FAQ: How did you get started?

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten a couple of emails from college students wanting to be my intern for summer of 2013 (blows my mind). Totally flattering, isn’t it? I’m thrilled to pieces that there are girls out there that love Pencil Shavings and want to be a part of it.  While I’m most likely not going to be able to take on any interns for summer 2013 (schedules are tricky for me in summer due to J being out of school), I really do appreciate being approached by some go-getter  students.  Lately I’ve been asked on more than one occasion how I came to be in the business that I’m in. How did Pencil Shavings start?  I’ve talked about this a couple of times but thought maybe it was time to revisit the topic.

I studied graphic design at the University of Oklahoma after falling in love with designing websites as a freshman at Pepperdine. I had taken zero art classes in high school and felt like a total faker showing up on the first day at art school. But with a lifelong love of drawing and color, it was a natural fit. In addition to the graphic design course of study, I also took classes in photography, printmaking, art history, painting, etc. per the OU requirements.  I personally feel like it doesn’t matter what kind of design you’re interested in, whether it be fashion, interiors, or printed materials — it’s all creative work and it kind of cross-pollinates, in a way. The fashion classes I took as a study abroad student were instrumental in helping me to understand how to recognize sources of inspiration through mood boards (as well as how to sketch) while more traditional fine arts classes such as painting and drawing were essential foundation courses despite the fact that I do 99.9% of my projects on a computer.

My first job out of college was as an in-house designer for a teeny tiny apparel company called Pink Sugar started by some friends of mine. It was a girly, sparkly job that involved lots of Swarovski crystals.   I was hired to do all the graphic design (designing materials such as the company website and line sheets, photographing products, etc), as well as designing the tee shirts. We officed in Dallas and in Oklahoma City (in the spare bedroom of my apartment!) and frequently traveled around on sales calls to meet with potential buyers.  Working for Pink Sugar laid the groundwork for everything I do now. It was a hugely educational insight into the fashion industry as well as the wholesale side of things. When I say educational, you can probably read that as discouraging and probably a little disillusioning. The wholesale side of things was hard; it felt every single day like we were struggling to get noticed by shop buyers, media, and more. And while we had some great success with some big shops and even an inclusion in Lucky Magazine, keep in mind that this was all pre-Etsy and pre-blogs; had either of those been around, I think it would have been a different experience. The big push at that time was to get seen on celebrities and the whole idea of being handmade or a small business was kind of the kiss of death.  Crazy how things change, huh?  Regardless, the foundation was laid for my future.  In many ways I haven’t pursued the wholesale side for Pencil Shavings because of the difficulties encountered with Pink Sugar and additionally I enjoy the custom nature of what I do.

When Simon and I got married in 2005, I left Pink Sugar and started doing freelancing graphic design for any client I could get. The first job I got was a bar & grill in Norman that wanted me to do postcards for them for ladies’ night (gag!).  By the end of that project, I was feeling pretty lonely and disillusioned. Ladies night with booby college girls in bikinis wasn’t exactly what I was in it for. But within a couple of years I managed to build up a solid business and I was working almost full time with clients that I enjoyed.  I had also picked up some custom wedding invitation clients and I was thrilled with the creative freedom that was bringing.  Custom invitations are a great job; they’re quick and the customer is (almost) always a pleasure to deal with. Additionally the printing is usually a breeze.  Win-win! I knew I definitely wanted to move forward with those.

When Jude was born in 2007, I had to take a big break from all things work related. I basically put a complete halt on my business, and felt completely adrift as I sat alone in my house with this teeny tiny baby. I wasn’t even sure I knew who I was anymore! As anybody who has had a baby knows, it takes awhile to shift into the new lifestyle that comes with a baby, not to mention the identity shift.  But that’s when my blog was born.  After several months, I was ready to start taking on some design projects again and I launched my portfolio website. The main page had a photo of colored pencils and the tag line “I’ve never met a color I didn’t love.” So naturally with the theme of colored pencils happening, it only seemed that the blog should be called Pencil Shavings.

Blogging opened me up to a whole new world of creativity. Not only did I discover that there were other working-from-home creative moms out there, but it also gave me the opportunity to land some new projects by blogging about current ones. After three years of blogging, I launched the Etsy shop as a way answer questions, in a way, about the cost of custom invitations, etc. as I was receiving lots of inquiries and the time to reply to each email was consuming me.  I wanted a line of products that reflected my own personal style and personality. I also needed it to be on my terms and in my own timing, so I could be here at home with Jude and keep a flexible schedule. Within a year of  opening the shop, I’d had 1000 sales thanks to the amazing community of people both here on my blog and also at Etsy. I have enjoyed this part of my career far more than any other part because I’m designing the kinds of things that I would love to buy. It feels authentic and natural because it’s my own, and it’s exciting to me that there are others out there too that love it as much as I do.

And that’s how Pencil Shavings was born. I would say “the End” but really, I think it’s more like “to be continued…”

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