my "competitors"/peers who shopped there, and how the store's custom print department worked (and learned how to price myself competitively). I offered services (discreetly! Like "here's my business card let's chat about this later, please!") that customers needed that the store flat out didn’t offer (custom art, and calligraphy). And I got a discount. 
If you are considering a part time job, make sure it’s not vaguely related to what you want to do, but actually allows you to do what you want to be doing.

Then I got kind of pressured into taking a management role at the store and worked there at least 30 hours a week (including weekends and holidays). Then M. took a start-up job that paid no money. While we were engaged. And I was getting about 40+ hours of freelance work a week on top of that. NOT VERY FUN, GUYS.

The store job, like every job I've ever had was perfect for a while, until it wasn’t. Gotta know when to say goodbye.

It was retail, so that part sucks. You can’t just not show up one day or sleep in and “work from home” and your feet will hurt all the time.   If you do get a “shop job” keep that in mind!

Q: How did you get to a place where you could do your own thing full-time?

1) I plugged away at building my business to a point where I had more hours of freelance work coming in than I could balance with working retail. That's just simple math.

2) I have a really supportive partner -both emotionally and financially. I know this is a huge advantage and I am very lucky.

3) M. and I have designed a lifestyle that doesn’t require me to make as much money as he does, or as I used to in NYC. (We share a car. We live in a (nice) one-bedroom apartment even though I would have loved to buy a family home by now. I don’t shop for clothes or shoes as much as I did when I made a lot of money. I don’t travel home as much as I’d like to. We missed the weddings of close friends in France and Italy last year). So we’ve made some decisions about priorities that allowed for us to be flexible with our combined finances. Ideally of course, my business will end up making a berbillion dollars and he can be the stay-at-home dad eventually, but in the meantime, it’s important to consider how much money you will be making at first and making conscious lifestyle decisions to support that.

Q: How do you find clients? How should I?

At first, clients were all friends and acquaintances. Plus, one of my best friends from high school who is kind of internet famous  hired me right off the bat + was generous with crediting me publicly. That exposure got me 3-4 clients, none of whom were a great fit for me, honestly. I probably should have turned down some of them, but didn’t know how to do that at the time or why I would turn down money. 

The best thing I did, kind of accidentally, was to connect with other professionals in town who were also fledgling businesses in my field. Specifically, wedding planners, photographers, and event rental professionals. We have fostered really strong relationships amongst ourselves and I think of them as my coworkers now, even if it's a slightly different configuration of them on each wedding or styled-shoot. Many of them are also young women in their 20's and 30's who are working from home, trying to figure it out as they go.  
So find your "co-workers" for a number of reasons, but also because they can lead you to clients. These "co-workers" can even be people who do the same thing that you do (known in some circles as "competitors" but, ew. Community over competition, everyone) because maybe you can offer something they can't, or won't.

I haven't advertised yet.  I have had modest success with focusing on cultivating my work, and then positioning my brand through strategic partnerships and an intentional social media presence. 

Q: How should I price my work?

I don't know. What are you selling and to whom? How good are you? How much money do you want to make? What's your value proposition? Where's your competition priced? What are your costs of doing business?

I asked this question, got met with these questions back, and had to figure it out myself - so you do, too!
You'll lose some customers in the process when you aim too high. You'll get more work and get a lot more experience when you price low. Learn from it every time.  Her Royal Highness, Jessica Hische has great advice.

I hope you will find this encouraging and useful. I wrote and erased and came back to it over a few days and copied/pasted some parts from older emails so let me know if parts don’t make sense.


Q: Final thoughts?

The worst thing that happens is that you try and fail. So what!

We only get one life, and we’re responsible for what we make of it - make it great! 



There are people far more qualified than I with way more experience and intelligent things to say about all of this. My most precious resources on questions about pricing, contracts, and creative business have been blog posts, videos, or conversations from: Jessica Hische, Ryan Hamrick, Emily McDowell, Tim Goodman, Simon Sinek, AIGA, & fellow artists on the Flourish Forum. Do the legwork!

Time Away + Filling Up Your Cup

This is the year that I turn 30.

I wanted a trip to take some time to reflect and celebrate somehow making it through my twenties (holy hell what a decade), and also the insanity that wedding season 2016 hath wrought. Running my own creative business requires scrambling above the fray from time to time to get some perspective and make sure the ship is heading in the right direction, and I haven't made any time to do that this year.  Which is, you know, insane, since it's the middle of June already.  

One of my best girlfriends from college currently lives in Dublin so we planned a girls' trip and I ended up leaving my darling husband at home for this one. Sometimes it just works out that way. He was a good sport about it and while it would have been fun to have him there, I was recently working while listening to Amy Poehler's Yes, Please on audiobook and there's a part where she talks about how important it is as adult women to cultivate and nurture our female friendships - which, I *know*, just, hadn't taken any action on recently.  So this trip was a perfect opportunity to spend a lot of time with one of my most passionate, creative, self-challenging friends. 

Going to be honest - there wasn't as much time for professional reflection as there should have been. But there was a lot of seeing and encountering and soaking-in of the surroundings that I'm still processing. 

I had no idea that Dublin would offer so much colorful daily inspiration in the form of its many-colored front doors on just about every street.  Colors I wouldn't think to pair together, or paint a door at all. I took a lot of delight in these doors.

We took a little left-side-o'-the-road road trip West, to Galway, and hopped on a ferry for a day in the Aran Islands. Another compelling thing about Ireland is its top-notch baked-goods game. Took me totally by surprise and I didn't meet a piece of cake or bread I didn't like.  It was so nice to be out of doors so much. Austin had been terribly rainy and dark for most of May so getting to be outside in the long hours of daylight in Ireland felt healing. It doesn't get dark until close to 11 pm right now, and we tried to take advantage of all that lovely light.

Our road trip destination was ultimately the Cliffs of Moher, which we arrived at a bit cranky, late and frazzled after our morning day-trip to the Aran Islands. In some light, spitting mist around six pm, we walked the cliffs carefully and playfully, giddy to be out of the car and surrounded by such incredibly free, natural beauty of the planet.   We took a lot of photos, and talked about the maternity experiences of our friends, about our own hopes and fears for motherhood- about our self-awareness and striving to be better, about death and dying and emergencies and plans. The things you can only talk about with a best friend. 

We walked until we got tired of walking and then went back to the car to drive to our campsite for the night - an hour from anywhere, a few candlelit caravans in a field. We stayed in the red one.  

I don't have anything terribly important or intelligent to share about any of this, other than I am so grateful to have seen what I saw, to have listened to and been heard by a woman I love deeply and hope to be friends with until I can't remember her and then some.
Grateful to have a caring partner who encourages me to do things independently of him, including fly over oceans and see things without him. 
Grateful to be returning to work that I love and am fulfilled by- in order to create things, I have always understood that I have to intake and process other things. I have to fill up my cup before and after pouring it out. 


Project: Gig Posters, Me, and Justin Klump

Back in 2009 I saw a documentary called Died Young, Stayed Pretty about the culture behind rock gig posters. I was a fresh-faced college graduate already getting beaten down by my desk-job and the recession and this film was a welcome reminder to me that there was a whole world of creators out there who create because they have to, even if they can't make a living from it - that they create because they're inspired by the world around them, and that they create to share their work. 

Like most of us, I started going to concerts when I was 14 and didn't think much about the creative process behind a band's visual identity while I was waiting in the merch line to buy a pink baby-tee or snag some stickers (also, if an artist was still small-time, they often worked their own merch tables, so it was a good excuse to get to chat with them). I also didn't notice that a band's concert posters were often completely different from city to city, tour to tour, and if I had noticed, I am not sure it would have impressed me at the time. 
But now, I love thinking about it and how collaborative a process something like that has to be.

In the early days of gig-posters, as seen in the aforementioned film, there was rarely a collaboration or approvals process: in those cases, if a band was coming to town that you loved, you'd just whip up a poster yourself and plaster it around town in hopes it would pique people's interests. Or, more often, if it was your own band, you'd ask an artist friend to help you out and let them run with it. 
Nowadays I imagine musicians and their labels can get finicky about the particulars of copyright infringement and trademarked logos and artists can get prickly about getting credit for their work.  To be honest, I still don't know a lot about that world. But I do know that I LOVE a good concert poster. (If you're on Pinterest, I have a collection going here). 

Even bands that have really consistent, strong visual identities end up with wildly varying concert posters in styles and palettes of all kinds - that all still somehow hit at the heart of what the band and their music are doing. Unsurprisingly, I'll use The Decemberists as an example. Carson Ellis, my favorite illustrator, is married to Colin Meloy (lead singer + songwriter of my favorite band) and for years has done most of their merch, album art, and accompanying visuals. I think she still may, but The Decemberists have authorized and sold dozens of other artists' work over the years in the form of these concert posters, creating this really beautiful body of work that serves to enhance their music and create a kind of fuller, richer, aesthetic experience. If you purchase one of these posters, every time you look at it, you'll remember the show at which you acquired it - you might hear a snippet of a song in your head, be reminded of a hand you held, or a moment that made your eyes sting.  

I bought one such poster at my fifth Decemberists show - one I went to alone at the Beacon Theater in New York City the January after I'd moved there. I was so proud of myself -living in that city on my own, going to a concert alone- that I spent money I hardly had on buying the poster, getting it matted and framed so that it would feel at home in my tiny morning-sun facing Upper East Side bedroom (so that I'd feel like an adult having some framed art when I stumbled home alone night after night at 4 AM with dollar pizza slice grease on my fingers).  The print is of a deer wearing a dress and it specifies the date and location of the concert, commemorating my date with myself.  

 Back around the time I first started going to concerts, I met Justin Klump.  He was already a talented guitarist, but we met at church summer camp, and not at a show - though I've been to many of his, now. We've been friends for close to 15 years and have gotten to support one another's growth as artists and people in that time - which is why it was so special that he asked me to help design a poster and t-shirt for him to coincide with the release of his newest album, to be released this May.   

The process a good mix of collaboration and free-roaming creativity and I think we're both happy with the end results!

Justin's darling wife + baby girl sporting their J.RoCro designed t-shirt and onesies!

Justin's darling wife + baby girl sporting their J.RoCro designed t-shirt and onesies!

The posters and shirts are being produced in Nashville, where Justin lives, so I haven't seen them in person yet - if you beat me to one of his shows, you'll have to let me know how they look!

For more information about Justin Klump, you can check out his website here or buy his music on iTunes!

Wedding Cards - A Testimonial

On the morning of my wedding, I was totally prepared to take everyone's advice to just kick back, relax, and enjoy the day. I truly thought I would wake up, get my hair and makeup done, drink a few glasses of champagne and leisurely approach the walk down the aisle without any complications. That's what the months of planning were for, right? That's why we chose a venue the whole wedding party would stay at together - we'd all wake up to breakfast and no one would have to get stuck in traffic, and we'd all be right there and it would be eaaaasy. 

It sounds great, six months ahead of time, to not have your wedding planner show up til noon. In theory, it sounds great not to see your husband before your "first look." Dream scenario - your poor mother doesn't come down with a sinus infection two days before your wedding.  But weddings occur in real life, in this very real dimension, on this planet, so of course, there are complications, and hungry pregnant bridesmaids, and rain, and sick moms, and oh, did we forget to order lunch and did no one bring champagne and HOLY CRAP HOW IS IT ALREADY 11:30 IN THE MORNING AND AH! HIDE YOUR FACE YOUR FIANCE IS COMING UP THE STAIRS. 

It was hectic. I was tightly wound up and having a hard time enjoying myself.  But I remembered that I'd brought some cards with me I hadn't had time to write yet, so I made the conscious decision to step outside on the porch with a cold cup of coffee, by myself, with a pen and two cards: one for my mom, and one for my dad. I know my wedding day was about me and my now-husband, but to me it was always going to be about family, too - especially given the amazing example of marriage set by my own 34-years-married parents. (Ideally, I would have bought these adorable, custom embroidered handkerchiefs I'd seen on Etsy weeks earlier, but, let's be real -I ran out of time and a few cards is a lot easier on the ol' wedding-cleaned-out-bank-account than some gorgeous, impractical linens).

So I spent twenty or thirty minutes out there alone in my robe, with my hair and makeup set, just taking a few minutes to jot a note to my parents to tell them how thankful I am for them, their relationship, and their contribution not only to my wedding day, but inevitably, to the fabric of my own marriage. Eventually, that glass of champagne arrived in my hand, and my coordinator arrived right on time, and my trooper of a mom got there in time to get her hair done, too.

It was really nice. I think they liked the cards, but, more than anything, it was an essential component of enjoying my own wedding day. Once I was finished, I went inside to rejoin my bridal party and felt lighter, centered, and ready to celebrate with everyone.

And then! One of the groomsmen brought me a gift from M. I was elated. Not because it was a gift, but because this man, who'd been just as busy as I all week, had taken the time to think about a gift, go purchase it, and write me a lovely card to boot. Not having been able to see him all morning, it was the perfect way to feel connected with him during the wedding day frenzy and meant as much to me as any other part of our wedding.  (I am going to be honest and say I totally did *not* get him a card. I did get him all the details for a lovely wedding day though, so I don't feel that badly about it now.)

So knowing how important those three cards were to my wedding day, I decided to design a few myself, in hopes that future brides can feel the same love, gratitude, and connection on their own busy, crazy, beautiful wedding days and bring the focus back to what the wedding is all about. 


West Elm - A Wedding Registry Event

My crush on West Elm started before I could afford it. I was in that post-college wasteland of decorating my apartment with whatever my roommate and I could get our hands on. It wasn't that I didn't *like* Ikea anymore (for the record: still do. Love it, in fact), more that I felt I was supposed to have outgrown it.  But spending upwards of $1,000 on a couch seemed ludicrous, so we compromised and just used stuff from our parents' garages and when the West Elm catalogue came in the mail we'd toss it onto our Ikea end table with a wistful sigh.

The crush escalated to flirtation when I moved into my third New York apartment and my tastes, budget, and luck finally aligned: our big bright airy gem of an apartment bordered the Dumbo neighborhood, where the flagship West Elm is located nestled amidst the cobblestoned streets, adjacent to industrial warehouses. I bought throw pillows, a tray, bowls and picture frames and blankets. Plus, we were the lucky recipients of a West Elm Market around the corner, so I started to bring home soaps, candles, dishtowels, tiny potted plants, and barware.  Our place smelled amazing, you guys.

Now that we live in Austin, and my part-time job is right across the street from the West Elm, it's basically turned into a full blown love affair. We bought a living room chair there (first West Elm furniture purchase: achievement UNLOCKED!) and then when the time came to register for our wedding, I was thrilled that West Elm had recently joined the land of bridal insanity by offering a registry for the first time. It's new, and still a little glitchy, but has basically allowed me to begin curating the home of my dreams - husband mostly indifferent to this development.  

This is all to say that when I heard about an opportunity to be part of an in-store event there to celebrate the official introduction of West Elm wedding registry services, I jumped at the chance. Like I've mentioned before, Austin is developing a fabulously collaborative community of creatives with whom I truly love to work, and this event was no exception!

Curated and styled by the women of Earth + Orb, and featuring the local talents of F2 Floral Design, Michelle's Patisserie, Loot Vintage Rentals, Firehouse Libations, Laura Morsman Photography, Oh Happy Day! Luxury Photo Booths, The Glamping Group, Wool and Weave, Sweetwater Florals, 3 of Cups, Katie J Photography, Ash Renee Photography, AND Peached Tortilla (phew!) we turned West Elm into a mini-wedding expo for local brides and grooms. 
Oh, and I was there, too:

It was a great kick to get me moving towards creating evergreen product, and to get some samples presentable in a pretty way. Plus, talking about yourself and your business in person to customers and fellow collaborators when you mostly work from home in pajamas is a great exercise.  I also had a very handsome assistant + business manager to help me out (thanks, M!).

The cards created for the event are now for sale in my shop - a line of cards for brides-to-be including "Will you be my bridesmaid?" cards and notes to give your parents and your future spouse on your wedding day.  

Thanks, West Elm! See you in five minutes when I come back for that Spiked Cider candle!

Wedding: Agates + Gems + Copper

I finally had the pleasure of getting to work with Bird Dog Wedding on Julie + Brent's wedding, first by addressing the couple's fantastic wedding invitations (which the groom designed himself and were produced here locally by Vertallee).  Hot pink ink was requested for the calligraphy, and I mean *hot* - we're talking pop off the page neon.  Ink is tough to find with that kind of opacity, and a few art stores were intent on directing me to the wrong things, but I got it right after a few tries. 
The results (as displayed in these kind of terrible pictures) were worth it!

To get me further out of my comfort zone, not one of the wedding-day signage or lettering needs would be done on paper. This was both scary and exceptionally fun. I was initially concerned about having and obtaining the right tools for the job, but, instinct prevailed and it all went smoothly.

We did placecards and dessert markers on polished agate slices. Table numbers on enormous hunks of polished agate. Signage on beautiful wooden planks, hand sanded and stained by the groom (again, what a guy!) - and their menu on an old window. Paper is officially out once we start writing on windows, y'all. 

I don't have a ton of great photos but here's a peek at some of the bright, beautiful vision brought to life by this team of creative, organized, resourceful individuals. I wanted to crash this wedding (but I didn't). 


My Biggest Project to Date Was Unpaid

Since last August, I knew the biggest challenge of the upcoming year was going to involve working with the toughest client on a fully custom invitation suite to one of the most important events of her life thus far.
What's more, is that despite the hours and hours of brainstorming, vendor research, supply building, paper purchasing, custom illustrations, lettering, calligraphy, digital tweaking, not to mention revisions, assembly, and actually mailing the damn things - I wouldn't be getting paid.

That's right. Zero reimbursement for my time and materials.

"What event could be so worthy of such labor intensive, painstaking detailwork and cause you such stress? What kinds of important people would be receiving these invitations anyway? Who is this crazy hellcat witch woman for whom you were working!?" you might ask. 

And I would say, "Jeez, hey, I'm right here!  Don't talk about me like that! I can hear you!"

Yep. I'm the client, and I did my own wedding invitations and I would only wish it on those of you who love a good, Herculean task, and a fair amount of papercraft.

I didn't really have a good design process for the project, which may have been part of the whole "stress" issue. I'm exposed to SO much inspiration every day working in invitations at Paper Source, and through the channels I follow on Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest that it's a constant barrage of visual stimuli that I didn't really make time to process. So I would just sit down some evenings and, in between paid jobs, crank out a few elements of our invitations at a time. It was easy if the calligraphy tools were already out, if there was already a hot cup of coffee right there, if the playlist was already in full swing and I could just kind of zone out and do work that came naturally to me. 

Once I did that a few times, I had a bunch of bits and pieces of things that I wanted to cram into one suite, with a few goals in mind. So I set out to:

  • Make sure it represents Matthew and I, and aesthetically reflects the location and vibe of our wedding
  • Create a visually cohesive suite that efficiently communicates important information to our guests and makes them feel as if their presence would be truly appreciated at the event
  • Create a happy experience for our guests from the moment the invitation arrives in their mailbox, through the process of opening and enjoying the invitation suite, all the way up through our reception

and, admittedly:

  • show off what I've learned since January 2014 and celebrate that with people who've supported me along the way

So once all the artwork was done by hand, scanned and digitized and scaled and positioned and tweaked and complemented with some type, I sent them to print at my favorite local print shop here in Austin on paper that I've worked with before. I'd have loved to include a letterpress piece, or some gold foil, but cost was already getting out of control, so I stuck with digital printing which allowed me to use as much color as I wanted to in the final pieces.

After a round of revisions with the printers, I picked up all the assembly supplies and postage and started working on the antique gold ink calligraphy in the evenings while watching tv or a movie.

And then I realized, I am NOT going to be able to do this alone, or even with the help of Matt. Not only because we had to send out 165 of them, but because the components of EACH invitation were as follows: 

  • Outer envelope (addressed in gold, return addressed with embosser, postage stamped)
  • Lining of envelope
  • Invitation enclosure pocket, to be bound with a 
    • Gold embossed sash (of a custom designed stamp)
      • Which would hold an invitation AND
  1. A custom map (mounted on the enclosure)
  2. A details card
  3. A reply postcard (with appropriate postage)

So with the help of not one, not two, but FIVE Paper Source employees, 2 friends, and Matt, we worked for a total of FIVE HOURS assembling all these pieces into heavy little packets of art + love, aided by pizza, white wine, and some good music.

By the end I couldn't tell if I even liked the invitations, or if I was sick of them, or if anyone else would like them, but it didn't matter because they had to go out.

I took them to the post office to be hand-canceled (like hell I was going to let those babies get tossed around in some dirty sorting machine conveyer belt situation) along with a box of donuts, which was well-received let me tell you. If you take anything away from this, let it be that you ALWAYS bring the post office treats when you need 165 envelopes hand canceled.  

Off they went, out of my hands, and into the hands of our guests. 

I wanted to create a little piece of art that 275 (!!!) of our closest family and friends would be able to enjoy. I wanted people to feel loved, and to feel my commitment to Matt and this event through my attention to detail and beauty.  And I think they turned out alright. 


Wedding Inspiration: A Styled Shoot with Birch & Brass (and me?) for Free People

I've been working really crazy hours the last few weeks. I took on more projects than I should have because they all sounded fun, and a whirlwind wedding-planning trip to Portland, and am still working at Paper Source 30 hours a week. 

But, fun fact: did you know that there are 24 hours in a day? Turns out they are all equally useable!

All joking aside, in the last month alone I've been lucky enough to work on custom illustrated wedding table cards (with these adorable little beachy motifs that I can't wait to share), TWO full wedding invitation suites, hundreds of calligraphied envelopes, custom paintings, a full set of wedding paper goods (place cards, menus, and programs), the last mugs (ever, I hope. If I never have to ship ceramic again it will be too soon) AND my own wedding invitation suite.

But of course when Brittany Pigorini* of Birch & Brass Vintage Rentals reached out to me and said she'd been asked to do an editorial shoot for Bldg 25, the inspiration and lifestyle blog of bohemian behemoth Free People, and would I want to contribute and would I have time to do it, how could I have said anything other than what I did?

Which was "Uhhhhh, yes. Absolutely."

*I should mention that Brittany Pigorini is a Cool Girl. Not like, "oh hey, that girl seems chill" but more like, "Damn. That girl is cool. I am afraid to talk to her."  She owns her own vintage rentals company, looks like the spitting image of young Sandra Bullock, can often be seen with her adorable husband and equally adorable bulldog, and does events regularly for a hotel that I got politely asked to leave during SXSW because, and I kid you not, I wasn't cool enough to be there. 

So yeah. When she asked if I wanted to contribute to this shoot, I was like, WHAT IS SLEEP WHO NEEDS IT LET'S DO THIS. 

And things have been so nutty since then that I honestly kind of forgot about it or figured my pieces wouldn't make the final cut and that it was just fun to have worked with her on it. 

But I happened to remember to check out Bldg 25 today and lo and behold, there it all was!

It's sun-soaked and strawberry summery and bright and happy and natural and cheerful and bountiful and relaxed while still feeling intentional. Brittany did a beautiful job, looks great in the photos, and made my stuff look good too.

A snippet from the post:
"As the launch of FP Ever After (Free People’s first-ever bridal collection) drew closer, I knew that Brittany would be the perfect person to turn to for some countryside wedding inspiration, and she did not let us down.

Countryside weddings are becoming increasingly popular and it’s easy to see why: A sunlit field, a rustic barn, maybe even a chicken or two… the entire scene is one that exudes romance and simplicity, an escape for the couple and their guests, a day to focus on love and beauty without distraction. For a simple farm-set ceremony, choose bold pops of color to contrast with rustic and antique furniture, silver flatware plays against the wildness of farm-fresh flowers, and a spread of artisnal cheeses, olives, and other delicacies hint at an elevated picnic-inspired meal. Allow Brittany’s gorgeous photos — all shot on film, mind you — inspire you, below..."
Link to the full spread here, but here are the shots featuring my watercolor inspired brush lettering on baguette bags:


Marriage Material: Custom Wedding Invitations

This project meant so much to me. It was only my second full wedding invitation suite, but the first one where every piece was designed by yours truly, from 100% hand-drawn, painted, or written originals. From the script on the invitations themselves, to the custom floral liners, to the address stamp - all from my hand, to the digital workspace, to print (in this case, letterpress! Done by the lovely Studio Slomo here in Austin).

A specific and super-chic, elegant, vision from my clients (who also happen to be a dear darling friends, sue me) formed this from nothing into something - and I truly think they're something. I appreciate the trust and confidence they placed in me and am so grateful for it.

When you care so much about a client, the project is nerve-wracking to work on, twice as such to put them in a box and send them across the pond - and as nerve-wracking as that was, translate it to currency and double *that* for how expensive it was! (A lesson learned: I do not think I will be shipping invitation orders internationally anymore). I felt badly for not having anticipated that, but every day I'm learning. Also learned some lessons about the Pantone Color Matching System on Coated paper and if I were able to do it over again, would have asked for another round of revisions with the print shop on the liners to get a softer pink. We were on a tight timeline, though, and didn't have time for another round. 

Jess + Joe have been kind enough to let me share these, so, cheers to them and their lifetime ahead of happiness, health, and paying stupidly high taxes to retrieve things from customs (as long as they live in the UK, anyway).

A Good Day in Austin

Working at Paper Source for the last few months has been an incredibly inspiring and fun way to enhance and inform my freelance work, while challenging me to remain focused and efficient.

It's admittedly hard to work 30+ hours a work there, and put in as many hours as needed for my own business (also, this whole finding cute shoes to stand in for a full day of retail is daunting) but it has truly been so beneficial for me. I love being a part of my customer's projects and empowering other people to help their creative vision come to life. I love getting to play with different tools and be exposed to beautiful materials I wouldn't have considered using otherwise. It's excellent for keeping me on a somewhat normal schedule and for forcing me to interact with other human beings as a showered, clothed member of society (working from home got really ugly for a few weeks last year). And yeah, the discount is pretty great, too. 

But, mainly, there are two big opportunities that working at Paper Source has afforded me that I am exceptionally grateful for this month:

1. Good Day Austin, the morning show on our local Fox affiliate, contacted our store about doing a little segment on Valentine's Day crafting. I got nominated to represent the team on air and, after getting the ok from the corporate office, went in to the Fox studio to tape the piece last week.  It aired this morning and now it's online, right here:

2. At the end of the month, I'll be leading a workshop on hand lettering at the Austin Paper Source! It's already sold out, so, it's definitely happening unless that measles outbreak makes it this way.  

All Paper Source customer service associates are expected to teach workshops, but this one is a little scary for me because I'm developing the curriculum from scratch. 

Notice that I specify "leading" a workshop - not teaching, or instructing. Just leading folks through some materials, techniques, and wisdom that people have been generous enough to share with me over the past year and a half. I think it will be beneficial for all involved, and I basically hope no one complains/wants their money back.  

2014: An Illustrated Wrap-Up

I got back to Austin last night after an extended holiday trip to Portland to see family and start some wedding planning (venue booked, officiant booked, wedding coordinator booked, dress bought - YEAH, I AM A MACHINE) and have developed a whole new appreciation for creatives who live near, or have, families.

How do you ever get anything of your own done!?

Curling up to do the NY Times Crossword puzzle in Christmas jammies with mama or going downtown for Spanish coffees or spending time with your grandparents or watching the Blazer game was so much more enticing than sneaking off to do a little bit of work (made even more difficult by the fact that I left my laptop charger in Austin).  At times when we shake our heads and wonder why we moved to Texas, I am learning to look at all the work I did this past year and realize that it probably wouldn't have gotten done had we not moved somewhere kind of isolating.
Except we're starting to make friends here, too, so I guess 2015 is the year where we learn to pursue passionate work we love while balancing it with social/family obligations - otherwise we're going to end up in rural Pennsylvania or the Alaskan wilderness to carve out some peace and quiet. 

The end of 2014 was full of fun projects I didn't feel I could share until the holidays came to a close as so many of them were gifts - a smattering of them are below and a couple variations will be available in my online shop, now.  

Thank you, each of you, for your encouragement, support, interest, constructive suggestions, and love this past year. I absolutely could not have done it (or would have starved/begged M. to pay all the rent) without you and your generosity.

2015 will be about taking all the experience and knowledge I stumbled across last year and deliberately crafting it into new projects and expanding my skillset to create better, tighter, prettier work for us all to enjoy. 

Collaboration: All I Need to Get By

Working alone is an easy way to get into a good, deep, rut.
Left to my own devices, I've proven I only ever paint pink florals, so it was a welcome respite from my own tastes to work with this darling client and her purpley-blue and silver palette.

For her first anniversary gift to her husband, she wanted some lyrics from their song "You're All I Need to Get By."  They wouldn't all fit on the size we chose in the style she preferred, so we got creative and kind of reworked the song to fit our needs (shhh....Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell will never know). Then, she sent me photos from her wedding and current home decor to give me a sense of what colors would look best, and requested some soft floral embellishments to tie it all together. I pulled in some silver to add a little shimmer to the gray lettering and think it brightened things up just enough.

I am so happy with how they turned out and cannot wait to see what they look like framed!
Wishing you both many many more years of happily wedded bliss, with lots of Motown music soundtracking your days.