Category Archives: Thoughts, Curiosities + Advice

The Problem With Maker Culture for Computer Arts Magazine (April 2016 Issue)

The Problem With Maker Culture for Computer Arts Magazine (April 2016 Issue)

More than a Pinterest-inspired weekend craft, DIY is now an approach to life that has millions of people quitting their jobs to actualize their self-made business dreams.

Fueled by passion and driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, this evolution is challenging our industries for the better — but it’s also pissing a lot of people off.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that more people are becoming business owners (a trend I believe is inevitable), however, the culture that surrounds this phenomenon promotes half-truths and rose-coloured glasses ideals about what it means to be a self-made creative professional, a trend which dilutes and cheapens the industry.

Social media and online publications left and right promote the idea that if you simply “do” and “make”, you’ll become a success — a false truth begging for failure. Creating is a mentality that we should all embrace, not a badge to be worn and the headline-skimming culture we’ve created (supported by overnight insta-fame) not only leads to unfair beliefs based on shallow perceptions, but undermines the hard work of the oodles of creative professionals who paved the way.

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Why Luck is Bogus: Waiting At The Door For Opportunity To Knock

Why Luck is Bogus: Waiting At The Door For Opportunity To Knock

In my career and life, I’ve been referred to as lucky.

On paper, it seems I stumble into good fortune by fluke, and I believe other “lucky” people are often misjudged as having fallen into opportunities by accident. And we uphold this false belief because no one wants to be the asshole who corrects people in casual conversation when they’re told, “wow, you’re so lucky! I wish I was just as lucky.”

But while on my recent trip to Cuba, I (finally) read (devoured) Outliers: The Story of Success, and I couldn’t help but feel compelled to write this post and put together a YouTube video (below) offering tips for how to become “lucky” in an effort to hopefully bring some clarity to a conversation about success that’s often clouded with bitterness by some who unfairly categorize people into two boxes: those who are lucky, and those who aren’t.

Check out the video (shot by Shawn) and my tips by watching below:

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Sabrina Smelko — Creative and Interior Designer, Illustrator, Art Director, and Blogger

Full disclosure: I have been guilty of approaching my work and career with a utilitarian mindset for years, and it’s finally run its course.

And as a result, my portfolio is almost entirely made up of images created to satisfy a stiff brief. These images are strange to me. And these images don’t bring me joy.

And hey, by no means do I think my life as a creative professional should be — at all times — fun, enjoyable and satisfying. I will still be taking on clients to pay the bills, however, I shouldn’t look at my body of work and wonder where where my voice is and what my goal is. Balance, indeed, would be nice. (I know I’m being harsh on myself, but trust me, this is going somewhere good.)

For years, I’ve been great at being a business woman who happens to inject some creativity into the mix, finishing every single job I’ve ever been hired for before the deadline, and sometimes with two versions of the final. I have been quick to reply to (most) emails, polite when dealing with quotes and invoices, and quick to answer phone calls at any time of day.

At the risk of sounding like a tool, I am fantastic at appeasing a brief. And this has made me more successful than I ever anticipated, which I am grateful for (it’s how I was able to buy a house, and renovate said house), but is it the end all and be all? Is it doable in the long-term? And more importantly, is it the work I crave? Is any of it indicative of what’s in my head; what I gab about to Shawn at night on the sofa; how I feel about the world? Is it meaningful to me? The answer is no. I’ve been able to satisfy this expressive itch on a tiny scale through this blog (hurray!) but I have yet to bring that passion and point of view into my art, and that’s a very silly and sad reality.

Before I go on, I should clarify that I didn’t not enjoy creating the work in my portfolio per se — perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but there’s something sickly satisfying about working on a deadline and satisfying a client’s need for a colour change — but that doesn’t mean it’s the work I’d be happy doing for the rest of my life — or even the work I’m meant to do. Let’s face it: I get this work because I’m available. I get it because there’s an itch on someone else’s end that I’m chosen to scratch. Notice that this process never takes into account my itches. Sure, sometimes a client lets me have some creative liberty, but the reality is, it’s always freedom on a leash and often comes with strings attached (you go one step too far, and you’re asked to reign it in).

Frankly, I’m employed to pick up my pencil when someone else tells me to, and I’ve forgotten to pick it up for myself.

I’ve always had big ideas that I squash because I am one person, or simply because it’s impractical. I’m quick to say, “it’s probably been done before,” only to discover that I can’t find something quite like it anywhere. I’m quick to throw myself into a commercial artist box because there’s always a portrait or a politician in need of drawing, and I weigh that against the frivolous or fleeting or subjective need for art.

Of course art is necessary, but as a (very) logical person who is sometimes too right brained, I’m quick to think, “why should I?” And this week the answer to that question hit me: because it would make me happy. Because I’d want to hang that drawing in my own home. And maybe, just maybe, if I would, someone else might want to, too.

And so, I’m embarking on a creative journey toward self-discovery. (Which, in less flowery terms, means that I’m halting some $$$ jobs to focus on my own personal practice. Rather than using my downtime to write articles for blogs for extra cash, I need to be investing in finding my voice again and doing things that make me happy. Mom, you’d be happy to know that I’m diving back into my paints.)

One of these newly sparked but very unsatisfied mediums that I’ll be exploring is interiors, a world that’s undoubtedly connected to art and design. Art influences fashion influences furniture influences art… And yet, up until recently, I haven’t figured out the right way to marry these worlds in a way that involves all of my skills, satisfies me creatively, and does justice to my point of view.

I often feel like I flip-flop between art exhibits, blogger events, and rubbing elbows with people in the home/interiors space, and while navigating the myriad worlds is my reality, I’ve had a hard time mobilizing all of that in a way that is accessible, pleases me, and is helpful — to myself and to others. At art events, I talk about technique and colour theory; at interior events, I chat about furniture and the layout and flow of a room; at blogger events, I gab about writing, clothes and brand collaborations. I like all of those things, and no one area takes away from the other, but it frustrates me that I haven’t simply tried to create things that merge all of my likes.

At the end of the day, I am the sum of my parts, and for too long I’ve let paid jobs rule my life and dictate the work I make, and it’s time to make some stuff that just makes me happy. The sketches I do for all of five minutes while I’m on a conference call with a client is something I should be spending days on.

So wish me luck as I try to connect the dots between my worlds and meditate on my skills. Om…

Making It Must Haves: What Does It Take To Become a Success?

Making It Must Haves: What Does It Take To Become a Success?

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed and spoken with over 150 self-made entrepreneurs, and — on a weekly basis — I’m faced with answers to the question “What does it take to make it?”

And the answers to this same question might surprise you.

Between being a self-employed freelancer and an Editor for Design*Sponge (specifically my experience heading the Life & Business column), I’m practically forced, on the regular, to explore self-employed success and try to put my finger on exactly what it takes to get there.

This theme has followed me for years, and even extended to last fall where I explored this topic ad nauseum while I prepared my talk for Miami’s Wolfsonian “Making It” conference, and again at Sheridan where I taught during the winter 2015/2016 semester. It’s been asked of me, of my partner, Shawn, and I’ve asked it myself countless times, so I felt the need (?), responsibility (?), desire (?), to get it off my chest and try to put over 575 days into a few paragraphs on the internet that answers the question, “how do you make it?”

No matter the field (I’ve talked with metalsmiths, florists, event planners, PR professionals, lawyers), I’ve found that these six truths, if you will, have blanketed every conversation:

Making It - Sabrina Smelko Ramble.001

This one goes without saying, so I’ll keep it short and sweet: You have to really want it; you have to be not just willing to work, but often possessed by your desire to work. Ask yourself: Is your craving to work affecting other area of your life? Is it creeping into your thoughts at night? Are you constantly thinking and talking about it? Is it impacting decisions you make? Are you willing to make sacrifices in its name? Do you love it so much that even when you come to hate it, it’s worth it? These are all questions you have to be able to answer “yes” to if you’re going to make it down the arduous road to self-employment.

That said, hard work can sometimes be mistaken for long, all-consuming hours, but some of the most successful people I’ve spoken with talk only about the quality of their hours: working smarter, not necessarily harder — using whatever time you have in the most efficient and productive way possible. Of course, you’ll have to put in time and energy on days and weeks that will feel grueling, and it will be awful some days, but if it’s truly your calling, it won’t feel like work most of the time. Great news is, if you’re steeping in it, some of the work happens in the hours you may view as down-time: coffee with a friend, watching a movie, walking your dog — your philosophy and craving for your goals can and will permeate all areas of your life, whether you notice it or not.

Making It - Sabrina Smelko Ramble.002

Hands-down, the answer I most commonly received surrounded making sacrifices that others aren’t willing to make — and I don’t just mean sacrifice in the physical sense (i.e. long hours, no weekends off), but emotionally and on a personal level. Where most live for Friday night, you live for the Monday morning. You have to give up a lot of things: control, time, security, fear of putting yourself out there, fear of failure, etc. You have to do more even when you know you can get away with less. You have to work harder than the next guy or gal. And you have to be okay with giving up many comforts and even more fun.

Of course, balance is also a huge component (and burn-out deterrent), but stomaching sacrificing a lot without growing bitter is necessary. In fact, many also said that they don’t view giving up a social life as a complete sacrifice because I also believe that many of these people would rather spend time alone at home than hit the club.

Making It - Sabrina Smelko Ramble.003

This one goes hand-in-hand with sacrifice, but if you truly work hard enough that you’re sacrificing sleep, weekends, and parties, then you’re bound to become an enigma to some friends and/or family. A lot of people can’t relate to the sometimes obsessive work ethic many entrepreneurs maintain. Even those who work hard at their full-time jobs and are at the top of their game may not be able to relate — and it’s to no discredit on anyone’s end, but simply because the world of making it solo and the world of 9-5 are very different. People with office jobs have challenges you could never wrap your head around and vice-versa, so you should be prepared to be questioned or treated a certain way by people who just may not get it. Some may never understand why you’d rather be at home working than at their party, and it may never be understood by them if they’ve never RSVP’d no for that same reason. Some people just won’t get it, and that’s okay.

Part and parcel of this theme is also taking responsibility for this: take it in stride, expect it to be a given, and realize that it’s not personal. The sooner you can smile and nod and roll with the punches, the easier it will be to respond to and be at peace with people not understanding you. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

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