Next Portland speaker
July 28, 8:30am • Sunken Ballroom, Portland Art Museum • part of a series on Equality
A handful of snaps from our April ‘14 “Sex” talk with gender illusionist Zora Phoenix. Shout out to our photographer Scott Larsen for his help and the The Oregon Public House for letting us sharing their space!You can find the rest of the photos on our Facebook and Flickr.
In April, CreativeMornings’ global theme was “Sex”. The theme was chosen by CreativeMornings/Toronto's organizer Kyle Baptista and his team, while the illustration is by Mike Perry.The CreativeMornings/Portland speaker was Zora Phoenix, a burlesque performer who has kept fans entranced and laughing in venues and events across the city and the nation for over a decade with her gender illusionist character’s live vocal performances, parody and comedy acts.Watch Zora’s talk here.
Holly Andres’ narrative-driven photography is an inspiration to those with an affinity for cinema, design. and storytelling. #cmpdx— Stuart Coates (@StuartCoates)March 14, 2014
— BridgeLab (@BridgeLabPNCA)March 14, 2014
— Needmore Designs (@needmore)March 14, 2014
— Christine Taylor (@Happyplayground)March 14, 2014
Vanitas, my all-time favorite art history term: nicely applied in Holly Andres’ photographs of the back seat of cars. #cmpdx— Sarah Brice (@SarahBrice)March 14, 2014
Brilliant creative process reminder: Go buy a quirky item. Make up a ridiculous back story. Make it real in your art. #cmpdx— Julie Williams (@oregonintegrity)March 14, 2014
Fun fact: Holly Andres taught my color photography class at PSU many years ago, and was influential in my creative education. #cmpdx— Isaac B Watson (@ibwatson)March 14, 2014
— J. Grab (@jrgrab)March 14, 2014
Taking a single object and constructing a narrative around it!#cmpdx— BDA (@BDAadvertising)March 14, 2014
Funny, personal, and slightly horrifying (ack! the freezer!) talk about gender identity via photography at @portland_cm.— Melissa Chavez (@capnleela)March 14, 2014
— Honeysuckle Photo (@HoneyPhoto)March 14, 2014
Be sure to see Holly’s talk on our CreativeMornings/Portland chapter page!
Funny, personal, and slightly horrifying (ack! the freezer!) talk about gender identity via photography at @portland_cm.— Melissa Chavez (@capnleela) March 14, 2014
Fun fact: Holly Andres taught my color photography class at PSU many years ago, and was influential in my creative education. #cmpdx— Isaac B Watson (@ibwatson) March 14, 2014
Taking a single object and constructing a narrative around it!#cmpdx— BDA (@BDAadvertising) March 14, 2014
A few scenes from our March ‘14 “Hidden” talk with photographer Holly Andres. A big thanks to our photographer Scott Larsen for taking photos from the day and the Hollywood Theatre for hosting us!See the rest of the photos on our Facebook and Flickr.
Back in March as part of the global CreativeMornings theme “Hidden”, Portland photographer Holly Andres spoke about the complexities of childhood, the fleeting nature of memory, and female introspection.Submit your favorite quote from Holly’s talk on our chapter page! And shout out to Jason de Parrie-Turner for shooting the video.
Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
For over a decade, Raymond Brigleb and his agency, Needmore Designs, have a been vibrant contributor to Portland’s creative culture. And it’s been to no one’s surprise: Brigleb has made a conscious effort to partner with many community members while adapting to the website industry’s ever-changing design landscape. The Minnesota native also has an ear for vinyl, an eye for local art, and a time-tested love of coffee. Back in February, Needmore Designs tweeted their thoughts of the G Cody QJ Goldberg talk.
I heard through the grapevine that you were one of Stumptown’s first employees. Is that true?
I worked with Duane Sorenson at Peet’s Coffee just before he founded Stumptown. Thinking back, he was the most colorful employee at Peet’s and seemed fairly out of place. One afternoon, we were hanging out and he suggested an interest with starting a business. I couldn’t tell if he was serious, but I told him if he was that he should hire me. Turns out he wasn’t kidding: I was, indeed, hired on as Stumptown’s first barista.
Over the years, Duane has made a conscious effort to develop strong relationships with the communities at the source of Stumptown’s coffee beans. Did his global perspective at all rub off on you?
He was keen on building relationships with our coffee farmers. I, myself, was too busy with management and being a barista that I wasn’t able to travel to where the beans were sourced across Latin America. Duane’s global interest, though, sparked my initial pitch for a Stumptown website. At that time in 1999, I didn’t feel like anyone was telling the story behind coffee. Sure, there were popular brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, but no one in between. It seemed to me having our own story online would be important for our brand’s success. What’s funny is that today’s culture is inundated with stories. Customers care only to know if a cup of coffee tastes good or not. But 15 years ago, online storytelling was a novelty.
At that point in your creative career, how long had you been designing websites?
The first website I ever built was two years prior in 1997. When I was living in Minneapolis, I co-founded a café named Rudy’s. It was my partner’s idea to only play ska music, while my pride aligned with our website being built with Gopher, a conceptual precursor to the World Wide Web and the namesake of the University of Minnesota’s mascot. I know I’m dating myself, but it’s worth noting my first computer was an Atari 400. Back in the 1980’s when my father worked for 3M, he would bring home spare electronic parts and challenge me to build a computer from scratch. A short time later in 1998, I lived in Santa Cruz and had a chance to work with computer graphics for several video games. The titles themselves were not successful, but the associated websites found some traction in the design community. These were, still, the very early days.
Returning to Rudy’s, what was the motivation behind only playing ska music? I read in your agency biography that you share an affinity for avante-garde music.
I should probably update my biography! To be fair, I have an affinity for all types of music. In the office, I’m the one who insists we have a turnable and fresh vinyl records to listen to. As for Rudy’s, I didn’t care if we were playing ska so long as we were a business who shared a story and an opinion. We had something that we stood for, but also had something we inherently stood against. In saying we were ska café who played records and sold funky cigarettes, we earned a loyal following as opposed to other generic coffee houses. And even if all of us served crappy coffee, at least we served crappy coffee while playing good music. And hey, if you were a customer who brought in a record, we would probably play it. Rudy’s was like hanging out a radio station.
When you started the coffee house, did you have more of an itch that you were going to be a barista? Or, after dabbling with computer graphics in Santa Cruz, that you were heading towards a career in web design?
To be honest, design has always interested me. I don’t know if kids still do this today, but if you grew up in the ‘80s like I did, you would draw the names and logos of bands you liked on your backpack. The thing is, I got really into it. And so, with the half-dozen coffee houses that I worked for during my early years, I grew frustrated. Each were just getting off the ground and each felt like a dead-end. I didn’t like the management side of business and, at the time, I couldn’t understand why. When I was fired the second time, though, from Stumptown — and yes, I was so bad at customer service that I could get fired twice — I decided that the thing I always wanted to do was design. And seeing as I had always been tinkering with computers, this seemed like my chance. I was on unemployment and could start a business. More or less, I asked around for projects and got started.
Did any reception from the Stumptown website lead you to believe you could start your own design agency?
Honestly, the initial Stumptown website didn’t make a dent. When you’re bootstrapping yourself, your goal is to do stuff for cheap and earn exposure. You end up working for next to nothing with a lot of artists because they also don’t have money. Eventually, I caught the eye of the illustrator for DailyCandy (a culture website growing in popularity with young women). She liked my style and wanted me to redesign her website. I said yes and, with time, people began affiliating my designs with DailyCandy. It was an impression I did nothing to dissuade because it was helpful to work alongside a company courted by brands like AOL. Things, then, took off. For over ten years, Needmore has literally never advertised. I’ve found if you do work that leaves a good impression — and maybe encourage people to tell others about you — that things will work out for the better.
I read an entry on the Needmore blog regarding your redesign of the De La Paz website, a coffee company based in San Francisco. You described there being a unique “feeling” behind a Needmore design. With the changing landscape of web design — between the new publishing platforms, new programming languages, and new trends — how has that “feeling” evolved and/or stayed consistent over the years?
I think a lot of today’s designers sell their aesthetic style as being uniquely in-house. To me, it’s no different than someone who learns how to act by only waving their arms. Instead, when working with a design, it’s important to step back and consider a project’s most important design principles. And if those principles resonate with a client, that’s an expression of style that’s much more powerful than if you were to only stick with a color, like orange. And not to diss everyone who uses orange because I’m sure we have used orange on Needmore designs in the past. As for the De La Paz site, we had to consider the landscape of coffee websites. They all seem to have a certain look nowadays, often using craft paper. I wanted to express something through design that would appeal to the larger Bay Area community and reflect the specific interests of De La Paz’s clients, including tech companies like Google. Clarity was key. When Needmore visited De La Paz, it was difficult to reduce our experience into words. Instead, we were taken by the business’ vibe. They were playing records, had funky and weird wallpaper, and showcased lifestyle imagery. And so when considering De La Paz’ website, I was interested in an experience where customers were inside photographs surrounded by information, rather than being inside information surrounded by photographs. For instance, instead of showing a bag of coffee atop a white background, we designed entire pages with urban landscapes featuring bags of coffee atop a table. In addition to typefaces and line weights and their relationship to a consistent buying experience, we hoped to invert the approach to coffee websites.
As it relates to design principles, Needmore’s portfolio includes several projects interested in betterment within the local community. How has Portland influenced your agency’s perspective on social good?
It’s nice to attend to an event at a place that you support, to see your name on a program, and hear someone say something nice on-stage about your company. But for me, it’s even cooler when I attend that same event and the speaker describes our relationship with, say, a high school and the the kids go crazy. With our Washington High School project, I had biked past the school a million times and wondered if a story lay behind the building’s faded glory. Our agency was later connected to Venerable, a local development firm. We had the unique opportunity to tour the building, take photographs, and collaborate with those responsible for the school’s historic preservation plan. We, effectively, could tell the school’s story. And that’s what’s cool — to show someone on a map that I’m in one place and being able to connect those regional dots with others who are so close. Another similar project involved Portland’s Literary Arts program. The young students had written poems that lined the insides of TriMet public transpiration around the city. I’d catch myself on my way to work scanning the bus’ ceilings and thinking, “I can’t believe this is my client!”Other times, we simply seek people out. It’s an easy win-win if a collaboration can achieve some sense of social good. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a cause I believe in standing behind a crappy website. For example, last year we worked with Equality House, a rainbow-painted non-profit in Oklahoma advocating for social equality. The space lives across from the Westboro Baptist Church, a group notorious for their hateful picketing. We reached out to the house, suggested that their website could use some work, and offered our help for free. As it turned out, the guy who runs Equality House was incredibly supportive. As our relationship grew, our agency grew more excited for both their cause and our redesign. In fact, one of our newest employees joined our team because of the project! And so, I’d like to believe our team doesn’t work for the money. Yes, our new espresso machine may be enough incentive to come into the office each morning. But it’s more than likely because we all feel like there’s a sense of purpose in what Needmore is doing. We actually give a crap and we’re all trying to make a difference. (Sorry! I’m trying not swear because my daughter’s sitting right next to me.)
I imagine other design studios may avoid taking on social issues out of a disinterest in possibly dividing an office. Is it difficult to unify a team around your own social interests as one of Needmore’s Co-Founders?
No, frankly, it’s not hard. I don’t want to come to work with anyone who, for instance, doesn’t 100-percent believe in what Equality House stands for. Yes, I understand I can’t fire them for political reasons, but as it goes I wouldn’t hire that individual in the first place. When you and I were talking before our interview, you brought up collegiate athletics and if I knew where certain Needmore employees had attended school. While in retrospect I should’ve asked, what I care a lot more about is whether somebody is passionate about projects in our company portfolio. And, even better, whether I think the work he or she has done is pretty rad. Because for me, our work is much more important than doing another website for a chunk of money.
Between stories of empathy, apology, gratefulness, and frustration, I was intrigued with how many Needmore employees shared personal life experiences on the agency blog. Who inspired the creative transparency?
The idea came from my wife, Kandace Brigleb. I really do work with five amazing artists— even if they’re often just writing code. And even if it comes more naturally to some more than others, each has their has their own interesting story whom I try and encourage to share everyday. One Monday, it dawned on us that we should all write stories about our own experiences related to social inequality. Funny enough, at the same time we had considered producing a short, one-minute video to promote Needmore on our agency website. Instead, we asked ourselves: How could we tell the same story more effectively through a client’s project and through their eyes? Because, for me, I’d like to be working at an agency where our employees are talking to people in the community, letting them what we stand for, and — just as importantly — that we stand for something.
Looking back on the last ten years of projects at Needmore, would you say you’re creatively satisfied?
(Pause.) Yeah, I’d say so.
Who would be an ideal client, then, who you’d like to work with in the next few years?
When you brought up De Le Paz earlier, that was something I really enjoyed working on. In fact, we’ve since been tasked with a project for their lager, sibling company, Four Barrel. During our first meeting with one of the owners to discuss preliminary details, he suggested that he liked the work that we had done. Instead, though, he proposed that we do something with Four Barrel’s redesign that we had always wanted to do as agency. “Do that,” he said simply. I thought, “How many clients tell you to do that? That’s… weird!” What he said, though, was true. I was walking through their coffee house and noticed a chalkboard hanging from the ceiling displaying prices. I assumed I was looking at a transparent piece of plastic because the backside read in reverse. And yet, the owner had me look closer. The chalkboard was, in fact, two-sided. Someone had painstakingly written each menu item letter-by-letter backwards. It was for a little sense of humor and an attention to detail. Those are the qualities in a project that I appreciate: where you can do something that is practical but, at the same time, has subtle details which people will see, think is sublime, and know that someone cared.
Speaking of client relationships, you worked with a brand, The Hunter Collective, wherein you described Needmore as wearing an “anthropological hat” during agency discussions, research, and ethnography. Is anthropology a common design approach in the office?
I would say so. When looking at their site, our design is interested in simple symbology and a color palette akin to what you might have seen at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Munich. The pages are clear and we’ve given the scholarly approach its own flavor. My partner, Kandace, is an anthropologist by training and has a Master’s degree in the field. We joke about her education from time to time because, from the outside, it looks as if she’s failed because she did not become a professional anthropologist. But in reality, the skills of anthropology are uniquely applicable to the web for a myriad of reasons. For one, Kandace is the type of person who is not afraid to put the brakes on a project and re-think our audience. Such skills carry over into user-experience and usability. A sympathetic design cares about what users are going to perceive and how a design is going to be useful to them. As such, quick and dirty user testing is important to us when making sure our design theories are correct. And then there’s Needmore employee, Elizabeth. She’s actually owns an anthropological hat. On any given day, we’ll give her a hard time when she’s not wearing it around the office.
In addition to these client projects, what role do passion projects play in your career as a designer? In particular, how has “The Job” podcast influenced your relationship with the local community?
The name, “The Job,” is deliberately generic. But the goal of the podcast is to interview people doing cool stuff around Portland, whether it be creative endeavors or clever businesses. When the idea originally came about, the office was steeped in side projects already. I was trying to network, meet more people, and have more conversations. I thought I could record these conversations — seeing as I already liked to meet with past clients to discuss random ideas. Frankly, it was an excuse to get people into our office. I had to build a website, think about marketing, and learn important lessons once the workload became overwhelming. After 32 episodes last year, we decided to stop, reboot, and do a second season this in 2014.
What’s one lesson that resonates with you most since starting “The Job”?
We’ve had to be careful of overcommitment. It’s important to focus your business and thoughts on what’s most important: design. That said, without side projects we’d go insane. “The Job” has been great for our agency because the podcasts generate their own agenda. And with each new conversation I walk away with a head-full of new ideas. Whether it be with Jaimi Curl and the evolution of her local companies, Saint Cupcake and Quin Candy. Or with Hutch Harris, the frontman of The Thermals, and his marketing’s reflection of the changing music industry. There’s seems a fascinating intersection between business and design. What’s irritating, though, is when I record a conversation and it doesn’t air for a month. I want to tell the world, “Just wait, it’s that good!”
It seems you’ve struck a balance between work and fun. If you could dial the clock back and put yourself on the hot seat, what kind of conversation would you have with a younger Raymond?
I would caution myself. Back then, I had never experienced what it was like to really run a business. Instead, I was having fun far too often during my misspent 20’s. I would have told myself to be more aware of that little, nagging feeling in the back of your head. Just because life is more boring than you’d like it to be, you know things can be much better. And, most importantly, that I should act on that feeling sooner rather than wait until you get fired twice. Otherwise, I would’ve said you’re doing fine, to enjoy the hair while it lasts, and to keep buying records.
And while we’re looking to the past, when did you come up with a name like Needmore Designs?
I was really into a band called Guided by Voices. Their music was as good as anything The Beatles were putting out at the time — and I’ll admit to being the world’s biggest Beatles fan. But Guided by Voices was also recording their music on four-track tapes in their basement and, as a listener, it was obvious. They were proudly on a shoestring budget, drinking cheap beer, and being all-around amazing. I collected their records and noted that their publishing company was Needmore Songs. I found the name to be hilarious because this band was a song-writing machine, having written at least twice — maybe ten times — as many songs as The Beatles. I saw it as a beautiful bit of irony and decided to nick the name for myself. From then on, I’d be Needmore Designs.
Finally, in the context of CreativeMornings and morning routines, you certainly share an affinity for coffee. What’s your ideal cup and and what does it say about Ray, the person?
It’s a shot of espresso pulled from a machine in my office. It’s for myself with no customer service involved — which, as we’ve come to know, is a good thing. I couldn’t necessarily say what bean it would be, but the fact that I get to pick is part of the magic. The taste is indescribable — it’s always better knowing I can pull that shot, return to my laptop or book, and keep working.
Has an espresso always been your top choice?
A double-shot? No, god no. Duane taught me everything I know regarding my taste in coffee. Before, I hadn’t a clue. I thought the best coffee was the kind that was burned the most, like a French roast. And having lived in the Midwest, people would compare an espresso’s caffeine with that of a Red Bull. But they’re not the same whatsoever. Espresso has a unique history, culture, and a function. Duane was even one of the first people to put a standing table by a coffee house’s front window. And after he hounded me for years, I’ve come to understand that there’s no better expression of someone who is passionate about what they’re doing than to have them pull a double-shot.
Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
Darsey Landoe has attended so many of our events that we’ve lost count! We’re featuring her because she’s amazing, because she’s shown us tons of love, and because she tweeted an awesome snapshot of her notes from the Mark Lakeman talk.
You do a lot of work with non-profits and small businesses. What attracts you to working with these kinds of clients?
There’s a pulse to non-profits that can’t be matched. The grit that people have, the fight that they exhibit every day, the necessity of it all—it’s purely for the sake of the people or the mission they serve. They don’t work for sales or awards or any sort of cool factor. They work insanely hard so that the cause they’re fighting for can progress. I love that. I love helping people do that. And I do better work when I care about what I’m promoting.
Sometimes I get to interact with people that receive the benefits of the work these non-profits do. I’ve taken photos, conducted interviews and written stories about really inspiring people. It gets me out of my bubble.
Same goes for a lot of small businesses—business owners put their entire lives into their work, and they believe in it. That really comes out in the work I get to do for them. Working for good causes with people who love what they do and are changing the world is an incredible gig.
What has been your most rewarding project lately?
About a year ago, I connected with a marketing group in Portland whose main clients are Goodwills in various cities across the country. I create fundraising campaigns for those clients a few times a year. Each campaign is such an all-encompassing project—there are multiple pieces of mail with lots of moving parts, web designs, emails—and I get to create all of these pieces from scratch. The biggest challenge is speaking the language of all our audiences, which go from Millennials all the way to the Greatest Generation. So we push a more modern visual style while employing some age-old tactics with the text. It’s a really cool challenge, and I’ve learned a ton.
What brought you to Portland?
Same things that bring everyone here—creative community, walkable neighborhoods, incredible geography, food, culture, the whole bit. I grew up in south Georgia and went to school in South Carolina. I visited PDX while in college with some friends and just couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to be here. I wasn’t brave enough to make the leap without a net, though, so I worked at an ad agency in Greenville, SC, for two years while I looked for work. The ad agency was the perfect place to cut my teeth as a designer—intense hours, high profile clients, crazy-creative staff—but I didn’t have time to do much else, particularly volunteering, so that was part of my criteria in my job search.
I landed a job at Portland Rescue Mission and figured I could grow as a designer while, essentially, feeling like I was volunteering full-time. Kind of the perfect balance. I made the move in 2009, worked at PRM for three years, then went out on my own as an independent designer in 2012. My husband and I bought a house here last year, so we’re sticking around for a while.
You’ve attended so many of our events! What keeps you coming back?
It’s free education, people! I love learning from other people’s experiences and applying their wisdom to my own life, whether they’re designers or not. I’ve really begun to see “creatives” as such a broad category of people—essentially, if you’re problem-solving, you’re a creative—and Creative Mornings recognizes that and showcases such a great range of professionals. Beyond that, it’s a great way to learn about what’s happening in Portland.
I go to lots of other talks and events, too. I’ve audited art history courses at Portland State, gone to a handful of AIGA events, taken classes at ADX, hopped around during Design Week, just gotten into WeMake. There are so many great events for creatives here, and that’s part of the reason I moved here, so I do my best to take advantage of them.
Which talks have been your favorites?
Oh gosh. That’s so hard to say. I was fascinated that Camas Davis of Portland Meat Collective called herself an almost-vegetarian. I cried when G Cody QJ Goldberg talked about the inclusive nature of Harper’s Playground. I think I had a spiritual moment when Brad Cloepfil talked about Allied Works’ process for designing the new Sokol Blosser space (which is breathtaking in person). But the one that’s stuck with me the most is Liz Forkin Bohannon’s talk about Sseko Designs. She really turned my world upside down when she suggested that capitalism might have more potential to do good than traditional non-profits, simply because people like buying things. There’s less of a guilt/obligation factor that way. They’re participating. They tell their friends about it. They receive a product that others can see. Obviously, because of my work, that gave me a lot to think about. I also went to Rwanda a couple of years ago, so her work in Uganda hit home.
Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
When Isaac Watson left his day job last April, he looked to friends and strangers to keep his passion project in check. Each week on Twitter, he compared the number of hours he worked with those billed, ending with a brief summary of how he felt. While simple in practice, lifting the veil in the public domain forced Isaac to both confront the timeliness of his project’s goals and his need to bill more time so he could survive at home. He was, in effect, tapping into his ambidextrous brain. By intertwining creativity and analysis, Isaac has found his sweet spot between project management and community organizing. And today, he’s burning the same midnight oil and has almost completed that same passion project, Maker’s Nation.
You attended Portland State University’s renowned Graphic Design program from 2004 to 2008. How do you reflect upon your experience?
I didn’t actually graduate! In fact, I ran screaming from graphic design. The moment came when I was preparing for my portfolio review. I had been going to school off-and-on and wasn’t following a typical track. Forcing myself to be creative day-in and day-out was not something I wanted to do. And yet, I still had this great appreciation for design and marketing.
And so, it got to a point where I said to myself, “Portfolio review or bust!” And I said, “Bust.”
Six months later in 2008, you started Focal Length Designs. Did you have any sense the project was on your horizon?
No, not at all. It was my outlet for creativity as a hobby business. I could do it on the side when I had the time and motivation outside of my full-time retail job. I was making the work and doing a bit of graphic design for the marketing materials. To be fair, I didn’t see Focal Length as design work so much as making, and that’s where it appealed to me.
As your first jump as a professional in the creative world, what are some lessons you learned?
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing from a business standpoint. That particular “Oh crap!” moment is what fueled the rest of my career development. A lot of my dilemmas included not knowing how to price my work, how to market to people who were not my friends, and how to get my business into the community and be known. And then balancing my ability to produce creative work versus it being 30 degrees in my parents’ shop, hammering away at aluminum bracelets, not having very much fun, but knowing I had a show the next day.
I also learned to not do it all myself. My best decisions were hiring an assistant for three or four months to help prepare for a show, and then hiring a professional photographer to take images of my work. Those were huge burdens I was able to pass off, and it was well worth it. Also, I dove into my community, embracing advice trading and mentorship. As I started selling my work on Etsy, I realized there were other small business owners like myself who were trying to do something creative for a living and make a go of it.
You mentioned being involved with Etsy. It would seem, then, that was a direct connection to “I Heart Art Portland,” the community project you founded?
Absolutely! In 2009, Etsy was interested in jumpstarting community programs to help local Etsy sellers, and Portland was the prime place to do it. They partnered with PNCA and the Craft Museum and decided they wanted to start a professional development program. I was involved with a group of nine other people who volunteered to put “I Heart Art Portland” together. And it was great! For almost three years, we hosted workshops and networking events.
Also during this time, you returned to an academic community by starting work at PNCA. How did that come about?
I began working at PNCA because of the “I Heart Art” project. As collaborative partners in the program, I worked with PNCA pretty closely. One month, they had an opening in their Communications Department and I was anxious to stop working at Kinko’s. It was a perfect segue into marketing work.
Sounds like you were turning connections into professional opportunities. Let’s talk about Maker’s Nation, then. When did you decide you wanted to start a new venture?
We knew that our third year of the “I Heart Art” project was going to be our last because of a lack of funding. I thought to myself, “How can we return this program to something that is sustainable?” Because when it came down to it, the program was very successful for what we were doing. We had a lot of people attending our workshops, and we even experimented with speed-dating networking events that were very popular.
Maker’s Nation incorporated in March 2012 and we formed our board. It was very slow going at first, partially because I was working full-time (in PNCA’s Communication Department) and as a board we were still wrapping our heads around what we wanted to focus on. We knew we wanted to be broader in scope and not just focus on Portland but to help makers across the country. We also knew that education was a primary component of what we were doing. I didn’t actually intend to start Maker’s Nation as a non-profit, but the more I looked at keeping prices affordable for up-and-coming makers and being able to rely on community support — like philanthropy — the more I realized a non-profit was the way to go. So over the next year and a half, with a lot of planning and rethinking and planning and thinking some more, we’re finally kicking off in 2014.
But you still had your day job. When did you know it was right to walk away?
There were number of factors that aligned magically — well, not magically — but aligned at the same time that allowed me to make a decision. One, I bought my house and completely changed my monthly financial situation for the better. Two, I was at a turning point where I knew I needed to spend more time with Maker’s Nation but I did not have the capacity to do so outside of my job. So I gave myself an ultimatum — I needed to dive into it or I needed to walk away and let it go. And I couldn’t bring myself to let it go.
Why give yourself the ultimatum?
I knew if I didn’t, I would continue to waffle. My passion wouldn’t be my primary focus and I would just drag the project out further. If I didn’t do anything different, Maker’s Nation would blow up in my face.
I imagine you could have left and started Maker’s Nation in a different city, such as San Francisco or Seattle. Why did you choose to stay in Portland?
I’m a native, for one. And I kept coming back to the idea that if I were to go somewhere else, I would have to start from scratch. Portland has what I call the “Portland bubble.” It’s why everyone is drawn to Portland, including Portlandia — that creative, collaborative atmosphere that makes it pretty easy to start something like Maker’s Nation. And yet, while we’ll be based here in town, we are hoping very quickly to expand into other cities and start training. So while I try not to focus too much on Portland, it does have that magic, pixy dust of creative awesomeness.
Is it important for other Portlanders to burst from that Portland “bubble”?
Yes! One thing that I’ve been really conscious of is to realize that what makers are doing here can be replicated elsewhere. That Portlanders are not relying on the bubble to make us successful and that maybe the petri dish of all the components that go into making the bubble can be found in other cities. I’m fascinated by other creative cities that have a maker history with a blue-collar style, like Pittsburg, Raleigh, or Asheville. These places have really interesting, creative backgrounds but maybe the communities themselves are a little more underserved. Those are the types of places that are most like Portland that would also be easy for us to go into and start hosting programs and to be a real benefit to the people that live there.
There’s a statement on the Maker’s Nation website that reads, “Find your people the old-fashioned way. Better your business the 21st-century way.” How does balancing the old and new resonate with you?
Makers are constantly self-isolating. If you’re trying to do it all yourself, you’re either in your studio, behind your computer or in your workshop. You could also be taking the photos, writing your copy or building your own website. Even though we are increasingly interconnected through the Internet, we have devalued the importance of coming face-to-face and spending time in a social manner with other people. And so “finding your people the old-fashioned way” means finding an event or a structured program where you can meet, learn and have a shared experience with others.
“Better your business the 21st century way” means taking a modern approach to what you’re doing. Whether it’s jumping on the crowdfunding train, focusing on an online-only business or using the latest technology or channels to sell and market your work, these are skills I often find makers lacking. By offering education, hopefully Maker’s Nation can attempt to bring makers as a whole up together and offer tools for being better business people in the 21st century.
On the heels of starting Maker’s Nation, is there any advice you would give to your younger self?
Think bigger! I left school very frustrated while trying to find myself and I think I was limiting myself to what was immediately in front of me. I think taking the leap into starting the jewelry business was probably the first step into thinking bigger. I often find my ideas tend to be much more ambitious than I can actually execute, but I like it that way because it keeps my mind open to different things and it helps me scheme, plan and think broader than what’s right in front of my face.
That sounds similar to a line I’ve seen on your website and your Twitter biography, “Pay attention, give a shit.”
Those are Stefan Sagmeister’s words and they’ve always resonated with me. One of my biggest frustrations in observing culture is how more and more people are taking the time to notice their surroundings. It’s one thing to complain, or to whine, or to demand for change — whether it be in politics or economics. But ultimately, it’s important to put actions behind your words. “Giving a shit” for me is a mantra that suggests I have opinions, feelings, and goals, and that I can do something about them.
Does such a philosophy relate to being a maker?
Yes, I think it does. I think the most successful makers are the ones who are not just paying attention to what they’re doing, but to how the outside world influences [their creativity] and to care enough about what they’re doing to make it amazing.
Do you consider yourself a maker?
My quick definition is someone who is an independent entrepreneur. Or somebody who is doing something creative for a living on their own or with a small group of people.