Behind the Scenes: My Tech Setup & How it Helps me Make Handmade Art

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When I was 23 I got offered a pretty great opportunity. I was fresh out of art school and a friend told me that if I learned Adobe Creative Suite, he would hire me on as an in house artist for his web design company. 

I had already tried to learn a few of the programs, had a hard time with it, and written it off, but here was someone who wanted to throw money at me. So I put my head down and figured it out.

Keep in mind that my only previous computer experience involved limited exposure to things like: Oregon Trail (did I just age myself..), Microsoft Office, and some internet browsing.

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98% of my art leading up to this point was created using my hands, not a computer.

Graphic design felt like cheating to me. I didn't understand how something you didn't physically make with your hands could compare to real art.

Anyways, once I got over myself and learned the programs...I found that I really, actually enjoyed it!

Getting out of my own way and moving past the incorrect belief that "I wasn't good at computers" has completely changed the way I create.

I wanted to share what hardware, apps, programs, and accessories I use on a daily basis to create my patterns (when I'm in design mode), and run all areas of my business including social media and marketing.

It's incredible how picking up these skills has opened SO many doors and allowed me to become a more well-rounded (and more profitable) artist. None of this stuff is 100% necessary to create great art of course, but the following is just what I've found works well for my particular needs.

So without further ado, here's my list:

1. Wacom tablet

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I spent YEARS using only the touchpad on my ibook and a few keyboard shortcuts to make drawings in Illustrator. It wasn't until a friend asked what tablet I used that I realized what I had been doing was completely ridiculous.  

I had just gotten so used to working that way that I didn't bother to look into any new (or easier) setup. To be honest I still "draw with my keyboard" a lot, but having a tablet when I need to be drawing for a week straight is essential!

The tablet I have is an old Wacom Bamboo which comes with a programmable pen, extra pen tips, and 4 buttons you can also program on the tablet itself. I never took the time to do this (because I'm still using the keyboard, lol!), but it can help you work much faster.


2. MacBook Pro


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My computer is a beast. I only have the 13" model, but I carry it everywhere I go. It's 7 years old and has survived more than 3 power cords and my reckless handling. I wish it was a little lighter, but it also has to be substantial enough to simultaneously run huge programs like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, and have upwards of 15 Chrome tabs open at any given moment to keep up with I'll deal with the extra weight :) 


3. External hard drive


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This comes in super handy if you are always working with large image files or doing videos. My computer gets crazy slow storing all that stuff...and there's a lot of it! Mine is an iomega with 1 TB of storage.




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My camera is a Canon Rebel T5i that came with a basic lens. It's my first DSLR and a perfect starter camera. I originally bought it for product photography, but as my business has evolved, I've used it for filming, and even on site at events. Imagery is super, super important and worth the investment of buying (and learning!) a quality camera.


5. Full Size Tripod

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I got lucky with this one and inherited/commandeered my Dad's really nice tripod. I think that there are a lot of inexpensive and poorly made models out there, but I think it's important to have a sturdy base for your DSLR, so this is another area where it's worth the investment. 

Another thing I've been looking around for recently is a mini tripod for my iphone. Sometimes you need your hands free during videos, and this is way less of a hassle to set up than the whole DSLR/tripod situation if you just need to shoot a quick photo to share.


6. Printer/Scanner Combo


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Maybe this one's a bit dated but I still find it useful, so figured I'd include it. I used to use the scanner in college for illustration projects, but with all the fancy things you can do on smart phones these days, now I'll usually just take a photo with my iphone and email it to myself if I need to get a sketch into Photoshop. 

I do use the printer quite a bit when I'm working on repeats or about to carve up a new large pattern. I'll open my pattern in Illustrator, then print it out at 5 different scales to see how it would look in different sizes. This helps me decide if it would work better as a pattern for upholstery, drapery, and so on.



7. Apps

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My main social media outlet is by far Instagram. What I do is very visual, so it's easy to just show photos of my students and projects to keep people engaged. Editing the photos that I post has taken some time to figure out, but I've found a few apps that really help get the effect I'm looking for.


I use this one for cropping and adding frames to my photos. There's a ton of other things you can use it for as far as filters, but since I keep mine simple I use this as the last step before I post.


This app has been crucial in getting rid of the yellow tone from my photos  I take during my evening classes. I try to shoot in natural light at all times, but sometimes it's just not possible. Snapseed has a 'Selective' setting where I can clean up the yellow tone in whatever area I choose. This helps me keep my Instagram feed sharp and bright!



8. Squarespace

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Oh Squarespace...where were you when I was in Photoshop slicing images and importing them into Dreamweaver 13 years ago? Nevermind that, you're forgiven.

I've re-designed my website so many times, and this last time decided to switch over to Squarespace after seeing so many clean and attractive designs the past few years. I just wish I had done it sooner! I can't recommend this platform enough if you want to put up any type of site for your work.



9. Adobe Creative Cloud


I really couldn't do what I do without Creative Cloud. I'm in some kind of Adobe program at any minute of the day, whether it's drawing in Illustrator, editing photos in Photoshop, editing a video in Premiere Pro, or putting together a PDF in InDesign for a workshop.

A lot of my designs start out as pencil sketches, but at one point or another, they all end up in my computer to be fine tuned, color tested, and scaled. I could skip all this, but the chances that the pattern wouldn't come out how I imagined would be much, much higher. I would waste a lot of time and energy too. Adobe is just a life saver.


10. ConvertKit


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To keep all my followers organized, and to put out my newsletter, I use ConvertKit. I thought it was dumb to pay for an email service provider at first, but now that I have more people following me, I can see how important it is to keep everything organized. It's only going to get harder!


So those are all the things that keep my little biz afloat these days. I hope that behind the scenes look at my setup was helpful, and I'd love to hear what you think and what you're using. Drop your comments below!