Video Producer

Start Simple

I’ve written a lot about video. From finding inspiration from my favorite YouTube content creators to getting a crash course in the basics of production. I even tried my hand at creating my own videos. Multiple times. But I always got stuck somewhere in the process.

I think I was starting too big and too complicated. I dove into the deep end when I should have been wading out from the shallows. I was already considering making another attempt at video production, but this time with a much simpler format. Then, during my interview with him, Tasi Alabastro brought up a good idea: why not do a slideshow video to the narration of one of my blog posts?

I really liked the idea. It made use of existing content (my blog posts) and relied on a relatively easy format. Programs like iMovie make it easy to splice together photos into a film. And it wouldn’t be too hard to record myself reading one of my blog posts.

Well, I did it! … kind of.

I didn’t start with my blog posts. I actually started with the piece of writing that I’m most proud of: my wedding vows.

You see, yesterday was my wedding anniversary. And instead of buying Ryan more stuff, I wanted to put together something special. So, I gathered photos of us from throughout our relationship and put them together in a film to the narration of my wedding vows and an instrumental version of our first dance song.

And before you get your hopes up, I’m not sharing that video in this post. I gifted that to Ryan, and he wants to keep it to himself.

But I can talk a little bit about the process.

Creating the Video

This was definitely a learning experience. Since I was combining existing content elements, a lot of the production mirrored the editing process that had stalled my previous projects. And there are steps that I would do differently in the future.

Narration

I knew I wanted the film to be a photo slideshow to the narration of my wedding vows. Ryan’s uncle had filmed our ceremony, so I tracked down that video to try to extract the audio. 

But as I reviewed the footage, I realized I wouldn’t be able to use the audio. There was just too much background noise, and I didn’t have the skills to clean it up.

No problem — I would just re-record my vows. I used my headphones and the iPhone Voice Memos app to record. I did notice a little bit of background noise, likely from me jostling the microphone on my headphones. I made a second attempt using Ryan’s Tascam recorder, but (a) it picked up street noise, (b) I realized I didn’t know how to transfer files from the recorder to my computer and (c) I preferred my rendition from the first recording on my iPhone.

So, despite the small background noise, I opted for the iPhone recording. And all I had to do was simply Airdrop the audio file to my laptop.

Music

Listening to the recording of my vows, I knew they would need to be paired with music. At first, I was just going to use some of the built-in music that GarageBand provides in their library. But then I had the idea of using music from our wedding.

Our first dance was to the rendition of “No Day But Today” that Idina Menzel sang during one of her concert tours (we bonded over musicals, so it seemed appropriate). I searched YouTube for an instrumental version and found this piano version. Since this was just a private gift, I didn’t worry about copyright, but obviously if this were a more public video, I would have sourced different music.

I found an online tool to extract the audio from the YouTube video, and then set out to make some adjustments and sync it with my vows narration using GarageBand.

I first slowed down the music to about half speed.

Then, I simply added the audio file from my vows recording as a second track.

Photos

Sourcing photos for the video took a lot longer than I originally anticipated. The first step was to type out my vows and mark which lines would have their own photo. Then I looked back through my Facebook photos and my iPhone photos to find the pictures that best matched the text.

It was a long process, but I finally came up with a selection that I was happy with. Then I uploaded all of the photo to my project in iMovie, the program I used to create the video.

Putting it all together

When you use photos to create a video in iMovie, you simply upload your pictures and then drag and drop them in the timeline.

iMovie will automatically set the image to display in your video for four seconds, but you can adjust that length. I listened to the recording of my vows and marked the timestamp for each line so I knew how long to display each photo. 

iMovie also allows you to create some movement with your photos, using the Ken Burns tool. You simply choose your beginning frame for the photo and the ending frame and the movement will happen during the time length you set.

So, I inserted in all the photos, adjusted their length, and set the movement. Then, I added the audio to make sure everything lined up. But wait, there was one more step — adding transitions! 

Transitions took a lot of trial and error. From choosing the appropriate type of transition to setting the best time length, it took a lot of time fiddling with the options to get the look and pace I desired.

But after a lot of adjustments and fine-tuning, I had a finished video. That’s right, a FINISHED video. I finally completed a full video project from start to finish!

While the video took longer to create than I anticipated, the tools I used were pretty intuitive. I’m definitely inspired to do more of these type of slideshow videos in order to get more practice and improve my skills in the process. I’ll use the learnings from this project to improve future videos!

Interior Designer, Reflections

On the Job Learning

I’m wrapping up my fourth week at my part-time job as a Design Assistant with Susie Novak Interiors. It’s amazing how time flies!

I’ve already learned so much — not just about the interior design business, but also about my preferred working style and how well a part-time job fits within my sabbatical plan.

Insights About Interior Design

My interior design classes have given me a good foundation on the concepts, theory and even art of design. However, it’s this job that has really revealed to me what it’s like to actually work in the field, particularly as an independent designer.

This experience has already been so fruitful, that I’ve started stressing to my classmates how important it is to get some hands-on experience in a real office. With just a few weeks under my belt, I’ve learned:

  • How much time is dedicated to each stage of the design process
  • Different ways of bringing on new clients and preparing sales & marketing materials
  • Project management and invoicing tools that work well for independent designers and small firms
  • The abundance of showrooms and vendors in this field and how to get set up with a trade account to get that designer discount
  • Different ways of charging for your design work and for purchasing furniture, furnishings, etc. on behalf of your clients

How I Like to Work

I’ve also reflected on the areas of this work that I particularly enjoy. I’ve really like sourcing inspiration photos and adding them to our Pinterest boards — it unlocks my imagination and creativity. And, of course, I’ve enjoyed drafting! That’s no surprise, given how much I liked my AutoCAD class. I’m learning a new program for drafting floor plans but have also been able to use my AutoCAD skills to mock up some room elevations and designs for a custom cabinet.

But beyond that, I’ve also learned a lot about my preferred working style: 

Right now, the hours of my job are set week to week, based on the other things in my schedule as well as the work needs for the business. And that has been great! Not only does it provide me the flexibility to accommodate the other activities in my life, but it also guarantees that my time is always put to good use. No twiddling my thumbs before the next task comes in or wasting time just waiting for 5 o’clock to come around. If I’m working, it’s because there are certain tasks that need to get done. It really makes the time go by quickly, and I end the work day feeling energized and accomplished.

I also realized that I like to have a clear to-do list but the autonomy to decide how and when I complete each task. And related to that — I need variety! It’s nice being able to switch from sourcing furniture pieces to drafting up a floor plan to working on sales materials to even getting out of the office to pick up samples from the design district.

Part-time Work & My Sabbatical

As I’ve alluded to earlier in this post, this part-time job has been a great contributor to the goals of my sabbatical. The key, of course, was taking on a position that was related to one of the careers I set out to explore.

In just four weeks, I feel like I already have a lot more insights into what it would really be like to work as an interior designer. And I’m determined to take this approach as much as possible with my exploration of the other careers on my list.

It’s also been helpful, mentally, to add this part-time job to my sabbatical repertoire. I feel a lot more accomplished — not only in getting stronger and faster insights into this career path and my working style but also in the fact that I’m bringing in money again. 

While I’m still not 100% sure if interior design is the right path for me, I’m confident that this position will help me figure that out more quickly.

Content Creator, Video Producer

And the Winner Is …

During this sabbatical, I’ve written a lot about exploring film and video. I mean, Video Producer is one of the careers on my list.

I got a crash course on the entire filmmaking process. I tried my hand at making my own video, only to get stuck at the editing stage due to the frustrating limitations of my technology. I helped write lyrics for a musical short film that went on to win the Best Use of Genre. I got more experience in front of the camera. And I’ve connected with other video producers to understand more about their creative process.

Through this exploration, I’ve not only learned a lot about filmmaking, but I’ve also gotten more insights into the parts of the process that really energize me. Screenwriting was never something I thought I’d get into, but it’s been an amazingly fulfilling creative outlet. I also really enjoyed set decorating (no big surprise, I suppose, given my interest in interior design). And though I don’t have much experience yet on the video side, my work on the podcast makes me think I’d like being a producer on a film.

Well, I was back at it a few weeks ago, when I volunteered to be a co-writer for a team competing in the San Jose 48-hour Film Project. For those who missed my earlier blog about the 48-hour film project, here’s an overview of how the competition works:

  • Filmmaking teams sign up to take on the challenge of creating a 4-7 minute film in 48 hours (one weekend).
  • Friday night of the competition weekend, teams draw two film genres. Their film must be one of those two genres.
  • All teams also have three elements that they must include in their films: a specified prop, line of dialogue and character. Unlike genre, these required elements are the same for every team for that city’s competition.
  • Fully finished films are due Sunday evening.
  • Films are judged and eligible for a number of awards.

Well, I am proud to announce …. we won Best Film

As winner, the film will go on to be screened at Filmapalooza next Spring. The film also won Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor (Angie Higgins as Tonya). And to top it off, we also won the Audience Favorite award.

Check out the film:

The success of this project has reinvigorated me on video, and I have a few upcoming goals around that:

  • Write more scripts! I have a ton of ideas floating around in my head, many of which came out of our brainstorm session for the 48-hour Film Project. 
  • Work on a film that isn’t time-sensitive. A lot of the videos I’ve helped out on have been on a bit of a time crunch. It’d be interesting to see what I can help produce when we have the luxury of more time.
  • Get more experience as a film producer.
  • Execute some small, easy videos. Inspired by my conversation with Tasi, I think I need to scale back on the complexity of the videos I attempt to produce all on my own and just start simple. Maybe an easy to-the-camera video or a film with a slideshow of images and a voiceover.

In the meantime, congrats to the Ovation Pictures team on their win!

Content Creator

“Oh, I Can Do That”: Interview with Tasi Alabastro

Tasi Alabastro is a San Jose based actor, gamer, designer, and filmmaker. I sat down with him last week to talk about his work as a content creator.

When people ask you “what does it mean to be a content creator?”, what do you tell them?

I’ll define it as: it means that I’m producing work that I’m interested in on any platform that I want. So, for example, if it’s live-streaming where I put on a show twice a week, pulling together communities from around the world who are also invested in me as a person because they find me (1) entertaining and (2) personable, then I build the content around that. 

And content feels like a very loaded word. Like what’s content exactly, right? Content is whatever a viewer or a fan or someone who subscribes to you — it’s whatever they consume. Whatever they take in and find value in. You can make content that has zero value to one person but also has tremendous value to another person. 

What’s been your history with content creation? Where did you start?

The first time I started really creating content was when I got into gaming. At the time — I think it was like 2000s — having online forums was a thing, and in the forums people had really distinct signatures, like graphic signatures. So, I used to take screenshots of conversations from the forum that, read out of context, were kinda funny. And I would make signatures based off of that. And eventually people would reach out to me, saying, “hey, can you photoshop my name and my avatar”. So I had to figure out how to do that. I learned how to do that. And that really created the fundamentals of my understanding of graphic design.

Recent design for a local charity event.

And what about acting and performing?

In 2003, I moved out to Hawaii, where my brother was living. And while I was there, I decided to take an acting class at the community college. First day of Acting 101, I was madly in love. It felt like the things that I was feeling at that time had a better way to access the surface than drawing. Nothing really resonated with me like standing in front of an audience and being really scared and not dying. It’s kinda why people like spicy food, right? Because they can go really hot but know they’re not going to die.

And eventually, I found a jazz club in Hawaii, and after some talk with the owner, they allowed me and my friends to do monologues right after the band had set up and they had like an hour and a half before people really started arriving. So, every Monday — Monday Night Monologues as we billed it — we would do that.

When did you start filmmaking?

I got into film because I answered a Craigslist ad from a guy named Richard Gali. We started doing a lot of short films together because we really vibed. So flash forward years later, we’re really good friends now, and we started a group to do 48-hour film festivals. I grew my network out that way, got to know more filmmakers, learned how to use a camera, and I started watching movies differently. 

We won some awards, that was fun. And now Richard is in escrow on a house being paid for by a filmmaking background. In fact I have a vlog about it — he’s unboxing a RED camera. He’s just one of those people that just never stops and he has a partner, his wife, who absolutely believes in him. 

That’s inspiring. Is that the kind of stuff that motivates you?

Yeah. You know, something I was talking to my girlfriend about the other night — she was like “I have no idea where these motivations come from.” I have had enough time now to think about where some of these motivations come from and for me, a huge jumping off point for actually doing things is if I ever find myself saying “Oh, I can do that” — like in a dismissive way — then, I go and do it. 

Because I found that after I said it, I felt like that was really negative. Why am I dismissive of someone else’s creation when they put time and effort into creating what I am now seeing, even if I have a negative opinion about it? And so it put me in the mindset of: ok, let me do it. Let me attempt it. Let me finish it. Let me execute it to the completion. And then let me have an opinion about it based on my own work.

So, you do graphic design, theatre, videos, and on top of that you also stream on Twitch! When did that start?

The Twitch streaming started when I was watching a YouTube video and the guy said, “I’m going to start streaming on Twitch”. So, I clicked on the link and I saw — at the time — a very small directory of streamers, and I literally did say, “Oh, I can do that.” And so, I started streaming.

With content creation, there’s the other side: audience building and promotion. How much time does that take compared to creating content? And how do you tackle that?

So, if I spent 2 hours streaming, I would spend an hour outside of that making sure that whatever I was creating made it to Instagram and Facebook. I would download and cut clips, edit it. 

And then it’s the relationship building that I think is probably the hardest and longest aspect of it.

Your latest project is this new vlog series. Can you walk me through a typical process of filming an episode of your vlog?

I have to think about what I’m doing for that day. I have to be ok with calling out the mundane things that happen in my life, while also being delusional enough to think that someone would be interested in watching this and really dig into what I think is valuable about that.

And then there’s the aspect of: “how do I present the things around me in a way that adds value to that community, too?”

So, I will generally start off with turning the camera on and talking to it. Which makes me think things like, “Oh I gotta adjust the lighting.” But I can’t be too nitpicky, otherwise it’ll be two hours later and I haven’t done anything. 

Then I’ll go about my day and I’ll carry this camera around. And the hope is, at some point, the structure starts to show itself in the process. But that doesn’t always happen. So, I’ll shoot and I’ll shoot and I’ll shoot, and I’ll start to develop a shot list in my head. I will start to develop the who, the what, the when, the why.

At the end of the day, I will take all that footage and put it on my computer. I will organize it, and then I will start that timeline. I’ll trim all the video clips — all the things that I think are necessary to tell the story. Then I will line them up and make sure they look ok. Then I will go back and look for b-roll to fill in.

After I’m done editing and I’m happy with it, I will then find a minute within there, I’ll snip that out and I’ll export that along with the main video to use for promotion on social media. And at this point, I’ll also have a thumbnail picked out, too.

Through any of your content creation, has monetization ever been a consideration for you or something you’ve attempted?

I get paid on Twitch. The way it works is they give you a subscription button; people just click on that and then every month, if you hit a certain threshold, they’ll cut you a check.

For YouTube, I used to be monetized on my gaming channel by being on a network. But now, monetization on YouTube is a little different. You need to hit a certain threshold, which I’m not eligible for yet. You need 1,000 subscribers, I think, and like 10,000 hours of watch time from viewers. Once that hits, then I can actually apply for AdSense. 

But that’s through that avenue. I’m also in the process now of exploring Amazon affiliate links, creating courses that people can purchase online, and Patreon. So, all of it. It’s all about stacking your different ways of making money.

What’s next?

The next big thing is expanding this network of local creators. I have a separate channel called Art Time Job, which is a hub of curated work from other channels — mine included. And I’ll have playlists. So you can watch the videos in the playlist from this hub but it’s the individual creator’s channel that will get the view.

There’s also Somewhere Street, which is the title of a project that’s yet to be cemented. It’s my way of amplifying the voices of the community that haven’t been heard or haven’t been represented in a way that is true to me as a creator and true to the people who are going to be in it. That’s the next big one. And that one requires me to hone my craft on camera but also my craft as a writer and also assemble a crew.

Lastly, are there any final tips you have for someone who wants to become a content creator?

As a content creator, you really need to hone in on your sense of observation. Everything around you is content. Everything around you has value in some way. Whether that’s digital content. Whether that’s driving to work. Whether that’s grocery shopping. There’s something there, and it’s really about finding what your story is in relation to that. And that’s something that I’m working on every day.


Be sure to subscribe to Tasi’s YouTube channel and catch him on Twitch.

Content Creator

Social Media Insights

As a content creator, if you really want to build and maintain an audience, it’s not enough to just produce the content. You really have to hustle and push hard on promotion. Whether it’s paid advertising or taking advantage of free channels, plugging your content can often require more time and effort than actually creating it.

That has certainly been the case for the podcast. Back in March, I wrote about our plans for promoting Bring Your Own Movie. The team and I sat down to identify our target audience, craft our brand’s voice, decide on the best promotional channels (for us, it’s social media), understand our marketing goals, and create a promotion calendar.

And although I had a background on social media advertising, I didn’t have much experience managing a brand’s social media page. So, this was a fun challenge for me and an opportunity to learn new skills.

We started out strong. We were very regular with our social media posts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We were seeing good engagement with likes, comments and shares. 

Our episode announcement posts, like this one, see some of the highest reach and engagement.

And then, as so often happens, life got in the way, and our busy schedules were making it hard to coordinate podcast recordings, let alone keep up with promotional efforts.

But when we decided in late June to switch from a bi-weekly episode release schedule to a monthly one, we knew more than ever, that it was imperative that we bump up our activity on social media. We needed to keep our audience engaged in between episodes now that they were going to be a month apart.

So, we regrouped, nailed down a new promotional schedule and, most importantly, made it clear who would be in charge of what. For the last two months, we’ve successfully pushed out regular posts from our social media channels.

Diving into the Metrics

With the logistics of promotion smoothed out, it was finally time to address something we’d been neglecting for far too long — analytics. Afterall, with the amount of time and energy required to produce and publish our social media posts, shouldn’t we make sure they are working?

And what does it mean for them to be “working”?

Well, back in March when we were putting together our marketing strategy, we did identify our key goals:

  • Primary goal: Getting people to download and listen to our podcast
  • Secondary goal: Getting people to connect with our social media pages
  • Secondary goal: Encouraging people to engage with our social media posts
  • Secondary goal: Getting iTunes reviews

For my first look at the metrics, I focused on one of our secondary goals — engagement with our social media posts. Why not start with our primary goal? Well, with the tracking capabilities available to us, it’s difficult to identify whether or not a certain social media post directly resulted in an episode download. We can try to make correlations, but that analysis will take some time, so I wanted to start with some concrete metrics that I could more easily and quickly pull and analyze.

The theory is that an engaged audience is one that will keep listening to the podcast and hopefully share it with their friends. And from a more technical perspective, for many social media platforms, engagement does influence the algorithm and can help get your posts in front of a larger audience.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all allow you to look at a variety of metrics on your posts. For Facebook and Instagram, I focused on reach (number of unique people who saw the post in their Feed), reactions/likes, and comments. For Twitter, I looked at impressions and engagement (number of times a user has interacted with a Tweet, including all clicks anywhere on the Tweet, retweets, replies, follows, and likes).

These are the top ten Facebook posts with the largest reach. Most of them are episode launch announcement posts, in which we reveal the movie and tag our guest host.

Findings

It was interesting digging into the results and identifying some patterns. There were some similarities across the platforms and some big differences. Here are the highlights from my analysis:

  • For Facebook, posts where our guests were tagged saw the most engagement. 
  • Shares can also help increase reach in Facebook.
  • Instagram posts with popular hastags helped increase reach.
  • Instagram posts with tagged users also saw high reach and likes.
  • Twitter posts where users with big followings are tagged receive a high number of impressions and engagement.
  • The live-tweet thread also received a high number of impressions and engagement.

Takeaways

With the findings above, we are now armed with some “quick wins” to maximize engagement:

  • For Facebook, find more opportunity to tag people in our posts, especially past guests.
  • For Instagram, increase our usage of hashtags, especially popular ones and tag users when applicable.
  • For Twitter, find more opportunity to tag users with a large number of followers. Also, try more live-tweet sessions.

With this initial analysis completed, I will now take the time to dive into our episode download metrics. I’ll see if there are any patterns regarding when people download our podcast episodes and look for any correlations between social media posts and spikes in downloads.

This dive into the metrics has been an interesting intersection between my old life as a marketer and my new journey as a content creator!

Interior Designer, Planning, Theater Executive Director

Part-Time Work

This week, I’ve been working on something I haven’t done in quite a while: applying for jobs!

Wait, Laura, are you done with your sabbatical?!

No, not at all. But I have been getting a bit antsy not working. Sure, I’ve been keeping busy. Quite busy, in fact. I’ve had classes, my internship, work on the podcast and a lot of projects around the apartment as we prepare for the baby. But there’s something about actually getting paid for the work you’re doing that is much more satisfying.

And from a more practical standpoint, it would also be good to make a little extra money. While we’re very excited about expanding our family, it wasn’t something I was expecting to happen during my sabbatical. And as I’ve written about before, this new development will likely push back my timeline on going back to work full-time and may draw out my career exploration process, as I’ll need to fit in caring for a baby! So, my thought is that if I start working part time now, I won’t feel as much pressure to rush back to full-time work.

What are my requirements?

Related to my career exploration

A while back, I wrote about pursuing different ways of making some extra cash — everything from selling old clothes online to being a mock patient for medical students. The goal was just to make money.

This time around, I want to be more focused, taking on opportunities that are in some way related to one of the careers on my sabbatical list.

Part-time only

In addition to the job, I would still be taking classes and working on non-paid projects that relate to my sabbatical career exploration — not to mention taking care of a newborn very soon!

By limiting my work to just part-time, I’ll give myself the time and mental space to still work on my other ventures. And most importantly, by not committing to a full-time job in one specific area, I hope to prevent tunnel vision and keep my mind open to all of the possible careers on my list.

Flexible schedule and (ideally) location

Again, outside of work, I’ll have a lot of other things that fill up my schedule: classes, the podcast, theater projects, house projects, and doctor’s appointments, to name a few. Having some flexibility in a work schedule would allow me to better accommodate these other projects.

As for location, it would be great to find a job that is either close to home or allows for some remote work, both for my own comfort as I get farther along in my pregnancy and from a logistical perspective for when I’m taking care of the baby.

What opportunities are out there?

So far, I’ve pursued a couple of roles, both in different areas of my career exploration.

Theater Administration & Management

I’ve applied to and have an interview for a part-time fundraising position with a local theater company. I, obviously, have extensive experience in fundraising and a background in online advertising for theaters; however, I’ve never worked in-house at a theater company.

Being an Executive or Managing Director for a theater company is one of the careers on my list, so I figure this would be good exposure to the inside workings of theater management and administration.

Photo credit: Richard Mayer

Interior Design

I’ve also just applied to be a part-time design assistant for an interior designer, located right here in Oakland. 

This summer, I’ve done my internship with the home staging company and really have learned a lot about that area of design. My next goal was to intern with an interior designer (or firm) in order to get hands on experience with that process. To find a paid position would be even better!


We’ll see how these two opportunities pan out and what else comes up. It will be important for me to stay steadfast in my requirements. While it would be nice to make some extra money, I can’t let it derail me in my ultimate goal of exploring new careers and finding the path I’m passionate about.

Interior Designer

To Freelance or Not to Freelance

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying my class on AutoCAD. Working with the program is a perfect mix of computer skills and creativity. I pick up the tools and commands really easily. I like the challenge of looking at an assignment (e.g. a floor plan) and figuring out the best way to approach the drawing in AutoCAD.

I’ve relished working with AutoCAD so much that I’ve been looking into opportunities where computer drafting could be the primary focus of my work. There seem to be two main options: work in-house at a large firm as a dedicated drafter or pick up freelance drafting work.

The Appeal of Freelancing

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about whether or not freelancing would be a good fit for me. I like the idea of being able to set my own hours and work from home (especially with a baby on the way). 

And I also think about how freelancing could be a good complement to some of my other career interests. For example, looking at a career in theater management, some of those opportunities — especially on the community theater level — are part-time. Having another skill where I could do freelance work could help me close that salary gap.

Of course there are cons to working as a freelancer:

  • No stability or consistent paycheck — another benefit of pairing it with a permanent part-time job.
  • No paid benefits — you’re working for yourself!
  • More complicated taxes — or at least, there is no one necessarily withholding your taxes, so you’ll see that hit on tax day.

CAD Freelancing

Work as a CAD freelancer can be pretty broad. Since I’m taking my course as part of an interior design program, our projects have focused on floor plans, electrical plans and elevations. However, CAD program can also be used for a vast variety of projects, such as mocking up 3D concept drawings for a new product.

I’ve done a little research on freelance work in the CAD industry, and here are some top skills that will help one be successful:

  • Knowledge of multiple CAD software programs: While I’ve been learning AutoCAD (which is definitely one of the most common programs in the interior design field), some firms or clients may rely on other software and want their freelance drafter to work in that same program.
  • Familiarity with both 2D and 3D design: In interior design, AutoCAD is mostly used for 2D drawings, such as floor plans or elevations. However, often interior designers need to show their clients 3D models. That’s where it is useful to have experience with software like SketchUp or Revit — both of which I plan on learning.
  • Good understanding of math: Mocking up floor plans or other interior drawings involves working with a lot of dimensions and angles. In my assignments, I often have to calculate distances, diameters, etc. Luckily, I was a math whiz in school!
  • Speed: With freelance work, you are working on a deadline, and clients won’t be happy if projects aren’t turned in on time.
  • Ability to work remotely and independently: This one is a little obvious, but as a freelancer you really are your own taskmaster. You have to be good as setting your own schedule and following through on timelines.

Next Steps

In the immediate future, I need to focus on building up my experience, skills and portfolio. 

For experience and portfolio, I’m looking at a few avenues. The next type of internship I want to take on is with an interior design firm or independent designer; often interns help with computer drafting. I’m also taking a space planning class in the fall which will involve drafting up floor plans. And I’m considering offering to draft floor plans for friends and family who may be looking to rearrange their space.

As for beefing up my skills, there are many AutoCAD practice drawings and exercises available online, which will help increase my expertise with the software. And as I mentioned earlier, I also want to learn SketchUp and Revit, two software programs that I see often in job requirements within the interior design field.

Interior Designer

Behind the Scenes: Home Staging

Through my internship, I’ve now had the opportunity to work on a couple of home staging projects. It’s been great to work with my hands and see how we can completely change the feel of a home with some furniture and accessories.

My mentor, Joe, has also been good about giving me tips and pointers throughout the staging process and really explaining why we set things up a certain way.

New Learnings

In my initial post on my internship, I talked about some early guidance I received on home staging. Here are some additional things I’ve learned, working on actual staging projects.

Focus on living rooms and master bedrooms

It’s often said that kitchens sell homes. And while that may be generally true, a lot of that has to do with the counters, appliances, etc. that are already built into the kitchen — so things out of the home stager’s control.

When it comes to rooms that can be completely transformed through staging, that would be living rooms and master bedrooms. And it makes sense. Without staging, these can be pretty empty, blank rooms, with little features. The addition of furniture and accessories can have a huge impact in helping potential buyers picture themselves in the home.

Place your sofa on a full wall

Every home stager may have differing opinions on this one, but by placing the sofa on a full wall, you have the opportunity to place a show-stopping art piece above, making this a real focal point of the room.

Interestingly, this is not necessarily how most people would set up the living room if they are actually living there, as full walls tend to be reserved for the TV/entertainment system. But you hardly ever see TVs included in a home stage.

Think about foot traffic

When placing furniture, it’s imperative to keep in mind how potential buyers will walk through the home, especially during open houses when there may be high foot traffic.

In one home we staged, we had brought a full living room set with a sofa and two large matching armchairs. However, when setting up the living room, we realized that by including both armchairs, we were blocking the natural pathway that buyers would move through the home on their tour. So, we decided to remove one.

Consider which angle the room will be photographed

Staging is not just to make an impact during open houses but also to help bring out the home through its photographs and get potential buyers to the property in the first place.

When arranging a room, it’s good to keep in mind where the photographer will most likely stand. In this bedroom below, we made sure that the comforter length was perfect and the skirt was thoroughly steamed on the side where the photographer would shoot.

Don’t ignore the outdoors

Home owners don’t just spend their time inside the house. There’s a lot of living that happens in the backyard. And with some patio furniture and some strategic accessories, you can help potential buyers picture themselves enjoying this space.

What’s Next

Already, I think I’ve gotten a good handle on how to set up a home stage. I’m still hoping to shadow a consultation and help work through that initial design strategy and selection of furniture pieces.

I’d also like to get some more experience on the business side of things — landing new business, marketing and drawing up contracts.

Interior Designer

I Heart AutoCAD

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you know that this past Spring semester, I took a class on architectural drafting. And this was drafting by hand. While it was certainly satisfying seeing the final product, these drawings took hours upon hours to complete.

It’s no wonder that these days, architects, interior designers, engineers, and others in the field now rely on computer programs to draft their floor plans, mechanical/electrical plans, elevations, etc.

There are many different programs out there (in fact my interior design program offers classes on three different softwares), but the program that seems to be the most popular (for 2-D drawing, at least) is AutoCAD. In fact, even when I was searching for internships, about half of the listings wanted proficiency in AutoCAD.

Luckily, Cañada College decided to offer an accelerated AutoCAD course during the summer session, and I jumped on the opportunity to add this to my skill set as soon as possible.

What is AutoCAD?

As the CAD in the name suggests, AutoCAD is a computer-aided design and drafting software. It is used by many different professionals to generate blueprints, floor plans, elevations and other drawings.

And though it may be obvious, here are a few advantages of doing computer drafting over hand drafting:

  • Working with a design team is easier, since drawings can easily be shared digitally.
  • You can draw fixtures, furniture, appliances, etc. only one time and re-use them for other drawings.
  • You can use items drawn by other designers, easily pulling them into your own drawings.
  • You can have a library of items and templates for re-use.

The great thing is: Autodesk, the distributors of AutoCAD, offer free licenses of the software to students and educators.

Thoughts so far

I’m only a week into my course, but as the title of my post suggests, I’m loving AutoCAD. I find it really easy and intuitive to use. And you can draw things so much more quickly than hand drafting. Make a mistake? Just hit undo or delete.

AutoCAD has keyboard shortcuts for all of the commands, which make the work even faster. And even if you’re working on a laptop, it’s good to use a mouse with a wheel, as that provides a lot of capabilities to easily navigate around your drawing (e.g. zoom and pan).

The class itself has been a little slow, since they have to accommodate students who may not be as computer-savvy. But yesterday, we spent the afternoon working on a few exercises and projects at our own pace, and that is when I really got into a good flow. It’s just amazing how quickly you can generate drawings after learning just a few basic commands.

For example, creating these outside walls for a hotel suite took my probably 10-15 minutes:

Drawing the same thing by hand would have probably taken me 2-3 times as long.

A few other drawings I completed:

In many interior design firms, it seems like the design assistants or junior designers do a lot of the drafting, so if I go that route, it’s definitely something I’ll do a lot of, in the beginning. In fact, some large design firm have dedicated drafters.

It’s also something you can do on a freelance basis, as some independent interior designers will outsource their drafting work.

We’ll see what the rest of the course has in store, but if this first week is any indication, working in AutoCAD is definitely something I’ll enjoy and could even become something I decide to specialize in.

Interior Designer

My Introduction to Home Staging

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a number of internships I was looking into, as well as some home staging assistant positions I applied to, in order to start exploring the various paths within the interior design field and build up my experience and portfolio. I am happy to report that as of yesterday, I’ve started an internship with Pink Door Interiors, a home staging and interior design firm.

The bulk of Pink Door’s business comes from home staging, and during my first day yesterday, I got a good introduction to the field. My day was spent at their small warehouse, where they store most of their furniture, art and accessories.

It was quite a sight to see. Racks and racks of canvas and other wall art. Sofas carefully wrapped in protective plastic and stood up on their side to maximize space. Shelves going up to the double-height ceilings, housing chairs, ottomans and console tables. A whole room of just pillows! And another room filled with small accessories like dishes, picture frames, candles, soap, placemats, and more.

Chairs and ottomans and tables, oh my!
Yes, there is a pillow room
Let there be light!

While I technically report to the owner of the business, I’ll be working most closely with the project manager, Joe. Joe gave me a great rundown of the home staging business, as well as some interesting tips.

Home Staging Process

Early on in the day, I eagerly asked, “So, what’s the typical home staging process?” While every project is different, Joe was able to give me a general overview.

Consultation

First, they start with a client consultation, where they tour the house and talk about which rooms are going to be staged and how. In the case of Pink Door Interiors (and I imagine a lot of home staging firms), the client tends to be the real estate agent rather than the home seller. After consultation, Joe and the owner, Alejandra, meet and discuss the plan for the home stage.

Proposal

Before too much work gets started, the next step is sending the client a proposal. This is where they lay out in writing:

  • Which rooms are being staged and to what extent (e.g. full stage vs. partial stage)
  • If any existing furniture needs to be removed
  • Budget
  • Timing
  • Other stipulations

Selecting furniture and accessories

Once the proposal is approved, work gets started on selecting the furniture and accessories. You start with the furniture, of course. They “reserve” the furniture for each project in their online database system. Then, they’ll pull art and accessories, walking through the warehouse and seeing what fits with the overall look they are going for. Accessories and other small items are carefully wrapped and packed into bins, usually the day before the home will be staged.

Staging

On the morning of the stage, contracted movers come to transport the furniture and accessories bins. Fragile things like art and lamps are typically transported by the stagers themselves in their own cars.

Once at the property, the movers bring everything in. I’ll get to experience my first in-home staging project next Tuesday! With Pink Door Interiors, they like to start with unpacking and laying out all the accessories. Then, room by room they get everything set up. Sometimes during set-up, they find that something they selected just isn’t working, and in some cases, they have to go shopping to find better alternatives.

The clients will walk through the staged property and note any adjustments they’d like made.

De-staging

After the home is sold, it’s then time for the de-staging process. Packing everything up. Disassembling furniture, if needed. And getting everything back to the warehouse.

Home Staging Tips

Throughout this internship, I’ll learn a lot of about the best ways to tackle home staging. Joe was able to give me some early advice.

Walk through the home on your own

When you do your initial consultation, tell the real estate agent that you’d like to tour the home on your own. This will allow you to put yourself in a buyer’s shoes and see the home with fresh eyes, without a realtor pointing things out to you or coloring your experience.

Stage to bring out the features of the home

When it comes to choosing the overall look you are going for, don’t worry the homeowner’s design taste or what you think they buyer’s style will be. The goal is for the home to appeal to the widest variety of buyers.

Instead, look at the style of the house itself. Does it have traditional features like crown molding and decorative cabinets? Opt for more traditional furniture. Is it a very sleek and contemporary home? Go for more contemporary furniture. Sometimes the clients will request (or insist) on a certain style, but it’s important to hold your ground — you know what’s best!

Ask for everyone to be out of the house when you stage

This tip is pretty self-explanatory, but I guess it can happen a lot. Staging requires a lot of moving and installing, and it’s hard to work around contractors or other people doing work in the home. And it’s best not to have the homeowner hovering, either. They can be very emotionally attached to the home and might push their own personal preferences on style and set-up.

Be strategic about the order you set things up in

When staging a room, I think most people’s instinct would be to set up the large furniture pieces first and then place all the smaller items. However, you need to take into consideration things that may be hard to set up if the furniture is in the way.

Need to plug lamps into an outlet that’ll eventually be blocked by a large desk? Get that plugged in first! Hanging a piece of art over the bed? Best to hang it before getting the bed set up (keeping in mind, of course, the height of the headboard). It’s a rule that seems obvious after the fact, but you’d be surprised how many people make this mistake.

Label your accessories in a partial stage

Sometimes you are staging a vacant home, but sometimes you are doing a partial stage, where you augment with homeowner’s existing furniture and decor with your own pieces. In these cases, the home staging company’s accessories can easily get mixed up with the homeowner’s. Whether it be a small label or a sticker, it’s good to somehow discreetly mark your accessories.

A lot more to come

I’ll be doing this internship for at least the next couple of months and potentially into the fall. During that time, I’ll have the opportunity to see and work on the full process of a home staging project.

Next week, I’ll get experience pulling accessories and packing them up, as well as actually staging a home. Eventually, I’ll see how proposals are put together and other administrative things related to the home staging business. Hopefully, I’ll get to shadow a client consultation and initial home walkthrough. I’ll even get some insights into the marketing side of things.

This internship will not only allow me to build up my resume and portfolio, but it’ll also expose me to the reality of home staging and help me determine if this is a path I’m interested in pursuing.