“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
I grew up in an artsy college town in southern Oregon called Ashland, with a population of about twenty-thousand. It’s a tourist destination for thousands of people each year because it is home to America’s first Shakespeare theatre. There, my childhood was filled with a multitude of art forms. Art was always my favourite class in grade school; I was the kid who doodled pictures of animals all across her math exams.
The first ten years of my life, back in the 1980s, were practically void of electronic entertainment and “constant communication”—something I grow evermore thankful for as I witness extremely young children these days glued to handheld devices of all sorts. As a preteen, a couple friends of mine acquired Nintendos, but I had little interest in them. And, other than enjoying a few games of pinball at the local pizza parlor on occasion, my days were filled with outdoor playtime, riding my bike with friends, camping, and frequent visits to ice cream shops and neighbourhood parks.
Around the time I was learning long division, desktop computers were beginning to make their way into some homes in my quiet little mountain town. The World Wide Web was only in the early development stages at that time (yes, this dates back to a time even before we were introduced to the lovely sound of dial-up Internet). My first introduction to using a computer was playing the game Oregon Trail, which came in the format of an 8-inch floppy disc. Thus, my friends and I have come to to be known as the “OTG” — the Oregon Trail Generation. The fact that I’m from Oregon is just a coincidence.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That’s not always an easy question for a child to answer, particularly when they have so many interests. My early fascination with cats, dogs, rodents, horses and birds initially led me to dream about becoming a veterinarian. In fact, that passion was so strong that it prompted me to pursue an after-school position at a veterinary clinic as soon as I was old enough to hold a job. Unfortunately, that quickly taught me that I was not built to handle the moments of heartbreak involved in caring for critters in bad health.
Photographing animals was another interest, and so, like many young people, I dreamed about working for National Geographic. Architecture and interior design were other interests reflected in my early drawings, and as a pre-teen I frequently found myself sketching elaborate interior layouts of houses and castles, with every stairway, bed and refrigerator in its proper place. Looking back at it now, I think what attracted me was the combination of beauty and structure, and the harmonious ways they could be combined for the sake of comfort, usability and enjoyment.
There are generations of talented musicians, artists and teachers in my family, and so I was destined (doomed?) to find myself ever struggling to focus on just one artistic passion. Basically, I enjoy creating, whether it’s with pens, beads, musical instruments, a computer mouse, a camera, or a stick of charcoal. Life’s too short to pick just one.
I’m fascinated by the marriage of artistic liberty and calculated order. Problem solving—bringing order to chaos—is what lures me to so many of my interests. Jigsaw puzzles are one of my favourite hobbies for that very reason; you start with a challenging mess of pieces, but after time and careful attention to the subtle nuances between shapes and colour, everything eventually fits together to form a thing of beauty. Jewellery design is the same; there are thousands of options in my box of supplies; what I fashion into wearable art depends entirely on my mood, yet there are laws governing the way a quality piece is constructed, to insure its aesthetic appeal and longevity.
Just after graduating high school, I spent a few weeks touring France with a group of other young adults to study impressionist art. Because I had already committed to starting my university education a couple months later as a music major, this European adventure didn’t sway me; rather, it confirmed my opinion that I had made a smart decision. There were plenty of painters out there, and museums filled with artwork that mine could never measure up to. Earning a living as a studio artist would have been an enormous struggle. The competition was daunting.
Between the ages of 10 and 27, I performed as a percussionist with several music groups throughout Oregon—the local youth and adult symphony orchestras, my university symphonic band, various community symphonic bands, as well as pit orchestras for local ballets, stage musicals and operas. In 1996, a music scholarship helped boost my start at Southern Oregon University, where I majored in music for my first term. However, deep into music theory courses and career research that first winter, I realized that music was not something I wanted to make a career of; it meant a great deal to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to un-romanticize it by doing it full-time to earn a living. Instead, I found myself lured back in the direction of my earliest natural interest: art. A family friend recommended that I consider graphic design, and that clicked. A year or so later, I added photography to the mix.
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Graphic design is a career that found me, not the other way around. Digital art was still relatively lowbrow when I began my university education in 1996 (you remember the 80s, right?), and website design was nothing more than ‘blocks of colour on a page’; it was not what I considered ‘design’ at all and didn’t tempt me in the slightest. Having quickly changed majors in the middle of my freshman year, from music to art, I suddenly had some major decisions to make. I knew making a career out of art would not be easy and would require some sacrifices.
Fortunately, an introduction to graphic design that winter, as well as my first part-time job as a graphic artist in the university’s student publicity center, helped start this new dream. Designing posters, stationery and business cards—this was something I could do, and maybe even make money at it.
After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I moved four hours north to Portland, where there was more job opportunity. There, I started off working as a graphic designer for a print shop, but found it completely distasteful, mostly because I had never worked for such unkind and demeaning management. I left the job almost immediately, wondering if I had made a huge mistake; would all graphic design jobs be that bad?
After holding a temp job at a local shopping mall, I was lured in by the big downtown corporate atmosphere, and so I changed gears completely and secured a job at the Hilton Hotel, amidst the tall buildings, taxi cabs, and Max light-rail train buzzing through the busy streets. Although the first position I held was merely as a cashier and hostess in the lobby restaurant, I found incredible satisfaction with the staff and management there, as well as some generous company benefits. It wasn’t what I’d set out to do, but I had found happiness… plus I met my husband that year and began having much more fun in life. It’s easy to get comfortable.
“Take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.”
I worked my way up the ladder, briefly holding a position as an administrative assistant, and then took on the newly implemented position of Sales Systems Analyst, which had been added to all corporate-owned Hilton properties. As part of the three-person revenue department, this role was very numbers-oriented. It also allowed me to strengthen my organizational and multi-tasking skills; and by directing weekly group meetings of 15 people, and occasionally presenting data at all-department meetings for over 30 people, I strengthened my public speaking abilities (a big challenge for me, as I have always been somewhat of an introvert). However, after a couple years I knew I had gotten all that I could out of it. I missed my artistic side a lot, and it was time for a change.
“It’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”
—Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now)
As it just so happened, website design (which had repulsed me a decade earlier) was coming of age. The initial days of boxy, table-based pages with little or no aesthetic appeal were gone, and CSS had been born. For those who don’t know, CSS (cascading style sheets) is a common web language that allows the developer to control the look and feel of websites and helps keep the structures and styles symmetrical from page to page. A brief introduction course in CSS shined some light on this new world, and I fell in love. It was the marriage of left-brain and right-brain techniques that captivated me. Numbers and art. Everything in balance… padding, margins, letter spacing, line spacing, heading sizes… calculated beauty, moving parts flowing together harmoniously, yet obeying the traditional rules of graphic design (not to mention good old-fashioned math). It was unlike the other artistic interests in my life; this one could be researched, plotted, tested and modified again and again. Unlike a printed magazine ad or brochure, there’s nothing static about it. Having control over a design, and understanding how a few quick changes to a single code document can alter the entire website’s mood, is what drew me to website design in the first place. Not to mention, it is continually evolving as we humans demand more and more sophisticated technology.
I immediately secured an internship with a small web design company, on the side of my full-time hotel job, which allowed me to gain experience in this new trade. I was delighted to discover that the graphic design skills I’d acquired during my university years, and abandoned for over six years, were not as rusty as I’d feared.
Within a year or so, I accepted my first official full-time job as a web designer, helping to manage a busy online store, and to build custom websites for a variety of clients. My skills grew quickly, and I was grateful to finally feel like I was back to my old self. Along the way, I also continued to develop my skills in logo/brand design and print design.
A couple years later, after my husband and I visited Canada a couple times, we fell in love with it. With nomadic tendencies, and a shared feeling that the U.S. was no longer the place we wanted to spend our lives, we decided to immigrate to Canada. We sold most of our belongings, packed up our little car, and started a new life in the True North. We started as temporary residents, then worked hard to acquire permanent residency. Finally, in late 2018, we became citizens and are delighted to have made our home in Victoria, B.C.
Over the years, I’ve worked extremely hard to develop my skills as a graphic designer, and have spent countless hours familiarizing myself with software, website development languages, content management systems, e-commerce systems, and digital marketing tactics—most of which are beyond the normal scope of a designer—in order to gain a complete understanding of the web industry. Learning how to code websites to display differently on all various mobile devices (laptops, iPad, smartphones, etc.) has been an ongoing challenge, and initially took quite a bit of research and practice.
I wish I could tell you that every step of my journey has been a walk in the park; it absolutely hasn’t been. I’ve had more than my share of bad luck, and have been forced to work with people who would just as soon step on my face as work with me, but even those experiences have taught me some valuable skills, and have hardened me. I’m just fortunate that the successes have outweighed the pitfalls, and I’ve come out of it with the courage I once lacked.
“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.”
I’m fortunate to have chosen a career that allows me to develop my skills as an artist while continuously being introduced to clients from thousands of professions. Helping each of them reach greater success through their visual marketing materials not only enriches my abilities but also teaches me more about the world year after year, deepening my understanding of the web we weave as a society.
In addition to my busy graphic design career (which includes several freelance clients I picked up along the way, in both Canada and the U.S.), I spend regular time enjoying the artistic hobbies detailed in this website, as well as volunteering with a couple wildlife and environmental protection groups here in British Columbia, which is a growing passion of mine—not only as a lifelong animal lover, but as someone who cares deeply about preserving the precious environment we’re all fortunate enough to share. Through my nature photography, I aim to capture the power of the beautiful environment that surrounds us, encouraging others to appreciate and help protect its fragility.