PROfile interview with designer Jeffrey Shipley. Click through to read!

PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We'll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come from running a creative business.

Web Designer Jeffrey Shipley talks about his journey from photographer to designer, and how he learned to make the rules of his own life and business, and trust where his passion was leading him.

What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?

Fresh out of college, I landed my first ‘proper’ job as the Executive Assistant for Trade Sales & Marketing at a garden design center in Carpinteria, California. Fancy title huh?! Well, don’t be fooled. Basically, I sold very expensive pots and fountains to well-to-do people from Montecito. So should you ever need to brush up on your French Anduze vase knowledge, I’m your guy. Haha.

I found the job listing on Craigslist and quickly applied with a gusto that all recent graduates have: ‘Yea, buddy! You got a degree now. Go get ‘em tiger!' After a few rounds of interviews, they asked me to come on board, and I took the job! Terracotta all the day long? Sign me up!

I certainly never intended to sell French limestone fountains for the rest of my life, but I think what really got me about the job was the marketing. And there was no designer in house, so I was pretty pumped about bringing some cohesion and overall pretty to the brand. So I designed various pieces of store signage, tried my damndest to digitise as much of their catalogue as possible, and was hell-bent on creating a cohesive type set for us all to use. And while all those things were fine and dandy, I spent most of the time on the floor selling, which is not really what I intended on doing, nor was it something I enjoyed.

So, not surprisingly, I only lasted a mere three months before I handed in my resignation letter and made for the mountains to start a wedding photography business. Short-lived? Definitely! But so necessary in determining what I really wanted to do and that was certainly not a 9-5. No thanks.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley.

Has art always been in your blood?

In some regard, yes, but unbeknownst to me. I’ve always had a thing for making things and various arts and crafts, you know… legos, forts, model cars, cross-stitch (I know, so cool right? I was homeschooled for a period of time in case you were wondering), erector sets, etc. So there’s that.

But I kind of protested art in high school and avoided the art classes like a plague for some odd reason. I was alllllll about math and science, which is ironic because I’m not so much a numbers guy. I mean, I was always the kid who loved Printshop and made custom, clip art adorned inserts for each class’ respective folder, with matching spin labels of course, and was super particular about the typefaces I used on my papers. I was such a rebel and used Garamond insted of Times New Roman. Take that AP Stylebook. But overall, I had my sights set on med school, you know, to become something practical like a doctor or something. Well, things did not go according to that juvenile plan.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Trav+Ash
Photo credit: Trav+Ash

How did you know you were ready to have your own business? / How did you go about starting your own business?

Oh gosh, I’m not sure I was ever ‘ready' per say. But I was definitely determined to pursue my passion and bring some freedom and flexibility in both expression and time to my life, and looking at various photographer friends around me, I thought: ‘Hey, that seems like a brilliant idea. Do what you love and get paid doing it. Travel the world, photograph pretty people and fabulous things. Just work on the weekends. Sign. Me. Up!' Little did I know it’s far less glamorous and far more sweat pants all day, every day, and lots of frozen burritos. Haha.

I dove in nonetheless, and thankfully at a time when I was connected to lots of people who would soon be getting married, or needed their head shots taken. I spent my college days teaching myself how to use my camera, suckering as many friends as I could into modelling for me, taking as many newspaper and yearbook photo assignments as possible, and of course, and trolling forums (hey, Open Source Photo) in between classes to learn all I could. By the time I graduated, I had a few weddings under my belt and people kept asking me to be their wedding photographer or to take their portraits.

So, I was like ‘hey, maybe I’m onto something and could make this a thing'… so I did. After my brief stint at a ‘regular' job, I went home to my tiny mountain town for six months to read as much as I could about marketing and business and, of course, to shoot all the day long. And in April of 2009, I had a big launch party (in a cool, old parking garage) and J. Shipley Photography was born.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Evan Hunt
Photo credit: Evan Hunt

Why did design win over photography?

After about three years shooting portraits and weddings, I transitioned to being a full time graphic and web designer. Honestly, I always secretly wanted to be a designer but didn’t feel qualified or skilled enough to do so. When I designed my own photography site back in 2009, people were like ‘I love your site. Who designed it?' and when I told them it was me, they’d then ask me to do theirs. I resisted for quite a while and was very insecure about it. Soon enough I caved, and agreed to help a few friends with their sites, and lo and behold, I ended up loving it and began accepting more projects here or there alongside my photography work.

Soon enough it kind of snowballed from there, and about a year and a half ago I was at a bit of a crossroads where I had to choose between photography and design. Design won. For several reasons : 1) Design was really what I wanted to do all along, and I discovered that what I was actually quite good at and passionate about was helping creatives be seen – THAT was what I was supposed to be doing, and the best way for me to have that role was through branding and web design. 2) It was a much more scalable business model, and I was excited about all the possibilities there. 3) It better suited my personality and lifestyle.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley.

What is your typical daily routine like?

For the longest time I was so anti-routine. I was like ‘I’m an artist, I don’t want a routine', but recently, I’ve realised that routine and structure actually frees me up so much more than not having one. So while it’s not super regimented, my routine looks something like this : morning workout, cup o’ tea, morning email sesh, design time, lunch break, client calls / work sessions, nap time (I kid you not), emails / wrap up for the day, dinner (I love to eat out but also love to cook or just eat in general), watch my shows (Grey’s, Revenge, Nashville. Got to have my dramas!), oh and recently, I’ve joined a book club and read more now too. So that’s fun.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Evan Hunt
Photo credit: Evan Hunt

What traits do artists have that help with running a business?

I think that many artists tend to be more feelings based, or at least well connected to the emotional side of life, so I think that makes us well-suited for working so closely with people and relating to them. Of course it gets me into trouble sometimes, because I feel and overthink things way too much and just need to treat it way more objectively. I’m working on that. Further, I think that because artists are creative, it makes us really good at coming up with new ways of doing things, or new offerings, or new projects.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Trav+Ash
Photo credit: Trav+Ash

What’s your style aesthetic like as a designer?

I tend to create clean, spacious, elegant and editorial-inspired websites and brands that are a bit more on the modern side of life but have some strong classical undertones. Think Burberry. I’m a sucker for simplicity, white space, classic typefaces and neutral color palettes. And then there’s the mountain-man, PNW (Pacific Northwest for those of us who draw a blank at acronyms) side of me that loves earthy, organic, rustic and cozy design. Luckily I have clients who gravitate toward both sides of the spectrum and I get to please both sides of my aesthetic.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley.

Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create new work?

I do for sure. I always want to make something, try something new, experiment with this or that, or make something better. I just love to create and I’m so thankful to have found various outlets to do just that – Tonic being one of my favourite creative expressions because a) I get to collaborate with the amazing Jennifer Olmstead and b) because we get to design what we want to without too many parameters or restrictions. Also, drinking cocktails can be considered D&R. So there’s that. :-)

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Evan Hunt
Photo credit: Evan Hunt

Do you ever feel alone in your work?

Yes. Often actually. I spend countless hours alone in my apartment in front of my computer and have been known to not leave the design cave or have real human interaction for days on end. In the last year or so, since so much of my work is done via the web, I’ve realised how important it is for me get out and get filled up with tangible external energy and to interact with other people in person as often as possible. When I’m constantly creating and pouring myself into something, I need to get charged up again. Thankfully working with Jen on Tonic at various points during the week really help that as well.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Trav+Ash
Photo credit: Trav+Ash

How do you relax?

Napping. Haha. I’m for reals. I’ve been known to nap everyday. While I never missed a day in college, I’ve since cut back a bit. Oh my, what am I? Three years-old?

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley.

Where do you find inspiration?

All around me actually. I’m constantly observing, collecting, curating, foraging. I’m always taking note of things I love, collecting recipes I want to try, making lists of restaurants or bars I want to try. It’s probably pretty annoying to walk around with me because I’m always touching, tasting, commenting, exploring and of course, photographing all along the way. Nature has also been a huge source of inspiration for me… it’s my happy place and just being away from it all and surround by nature breathes new life and energy into me.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Trav+Ash
Photo credit: Trav+Ash

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Never be afraid to be seen for who you really are and don’t be afraid to risk, dream big and follow your passion.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Trav+Ash
Photo credit: Trav+Ash

What’s been the best moment of your career so far?

Launching Tonic Site Shop. What started out of desire to collaborate on a simple project turned into a fully-fledged, growing business. Working alongside my business partner Jennifer and building Tonic into what it is has definitely been the highlight of my career. I love how Tonic helps creatives showcase their work in a beautiful and stylish way and ultimately, helps them be seen.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Helping people be seen and feel seen. There’s nothing more exciting to me that seeing someone’s beautiful work and awesome self-represented authentically and then seeing the impact that it has on them, their business, and their bottom line. It’s simply the best.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Evan Hunt
Photo credit: Evan Hunt

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I think one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten was when my dear friend and mentor Michelle Mollkoy said this to me : ‘It’s your life Jeff. You make the rules!' I was so governed by supposed-tos that I was afraid to do anything risky or anything that I wanted to do. I felt like I should do this or I shouldn’t do that or this is what I’m supposed to do. And when Michelle said that to me, it was the impetus to a huge shift in my thinking about being a creative and being an entrepreneur. Giving myself permission to be myself and do life and art and business my own way – wild and crazy as it may be – is probably the one of the most difficult yet profound lessons I’ve learned and am still learning. It’s definitely a process, but when I step into that space, I know that ultimately I’m better for it and so is my work. And really, the better served my clients are.

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley. Photo by: Evan Hunt
Photo credit: Evan Hunt

Profile interview with Jeffrey Shipley.

Web: J. Shipley Creative

Facebook: J. Shipley Creative

Instagram: @jeffreyshipley

Want more? Head this way for more PROfile interviews.

Author: Marianne Taylor

Her Lovely Heart founder Marianne Taylor is a photographer, an educator, and a lover of colour & light. Her work has been published in blogs and magazines the world over and her personal photography has been part of an exhibition at Tate Britain. To work with Marianne, see the mentoring services she offers. Or, if you like the photography on HLH, you might want to check out her Product & Lifestyle photography services to see whether you could work together to help your brand grow. She is also slightly obsessed with her two cats, Astrid & Sofia, and loves Instagram.

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One thought on “PROfile / 6 / Jeffrey Shipley

  1. I love Jeff Shipley! His creative work is absolutely beautiful and his heart even more so. I’m so happy to see him being featured.

    Posted on November 2, 2014 at 2:51 pm