January 14, 2018

Commercial Artist Shelby Rodeffer Takes Up the Brushes to Create Traditional Sign Painting, Public Art Projects and More


It was her wonderful range of visual compositions, whether it was illustration or lettering—both channeling the characteristics of folk art, that piqued my interest about Shelby Rodeffer, a painter and commercial artist. Here, she shares her story about entering the world of sign painting and committing herself to generating more creative forms, including handmade banners.

Drawn to your tall skills at sign painting. How did you arrive at adopting and practicing traditional sign painting? Was there an initial encounter of work, related to sign painting, that played a role in what you do for a living?

I grew up in a small town just north of Nashville, Tennessee, with one traffic light. All of the signs were hand-painted, so sign painting was something that I always had exposure to. I didn’t consider it as a career until I was working at a letterpress shop and thinking of my next steps. To work for yourself in letterpress, you need to be able to afford expensive and rare equipment and also a space to store it all, which wasn’t in the cards for me as a recent college graduate. I had always had an interest in sign painting and it was at this time that the book and documentary by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon was getting attention. I decided to spend the next few years learning as much as I could about the trade in hopes that I could make a living painting signs.

A common desire and questions is: How to start? How did you start? → What was the first thing you did? What were essential activities taken to start and establish your career, and why were these steps important?

I started out watching videos on YouTube of different sign painters. The videos helped me to learn how you hold a brush and form letters, but they didn’t cover more technical aspects like surface prep, paint consistency, layout, etc. So I was sort of blindly moving forward with my limited knowledge, and I got a few jobs painting for friends and friends-of-friends. The “Intro to Sign Painting” workshop at New Bohemia Signs in San Francisco was a really great experience for me, and it also showed me that it wasn’t possible to learn everything you need to know about sign painting in a weekend (there are only so many hours in a day to grill your teacher with questions). At this point, I decided if I wanted to be serious about sign painting, I would need to go somewhere with more opportunities to learn from seasoned sign painters, so my partner and I moved to Chicago. From there, I started attending regional events and traveling to national and international sign painting meetups.

I’ve had many teachers and mentors in the past six years, and each of them have given me different nuggets of knowledge. Some of them learned from traditional sign painting schools, others learned as apprentices, and some were self-taught. I’ve paid for workshops from some of them, and then there are the occasions when you run into someone painting a sign on the street and you politely ask them for their contact info so you can bug them later.



Sign painting is growing as a cultural phenomenon. 
What are your takes on why this is happening?

When the industry began to die out in the mid 1980s (due to the advent of the vinyl plotter and digital illustration software), a lot of sign painters became vinyl installers or started new careers. This was pre-social media, so a lot of folks weren’t aware that there were other sign painters out there who were still meeting up and still working in the field. I think the documentary “Sign Painters” brought a lot of veteran sign painters out of retirement. It also shined a light on the current sign painting renaissance with younger people taking up brushes for the first time, which was a major influence on me and my career path.



In addition to sign painting, you also engage other mediums, like your kickass banners. How do you embrace other types of creative mediums? How do you keeping honing your sensibilities/skills in each one? Do you set aside alone time for personal art-making?

I’m an artist first and a sign painter second, so it’s important for me to keep up a personal art practice. As I’ve learned more about sign painting and the different avenues of lettering art, my work has been influenced more and more. I am a big advocate for keeping sketchbooks. They are very low-pressure and you can experiment with different styles without having to think about a cohesive body of work. When I work on larger art pieces, I tend to sketch every piece in the series at once, so that even if I work on the individual pieces intermittently, they will all hopefully share some of the same sensibilities from the initial sketches. The banners are extremely strenuous since I fabricate them completely by hand. I sew, paint and assemble each one from scratch and they take about 3 weeks to make, but they are always worth it.



One of the themes of your recent work is femininity. 
Is this feminism? Especially now, what does femininity/feminism 
mean to you?

When I use femininity as a theme, I am referring to the gender concept of female. Simply, I am using feminine forms and structural elements (windows, walls, stairs) to express how I feel that femme-presenting people are sequestered into socially-acceptable boxes in society. I think the recent year has brought conversations about sexism, gender-based violence and gender-based discrimination to light for the general public, which is great, but we have a long way to go before many femme-presenting people can feel safe and valued.

In your creative toolkit, what are your go-to tools, 
the ones you love using?

Grid paper is my most-used thing, that and a level. I’ve been learning how to use the iPad Pro which has been really helpful for sending quick sketches and exploring color variations.



Who and/or what keep(s) you going as a painter 
and commercial artist?

Helping other people maintain and boost their small businesses is very rewarding and keeps the job satisfying, even if I’m just reproducing a font or existing logo. The jobs, where I get to start with a blank slate and build a visual identity with my customers, are amazing because they check all of the boxes: I get to help them, and I get paid AND I am creating my own original artwork. For everything else, I try to show my personal artwork as frequently as I can so that I don’t get bummed out with less creative jobs.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to work/business?

The growth that I am experiencing now is getting to be more selective. For the past 6 years, I’ve taken on every illustration, design or painting job that’s come my way. Due to word-of-mouth and exposure that I am grateful for, I can’t physically do all of the work that is coming my way anymore. I still get a little FOMO when I have to pass something up, but it feels much better than refreshing my email every ten minutes hoping for work to come through.

What tools do you use and recommend to work: for collaborating, getting things done and running your practice?

I’m pretty basic I think. I use Google Calendar to keep myself on track. Trying to remember everything I need to do in a day makes me feel like my brain is a web browser with too many tabs open. Some days, I schedule my lunch breaks and when to walk down the street to buy cat litter, and other days it’s much more open. I’ve been using Quickbooks Self-Employed over the past year and it has definitely helped me stay on top of invoicing and expenses.

How do you get the word out about you do?
How do you attract customers/projects?

I operate through word-of-mouth referrals mainly, although I’m on Instagram and have a website for my business as well. Word-of-mouth has been really great, because it tends to mean that I am talking to more people who are sure they want to work with me and less bidding is involved. However, there have definitely been some months where I was peeking into any storefront that appeared to be in-construction and giving my business cards out.



If a person approached you and said, “I want to work 
as an artist. How do I become one?”, what’s your response?

It’s great to have a mentor or group of friends to check in with, even if they aren’t doing exactly what you’re doing. If you can find someone who is doing what you want to do, scroll way back in their timeline to see what they were doing two or three years ago. You’ll see that it doesn’t happen overnight.

How does the city of Chicago, Illinois, contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

Chicago has a lot of sign painting history and a really vibrant and diverse art scene. There is no shortage of inspiration here if you just look around!

• • •

All images courtesy of Shelby Rodeffer.

• • •

Read my Makers series interview with Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, the filmmakers of the documentary “Sign Painters” (2014).

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 95+ Interviews
with people who love making things.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

January 3, 2018

Independent Artist & Designer Shawn Smith Creates Things He Loves


Shawn Smith (self-portrait above) is the creator of character-scapes Shawnimals and Ninjatown, including new series All Shapes and Helping Hands. Here, he shares his views on working hard, as he put it, “to delight and inspire people with my art and design.”

Enjoyed your 2012 talk at the 11th monthly gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings when you talked about your toy lines and environments of Ninjatown and Professor Frederick Fliggins’ Island. You’ve evolved since then with the creation of Resketch from seeing you at the annual Show of Hands. Impressed by your sticking to your independence in making the work desire to make. How did you arrive at wanting to become an independent creator of art and design? Was there an initial encounter of making, of creativity, that helped establish your path toward becoming a “very professional creative person”?

Thanks. My wanting to become an independent artist and designer comes from seeing my Brothers draw comic books when I was a kid, further solidified by seeing some drawings my Dad did when he was younger. Then: playing games, watching movies, reading comics and other pop-cultural things sealed the deal. I loved mimicking the things I saw, but had an even stronger desire to make up my own things. It’s always been that way. Inspired by something pop-cultural, but ultimately making it my own.

“Very professional creative person”—liking this email signature of yours? What’s the breakdown here—the meanings?

It’s mostly tongue-in-cheek. But there’s a silver of truth here insomuch that I want to be professional in my dealings, since this is my livelihood and sole source of income. On the other hand, having worked at companies in the past in marketing capacities and witnessing the pretentiousness in emails, I thought it’d be funny to call myself out as a very professional creative person but keep it lowercase. I also don’t specifically say artist or designer because I consider myself both and them some (not to mention the entrepreneurial interests I have).





Can you give a tour of how one of your ideas gets real?
Take Resketch for example.

Using Resketch (above) as an example, I notice something when out and about or on the internet or as part of a conversation with someone, and that something sticks with me. Like a tiny idea stuck in the back of my head. Then it sits there, sometimes for a long time. At some point, if I’m lucky, I’ll notice something else that awakens that tiny idea and it will grow or evolve in some way. Sometimes this takes months, sometimes years. With Resketch, I visited the Creative Reuse Warehouse on the south side, years ago, and toured all areas of the facility, thanks to my friend, Marianne, who was a volunteer there. I noticed, among other things, that they had a lot of paper in the back warehouses, that weren’t open to the public. Tons and tons of it in these open-top pallet boxes. All sorts of paper, too. I thought it was crazy that this paper wasn't going to be purchased or used, and would eventually become unusable due to getting wet, becoming mildewy, or from rat droppings. As an artist, I wanted to use this paper to make awesome things, but there was SO much that was never going to see the light of day. Years past, and I couldn't figure out what I could do with such a disparate collection of paper. It didn’t click until I saw a paper sample booklet at an art supply store. The disparate collection of paper IS what makes it interesting AND solves the problem in one fell swoop. Then I created early prototypes, but didn’t do anything with it until years later, several years after the launch of Kickstarter. Launched that in 2013, since then, have been making variations on this theme, not to mention understanding how it needs to evolve to be sustainable, both environmentally and from a market standpoint.



Time flies. So true, especially while working. Even a small work activity takes large amounts to time. What is your “consistent schedule” in helping to make each day a consistently productive one? How did you make it? Did you go through versions of it to land on a version that proved effective?

Yes, many, many versions. My personality type (ENFP) struggles with structure, but there’s a couple of ways to think about this: I can either resign myself to this fact, and embrace it, or know that this is a limitation that I need to work on to overcome. I don’t know if there’s a right way exactly, but I do know that a lack of structure professionally causes me stress in a few different ways so it’s not worth fully embracing it. For me, it comes down to this: I have a tendency to get far too detailed with my daily/weekly schedule, which I rebel against. So instead I set up general times for certain kinds of work. That way I can project-manage myself within general schedule constraints, and then move on to the next general thing. I also include certain days for freeform studio time. That’s really important for me, but I think for everyone. The act of play is vitally important to innovation, however you define that.

To go into more detail, I know Mondays are going to be some form of catch-up (I try best not to work weekends so I can spend time with my wife, son and dog). However, I also know I need to get other things done on Monday, so I look at short and long-term deadlines, and break those projects down into incremental elements to make sure I can make progress. I typically choose three main things to work on daily depending on deadlines. I also have a prioritized list of three smaller things, in case I have a very productive day.

Beyond that, I try to earmark at least one day, but usually two days per work, for studio time. So far, this methodology is working for me. I use Google Keep to stay organized.



What is your vision of satisfaction, as it relates
to your chosen career?

Satisfaction is creating things that you love, and getting paid to create them. The lines between life and work are very blurred for those in creative professions, so it’s important to be mindful of this, and separate when you need to.

Who and/or what keep(s) you going?

I honestly don't know. My own drive? I think about my son and wife and dog and friends a lot, but that’s a given. They don’t necessarily keep me going with regards to my professional endeavors. They ground me so I don’t burn out and live in squalor. The impulse of creating things is what keeps me going. I suppose that’s the closest thing I have to some sort of spiritualness. Or maybe it’s just magic.



In running your creative practice, and getting work done, are there software/Web-based tools that you use and highly recommend?

Adobe CC, of course. On my iPad Pro, I use Procreate all of the time. This setup, with Apple Pencil, blows my mind every time I use it. I like how you can export a high-res layered PSD (Photoshop Document) from Procreate to Adobe CC and do any other adjustments to the file before finalizing it. Otherwise, from an admin standpoint: Google Keep, Google Apps for Business, and the native social media apps on my iPhone and iPad. I am trying not to be on my MacBook as much as I used to.

Love your distilled to-dos: “Make conscious, confident choices; Make art; Do the work; Choose happiness.” This would make for a great poster. Business development is a part of “Do the work.” What’s worked for you in promoting your work?

Marketing and networking get a bad rap because there are SO many shitty examples of this kind of thing. But I think what gets lost is the core meaning of each of these things when done in the right way. Marketing is communication. And if you love what you're doing, it’s not selling. It’s simply talking about something you feel passionate about, and hopefully finding some other folks who may have similar or analogous passions. Networking is also called meeting people and making friends. It doesn’t have to be shitty and fake. It can simply be you being present and interested and curious about what other people are doing, and being open to a tiny idea being planted in the back of your head that may grow into something awesome later. I would also like to think that there is an assumption out there that if I am a self-employed creative person, that part of that is looking for work. It doesn't have to be said necessarily, UNLESS you hear of something in which you want to participate. And then, ask, but do so in a gracious and tactful way. Nobody likes assholes, and you never know who knows who, so be real and be nice.



If a person approached you and said, “I want to make my creations for a living,” what’s your response?

Go for it, but let’s talk first. I advise small businesses and entrepreneurs on Wednesdays for a Small Business Development Center, and it’s important to know the whole story before I tell someone to jump head first. I talk about this with my clients constantly. We live in a time when you can make huge strides in doing what you do creatively while still maintaining a 9 to 5. There’s no shame in that. If anything, I applaud such folks loudly because it’s hard as hell. But yes, make things and if you want to do it for a living, be smart about it. It's not easy, but it’s worth it if you can create a sustainable business model and practice... well, and you're talented or at least good at marketing. ツ

How does the city of Chicago contribute to your work? And what makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

Chicago is a great city. The art scene is stronger and more vibrant than ever before. I love it here because it’s still affordable, people are straight up, and there’s still lots of opportunity. I do wish some of the businesses (particularly tech startups) would hire local artists even more than they have been. Certainly supporting any indie artist is important, but let’s not forget about the local economy. If we don’t support it in meaningful ways (which has a lot to do with financial support), people are going to move. I don’t want to see that kind of migration.

Back to your CreativeMornings/Chicago 2012 talk, seeking the footage of it has turned into a quest beyond my write-up. What can we still do to find the video recording of your presentation?

I have no idea. Talk to the main CreativeMornings folks and see what can be done. I’d love to see it unearthed and published again. I think the core conversation is still very relevant today. Thanks for caring.

• • •

All images courtesy of Shawn Smith.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 95+ Interviews
with people who love making things.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

December 7, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Shayla Hunter Addresses and Clarifies What It Means to Be a Black Female Today Through Her 100 Black Females Project



What are you working on—on the side?

My side project is the 100 Black Females Project. It is about connecting with Black Females of all ages and having them share their personal stories and experiences of being a Black Female today. I have done many personal side projects over the years, but this is the first that went beyond the personal. The 100 Black Females Project began as a challenge which later blossomed into something I never expected.

100 Black Females began earlier this year, April 2017, while I was a graduate student at the SVA Masters in Branding Program. A component of the curriculum is completing a 100 Days Project under the direction and mentorship of Debbie Millman, the department chair of the Masters in Branding Program. For each student, The 100 Day Project assignment began as something to personally discover everyday for 100 days. I went through approximately 4 different ideas before reaching the idea of 100 Black Females. I was led to the project when I looked inward at what I was trying to avoid or not think about. I thought the idea of talking about race was going to make things too uncomfortable or be too sensitive of a topic. That is where it struck me that I needed to walk this path of the unknown. That personal journey evolved into a project that created a community for Black Females and making a quiet dialogue around being a Black Female much louder. The project is about vulnerability, honesty and sharing your true self with the world. 100 Black Females is not just for Black Females, but for everyone. Each story, thought and expression is different but can speak to someone in an unexpected way. There are many stereotypes and expectations existing in the world surrounding Black Females. With those stereotypes and expectations, people are not seen as their true selves and treated as such. I want to help break that, allow people to share their stories, know these stories matter, and should be heard. For each Black Female, I interview them with a few questions. I run the questions and their answers along with an illustrated portrait that I create. One question is highlighted on Instagram, @100BlackFemales, while additional questions and answers are shared on the website. Creating illustrations was something I haven’t explored in a long time, but it has made me more confident in working and sharing this medium.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I continue to show up for it and make it happen! It is funny, because during my graduate program, the project was something I needed to find time to accomplish and document on a daily basis, on top of all the other school work I had and working a full-time job. Yes, I surprised myself everyday! I wondered how I would find the time, but I did just that—I found the time. When things are important to you, you make time to accomplish them. I also don’t pressure myself too much about the schedule. Some weeks are easier than others, so I meet, connect, interview and draw for 100 Black Females when I can. The project becomes part of a daily thing for me. I am always looking for females of all ages to feature for the project. I find them through friends, at events, social media, the hair salon, all over! Presently, I have surpassed the original goal of 100, and the new goal is 200. Hopefully it will go even further than that!

Why have a side project?

I always believe having side projects are a great way to express one’s self-creativity. I am also a photographer and modern dancer which means I get to be a part of different communities. As I kid, I was always wanting to try out something new to learn. There was art class on the weekends, dance classes, piano, etc. I think it helped me to not be afraid of trying new things and learning. With side projects, they are something for yourself that you can build and steer in any way you want. Plus, they may open a path into something else that you never expected.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Shayla Hunter.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

November 29, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Professional Picture-Maker Liz Nugent Happily Goes Into The Wild



What are you working on—on the side?

As a freelance illustrator, sometimes it’s hard to figure out where a regular project ends and a side project begins! I’m a big believer in personal work, so I always have a few creative irons in the fire alongside client work!

That said, my most organized current side project is my Virginia Native Wildlife series. I get a lot of inspiration from nature, in particular, walking in my local park. I encounter lots of unfamiliar flora and fauna—and I wanted to get better at identifying them all. I combine some amateur nature photography with research into identifying the observation, then draw it! It’s my love letter to Virginia, a way to learn something new and a chance to practice drawing plants and animals. I find the best side projects are like that, they scratch a lot of different itches.

I also recently finished a fairly intense Inktober in which I did 31 ink drawings/paintings in 31 days, and I have an ongoing large-scale colored pencil series.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I try to make it as easy and enticing as possible. I do projects that really appeal to me, and I usually have a few of them that I’m working on. That way, I can rotate through—when I get tired of one, I have something else I can work on instead. When my schedule gets busy, I’ve found that weekly goals also really help. I find I need more flexibility than “on THIS day I will do THAT.” but meeting a weekly goal of completing X number of pieces feels satisfying.

I also try to keep in mind that these things are a long game. My creative nature is to always want to try new things, sometimes it feels like I can’t keep up with one project. But, I’m learning that’s not really the case—it’s just that sometimes it might be 6 or 8 months before an idea sparks my interest again, and that’s okay!

Why have a side project?

So many reasons! First of all, as a freelance illustrator, you need to make the work that you want to get hired to do. If you have a dream project, the best way to accomplish that is just do a version of it yourself and get it out there! I also think side projects are an important way to get to experiment. Clients (understandably) require more predictable output, so it can be intimidating to try a new technique or idea with that work. Side projects let you go wild and see what sticks—it helps keep things fresh.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Liz Nugent.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

November 26, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Product Designer and Manager Caylee Betts’ Entrepreneurial Outlets in Realizing Swipies, Meetup group Moonlighters and More



What are you working on—on the side?

I have a couple! For the last two years, I’ve manufactured and sold a reusable paper called Swipies. I sell them publicly online, but I also do custom-branded projects with customers like Airbnb, General Assembly and Moz. It’s a great side project because it’s a real business, but it doesn’t require my attention constantly. I need to ship orders a couple times a week, but other than that, I can improve and grow the business at my own pace. It’s also cool that it’s a physical product since my job is entirely digital. It’s really nice to get hands-on.

My second project is a memoir about my experience with anxiety, including a reusable guidebook (printed on Swipies!) for working through a panic attack or high anxiety situation. This is a huge project because of the amount of research and interviews I need to conduct. Once I have the content in order, I need to work with legal and medical professionals to review the book. And I have yet to even look into working with an agent, publisher and printer. One step at a time!

Lastly, I recently started a Meetup group called Moonlighters, and I am planning to run a couple side-project-accountability-and-support groups in 2018. I have lots of ideas I like to pursue outside work, so I felt that surrounding myself with others who do the same would benefit all of us and all of our projects. I’m really excited about it!

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I try to avoid putting too much pressure on myself with side projects. So instead of creating specific timelines or deadlines for my side projects, I keep a long list of things I want to pursue and I pick them off as motivation or inspiration strikes. So, on a day when I am more in the mood for a mindless task that I can complete while catching up on TV, I’ll inspect the quality of a couple thousand sheets from a new Swipies shipment or I’ll edit a bunch of photos from a recent custom-branded project. On other days, I am feeling really creative and want to dig into branding or coding or creating something new, so I focus on that. I also let myself go through ruts. There are times I won’t work on a side project for a couple weeks at a time. And that’s ok. This isn’t a great format for running a business, but it’s a healthy way to run a side project, in my opinion.

Why have a side project?

Personally, I can’t not. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and I have that fire in me. I ran my own business for 5 years, and have helped other small businesses get off the ground as well. Since I am no longer doing my own thing full-time, I love having an entrepreneurial outlet. I love that I can flex tons of different muscles with side projects, and I can do something different than what I do at work. I also learn a ton in a practical way. I’ve taught myself a good chunk of my coding knowledge through side projects. If you’re interested in professional self-improvement, I highly recommend taking on a side project!

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Caylee Betts.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

November 25, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Sacha Judd is Turning the Tech World into a More Diverse and Inclusive Environment



What are you working on—on the side?

My side projects all revolve around the central question of how we can make the tech sector better. For years, I worked as a lawyer helping startups get off the ground. One of my first side projects was Back of a Napkin, which asks digital collaborators five easy questions and then produces a super simple agreement for them to sign. I set up Flounders Club, a series of events to connect tech founders with one another. I really quickly became frustrated with how few women were in the industry and how unsupported they felt, and so I worked with a friend to bring Refactor to life. We run four sold-events each year, bringing hundreds of people together to hear from amazing women about their journeys and the things they’re working on, and creating a pipeline of talented speakers.

Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we encourage a more diverse range of people into careers in tech, and how we ensure they feel included once they’re there. As part of that, I speak and write about the intersection of fandom and tech, and how we’re ignoring a generation of passionate, hard-working creative young people online because we don’t care about the same things they do, and how we can think differently about hiring and qualifications to change that. I’m also thinking about how we can start to celebrate the things we were first really passionate about—the first things that drove us to make and share online. Recognising the huge diversity of interests we all have is a first step to overcoming homogeneity in our teams and our work culture.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I’m really fortunate to have a job where side projects are actively encouraged. But I also think I find a way to make time for things that really excite me. I’m a night owl, so I tend to be up late tinkering on things. I’m also trying to get better at asking for help. With community events, my tendency is usually to take too much on, but when you ask for help, you suddenly realise that there are other people around you who want to see these things succeed as much as you do, and are willing to share the load. I’m also a firm believer in putting something down when it’s not working or not needed any more. You never want a side project to feel like a horrible chore or a burden.

Why have a side project?

I have an amazing and varied day job, and so it’s certainly not out of boredom! I think side projects are ways to effect change, and to positively impact my community. My side projects give me different perspectives and ideas to think about. They cause me to read more widely and to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. They’ve lead to invitations to go to places all over the world and speak, and to make amazing new friends. I recently wrote a piece about that lifelong journey of connecting with people through the things we care about and writing it made me realise the joy I’ve found in pursuing these interests outside of work. It’s such a blessing.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Sacha Judd.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.

November 21, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Ngaio Parr Launched “Make Nice” to Elevate and Inspire Creative Women



What are you working on—on the side?

In my “spare time,” I’m the founder and director of Make Nice, an Online Community and Real Life Un-Conference for, by and about Creative Women.

I built Make Nice as a way to, well…make nice. To make things easier and better. To provide practical advice for working in the creative industries, promote the importance of a thriving and supportive professional ecology and foster an ongoing dialogue between women.

The online platform provides the immediate and much-needed answers to those shitty questions (often in GIF form), like “Is this price OK?”, etc., creates impromptu drinks in cities worldwide, and has started more than one collaboration. The site showcases the work and practice of the women we love to elevate and inspire our community: illustrators, writers, photographers, designers, makers, bakers, curators, singers and songwriters, gamers, painters—any and all female-identifying creatives. And our conferences bring all of these women together for keynotes, panels, town-hall discussions and our patented ‘not-gross networking.’ We Make Nice because we think it’s the best way to make change.

Outside of my studio, I’m also a contributor to Women of Graphic Design, and teach at the University of Technology Sydney.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

It is hard work, and it requires a lot of summer swims, movies, sleep-ins and dinner parties sacrificed. Side projects are important, but the only way they work is if you care about them so much you don’t mind the sacrifices.

Why have a side project?

In my experience, side projects have helped me meet new people, learn new skills, heightens my confidence in my abilities, improve my productivity, and help me make a difference to the issues I care about. They have also provided me some amazing opportunities that I would not have been possible without creating new ideas.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Ngaio Parr.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


Donating = Appreciating: Design Feast is now on Patreon!
Lots of hours are put into making Design Feast—because it’s a labor of love to provide creative culture to everyone. If you find delight and motivation from the hundreds of interviews, including event write-ups, at Design Feast, please consider becoming a supporting Patron with a recurring monthly donation.

Please help keep Design Feast going and growing by visiting my Patreon page where you can watch a short intro video plus view my goals and reward tiers, from $1 to $12—between a souvenir and a satisfying brunch.