Browsing Category



Midwestern Love: Mick Champayne

November 30, 2016

Between my day job and this blog, it sometimes feels as if social media is running my life. However, social media is also incredibly awesome. You can find such inspirational, interesting people from all over the world, or in your immediate area. Such is the case with my new friend Mick.

Through some serendipitous events, I started following her on Instagram (p.s. her account is currently set to private) because her illustrations are BOMB, only to notice 6 months later that she was living and working in Chicago! Um, of course I had to reach out because I pretty much low-key wish I was a designer, and needed to meet her/pick her brain for the blog (obvii).

The only thing I have to apologize for — aside from calling Ira Glass a “she” during my at one point *facepalm* — is that it took me, um, like almost a year to publish this interview. I’m only sorry that it took so long because 1. Mick is awesome and doesn’t deserve that and 2. You guys are awesome and could’ve been enjoying this lady’s wisdom MONTHS ago if it weren’t for me.

But hopefully you can forgive me and give this a read. Because Mick’s a pretty incredible, creative lady who’s bound to do great things. #justsayin

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


I’m from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Did a little stint in Chicago. And then London. And then Chicago.



It was like a typical Midwestern town. I mean, technically it was a college town so there was a little bit more going on, but it was just, normal. You had a high school football team and you went to watch their games on Friday nights. I did sports, like water polo, and was part of the National Art Honors Society.



Technically the suburbs yeah. Not like Chicago suburbs, though. Definitely lots of green-ness. If you went 10 miles out of the city, you’d start hitting farmland and stuff. And then there’s a lot of lakes around. I didn’t grow up on a lake, but there’s a bunch.



My mom was always super artistic. She wasn’t so much a painter or an illustrator, but she was always redecorating the house and moving things around and doing things like that. So I always feel like I got my artistic bug from her.

I took a bunch of art classes. I loved it. In elementary school, art was my favorite subject. And I’ve always been more of an art kid than a science or math kid. Though, I don’t think I actually started illustrating, like how I’ve been doing recently, until about 2 years ago.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


I took art classes all throughout high school, including this one class called Digital Media that taught you how to animate in Flash and make websites and really touched on all those sorts of things.

I enjoyed it, and looked for colleges with similar focuses. Ultimately, I ended up at Columbia College here [in Chicago], where they had a major called Digital Media Technology, which they renamed to Interactive Arts and Media. It was a Bachelor of Arts –not a a Bachelor of Fine Arts–so that’s why I’ve always been really good on the computer, but not so much the fine arts part. AND That’s why I wanted to learn how to illustrate, because I never really had that background.

On my computer, they call me Fast Fingers because I can make revisions super quick and on the fly, but when I have to go sketch out my ideas – since I am in advertising – I struggle. Because my instinct is to go to the computer and not to the paper. Which is why I’ve just been trying to teach myself how to be more comfortable actually drawing out my ideas.



Columbia has a very “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. The teachers don’t really spoon-feed you. If you want to make something out of yourself, you have to go and do it. It’s a little more of an independent place. And when I was a sophomore, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m a first generation college kid and I’m paying through the nose to go to this place,’ and I wanted to make the most out of it. So I was always constantly working on my own portfolio. One of my teachers had a senior portfolio review coming up, but her seniors weren’t that great, and so she brought me in.

At the review, there were a few creative directors from Digitas who wanted to get me an internship at their agency. And I don’t want to put anyone down, but my work was a little bit better than the seniors’ work. But I told the creative directors I couldn’t take the internship because I was just about to leave for a study abroad/internship program in London. And the they were like, “Okay, well if you’re looking for an internship, let’s hook you up with our people in London.” They were really nice and helped me get my foot in the door.

The internship in London was — I don’t know if it was because they were a little bit more on the fly — but it wasn’t as structured as places I’ve seen. They treated me like a junior designer because they didn’t know I was an intern. I was in client presentations and I’m thinking, ‘This is wrong. This is not supposed to be how it goes.’

But I stayed there, then came back to Columbia for one semester because you had to finish at school. And then I moved back to London and stayed there for another year or so.



I’ve always grown up appreciating British humor and stuff like that, but you feel really American there. And it’s not like I was wearing UGGs and drinking Bud Light. I think the funniest thing was that they thought I had an accent and I’m like, “I don’t have an accent – you all have accents!”

And then, advertising over there is really rooted around the pub. That’s where you go and concept — you go down and have a drink. And then after work, because London’s huge and everybody lives so far away, everyone meets after work to have a pint or whatever.

It really was really communal and fun. I had a great time there, but I did really miss my Midwestern roots and being in the States. I guess I had my quarter life crisis and then was like, ‘I gotta go home!’

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director MickInterview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


Oh it was amazing. All the art museums are free – you can just walk into the National Portrait Gallery and hang out there. It was really cool. And everybody just felt like – kind of like New York – where it feels like everybody is just on a higher level. Especially being in the advertising industry. It just felt like everything was much more creative and really inspiring.



I had a teacher at Columbia — though I’m not sure if she’s still at Columbia — that was really motivating. Her name was Tracy Taylor. She was the one who pushed me to apply for that internship. And she was the one who brought me into that portfolio review. She was really great, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a lot of mentorship. I’ve always been self-motivated and seeking inspiration from other people. Stuff like that.

Though I will say, my old ACD (associate creative director) at Digitas, Alana Beseau, who actually had a writing background, had a huge impact on me. She had a larger than life background. She’s really funny, she’s just super conceptual person and she’s really quick-witted. When I think of my designs, I always think ‘What would Ellena write as a caption?’ I feel like she says witty things in her sleep. She’s always on and she’s such a great person to be around. And it’s always going to be a fun time when she’s around.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


I don’t feel like there are a lot of art scenes in the Midwest, which has always pushed me to get out of the Midwest and go explore. That’s what took me to London. And even now, I feel like I’m hitting a little bit of a wall. Like, I go to New York or LA and I’m constantly inspired. I can Instagram every nook and cranny of those places and then I come here and sometimes I’m like, “Aww..I guess that’s cool?”

It just feels like I tapped a lot of my resources here [in Chicago]. Because I’ve also been really into nature photography – I see so many Instas of beautiful shots of nature — but we don’t have much of that here either. Because Chicago, right now, is stuck in the middle a little bit. There’s not really a ton of outdoor stuff.

Granted, this place [Chicago Athletic Association] is so nice. And I’ve never been to the bar [Cindy’s] but apparently that’s got a beautiful outdoor patio. There’s also certain little outfits, like Land and Sea Department that help create lots of cool little places in Logan Square. But you go to New York and walk down the street and there’s all these cool, conceptual type of restaurants and I wish we had more of that here.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick 10268866_1657053817879456_758323206_n


I love that little stretch of Armitage – between Elston and South Port. Or the South Port Corridor is super cute; it feels like a microcosm of New York. I just like walking around there. Otherwise, I really do like Logan [Square] just because it has so much greenery.

My husband is from the Muskegon area and Lake Michigan is 15 minutes from his doorstep. And in Kalamazoo, I was an hour away from the nearest lake. So when we visit Muskegon, he takes me to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, which is so pretty. It’s so funny because I spent most of my life trying to escape Michigan and now I desperately want to get back to it.



I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m in it enough and I really wish I were. I just wish there was more creative opportunities. I see people on Instagram who do “Ladies Drawing Nights” and I would love to get involved in that sort of thing, but maybe I just have to start one…



Yeah, I think I’m just feeling it out. Just trying to have some fun with it. I don’t want it to ever feel like work.

It’s something I’m still trying to figure out because a lot of it is really personal right now. And I don’t know if it’s an artist’s plight to never feel good enough, but I always have this wall that comes up where I think to myself, ‘You’re not good enough to ever commission.’ That made me sound really sad, but I swear I’m not a Debbie Downer about it.



I think so. I think Midwest people are really humble and not braggarts.

I once had a creative director come in from New York and he was a total asshole. He was all about being the biggest and the best. And I just wanted to make something really good that I’m proud of. From an experience design (UX) background, I want someone to play with it and have fun and not just do something to win an award at a show. I want it to have a little bit more meaning and purpose.

But being from the Midwest has definitely made me a humble person. It’s made me put a strong focus on family too. I want to have a nice work life balance, I don’t just want to do the rat race.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


To have more confidence. I was always worried about what other people thought and if it was good enough. And I wish I could’ve been happy with what I was doing; be more of my own cheerleader.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


Don’t be so critical of yourself. The internet’s a scary place and can lead you down a dark scary hole of constantly trying to measure yourself up against other people (dribbble, Pinterest, even just in the office), and it’s hard not to feel like you’re not good enough. Be patient and go at your own pace. Your own happiness should be your main focus.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


I hope that the legacy I leave behind is one of new experiences. As much as I am a creature of habit, in my short time I’ve noticed that I’m always trying to push myself a little bit out of my comfort zone. Whether it’s moving to an entirely new city, or just trying to finally touch my toes with a new yoga practice, I hope I inspire people to never sit still and always look forward to tomorrow.



Oh yeah. I’m Midwest through and through. I love corn, sweet potatoes, hearty meals…



No. I think that’s why I’m trying to teach myself how to hand letter and illustrate. Because sometimes client work can be really draining and not as fun. You see all these incredible case studies featuring fun projects that people got to work on for big brands, and then you get stuck on something like KitchenAid. And I was actually on that account for three years, and you’re selling steel boxes, thinking ‘How can we make this interesting?’ and, sure, we got to a point where we were doing cool stuff, but sometimes it just feels like you’re selling socks. It’s not always going to be creatively fulfilling. That’s why I’ve been trying to figure out something on the side; a creative release.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


I like traveling a lot. That’s something that definitely inspires me. Just going and having new experiences and seeing new things. And I like to live locally when I travel. I don’t want to stay in the penthouse of a hotel. I’d rather stay in a super cool Airbnb. And I don’t need to go and visit the Top 10 Things to See or that touristy stuff. I’d rather go off the beaten path.

I’m also always looking at Instagram for inspiration, and Pinterest. And different blogs, like DesignLoveFest. I’m also a huge fan of or whatever Jen Gotch does. I really like those sort of brands because they’re really being true to themselves. They don’t care if you don’t get their sense of humor, they’re just balls to the wall.

Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick Interview with Illustrator/Art Director Mick


When I first moved to Chicago, I lived in Lincoln Park. I swear we [transplants] all started at the same crossroads: Diversey and Clark. Everybody’s lived in that area. And so I started there and then moved to Bucktown, which is kind of like a Lincoln Park, but more inland.

But my boyfriend, now my husband, had a place in Logan Square. I remember feeling like you could get a lot of space and have some breathing room in that neighborhood. And we’ve been living there for 4 years now. And he was there even longer than I was. Logan Square just feels a bit more like Michigan, or home, in the city without it being like this big urban city sprawl.



I actually have a bunch of friends who are super talented, who inspired me to start illustrating. My friend Rachel, she draws all the time and does a daily drawing thing on Instagram. And my friend Summer, she can just doodle and it looks like a masterpiece. And her husband is this guy who makes flip books for a living. Here are all their handles (and then some) if you want to find them:

Rachal Duggan:  portfolio // @radillustrates

Summer Violett: portfolio // @summerdoodle (private account)

Ben Zurawski: website // @theflippistflipbooks

Ness DellaMorte:@nessienado // Spudnik Class

Shelby Rodeffer: portfolio // @smellby



Water fountain because that’s what you call it.



Thin crust. I know it’s sacrilege, right?



Stop light.



Portfolio // @mickchampay (private account)


*This interview was edited for clarity.

**All images were borrowed from @mickchampay and are def hers to own.

Educate Interview Local

midwesterner love: kim of knoed creative

September 14, 2016

kimknoll1Quick story: At my last job, I happened upon a rebranding proposal pitched to one of our clients by a Chicago-based branding agency named Knoed.

Hopefully you know this by now, but I’m kind of an art and design nerd. So here I am, at work, flipping through this gorgeous graphic design book created by this awesome company and I’m dumbstruck.

There’s just something in me that lights up when I see people doing incredible creative work. Whenever I run into someone that strikes me like that, I’m nearly compelled to reach out and introduce myself. And that’s exactly what I did–I reached out to Kim Knoll and said if they were ever looking for a copywriter, I’d love to help.

While she didn’t take me up on that specific offer, we did end up reconnecting later when I asked if she would be willing to be interviewed for this blog.

Now, full disclosure, this post is long. But it’s juicy. And inspirational. And I’d love to continue creating pieces like this because THESE are the people that give me life and fuel. They’re the incredible, creative people doing awesome things in the Midwest–something that I personally believe gets overlooked when people think of the heartland.

But enough of my babbling. Without further ado (as they say), please say hello to Kim of Knoed Design…

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


I went to school for graphic design. I always knew I wanted to be a designer, even in high school. I was in a lot of art programs and my teacher told me to pursue graphic design based on my style and what I liked doing in class. Though, it really wasn’t a hot thing to do at the time.

I’m kind of a planner, so when I went to college, I started working part time as a receptionist at a design firm to try and get a feel for graphic design to make sure it’s what I wanted to be doing. Because you’re going to college for 4-6 years, and I thought to myself, ‘What if I get out and I don’t like any of this?’ Ultimately, I was able to see the behind the scenes, which I really enjoyed, so I pursued it.

I completed college in 6 years and left Chicago as soon as I graduated. I just picked up and moved to Arizona, where I lived and worked as a designer for the first 3 years of my career. I started out as an in-house marketer for a senior citizen fitness program, where I designed tape and CD cassette covers and posters for really bad senior citizen materials. It’s not glamorous whatsoever, though it makes a great story now and I gained a lot of the skills I needed to eventually get a better job.

From there I went to a graphic design studio for about 6 months, where I did quite a bit of boutique client work, which I really enjoyed.

However, I was homesick and wanted to come back to Chicago. So I came back and got a job as a designer at Tom, Dick and Harry Creative Company. Really great people. I would say David Yang completely turned my career around. They were producing really great work, and my book wasn’t the best at the time, but I was really eager to learn and just needed someone to give me a chance and take me under their wing, and he did. I was there for a little under 2 years and we worked our asses off, creating a ton of different things, and my portfolio did a complete 180. I feel like that was a pivotal point in my career; when I started to produce better work. I understood things better. I got more passionate about it.

Those guys were really great. The only reason I left was because advertising just wasn’t my thing and they did more of that then branding and print. And I really wanted to get into a design studio where there was a greater focus on identity work and things like that.

So I left Tom, Dick and Harry and went to a shop called BrainForest, that no longer exists. I was there for about a year, doing print and web for boutique companies. However, you could tell the company wasn’t doing so well. So I left and went to this place called Jones–a really small ad and boutique identity shop–and I worked there as a senior designer for a year. But I could tell they were ready to sell to someone bigger. And at that point, I had experience, felt ready to take on my own clients, and really wanted to work on projects from beginning to end. So that’s when I left to start freelancing.

I’d been working 6 years total when I became a freelancer. And I did that for a year. At the time I was freelancing, my husband Kyle was also freelancing. We were working back to back in the second bedroom of our house, but we each had our own clients. Our own agendas. We were competing for work. It was kind of silly. Then, we started helping each other out. If he was too busy, I would take some of his work and visa versa. We made a really great team, which led us to the realization that we should combine portfolios and start a company together, with one name and clients we both worked on. And that’s when we started Knoed, about 5 years ago.

Eventually we got enough money to rent desks at a co-working space, where we worked for about a year. It was a really great setup and nice baby steps leading up to renting a studio of our own, which we eventually did and are still here 3 years later.

Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


Well, I met Kyle when I was in my second to last year of college. I went to school with his younger sister who was in the design program with me. He would come up to visit his sister, and since we were friends, we would all be hanging out with these big groups of people. At some point, he noticed me and that’s how we met—through his sister.

I immediately knew he was amazing. And we ended up having a fling for four months–every time he would visit his sister, we’d hang out. Then I’d drive down to Champaign and hang out with him. It got to the point—he didn’t have a car—and we were entering our last year in school and shit was just nuts with our projects and studio time. And we’re thinking, ‘What are we doing? Are we going to take this seriously or not?’ and ultimately we both decided to call it off. We graduated, I moved to Arizona and I didn’t talk to him for 3 or 4 years.

Then, when I was working at that in-house marketing job, I got an email from an old roommate of mine. She said Kyle was trying to find me and forwarded me his email, so I wrote him back. We were both single and started talking over email, and then phone—just catching up and basically getting back together.

I flew home for Christmas, we met up and spent the whole day together. And I knew I really wanted to be with him, but I didn’t want to move back to Chicago just to be with a guy.

So I head back to Arizona, walk up to my apartment and see a big notice on my door saying they’re turning our apartments into condos and my lease, which would end in two months, would not be renewed. That same week, my best friend told me she was moving to Seattle in two weeks. And then the company I was working for—the boutique design firm—ended up going under. Essentially, within a month’s time I didn’t have a place to live, I got let go of my job and my best friend moved. Taking these things as signs I should not be there anymore, I packed up whatever I could fit in my car, drove back to Illinois and moved in with my mom to save some money. I got the job at Tom, Dick and Harry two days after I moved back, then Kyle and I started dating for real. Six months later, Kyle and I bought a house together and three years later we got married.

Knoed Creative


In the beginning, it was a little harder because we were both working out of our house and it was tough having your work and home all in one place–we never got a visual separation from the two. And you know how you’re at work too long and you start getting agitated by it? We were feeling that a lot. So as soon as we got desks at the co-working space, it helped create a visual division between work and home. We would get out of our PJs, get dressed and go to place with normal working hours. And when it was time to leave work, we would physically leave it and come home and chill as a couple, which really helped.

Another thing that’s helped is to define very specific roles, so we don’t step on each other’s toes and we can create stuff that we can own. While we’re both designers and do all the work 50/50, Kyle does a lot of new business–he’ll do all the proposals, writing people back about inquiries, billing and bookkeeping. And I do a lot of the scheduling, client management, social media, entering our work into things, or writing students back about questions they have and stuff like that. And then when it comes to design, Kyle manages most of the web design projects and I manage most of the print design. It really helps that he does his thing and I do mine, but we come together for brainstorming or critiquing, things like that.



When we first started out we would take anything we could get. We would do anything. If someone wanted a logo, package, website, we would say yes. But we realized we were constantly creating new relationships and bringing some new designer on board just to do a logo, and then that designer would go away. Plus, it was a lot of work trying to get to know someone and their business. And we were getting really tired of constantly pitching new people. We also realized we would rather build a design identity from scratch, rather than being handed a pre-existing identity.

All of these things led us to focus more on branding because we could form one relationship and get 5-10 projects with that person and do everything; it’s all your vision. We only showed branding work in our portfolio in hopes it would start to attract more people interested in branding and 360 identity work, and it did.

Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


It’s love/hate. It gets lonely for sure. I’m the kind of person where I need to talk during the day. I can’t sit at my desk all day, but Kyle can. I also miss being able to bullshit with a coworker or go out to lunch, because it’s not something we do. But collaborating? Kyle’s one of the best people I’ve ever collaborated with, so I don’t feel like there’s anything lacking in that. It’s always fun to collaborate in a big group, but I feel like I still get that here—even if its just him and I. It gets a little lonely sometimes.



I got to the point of trusting my opinion right before I started Knoed.

Luckily, as far as design goes, both David (at Tom, Dick and Harry) and Scott Manee (my boss at JONES) taught me how to get out of my head, put it to the side and start over, and just keep doing that. I would get my work done pretty fast and we’d still have a couple days before the presentation. And they’d be like,”That’s great, but what else could it be?” So I’d start over or try to push the idea further. They just drilled that mentality into me.

Now, being on my own, I just automatically keep doing that and I almost feel like there’s a CD (creative director) over me saying, “That’s great, but lets see what else you have,” because I’m so used to hearing that. And I’ll tell Kyle the same thing: “That’s great, but what else do you have?” So we’re always pushing each other and then we’ll narrow it down to the best ideas from that pile.

In our position, we just have to trust what we’ve done. But, we’re also at a point in our careers where we can [trust what we’ve done] because we’ve been doing it for 12 years now and the more you do graphic design–practice graphic design–the better and faster you get and the more ideas you have. At least, that’s how it is for us.

Design is less of a struggle that it used to be. And it used to be a struggle, but then, if you keep doing it over and over, you get better and you get there.

Interview with Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


There was nothing out in Arizona. There were no good [design] firms. No good work. It was just a ton of corporations who needed in-house designers. There was no community for artists or designers, which was one of the reasons I left. But I think here [in Chicago], there’s a huge community. I have a lot of friends who own their own studios or work at some of the big ones.

As far as getting work, I feel like there’s more than enough to go around. We get inquiries all the time that we say no to because it’s not a good fit for us, so that work goes to someone else. Luckily we don’t have a problem getting work, and I think it’s because we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve made a lot of connections, our website is out there and our clients come back, which leads to a lot of repeat work.

One of the negatives I’ve noticed, however, is that you seem to hear about the same creatives over and over again. I don’t know why, but it seems as if there’s 20-30 people that I hear their name in a lot of exhibitions and things like that. There are so many great people doing great work and they’re not being recognized, and I wish there was more of an opportunity to uncover those people instead of recognizing the same people over and over again.

But that said, there is Creative Mornings




Swiss Miss launched Creative Mornings out in NY in about 2008. She was just doing it for Studiomates (her co-working space/office) to bring someone in and inspire the office and her team. Eventually more and more people wanted to attend, and she started getting venues to host these speakers so that more people could attend. Then someone from Studiomates moved—to Sweden or Stockholm—and wanted to bring it out there. So he requested a guidebook and that’s when she put the whole thing together. And that was the 2nd chapter, now there are over 130 chapters worldwide.

Chicago was #5 and started back in 2011, when Mig Reyes (a designer at Basecamp) applied to start the chapter. He ran it for a year and a half, but wanted to teach at Starter League and didn’t have the time to balance both. Kyle and I happened to be speaking at Creative Mornings in 2012 and he asked us at the end of 2012 if we wanted to take it over. And me, being the planner I am, was stoked about the opportunity. We officially took over Creative Mornings in February of 2013 and we’ve been doing it ever since–over 3 years now.

Because Knoed is just the two of us, Creative Mornings is a nice way to get out and just talk with people; get in the inboxes of some really great people and get a peek inside their minds. And I really love the vibe Creative Mornings gives off. I like that it’s free. I love seeing all the people there every month. I like that there’s no catch.  You just kind of go and get inspired. And I was a huge fan of it before we were speakers at it—we would just go and sit in the audience–so it was a no brainer to keep it going.

One of my favorite parts is in the morning, I say, “Okay everyone, we’re going to started in 5 minutes and in those 5 minutes I want you to turn to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself,” and you can hear the room go from this silent buzzing to this big boom, as everyone turns around and the chatter goes way up. And every month that makes my heart skip a beat.

In the beginning, when Mig hosted, there were a lot of designers that would attend and speak. It was almost strictly for designers. So, naturally, it drew that crowd. But about two years ago, Creative Mornings HQ came out with themes for every month to better unite all the chapters. And once we started getting those, it pushed us to start thinking ‘Who would be good for this theme?’ and look outside of the graphic design community.

Since the start of those themes, we’ve had architects, tattooists, toymakers, obviously graphic designers, murals, street artists, photographer, filmmakers…all kinds of people.

Right now the audience seems very mixed–it’s designers, photographers, a lot of creative directors. And then we have people like knitters; people in the textile artists. We have people that are in college all the way up to age 55 who come. And then you have people who aren’t professionally creative at all, but have creativity in them and attend to get that part out. Really, it’s all different lives and ages now.



I think what I love about Chicago is that there’s such a utilitarian, hardworking, rugged work ethic here. And I think it shows in a lot of the visuals. Just going downtown you see a lot of the old, hand-painted brick walls from businesses that no longer exist. And it’s all weathered. That whole feeling is in a lot of design in our community, and in a lot of things that inspire us.

There’s this whole movement to go back to hand-painted signs, and every designer is having their logo or mural put up on a brick wall now and it’s kind of like the new Chicago; the new old.

We [at Knoed] have a very minimal, almost European aesthetic, but then we like texture. We always apply some sort of texture to whatever it is we’re working on. And I think those textures are inspired by being here–seeing things that aren’t pristine; are a little worn and have some authenticity to them. For me, when I look at a design book, I can tell–without even looking where the designer is from–what’s generally done in the Midwest versus the East versus the West. Because I think we totally have a style here, or at least a look.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


I just like going to a park and lying down on a blanket and staring at the sky. I know it sounds really cheesy, but it really helps me clear my head. I’m an outdoor person, so being outside is just a great feeling for me–not in the winter, because its freezing, but when it’s warmer. A lot of ideas come to me when I’m outside–when I’m at a park or walking my dog. When you’re on autopilot, it allows you to think about whatever you’re working on; it’s in the back of your head. A lot of my ideas come out that way.

I know for Kyle, his ideas come out in the shower. We even have a waterproof notepad in the shower for him to jot ideas down on.

There isn’t necessarily a specific place, but we try to do these things we call “Mental Health Days” and go to the MCA or gallery—somewhere with artwork or sign work—to get inspired.



We get into work around 10am. Usually on Mondays we’ll have a status meeting, where we’ll go over what each person is working on and the plan for the week. Then, I usually have to go through emails from 10 to noon–I have a lot of emails to go through. Same with Creative Mornings–I try to get that stuff done by noon.

From noon till about 6 or 7pm, I just do design work and client management kind of stuff.

I’m sure Kyle’s day probably looks different than that, but we’re pretty much at our desks all day, working. And if we’re not at our desks, we’re out at a meeting, learning about someone’s project or presenting our work. But for the most part we’re here.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


When I’m in brainstorming mode, I sketch in my sketchbook. Even if I’m brainstorming a website design, I like to sketch out ideas before I go to a computer. And there’s a couple things that we do that are hand-drawn, so I’m doing that too. But for the most part it’s sketches, or I’ll sit at the worktable just brainstorming.



Work never turns off. We’ll be out at dinner on a Saturday night, and it’s really romantic, and then the conversation will turn to improving our process. It doesn’t ever turn off and we’re okay with that, because we really love what we do. And when it’s your business, all you want to do is work on it and make it better. And its just him and I; it’s all up to us. When we leave the office, it feels good and we can go home and chill out, but there’s so many times where we have to talk about work even if we aren’t at work.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


We’ve intentionally stayed small. We really like this niche that we’re in. We’re bigger than freelancers, but smaller than a Firebelly. We’re the ones who talk to and do the work for our clients, and there’s not too many places out there like that, so I think there’s something that makes us different in that way. And we still like doing the design work.

A year or two ago, we had one employee for about a year, but it turned us into managers, where we were trying to bring in work to keep that designer busy. And Kyle was starting to jump on more of the biz side of things than the design side, so then it was up to me and that other designer. And Kyle and I work so well together, but with that additional designer, things started changing, and not in a way that we wanted them to change. So we ended up having to let that person go because we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were doing a good job of what we were doing, but we weren’t happy. So we just had to make that call.

I think we would probably grow, but we’re just not ready for that. And whenever we do, we have to make that commitment that we’re going to step back from the design. Because as soon as we start hiring, we’re going to have to be the managers of everything.

But I do think at some point we’ll get there because we’ll be burned out.



I would hope my legacy would be inspiring people to be true to themselves, with what they want in their career or life, and having the courage to go get it. That’s why I love CreativeMornings so much, and why I put so much of myself into organizing these events. Sometimes all it takes is to hear someone speak to something you’re struggling with or be inspired by another person’s journey, to put a fork in your road and choose a different path…one that leads to changing you and your life forever. I believe staying true to who you are—no matter what anyone expects of you—is the only way to experience true happiness.



I talk to a lot of students through Creative Mornings and Knoed and I’ve noticed there’s almost this feeling of entitlement. Young designers think they can just graduate, get a job and be put in a vice president position at the age of 23. And I just want to say: be prepared to be at the bottom of the totem pole and stay there for a few years. Work on really shitty projects and work your way up the ladder. It takes a lot of work and a lot of patience, but you have to put in that time if you want to go somewhere.

A lot of people are eager to get the best title or the best job right away, but if you did that, what do you have to look forward to? You’re going to be working for 4o years, till your 60? 65? So if you get that title in your 20s, then what? I guess you could start a company and go that route too, but there’s nothing wrong starting out as an in-house designer working on senior citizen materials. It doesn’t mean that’s shaping or dictating who you are as a designer. You can always start over. I had a great portfolio coming out of college and a terrible portfolio after two years of this profession. But you can keep working on things on the side, get into a great job and then you can throw all that shitty work out and start over.

Keep going after what you want. You’ll get there, but you have to put that time and effort into it. And have patience.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


For my younger self, I would tell myself…that’s hard. I think it’s very similar. Because I was one of those people who felt entitled. I would go to interviews and think I was the shit like, “Isn’t this work great?” and expect a job. I had a really hard time and my ego got bruised, but I think it was a really good thing.

It’s hard when you’re in school and your professors are telling you you’re good, then you win a scholarship and an award at this show–it’s really hard to keep your ego in check. But then you get out into the real world and it’s not like that at all. There are so many great people doing great things out there and you’re just one in a million. So you have be a little more humble.

I would say I should’ve been more humble then I was.



I think so. I feel really fortunate. I’m really happy with the kind of work we [Kyle and I] get. And we put our heart into everything we do, but we work a lot of hours to get things to where they are.

I feel really fulfilled, and this is by far the best job I’ve ever had. And the longest. I also have things to look back on and compare it to. That older adult fitness program, I could be working on stuff like that. But when I stop and I think about being able to work on Tru Studio or Hannas Bretzel, it’s so great. And it’s people we love working with, work that we love doing and businesses we love supporting. I feel great about all of that. I only hope that we can keep working on that kind of stuff because there are always people out there who are better than you, and could take that client out from under you. So we just feel happy with where we are now and hope it keeps up.

Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative Interview With Kim Knoll of Knoed Creative


Water fountain.



That’s a toss up. I’m going to say thin crust.



Stop light.


Via our portfolio. Or on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (@knoedcreative) LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you Kim! And side note, sorry it took me so long to get this published, but super happy I finally did. To all you readers: please comment with any further questions or anything this interview sparked. I’d love to know! // P.S. This interview has been edited for clarity & time. // P.P.S. All the beautiful images were pulled from


Thoughts: It’s Your Journey

June 28, 2016

Why you need to stop comparing yourself

Hands down, summer is my favorite season. But…there is something about summer that lends itself well to copious amounts of comparison.

Kids are graduating high school and comparing themselves to their fellow graduates who got into better colleges…or are moving farther away…or embarking on more exciting journeys…

College students are looking around at their friends and the internships or summer jobs they locked down, comparing them to the side gigs they got to make ends meet…

College graduates are comparing themselves to their successful classmates who already have secured down a job or moved to a new city…

Other friends are getting married in droves as we all look on in envy, thinking our love story will never happen or be as great as their love story…

Coworkers are moving up and into bigger, better and more beautifully-decorated places, making our apartments or homes feel smaller…

Not to mention the bikini bodies…

And the luscious tans…

And the flawless faces…

There’s just so much going on in the summer–which is great–but it also means there’s so much to compare ourselves to. Of course FB, Twitter, Insta and Snapchat don’t help much, as life now looks like a beautiful, curated thing.

Which, um, by the way–IT’S NOT!

Consider this a very random reminder that your journey is your own. And that no story, online or otherwise, is as perfect as it may appear.

Life is long and one day you will find your happiness–the job you ultimately want, the significant other you can love forever, the stable home of your dreams. You deserve it. Remind yourself you deserve it, and ultimately it will happen.

It’s all within reach, just maybe not immediate reach. And that’s okay! Our society has become obsessed with immediacy, but what happened to the slow grind? The eventual gratification? The working at something good until it becomes great?

Everything happens for a reason. Just try and notice beauty, appreciate love and celebrate your own blessings, because you’d be surprised by how many there are.

And when that doesn’t work, just know that you are *not* alone in feeling left out or lesser. We all feel it, no matter how healthy or happy we may look. Envy’s gross like that–don’t let it win.


Chatting with Fine Artist Gee Gee Collins

February 11, 2016

Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative ChatsAwhile back, I was browsing Instagram when I stumbled up Gee Gee’s work.

Honestly, I reached out to her on a whim; thinking to myself, “This lady will never respond to me…she’s probably too big a deal to be interested in a little Midwest blog.” Which is why I was totally blown away when I received a timely and friendly reply, saying she would be happy to be interviewed.

Now, this exchange took place in the middle of all the holiday chaos. Not to mention, this talented, Minnesota-based woman also balances painting with motherhood, and was getting ready to travel with her family at the time. Basically, her schedule was insane, yet she still made time to chat with me and share a few words of creative wisdom.

Okay, okay. I’m babbling. But I’m so humbled by her kindness and creativity and can’t explain how excited I am to have her here on the blog today. So, without further nonsense from me, I am very happy to introduce abstract artist Gee Gee Collins…


First, things first: Where do you call home and what do you love most about living there?

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I love the simplicity of life here. I also enjoy having all four seasons. Being from the south I never grew up with snow so that took some getting used to, but now I love it. I’ve even taken up skiing!


What attracted you to painting? Or, when do you first remember being interested in fine art?

I’ve always loved art from the time I was a little girl. I remember being five and having a friend over and decided it would be a good idea to paint a painting on our new carpet. Not such a great idea! My mother is a fine artist and there were oil paints around as a child. And my father just took up painting at the age of 81, so it goes without saying that art runs in the family.

 Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative ChatsChat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

Tell us a little bit about your journey to this point.

I’ve always been artistic, but have not always taken it that seriously. I did go to college for art and studied abroad but then came home and took a job in healthcare. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I began painting again. My style is always changing. I can be all over the board and so is my art! I’m always on the search for the next new thing.


What was your family and upbringing like? How was creativity part of your childhood?

My mother owned a small chain of retail women’s clothing stores when I was growing up. I loved to go with her to New York on buying trips and pick out clothes. I loved the colors and fashion. I also always had plenty of art supplies around.

Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

Who has had the biggest impact on your life as an artist thus far?

I would definitely have to say the art of Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline and Matisse have influenced my work the most.


You’re originally from Atlanta, correct? Do you think living and working in the Midwest has fostered or hindered your creativity?

Yes, I am originally from Atlanta. I believe living in the Midwest has encouraged me to be more productive. In the long winter months I find painting a great creative outlet. When you’re stuck inside on a dreary cold day you can always pick up a paintbrush!

Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

How was studying under abstract painter, Michael Phillips? Intimidating? Helpful? Inspiring?

Studying under Michael Phillips was a great experience right out of the gate. Being only 18 and studying under him was very liberating in terms of abstract art. There were no rules! For all of my college career all I did was paint abstract with the exception of a few nudes here and there. He introduced me to artist such as Helen FrankenthalerMother Well and Cy Twombly.


Italy is such a gorgeous country. How did you end up studying there, and how did you stay focused?

I don’t think I stayed to focused, except on drinking, wine and shopping!

Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

Any favorite memories from your time in Italy and any places we should go when we visit?

The last time I was in Italy I ended up staying and living in Florence. I worked in the leather market and sold jackets. It is definitely one of my favorite cities in Italy. Also the Amalfi Coast is amazing. Just rent a scooter and drive up the coast. Breathtaking!


Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists looking to “break into the industry”?

Yes! Just keep emailing galleries. Don’t get discouraged just because a gallery says no. There will be one where your work is a fit.

Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

Do you think an artist needs to attend school to be successful?

Definitely not. I think it depends on the art that you do. If you’re always painting, using color and intuition, you will continue to get better and better. Look at other artists that you like and study their work. The internet has made the world so small, you could basically study the fundamentals of painting online.


Best places in the Midwest to get inspired?

OK. So I have a new favorite spot in Minneapolis: the North Loop. It’s buzzing with great coffee shops restaurants and stores. My new favorite is Martin Patrick. Unbelievable. It’s the most well-appointed store I’ve been in, besides Ralph Lauren. New favorite restaurant by far is Spoon and Stable. And if you’re in Minneapolis for a cocktail, check out the Parlour. So fun!


What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Look at as much good art as you can! Stay loose and free! It’s only art.

Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

What’s your favorite and not-so-favorite part about the creative process?

I love to create, and enjoy the fun of experimenting with different styles. I feel I’m always landing on something new and it becomes a series. But when it’s done, it’s done. I rarely want to go back and paint it again. The not so fun part would be cleaning up. I’m terrible at that! My studio is a mess. There’s paint on the walls the ceiling, everywhere!


You’re a young mom, correct? How do you carve out time to paint?

I paint now because my kids are in school during the day and that gives me time. When they were younger I used to sit them in the corner with toys or Legos and I’d just paint with them in the room. Now, sometimes my kids will also paint in the studio with me! There was a series I did awhile back where they helped me build up texture on my canvases by throwing sand on them. Chat With Fine Artist, Gee Gee Collins | Cozy Creative Chats

How do you stay inspired?

By constantly experimenting with a different application, technique or style. By looking at art I love. Otherwise, anytime I need to be inspired I can always look at the work of Joni Mitchell and that works too.


Bubbler or water fountain?

Water fountain. Or, is wine an option?


Thin crust or deep dish?

Definitely thin crust. Well done and crispy.


Stop light or traffic light?

Stop light.


Anything we missed that you’d like people to know about you, your life and/or career?

I thank God for the freedom, fun and blessing of creating art! It never gets old.


Where can we find you?

My portfolio: Gee Gee Collins (I’m also represented by art resources gallery in Minneapolis, and Allison Sprock fine art in Charlotte, North Carolina). Or you can follow me on Instagram.


Chatting with Author Bree Housley

January 28, 2016

chatting with author bree housleyPeople always tell job hunters that “it’s all about who you know.” I think that goes double for the advertising industry. It’s ALL about who you know. Who you know can essentially create a job, when there was none previously available. That said, who you know can also introduce you to someone who can introduce you to their wife, who happens to be a kick ass creative director at a huge agency, oh and a talented published author on the side and also happens to be named Bree Housley.

Bree is another huge role model for me. Writer #goals, basically. And I feel so honored she took the time to respond thoroughly and honestly to all my seemingly random interview questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy right about meow…

What attracted you to writing? Or, when do you first remember being interested in writing?

In third grade, we were asked to write a story on this weird flimsy paper where ¾ of the page was space to draw and then 4 lines were available to actually write words. My story was 25 pages. The rest of the class averaged around 5. I was pretty proud of that. Especially cuz I sucked at Heads Up, 7-Up. (Starting off early with the Midwestern references. Everyone played that, right?)

Tell us a little bit about your journey to this point—go as far back as you’d like!

I really started to love creative writing, especially dialogue, in Jr. High. But there was no Don Draper at the time, so I wasn’t really sure where that passion could lead in the “real world.” I mean, Angela Bower from “Who’s the Boss” was a pretty badass ad chick, but she was an Account Executive so my glimpse into the world of the creative department didn’t happen until much later.

When I graduated from Iowa State with a degree in Advertising/Marketing, I was completely unprepared. I had no portfolio. No connections. And only ONE copywriting class under my braided leather belt. Fortunately, I’d learned about Miami Ad School (MAS) through my summer internship in Fort Lauderdale. With a little help from my Floridian aunt and uncle, I was enrolled by the following January.

My plan at 21 was to finish MAS, get an amazing copywriting job, maybe invest in some pencil skirts, work at the same place until I turned 30, then become an author and make millions writing from my cottage somewhere by a lake. Wearing pants only sparingly. In reality, I stayed at MAS long enough to build a portfolio I was proud of, took a job at a mediocre agency with a few amazing people that mentored the shit out of me, got hired at a super cool Chicago agency, and just kept climbing my way up until I reached the point where I could freelance at all the big shops in town and control my own career.

Oh, and I became a published author at 33. And did not make millions. But I do wear pants only sparingly.

What was your family and upbringing like? Was creativity part of your childhood?

My family and childhood felt a bit like a Norman Rockwell painting, but instead of puppies and milkshakes, it was Jarts and Chef Boyardee. Oh, and I was sporting a major party-all-the-time mullet. (Special recipe: bang perm in the front; straight, long, and unbrushed in the back.)

My mom and dad were very hard workers, but never missed sitting down at the table for family dinner. We didn’t have much money, but I had no idea we didn’t have much money until later in life. If that doesn’t take creativity on their part, I don’t know what does. My dad is outwardly creative. He makes all kinds of whimsical sculptures out of scrap metal and you can always find doodles on anything resembling paper around the house. My mom has always been funny. But she’ll be the first to tell you she’s not. She’s also a big supporter of the arts and signed us up for dance classes when we were barely old enough to tie our own tap shoes. Again, this was when we were driving a tiny car that seemed to only run on Tuesdays and every other Saturday…but we felt like we had everything because we had shoes with taps on them!

We camped all over the Midwest on summer weekends. Marshmallow sticks, bubbles, and some woods to get lost in. It’s all we needed.

Who has had the biggest impact on your life as a writer thus far?

That’s hard to say. The writers I covet write nothing like me. I relish in everything Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and John Irving. I suppose it’s more about how their writing makes me feel. It’s deep, darkly funny, and sometimes quite juvenile. I’d like to think that’s my style, too.

On a more personal level, there’s a good chance my memoir would’ve never been published without the unexpected support from New York Times Best-Selling Author, Jeffrey Zaslow. I reached out to him, completely blind, and asked if he’d consider writing a “blurb” for my book before my agent submitted it to publishers. (Yeah, welcome to the publishing industry. You have to beg established writers to give your book praise before a house will even pretend to take it seriously.) I got rejected or ignored by plenty of other authors who weren’t nearly as successful as Zaslow. He immediately responded, read my work, and wrote a blurb so beautiful that I forgot it was even about my writing. He stayed in touch as my book deal got finalized, popping in to get updates from time to time, and then one shitty Midwestern winter day, a few months before my book was released, my husband saw the following headline: Jeffrey Zaslow, ‘Last Lecture’ author, dies in car crash at 53.

The blurb he had written for my book:

“Bree Housley tells a story that is touching, funny and completely inspiring. Reading it, we can’t help but think about our own resolutions, our own losses, and the friends and loved ones who’ve given meaning to our lives.” 

Indeed. I still think of him often.

interview with author bree housleyYou’re originally from Iowa, correct? Do you think living and working in the Midwest has fostered or hindered your creativity?

Yes, I’m from a very small town in Eastern Iowa called Walcott. Don’t be fooled, it might be small in size, but it’s the “World’s Largest Truckstop.” (There’s a billboard and everything. Right next to the Truck-o-Mat.)

I attribute a lot of my creativity to growing up in a town where we had to create our own version of fun. In the summer, we’d spend the afternoon walking the railroad tracks, pretending we were on a journey like our crushes from Stand By Me. Except the only exciting things we ever found were pennies and trash. Oh, and we saw dead possum once.

I would never say living and working here hindered my creativity, but at the same time, I do think leaving for a bit added another level I couldn’t have unearthed if I’d stayed here my whole life.

How was Miami Ad School? Highly recommend for aspiring ad creatives or…pass?

I would not be where I am right now without Miami Ad School. At the time I attended, portfolio schools hadn’t really caught on yet. It almost seemed like an experiment. Class sizes were tiny and I learned more in a week than I’d learned in 4 years at ISU. It’s grown quite a bit since then and portfolio schools are practically a requirement to land a good job in Chicago. But like everything else in life, you can tailor the experience to your needs. I didn’t technically graduate from MAS. It was expensive and I knew I’d gotten what I needed after the first year, so I jumped out and started looking for a job instead of paying for another year. (“Jumped” sounds so much flashier than “dropped.”)

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring copywriters looking to break into the industry?

I sound like an old fist-shaker when I say this, but don’t expect too much too soon. This is a highly competitive industry, and with good reason. We get paid to make tiny movies. To write tiny books. To entertain the rest of the world by spending large sums of other people’s money. It’s a pretty great way to spend your days.

Also, listen to people who have been at it longer than you, but don’t be so intimidated by them that you don’t speak up when you have an idea or a new way of doing something. They are excited to learn from you, too. Especially in a time when new apps and computer-y things are popping up faster than you can say, “WTF is SMH?” (I thought it was “shit my head” for the longest time.)

Is freelance life good or do you miss the stability of a full-time gig?

Freelance is perfect for me. After you’ve been in the business for awhile, you learn a lot about your process and what works best for you. When you find it, you need to do all you can to protect it. Personally, I do not thrive in big brainstorm meetings or open office floor plans. Solitude is my best friend when I get an assignment. Well, solitude and sweatpants, anyway. Distraction works for some creatives. It cripples others.

Also, if you do it right, freelance can feel just as stable as full-time. It’s just a different kind of stability. I find comfort knowing there’s an exact start date and an end date. For the most part, YOU decide what’s next when you’re a freelancer. The rug can be pulled out from beneath you at any time when you’re a full-timer.

Best places in the Midwest to get inspired?

It’s easy to get inspired in Chicago. All you have to do is look out a window or go outside. Walking aimlessly while listening to music or finding an empty bench where I can stare at people for hours is like striking gold.

When I’m doing partner work, I enjoy bars vs. coffee shops. There’s a bar called the Pepper Canister downtown. Something about the dark Irish vibe, the server who gives you a knowing look when you pull out an assignment brief, and the frosty chalices of beer. Makes work not feel like work at all. 

Anything you’d change about the creative community here in the Midwest?

I can only speak for Chicago at the moment, but I feel like sometimes agencies try so hard to implement “creative” ways of working that they actually take a lot of creative freedom away from people. I’m a big believer in letting people work in whatever way results in the best ideas. Trying to capture creativity is ass backwards. Though I have a feeling that’s happening everywhere and not just the Midwest.

Do you think the Midwest influences your work? In what way(s)?

Very much. Midwesterners are extremely empathetic. It’s an invaluable tool I employ constantly in my writing. When concepting ideas for a campaign, you should be able to jump into the mind of pretty much anyone and figure out what will inspire them.

I worked at a truckstop restaurant for a few summers after high school. Figuring out how to talk to every kind of weirdo that walked in there was like the greatest bootcamp in understanding humans ever.

Would you ever love to write full-time or do you prefer the balance between an advertising job and a creative side hustle?

That dream of writing pantsless in a cottage on a lake will never fade. It would be my ideal. However, when it comes to advertising, there is something addictive about the instant gratification you experience when you think of an idea, sell it to the client, go on an amazing shoot, and then see it out in the world in a matter of weeks/months. I also love the kind of people you meet in advertising. Most of my best friends are ad junkies. Sometimes I don’t give the ad world enough credit. It’s stressful as hell, but the good times…they can be a kind of magic you can’t get anywhere else.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Despite what the grown-ups say, it’s okay to be shy. One day you’ll make a career out of those weird thoughts bouncing around in your head. 

chatting with author bree housleyWhat was your favorite and not-so-favorite part about writing and publishing your memoir, We Hope You Like This Song?

Favorite part is that it truly became a big part of my healing process in relation to Shelly’s death. When she died so unexpectedly, I went blank. And then I tried to jump right back into my life and not let it slow me down. Grief is a bastard and no one knows how to deal with it. Dedicating a full two years to thinking/writing about her and facing things I’d felt deeply guilty about was the therapy I didn’t even know I needed. The day I received the final pages of my manuscript, I sat next to her grave with my laptop and read her the first chapter. I wanted her to be the first to hear it.

Not-so-favorite? That would be the anxiety of putting all your shit onto 256 pages and knowing you can’t erase any of it later. After it was out of my hands, I had so many sleepless nights worrying that I remembered things incorrectly or that I’d accidentally offend someone. Thanks to Facebook, it’s not like the old days when people from childhood eventually dissolved into the ether. They know where to find you. And where to call you out for referring to them as a “butt munch.”

Any plans to publish another book?

Yes, I’d love to get book #2 out there. I’ve written a rough manuscript, but I need to find time to shape it and explore publishing options. I parted ways with my literary agent so I’ll be starting from square one. Enter whiskey and procrastination.

chatting with author bree housleyHave any words of wisdom for someone looking to publish a memoir or novel?

Don’t talk about it. Do it. It will take a lot of time and rejection, but if you truly have something to say, get it out there. Some people think there is a specific path to getting published, but that’s not the case. I literally bought Getting Your Book Published for Dummies and started there. I know other authors who swear by going to workshops. There are a million ways to go, but standing in one place just talking about it gets you nowhere.

Do you think the publishing industry is dead? If given the opportunity, would you have self-published or did you enjoy working with a publishing house?

I’m torn on this subject. As a reader, I’ve been burned by self-published books full of errors and shoddy storytelling. I think it still needs some sort of “gatekeeping” system, but at the same time, that would go against everything it stands for.

I don’t think publishing houses are the perfect answer either. In recent years they’ve kind of been forced to turn against those who have always supported the lit world by choosing to publish “celebrity” memoirs over books written by talented, unknown authors. Sadly, it’s all about money. The week my book came out, I believe Brandy Glanville’s memoir took the top spot on the Bestsellers List. Or was it Snookie? Either way, you get my point. Excellent writers are getting turned down every day for something worthy of a spread in Us Weekly.

Amazon reviews sung the praises of your memoir. How does it feel to write a work that resonates with a wider audience?

Oh, how I wish I were one of those people who doesn’t care what others think. But alas, those reviews are everything to me.

I love nothing more than waking up to a new positive review or email from a fan. Learning that my words have helped someone get through the death of a friend or, on the other hand, brought them back in touch with someone they hadn’t talked to in years…that’s it. That’s everything. 

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?

The fact that I can’t answer this is slightly worrisome.

Is the Midwest home?

Probably. I’m glad I’ve moved around in the past because I think it builds character, but I’m happy to be all nice and Midwest-y once again.

Are you creatively satisfied?

Yes. Every once in awhile it occurs to me that I’m being paid money directly for my brain. No better feeling than that.

How do you stay inspired?

Books, movies, music, podcasts. I’m a pop culture junkie. Live for it. 

Bubbler or water fountain?

La Croix.

Thin crust or deep dish?

Deep. Though I’d also marry a Tombstone Pepperoni if it asked.

Stop light or traffic light?

Is this a trick?

Anything we missed that you’d like people to know about you, your life and/or career?

I accidentally kissed a reporter on the mouth at a book reading event. Ahem, with an open mouth. So even when you feel like you’ve made it, you’re most likely about to do something real dumb. Embrace that.

Where can we find you?

Book: Visit the site or ask for it at your local bookstore. Or just be lazy and get it on Amazon or

Twitter: @breetheauthor

Instagram: @breethewriter


Portfolio: (fun flash site!) (less fun, more accessible.)

Thanks again for doing this Bree! And a very special HUGE congrats to her because she just gave birth to her daughter four days ago. 😯😍 Head over to her Insta to send her some love!


Chatting With Author Stefanie Lyons

January 14, 2016

chatting with author stefanie lyonsSay what you want about advertising, but there are thousands of super talented people working in this industry. And while I’ve only been working as a copywriter/content write for a few years, I feel so blessed to have already met a plethora of those “holy shit, you’re good” kind of creatives. Such is the case with the insanely talented writer, Stefanie Lyons. She was a creative director at my previous ad agency, which essentially means she is the top creative dog; the person who guides the writing and art direction before the client sees it (aka my boss). But outside the “9-5” (in quotes because, as anyone in advertising can attest to, this isn’t your typical 9-5 job), she’s a passionate author who very recently published her first fictional work.

While some of these interviews will be (or have been) edited for consistency’s sake, I will say I did very little (read: no) editing to this particular one. Because when a writer that you admire agrees to be interviewed for your blog, you let her do her thing.

With all that said, I give you the wonderful Stefanie Lyons…

Tell us a little bit about your journey. Where are you from? What lead you to pursuing a career in advertising and creative writing, especially in Chicago?

I’m from a small town in Kansas. It’s a wonderful place to grow up as a creative person because there’s not a lot going on so I had to use my imagination. I didn’t have access to a lot of indie stuff (pre-Internet), but what I did have access to gave me the chance to explore deeply and really exhaust and dissect those things. Where there’s not a lot of stimuli around you, you live in your head. To this day I still love living in my head.

I ended up in advertising because I didn’t know how to sustain myself as a fiction writer without teaching. I’d spent my whole life in school, so teaching seemed like an awful notion. I chose advertising because someone told me I wouldn’t have to take any math courses to graduate. Sold! (I hated math.)

Why Chicago? Because my best friend at the time said, “If you want to start out in Chicago, I’ll go with you.” So that settled that.

What was your family and upbringing like? Was creativity part of your childhood?

Creativity was a huge part of my childhood. My parents were raised not to pursue this when they were growing up, but they were both creative souls, so they fostered it in us. I had a piano, guitar, clarinet, and notebooks filled with poetry. I wrote music and created parts for my friends, depending on what instrument they wanted to play. It was joyous. For Christmas one year—by my request—Santa brought me a dictionary, rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus. Best. Christmas. Ever.

What attracted you to writing? Or, when do you first remember being interested in writing?

I can’t say what attracted me, but I can say that I have always known I wanted to be a fiction writer. Not to just write, but become a writer of books. An author. I was a huge reader as a kid, but not only that, I wanted to know about the author of the book and what their life was like, so that was a pretty early clue to what was going on in my head.

Who has had the biggest impact on your life as a writer, thus far?

Judy Blume. Charles Bukowski. Theodore Dreiser. Anne Carson. In no particular order.

Do you think living the Midwest has fostered or hindered your creativity?

I’ve never left the Midwest, so I can’t say. I haven’t felt like it has hindered it, but maybe someday when I move, I’ll look back and have a better answer.

one of Stefanie's artist residences

one of Stefanie’s artist residences

Best places in the Midwest to get inspired?

These next few questions come to me at a particularly interesting time. I grew up in the Midwest and thought it was awful at the time, but now that I’m older, I’m realizing that all my creative inspiration as of late stems from this very thing—growing up in the Midwest–so it has taken on a new meaning for me. I’ve had a reawakening, so to speak.

So, to answer this question, there are a lot of places to get inspired here. In St. John, Kansas, there’s a river and rickety bridge near where I grew up that I call my Walden Pond. It’s poem-inducing.

I like to hibernate in hotels around the area. Or do Airbnb. Tryon Farm in Michigan City, Indiana is spectacular. They have walking paths and adorable Mid-Century Modern homes tucked into the landscape.

The latest and greatest inspiring spot for me is the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s lobby. They refurbished it from the 1890s and it’s gorgeous. It’s the perfect place to work on something of the historical fiction sort.

And Dark Matter coffee’s Star Lounge Coffee Bar is, in my mind, the last of the 90s-style coffee shops. So, it’s another great place to go and feel like I’m back in time while I write. Guess this is a thing for me—nostalgia—now that I’m writing up my recos.

Anything you’d change about the creative community here in the Midwest?

I’ve been a part of varying creative communities here in Chicago, and the one thing I can say is that while it’s a great way to meet people, it’s even cooler that you can shape your path here. If you’re the type that wants to create something or grow something into your own thing, there’s an audience here, but there’s also a lot of opportunity. It’s yours for the taking. I love that.

chatting with author Stefanie Lyons

Do you think the Midwest influences your work? In what way(s)?

The more pastoral parts of the Midwest now influence my work. I used to be stimulated by activity and the hubbub of city living. Now, I’m hugely inspired by watching a bird sitting on a branch or listening to the wind blow through the trees. I know, I sound like a douchebag, but that’s what getting older has done to me!

Would you ever love to write full-time or do you like the balance between a semi-traditional 9-5 job (advertising) and a creative passion?

Right now, this is the perfect balance for me. I love doing both, and I think they inform one another.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?


chatting with author Stefanie Lyons

What was your favorite part about writing and publishing your latest novel, Dating Down?

Writing the novel was a lot of fun. And painful. And all-consuming. However, two times after it was finished, I had that “oh wow!” experience which made up for everything else:

  1. When the email arrived with the offer (and yes, in this day and age, the acceptance came out of the blue via email).
  2. When I saw the art department’s rough layout of the cover. Both times I was overwhelmed with excitement and disbelief, followed by an “oh crap, this is real” type of moment.

Do you think the publishing industry is dead? If given the opportunity, would you have self-published or did you enjoy working with a publishing house?

The publishing industry is going through transition, but it isn’t dead.

Personally, I had no desire to self-publish. I wanted my work to be out there, distributed through the regular channels. I’m old school like that. And I wanted an agent so I could make a career of this. And that “keep learning” part of my advice, I learned a ton from the editor and the publisher, and my debut novel group. It’s an entirely unknown world that you can only understand once you’ve journeyed through it, so I would’ve missed all of that. And it was a great process for me.

Any plans to publish another novel?

Hopefully. My agent is shopping my second one right now, so finger’s crossed.

Have any words of wisdom for someone looking to publish their work?

Never quit. Take classes. Keep learning. Explore the world with open eyes. And never quit.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

A big, fat, wonderful collection of stories, well told.

Is the Midwest home?

For now, totally.

Are you creatively satisfied?

That’s an interesting question. I’m going to answer this from a book/author POV and not an advertising one.

Satisfied, no. Fulfilled, yes. As a writer, I will never be satisfied. Once I accomplish one goal, it leads me directly to the next. It’s a limitless world out there—storytelling. Which is awesome. So I’m never able to hang up my hat and feel like it’s all good, all said and done. However, the process, the writing, the learning, the growing, my ability to stretch and create something newer, fresher, totally different from the last time (and hopefully better each time) that part is totally fulfilling. Do I feel satisfied? No, because there’s always a better version or another more creative story in me yet to come.

How do you stay inspired?

I don’t think it’s a matter of inspiration, because I think it’s more about hard work. I just do it. (Sorry, Nike. Don’t sue me.) I write and make time to write even when there’s seemingly no time. Because if I don’t write, I’m massively difficult to live with. I do get jolts of inspiration, usually from something I read in another novel, but mostly, for me, it’s just about hard work.

Although, I just downloaded a brainwave app that’s supposed to stimulate creativity, so if this works, then maybe I can work less hard.

Bubbler or water fountain?

Since I had to Google “bubbler” I’d definitely say water fountain. ☺

Thin crust or deep dish?

Thin crust. No question.

Stop light or traffic light?

Either. I don’t drive, so …neither really.

Where can we find you?

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, check out my site or pick up my book at Barnes & NobleAmazon or your local library.

Huge thanks to Stefanie for agreeing to be interviewed!


Chatting With the Talented Maria Guzman

January 7, 2016

I am very lucky to know so many creative, talented people who were or are currently living and thriving around the Midwest. And (if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile) you know I’m obsessed with interview-based blog posts, especially with creatives and artists. So it was only natural I make a little space here on Midwest Love Fest to feature these incredible people, starting with my best friend for the past 20-ish years (no, literally): Maria Guzman.

I have always been jealous of this lady’s INSANE artistic talent. Obviously I’ve known her for quite awhile–we even grew up essentially a few miles apart and our parents share an anniversary day–and from the time we were in kindergarten all the way through now, she has always blown people away with her ability. So, I felt it was only right that my first interview of this new series starts with her. With that, everyone who doesn’t know this lady already, meet the beautiful painter, Maria Claire…


Hey! Okay, so can you tell us a little about your journey thus far?

Well, I’m the youngest of three. I have two older brothers who got my butt in shape at a young age, which made me feel like I could always hang with the guys. I was a very anxious child, a trait that I think inhibited some of my creative tendencies for a long time because, well, I was a follower. And I always had to report back to my mother for everything. I remember in 6th grade, I quit piano because I had too much homework. Those anxious tendencies were bad growing up, which I regret because I wish I could play piano now.

High school was a game changer for me, in a few ways. I went on a service trip to Mexico, where we were building homes for families living literally in a dump yard, and had the realization that there seemed to be no reason why it wasn’t me living in that situation. Why did I luck out and get to be raised on a farm in the Midwest? Sure, my parents were working 365 days a year, but I had my needs met. So that was always in the back of my mind—that feeling that I need to do something because there’s really no reason I lucked out and had a better situation. The second game changer was caddying throughout high school because it got me a full scholarship to college. That impacted me in a lot of ways, especially work-wise–realizing that I could set a goal and actually achieve it.

I was then accepted into UMN Twin Cities and started taking sociology classes, which made me realize there are still a lot of prejudices that exist in the United States. Similar to that town we lived and volunteered at in Mexico. Our nation tries to keep all the bad things out of sight and out of mind, like they did with the garbage dump. Like, if we don’t see it, it’s not there. It’s just easier to ignore the problem. So I kind of refocused–going from global work to refocusing on more local issues in college.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

How, or when, did art become part of that?

Well, caddying was a large part of my time in high school, with the intention of getting a scholarship for caddying, which I did. So, in doing that, I didn’t necessarily have to think practically about what I was going to major in and what would make me money to pay off student loans after college. So I waffled back and forth between “Oh I want to do science! I want to do Spanish! Maybe I’ll do graphic arts!” Then I landed on Sociology and thought I might just minor in art since I always liked it, and needed to feed that side, and it ended up being easy enough to squish in a whole major in that time. So I did that.

Luckily, I  had one amazing professor my freshman year that really sparked my creative imagination again. Had I not had him I probably wouldn’t have pursed an art degree. He was very impactful. Honestly though, my art classes were some of my most stressful classes. They were the only ones I would pull all nighters for. They were the only classes that made me cry. They were the only ones were the professor would just tell me to stop “dicking around,” which is something my sculpture professor once told me in a critique. I mean, ultimately, those classes served to help me. They taught me that even if I hated something, if there’s one positive thing I can take away from the class or situation, or if there’s one thing I can learn, I will be happy.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

What was your time in art school like? Would you recommend it to someone looking to pursue a degree in the fine or graphic arts?

A lot of my art classes were repetitive and stressful, so I used them that way to toughen myself up. I wouldn’t have majored in studio art, and may have considered graphic art, if it weren’t for my scholarship. But, I followed my interests; I didn’t have to be practical.

I can’t speak to graphic art, but I was thoroughly disappointed with my education as a fine art major. There were very few history requirements, which is sad because there’s a lack of appreciation for art history and everything that came before us. Plus, that’s how all the past creatives learned to paint—by copying the masters that came before them. And I don’t know if there’s as much emphasis or importance placed on doing that now. There’s so much emphasis on pushing boundaries, but it’s not well-rounded enough. At least not in the program I attended. There also needs to be a stronger technical part to the education too, because there is a science to art; understanding paint and the chemical makeup of it, how it dries or how different mediums mix.

Ultimately, whether you go to school or not depends on what kind of artist you want to be. I learned some things from it—some things that have helped me progress–but I don’t think I needed to go to college to learn those things. If you want to be a true traditional artist and want to sell your work, I don’t think you need to go to school for that. Just learn how to market yourself.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

When do you first remember being drawn to (ha! puns) painting and art?

I always remember being surrounded by my cousins who are about 8 years older than me. They would come over from Belgium for the summer–I would go there every few years too–and we would do little art and crafts projects in watercolor. I remember in kindergarten being really frustrated by the assigned art projects, that there was a set thing you had to do, and I hated that everyone did the same thing. Now everyone dip your hand in the paint and put it on the felt [laughing] it was just the inability to be as creative as I wanted to be. Then again, I was too afraid to break the rules as a child.

From grade school on, I always incorporated art into my schoolwork. I would create the most elaborate projects, placing this enormous pressure on myself to do these creative things. But I always made it a part of my school life, somehow. Not sure exactly how it happened…I think my dad always had a creative edge to him. I remember my dad once teaching me how to draw a swing set on a piece of paper. So between him and having very creative cousins, it was always a fun hobby for me.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Midwest inpso?

Definitely my parent’s home and their farm. I’m very influenced by that place in general. I always end up being drawn to places and buildings. Essentially, outdoor places. One of the most fun paintings I did in college was of a photo I had taken of an abandoned railroad track in Minneapolis. A few homeless people were living down there and you get a feel for the environment without having to add the people in the paintings…you get a feel for the type of people who live there.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Do you think you could ever be a full-time painter or artist?

I don’t think I could ever do it full time because it would take the joy out of it for me. Yes, I would like to find a way to incorporate art into my life more, since I don’t paint as much as I would like to, but it’s the one thing that’s difficult for me to take constructive criticism on. And, honestly, I don’t really want to have to. When I paint it’s for me.

Have you ever sold anything, or would you?

I only ever sold one painting and it was really awesome. It was kind of a rush to make money from it, but it was one of the saddest things too because I put so much time into the project. So when I do paint, I want to keep it for my friends or family so I know where it’s going. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to produce more so I don’t have an emotional attachment to the pieces.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

How do you think creativity impacts or is incorporated into your day job as a Lead Housing Crisis and Housing Advocate?

I have to be creative in how I interact with people since I typically don’t work with people in my demographic. I’m currently working in Bridgeport (CT) where I’m the minority staff, so I have to be creative in how I connect with people, in order to gain their trust and understand how to best meet their needs.

Generally, having a creative mind helps with being able to problem-solve efficiently and affectively because I can see the smaller picture, or immediate issue, while also seeing how it fits into the bigger picture. It makes it easier to find the best solution based on those different moving parts, possibly better than people who don’t have that creative side and therefore have more of a one track mind.

One piece of advice for fellow or aspiring creatives?

Don’t put so much stress and pressure on yourself as a 12 years old. I wish I would’ve continued playing basketball and piano in 6th grade and not been so hung up on getting straight A’s. It’s not a big deal overall, but had I learned to let go of that stress earlier on in life—it took me till college to kind of get rid of all my anxiety—it would’ve made things a lot easier for me.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Least favorite part of the creative process?

Figuring out what I’m going to do. I obsess over it. Once I get into it, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a weird addiction almost and once I get past the stressful point of figuring it all out, I can paint and be free and then it becomes stress relieving; a release.

Favorite part of the creative process?

The actual painting portion is my favorite part of the creative process. If I’m not getting into a painting within a day or two of starting it, I just need to come up with a new subject because that’s where it becomes stressful—if I have to rework it. It’s actually helped me learn how to think about the stressors of my life in general though–not getting hung up on the little things—and learning when to let go, step back and be done.

How did the Midwest, or where you grew up in particular, hinder or help your creative growth?

Growing up on a farm, the pastoral landscapes are near and dear to my heart. In fact, that was one of my first projects in intermediate painting class. We had to do a realistic painting and an abstract painting and I chose a farm.

The community that I grew up in, in general, I think was a supportive environment for pursuing whatever you wanted, but I think it did that in a way that wasn’t really focused on making money or that competitive aspect, it was just about being the best of the best. In my college art classes, things were competitive and you felt everyone was striving to be the next best thing. In my early high school years, there wasn’t that competitive environment, which helped foster a strong appreciation for the arts. And if I would’ve grown up in a city, there may have been more pressure and inability to develop on my own terms.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

In what way do you wish the creative community in the Midwest was different?

I wish it was more accessible and open. I don’t know in Appleton [our hometown in WI] where I could go and find an open studio. Why can’t there be a gym for artists? I wish there was more of a collaborative community, where people could share resources and show support. Have it be as important as after-school sports. That was always my dream–to run my own creative-based non-profit for at-risk youth, because the creative stuff is always the first thing to be cut from schools.

Also, the art community can be so exclusive and pretentious. It needs to be more open and welcoming to everyone, otherwise it defeats the purpose of what it’s supposed to be about. Who’s to say what’s good or bad?

Okay now for the REALLY important questions. Bubbler or water fountain?


T-ah-g or T-ay-g?

Very self conscious of my “A’s” because living on the East Coast it’s a challenge. Everyone makes fun of me! My boss seriously makes fun of me every time I let my Wisconsin accent slip.

Thin crust or deep dish?

Deep dish. All the carbs!

Stop light or traffic light?

Stop light.

Thank you so much for doing this! Now, if people want to internet stalk you, where can they find you?

Don’t dabble too much on social media, but you can follow me on Instagram.