Today's post has been a long time coming and I'm thrilled to be able to share it with you.
I'm fairly certain that my first exposure to Anne Ditmeyer's creative work dates waaaaay back (read: a handful of years ago) when I started reading blogs. Design*Sponge was one of the first blogs I remember reading regularly and I just loved Anne's posts. So naturally, I started following her blog, Prêt à Voyager, and was even more inspired! Most recently, I had the pleasure of taking her Map Design class over on Skillshare and had a great time learning from Anne and my fellow classmates.
I've been a fan of her work for quite some time and it wasn't until I sat down to write this introduction that I realized:
- I've been consuming online content much longer than I've been creating it.
- In many ways, Anne's work sparked my desire to create – both in print and on the web.
Though I have yet to meet Anne in person, her work and creative journey are nothing short of incredible and I'm so glad we all get to learn more about her through the powers of the internet. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, so let's see what she had to say!
JEN: When people ask you what you do for a living, how do you generally respond?
ANNE: Funny, I know that I'm inevitably going to be asked this question, but I have yet to come up with an answer that I'm happy with. I'm such a visual person that I always think it's easier to see something to understand it, which is harder in conversation. Also, I do a ton of different things – something particularly foreign to the French who tend to have highly focused career trajectories. I think of mine as a hybrid.
I've also been thinking a lot lately of how to explain myself in terms of what I want to be doing, rather than just what I'm doing now. It's also interesting that terms like freelancer and blogger can have a negative connotation based on the person's experience with them (particularly an older generation). Right now I consider myself a communications designer and writer focused on travel and education, bridging online and "real" worlds. I tend to work with small independent businesses and start ups who see the world creatively.
I seriously forget what I do sometimes because I juggle so much. I teach online on Skillshare (Map Design and InDesign, which are open to anyone who wants to sign up), teach an undergrad Designer/ Entrepreneur class at Parsons Paris, give tours of Paris through Vayable and do freelance consulting, social media and graphic design work.
I have worked as a long time contributing editor for Design*Sponge, and have written for publications from time to time including Anthology, easyJet Traveller, Dwell, Kinfolk, and Fast Co. Design. Here's the catch: I rarely pitch ideas. Most opportunities come to me – that's how I ended up being published in these magazines. That never would have happened before my blog and twitter, which have allowed me to share my voice and create a name for myself. I started Prêt à Voyager in 2007, so it's been a slow and steady race to get where I am now, but proof that hard work pays off.
J: You currently live and work in Paris. How does working as a creative in Paris differ from working in America?
A: Health care. I honestly don't think I could afford to be a freelancer in the U.S. The cost of living in Paris isn't cheap and I pay hefty social charges, but it's comforting to know if I get sick, I won't be in as much debt. I also like that doctor's offices feel more like going to someone's home instead of some sterile void. I'm sure at the end of the day it all evens out, but it's more the peace of mind that comes with socialized medicine.
The other big difference is that I lose a lot of money in the exchange rate. Where my work comes from changes all the time, but right now most of my earnings are coming from U.S. clients. So not only do I lose in the exchange rate, but also in PayPal fees or wire transfers.
On the up side, I've been really fortunate to find fabulous French friends, most of whom do their own thing. It's been wonderfully inspiring and encouraging for me to do my own thing too. Overall, I've tried to create a job for myself that I can do anywhere. You never know what the future will bring so I want to be able to be ready for anything.
J: When did you begin your creative venture(s)?
A: I suppose it all started when I was a kid. I used to wake my mom up early because I wanted to "make things." We had a really awesome craft closet growing up and my mom was our Camp Fire leader. I'm so glad I grew up before all these iPhones and iPads. I'm old fashioned in that way and still crave the opportunity to disconnect. (In fact, I just made a party hat decorating station at a friend's surprise 30th birthday party – my goal is to bring back what we rarely do anymore).
I should also note that I was incredibly shy growing up, particularly in group settings. I was dubbed "the quiet one" at our lunch table. It wasn't until 6th grade, when I got my first camera, that I remember starting to break out of my shell. I could go photograph something else if I ever found myself in an awkward situation.
Otherwise, I didn't really start my creative path officially until after UVA. In college I discovered anthropology through a Cultural History of Still Photography class that I adored. I loved the mix of visual and cultural in one. I was a coxswain for the men's crew team but found a creative outlet photographing the team and working on the end-of-the-year slide show. I remember having conversations with an English professor, after the class was over, about my future. I told him I was interested in design (I was particularly inspired by book covers and Chronicle Books), but I wasn't ready to go on to do a full fledged design degree. (Really the idea of drawing and color theory terrified me). After college I escaped reality and taught English in Paris for a year and when I returned, I enrolled in the Masters in Publications Design program at the University of Baltimore. The program was a great fit for me because it was all about the integration of word and image and aimed more at those with a liberal arts background. I also liked that classes were evenings and weekends so I could work full time and not go into more debt than need be.
J: Did you work any strange/odd/boring jobs before you started your creative work? If so, what were they?
A: I dressed up like a costumed character for bank openings! Honestly, I have photo proof. My friend worked at an events company and we were all still young enough (I was completing my first Masters) to need extra money. You got paid more to be dressed as the character (it was HOT in there) than to be the "character assistant." I found it all very amusing.
J: Did anyone ever tell you to "have a back-up plan" or advise you against working in a creative field?
A: I was never told to have a back-up plan per se, but on several occasions my mother has had to remind me that I deserve to be paid for my work. I remember when I got really excited about a travel publishing internship in Prague. It sounded awesome, BUT you had to PAY to do it. Thankfully my mom knocked some sense into me. (Anyone who has taken my MAPS class knows who my mom is!) Now I find myself being the person that reminds my friends to value their work and what they do.
In undergrad I studied art history (and anthropology). I always found it interesting that in the U.S. the common reaction was, "So what are you going to do with that, teach!?!" Meanwhile, when I'd tell people in France I was was studying art history the reaction was more like, "Oh, that's great." Perhaps that's why I ended up in France...
J: What inspires your creativity (people, places, things, experiences, etc.)?
A: I'm most inspired by really simple – and cheap things! My best ideas either come from swimming laps in the pool (Paris pools are particularly entertaining), making connections in the metro (it's like I'm solving problems while I'm physically making the link), and wandering neighborhoods and discovering new places.
My first trip to France with my family as a junior in high school also influenced me in a few ways. First, we stayed at the home of an actual French family – friends of my parents from before I was born – and I thought that was so cool. I still remember their wine glasses that had French words etched in them (they were from the Louvre). And I tried cherry syrup in my water and thought it was awesome. While the Musée D'Orsay was great and all, their café was the first time I saw yogurt you can drink – in French packaging to top it off – and I just thought that was crazy. I think since then I've always been fascinated by understanding cultural differences and learning to communicate them to others.
J: Are there parts of your career that provide less income than others? If so, what drives you to continue doing those things?
A: The most frustrating thing about being in the creative industries is that it's easy to not feel properly valued. My least favorite phrase is "can I pick your brain?" You'd never ask your doctor or accountant that question. I'm fortunate to know a lot of people in the world, and I'm happy to help people when I can, but I also have bills to pay (loans for two Masters degrees!) so that can be quite frustrating.
Most of the time blogging doesn't pay, but for me it's become a database of my favorite projects and ideas that I'm happy to share. I've met wonderful people through it. Now it serves as a business card more than anything else. I recently shared reflections on blogging, travel and my creative process on Signs of Seeing.
I like to think of my blog as my free model, but if people come to Paris and want me to show them around I offer tours through Vayable. Also, it was a great platform for me to help get the word out about both my Map Design and InDesign classes on Skillshare. These days I'm so busy that all my other projects seem to be taking priority over my blog, and it's never been my goal to be a "pro-blogger" who makes a living through my blog (too much pressure!). I have loads of ideas in my head though, so I look forward to being able to find some time to get them out.
I've also learned a lot about "traditional" education and publishing in the past year. I think most people would be astounded by how low-paying those gigs are and that both are highly time-consuming lines of work.
J: If you weren't doing what you're currently doing, what would you be doing instead (In other words, have you ever envisioned yourself doing something else for a living)?
A: I have a few ideas cooked up for projects I want to pursue in the future and I've been thinking about what I can do to help get myself to that point. I honestly feel like it took me 2.5 years of running my own business – often learning the hard way – to strike a good rhythm and feel like I know what's going on. Instead of being stressed by a lack of work, now it's too many opportunities at once that causes the stress. But doing your own thing means ups and downs. I feel like I have 5 years of ideas in my head, so I'm not too worried. Moving forward I want to keep working on the cross-cultural and connective elements of what I do. It's also nice to be at a place where I can say no to jobs if they're not the right fit.
If I was doing something completely different, I think I'd like to be an urban planner. I like thinking about how a city fits together and have always been a big fan of public transportation. There's nothing worse than being stuck in a car in wall to wall traffic that isn't moving!
J: Are you involved in any events/happenings in Paris or on the web that we should know about?
A: As much as possible, I like to attend events in Paris – or wherever I am. I try to use my twitter and instagram accounts to help showcase and celebrate events or creators. I think sharing and supporting others is really important.
In terms of the web, Lauren O'Neill and I have been working on Studio/Practice for over a year now. It's a curated library of tips and tools for creative business. We've both been juggling so much that the official launch keeps getting pushed back, but I can't wait for it to go live. I think it's going to be a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to do their own thing. We like to think of it as a collection of things we wish we had learned in school. In the meantime, we've been sharing resources and interesting links through our twitter account.
I'll also be speaking at Blogtacular in London this May. They haven't announced what I'm speaking about yet, but there are definitely clues in these responses! I'm excited to have a mini reunion with so many of my favorite European blogger pals there.
I'm not sure about you all, but I am completely inspired by Anne, her various projects and her outlook on life as a creative. If you'd like to follow her adventures or just need a little dose of Paris in your world, you can visit her blog, catch up with her on Twitter and find her on Facebook.
Many thanks to Anne for taking the time to "chat" with us!