When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I figured out what I wanted to be pretty young, which came on a trip actually. I was six or seven, and my family took a trip together to Majorca, different parts of Spain, and also to Italy and I saw the Sistine Chapel for the first time and it blew my mind. I had this deeply spiritual experience where I vowed to God that I was going to be an artist.
I loved magazines so I'd look at things and think, "Wow, how did this photo shoot come together? I want to be an art director." I started going to FIT In New York City at 14 or so, taking advertising classes, learning Photoshop, Illustrator, things like that.
I had a really strong vision about what I was doing, and I had my first internship at 17. I remember walking in and the art director and copywriter were like, "What are you doing here? You're in high school? It's summer vacation!" And I said, "I know, but I'm so in to this."
I remember sitting with the copywriter and he didn't have a desk. He had a couch and a coffee table. Feet up on the table, reading a newspaper, he said, "Come sit with me. You're too young to be here, you should be out having fun." He went through this whole speech about that and he said, "Look, I was living on a beach in Mexico just chilling. I was there for six years just living my life, and one day this guy came up to me on a beach and we had drinks together and he works in advertising. He asked me, ‘Hey do you mind coming up with some lines for me for tomorrow? Bring me back whatever comes to mind.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I'd love to do that.’” So he wrote something and it was so good that the guy offered him a job on the spot. And the next thing you know, he’s living in New York City working at one of the top ad agencies.
So he said, "If you want to get to advertising, if this is what you really want to do, you need to go and live an interesting life. Travel, be indulgent, just be interested. You're not gonna get it by working in agency. If you really, really want this, just go that route."
Which is the advice no one gives. And I just thought, "Oh, wow ... "
How did you decide to attend University of Colorado Boulder?
I chose my college based on the program. At the time, University of Colorado was ranked number three for public universities for advertising. The program was really small, there were 18 of us in the creative program. All the teachers were basically creative directors at agencies who would come and teach us.
I got to leave home for the first time. It doesn't seem like that far but, I grew up in New York City, in [New] Jersey, and then all of a sudden you're next to the mountains and [there’s a] different vibe, a different pace, different communication. People smile all the time and you're like, "Why, what's wrong? Is there a problem?"
My community there was really interesting. I was friends with all these Israelis and my best friend was Middle Eastern - she's from Kuwait - and then my other best friend grew up in San Francisco, and her parents were part of the Black Panther [Party]. And the other one grew up gay in Kansas City. That was my crew in the middle of this bubble studying advertising, which was really bizarre.
I got to see a really different side of advertising. It wasn't like, I'm just going to create the [simplest] way to sell orange juice. I started really thinking about people, how people buy things. Advertising became the study of our culture for me, and it wasn't something that I took lightly anymore.
When I graduated, after not sleeping for like 4 years because that's what they trained me to do - making 50 ad campaigns a week plus finishing a college degree plus partying - by the end of it, I was so tired I felt like I didn’t want to do this [anymore]. I wanted a balanced life. And not only did I want to balanced life, I wanted an interesting life.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I stayed in Colorado for a little bit and then I moved back to New York City. I was nannying for my sister at the time and working random jobs. I ended up applying online to a job at an artist based moving company in Brooklyn, where they only hire artists or creative people, and I wanted to do PR for them.
The guy who owned the company, Shawn, he's a writer and his life is fascinating. He opened up this company and gallery in New York City and needed someone to do PR, so he hired me. We would advertise his business by taking his moving trucks and transforming them into galleries. We had a commercial vehicle license so we could drive it anywhere we wanted, park anywhere we wanted, and just have a show. And also we had all of these artists within the company so we would just use them. It was amazing.
Then there was a little break there. I was in vintage merchandising for a while, because I took care of my grandmother’s massive estate, it was frozen in the 70's and 60's. I inherited all of this vintage clothing from it, and I had brought two friends from Brooklyn, who did this professionally and we sold everything. We did that for a couple of months. And then I traveled for a little bit, and then I ended up working for an agency.
I started off as a marketing assistant, and I would like basically consult on simple things about design. But I was quickly promoted to creative director for the company, which is really small. I was illustrating books for them, and doing all sorts of things, but I ended up leaving that also, because of my first lesson in contracts. Essentially because my job had switched, but our contract didn't switch. When you work in illustration, they were using my style, but not only does my style become theirs, but every idea that I have is under their ownership. How do you own an idea? I don't understand that. So that was hard.
I quit that and then I ended up working at a therapy massage studio doing customer service, which is amazing. It was the best job I've ever had. Swear to God. I really want to go back and work in wellness hospitality because everyone has this calm nature to them. Even if customers come in pissed, they leave happy. And it’s required that you get massages every month, because you need to understand how to talk about it.
I've done so many things in terms of jobs in New York. I sold Christmas trees once, I was an elf at the holiday fair, I made clocks - it was so much fun doing that. My middle sister works in television, and her first job was with a young designer who started a handbag company at 25. I paired up with her, and when I started working with her she saw my portfolio and said, "I don't know why you are getting paid this much, you should be getting paid this much. You need to focus what you are doing. You've had this job, and that job, and this. Stop it. This is what you're doing.” I was like, "Okay, got it." I started working with her, pitching clients with her, and doing design work, and I did that all the way until the spring of 2015 or so. And then I started working in the corporate world.
I started working [freelance]. I’d spend three months with one company and then hop to another one and then they'd call me and back, so I've been doing that now. I do design work, and it depends on where it is. If it's in the world of advertising, it's more storytelling, or I do decks for people if you have a big presentation. Or package design, illustrations, and signage. Or in-house experiences – so, say the client is coming and you want to present something to them that really feels like you understand who they are. So for like a major beer company, we’ll make a beer garden. Everything in the world that’s designed.
So I've been doing that. I love the fact that freelancing allows me to hop on and off I've not, never been a work for the rest of my life person; I’ll work as hard as I can for three or four months, and then I need a break. And then I’ll go again.
I love freelancing because it allows me to climb ladders. If you're at one job for a long time, you have to wait for someone to acknowledge that you can move to the next job. But freelancing allows you to hop in at a higher position. But, I don't like the level of instability there. It's stressful because you don't know where you're going to be tomorrow. And you can learn so much more about yourself by staying dedicated to a project versus putting all this love into it and then not being able to finish it.
So that's not what I want. I want to find a company that I love working for, that I can continually put love into. Or create my own agency, because I love connecting with artists. And I think it would be cool to make projects happen for them.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
If I could go back and go to college all over again, I would do it completely differently. Which makes me think that perhaps I was a little too young to go to school. I graduated in four years and I did everything right, but it just was so much stimulation. And I think that's something that students need to consider, what is it that really excites you about going? And if it's the study of what you're doing and where it's going to take you, if it's learning about yourself, if that's what you're really interested in then I think you're ready to go to school. But if you're more excited about just the social aspects and the different and the new, it's not right, it's not the time, because there's just going to be so much distraction and I think you really need to know yourself. So take the time to figure out how do I know myself.
So I think that for anyone going to school they need to have those tools within them, ways that they can check in with themselves, know their own voice, because it's going to get very confusing. If I hadn’t known what I wanted to do before going to University of Colorado, I would have not survived.
But I still think that I could have gotten way more out of college if I'd had certain coping mechanisms down, like if I had a daily yoga practice in college, or if I was meditating in college, I wouldn't have freaked out about certain things. Or if I had explored more outside my bubble, maybe I would have focused on programming, spent a summer just coding and doing that. And now being in the field of design, I understand how I would curate that experience more.
I think the fun part of doing this is that my life is still improving, like all our lives are. And I think that there are certain things that we lead ourselves to that we don't even plan.