Pioneer Nation 2014:
Just Say Yes (To A Free Print)

It’s been an incredible couple of days so far at Pioneer Nation. Yesterday morning, we took the stage at Pacific Northwest College of Art to give a short talk about our journey and the power of saying yes.

Pioneer Nation 2014 by Armosa Studios

We’ve been busy connecting in the offline world (gasp!) so there will be much more to say about our time in Portland soon. For now, we want to give our new Pioneer Nation friends the opportunity to snag a free print of our Just Say Yes slide. You know, the one with the X’s.

yes-small

To grab a free print, just send us your address and we’ll deliver it straight to your doorstep in a couple of weeks. If you’re more digitally inclined, you can also download a couple of phone and desktop backgrounds here:

iPhone 4 background
iPhone 5 background
Desktop background

We’ll be back in a few days with a full recap of our (awesome!) time here in Portland. Big thanks to all of our new Pioneer friends. Keep in touch… and don’t forget to say yes!

J + O

Update: Wow, you all really like free stuff! Signups are now closed. If you signed up for a print, it’s in the mail. Enjoy!

 

Los Angeles Weekender’s Guide

It’s been a long winter for us here in the Midwest. Fortunately, we were able to get a brief escape from the freezing temperatures a few weeks ago. When we heard about even more snowfall coming our way at the end of February, we decided to take a trip to Los Angeles to escape for the weekend.

See ya, polar vortex! Next stop: somewhere a little warmer...

Both of my sisters are lucky enough to live out there in the land of 72 and sunny, so it was really nice to visit them as well. Here’s a few highlights from our travels that might help anyone else out if they plan to visit LA.


DAY ONE

Also, moon rocks

We got into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at around 10:30am. We rented a car which is almost 100% recommended. Even though the weather is super nice, LA is not known for being a very walkable city. Be prepared for some slightly aggressive driving and traffic at pretty much any hour of the day.

My sister, Neelo, was working so we decided to get some lunch before heading over to her place. We got food at a great spot named Forage in Silver Lake which had really fresh, clean, locally grown food. My sister met up with us at the restaurant and then we followed her back to her apartment in Los Feliz to drop off our backpacks.

It was a beautiful sunny day and after three months of snow, slush, and clouds, we wanted to be outside! Neelo took us to nearby Griffith Park where we hiked all the way up from the bottom of the park to Griffith Observatory. It was quite a climb, but it felt great to be in the sun.

At the observatory, there was a mini-NASA exhibit where we got to touch an actual moon rock and try on a space glove. We walked around the observatory a bit before beginning our treacherous descent down the trail.

We cleaned up a bit and got dinner at another nearby restaurant called Home. My other sister, Mariam, joined us. The food was good, but the fun outdoor atmosphere was even better. After all the hiking and all the food, we were beat and called it a night.


DAY TWO

Enjoying the sun in LA for the weekend! Spotted a pair of These Are Things originals (circa 2010) at Kid Firefly in Venice yesterday. What else should we check out while we're here?

The next day, Jen and I headed out on our own. We drove down to Venice to check out all the shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. We browsed so many well curated and designed boutiques, including the beautiful paper goods shop Urbanic which stocks a few of our prints and cards. We even saw a couple of our first prints displayed in a children’s shop Kid Firefly.

When it came time for lunch, we saw a large gathering of people outside of a place called Gjelina. We always take that as a good sign and we are usually pretty patient line-waiters. After putting our names down, Jen decided to get a juice from a food truck called Juicebox. The food at Gjelina was 100% worth the wait. It reminded us a lot of some of our favorite restaurants we went to in Brooklyn.

After eating a bit more shop browsing, we drove to Santa Monica to pick up some film my sister had developed and then headed back to our home base in Los Feliz. We relaxed for a bit and then headed out for drinks and dinner. Drinks were at a bar named The Churchill which also conveniently had a vintage dip-and-dunk photobooth (Jen and I are trying to start a collection of photo strips). Neelo said we had to have some authethic Los Angeles sushi so afterwards we went with her and Mariam to Izaka-ya in West Hollywood. Definitely no California or Philadelphia rolls here. We got plate after plate of incredible food and then headed back home.


DAY THREE

Park life

After getting some coffee and tea in the morning with Neelo at Broome St. General Store, Jen and I were on our own again. We headed to downtown LA where we went to the highly recommended Poketo Store. I picked up a cool planner and a beard comb. We walked around a bit more and had to duck into Handsome Coffee Roasters to do some quick revisions for a freelance illustration. Afterwards, we drove a bit North to check out Mariam’s apartment in the Echo Park neighborhood.

We got another fresh and healthy lunch, this time at a lunch spot called Lemonade (we all also got delicious different flavored Lemonades). We checked out a few antique and made in LA furniture stores including a wild place called Early California Antiques. I almost walked out of there with a full suit of samurai armor. We drove along the winding roads of Silver Lake for a while before chilling at Echo Park Lake. The paddleboat lines were too long but it was fun looking at all the dogs and ducks roaming the park.

We dropped off Mariam and then headed back to Silver Lake to check out a few more shops Jen had on her to-see list. We stopped in to a very expensive furniture store called Lawson Fenning, a modern design and gift store Yolk, and a lady-bag store Clare Vivier.

We rested up at Neelo’s place after our extensive travels and then headed out for a romantic dinner at a small plates restaurant: Animal. We were again reminded of some of our fun nights out in Brooklyn with the amazing food and ambiance.


DAY FOUR

Had to touch the water

We woke up early(ish) to check out the weekly flea market Melrose Trading Post. We saw some great furniture and knick knacks that we wanted to bring home but that probably wouldn’t have fit into our carry-on luggage.

Afterwards, we visited Neelo at Poinsettia Park where we watched her and her recreational girls basketball team, The Pistol Shrimps, do their weekly practice. At the practice we had our only two LA celebrity sightings. First was Aubrey Plaza (of Parks and Recreation) who is actually on my sister’s basketball team and second was this crazy drunk guy who heckled and sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” during their entire practice. They all (minus the drunk) went to pizza and milkshakes after basketball, and Jen, Mariam, and I went to The Hart and the Hunter for some insanely good brunch.

We parted with Mariam and explored a bit more for our last day in LA. We drove all the way to Malibu which didn’t seem too far on our map, but with the traffic took us forever. We barely made it to the beach before sunset. We walked in the sand, put our hands in the water, and watched the sun set on our little vacation. We drove out of Malibu and tried to find the Bachelor mansion but it was too dark and wooded so we just headed back to Los Feliz.

We had our final meal which had to be Mexican food at Malo where Neelo introduced us to the wonder of “chewy” tortilla chips. I also tried, unsuccessfully, to get my sisters to eat flan. After that, it was time to pack up and head back to Ohio.


After a few weeks back in the deep freeze, we’re already missing the warmth and sunshine. We’re already planning a return trip! Anywhere else we should check out the next time we’re in southern California?

 

These Are Things x HOW Magazine:
International Design Annual Cover

HOW Magazine Cover by These Are Things

Last night, Jen and I went to a local Barnes & Noble to search for something we were very excited to see. We scanned the stands for a few minutes until we finally found it: our very first illustrated magazine cover! Even cooler was that it was for an art and design magazine that we’ve been reading for years, HOW.

After snapping a bunch of photos of the magazine on the rack, we grabbed a couple to bring back home. As we handed the magazines to the cashier, she asked us if we meant to buy two of them. Filled with pride, I told her that we had designed and illustrated the cover, so we needed some for our personal collection.

She congratulated us and then asked, “How do you even go about getting the chance to do something like this?”

It was a question we were asking ourselves, too. Here we were, two kids in knit caps and big puffy jackets in a Barnes and Noble in the middle of Ohio. Somehow, we got to design the cover of a real-deal art and design magazine.

HOW Magazine Cover by These Are Things

We love moments like this because they remind us that not too long ago, we couldn’t have imagined getting these kinds of opportunities. It was two years ago that we landed our first official freelance illustration job for AFAR Magazine. At the time, Jen and I had been working in the freelance design world for years, but this was our first illustration project. We were not quite prepared for the huge difference between the two.

That first project was a two page infographics spread. It was a large undertaking for our first time around! We spent the better part of six weeks coming up with concepts, painstakingly drawing (and redrawing) each element, and laying it all out to the best of our ability. Looking back, we can still say we’re proud of the piece, but there are about a million things we would do differently. Today, we would be able to do it all in about 1/10th the time.

Fast forward two years and we’re now illustrating the cover of a huge design magazine. This project was a true test of the skills we’ve been honing for the last few years. We were approached by HOW at the beginning of December. At that point, we were neck deep in holiday orders and also hard at work writing our magnum opus. With the holidays quickly approaching, the deadline was also pretty tight. Everything had to be to the printer in a couple of weeks. We didn’t have the time or the brain-space to spare, but it was a HOW magazine cover, so of course we said we’d do it.

Fortunately for us, we had a great creative director on the project, Adam Ladd. The subject for the cover was HOW’s international design annual. They wanted to capture the fun and adventure this world has to offer with landmarks from around the globe. He really liked our recent luggage cards and wanted something that felt layered and collage-like. We instantly thought of creating cool landmark and region specific stickers like you’d see on old vintage luggage and then arranging them in a more off kilter composition.

HOW Cover Illustration Process by These Are Things

We only did one sketch for the cover because we had such clear direction and we really felt like it captured everything HOW was going for. Our creative director approved it and we went into Illustrator to create the linework for the individual stamps and stickers. After another quick round of approvals, we worked with HOW to decide on a color scheme that would feel vintage-y but also pop out on the newsstands. We landed on a retro take on primary colors and then added our final layer of texture treatment to add dimension to the whole piece.

We’re so happy with how the cover turned out and even happier to see it up on the newsstands. This brings us back to the cashier’s question: “How do you even go about getting the chance to do something like this?” Jen answered by saying that we’ve been working on this grind for a while now.

It’s probably not the most awe-inspiring answer, but it’s most definitely what brought us here today. We always work a bit too late into the night and we always say yes to too many things. But seeing work that we’re proud of out there in the world makes it 100% worth it!

Thanks to the fine people at HOW for giving us the opportunity to work on such a great project. Check it out in person at your favorite bookstore! You can read even more about our process in this interview on the HOW blog.

 

These Are Things Subterranean Studio Tour

These Are Things Studio Tour

Back when we announced we were leaving New York, reclaiming all our inventory, and setting up shop in a basement studio, we honestly had no idea what to really expect. We were up to the challenge and wanted to get the job done with as little downtime as possible. In about one week’s time and a half dozen trips to Home Depot, we had the foundation of our first official These Are Things studio/warehouse built.

Over the following months, we refined the space as we learned how to best manage the physical side of our business. Now, we’re finally ready to unveil where all the map magic happens. Check out the following photos to see where we design, produce, store, package, and ship every single These Are Things product.

These Are Things Studio Tour

Directly to the right of the entrance is where Jen and I have set up our computers. We were able to get the next size up in IKEA tabletops which is very helpful, especially as things get busier and more and more sticky notes and random sketches pile up. We also have a real-deal business conference phone! Very official.

These Are Things Studio Tour

We repurposed a lot of furniture from our Brooklyn apartment including these simple IKEA shelves. Now they serve as a nice hit of interest between our desks. The new world map print in the middle is coming soon to the shop in a more golden version!

These Are Things Studio Tour

On the back wall is our giant 6’ x 4’ magnetic whiteboard. It has single-handedly revolutionized our planning and organization process. We’ve tried so many project management programs and services and none of them stuck mostly because Jen would set it up perfectly and then I would never use it. The whiteboard is so simple even I can get behind it! We plan out two weeks at a time because things change so fast that anything farther out tends to not be very accurate. It also helps us get what we need to get done in as fast and efficient manner as possible.

These Are Things Studio Tour

The magnetic feature of the whiteboard is helpful in sticking up current design projects. If you look closely, you can see a little peek of our latest freelance project. More info on that coming very soon. Also, here are a couple of cute authentic antique dip-and-dunk photo booth strips of us. We’ve been trying to start a collection of these but I guess we only have two at the moment.

These Are Things Studio Tour

As you pivot to the left, you can get a better look at our production, storage, and work areas. Jen’s parents helped us assemble and paint a very DIY and very awesome work table out of a 4’ x 8’ sheet of scrap ply-wood and two halves of a shelving unit. Map rolling and card assembling has never been easier! The pendant lamps are from IKEA. The stools are budget-friendly Tolix knockoffs from Overstock and have been following us throughout our last two apartments. Along the back wall, you can also see the latest member of the These Are Things family, our large format Epson 7900.

These Are Things Studio Tour

We store some of our poster tubes using those under-the-table shelves so they can easily be accessed as we pack our orders for the day.

These Are Things Studio Tour

Here’s a cool shot of our work table. In the background, you can see our packaging and shipping center. The shelving unit is from (surprise!) IKEA and the metal pegboards are from Wall Control. They were drilled into a large sheet of birch plywood which was then drilled into the concrete.

These Are Things Studio Tour

Let’s walk closer to that shipping center for a better look. We’ve got all sizes of rigid mailers for our flat prints and a bunch of other shipping necessities. The “S&!T HAPPENS” print was a gift from a new friend we met at last year’s WMC Fest, Reka.

These Are Things Studio Tour

Here’s our stickering station. By far the best part of having a business is the custom swag you get to make. Fellow Ohioans Jakprints are our sticker manufacturer of choice.

These Are Things Studio Tour

A closer look at some more of our decor. Jen got our trademark made into a golden plaque because she loves Lori from Shark Tank. I made the beautiful collage out of an album jacket from a Blake Shelton CD we got for free with our purchase from our packaging supplier, ULINE. It serves as a constant reminder of the hillbilly bone deep inside us both.

These Are Things Studio Tour

We got these great adjustable shelving units from Home Depot. They work perfectly for keeping our prints and miscellaneous packaging organized for easy picking.

These Are Things Studio Tour

We had to get a bit more creative for storing our assembled cards. We found some easy to assemble cardboard files from ULINE that do a good job.

These Are Things Studio Tour

That’s it! Will the (feral?) studio cat would like to thank you all for checking out our digs.

 

Four Years Ago…

Today is a day for celebration here at These Are Things. First of all, this week marks our fourth year in business for ourselves. Four years! It’s a milestone that feels particularly huge as we gear up for a year of fun projects, new challenges, and bigger adventures than ever.

By chance, our anniversary happens to coincide with another exciting event: the debut of a project that we’ve been quietly working on for the past six months. We can’t wait to share it with you next week!

Here’s a look back at where we were four years ago – and a peek at what’s coming next.


On a cold winter’s night

Four years ago, Omar and I were huddled inside, putting the finishing touches on a collaborative art piece that we’d been working on for weeks. It was a particularly cold Ohio winter, much like the one we’re having right now. With ten inches of snow on the ground, there wasn’t much to do except stay inside and make art. Fortunately for us, that’s just the way we liked it.

With brand new art degrees and great jobs in the design industry, we thought we had all the necessary ingredients for creative fulfillment. But something was missing.

After months of soul searching and late night talks, we finally figured it out. We didn’t want to be a pair of hired hands. We didn’t dream of making websites and commercials for the rest of our lives. We wanted to make our own art. We wanted to be creative according to our vision, not someone else’s.

We looked at the careers of successful independent artists in awe, feeling simultaneously inspired and intimidated. We were intrigued by their ability to make a living by creating whatever they wanted, yet mystified by how they had managed to pull it off. We knew we wanted to make a living with our creativity on our own terms, but we weren’t quite sure how to make it happen.

All we knew was that we loved making art together. So, during every free moment, that’s exactly what we did. We spent our nights and weekends working on personal projects, filling the gap between our less-than-inspiring day jobs and our creative passion. When we finished our masterpiece – a modern world map to help us track our travels – we decided to print a small run and share our work with the world. We threw together a quick one-page website with a PayPal button and hoped for the best.

“Who knows,” we shrugged. “Maybe we’ll sell a few.”


The surprise of a lifetime

Then, on an ordinary Wednesday morning, everything changed.

It started out like any other day. We dragged ourselves out of bed, scraped a sheet of ice from our windshields, and headed to work. Omar settled in for a long day at his design job while I went to teach a class of eager (and not-so-eager) art school freshmen about the beauty of typography.

An hour into my morning class, something strange happened. I was in the middle of a lecture when my phone started buzzing. And buzzing. And buzzing. When I checked my email, I discovered that we had been featured on a big design blog that morning. The maps were selling! And not just a few of them. We had sold all of the maps, and orders were continuing to pour in for hundreds more.

We didn’t know it at the time, but at that moment, our lives changed forever. We had discovered the power of creative freedom – and there was no turning back. Since that first sale, our business has grown far beyond our wildest dreams. We can hardly believe how far this journey has taken us.

Today, on the fourth anniversary of starting These Are Things, we want to share the gift of creative freedom with you.


Introducing a new project

When we started out on this journey, there was no roadmap – no proven method for making money with our art. Like many creative entrepreneurs, we’ve had to chart our own path along the way, learning how to run our business through trial and (lots of) error.

As These Are Things has grown, we’ve devoured stacks of business books, but none of them truly addressed the unique complexities of running an arts-based business. When our friend Chris Guillebeau reached out this past summer and asked if we’d be interested in contributing to his Unconventional Guides series, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to share what we’ve learned with aspiring creative entrepreneurs.

For the past six months, we’ve been quietly working on what is probably the biggest and most challenging undertaking of our journey thus far: writing the ultimate guide to starting your own creative business. By sharing the blueprint for success that has powered These Are Things – and the businesses of over 20 other successful independent artists – we hope to empower designers, crafters, and makers around the world to find their own creative freedom.

Cover art by Jolby & Friends

It’s called Designed to Sell: The Unconventional Guide to Creative Freedom. With Chris’ guidance and encouragement, we’ve developed a clear set of steps that you can use to start your own creative business today, from finding your big idea to making your first sale – and beyond.

This project was a labor of love. We started our first draft while we were in New York and completed it in the middle of our busiest holiday season ever. It’s the result of countless late nights, very patient mentors, and hours-long discussions about every single component of running a creative enterprise.

As we wrote this guide, we envisioned ourselves four years ago, sitting in our studio, wondering if the dream of creative freedom was within our reach. This is the guide we wish we’d had when we were starting out. We wrote it for ourselves, and we wrote it for you.

It was a tough process, but as soon as we saw the finished product, we knew that every single minute we had spent on this project was worth it. Why? Because after experiencing creative freedom for ourselves, we discovered a new dream: to see every artist, designer, and maker enjoy the life-changing benefits of creative freedom. We’re beyond excited to share this resource with the world – and hopefully see this dream come true for all of us.


Mark your calendars for February 11 at 11am EST (8am PST) when we’ll be revealing all the details about Designed to Sell. Until then, stop by Chris’ blog to get a sneak peek at this new resource and enter for a chance to win a copy for yourself. (We’re giving away a few of the maps that started it all, too.)

To everyone who’s followed along with our story over the past four years, please accept our heartfelt thanks. We couldn’t have done this without you! And to anyone who is reading this and dreaming of their own creative freedom, trust us: the dream is possible. We’re living proof.

To freedom!

J + O