On the top floor of a sun-splashed studio in Chicago’s West Loop, twenty-five bloggers and wanna-be-bloggers file in, each one donning a favorite sundress, fashion accessory, or new updo (the inspiration for which was undoubtedly found on Pinterest). It’s 10am on a hot Saturday in June, and the eager ladies grab a seat around the projection screen, open their Apple laptops, sip their lattes, and chit chat to pass the time before their teachers take the stage. Before long, a brown-haired Angela Kohler and yellow-haired Bri Emery stand before them and lead right into introductions. Despite their brightly colored smiles, friendly demeanor, and eye-catching ensembles, these two mean business. On the roster for the next two days: a boot-camp training of Adobe Photoshop with a special emphasis on learning the skills for creating blog content. They call it Blogshop.
Since launching the creative workshop a year ago, the LA-based partnership has taken this show on the road, from San Francisco to New York City, Portland to Chicago, Austin to Toronto, and Berlin to Paris, each time educating an excited and fashionable group of twenty-five students. Angela and Bri admittedly have the lesson plan down to a science, and they quickly immerse their students headfirst into the complex software. “This is a program that we use every day—almost an uncomfortable amount—and we really hashed out between the two of us which were our favorite tools to use and what is the most important when it comes to creating content for your blog and editing photos,” Angela explains. “Don’t get frustrated. It’s two days, and it’s a ton of information. Just breathe,” Bri continues, comforting the Photoshop virgins in the room.
So who is this dynamic force of a duo helping shape other creative minds around the globe? Well, frankly, anyone in the lifestyle blogosphere (and beyond) has heard of Designlovefest, Bri’s design blog where graphics meet fashion meet art under a canopy of laid-back, LA style. Her freelance graphic design business has grown exponentially over the past two years with the ever-growing success of her blog and her two-year tenure as the art director at online shelter magazine, Rue. Meanwhile, photographer and film director Angela Kohler has spent the past decade mastering her craft by taking on projects for prodigious clients like Amazon, Lexus, Saatchi and Saatchi, and Old Navy, traveling the world and showing at film festivals in the process. In addition to teaming up for Blogshop, the two women often collaborate to create content for Designlovefest, with Bri acting as art director and Angela behind the lens.
Between all the travel, the work load, and the juggling of several jobs (blogs, freelance projects, and Blogshop), we’ve been scratching our heads as to how these two manage it all. Fortunately, Angela and Bri agreed to an interview with The Everygirl, and we visited them when they hosted Blogshop in Chicago earlier this month. The two women are as friendly, funny, and personable as they are talented and hard-working. Their passion for what they do radiates throughout the room, right down to the items in the student goodie bags. But enough from us. We’ll let Angela and Bri tell you the rest.
Full Name: Bri Emery
Title and company: graphic designer and blogger behind Designlovefest, and co-founder of Blogshop
Educational Background: Associate of Arts in Graphic Design from FIDM
Year you started Blogshop: 2011
Full Name: Angela Kohler
Title and company: photographer and co-owner of Angela and Ithyle, and co-founder of Blogshop
Educational Background: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography at Brigham Young University
Year you started Blogshop: 2011
What was your first job out of college and how long did you hold that position?
Bri: The month before I graduated I got the job of Junior Graphic Designer at a headphone company called V-MODA. I was in charge of creating packaging and marketing materials. I worked there for about 2.5 years.
Angela: I was a freelance assistant in New York and then LA, and learned a lot but I knew that I only wanted to do it long enough to learn the ropes.
Does what you studied in school apply to your current job? If not, where did you learn the skills you use at work?
Bri: Absolutely. I have a couple different jobs, but graphic design is the core of all of them.
Angela: Everything I learned in the art program helps in my career, but on a gut memory level. Because you try to forget all your “technique” from school and focus on your art. It’s great to have the technical always in the back of your mind (the way back), making sure that you pictures are technically correct.
What is the best part of your job? What is the most challenging?
Bri: The best part is being able to experiment creatively. The most challenging would be keeping up with my social life.
Angela: The best part of my job is being able to create. The most challenging thing is making time for vacations!
Describe your day-to-day work life.
Bri: When I started freelancing, I promised myself I was not going to work late at night. I used to work into the middle of the night. Now, at 8:30pm, I’m done. I go home. The best thing is that I got a studio space, and I work there. If I work at home it’s only on e-mails or checking up on the blog. I don’t really design at home because I only have my laptop. But, in the morning I wake up, check my e-mails in bed. Find out if there’s anything I need to freak out about. Then I move to the couch, then move to the studio. And I’ll work for most of the day there.
Angela: I do that too, I get up at 6:30am and make sure there’s no foreign client that’s having a flip-out while they’re going to bed as I’m waking up. But I’ll wake up, check that India’s fine, and go back to bed for another hour. But other than that, every day is so different. Some days we are in the office under a pile of emails, and some days we are on a train to a remote part of Russia, or dangling over the edge of a hot air balloon basket! Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
Blogshop is something you both do in addition to your freelance work. How do you manage your time with each project? Did you have any hesitation with moving forward due to the time commitment it would require on top of everything else?
Bri: Blogshop definitely came out of nowhere for us! We thought we would teach just one class and had no idea it would turn into such a big part of our lives. In the beginning, I think we both found it difficult to manage our other jobs and all the travel that Blogshop required. But after teaching 25 times, we are more in a routine now and it doesn’t take as much daily time.
Angela: Every project comes with its own set of problems and opportunities to be creative! With Blogshop, as well as shooting and directing, I have learned to surround myself with an amazing team of collaborators that I can rely on.
What is the most important thing you have learned over the course of starting and running your own successful business?
Bri: For me, I have learned a lot about working with people. Whether it be teaching students or working with my partners. People are all so different and fascinating. That can teach you a lot about yourself!
Angela: Keep your goals but throw away your personal deadlines. They will only make you compare yourself to others.
What advice would you each give your 23-year-old self?
Bri: Oh gosh, 23 was my worst year! Although it wasn’t that long ago, I still feel like I have grown so much in that time. I would tell myself that I shouldn’t be so scared to go freelance, because it has been the best experience!
Angela: There is NO talking to that girl. She wouldn’t listen anyway!
The Everygirl was able to visit Angela and Bri while they were in Chicago teaching Blogshop. We interviewed the duo before class began, and here’s what transpired…
Let’s start at the very beginning. Tell us how Blogshop came to be.
Bri: I was getting a lot of emails from people wanting me to design their blogs, and I didn’t have time to do all of the individual headers, social media buttons, and all of that while I was working on Rue and everything else. So I wanted to organize a Photoshop class to teach a lot of people at once how to update their header and create these mood boards that I was getting a lot of questions about. So I told Angela, I want to teach a Photoshop class, what do you think? We kind of went back and forth on it, but she was very supportive.
Angela: Yes, well, we met because our boyfriends were in a band together and we were at a party at my loft and Bri had just gone freelance, and she was telling me about ideas she had to teach a class. I had taught Photoshop in college so I knew it was relatively easy to teach. I offered up my studio as the space for her first class… but nothing really happened. And whenever I’d see her I would say, Are you gonna teach that class? And she just kept saying, Well, maybe…
B: I was chickening out…
A: And I said, Listen – I’m gonna come over, I’ll help you outline the lesson plan and just get you going. Because you’ve got the space, you’ve got the knowledge, it really seems like a no-brainer. So I go over there, and I said, Ok, let’s get started.
B: I trapped her. (laughs)
A: And Bri said, Listen, I’ll do this class if you do it with me. And I was like, Well, ok, sure.
B: We were just going to do one [class]. So that night, we sat down and decided, what’s the name? We chose that in two minutes. It’s for your blog and it’s Photoshop. Blogshop. Pretty easy. We came up with an overall outline, and later that night we posted the announcement and in the morning it was already sold out.
A: We were so surprised. We realized, Wow, it looks like people really wanna do this.
Teaching is a skill all on its own. You can have the talent and capability to do something, but being able to teach it is an entirely different ball game. Were you two comfortable teaching right off the bat, and how did you go about making the lesson plan?
Angela: Well, I think that I’m not inherently a teacher type of personality, so we really broke it down to very small chunks and asked ourselves How would we want to learn? So we teach something that’s difficult and then we teach something that’s fun and easy. And that way it’s not so grueling.
Bri: And we insist on a lot of practicing. Students respond best when they can work on their own photos. If they can work on their own projects, they’re really connected to it.
A: It applies to them.
B: So both of us broke down individually what we do. I went through my entire process of posting on my blog, and she went through retouching a picture, and we just broke it down into those components.
A: And we tried to address the fact that we have people with different skill levels in the class, and people who learn differently. You know, there are the types that learn visually and others more mechanically… So while we teach aloud, we also provide students with a book that has all of the instruction written out. That way everyone leaves the class with notes so they can continue to practice.
B: And you know, if there are some more advanced students, we’ll try to give them extra tips and teach them shortcuts. But we’ll just pick up that they are working faster and whisper it to them, because we don’t want to confuse everyone. Staying on a medium level can be a bit difficult sometimes.
How did you go about forming a partnership? What advice would you have to others who are interested in finding a business partner to work with? What makes a successful union?
Angela: Finding a business partner? Um, screen. Look look look, because its hard. It’s like a marriage.
Bri: You really need to have a general respect for each others’ work ethic. And I think both of us knew how hard we work. We’re very different people, but I knew she was going to get stuff done. I can trust her. We weren’t really friends before we started but I knew she worked hard. And that, for me, is a big deal.
A: Huge deal. Because you don’t wanna be having to check up on the other person. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.
B: Now, we have some help, but in the beginning, we were both doing so much and juggling all of these things and our other jobs and I needed to know that she was gonna get it done.
A: We both have really high expectations for ourselves, and I know she’s not gonna do a half-ass job.
B: And we’re also different roles as well. I’m more of the social media/marketing side of things. We need that for sales. But we also need her photography skills. So it all balances.
A: The graphic designer/photographer thing is a nice microcosm for the two of us in general. Graphics is her thing and photography is my thing. If I was partnering with another photographer I think we both would be so lopsided.
B: Exactly. For example, she photographs the goodie bag items, and I blog them. It all fell into place that way.
A: You go into partnering with someone and you don’t know how they’re gonna do under pressure or what’s gonna happen…
B: …and all of a sudden you’re traveling together across the globe for weeks at a time.
Traveling! Yes! In the past year you’ve traveled all over the United States and made it to Berlin and Paris. 1. That’s awesome. 2. Tell us everything.
Angela: We just really wanted to go on some trips! (laughs)
Bri: We went to Berlin, and we taught at the Etsy Labs. They kind of reached out and it was awesome because there’s such an awesome community in Etsy. It was all so fun. And we went to Paris, but that one was a bit more difficult to plan. The language barrier isn’t too tough, except when the keyboards are in another language.
A: And you’re trying to explain shortcuts but you don’t know where the keys are… but overall it was great.
How do you go about finding spaces in other cities—and countries—as well as partnering with brands for the student gift bags?
Bri: We’re still figuring out how to be event planners as well as graphic designers and teachers and photographers. We’ve had to get some help, and our assistants help us, but for the most part, we go for photography studios. That’s where we start. I use Twitter and reach out to cool photographers in the city we’re headed. That’s what’s so great about having the blogger community is that I can reach out through social media and find those connections. We’re very picky about what spaces we choose, and I’m always thinking, Is it cool enough? I just want them to always be as great as the last location because we are going to post about it.
And as far as the goodie bags, I like to find handmade items or artists that maybe don’t have a lot of press yet so we can post about them and give them the traffic that they deserve. They’re always super eager to put their stuff in the bags and a lot of times people will come to us and say, “Hey, I’ve got this new product and I would love to put it in the bag.” It’s all just kind of worked out, and if it doesn’t then we make stuff. [laughs] We’ll just put little gold pencils in the bag. It always works out.
How would you like to see Blogshop evolve, if at all, in the next year? Do you anticipate always running it yourselves or hiring teachers?
Angela: That’s top secret information.
Bri: We had this conversation yesterday. We have this conversation all the time.
A: Yeah, it’s pretty much a bi-monthly “What are we gonna do?”
B: Everyone’s always saying, “Build it bigger!”
A: The reason we’re in the careers we have is because we don’t like to do that same thing over and over and over again. And the class is really great right now.
B: In the beginning, it was a lot more time and energy, and now we kind of have it down. So we go to the city, we teach it. We’re not nervous. It’s fun. People learn. Then we go home.
A: I’m still nervous to meet everyone.
B: Okay, we get nervous in the first 5 minutes for sure. But it’s not hard anymore to teach. We know it like the back of our hand. So to kind of throw a bone in that, we already feel like we’ve done that with the video class.
A: Or a wrench. We also throw a wrench.
[Laughs] B: The bone, or the wrench. Whatever you wanna throw at us. Throw bones at us. Throw me a bone!
A: Throw her a bone, throw a wrench… It’s not rocket science!
B: We already are throwing wrenches with doing the new video class. We’re really excited.
A: Oh, yeah, that’s the new thing now.
B: That’s where we wanna go with it. Video is big with blogging, creating unique content that way.
A: It was really inspiring to come up with a curriculum for that because it’s just one step crazier than still photography.
B: And our first one is here in Chicago!
A: It’s a completely different class.
B: A lot of our old alumnus are signed up!
A: You have to have a strong knowledge base to take this class because we’re not teaching basic Photoshop.
B: We have some other ideas in the works to make Blogshop bigger. No teachers yet. Just not yet…
A: We like control.
B: We’re control freaks! [laughs] A: Until we can find a way to really have control over that, we don’t want to have the potential of doing something that’s not really authentic to what we believe in.
B: You’d hate to have a class going on that didn’t meet the same standards as other students have received.
We have one last question for Bri, only because we find ourselves struggling with this on a daily basis. How do you have so much time to keep up with your personal blog on top of everything else?
Bri: I get what I guess you could call blog guilt. That’s my one thing that makes me happy. So if I’m not feeling happy, I just go on this crazy blog binge and do that for two hours.
How much time do you spend each day on Designlovefest?
Bri: I mean, I do probably around an hour or two, whether it’s research or making layouts.
Angela: And she’s also really fast.
B: I have sort of a formula for how it looks and getting contributors has helped a lot because now I always at least have one a day. And then I can add to the site however much I want.