Meet Nicole Stevenson. With almost twenty years of experience under her belt, this northern-Californian has been creating ever since she was a little girl – we’re talking make your own business cards at the age of nine. Pairing her love of creating with an entrepreneurial mindset, she’s created a community where makers can find resources and attend events that help them follow their passion while connecting with other makers like themselves.
Introduce us to you.
I’m Nicole Stevenson, writer, illustrator, maker, teacher, creative business consultant and co-founder/CEO of Dear Handmade Life which produces maker-focused events including Craftcation: Business & Makers Conference and Patchwork Show: Modern Makers Festival. Dear Handmade Life also creates community and education focused content through our podcast, blog and online shop.
Creating has been not only been present, but it’s been a driving factor in everything I’ve done.
How did you get your start as a maker and what do you make?
I spent many childhood afternoons combating only-child boredom by scrawling poetry and drawings on the inside of my closet door where my mom couldn’t see my own private ‘art gallery’. When I was nine, I DIYed my first ‘business cards’ with Mr. Sketch scented markers and Mrs. Grossman’s stickers for my first ‘business’: a handmade stationary shop housed in a refashioned refrigerator box in my front yard.
In high school, my love of making continued when I almost got kicked out of my Catholic girls’ high school for submitting nude sketches for the student art show.
A post-undergrad summer spent on the Venice Beach boardwalk hawking my paintings to tourists led to nearly a decade of designing prints and imagery for my clothing line in my twenties. While I juggled running my clothing line, teaching art and crafts to hundreds of children and adults in my own brick and mortar workshop space , and getting a master’s degree in English, I co-founded Patchwork Show: Modern Makers Festival.
Now, I’m still co-producing Patchwork Show and Craftcation, as well as co-producing our Dear Handmade Life blog and podcast. I’m also still creating design and illustration work at Nicole Stevenson Studio.
Have you always had a creative side or did someone help you find it?
I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t creating. I remember as a kid, my mom had this really old Toyota Corolla hatch back and the car would break down a lot. One time it broke down on the side of the freeway and while we were waiting for the tow truck, I was kicking the dirt around with my foot and ended up finding this weird little metal thing and a piece of tire. I took them home, grabbed my mom’s glue gun and turned them into a little pencil holder.
Even when I was very, very young I decorated my bedroom and couldn’t afford to buy the things I was seeing in magazines. I was probably too young to be designing the interior of my bedroom but what I could afford was stuff from the thrift store so that’s what I’d buy. I’d either make things or take things that I found from the thrift store and re-purpose them to turn my room into something that reflected my own style.
Do trends help guide what you’re creating?
I’m rarely making things myself nowadays that isn’t for work, but I do find that trends guide my crafting. Once a year I’ll take a week-long trip and head to the beach with my family. We’ll rent a house in Ventura so I’ll usually bring along my crafts. Last year I brought weaving and macramé which were huge trends last year. Right now I’m also in the middle of remodeling my kitchen, so I’m finding that trends are influencing me there too.
What trends are you seeing pop-up right now?
Punch needles – and we’re actually having a few punch needle classes at Craftcation in April. It’s a trend I’ve seen pop up a lot this year and I’m really excited to try it myself. It seems very meditative in the sense that it’s a repetitive craft you can learn quickly. I tend to gravitate more toward meditative crafts. They’re something I like to call ‘couch crafting’: throwing on a movie you’ve probably seen a dozen times and zoning out while you craft.
The other trend I’m seeing this year is stained glass. I’m really interested in that, but I don’t think it’s a craft I would try on my own because it requires so many supplies and seems quite technical. With punch needling all you need is a punch needle tool, some rug yarn, a pattern, and you’re good to go, but stained glass is a whole other ball game.
Who (or what) gets you excited about the work you do?
The work that I do now is centered around building and sustaining a community for creatives, so they’re the people that make me excited about what I do. I had a really bad week last week – it was one of those week’s where we had surprises pop up that were difficult to solve and everything that could go wrong did. In the middle of all that, someone sent me an email expressing how the work that we do with Craftcation and the resources we have on the podcast really changed her life and gave her the tools to feel more confident and take the leap to start her business venture of opening a crafting space for kids.
That’s the stuff that really inspires me and keeps me going. Knowing that people are creating lives that they love. Most of the hours we’re awake are spent working. If you don’t like your job, most of your life you’re doing something that you don’t like and that to me is really at the heart of what I want to help people with – finding the place, whether it’s working for themselves or someone else, where they feel like they’re feeding their soul.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?
I’d share that it’s not always about makers having to make a living with what they’re creating. It’s about deciding to live with intention. I don’t think that everyone who likes crafting, or has an Etsy shop, should be making a full-time living out of it. Maybe you love making stuff, but you want to hold on to your full-time job while developing that creative side. Maybe they keep their job part time and create part time.
The thing I really want makers to focus on is that they’re building a passionate life, living with intention and making that choice to define what their own idea of success is because it’s different for everyone.
What goal(s) are you working toward?
I’d love to organize more events for the maker community, but to make that happen I need to get better at letting go of a little bit of control. Basically, I need to stop trying to do everything myself. Whether it’s accepting help, looking for help, or delegating, it’s something I’d like to focus on this year so I can bring more to the creative community.
What’s your creative mantra and why?
The first thing that pops into my mind is, “it’s all grist for the mill”. As I look at my past, and how I got to where I am, it wasn’t a linear path. I didn’t intend to be where I am today, but looking back every single thing I did was a stepping stone to getting where I am today.
When I first moved to LA I was painting and I used to sell my art on the Venice Beach boardwalk. I didn’t have any money and was living in a single bedroom apartment with 5 other girls. I had left grad school and a beautiful apartment in San Francisco, but I had sacrificed all this stuff because I wanted to be an artist and for me that was a very noble sacrifice. I was even willing to sleep on a bean bag, which I did, so I could make my art. I would wake up every morning with my friend and head to Venice beach. We didn’t even have an extra blanket. We would take the blanket off our bed, lay it on the sidewalk, put our paintings on it and try to sell them.
Looking back now, it was an extremely stressful time but those were all the experiences that built up to where I am now. And I’m sure where I’m at now is going to build up to my next thing. I don’t know what that is yet, but when you’re in that place of “what am I doing here?” or “What’s the next thing?” just keep working hard and keep your ears open because it’s all grist for the mill – it will all run into the next thing.
What’s on your studio playlist?
I have such varied taste in music, but my very favorite singer is Nina Simone. Looking at my playlist right now, I’m realizing I tend to listen to some pretty moody music. I have Nina Simone, Neil Young and Wilco on this playlist. I also listen to some newer and indie music now, but I tend to go for stuff from the ‘60s and 70’s and I really love punk rock from the 80’s.
When you’re not creating what are you up to?
My husband I have been renting a house for 8 years now and we just bought it this past year. Even though we’ve lived in it for a long time, it really feels like it’s ours now, so we’ve been spending a lot of our free time fixing things up. When I’m not renovating though, you’ll find me couch crafting while watching a film I’ve seen too many times to count or sitting in my backyard with good friends (and a margarita) while playing Cards Against Humanity. I also love squeezing in time for a quick trip to a lovely place where people are scarce and trees are not.
Darice is excited to partner with Nicole and the Craftcation: Business & Makers Conference this April as the official craft supply sponsor for the fourth year in a row!
Makers make the crafting world go ‘round. Are you a maker who wants to be featured on Darice? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about yourself and any important links you want to share with us. We’re looking forward to meeting you!
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