Creative Careers : Annie Lang Interview
Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews
Award-Winning Designer, Author & Artist Annie Lang
By Molly Anderson-Childers
Today I'm meeting with Annie Lang, a self-taught award winning designer, author, and artist from Grand Blanc, Michigan. Her how-to instructional books, licensed products and published magazine craft projects have found their way across six continents and into the hands and hearts of creative souls worldwide.
Annie's business, Annie Things Possible, took root in the small Midwestern town of Holly, Michigan. She sold her finished handcrafted creations and artwork through local retail gift shops and at craft fairs. Her initial projects submissions to magazine publishers were immediately accepted and published, so she decided to go one step further and self-publish instructional painting pattern books through Easl Publications. In the spring of 1995, Annie Lang's first book, "Elves From My Shelves" was published. Twenty eight titles followed over the next eight years. Today, she joins our readers for a brief chat about her twenty-year career in the creative arts.
Q: What was your first job as a young woman?
A: When I was seventeen, I worked the third shift as a line worker at a box factory.
Q: How did you make the leap from day job to dream job? What were some of the difficult parts of this transition for you?
A: I never really made a "leap" to my dream job! I have worked as a waitress, a sign painter, an Avon representative, an office clerk, an after school program instructor, and a silkscreen cutter to generate household budget income. I didn't realistically believe I could financially survive or compete in the art community as a professional artist, but always knew I wanted to work in the commercial art or publishing fields. Money and education were my greatest obstacles; I didn't have much of either, so I taught myself and invested what little I had on basic supplies and how-to publications.
I joined the Society of Craft Designers in 1995 in order to meet other professional designers and to introduce my work to creative industry manufacturers. It was through this network that additional publishing, licensing and writing opportunities presented themselves, and my character designs began appearing on numerous commercially manufactured products and retail fabric prints. By cross-marketing my character designs, my business evolved into a full time professional design business.
With the expansion of my business success came trade show travel, speaking engagements, tight deadlines, and an overwhelming workload which left little time for personal interests and family life. The creative industry business environment was also changing to better compete in global markets, and many grass roots craft related companies, publishers and retailers did not survive the transition.
In 2003, I once again decided to move Annie Things Possible in a different direction by offering direct-to-consumer digital art characters and graphics through my expanding internet sites.
Q: Your work seems so positive, light, and joyful. Do you ever explore the darker shadow side of your art?
A: I'm an incurable optimist and simply refuse to allow little black rain clouds, negativity or the "dark side' of anything anywhere near me! Even my attempts to create images for "scary Halloween" themed projects have resulted in smiling, silly hearted characters who wouldn't scare a bug! I prefer to live here in my happy place when it comes to my work. I am SO GLAD we've finally made it past all the recent "grungy, dark, ripped and torn" design trends it was totally depressing!
Q: Any tips for keeping a studio or work area organized, efficient, functional, and fun?
A: I happen to be a personality that does not function well in chaos. I organize my studio so that all my essential supplies are close at hand and visible, on shelves or in clear containers. Clutter makes me crazy! Upon completion of a project, the studio is cleaned, and all supplies are put away. I can then start fresh with a new project. Since my work environment is a reflection of my personality, I keep it fun with silly collectibles, favorite character art clippings, and windows without curtains. Music plays non-stop while I work.
Q: Please give us some insight on how you manage your time and stay on task. What is a typical day in the studio like for you?
A: I get up with my family around 6:00 a.m, and open the studio around 7:00 or 8:00. I check email, process web-store orders and pay bills first, so I can focus on my project list. Sometimes I'm able to get through projects quickly but some projects require 2-3 weeks to complete. However, since many of my designs consist of image collections, I'm able to overlap designing tasks. I can create a fabric layout for the textile company from images I created for my digital kits, then adapt the images to create a craft project for a magazine editor.
I make a trip to the Post Office each day, but I typically stay with whatever project I'm on until it's completed which may mean 5 p.m. one day and 3 a.m. the next. I don't always break for dinner when trying to work with tight deadlines. If I do, I usually spend a few more hours working after dinner, before closing down for personal time. I don't have much of a social life during the winter months, but I do take time off for outings, shopping, and reading.
Q: Where do you find the inspiration for your "Annie's Kids" characters? Are they inspired by real children?
A: Kids and family are my inspiration for characters. Most of my characters were inspired by the childhood antics of my three grown sons. I'm from a family of 11 and my husband is from a family of 9, so I don't anticipate running out of kids and family humor anytime soon. If I do, I'll borrow the neighbor's kids!
Q: You've had great success in marketing your arts and crafts kits and instruction workbooks. Please share a simple project with our readers, something easy and fun they can do at home.
A: Several easy projects with step-by-step instructions are available on the Creativity Portal Web site at the following links:
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
A: The most rewarding aspect of being a freelancer is the creative freedom I enjoy. You just never know who you'll meet or what ideas will "hit!" When they do, it's unbelievably rewarding. I've never personally met many of my professional contacts, but some of them are my dearest friends!
Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to take their home-based crafts business to the next level?
A: Not all home based businesses are willing to take the leap to the next level. It requires careful planning, time and financial commitment. When growing a business like mine, art becomes your product. If you have a hard time thinking of it in those terms, you aren't ready to move forward. I've seen creative businesses come and go throughout the course of my career. Those that remain steadfast through the storms are those that are willing to adapt to a changing business environment, dedicate themselves to their consumer base and compromise when it comes to personal time vs. business commitments. There have been times when I'd prefer a "day job" with benefits, a forty hour workweek, and a steady paycheck. However, I'm not willing to sacrifice my freedom for a 401K just yet!
Q: How do you create your fabulous creative arts kits? Please take us through the process step by step, from idea to finished product.
A: I'm pretty methodical in kit creation and usually start with a theme that has been suggested by a consumer or posted on my idea workboard. From there, I choose a color palette, then work with background papers. Characters and elemental motifs are digitally created and colored, followed by alphabet tiles. Finally, ready-to-print page layouts are built around my photos.
After the basic kit is ready, I design a cover and prepare ad layouts for website posting. Next, I create a CD label, burn a disc, and add the finished kit to my inventory. Finally, I save the original work and files in several locations and upload the product to my web-store. The process usually takes 2-7 days to complete.
Q: Any advice for marketing products on the Web?
A: Take advantage of reciprocating links, networking through groups, directory listings and search engine tags!
Q: Please discuss any upcoming books or projects you're especially excited about.
A: I have a number of magazine project contributions scheduled for publication this year, and plenty of new character collections are in the works. I'm also creating numerous medical apparel prints that are currently in different stages of the manufacturing process. As I move out of the commercially licensed product markets and into the direct-to-consumer design arena, I plan to focus on building my digital library by getting the art out of my sketchbooks and into digital format.
Q: What do you do when the Muse deserts you? How do you invite her to return to your studio and dance with you again?
A: I really don't have a Muse just a lot of mischievous elves, happy bees, lovable bug-lets, and some very loud monsters that frequent the studio and stir up the idea pool for me. I can't recall a single day when I've felt deserted or uninspired, but I've asked them on more than one occasion to just sit quietly in their chairs long enough for me to get a few ideas down on paper!
Q: I see from your website that you've been in this field for twenty years. Congratulations! Can you tell our readers what keeps you fresh, inspired, and full of juicy ideas? Tell us your secret!
A: This year I've been very fortunate to look back over 20 years of creative opportunities that have evolved into my career! I've never thought of my work as a profession. It's been my hobby, my business, my passion and my source of income. When each day begins as a new creative adventure, doors just seem to open and ideas pop into your head as if on auto-pilot!
Think of change as a positive. When you "go with the flow," the inspirational idea process is as natural as breathing, eating and sleeping. Sometimes your work just happens into the path of opportunity. Every idea that leaves your studio betters your chances of creative discovery!
Currently celebrating her 20 year "Annieversary" in the Creative Arts Industry, Annie looks back on her work with pride and enthusiastically looks forward to her new creations as she ventures into the digital world where absolutely Annie Thing Is Indeed Possible. Additional information about Annie Lang, her work and her products (including a line of digital art kits, pattern workbooks and ready-to-print paper crafting software kits) can be found by visiting her home website at www.anniethingspossible.com.
© 2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.
Molly Anderson-Childers is a a highly creative writer and artist from Durango, Colorado. More »