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January 02, 2016

A Year of Making

January 02, 2016

One of my evergreen personal goals is to make more – from more serious artistic pieces to simple doodles and crafts. For the last several years I’ve looked back on what I’d created in the previous year and felt like I missed the mark. Maybe to some degree, I’ll always wish I made more, but for 2015 I can reflect and feel good about the creations from the year.

So, what made this year different?
Instead of leaving myself to my own devices, I made it a professional goal to up my creative game. Every month during my check-in with Jeb, I had to provide an update on my progress. I was constantly asking myself, What have I made? Is there an opportunity to bring more of myself to this project? How have I been creative or artistic this month?

And it wasn’t just me... I was surrounded by people focused on crafting and creating. We had given serious thought to “upping our creative game” as a rally cry for 2015. Though we ultimately chose “Challenge Thyself,” the spirit of that un-adopted rally cry lived on through those who were inspired by it. Along the way, I noticed some shifts and growth in our creative process, as illustrated through some highlights:

Just Dandy


Custom illustration work for National Benevolent Association. #print #design #illustration

A photo posted by SmallBox (@smallbox) on

When Sarah Herbert made this custom dandelion illustration for National Benevolent Association, I wanted to show it to everyone. It was finished well before it went to print, and I felt like a kid on a road trip as I kept asking Sarah, “Can I share it yet? Can I share it yet?” I loved the way it extended NBA’s brand, playing off of the initial photography direction. It stands out to me as a piece that really electrified my mission for more artistry at work. I hadn’t hit my stride with my goal, and this was just the spark I needed.

Mural Magic



A photo posted by SmallBox (@smallbox) on


We’ve spent much more time in the last year making things that aren’t digital. After years of mastery with website-making, our whole team has been eager to expand our body of work. From branding, to print work, to things wholly unexpected... Jenny and Sarah went all-in on creating a mural in our office. It was really great to watch their process unfold through Make Night, from researching concepts, to chalk sketches on the wall, to the finished product. This project said loud and clear:


Leg styles for SmallBox animation project

For this internal video defining culture-powered marketing, we decided to make custom illustrations to animate. It was a pretty grand experiment, in which we tried some things we’d never done before, including how we collaborated on the design. After deciding some basics of style (clean line art, two color), we independently crafted initial illustrations. We came back together with some samples and refined the style, getting very specific about the weight of the lines and the degree of the curves. We divvied up a list of elements to make. We had a mega long list, and it simply wouldn’t have been doable for one of us. We circled back to paper when things weren’t looking quite right in our digital illustrations (like the parade of legs above). Eventually, we merged our files, and took turns making tweaks and additions.

In Adobe Illustrator, I’ve had plenty of feedback sessions where I got ideas from others and then made changes myself. But I had never handed over the keys to another designer like this, and swapped files back and forth with such abandon and trust. Each time we swapped, the work was better for it. It wasn’t about who did what, but how the work came together in the end. Collaborating in this way was a good lesson on letting go. No ego, no ownership.

Free Form

Lydia Lodovisi watercolor


Lydia started practicing calligraphy for personal reasons, and posted photos of her experiments from time to time. I love the mixing of watercolor with the lettering! It was her sharing her progress that inspired me to play with hand lettering for our holiday card. A year ago, I may have had a hard time embracing the unique imperfections of the hand-crafted lettering. I loved feeling free, that everything need not be uniform and perfect.

Meaty Making


A photo posted by SmallBox (@smallbox) on

I’m not sure I would have ever spent the time illustrating one of my own blogs, but for her first post for SmallBox, Mo asked for help to make it more colorful. Because her writing was full of clever titles, it was a perfect opportunity to play. I had a lot of other things going on, but it came at a time when I really needed a creative outlet. 

From Make Night, to internal and client projects alike, it felt like art was everywhere at SmallBox in 2015. As we expanded our creative techniques, embraced individual styles and artistry, we also provided a creative outlet, that I, for one, needed. It also started to blend with some of our conversations about making a more people-centered workplace, to where work felt more like art. I will have updated goals with the New Year, but this focus is one that will stick with me. Here’s to more making in 2016!

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Your 2015, Reviewed. Give us the 30,000 foot view. Or, hone in on a few highlights. Let's bring last year to life before moving on to what's ahead.”

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