Interview with Jo Packham:

"Listen to the creativity inside of you..."

Jo Packham photoJo Packham has always listened to her inner voice (which sounds a bit like her mother's), and it has led her to build a rich, creative life for herself - and for many others. Today, she is one of the most recognized figures in the craft and how-to publishing industry, but it all began with her mother's words that she could succeed at anything she put her heart to.

Jo followed her heart, and her first venture was a small art-supply store in Ogden, Utah, called Apple Arts. Her degrees in Child Development and Art from the University of California at Sacramento didn't quite prepare her for the vagaries of retail sales, so she closed her store and launched the Vanessa-Ann Collection in 1979, a cross-stitch book publishing company.

This first publishing success grew into her next ambitious venture in 1986, the creation of Chapelle Ltd, a co-publisher of arts-and-crafts books. Today, Chapelle boasts more than 400 titles in instructional, gift, gardening and lifestyle publications. Literally hundreds of leading authors and designers achieved global recognition with Jo's support through Chapelle publications.

© Jo Packham
Jo Packham's books photo
Jo has written a small library of her own books as well - more than 40 titles so far, including Where Women Create, Extraordinary Touches for an Ordinary Day, Memories of a Lifetime Borders & Frames, Decorate Rich, Organizing Your Craft Space, Glue Crafts, and a series of wedding how-to books. She partnered with Pinnacle Marketing in 2006 on a line of interactive DVD books, Create with the Designers, and later formed Empire Road Productions, to broaden Chapelle Ltd. into web communities, magazines and other products.

She never lost the retail bug, however, and in 2001, she and her daughter, Sara Toliver, opened the first of three stores in her home town in Utah, Ruby & Begonia, specializing in gifts and home decor. This was followed by The White Fig, "a most unusual gift basket company," and then by Olive & Dahlia, with its unique offering of garden ornaments and fresh flowers.

A breakthrough event in Jo's career was organizing the 2005 arts and crafts symposium, WomenCreate, in which she showcased top artists in over 30 different craft mediums. Supported and attended by crafters, industry executives and entrepreneurs, WomenCreate took on a life of its own, affording Jo a new opportunity to bring creative people together.

WomenCreate and its companion book led to Jo's perhaps most daring venture, partnering with Stampington & Company to create the quarterly magazine, Where Women Create, in 2008. More than a magazine, Where Women Create embraces the web community as well, strengthening the global network of women artists.

Listening to her inner voice, to the needs of her fellow artists, and to the crafting marketplace has always led Jo to think big and take chances. We are grateful to Jo for taking time from all that listening to talk with us about her remarkable career, her influential books, and her latest success, Where Women Create:

VIC: You began your career with a retail store, and returned to retail many years later, partnering with your daughter. What are some of the lessons you learned from running a store that has helped you formulate your other businesses?

© Jo Packham
Ruby & Begonia in Ogden, Utah
Jo Packham store, Ruby & Begonia
"Running a retail store teaches many things that can be used in other businesses. Most important, I think, is concentrating on customer service, because paying special attention to details makes an enormous difference in earning return visits from customers. Second would have to be learning to 'think outside of the box' with marketing to attract and keep peoples' attention... so essential for survival. One other skill necessary for retail stores in small towns that are not 'destinations' is how to creatively manage a small budget and spend your money wisely. Finally, and this is where we learned so much from our small store, how to frugally leverage your assets. We used the store as the photo studio for Chapelle Ltd, as well as for other photographers. It saved my publishing company the cost of studio rentals and it provided a constant flow of free and available photo props, turning it into a second source of income."

VIC: Behind the scenes, you have been a trend-setting photo stylist, creating books for artists like Sandra Evertson and Anna Corba. How do you work with an artist to create the perfect photo presentation?

"The scope of my work with an artist depends on how skilled she is at photo styling herself. Actually, I prefer to shoot where the artist lives, so she can more easily create her own sets and props which helps make her more confident in her choices. I go on all of the photo shoots but only as a technical director, because often the artist is unfamiliar with certain technicalities of photographing for publication.

"If the artist styles her own sets and is in charge of her own photographs, she is more involved and committed to the entire project. She'll spend much more time than I ever could. She understands her product best and the final book has her imprint rather than a combination of hers and mine, which always involves compromise and is never as strong or sincere.

"With the magazine I do absolutely no styling what-so-ever. These articles really are the artist’s story and her work. I don’t feel I have the right to tell them how to present it. We select who we feature because they are the very best at what they do... so I let them do it. That has always proved to be much more successful for everyone."

VIC: You seem to have more than a few William Randolph Hearst genes. You have devoted yourself to all aspects of publishing, always pushing the boundaries for your company and for yourself. Where do you think that motivation came from?

© Jo Packham
Jo's studio guardian angel
Jo Packham studio photo
"I think you are born with it... you are either an entrepreneur or you aren't. You can’t teach that kind of passion and commitment. All of us entrepreneurial spirits work endless hours for little pay simply because we want to. When you have a great idea you have to create or share, you don’t even think about the process really… you just do it. It never occurs to you that it might not work or that you shouldn't give it everything you've got. Being an entrepreneur is both a blessing and a curse. There is so much good and bad attached to this word that it can sometimes be overwhelming."

VIC: With hundreds of craft and lifestyle books in your catalog, we can imagine that these represent just a handful of the books and ideas that are pitched to Chapelle every year. What do you look for in an idea, manuscript or author that really shows its publishing potential?

©Jo Packham
Jo Packham book cover
"Actually, we don’t receive as many proposals as you might think. The really good, talented artists are sometimes afraid to submit. They are basically insecure about presenting their work. The proposals we do receive are usually from artists who are as gifted at marketing, or more so, than actually creating.

"It has always been our approach to find an artist that we like in a field that we feel is going to be popular for at least three years. We'll present her with the idea of being an author, and walk her through the process. The key is picking the best-of-the-best, and then I don’t have to worry about anything. They are much better at what they do than I could ever be. They know their audience so we just let them do what they do. I have never been sorry."

VIC: In your book, 'Glue Crafts,' you illustrate the point that adhesives may be the fundamental ingredients in all crafts - beautifully depicted in your crafts and photos. Tell us about your inspiration behind this book, and your obvious love of miniatures and whimsical embellishments.

© Jo Packham
Glue Crafts by Jo Packham
"I do love to embellish……everything! For me, too much is simply never enough! And with the advent of all of the different types of glues on the market today, creating in any medium has become so much easier and the possibilities for design are greater. I really think glue helped create categories like 'mixed-media' and 'altered art.' Before, you had to pretty-much sew fabric onto something. You couldn't glue tissue onto glass, you couldn't glue 'stuff' onto fabric... the limitations were tremendous.

"The inspiration for a book like this sometimes comes from creating new designs, and sometimes from wanting to share techniques. If a designer is working with something that she loves she naturally wants to share her new-found tool, technique, product, or design with everyone. What is the fun in being the only that knows what you know?!"

VIC: Perhaps no one today understands better the link between a woman's creative space and the fruits of her process. What about you? What is the connection between your work space and your art?

© Jo Packham in her studio
Jo Packham in her studio
"Creative spaces are kind-of a funny thing. To some artists they are the dream, the ultimate goal, the catalyst that helps them create. For other artists the space is insignificant. It is a means to get you where you want to go…almost like a car. It is easier if you have one and if it is pretty as well as functional that's even better… but not always. Some of us like old beat-up cars that we don’t have to worry about. We just use them to allow us to go wherever we choose.

"My personal creative spaces have always been more about the decorating than the functionality. It has to be fabulous and unique and hold all of the memories that are important to me… but sometimes I don’t have enough table space to work on because there is too much lovely 'stuff' in the way.

"I am also more of a collector than a doer. I need to know how to do everything and I buy all of the stuff just in case I ever do want to do it... but I don’t finish very many projects. For me, learning how to do it, having the stuff to do it, and the decorating and organizing so that I can enjoy it all really is enough for me. I guess I never quite enjoy my finished products as much as I do buying and arranging the stuff to make them."


VIC: WomenCreate, your 2005 symposium, brought together some of the leading women in the creative arts - and the Exalted Queen Mother of the Red Hat Society! How did the eclectic energy of that first gathering move you forward toward your larger vision for women artists?

© Jo Packham
Jo Packham, WomenCreate logo
"WomenCreate was amazing and it taught me one very important thing about creative women. I always knew that artists often feel isolated and alone and that they love to take classes so that they can be in a type of 'community' with other artists and meet the 'celebrities' in their fields.

"What I didn't realize was that the more accomplished and the more famous you are the more isolated you can be... regardless of your creative field. And that the more varied our fields, the more interested we are in each other and the more we can learn. My friend Mary Jane Butters is a farm girl and an organic gardener - neither of which I know anything about or want to know anything about - yet she taught me more about perseverance, creativity, and passion than anyone I have ever met.

"The students at WomenCreate loved meeting the celebrities and sharing, but the celebrities loved meeting and sharing even more. It is surprising, but they can be the loneliest, the most insecure in their accomplishment, and the ones with the most questions. I knew we needed to create a community of creative women but I didn't realize how much we needed to and how far reaching it would be."

VIC: Your seminal book, Where Women Create, came out in 2005. Three busy years later, you launched the quarterly magazine. What were some of the catalytic events and relationships that resulted in the magazine, Where Women Create?

© Jo Packham
Where Women Create, Summer 2009
Jo Packham, Where Women Create magazine cover
"This is one of those stories about being in the right place at the right time... and just knowing in your heart that some things are simply meant to be.

"A series of events, both personal and business related, happened in 2005 that completely changed and redirected my 30-year career. By the end of 2007, I had lost my momentum and did not know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A friend invited me to come and stay with her in Laguna Beach – she said I could sit by the beach, do girlfriend stuff, think about things, and then we could go to CHA and look at some new options. Well, my son had just moved to Costa Mesa so I decided to accept her offer and go see them both and try and get some sort of focus for the future.

"A couple of days before leaving, I emailed Jenny Doh, Editor-in-Chief of Stampington in Laguna Hills, and asked to meet her while I was in town. I didn't know anyone at Stampington but several of my authors were designing for them and thought I should know them. Jenny's email back was a bit discouraging when she reminded me that 'Stampington doesn't do books.' I assured her I wasn't going there to pitch a book and after a few more emails she agreed to meet.

"At Stampington, Jenny, Kellene Giloff and I went to lunch. Clearly, I hadn't done enough homework when I asked who owned Stampington and Kellene answered, 'I do.' Well, we talked for several hours and Kellene asked if I had ever considered expanding my book, Where Women Create, as a magazine. When I said I had, she asked if I would like to do it with Stampington. Long story short, we announced our new partnership at CHA a couple of days later. And that was the beginning of my 30-year dream that was finally going to come true."

VIC: Your personal theme, "From a woman's soul. Through a woman's eyes. By a woman's hands," speaks to the unique perspective and power of women artists. How does your work as a publisher, writer and artist reflect these concepts?

© Jo Packham
Jo's studio guardian angel
Jo Packham studio photo
"For me it is all about the creative hearts of women. We see things differently, we create things differently, and we are always passionate about everything. The best way to describe how I feel about this question is to recommend that everyone read 'From the Kitchen Table' in the first and the third issue of Where Women Create. It says it all in about 2,000 words... being brief has never been one of my strongest suits!
"

VIC: For more than 30 years, you've brought women artists together in every known medium: books, magazines, DVDs, the Internet, and in personal dialog. What would you like to see happen next in the realm of women artists? What is on the horizon for you personally?

"The horizon for us is to create a complete 'community' for creative women. I want a place on-line where they can inspire, connect, and share with each other. I want a world of creative friends that understand each other without having to explain themselves. I want a place where they can sell their work, do research, teach one another, and on and on.

"I see a series of events across the country where we can all take classes and buy each other's work and have a really good time... where, for just a day or two, no one judges us, no one criticizes what we want to buy, and no one critiques what we create. And then we can go back to our worlds of being mothers, wives, employees, daughters, and more.

"I want to continue the magazine so that we have something to hold in our hands that inspires, connects, reassures, teaches, and introduces us to a new and creative world filled with souls just like our own.

"And maybe someday I would like a TV show where we really can 'meet' each other. The written word and photography are my mediums of choice but I would like to actually hear some of these artists tell their stories and share their entire creative space overall and in detail... which is so much harder to do on the pages of a magazine.

"I know it is ambitious but it's not impossible. There are so many of us who are willing to work very hard to make it a reality and not just a dream!"

Jo Packham logoLearn more about Jo Packham and her incredible enterprises for women artists at www.jopackham.com, Chapelle Ltd, and Where Women Create. Jo's books, including Where Women Create, are available from bookstores, craft stores, and at Amazon.com and other online retailers.

 

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