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    My Advice: Getting a creative business baby-ready

    By Lizzie Stafford

    baby-post-main

    My sister has just had her first baby, so my entire family has babies on the brain – hence the topic of today’s My Advice column. For my sister, taking a year’s maternity leave was a reasonably straightforward task: apply for leave, granted leave, leave and not have to think much about work for a year. Of course, going back is already a daunting thought for her as her job is challenging, high stress and long hours – but there wasn’t much work preparation needed in the lead up to having her baby.

    For me, and anyone else who works for themselves or runs a small business, it’s a different story. Your business won’t keep running without you unless you put a lot of thought into how you’re going to manage. I couldn’t ignore the advice of Tess McCabe, publisher, designer and CWC director, about how she made it work. Tess had her first child in 2012 and made the transition look easy (I’m sure it was anything but). Amy Constable, founder of Saint Gertrude Letterpress, had her baby in April and her advice is simple but oh-so important: relax. Illustrator Alarna Zinn made some big changes to her business-life and shares some thoughts about the transition into working creatively post-bub. Thanks for your honesty and sage advice, ladies.

    Pray for a sleeper, prepare for a screamer.

    Tess McCabe, publisher, graphic designer and director, Creative Women’s Circle

    “My mantra when I was pregnant with my son was ‘pray for a sleeper, prepare for a screamer’. I basically lowered my expectations down to getting absolutely nothing done work-wise (being running CWC or my graphic design work for clients) for the first four months of his life. Why I settled on 4 months I am unsure… perhaps I thought naively that everything would be sorted routine-wise by then – ha!.

    After that, I told my clients I would be on an indefinite break, and I did a few things in preparation to ensure that despite my mini absence, tumbleweeds wouldn’t blow across CWC’s cyberspace presence. I hired a trusted colleague to take over some of the basic CWC admin for a short time, such as preparing weekly blog posts and keeping up with social media enquiries. I prepared CWC events to be held just before he was born (with a backup plan in place should he have arrived early!) and then a few months after, so that the flurry of activity associated with an event day wouldn’t coincide with those precious early weeks.

    After those 4 months, and much deliberation about when I would be ‘back’ taking on client graphic design work, I had to relent that my ‘many pots on the stove’ career just wasn’t going to cut it being at home with a young’un: a baby and deadline-driven client work AND another small business just didn’t mix well for me. So I focused just on what I a) enjoyed and b) offered me the most flexibility and the least stress, and that was maintaining CWC.”

    Relax.

    Amy Constable, founder and creative director, Saint Gertrude Letterpress

    “Work as long as you feel fit and capable, but once that baby is born: clear your schedule! You have no idea what kind of baby you will have. Will they be laid back or clingy? Good sleeper or bad? And what kind of mummy will you be? Maybe you’ll be cool leaving your new baby to be looked after, maybe you’ll struggle to let go. These things can’t be predicted and it takes a good few months to work this stuff out. The last thing you need is work commitments, or a looming return to work date while you’re dealing with a baby behaving unexpectedly, not to mention your own hormones.

    You won’t be left behind. It might feel like it as you check out all the cool things happening on Instagram while you’re chained to the couch covered in spew, but the world won’t move on if you just take a little time off to get to know your new bub and your new life. In fact, people are pretty likely to say things like “that went fast!” when you do return to work. So relax, put an out-of-office on the email, and come back on terms that work for both of you.”

    Take things as they come and adjust if need be.

    Alarna Zinn, illustrator

    “We probably should have thought a little harder about what decisions would need to be made but it really is something you can never be prepared for. My husband and I both owned our own businesses, which took up a lot of our time and in the end we just decided having children was something we wanted to do. There was never going to be a ‘perfect’ time so we decided that we should just jump in and work things out as we went along! Firstly, I decided to close down my physical shop (Little Jane Street) in Brisbane’s Winn Lane when I was about halfway through my pregnancy – which I was more than happy to do in exchange for daytime naps! After Ada was born, with a slightly heavier heart I also decided to close down my business completely as I just didn’t feel like I could give it 100% anymore, which was important to me. A lot of pressure was lifted and I have been able take some time off and I actually feel like I have become more creative (not productive!) working on limited freelance jobs and personal projects around taking care of Ada.

    You can certainly make plans for what you would like to do – things like when you would like to start back at work, get child care etc, however things don’t always work out that way. In our family we tend to just take things as they come and re-adjust if need be to best suit everyone involved. It really is such a fleeting moment in time that they are little and if I am feeling frustrated with things not going to plan, I just think that I won’t ever get this time again so I might as well just enjoy it because in a few years I will have all the time in the world to follow my dreams.

    [Since Ada, my creativity] certainly isn’t the same. For me, it is like my brain works on half power because the other half is trapped in the mundane everyday tasks and exhaustion of looking after a tiny person and that can sometimes be limiting. There is nothing inspiring about dirty nappies, food preparation, cleaning or entertaining a toddler. When I take all that away, I think the creativity is still there laying dormant but it is important to have that time to yourself to reconnect and tap into it. I definitely do not have lots of ideas popping into my head like I did before I had Ada. I find that I need to take the time away to do simple things – like explore the city, walk in the park, be by myself, read a book – to get inspired by something outside of our home. I am getting back into illustrating (very slowly) and I hope to do more this year as Ada spends a couple of days a week with our Nanny – this has been and important step for me to have assigned time to work so I will see if that creative drive comes back!”

    Lizzie Stafford is a freelance writer and editor and owns and runs Künstler, an independent magazine and bookstore based in Winn Lane, Brisbane. She is the Brisbane events coordinator for CWC.


    Posted by: Lizzie Stafford
    Categories: my advice, regular columns | Comments Off
    Posted on

    Studio visit: Nicole Phillips, typographer and letterpress printer

    By Jo Hoban

    STUDIO-VISIT-NICOLE

    In the 80s, Nicole Arnett Phillips spent her school holidays fossicking around the dusty corners of the press room of the New Zealand Herald Newspaper, where her Dad worked. Letterpress was long-gone, but the old machines and equipment remained, and Nicole would lose herself playing amid the traces of days gone by, discovering old pieces of type—her ‘treasures’—some of which she has kept to this day. These formative years impressed Nicole (letterpress pun intended) with a passion and curiosity for design and typography, both where it had come from and where it was headed. She studied Art and Design, majoring in Typography and Book Design, at Auckland University of Technology and the uni subsequently published her related dissertation entitled ‘Form’d’. This propelled Nicole into an exciting design career working for a range of global brands, marketing/design groups, publishing houses, and built environment organisations, in both New Zealand and Australia, where she’s now settled.

    Albert, the 1872 Albion hand-iron press against the backdrop of Nicole’s inspirational studio wall.

    Albert, the 1872 Albion hand-iron press against the backdrop of Nicole’s inspirational studio wall.

    By 2009, Nicole was tiring of the long hours, feeling like she was “an extension of her Mac”, and could no longer ignore the voice in her head that was crying out: “I need something analogue, I need more movement, and I want to connect with my design production!” She started her own design consultancy, Nicoleap, working from her home studio. And she bought her first antique letterpress—‘George’, her 1860s treadle-powered, Gordon Franklin Old Style press. These days Nicole has 5 large machines housed in a backyard Print Pavilion, purpose-built by her clever husband, Mike. It’s a long, black rectangular shape that discreetly trails along one side of her backyard. Neat, industrial and aesthetically pleasing, it’s like a mini letterpress museum unexpectedly nestled in Brisbane’s southern suburbs. Except this is no museum – this is the active workspace of a curious, contemporary creator! Nicole’s commercial design consultancy is now complemented with her personal letterpress research and experimentation; she explains that her ‘passionate letterpress practice’ adds value for her clients by making her a more engaged designer.

    Nicole Aug 2014

    Nicole Aug 2014

    When I visit Nicole’s home, the sun is shining and natural light streams into the print pavilion through two segments of the roof and walls made of clear Perspex. The walls are dotted with inspirational quotes and printing experiments, tools abound, shelves of furniture (specific press equipment) are organised within easy reach, numerous drawers of type are on hand, and of course her antique crew of gentlemen are lined up along one wall. Nicole has kindly offered to demonstrate a letterpress printing process using ‘George’, so we print and chat…

    Nicole spreads her soya-based ink over George’s platen...

    Nicole spreads her soya-based ink over George’s platen…

    ...and later activates the treadle-powered printer with her foot.

    …and later activates the treadle-powered printer with her foot.

    A freshly printed ampersand.

    A freshly printed ampersand.

    Can you tell us more about George?
    I try not to play favourites but I print on my Gordon Old Style press more than any of the others. It’s a really versatile press and you’re really engaged with working it. George is the one that I really cut my teeth on. He’s inky and greasy, and he’s not perfect, but I love him! This machine was actually the first ever treadle printing press, so it was a really important letterpress machine.

    What about the other four gents?
    There’s Albert, an 1872 Albion hand-iron press; Sergio, a 1910 Italian Saroglia proof press; Harvey, a 1960s Heidelberg Windmill Platen T; and Milo, a Miehle V45 vertical rotary cylinder press. Each press does a different thing well, and I value the history and legacy of the machines.

    What are the constraints when letterpress printing, and is it hard to be experimental?
    There are constraints’a’plenty, so being experimental is a necessity. I enjoy trying to use an old format and tools in new ways; that excites me. For example, it’s possible to recreate something that’s so easy using InDesign, such as a flipped letter, but you have to stop and think “How can I do that with a physical piece of type? Well, if I print that onto a sheet of plastic and then I print that sheet of plastic onto the paper, I’ve got a reverse!” It’s creative problem-solving and it’s so much fun. You can achieve exciting things with dusty old type if you’re creative and want to push the boundaries. Once I’ve mastered a technique, I think ‘Ok, what’s the next thing I can do with that?’

    Nicole’s machines lined up in her print pavilion.

    Nicole’s machines lined up in her print pavilion.

    You decided not to be a commercial letterpress printer quite early on. What draws you to the older presses?
    Commercial letterpress printers mostly use Heidelbergs, which are super-precise, automated and efficient—awesome machines for this reason. I tried this, but preferred being more physically involved with the process. Operating my older machines is a real workout; printing with George, I get a sore bum and sore arms and need to stretch out! I wanted to get ink under my fingernails and experiment with making and taking something apart, and have the freedom to try something and then stop and rearrange if I didn’t like it. It’s not viable to commercially print on these older presses, so if my clients want letterpress, I’ll do the design work then refer them to a commercial letterpress printer.

    Along with your commercial work, you’ve been teaching occasional workshops at Designworks College and have started publishing your own journal—Typograph.journal. Tell us more.
    My workshops offer design students the experiential nature of letterpress printing. The more teaching I do, the more I’m interested in knowledge-sharing. This shaped the idea that I thought there was a need for a journal less about visual eye-candy, and more about candid process and conversation. I think a new design discourse is required, and that in this information-saturated era the form that information takes probably matters more than it ever has before.

    Nicole perusing Volume 1 of her Typograph.journal.

    Nicole perusing Volume 1 of her Typograph.journal.

    Nicole’s home-based studio is overflowing with design books, and organising them by colour works best for her.

    Nicole’s home-based studio is overflowing with design books, and organising them by colour works best for her.

    You can visit www.nicoleap.com.au to learn more about Nicole’s design work, and check out www.typographher.com for the latest info on Typograph.journal. For more insight into Nicole’s letterpress experiments you can follow her on Instagram @typographHer.

    Words and interview by Jo Hoban. Jo is a freelance editor and copywriter with a background in publishing. She loves collaborating to produce meaningful content that delves into people’s creative processes and spaces. Jo posts images that inspire her on Instagram @jojohoban.

    {All photos kindly taken by Ross Pottinger.}

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    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: interview, regular columns, virtual visit | Comments Off