Meet a Mintie: Sydney Newsom

Our Meet a Mintie today hails from Alabama and is known for her Southern charm, wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor and the lightness she injects into forum conversations, as well as her design style, which ranges from whimsical to preppy.  It’s no surprise then that Sydney has been overwhelmingly nominated by her fellow designers as our next Minted Mentor, a role she’ll share with Design Lotus. This is our way of giving Sydney a cyber-high five to recognize her leadership, friendliness, and overall awesomeness.  Congratulations Sydney!

How did your design career begin?

I began the job I have now as the marketing coordinator for an architecture and engineering firm (given to me with a giant leap of faith that my creativity would teach me everything I needed to know about marketing).  All marketing materials ever produced had always been created in Microsoft Word and Publisher.  The original Adobe Creative Suite had been installed on my computer but never used, even once.  I quickly found myself unable to create the caliber of promotional materials I felt comfortable bearing my name via the Microsoft Office Suite. After cruising around CS, I convinced my superiors to upgrade my software to CS3 and send me to a 2-day Adobe InDesign course in Atlanta.

In the meantime, I found myself engaged to be married and unable to find the invitations I wanted within my price range.  I decided to take an extreme risk and make my own.  First off, I ordered every paper sample imaginable, no matter the size.  The paper was the most important factor for me.  I settled on Neenah Oxford, textured paper and envelopes in “innocent white”.  I think I ordered like 1500 pieces of paper.  Did I mention I didn’t know what I was doing.  So, with no other knowledge of CS other than how to move an object and use the rotate tool (I didn’t even know what reflect was), I created my wedding invitations using a stock vector image and free fonts.  Shortly afterwards, I attended the two day adobe class and was able to clean up the file just a bit, thank goodness.  I ended up with this . . .

Sydney's first wedding invitation design -- her own

Believe it or not my wedding invitations were considered totally “different.”  I was 28 years old when I got married and honest to goodness had never received a wedding invitation that included any kind of graphic.  Shortly after finishing the design for my invitations and ordering all of the paper and envelopes, my mother inquired over the phone about the “inner envelopes”.  Inner Envelopes?   Really?  Yes, really.  My invitations, reception cards and envelopes were all Oxford textured paper in “innocent white.”  “Inner envelopes” weren’t an option in this paper selection.  I was told that I needed to find suitable inner envelopes so that each guest could be properly invited.

I could have resisted but seeing that I thrive from a challenge (go figure), I laid there in my hotel bed (after the first day of InDesign training), searching deep within my soul in order to find my inner “MacGyver” and came up with a tri-fold substitute for the “inner envelope”.  A quick search to find the matching 80lb text paper along with a verbal approval from my mother satisfied our etiquette and aesthetic requirement alike.  Although, looking back I would have said, “inner envelopes, Mom.  Come on, really.  Do you really want to include this piece of the invitation because that is all you have received in the past.  And she would have said “no” for the sole purpose of not doing what everyone else was doing around her.

Sydney and Brian

Yes, I wish my design career story was more interesting and less typical, but the truth is that many designers without a graphic design background, found their start during the attempt to design the wedding invitation/suite they want but cannot have for one reason or another.

Can you tell us about people, moments, or experiences you have encountered that have totally transformed your perspective on design?

Wow.  “Design” is a big word.  When I think about my design beginning I think back on the creative moments or experiences in my life, although these moments may not be completely design correlated, they all reflect moments of self-expression and creativity, which is what led me to the world of design (graphic design, specifically).

From a very young age I was magnetized to reading and writing.  At the age of 7 I was positive that I would be a fiction writer.  My mother always encouraged our passion for any of the cultural arts.  She would take my sister and me to Atlanta and Houston to operas and musicals.  But it was her sister, my Aunt Kay, who introduced me to visual arts.  She would give me all of the oil paints and pastels my heart desired.  No limits.  No boundaries.  No big deal if you ran out of a certain color or broke a pastel.  If I had run out of paper and every other medium she would have let me paint on her walls or anything else for that matter.  With the aid of a step stool, she would let me create culinary masterpieces (to me) at the age of 6.  I remember it vividly.  There is something very satisfying about combining every spice in a cabinet along with eggs, ketchup and everything within the stove’s reach.  I also remember that the cat’s wouldn’t even touch my masterpieces.

She moved to Houston when I was around 7 or 8.  She would take me to Houston Art Supply.  It was like an absolute dream.  We didn’t have anything even close to a place like this.  I thought the office supply store in Ozark was the greatest store in town.  I still remember the way it smelled.  They had ball point pens in red and green and sharpie markers in purple and orange.  For me, the day we went  shopping for school supplies was right up there for Christmas morning.

I will never forget the set of markers in the metal tin my aunt bought me when I was in elementary school.  Magic, pure magic.  I used them sparingly for fear that they would run out.  Magenta and turquoise were the firsts to go.  My markers always ran out long before they could dry up (except for black and brown, brown was used for tree trunks and black during Halloween.  Other than that they seemed quite inferior to magenta and tangerine.)  The same went for my first oil pastels and oil paints she bought me.

Those whimsical squiggly lings sure look familiar

The work of a budding greeting card design genius?

However, I never considered art as a determining factor in my future.  I’ve never been able to draw a human being to save my life.  I always thought that in order to be an artist, you had to be able to draw portraits and perfect, realistic scenes.  I always considered myself more creative than artistic.  We had what was called “awards day” at the end of the year in middle school.  And every single year from 5th through 8th grade, I received “most outstanding student in English” or “Literature”, never “art“.  I would win poster contests and things of that nature but it was always my different concepts, 3-D elements and lettering that stood out, not drawings.

Bold, creative hand lettering runs in Sydney's family

Declaring a major in college was never anything I really concerned myself with in college.  I decided that I would take the classes that interested me the most.  Needless to say, the future of my life as an adult wasn’t ever really a factor in anything I did during college.  After taking my core English courses I started taking things like “Irish Literature” and “The Art of the Short Story”.  I figured if I was going to choose to study something it would be something I liked, even if it meant I would be waiting tables after graduation.  There is that song from “Avenue Q” called “What do you do with a B.A. in English?”  I didn’t need a warning.  As a creative person, passion versus reality can be a struggle, but in the end, passion is a true reflection of oneself and not the societal stereotype that we as human beings so often measure ourselves.

When was the last time you saw a design that totally blew you away and surprised you?

This is hard since I am fairly new to design and lack the time to really study other designer’s work.  I am still absorbing the massive amount of design work out there and have yet to really focus on one artist.

I didn’t take the elective classes that most people took in college.  I took 4 or 5 art history classes as electives, amongst other obscure courses.  I took an upper level architecture class my senior year (one without prerequisites, obviously).  The teachers would always say “let’s see what the English major has to say”.  They thought it was crazy that I chose to take that class as an elective.  But in the end, we all learned from each other.  The paper I wrote for that class as our final project ended up being the best paper I wrote during my entire college career.

Auburn University has an amazing architecture program.  Their ongoing undergraduate study, “The Rural Studio,” founded in 1993 by the late Samuel Mockbee, just might be the single most fascinating and emotionally-moving creative endeavor I have ever seen.  The studio is located in Hale County, AL, one of the poorest areas in the country where many people don’t even have running water or septic systems.  It is here where students come for hands-on experience and to learn about the societal and environmental responsibilities of which Mockbee was so passionate about within the architecture profession.  Students incorporate found objects and materials such as cardboard bales and redundant tires into their design and building process.

One of my personal favorites is the glass chapel built in 2000 featuring a rammed earth structure made from local clay and a roof composed of 1980s GMC sedan windows salvaged from a scrap yard.

Rural Studio Glass Chapel/Masons Bend Community Center

Just as pretty from the outside

Alternative, contemporary, yet timeless

(Images via Forrest Fulton)

There is not a creative person in this world who would debate the fact that Samuel Mockbee was an architectural genius who fused his art with the need for environmental and social change . . . . and just so happened to change the world along the way.

“Everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul, architects should lead in procuring social and environmental change.”

– Samuel Mockbee quoted in, Andrea Oppenheimer Dean, “Proceed and be Bold: Rural Studio after Samuel Mockbee.” (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), p. 7.

One of my very, very favorite quotes of all time is:

“As the true method of knowledge is experiment, the true faculty of knowledge must be the faculty which experiences”

-William Blake, “All Religions are One”

When real life experience is impossible, learning vicariously becomes second-best.  Literature has allowed me to experience so many situatons that otherwise, I never would have faced..  From the artistic revolution of the romantic period to civil rights and segregation, to the Irish Potato famine, to living in America as a native of India with parents who still believe in arranged marriage, I have lived these situations and so many character’s lives vicariously.  I have felt the emotions associated with so many different ways of life and moments in history, that otherwise, I would have never experienced.   For this I am eternally grateful.

Editor’s Note: If you want to know more about the Rural Studio, post a note on Sydney’s designer studio. She knows more than this interview can do justice.

As a self-taught designer, where do you go to gather design tips and study past and present design works?

Blogs and forums have changed the world in terms of self-discovery and the art of mastering new skills.  I can learn how to do almost anything in the world by following online tutorials.  Google is a Modern Day God.  If I don’t know how to do something I “google it”.  If I don’t find the solution quickly, I know that I can always post a topic for help in the Minted forum and can expect a fairly quick response.  For instance:  (This forum post called) called “How to wrap objects around a sphere.” Super valuable information I received via this discussion in the forum.

Essentials: a clean desk, CS, and a comfy chair

Often I will come across design sites that really speak to me.  I will bookmark them and visit them regularly.  One of my favorites is Grain Edit.

What are some of the challenges of being a designer?

The answer to this question is easy to come to mind and a bit harder to recognize outright but the fact is, as a designer, you will have friends and family in constant need of print and web graphics.  It is in my nature to “give”.  I have realized for a while now that it is within giving that I find the most joy.  But there comes a time while balancing a full-time job, raising a family and doing creative freelance work on the side, when you have to find the ability to say “no”.  My husband often says, “oh, you can do that in 30 minutes, no more than an hour”.  Friends will say, “I don’t need anything fancy.  Don’t spend any time on it”.  And the fact is, yes, I could do that in 30  minutes or less, but would I be okay knowing my name was associated with something thrown together and deemed complete for the sake of moving on?  In my experience so far . . . Never.  The day I do something half-way will be the day I die in the middle of a project.  I think this is true of many designers.

And then all of a sudden you find yourself with a pile of work to do that will earn little if no return.  In the meantime, take-out becomes your family’s best friend, you’re averaging 4 hours of sleep per night and the constant feeling of being “stressed out” begins to feel normal.  This is not the way to live when you have a family.  Time is precious and its value is high.  You must find a way to adjust your life accordingly.

The graphic designer’s challenge could not be visually represented any better than it is here:

"The Dreaded Killer Jellyfish of Graphic Design Favors"

(via Core 77)

What is your design process like?

Gosh, it really varies.  I must admit though that I am somewhat of a rebel when it comes to trends.  Or, maybe I should say that I’ve never been one to wear something or design something because it is or was popular at the moment.  There was this super popular fashion trend during college that included the combination of a short skirt, knee-high boots and big hoop earrings.  Trendy or not, you can’t take the “hooker” out of an outfit like this.  These are the types of things that never ACTUALLY look good.  People follow trends because of what someone else told them looks good . . . . and often lose touch of their own likes and dislikes.  Inevitably, styles and designs I like will become trendy or popular and when this happens it makes buying clothes or pleasing other people especially easy.

Rant, Rant, Rant.

A lot of times I have an idea that comes into my head, whether it is a font or color combination or layout of pictures.  I will work it up and save it in a file for later.  I try to resist the urge to use too many new ideas at one time.  There are times when you get a new font, create a unique illustration and discover a new favorite color combination all in the same time frame.  It can be tempting to use all of these new design elements at one time, especially for people like myself and so many other minties who find things like this to be quite stimulating.  I often have to ground myself and remember that most of the time, less really is more.  But at the same time you can’t deny the fact that sometimes more + more + more = a splendid alchemy that is a unique creation of your own.  I enjoy seeing a perfectly executed design with flawless typography combined with elements that perfectly cradle each straight and curved line within the type.  But when I see a design that completely throws predictability and perfection out the window- these are the moments when I feel particularly affected by art and design.

So, to answer the question at hand.  When creating a design with a deadline and sitting down at the computer to begin the process, Folk Alley (a music station online) almost always leads the way.

Please pick a design that you’ve created for a Minted challenge and take us through the design process.

Love and Peace Eternal actually began with the lyrics of a song in my head . . . the wrong lyrics.  I had Bob Marley’s song, “One Love, One Heart” in my head.  But for some reason I was singing it, “one world, one heart”, hence the world globe and the heart.  What I had in mind was “one world + one heart  =  peace” or something like that.  But I never could get this inital idea to amount to anything worthwhile.  So . . . I moved onto this . . .

"Love and Peace Eternal" -- first concept

I found the font usage to be boring next to the hand-drawn “peace”, “world” and “heart” so I grabbed a pen and paper and began hand-lettering the rest of the phrase.

I posted a rough version of the design fairly early during the critque phase.  I didn’t want to dedicate too much time to the design in case everyone found it to be dreadful. I was dumbfounded by the instant postive feedback I received on the design.  Within the next day or two, I made some improvements and added a few graphics.  And ended up with the final design that was seen in the recent countdown.  I was truly shocked that my scribblings could be that appreciated by others.

"Love and Peace Eternal" -- final

Most importantly, it has inspired me to rediscover an artistic technique that otherwise would have been lost after high school.  I wish I could dig up all of the hand-lettering I did while growing up.  I think I’ve always had a style that is focused intensely on detail and balance, while placing equal importance on the beauty of imperfection at the same time.

I have found Micron pens and Manga drawing paper to be essentials for hand-lettering.  Drawing in regular sketch books is disappointing after getting used to Manga paper.  The great part about this paper (or the pictured paper at least) is that it is so thick that you can actually ink on both sides without it bleeding through.

Extra thick paper so that your ink stays put

(via Dick Blick)

What Adobe Illustrator tools could you not live without?

The smoothing tool.  I feel sorry for myself when I think back on the times that I spent countless hours pulling and dragging anchor points in order to smooth out a line.  Really, I can’t tell you how much I have learned while participating in the design challenges.  I can even create a seamless pattern swatch!!  Anytime I can’t figure out how to do something after a few google searches, I can always go to the Minted forum and post a topic asking for help or advice.  This is priceless because I have never had this type of community before.  I love all of the people in the forum because we’re all there for the same reason:  to learn, help, and inspire each other . . . our shameless Minted Addictions don’t hurt our relationships either.

What is it like being part of the Minted Design community . . .

Being a part of the diverse group of designers all over the U.S. and the world who make up the Minted Community is amazing.  Common interests keep all of us coming back to the same place.  I live in a small town in south Alabama.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it here and there are definite advantages.  But contact within the inside edges of the box are minimal.  Which means once you move outside of the box’s edge, it is apparent that you are in the minority.  I love that I can travel a couple of hours or clear across the country at any given time and meet up with a fellow Mintie who holds my hand outside of that box.

Unfortunately, southeast Alabama is not much of a vacation destination.  But Dothan is just a short drive from the beaches.  So if any of my fellow Minties are ever in the Panama City/Destin area, be sure to let me know.  I’m always looking for a good reason to spend a night or two at the beach!

Who in the community do you really admire and what do you like about them and their work?

Before joining Minted’s design community I didn’t really know anything about typography.  “Myriad Pro” was always my “comfort type” for everything I designed at work.  I could use the font family throughout a newsletter or proposal, switching from all caps to small caps, narrow, and bold and keep a nice clean, consistent look.  When feeling adventurous I might throw a little “Rockwell” in there.

I think Annie’s “Meet a Mintie” interview came out during the Breakout Wedding Challenge.  In response to the question of “what advice would you give other designers starting out” (or something like that), I remember her saying that she couldn’t stress the importance of typography enough.  Her devoutness on this topic combined with my admiration for her design style, really made me take her advice to heart.  I started noticing type everywhere.  “Futura” on my license plate, “Rockwell” on my parent’s license plates, “Sudesta” on signage at the mall . . . I could go on and on.

I’m not sure whether to love or hate Annie for this advice:  as if I needed another form of aesthetic goodness to absorb my thoughts and my time.  My design endeavors are still in the infant stages, but I must say that this is the best piece of advice I have received thus far.

I love that Annie works at Minted, is known as one of the absolute best designers in our community,  and yet her role as a Minted employee and design community member somehow remain separate.  None of us would ever question Minted’s employee involvement in the design competition.  At the end of every challenge, Minted always chooses the best designs for their collection at that time . . . no matter who you are.

Of course, I absolutely adore Amy Ehmann (Design Lotus).  She was the first person to comment on my first design ever submitted to Minted. Side Note:  This design is still my highest scoring design ever submitted.  It received a whopping 2 comments, which is proof to not always judge your design by the amount of comments it receives. We talk about design and ask for eachother’s advice on things we’re working on but we also share our proud mommy moments as well.  She was the second person I told (with my Mom being the first) that my daughter went tee-tee on the potty for the first time last week!!!  A new note:  Amy and her kids auditioned to be on “Sprout” a few weeks ago.  I talked to Amy yesterday and was super excited to hear that she and her two oldest kids are going to be on (chica’s show, I think.  will have to confirm).  It’s funny to think that I could have been watching TV with Claire one day and have absolutely no idea who this girl and two kids cooking breakfast in their yellow pajamas are.

If Amy thought she could give advice to a designer on a particular entry that would ultimately put that design in front of her own, she would do it every single time.  As competitive as she is, I think she receives ultimate happiness through helping fellow designers throughout the challenges . . . with “winning” rounding the corner for a close second. Amy is 100% real.  This is what I love the most about her.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she is fabulous designer as well!

What inspires you?

I’ve always had a love affair with vintage packaging and go to I visit The Dieline and this site a lot when working on typography. It aint’ fancy a-tall but it’s easy to maneuver, has good quality images and is ever changing. Vintage packaging was always more of an appreciation than inspiration because I wasn’t working with type or any kind of graphic design.

Inspiration-worthy, indeed

(via The DieLine)

There were several thrift stores I would visit once a week throughout my college years.  I accumulated quite a collection of what many other people would consider junk during that time but these are the same kind of items to which I am still drawn today.  Displaying things like this with no monetary value around your house can lead your husband to think you are crazy.  My husband often tells me, “not everyone likes the same things you do.”  He doesn’t understand why I don’t want an entire bedroom suite that comes with the matching dresser and night stands.  Matching bedroom suite: No.  Matching stationary suite: Absolutely.

Bookshelves are great for organizing and displaying keepsakes

a beloved napkin ring box

I am all about small details.  My husband and I built a house last year.  I tried to incorporate as many of the small details we could afford.

The doorbell purchased from Restoration Hardware for $8 just might be my favorite attachment to the house.

rectangle embossed storefront from Restoration Hardware

I was particularly happy with the way our craftsman style trim and doors turned out.

How does your creativity affect your role as a mother?

I would say that my creative personality plays a tremendous role in my role as a mother.

Claire Newsom (what a fashionista!)

I firmly believe in the value of self-expression, for children especially.  I feel like there are so many parents who try to control the things there children do and never allow them the chance to explore their own world and develop opinions, likes and dislikes of their own.  My (almost 2 year old) daughter found a velour jacket from her winter wardrobe not too long ago and just had to wear it.  When it came time to go to the grocery store I asked her if she was sure she wanted to wear the jacket to the store because it was really hot outside.  Of course she wanted to wear it!  How would she know a velour jacket would be hot in the middle of summer unless she actually wore one?  If it weren’t for my husband my poor child would never wear matching clothes, shoes or barrettes because I would let her wear whatever she wanted.  Hitting other children:  No.  Wearing shoes that don’t match your outfit because that is what you want to do:  Why not?

Find more of Katherine on her blog.

  1. Laura

    What a great interview Sydney- congrats on your new Minted Mentor role!

  2. Yolanda

    Hello Sydney.. not only are you a great designer but a wonderful writer. I enjoyed reading about you and learning about your design process. Thank you for sharing your childhood greeting cards.. they are seriously REALLY good 🙂

  3. Natasha

    This was such an amazing interview!!! It was so incredible to get to know you more! After reading that interview, I feel like we just sat down to tea together. Thank you for candidly sharing your lovely spirit with us and congratulations on being the next Mintie Mentor!

  4. Amy E

    Now that’s an interview you won’t soon forget… Congrats and thanks for being so sweet and awesome!

  5. Paige

    Congratulations! It’s so nice to learn what makes Sydney tick! I truly enjoyed reading your interview. 🙂

  6. Fantastic interview! Congrats on being a Minted Mentor, Sydney. It is wonderful learning more about you 🙂

  7. Brooke

    Congrats on becoming a Mintie Mentor. You are such positive force in this community! Can’t wait to meet you on Saturday.

  8. alston

    congrats, sydney! great interview — love that jellyfish poster;)

  9. Nam

    Thank you for your awesome interview, Sydney and so glad have a positive motivator in this design community. You’re inspiring and hope to see people of all background see the light of creativity. Eventhough we only communicated on-line, it seems as though we known you already.

  10. Karen Glenn

    So fun to read your story, Sydney! You are the perfect choice for Minted Mentor–congrats!

  11. Amanda Larsen

    Lovely interview, Sydney, and congrats on your new role!

  12. annie

    congrats sydney on being the newest minted mentor! and thanks for the sweet words 🙂

  13. Jana Volfova

    Congrats Sydney! I enjoyed reading your interview and I like your creative style and hand lettering.

  14. Meg G.

    What a wonderful interview, Sydney. I love your humbleness and sincere passion to grow as a designer. You are (and will be) an excellent leader for our community.

  15. Megan (toast & laurel)

    What a great interview! Sydney – it is so nice to know more about you and to read about your ever-evolving approach to design. Minted is full of so many wonderful designers and these interviews are a great introduction!

  16. Laura C.

    Wow- what an informative and fascinating interview about an incredible designer! Congrats, Sydney!

  17. Maria Estigoy

    Sydney – what an awesome story!You’re a talented designer. @Minted – You really know how to keep this community engaged. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned about design, designers, and stationery in this least year through this blog/forum/design challenges. Minted deserves an award of some kind.

  18. Sydney

    Wow. Thank you so much for the nomination, comments and general love. I feel like I should give an acceptance speech. But I have said enough . . . . it is an honor.

  19. Janan

    Whew! What an interview! I am so super proud of you Syd! Love ya!!

  20. Mariam

    Sydney, we all loved reading this and getting to know you better. Thanks for everything you do to help other designers in the Minted community.

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  22. Helen

    So happy for you!! You deserve this and SO much more.