Welcome to Week 24 and this special edition of Motherhood by Design in honor of Father's Day this weekend! While this series primarily focuses on mothers who run creative businesses, I thought it would be fun to feature a father who does the same.
"Get some inspiration from the Internet, but then shut it down and do the first thing you think you’d enjoy. Seeing what everyone else is doing is overwhelming and will make most people give up before they even start."
Brent Almond, pictured above in the yellow tie, is a graphic designer and the voice and vision behind the DesignerDaddy.com blog and the amazing series of "Super Lunch Notes" that has received media coverage all over the world. I've had the pleasure of knowing Brent for the past 10 years as our paths crossed both professionally and related to surrogacy. This past spring Brent was a fellow cast member in the Listen To Your Mother DC Show, and it was then that I knew he'd make a wonderful addition to this series.
Welcome to Fatherhood by Design, Brent - can you please describe your family?
Me, my husband Nick and our 5-year-old son, Jon.
What is your business?
Self-employed graphic designer, Design Nut, LLC Blogger, DesignerDaddy.com
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
Drawing, watching TV/cartoons, reading comics, playing superheroes/dress-up
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Not so much in how I was raised or interacted with my parents, but I had an affinity for drawing and crafting from a very early age. My parents were creative people, with an emphasis on language and music in our house. But I was always drawn to crafting/art activities, whether it was making masks for a kindergarten play, making crafts at the local Y, or doodling on the back of the church bulletin during services.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a father? Was fatherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
Being a father was always something I pictured myself doing, but as I got older and dealing with thoughts and feelings of being gay, the idea of fatherhood took a back seat. It never went away, but I had to figure out who I was, who I was going to love, and how I was going to fit into the world first. I came out of the closet in my mid-twenties, soon after I met the man who would become my husband and co-father. We both wanted children, so it was just a matter of waiting until we felt like we were ready emotionally and financially. We both joke now that we wish we had started earlier, so it wouldn’t be so difficult to keep up with our 5-year-old. Actually, it’s no joke!
In your early years of fatherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
I think the opposite thing happened. Almost as soon as I became a father, a couple of things happened: 1. I was flooded with so much inspiration, both from my son and from the role of being a dad. And 2. I got a stronger sense of my limited time on earth, and felt a lot of urgency to try and do things I’d always wanted to do, and a lot of new things, too.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a father, or after?
I started Design Nut in 2002, so yes, well before becoming a father. I started my blog, DesignerDaddy.com, on my son’s first birthday. But it took a couple of years before it became any source of income.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
As a child I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up. But as a young designer working at ad agencies and design firms, I swore I’d never go into business for myself. I didn’t think I’d want the headache of finding my own clients, doing my own books, etc. But then circumstances led to exactly that happening. The circumstances were a combination of my employer at the time deciding to close up shop, it being a month after 9/11, and me being on such a senior level it was hard for me to find work — particularly as the economy was starting to decline. I started freelancing and doing small jobs for friends and former clients, and it just evolved into my own gig.
The blog began as more of a design/fatherhood hybrid, and is much more about fatherhood now. Though graphic design isn’t a topic of my writing, there’s a strong creative aspect to every post. I’m starting to do more crafting for the blog and for other clients like Fandango and Brightly (a parenting site from Penguin Random-House).
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a father and how has that changed over time?
It’s constantly in flux, ebbing and flowing as my son’s needs and schedule changes. And as my own inspiration ebbs and flows. So I don’t know if it’s actually balanced, just always dropping and picking things up.
In what ways does fatherhood affect your work processes?
I have to think quicker and more efficiently. And I have to cherish my “me” time more than before, and not take it for granted. I also have to let slide some of the details that I used to obsess over.
In what ways does fatherhood affect your creative products?
Sometimes it inspires me beyond anything I thought imaginable, and sometimes it sucks the life out of me. I used to be motivated a lot by money, peer-approval and awards/recognition. Now I don’t have the time or energy for most of those and I have to rely on making the client and myself happy. As a blogger, I get a lot more feedback than I do as a designer, so that’s always nice.
Being a father has also given birth (ha!) to new creative products — whether they are something I do for income, for my blog, or for my son.
One example are the notes I put in his lunch every day. I started on his first day of preschool and just kept going. I would post them on Instagram and had gained a decent following of people who enjoyed them. Then this past February, they were featured on Buzzfeed, and then were shown/discussed on the Today Show and Good Morning America’s websites, quite a few blogs and newsmag sites (like Huffington Post), and then my son and I got to appear on the Australian version of the Today Show, via satellite. It was a really fun few weeks of “fame” and I’m hoping to turn it into a book or products I can design and sell. But even if I don’t end up making any money off of these, I’ll still do them as long as my son likes them — because I love doing it and it’s a great creative outlet, and a way for me to use my talents to show him I love him.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
On the design business? I’d say it’s equal parts less money, less work and less stressing over it being perfect. Luckily my husband makes a solid, steady income and we’re not reliant on mine. As I work from home and have a more flexible schedule, it allows me to handle more of the childcare and school-related activities. I like the flexible, always-changing schedule, but that does make it difficult to take on as much work as I used to.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
With the blog and the creative aspects of that (crafting, making videos, reviewing products and experiences) I’m trying to include him more and more. As a baby he served mainly as an inspiration. As a preschooler — and soon a kindergartener — he’s my co-creator. Or at least my co-experiencer. Plus, he gets to try a lot of toys, activities and experiences that I might not have thought of on my own.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
That it is possible to really enjoy what you do for a living, and that it’s possible to still be an active and involved parent while doing so.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of fatherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in his/her life?
For me, finding time to stimulate my creativity is vital to my sanity and happiness. Even if I didn’t do it for a living or any kind of income, I’d find a way to make and create. I guess the advice I would give is start small. Get some inspiration from the Internet, but then shut it down and do the first thing you think you’d enjoy. See what everyone else is doing is overwhelming and will make most people give up before they even start.
Thank you so much, Brent, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Brent in the following places:
Design Nut website: DesignNut.com Designer Daddy blog: DesignerDaddy.com Designer Daddy Facebook: Designer Daddy Pinterest: Designer Daddy Designer Daddy Twitter: Designer Daddy SuperLunchNotes Instagram: Superlunchnotes