We're nine months into this series (catch up on the rest here) and I'm excited to welcome Amy Tan for September's interview! She has worked in multiple creative industries over the years and knows a thing or two about finishing up projects—or not.
Welcome! While most scrapbookers know you from your Amy Tangerine line of products, you actually have a background in all sorts of creative endeavors. Can you share a little about the path you’ve taken as a maker through the years?
Of course! I grew up in a household where my parents both made stuff. On weekends my dad built furniture, my mom sewed dresses, and I remember seeing that they always kept themselves busy with various creative projects. They also often talked about owning their own business - I think they were hoping for a restaurant, where they both could work together or maybe even owning a franchise, but they never actually pursued it. Fast forward to high school, I took my first sewing class senior year and ended up making my own prom dress (I combined 2 different patterns and chose the softest champagne colored fabric I could find). I also got asked to make a friend's prom dress and it felt so cool bringing her idea to life and getting paid for it was a nice bonus. In college, I was studying Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, and my love for fashion was being put on hold a bit. Until I started doing some custom designs for friends - making dresses for fraternity formals and other random occasions. It was something I really enjoyed doing and being somewhat compensated for my time was a perk. I say somewhat because the entire process probably took me 10-15 hours and I charged $100.
I was also feeling challenged as an ID major, spending a lot of time in the studio on projects, but only receiving a B or a C. I decided I was better off transferring to study Fashion Design & Marketing after my sophomore year and my parents were supportive of that decision. Then I met a photographer while answering phones part time at a modeling agency in Atlanta, who asked if I ever thought of being a fashion stylist. Turns out I enjoyed shopping and pulling clothes and worked as a freelance stylist when I graduated college. I was also hostessing at a restaurant a couple nights a week as well as working as a contributing editor to a magazine. I produced and styled photoshoots for a while and then made hand crocheted arm warmers. A store ordered them, I got some press in WWD and Lucky Magazine. In the spring they asked me "what are you going to make next?" and I said, "I don't know, tank tops?" And then I made hand embroidered tank tops and sold them to about 10 boutiques around the US. A store owner called me one afternoon and told me that Cindy Crawford was in Glamour magazine wearing one of my designs. I was shocked and decided then that perhaps I had a viable little business. And I decided I should pursue my own collection of reconstructed tanks and tee shirts with hand embroidered details.
I signed up for a tradeshow in NY and then felt my first taste of success with stores ordering from around the world. But months later, producing and shipping the hand-stitched items proved to be a bit challenging. An opportunity came up for me to move to Los Angeles in October 2003, and I took it. A week after arriving in Los Angeles, the owner of the business that paid for my relocation let me go. I had just bought a VW Beetle convertible and was living out of a hotel room with 3 suitcases. I hadn't even found a place to live and my furniture was somewhere in middle America. I took some time to get myself settled and enjoy the laid back lifestyle here in LA and freelanced for Hudson Jeans, designing a collection of tee shirts for them. I got to know vendors around LA and decided several months later to start up my tee shirt line once again.
We had a successful little business that kept me very busy, but then as the economy was going down in 2007, I could feel a shift. I walked into a scrapbooking store, signed up for a class the next day and immediately fell in love with the hobby, the people, and the products. In 2010, after being on the design team for American Crafts for quite some time, we met up and talked about a possible collaboration. I debuted my first collection with them in Chicago at the Summer CHA in 2011 and just released my 9th collection, Finders Keepers. I've taught papercrafting both online and in-person, around the world.
Between designing products, teaching, creating blog content and actually scrapbooking, you must have a lot of projects going at any given time. How do you keep track of everything—and stay motivated to see a wide range of projects to completion?
I'm not a very organized person by nature. I never had to make my bed when I was little, my parents were always telling me how much of a mess I would make (and I was not good at cleaning up), but I always had fun creating and making stuff. To stay on top of the plethora of projects, I have implemented several systems that work for me. I use Google Calendar, which syncs to my phone and my computer. Since I seem to always have my phone with me, it's handy and works for me. But I am a visual person, so I make a lot of lists and write things down in various planners and notebooks. My key to staying motivated is that I truly love what I do. I don't necessarily love every single aspect of it, but I do find the process incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. Plus I have an amazing team and support system.
It really depends on what the project is. If it's a personal scrapbook layout, I have no problem making adjustments or ditching it all together. If it's a client's project, I find that it's better to enlist the opinion of others who I trust and then come back to it when we have figured out how to make it work. I once read that adaptability is a trait you must embody to truly enjoy traveling, but I think it is also true for work and life in general. I think I struggle with reverse guilt - I used to have a very hard time saying no to stuff. Mainly because as a freelancer for so many years, I would never have turned down a paying gig. I would always say yes if I was available and even when it was not paying, I thought of it as an opportunity to learn. This often happened when I wasn't completely sure of what I was doing and I was thrown into situations that I had agreed to. I would just find ways to be creative and make it work. Plus, no one ever really stressed the importance of "letting go" to me. It's something I have had to really learn on my own as an adult. Turns out letting go doesn't have to be scary, but it's essential to make room for other projects that need my time and energy. I give myself plenty of grace when it comes to letting go of personal projects when I am no longer feeling it, or when I just have other priorities. I think it's ok to just let things be unfinished sometimes.
I mean look at this Australia album. I had a goal to finish it a month after the trip in March. And then I said, definitely before my next trip there in September, but look at it now. It sits just as it did when I made that first goal. And I am going to be making new memories in Australia anyway, so this can just be for a while. And if I feel like going back and finishing it up later, then I will!
What are your best tips for getting back on track with an unfinished project?
Go at your own pace with it. Work on it when you're feeling super inspired to do so. Sometimes it takes more time dreading something than actually sitting down and figuring out the first steps in getting you on your way to progress.
Do you have any lingering unfinished projects you’d like to wrap up before the end of 2015?
Umm, yes! A ton. Since we're just talking paper projects, I have a few. I want to have Jack's first and second birthday recorded, a December Daily album done, and maybe filling in some holes in my current albums with pocket pages. I get annoyed when I see those empty spaces. I may just fill them up with cute and inspiring cards and photos and call it a day. We shall see how that goes.
Amy Tangerine has always had a fresh outlook on life. Growing up in Chicago, she wallpapered her room with fashion magazines and dreamed of a life of visual creativity. By the time she was 23, she had founded the popular and award-winning handcrafted t-shirt line Amy Tangerine, featured in hundreds of retail outlets around the world, including Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York. But it wasn’t until 2007 that Amy discovered her true passion: scrapbooking. What started as a slice-of-life hobby blossomed into a full-time, fulfilling business venture that includes signature collections with American Crafts, her own book, celebrity events, consulting services, and teaching workshops all over the world. Most of all, she loves helping others tap into their creative sides. When she's not at home in Los Angeles with two mischievous Jack Russell Terriers, her long-time partner, JC, and their adorable son, Jack, she is traveling, finding great places to eat, and doing her best to enjoy every moment.