12 Questions: Meet Tammy Collins (Tennessee, USA)

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 Tammy Collins (crowdSPRING username: moonwelldesigns) today. Tammy lives and works in Jackson Tennessee.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Tammy Collins (aka moonwelldesigns on crowdSPRING).  I’m a 41 year old Mother, Wife and Grandmother. I live with my husband, and our three … interesting and spirited dogs, to say the least. Two are Catahoula Leopard dogs named Skyler and River, and the third is a little Feist named Mo.

I was born in Morganton, North Carolina, a quiet little town nestled in the beautiful Smokey Mountains.  All of my relatives lived within 50 miles of the area.  I lived in Morganton with my Mom until I was 5, when we moved to Jackson, Tennessee.  I’ve been In Jackson ever since, and I return to Morganton every year.

I grew up with Commodore 64’s and Atari’s.  Oh the hours spent playing asteroids. For anyone that isn’t familiar with asteroids (and for those who need a little bit of nostalgia), more info here.  And while it sounds like I played lots of video games, I actually read books or spent time writing more than I played games.  It seemed that I was always getting into trouble, constantly getting caught with a book, or notebook and pencil, with my flashlight under the covers, many hours past my bedtime. This night-owlish behavior and sleep-pattern stuck with me, hence the name Moonwell Designs.

I sometimes forget what time it is, get busy with something, and suddenly realize that the sun is coming up again.  During those times when I am forcing a daytime schedule, and manage to get up before 8 am, my family members know to avoid me until the second pot of coffee! And yes…I meant pot of coffee, not cup. 🙂

During my childhood and teen years, I was into anything creative.  I tinkered with macramé, whittling, poetry, well, pretty much anything arts and crafts related.  I created a lot of things out of whatever I could pick up in the woods.  I’d gather twigs, moss, walnut shells, pine cones, etc and after a long and fruitful walk in the woods, would return home and break out the glue. During my teen years, I fell in love with music and poetry.  I played the flute and piccolo, and dabbled in piano…until my senior year.  I didn’t get to attend more than a few months of college.  Instead I married, and spent the next 20 years raising my two beautiful daughters, both of whom are extremely creative and talented.

Over the years I have worked as a medical assistant, then a nurse.  After the beloved doctor I worked for over 10 years passed away, I changed professions. I wanted to get back to the great outdoors.  I went to work for a local nursery and landscaping center.  I started out in the potting shed, planting begonias, getting my hands dirty and loving it. Within a few months, I ended up as the office manager.  Great opportunity, more pay, but I was stuck in a little office, with one tiny little window.  Then, I went into accounting, working for a national uniform service.  Hey, the window was bigger!  I wasn’t entirely happy behind all these walls, and so I quit and ventured out onto the open road with my husband and his tractor-trailer.  I got to see most of the states and some amazing sights during those few years.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  But it wasn’t home, and that truck was getting smaller by the day!  Now I bounce my grandbaby on my lap, sitting at my computer, and create…while the squirrels play around outside of the open window.  They know it’s safe, it isn’t squirrel season. 😉

Of everything I have ever experienced, I can say this – there is absolutely nothing like a grandbaby’s smile!   Her smiles brighten my day while her drool dampens my knee, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  She is a major part of my inspiration to keep learning, growing and honing my skills, and trying to carve myself a little niche in this profession.

This is where crowdSPRING comes in.  I wasn’t sure how long I could manage to stay at home so I could take care of my granddaughter, so that my daughter could work without the expense of a good daycare.  I struggled to find ways to earn income while staying home.  Then I found crowdSPRING.  Thankfully I have been lucky enough to win a few projects and new clients over the last few months, and have also received some follow up work, making it possible to make ends meet a little longer.  Kudos to the crew at crowdSPRING.  You have no idea how much you mean to me, and how important this community is to our family.

2. How did you start out as a designer?

Remember that national uniform service I mentioned?  We had these nifty 12 color embroidery machines.  The salesman that brought in the orders for custom-embroidered shirts for local companies, often promised clients whose company had no logo to speak of, that he would create one for them.   He had seen me tinkering with paint, creating images to use while creating the monthly newsletter for our branch in Publisher.  He came in one day with a request for a logo design a company had in mind.  Luckily for him, I jump at the chance to create something, anything, for someone else!  I did what I could with Microsoft Paint, and the company loved it!  It was beautiful on their new shirts.  Over the next couple of years, I created quite a few images for companies in the area, still using paint.  I’ve designed for print and advertising needs at the request several local companies, friends, and family over the years.  This past year, I received the most wonderful Christmas present…Adobe Photoshop.  Watch out world!  I spent very long days, for weeks on end, studying every online piece of information about Photoshop that I could find.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  Both my daughters can sketch, draw and paint beautifully.  I can dream up beautiful images, but I can’t draw a decent stick figure by hand. Give me my mouse and a pen tool and I’ll go to town.  After getting a grip on Photoshop, I had hundreds of images, and found myself recalling the days I created logos with paint, and folks actually loving them.  The Internet search began.  I found a few of the “other” crowdsourcing sites before I found crowdSPRING.  The other sites left a lot to be desired, to say the least, for me anyway. Then I stumbled across crowdSPRING in early June.  I’ve been here since, don’t think I’ve missed a day.  I’ve also started finding local work in graphic design.  I still have much to learn, though in my opinion, we never stop learning.  There is always more to know, and I have a passion for learning.

3. Please talk a little about the learning process – how do you improve your skills?

I always keep my eyes open, and I look for great elements of design everywhere.  I admire the work of others.  Sometimes I’ll get into a spell where I just want to browse the work of others for awhile, admiring, ooing and ahhing, imagining.  A couple of great places of inspiration are LogoPond.com and LogoLounge.com.  I also learn a lot from the work of other creatives who work on crowdSPRING.  Imjustcreative has taught me a lot, whether he knows it or not.  🙂  I’ve admired his work, along with many other talented creatives here such as FredK, 29designs, Monsterleo, Estremke, Romasuave, Lightbox, Gbarrera, and, well way too many to list all of the creatives I admire.  I’ve learned from their examples, not just their art, but the way they interpret a brief, how they communicate with buyers, how they use typography, (I struggle with typography).  I’ve learned much about the industry from the forums.  crowdSPRING has been a wealth of knowledge for me, in so many ways.  I get a good chuckle from many of my early works, and how my opinion of them has changed so drastically in just a few months.  My work has gone from being ignored quite a bit, to catching eyes and drawing comments.

I’ve also learned a lot from the Internet.  Thank you to everyone who ever wrote a tutorial!  If it has to do with Photoshop, Illustrator, or designing, and it’s online, I’ve probably read it.  I’ve always been the type that if I didn’t know the answer, or didn’t know the meaning of something, I would immediately set out to find it.  Gone are the days of the hardcover encyclopedias, dictionaries and the local library.  Now I just reach out and grab my mouse!

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

Nature has to be my number one influence, colors, lines, shapes, movement.  I get more inspiration from a walk in the woods or an afternoon on the river, than from anywhere else.  Jackson is full of restaurants and shopping centers, and is rich in musical heritage, but isn’t known for great art venues.  Not that I would visit many art galleries or museums if we had them.  I must admit, If I have the time, you’ll most likely find me on the bank of the Tennessee river, gazing in awe of the beauty of the water rolling by, the way the deep blue blends with the green of the trees in the distance, while I flip the eggs and turn the bacon on the portable stove.  With one little dog laying in the tent, two others sunbathing on the bank, and hubby out fishing, it’s my favorite time to soak up the aesthetics of everything around me. I’ll fish later, first there’s that unusually shaped piece of driftwood to examine, a bloom I’ve never seen before and the colored layers of the riverbank freshly exposed by the latest high waters.

5. What’s the very first thing you do when approaching a new design?

Refill the coffee cup.  Did you want more than that?  You asked for it 😉

Then I study the brief and read any feedback.  If the brief isn’t very informative, it’s unlikely that I will even decide to participate.  In my experience so far, a buyer who doesn’t put much into the brief, will put about the same amount into feedback.  If the brief is well done, I will soak it up like a sponge.  I’ll read it at least twice, visit any links they provide, visit their website if available and study any attachments included.  If I don’t know much about their field, I will read up a little on that as well, and look up some of their competitors.  Some buyers provide a list of their competitors…I love it when they do that 😉  Sometimes, it just seems to help me get into the frame of mind to come up with a solution if I know more about what they do, who they do it for, and how.

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

I’ll have to say most of my favorites are recent works.  One of them was a logo design for Xend, a courier company.  I love it because it feels crisp, and bold, but yet has smooth flowing lines, and is so interconnected.   One that I will always have a soft spot for, is a design I created for Black Pearl Capital, in my early days on Photoshop.  It just turned out so amazing, compared to anything I had ever had the ability to graphically create, that I sat back and stared in disbelief.  I thought it was pretty good for someone with only a couple of self-taught months using the program.


7. How has technology affected your work?

Hmm, without it, I wouldn’t be doing this, since we’ve established I can’t draw a decent stick figure by hand.  From playing with Microsoft Paint, to the unleashing of me on Photoshop, and now learning Illustrator, The leaps and bounds amaze me.  I don’t have near the hardware and software I would like to have.  But then, isn’t there always something newer and better?  I’m working on it though!  For the time being, I am pretty low-tech here.  I have an Intel Celeron D 356 with Windows XP.  It may not be much, but it serves me well and I appreciate it for not giving me trouble in the years I’ve owned it. (knock on wood).  No graphics tablet or other snazzy gizmos…but then again, would it be of any use to someone who can’t draw the old-fashioned way?

One of my favorite tools however, is a website.  Since I mainly use Photoshop, I usually have to go through the painstaking process of vectorizing.  (If this shouldn’t be painstaking will someone please tell me what I’m missing!  My Adobe Illustrator trial is expired, and unfortunately isn’t quite at the top of the budget yet. My solution for SVG files is VectorMagic.com.  I have yet to be disappointed with the results.  Upload an image, check a few options, and voila.  They have a special place in my budget!

8. When working online, how do you decide whether to participate in a project?

The major deciding factors for me are the brief, and how much time I have.  Like I said before, a great brief will draw me to a project.  A brief that says “we need a logo” just doesn’t cut it for me.  I have placed a couple of entries in such projects along the way, but they were unused creations I re-purposed.  In other words, they got about as much work out of me as they put into their brief.  If a buyer isn’t passionate enough about their project to take time to write an informative brief, most likely they won’t take time for feedback.  I’m here to learn.  I learn more when I’m able to communicate with a buyer, when I’m able to find out how well or how poorly I interpreted the brief.  It’s hard for me to be objective when viewing my own work.  I’m always eager to hear what others think of it, bad or good.  So for me, if there is going to be little chance for feedback, there will be little chance for learning and I will pass it up.   If the brief is great, but the time left in the project is too short for me to do anything worthwhile for them, I’ll pass it by as well.   Great brief + plenty of time = refill coffee cup and get to work!

Oh, one more thing, I read the activity and the buyer feedback in a project I am considering entering.  If there is feedback, but it’s just plain rude, I won’t enter.  There is a difference between a negative review and a degrading insult.  It’s sad, but it happens.  Thank goodness it’s rare!


9. Please talk a little about the client-designer relationship. Can you talk about an example or two to illustrate how you’ve managed this relationship in online projects?

Now this, to me, is the most important ingredient.  I start with contacting them with a short message, introducing myself – if they sent me an invitation.  If not, I normally introduce myself during the comment on my first entry.  I ask questions about things if they’re not included in the brief, such as font preferences, colors, etc.

Keep the comments professional, but personal and approachable.  If I buyer leaves you a negative critique, thank them for that feedback, just as if they had given you 5 stars and a “great job!”  I’m sure none of us like to have our entries completely ignored.  So be thankful when a buyer tells you what he or she doesn’t like.  At least you’ll know what to avoid, and you know your work was evaluated…and most buyers will appreciate knowing their critique was evaluated as well.  If a buyer leaves a negative review in a rude manner, don’t sling mud back, just move along.  Some folks just aren’t as good at expressing themselves as others.

One of my favorite buyers to work with was Leslie Ann Mills Photography.  She touched base with nearly every single creative in her project. She had 262 entries, and left feedback for the majority of them.  Our communications began with her invitation for me to participate.  I replied by accepting the invitation graciously and thanking her, I asked her a couple of questions about what she was looking for.  We chatted back and forth many times during the project.  I told her early on if she had any questions at all, to feel free to ask me.  Towards the end of the project, I received a mail from her about being torn between my entries, and dt’s entries.  I knew exactly which of dt’s entries was drawing her to it, since I caught myself admiring it many times as well.  From the moment I saw it I thought it was perfect for her.  So when she sent this message, I told her what I thought.  The one that keeps drawing your eye to it, and holds a sense of awe, or “YES – that’s it!” for you, then that’s the logo you need to choose.  She made a comment about feeling bad because I had a lot of entries.  I told her something along the lines of –  A sympathy win wouldn’t do either one of us any good in the long run, and that she would regret not choosing the logo that drew her to it the most.

I could have tried to put a negative light on dt’s entry, play up my work, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be happy with that decision.  Think hard before you talk with a buyer, and choose the higher road.  Just put your seatbelt on and keep driving at it. They will appreciate you for it.  Isn’t that what we really want?  Well I do 😉  I just spoke with Leslie this past week via email.  Her website and blog look fantastic and dt’s logo shines at the top.  She made the right decision.  She’s also spreading the word for us!  I quote: “We included crowdSPRING in our recent big presentation and we are emailing our class attendants the info with a crowdSPRING link and a list of my favorite designers. I hope you will see an increase in photographer contests!  :)”   For me, THAT is a successful relationship.  If we all treat buyers with the utmost consideration and make their experience as positive as possible, they’re going to spread the good word.  Some of them can spread it wide and far.  That equals more projects…more projects = better odds!  Hey, I have a thing for photography projects.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a graphic designer?

Most challenging – coming up with something truly original, yet still simple, effective and memorable.

Most rewarding – Someone being pleased with your work.

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

Check your personal feelings about your work at the door.  Like I said before, take a negative review for what it is – information about what they DON’T want.  If you take it personal, it’s likely your mind will be closed about your own work.  If you can keep an open mind, and try to view your art through others eyes, you’ll have a better chance to learn and improve.

12. What do you do with your free time?

And you thought the other answers were long 😉

I love to design. I have so many things I enjoy doing, that there is never enough time, and since I found crowdSPRING, I trimmed my spare time down drastically.  I prefer to sit here and create!

But when I do pull away from the computer, I truly love the outdoors.  I love to work with wood, from building a doghouse, to carving home décor or welcome signs.  I mostly use a dremel and scroll saw, and sometiems, a band saw and sander.  Once in a while, I’ll break out the old whittling knife.

I love the water – swimming, floating, fishing, or just sitting on the bank watching it roll by with my toes dangling in the water.  (reference – Norah Jones – “Toes” favorite song).  I love to “Float the Buffalo” as we call it.  We don’t do much paddling in the canoes. We can make a 5 hour trip take all day by letting the river carry us, stopping at every other bend to swim, climb to the top of the falls, jump from the swinging rope, jump from the 50 ft cliff in the deep spot. We stretch it out as long as we can.

In the evenings I love a good fire, a good book (Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts), or a crochet needle and yarn.  I love to sew, NOT clothes 😉  never did enjoy that, but I love to make stuffed animals, curtains, blankets and pillows, diaper bags, etc.  I like to dabble in boat upholstery, (pretty good at it too.

I like to write, (for myself)  I love to play World of Warcraft,  I’m Selita on Greymane for any WoW fans reading this, my husband and I run the guild Crazy Train, and Crazy Train Twinks Inc, (Twink is a reference to a character that plays at the highest level in a player verses player bracket, with the absolute best gear in the game at that level).  Though to be honest, my guild misses me since crowdSPRING came into my life!

I also love a long motorcycle ride, and especially the annual Trail of Tears Remembrance Motorcycle Ride. Imagine 150,000 riders riding together. That ride is one of the most amazing experiences of my life (aside from holding my granddaughter).

In the spring and summer my husband and I love to

garden.  Flowers and veggies of all types.  I must say the tomatoes and corn are the best, nothing like a big ole fresh picked southern grown tomato, and fresh peaches and cream corn roasted on the grill in its husk.  The garden is fading fast, there’s very little left this year.  ‘Til next spring!

Thanks so much, Tammy.