It is ironic that a few weeks ago I was convinced that winter had completely bypassed our little corner of the world. As I chirped about budding branches and peeking bulbs, winter decided I was being altogether too smug. This week we got walloped. Trapped indoors for several days in a world of white everything, my thoughts turned to color.
I operate a solo design shop—have for more than 20 years and counting. Which doesn’t mean that I do every single thing by myself. No, I, like many other solopreneurs have my coterie of adjunct service providers. Great people I can count on for marketing copy, commercial photography, coding, etc. But when it comes to getting business, keeping business and making business happy, I am definitely a solo shop.
So how do I feel about that? Well, there is a plus side and a minus side and I am well versed in both.
Let’s get the minus side out of the way first. Marketing myself sucks! So much so I don’t do it. I think about it a lot. Sometimes I even have good ideas, but then my thoughts turn hairy. How can I ever stand out in the crowd? What’s the point of tooting my own horn in a cacophony of horns? Wouldn’t it better to just sit back and wait for referrals from clients and associates? After all, that is more of a sure thing. Except…how often does a referral wander in? And how many times can you beat the same bushes? So if you are me, marketing sucks. On the other hand, I love meeting new people and I love what I do. Talking about my work is easy and somehow I do manage to sell myself in spite of myself. Which brings us to networking.
Over the years I have joined—oh I don’t know how many networking groups. The problem with most networking groups is they are too much like speed dating with musical chairs. I am never sure if anyone is actually listening or if I will be the one left standing. Nevertheless, I continue to dive in with both feet. Truth is I have gotten some wonderful referrals from connections made through networking groups. When you go fishing you never know if you will catch anything, but if you don’t throw your line, you definitely won’t. And unlike fishing, you might land a truly big fish well after you pulled in your line.
If any of you are reading this in the hopes that I have a magic solution to the “I hate marketing” problem and that I am about to share it with you, you would be wrong. Sorry, there are no magic tricks. Just hard work, persistence and persistence. Did I mention persistence?
Now on to the positive side of being a solopreneur. I love my life, I love my work and I love my clients. I get to make deep connections with good people and organizations, their concerns, their needs and the problems they have to solve. I get to feel like I belong and that I am of service.
Another plus is that I get to drive the process. I am my own art director, creative director and head critic. I have a lot of respect for the people with whom I collaborate and they are often very wise in the feedback they provide—feedback that can shape the final product. Clients hire me because of my esthetic approach and stay with me because I take good care of them and I am not stingy with my time.
Working alone provides the quiet space to really think about a problem and find creative solutions—without the distractions of a typical office environment. So while marketing is my downfall, I thrive in solitude. You really can’t make it as a solopreneur unless you are happy spending lots of time alone and are highly self-directed, i.e., you need to be your own boss.
One last plus—and this is a big one. I get a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing that everything about my business I built from scratch by myself. I may not be the hottest Instagram star, I won’t be listed in graphic design books and fortune 500 companies are not knocking on my door, but I have learned to take my measure not in the outward trappings of success, but in the number of people I have touched. Clients know they can depend upon me to make them look good—on time and on budget—and that matters to them and to me..
So to wrap things up, I have no magic tricks for how to survive as a solo designer. But here are a few simple and self-evident bits I have garnered from experience..
Everything you need to know to do your job well will come from your client, so listen carefully and ask a lot of questions.
You are providing a service which means that someone is depending on you, so you need to earn their trust.
Your work for your client needs to live in their world not yours, so don’t expect them to love every new design trend you try out on them. This is not your “art”.
Be honest, straightforward and coherent when you disagree with your client’s ideas. They are paying you for your best thinking as well as your time. Make sure you able to defend your ideas in terms to which your client can relate.
And finally, when all else fails, be charming. It is truly amazing how far that will get you. My motto in life has always been FLIRT! Flirt with everyone and everything—men, women, dogs, cats, your competition, grandmas, grandpas, babies in strollers, uptight CEOs, daffodils and hummingbirds, even the person reading your blog.
Really, why not?
Oh boy, it has been a while since I last visited this page. Nothing like experiencing a total eclipse from a centuries old graveyard to put a pause on the mundane activities of a sometime blogger.
So it’s a new year and it seems I am sprouting new leaves…at least a little bit of greenery around the edges. Winter has been a no-show in Seattle this year. Mid January and my roses are budding up and also sprouting new leaves.
While the world seems more chaotic and dangerous with every passing day and we are drowned by the frantic multitude of voices proclaiming the end of decency, I look to my roses and their new shoots. There is much to trust in these little plant creatures. They are not troubled. They endure and continue in their self-expression with a reassuring constancy.
We humans are a very mixed up lot. So I look to my roses and the coming blooms.
How the eclipse blotted out our separateness.
On August 21, 2017, great swathes of the country came together to revel in the shadow of the moon. For me, the days leading up to the event were filled with anticipatory excitement, not unlike the days before a wedding or birth or some other celebratory event. The fact that thousands—no millions—of others across the country were planning to join me in a great migration toward the path of totality filled me with a sense of solidarity. I felt part of a community of others whom I would never meet—never see—but who I knew shared my excitement, wonder, and awe. Humans.
Having struck out at finding lodging that would cost us less than our mortgage payment, we got lucky in the final pre-eclipse days. Esther, our Airbnb hostess from last year, came through with a room for us at her farm...complete with full breakfasts and home-baked pies.
So we headed out, my husband Bob and I. On the drive to Oregon from Seattle, we encountered little traffic and no signs of a mass migration. But when we stopped en route for the obligatory bag of Corn Nuts, our cashier asked if we were headed towards the eclipse and commented on the number of other people who had already been through that day.
Once there—there being Carlton in the heart of Oregon Pinot country—we went scouting for a viewing site while I expended considerable energy mourning my lack of photographic equipment suitable for capturing the event. Since I could not photograph the sun, I reconciled myself to photographing the mood.
As Eclipsian luck would have it, Esther owns an ideal hillock surrounded by fields of winter wheat, topped by a stand of trees sheltering a Masonic cemetery that dates from pioneer days. So it was decided. We would watch the passage of the moon from this spot whose quiet inhabitants would not object to our presence and might even be glad for the visit. So on that day, we and the residents of Masonic Cemetery #3, joined by a handful of locals, spent a couple of hours observing and commenting on the quality of the light. When the drop in temperature brought up the wind, we oohed and aahed as the wheat in the fields rustled. Joined for those brief moments by millions of others standing in stillness, we watched as the moon and the sun aligned to darken the day. The moment of totality came and went.
When I think about us humans on that day, I think about toddlers exploring their physical environment marveling at every new discovery. At best, we are mere toddlers when it comes to knowing our corner of the universe. Or any corner. We must be reminded that beyond our daily joys, sorrows and petty self-absorption there is an unfathomable vastness to which we belong—minute as we are. And in that vastness, we have only each other.
This eclipse, this hyper-anticipated, much-ballyhooed event provided us with a less than subtle experience of our solar system's clockwork. Is there anything more reliable than those rotating gears that give us our days, nights, seasons and tides? Is there anything we take more for granted? Perhaps each other.
Salut to all my fellow Eclipsians.
Such a soft day, full of breath and reverie—chords that strum the heart wide open and tune all senses to simple pleasures. Time is only the gentle lapping of the waves, the screech of a gull, the whole world humming.
Hearts pounding, arms stiffened, we paddle with excitement. Raucous laughter falls overboard and out to sea, while the echoes of our happiness hover overhead in the clouds. Time is only the approaching horizon, the distance from stroke to stroke, the rush of water beneath us. On shore again, we are tired and elated.
It was a good day to be alive and I want to memorize this moment. To learn the steps by heart and find my way back... when time is the solitary ticking of my heart, the drip drip of rainwater from a gutter, the pause between breaths.
I moved to the Northwest at the end of a summer one year and within a month, someone pulled the lid over the place and we went dark. Having moved here from San Francisco, this sent me into deep mourning for the loss of light. It was a profound reaction and it took me a number of years to finally adjust. Still, pretty much every year since then, I make a pilgrimage back to the Bay Area to reexperience light. Light that fills the mind with champagne thoughts. Light that quickens the heart with the anticipation of pleasurable indulgences and well-lit beauty. Light that makes the air sparkle.
But nature has a way of compensating for whatever she takes from you and I have come to recognize her antidote for the absence of light during a good part of our year. It is the color green. She fills the air with it. Every green she can imagine—all at once. One has only to walk into the forest or a neighborhood park to drink in this pure and essential color of life. It makes up for a lot.
Green light is essentially healing light. It says to anyone who listens, "Trust me, I am always here. I am eternal." Green light calms the anxious mind and fills the heart with feeling. Nothing titteringly high, but the feeling of being balanced, creative and safe.
So I have come to love my home. To feel the power that emanates from this green place and to feel gratitude for its shelter. It is a true and honest place with rules that are reliable and fair. Green light many not induce champagne thinking, but it sure cures the longing for it...when you understand what really matters.
A happy day to all.
After many sad, soggy days and fiercely morose skies, spring has finally arrived in the Northwest. I never had much fondness for pink (except of course when it appears on hats—hats with little ears), but even I have found a new appreciation for the delightfully hopeful tones of pink.
Pink, pink, pink, everywhere pink.
With hibernation officially over, humans are once again seen out of doors. Some of us are still groggy, some exuberant. I find myself in the exuberant category. Numerous excursions to the nursery result in heaps of dirt, buckets of flowers, shovels, trowels, bulbs and bushes—and then the mayhem of planting, pruning, and primping. Birds chirp their approval as I expose dirt-bound goodies for them. Passers-by whistle and hum, nodding their neighborly heads. Ah, the ecstasies of daphne odora, brilliant light, and warm skin.
Oh, it is spring! Truly spring! And none too soon. Pharmacies are plum out of mood elevators.
Happy, pinkly days are here again.
On walkabout a while back, I came across this handsome fellow. He was cool, calm and most of all, receptive. So I moved in for a closer look and he remained unperturbed. For the next several moments, the two of us checked each other out—quizzically, but not unkindly. While I practiced slow breathing, he engaged in staccato head turning. Examining me first with the left eye and then the right eye and then back to the left eye.
I wondered if I looked better in one eye or the other. I wondered if he understood that my little cooing sounds were meant to please him. Did he feel my affection? Did he like me? No way to know of course, but then I am an unrepentant speculator when it comes to the thought processes of our fellow species.
In general, we are prone to attributing all manner of "humanisms" to our fellow creatures. We give them names, talk baby talk and assume they understand that better than our normal speech. We want them to "get" us. We seem to need that—even if they don't. And yet, I believe affection is universally expressed by living beings. It is a material need... and one that transcends the material. No infant would thrive without it. So Crow Baby must "get" that I am sending affection his way.
While I occupied myself with these sentimental but fruitless attempts at cross-species communion, my companion grew bored and flew off.
Red hot little puff of a cloud, take me with you
as you follow the sun.
When I look around me, spatial geometry and color harmonies are what speak to me first. Whether I am in or out of a scene, I feel the angles and curves of space. Geometry defines my relationship to the objects I view. It is the road map from me to you and beyond the visual plane.
Then there is light which surrounds us. And oh how lucky we are for that! Light reveals itself through the colors we perceive, but there is so much more that we don't. So much more that I yearn for and wonder if I will ever see.
Did you know that there are no wrong colors in nature?
You can look and you can see. The two are not always simultaneous nor necessarily the same. Sometimes seeing involves a sensitivity to what isn't there. Sometimes seeing is more like imagining.
Artists squint to minimize detail and see the spread of shapes and patterns of light and dark. This play of light and dark in an image functions similarly to the bass or percussion in a piece of music. It is the structure on which everything else hangs and the container for the feeling tones of color.
Tension, comfort, melancholy or serenity, are all expressed in the interplay of light and dark. It provides us with definition, both visually and psychologically. One defines the other and together they help us define ourselves.
It is the time of year when the earth gets moody. There are days—like this one, where she presents us with a visage marked by a heavy, almost bruised countenance. Yet, this annual tilt away from her sun is something she has practiced for longer than any of us can count. This is her nature.
Still, all of her creatures are affected by this mood. Longer nights, cooler days, we retreat to our burrows and await the sun's return.
Life pulls inward and quiets down. I see the pause, as life prepares to take a rest and ponder it's next step. I see the passing of what is done, finished, spent and I let go.
When wandering the grounds of Andrew Will Winery—on a most beautiful day—I caught a glimpse of these dahlias and I had a moment. As I stared at this particular combination of color and form, the moment amplified. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of happiness and security. This kind of feeling sneaks into me from time to time. I think it comes from simply being alive and for an instant, knowing it deeply.
I am a sentimental person and I think this is why.
I've been a web user, designer, quasi-know-it-all, but I have never blogged. Today that changes.
While primarily a visual person, I am prone to use words and get quite a lot of satisfaction from wielding words well. What I enjoy the most is combining words and images in ways that multiply their individual impact.
What draws me to this? The element of risk. What do I choose to show and say? What do I reveal, what do I hide? Will it be interesting? Will it matter if it isn't? We'll see.
But that's what I intend to do with this space—show, tell, reveal, hide. I hope there will be a few of you that join me as I roam our lovely world looking and listening for the stories she whispers.
It's a good day to start something new.