Cara’s Words

In Interview on February 26, 2013 at 2:00 am

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I first heard of Cara Livermore, the Rochester-based hand-lettering artist, on Etsy as a featured seller. Upon reading her personal blog, I discovered she not only runs a successful shop on Etsy making and selling hand-lettered and illustrated recipe cards, calendars, grocery lists, and other practical, household-driven paper goods, but is also the design editor of a vegan cookbook and magazine called Chickpea and the creator of the popular Tumblr blog, Hipster Food. She’s incredibly interesting and impressive, and I really enjoyed asking her about what her fantastic projects have taught her, as well as her inspirations and background in Rochester. Here are her words. Enjoy.

When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I never had a specific drive to “be” anything as a kid, but when I pictured myself as an adult, it was always in a creative field. I saw myself as a painter, an architect, an illustrator, an interior designer. I couldn’t see myself today in any other kind of world.

I was reading your blog (which I really enjoy!) and came across a post about the difficulty of putting yourself and your work out in the world. I wanted to ask you what helped you let go and start sharing what you make and have to say?

In truth, I still have a lot of problems with that, especially as my virtual audience grows. (This is one of the biggest reasons I don’t post to hipsterfood as often as I used to – suddenly I feel like my soup recipe might not live up to the standards of over 100,000 followers.) I’ve always been shy and I’ve always had stage fright, but today I find that a passion to share my ideas trumps that timidity. I tell myself that being scared just delays the inevitable, so I might as well show what I’ve got in the best way I can.

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Tell me about living in Rochester– you, Chickpea, and your print and hand-lettering work are all based there. What makes it a conducive place to create and do you have any plans to venture into other places?

More and more I’m finding that this is a great city to live in. There’s a thriving handmade/small business community here and plenty of places to go out on a photoshoot. The people here are wonderful and supportive. We have the #1 farmer’s market in the country, which I would miss immensely if I left. I’m also currently working with a group to start up a retail space for artists and crafters and it’s energizing, both creatively and personally. Plus, my house came with a darkroom and a garden. I don’t think I plan on moving any time soon.

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What inspirations make their way into your cooking and lettering?

Getting away from the computer helps me find inspiration and spurs me to be creative. At the farmer’s market I get excited to cook, just from being around all sorts of people and amazing fresh produce. Ideas start to form when I go to get some bread and hot chocolate in the winter, listening in to conversations around me, watching the view of the city street. I try to keep my concepts simple and refreshing, just like my environment I get inspired in.

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Can you remember the first thing you ever cooked?

Yes, vividly! I think I was maybe 10 or 12 years old. I spent an entire day with my dad chopping vegetables, grinding spices, and cooking over a hot stove. When it came time to eat, it was the greatest meal I’d ever had. He really taught me that day that working hard for something made the end result that much more satisfying.

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What about the first time you realized how much you enjoyed illustrating and lettering?

In middle school, I drew Sailor Moon scenes; in high school I took every drawing class I could; in college I concentrated on illustration & drawing. Drawing has always felt natural to me, more tactile than painting and less frustrating than sculpture. In figure drawing classes I fell in love with line work, and I became really good at line sensitivity, which translates directly to my lettering work now. I’m still learning lettering but I’m loving it!

What made you realize you could take these hobbies, become very good at them, and turn them into what you do for a living?

All of this actually happened over a long period of time. Some things don’t make money, some do – I keep those that do and over time, I found myself making a living on it. I knew the paper goods and lettering would work because I built the products over a year or two, getting feedback from local shows and improving over time. Chickpea only started because people kept messaging us saying they’d buy hipsterfood’s future cookbook. Hipsterfood took years of hard work to get its audience and helped me immensely in improving my own skills in the process.

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Three things working on Chickpea has taught you?

1. Getting help from others takes some stress off you and gets more people invested in what you’re doing. This creates a sort of chain reaction of interest and gets your work out in the eyes of others.

2. It’s really important to put yourself out there and push your boundaries if you want to stay successful. It’s the difference between landing a big retail contract and sitting on your butt feeling sorry for yourself.

3. Always over-estimate when it comes to time (deadlines, shipping dates) and money (pricing & materials). We learned this one the hard way.

Two things building a business on Etsy has taught you?

1. Image is everything. This includes not only photos and branding, but also how you treat customers and how you speak in public (twitter/tumblr/etc). A cohesive (and interesting!) image can set you apart from the sea of similar creators.

And on that note, you can set yourself apart by just speaking in your own voice. I stick to creating in the way I like, not what “sells” the best. I could photograph on white backgrounds, come up with some slick design for the magazine, but then my work would look just like everyone else. People want my work because it doesn’t look like something else they already have.

2. Stop worrying and just work. Keep working and working, even when you don’t want to.

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One thing you hope to get better at this year?

I’m starting to get into a routine, which is exciting to me. After years of not being sure what will come next, stability is what I’m craving. So I hope I can find a good balance and settle into a routine this year, that way I won’t have to worry so much about the statuses of everything I’m doing at all times.

What do you tell yourself when things get difficult?

I ask myself if this terrible thing will really matter in five years – usually, it won’t. I’ve lived my share of worst-case-scenarios, so now I know that I can handle a lot and eventually it does get better, no matter how difficult it seems at the beginning.

Finish these sentences:

I love: hours-long sunday brunches
I’m not a fan of: bureaucratic work
I’m looking for: balance
I’ll never: stop trying

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