12 Questions: Meet Debs and Johnny (Portugal)

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Debs & Johnny (crowdSPRING username: UsBeingUs ) today. Debs & Johnny live and work in the countryside of central Portugal.

1. Please tell us about yourselves.

Well firstly what a lovely surprise to be asked to do this, we are touched and honoured – thank you – you will certainly get to see some of the diversity within your crowd 🙂

Well here goes, our story……I think it could be long, so I’ll leave our previous professional background to our own website if anyone wants to know it. But UsBeingUs started really with us finding us – Johnny & I had both previously been married and when we met we were literally start again teenagers in our mid thirties – we were living in England at the time and had very normal busy lives, however we were on an uphill climb as we were start again financially too – we were often ‘stressed out’ and to be honest not necessarily the nicest of people, we had become snappy, irritable, with little time to relax and enjoy what’s real – thankfully we recognised who we were becoming and felt it was time to try things a different way to see if we could get a bit more balance in our lives – I have traveled quite a bit previously and whilst I love my homeland, I also love the warmth and slower, more relaxed lifestyle that some other countries manage to lead – to be honest we didn’t really know what we were looking for we just knew that we wanted to experience something different, try life a different way – so we  took the plunge to experience a more rural lifestyle and moved to Brittany in France in 2003. We were lucky enough to find a beautiful former farm, which we renovated together. A busy time for us as we had a big mortgage and bills to pay – but being in the countryside with space around us did give us the opportunity to experience a different way of life – we chose not have a television, which was one of the best decisions we ever made, everyone always asks us what you do???

Well we got in touch with our surroundings to begin with and we talked, we read, we surfed the net & we opened our minds to new ideas – we began finding out who we really were and discovering what felt right for us – we became vegans, our furry friends started to find us. We also took the time to teach ourselves new skills, the main ones for us, our art and graphic design, passions that have grown and grown

We decided to continue to follow our love of a more natural life & our creative passions – so we gave up the house, the heating, the running water, the dishwasher, the luxuries, the mortgage and the bills and have opted for living in a yurt here in stunning countryside of central Portugal – We have a lovely riverside plot of land and are surrounded by nothing other than nature. We live with our furry family of animals, all of whom have found their way to us one way or another, we have 14 gorgeous dogs and a cat – not planned, just fate

We are lucky enough to have had the love and patience of our family and friends, who may not quite understand what on earth we are doing, but nonetheless give us their support both with their love and their finances at times – thank you so much – you are all here with us in our hearts x

We have just had our third anniversary of living here in Portugal and so far so good, there are certainly challenges and certainly some we were not expecting, having so many dogs was one of those  So it took a while with many ups and downs, but this last year, we have been finding our rhythm and so far so good – We love our ‘off grid’ lifestyle here and in time we hope to become as self sufficient as possible with a forest food garden & permaculture system – we are also just starting the process of building our own handmade ecological home to accommodate us all – That should be fun

We have now become I guess what could be described in today’s terms as an alternative couple, with a wide range of interests and ‘cookey ideas’ but in fact as you can possibly see from our art we are probably more traditional than most…

2. How did you become interested in writing and design?

I think we have both always had an interest in design, with much of our previous professional life being heavily involved with it in one way or another – when we were in France and re-evaluated things we looked at what we actually really enjoyed about any of our work, and found it was always the creative bit that had the biggest pull for us – so we started to paint, which we both love, we painted and painted and painted and began to sell our work which was wonderful – although because of our rural location and lack of funds we were unable to be active on the ‘art scene’ as such, so we knew our road to becoming full time artists where we could support ourselves was a long one – we basically needed to generate more income – so when we came across crowd sourcing sites by accident one day after moving down Portugal, it all then suddenly all clicked for us – why it hadn’t earlier on I’ll never know, but we suddenly saw that combining art and graphic design was something we could do – it  fitted us perfectly and gave us the freedom of being able to live the lifestyle we were keen to lead – thankfully between us we had all the skills, we just had to learn how to use a programme to translate them – a much easier task for the computer genius, than myself –  We also of course had to get up to speed with what’s happening in the world now – thank heavens for the internet.  On the writing side, that is just a natural extension of me, if you are still reading you’ll see I like to communicate – I just need an editor :)!

3. What is it like working as a team?

We love it! We are male and female so consequently look at things very differently – it took a while for us to find our rhythm as we’d both been used to running our own show so to speak, however thankfully those egos were quickly dropped and now we work together really well each using our own and combining our best skills to create a better whole – we tend to share most projects at some point each doing what we are best suited to – Johnny deals with anything remotely technical – he is also brilliant when it comes to organization, perspective, 3D & accuracy, where as I am much more ‘free flowing’ and love to communicate with our clients, so the combination works well.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your work?

The biggest influence on our work has to be nature itself, we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by it, and there is nothing more beautiful, awe inspiring or so perfectly designed than her – on a commercial front we just love good work that’s right for the client and their market – we are inspired by so many talented creators out there – there is such a wonderful diverse mix.

5. Please tell us about your creative process.

It has taken a while to find out how we actually work best and naturally it depends what we are doing but if for example now we were looking to take onboard some new clients we begin by looking through any invites we have been fortunate to receive and the contests – we have no uniform way of doing this, sometimes I start them, sometimes Johnny or both of us – we start on a random page, either writing or design and just read on until we find something that we find a connection with – we read the brief thoroughly often out loud as this really helps you hear it – we then absorb it some more and usually begin sketching what comes to us – we sketch independently and then often share them and chat about it, this often leads to more sketching and then if we feel there is something in it, we then take it to the computer – We always like to get feeling into something, which can be quite a challenge when recreating any ideas into digital format, but we give it our best – We then go about choosing appropriate colours complementary fonts to pull everything together – we always invite feedback and are hot on communication – we will always go the extra mile tweaking things until they are just right for the client, however many revisions that may take.

6. Mac or PC? 

Mmmm not too much cutting edge technology here in this yurt, but we love what we do have which is two elderly laptops which are holding on and working very hard for us, thank you x  Adobe Illustrator CS5  – love the flexibility but would love to now expand a little and gets some Photoshop skills too now – Tutvid on Youtube here we come – I have never thanked him, so I’ll take this opportunity to do so, as his video tutorials that he is kind enough to share freely made a computer programme understandable for me, so thank you Tutvid and anyone else who has been kind enough in the creative community to share their skills and knowledge – we really appreciate it!  We also use a scanner and a pen & tablet to translate hand drawn sketches For our art we use soft pastels as we love the depth and richness of colour they bring – I also love simple pen and ink and water colour but haven’t experimented with them too much yet..

7. When living in different countries, how do you adjust to communicating in different languages?

We smile, make hand gestures and excuse ourselves a lot! ?

When we were in France our business clients were both French & English, however now we are in Portugal our work is done mostly over the internet with mainly English speaking clients, so we are fortunate now that it is only really on a personal level that we communicate.

Naturally we are English and always will be, but we try and let that go of that a little and just be a part of where we are, learning the basics of the language is part of that, so we give it a go rather haphazardly at times, but thankfully now we have some really wonderful things that make that so much easier – namely Michel Thomas Language CD’s, brilliant, thank you to a wise man! The power of the internet still amazes us and Google translate! Plus of course the goodwill of the Portuguese who are lovely and more often than not amazingly can speak some English, or French or if they don’t, they are lovely enough to call some who does, so all in all we manage ok although I have to say that I find Portuguese a much more challenging language.

Johnny is starting to get the hang of it really well now thankfully,, whereas I can speak French pretty fluently, but  I also have spent time living in Japan and the Greek Islands – now I am in Portugal I seem to have gone on tilt, as more often than not when in conversation it seems that I have  invented my own special, unique language where a single sentence can carry some of all of the languages, all at once  – it certainly makes for some interesting conversations  – Thank heavens dogs only speak dog, no matter which country they are from!  Thankfully I was fortunate enough to be taught to understand the dog language by the amazing Jan Fennell “The Dog Listener” – thank you so much Jan, as with everything we are still learning, but at least we can understand our rather large family.

8. What is the design industry like in Portugal?

Mmmn again, have to admit we don’t really know, we live in a secluded valley and don’t get out much, but when we do venture out into the bigger towns and cities, the design we see is very much alive and contemporary – Portugal is such a wonderfully diverse country.

9. Please describe your typical work day.

Because we have such full life that changes with the seasons we like to get the most out of every day and we tend to spread our ‘working week over 6 days – and we have different ones

I tend to wake first anytime from 4am onwards, but usually around an hour before dawn, hopefully before the dogs, as they tend to also too like to wake up for a morning howl around this time, can be quite a rousing start to the day  – I find I am so much more efficient and creative in the mornings and I like peace, so I leave everyone to snooze for a few more hours & I then take my solar lantern and have a little walk down to the caravan which we have now set up as an office, it’s lovely as I get to get breath of fresh air and see nature waking up, I often sit for a few minutes just taking it all, if there is a nip in the air I’ll do this from inside the caravan  Then I get booted up and we are off….replying to any outstanding emails first off  and then to whatever the day has in store for me, be it art, writing or design I love the mix as it always keeps things fresh and exciting – Johnny usually comes down around mid morning and we’ll then sit and have breakfast or a snack attack together and have a catch up chat.

Johnny takes care of most of the functional and more physical things around the place and I spend more time on the ‘earning a living side’ so unless he would be really useful on a project usually he spends his morning outside doing whatever is required at the time – at the moment that’s harvesting our veg, land clearing, collecting deadwood for winter and starting on our home build + the daily things like ‘pooper scooping’, bucket filling, water pumping things etc –  We are still warm here so when the heat of the day gets to much for physical work he then usually comes in to make bread or goodies and joins in on the earning a living bit – he has a laptop up in the yurts and takes care of our daily admin stuff – if I am busy with a project he will often enter a few competitions or helps me with what I am doing.

Naturally if we are on a project that requires the job to be done by a certain time then we are all hands to the deck for as long as it takes – but in general I continue working and usually stop around 2pm when we have a late lunch together, followed by taking a little time out to relax a little, talk, spend time with the dogs & catch up with everyday jobs –

Late afternoon we then both go back to earning our keep for a few more hours usually stopping around 7pm when usually relax on the terrace whilst the dogs play for a while and begin the process of feeding us all and all the other bits involved in living life here at Quinta da Vida.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of working in the creative industry?

Most challenging for us is entering competition and a client gives no feedback at all – I have always been involved in service industry in one way or another and have been used to dealing with my clients directly, face to face, where you can talk easily and quickly, see your clients responses and tune into them and what they require –  this is a lot more challenging over the internet, especially if communication is poor from the clients end – I too have the extra challenge on the design side, of dealing with a very logical, non random machine, namely the computer.

Most rewarding aspects, there are loads – firstly the actual job itself, the creative and diverse nature of it keep it always interesting – we get to ‘virtually’ meet clients from all over the world and a be a small part of something that is important to them, that’s lovely – For us the flexibility it offers and being able to begin to earn our living from doing something we love, whilst living the life we choose to live is great!

11. What advice would you offer to someone considering graphics design as a career?

Go for it!  It can be a wonderful career if you have an open mind, a sense of humour and ducks feathers

Gosh seems strange to be giving advice when we are relatively new to the field ourselves, finding our way and learning all the time (no doubt always will be) – we consider ourselves very fortunate to have received the success we have thus far and I still pinch myself to check that’s its all happening – so all I can give here really are tips on how we’ve always gone about being in the service industry and are applying what we know from being in business ourselves to what we are doing now

We remember that each project and the client behind it is unique and deserves to be treated that way. We really read any brief thoroughly and make it our business to find out what the client is really looking for, what they want to communicate. We give whatever we do our fullest attention – if we get stuck we walk away, take a moment out to switch off our overactive minds and do something totally different – it took us a while to do this, but it’s amazing how much more you actually get done in the long run when you do! We keep in regular contact with our clients – we, keep them informed of what’s happening on a daily basis – put ourselves in their shoes and think how we would like to be treated in a world where we have little or no understanding of how it all works. We take nothing for granted and we approach whatever we do with love of what we do – if we can’t find that in it, then we simply don’t do it. We have upmost respect for our clients – they put the food in our tummies and are always our best recommendation. Lastly, possibly the most important one, is that we remain friendly & professional at all times – go the extra mile!

It made me smile the other day when we received an email from our current client – we have been working with him for a few months now – he had only just written a few days before to say how pleased he was with everything and how professional our service had been – he said that he would definitely highly recommend us and also be happy to write a testimonial – how lovely I thought – anyway we carried on working through his project and I directed him to have a look at something on our own website, when he then went on to read our about us page – his subsequent email read –

“I loved reading the bit about you and Johnny, blimey I’m working with hippies!!  ”

– Our client had no idea – perfect 🙂

12. What do you do with your free time?

I think I’ve answered that one in the main. So what I will say here is a BIG THANK YOU to you crowdSPRING and other crowd sourcing sites – an absolutely brilliant idea that works for all involved,- for the clients, wow what value they receive, such a wonderful array of creativity from literally around the globe  – they are able to choose what’s really right for them at the budget they can afford – brilliant! And for us creatives, well what can I say, a whole world of opportunities for us and ………Freedom.

Thank you so much x

Debs & Johnny aka UsBeingUs, our initials are U B U

Naturally if you would like to see more of our work, please do visit our website www.usbeingus.com – thank you 🙂


Thanks Debs & Johnny!