Melissa Bahen: Scandinavian Gatherings

11/30/16

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As many of you know, I am a Scandinavio-phile. I think I just made that word up, but essentially what I mean is that I love all things Scandinavian — traditions, folk pattern, vintage design, modern design, clothing, textiles, dishwater, architecture, etc, etc, etc. So I was so excited when my friend Melissa Bahen — blogger over at LuluTheBaker.com — published Scandinavian Gatherings: From Afternoon Tea to Midsummer Feast.

A little backstory: I first met Melissa last year, when she and her friend Joy invited me to speak at their Portland-based creative conference The Hello Sessions. I gave a workshop in 2015 at the conference, and this past year I was the keynote speaker. Melissa and Joy are two of the warmest, loveliest women I have ever met, and working with them was a great experience. This year at the conference, Melissa had copies of her then-very-new book Scandinavian Gatherings sitting on a table. I immediately swooped one up and began drooling over the contents. A few weeks later I had the privilege of interviewing Melissa about the book for my Interviews with People I admire series. Below you can also see some of the gorgeous images from the book. Know anyone who is in love with all things Scandinavian as I am? Hint: they might like this book for a holiday gift!

And without further ado, I present to you Melissa Bahen! We discuss many things, including her path, the story behind the book, the process of making it, and some of her favorite parts.

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Lisa: Melissa, I am so happy to have you on my blog. I’m especially excited about your new book. But before we get into that, I’d love for you to tell my readers a bit about you. Where are you from originally? What was your path to becoming a food blogger?

Melissa: Hi Lisa! Thank you so much for having me here today, and I’m delighted that you like the book! To tell you a little about myself, I grew up in Las Vegas, which is also where I met my husband, got married, and had my first child. After he finished grad school, we moved up to Oregon, where we live now. I would have been content to stay in Las Vegas forever because my job was there and my family was there, but my husband had spent childhood summers in Oregon and really loved it. And it offered us the lifestyle we both dreamed of: farming and gardening and living on some land. You really can’t get that very easily in Las Vegas!

I started Lulu the Baker in 2008 after joining a group called The Daring Bakers. I think it’s still going strong under the name The Daring Kitchen. It’s basically bloggers and bakers and food enthusiasts from all over the world who make the same “challenge” recipe every month. Some months have very specific requirements where everybody makes exactly the same thing, other months give you more flexibility in choosing flavors, etc. It was one of the original, online bake-along groups, and you had to have a blog to do it, so I started Lulu the Baker. I didn’t tell anyone I knew about it, but one day, one of my sisters left a comment on my blog saying, “I bet you didn’t think anyone would find this!”

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Lisa: That is a great story. I love the power of the internet! Recently you published a book called Scandinavian Gatherings. I just about fainted when I saw it because to say I am obsessed with Scandinavian design, culture and traditions would be an understatement! Tell us about how this book came to be. How did you think to create it? Why Scandinavian Gatherings? I take it you have Scandinavian heritage?

Melissa: I do have Scandinavian heritage! My mom’s dad, my Poppy, is full-blooded Norwegian. He was born here in the US to immigrant parents, and lived in Norway for a few years in his late teens. Then he and my grandma, Nana, lived in Sweden for 3 years when I was in college. My family has always been very proud of our heritage. As kids, my brother and sisters and I loved being Norwegian. It was the coolest heritage we could imagine!

My grandpa has always been a big idea man, and he said I should write a book about my Scandinavian heritage for an English-speaking, American audience. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and that was how the seed for the book was first planted.

Lisa: Tell us more about the book — what’s in it, what people can expect when they pick it up, and how people can use it.

Melissa: The book is a collection of recipes and projects inspired by the flavors, customs, and culture of Scandinavia. Each chapter includes menu ideas, recipes, and decor-related projects for a simple gathering inspired by a Scandinavian holiday or season. I was really passionate about having both recipes and projects in one book, because I think they go so beautifully together, and really present a full, well-rounded snapshot. They’re both equally important parts of entertaining. And I like cooking AND making things, so I was loath to chop out either of those aspects of the book.

Scandinavian Gatherings has really appealed to people with some Scandinavian heritage so far, or people whose partners have Scandinavian heritage. I’ve had more than one person buy a copy for each of their siblings, or all of their sisters-in-law, or their friend who just married a Swede. People love to explore their heritage. The book also appeals to readers like you who are really interested in the Scandinavian lifestyle. This book is a really beautiful, accessible way to get a little introduction to some Scandinavian flavors, some style, some traditions. And then for everyone else who doesn’t fit into one of those categories, it’s a really solid, lovely, well-made book.

There are great recipes for breakfasts, dinners, salads, soups, cookies, cakes–they’re all delicious and can hold their own even on an ordinary day where you’re not throwing some kind of party. If you just need a good cake recipe, it’s got several of those. If you want to try something new for dinner, it’s got delicious dinner ideas.

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One of the things my editor said early on in the process was to make things “aspirational but attainable.” I really tried to keep that in mind while I was developing both the recipes and the projects. Sometimes I read a recipe and think, “There’s no way I’m ever making that!” In Scandinavian Gatherings, there aren’t any cake mixes or pre-packaged ingredients, no short cuts, but everything is very doable, very approachable. Nothing seems too overwhelming or too scary to tackle, and the majority of the ingredients and materials should be available locally. I really wanted this to be a book for everyone.

Lisa: I am fascinated by the process of making books — the ideation, the writing, the editing, the art direction, the illustration — and what that’s like for authors. What was the process of making the book like for you? What parts did you love and what were the most frustrating? How long did it take from start to finish?

Melissa: The whole process was wonderful! And stressful too, but I enjoyed it and would do it again in a heartbeat. The whole thing came together very organically for me. After my grandpa gave me the idea to write a book about my heritage, I started writing down every idea that came to mind. I wrote them all down on index cards, and I wasn’t particularly picky about what I wrote down; everything made the cut! I kept them all together with a rubber band in my desk, and every time I’d get a new idea, I’d pull out a new card, jot it down, and add it to the pile. Eventually, I decided I needed to do something with the cards that would actually get me nearer to turning them into a book. So I started putting them in separate piles. I didn’t have any themes planned out or anything, I just put ideas that seemed to go together in the same pile. And after a while, the whole concept of holidays and celebrations and get-togethers just kind of manifested itself.

Making the book was a really, really long process from start to finish. I think it was at the end of 2010, when we were visiting my parents for Christmas, that my grandpa first talked to me about writing a book. As I said, it took me a couple of years to really figure out what I wanted to do, then a few more years to get a book proposal and sample chapter written, and then almost two years to the day from finding an agent to publication day.

Once I had a publisher, the turn-around time was actually crazy fast as far as books go. I think I had six months from the day I signed my contract to the day the first draft of my manuscript was due! I had opted out of doing the styling and photography for the book (thank goodness!), but had agreed to do the process photography (showing how to do specific steps) and make all the crafts for the photo shoots. And both of those were huge tasks! I would make a prototype of a project, text a photo to my editor, Hannah Elnan, and the art director, Anna Goldstein, in Seattle, and they would give me feedback.

Sometimes I got the go-ahead to ship the project up to the photographer, but most of the time I had to do at least one round of revisions. More often than not, it took many rounds. The hand-painted tray from the cover, for example, had the potential to be really cute, but just wasn’t coming together. After several underwhelming attempts, I had the idea to ask the illustrator, Andrea Smith, to design an image. My idea was to cut her design out of paper and decoupage it onto the tray. And it turned out really cute…until I tried to seal it, and then it was an utter disaster. So the night before I absolutely had to overnight it to the photo shoot, I bought a brand new tray, spray painted it light blue in my garage, and hand-painted the design onto the tray after my kids went to bed. I sealed it with acrylic spray the next morning, let it dry as long as I possibly could, said a little prayer that the fresh acrylic fumes wouldn’t melt the paint off the tray while in transit, and sent it off. And it turned out perfect! Now it’s in my studio looking pretty on my shelf.

I’ve been asked a few times about how I decided what recipes and projects to put in the book. Once I had settled on the gatherings layout, I looked at each chapter title and asked myself, “If I were hosting this get-together, what would I serve, and what little bits of decor would I make to go along with the theme?” For most of the chapters, I already had more than enough ideas to make a really full, lovely menu and a few cute projects. There were a few chapters with gaps, where I thought, “If I were serving this food, something would be missing. What else would I need?” In those cases, I looked for family recipes that would fit the theme nicely, and if I couldn’t find anything, I did a little research and asked friends with Scandinavian heritage for help. In a few instances, I just couldn’t find a recipe that felt right, so I created something new that fit the bill while still honoring the seasonality of ingredients, the flavors, etc.

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Lisa: Which section of the book is the most near and dear to you?

Melissa: Oh gosh, that’s a hard one! That’s like asking who my favorite child is! All of the sections were so much fun to put together. I really love the photography in the Heritage Dinner. I think the styling is just beautiful. And all of the recipes are classics. But the Nordic Brunch has so many long-time family favorites. If I had to choose solely based on recipes, I’d probably pick that one. And the crafts from the brunch chapter are super cute. I have to give myself a pat on the back for those. I actually created the Woodland Tea Party for the sample chapter that I submitted with my book proposal, so those projects and recipes have a special place in my heart because they’ve been around the longest. A lot of the projects from the photos in that chapter–the little toadstool garden picks, the felt garland, the tree trunk cake plate–are the ones I made 3 years ago to take pictures of for my book proposal!

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Lisa: What is your favorite recipe? Your favorite craft?

Melissa: Just off the top of my head, my favorite craft is the Danish townhouses from the Nordic Brunch chapter (see photo above). They’re intended to be used as place card holders, but you could use them to hold photos on your desk, menus, holiday cards, small art prints, etc. I was inspired by a picture of some Danish townhouses in the harbor in Copenhagen that my friend, Audrey from This Little Street, posted on Instagram a few years ago. The colors were so beautiful, and all the little roofs in a row were so cute together. The project idea just popped into my head, and I feel like it’s a really unique project that turned out just as darling as I pictured it. I’m sure you can attest to the fact that that’s not always the case with projects!

My favorite recipe is harder. A lot of the recipes in the book are from my family, so when I read them or make them, they remind me of people I love. The Maple Pecan Rings in the brunch chapter are a favorite of everyone in my family. They’re my mom’s specialty. She only makes them for special occasions and special visitors, so if she makes them for you, you have to feel pretty important. And they’re really, really delicious and quite stunning.

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Lisa: The book has a really gorgeous combination of styled photos and bright, graphic illustrations. I especially love the illustrations! How did you find the illustrator Andrea Smith and what was it about her work that made you select her?

Melissa: I feel like Andrea’s illustrations really bring the book to life! I’m so lucky to have happened upon her work. I was struggling early on with the aesthetic for the book. I couldn’t picture it in my head, but I could imagine how I wanted it to feel, if that makes any sense. I wanted it to be white, but not stark or ascetic. I wanted color, but not too much color. I wanted it to look fresh but not too modern, timeless but not old or dated. I was on Pinterest one day and typed in “Scandinavian folk art” just to try to get a little inspiration, and an illustration Andrea had done for someone popped up. Which is crazy because the illustration wasn’t particularly Scandinavian, Andrea’s not Scandinavian, and the client wasn’t Scandinavian. But seeing that illustration was like a zing straight to my heart. THAT was how I wanted the book to feel. It was kismet.

I think what really spoke to me was the folk art quality of her work, but done in a fresh, modern, way. Her designs somehow look new and heritage at the same time. And the colors she uses are just gorgeous. They’re such a great combination of brights and pastels. I knew I wanted a lot of white in the book with pops of color, and her illustrations are exactly that

Lisa: Best thing about being Scandinavian?

Melissa: As adult, I would say it’s a connection to that culture that is world-renowned for being friendly and happy and pleasant. But as a kid, we always loved that we had Viking blood!

Lisa: Thank you Melissa! It’s been great chatting with you! I’m going to make some of your crafts and recipes in the next month for the holidays!

And friends, you can get Melissa’s book here, at your local bookstore, or wherever books are sold.

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New Class Series & Class Launches Today!

11/17/16

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Friends! I am so excited to let you know that I am launching a new series of business and creativity video classes straight from my website. The Lisa Congdon Sessions launches today with my first video course — Idea Generation: Expanding Your Creative Repertoire & Finding Your Voice. Here’s the best news of all: the course is only $29 and you have access to all three class videos and a course PDF for an unlimited time.

What are The Lisa Congdon Sessions?
The Lisa Congdon Sessions is a new series of online video classes I am developing and rolling out over the course of 2016-2017. The first class in the series, available now, is called Idea Generation: Expanding Your Creative Repertoire & Finding Your Voice. I am developing additional classes on other topics, which will be coming in early 2017! (Read more FAQ here).

What is the Idea Generation course all about?
This course is designed for aspiring, beginning or established artists who are looking for tools to further develop personal sources of inspiration and their own distinct perspective in their work. It’s for people who would like to draw influence from the world differently in order to advance their own creative style.

Through this video course, I’ll will guide you through practices for generating new ideas, using inspiration, and developing a body of work around subject matter that is meaningful to you—all with the goal of creating work that is interesting, specific to you and stands out in a world filled with prolific artists.

Watch the trailer!

The course includes three parts:

Part One: In the first class video, I cover brainstorming as a way to generate new ideas about what to paint, draw or make. You’ll focus on exploring the stuff you are already passionate about in your regular, everyday life as a basis for generating ideas for subject matter in your work. You can use brainstorming to begin to find your own distinct perspective and set your work apart. I’ll also discuss the role of research to expand your ideas even further.

Part Two: In the second video of the class, I talk about getting inspired by other artists, both tips and cautions. Nearly every artist has influences, and studying and even mimicking the work of other artists is a normal and natural part of becoming an artist. However, it’s really important to take that inspiration and make it your own, in a very concerted and distinct way, before you claim it as your own or attempt to sell it. I will discuss how to put boundaries around inspiration in order to move away from your influences and toward your own voice.

Part Three: In the third and final class video, I focus on developing and following through with a personal creative challenge or set of challenges. The direct route to developing your own distinct voice as an artist is showing up and making/drawing/painting something at regular intervals—for a few days a week at least, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. Creative challenges are the best way to engage in this kind of disciplined practice. I have done many creative challenges in the past seven years, and I credit them with not only helping me to hone my own styles of drawing and painting, but also to generate interest in my work, including paying client work and gallery shows. I will talk you through practical tips for designing and embarking on your own creative challenges.

Still want more info? Check out our course information page!

Ready to purchase now? Go!

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A Year Between Friends: 3191 Miles Apart

11/15/16

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Some of you may know this, and others of you may not: I have a very talented sister and her name is Stephanie. Some of you may know her as 1/2 of the dynamic & gifted duo, Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes, of 3191 Miles Apart. For those of you who don’t know the work of Stephanie and Maria, let me tell you a little bit about it (and stay tuned, because after I tell you about it, I’m going to share with you about their latest book).

Maria and Stephanie met in 2005 back when blogs were a rather new phenomenon. They quickly developed a friendship based on a shared love of many things, including, in their own words, “film photography, art and craft, everyday beauty and a well-lived domestic life.” Just two years later in 2007, they decided to embark on a year long photo project together on a shared blog called 3191 — which was the number of miles between their homes in Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine. The first project was called A Year of Mornings, which culminated in a book that was published the following year in 2008 by Princeton Architectural Press. As part of the project, they each took one photo a day and merged them as diptychs without discussing content ahead of time — they did this everyday for a year! They quickly acquired a worldwide following of devoted fans inspired “by the magical coincidences and pictorial synchronicity of their photographic pairings.” (via Princeton Architectural Press).

Their friendship grew, and they have continued collaborating on endless ideas and projects for almost ten years now, including publishing A Year of Evenings (now sold out & out of print), a quarterly journal, among many other projects.

Just last week, their latest book (pictured above) A Year Between Friends was published by Abrams. Through letters exchanged over the course of a year and heartfelt sharing of real life events, the book includes the story of a year inside their friendship — including moments of serenity, sadness, and overwhelming joy. Nestled between their letters, the book is also abundant with Stephanie and Maria’s aforementioned shared passions for gorgeous film photography, art, craft, food, everyday beauty and a well-lived domestic life — including recipes and projects for living a sustainable, economical, and handmade life.

Just this past weekend, I went over to my sister’s house (she is one of the reasons I moved to Portland!) and we made one of the projects from the book: waxed cloth wraps! My mind was blown by these wraps. They are so easy to make. Totally reusable and sealable, you can use them to wrap sandwiches and other items instead of foil or plastic wrap.

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The specific directions for making them are included in the book, of course. First, we cut our fabric to size (the book has specific suggestions for different usable sizes). We used some linen pieces and also some of my FABLE fabric from my Cloud9 Kindred collection!

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Then you melt some beeswax and apply it to the fabric. The book offers specific techniques for applying and smoothing the beeswax onto the fabric.

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Let dry and voila! You have reusable waxed wraps!

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Want to take advantage of this project and others in the book? You can purchase A Year Between Friends on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Congratulations to my sister Stephanie and to Maria for this gorgeous new book!

CATEGORIES: For Sale | Inspiration
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Andrea Pippins

10/25/16

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I’m so excited to share with you today an interview with illustrator, designer and author Andrea Pippins. Her latest book, Becoming Me, was released earlier this month.  Becoming Me is a book for for young women to color, doodle, and brainstorm their way to a creative life. Just months earlier, in November 2015 Andrea published her first book, I Love My Hair, a coloring book featuring her illustrations celebrating hairstyles and textures.

Andrea is a former professor of graphic design who now makes a full time living illustrating. Andrea works for clients around the world, and currently lives with her boyfriend in Stockholm Sweden. She’s on a book tour at the moment, which you can read about here.

Andrea is one of the most driven and inspiring illustrators I’ve encountered in a long time, not just because she makes beautiful work, but because her work is driven by her vision and values. In her own words, “My vision is to empower women and girls of color and people in marginalized communities with visual tools to own and tell their own stories.”

And with that I present to you my latest Interview with Someone I Admire: the amazing Andrea Pippins.

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Lisa: Tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s your story? How did you become a designer or illustrator?

Andrea: I spent my early years, from the age of six months to four years, in a sewing studio in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown. It was run by a French woman named Solange Cody and was occupied by a team of four women who spent their days constructing, hemming, and altering clothes. These ladies, except for one African-American woman, were all immigrants—including my mother who’s from Brazil. While my mother was sewing and fitting clothes I would be drawing and coloring for hours. I believe that space planted seeds for my own creativity, my love for textiles, patterns and color, and my desire to become an entrepreneur. But that all would come together much later.

I didn’t really know about graphic design until I saw Halle Berry playing the role of Angela in the film Boomerang. Angela was an art director and artist, and it was my first time seeing a woman of color doing that kind of work. Even though it was fiction, it blew me away. But it wasn’t until I started applying for college that I really learned about careers in graphic design, or what was then called commercial art or graphic art. I applied to Tyler School of Art at Temple University and after several tries, because of a lackluster portfolio, I was finally accepted into the design program.

After working as a graphic designer at companies like Hallmark Cards and TV Land/Nick@Nite I returned to Tyler and graduated with an MFA in Graphic and Interactive Design so I could teach design on a college level. After several years as a full-time assistant professor, teaching courses in graphic design I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a path as a full-time freelance designer and illustrator. Currently, my work is transitioning from graphic design to a focus on art and illustration. I’ve always solved design problems with illustration, not realizing that that is where my skills and talent flourish.

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Lisa: How did your latest book Becoming Me come to be?

Andrea: The inspiration behind Becoming Me was to create a an interactive resource to help people along the process of self-discovery through creative expression. Becoming Me is also a resource for living a creative life daily. Even if you’re not a visual kind of creative person (painting, drawing, etc.), Becoming Me is a great space for collecting your ideas and inspirations.

The idea came about soon after the release of I Love My Hair when the publisher and I had a discussion of what the next book should be. We didn’t feel another coloring book was the right way to go but maybe the idea of what a coloring book might evolve into. So after some discussions and some proposed ideas we thought it would be cool to create a tool for young people, especially girls, that they could use to develop their creative skills while exploring who they are. This brings together a lot of what I learned as a designer, illustrator, and educator about being creative and inspired.

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Lisa: Who is this book for? Why was writing a book on living a creative life important to you?

Andrea: Anyone can use this book, but I had young women in mind when I was working on the various pages. I was thinking about creating something I would’ve wanted to see when I was a teen. Back then I was so hungry for information about art and looking for guidance to explore my creativity, and since this was before the Internet I relied on teaching myself. I loved art but didn’t really have access to the outlets to develop my skills. A book like Becoming Me would have been a great resource to empower me with some ideas of what I could I do with my skills and/or what it means to live a creative life.

So this book is for that young person who may need the same guidance. But Becoming Me can also be used by someone who may need inspiration for personal projects, or someone who just wants to color and create.

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Lisa: What was the process of making the book like? How long did it take? What were the most exciting, enjoyable aspects? What were the most challenging or difficult for you?

Andrea: Because of traveling and outside deadlines I basically finished this book just over two months. It was really fast and intense but I got it done.

Luckily, because I’ve always used creative prompts with my students, in workshops, and for myself I had a list of ideas already in place that I could use.

It was exciting and important for me to include quotes from diverse women, and to celebrate the artists who inspired me. But most importantly to include space where readers can write down their dreams.

It was difficult to get the book done in such a short period of time. And designing the book cover was a creative challenge for me. The publisher and I had different ideas on what the cover should look like but after a lot of trial and error we found a happy medium. We struggled with getting all the necessary info on the cover without it looking too crowded and creating an image that fully reflected what one might find in the book. It’s more than a journal it’s more than activities, but how do you say that visually? So we went more abstract with watercolor swashes and doodles, which I love.

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Lisa: The cover turned out beautifully (and covers are always one of the hardest parts of making a book!). I also love the page of your favorite artists. What a great way to expose young women to new heroines! What is your favorite activity in the book?

Andrea: The writing prompts are some of my favorites, especially the ones about writing down your dreams. I believe there’s a lot of power in writing down your dreams so it was very important for me to include space that readers could use to document what they’d like to see happen in the future.

But my absolute favorite activities are the ones dedicated to looking at art. This is a section that gives guidance on analyzing art whether one is going to a museum, gallery, or looking at art online. I tried to write it in a way that would allow anyone to interpret what they see. In that section I also share some of my favorite artists with some exercises encouraging readers to try creating art like those artists, for example collaging like the amazing Mickalene Thomas or making dots like Yayoi Kusama. These are exercises that give the reader an opportunity to play and experiment.

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Lisa: This is your second book! Tell us about your first book, which came out earlier this year.

Andrea: I know it’s so crazy. Two books in one year!! I Love My Hair happened when I met an art director at Random House and sent her some ideas for a coloring book last spring, none of which had anything to do with hair. After looking at my artwork, she responded asking if I’d be interested in doing a coloring book about hair, and I said, “OMG of course.” I didn’t have a specific plan of what to include, I just knew that I wanted it to be fun and that I wanted to show a wide range of hairstyles and ideas of hair There were 84 pages to fill, so it was a (great) creative challenge to figure out what would be interesting and what would work in terms of filling it with color. Because “hair” is so specific, and because I didn’t want it to be just about hairstyles, I had to be creative in my interpretations. So I explored abstract representations, lettering, and accessories and tools related to hair.

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(Andrea’s fans send her photos from I Love My Hair!)

But a little background, “I Love My Hair” started as a social campaign for a design thesis project while I was in graduate school. Our topic was social awareness, which inspired me to focus on the revived natural hair movement that was just starting to take off. During that time I was really intrigued by the black beauty industry and how much money black women, all over the world, spend on hair care products. At the time I had been natural for seven years and loved it, and wondered how the industry would change if more women of color embraced their coils and went natural as well. So that project allowed me to explore that idea visually. Soon after, those graphics became art prints and tees, and now the I Love My Hair coloring book. The book continues to celebrate my love for black hair while exploring other elements of my artistic interests.

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Lisa: You are currently living my dream of living in Stockholm, Sweden. I’m so jealous. How did this happen and what’s it like living there after living in Baltimore, MD?

Andrea: I didn’t know that was your dream! You should totally come and visit me. It’s funny because a little over a year ago Sweden was not on my radar at all. But I moved to Stockholm for love. It is not an official move yet. But I met my partner, who is Swedish, last year, and we have been going back and forth since then.

Being in Europe is amazing! Stockholm is such a beautiful city. What a great place to be for an artist and designer. Over the summer I was renting in a studio loft space inside of a boutique and it was a great way to connect with the creative community and make new friends. My commute was literary 5 minutes door to door and I would pinch myself every time thinking, “OMG, I’m walking down this cobblestone street in this quaint and cute artsy neighborhood in Stockholm to my cute little studio to work.”

As I’m responding to these interview questions I am back in the states for a little bit to promote Becoming Me.

Baltimore is a fantastic city going through so many changes. It was hard to leave during these transformative times, especially since I enjoyed being a part of the tight-knit creative community there. My guy likes Baltimore as well, so who knows we may live in the states one day and make Baltimore our next home.

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Lisa: I may be coming back to Stockholm this summer for a wedding. I’ll keep you posted! Tell us about some of the other illustration work and projects you’ve been enjoying over the past year.

Andrea: Aside from the books, in the last year I’ve gotten to work on some amazing projects. I was commissioned to do an illustration of Alicia Keys for Lenny Letter. That was a lot of fun. I also was invited to submit some illustrations for the museum shop at the new National Museum of African American History & Culture. For that project I created illustrations for their design team to use on product. The illustrations were inspired by the collections that celebrate the African American contribution to performance arts and music.
I did not have the final say on how the illustrations were applied and on what product they were applied to. So I didn’t know what was going to be produced.
On opening day of the museum I went to the museum shop and there was an entire section of my illustration on products like socks, coasters, keychains, magnets, t-shirts, and mugs. I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t expecting that, it was so fun to see.
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(Andrea’s mural at Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Philadelphia)

Lisa: Part of what I love about what you do is that you are clearly a mission-driven artist. That is, it’s obvious that you want to be a positive force in the world through the things you create. What is your mission? What drives the part of your creative process? Where does this come from do you think?

Andrea: My mission is to create what I want to see. The nature of my work has always been from a place of wanting to see myself and my stories reflected in illustration, books, art, and media which is why I started my blog and why I focus on the topics that I do. I believe that when we see reflections of ourselves our stores and experiences are validated. So I look for my work to be a voice for many.

My vision is to empower women and girls of color and people in marginalized communities with visual tools to own and tell their own stories. As an author and educator my ultimate goal is to create spaces and platforms that allow these specific audiences to learn to take control of the narrative of their lives. Helping them understand that they get to dictate who they are and what they want to do, and the power in believing that truth.

Lisa: Thank you so much for this interview! Where can people find you online?

Andrea: Thank you, Lisa, I love your questions. People can find my online portfolio at andreapippins.com , my blog: flygirlblog.com and follow me on: twitter.com/andreagpippins and instagram: @andreapippins. And for Becoming Me book tour info visit http://andreapippins.com/book-tour

Thanks Lisa!

Lisa: Thank you, Andrea!!

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Jonathan Fields on How to Live a Good Life

10/19/16

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About four years ago, I received an email from a guy named Jonathan Fields. He had started a program called The Good Life Project, which, at the time, was a broadcast web show that filmed in depth interviews with mission-driven entrepreneurs and artists (it’s now a podcast). Jonathan mentioned in the email that he’d discovered my work & heard bits of my story through my friend Maria Popova, and was interested in interviewing me for his series. I googled Jonathan’s name and discovered he was a respected author, speaker, teacher and thought leader in the world of entrepreneurship. I quickly said yes to the interview, and Jonathan came to San Francisco to interview me in my studio three weeks later. Little did I know that after our initial interview, Jonathan and I would go on to be friends, that he would write the foreword to my book Art Inc, and that this year — four years after we met — his work would set my life on a new trajectory.

So now you know my background with Jonathan, in a nutshell. You may also know that a few months ago, I wrote this blog post about What Makes a Good Life? To be clear, this blog post was more a proclamation about needing to change things in my life in order to feel more grounded and less stressed, and not a set of answers. In fact, I’ve been on a quest of sorts since early last year to find new, more profound meaning in my life. Over the past ten years, I fell very deeply into my work as an artist and have been enormously devoted to my career, which has brought me fantastic opportunity, financial stability, and profound internal satisfaction. I am so grateful. It’s part of what has given (and continues to give) my life meaning and purpose. But I also found that I was beginning to feel really burned out and tired, with very little time devoted to relaxing or having fun. As a result, I have spent much of the past year outside of my work reading, taking classes and otherwise exploring the notion of what makes a good life — attempting to continue the work that is meaningful to me, but at a different pace and with a new goal to feel more joy and calm.

Now comes the intersection of the two stories: Jonathan Fields and my quest. Since we met in 2012, Jonathan’s Good Life Project has spawned an entire community of people, a camp, resources and more. This past August I was a keynote speaker at Jonathan’s Camp GLP (short for Good Life Project). Camp GLP is a summer camp for 350 grown ups, filled with usual camp-like things: workshops, pool time, eating in a mess hall, games and even a good old fashioned talent show. I decided not only to accept the speaking invitation from Jonathan, but to participate fully in camp. I’m a textbook introvert — large groups of people make me really uncomfortable — but I dove into the discomfort of camp (and my continued soul searching) with all my heart. And not too surprisingly, the four days were profound for me. Thank you to Jonathan and some of the other speakers and workshop leaders at camp, I made some huge discoveries and began to get some answers about my aforementioned quest (more on that in a minute).

I also learned at Camp that Jonathan had written a new book, entitled (yep, that’s right): How to Live a Good Life, which was released just this week. Immediately after camp he sent me an advanced copy, and I’ve spent much of the last two months studying it. It is a compilation of everything he’s learned over the course of his own personal quest to live a good life, talking to interesting and engaged people about how they live and immersing himself in scientific research.

A book with the answers to my big existential questions about what makes a good life? Yes, please!

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Two important things: first, this book isn’t about how to be happy. Instead, it’s about living with a sense of connection, purpose, ease and discovery, which is going to look different for everyone. Second, this book isn’t one ounce preachy or dogmatic. Instead, it’s filled with a super easy to understand framework for and ideas about changes you can make in your life that will help you to live with a stronger sense of connection, purpose, ease and discovery — and with more awareness and intention.

To be clear, Jonathan’s book is not intended to be a quick fix. Much of what he writes about are simple practices — stuff I intuitively know (and I am sure many of you already know) will lead to more calm, more joy and a better overall quality of life. But it’s all stuff that I also know requires a certain amount of commitment — turning things off & turning other things on, breaking deeply rooted habits & trying new things — not just once or twice, but every day. Much of what causes us to feel pain in the first place is stuff of our own making: things like over-working, connection to our devices and disconnection from others, self absorption and fear of change. And choosing intentionally to break those unhealthy patterns is hard, and we don’t necessarily have the discipline or patience to do it, even though the payoff would be tremendous.

I’m approaching the changes I’m making one day at a time. The first thing I began working on was meditation (Jonathan talks a lot about the power of meditation, and has practiced daily meditation himself for years). I am on day 53 of daily meditation, which just this week became something I look forward to each morning instead of being something I dread (you can read what I wrote about my meditation a couple of weeks ago here). I can also feel the positive effects of meditation spilling into the other parts of my life.

Another thing I am working on is disconnecting from social media. In the last month, I have spent about 1/4 of the time that I used to spend on Instagram and my personal Facebook page. Social media is not only a time suck, but it can be an energy suck. Social media has so many benefits (and my business wouldn’t be what it is without it), but it’s also a place for comparison and overwhelm. Staying off social media has helped my sense of calm enormously.

I’m also continuing to work on saying no when I don’t have time or energy for something (Jonathan calls this “practice the loving no”) — and that goes for social plans and work opportunities.

I’m also working on gratitude, focusing on and expressing thanks to the universe for what I do have instead of what I’ve been left out of or what’s missing or who might not like me (stuff most of us spend way too much time thinking about).

And, finally, I’ve been having way more fun. In the past two weeks, I’ve been out dancing three times. Recently, I got on stage in a sparkly gold outfit and platinum wig and danced by myself in front of 450 people at a conference where I was the emcee. I’m starting to realize how much things like playing hooky and staying up past my bedtime are essential for my 48 year old self to feel alive. Oh, and I’ve done all of this stuff sober (I also cut way back on drinking).

If you are in a place where any of this resonates for you — you want a new path or you are on a path already and you want to feed yourself more inspiration and tools, get yourself a copy of How to Live a Good Life. I promise if you are open to making some shifts, you won’t be disappointed.

Have a great Wednesday.

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