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

Jen Hewett started blogging in 2006. She shares how she learned different creative skills, how they enrich each other, and the different ways it grew her business and online presence.

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.

Toolkit: How to keep your guest list inclusive and diverse

Once considered an afterthought, an inclusive and diverse set of speakers, guests, and audiences can be at the core of your work—not because culture told you to, but because diversity is an enriching element for all endeavors.

This toolkit is a growing library of wisdom that highlights the hurdles of owning your content and building your platform. We not only curate the wisdom from creative leaders and artists, but also from the community—a balance of both, like cheese and wine—so that you’re supported and empowered to build your home on the internet.

Once considered an afterthought, an inclusive and diverse set of speakers, guests, and audiences can be at the core of your work—not because culture told you to, but because diversity is an enriching element for all endeavors.

There is a wave of change happening in industries around the world, and it’s a change that we can all support and push forward. By adding more seats at the table and uplifting voices that weren’t heard before, we allow ourselves to revel in the richness of diverse viewpoints and beliefs that stretch our understanding and the way we lead our lives.


Practical wisdom from like-minded creatives

jon-kat-2-1-web.png

Meet John Maeda, Global Head of Design at Automattic, and Kat Holmes, Director of User Experience Design at Google. She’s also the author of Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design.

In Season 1 of Own Your Content, John and Kat talked honestly about the challenges of inclusivity and what organizations can improve upon.

Kat Holmes: “I don’t think we’re at a common understanding, yet. Inclusion means a lot of things to a lot of people. We need better language to describe different kinds of inclusion. We need specific methods for building and measuring it. There is a lot of work to do to make inclusion a repeatable practice, not just a nice idea.

“Success is when inclusive design is the default way to design any aspect of society. In 10 years, the urgency for inclusiveness in tech will be higher than ever. My hope is we’re prepared to meet those challenges with practical methods

[…]

“There are two approaches that I’ve seen work well. First, start with building diversity in the most senior leadership positions. People in positions of power can move culture more quickly. Second, focus on building inclusive customer experiences. We’re all here to build great products, regardless of our demographics. That’s core to many tech teams and a great way to guide everyone towards a more inclusive culture.”

Read John & Kat’s Own Your Content interview →

John Maeda: “It’s all about how we believe we define “better.” I like to think that “better” means succeeding in the marketplace at a scale that is hard to imagine. In the “hard to imagine” space lies the reason why diversity of talent creating content and products is so key — certain folks who have similar upbringings and social circles will at some point be unable to think outside of their box, because they’re all roughly the same person. Who do you trust more? Someone just like you? Or someone that isn’t like you? The answer is simple: we tend to like people who think like ourselves. And when we make content or products our immediate go-to instinct is to design for ourselves. But if our goal is to expand our market size, commonly called “Total Addressable Market” in business parlance as meaning the demographic range of your product or service, then the way to grow the TAM is to incorporate diversity into the content and product team. That helps to lower the difficulty of finding “hard to imagine” spaces because you are working with the people who live and work in those spaces that you can’t imagine, or empathize with, on your own. Inclusion is good business.

[…]

“It’s about hearing all of our voices — and a medium that enables inclusivity.”

Read Kat and John’s interview on how to design for inclusivity and ways to bake in this mindset into leadership positions.


Encouragement for next steps

Consider having deeper conversations with colleagues and friends in different communities to grow an understanding that informs your decision making process. It’s about being self-aware of cognitive biases (and learning about them), and actively challenging your processes to enable inclusivity naturally.


Additional Resources

How diversity in the lab helped scientists
“The people I collaborate with have backgrounds in electrophysiology, molecular biology, medicine and psychology. Our different scientific backgrounds and research topics and our different ethnicities and cultural upbringings push me outside of my comfort zone. I do not have to explore my basic assumptions when I’m around only people who share my background.”

How diversity makes us smarter
Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.”

eBay’s first chief diversity officer on humanizing diversity and inclusion
“Oftentimes, this conversation narrows to be about only race and gender. While, yes, race and gender are very important aspects, diversity goes well beyond them. It absolutely should include them, but goes even further into hundreds of attributes.”

Automattic’s inclusive design checklist
a thoughtful and meticulous checklist that ensures you’re asking yourself the hard questions, keeping yourself accountable, and taking action that champions inclusivity.

Ask the question: Who’s voice is missing?
Google’s director of UX design says the ability to seek out a range of perspectives is a critical skill for leaders of the future.


Related CreativeMornings Talks

Watch some of these featured talks on collaboration, and thousands more on creativemornings.com

Tim Allen on how inclusive design uses diversity to guide innovation.
Priya Parker on the art of gathering and setting clear intentions for why people get together.
Abadesi Osunsade on why we need to keep the tech world accountable in diversity and representation.
Ramona Lindsey, director of education at the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, shares how everyone deserves a seat at the table.

Own-Your-Content-1-1#OwnYourContent

Share the project that you’re working on with #OwnYourContent and see what other creatives are saying about these topics.

Read more interviews and toolkits at ownyourcontent.wordpress.com.


Build your home. Own your content. Get 20% off your next WordPress.com site. An offer from our Global Partner WordPress.com for the CreativeMornings community.

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

Toolkit: How to Make a Proper Introduction for a Collaboration

This toolkit is a growing library of wisdom that highlights the hurdles of owning your content and building your platform. We not only curate the wisdom from creative leaders and artists, but also from the community—a balance of both, like cheese and wine—so that you’re supported and empowered to build your home on the internet.

In the last decade, many different platforms and methods for connection have influenced the way we communicate. And yet, email is still the most effective, prevalent tool that opens possibilities and sparks relationships. Nowadays, a thoughtful email is an art. When done well, it is a delight to read and creates an impression about the sender.

Thoughtfulness takes time and effort. People have become attuned to feeling emails that lack warmth, personality, or clarity. Like a stranger that bumps into you without saying ‘excuse me,’ weak emails are the cold shoulder of the internet.


Thoughtfulness is a muscle that grows the more you exercise it. You can also learn from examples of well-written emails, dissecting the paragraphs to understand the cadence and tone throughout it. Once you have an established framework that works, then the words and clear intentions flow naturally.

grace-bonney_1-2-web
Meet Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge

She is one of the earliest bloggers, starting in 2007 and building her platform for 15 years, interviewing over a thousand creatives and publishing thousands of blog posts. She’s also a two-time New York Time’s best-selling author.

Grace’s work is about telling stories of creative communities around the world, and in order to do that effectively, she has to collaborate and reach out to people. She needs to get a yes.

Read Grace’s Own Your Content interview →

She shares 4 pieces of wisdom that has grown over her 15+ year career in creating one of the most popular design blogs on the internet.

  1. Start with the right name. No nicknames for people you don’t know and please spell names correctly and make sure you’re not pasting the name of another person/publication.
  2. Include a personal introduction. I always feel more connected when someone lets me know a little bit about who they are. A friendly tone is always helpful.
  3. Show me that you know who you’re reaching out to. I don’t mean compliments or praise. I want to simply know that you know who we are, what we’re about and what we do.
  4. Get to the point: Tell me what you’re looking for in detail. I respect people’s time and appreciate the same. So rather than being vague, tell me what you’d like, when it’s due and, if appropriate, what the budget is. The more efficient the communication is, the better.
    Read more on Design*Sponge →

Read Grace Bonney’s interview on the art of thoughtful communications that lead to clear collaborations, and also the best email she ever received.


Encouragement for next steps

  1. Draft up an email to someone that you want to work with or learn from, but don’t send it yet.
  2. Read your email out loud. Read it in a different accent. Read it in a robot’s voice. Have a friend read the email and give you feedback.
  3. Is your tone friendly and uplifting? Is your ask crystal clear? Is the email concise, thoughtful, and easy to read? Did you spell their first name correctly? Are you leading with a kind salutation?

Additional Resources

Fred Wilson’s The Double Opt-in Email Introduction
Alas, an etiquette that isn’t taught in school or in commonplaces. Before you introduce people to someone you know, or vice versa, get consent first.


Links to Help You Collaborate

New Collaborations requires discovering new co-conspirators. Here are a few directories to get you started:

Blacks Who Design
A directory of accomplished black designers.

Women Talk Design
Discover brilliant diverse speakers for your next event.

Women & Color
Find talented women and people of color available for speaking opportunities at tech-related events.

CreativeGuild
Over 300,000 creatives from CreativeMornings’ global community.

Latinxs Who Design
A living directory of thriving Latinxs in the design industry.

Working Not Working
Connecting companies with the universe’s most creative creatives.

Behance
an online platform that enables creative professionals to showcase and discover creative work.

Designer Hunt
Learn from talented designers.


 

Related CreativeMornings Talks

Watch some of these featured talks on collaboration, and thousands more on creativemornings.com

Co-Founder and CEO of FiftyThree, Inc., Georg Petschnigg, looks at collaboration through the topics of network, tools, and creative process.
Brandon Hill and Peter Chang of No Kings Collective on the importance of collaboration.
Milk & Bone, the popular Montreal duet, opens up about the many languages and collaborations they have had to develop in order to create their unique style.

Own-Your-Content-1-1#OwnYourContent

Share the project that you’re working on with #OwnYourContent and see what other creatives are saying about these topics.

Read more interviews and toolkits at ownyourcontent.wordpress.com.


Build your home. Own your content. Get 20% off your next WordPress.com site. An offer from our Global Partner WordPress.com for the CreativeMornings community.

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