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Shelby McFadden - artist, graphic designer, business owner

Maryland, USA

We are so excited to introduce Shelby McFadden - a stay-at-home mum by day and business owner by night! Shelby is a wonderful artist who shares her passion for magic and Halloween through her artworks of extraordinary witches. In the past, she also worked as the lead graphic designer for Create! Magazine and ran PIKCHUR and CandyFloss Magazines.

Shelby, I don't even know where to begin because you are such a superstar inspiring business woman! So, let's start traditionally - can you tell us a little bit about yourself (brief bio/history/backstory/journey into art)?

Thank you! Wow, that is so wonderful to hear! At the end of the day, especially as a fulltime mother, it is hard to see if everything I am doing is making some sort of a difference or if I am doing a good enough job! So, thank you for those kind words!

So, I will try and keep this as short and sweet as possible. I graduated from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania with a BFA in Communication Design with a concentration in advertising and graphic design in 2011. Actually, to be honest, I had no idea what a "graphic designer" was and only applied to Kutztown, because my older sister, Taylor, followed that career path and graduated from there. I knew I loved art and creating, and I loved using my imagination, but I still had no idea what a designer was until my sophomore year of college. It wasn't until the first typography class that I fell in love with design ... or at least the idea of it.

I worked 9 - 5 jobs for the first six years out of college. In 2016, I started freelance design, and it was around that time Ekaterina Popova reached out to me and asked if I would help design FreshPaint Magazine (which later became Create! Magazine). She has been the biggest blessing of my life. The opportunity to design Create! Magazine and help her design her brand allowed me to get back in touch with my creative/artistic side that I had forgotten about since high school. The art culture was so much different than the graphic design culture. I felt it was more self-expressive and you do not have a bunch of people telling you how something should look ... you go with what is in your mind and your heart. It sounds cheesy, but that is every designer's dream! To have the full creative freedom of something.

I started PIKCHUR Magazine in 2018 with Kat as my mentor, and CandyFloss Magazine in 2019 - just after Henry was born. I loved submerging myself with both of the magazine's art communities. Maybe it was the "advertising and marketing" side of me, but being able to provide artists with a platform where I was able to promote their artwork and talent, made me really happy.

Being surrounded by so much creativity and art on a daily basis, I decided to get back into my own art and illustration. When Henry would go to bed, I would break out the iPad and mess around in ProCreate. If you scroll through my Instagram from the bottom to the top, you will notice how my style changes as I was trying to figure out my "look" and what I wanted to "stick". And once I figured out my technique on the iPad, I felt less vulnerable about digital painting and creating again.

In 2016, you decided to quit your 9 - 5 job to work as a freelance graphic designer. What was the trigger for you to take the leap and create the Maple Projects, LLC?

Working a typical 9 - 5 design job is not a good fit for me and I know it sounds pretty pretentious. My husband (then boyfriend/fiance) met me when I was working for a company I really loved that brought me to Maryland from Massachusetts in the first place. The people I worked with there felt like family and I had probably the art director and design team manager ever. I was really happy. But, the company had a big layoff, I think they laid off almost 80% of their company, and I was one of the people laid off after working there for a couple of years. My husband and I had only been dating for a few months when it happened and to make our relationship work, I eventually found an in-house design job a mile away from where he worked in Baltimore. It was a huge paradigm shift for me. I was miserable, I hated my art director, and the environment itself was competitive, judgmental, and toxic. Completely different from the job I had previously. My husband and I carpooled to work every day and over time I would get in the car and just break down and cry. I was miserable and eventually went into a bad depressive state. This went on for two years or so. I decided to look for another job and get as far away from that company as possible. 

So, I interviewed for an advertising agency close to our apartment and got the job. When I interviewed for the opportunity, they made it sound like there was this great company culture - margarita Fridays, happy hours, great team building, room for growth ... etc. I was excited! I thought to myself, "this reminds me so much of the job I had that I loved with that family kind of atmosphere. I am saved!" And ... that wasn't the case. I was again let down and dreaded going into work. I felt belittled and I was never treated with as much respect as I deserved. Again, I would go home upset and frustrated. The best thing that happened to me was the day they laid off a few people in the office and I was one of them. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back now I should probably write them a thank you card.

I remember on the way home after I packed up my desk, I was on the phone with my husband. He was actually relieved I got laid off. I was confused because we had bills, pets, an apartment, and a wedding to pay for and I just got laid off. That night, he told me to take a risk and work for myself. If we budgeted hard enough, we could make it work. I remember watching a Steve Harvey YouTube video about "jumping" and taking risks, and I used all my fear of failure and channelled it into motivation. There were a few times I was tempted to take a couple of job opportunities and REALLY great pay, but I turned them down and my husband supported my decision 100%. The next day, I put a few graphic design ads out on Craigslist and got a few bites. And before I knew it, I was starting this incredible journey I am on today.

Over the first three years of running Maple Projects, my primary income was from client services. I did a lot of branding work, logos, websites, and product packaging. My biggest project was designing a restaurant from scratch and seeing through the construction process. It was a six-month project, a lot of late nights, and a lot of sweat and tears, not to mention I was pregnant during the entire process. The end product was beautiful, and a ton of their yelp reviews, even the bad ones, note how unique and wonderful the interior and design concept is, but this was the project, along with the birth of my son, that made me decide to transition from a client service based graphic designer to an artist who focuses primarily on my own projects, on my own terms, while doing very limited, selective client-based design work.

You ran two art magazines - PIKCHUR and CandyFloss. Can you describe them more in depth, tell us the differences and your motivation behind them?

Absolutely! PIKCHUR Magazine was the first art publication I launched, with Ekaterina as my mentor. There is this weird side of me that not many people often see. It is the "I like to listen to Deftones, recite quotes from Star Wars, love horror movies and Halloween, and my idol is David Bowie," that kind of side. I wanted to embrace this part of me with PIKCHUR Magazine. The magazine embraced all the "weird, wild, and wonderful" artwork and artists who have a similar love for those kinds of interests.

I had a conversation with Kat (Ekaterina) about how I would love to be the next Martha Stewart. I have so many interests and I would love to find a way to make them all work collectively as a whole, thus, CandyFloss Magazine was born. I wanted to create a new art publication that brought together creative people and how we embrace creativity in our day to day lives. A sort of "lifestyle" magazine for artists.

You also have several Etsy shops with your designs - Fugly Barbie, Little Magic Kids, as well as art - Madeleine's Menagerie. What can we find in these shops?

Fugly Barbie ... oh man, what can't you find there? Haha, I love that shop so much. It's like if you took everything I love, illustrated it, and put it on a mug, or a shirt, or something. It is mostly pop-culture inspired designs that bring people joy. Childhood nostalgia, horror movie and Halloween love, random famous people things, you name it - it's probably in there!

Little Magic Kids is kind of like the kid's version of Fugly Barbie. It's a slower process, but every once in a while, I have an idea that pops into my head and I'll load it up into the shop. The idea came from the fact many children's clothing is so predictable. Especially the boys' clothing. Trucks, bears, sharks, dinosaurs ... yawn! Where are the cool clothes for kids that you can't get anywhere else? My goal is to create a collection of kids' clothes that are super imaginative and different.

Lastly, Madeleine's Menagerie is a print collection of witchy digital paintings!

As you already mentioned, your other projects also included work for Create! Magazine and its podcast hosted by Kat Popova. You have also designed the beautiful original logo for our former sister platform Art Mums United (thank you so much!). How does your work process look like when designing products for someone else?

You're welcome!

The design process is always different from client to client. Some clients give me direction or inspiration and then I come back with design concepts. Some clients have no idea what they want, so that process takes a much longer time as we have in-depth discussions about their brand. And some clients are just ... well ... not fun to work with, so the process can be really painful. It really all depends on the client, the overall vision, the project, how prepared they are, and whether or not they can trust me to do what I do professionally. I like to give out creative briefs, which is a couple of page questionnaire for the client to fill out. A lot of the questions relate to their new brand, their voice, the targeted audience, and the overall objective of the project. The creative brief will help not only me to understand their vision and who they are targeting (which is super important in design), but it might bring up important questions about their brand they never thought about. Also, I HIGHLY recommend they give me some sort of inspiration or mood board! It gives me an idea of what's going on in their heads. From there, I begin the process of designing concepts and then we narrow it down the final design.

I have told Kat this a million times before, but she really is the dream client. She gives me some direction and then lets me work my magic. Initially, when I was helping her brand and rebranding Create! Magazine, I came up with multiple design concepts and style guides. We narrowed down the direction, sometimes with revisions, and finalized the design. I have a lot of fun designing for her and her other brands. It keeps me inspired and motivated!

I wish I knew this before I threw away my wedding bouquet. You and your husband also ran an amazing project for newlyweds called Botanica Press where you created window boxes to preserve the bride's bouquets. How did you come up with this brilliant idea?

My best friend got married in the summer of 2018. She was packing the car up after the wedding was over and she was about to throw out her bouquet. I told her not to and that would take them and do something with them for her. My husband and I used to do vinyl designs on old windows for people, so we had a few windows laying around the garage. We dried out her flowers and applied a vinyl decal to the inside front of the window with a quote from their first dance and their wedding date. Since then, we have probably done over a dozen bouquet windows for newlyweds. My husband even built the window frames from scratch.

Let's move from your business to you as an art mum. How has your art practice changed when becoming a mother?

Before I had Henry, I was a full-time designer for Maple Projects. When he was born, I made the decision to quit client work and focus only on personal projects and exclusively design for Create! Magazine. By not having to fill my free time (aka after Henry goes to bed and between naps) with client work, I have been able to explore my artistic side more. If anything, becoming a mother has allowed me to focus on my art and ways of self-expression more so that when it was just "me".

How did you feel about motherhood in the past and how do you feel about it now?

I love kids, they are way more fun than adults! I love their imagination too. My nephew, Blake, made me really want to be a mom. Every time I would visit my sister, when I'd hear her kids' feet running around upstairs, I would climb out of bed and be so excited to see them. I was so excited to become a mother, and when I found out we were having a boy of our own, I couldn't wait.

Being a mother is nothing at all how I expected it to be. It is the most life-changing experience any woman can go through. I think the hardest part about becoming a mother is finding that new sense of identity. And that is something I struggle with daily. I suffered from postpartum depression when Henry was born and that was something I didn't in a million years think was going to happen. I loved kids and I was so excited to have my own little "Blake", so why was I not happy? Why was I crying so much? Where was the bond with my baby? I felt like such a horrible person and the worst mother. I felt like I lost myself as a business woman too. My days were 100% different the day we brought him home. Through therapy, time, and a routine, I was able to climb out of this dark hole. We just celebrated Henry's first birthday a couple of weeks ago. I look back at those times and can't believe I ever felt that way about him. He is my everything and he is my best friend. He makes me laugh and I am so proud of everything he does ... even if it is figuring out how to clap for the first time! I am so excited for the moments when he draws me a picture for the first time or builds something with his dad. I am learning to be present with him and enjoy all the moments with him as he grows. Being a mom is hard, emotionally and physically, but ... I am still figuring out this new identity as a mother, designer, business woman, artist, wife, and myself, and really enjoying every bit of it.

What is the message behind your art/designs?

The message behind my personal designs and art is to just be true to yourself. Don't care so much what other people think. Create what you love most and others like you will love it too.

What does your art do for you?

It provides me with that mental break of creativity for inspiration.

What are your plans for the future (career, parenting etc.)?

We hope to have more kids in the future, so I am working towards building that work/life balance with each new life chapter. I started the Fugly Barbie Etsy store for fun during the pandemic, and had no idea it would become so popular, getting close to my 1.000th order in four months! Since everything is print-on-demand, and my printing partner integrates with Etsy to automate the ordering and fulfilment process, it has created somewhat of a passive income which I am looking to grow.

What advice do you have for fellow art mums?

Being a mother is hard sometimes. Don't beat yourself up if you can't get everything done in a day. Learn to take breaks and rest. Self-care is super important. You'll find that when you take those breaks, you're more energized, inspired, and motivated. Be kind to yourself.

Shelby McFadden Etsy Shop

Fugly Barbie

Little Magic Kids

Botanica Press


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