Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Personal Journey in Careers and Confidence: My Experience at Designer VACA


I just returned from Designer VACA, an annual retreat that brings together female graphic designers and web developers, many of which freelance and own small businesses. Founded in 2012 by Promise Tangeman and Alyssa Yuhas, it is one part vacation and one part creative seminar, with panels throughout the weekend on subjects ranging from refining creative processes to establishing the often illusive work-life balance.

I was invited along for its incarnation in 2012 and I remember feeling extremely anxious when I opened that email. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go but because I felt intimidated. I read through the details and arrived at the bottom, which listed all the other women who had been invited. I didn’t know a single one in person but I had been reading many of their blogs for years. Having the chance to meet this group of peers face-to-face for the first time both excited and terrified me. I held off on responding for three days.

Finally, I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to gather with other female designers in person and that I was letting fear get in the way. I signed up.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that I was intimidated because I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be in my career. I had known that I needed to make some big changes but carving out the time to sort through my goals and having the courage to follow through with them still felt a ways off. I was confident in my design abilities but not with everything else beyond that.

Both one of my biggest strengths and weaknesses is that I’m always seeking perfection. Often, when I am showing up for a workshop or retreat, I create a mindset where I want everything to be perfect: my elevator pitch, website, wardrobe and business cards need to be sorted. But that’s just not realistic — we all live busy lives with major commitments, whether that’s to our family, friends or jobs and those things often come first before our businesses. Carving out the time to achieve a sense of perfection that doesn’t really exist anyway just sounds ridiculous.

What I realized when I arrived at the retreat in 2012 is that I wasn’t alone — a lot of us were in transition. Many of the women were younger than I was and carving out niches as brand new business owners. Just like me, many of them were trying to figure out their next steps career-wise. I had to get over my own ego, put my guard down and realize that I wasn’t by myself. Staying up into the wee hours poolside with women I’d admired online for so long really put things into perspective — we shared a lot of the same struggles. It’s easy to present a curated image online but in reality, many of us were still trying to find our way.


I showed up to Designer VACA in 2012 in a huge state of transition and I wasn’t sure how anything was going to pan out. Just a month before, my two friends and I had announced our first Blogcademy date in New York. Even though it sold out in six days, we still had a mountain of work to do with regards to the workbook design and presentation. I had just been offered a huge print feature in an issue of Computer Arts on my way to the retreat. And, I was just starting to realize that it was impossible to keep the pace with my design career on top of other commitments.

A few of the women in that first year’s retreat including Bri and Kathleen had already expanded with staff beyond themselves and hearing them talk about their studios really inspired me. After all, I enjoyed working in teams at agencies a whole lot more than working alone every day. These conversations with other women creatives planted the seeds and showed me what was possible.

This year, I arrived at Designer VACA finally feeling like the person I’d struggled so hard to be last year: in control of what I wanted, confident enough to follow through and finally okay with accepting that running my businesses(es) full-time is full of a lot of unknowns. I now realize that things happened as they were supposed to and that you can’t rush your creative journey. I needed agency experience to become the designer I wanted to be and I needed to meet certain people along the way to make Branch possible. All the pieces required to run my businesses were there; I just needed a catalyst like Designer Vaca to inspire me to take charge.

If you’re interested in attending Designer VACA next year, you can sign up for the mailing list to be notified of ticket sales right here.

The Week in Pictures: 9.27.13 | Palm Springs

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

On Monday, We Are Branch launched. It had been a longtime dream of mine to run a boutique design studio and I was done waiting — the time finally felt right. Thanks to all of you who have added us on Twitter, Instagram, sent us sweet emails and cheered us on. It’s always scary launching a new project, not knowing what the response will be so your support has been hugely appreciated.

Two hours after we pushed the Branch site live, I boarded a flight with Joey and Rocky bound for LA to meet with clients. On Wednesday, we headed for Malibu — I’d never been before and it was even more beautiful than I’d imagined.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

Thursday morning, we hit the road, Palm Springs-bound for the annual Designer VACA retreat, which is held at the Ace. I attended last year as well and it was the catalyst I needed at the time — it sparked a lot of the big shifts in my businesses that have happened since. Spending a few days at the Ace has been a welcome chance to recharge, connect with friends I only see once a year and to also catch up with fellow branchee, Star, who’s my roomie here.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

The lobby of the Ace is purposely very much stuck in the 70s but I love it. Getting away from everyday life and switching up the scenery and routines you’re used to is hugely inspiring.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

Today, I spoke on a panel about personal branding, which was perfect since I’ve just transitioned my design business, including a fresh brand, site and process. My panel mates included a trio of designers I adore and have immense respect for: Eva Black, Emma Robertson and Megan Gilger. Hearing other creatives’ personal journeys and the hows and whys behind their current business ventures is so inspiring.

This retreat is such a breath of fresh air and no topics are off-limits. It’s a welcoming atmosphere that allows for learning and collaborations with no judgement. We have one more packed day of talks tomorrow and I’m looking forward to digging in and soaking it all up.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

Of course, hiding out in Palm Springs isn’t all work and no play — we spent our afternoon break by the pool soaking up the rays and talking shop. I’ll have more photos and insights on the retreat next week. Thanks for following along on this week’s adventures and I hope you have an awesome weekend!

Livin’ It Up In London With The Blogcademy!

The Blogcademy London

After an epic week-long adventure through two Greek islands, it was time to get back to work. We landed on London soil on a Wednesday night in early September and set our alarms for 6 a.m. sharp Thursday morning. After many flights and boat rides, it was a rude awakening but absolutely necessary to have enough time to set up our venue for the 10 am start.

The Blogcademy London

The Blogcademy London

Once we got into the swing of things and made a Starbucks pit-stop on our way to the tube, we began to snap out of our Grecian slumber.

The Blogcademy London

We’d originally booked one workshop, which gave us a few days off between Greece and London. But, when that class quickly sold out, we launched another and the only time we could sneak it in was before the first!

The Blogcademy London

After teaching two back-to-back classes in January at the gorgeous while-walled wonderland that is Curtain Road Studios in Shoreditch, we knew we wanted to head back — if it’s good enough for Tim Walker, it’s good enough for us!

The Blogcademy London

London blows me away every time. We’ve now done four classes in the city and the London girls take their blogging very seriously. Always a stylish, eccentric bunch, they ask the most questions, take the most photos and travel hours for our meet-ups. It’s always intense and inspiring for me to watch.

The Blogcademy London

Also intense and inspiring to watch? AND a little bit scary?! During one of our breaks, Kat and Gala climbed up a rickety old ladder to Curtain Road’s rooftop. I stood underneath, afraid that the ladder would give out and that I’d have to finish the class on my own. Haha!

Continue reading

Link Love: 9.26.13

link love

Link Love

• Do you suffer from the the fear of missing out? I know I do! It’s hard to ignore what everyone else is doing with social media at our fingertips.

• Agency vets share their top tips for surviving.

• 7 ways to grow your email list.

• Are you guilty of hate reading the social media accounts of people you can’t stand?

• 11 ways to create a life you don’t need to escape.

• Hairstylist to the stars, Oribe has a pretty amazing story of how he got started in the business.

• Breanna Rose designed a pretty and free floral iPhone wallpaper.

• Anna just found the holy grail of mascaras.

• As a small business owner, there are going to be times where you get knocked down.

• 10 ideas for square photos.

Photo: Kate Moss by Mert and Marcus for Interview.
View more Link Love columns here.

H&M Home Part 2: More Wallet Friendly Finds

H&M Home Part 2

When H&M’s home line launched on their site last month, I rejoiced at all of their stylish offerings and went a little nuts, ordering a bundle of goodies. Best of all, everything that showed up on my doorstep looked exactly as it had on the website and was of decent quality, considering the ridiculously affordable prices. My favorite items in my last order? These subway ticket towels and this espresso mug.

At this point, after living in my house for four years, the major construction projects are nearing an end but overall, it still is lacking some style. There’s a reason why I tend to only show the same three rooms on my blog — the others still need some oomph and I’m no interior designer!

H&M Home Part 2

I’ve been looking for some odds and ends to spice things up around my place. Over the weekend, I took a peek on the H&M site once again and they’ve made a bunch of new additions. Here’s a few I’ve added to my must have list: 1. Egg Cup, 2. Tray, 3. Vase, 4. Tea Towel, 5. Plate, 6. Metal Tin, 7. Glass Vase, 8. Candle Holder, 9. Hangers, 10. Candle and 11. Table Runner.

Have you ordered anything from H&M Home yet? What did you think?

Announcing: Branch, A Boutique Design Studio!

We Are Branch

Today I have a big announcement to make about a personal project that I’ve put a lot of time and energy into: I’m officially launching a full-service design studio, Branch!

This shift in my career has come along partially out of a personal evolution and partially out of the fact that I had to admit to myself that my design business was bigger than myself. From the outside, it might seem like designers dedicate most of their days to doing design. But as time goes on, project management, research, keeping up with emails, blogging and social media takes up more of our daily existence. I know that a lot of other small business owners feel this creep as well. Pretty soon, you have to stop and ask yourself where all the time to create has gone. I did. Finally, I had to stop what wasn’t working and take what was to the next level.

In The Beginning

As you probably know by now, I started my blog, Nubby Twiglet in 2001. At that time, I was active on Live Journal and blogging quickly became the creative outlet I desperately needed while in school for business. Six years into blogging, thanks to a heart-to-heart with my friend Star who insisted I needed to move my blog over to the WordPress platform, I relaunched here, in August 2007, on my own domain.

By that point, I was in school full-time for graphic design. As I finished projects, I shared them with my readers. Before I knew it, I was getting freelance inquiries. The more work I shared, the more work rolled in. It was a natural progression. Even as I worked at design studios, I kept my blog very active and built up my portfolio, spending nights and weekends wrapping up client projects. Nubby Twiglet had quite accidentally transformed from a lifestyle blog to a design studio as well. The thing is, that “design studio” was just me. This worked out wonderfully for the first few years — I was able to keep everything running smoothly and build my clientele without all the headaches that come along with managing other people.

Then, as the scope of projects grew and more inquiries than I could handle started flooding in, I felt a shift. And when I gave it some serious thought, that shift I was feeling was completely normal: it was part of my evolution as a designer.

I’d spent six years at design studios and ad agencies collaborating as part of larger teams and that was actually how I was most comfortable working. I liked bouncing ideas off of other people and I also liked being challenged design-wise by co-workers who were much better than I was. It forced me to grow and constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone. But with my freelance clients, which I worked with through Nubby Twiglet, I had to adjust back to managing everything myself.

We Are Branch

My methods and work kept growing and then I saw the writing on the wall. That shift I’d been feeling but couldn’t quite articulate became more apparent after launching The Blogcademy last August and working as a team, even though it was virtual. Once Kat, Gala and I had decided to partner up for our new venture, we got so much done in incredibly short periods of time. Having assigned tasks for each of the three of us upped the productivity dramatically and I saw the benefit once again of working as a team. I wanted that for myself but it didn’t feel within reach at the time.

I loved design but seemed to spend most of my time answering emails and putting together proposals. I didn’t want to live my life filling up my free time with administrative tasks. I had another heart to heart talk with Star, this time late one night in our shared hotel room during Designer VACA, trying to sort out my feelings about my business. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with Nubby Twiglet, as I had for the past six years. But when we dug deeper, we were able to pinpoint my uneasiness: the twig had grown into a branch. To take things to the next level, I needed “branches” to get everything done. The business was bigger than I was. To move forward from there, I needed to admit that I couldn’t do it all myself and be okay with that. It sounds easy enough, but when you’re an overly organized control freak Virgo like I am, making that admission and letting go is incredibly difficult.

We Are Branch

What I’ve since realized is that being brave enough to let go can lead to amazing things. That initial upheaval that comes with realizations about our businesses, relationships and ourselves has the potential to bring forth some of the best things into our lives. Now, everything feels right. My blog, Nubby Twiglet will keep on going as it always has. I’ve loved it since 2001 and I’m still excited to wake up every morning and publish new articles to share with all of you. The Blogcademy fulfilled my dreams of traveling and teaching. And now, Branch is the place where I’ll have the opportunity to collaborate on design projects with my favorite people.


Today is launch day and as a full-service creative studio, I’m ecstatic to have a business that’s finally bigger than myself. As a freelancer, I felt like it was my duty to answer every single email, fill out every single contract and manage all of the creative on my own. At Branch, I have the opportunity to design a whole lot more. And that is what I feel best doing. Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far for help to manage the day-to-day administrative tasks. My mom, Cathy will now step in as a project manager and with over 30 years of management experience, she’s a whole lot better at tackling spreadsheets, forms, receipts and emails than I am. Star, who coded my first ever blog back in the day and helped me make the idea of running a studio bigger than myself a reality, is joining me for web design duties. She also deserves some serious applause for pulling a week of nearly all-nighters to bring the site to life. Joey, my brother Carey and even Rocky will be involved (because every company needs a mascot). Needless to say, I love my branches.

If you have a project that you feel would be a good fit for us, we’d love to hear from you! Thanks for all your continued support. I am beyond excited for this new era of design, business and blogging.

The Week In Pictures: 9.20.13

The Week In Pictures

The Week In Pictures

The Week In Pictures

The Week In Pictures

It’s been one of those weeks — you know, the ones where you barely leave the house?! Even as recently as a year ago, I used to completely dread weeks like this but after doing so much traveling (Austin, Cannon Beach, Santorini, Mykonos, London and New York in the last month and a half alone), I actually look forward to waking up and having to be absolutely nowhere.

While I’ve been home, there hasn’t actually been any downtime though. I spent the week revamping my digital portfolio and clocking in at close to 25 projects, there was a lot to get through. Though I’ve shared a majority of the projects before and it all worked perfectly fine, I’ve always felt that “good enough just isn’t good enough.” I wanted everything to be larger in scale, to show more uses and to have a more consistent, polished feel. And, though it took 4 straight 12 hour days to get through, it feels so good to be done! I’ll share the results next week. :)

The Week In Pictures

September is a good month around here — my birthday was the 14th, Joey’s is the 24th and sandwiched in between was our anniversary on the 17th. We like to knock everything out at once! Of course, no anniversary is complete without a few silly photobooth rounds after a few celebratory drinks. Cheers to three years!

The Week In Pictures

On Monday, the travel starts up again. I head off to LA for some client meetings and in preparation, I’ve been digging through 10 years of magazine tears for an editorial project I’m going to be working on. I must have 500 pages saved in my flat files and having those physical references is so valuable. For as long as I live, I will continue investing in books and magazines!

The Week In Pictures

And with that, I’m signing off to conquer a big to-do list before my LA trip. Have an amazing weekend, everyone. I’ll be back next week to share the inside scoop of what I’ve been working on business-wise behind the scenes. xo