business

escape to italy

photos by Lissa Cowan

It’s 3 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Heavy rain (or worse, snow) is flying sideways past the window, whipped into a frenzy by late-winter winds. Someone dented your bumper in the parking lot. A series of inhuman deadlines loom large. Lunch was tuna salad on pasty freezer bread, washed down with a mug of anemic coffee from the communal office pot.

Who wants to chuck it all and go to Tuscany?

Lissa Cowan, a writer, consultant and all-around literary talent, recently did just that. She and her partner, Sanjay, sold their Vancouver home and are traveling and working overseas for at least four months, and possibly more.

We’ve all seen a similar storyline unfold in movies like this and this and in this wildly popular book. But what strikes me about Lissa’s adventures is that she’s a full-fledged adult with a complicated life and real responsibilities. This isn’t a post-college backpacking trip. She’s not looking for love or trying to “find herself” in an olive grove. Instead, it took bravery and careful planning to (temporarily) leave everyday life in search of peace, creativity, mental space – and some very delicious food.

Today, Lissa’s sharing the details from her rented cottage in the Italian countryside. How did she make it happen? That’s what I wanted to know, and I’m sure you do, too.

1. Describe what you do for a living.

Professionally, I am a copywriter, editor, social media storyteller, communications strategist, translator and media relations specialist. My company is called Go Small or Go Home and our clients are mostly non-profits looking to make a positive social and/or environmental impact. The name for my business comes from my philosophy that working in small, unsuspecting ways with social media tools can be more cost-effective and have the greatest impact.

Creatively, I do all the above, and I’m also a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. I have a literary agent in the UK and have been working with her on a novel project, which is finally nearing completion.

2. What are you most excited about right now, creatively speaking?

I’m excited that I’m on the last leg of this novel journey and that after this I’ll be able to follow up on other ideas I have for stories, other novels and a blog. Being able to see my work take shape in the way that I envisioned – after an incredible amount of hard work – is definitely a thrill.

3. How are you spending your days?

The trip to Tuscany, Italy just fell into place for me. I was planning to go to Bali and Vietnam, and then I was told it wasn’t the best season to be there. I started looking for somewhere to stay in Italy and found the perfect place right away. I’d been here six years ago and managed to write a non-fiction book proposal and see many places as well. I remember it being very peaceful, stunningly beautiful and easy for me to get into the ‘creative zone’ I needed to write.

Typically I wake up, do yoga, meditate, have breakfast and then start writing. I usually write for about five hours and then focus on client work in the late afternoon and evening. Though I also have about two or three days a week where I write all day, stopping partway through the day to go for a walk in the hills.

4. How were you able to leave “regular” life for so long?

It took a good three or four months to prepare to leave for four months, and a couple years before that to consider how it might be possible. My partner, who is also a writer, and I shared a home, had a cat, family responsibilities, a number of clients, and so on. Then there were lots of details to consider. For example, I needed a new, more lightweight computer with better capabilities. Because I work freelance and much of what I do is solitary, I figured that as long as I had an Internet connection, I could pretty much go anywhere. I have had some difficulties with Wi-Fi, though. For instance, last month I was on Santorini Island in Greece and had to leave a bit earlier than planned because the connection wasn’t good.

5. What were the most challenging pre-trip preparations?

I’d say the most difficult part was simply making the decision to leave. Once the decision was made, it was just a matter of making it happen. It’s not over the top to say that our lives have been turned upside-down. We were homeowners for seven years and it was hard to give that up. Yet we decided that living in a beautiful home in an expensive city was not as important to us as writing and following our dreams. The way I look at it, things come into our lives and they go out. When we have these things, we need to give thanks and accept the joy they bring to us, yet not have them rule our lives.

6. What has been most rewarding (so far) about your trip?

Definitely having the time to be more creative with my work and the time to write without worrying about all my deadlines. I still have deadlines and interruptions and I enjoy my professional work very much, but at least I’m in a place and a situation now where I can play more. To me, writing is all about having fun, exploring, and keeping that window of possibility open.

7. Any standout moments to date?

Arriving at this cottage in the Tuscan hills is definitely up there. It was pouring rain, the birds were singing. The house overlooks a valley of olive groves and dense forest. On the other side of the road, behind the cottage, I could see the medieval village on the hill. The whole setting was truly enchanting.

Generally speaking, buying local is a big thing for me. Almost everything I’m eating is produced here: the prosciutto, the cheese, honey, bread, wine, olive oil. It’s been a joy to talk to farmers at the Saturday market about their passion for what they do. And, of course a joy to eat!

I’ve also met some wonderful people since I’ve been here. In Florence I stayed in a 15th-century villa where the owner had weekly potluck dinners for her guests. I met a photographer, academics, an artist, writers… It was interesting to talk to them about how they managed to live creatively. A woman who was an art historian said to me, “Do whatever brings you joy.”

Thanks, Lissa!

posted 7 Mar 11 in: art, books, business, food, inspiration. This post currently has 10 responses.

advice revisited – part 1

Mister (Billie Holiday's dog) / photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Does typical business wisdom apply to creatives? It’s a question I’ll be considering in the next several posts.

First up: “It’s a dogfight in the middle.”

This gem comes from my good friend Lisa. It’s not the most common phrase heard in classrooms and boardrooms, but it’s ripe for examination.

The point

Most people assume it’s impossible to reach the upper echelons of their industry. We believe a coveted invitation, contract, sale, or opportunity is like a golden envelope slid under the door; you either get it or you don’t. In fact, most people don’t even shoot for the top. They target what feels like an attainable goal and prepare to battle it out with everyone else working in the same space. Hence, the proverbial dogfight.

For example

Think about TV newscasters. The climb-the-ladder, pay-your-dues model means you start at a local cable station. You build your clips, work your way onto the news desk and then aim for an affiliate network. Every night you dream about being plucked from your home in Moose Jaw, Eugene or Sarasota to land in the national spotlight. You’re a small fish longing for bigger waters. If only the right people would recognize your potential…

The translation

Creatives are not newscasters. Most avoid fuchsia and hairspray, but that’s beside the point. Aiming high means taking a hard look at what’s happening in the rarefied space you crave. For example, what’s true about the artists exhibiting at your dream gallery? What’s true about the bands playing major festivals — or the designers showing on national runways? Forget about the local DIY market. What would you do and experience if you were working at the very top of your field? How can you set yourself apart from the pack? When you target the outer limits you actually begin to think differently. A technicolor vision takes you beyond the dogfight and unlocks a path that hasn’t been fully trampled.

The verdict

This (relatively uncommon) business wisdom applies beautifully to creatives. Get out of the middle and go where things are emerging — where there’s space to realize your dreams.

– be specialized and unique

– cross-pollinate and juxtapose your work in unusual ways

– look beyond the crowd and target the top

posted 16 Feb 11 in: art, business, inspiration, media. This post currently has no responses.

go for no

photo by Amir K.

Just like bungee jumping, skydiving and shopping for swimsuits, sometimes you’ve got to trick your brain into taking risks.

Here’s one technique that really works. Start by making a list of 30 people, gatekeepers, institutions or opportunities that represent a big stretch in your career. Think long shots and lofty goals. For example:

– request representation with a gallery you admire

– book a venue far bigger than where you currently perform

– pitch your designs to a prestigious retailer

You get the idea. Keep writing until you reach 30. Heck, make it 50. Force yourself to be really outlandish.

Now it’s time to take action. Start working through your list with the intention of getting 30 or 50 “nos.” Just make sure you’re backing up all those pitches and plans with the necessary legwork. Do your homework and give every item your best shot. As you’ve probably guessed, two important things will happen:

1. You’re going to hear the word “yes” a lot more often than you expected.

2. You’ll become more comfortable with rejection, which is essential for artists and creatives at every point in their careers. The dagger becomes a little dulled — and you start growing a tougher skin.

Give it a try and let me know what happens.

posted 24 Jan 11 in: business, inspiration. This post currently has no responses.

fashion illustrated

David Downton is one of those prolific artists whose work just seems to pop up everywhere. His illustrations have graced the pages of Vogue, The Financial Times, Harper’s Bazaar and V Magazine, and he draws for commercial clients including Chanel, Barney’s, L’Oreal, Dior, and Tiffany & Co.

Doesn’t his style look familiar? I didn’t know anything about the man behind the brush strokes, however, until I caught a recent profile on Fashion Television.

In 2007, Downton started an international fashion illustration journal called Pourquoi Pas? Printed on heavyweight paper in a limited edition of 1,500, the periodical is intended to “celebrate drawing in our digital, disposable, point and shoot world.” Pretty fantastic.

He also published a glossy coffee table book last year called Masters of Fashion Illustration, which celebrates some of the world’s most outlandish talents (himself included). Light on text but heavy on eye candy, it looks like a gorgeous source of inspiration — whether you work in a visual field or not.

posted 19 Jan 11 in: art, books, business, fashion, inspiration, media. This post currently has no responses.

stalking the streets

photo by The Sartorialist

Surely you all know (and maybe love) The Sartorialist, right? Photographer Scott Schuman is the reigning curator of street style, with a ridiculously popular blog that attracts people-watchers from around the globe. He also does assignment-based client work and is represented by the same gallery as Annie Leibovitz, Chuck Close, and the late Andy Warhol.

Scott’s no shrinking violet when he puts the camera down, either. He was more than happy to flaunt his alleged physical prowess in this 2009 interview with Amy Verner for the Globe and Mail.

Whatever you think about the man behind the lens, I enjoyed watching this slick, day-in-the-life film by Intel — a company that’s obviously leveraging Scott’s cool factor in an attempt to boost their own.

Check it out here or on The Sartorialist blog. What do you think?

posted 12 Jan 11 in: art, business, fashion, media. This post currently has no responses.

thinking outside the kitchen

photo by Fred R. Conrad / New York Times

I loved Frank Bruni‘s recent New York Times story about ballsy chefs burning the rulebook to create unique dining experiences.

The highlights:

John Fraser leased a soon-to-be-demolished space in SoHo for a “temporary restaurant installation” called What Happens When. The lean bar is a mobile cart, chairs were bought on eBay for less than $10, and customers will set their own tables to keep staff costs down. Fraser is also funding the nine-month project with contributions from the microfinancing site, Kickstarter.

– Chicago super-chef Grant Achatz is leveraging the power of precise numbers to launch Next, where diners puchase advance tickets for a specific hour and a set menu.

– Manhattan chef Will Goldfarb has experimented with Picknick Smoked, a BBQ trailer in the financial district, and a two-day stint whipping up desserts in a borrowed SoHo bar space. It’s safe to say he’ll continue pushing the boundaries.

And the list goes on…

John Fraser / photo by Daniel Barry

I celebrated my last birthday at an underground supper club, and it was a delicious, memorable night that ended with a fraction of the typical restaurant bill.  The chef also provided advance wine pairing suggestions to enhance what could have been a jumbled BYOB collection.

Clearly, novelty and word-of-mouth buzz have the power to attract even the most jaded diners — especially if you’ve got the kitchen chops to back up your bravery. Pared-down dining makes sense, too, when people are still keeping a tight grip on their wallets.  When restaurants eschew convention to focus on making incredible food, we all reap the benefits.

Cheers to creativity that goes beyond the kitchen.

posted 5 Jan 11 in: business, food, media, retail. This post currently has 2 responses.

zoe meets carolyn

paintings by carolyn stockbridge / images courtesy elliott louis gallery

The very best thing about the Internet (in my humble opinion) is the chain of inspired connections it promotes. Have I written about that here before? It’s definitely one of my obsessions, and I think it goes far beyond the immediate links of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. I love stumbling into fresh ideas and creative work online, just as we used to rely purely on bookshelves, gallery walls and local clubs for new discoveries.

In the same spirit, here’s an interview that Zoe Pawlak recently did with one of her artistic heroes, Carolyn Stockbridge.

It’s fun to read their conversation and meet another abstract painter who counts Cecily Brown, Joan Snyder and Willem de Kooning (one of my favourites) as creative influences.

Oh, and if you happen to be in the Vancouver area, Carolyn’s exhibition, Grounds for Interpretation, runs at the Elliott Louis Gallery from January 4-29, 2011.

posted 21 Dec 10 in: art, business, interviews, media. This post currently has no responses.

meet zoe pawlak

photo by RAD Studio

Today, my friends, you’re in for a treat, because Vancouver-based painter Zoe Pawlak is sharing her well-earned wisdom on art, persistence and strategic creativity.

I first met Zoe through Loaded Bow – a venture she co-owns with Genevieve Ennis designed to connect and support women entrepreneurs. Zoe’s one of those people who can turn strangers into allies in five minutes flat. She’s warm and driven with a ridiculously sharp mind for business. Most importantly, her paintings draw you deep into the canvas with vibrant, vivid colors and hypnotic images.

Zoe studied painting at Concordia University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She’s the rare artist who enjoys both a thriving critical practice – including solo and group shows across the continent – and a successful career painting commissioned, site-specific works. She also served as Head of Community Relations for the 2010 Cheaper Show and writes for the Art Toronto blog, impression / expression.

Whew.

As the mom of two kids under five, Zoe’s determined to follow her creative instincts and support her family. She also talks about painting with a sense of excitement that’s surprisingly rare.  Zoe’s downright giddy about spending her days in the studio and sees sales and marketing as a welcome challenge – and a great adventure.  So sharpen your pencil or power up your iPad and prepare to take notes. There’s so much to learn from this lovely and talented lady.

1. What fuels your work?

I started painting because I love people, so I painted the figure for a long time and I practiced figure drawing and portraiture, because I wanted to tell the story of what people physically look like and how they move through the world. Over the last few years, my work has been emotive landscapes that are either physical or emotional places, and the paintings are made from memory. I arrive at them through experimentation and intuition and I just sense when they’re complete.

These days, I’m moving back into figurative work and trying to combine the figure with partial narratives and stories about women, specifically, and what we’re experiencing.

2. How do you balance the different demands of painting and business?

There’s a natural intrusion that occurs and I actually really enjoy it. It’s the spontaneity that drives my work. When I’m painting, I have a lot of time by myself and ideas just come to me about how I could sell work and move it through the market. I actually enjoy the peace and the rest that painting gives me. It fuels creative ideas and innovative ways of doing business.

I’ll paint for about an hour, hour and a half, put on music and get into it. If an idea comes to me about a client that I have to follow up with or a really beautiful blog that I forgot to write down, I’ll stop painting. I have my laptop in my studio and I’ll work for 20 or 30 minutes and pursue certain ideas. I’m a strong believer in always putting your work out there, so for the past three or four years, I’ve always spent a minimum of 15 minutes a day putting my work out into the world.

I feel like being in business drives a lot of the ways I think about painting. I have a responsibility to make honest work, but I also want it to be relevant to people.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I really admire two Vancouver women: designer Martha Sturdy and Jane Cox, who works in partnership with her husband at Cause+Affect.

Martha is very persistent and she’s built an empire. She paved the way for us. We get to do what we do because women like Martha Sturdy have pushed through. I was fortunate to have a phone interview with Martha once and she ended by saying, “make sure that you’re always having adventures.” But throughout our the conversation, she kept saying that you have to be persistent, make what you want, put it out in the world – and if you love it, people will love it. Well, sometimes they won’t, but as a creative person, you have to continue to make the work that you really want to make.

I’ve recently gotten to know Jane and I respect the fact that she’s worked hard and shaped the company based on her strong philosophical beliefs. Jane is very attentive to what she thinks is going on, what people need, and she’s behind so many great cultural events in the city, like the introduction of Pecha Kucha in Vancouver. She’s taken Vancouver up as a calling. I think she’s very wise and innovative, and I feel that Cause+Affect thinks farther into the future than many other companies.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I make my money only through painting and drawing, but I do so in two ways. One is selling my original paintings and the other is commission work, which I’ve really pursued and tried to carve out as niche for myself by providing clients with a service. I say service, because people do receive an original painting. I believe in that originality and I don’t make prints.

Last month, for example, I worked with a clinic that needed art for their interiors and I sold them five paintings. Three were commissions based on their space. They sent photographs and I took elements from the pre-existing colour scheme and other details and I made them into original paintings. They also two bought two of my original pieces. I always make sure to bring the work right into the client’s space. Nine times out of ten when I bring work into a space, it doesn’t leave.

I’ll give minor discounts and I offer payment plans – I try to make it accessible – but I pay real attention to customer service. I think of myself as a people person and customer service is of the utmost importance.

I applied to participate in a recent city mural project with RUF Project and for Brief Encounters, as well, which are dependent on grant funding. I’m really interested in the public and performative aspects of painting.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Commissions probably represent 60 percent of my income. The sale of original pieces accounts for the other 40 percent.

How do people – especially other artists – react to your focus on custom work and the idea of customer service?

Artists want to make a living from their work, but a lot of them don’t want to alter their art to meet the needs of clients, or they don’t even think of the people who buy their art as clients. So, sometimes it’s met with suspicion. Most artists believe that they’re doomed to carry another job and few believe that it’s possible to make a living independently. But when you go through traditional systems, such as galleries, you’re still subject to other people’s ideas of what your art should look like and how it should ultimately be.

I’ve seen a lot of artists who think they’ve arrived after securing gallery representation and then they’re either disappointed or surprised if they don’t sell well. They just assume “Okay, now I’m in this big gallery, now I’m going to sell,” but if they’re not making a living, their studio practice suffers. At the end of the day, my mission is to support my studio practice, which affords me the ability to make new ideas happen. I get to advance my career and I work full-time in the studio. I don’t take that lightly and consider it a huge blessing.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

I’ve done other things, such as teaching, and I’ve let my attention become very divided in the pursuit of making a living. But time and time again, my husband always says, “you pay yourself the most when you’re painting.” At this point in my career, I’m very committed to doing what is the most lucrative. I only have to sell one big painting in order to make my monthly income, for example, so why would I do 15 other little things and run around like crazy? But you still have to do a lot of work to ensure one or two sales.

photo by RAD Studio

7. What tools or money-making opportunities do you think artists and creative pros should consider?

Right now, I’m really excited about video. I think video and YouTube are a great way to give people a glimpse into your studio practice and who you are. Essentially, I believe that people are looking for connection – across the board. Through Oprah, through yoga, through everything, we’re looking to connect with each other. So, anything that allows you to touch your customer and connect with people is going to make you more prosperous.

I also believe in follow-up. My last 50 clients have come from following up on leads. You have to be first-of-mind for people. I often meet people who don’t have any money – they’re students, they have debt, whatever – but I know that in seven years when they have $2,000 in the bank, I trust that they may buy a painting from me, because they’ve responded to the paintings, I’ve planted that seed and I’m authentically building that relationship.

I feel honored, too, when I sell a painting, because that means you’re leaving a piece in someone’s home. They live with that painting every day and they’re giving you a huge piece of their interior physical space. It’s a big responsibility. People wake up in the morning, they’re drying their hair and doing their thing and I feel honored that they let me live permanently in their homes.

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Design*Sponge. In 2008, Grace Bonney featured my work on her blog and I sold over 20 paintings in three days. It also led to a commission with Chloe Warner of Redmond Aldrich Design. She hired me to create a piece in San Francisco, which was my biggest commission to date. I also got to travel down there and the piece was photographed for Martha Stewart Living.

Building visibility in my hometown, Vancouver, has also been valuable. I’ve done that through the Cheaper Show, IDS West, and a couple wedding fairs. I also send free thank you cards (with my website on the back) for real estate agents. They give the cards to clients who have new homes with empty walls. I’ve also offered agents a deal on a commission and they, in turn, give their clients my card with the gift of a custom painting. When the agent knows their client is an art lover, it connects me to the client, the homeowner gets a commissioned, one-of-a-kind piece – and they always have more walls to fill.

After the first Design*Sponge feature, I wrote a story for the site’s Biz Ladies section and provided a PDF of my thank you card. Anyone who reads it can take the PDF to a printer and, of course, the card has my website on the back. That led to about 300 email requests and now those cards are living out in the world. There are all kinds of ways to do things for free.

From a business perspective, I never see selling one painting as good enough. If someone says they want one painting, I bring three and show them more. Or if they say, “I love that, but it’s sold,” I say, “I’d love to do a commission for you. Let me come over and I can customize it to your space.” I work hard to meet people’s needs. There’s no such thing as a dead end.

I’ve also done a lot of business with women through Loaded Bow. I give work to charitable auctions, which has been awesome and ultimately, very lucrative. I make sure to attend the auction and talk to people. You can’t let your piece sit out in the middle of nowhere. I also promote emerging Canadian artists for impression/expression, which is the Art Toronto blog. When I write for others, I always ensure that my name is hyper-linked to my site and I get a lot of traffic back that way.

Is there anything that hasn’t been worth the effort?

I’ve done so many things that aren’t worth it! I did a joint show during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. At the end, we realized, “oh, so people were here for the sports and the beer!” That was an expensive mistake. We rented an empty space and took a month out of our studio practice to be present and the show, but no one came. The South Granville area was like a ghost town.

Still, I wouldn’t discourage people from trying new things. Make small, thoughtful investments and do them really well. I’ve made this mistake a lot – and I keep making it: Appearing mediocre because you’re too cheap or unwilling to go all the way to fully realize an idea. That is a weakness.

Even if you only have a bit of money, do it 110%. Really commit. People recognize quality and they’re looking for quality – and if you’re not good at the little details, ask for help. I outsource all the time. I’m always asking to do trades with people. I trade for yoga and haircuts and massages, but also to promote my business. Try and outsource that which is not your strength. Again, I pay myself the most when I’m painting.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Ever since I had kids, I feel strongly that you need to do what you’re meant to do. The biggest investment is actually the time you give up to work. You have to be apart from your home and the people who matter to you. I spend a lot of hours in the studio in pursuit of this thing that I could be wrong about and that I’m often wrong about. It takes faith to commit your time and energy. I was out four nights last week promoting my work. I feel very fortunate that I can do it, but it’s still a sacrifice and an investment. I really want my children to do exactly what they’re meant to do in the world – whatever that is.

photo by RAD Studio

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? What would selling out look like to you?

Why are we creating this polarized conversation about selling out versus purity? I’m so excited when I experience art that comes from a clear vision. Someone like Rothko, for example. When I look at his work, I’m so grateful that he never deviated from the “purity” of his vision. He never sold out, so to speak. I think there’s a stronger cultural impact if someone is true to his or her art. But can you afford that in this capitalist world? I’m unwilling to suffer in the ways so many artists have and still do. I want to have a balanced life more than I want to have my ideas completely manifested through my paintings.

Ultimately, I know when I’ve sold out. I know when I’ve sold something and I thought it wasn’t really done or very good or it deviated from my true style. But you can only find your compass by messing up. I hear that from a lot of entrepreneurs. Cut ties with the things that you know are wrong, right from the beginning. You knew it six months ago. You knew it a year ago. Then when you’re free, you have space for other things to come in.

Thanks, Zoe!

posted 6 Dec 10 in: art, business, inspiration, interviews, media, performance. This post currently has 7 responses.

revenue remix

photography by Bryan Skeen, courtesy Kendi Everyday

The concept of passive income really trips people up. I always ask artists whether they have a passive income stream, but I’m continually surprised when they call it laziness, or a form of cheating on their “real” work. Not true. Here’s my definition:

Passive income is anything that can (theoretically) earn money while you sleep. Once you’ve created and/or arranged this revenue source, it continues to pay dividends – without your direct time, attention or effort.

Now for a new example.

Kendi Skeen writes a charmingly candid fashion blog called Kendi Everyday. After moving with her husband to a small Texas town, she started the site as a creative outlet, explaining, “Many people use words to journal, I just use my clothes.”

Recently, Kendi launched the 30 for 30 challenge, where she and her readers vow to wear and remix just 30 items of clothing (including shoes) for 30 days. It’s a way to flex your fashion muscles and appreciate what you’ve already got — much like the six items or less movement, without all the laundry.

Smart cookie that she is, Kendi also created a 30 for 30 Remix Workbook. The $4 downloadable e-book helps readers to navigate their closets with style. It’s a perfect example of passive revenue – and it’s a natural extension of her online conent.

I wanted to know more, and Kendi was kind enough to answer my questions.

1. Why did you decide to write the 30 for 30 Remix Workbook?

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a close friend who asked me what I wanted to do in my life. In jest, I answered, “I want to write a book.” In jest, mind you. With that, she told me to do it, to start small with an e-book, just to see if I could do it. So when we started talking about it I figured that I should start with my upcoming 30 for 30 remix challenge. Since the remix was my brainchild, the possibility of everyone understanding the idea behind it and the process is slim. And who better to write a guide than someone who came up with the idea? So after much pushing from my husband and friend, I penned the 15-page guide.

2. How long did it take you to create it?

The guide took me about a month to create, design, and write. A very long month. I had never done this before and really I hadn’t seen many of these guides on other blogs, so it was kind of a trial-and-error process. I now know many things that I would do better and differently. So I hope to write a few more to post on my blog.

3. How has the response been so far?

It’s been good! Like I said, I’d never done this before so if I sold five, that would have been successful in my mind! There was no real benchmark for the guide; I just wanted to create something to help someone with the ins and outs of their closet.

Passive revenue was not the ultimate goal, but it has been a great perk. I certainly could not work on something for a solid month and send it out in the world for free. I consider myself an artist after all, maybe not with a canvas and paint, but with words and design. And no artist should give their art out for free. I hope people have received the guide and felt the hard work that I put in and that it has helped them in their day-to-day closet matters. If it has helped even one person, then I think it was worth the work.

Thanks, Kendi!

posted 18 Nov 10 in: business, fashion, interviews, media. This post currently has no responses.

meet molly watson

photos courtesy Molly Watson

I live on the West Coast and love seafood, so you’d think I’d be intimately familiar with mussels. Right? Wrong. For years, those delicious little devils scared the shells out of me. I feared the de-bearding and most of all, serving my guests an unexpected side of toxic encephalopathy (look it up – actually, on second thought, please don’t).

That all changed when I discovered Molly Watson and her lovely blog, The Dinner Files. Molly makes simple, seasonal foods that are easy to replicate. Even the most basic recipes, like a cherry smoothie or chickpea salad, get a unique twist in Molly’s deft hands. She’s also got a subversive sense of humor that gives her writing a delightfully cranky edge.

After earning a PhD in Modern European History, the reality of teaching French history failed to live up to her ideal vision, so Molly channeled her love of all things culinary into a career in food writing. She landed her first gig with Epicurious – in the early days when friends repeatedly asked “epi-what?” – and interned for Citysearch San Francisco. When the economy turned sluggish and 9/11 blindsided the nation, Molly decided to don her apron full time. She completed a professional cooking program and joined Sunset magazine as the staff food writer from 2005 to 2008.

Today, Molly is an independent writer. Her words have been published in The New York Times, Edible San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle, and she contributed an essay, “Scrambled Eggs” to the best-selling anthology, The Bigger the Better the Tighter the Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image, and Other Hazards of Being Female. She also writes a guide to local foods for About.com, works as a recipe developer and teaches food writing through Mediabistro.

Oh, and the mussels? Thanks to Molly, they’re now a (perfectly safe) staple dish in my kitchen.

1. What fuels your work?

Some of my work is fuelled by the fact that I like to get a check on a regular basis. But, I try to make sure that everything I do is informed either by my interest in food or my drive to write. That’s how I make sure that I don’t get too far afield.

Overall, what really fuels my work is craft. I love the craft of writing, I love the craft of cooking, I love the craft of quilting – which is one of my hobbies – and I used to be a historian, and I love the craft of history. That’s the connective thread between all of my work.

2. How do you organize the business side of your career so it doesn’t intrude on your creativity or productivity?

I try to sequester it. I try to set aside a time each week where I deal with those tasks. Now, I don’t always follow through with that plan. I’ve been quite busy this year, so I usually deal with the administrative stuff at night when I’m not as fresh. I also tend it to do it when I have a movie or a podcast on, because I find it’s so boring that being slightly distracted is helpful. I try to turn it into a reward.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I can’t think of anyone specifically, but there is a type of person. I admire people who manage to turn their creative endeavors into their day jobs. So much of that is luck, but I really admire the people who keep their creative work in the forefront, even when they’re doing other kinds of work. To me, that’s really the goal: to make sure that my creative work comes first.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

Four: writing for publications, editing, teaching food writing and recipe development. But, my short answer is: too many. I’m doing too many different things right now and I’m stretched a little thin.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Editing.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

It’s something that’s definitely on the horizon for me. I have a lot of ideas and I just need the time to follow through on them.

7. What tools or money-making opportunities do you think creative pros fail to leverage?

I think some people are ashamed to admit how they make money, or they think they’re supposed to earn it purely through their creative work, or they think all the creative people they know or have heard of make their money that way, and it’s just so rarely the case.

It’s important to get a sense how other people make it work – just to get ideas and to feel better about how difficult it is, because it’s really hard. It’s really, really hard to make a living in a creative field, and everyone comes to their own conclusions about how to do it.

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Going to professional conferences. I find that meeting people in person makes a big difference in terms of the opportunities that will come to you.

Writers, in particular, tend to be such reclusive creatures. Part of what we like about writing is being by ourselves. And I would say that’s one of the fine lines of difference between journalists and writers. Journalists tend to enjoy being out in the world. I think writers really don’t. I know I don’t, not really. I’m a perfectly socialized individual, but I thrive when I have a lot of time to myself.

I think a mistake writers often make is thinking they can do everything over the computer or over the phone. Sometimes it’s good to get out and meet people. Certainly all the opportunities I’ve had in my career have come from people that I’ve actually met in person.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Spending the money to attend food writing conferences.

Is there anything that didn’t live up to your expectations?

Sometimes I question my time in culinary school. On one hand, I feel like I didn’t get that much out of it, because of how culinary school is set up and what I wanted to learn. But, I had a big break when I got a staff job at Sunset magazine. I don’t think I would have gotten that job if I hadn’t gone to cooking school. Even though I had already developed recipes for the magazine as a freelancer, I think having that stamp on my resume made a big difference.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

To me, it’s about staying true to what you want to do. As long as you feel good about what you’re doing, you’re not really selling out and other people can throw all the rocks they want from their glass houses. I don’t judge people on that kind of thing. I figure everyone has different goals. I don’t know what someone’s goals are – they’re going to be totally different from mine. And even mine change over time.

At the beginning of this year, I made a professional New Years resolution that any work I would take needed to be fulfilling or lucrative. It had to be at least one of those two things. It has made a real difference in the kind of work that I do. I found myself taking work that at one point I might have considered “selling out,” but taking that work has freed up time I used to spend chasing marginally paying magazine articles and allows me to work on more creative projects.

Is there anything else you’ve learned and would like to share?

My biggest lesson is that no one is going to invite you to the party. You have to just show up. You can’t sit around your house waiting for someone to call you up and ask if you’d like to write this book or get this job. Maybe that will happen eventually, and it does happen to some people, but for the most part, you have to go out into the world and show up and do it.

Today, people worry that there are so many food bloggers and all these people who want to do food writing, and I say, “yeah, and most of them aren’t very good and most of them aren’t going to follow through.” I don’t mean that in a nasty way or that most people aren’t any good. I mean there are a lot of people who say they want to be writers or painters or artists, but they don’t do it. They don’t show up. It’s important to realize that it’s unusual to show up and actually do the work. Persistence really is at least half the battle.

Thanks Molly!

posted 7 Nov 10 in: books, business, food, inspiration, interviews, media. This post currently has no responses.

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