I've been thinking about a series like this for some time, wanting to introduce you to some of the creative women I admire most, have a conversation, and contribute (however slightly) to fostering a strong and supportive community for badass creative women. Here is the first of what I hope will be the first of many conversations with creative women, focussing in on the rituals and ideas that fuel them, their inspiration and influences, their strengths and weaknesses; and how these come together to define their creative career.
First up, we have the amazing power house Leanne Ford. Leanne is a creative director and interior designer based in Los Angeles, CA and Pittsburgh, PA. She works on projects ranging from commercial and residential interior design, to creative direction for fashion campaigns, to creative writing. I love that Leanne is unapologetic about being a multi-faceted creative, and pursues varied projects across many fields. Read on further for some amazing Leanne wisdom!
+ Tell us a little bit about your work and your creative process.
I am a freelance Creative Director and Interior Designer. Pretty much I do all things creative. I am hired per project to do Art Direction for photoshoots for clothing clients, I have been doing that for about 13 years. And in the last couple years I have started doing a lot of interior design. It was a really natural move to Interiors, as I was doing it for other clients. And by sake of being creative, it makes sense. If you have it in you to put things together in an outfit or in a picture, it makes sense to do that in a room too.
+ Do you have daily habits, rituals or schedules to keep you on track and productive?
Daily rituals and habits? None! I wish, it might make me feel a little more “together” but I am all across the board. I think the only ritual that I have is the bathtub. Every day I take a bath and read. That’s my time to be away from the planet and recharge. I am such a social and connective person, so when I get in the tub and luck the door it’s my time to be quiet and still. But in my work and creative life there is nothing ritualistic to it. Somedays I have to be up before dawn. Somedays I sleep until noon. A typical work day for me can be all over the board - shopping for a photo shoot, arranging new furniture in someone’s home, on the beach directing a group of amazing talented creatives for a photo shoot, at home depot finding the right electrical parts for the house projects that I am working on, or, as I am now, sitting on a train in France writing for an awesome blog like yours!
+ What are the greatest strengths and challenges in your career?
My greatest strength in my career, without a doubt, is that I have zero fear of failure. The fact that I don’t mind messing up is what has gotten me and my career to what it is. You have to mess up, it’s inevitable. Only until we try new things, and push new things do realize what we can do. And if you live with being afraid of “not doing a good job” or what people will think you will never let yourself try. TRY! mess up, quit, blow it, who cares! Then you’ll know that didn’t work and you can move forward with something new. Albert Einstein said “The fear of failure kills creativity” and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have seen that first hand. Why do we live in a world where people are nervous to mess up! Mess up and enjoy it! I think the biggest thing to remember in creative world is that if you aren’t making anyone nervous you aren’t doing anything special.
My biggest challenge in my career, chilling out. How many different creative things DO I need to do? How many companies in my brain do I really need to start? My biggest thing that I am working on this year is streamlining my commitments and being good to those that I make. I am saying no to more projects so that I can be good to the ones that I have. That has helped a lot, but MAN if you like creating and working and doing fun projects, it is very very hard to say no. I just realized that the more I spread myself the less creative I can be for all of them. So now I am concentrating on giving my attention more carefully, and I think it’s working.
+ What are you working on now - and what is next?
What am I working on now, everything. I am a creative consultant for Hollister Co, helping them create their photoshoots. I help with concepts, pick the team to shoot and work on it, find the locations, style the clothing, edit the photos to give it a cohesive story - the whole nine yards. That has been an extremely fun client and project for me, as it allows me to use my skills in all aspects of the fashion and photo shoot world. I am also working on a lot of interior design projects. I have residential clients in Malibu, Huntington Beach, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. I also just bought my first investment property in Pittsburgh, my hometown, that my brother is helping me fix up. So far it’s been pretty amazing and a fun family affair, and I love supporting and being part of my hometown. And then the wild card is I write a lot right now. I write poetry and lyrics. I have been writing with a lot of musician friends. This is secretly my favorite art form, having something that came out of your brain sung on stage with people singing along. Such an awesome feeling. It’s interesting because my thoughts come out of my head rhyming most of the time. Like I read too much Shel Silverstein as a kid or something!
+ How do you attract the type work you want? Or how did you attract it in the beginning?
I love this question. Mainly because taking care to do the type of work that you are drawn to is the best thing that you can do for your career. If you are passionate about what you are doing and drawn to it then you will be good at it. And if you have to try too hard then you most likely are not meant to do that creative outlet. I believe in creative world you have to be naturally good at what you do or it will feel forced and the outside world will feel that. Like attracts like right? So you do what you are good at and you do as much of it as you can, and it will keep coming. Everything is word of mouth, people seeing or hearing about what you have created and wanting to have a piece of that from you too. In the same vein say no to work that is not the right match for you. I find that anytime I did something that didn’t come easy to me or that I didn’t like doing I did a bad job! And that’s a bad move for your career, because people will hear about that too. So take care to judge your career choices carefully, and climb the right ladder. You don’t want to get to the top and realize it’s the wrong one. When you are on the right path in your life and your career you will be wowed by how much the world unfolds for you. And when you finally see that and recognize it, it’s such an awesome thing.
+ Who and/or what are you most inspired and influenced by?
I am inspired by women that created their own lives. I could not get enough of Patti Smith’s book Just Kids and I don’t really even love her music. But I LOVE her. She created her own world, she made it happen, she decided she wanted to draw so she bought some pencils, she wanted to have the world hear her writing so she figured out a way to make that happen. I also LOVE Julia Child, and I don’t cook unless it involves a microwave. Julia Child didn’t even know she COULD cook until she was 34. This year coming up is my Julia Child year, I will be 34 next month and I can’t wait to discover what I didn’t even know that I could do! (I hope its singing, but it’s not looking too good.) She created her world for herself. Read her book My Years in France. It is so dreamy and so inspiring. I love women that feel their drawing and then figure out how to do it. Create the life you want, and fake it ’til you make it. I promise you, it works. When Sabika, the jewellery brand, asked me to design their office I had never done interior design for a client. I had only done my house. But I said yes. And then I called a friend, Dan Mazzarinni, to ask him what to do. I had an innate ability to design and decorate, but I had no idea how to do that as a business. You know what, a 30 minute conversation with a creative friend and great businessman, and boom, I had my own version of graduating Interior Design school.
+ What would be a dream project or collaboration?
My dream project is to design a hotel or motel, somewhere in the world. Anyone out there need me? I had goals to do a home, an office, a store, a restaurant and a hotel. I have checked the rest off my list! Some were more painful than others, mind you. But now I need to get that hotel goal checked off. And I know I will, it’s just a matter of when! And in regards to collaborations, my whole creative life is collaborating with inspired and talented friends and colleagues and clients. Photoshoots are a huge collaboration of everyone on that set. We are all there for the common purpose of creating something beautiful and I love having input from everyone. If they have a way they think that it can be better than by all means, let’s try it! And in regards to interior design, it is a full on collaboration with your client. You are working hand in hand to create something they love and feel at home and alive in. And of course, I would love to collaborate with you and that beautiful art of yours, Ngaio! (Edit: Anytime talented lady I'd be honoured!)
+ What advice would you give to other established or aspiring creative bad ass boss gals?
Advice to awesome women!? Keep being awesome. Don’t be afraid to be amazing, and don’t try to hid your amazing, and don’t feel badly about being a badass, or a genius, or just a little bit different or cooler. The world needs people who are alive, be that, and it will thank you. People are drawn to strong, inspiring and opinionated women - well the kind of people that I like are drawn to that! Be thoughtful and kind, but by all means scare ‘em a little! Thats when the good stuff happens. Never take no for an answer, don’t follow the rules if they don’t make sense, and by all means feel free to fail! Try it all. Throw it on the wall and see what sticks!
+ Have you found there is a strong creative community to engage with where you live?
I am inspired daily by the people I work with and live with in Los Angeles. I especially love my town, Venice Beach, with so many like minded souls that are driven and inspired and creating, but also believe in a nice quality of life, in a vacation, an afternoon nap by the ocean, or a bike ride. I love the combination of the joy of doing nothing and the drive to do everything. I always had that struggle as a kid, but now I am realizing those two worlds can live together, and I love being around others who feel that too.
+ What are you currently reading and/or listening to?
I just started the book No Regrets about the life of Edith Piaf. I have only just started it and already keep putting it down to write down some thought from my brain that her story has inspired. And music is my favourite thing in the world, so I am listening to everything always. The apartment I rented in Paris had a record player and I feel in love with Paul Simon all over again. His There Goes Rhymin’ Simon record is just perfect to me. Also Ryan Adams Live At Carnegie Hall record is pretty perfect to me, it’s like a comedy show with gorgeous sad songs in between. And of course I love listening to my friend’s music like Escondido, Odessa, Among Savages, Nikki Lane, Rayland Baxter, and Emily West. I love watching (or hearing) them all go up up and away!
+ Where can we find you?
Literally? Dancing somewhere fun in LA, or at Home Depot in Pittsburgh, or on an airplane somewhere between here, there and everywhere. But if you can’t find me any of those spots you can always find me at www.leanneford.com and www.leannefordinteriors.com.
Thanks so much Leanne!
All images courtesy of Leanne Ford.