August 23, 2017

Keeping it weird and fun: Handmade goods created by Ava Puckett of Aviate Press

It was during the Chicago Design Market, a pop-up store assembly managed by the Chicago Design Museum, that I discovered the paper-based goods of illustrator Ava Puckett, who founded Aviate Press. Appreciated quickly her drawing style, lettering and printed greetings infused with wit and a wholehearted sprinkle of swears. Here, she tells more about her work lifestyle as an independent maker.

Regarding your debut pop-up store experience at the first Chicago Design Market managed by the Chicago Design Museum, do you have the pop-up/traveling store bug to promote and sell your paper goods and other handmade products?

Yes, most definitely! I’ve had such a great experience here so far. I am loving Chicago and the arts community here. It’s been so fun to introduce my brand to a new audience and get feedback from them. But what it really makes me want to do is bring a similar retail experience back home to Nashville.

Your self-proposition “Why not hire myself and do something that I truly love?” aligns exactly with marketing expert Seth Godin’s directive to “pick yourself.” What were drivers that influenced, even provoked, you to pick yourself in doing what you truly love? And did you use any visualizing methods, like note taking, sketching, doodling, to help capture your thinking toward hiring yourself and doing something that you truly love?

Wow, that’s cool to hear! I decided to pursue illustration after graduating college, still not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, trying to get a 9–5 job, and realizing that I had a talent for art that I hadn’t fully explored. I started blogging about art, promoting my work on Instagram, and got to know some very talented illustrators in Nashville who have taught me so much. In terms of visualizing methods and note taking/sketching, this is something I do every day! I love making lists, and find it super helpful to write down my goals and put them up on the wall where I can see them every day.

What were some of the first things you did in taking Aviate Press from an idea to a reality?

When I first started doing art shows and markets after college, I realized greeting cards were always a hit and I had the most fun making them. Once I started tossing around funny card ideas and sharing them with friends and family, I knew their reactions were a good sign. I worked on sketches and ideas every day, keeping a notebook full of them. I started a Google Doc with research on paper, Etsy, other greeting card companies, and figured out what audience I wanted to reach. I tried my best to get educated on the market and how to run a small, creative business. Books like $100 Start Up and Grow Your Handmade Business have been super helpful and inspiring!

What still feels raw, and this doesn’t mean bad nor good,
from when you started Aviate Press until now?

I have grown a lot as an illustrator since starting Aviate Press, but the message and the content remains the same. Aviate Press is a lot of who I am as an individual, and I always want that to be an integral part of the business.

Speaking of started, how did you make yourself committed to start? Because “Just do it” is easier said than done.

I made a plan with goals and dates, and made it a point to draw something every day. I made it an effort to surround myself with other artists and entrepreneurs who were supportive and helpful. Being a part of The Warren, a “Make Space” in East Nashville, has been a huge part of my success.

What is your work schedule like in making all of your work?
And how do you manage your time?

Oh man, it’s crazy. Here in Chicago, I am working on Aviate Press full-time, but in Nashville, I have a full-time job on top of Aviate Press. I generally wake up around 5:30/6 and spend the first few hours of my day working on Aviate Press before I go to work—I’ve heard the first 5 hours of your day are the most productive! After work, I’ll fill some orders, doodle things on my iPad, or finish up any other miscellaneous work that I didn’t get to. I get most of my work done on the weekends, spending full days at coffee shops where I can work on illustration projects, research shops, and look at my finances. I prefer to work alone, but sometimes I’ll go hang out at The Warren for lunch or an early morning.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute to doing the quality of work you want to do?

At home in Nashville, I have the most beautiful, dreamy studio space in my house, with a window out to my backyard and access to the back porch. I have a meditation corner where I start every morning and am always collecting fun, illustrated books to keep nearby. Most of the wall space is covered with art and cards that inspire me, but I do have one wall with a six-month calendar that visually lays out my goals, deadlines for projects and markets I am participating in. It’s one of my favorite places.

Based on “The Beguiled” vs. “The Avengers” taste comparison during our chat, can you elaborate on who and/or what satisfy as your creative influences?

I am a big fan of indie productions versus big blockbuster movies; I think my taste in movies is more about the character development than the action or special effects. A few movies I remember reacting strongly to are Black Swan, Boyhood and Frances Ha. I also really enjoy listening to podcasts like This American Life, Adventures in Design, and Art for your Ear.

How do you practice drawing in order to feel competent 
and confident at realizing this skill?

The main thing is that I draw every day. I’m also trying to be better at getting my illustrator friends to review my work, because they have lots of great knowledge to share. I love getting on Pinterest or flipping through illustrated books to find inspiration. I try to branch out semi-regularly with new subject matter or media, because I know how important it is to challenge yourself in whatever you do so you can keep growing and improving.

How would you describe your visual style?

My style has changed a lot in the past few years, but I’d say it’s very commercial and playful. I find a lot of influence from Mexican folk art, which is very bright and fun. My style has also been heavily influenced by the illustrators I’ve gotten to know in Nashville; it’s become a lot more girly and fun, whereas before, it was more creepy and weird. Definitely still make weird, creepy stuff, but not as much as I used to.

Appreciate the irreverent twists in your prose and imagery, sprinkled with strategic expletives here and there. How did you arrive at this manner of visual expression?

I like exploring pop-culture references in my designs. I love incorporating new phrases and words that will specifically appeal to the younger audience. And I don’t actually curse much in real life, so I think adding some expletives to my work here and there makes it more exciting for me!

Do you use any software/Web-based tools to run your business and get things done?

I like using Asana to manage different projects I am working on and to plan out their timelines. I prefer using actual paper for my day-to-day calendar, though. Right now, my only online tools are Google Drive where I keep a few spreadsheets and notes, and Asana. I did use Marmalead for Etsy for a while, which is super helpful! I highly recommend it for new Etsy shops trying to figure out Etsy SEO.

Being an indie creator, what does independence mean to you? 
As it relates to creativity, making, working.

Oh man, it is one of the best things about Aviate Press! I am my own boss and the sole decider of what designs make the cut and which ones don’t. I schedule meetings with myself at the beginning of each week and really do like working alone. It does get lonely sometimes; I think it can be hard for people to understand why I don’t have much of a social life. I really value my relationships with other indie makers and entrepreneurs, especially when trying to figure out things like taxes, business licenses and what-not. It’s so important to know other independent business owners who can talk to about your work.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?

For me, it means hitting my long-term goals, which include financial goals, adding new wholesale accounts, and reaching more potential customers. I also think it’s super important to constantly challenge myself as an artist and go outside of my comfort zone. That’s where you find true growth.

If a handmade-leaning person approached you and said, “I love to draw and want to sell my drawings,” what’s your response?

I say do it! If I can do it, you can do it. I would tell him or her to keep working at your craft, drawing everyday, and try to surround yourself with other others you admire who you want to be like. I’d also say do your research on markets, e.g. Etsy, and how to promote your work.

Source: Skeeze at Pixabay under Creative Commons

How does Nashville, Tennessee, contribute to your work?
What makes it special for startups/business/creativity-at-large?

Nashville is a great place for artists because of the culture of the city. There are a lot of young, ambitious people looking to start their careers here, and it helps that the music scene is so popular, because that brings in creative people who get along well with artists and illustrators. Nashville still has more of a small town feel, which I enjoy. The visual arts community is also smaller here, which has worked in my favor; it’s a lot more welcoming than some of the bigger cities can be, from what I hear.

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Portraits photographed by Simon Souksanh. Unless otherwise noted, all other images courtesy of Aviate Press.

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