LA’s Most Inspiring Stories / Just Kirby Interview
Today we’d like to introduce you to Kirby Israelson.
Kirby, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
There’s one question I’ve been asked throughout my life that I have always known the answer to, no matter what stage of my life I happened to be in, and that’s, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My response has always simply been, “An artist.”
My parents swear they knew I was going to be an artist when I started drawing fingers and toes on my stick figure sketches as a kid, and I swear that I have always had that goal in my heart for as long as I can remember—but since my memory of my childhood is shoddy at best, that might not be as impressive. The specifics of my artistic career have often fluctuated—moving fluidly between fine artist, art teacher, concept designer, book illustrator, and beyond—but the overarching theme has remained the same. Making art.
Art has always been my compass, guiding me throughout multiple interests and genres with borderline obsessive zeal because, to me, that’s what art is. Art is beautiful and passionate, but unforgiving in its hunger to learn more, to do more, to be more. I must continually create, no matter how large or small the project may seem, and because of that, each day I discover a new way to make art. And I love it.
This obsession has definitely taken me on some weird turns and wild rides (such as swearing that I would never work for myself because it’s too much stress to then starting my own business the day I graduated college and realizing that I’ve technically been working for myself since high school) but that’s definitely part of the journey.
Art is alive. It is never still. And I plan on spending the rest of my life finding out where it’s going.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Just Kirby – what should we know?
Just Kirby is simply that: me. An overly-hard worker who takes pride in everything she does and is looking to make the world a prettier place. Someone who gets bored easily so she is constantly learning new ways of entertaining herself and creating art.
A woman who refuses to give up and refuses to turn in a piece of art, work, or project that she isn’t entirely proud of. An intelligent, complex, bizarre, possibly-dangerous-yet-entirely charismatic being who likes to pretend she isn’t nice but is truly a softy for those she loves and those that need love. She is weird, but you’ll love it.
In the business side of things, Just Kirby is adding Kirby to your team. It is taking all of the above and making it work for you, and for your success. She will fall in love with your brand and mold it to perfection. She will be fiercely loyal to your product and take pride in what you create. She will be your cheerleader and share your message to the world.
She will take work off of your plate and stress out of your life. And—of course—she will make you pretty. Well, I mean I will.
But for the first time in over a month, I finally have a few seconds to breathe! (For those who can’t remember what this is all about, head back to The Struggle Cup: Step One)
The good news? Telling the universe that I want to make my side hustle a success is working. I have 3 new clients, and 2 former clients remembered me and came back for some updates. I am rollin’ in work!
The bad news? I am rollin’ in work… I have a horrible habit of saying yes to everything and assuming I’m going to find a way to get it all done. I do, of course, but at a pretty serious cost to myself of stress + sleep deprivation + (because I promised to be honest here) a huge amount of self-doubt. When the glow of steady work wears off—and it wears off pretty damn quickly—you’re left sitting with 11 client projects that need to be finished and 3 utility boxes that need to be painted… At the same time as a 72-page magazine is supposed to be designed and a 3-day conference* is supposed to be attended (and spoken at!). And let me tell you, sitting in that pile of stuff really sucks.
Not only that, but I was starting to realize that this plan of mine, of working 2 hours a day on my business to make it a resounding success, was waaaaaay too small. Ten hours a week is not enough time, guys! I’m already working more than 10 hours a week for my clients, let alone myself. Was I entirely too optimistic? Is this just a busy season that I will get over? Am I an idiot?
See, I told you there was a lot of self-doubt going on.
Well, at the end of the day I know that complaining about having a lot of work is a good thing, but it doesn’t always feel like it. Yes, working for my clients is literally the one thing I need to do to make this whole scheme a success but… Could it have waited a little until I was ready? And that’s when I mentally slap myself because that is a horrible thing to wish for. And say out loud for that matter (if you’re my client and reading this, PLEASE don’t stop hiring me because I said that. I didn’t mean it, I swear…)!
Because we’re never ready.
I tell myself these lies of I’ll make Just Kirby my full-time job when I’m ready. I’ll leave the chamber** when I’m ready. I’ll have kids when I’m ready. I’ll buy a house when I’m ready… And I know I’m full of it. I know I will never feel ready to do anything because none of us ever are. We are constantly growing, our circumstances are constantly changing, and by the time I think I’m “ready” to do something my goals will be completely different than they are at this moment.
And that also sucks. But it is also wildly exciting. There is no finish line (besides death, but let’s hope that doesn’t come for another 60 years… Knock on wood) and there is no end to my potential—as long as I give myself a chance.
As long as every time I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and utterly incompetent I remember the one that matters: I matter.
And I’m pretty friggin’ awesome, too.
*The conference went really well, though! Read “What I Learned at Disneyland” to catch up. And I’ll tell you about the great ideas everyone helped me come up with in a later post.
I’ve always loved that quote. Not because the movie was completely mind-blowing, but because the sentiment has always resonated with me—and happens to be a constant theme throughout my life, both good and bad.
I have tons of ideas. Loads of them, all the time, and they don’t sit still. Every time I think of them they grow and spread. I start getting dangerous thoughts like, “Oh, but what if I did this?” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if I did that?” Simple thoughts grow beyond my control and turn into giant… things. Things that I’m kicking myself for thinking of when I’m halfway through the project and realize that I, once again, bit off more than I could chew.
It’s not that they turn into something I can’t do—like I tell Christina, I can do anything if given enough time. It’s that they turn into something that is just so much more work than I wanted to do. What happened to the cute sketch idea that I could have finished in thirty minutes? Why is it now a multi-layered, utterly complex, one-month-minimum project that in the end is going to be so friggin’ awesome?
See? That’s why it gets me, time and time again. Because the ideas aren’t bad—they’re fantastic, actually. But sometimes I wish at least one of them would stay small.
And that’s what happened with La Familia.
In the summer of 2018, I started feeling guilty for not connecting enough with my family. Not my immediate family, I talk to my parents on the phone almost daily, but my extended family. I’ve been cutting myself some slack over the years, telling myself that I see most of them every few years for the holidays and the occasional phone call was good enough—plus we’re Mexican, so man, there are a lot of us. It’s hard to keep track! But was it really?
That’s when the idea spread.
First, I called my mom to see if we had a spreadsheet with family birthdays (because sending everyone a birthday card every year was a good start, right?). We didn’t have a spreadsheet, but maybe I should create one? Well, to do a proper spreadsheet I might as well have more information than just their birthdays; do we have addresses, birth names, wedding anniversaries? I mean honestly, it seems like we need a family tree.
And what should I do for birthday cards? Maybe instead I’ll start with sending everyone an “I’m Sorry” card saying I’m a jerk and apologizing for the times I never said Happy Birthday, but I’m saying it now. And to make that seem heartfelt, maybe I should paint everyone a little something and put it in the card? I just learned how to paint night skies and it’s pretty fun, so maybe everyone would get a tiny picture? And that way it would seem like we’re all connected, because we all have a piece of a sky. But to be really connected it would need to be the same picture, so maybe a giant family puzzle? No… Obviously I just need to paint a giant painting and then cut it into pieces so that everyone can have a part of it.
And wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone could see me paint it? Since the final painting would never be seen whole again, maybe I needed to record a video of its creation before its destruction? I’ve never done that before but how hard could it be, really?
(See what I mean about my ideas growing beyond my control?)
And that’s how wanting to say Happy Birthday to my family turned into a 4-month project of me researching, designing, and executing a Romero Family Tree (with help from said mother, of course). A family tree, mind you, that was only going to be used to help me count and label the individual pieces of the Mexican sunset watercolor I was going to paint, cut out, frame, and give to each living member of the Romero family. And then every family member would get another heartfelt letter telling them that I recorded the process and here is a copy of the video, a scan of the complete painting, a graph showing which family member has which piece, and a copy of the final family tree… Which I had to update after Christmas because someone decided to get engaged.
(Congratulations again, Tony and Gigi! We are honored to have you both.)
And here we are today.
I had to do multiple drafts of the family tree because typos were everywhere and I couldn’t decide on a color scheme. I finished the painting with barely any time to spare—the weekend before Christmas, I believe. I had a panic attack when I was cutting the painting, convinced I was about to make a huge mistake. (I didn’t.) I finished the process video this morning condensing 8 hours of work into 8 minutes (still waiting for it to export as I’m writing this, actually). I still have half of the paintings sitting on my bookshelf because I haven’t seen all of my family since Christmas… But I did it. I finished the idea.
And it was glorious.
(See for yourself below.)
This is me creating, and eventually destroying, a painting.
Individually, we are each brilliant, bizarre, and beautiful; but together we create something even more wonderful—a family. A family that loves and angers, inspires and argues, hugs and hurts, and everything in between. We are far from perfect, but we are our own and I know that we love each other deeply.
For Christmas 2018, I painted this for my family. When it was done, I took this painting and cut it into 96 separate pieces. Each piece to be signed, framed, and given to a different member of the Romero family. 42 of them are alive, and 54 pieces are waiting.
Let every piece remind each of us that even when we are apart, we are remembered. And we will always be loved.
For those not interested in listening to a little bit of self-serving whining, feel free and skip this week’s blog post and (hopefully) return to our regularly-scheduled programming in the not-so-distant future. Anyone else who likes to jump on the “misery loves company” bandwagon, welcome to Kirby’s do-you-want-a-little-cheese-with-that-whine corner. The weather here blows.
Do you ever feel like life is out to get you? Yes, I know that what I am going to complain about is very small in the scheme of things. Yes, I know that this is a totally first-world problem. And yes, I know that all of the deadlines I set for myself are meaningless and technically I have the rest of my life to get my sh*t together but seriously… Right when I feel like I’m getting some good mojo going, have two potential new clients, am speeding through projects with my former ease and efficiency… BAM!
I know, my health is more important than my career, and not working for 4 days (and counting) isn’t that bad but you know what? It feels like it. I was excited about working again! I was motivated! I was painting my first utility box mural and I was feeling like an artist and enjoying myself. And now I am coughing up a few lungs with a 100 degree fever and dragging my boyfriend out to buy me dinner only to be too sick to eat it by the time we get home. And it’s bumming me out.
I know the universe isn’t out to get me (if so, this is a paltry attempt). I know I’ll feel right as rain in about a week and that this could be a “test” or something to see how motivated I really am to do this thing and I should just go home and sleep, but for this one second I want to vent my frustration into the ether and give the universe the finger–because it sucks.
But maybe it won’t suck tomorrow.
P.S. Yes, I went to the doctor. I’m drinking liquids and hot tea and taking hot baths and have turmeric, ginger, and citrus coming out of my ears. I’m doing what I can.
P.S.S. If you’re a client waiting for a project from me… This is why I’m late. Sorry! 🙁
So, as many of you know, I have been the manager of LAX Coworkingfor about 4 years. The perks (?) of this job are many; from additional work to an extensive schedule plus extreme human interaction, it’s sometimes a lot to take in. But there is one crucial benefit (!) that I have been able to enjoy that no one else can claim: I have been to more Lunch N Learns than I can count.
Seriously. From making your own terrarium to goal setting to growth hacking, I have been there and attempted-to-do that. I have seen speakers of all ages, of all company sizes, of all experiences simply because I’m the one in charge of the schedule. Do I take notes at all of them? Not always. But I always listen. And I always learn something.
That means that when a Tony Robbins strategist graced the walls of my coworking space last week, I was there. I was sketching the logo for our 20th anniversary of the LAX Coastal Fourth of July Parade at the same time, but I was like 66% listening… And I heard enough to come to a conclusion: I am going to try.
I know you know what I mean. All of that stuff you are half-assing right now. The projects you’re trying to make work but not really giving your all. You’re just making excuses that you don’t have enough time, or you’re not in the right financial state, or maybe you’re like me and just too damn tired. Well, that stuff. I’m actually going to try and make it work.
I have “officially” launched my company multiple times now. In the early 2000s when people started hiring me as an artist, in 2013 when I graduated from Otis College of Art and Design and swore I would never work for myself, in 2016 when I finally built a professional website… But each time I never really put in the time, or the effort, to actually succeed. I lucked out with awesome talent and word-of-mouth advertising, and things just kind of… Worked out. I got the occasional client, I made a little bit of money, and all without really trying.
But the problem with that strategy is that luck will eventually wear out. And that “little bit of money” I’ve made really doesn’t pay the bills, let alone leave room for growth. Letting the universe take over sounds great and all–especially the part where you get to sit back and let it all happen–but if you want something out of life there is one theme to every single self-help and professional-development Lunch N Learn that I have attended: you have got to work for it.
So this is my goal for January 2019: I will work an extra 2 hours each day (weekdays only, I’m still damn tired, after all) on making Just Kirby a success. From finishing client projects to writing a business plan and updating my website, I will spend at least 10 hours a week on me (and keeping all of you updated with how it’s going along the way).
And by the end of this month… Who knows? Endless success? Complete and utter failure? Absolutely no change and I did all of this extra work for nothing?