July 10, 2014

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Jena Buckwell’s Volunteer Staunton and Studio Jewelry

What are you working on—on the side?

Currently, my main focus, in terms of side projects, is on Volunteer Staunton, which is a non-profit, web-based catalog of volunteer opportunities in my city. The site is currently in the development phase, and I have a Kickstarter running to raise hosting funds. I chose to make this project happen because I really love small-scale, big-impact volunteer work. I currently volunteer with a sustainable meat farm, an educational vegetable garden at Virginia School of the Deaf and Blind, as well as various other, mostly local, foods-related projects around town. I am looking to create an online resource and community to help others find opportunities that really make a difference in their lives, while they help others.

I work as a freelance designer/art director, and while I have had excellent clients that trust me, it still isn’t as thrilling as doing a project that I can make entirely my own, that I also feel passionate about, on a content level. In the future, I plan to expand the site to serve as a catalog, but also as a community resource that includes blog features about local volunteers, opportunities, and relationships created through volunteer work.

In the long-term, I also have a side business called Studio. As of right now, I have a few bracelets for sale through Studio on Etsy. While Studio is a means of additional income, my main focus for it is simply a creative outlet. As with any personal project, it’s great to just create something that I really like for the sake of creating it. I created Studio as a platform for those projects that don’t traditionally fall into the realm of what a graphic designer does. In the future, it may branch out into many other things—it largely depends on what I’m in the mood to make. I constantly remind myself that while I certainly have not tapped the full potential of Studio (and probably never will), I created it as something to enjoy and maintain in the long-term, so I don’t put much pressure on myself to be constantly improving and working on it.

How do you manage to work 
on your side project(s)?

Working from home allows me a lot of flexibility on what I work on and when. I also make it a point to not overload myself with client work, no matter what I have going on in the rest of my life. I really focus on keeping “enough” in view—I don’t work endless hours just to make more money when I don’t really need more money. I prefer to have time to myself to reflect, go hiking, spend time with my husband and read all the books I want to read, so I strive to live an inexpensive life, allowing myself the freedom to do what I want, when I want. This goal of taking my life back and getting out of the “rat race” was a major reason for my escape from NYC a few months ago. Living in a small, semi-southern, quiet town, surrounded by absolutely beautiful mountain ranges, makes it all too easy to choose to fulfill my personal needs. By doing so, I feel more passionately about design than I ever did working in a Manhattan cubicle, no matter how impressive the skyline was.

Why have side projects?

Side projects, whether directly related to your design field or not, are really excellent creative vacations. You can explore, try things at your own pace, learn new things and enjoy the process of having complete control over how something comes together. Side projects keep you sharp and help keep you at ease in your profession. I’ve tried a variety of more hands-on projects, from printmaking to embroidery, that have really helped me to become a better designer on screen. For me, side projects are an inexpensive form of therapy.

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Diptych courtesy of Jena Buckwell.

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Read the Designer’s Quest(ionnaire) answered by Jena Buckwell.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

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