10 Questions: Karen Stevenson

What do you do and where do you do it?
I do print and web design, as well as dabble in photography, for my own company, Thumbnail Designs. That’s the technical answer. In truth, I create stuff all day long, usually still wearing my pajamas, in my cute nook of an office off my living room. As for location, I’m in the process of transitioning from Lyme to New London — a big change, but I am loving this small city!

What inspired you to choose this profession, and what makes you stay in it?
You know, my journey to becoming a designer was a complete surprise to me every step of the way. I just kinda fell into it. I went off to UConn as an economics major (whatever was I thinking?) and quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. I dropped that class sophomore year and enrolled into a photography class “just for fun”. Well, that led me deeper into the School of Fine Arts where I stumbled into “computer graphics” as it was called at the time. From there, well, I just fell in love with it.

Fast forward to today and I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have found design and art in general. I was inspired by my Dad at a very young age to find a job that I loved. He loved his work so much that he couldn’t wait for Mondays… I think I still enjoy my weekends a little too much, but I certainly don’t dread Mondays. I love what I do — what more reason would I need to keep doing it?

What is your single favorite portfolio piece?
Everyone’s least favorite question, right? Every creation is special because you’ve put your heart and soul into it. But, I have one that reaches a higher level than the rest. I’ve started a fundraising project — The Shelter Me Project — to help homeless animals. I photograph the animals at the eight different shelters/rescue organizations I’m working with, and then put together a calendar to sell (with all proceeds donated to the shelters). This project is rooted so deep within my heart that nothing could compare to it. Not only do I love taking the photographs and designing the calendar, but it goes beyond that — I love giving back. It’s an amazing feeling to take a skill you have and use it towards helping someone else — it warms the soul. So, while I am really proud of the final calendar each year, it really helps me as much as I am helping them — maybe more. How could this not be my favorite portfolio piece?

What/Where do you want to be in 10 years?
Simple answer: Happy and still creating. Complex answer: I hope to have my own house in few years (here in New London, near the beach), with a studio space that inspires. Not only do I still want to be designing for Thumbnail Designs, but I hope to have the time to branch out into other creative mediums — like the letterpress machine I own that’s been collecting dust. I want to be gardening, too, which means I have 10 years to overcome my fear of insects, lol. And I still want to be surrounded by the wonderful people I have in my life today.

Who/What are your biggest influences?
The “who” portion is easy to answer — Edvin Yegir, who was my mentor during school and helped me to realize what design was truly all about. And Christopher Passehl, who took a chance on me and gave me my first job out of school. His guidance and inspiration couldn’t be more appreciated or valued. Without either of these two gentlemen, I simply would not be a designer today. I owe them everything and couldn’t be more thankful. And everything they design continues to inspire me.

As for “what” influences me, well that’s too long of a list. It’s everything — what I see, what I touch, even a smell that reminds me of a childhood memory can influence a design.

What do you wish you did better?
Draw! I apparently am missing the illustration gene. It can be frustrating to see what you want in your head, but not be able to translate it to paper or screen. Apple needs to create an app for that.

Why Connecticut?
Well, the first reason is family — almost my entire family is living in Connecticut, so I would hate to move too far from them. But, that being said, I really do love this state — especially my little southeastern corner. I enjoy the art scene and all of the culture. I find my weekends double-booked with so many different events — gallery openings, concerts, wine tastings, kayaking trips, etc. Plus, I live right by the ocean — that’s priceless to me. A visit to the beach, in any season, clears my head and calms my soul. I also never get bored with the weather here — it’s always changing and that keeps it interesting. I even like snow (gasp!) although I am biased because I don’t have to drive in it often. To top it all off, we’re just a few hours from so many wonderful getaway spots — Block Island, Kennebunkport ME, Boston, NYC, Finger Lakes region of NY, Burlington VT… It’s simply home.

Who are the best creatives you’ve worked with?
Well, I would have to mention Edvin Yegir and Christopher Passehl again here. And add to the list Alicia Melluzzo, an amazing artist who can paint anything and make it fabulous; Alan Maislen, who has a way with words I will never understand; Thomas Craig, who introduced me to grunge fonts; and lastly Lisa Kay, who is a fellow designer down in Fairfield County with incredible talent. Being self-employed, I guess this is kind of a short list, huh? Well, what it’s lacking for quantity, it certainly makes up for with quality.

What are your loves/passions outside of this field?
Well, assuming “this field” means what I do on a daily basis (design and a little photography) then I will add the other creative mediums that I love to play with: letterpress, screen printing, and stained glass. As for other pursuits: reading, baking (on occasion), being at the beach any time of year, petting cats (a full time job around here), and traveling.

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
What I know now is that I am a Creative. This wasn’t something that came automatically with my Fine Arts degree, it was only in the last few years that I started thinking of myself in this way and believing in my work and that my creativity wasn’t going to just go away. It took quite a long time for me to figure that out, but knowing it now makes all the difference. It’s a part of me — soul-deep, and that’s never going to change.

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