I often get asked how I got into graphic design, or why I chose this as a profession. My road to design is a lot messier than you might think! Here, I share all the juicy, passion-filled details of how I found graphic design, how it found me, and how it saved my creative soul (really!)

The Beginning:

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved art and music. When I think about the times in my life that I was the most “in the zone” (time is flying, my heart is soaring), I am either doing art or singing. 

My favorite photo of me as a girl is when I fell asleep drawing! 

Fast forward to college. I was headed off to Oregon State (go Beavs!) and I needed to pick a major. I was “advised” by my parents to do a business degree. (They didn’t want me to become a “starving artist.”) I was leaning towards psychology at first – because I loved learning about why people made the choices they made. When I had to pick something I asked my friends, and the friends I asked were doing Interior Design. “That sounds fun!” I thought. After one semester I was lost – not really loving either topic anymore. I switched to Business… reluctantly.  I found that once I got there, I had to pick a specialty (finance, accounting, marketing…) I loved the analytical and strategic side of marketing (it was some of the things I loved about psychology!), yet I craved a creative outlet (what I was seeking at first with Interior Design). At OSU, if you get a major in Business, they also require you to pick a minor. Luckily, I followed my creative heart and chose Visual Art. I loved it, but struggled with how to reconcile these two parts of myself.  I felt amazing when my group got the highest grade in my Strategic Business class (we got to skip the final exam).

Yet at night, paint colors would make their way into my dreams, and I found myself counting down the hours until I could be in the studio again. 

Me with some art from the Senior Show at OSU in 2007; Graduation day with my best friend Aslan!

During my last year at OSU, I was wandering the giant library and looking at the art section… when I discovered Graphic Design. Seriously, I had no idea that this existed until I was almost done with college! So what did I do?? I cried. Yep. My heart was like “THIS. This is IT!!” But with graduation looming, a newly minted marriage, and “real life” on the horizon, I kept going with my degree and graduated that year. But that wasn’t the end of my journey with finding design…

The 3-year struggle: 

(Above – me in 2007ish and our rental house in Portland. I still wish I had those built-ins…le sigh).

After graduation, I struggled to “teach myself” design, while still haunting the local library (I also had a community member card at the OSU library while my then husband and I still lived in Corvallis). We moved to Portland to be close to family and find jobs. My then mother-in-law got me an interview at CMD (omg!). I showed up with a resume that was not exactly polished to the design eye – it had a formatting error on it, which they pointed out to me during the interview. I was mortified! Obviously, I did not get that job. Later, I did end up getting a position at the Art Institute of Portland in the Registrar’s office. It was 2007 and I was just happy to have a job. The benefit of working there was I got a free copy of the Adobe Creative Suite. I stumbled my way through tutorials, made things for friends and family, volunteered for any design project I could, and still read a lot of art history and graphic design books borrowed from the library. 

2008: After about a year of living in Portland after graduation, we moved back to Corvallis (we missed our friends and the town) and struggled to find jobs. I worked at Great Harvest Bread Co. (still my fav!) for a while, my then husband finally found a job at a dental lab. I had some embarrassing, humbling times trying to make ends meet and pay our student loans, bills and basically adulting. I applied to a lot of jobs, a couple of them were design positions and I actually got interviews. Those interviews were equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. After one particularly bad one, I went home and sobbed in my pillow. WHY was this so hard? Why did I have this inexplicable feeling that I was meant to do this yet I was coming up against such opposition? There was something in me that wouldn’t quit. No matter how many people told me no, I was doing this design thing one way or another. I started thinking maybe I should go back to school… clearly, there were some gaps in my DIY design education. I was at the point where I just didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I needed more to sink my teeth into. I needed a community, mentors, a framework…

Here’s our duplex in Corvallis – it was super funky, but I totally loved that about it:

 

Putting My Dreams on the Shelf: 

Then I got a job in the Marketing and Sales department of a local small business, Videx (they make electronic locks and keys). It was not my dream job to say the least. It was boring, but it was also a paying job. And for right then, it was enough. I put design school on the shelf, telling myself it was too expensive anyway, and “real life” was waiting, right!? (Plus my husband at the time was NOT supportive of this idea.) I was there two years, still longing for design experience, still reading, volunteering, and making art. I was able to get some design experience while I was there and the in-house designer became a friend and mentor. Still, upper management struggled with the idea of letting me be a designer there, and I was told “no” a lot by some pretty frustrating men. I had my ideas stolen, my emails read, my phone conversations listened to. It was a bizarre place. 

The Quarter-Life Crisis: 

Then I kinda went through a quarter-life crisis. When you ignore your passion, it finds a way of reminding you that you need to answer the call. You can’t shelve it – it finds a way to remind you what your true calling is. I was having old conversations with my husband, trying to describe this creative call and this deep need to respond. “Can’t you just go to work and be happy?” he said. No, no, no. NO!

2010: My husband and I at the time were on completely different paths. I couldn’t do this life anymore – this lie. I was living for me from that moment on, I was so DONE living for others’ happiness and approval (little did I know at the time I had a LOT of personal work to do on that issue, but that’s another story!). We split up in May 2010, and by summer of that year I was taking my first courses at OSU, as a design major. FINALLY. I was 27 years old, and I felt like I was living for myself for the first time.

A New Path: 

I remember the feeling I had while walking back to my car from campus for a meeting with my advisor. I was elated. The trees, the birds, the buildings… with every step I took, everything around me was whispering “Yes, yes, keep going, you’re in the right place, you belong right here. Welcome back, dear creative soul.”

No one had ever told me that I should do what makes me happy. I was fed messages all around me instead that were about making money, finding a job, making a home, being “good”, and being compliant. I was done listening to those messages. 

Pictured: My design class of 2013 – such smart, amazing humans. 

My time at OSU was amazing. I had a small, cohort-style class, with professors that I respect and admire. I grew so much during that time, and learned all those things that I didn’t know I needed to know! I worked extra hard during those years to get everything I could out of the program. It was my re-do, and I wasn’t going to miss out on anything. Because I was taking this break from “real life” I had this spirit of making the most out of it – and that stayed with me after graduation. I didn’t ever want to stay in a job I hated or felt bored creatively by again. 

While in school (2010 – 2013), I was especially excited about publication design and projects that had a handmade element. Every project I could relate back to food in some way I did. I daydreamed about working for Martha Stewart, or for a big cookbook publisher like Chronicle books. While I loved these ideas, I did not want to move to the East Coast or to California (why are there no publishing houses in the PNW?!) Sigh. 

The Start of the Bend Dream

My new boyfriend, Joel (now husband!) and I started talking about moving to Bend. I put out feelers and set up a day of meet and greets with some agencies in Bend. I got up at 5 am, and set out in my little car over the Pass. It was fun and informative, but no jobs materialized. After more job hunting in nearby Portland, we decided to move to Keizer and we both started commuting opposite directions: Joel to his job in Corvallis and me to the north. 

I got a job at an environmental company (then called Ecova) and started working as an in-house graphic designer. I loved my boss and coworkers, but the work was not quite scratching my creative itch. I decided to start freelancing after hours and on weekends, which was hard but gave me some variety in projects and a feeling of autonomy that was addicting. I worked with Vitamin T, which is a company that helps find you work and handles the client-side of things. It was great at the time, just what I needed. Through Vitamin T, I got to work with clients like Burgerville (a food client! yay!) and New Seasons grocery stores. 

The Era of the Boss Lady: 

2014-2016: I got more freelance clients. I decided I could actually DO THIS on my own – be a “boss lady” (a term I came to use as a source of empowerment) and do it on MY terms. I quit my day job, and in 2013 registered Pickle Jar Studios, LLC. I wanted a name that was food-related but also spoke to my love of quality handmade elements. I got myself an accountant (also another story – what a nightmare…) I worked freelance at a couple of places in Portland, was again, talked down to by men, told in so many words that working remotely as a graphic designer was not going to bring me success. The expectation at that time, in 2014-2016 was I needed to be a “butt in the seat” to make it in this field. No, no, no. I knew they were wrong. 

I had a vision for working from home, on my own schedule and working on projects that were interesting and challenging. I kept pushing back, and when these people told me “you can’t” I said, “see ya!” Remember that theme of no more settling? It was in full force. 

Pictured: My studio in 2014, work for fun I did 2015-2016

So I kept working hard and figuring out my way through it. There have been some tough times and some perfectly wonderful times. Those nights of very stressful late-night worrying about things like bills, taxes, debt, rent. Shouldn’t I have a retirement account? That time I billed a client the most I’d ever invoiced at one time (hold breath, hit send button!) Seeing my work on a food truck across the country. Getting new clients (doing happy dances.)

2015: We took a vacation to Bend. We both fell in love with Central Oregon. During our week here, we officially became obsessed with the mountains, the river, and the smell of juniper in the (cold) summer night air. When we got home, I wrote in my journal every day about moving to the Bend area. He talked to his boss, and got the ok to work remotely! I was fully remote with my clients (finally!) and we made the move to Redmond in 2016.

The first two things I did when we arrived: have coffee with a friend of a friend – Amanda (@amandaphotographic) and second, started volunteering with Bend Design. I met some amazing people through both of these meetings, and it has allowed me to continue to grow my business here. I couldn’t be more grateful to the ladies at Bend Boss Babes, who joined me in my chorus of saying No, no, no when met with opposition to our dreams! 

Pictured: Amanda Photographic, official Borjesson family photographer/best friend extraordinaire, Bend Boss Babes coffee date in 2017 – me in the back with my side-kick, a 2-month-old Libby.

Now, I work for my amazing clients, from home, when I want to, while raising two spirited girls both under age 5. I have helped design and launch national campaigns, build websites, designed logos for other new businesses and entrepreneurs who are also following their soul’s calling, and yes, made a lot of pickles along the way.

I have designed a cookbook (Basic Fermentation, 2017), met one of my idols, Debbie Millman, whose Design Matters podcast kept me sane on long commutes to Portland, and kept up my blog. I have fired clients, set boundaries, and kept listening to my gut. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade any of it for an easier way. 

Pictured: Debbie Millman, Heather Crank, and me at Bend Design 2019, Me in my current studio, 2018, my family in fall of 2020 (Joel, Libby and baby Bella)

Something I realized when I was writing this whole story is that somewhere along the way I had to make a shift from waiting for something to happen, to making my own things happen. 

When I was struggling to break into graphic design, I begged and pleaded and prayed that SOMEONE would just give me a chance… I knew that if I just had one chance I would blow this shit up. But no magical chances came – not until I decided to start listening to my own messages and make my own chances!

And now this is how I wake up every day – ready to go out there and make things happen for myself. 

If you are ignoring an inner dream or calling, take it off the shelf! Do one small thing today to honor it; listen to it. You won’t be sorry.