meet Stephanie, the artist & printmaker behind exit343design

Last year, one of my retailers reached out to see if I’d be interested in doing an interview for their blog. What an honor! I carefully answered all of their questions (and follow-up questions) and waited . . . and waited . . . cue their social media manager left the shop, so my interview got lost in the mix. I had actually spent a lot of time answering their questions as thoughtfully as I could, so it was a real bummer that it went no where.

Last week, I was going through some old files, happened upon it, and said screw it, I’ll just post it myself. Talking about myself so deeply on my own website is not my usual MO, but whatever, maybe someone will find some piece of it interesting. So, here it is, my 2018 interview for a retailer who shall remain nameless:

How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?

It’s not often that I’m describing my work to folks; more often than not, it’s a conversation about what exactly I do. When I’m explaining the latter, the most basic explanation is that I’m an artist who designs stationery and gift items. Beyond that, I strive to create work that is both fun and functional. I’m a screen-printer and I print all of my wares by hand; if someone doesn’t know what the process is, I’ll typically point to a graphic t-shirt as a common example. The nature of screen-printing lends itself to bold, flat color, layers, and crisp patterns- all features common in my work.

Why do you make/design things?

Designing and making is important to me because it’s one way that I express thoughts and share color or love or beauty or humor or whatever else is on my mind. I also enjoy sharing my expressions through functional items because I believe everyone should be able to own art, no matter if it’s something small like a quirky pin or a larger, fine art print.

What do you love about your job?

I am so lucky to be able to call exit343design my full-time job. It had been my side hustle for 9 years before I was able to take the plunge. Having worked either in retail or in a corporate, office environment for 15+ years, it puts this gig into perspective about how truly fortunate I am to steer my own ship. I love carving my own path, creating my own products, and learning every single day. There are always new challenges and it never gets boring- but if it did, I have the freedom to pivot to something new.

Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?

Being some version of an artist was always the plan- I spent six years earning two degrees, and buried myself in student loan debt to be an “artist.” In my mind, there was no other option but to make it work. In college, the push is to be exhibiting work in galleries and write exhaustive, introspective artist statements, but that wasn’t where my heart was. I’d go on to make work that fit that mold and I certainly learned a lot during that time. However, all the while I was holed up in the studio making art prints, greetings cards, and handmade books on the side for fun and for sale. After grad school, realizing I didn’t want to be a gallery artist but I did love to teach, I applied to universities around the country; however, this was on the heels of the recession, and nothing panned out. During that time, I was still working at my college retail job and selling my quirky art prints, greeting cards, and handmade stuff (books, pillows, stuffed animals, you name it) on the side. When my art earnings started outpacing my retail earnings, that was my “aha” moment- I realized what I was doing was actually being a small business and it was slowly growing so that maybe I didn’t need to get a “real” job after all! I should say that I worked in retail and in offices for many more years after that before I felt comfortable enough to fly solo, but my end goal was finally clear.

How do you work, and where?

My studio is in the basement of a house in the Philly burbs. It’s not glamorous by any means- it’s too cold in the winter, humid in the summer, and my studio-mates are a variety of spiders hiding in dark corners. But it’s my space and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I do most of my drawing and design work at home at our dining room table, but all of my printing in studio. Inspired by this interview, I actually created a step-by-step process on how I work for my website- you can check it out here.

If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?

I just read somewhere that Stefan Sagmeister works on a seven-year cycle, whereas he takes a full year off of professional work every seven years in order to refresh creatively. Sign me up for that please!

Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.

This is a tough question to answer! One thing that comes to mind is when I’m vending at art shows, folks are generally surprised when I tell them that I print just about everything myself.

Can you tell us about one of your favorite custom projects?

My favorite custom project from 2017 was working with Polly and Joy on their wedding invitation suite- you can see it and more of my custom work here.

 I love custom projects like this because it’s always a new challenge and pushes me creatively. I truly believe constraint breeds creativity and sometimes it’s hard to create constraints when you’re working on your own for yourself. Polly and Joy’s wedding paper project was a great mix of that, plus through the nature of the process, I got to get to know some really cool people I maybe would’ve never met otherwise.

What’s the hardest part about running your own business?

There is never enough time in the day to do everything that you want to do for all of the hats that you wear as a small business owner. It’s that simple.