Wednesday, November 1, 2006

"Are you an artist?"

"Well, technically I'm an engineer, AND I'm from Alabama." That answer usually produces two very different responses: a belly laugh or a stunned silence. I guess it's not what you expect to hear coming from a girl with a mohawk and closet full of 4" high stilettos.

Art and design must be in my blood. I've never taken an art class, but I've been playing with layouts since I was a kid; I can remember helping my mom layout table-top menus for the local BBQ restaurant in the 3rd or 4th grade. I entered newspaper layout competitions in junior high (won an honorable mention, thank you very much) and worked on the Literary Magazine in high school. But I was also good at math and I loved science, so when it came time to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up, I chose engineering instead of journalism (plus, the money was better!).

But I couldn't leave design behind me. I was the ONLY person allowed to "jazz up" the look of my term paper in my Technical Writing class. I took Art History as my elective. During the summer of my sophomore year, I designed point of service signs ("Family Dentistry," "Desi's Little Capitol Restaurant," and the like) and slot signs for local casinos ("$.50 per $500!") for a Baton Rouge, Louisiana sign company. I even did the layouts for the brochures and print collateral for the the Louisiana Tech chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society.

And then I graduated and realized that I really needed a PhD to actually BE a Biomedical Engineer. No more school for me -- four LONG years was enough -- so I did something else. Because I had taken so many math and science classes, I landed a job as a teacher at a small private high school. And in addition to teaching Chemistry, Biology, and Senior English, I reformatted the school's letterhead, progress reports, and report cards, and started a monthly newsletter.

Fast forward two years and I'm here in Houston (I married and engineer, go figure...his company is here). I was hired by Mad Science of Houston as a "Mad Scientist," teaching after-school science classes to elementary-aged kids throughout the Houston area. Not long after being hired (and after the discovery that I could run graphics software), I began designing print ads for the company. Soon I was moved from the field to the office and became the Marketing Manager, producing print ads, flyers, postcards, and other collateral for the company (which I continue to do even thought I don't work directly for them).

So the point of this long rambling tale is this: you really can do anything you set your mind to. I have neither a design nor a business background, but I own my own graphic design company. I think that it's important to do what you love, regardless of if you've been formally trained to do it. Most of my time is spent creating paper brochures and business cards, but sometimes I'm allowed to create the perfect wedding invitation or a piece of art to give to someone. And that makes me happy.

I want to help other people do what they love. I admire people who create things, who put in the hours to run a small business. I started this company to help small business be visible and promote themselves. I started this blog to do the same for Houston-area (and beyond) artists and designers. I hope that one day we will all consider buying handmade or small label goods instead of being mass-market-Mega-Mart zombies. After all, this nation was created by DIYers...they sailed halfway across the globe for a new life. All I had to do was get out a pair of scissors.


Photo by Dorothy Lillig

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