For our last but definitely not least Lillstreet interview we spent some time with Michelle Brooks. Michelle is the brains behind the Lillstreet Gallery website. Her love for the work translates into an engaging, educational, and fun network for people to interact with. The creative energy she possesses is not only expressed through her digital work for the gallery but also by a slew of personal projects. She is constantly trying something new to explore different creative avenues. Michelle's curated balance of digital and analog work is what keeps her sane and inspired. Make sure to stop by the gallery and ask her what's the latest!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
As the Gallery Website Coordinator and half of the Sales Management team, I mostly do a lot of juggling. I’d love to spend my entire day making our website beautiful, but Brian and I have a good system in place to balance out the work of the sales floor as well, and it’s good to step out into the real world every now and then. Our brick and mortar shop definitely keeps me inspired to continue finding more work by more incredibly talented artists.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Michelle.
Everyone jokes that I’m the “late arriver” of the group, but it’s totally true. I tend to not start work before noon – an unfortunate residual effect of my time working in restaurants and bars after college. And living with my partner who keeps me up until 2 or 3 a.m. when he gets off work certainly doesn’t help! But after getting through the typical onslaught of emails, my day can include anything (and everything) from creating and managing our online product pages to editing photos to packing sold work to researching new artists to add to the shop.
Where do you find inspiration?
I hate to say it, but from Instagram. I’ve found the majority of the ceramic artists I’ve personally brought on through The Potter’s Cast (a podcast turned Instagram account), and I find my own inspiration from a slew of ass-kicking female artists whose mediums range from woodworking to embroidery. I’d love to get some guys on my daily scroll list too, so I’m open to suggestions!
How do you make time for creativity and collaboration?
By not having the internet at home. I spend all day on the computer at work, so I really don’t need to be in front of a screen at home too. I feel like I wouldn’t get any of my own projects done if I didn’t have time to disconnect and really focus on the tactile aspects of my craft – I’ve lately gotten [obsessively] interested in embroidering since this summer was too hot to work on my knitting. But as far as collaboration goes, I’ve found that it’s much easier to have a desire to collaborate than somehow actually get something going. Maybe I’ll have to work on this. For now I just blame my job working alone on a computer for making me too shy!
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started?
My incredibly boring answer is just to start early. I had my first internship as a Curator’s Assistant in an art gallery when I was 17 back in Minnesota. After college I would joke with people that I had a better job back then than when I graduated with an art history degree, but luckily that is no longer true!
If you could live the life of another creative, for a day, who would it be and why?
I fangirl really hard over woodworker Ariele Alasko. I myself have never made more than a sad square bookshelf out of wood, but she’s honed her craft to the point where she sells out of her minimum-order-of-$100 shop updates within the first day! Though, I admire her most because she’s managed to stay so humble and out of the spotlight while doing so. I feel like this balance becomes harder for creatives to keep the larger their audience becomes.
What keeps you motivated and making?
Most of my daily life includes creating things that exist solely on the web or on some server. So I find it essential to create things that I can physically hold, hang, or even throw away!
What have you learned from your career that you wish you would have figured out earlier?
That you shouldn’t try to plan out where your career is going. When I started college I didn’t even know my job existed (and it kind of didn’t at the time), so I should’ve just tried a bunch of different things to gain as much experience as I could. I did this to some extent, but I also laid awake at night thinking I’d wasted thousands of dollars on an education that got me nowhere. That was dumb.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Someone once told me that you should do some aspect of your creative “end goal” now. Don’t wait until you have money to launch a business or open your brick and mortar shop, just start getting yourself and your work out there. And then you’ll be much better prepared for when things do start to “take off.”
If you weren’t doing this what else would you do?
Hmmm, let’s say helping my level 1 certified sommelier boyfriend open a really weird natural wine shop here in Chicago? Provided he lets me design and decorate it.
Photography by Mike Killion and Olivia Ozner