What Georgia O’Keeffe Taught Me About Intentionality in Branding

What Georgia O'Keeffe Taught Me About Intentionality in Branding

For Mother’s Day this year, I was fortunate to combine a few of my favorite things: travel, quality time with my son, and a museum visit.

This time around, it was a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum — an inspiring collection of artifacts, stories, and paintings from a woman who led an extraordinary life by all accounts of the word.

While many museum and gallery visits give me feelings of intimacy and inspiration in life, art, and design, this particular exhibit touched my soul on a deeper level than I could’ve predicted.


Georgia O’Keeffe was a woman. An artist. And a true force of nature.

Her lifelong success and lasting impact aren’t a product of happenstance; Ms. O’Keeffe was a very calculated woman, whose deliberate decisions have outlived her as we take from her lessons in approaching branding with intentionality.v

I’ve debunked many-a-myth before when it comes to what branding is. It’s more than your logo; it’s more than just you. But witnessing what Georgia O’Keeffe was able to create dives even deeper into the realm of personal branding, and what exactly that means.

For O’Keeffe, she embodied her brand in every aspect of her life, choosing to set herself apart through more than just her art.

She was intentional in her clothing, carefully curating high-quality pieces predominantly in black-and-white until later in life when the Southwest opened her to more colors.

She was intentional in where she lived, choosing her house in Sante Fe because of the shape of the doorway.

She was intentional in her makeup, or lack thereof — choosing to stay fresh-faced and makeup-less for her entire life.

She was intentional in her style of painting, choosing to forgo utter consistency and often alternating between realistic and semi-abstract.

She was intentional in how she was photographed, often staging the pictures just so and turning to only the best photographers — like Alfred Stieglitz (her husband) and Ansel Adams, as well as strong women like Annie Leibovitz.

Branding that permeates

In a pre-Instagram world; a world where “personal branding” did not yet exist, Georgia O’Keeffe intentionally created a brand that epitomizes the concept of branding itself.

By carefully curating not just what she allowed into her life, but also what she put out into the world, O’Keeffe created a remarkable legacy that will likely forever reserve her space as a household name.

This, friends, is an impact we can all learn from — whether we’re business owners seeking to make change through our work, artists dedicated to creating statements, or human beings on the not-so-simple mission to leave the world just a little better than we found it.

You may not be an artist who appreciates O’Keeffe’s art on the visceral level that many of us do, yet any strong business owner — or human, really — can certainly appreciate her (perhaps unconscious) grasp on what a brand is all about, and the intentionality with which she designed every aspect of hers.

Get intentional. It may mean stepping outside your comfort zone. It may mean making tough choices. But it also may just mean leaving your mark on this world in only the way you can.

Telling Stories: A Roundup of Destination Travel Guide Design Projects

Having been a graphic designer for more years than I can count — and the owner of my own design studio for more than 15 of them — I can tell you one thing: When you find your niche; your ideal clients; your ideal projects…work ends up fulfilling you in more ways than you previously thought possible.

For me, that niche is travel and tourism. Those ideal clients are destination marketers and the business owners that make those destinations unique. The ideal projects center around the branding and marketing collateral that keep those destinations top of mind amongst visitors and consumers.

I’m excited to be sharing a few of those projects with you today in my first client/project roundup on the blog. This roundup edition is focused on just a few of the destination travel guides I worked with clients on throughout the first quarter of 2017.

A few notes before we dive in:

1. These are each printed guides, with circulations in the tens of thousands. While digital and social are undoubtedly important in today’s world, print is far from dead in the travel industry.

In fact, when done well, printed travel guides are more appreciated than ever before. Throughout my most recent visitor guide projects, we’ve aimed to blend the online and physical worlds by including user-generated content (i.e. submitted stories; case studies; Instagram posts), social proof (first-hand reviews, candid photographs, testimonials, Tweets), and more.

2. Developing and designing a destination’s travel guide is a long-term process that requires a deep dive into the people, history, culture, and stories that make each and every destination unique. It’s actually what I love most about doing visitor guides: Becoming deeply integrated into cities and counties by venturing out on photo shoots, chatting with locals and tourists alike, and often visiting places I likely wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise experience.

3. At approximately 50 pages each, the pieces I’m sharing here are content rich, from both a visual and written standpoint. Each one is worthy of a coffee table, and nothing makes me happier than hearing that people both collect and cherish these guides.

Without further ado, here are a select few of the client projects I’ve been blessed to work on for the last few months:

1. Seneca County, NY visitors guide

Seneca County, New York visitors guide

Appropriately titled Faces & Stories, the Seneca County visitors guide is based heavily on the locals who make it home, and welcome visitors on the regular.

What I enjoyed most about this project was the collaboration it took to achieve it. Seneca County’s staff conducted video interviews, while a colleague of mine took photos, and I provided art direction. Each person interviewed contributes to the local economy and tourist industry in some way — from wine and craft beverages to agriculture to accommodations and everything in between. Being on site of each of these interviews gave me an intimate look at the people and the passion they have for what they do, bringing me closer to the community so I could create a piece that’s truly reflective of who they are.

What makes this guide even more unique is that we ran it horizontal, instead of portrait — a characteristic that firmly sets it apart from other guides on the shelf.

Fun fact: This year’s work on Seneca County’s Faces & Stories was an update of the original piece we created last year, which took home the Excellence in Tourism Marketing Award at the New York State Tourism Industry Association annual awards.

Get the guide here!

2. Livingston County, NY visitors guide

Livingston County, New York visitors guide

Taking a historical approach, the 2017 Livingston County visitors guide is a time-traveling adventure.

What I enjoyed most about this project was the deep dive into the history of the region and the memories that came with it. Pictures and stories compare then to now, and respected traditions are shared while also celebrating just how far businesses and attractions have come in the County.

Fun fact: The iconic train bridge over Letchworth Park was originally a wooden bridge that was destroyed by fire in 1875. It was rebuilt from iron and steel, and today, thousands of travelers visit it in all seasons.

Get the guide here!

Telling stories

I have two challenges for you: First, next time you’re in an airport or rest stop, pick up a guide or two and dive into the stories. Second, don’t hesitate to share yours — it’s the stories of locals and visitors that create a destination’s true brand.

As an avid traveler myself, I love that through my artwork and design, I’m able to help promote amazing places for people all over the world to explore. Getting to partner with destination marketers to visually tell the story of their travel brands and connecting visitors to their ideal destinations lights me up and gives my work even more purpose.

P.S. When your destination is a brand in and of itself, you can make it peak season all year round.

On the Common Thread Amongst Cultures and Living Brave

On the common thread amongst cultures and living brave

Show up. Be seen. Live brave. These words, written by Brené Brown, stare at me every day from my office wall thanks to a beautiful Christmas gift I received last year.

To say the past few months have been tumultuous would be downplaying the gravity of our world’s situation right now. There have been days of sadness. Of anger. Of fear.

Yet there have more often been days of beauty. Of gratitude. And of proven strength. After all, Brené’s words have done more than just stare me down…they’ve lifted me up.

Finding the common threads amongst all cultures

At the turn of the new year, I was fortunate to attend The New York Times Travel Show, a three-day event in New York City that brings tens of thousands of travel professionals and consumers together.

I went to the event looking for inspiration for my travel and tourism branding work, as well as for my own wanderlust, yet I walked away from it with much more.

More than 150 countries were represented at this year’s show. I spoke with people of different races, genders, and ages excited to share their landscapes and stories with me. I met a young South African photographer on his first trip to the United States. I chatted with travel representatives from Greece. I drew inspiration from print materials from the Caribbean.

I traveled the world in a day, consistently confirming the same idea: That no matter where we’re from, who we are, or what we do, we all occupy the same Earth and recognize that the pursuit of happiness is a journey that we need each other on.

And it’s a journey that’s been paved by so many who’ve come before us — people we can turn to for inspiration in times of self-doubt, of anger, and of fear, when living brave is easier said than done.

The sacred ground we stand on

I attended The New York Times Travel Show on behalf of the Finger Lakes, a region I’m incredibly proud to call home. It also happens to be a region where showing up, being seen, and living brave in the pursuit of happiness permeates our surroundings.

I’m blessed to live, work, and play on land that powerhouse women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Jigonsaseh once filled — women who actively dedicated their lives to fighting for rights and peace that we so easily take for granted. Women who, when told to sit down and be quiet, showed up, who were seen, and who most certainly lived brave.

Their presence reawakens my spirit and fills me with energy, power, and mindfulness. Connecting with the power of the past, I am able to harness the strength of love, peace, and hope.

It’s these past presences and the stories they’ve written by showing up and being seen that people all over the world — no matter their culture or physical location — can experience, as they appreciate those who lived brave before them.

Show up, be seen, live brave

Personally, I’ll be traveling through this Women’s History Month with an increased awareness of the women who came before me, and an increased passion for following in their footsteps to inspire understanding, strength, and acceptance as we face today’s challenges.

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever your cause…I hope you’ll join me in showing up, being seen, and living brave. The world needs our voice. It needs our courage. And it needs our camaraderie.

Making Time For You: Why Artist Dates Apply to All Creatives

Making Time For You, Why Artist Dates Apply to All CreativesA few years ago, I had the pleasure of working my way through The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path for Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. I say work because The Artist’s Way is hardly a simple, leisurely read — despite the joy you might find in soaking it in. Instead, it’s set up as more of a course, with ideas to try and tasks to complete along the way.

One of my favorite notions from The Artist’s Way is that of the Artist Date. As the author describes it:

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

Festive expeditions filled with mischief that spark whimsy and encourage play? If that doesn’t sound like heaven for the creative, I’m not sure what does. But what I love most about The Artist Date is its focus on using play to replenish our inner well.

Play as replenishment

As an artist, but more particularly as a creative, I’ve realized the importance of play more and more with each year that goes by. Our creativity simply cannot be fully cultivated in front of a screen or constantly focused on a canvas. Yet in a get-stuff-done society, play often gets neglected due to the invisible obligation we creatives seem to have to that which doesn’t stoke our fire: screens, emails, and other distractions.

Play, in its simplest form, is defined as “activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation.”

And the good news is, while the sandboxes and swingsets may have evolved into long nature hikes or robust novels, play is hardly reserved just for children.

Play is the fuel for when your tank is running on empty. It’s the invitation extended to external influences that bring our inner most creativity out. It’s the proactive approach to keeping our wells filled.

The Artist Date: Your recurring appointment for play

As last year came to a close and a new year started, I went on a bit of a personal mission. The objective: Inspiring as many of my clients, colleagues, and friends to make the appreciation of time a priority, and to make the most of every minute we’re given.

This comes in many forms: Presence in the company of others, courage and braveness in our own work, and, perhaps most urgently, vigorous insistence on incorporating play into every day.

I want to encourage you, my fellow creative, to make time for yourself by adopting your own weekly Artist Date. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair — for me, my Artist Dates might include going to the museum, visiting galleries, taking nature walks, getting out on the ski slopes, browsing an antique shop, or taking a couple hours to walk through the library.

The most important thing is that you’re taking time for you.

Selfish? Hardly. When we take time for ourselves — time to play and enjoy the wonders of the world around us — we are able to be more present, courage, and brave in our relationships and in our work.

After all, I’m much better equipped to create inspiring designs for the travel and tourism entities I work with when I’ve actually explored their towns, dipped a toe into their lakes, and had conversations with their community members as I dine in their restaurants. Likewise, I can take on the Bristol Mountain Ski Resort brand in an amplified way when I’ve actually got out and experienced that downhill thrill, the lights that brighten the path at night, the piercing cold hitting your face, and the purity and freshness of the air as the chairlift climbs.

Call it play. Call it an Artist Date. Call it a mind break. No matter what verbiage you choose, I urge you to put an appointment on your calendar for each week, making time for yourself.

Your creativity is counting on it.

What will your first (or next!) Artist Date include?

Your First Step in Planning For the New Year

Your first step in planning for the new year

The end of the year brings about a lot of feelings: excitement, nostalgia, anticipation…and, oftentimes, panic.

But before you give that a chance to set in, I highly advise trying something else that will help you process all of these feelings and build a plan from them: Reflection.

Reflecting on business and brand goals before the new year

The idea of planning for an entire year ahead can be supremely overwhelming, and like anything overwhelming, the hardest part can be getting started.

The solution: Start by looking back. After all, hindsight is 20/20, and we can learn a lot from reflecting upon what’s already happened.

Right around this time two years ago, I wrote a post about reflecting and planning for your business. I was excited about the leap into the new year, and doing a bit of reflecting myself over the questions I shared there:

  1. Have I reached the goals I set out for myself this year?
  2. If there was one thing, and one thing only, that I could accomplish with the remaining days of this year, what would it be?
  3. How has my business — and brand — grown over the year?
  4. What am I most looking forward to next year?

These are all very important questions to ask for your brand and business — both to handle the panic you might be feeling now, and to start your planning for the future. But, there was one thing that was missing in this questioning — the thing that makes this entrepreneurship thing possible: a sense of self, and self-reflection.

Turning inward: Self-reflection

Work-life balance as a business owner can remain elusive, and in my opinion, that’s natural — because as a business owner, it’s my mission to make work and life support each other, not work separately from one another.

To make that possible, I have to understand the impact my personal life, health, and feelings have on my business. In other words, I need to self-reflect.

As a lover of traditional paper planning, I start my self-reflection by looking back through my planner from the last year. Here are the types of things I pull out, beyond just the projects I’ve worked on:

Starting with the reflection that extends beyond the projects completed and clients satisfied is important. It’s easy to be reminded that we chose the hard path in pursuing our freedom and choice when we’re in the day-to-day, wearing 15 hats and managing it all, but when we stop to reflect on what we’ve been able to make possible only because we’ve made this hard choice, it makes it all worthwhile.

Having reflected upon all that being a business owner has allowed me to do, I then look at the full picture that includes those projects and clients and ask myself the following:

What didn’t I do, and why? Having celebrated all that I did do, I then take time to look at the things that I didn’t do — whether I said ‘no’ or simply didn’t make the space or time. A lot of information can be found in the reasons why something didn’t get done. Did I not make the time it needed — and if not, what can I do differently to make space for it? Did I not prioritize it — and if not, does it really need to be a priority or does it just feel like a should?

What felt good, and what do I want to do more of? While finishing projects, satisfying clients, and taking time off to travel can give a strong feeling of accomplishment and is well worth celebrating, it’s also worth taking a look at whether that felt right and good. Was that project in line with the work I want to be doing? Was that client a pleasure to work with? Was that travel rewarding? Beyond money and external recognition, it’s doing what feels good that makes the effort worth it — and it’s knowing what feels right that helps me decide what I want to make room for more of in the new year.

What do I want next year to look and feel like? This is where I can get into the real planning. With a solid sense of self in everything I’ve done and say I want to do, I can:

  • Choose my word of the year: What word encompasses the direction I want the year to go in?
  • Create my vision board: What’s included in this year, from work to family and personal development to experiences — and how will it make me feel?
  • Set goals: What are the actionable steps that’ll break down these high-level feelings and dreams into achievable tasks?
  • Prioritize the right education: What do I need — and want — to learn, that’ll help me to feel the way I want, more often?
  • Plan my calendar: When will I make these things happen in the new year?

Self-reflection and the new year

As business owners, we build our businesses to support the life we want to live. We need not forget that fact while we’re experiencing the excitement, nostalgia, anticipation, and panic that inevitably comes as the year comes to a close and a new one begins.

Before you plan, reflect. And above all, practice gratitude for all that has happened and has undoubtedly led you to where you are now. After all, where there’s gratitude, there’s abundance. And where there’s abundance, there’s light.

And if we all enter the new year from a place of light, we stand to make this world a better place.