Nicole Stevenson, DIY Mastermind

Nicole Stevenson has zero free time, but plenty of creative freedom. As an illustrator, graphic designer, and DIY enthusiast, she's currently juggling numerous design projects and producing and planning the DIY projects she initiated — patchwork shows, makers, craft festivals, the blog Dear Handmade Life, and the upcoming 2016 Craftcation conference. When she doesn't jet around the country meeting with artists and searching for makers, Stevenson creates and illustrates from her home in the North Bay, living the freelance-entrepreneur dream. We chatted about the DIY movement, creativity, and not having a day job.

You do so many independent things — what do you like about not having a 'job'?

I’ve never really had a ‘real job’ where I sit an office from 9 to 5. I always hated the jobs where I felt trapped by a time clock and had to sit in the same spot under fluorescent lights. I’d sit there thinking about the scene in Joe Versus The Volcano where he’d finally had enough with his oppressive office job and launches into a big speech about how short life is. Once I started making a living off of my art I knew I could never go back to working for someone else and doing something that I wasn’t passionate about.

What do you do to succeed in such a free-spirited work environment?

I’m highly motivated, which is essential for entrepreneurs. You have to be able to force yourself to work even when you don’t feel like it. I work 1,000 times harder for myself than I ever did for anyone else. I answer to myself, and I’ve found I’m the toughest boss I’ve ever had.

Describe a typical day.

The first thing I think of when I wake up is work. On good days — when I’m able to resist the temptation to dive into work first thing in the morning — I’ll take my dog for a walk while catching up with family and friends. When I get home, I sit in my backyard and begin answering emails. Then, I head into my studio and start knocking things off my to-do list. They could be designing a new poster for one of our Patchwork Shows or a logo for one of my clients for my other business Show and Tell Design Studio, working with our jury to choose vendors for an event, reaching out to presenters for Craftcation Conference, writing posts or taking photographs for our blog, recording an episode for our podcast or one of a hundred other things.

When, how, and why, in your opinion, did DIY become such a 'thing' for young people across the nation? 

People are moving towards a more conscious way of living. We’re more aware of the impact our individual choices make on the world around us. We’re asking questions previous generations didn’t ask. How does buying a product made overseas affect our local economy? What materials are used to make the things we purchase and are those materials harmful for us or our environment? How is our food sourced and grown? Every single thing we spend our dollars on reflects our personal philosophies. We’re beginning to live with less waste — value is returning to handmade goods as well as our time. 

And what, really, this movement is all about?

The DIY movement is centered on the idea that we don’t have to do things any particular way just because that’s how they’ve been done in the past. It’s about questioning what we were told was correct, finding our own way to live and owning it. It’s about not letting stereotypes dictate who you are. You can be a stay-at-home-mom and still be a feminist or you can choose not to have children or you can choose to work a corporate job that pays the bills and feed you passion during your free time or you can choose to make a living off of your art. This movement has radically altered the idea of what ‘cool’ is. When I was in college I loved to knit and it didn’t bother me that knitting wasn’t ‘cool’. I did it anyway. Now we’re able to take our crafts and our choices out of the closet without fear.

How did Craftcation and Patchwork show come together?

When I started my own handmade business, I would meet a fellow maker at a farmers market, flea market, or church craft show where we were selling we would frantically exchange information on suppliers, places to sell, and the business side of crafting. I started Patchwork Show in 2007 with my aunt and business partner Delilah Snell to provide a venue for emerging makers to showcase their goods. We were in Ventura four years ago scouting future Patchwork Show locations. We both realized that Ventura was the perfect spot for our dream event, an indie business and DIY conference, and Craftcation Conference was born. Now, we bring together over 400 makers, bloggers, crafters, and creative entrepreneurs for four days of hands-on craft and food workshops, creative business lectures and social events.

So if our readers want to get more DIY and crafty — how should they start?

I love these mini-DIY movements that have been popping up that encourage you to make one thing a day (or a week) for a year. Our friend/Craftcation presenter Kim Werker is a big proponent of the #yearofmaking movement which encourages people to make something every day for a year. This is an awesome way to keep yourself accountable and also helps you realize how much of what you already do is creating. You may not realize how much DIYing you’re already doing. Did you make a dinner from scratch last night? Did you plant an herb garden? Did you write a handwritten letter to a friend? All of this feeds your need to be creative. Also you can challenge yourself to a completely handmade year of gift-giving. If you don’t make the gift yourself, try to buy something that was handmade by a local maker. And, as with most things, moderation is key. Don’t beat yourself up for still wearing a sweater you bought from a big brand or eating a fast food cheeseburger. The goal is not to be perfect but to be aware of how your life can be more meaningful by taking the time to make things yourself or be a conscious consumer. Just start.

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