Jen Hewett on Letting Go of Perfection and Growing Multiple Skills to Enrich Her Creativity

When you have more than one creative craft and different avenues for your freelance business, how do you decide where to put it all? How do you write about yourself or showcase your projects?

The future of creativity is very much multi-faceted. Nowadays, side hustles and growing new skills that enhance our creative process is a natural way to continue learning and expanding your identity.

We spoke with Jen Hewett, a printmaker, surface designer, textile artist, teacher, and recently the author of her first book, Print, Pattern, Sew: Block Printing Basics + Simple Sewing Projects for an Inspired Wardrobe. Her inspiring CreativeMornings/San Francisco talk highlights a core philosophy of her work: “Perfection is the enemy of craft.” And why handmade art reflects the very human quality of imperfection.

Jen generously shares her experiences on growing her career and how she weaves her various skills together.


Jen, the beating heart of your work is about making things with your hands. How has growing a diverse set of skills—printmaking, surface design, sewing, teaching—enhanced your creativity?

All of my skills are intertwined — developing my sewing skills led me to learn how to screenprint my own fabric, which led me to learn how to block print yardage. All of that led to teaching classes and writing a book, as well as designing a licensed line of fabric. Even though sewing remains a hobby for me and is not something I do for income, it was the catalyst for me to develop the skills I needed to create a very diverse body of work.

All of this is a plug for hobbies. Have them! They can be totally unrelated to your work. You don’t need to monetize them (in fact, it’s best if you don’t). We need to have joy and fun and rest in our lives in order to be our most creative. Hobbies offer us all of those things.

We need to have joy and fun and rest in our lives in order to be our most creative. Hobbies offer us all of those things.

When you were starting out, was it challenging to showcase your projects and talk about yourself as you stretched your creative identity? What advice would you give people who are in a similar position to you. What helped you process this particular challenge of crafting your creative / artistic identity online?

I’m lucky that I started blogging around 2006, and started printmaking (and sharing my work) in 2008. Blogging was still relatively new, and we were all just figuring it out together. Social media wasn’t as widespread as it is now; if we wanted to share photos, we either did so on our blogs or on Flickr.

Part of the beauty of both those outlets in the early days was that they weren’t about having just one, perfect photo, or sharing one, tight sound bite. We could iterate, provide context. Blogs in those days felt like digital zines — scrappy, raw, and democratic. We were all beginners in the early days, and we were very often kind to each other because we were all on the same boat.

A friend told me that you tend to get the kinds of projects you’ve already proven you can do, so do — and share — the projects you want to do, even if no one’s paying you for it.

In many ways I built my following within this context. The two projects which led to me teaching (52 Weeks of Printmaking, in 2014) and my book (Print, Pattern, Sew, in 2015) were about me learning new skills and applying them to my work, and then sharing them publicly. I look back at those projects now, and see how they grew up publicly, on my blog and on social media.

When people tell me they think they should be blogging and posting on social media, but they don’t have anything to share, I recommend creating daily or weekly challenges for themselves. Those two projects I mention above were challenges I set for myself. Challenges have become very popular on blogs and social media, and for good reason: it’s great to have a following that keeps you accountable.

But I also believe that making and sharing work regularly is a great marketing tool, especially if it’s personal work. A friend told me that you tend to get the kinds of projects you’ve already proven you can do, so do — and share — the projects you want to do, even if no one’s paying you for it.

As a maker of beautiful fabrics and textiles, how has it been beneficial for your freelance career to build your own platform and own your content?

I’m a printmaker and a surface designer, but a good chunk of my income comes from teaching. I teach online and in-person classes, and my book contains my class curriculum.

I decided early on that that information is my intellectual property and my livelihood, and that I would only share as much of it publicly (i.e. for free) as I felt comfortable doing. That livelihood has been crucial as I’ve built the rest of my creative career. Because I have other sources of income, I’ve mostly been able to choose the projects I want to take on, and to allow my creative voice to develop without feeling the need to chase trends.

In your CreativeMornings/SanFrancisco talk on letting go of perfectionism, you share how this practice grew your confidence and was a catalyst for your success. Can you talk about the events that inspired this realization and how it changed the way you lead your creative life and business?

I struggled with anxiety until my early thirties. My anxiety is probably partly biological, but I began to realize that it mostly stemmed from being conditioned to fear making mistakes, especially public ones. When you have anxiety, small mistakes feel like big failures, and the result was that I just would not take any risks. I played it safe, but that still didn’t shield me from panic attacks. After a particularly bad panic attack, I finally started therapy. The first assignment my therapist gave me was to consciously make a mistake, and see what happened. Of course, nothing happened. I was fine.

In some ways making that first, little mistake inoculated me against the fear of succumbing to larger mistakes. I began to take larger risks, speak up more, and take on more of a leadership role (I was still working a non-creative corporate job at that time). I still made mistakes, of course, but they became opportunities to learn, and then to move on.

During this time, I also decided that I wanted to learn how to screenprint. I went to a drop-in class, and was quickly hooked. I spent a lot of my free time at the shared print studio, made a lot of bad work, and started to make at least as much decent work. I developed a regular practice, started a blog, got on social media, began to share my work and publicly set challenges for myself.

Again, a lot of my work was not very good in those early days, but it was (and is) more important to me to build my creative muscles than it was for me to create perfect work. I still live by this, though with a shift from working mostly on personal projects to working with clients. I can’t share iterative work like I used to, so what people see is often the finished, polished product. But trust me — I still make a lot of not-great work behind the scenes!

When people tell me they think they should be blogging and posting on social media, but they don’t have anything to share, I recommend creating daily or weekly challenges for themselves.

What are some ways that you stay connected with people who are in love with your work?

I’m very active on social media. Well, by “active” I mean I post a lot. I don’t always respond to comments or messages; I decided a while ago that the best way not to get overwhelmed by social media is to not spend a lot of time in conversations on it.

My favorite way to communicate with my fans is through my semi-monthly newsletter. Of course, I use it to sell my work, but I also open every newsletter with a reflection about living a creative life, then close by sharing links to articles, podcasts, and books that I’ve found interesting. Often those links are to content by/about people of color, on topics that may be underreported. Yes, I make pretty things and am drawn to the beauty and color, but I’m also political and engaged with the world.

I’m an artist; I’m complex. Longform writing is still the best way to convey that complexity.

Owning my content means I have the right to determine what I’ll share and where I’ll share it, whether or not it’s something I want to be paid for, or something I want to give away for free.

What’s your definition of owning your content?

As an artist, my content is my livelihood. This is true whether it’s the work I create or the curriculum of my classes, or the list of tools and materials I use to create my work.

Owning my content means I have the right to determine what I’ll share and where I’ll share it, whether or not it’s something I want to be paid for, or something I want to give away for free.


This interview was produced in partnership with WordPress.com CreativeMornings.

Morning people get 20% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.

Interview by Paul Jun. Illustrations by Jeffrey Phillips. ‘Own Your Content’ illustration by Annica Lydenberg.

3 Comments

  1. I really connected with the reality of living with anxiety and how it prevents you from taking risks. I’m in the same boat or was but took the jump a little over three weeks ago. Hoping to see something work out for me. Thanks for this.

    Liked by 2 people

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