It’s a sweltering summer day and the AC is broken in the station wagon just two hours into the four-hour family road trip. We’ve all been there. Fortunately for Carolyn Sewell, her fond memories of playing word games out-weigh any recollections of backseat squabbling. She didn’t know it at the time, but those games of pig latin and word-rhyming would fuel her drive to make a career out of letters.
Carolyn is now her own boss at www.carolynsewell.com, where she designs for clients and gets featured in publications like Communication Arts, UPPERCASE, and The Washington Post. Our second houseguest shared how she got her start, how she stays motivated, and why she keeps a pouch of glitter in her purse (for emergency sparkle situations, obviously).
You’ve said that cheerleading prepared you for the design world… um, please explain!
I was a cheerleader in high school and painted those gigantic papers that football players run through at the beginning of the game. Each one took about four hours to create, and a few minutes for the players to shatter to pieces. I didn’t realize how much that would prepare me for the agency world where you work on something for ever and then have to watch creative directors shred it in front of you… sometimes physically, ha, but always emotionally!
A lot of creative people feel pressured to land the dream job right out of school. Did you?
There’s definitely a screw-the-man, love-what-you-do revolution going on, but it feels a little… misguided. I mean what would happen to this world if we were all like, “I need to be happy all day long, like 24-hours a day?” Not every project I do is awesome but you gotta pay bills, too.
Bills, bills, bills… How do you avoid the burnout?
By doing projects on the side that creatively fulfill me. Personally, I need to create things that are just for me and nobody else. But then of course I put it online and someone sees it and says, “Hey we want to pay you to do that for us!” And I’m like, “Alright … that’s cool … guess I’ll have to start something else now.” Because then it turns into work. So I’m always doing new side projects.
Life is unpredictable, even with the best planning. How do you push through the unexpected?
With every job that I’ve had, I’ve loved something and learned something. They weren’t all dream jobs, but now I know what I’m really looking for. I learned what I wanted in my career and what I didn’t want. What I liked in a boss and what I didn’t like. And I met wonderful people. At my worst job I met some of my best friends. Even getting laid off at one point opened up new possibilities for me.
What was your most awesome project from last year?
The theme for the Arlington County Fair was “Explore Arlington” so I decided to hand-letter a map of every neighborhood in the county. It took for ever, but seeing people’s faces light up when they spotted their own ‘hood was really something special.
Thank you to Filmmaker Elyse Mueller, turning awkward moments into gold
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