Gael Towey: A life in stories beyond Martha Stewart Living

After spending nearly 22 years at the creative helm of Martha Stewart Living, Gael Towey left in late 2012 to pursue something different, though she didn’t know what that would be at the time. She and Martha had practically invented the DIY revolution, encouraging their readers to craft their own lives, from cooking to sewing to entertaining. Towey led the brand strategy for everything Martha, including magazines, books, and products.

She took a much needed hiatus for six months, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and pondering her next move. Since Towey is so adept at storytelling, she decided to do documentary shorts, thus she started her next venture, Portraits in Creativity, which features artists and artisans doing what they do best. It’s an intimate look at the creative journey, through the experiences of the makers.

Here we talk to her about the creative journey from Martha Stewart Living to now, and the inherent challenges and benefits of being so intimately linked to a brand everyone identifies with.

Was it hard going out on your own after being at Martha Stewart Living for so long?

It was time to go. I knew that they were going to downsize and start closing magazines, and I didn’t really want to stick around for that. It was the end of 2012, I had just turned 60, and I thought, I’m still young and energetic and have lots of ideas, I need to have time for myself so that I can do something that’s really from my heart.

I’m so glad that I had the nerve to think that I could do something for myself. When I left, I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I knew I wanted to keep working but I gave myself six months to just decompress, travel, get together with friends who I had not seen in a long time. I almost never had time go out to lunch with friends for 22 years! That’s a slight exaggeration, but being able to do that opened a world of building relationships, and reconnecting and networking, which is good. I needed that.

I had amazing experiences at Martha Stewart. I was there for all the inventions and creativity and I feel enormously lucky. I learned so much and I was exposed to so much. Some of my happiest days at Martha Stewart Living were out shooting stories around the country: flowers and gardens, profiles of farmers, chefs and entertainers. Whether it was shooting peonies in Illinois or cheese making in Vermont or a new chef in Colorado, the opportunity to get around America and learn about makers and growers was enormously gratifying. I worked with incredible photographers, editors, and stylists to create our iconic photographs and tell stories in visually stunning ways.

At Martha Stewart I learned about creative, visually seductive storytelling. I bring that sensibility into my Portraits in Creativity series, where I have tried to capture the essence of a person in a profile that is only eight to twelve minutes long.

Read the rest of the interview at Moxie Sozo here.

 

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Featured Maker: Sarah Lovell

Sarah Lovell Art

Wimborne Minster, Dorset, UK

Business founded in 2012

Sarah Lovell started her art print business after having her second baby. She drew and painted in her spare time, so she figured she’d take a go at making greeting cards, art prints, and coloring books. She says, “I am inspired by wildlife, my three small children and the magic all around us. I try to capture some of that magic in my illustrations.”

I hand illustrate/paint the original pictures with watercolor, gouache or acrylic and black ink. Then I send the originals to my printer (also in Dorset) who scans them in and digitally prints the cards and art prints or assembles the coloring books. The paper used is all ‘Carbon Captured’ and the inks used are biodegradable, so they are all very eco friendly products which is important to me.

How did you go about turning your passion into a business?

I started with a small collection of nine card designs that I showed to our local bookshop, and they ordered four of each. This was the beginning, and a big confidence boost. I now have over 50 cards, some of which are available as prints, and a range of coloring books which are all stocked nationwide! And I just got a new stockist in Spain too. I started with local shops, getting in touch via email, sending samples, phoning shops, and slowly increased my number of stockists.

Do you sell your work primarily online, or do you have a storefront? Is Instagram a good selling source for you? 

I sell my work via my website, and I also have an Etsy shop. I get regular orders from both avenues, and my products are also stocked in a number of independent stores across the UK.

I love Instagram, and I find it a great place to connect with other artists/ illustrators. I try to update my account regularly with new work, and make sure my feed is interesting and fresh, so I can use it as a kind of portfolio.

Do you travel to trade shows? 

I took part in my first big trade show in January. I was selected by journalist Charlotte Abrahams, to take part in the “Spotted” section of a big trade show in London called Top Drawer. This was an amazing experience, and put my work in front of a big audience, so since then I have started stocking a lot more shops across the UK.

What works best for you when it comes to marketing and promotion for your business? 

Social media is a great tool, and I keep my Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram feeds updated daily as well as interacting with other via social media as much as possible. I also love the community feel on Etsy. I am part of the Dorset team, where the members really support their fellow Etsy sellers. I also think you can’t beat sending some one a beautifully wrapped parcel with some samples of your work via snail mail to really stand out from the crowd.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out—something you wish you would have known? 

Let your spirit shine through in your work, make things that really make you happy and they will make other people happy too.

Featured Maker: Ryan Hamrick

Ryan Hamrick
Austin, Texas
Business founded: 2012

Ryan Hamrick is a busy guy these days, doing hand-lettering projects for a range of clients. “My decision to become an independent designer full-time was probably about as random as it gets. I’d never worked in a primarily design capacity ever before, be it for a company, an agency, nothing. I also had no design or art schooling beyond the ‘Intro to Graphic Design’ and ‘Ancient and Medieval Art History’ classes I squeaked by in my first semester of community college (actually, I may have flunked the latter, now that I think about it),” he explains.

What was the impetus behind starting your own business?

This requires a little bit of backstory: For about six or seven years, in my early twenties, I worked in wireless retail management. I did a stint with just about every wireless carrier, managing anywhere from one store, to an entire district of eight stores for a while with Sprint. When our family moved to Pittsburgh in 2009, for my wife’s job, I was working for a smaller regional carrier and didn’t have an option to transfer or anything, so we decided I would stay home with the kids, while I looked for the right opportunity. There weren’t really any comparable positions, so I ended freelance writing for various wireless news sites, covering news, app and phone reviews, etc. After about a year or so, I ended up taking over as editor-in-chief for a site called knowyourcell.com (since renamed knowyourmobile.com), and ran the site for about six months. During that time, while experiencing the sad state of design in BlackBerry Twitter apps, a developer partner and I actually created what would become one of the bestselling Twitter apps ever on the platform—this was my first real taste of making a little income from design.

About five years ago, the financial opportunity to take the leap and become a full-time independent designer presented itself, and I took it. For the first six months or so, I was basically working on visual design projects and UI stuff while trying desperately to teach myself web design and make myself more versatile. Then, in late 2011, I decided, more or less on a whim, to try my hand at lettering. My early attempts were quite rough, and it took a while to gain the ability to come even close to representing what I saw in my head, on paper. And once I did, I still had to deal with the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about the rules of typography or lettering. Still, the process of crafting these letters and words was easily the most rewarding work I’d ever done before, so I committed to teach myself this craft, and the rest is history!

What works best for you in terms of promotion and marketing your work?

My growth and the building of awareness of my work has been pretty organic. Early on, one of the most effective things for me was just interacting with others on social media. I would inject myself into conversations on Twitter between various people I respected that were doing the work I’d hoped to do one day. Eventually, I formed some great friendships and was able to associate myself with the industry. Dribbble was also absolutely instrumental in my growth; not only as an outlet to share my work and my progress, but also as a forum to interact with other talented artists/designers in the industry and make connections.

Today, I definitely notice a direct correlation between the amount of work I’m putting out and sharing, and the amount of incoming inquiries I receive. Staying active online keeps the inbox active!

Windy Chien on Pricing and Selling Handmade Goods

Artist and maker Windy Chien has never been one to follow a typical life path. She happily admits that she’s probably had three or four lives before going out on her own to start her handmade business, where she’s best known for her eclectic, hand-carved wooden spoons.

She spent 14 years running and owning San Francisco’s oldest record shop, Aquarius Records, where she only sold music she loved — from Norwegian black metal to Brazilian Tropicalia, Ethiopian jazz to Jamaican rock steady, and noise, indie, punk, krautrock and more.

Then, she spent eight years with iTunes and Apple’s App Store, picking the best songs for iTunes’ mixtape series and the best apps to be featured on the front page of the App Store. “The thread that ties those careers together is that I was evangelizing and presenting the artists I love to the world. And that was great for my 20s and 30s, but when I hit my late 40s, it wasn’t satisfying anymore. I realized I was spending my days sitting at a desk and looking at great work roll across my computer screen,” Chien explains. “I decided it was time to nurture my own creativity. I spent so many years promoting other artists, musicians, and creatives, I like to think I’ve earned my ‘me’ time.” Read the rest here.

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Featured Maker: Alexia Liatsos

Alexia Liatsos
Stamford, CT

Business founded: 2015

Alexia Liatsos creates playful abstract paintings on canvas, wood, and paper, working mainly with acrylics and oils. Growing up in Greece, she was always an artist at heart, but when it was time to decide on a college major, she went the practical route and studied engineering, although it didn’t last, as she explains, below.

How did you get started as an artist?  

I gave up a promising engineering career in Europe, moved to the U.S., got married, went back to school to pursue art, textile design, and fashion and had my two bundles of joy at the same time. I attended the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and Parsons School of Design in NYC. I am very thankful to my husband for his immense support. He always says “You shouldn’t wait to chase your dreams.” He is my biggest fan.

After graduation, I interned and worked for established NYC brands including Michael Kors, Christian Cota and Children’s Clothing Companies, where I gained extensive experience. Being driven by the need to feel free, I immersed myself in painting full-time and set up my studio. Nurturing my own creative life, while staying committed to my children’s needs has been a dream come true. Read the rest of the interview here.

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Featured Maker: Adriana Bergstrom

Adriana Bergstrom (née Hernandez)
Adriprints Press
Santa Barbara, CA

Business founded: 2008

Adriana Bergstrom is a jack of many trades, as is evident in her business Adriprints, which sells fine art prints and knitting patterns. She also hand-crafts novelty fonts and sells them through MyFonts. She is a firm believer in the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and she clearly practices this.

What was the impetus behind starting your business?  

In 2008, right before the U.S. economy tanked, my long-time partner accepted a job in Germany. We eloped, sold what we had, and moved to Munich without either one of us ever having spoken a lick of German. I was in a new country with no way to support myself or contribute monetarily. If my previous life as a scenic artist and printmaker taught me anything, it was how to be resourceful. I was without any of the tools to do printmaking, so I started sketching letters and drawing letterforms, then it was just a matter of trial and error and getting each glyph to translate digitally. Afterward, I had to learn the font-making software (TypeTool).

The story behind the knitting patterns is pretty straightforward: I love knitting, and I wanted an object that didn’t exist anywhere except in my mind. I had already created a schematic, written the main idea for my own garment, and figured I might as well share it. So I learned to write patterns using the styles and conventions I observed in my favorite existing ones. Read the rest of the article here.

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