Create With: Christi Ahee

How did you start doing ceramics?
I did a little bit of ceramics in high school and college, but not with any consistency or seriousness. I only really got into after college when my boyfriend got me wheel throwing classes at Lillstreet Art Center.

What inspires your work?
I try to focus into the natural qualities of the clay. So for my porcelain pieces, I lean into it kind of being a luxe material and add a lot of gold luster glaze detailing. For the stoneware, I try to leave a lot of the clay exposed so you see exactly what the materials are.

How did you find your style/aesthetic?
I try not to over think what I make, and I think my aesthetic is a little bit all over the place. I try to make simple pieces that are still playful and whimsical. They're functional objects so I don't want them to be too precious to use.

What brought you to Chicago?
I moved here for school and just sort of stuck around after.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I really can't see myself living anywhere else. I always think about moving, but everywhere just pales in comparison to the resources and connections I have here in Chicago

If you weren’t doing ceramics, what would you be doing?
I really don't know. After doing this, I don't think I can do anything else.

What are you trying to learn right now?
Probably handling the business aspect of the job. I'm not particularly organized and keeping track of the business side of running a ceramics studio isn't exactly in my wheelhouse. It's definitely an ongoing learning experience.

What are you most proud of?
Being able to turn this into a full time gig. I did this part time for a while, and being able to transition into my main job is a pretty great feeling.

How do you take time for yourself?
I'm going to really out myself here, but I play Dungeons and Dragons one to two nights a week. It's something that's scheduled with other people where I'm not being distracted by anything else, so it forces me to put a hard stop to working for the day.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
Often women have to account for men's perception of women in our interactions. We have to be very diplomatic when it comes to work. If you come off too strong, you're a bitch. If you come off too soft, you're weak. When working with other women, that sort of isn't on the table anymore. When you're not defending your gender, I think it opens up a wider avenue for a little more honesty and creativity.

What is your advice for someone who wants a job like yours?
Set yourself up in a sustainable way. It's important to think about all the steps of getting your pieces into homes, and setting up systems to make that streamlined instead of crossing the bridges as you get there. That opens up more time to focus on the fun parts of the job.

What is one thing that surprised you in your path?
The artist community and how inclusive it is! Everyone I've met has been crazy supportive regardless of what medium they work in. I've gotten to know printmakers, woodworkers, jewelers, etc., and everyone has such a different work process but the same sense of appreciation for the hustle.

Favorite female creatives?
This is so hard! Angela and Kristen from Bash Party Goods and Gather Home + Lifestyle are a couple. Many many years ago, we worked together at Urban Outfitters, and it has been really cool and inspiring to see how we've all drastically changed trajectories. Also Nadine Nakanishi of Sonnenzimmer. I met her several years ago, and she is been someone I definitely look up to. Talk about hustle! 

Favorite Chicago places?
I don't go out very often, so it's a very short list. There's a brunch spot by my apartment Over Easy that my boyfriend and I go to every month. I always love going Logan Arcade, too. They have great pinball machines and it's never too crowded. Otherwise I usually go to my friends' apartments. We have a Friday supper club where we all make something and bring plenty of wine and beer to make sure we have great conversations and a good time.

Top three items of clothing/accessories?
I've got this Hudson Bay sweater that I got at a thrift store some years back that I absolutely adore. Then, I'd have to say a good pair of jeans and leather lace up boots. I have about 15 pairs of leather lace up boots that all look very similar, but I don't think I could part with a single pair of them.

Morning routine?
I'm not a morning person, so I start my days slow. I'll watch some TV or play a video game while I have coffee at home before I go to the studio. I take my time with this so I don't usually get to work until about 11 or 12.

Favorite travel destination?
I don't travel as much as I'd like to, but I do go camping pretty often. There are some beautiful camping spots in the Midwest, so it's my favorite way to go on a last minute trip.

Favorite extravagance/indulgence?
Making time to cook. I often get take out for dinner because I don't get home from the studio until 8 or 9 at night, but on the days when I do get home early enough to cook, I get into full on Julia Child mode.

 

Shop With: Alexis Nido-Russo of Local Eclectic

alexis.jpg

Founder and CEO of Local Eclectic

How did you start Local Eclectic?
I started in 2013, while I was working full time at the Chicago Artists Coalition. I started it as a side project. I wanted to create this marketplace for emerging and indie designers, and at the time, it was everything from clothing designers to homeware designers to jewelry designers. I started super grassroots; I reached out to 10 designers that I wanted to work with, and a few of them were local, Chicago based designers like Cities in Dust and Dea Dia. So I really just reached out to some friends, built the website myself on Squarespace as a night time project, and really just grew it from there. It was a side hustle turned full-time job. It really didn’t turn into a self-sustaining business until I took the leap to quit my full-time job and do it full time. It was sink or swim and I had to make it work.

We started with clothing designers and homeware designers, and I really wanted it to be this marketplace to go to find indie designers. I felt like there were all of these street fairs like Renegade and Dose Market and really awesome places where you could go in different cities to find these amazing indie designers, but there wasn’t an online place for that. That’s what I was trying to create, this online destination for indie artists. But what I found out after I quit my job and realized I had to make this a full-time job and something that could sustain my lifestyle, is that my customers were buying jewelry and that’s when I decided to rebrand and make it a place for jewelry. Now we only work with emerging, indie jewelry designers and that seems to be working out as a more focused point of view.

What inspires your work?
I have an art background. I studied fine arts in school, and one of my first real jobs was at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Working with emerging artists is really a passion of mine and working with people who are creating and doing amazing things. I consider all of the jewelry designers that I work with as artists. Working with people that are creatively minded inspires me to keep growing and building the business.

How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
One thing that I’ve realized is that my personal aesthetic is not necessarily my customer’s aesthetic, which is something that was hard to figure out in the beginning. I thought I love this, so I’m going to sell it and my customers will love it. That’s not actually the case. My style is much more bold and funky, I mean I’m wearing rhinestone embellished jeans and massive platform shoes. I like statement jewelry and clothes, and I like to make a scene. Whereas my customers tend to go more towards dainty, delicate, and feminine pieces. That’s something that I’ve had to learn to grow the business, is that what I like isn’t always going to be what my customer likes, and understanding that has helped me to be able to grow. So sometimes designers reach out to me and I tell them that I will be their customer, but I don’t think that it’s the best fit for our audience. I have really honed in on what they want.

Image via Mackenzie Freemire for Local Eclectic

Image via Mackenzie Freemire for Local Eclectic

What brought you to Chicago?
I moved to Chicago after I graduated from college, which was nine years ago. I’m originally from Springfield, Missouri. I’ve also lived in Puerto Rico, Florida for my adolescence, New York for a short year when I was a baby, and I went to high school and college in Springfield. Bob Barker went to my college. No one has ever heard of it, so I try to legitimize where I went to school by saying that Bob Barker went there.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I love Chicago, but the winters get me since I have lived in Florida and Springfield doesn’t get this cold. I’ve really built a home here and have a huge network and all of my friends are here, so if and when the time came to leave, it would be really hard. I do love, love, love the West Coast. I could see building a family there and there is more nature. There are mountains to hike, and I’m not the most outdoorsy person, but I would like to have the option to go climb a very small hill. I think LA ultimately, but I would like to live in New York for a couple of years, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my quality of life.

If you weren’t running Local Eclectic, what would you be doing?
I think I always knew that I would eventually become an entrepreneur and start my own business. I was working in marketing, arts, and events, but ultimately I knew there would come a time when I would start my own business. If it wasn’t Local Eclectic, it would be something else. I’m still coming up with 100 business ideas a week. I had an idea to start a cool nail salon that would focus on nail art and have beverages and cocktails, and would eventually be like a Drybar of nails; a place that when you are traveling, you can go and know it will be of the same quality. That is one idea that I had actually explored pretty deeply, and then I realized I needed like a million dollars to do that business, so I started Local Eclectic where I needed no money and just a website. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and I’ve seen that as your work and life are sort of one. My life is very fluid with my work, and I always felt trapped being in a 9 to 5.

Image via Local Eclectic 

Image via Local Eclectic 

What are you trying to learn right now?
Last week I decided that I wanted to learn how to sing. I told my husband that I wanted voice lessons for my birthday so I could be better at karaoke. I love karaoke and I have the absolute worst voice you’ve ever heard. In my head I sound like Adele, but out loud I sound like a squealing dog. I did a nights worth of Youtube vocal lessons. I learned some techniques, but that only lasted one night.

In all seriousness, with the business growing, I just hired our second employee, I am trying to learn how to be in a role where I manage two other people. I want to make sure that the people that are working for me are happy. I want them to like what they are doing and feel challenged, but also have direction and goals set in place. I had always thought how am I going to grow an audience, how am I going to get more designers, how am I going to get more traffic to the website; but I didn’t think of what steps I was going to need to scale the business and how I was going to be the best boss to attract the best talent and keep people happy and create a really fulfilling office culture. I want Local Eclectic to be a really fun place for the people that work there. That’s something that I’m really working on right now professionally.

What are you most proud of?
All of my energy and all that I have done for the past three and a half years has been working on this business. I am most proud of taking it to the point where I am able to pay myself a salary, more than anyone else was ever willing to pay me. I now am able to have two employees, and I’m really proud that I have built something that can be someone else’s livelihood also and something that people want to be a part of. The business is also able to support all of the emerging indie designers that we work with. I am able to help them continue to fulfill their passions of creating, making jewelry, and building their own businesses. I’m really proud to have built a business that is helping tons of other women continue to do what they love. I’m most proud of Local Eclectic, where it is now, and where it’s going to go in the next couple of years.

How do you take time for yourself?
I really try to not work on the weekends. I still manage our Instagram account, so I’m doing that, but I really do try to let myself relax on the weekends. Now that it’s getting warm, I have my back yard where I love to garden and spend time. I spend a lot of time just looking at my plants. I try to go to movies, go out with my husband, hang out with friends and do karaoke. I try and let myself not think about work on the weekends. And I drink a lot of wine.

Image via Mackenzie Freemire for Local Eclectic

Image via Mackenzie Freemire for Local Eclectic

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
We have done a few, and I hope to do more, limited edition collaborations where we pair a creative influencer with a jewelry designer. In my work, I just think that the best work comes out of collaboration. I think that two minds are better than one, especially with people from different disciplines or lines of work come together to create something, and that can be the most powerful moment. It helps to push our boundaries and makes you look at things differently. We’ve got to help each other out and boost one another up. Being a creative person, entrepreneur, or freelancer can be really isolating. The more that we can work together and tell each other that we are doing a great job and create really incredible things with one another, the more that we are going to be able to feel empowered to continue doing what we love.

What is your advice for someone who would want a job like yours?
Do not be discouraged if you don’t have immediate success. Persistence in business is one of the most important qualities, and not feeling defeated, but continuing when it seems like you’re not getting anywhere or your business isn’t growing. Honestly, it took me two and a half years to see traction with Local Eclectic. I kept making changes and adapting and listening to my customers. Not giving up, being persistent, working through the grind, and never feeling defeated, helps you to continue on the path to your goal no matter what.

What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
I didn’t expect my path to where I am now to be so zig-zagged. Not that I ever expected my life to be a straight line, but I looked at people that right out of high school knew what they wanted to major in and their life was planned at the age of 18. Whereas I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I studied fashion, fine arts, psychology, and marketing. When I graduated and moved to Chicago, I worked at an x-ray manufacturing company, I toured with Miley Cyrus for a short stint, worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and worked at Guilt City. I was all over the place. That’s the most surprising, the experience and work that I did that lead me to where I am today. And actually, how important and influential every piece of the puzzle was to getting me to where I am now.

Image via Local Eclectic

Image via Local Eclectic

Favorite female creatives?
I really look up to female entrepreneurs. Grace Bonney who founded Design Sponge has a really interesting story of growing something from the ground up. Jen Gotch who started Ban.Do is one of my favorite people because she’s just kind of a nut. She’s just being herself. I hate to say Sophia Amoruso, because I sort of hate love her. She really gets on my nerves, but she also started from the bottom and I love those stories. I also really like Bri Emery of Design Love Fest.

I work with creative, female entrepreneurs every day. I love them all and they inspire me to keep doing what I’m doing. The people that I look to are creative entrepreneurs who have started something and have built it from the ground up.

Favorite Chicago places?
3 Greens, I’m here almost every day. The Logan Theater is my absolute favorite movie theater. It’s so old school and basic. I love the Garfield Park Conservatory because it’s nice to have a place to look at ferns and cacti. Parachute is one of my favorite restaurants right now. I also like Bad Hunter, they have an extensive orange wine menu and incredible food. I spend a lot of time in the summer at Christy Webber buying plants, killing them, and buying more. And my house. I love being at home. As I have gotten older, I am turning into a homebody. Especially in the summer time in my backyard.

Top three items of clothing/accessories in your closet?
My engagement ring and a ring from my grandmother. It’s a 1940’s art deco ring that she always wore and it’s my prized possession. I wear it because if my house ever gets broken into, this is the one thing that is irreplaceable.

I got this oversized, denim Gap jacket at a thrift store for $5. I think it’s a men’s XXL and right now I am loving the oversized denim jacket.

This wallet. It’s Opening Ceremony. Like I said, I’m obsessed with nails and so it’s a perfect fit.

Image via Local Eclectic

Image via Local Eclectic

Morning routine?
My best days start with a workout. If I can start with a 7am class, that’s ideal. I usually stop for coffee, and maybe a treat, on the way to the office. I typically get to the office around 8:30 and check emails, update the website, and have meetings.

Favorite travel destinations?
I love to travel. It’s my favorite thing to spend money on, so this is hard. I love Mexico. I’m a beach girl, so Mexico is one of my favorites. I just went to Tulum for the first time and it really is a magical place. I like Jamaica a lot. I also love going to New York and LA. I’m not the kind of person that has a place that they go all the time, because there are so many place that I want to visit and I have a lot on my wishlist. I really want to go to Cuba. I’ve never been to Spain, Paris, Amsterdam, which are all places I really want to go, but Cuba is number one.

Favorite extravagance/indulgence?
I have a huge sweet tooth. I love candy, gummy candy, cookies. I just love treats. I almost always order dessert when I go out to dinner. Since I’m really into skincare, I love getting facials and I definitely splurge on those. Also, food. I always find a reason to treat myself. There’s always something to celebrate. I got through the day, I’ll have dessert.

Monday Muse: Morgan Ramberg

How long have you been creating art?
It’s kind of funny. When I was very young, I was constantly drawing or coloring. In home movies I’m usually sitting at the kitchen table with a coloring book or mugging for the camera. I remember taking these wonderful art classes at the Beverly Art Center as a kid (lots of fruit bowls), and then being the student who the ornery art teacher actually liked in grade school. And then I just abruptly stopped making things. I think what happened with me is so not unique, especially among girls. Art didn’t seem like a real career path. Meanwhile I was experiencing some early onset anxiety, and that impulse to make things just fell away. Being good at school seemed like the path to fortune and happiness, so I turned my attention toward being a really good student, whatever that means. Striving toward an abstract idea of perfection is bad for you! I burned out in college. I had to think about what I actually wanted to do, and for me that meant creating things. I switched my major to graphic design, and soon after decided to go all the way and focus on illustration. Been drawing hats and cats since then! 

What inspires your illustrations?
One of the illustrators I fell in love with when I was in school was Charley Harper. The geometry of the shapes combined with the textures felt so right to me. Then I started looking to illustrators who did something similar with their own style, like Ryo Takemasa and Sanna Annukka. I’m always trying to think about how to combine shape and texture in different ways. Often the thing that inspires a new piece is the thing that I feel is missing from the last one. If I make something more monochromatic, next I want to create an illustration with really bold colors. It goes back and forth like that, and I think that's why my style can vary. I try not to get bored!

What is the most challenging thing about continually creating?
Concentrating on one idea is so hard. I’ll be in the beginning stages of one project, and have an idea for something new that suddenly seems like it could be the best thing ever. Client work weirdly keeps me sane, because it takes precedence over everything else. Staying focused is much easier when you have an art director to answer to. 

But honestly, I get so much joy out of what I do. It is very corny, but the moments that you land on a really great color combination or concept are the best parts of my day. I think it’s what keeps me so motivated. It’s like you’re finding an answer to question that you didn’t have a day ago, and once you find a solution, new possibilities for work open up. 

What are your favorite types of projects to work on?
I like drawing fancy ladies and hair. Any time I can include those images I’m happy. I guess that’s why I’m an illustrator and not a fine artist! I remember in college, we had an artist speaker come in to class. She made large scale oil paintings, that were sort of Dali-esque. The imagery was grotesque but cool. Then she goes, “And if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, especially to the female artists, DON’T DRAW LADIES LOUNGING.” I guess she thought that drawing ladies undermined the Women’s Cause. But I like them, so who cares. 

All images from Morgan Ramberg

All images from Morgan Ramberg

What would you dream project be?
Doing a cover for The New Yorker. As I fall asleep each night, I whisper to myself “New Yorker cover next week, New Yorker cover next year, New Yorker cover in ten years”. I don’t really know what I mean, but it scares my cat. 

Connect With: Hannah Fehrman of Grey House Productions

Owner and Executive Producer of Grey House Productions

"We can learn from each other because we are smart and brave and think about things from a different perspective, and we all have different histories we are coming from."
 

How did you begin Grey House Productions?
I moved to Chicago to study photography at Columbia College Chicago. I was the person that since I was eight years old told everyone I wanted to be a photographer when I was older. While at Columbia I studied photography and loved all of my classes and extracurriculars. But, in my last semester of my senior year I decided I didn’t actually want to be a photographer. And let me tell you, your last semester is the worst time to come to that decision. That last semester I had a mentor, Elizabeth Ernst who I really admired. I never actually took a class from her, but she was the best teacher in the entire department, she has since retired. For a full year, even after I graduated, every Monday at noon, we met in her office. More times than not, I cried. The beautiful thing is that she pushed me and told me it’s not good enough, that’s not where you need to be, there’s more, go deeper, and really encouraged me to explore out of what you think you’re supposed to do. It was through meeting with her that I realized I didn’t want to be a photographer. She connected me to a photographer that I could intern with, to experience photography outside of the culture at my school. This photographer had a full time producer, which is not very common. The more I started observing her, I thought “what is she doing?”, because she’s a badass and that’s what I want to do.

After the internship finished, the studio brought me on part time to be the producer’s right hand. I learned a lot and saw a ton of the backend, and realized production is truly what I loved. After spending a year with them, I decided I wanted to go freelance and work with a variety of people. I started freelancing as a PA (production assistant) which was a lateral move from my studio position. I quickly realized that was too small for the way that my brain worked and the type of responsibility I wanted. However, I found it really difficult for Chicago photographers to see me as anything besides a PA. As a freelancer no one gives you a promotion, so I thought what if I find an in between where I’m not a full producer but I’m not only a PA. The middle ground, come to find out, is called a production coordinator. More often than not, it’s when [photographers] don’t have a budget for a producer, but they need a producer. They pay you as a PA, or slightly above, but you do the work as a producer on set. In that point in time it was actually great because it gave me experience and allowed me to work out some of the kinks of carrying more of the load by myself, I was compensated in experience. Then, I started doing test/personal projects with photographers, usually with photographers who were young and green, which allowed me to take even more of the pre-production on and work out those kinks. At that point, after I had a couple of projects under my belt, I started reaching out to the Chicago photographers again, and they still refused to see me as more than a PA. Understandably, because some of their projects are tens of thousands of dollars, they don’t want to just trust project management to just anybody. I knew that I could handle it, but I had to get over this hump of being pigeon holed as a PA. So, I decided that I wanted to start marketing to people outside of Chicago. I made an excel list of 87 names, which I had found through source books, online, and researching photographers across the country that I wanted to work with. As I emailed people I got a lot of kind thanks and “we’ll keep your information” responses. Some people didn’t get in touch at all. After a couple of weeks, I was getting discouraged because nothing was coming from it. The only thing I could do is try again. So I looked back for people I hadn’t heard anything from. There was one person who was an agent in New England that I hadn’t heard from. I emailed her and said I wanted to follow up and would love to hop on the phone and hear a little bit about her work, and how I could be a resource. Two minutes later she called me and asked if I could be in Milwaukee on Tuesday. She never asked for referrals, never asked to see my work, it was just timing and the fact that I went through 87 no’s to find the one yes. This was my first big pharmaceutical advertising job. I’ve since been able to work with that agent and photographer again. I was scared out of my mind, but I knew I could do it, it was just scary and exhilarating. I probably worked 40 times more than what was required. It really allowed me to confirm that this is really what I should be doing and that I could do it well.

Then, reaching out to young photographers who had never worked with a producer before got me a couple of big ad jobs. I went back to the Chicago photographers and said this is what I’ve done for your peers, you can trust me to produce because I’ve produced for people who you respect. One photographer in particular, who was the first to say I was only a PA, I now work regularly. At the end of the year he sent me this really beautiful note saying that I was one of the best assets on my team. It was really rewarding to cross into the other side and have him value the work I do.

What inspires your work?
I have three core values for my company that I hold dear, all three of them influence every part of my work. The one that is most important to me is the blending of logistics and hospitality. That actually goes back to why we’re called Grey House. I think anybody can manage a to-do list, anybody can do logistics, but to remember that people are involved (not just the clients), but the assistants, the vendors, and that all of these people matter. I want to care for those people as much as I want to care for the logistics. To strategize and look past only aiming to solve a problem, but keep pushing to find a way that best serves my client’s needs and keeps hospitality top of mind. That’s the core value I hold most dear, the one that is most innate to me as a human. Then there’s empowerment and art, which is the idea that I’m bringing my best to help you bring your best. When I run a seamless production, that allows the photographer/director to not worry about the logistics and they can focus on making their most creative work. Third, connecting good people, which I take very seriously. Connecting a good crew to a good director or a good photographer to a good client. I’ll have maybe 5 or 6 great digital techs and I’ll recommend different ones at different times. Also, if anyone comes up to me and is asking for something and I recognize that maybe I’m not a good fit, I don’t take that personally. I would rather have them have a great fit and connect them with somebody else than just say I want this project for myself.

What brought you to Chicago?
School brought me to Chicago, Columbia was the only school I applied to. I was paying for school by myself, so it took some convincing for my parents to understand why I would apply to such an expensive school with no backup options. I really loved the program, particularly the resources they offered outside of the classroom. After I graduated, the internship kept me here  and now it is the community I’ve built. I just really love this city.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I would either be in the mountains or South America. I think eventually I would love to have the opportunity to live somewhere else for part of the year and to commute to projects. As I’m building a more loyal client list, photographers and directors are taking me with them to different projects in different cities, so I don’t have to be based in Chicago. In five or ten years, I would love to have enough loyal clients that I don’t have to be based in Chicago.

If you didn’t have Grey House Productions, what would you be doing?
I have a big heart for social work. There’s a youth program on Friday nights that I volunteer for, where I mentor two girls, a thirteen year old and a nineteen year old. I really am honored to be in their lives, helping them navigate some transitional times in their lives. I think that I could see myself even going back to get my masters in social work, be it through yoga or therapy or mentoring, whether it’s volunteering or career wise. I love it.

What are you trying to learn right now?
Right now I am learning from people who have been doing this longer than me. Not just people who are producing, but people that are running businesses and people that are entrepreneurs and people that are working with people and are building teams and strategizing. That comes from reading books, doing informational interviews, following blogs -- I’m a big follower of Seth Godin. I’m at this phase where I’ve realized I don’t need to grow my business bigger because I don’t want to lose the individual interactions with people. For awhile I thought I just need to keep growing bigger and bigger and bigger, but now I’ve learned that I really want to have quality over quantity, so learning what I don’t know that I don’t know and how to better serve the clients I do have.

What are you most proud of?
I think I’m most proud when, professionally speaking, I have repeat business or referral business. To me, when someone else is willing to say “I’m going to proactively refer you to this person” or to say “I really enjoyed my experience, let’s do this again” or “working with you was so great that I want to take you with me next time to whatever city it is,” makes me really proud of the work I’m doing. It’s nice to see your work valued as quality, as work that matter beyond even the singular project.

How do you take time for yourself?
This is something I’m learning, especially in production. I’m constantly giving, serving, and pouring out to people. I’ve learned that if I’m not taking care of myself, I’m actually not taking care of my clients because I’m working from empty. Last night I had plans to go do something, and I got there and realized this is not what I need, and I left. I came home, got in my pajamas, and turned on a fire and read a book. And it was a fun book, it wasn’t a book about business or learning something, it was just a story. I think learning to be proactive rather than reactive is a goal of mine, intentionally setting time aside so that I don’t get to the place of worn out because it’s not fair to my clients, or frankly to myself. Especially as I often don’t get another shot, everything I do is project basis. I can’t lean on what my average is over the year in performance, it’s a one shot deal for a lot of these things.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
I love collaboration so much. I think that we are so much better together. I’ve seen a shift in this, which is great, but so often women are catty and competitive and hold their secrets close. I think that all of us have something about us inherently that no one can copy, so even if I share my secrets or approach, no one would do it the same way I can. We can learn from each other because we are smart and brave and think about things from a different perspective, and we all have different histories we are coming from. We can support each other and we should support each other, because it’s hard being entrepreneurs, it’s hard being a female entrepreneur, and it’s hard being a small business owner. All of these things we should encourage each other to do, because sometimes when you’re frustrated or discouraged, somebody else can come in and say I was there or I am there, and remind us why we started doing this and why it matters. I just started doing this reach through Instagram where with no agenda, no topic, just a let’s have coffee and see what happens. Male, female, photographer, director, aspiring, deciding what you want to do, let’s just meet face to face, spend time together and see what stirs up.

Favorite female creatives?
I love what Johanna Lowe is doing right now. She is a food and prop stylist, but she is now redirecting some of her energy into Parchment House, which is a retreat center for creatives. If you look at the trajectory of her life, she has had so many fascinating shifts and turns and recreations of herself. I love that she doesn’t confine herself. She’s allowing herself to rebloom over and over and over again. I really admire her for that.

The four women that run Forth Chicago: Kelly Allison, Julie Schumacher, Lisa Guillot and Kelly Connolly. I love them all. Julie is actually my copywriter and how I first heard of Forth. I just adore that woman to the moon and back. She is the most sassy and kind and magnificent person. I love her as a friend, as a colleague, and as a professional. And, she’s incredibly generous with her words, time, ideas and network.

What is your advice for someone who would like a job like yours?
I think that you have to regularly remind yourself what you want and why you want it. Be it working in advertising, owning your own business or starting something where you’re half the age of everyone else doing it - there are always going to be lots of people telling you why you can’t do it, why you shouldn’t do it, or why you’re doing it wrong. You need to have a strong sense of yourself and your value and a foundation outside of your performance. I’ve learned a lot of that in the midst of figuring this out and I think I would have saved myself a lot of stress and heartache had I gone in realizing that this is who I am and what I value and what I believe. That’s really what matters.

What is something that has surprised you in your path?
I’m really surprised how fast it has happened. I remember when my two year anniversary came, I was exceeding most of my five year goals. So it was exciting, but I realized I had to be able to grow and adapt and change with my business. It can be really exhausting. I think I should’ve asked for help a little bit sooner. Not help in the sense of someone helping run my business, but someone to take over my accounting or my office management or my web design. I’ve since found a strong belief and understanding that I want to let people who do their craft take over areas, rather than me spending all of this energy and time doing a mediocre version. I want to have time and space to do only what I know I can do and let other people thrive in their niches. And that goes back to the idea of loving myself and giving myself time, because then I don’t have to work 80 hours a week. There were months where I was constantly working 80-90 hours a week, till 1:00am in the morning, every day. Now I have a much better balance; I’m able to mentor two girls and be involved in a youth program and enjoy yoga or reading or traveling. I can be present in my work and in my life, learning that has been my biggest success.

What are your favorite travel destinations?
So many. I went to Central America a couple of years ago and I loved the landscape, the people, and the culture. My next goal is South America. I’ve actually never been, but I have an absolute passion for South America and Latin culture in general. I keep going back to Europe for some reason, mostly because I find these amazing deals or I want to go explore with a friend. But I find no matter the country, I love exploring and learning about local culture.

Favorite Chicago places?
I love C.C. Ferns, which is a little coffee shop in my neighborhood. I feel like anybody who has been there totally loves it, so it’s not that big of a surprise. I love walking through Humboldt Park, where I live. I find it’s very peaceful; it’s not fully gentrified yet, so there are still a lot of families or people who have lived here their whole life. I love salsa dancing, the lake a night (specifically the beach), I enjoy sitting in the lifeguard things that you’re not supposed to sit on and listening to the water.

Production photos provided by Grey House 

Production photos provided by Grey House 

Top 3 items of clothing in your closet?
I love jewelry. Normally I’m a huge earring person because I have short hair, but I have this one necklace (wearing it now!) that was my grandma’s. It’s a beautiful gold chain, and it actually broke at one point and I was devastated, but I realized I could tie it and have a knot, so I wear that with a new necklace that I bought. I wear the two layered almost every day. I also really love lipstick. If I’m ever really tired, or feeling down in the dumps, I put on lipstick and I feel like I can take on the world. I can wear no makeup and only wear lipstick. I also love wrapping myself in things, like shawls or jackets, anything cozy.

Favorite indulgence/extravagance?
I know this sounds really funny, but I love taking myself out on dates. I’ll go to breakfast by myself or the movies by myself, sometimes I’ll take a book and sometimes I won’t. Specifically at breakfast, I love ordering two beverages (like orange juice and coffee or a mimosa and coffee). I think that it’s luxurious. It doesn’t make sense, but I feel like I’m treating myself when I do that. I think part of it is I’m always caring for other people, so when it is just me, and I choose to spoil myself, that refills my well.

Morning routine?
I do not have a morning routine, every day is different. Some days I’m out of the house by 5:00am, other days I don’t leave my home office until a meeting over lunch. But I can share my favorite way to spend my morning. Since I have a home office, I get to have a blend of starting my day at home and starting my day at the office. I love waking up really early, usually before anyone else is emailing and getting my emails out and setting my agenda for the day. I usually do all of that in my pajamas. Then I’ll go shower and get dressed, make coffee, or do some reading or journaling. Then I’ll come back to my office when there are responses and things to execute. I love breaking my morning up and floating between the two spaces.

Monday Muse: Lauren Kelp

What is your background?
I grew up just outside of Chicago in a very creative family. My mother is a fine artist and my father does ornamental iron downtown, so my sister and I were always knee deep in paints and clay, scripting plays and constructing little worlds. After high school I moved to Waco, Texas for undergraduate at Baylor University where I switched my major as often as I switched my hair color (which is saying something because I went through a very serious burgundy bang phase my freshman year). After studying art in France and the Netherlands for few semesters, I moved back to Texas to graduate, met my husband, and we moved to Austin. 

In Austin, I think I did just about everything except start a band. I helped start a social media company, worked with a fabulous interior designer, helped run a socially responsible jewelry company, and taught equine therapy - it was a busy four years! We then picked up and moved to Arizona for a stint where I started LaurenKelp.com & the Tablemakers Dinner concept. We were there for about a year or so for my husbands MBA program and then packed the car again and headed home to Chicago where we've been since 2015. 

How did you begin your site and Tablemakers Dinner?
Originally, LaurenKelp.com was an interiors blog. We had just learned we had two weeks to move from Austin to Phoenix and the website was a place for me to try and carry over the prop styling business I had in Austin and stay connected through this whirlwind move and it totally turned in to this funny, little respite. We moved to Arizona so that Griffin (my husband) could attend this great international MBA program, and while he was at school, I got to befriend all of his classmates and their spouses. He was one of maybe 10 Americans in the program, so naturally I just started invited everyone over for dinners, weekend barbeques, any possible activity I could think of. It was the best dinner party company you could ask for, with guests from Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, China, Germany, you name it, and I never wanted anyone to leave so I just kept feeding them. 

We were on a graduate school budget, every piece of furniture was either from Craigslist or a hand-me-down, and yet it was one of the happiest times I can remember. Yet when I looked online for entertaining ideas or big recipes, all the entertaining inspiration I saw was gorgeous homes with stunning pools and place cards, absolutely "Pinterest worthy." I wanted to create a space that said, "who cares if you don't have place cards or matching dishes." We wanted to take the pressure off being perfect and let that messy, organic, wabi sabi community come through and be celebrated. 

What inspires the content that you post?
Man, I really wish I could tell you that I was organized and had a plan, and had this enviable editorial calendar or even a rhyme to anything that makes its way on to the website, but I absolutely can't. I think the best, and most vague, answer is that our normal, average, every day life inspired the content. 

We recently just purchased a tiny home in New Buffalo, Michigan that we are fixing up and turning into a lavender farm and so that is driving a lot of the content right now. I have terrible skin and went into a deep dark internet blackhole reading all about the toxic nonsense that is in our makeup so I freaked out, threw everything away and am slowly educating myself (and hopefully some readers) on the good, the bad, and the dishonest of natural/organic/clean beauty products. 

Truthfully, I think that blogging is kind of bizarre and so I want to make LaurenKelp.com as much of an email with old friends as I possible can. You know those friends who you haven't seen in a while and maybe they live in a different city, but there is always an email chain going. A "this is what I am reading, have you heard about this, I am obsessed with this new recipe" email that just never ends and really has no purpose other than we are busy and texting is obnoxious, so let's be 21st-century pen pals...you know, doesn't everyone have one of those? 

We love that you discuss clean beauty! What are some of your favorite products that we should be trying?
Oh man! You guys, how much time do you have? I could talk about this all day! I have terrible skin, so I am a total nut about what I put on my face, but if you are in the market for good clean makeup, Beauty Counter is the way to go. Besides that, download the Think Dirty or EWG app and go through your makeup bag and you will be shocked about what's in your products. Now, don't get me wrong, neither of those apps are perfect, but they are an introduction into the world of ingredients and once you realize your skin is your biggest organ and you are rubbing ingredients that you can't even pronounce all over said organ, you start to pay more attention. 

We are starting to do a big, "use this, not that" column on LaurenKelp.com so stay tuned for that, but if you are looking to make some quick and easy swaps, try these:
Dr. Bronners castille soap or Beauty Counters bar soap instead of your shower gel
Meow Meow Tweet has the most amazing body cream I've ever used (seriously, your skin will never be so soft. It's different than the lotion you are used to, but so much better)
Captain Blankenship has an amazing scrub that works wonders, so kiss that weird plastic ball scrub goodbye
- I am still shopping around and testing for great clean hair products, so if you know of any you love, send those my way!

We chat with a lot of women who find it difficult to take time for themselves. Focusing a lot on wellness and thoughtful living, how do you take time for yourself and focus on self care?
Taking time to care for yourself is so hard. It shouldn't be, it should be so natural and easy, but it's so terribly difficult. I think in the age of doing more, and always being plugged in and connected, and with the 24-hour news/work cycle, it is amazing that we even find time to sleep, let alone get a little down time in. Think about it, you always know where your phone is and if you don't, there is a slight panic that creeps in. It's become an appendage and for better or for worse, it's a part of you. The problem with that appendage is that it needs something from you all the time. A text, a notification, a buzz, a ding, a Facebook live video that you didn't care about at all but now you need to watch...how are you going to take a moment to just breath when something is vying for your attention constantly? 

The best way I know how to start practicing self care is to start setting up boundaries. This could mean putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode at night (this keeps the notifications at bay without cutting you off completely if something were to happen), making a "no phone in the bedroom" rule (trust me, it might just save your relationship), or putting an end time on computer/tv time at night (we try and shut our computers and turn off the tv at around 8pm every night). All of these things are so simple, you can set a reminder for them on your phone, and I promise they are the baby steps you have been looking for. Once your phone, computer, or tv is out of the way, you can spend time reading, journaling, taking a bath, or just starting at a wall and daydreaming - it's amazing. Once you give your mind a few minutes to relax and wonder and breath without notifications swarming around you all the time, you will be amazed at how you will start to crave tech-free time. 

Ooh, I love this stuff. If you ever want to talk more about it or have questions, send me a note. There is no reason we need to be so sick, tired, and stressed and I think it's time we started giving ourselves a break and each other a pat on the back - you know?

Monday Muse: Kenyatta Forbes of Urban Macrame Fibers

Self-taught macrame artist and owner of Urban Macrame Fibers

How did you begin Urban Macrame Fibers?
In 2015, my condo flooded and had to be completely gutted. As I began to decorate after it was rebuilt, I saw some amazing macrame items at a vintage shop. Unfortunately the colors in the shop didn’t match my decor but I was intrigued. I started to research materials and patterns online so that I could create my own. I started out with 3 which still hang in my living room. Friends and family would come over and ask about them and I’d tell them I made them which then would lead to them asking for me to make items for them. A few months and orders later, Urban Macrame Fibers was born. Since it’s inception, my focus has been on collaborative work and community building. Within a year, I’ve developed collaborations makers and venue spaces across the city of Chicago.

What draws you to this art form?
I love the texture for sure. At any given moment I have around 50 different kinds of fiber on hand. They all provide a different vibe. I love the play of how decor, functionality, and design come together in macrame. Macrame creates a balance between objects. For instance, when I am designing a plant holder, I want the pot to compliment the macrame design and vice versa. It’s about bringing out the best qualities in each object.  

What is one of your favorite projects that you have worked on?
Hmm. I always feel like the most recent project I work on is my favorite. With that being said, I’m madly in love with my 3-tiered herb gardens which are a collaborative design with Rebuilding Exchange. As I move my work towards more functionality, I’ve started to bring in more wood elements. I truly enjoy helping to bring green into the home.  

We love Chicago! Who are some of your favorite female creatives in this city?
I love Chicago too! Favorites? There are so many! Joslyn Villalpando of J. Villa Workshop for her amazing weavings and commitment to community. Kelly Doodeman of Verdant Matter for her moon pots! Autumn Merritt of Sir & Madam for her amazing creative instincts and business savvy. Liz and Moe of Scratch Goods for their yummy food grade skin care products. Liz Klafeta of Bangtel for her stellar decorating sense! Emily Nejad of Bon Vivant Cakes for her cakes are amazingly designed and delicious. Jamie Tubbs of Prophet Gypsy Robot for her amazing weaves. Anna Michal Paul for her killer chalk board work! Astral Riles who makes gorgeous wall hangings.  

How do you get through the struggles of having your own business?
I can honestly say I’ve been very lucky to have had a pretty positive experience thus far as a business owner. I find macrame to be extremely relaxing and meditative in practice. Since I approach macrame from a hobby and community perspective, it’s still a solid source of joy. When there are glitches in the plan, I definitely turn to friends, other makers, and macrame get me through. Being able to lean on other entrepreneurs in the making space is so vital when making decision on what’s best for your brand. It’s also necessary to be able to lean on friends when you have to cut massive amounts of rope!  

Create With: Traveling Muralist Lauren Asta

Traveling muralist and artist specializing in illustration, oddity art, doodle art, and street art. 

 

"Being supportive allows us to move forward in a positive and healthy way."

How did you start doing art and murals?
Oh man... earliest memory I have of starting to make art was when I was a kid and kept sketch books and journal drawings instead of the Hello Kitty Diaries all my friends had! I went to school for photography when photography was still photography... I practically lived in the dark room. After college, digital photography was the all the buzz and trying to continue in the dark room was difficult and expensive... The next best (and cheaper!) thing was pen and ink. I was living and bar tending in NYC at the time. I started to put art up at coffee shops and bars. The response was amazing and gave me confidence to continue showing more artwork. I had about 12 shows in NYC and sold out almost every time! After 7 years, I ended up moving back to my hometown in California to help my parents move. I ended up getting a job at a distillery which was housed in an old 65,000 sq ft. navy hangar on an hangar base in Alameda. Next door to the distillery was another 65,000 sq ft hangar that housed a brewery. The brewery had planned to rent the entire space but was unfortunately bought out and was only able to secure half of the space. A construction company ended up building a hideous wall right down the middle of the hangar leaving an unfinished, dry walled, hideous eye sore for the space that hundreds of people came to weekly. I saw an opportunity to approach the owners of the brewery and offer to paint a large scale mural. They loved the idea, and just a few weeks later I found myself on a scissor lift starting my first large scale mural ever. I didn't even have time to do any sketches or drawings to help aid me in the endeavor. In a way, I started doing murals without any "training wheels" from the very beginning. I still to this day work completely free hand and free style. That first big mural I did was a little over two years ago and launched my mural/street art career.

What inspires your work? 
I am discovering new things every time I start and end a mural. But honestly, I get inspired from so many things. A selfish inspiration is that it feels so good to start something so massive and work so hard until completion. Conquering something like the 5,000 sq ft mural I did in Pilsen was a tremendous achievement and it feels amazing to show people (women especially) that nothing is too big to accomplish. I also get inspiration from making people feel happy and weird and alive! Might sound strange but my oddity doodle art gives people the "ok" and permission to feel silly and happy and let their oddity shine!

How did you find your style/aesthetic?
When I did photography, I mainly shot people and faces. When my photography transitioned into drawing, I felt compelled to continue expressing my art with faces and characters. The amazing thing about drawing is that you can create crazy worlds and scenarios for them that might prove to be more difficult with human subjects. So I began to make them goofy and silly and weird and sexual, and the people that saw them reacted to my work in a way photography could never allow. The black and white style/aesthetic I do is purely just a preference for me. I love black and white art personally, and I find people are attracted to it immediately! 

What brought you to Chicago? 
The Soho House and Threadless (an art/apparel company in Chicago) work together to find and showcase street artists to paint the north and south corners of the Soho House building. Every month they switch the artists up which is really cool. An art friend of mine was supposed to do the murals in April of 2016, but he had a travel conflict and was unable to paint in Chicago. He recommended my name and they loved my work. So off on an airplane I went, and little did I know I was about to start one of ten murals in Chicago that kept me there for about four months! I absolutely love Chicago and can't wait to return for future projects!

I have the absolute privilege of being able to travel for work. I gave up my apartment in Oakland almost two years ago and have been traveling and working ever since. I would love to live in Chicago, and at times it feels like to do because I work there so much, but my year fills up fast with so many cities in my schedule! This year I will be traveling to San Diego, NYC, Washington DC, Asheville, Nashville, Atlanta, Florence AL, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans. I am so excited! 

If you weren’t doing art, what would you be doing? 
I have a fantasy of going back to school to get my Masters so I can teach college level art. I would love to be teaching a course on art theory and critic. Why we make art, why do we respond to art.. And allow the students to bring in art they are working on for discussion. Maybe one day! 

What are you trying to learn right now? 
Everything! Honestly, I am in the middle of learning a very big lesson. My constant travel and work schedule is an absolute blessing, though at times it can get quite lonely and maintaining a romantic long term relationship is quite hard. I don't know how people survive long distance relationships! It's so hard and challenging. I have recently accepted the fact that my relationship right now is with my job and career. I have also accepted the fact that my life will be like this for as long as I can work. Luckily, because I travel so much, I get to meet so many people all over this country (and hopefully soon the world!) and make incredible friendships and memories. Just because it's temporary doesn't mean its not real! 

What are you most proud of? 
That I have the focus and motivation to live my dream! This job can be both physically and mentally draining. Last summer in Chicago, I painted for 30 days in a row. Those were on average 9 hour days standing and painting in the hot Chicago sun. That was an absolute test for myself and I was incredibly proud of that accomplishment. After that job, I feel like I can do anything!

How do you take time for yourself? 
At the end of a long work day, the shower and I are best friends. Shower time is happy time. It feels so good getting covered in sweat and paint because it means I am working but it also feels so good to see it wash down the drain. It gives me time to unwind and reflect on the day. A little vino after on the couch is also quite lovely. In between jobs, in different cities, I definitely take time for myself by walking around town and checking out bars, restaurants, shops, museums and attractions.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate? 
I think it's important to learn from each other, to talk shop, to share experiences of failure and success. To prove and show that we are capable of anything and everything and that the hardships we come across only make us stronger. It's important to collaborate, but I think it's even more important to be supportive. Being supportive allows us to move forward in a positive and healthy way. 

What is your advice for someone who wants a job like yours? 
Hustle, hustle, hustle! Hard work and determination are the recipes for success. Artists are so hard on themselves and I have found, give up too quick after one or two failures. This goes for any type of creative art.. music, acting, etc. The public can be hard, but it's important to know that what you have to say and show is going to make most people happy and inspired. Also, practice practice, practice. Produce, produce, produce. Make art for yourself and have the mind frame that no one has to see it unless you want them to. The more you develop your style and find your voice and what you want your art to say, the more confidence you'll have for exposure. Oh and network, network, network! The more people you meet and show your art to, the more eyes will be out there on the look out for future jobs. 

What is one thing that surprised you in your path? 
That I am not afraid of heights! Last summer I worked on a mural that had me more than 5 stories high! The higher the better in my book now. Oh, and that I am not afraid of flying anymore.

Favorite female creatives? 
I think Frida Kahlo paved way for a lot of female artists. She really put it out there and wasn't afraid. Music wise, Bjork had the same effect for me. She is a true artist and there's no one else like her. I love when women are so confident in their true self and define who they are in the arts.

Favorite Chicago places?
I love sitting at the bar at the Little Goat Diner in the West Loop. It is so fun to people watch and eat good food and sip mimosas. I absolutely love meeting up with friends at Dove's Luncheonette for some awesome grub and drinks. I love visiting Chicago Truborn for a little street art/gallery fix. I love just walking around and smelling chocolate at certain times of the day near the Blommer Chocolate Factory 

Top three items of clothing in your closet? 
Or in my suitcase! Ha! Pants covered in paint, art supplies, my Adidas paint shoes.

Morning routine?
I am an early bird! I am usually up around 6:30. Fruit, coffee, emails, texts, social media, head to job site, paint all day.

Favorite travel destination? 
So far? For work: no joke, it absolutely is Chicago, Illinois. For pleasure (in the United States) Jackson, Wyoming.

Favorite extravagance/indulgence? 
When I am working hard like this in other cities and have down time, I absolutely indulge and treat myself to really nice Airbnb's or hotel rooms and stay in pajamas and watch movies.

Monday Muse: Jasmine Pulley

How did you start with photography?
Growing up, I always had a creative bend, but what I did not have was a clear direction on how to funnel my creativity. It often spilled out in me decorating my room or wearing ridiculous outfits. My mom actually recently showed me a classroom assignment from maybe second grade, where I said "when I grow up I want to be an artist." It's funny because while I knew the desire was there, I didn't know anybody who was a "professional artist" when I was younger, so I don't think I tried to seriously pursue it, aside from taking lots of different art classes that were offered at school.  

I actually took a dark room film photography class my senior year of high school, in an effort to hone my compositional eye for other art classes. While the dark room was definitely interesting and I enjoyed learning to shoot and develop my own film, I honestly wouldn't say I was a natural. I set photography aside for a couple of years and decided to pick up a camera again in 2008 when I was about to study abroad in India. Naturally, I wanted a nicer camera to take with me for all the traveling I was about to do, so I bought my first DSLR that year. It was during that semester specifically that I realized my photographic eye could be trained, and I spent much of my time there photographing anything and everything. Returning from that semester abroad, I had a couple of friends who were newly engaged, and having noticed my study abroad photos, asked me if I would take their engagement photos. This was completely new territory for me, but I soon found that I really enjoyed photographing people in this way too. I actually still did not plan on pursuing photography full time until 2011, so during those three years I continued to shoot and learn and grow as a photographer, keeping it as a hobby. From 2011-2013 I primarily shot weddings, and then decided to venture back into documentary work which was what had me fall in love with photography in the first place. As a newlywed in 2012, it sounds cliche, but I became really interested in cooking and decorating my home so I was always looking at photos on blogs and pinterest for inspiration. I found I was drawn to not just the content of those images but the photos themselves, and I realized that I wanted to create that type of work. I began shooting a lot of my own food and editorials of restaurants/spaces and submitting images to blogs and online magazines. Since then, I've been fortunate to have had some neat opportunities shooting food and interiors like photographing a cookbook in 2014 and a few print editorials. These days I feel pretty lucky to get to enjoy different types of photography work between food, interiors, and weddings. The variety keeps things interesting, and it's just enough of a mix where I don't feel I am stretched too thin because I genuinely enjoy all those areas. 

Your images are beautiful and full of life. Are you drawn to specific elements when shooting?
Thank you! I guess it depends on what I am shooting. With people, I am drawn to emotion, with food I am drawn to simplicity and color, with interiors, I am drawn to light. I think in life I am just always drawing inspiration from everything around me which is probably why I enjoy shooting such varied subjects. 

You shoot a lot of interiors. What is your favorite part of visiting other people's homes?
I love seeing how people decorate! It's so cool to see when a home is a reflection of a person or families' story and personality. I also just really love good design so seeing a space thoughtfully and intentionally designed is inspiring for me to see and be around. 

If you were only able to go to three places in Chicago for the rest of the year, where would you go?
Well, they would definitely all be restaurants. Antique Taco, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, and Stan's Donuts. 

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to? 
I love reading, and after not reading much for some time, I am on a big kick again. I just finished a couple of biographies/memoirs: When Breath Becomes Air, Seven Great Women, and Rolling Pennies in the Dark. I just started a novel The Hate You Give. This one is going to be intense but important to read I think. I love memoirs or biographies and learning about people who are different than myself. I also am watching Jane the Virgin, seriously...this show is so good. 

Shop With: Jean Cate of Martha Mae: Art Supplies & Beautiful Things

Maker + Owner of Martha Mae: Art Supplies and Beautiful Things

Andersonville
5407 N Clark St.
Wed-Sun 12-6

How did you begin Martha Mae: Art Supplies & Beautiful Things?
Initially, I had a business partner. We acquired the space and it was going to be a community art studio with seven pottery wheels and it would have just services and classes. It didn’t make it, so I bought her out and had this awesome space to fill with things and my artwork.

What is your background?
I went to the School of the Art Institute and got my BFA with focuses in printmaking, scientific illustration, ceramics, book binding. In the back of my mind, it’s always been my plan to make everything the way I want it. I like things to be done a certain way, so it’s easier to make things myself.

What inspired your shop/work?
I would say in my artwork, nature has a big influence on my work. I’m very detail-oriented, so in my etchings, it’s all about tiny little marks. I’ve always been focusing on small, ordinary, every day things like branches I found in Grant Park when I went to the Art Institute. I’m not one of those artists that does big projects based on things like “wanderlust,” you know? I find wonder and inspiration every day.

What brought you to Chicago?
School. I grew up in Southern California, and when I was 18, I wanted to get as far away from my family as possible. I liked that the Art Institute doesn’t tell you what to do. I thought RISD seemed cool, but it seemed pretty tight-laced, at least for the first couple of years, and I wanted to be able to explore and experiment.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I think my goal is to live like an Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Beatrix Potter type lifestyle where you live out in the country just making work with little animals to keep you company.

If you weren’t running the shop, what would you be doing?
Just making work.

What are you trying to learn right now?
I feel like I’m constantly learning whether I’m trying to or not. Especially with the shop, since I’ve never done it before, it’s a big sort of experiment. I’m working on learning how to grow the business and make it sustainable and all those things. Then there are always things in the back of my mind like I want to make jewelry and I want to start making larger pieces.

What are you most proud of?
That’s a tough question. I think, as women, we think we’re not supposed to brag or take credit for things. I guess I’m proud of how the shop has come together in it’s entirety and the feeling of it and the effect that it has on people – it seems like people are really responding to it. In order to not be overwhelmed, I think small, and so all the decisions are very focused on me and my sensibilities, and I hope that working from that place of authenticity and being true to my style will touch people.

How do you take time for yourself?
I’m really working on that right now. Right now, I’m not really doing that, but I’m trying to build in things like taking walks and going to yoga. I imagine [owning the shop] is a bit like having a child. It’s really difficult to be like, “okay, now it’s time to focus on me.” You want to do everything for the shop.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
Even just the process of getting this space, my former business partner, she was a woman as well, and real estate agents and business owners wouldn’t take us seriously. It gets so fucking annoying. I feel like other women get it, and we don’t have the same prejudices against women because we are women. We’re not, like, hung up on those stupid things like because you have a period, you’re too emotional and out of commission. I feel like, in fact, all the pain and struggle that comes with being a woman gives women more depth and appreciation of things and a little bit more perspective.

What is your advice for someone who wants a job like yours? 
Usually, I don’t like to give advice because I don’t like to be told what to do, so I don’t like telling others what to do. I’m not going to say the obvious things like “work hard,” but I think be true to yourself. Trust your intuition. That’s another thing, as women, we’re told that intuition and gut feelings should be mistrusted and decisions should all be formulaic. It’s nice to trust that sort of magic in yourself. A life without magic and inspiration is really difficult and hard. I think that’s why people get so burnt out.

What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
I think just making it this far. Growing up, I could never identify with characters in books or movies. I felt so sad and sub-human and never thought I could aspire to be like the people you see in books or movies. Just making it to this point and making it to adulthood is pretty cool.

Favorite female creatives?
Ones I already mentioned like Beatrice Potter and Emily Dickinson. Then in the Chicago scene, I’m really inspired by Elizabeth Cronin. I’ve never even been in her shop, but I’ve just seen her on Instagram and even from her website, she has such a strong vibe and style, and I really identify with that. I feel like the nice thing about small shops is that it can be a complete reflection of the shop owner, and when the shop owner has things that they like and are their aesthetic and brings joy to them, you can really feel that, and it’s contagious. A lot of them are people who I’ve never met. Bari Zaki has a studio on Lincoln. She’s a bookbinder and does calligraphy and has a lot of workshops. She’s been at it for years and years – more than a decade. She has a similar thing where she sells art supplies but curates it and arranges it in a way that’s pleasing to her.

Favorite Chicago places?
The Art Institute is really great, especially the Japanese wing. One of my favorite things about going to SAIC was having access to the museum and having that be a part of your every day life. Calling on times when I had a bigger radius, I love the lake. I’ve always had a fascination with the lake, even though I grew up in California with the ocean half an hour away, there’s something really mystical and magical about Lake Michigan. It seems so vast and I really like being close to it.

Top three items of clothing in your closet?
My grandmother designed her own jewelry and had a jeweler custom make them. She was awesome. She was one of the big inspirations for the shop. She would always buy me grow up-looking clothes when my mom would buy me ditzy, floral dresses. She would buy me a red crepe suit with a matching bolero jacket. 

I love this direct-to- consumer luxury women’s line based in New York called Uniforme. It’s nice because it’s milled in Switzerland and has Mother of Pearl buttons. I have this black tie in red and grey as well that I alternate with [Uniforme tops].

Morning routine?
It’s pretty non-existent. I wake up, realize what I have to do at the shop, roll out of bed, brush my hair and teeth, grab a kombucha, grab [my dog] Martha, and come [to the shop].

Favorite travel destination?
I just got back from a trip to California. My dad and sister live in L.A., and my mom lives in this little beach town called Del Mar that is right against the cliffs. It’s kind of European in a way because it’s so small, so I think that’s one of my favorite destinations because things slow down.

Favorite extravagance/indulgence?
I would say sushi. As mush sushi I can afford in my budget, that’s how much I eat. If I could eat it at every meal, I could. They’re little works of art that I get to eat and it’s delicious.

Monday Muse: Christina Slaton

A lot of your work revolves around food; what draws you to food photography and styling?
Some things are meant to be. I have done so many kinds of photography, but nothing is quite like food photography for me. I come from an eccentric family of French Canadians on my dad's side and my mother is German-Dutch. My parents are both great cooks, and lots of the food they would make me as a child was representative of where they came from and where they traveled. Food has always been fascinating to me, and I've always had an appetite to be reckoned with. When I was younger and traveling I'd think, "Wow, the food here is so different than at home." And then I thought, "wow, what a beautiful and appropriate way to connect with other cultures." And then I thought... "wow, I know what I want to do now."

What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on?
I think my favorite project is when I photographed at Alinea for Ny Magazine's Grubstreet. I just remember feeling like a fish in water, but at the same time, blown away that I got to meet Grant Achatz, walk through the kitchen, and set up my equipment. The dish was called "graffiti concrete spring vegetables", and to me, it was a beautiful moment in my life. Right now I'm working on a Healthy-ish Chicago food guide for Infatuation that I'm really enjoying, and I'm up for a big job, and it's looking good. I'll keep you posted. 

Update: Christina was offered the position as Lettuce Entertain You Photographer. 

Is this the career path that you planned on? 
There was never a time that I wanted to be anything other than a photographer. I went and got a BA in Communication Arts and Graphic Design with a minor in Photography. I took a job in Graphic Design, and immediately quit to start my own company.  Some people are just born that way. When I moved to Chicago for love, I told my friends. "I'm going to go make a name for myself in Chicago" and some of them laughed at me. That was a tipping point.

I eventually met Amy Morton who let me photograph at her restaurant Found in Evanston. She then introduced me to Huge Galdones, (one of the premier lifestyle/food photographers in Chicago). Huge became a mentor of sorts, and I would assist him in his shoots. This was a game changer... he asked me once, "Do you ever get bored of this?" The answer was, and still is no. And at that point. I could not have been more driven to succeed. Soon after, I started as the Photographer for the Infatuation in Chicago, which brings me to styling. For the most part it is just me and the chef at these Infatuation shoots, and without a stylist on board, I am the stylist, photographer, and director. I was left with the food, the camera and my thoughts, which really helped me become a stylist. 

What is something you wish you would have known when you started this venture?
If there was anything I wish I knew when I started my adventure, it's that I wish I knew that everything was going to be ok. 

Photographs by Christina Slaton

Photographs by Christina Slaton

Create With: Tereasa Surratt of Camp Wandawega and Ogilvy

Co-Founder of Camp Wandawega, Executive Director of Department of Experiential at Ogilvy, Author, and Designer 

What is your background?
I was raised 8 miles outside of a farm town of 4,000 people. We didn’t have diversity of any kind. I graduated early and went to college at 20 at SIU. I was working three jobs; I worked as a sign painter for this old man who taught me how to hand letter and I worked at the university design shop. I was trying to put myself through school, but I was also working for the college newspaper, so I got to graduate early when I was 21. Then I worked at a marketing department for a small firm, and then I ended up moving to Chicago when I was 25. I got a another job at a small agency and then went back to school, because I wanted to make Super Bowl commercials. There wasn’t a lot of money in fine arts, so I ended up doing that and got recruited right away to work at a firm and shot my first Super Bowl commercial in six months. I thought “that was easy, I can do this all the time.” It wasn’t easy. I’ve done a handful since, but they’re hard to get. So then I worked at another agency and then I went to Ogilvy, and I’ve been there for 17 years.

I met David when I was 27 at the agency. He showed me this place he used to go to when he was a kid, and it had been abandoned for a long time -- it was Wandawega. By the time he took me there it was the scariest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was completely condemned. He said, “let’s do this and let’s get married and let’s get married here!” And I was like, “what”? Anyway, we did. I just left all the buildings, washed everything, and put up a tent in the green area.

The trajectory moving forward is that I was still working in advertising and I started traveling a lot. I started working on a campaign for Real Beauty, which is for Dove. I got to go to 20 countries shooting that and was working with a lot of female empowerment brands, but then also home decor brands. I think that this virtuous cycle started to happen when the things I was working on at the agency were fueling my interest for things outside of that. Camp Wandawega started to grow and we had a lot of personal retreats; we did art camp and band camp and music camp and craft camp, anything creative. We didn’t charge anything. Everyone just came together to these communal sort of things. Eventually, we thought we should really start fixing this thing up, but we needed money to do that, so maybe we should start doing events. Then we started doing corporate retreats and some weddings, but I don’t like to word corporate. We ended up doing artistic retreats, so that was fun because we got to pick which brands we to work with.

I started to do consulting on the side for the brands that I was meeting at Wandawega. It started to change the trajectory of what I was doing at Ogilvy. I started doing some really big immersive experiences. One huge project was a museum I built in New York. I’m under NDA, so I can’t give you the details of what brand it was, but it was a colossal project that was in The New York Times three times in two weeks. Once I started doing more things like that, I started realizing that it was what I wanted to do. I stepped away from doing the traditional stuff in advertising and doing more immersive, sensorial, brand experiences. Now I’m the Director of the Department of Experiential.

The worst thing that you can do in any field is just do the thing that you do in the company that you do it. It’s like living in a bubble. You don’t allow yourself to grow and you become a product of redundancy. You’re not getting inspired, so you’re not growing, so you’re not pushing yourself.

What has been one of your favorite projects to work on?
The one that I can’t tell you about. It’s a private company, but they’re one of the world’s biggest companies. It was the opportunity to create this museum in New York that was targeted to millennials, and it made them reappraise a product that they had not considered before. We got to do something completely out of the blue and create this really beautiful museum that was open for three weeks. The museum was driven by data, so it scraped social feeds for the city of New York and turned the entire museum into a mood ring. By scraping algorithms of social intent, the exterior of the building would light up and reflect how the city was feeling. That was a really rewarding project through work.

Then I’d say through Wandawega, The Land of Nod line was really fun for me because it was so huge. Having a six year old, I think it became even more emotional and important to me. The thing about The Land of Nod is that they are powered by imagination. They’re creating interactive products that a lot of folks aren’t. They make you think differently from a really young age.

My third book is coming out this year, and so all of this stuff is interconnected. The first book was Hearst Sterling. The second book was Clarkson Potter, which was part of Random House. The third book is Crown and it’s a children’s book. I just like to switch it up. I’m not an expert in anything. I’m a jack of all trades. I tell people that I think we should all be unapologetic for being hybrids. Gone are the days that just because you’re a graphic designer doesn’t mean you’re not also a writer; just because you’re a content creator doesn’t mean you’re not a producer or filmmaker or photographer. You can change your mind. We have permission at any time.

What inspires your work?
Everything. I like to travel a lot, and I know that sounds cliche, but it’s so important. In the last year, I went to Paris and London, and then we just got back a month ago from touring Italy. I get super inspired by textiles and typography, especially in other countries. Every time I got to a different country, I’ll hit a flea market and buy a trunk, fill it full of stuff, and ship it back. I have so many trunks it’s crazy.

Travel makes you think differently. If you study architecture, everywhere you go there’s different materials, different aesthetics, and different trends. I think subconsciously, as creatives, we absorb that. Sometimes it sits in the back of our heads, and we don’t know when that’s going to come back out of influence our design or our photography or the way that we look at colors. You go to Greece, you may come back and you have in your subconscious a white palette. You go to Italy, you look at the way they use brick patterns on the floor, you find different patterns and themes.

I’m an obsessive journaler when I travel. I always do a big, fat book that’s not as much about writing, but a designer’s journal. I try to glean as much as I can about local color, architecture, furniture, and textile design. I draw a lot and try to find the themes. I now have a massive collection of these journals of 20 years of going to different countries. I like to look back at them because they are timeless. The things that I’m recording aren’t what I had for breakfast, unless I’m having breakfast in the south of France and they’re doing some crazy plate of artisanal bread, in a pattern that came from someone’s third generation grandmother, and then you have to draw it because you’ll never see it again.

What brought you to Chicago?
Job. After I graduated young, I worked in Southern Illinois for a marketing company for a few years. I was lost. I was a marketing director, so I thought “oh this feels creative!” But it wasn’t. I had always wanted to get out. I bought this abandoned house that was designed in the ‘20’s and was on the historic registry. I bought it when I was 22 and then I restored it. It was such a fun process to do, but when I was done, I realized that I was living a life that I didn’t want. I broke up with my boyfriend of seven years, put my house up for sale that I just rehabbed with my soul and then moved up to Chicago. I was living in a suburb, but I was working my way into the city because I was a farm girl. It was a big, scary thing to go from a town of 4,000 to Chicago.

I lasted about a year and a half in the suburbs. It was not where I wanted to be; I wanted to be in the city. I moved into the city and kept my job in the suburbs, but then I said, “screw this,” and went back to college. I got a job at a really great firm -- a really small design boutique and advertising agency -- and then was shooting Shaquille O'Neal and doing all these crazy, fun, things and I thought “yay! This is what I wanted to do,” but I was so naive. You don’t know what you don’t know when you’re a kid. I would just stumble my way into things, but then also, I think I was trying to find a path by being curious.

Also, I attributed this to my dad, I guess, but there’s a Midwestern work ethic that I think I grew up with on the farm that I alway just assumed, no matter where I was, that everyone around me is smarter than me, and everyone else went to a better school in a cosmopolitan area, or they had better experiences, or better taste, and all the things that I found later in life just aren’t true. I think that was a gift because it made me work harder to try and catch up to this idea in my head that everyone was going to be better, faster, stronger. It made me work twice as hard. 

If you could be somewhere else, where would you be?
I would still be in this house. My female hero is Jeanne Gang. She is a powerhouse of a woman. [My husband and I] built this house with her, and we came to her with no money. She hadn’t become this architect that she is now, so we literally said that she could do whatever she wanted. This [house] was an existing horse stable. The budget was pretty much the same as a Chicago condo; we didn’t have any money and that’s why everything [inside] is IKEA. What I found in this process, is that it doesn’t matter if you buy brand-named things, it just matters what you like and what you surround yourself with.

I’ve become attached to this house. I’ve owned a lot of houses, David has, too, I think that I like this house because Jeanne hasn’t designed any other houses, and she probably won’t. Moving into a neighborhood like [West Town] that was basically a crack den 20 years ago and seeing the neighborhood change as it has is great. I like it. But, what I would do is buy houses in a bunch of different places. I would buy a house in New York, and I wouldn’t want to live in just one place, but I would want to take the money that I had and just travel everywhere. I started to make that a bigger thing in my life by making a concerted effort to take more trips. I want to see Cuba before it’s totally Disneyland. There is no one place. I haven’t been to Morocco yet and it kills me.

I grew up in the sticks. The only time I remember going to a restaurant before the age of 14 was a KFC once and a Pizza Hut once, and that was it. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 18. The first time I saw an African American person was when I was in high school, and he was adopted but ended up being my best friend. I had absolutely no context or reference. I’m not knocking the town, but there was no inspiration or no diversity. Maybe that’s why, now that I’m older, I have a strong drive [to travel].

Working for Ogilvy has been great for that. We go to a dozen countries a year. I went to Hong Kong for a month when I was 30. They asked if I could go to Hong Kong, and they already bought my ticket and said I was leaving in 24 hours. I didn’t know if I was going to be gone for ten days or three weeks, but I said, “let’s do this.” There’s a time in your life when it’s good to do that.

The one piece of advice I have is live the life that your future self would regret if you didn’t try. Think about yourself when you’re 35, 40, 45, 50, and then think about what you would regret. If your future self could look back at yourself and say, “Do it. You won’t regret it,” then just fucking do it. Do it before you have roots you can’t break. Now, the roots I have are the roots that I want. If I won the lottery today, I would still live in this house. I would still have camp. I would buy every building around camp, but then I would just travel all the time. I think that is a good test. If you can’t say that about whatever you’re doing right now, then you’re not living the life you want right now. It took me a lot of years to figure it out. I by no means have it figured out. I just wish someone had told me this.

If you weren’t running camp and working in advertising, what would you be doing?
There were things like writing a book, but I wasn’t a writer. Someone told me once that I’m not a writer because I’m an art director. Take any time someone tells you that you can’t do something and then do it anyway. I maybe wouldn’t be working in advertising just because it owns me. I would still be doing marketing and advertising, but I just wouldn’t be doing it for the brands I’m told I have to do it for when you work at an agency.

What are you trying to learn right now?
Everything. The funny thing is that the older I get, the more I realize there is to learn. I still haven’t learned how to cook, I don’t play any instruments, I don’t speak any languages. This is the stuff I want for my daughter. This is the stuff I want to learn, but I want her to learn more. I think I’m more focused on that. There’s so much. I don’t want to be repeating things. I don’t want to be repeating clients, projects, experiences.

What are you most proud of?
It sounds cliche, but it’s true: Charlie. Being the mom I didn’t have. That’s the most important thing, you know? Beyond that, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve finally found out how to say no, and that I’ve finally found out how to pursue the things I want and not waste my time. I mean not wasting time on brands or clients who won’t give you their trust or let you live up to your potential and do the things that you can do. There’s so much power in saying no. And it goes back to that mentality of living in a small town and just being happy to have a job every day. You’ve just got to have confidence and learn how to say no. I’m proud that I learned how to do that, because it opened so many more doors. Then, I’m proud of the fact that every day I make that list of what I want to do and then I do it. It doesn’t matter what it is. You find creative ways around it. I’m excited that I’ve found a place of a “failure ground.” There’s all kinds of shit I do at camp that fails. So many things don’t turn out as planned, and that’s okay. You just have to own it.

How do you take time for yourself?
I’m doing yoga three days a week, and that’s just an extension of being mindful and present. I think that’s helping me be a calmer human. There’s this other thing that happens to you once you start making things, is that you become harder on yourself and everything you do, you want to do more, bigger, better. So there’s this sort of pressure and self-inflicted angst involved in that, and that is something I need to work through.

Why do you think that it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
We just have to support each other. We’re stronger together. It’s true. I think that Hillary [Clinton] was a great example of that, and everything that Michelle [Obama} says, and everything that is happening with the march is all pointing to the same thing: we are stronger together. It’s important to support and it’s not about us individually, but it’s about how we’re all more successful if we support each other. I saw this Instagram post the other day, and it said, “Her success is not your failure.” That’s so powerful when you can really think about what that means and it will help you so much more karmically in life if you can support those around you. You grow, personally, so much and everyone benefits if you can shine the spotlight on what other women are doing, instead of being competitive.  I’m not going to lie, advertising is competitive. It is dog-eat-dog, so I think that it is an important reminder to collaborate.

What is your advice for someone who wants a job like yours?
Specifically in advertising, it’s important to build a book and start making real work instead of waiting for a degree to tell you how to do it. Yes, you’re going to have to go to school so you can use their recruiting systems, but also, be a student of the world. If you want to be good at advertising, you need a specific type of book. Be aware of who’s out there and what their doing, and be educated and be enlightened.

For Wandawega, I can’t give anybody advice on how to do it. We just make it up as we go, and we’re just happy that people cut us a lot of slack. We have this thing called the Manifesto of Low Expectations, and every time someone books, they have to read and sign this thing. We say, “We’re an eighth of a star on a five-star scale, you’re going to hate it here for these 20 reasons. If you’re not scared away by every nasty thing that can happen, then great. You’re in. If not, there are great Holiday Inns in the neighborhood.” I can’t give a council on how to run an inn, but I can say to live a creative life, pursue everything that interests you. I don’t care if that means that you’re scattered, or if it feels like you don’t have enough time, do everything that you love, and eventually, you’ll find yourself where you should be. You’re never going to regret it. You future 45-year-old self will never regret it.

What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
It surprised me how hard it is to get published as a children’s book author. The first two books came so easy that it inspired me to do it. The children’s book world is a very different ball game. It is infinitely harder to have a children’s book published, but what I’ve learned is that when people look at a children’s book they think it’s elementary and anyone can do it. It’s way harder than you think, because everyone thinks they can do it, so everyone does. Also, the landscape for hard books has changed. There’s a whole different way people consume information online, so there’s a much smaller market for it, and it’s a much more competitive environment.

Favorite female creatives?
There are so many people. Michelle Kohanzo from The Land of Nod started in The Land of Nod when she was a kid answering phones, and she worked her way up through every single department there until she was president and then she just quit about a month ago. Now, she is running Roman and Williams retail which is one of the most amazing retail firms in the world. She just dropped her perfect, amazing, powerful, inspiring creative life to do something else. I change my heroes every day, but she’s a great one. And Jeanne Gang. I’ve already talked about her and I love what she does.

Favorite Chicago places?
I’m partial to Chicago Athletic Association because AJ Capital Group is a partner and everything they touch is amazing. I’m also partial to my friend’s at Land and Sea, and I feel like everything they make is amazing. From Longman and Eagle, to Parsons, to Lost Lake, and the new one that they’re opening, Golden Teardrops, I love it. I’m friends with them and each one of them has a different asset and skill that came together, and each thing they make is entirely unique, which is really hard to do. As far as the boutiques, I love Humboldt House, I love Fleur, I love Sparrow for hair. They’re all different, but they’re all creating their own paths and product lines. I’ve collaborated with Tatine, which I love, I’ve collaborated with Anthropologie, which is a big chain, but I still love it because they changed the landscape of retail merchandising and the way we consume and navigate a store. Even though they’re a big brand, they’re killing it. Everyone’s chasing them, and have been for 15 years.

Favorite travel destination?
Well, I haven’t been there yet, but I’m going to say Morocco. It’s hard to narrow it down. I think that I’ve spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires, and it does feel like a mini-Paris, but it’s accessible and it has changed a lot in the past 15 years.

Morning routine?
I get up at 3:30, because I go to bed at 8:30. I feel like the most productive time for me is between 3:30 and 6:30. The routine is I get online, make an impossible list of things that I know that I’ll never get done -- somewhere between 15 and 20 things -- and then I game-ify the day to see what I can get done.

Favorite extravagance or indulgence?
I’m kind of anti-brand. I would much rather wear something from a thrift store. I got this fantastic cashmere coat from a second-hand shop, and it’s the most gorgeous coral color. I would rather have that and be the only girl who has that than go and buy something from Gucci. I do like some Gucci shit, but it’s gotta be something from the ‘70’s that I find. I like vintage pieces, but I don’t chase the fads because it’s a losing battle. I guess I don’t like extravagance is what I’m going for. But, I’ve got this Jaguar in the garage, and someone may look at that and think that it’s the fanciest car, but we got it for a few thousand dollars. We paid for that what most people pay for a fancy city bike. We had to do a lot of work on it, but I appreciate things that are well-designed. We found it in a garage and I hadn’t started in 15 years, so I like challenges. I think it’s maybe being raised on a farm. You’ll never see me drive in a fancy, brand-new car or wearing a Cartier watch.

Why do you think it's important for creative women to come together and collaborate?

Being able to collaborate is important because it allows us to understand each other and bridge gaps, not only between different venues of work, but with culture.
— Kara Nitti

You've seen the question in each interview for the last six months: Why do you think it's important for creative women to come together and collaborate? A powerful question, indeed, and is at the core of WITH/ANOTHER's ethos. Today, in honor of International Women's Day, we've gathered every answer to this vital question. 

Kelly Marie Thompson of Fleur: It’s so important. Partnerships among all of us are so important because we are constantly inspiring one another and building each other up. With apps like Instagram, there is so much self-criticism and comparisons that we make, and we forget who we are and why we’re doing artwork. We are all individuals, but sometimes ideas overlap, and the way we nurture those ideas is what makes them unique. I’m a huge advocate of community within any kid of creative field, and in the floral world, I feel very fortunate to have groups of us helping out one another if somebody is shorthanded. Without that extra bit of shoulder strength, none of us would be as successful as we are.

 

Elizabeth Leipold of Scratch Goods: There is no way to survive otherwise. In the world that we live in, I don’t think there is a way to be successful without your female counterparts. Whether they’re in your industry or not, you need other people to listen to what you have to say. It’s a different thing to run a business as a woman than as a man, no matter what. Any community that feels like they’re not treated fairly needs to support other communities. We all need to support one another because we’re obviously being confronted with stuff that’s looking to tear all of us down.

 

Elizabeth Cronin of Asrai Gardens: I don't know how to answer that question, because there's not a reason why it's not important for women. Mostly what I love is that when I was young I felt a lot of competition with women, not that I personally felt like I was in competition with other women, but I just felt that vibe. The internet and social media has been great for finding like-minded women, and I think that supporting other women in whatever they're doing is so important. A lot of the women that have worked here have started their own floral businesses and it doesn't feel like competition to me. There is room for all of us, and we're stronger when we're together. And given what is going on in the world right now, the more that we can do together, the better it is.

 

Angela Wator of Bash Party Goods: From a young age, it’s kind of engrained in us to compete with one another. At a certain point, you start to realize there is real value in collaborating with someone. Once you start to remove that competitive aspect in your relationships with women, it opens up a whole new door. We can support each other in a way that you can’t really have with the opposite sex in most situations. When you are working with women who can really understand what you are going through, more interesting things can come from that. Up until this point, I have worked with large groups of men with only a few women, but I always found my creative relationships work the best when I form a really strong bond with the women in the group.

Julia Korol of Rocky and Luella: I think there can be so much division among women in particular. There are already so many obstacles that sometimes women tend to see other women as another obstacle. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all. I think when people come together, both people benefit and both people can grow from that.

 

Kate Bunton of Rocky and Luella: Since we have gone about this, I feel like the most help we’ve gotten is from women-owned businesses. There is an understanding there. I think that women tend to pit themselves against one another, which is a real shame because when they do work together, it creates this really wonderful network of support, and that is a really beautiful thing.

 

Hallie Borden of Milk Handmade: I like that question. I think women naturally inspire each other and it is such a falsehood that we get naturally competitive because we’re building off of each other. Generally, women don’t shoot each other’s ideas down immediately as opposed to men, in my experience, and I try to get mostly women designers in the shop.

 

Rachael Gladser of Rawson: It’s so critical because it adds warmth to what you’re doing, and that is so crucial to feeling good about yourself and what you put out into the world. Breaking down that professional barrier is something that creative people can do, and to have a group of people who are into that is so much better. I don’t like being super phony with people, and warmth can only add to your life good intention.

 

Claire Tibbs of Humboldt House: I think that it is really important to be proactive and to create spaces that are women-centric or just feminine in essence, no matter how people identify. We live in a world that is male-dominated, even every bar has sports playing in it, and it is really hard to maintain feminine spaces that are warm and rich and familial--all the intangible things that make a space feel woman-centric. I think it is important to have a space that inspires women to keep creating.

 

Kristen Basilo of Gather Home and Lifestyle: I feel like everybody needs a support system, and creative women, especially those with a focus in some sort of business, can all relate to each other. It is really important for us to share ideas and get inspiration from each other and supporting the process so that woman-owned businesses can be successful.

 

Amy Mokris of Le Coeur Watch Co: I think that women are some of the most creative leaders, and they make some of the best leaders, and I think that there is a trend of that happening more and more. I love the creative community here in Chicago, because some of the best leaders I know are women. So whether that be because I’m purposefully surrounding myself with that or not, I can list 10 badass female entrepreneurs who I have had the awesome opportunity to work with. It creates a really positive and collaborative environment where we can all help each other thrive and grow and do all the things that we are dreaming about doing.

Merl Kinzie of The Shudio: I feel so strongly about this, especially because of how prominent the internet and Instagram is. One of my favorite quote is “her success is not you failure,” because I think that for so many people it is so easy to look at what other people are achieving or doing and then look negatively upon yourself. I think when you don’t have this supportive, open collaborative community, you get very insecure and combative and competitive with people which breeds so much negativity and despair in your life. Women as a gender are so nurturing and loving for the most part, so to redirect that towards each other and then back at ourselves is so important. We’re not competitors, we’re not combatants. Even if you’re doing the same thing, or if you’re doing something totally different, inspiring and helping each other just comes back into your own life tenfold. I think we can do really cool stuff when we collaborate and not have this secret competitive war behind the scenes.

Kristen Kaza of No Small Plans Productions: I think there is a real power in number and visibility. We saw that in some ways at the Women’s March. There was this collective consciousness, to a certain extent, and that was really extraordinary. I do believe that women need to come together and collaborate, but part of that is listening and learning from the experiences that you don’t have. We sort of lump this umbrella of women together, but so often, we’re rarely telling the whole story or showing a diverse representation of women. Of course at every event, you can’t have every representation of women available, but this is where we need to see more work done. We need to make sure that we have voices at the table that aren’t always considered. When we talk about women, we must talk about the experiences of trans women, women of color -- and not just women of color because the experiences of women of color are very different than the experiences of other identities  -- we need a space for LGBTQ women, older women, younger women, and also diversity of thought and experience and creativity. I know that sounds really difficult, but it’s really important when we’re at this point in history where women’s rights are on the table to ask if everyone is being considered. People in positions of power need to start thinking about that, because it inevitably impacts education, the workforce, culture, etc. I think it’s really important for women to come together, but I think there’s an “and” with that, and who you’re representing when you’re talking about women. Simply put, so many femme-identified people are left out. In terms of advocating what we’re marking as women’s rights, not all women have vaginas and not all people with vaginas identify as women. When we’re talking about the fight for reproduction, this is not limited to cis-gendered women. This is a big hurdle, I know, on a broader scale nationally, but organizations that advocate specifically for “women” must start thinking about things in an intersectional way. There’s no “later,” it has to happen right now.

To your question about collaboration, yes, I love seeing women come together and, per-usual, we will be the ones to come together and say “let me roll up my sleeves and get it done.” Women tend to think about things very differently, it is easy to see that by how women and girls treat each other and it can set such an amazing tone and example. We have to think about the decisions we make and where we put our money. People don’t think about that or think about how to make change, they feel bad that these inequities are taking place, but they don’t know what to do about it. Start right now! Start with the conversations you’re having, start with how you’re spending your money, you can speak up, you can say something if you’re in a hiring position or programming position -- you have a duty to your community to start making these changes. If something’s not right, do something about it. Usually, the best way to start is in your own communities or within your family and friends. This year, we’re going to start to have some pretty uncomfortable conversations. We’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable.

 

Graphic Designer MacKenzie Freemire: I think it's so important. I've had women in my life who are very strong, go-getters, so I think it's instilled in me. I think it's important for women to recognize that they can do anything just as good as men and be amazing at it.

As you get older you start to shed those insecurities- you begin to embrace other women and their creative endeavors and you actually want to uplift them. You’re inspired by them and in turn inspire them. It’s really cool.
— Lauren Wendt

Mary Simmons of Persephone Floral:  As creatives, we can really learn from each other by getting together. I guess I'm coming at it from an artistic angle, but I think of all the artistic movements that have involved groups of people getting together and innovating together, and as creatives, we can do that also. On a more mundane level, it is cool to meet other people and learn about what is going on in your city.

 

Writer Sydney Boyle: I think because the world tells us we can't and that there is so much that we cannot do. I think that people being their true selves and chasing their dreams gives them full permission to live a life they want.

 

Kelly Connolly of Nimble Well: A lot of reasons. I feel like it is easy to feel isolated and I get together with some of my officemates about once a month to check on goals and keep each other accountable. So that is another big thing, accountability. I think it is easy, when you're running your own business, to get mental blocks and sometimes it's hard to get over completely on your own. And just hearing other people's ideas on the same issue is really helpful for me. It's hard to run your own business --  the finances, the overhead responsibilities, it's hard work -- and it is easy to make it seem like everyone is breezing through it. In person relationships with other women making their own path is helpful. Even if you're 10 years in, it's hard to make margins. Every level has its struggles.

 

Ceramicist Ashley Lin: I think we need each other in more ways than just creativity. We need someone to talk to, that kind of support from outside ourselves and our significant others. It doesn’t help just walking the streets on your own, especially now, we need each other to facilitate more action.

Jenna Blazevich of Vichcraft: Since I’ve been growing my brand and expanding into the community, I think there is something really beautiful about having that support and seeing people come together. There is so much solidarity with each other and I am so thankful to be a part of that because, unfortunately, a lot of women feel undervalued in their jobs and it does take a lot of courage to go out on your own. Being able to recognize that in one another and knowing what it took for you to do that and supporting her in that is important because society wants to tell us what our value is.

 

Designer Amanda Jane Jones: So many reasons. Being a support system to one another is great. I think learning from people and being able to share the knowledge you’ve learned is huge.

 

Photographer Kara Nitti: I think it is important because in general women have issues supporting each other, and I think we have enough barriers as it is. Being able to collaborate is important because it allows us to understand each other and bridge gaps, not only between different venues of work, but with culture.

Woodworker C. V. Robe:  It is just so important because otherwise it is super lonely. In order to consider yourself a creative person, you have to be a bit of a different thinker and you have to be willing to ask questions that a lot of people don’t ask; that can put you on the outside of things, even if you are super socially capable. You are creating culture so you have to be a little bit different and finding that community is something that motivates us and makes us feel whole and safe. It is just everything.

 

Photographer Sandy Noto: I think it is so hard to break through in a creative field. At least for me, I have experienced a lot of complicated situations where my gender has been an issue where you’re criticized in a certain way that makes you wonder if it is about your work or your gender. I feel like having people to talk to about that is so helpful and I have recently started to talk to someone who is much further along in her career. It is so comforting to talk to someone who validated your issues. Also I think competition in creative fields exists and so often there is a ton of opportunity to collaborate and there is no reason not to collaborate with others. It gives you a fresh perspective on your work.

 

Laura Prieto-Velasco of HVNTER GVTHERER: To support one another. It is a tough world and I very much believe in the power of numbers and the power of supporting one another as opposed to being competitive. I’m older and in my thirties and being competitive doesn’t really help anybody because it is really toxic. I love teaching and bringing in other designers into the community. I think it is important to learn from each other and really impact the world.

 

Jessica Egan of Little Fire Ceramics: I think that it is really important because no one quite understands you like someone who is almost directly in your shoes. I work with so many amazing female artists, especially in the ceramics world. There are so many ideas to bounce off of each other, and so many new things to try. So I think just having someone who can tell you really honestly what’s working or not working about your pieces, and sharing new things to try, and getting that feedback [is great]. Even just someone to give you a nice, warm hug when you’re having a rough day, it is really nice. It is great to have that community of people who will always have your back.

 

Caitlin Kerr of Foxglove Studio: To lift each other up, for sure. Even if it is not a collaboration, even if it is just women talking about business. It is inspiring to collaborate and get the word out. It is a much different world than what it was before. It is hard to own a business, and it is hard to own a business when you are a woman, even if it is a woman-dominated [industry]. I would say floral design is mostly women. So just being there for each other. That is why I love this studio, besides freelancers, it is just us and our businesses. I think it really cool to see how things turn out when you collaborate, because it is so much more than a person’s opinion on something...it can be in the form of a dinner, or art, or whatever, but it is important to have those sounding boards to help you out.

Artist Tiffany Wong: I think that art is all about connection. I think art is not only a way for me to connect with myself, but it is also a portal to connecting with others. Sometimes it is just as simple as me connecting with the present state that I am, and when other people look at my art, they can connect to that experience.  Even if [art] can feel like a solitary experience, we can all connect through the emotions that are depicted through art.

Collaboration is great because I feel like it is so nice to feel like I am not alone in it. A lot of times I do feel alone, but when I see others doing really well or being able to work with other women gives me a lot of joy and inspiration.

 

Dee Clements of Herron: I collaborate a lot, and I love it, mostly because I work alone, so I love the opportunity to work with someone else and kind of work with their energy and ideas--it gives me energy and ideas. I really find that collaboration usually informs my own work later, and I love the opportunity to work with other people. It just brings in a whole new element, usually, especially for people who don't work in textiles and [to collaborate] with people in other mediums allows me to expand my scope and skill set in new ways. It helps you not stay stagnant.

 

Chelli Look of CHC: I think it really breaks the societal lie that women are all against each other. It is a lie we buy into. I don’t truly think women are against each other, I think it is something that we are taught to think about each other and it becomes competitive. But, I think in our nature, we are community builders. When you look at different societies, women can invest in their families and build up communities, and I think that says a lot about the nature of women in general, that we want to invest in one another. I think we naturally build community with one another, because, truly, business people thrive when we rejoice with one another. There is plenty of room for all of us to grow, and to think that Suzy Q is making really good handbags means that I won’t one day is a fallacy, it is a lie.

Theresa Cowan of Mineralogy: I feel like there is really no point in doing your work if you are just an individual, like if there is no way to get your work out there to other people and just to be there to support each other. When you are creating content for multiple people, I think artists are sometimes our biggest market or support. Especially in an industry where there is so much competition, it is valuable to be transparent and giving. If your vision is different, nobody is going to be able to create what you do, and that is where we should all be cheering for each other.

 

Katie Papp of Always Hungry Chi: I think that there is strength in numbers, and we live in a society that is dominated by men. When we team up and put our forces together, we will make headway. There is no other way to do it.

I don’t truly think women are against each other, I think it is something that we are taught to think about each other and it becomes competitive. But, I think in our nature, we are community builders. When you look at different societies, women can invest in their families and build up communities, and I think that says a lot about the nature of women in general, that we want to invest in one another.
— Chelli Look

Ellen Williams of Feminist Literary Society: When you walk into a group of women that is happy to see someone else there, it creates such a level of gratitude towards each other instead of feeling like competition. It's more about brining people together, and I think that is important in Chicago, but also the world to create real change.

 

Cate Harriman of Feminist Literary Society: I think the support that it provides is astronomical. Women are capable of producing great content on their own, but when you have a support system or community of feminist creatives it unleashes the possibilities.

 

Interior Designer Katrina Hoering:  I think that a lot of the girls that I know don’t know that they can do what they want. I’m kind of the opposite: I only want to do what I want. Life is really short – it sounds so corny – and you can make a ton of money doing something you hate, but I think it’s important to stop and reassess what you’re doing and making sure you’re not doing something that you’re not passionate about. I think it helps you to be reminded of that, because it’s easy to get lost in your head or worry about rent and student loans. That’s why I love to travel, because I would rather have $100 in my bank account but be pushing myself to experience new things in Singapore. It just helps me to remind myself to be around my creative friends.



Blogger Ro Birkey: I feel that there is so much I can say about girl power right now. I think it is so easy for women to get competitive and compare and think “well, she’s doing that really well I don’t do that really well” so it is easy to put yourself down or put other people down. But I think we can look for ways to encourage because there aren’t always other people who will do that for you, and I feel like as women, we can be such a strong force to support each other and lift each other up instead of undermining. Women need all the support we can get.

 

Lauren Wendt of Foxtail and Moss:  Growing up, there is so much jealousy and competition between little girls- it’s awful and I think it’s something we’re taught. As you get older you start to shed those insecurities- you begin to embrace other women and their creative endeavors and you actually want to uplift them. You’re inspired by them and in turn inspire them. It’s really cool.

 

Abby St. Claire of WITH/ANOTHER: I think that any time I have been able to achieve a great creative project is when other people are involved. It is extremely valuable to have other like minded women who share similar passions who can encourage and inspire your work. I have met some of my best friends through creative communities, so I think that having that foundation is incredibly important.

 

Mandy Lancia of WITH/ANOTHER: Creativity is a personal expression of inward thought that allows others to interact with us on a level of deeper understanding and appreciation. When women, especially creative women, support each other, we are allowing for a larger platform of creation and respect. I think that it is extremely important for women to encourage self-expression with one another throughout the creative industry. This is really where the idea for W I T H / A N O T H E R stemmed from.

Plants to Prints Workshop

On February 25th, we hosted our first hands-on workshop with the talented printmaking couple, jeremy+farrah. As the snow fell outside, a group of fifteen warmblooded Chicagoans gathered at Positive Space Studios for a morning of coffee, plants, and printmaking. We loved meeting more of the community, while providing them a space to learn and create. Thank you Positive Space Studios, Good Manner Coffee, Glazed and Infused, Bang Bang Pie, and Matt Keeth for making this morning incredible. 

Monday Muse: Danielle Gruley

Free People manager, plant mom, and interior design lover

What do you do just for yourself?
Reading and running. Thanks to my parents, I've always been a big reader. I find a lot of solace in reading books. My mind is usually going a million miles an hour so it's a good time to escape whatever I'm overanalyzing in my head. I respect and appreciate the art of story telling so much. Running is where I do my thinking. I used to run because I was wrapped up in body image. Now, if I go a few days without running I feel overwhelmed with all my thoughts. I came to the realization that it was so much more than trying to lose those last lbs. It's a good time to tune out the daily distractions and think through whatever is ailing me. 

What are your favorite plants? 
Ohhhh it's so hard to choose just one! My Rubber Tree plant for its dark green waxy leaves. It feels substantial and expensive. I love our Hoya plant because it makes me feel like a successful plant mom. It's the over achiever of all of the plants I own! I also love my Christmas cactus -- it blooms with tiny pink flowers every once and a while. It makes me feel so happy and accomplished as a plant owner! For the most part though, I like my plants because they all have a story behind them - gifted to me by someone I love, a souvenir from a trip or a purchase from a beautiful day spent with my fiance. I definitely tie emotions to my plants. 

Shout out to Adams & Son in Chicago -- best place to buy plants in the city!

Your home looks beautiful! Are you drawn to interiors and design?
Thank you so much -- that really means a lot. Home is so important to me. I definitely believe the space around you emits an energy and you need the right energy to serve whatever purpose you have laid out for yourself. My home is where I spend a lot of my time and so I try to create a space that makes me feel inspired, energized and at peace. I draw so much inspiration from different spaces and design and constantly seek out inspiration from other spaces. Decorating and putting together my home is always relaxing to me. 

A psychic told me I'd be working in interiors when I was older and I really hope she isn't wrong. 

How would you describe your personal style? 
Minimal boho. I'm a firm believer that all a great outfit needs is a great pair of denim. 

Do you have any/what are your future travel plans?
YES! One of my best friends' sister is getting married in the south of Italy this summer (I know right?!) and me and my 5 best friends are going together. We're meeting up in Budapest beforehand. These are MY PEOPLE and time spent with them is always an adventure. Also planning a wedding out in central California means I'll get to travel out there a couple more times before the wedding -- which does not suck.

Photos by Danielle Gruley

Photos by Danielle Gruley

Connect With: Kristen Kaza of No Small Plans Productions

Principal and Creative Director of No Small Plans Productions, Co-Founder of Slo 'Mo Party, and Co-Manager of Reunion

How did you start No Small Plans?
I started No Small Plans Production Company in 2012. Previously, I was the Marketing Director at Chicago Reader and I had been producing and putting on events for The Reader, but I wanted to do more of my own work, so I left The Reader to start No Small Plans. Subsequently, I launched Slo ‘Mo Party which is a dance party that celebrates community and slow jams in the queer community. That’s been going on for five years, and last year, I opened Reunion with Elijah McKinnon, which is a co-working space that is prioritized for women and femme-identified queer people and people of color.

What is your background?
Audience development and community building and events and marketing. All of my work has been historically based in social justice, serving, and celebrating communities and individuals that don’t always get the shine or support. So primarily women, queer women, queer people, and people of color.

What inspires your work?
Simply, it’s tiresome and frustrating seeing the same people getting the recognition and opportunities when it simply doesn’t have to be that way. Usually if you identify a need, there is someone else who is feeling it, too. For example, when I started Slo ‘Mo, I just wanted a sexy, low-key environment for queer women and friends to get together and really nothing like that existed. You can see that some of the most successful things come out of simply solving a problem. For me, I think when you program anything or make a decision that involves people and exposure, you’re making a choice. For example, the other day at the Winter Block Party that WBEZ put on, from beginning to end, it celebrated and gave the spotlight to women and girls. All the MC’s, all the DJ’s, all the performers were women and girls. You could totally feel that energy. It isn’t to say that every event we have should feature women, girls, and femme-identified people, but it’s because so many industries are male-dominated or white-dominated, it’s not how a lot of people identify or what people find interesting. People need to see it or be given the opportunity. When I program and produce something, whether it’s the vendors or it’s the venue or the artists, I’m making a choice every time to say who I think is important and who I think we should be paying attention to. I take that responsibility pretty seriously.

Photo by Moll Jean

Photo by Moll Jean

What brought you to Chicago?
I came to Chicago to attend Columbia College, which is now where I teach experiential marketing. I’ve been here almost 14 years.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I want to be in Chicago. I have my complex in Chicago, but as I’ve gotten older and deeper into my work, I’ve realized how integral Chicago is to my work and how important community is over these years. For me, I’d like to push myself to do more travel and do work in other places, so we’re taking Slo ‘Mo on the road and planning Slo ‘Mo parties in other cities because we find that people will notice that they don’t have something like this in their city, and we want to spread that love and joy more. I think if I weren’t in Chicago, I don’t know where I would be. I’m so committed to doing work and supporting community here. I feel like there are a lot of artist groups that feel like they have to tap out of Chicago and leave, and I do get that there is sort of an incubator in the city, but we need people to stay and who will be committed to the city and who will push it one step further.

If you weren’t running No Small Plans and Slo 'Mo Party, what would you be doing?
I don’t know. I’ve always been a multi-tasker and I’ve always taken on a lot. It’s a really specific choice to not work for someone else and run several different ventures. I think for me, I’m always trying to push myself and grow. The pressure with being an entrepreneur is that you’re constantly growing and you can’t predict everything. You have to adapt, and I think now that we’re in this political climate, businesses and artists need to adapt. I look at my work and what I’m doing, and I have to push myself because the times require it. There could have been a pathway where I worked for another company and had that security, but I did that already. Even with all of the struggles that come along with being a business owner, I prefer my autonomy at the end of the day.

What are you trying to learn right now?
Right now I’m trying to learn how to stay focused and not let too many projects splinter my talent or energy or time. That’s really hard with operating a very vivacious co-working space that always has something going on, with planning Slo ‘Mo parities, and everything else that goes on with life. I’m really trying to work hard at saying “yes” to the right projects and staying focused on what I think is most needed from me right now, which is community and cultural programming, while not getting pulled in too many directions. With that programming, staying really focused on the voices that need the platform right now.

Photo by Slo 'Mo Party

Photo by Slo 'Mo Party

What are you most proud of?
I can’t take credit for this at all, but I feel really, really proud of the culture that is emerging from Chicago and the culture that is predominately young people who are queer and POC. Their spirit, energy, empathy, and lack of inhibition around being emotionally expressive is so inspiring to me. I’m in my thirties and most of these people are younger than me, and I think we have so much to learn from people who are in their teens and twenties, who are really creating the foundation of the future. Teaching college, I get a really great window into that. I’m really sensitive to the criticism of millennials, because I think millennials are brilliant and have had so much put on them and are dealing with new, multi-layered challenges, but are very passionate about doing good in the world and living a life that feels purposeful. That’s really beautiful. We’re seeing the first generation to operate from that place, and we can all learn something from that. I’m excited to see that come specifically from Chicago. I know it is coming from our city in a way that is not coming from anywhere else in this country. You can see how Chance the Rapper has really lead the way of being an incredible example of being humble, passionate, compassionate, sincere, and has really set this incredible tone. It’s really, really beautiful and it gives me a lot of hope. In these darker times, we have to look to younger folks and remember that they are not just the next generation, but they are already doing it, and we should be paying attention and cultivating that with a lot of care.

How do you take time for yourself?
I have this dog, Demi, and she gives me a lot of opportunities. We go on a lot of walks and that’s when I get most of my thinking done, so walking my dog is very therapeutic for me. I’m a big bath taker, and I have this gorgeous clawfoot tub that is my sanctuary. I’ve been trying to read before I go to bed instead of having a screen.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
I think there is a real power in number and visibility. We saw that in some ways at the Women’s March. There was this collective consciousness, to a certain extent, and that was really extraordinary. I do believe that women need to come together and collaborate, but part of that is listening and learning from the experiences that you don’t have. We sort of lump this umbrella of women together, but so often, we’re rarely telling the whole story or showing a diverse representation of women. Of course at every event, you can’t have every representation of women available, but this is where we need to see more work done. We need to make sure that we have voices at the table that aren’t always considered. When we talk about women, we must talk about the experiences of trans women, women of color -- and not just women of color because the experiences of women of color are very different than the experiences of other identities  -- we need a space for LGBTQ women, older women, younger women, and also diversity of thought and experience and creativity. I know that sounds really difficult, but it’s really important when we’re at this point in history where women’s rights are on the table to ask if everyone is being considered. People in positions of power need to start thinking about that, because it inevitably impacts education, the workforce, culture, etc. I think it’s really important for women to come together, but I think there’s an “and” with that, and who you’re representing when you’re talking about women. Simply put, so many femme-identified people are left out. In terms of advocating what we’re marking as women’s rights, not all women have vaginas and not all people with vaginas identify as women. When we’re talking about the fight for reproduction, this is not limited to cis-gendered women. This is a big hurdle, I know, on a broader scale nationally, but organizations that advocate specifically for “women” must start thinking about things in an intersectional way. There’s no “later,” it has to happen right now.

To your question about collaboration, yes, I love seeing women come together and, per-usual, we will be the ones to come together and say “let me roll up my sleeves and get it done.” Women tend to think about things very differently, it is easy to see that by how women and girls treat each other and it can set such an amazing tone and example. We have to think about the decisions we make and where we put our money. People don’t think about that or think about how to make change, they feel bad that these inequities are taking place, but they don’t know what to do about it. Start right now! Start with the conversations you’re having, start with how you’re spending your money, you can speak up, you can say something if you’re in a hiring position or programming position -- you have a duty to your community to start making these changes. If something’s not right, do something about it. Usually, the best way to start is in your own communities or within your family and friends. This year, we’re going to start to have some pretty uncomfortable conversations. We’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable.

Photo by Karmen Elaine

Photo by Karmen Elaine

What is your advice for someone who would want a job like yours?
My advice, first and foremost, is to listen -- not just with your ears, but with your observations -- and pay attention to trends and to be leery of them and not just subscribe to them. What matters most with events and programming, there’s sometimes too much and you have to figure out what is the most important thing. If someone wants to be involved with programming and events, you have to be very detail-oriented. You have to be willing to manage high-risk and high-stress. You also have to have a very good sense of people and patience with people. If you’re behind the scenes planning and programming, it’s not about you. Your vibe, ethos, and intentions should shine through your work, but you’re not the one on stage. You have to think big picture about what is your overall goal. Also, one of the most important things with events and parties and programming, it’s the people’s experience that matters. You can have all the fancy centerpieces and all the bling you want, but it won’t matter if you don’t deeply consider the experiences of the attendees.

What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
One thing that doesn’t surprise me anymore is that you shouldn’t be afraid of doing programming and events in the winter with crappy weather. I actually have found that some of the most successful and most well-attended and celebrated events have been in the dead of winter or during a snowstorm because, I gotta tell you, Chicagoans go so hard. We are a really hard-working, middle-class, stubborn, passionate city. We will show up. If there is a snowstorm and you said you’re going to a party, you are going to that goddamn party. In the winter, people are committed, whereas in the summer, there are so many things going on in Chicago, so I actually really enjoy winter events and giving people the opportunity to get over this winter malaise and stimulated.

Favorite female creatives?
I think that what’s happening with T.V. is incredible. Some of the artists that I am so inspired by are Issa Rae of Insecure, Jessica Williams in Two Dope Queens and the way she infuses humor with some of the most important topics of our time. I think we’re seeing a lot of women that are taking culture and fusing it with social justice, and that is really inspiring to me. With Jill Soloway and what she’s done with Transparent and we usually see that shows that were really popular in the beginning lose their way and become more diluted with their message, but they have, in fact, added more diverse and rich narratives to their storylines and cast. They have more trans and non-binary people that are writing for them, and that is some really strong leadership we need to see. Culturally, now, people are starting to understand “oh shit, we have an all-white staff” but they’re thinking about optics, not impact. Are you thinking about the optics, meaning what it makes you look like, or the impact, how you’re impacting your community? For example, you can’t just throw a minority on your staff if you aren’t actually having the other people in place to inform that experience. We can’t have scenarios with a token minority status. For a lot of us, we’re getting to the point where we’re not going to be puppets.

Right here in Chicago, I have a friend and collaborator Ciera Mckissick, and she runs AMFM which is an online magazine and gallery space, and she does amazing programming kind of like what I do, and I feel like there aren’t a lot of people who do that specific programming that I call “party with a purpose” that have social justice priorities. I think she does that so well and does a great job lifting up communities and really fulfilling a need. Anyone out there who is trying to create joy has my full support.

Photo by Moll Jean

Photo by Moll Jean

Favorite Chicago places?
Lula Cafe in Logan Square. It’s like our “Cheers” and we know everybody’s name and they support artists in really incredible ways. They’re really supportive of their staff, and I support Lula and it is hands down my favorite restaurant. I love Maria’s Packaged Goods in Bridgeport -- another place that feels like community. I love hanging out at Reunion, which is my studio. We have a lot of incredible workers and events and even two women-run floral companies that operate out of the back. There is so much happening at Reunion at any given day. I love the opportunity to open our doors and say “what do you need?”

Top three items of clothing in your closet?
My mom’s wedding band is three different stripes of gold (white gold, platinum, and rose gold). My parents are divorced, so I’d like to think of the three stripes as being the three of us. I never take that ring off; it’s my prized possession. I have a locket that has my mom’s initials engraved in it. I do a lot of thrifting and vintage, and I think one of the most incredible pieces is this really thick, high cowl neck cape that is made from this heavy material that could be your grandmother’s upholstery in the ‘70’s.

Morning routine?
The first thing I do is feed the dog, let her out, and take her for a walk. I’m trying to get in the habit of not checking social media when I first wake up, but inevitably, it happens.

Favorite travel destination?
I love Paris. I had such a wonderful experience there and I can’t wait to go back. I just love the culture there and the energy, and it sounds cliche, but it’s so romantic. One of the best vacations I’ve ever had was to Puerto Rico. It’s so beautiful and a great place to go if you’re like me and like to do a lot of physical things on vacation.

Favorite extravagance or indulgence?
I really love nice food and restaurants, but I also love simple pleasures. I always joke that anyone who knows me the best knows that Jay’s potato chips are my favorite indulgence. Food indulgences like really good pasta or a lobster roll can be really important and fun.

Monday Muse: Bridget Botchwav

How did you begin photography and documentary filmmaking?
I got a polaroid camera in grade school and have been hooked. I graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism and eventually became the first female videographer for the Student Unions. I had a friend who was slain our senior year and I turned to documentary filmmaking to tell his story. 

What is your favorite part of the process in capturing and documenting a story?
I really love it all and the process for every documentary/video short feels different. In my last short, Water with Lemon, it was the first video I co-produced with my partner. I loved working with him and allowing our visions to fuse together. The editing process was so satisfying; seeing the scenes we nitpicked come together.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your upcoming projects?
Yes! I  have another video short that debuts this month on my website: botch.space, currently entitled, "Open Letter to Humanity" I was also accepted as a Fellow for Diverse Voices in Docs and my first feature documentary, The New Love Culture, will be going through a funding round in July and debut this November. 

How would you describe your work and style to someone who has yet to see it?
I am a documentary filmmaker for the people, connecting cultures and keeping it honest. Visually, my style is all based in the story and the art of the interview. Its similar to Angela Tucker and her "Black Folk Don't Series" (honest and entertaining) paired with the visual animation of Vice News (clean and informative).

What do you struggle with in your process?
I struggle most with time and resources. I work full-time as a digital and print producer and that leaves a limited amount of time to build out botch.wav, my production house. Also, all the equipment I use is VERY expensive and renting it adds up too. Its definitely a finesse rallying up my network and available resources but its all comes with the art form.

Shop With: Kelly Marie Thompson of Fleur

Owner of Fleur

Logan Square
2651 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL

"We are all individuals, but sometimes ideas overlap, and the way we nurture those ideas is what makes them unique."

How did you begin with floral design?
I don’t think I can remember a time when I wasn’t around flowers growing up. My mom had a garden in Chicago, so I literally grew up surrounded by flowers. In college, I studied painting and art history, and I studied a lot of Dutch Impressionism, so even in my studies, it was always in front of me.

Then, I worked in the floral department in Whole Foods, so that was my leg-in. I worked there for four years, and after four years, I was doing a lot more travel and going to all different stores, so I wasn’t really working with customers anymore; I was doing more transferring and processing. At 22, I thought “well, let’s do this.” I don’t recommend anyone doing it that way. I had no business plan, I just knew that I loved flowers. I had a business partner originally, and we opened up on California thinking we would sell buckets of flowers, but we had rent to pay, so we got into weddings. People started calling us for weddings, so I’m completely self-taught, and it was hard in the beginning. I was trying to figure out what my aesthetic was versus what clients were asking for, and finding that middle ground. We were in that location for three years, then we moved to our previous location on Logan Boulevard, and that’s when business began to flourish. It was the location that we always wanted and I loved it. It was nice to start over, in a sense, and that was when we started to discover our aesthetic a bit more. Because of higher visibility, we were able to offer more. After 10 years, we lost that location, and then we opened here [on Milwaukee].

What inspires your floral design?
I do love Dutch Impressionism, but I don’t want to pigeonhole into that. I think just nature in general and landscapes that I find to have really amazing color palettes. Being able to escape and find myself surrounded by those little bits of nature makes you appreciate all the intricacies of flowers.

How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
It’s definitely more organic and free-flowing, but it’s not too Secret Garden. I love working with movement, and I love the arrangements looking like they could almost walk away and just kind of dance around the table. I want there to be an ambiance to the flowers themselves.

What brought you to Chicago?
I was born and raised. I grew up on the Southside in a classic brick bungalow. I always wanted to move, I don’t know why I didn’t, and then I opened Fleur.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
[My husband and I] are actually in the process of looking for a property in Wisconsin or Indiana. We aren’t looking to start a farm, but we are looking for some sort of plot that we can grow for the store. The other part of me wishes I was in New York because I love Manhattan. I don’t know if I could live there because I need the dichotomy of city and country.

If you weren’t doing floral design, what would you be doing?
I would love to design fabric. I think that’s the coolest thing in the world. I love looking at fashion collections and seeing the thread that connects everything but it’s just different enough. There’s another part of me that thinks I’d be good at pottery or something tactile. With a degree in painting and art history, my brain always goes to creating something more.

What are you trying to learn right now?
I think I’ve been trying to figure out the work-life balance. I really pour my heart into the business, but I need that quiet time. I’m trying to figure out how to wake up in the morning and not immediately feel like I have all these work things to do. I’m also trying to pick up the banjo again. I played it a few years ago, and I still have an itch, so I think I’m going to take lessons again.

What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of my team. I would not have the luxury of living the life that I do without having them running the storefront. I come up with these crazy ideas and they do it. They’re amazing, and Fleur would not exist without them.

How do you take time for yourself?
In the warmer weather, I wake up very early and go to this organic greenhouse that’s right by where I live. I usually have a jog around that park and spend about 20 minutes looking around the greenhouse. In the evenings, I’ll go over there and wander also. My husband and I love antiquing, and when time affords us, we’ll hop in the car with no plan and see what antiques we can find.

Why do you think that it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
It’s so important. Partnerships among all of us are so important because we are constantly inspiring one another and building each other up. With apps like Instagram, there is so much self-criticism and comparisons that we make, and we forget who we are and why we’re doing artwork. We are all individuals, but sometimes ideas overlap, and the way we nurture those ideas is what makes them unique. I’m a huge advocate of community within any kid of creative field, and in the floral world, I feel very fortunate to have groups of us helping out one another if somebody is shorthanded. Without that extra bit of shoulder strength, none of us would be as successful as we are.

What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
Everything. I didn’t have a business plan, and I’m constantly surprised and grateful for the love and support that our customers and our guests give us. We’re doing the best that we can and putting out the best that we can, so when people say that they’re inspired by it, it’s surprising and makes me want to work harder.

Favorite female creatives?
Margo Breznik from Tatine Candles. She is incredibly inspiring, living her passion of candles and music.  Her branding is so on point, and her product is her lifestyle. The dedication she gives to her company as well as her team is infectious - it always drives me to look at my own work in a creative light and be reminded that inspiration is in the every day. This is so important on the days I’m knocked down with paperwork.

Tereasa Surratt, owner of Camp Wandawega and creative director at Ogilvy. She is another major inspiration for me. She manages life at a worldwide advertising firm paired with a campground that is constantly filled with artists, designers, guests and weddings. Her work and dedication to both truly showcase her talent, and I have never met a woman more involved with collaborations and encouragement. I want to be her when I grow up.

Favorite Chicago places?
Lula Cafe. I met my husband there, he is now the bar manager at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, so it’s where he began his career and also where we met. Also, the Garfield Park Conservatory, especially during this time of year when it’s cold. It’s finally getting the recognition that it deserves.

Top three items of clothing?
I pretty much wear the same long black top. I do love my shoes from Penelope’s. I wear a lot of cardigans, and everyone always teases me when I’m wearing another cardigan.

Morning routine?
Coffee, always. In the summer, I tend to go outside, and if I’m not taking a walk around that greenhouse, I have a garden that is inspired by my mom’s, so I’m out there every morning. This year, I’m growing edible flowers and herbs. Cooking is one of the ways that I decompress, so I’m excited to fuse my garden and cooking together.

Favorite travel destination?
I go up to Wisconsin a lot, and I love The Abbey resort in the winter when it’s dead and it kind of feels like you’re in The Shining. I also love Guerneville, California. It’s in Sonoma County and it has everything: wine country, kayaking, the ocean, the Redwoods. It’s one of those places that you can truly get back to nature.

Favorite extravagance/indulgence?
Champagne. I’ve become a Champagne snob.

Monday Muse: Camila Cediel

 

Photographer and Blogger of wishxbone

How would you describe your style?
Casual, grunge, city chic. It's always a mix of prim polished city chic or casual laid back grunge. I love wearing things that make me feel comfortable. High waist jeans and a loose band tee is usually my go to. I try to dress up some of my favorite thrift finds whether it's an old sweater or a pair of shoes I've been lusting over for years.

What brought you to Chicago?
I transferred schools when I switched my concentration from the fine arts to commercial with photography and I always loved Chicago since I first lived here with my sister in 2008. I've always been a city dweller from being born in Bogota, moving to Dubai after high school and continuing art school in Toronto. Chicago was just the the only place I saw myself living after a wild 5 years away from it. I love how Lake Michigan borders it, the culture, and night life. I love going out to concerts especially at some of my favorite venues like Thalia Hall and Schubbas. 

Photo by Tom Michas

Photo by Tom Michas

What is your favorite accessory?
My favorite accessory has been hats lately. I wear a lot of rim hats in the warmer months of the year and switch to beanies in the winter. I like how versatile they can be. There isn't just one ugly hat fits all but it's also a hit or miss accessory for most people. I do have certain hats that I favor over others. 

What are your top travel destinations?
London. I always wanted to go for the hype of it, but my sister used to live there and during one of my spring break vacations from college she took me there and I was in love. I have a sad anecdote from it though, but in all honesty, I do laugh back at it nowadays. I noticed that our trip landed exactly on a tour date Lana del Rey had schedule in Camden Town for an intimate bar show. I was ecstatic and looked into going. The night of the show I overlooked what day of the week I was standing on and after my sister left me at Piccadilly Circus to venture out on my own, I walked up and down the streets and finally braved to make it back to the hotel on my own using the tube. I felt accomplished to get back but when I settled in bed and looked into buying my ticket for "tomorrows" show I saw it was already happening and ending as I laid in bed. Oh well. It was fun that night out going to all my favorite shops like TopShop, Reckless Records, Johnny Cupcakes and Lomography. 

Montreal. I spent a few days here with a friend and every day we set out on a new adventure to do real simple things like thrifting or look at records. Montreal is real crazy and always full of surprises. I stumbled upon a thrift store that had a pool of clothes. Literally, a pit where you dived in and looked through a pile of clothes. It was fun walking from shop to shop and unexpectedly finding a gem of a record that I've been searching for years or a real chill bar in the evening with interesting local art hung on the walls. 

Where does your love of photography stem from?
I took my first black & white photography class back in 2004 when I was a freshman in high school and fell in love with the concept when I first threw the photo paper in the water and saw an image bloom in front of me. I became obsessed with photo documenting my life around me after being inspired by a Livejournal blog from a girl named Jesi. I lived through her documented adventures and tried to create my own hoping to share images with the world too. My dad bought me my first analog camera and consecutively when the rolls of film started pilling up I got my first DSLR. I took it with me everywhere I went. I also had a small collection of Lomography cameras. I was really excited when my photography teacher in high school told me I had an eye for it and that I should look into it for college. I didn't know I could make a career out of it. I love how it has opened so many doors to me and introduced me to many close friends.

All photos taken by Camila Cediel. Model, Gwen C from Modelogic Midwest

All photos taken by Camila Cediel. Model, Gwen C from Modelogic Midwest

 

Shop With: Elizabeth Leipold, Co-Owner of Scratch Goods

 

Co-Owner of Scratch Goods, a natural skincare shop and mask bar

How did Scratch Goods start?
Mo and I are best friends from high school. We started making soap as just a hobby because we wanted to clean up our own beauty routines. We were eating pretty clean and then the next place you want to purge and detoxify is the products you’re using on your skin. We started out making a cold-processed soap, which is our bar soap that we make now, as a means of getting rid of sun-ripened raspberry shower gels and things of that sort. We did that and then shampoo, and it just really was a snowball into quality products that we could feel good about using, but also could afford to buy. You can buy an organic eye cream that is $90, but you’re not going to use it liberally and you probably won’t repurchase it -- you’re not going to do it the way you should. It’s going to be a special treat that you use sparingly and that’s not effective skin care, at all. That like saying I’m going to have two bites of a salad. We wanted to have products that we could afford to buy on a regular basis, and we found there was a vacancy for that, so we started to make our own. During that time, it was still pretty much a hobby, but we really enjoyed it and felt like people were wanting good quality products, because they kept coming back. About a year and a half ago, we found this store and that’s when we began having experiences with our products, not just buying them as retail items. Now we have the mask bar where you can have a fully interactive experience -- it’s educational, interactive, and customized, but also, relaxing and good for you. We really promote self care and taking a holistic approach to all of the areas of your life.

What is your background?
My background is in education and finance. Maureen’s background is in chemistry, specifically food science. She was working in a food lab doing private label product development when we started this. That’s when we really started reading labels and thinking if I don’t want to eat that, I probably shouldn’t put it on my skin. Also, we were learning about how lowly regulated the beauty industry is; you don’t have to list your ingredients, you can use things that are carcinogenic. We just think that’s insane.

What inspires the products that you make?
Our products are inspired by two things; one, our customers saying you need to make this or that and that’s how a lot of product development happens, and two, they’re largely driven by our local partners and collaborating with them on things that are beneficial for skin care. Our collaborations are not gimmicks or meant for marketing. Every partner we use, their product has a function and a reason that we use it. For Dark Matter Coffee, caffeine is going to tone and tighten, and lighten dark spots from acne, aging, scarring. Caffeine from coffee, specifically, is really great for you skin because of the acids and we love Dark Matter because of how conscious they are of their sourcing. They are going directly to Central and South America to source their beans, they know the growers, they know the drying process, they’re bringing us new experimental varieties all the time, so we can try new things. We really try to work with people to create awesome collaborations. Flowers for Dreams has a really great social program, giving back every month, which is also something that we’re really conscious of. They use a lot of local and organic farmers when they can, just really trying to revive an industry that also had a vacancy for something that’s affordable and high quality at the same time. We are working with them on new collaborations as well.

What brought you to Chicago?
Working at the Board of Trade. I was a clerk on the floor for a couple of months and then everything went electronic. Maureen actually was living in Japan teaching English and we moved to the city together, with no intention of starting a business. We were just old buddies, and I said, “Hey, I’m moving to the city in two weeks. Are you busy?” And she was like, no that’s cool, I’m in. So we moved here with a tube TV, one bed, and my dog. That was it. We shared it all. We wanted to help each other succeed and now here we are. We don’t live together anymore, we have our own homes. We’ve grown from our tube tv days watching Sex and the City dvds, and we were missing one disk, so we never saw those episodes. That’s been almost 10 years now.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I don’t know and I don’t really care. It’s awesome. Life is really great. This is not where either of us thought we would necessarily be, but it’s amazing how life will take turns if you let it, to bring you to a place where you’re happier and more fulfilled and putting your talents to use. I worked for Chicago Public Schools and the Board of Trade, like I said. Maureen worked in a private label food lab testing mustard packets in volume. We have organically found ourselves here and we think it’s amazing. Where would we be? I don’t know, but this is probably way cooler.

If you weren’t running Scratch Goods, what do you think you would be doing?
My background is in education, but I wouldn’t be in a classroom, and I wouldn’t be in finance. I don’t know, maybe teaching yoga? I think something more in the holistic/wellness vain. I think I would have found myself here, somehow.

What are you trying to learn right now?
Everything. I was a terrible student growing up, but I’m a good learner. We’re also interested in learning about everything our partners are doing and knowing how they’re running their businesses. Learning about all the other cool gigs around town is really intriguing and it's fun to see how the wheels turn behind the scenes, and those are the parts that nobody gets to see when you’re looking on Instagram.

What are you most proud of?
Probably the ability to build our idea from our kitchen to a place that is a retail store. It is still exciting every time we get an order, or someone leaves a nice comment on Instagram -- that stuff makes me happy and feel like this is right. I’m proud of was has been created out of not a lot.

How do you take time for yourself?
I should be better at it than I am. I try and do a foot soak every week, and we’re also starting a meditation night on Sunday nights that will be self-care focused. We have a couple of different people who are leading it, so I think that taking an hour to stop and reflect and drink tea is going to be a nice sanctuary for me and everybody else.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
There is no way to survive otherwise. In the world that we live in, I don’t think there is a way to be successful without your female counterparts. Whether they’re in your industry or not, you need other people to listen to what you have to say. It’s a different thing to run a business as a woman than as a man, no matter what. Any community that feels like they’re not treated fairly needs to support other communities. We all need to support one another because we’re obviously being confronted with stuff that’s looking to tear all of us down.

What is your advice for someone who wants a business like yours?
Like raising a child, it takes a village. Round up your village and see if they’re into it. There really is a lot of love and labor that goes into it. Be forgiving of yourself when you stumble and fall, because you will. Let your community lift you up -- and lift them up. Whether you’re in your own idea or looking to collaborate with someone else, it’s always about teamwork. Nobody succeeds alone.

What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
I think how kind and encouraging everyone is, and how Scratch Goods is now bigger than us. Everyone pours a little bit into the brand, and it’s no longer just my personality, so it is neat to see how other people are building it as well.

Favorite female creatives?
I’m a big fan of Martha Graham. Grace Jones is the queen of the universe to me. I think that she can do no wrong and I love how she is so fearless. She doesn’t care about anything and she never did. The fact that she is so much herself for her own being and I love how she embodies the warmth and acceptance for everybody. You know that she would be awesome in person. I also love Beyoncé. I think she is a visionary for what she has created her brand to be, and even though her brand is Beyoncé, it is still it’s own thing. She’s created something that is creative and innovative. Yes, it’s mainstream, but I think she also tries to give a voice to things that otherwise wouldn’t be heard.

Favorite Chicago places?
Dark Matter Coffee, The Allis is lovely, Gather Home + Lifestyle, and the Conservatory -- both Lincoln Park and Garfield Park.

Top three items of clothing in your closet?
Black Timberlands, my Le Coeur watch, and Sir & Madame apparel.

Morning routine?
I’m trying to wake up early even though it’s cold and dark. I do a mix of three things in the morning: eat breakfast, morning yoga, and shower. I do those in some rotation depending on how hungry I am. If I don’t do that, I’ll get up early and go to Soho and workout and use their steam room.

Favorite travel destination?
Somewhere warm. A beach or the rainforest. Somewhere hot, warm, and with nature.

Favorite extravagance/indulgence?
Vintage coats. I have a lot of them.

Visit Scratch Goods at 3551 North Damen, Chicago 

 

Monday Muse: Aimée Mendez

 

Interior and Lifestyle Photographer

How did you start photographing for Apartment Therapy?
My sister-in-law, Claire saw their job posting and sent it along to me. She said it sounded like the perfect job for me. I applied and got the job! I am so thankful she did that. We lost her to a horrific battle with cancer just before Christmas. My job with Apartment Therapy is such a gift and feels very close to my heart because of her. I truly feels like the perfect job for me.

What draws you to interiors specifically?
Honestly, I love design. It's all I look at and dream about. If I wasn't a photographer, I would be an interior designer. It's a gift to get to spend days in the most beautifully designed homes capturing their beauty and light. It is the genre of photography which brings me the most life.

How would you describe your dream space?
My dream space is a large white or neutral space with arched french doors bringing in a lot of natural light. It would be filled with beautiful architectural details and moulding. The space would have a strong contrast between black and white through furnishings and textiles. I would love heavy white drapery, brass accents and a large vase filled with olive branch. The space would feel peaceful, inviting and luxe. 

The closest thing that I have found in real life to my dream space is the Jo Malone Headquarters in London. 

What has been one of your favorite projects to photograph so far?
Gosh, hard question. The one that comes to mind first is a home I photographed for designer Lori Paranjape, @mrsparanjape. It was a gorgeous home with rich white walls and beautiful architectural details. It was a new build, but designed to feel like an old house with old home charm. I love that concept so much. There were also a lot of elements that reminded me of Kate Spade whom I love. 

All photos by Aimée Mendez

All photos by Aimée Mendez