When you participate in New Maps Project, the only prompt for location that I give is that I want to photograph you within your creative space. It's a purposefully open-ended prompt; creative space means something different to everyone. Especially in a place so heavily influenced by the iconic mountains surrounding it. For women (particularly artists) that have a studio/office but spend most of their time creating outdoors, we find ourselves in the outdoors for at least part of their shoots!
While messaging Cecilia (before we ever met) she told me that the outdoors plays such a huge role in her work. So, we decided to be outside when documenting her process. As soon as we were on the trail, it was so clear how happy and inspired Cecilia is while outside. We brought our dogs -- hers are the cute spotty grey and black cattle dogs, mine is the giant gold dog. We hiked for a while, stopping occasionally to shoot and she was able to shoot some merchandise for a nonprofit client while I documenting her in her element. We became fast friends and later did a second shoot at her favorite spot to work at home: her picnic table that sits in the afternoon sun behind her house.
Q: How did you start doing all this? Let’s talk about the origin of Snowdrop Creative.
Cecilia: When I was a kid, I was really inspired by my dad. He has always been a photographer on the side of his major career and when he retired about 10 years ago, he full-on went at photography. One of his first gifts to me ever — I think I was like five or six -- was a camera, like a legit Nikon film camera. So, I started taking photos when I was a little kid. We moved around a lot, like every two or three years. Taking photos has always been and is my way of really connecting with a place and with people there. That has followed me through my whole life.
I have worked in the ski industry forever -- since high school. Photography has always been in the background of that. Eventually, I started doing retail, branding and logo stuff. I kept ending up on that path at every job that I’ve had. This past winter I decided to bring it all together under one umbrella.
Also, I got injured seven years ago and that was the thing to get me away from coaching snowboarding. Like, hey, I need to figure out something to do as a job that doesn't involve being healthy physically! So, after that, I started to think about doing all this in a cohesive way.
Around that time, I had a couple of friends ask me if I could run their social media for their businesses. I guess if you have three people ask you to do something, you're supposed to start it as a business, right? Have you ever heard that? I read that somewhere a long time ago. I was like, okay, I'll do it. And then it really happened. I’ve been stoked to be able to bring everything together.
Then dog photography. I mean, my two dogs, I take photos of them all the time. I've been dog-sitting a lot as well. People kept asking me to send them photos of their dogs. Then I realized that I could take legit portraits and they would order prints. That kind of became its own side hustle of a side hustle.
Q: Has anyone been a pivotal mentor in terms of how or why you create?
Cecilia: I would definitely say my dad is one of those people. He still shoots film -- that's all he shoots. He has never owned a digital camera in his life and still goes on trips and he loves taking photos of people and places. That definitely was a huge inspiration growing up.
Also my photography teacher in high school, Ms. Atkinson. I still keep in touch with her. The way she set up her classes, described ways to create and brought in some of the business stuff. It was super helpful and definitely influenced my entire adulthood. And then all of the friends who have encouraged me over the years for sure.
Q: Tell me about your favorite project you've ever worked on?
Shannon: Well, how about the last three years?
Cecilia: Last three. Oh man. One of my favorite things to do is just to take a brand and rebrand the whole thing. You start over and fit all the pieces together. All the details align: color, logo design, photography, the filters that you're using on photos, the messaging and the communications. Being able to do that for the nonprofit that I work with -- the Children's Grand Adventure -- has definitely been one of the most meaningful projects I've worked on in the past three years.
It aligns my outdoor education background with outdoor industry. I get to see kids healing and getting better with nature and people getting outside more. That has really inspired me and it's been awesome to work on. And the brand and vision just grows more every day, which is awesome and amazing to be part of.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your process?
Cecilia: Taking photos is definitely my favorite creative outlet -- especially of dogs. I love trying to figure out their personalities and how to get good photos of them in the forest. It's like this giant logistics puzzle and it's so fun! They just romp around and I mean, all dogs are different and they're just such love muffins. That's been my favorite for sure, especially this summer. I also like photos of biking and skiing. Those are always awesome because they’re capturing a specific moment and I feel really immersed in the present.
Q: There's like a lot of background day to day work that goes into running your own business and trying to be successful. Talk to me about what a typical work day or work week looks like for you.
Cecilia: I usually wake up pretty early - 6 or 6:30. I make sure the dogs are fed and get outside. Then I’m getting my husband ready for work, making breakfast. Then I usually try to go to the gym [Targhee Athletics]. I usually take photos there while I'm also working out -- I manage their social media and advertising. After that, I usually have some kind of conference call or meeting in the morning -- sometimes a photo shoot. That’s followed by either a meeting, photo shoot, conference call or a combination of all three of those in the afternoon. I go over the pass to Jackson probably once a week these days to check in with a nonprofit world. Just being there in person and picking up packages - stuff like that.
My days involve a lot of laptop time. I spend a lot of time editing on the couch or out at the picnic table. Most days I'm on my computer until 8:30 or 9. So I try really hard to get outside for at least an hour or two every day. The dogs are huge help with that — especially dog sitting for other people. Being outside helps me get out of the computer bubble. That's a pretty typical day! I would say week to week it's been pretty similar all summer.
Q: Tell me about work-life balance. What does that mean to you? Do you struggle with it or does it come naturally?
Cecilia: That's such a great question. I feel like you're probably the same way where you're creating this brand, right? It’s a brand for your business, but you're also a personal brand because you're the photographer or you're the person that people are hiring. So it's like merging those two things together. And deciding how much of your personal life do you talk about in your business life? So it's kind of blended into one big thing these days. It’s difficult.
For me, being outside is one of my biggest values as a human and as a photographer too. Being able to merge that with photography is awesome. But also having time where I don't bring a camera has been really amazing and really scary. So trying to set aside time to just not take photos but be outside and enjoy time with the dogs and do the things I enjoy.
Another thing is — I started trying to turn off all screens by 8:30 a couple months ago. That has not gone super well. Some nights it's really easy. And then some nights I'm just in it with these projects and I can't stop. So I've been trying to chunk out blocks of time in the middle of the day to go biking or snowboarding or stuff like that. If I schedule it, I feel better about doing it. So I think it's partially scheduling it and also having the gym as my (mostly) personal time when I'm not taking photos. It is all kind of merged together — work and life. But it seems relatively balanced right now.
Q: What's the most difficult part about working for yourself?
Cecilia: Definitely noticing a lot of grammar errors out in the world and wanting to fix them all! (laughs) Noticing little details about things has always been an issue that keeps me up at night. I actually don't know if that's an issue really. It's just something that I've always noticed. I'm trying to be a lot better about it -- letting go of the idea of perfection in a project or goal. Sometimes you just need to send it the way it is! When you get your project to someone and then they love it; you just remember that it's not always about your goal for the project, it's about the client's goals. That's been a fun learning curve, and I think the perspective is really good for me personally.
That and you know, paying quarterly taxes and figuring all that stuff out. It’s definitely necessary to know and to be able to manage your budgets appropriately. It's all just part of the learning process.
I would also say the work life balance thing. Making sure to spend enough time with actual humans and being outside.
Q: Do you often get creative blocks? If so, how do you handle them?
Cecilia: Going outside is always helpful. Seasons changing has always been awesome for me as well. Spending time with the dogs is also helpful -- I feel like it's because they remind you that you have to be present with them. They're not worried about what just happened or what is going to happen unless it's dinner time! They're super focused on the moment and you have to take them outside and do something with them. That at least will get me up and outside.
Captions are something I occasionally struggle with. I try to jot down notes about what I'm thinking at the moment and come back to it later. And then if I just can't come up with something, I don't stress about it. I do it the next day and don’t worry about it.
Q: Do you encounter on and off seasons? How do you feel about them? Do they have a role to play in terms of like work life balance?
Cecilia: It's been pretty consistent year round, which is awesome. I feel like that most of my clients — especially the consistent clients — are businesses that are not seasonal. That's been super helpful because I come from like a seasonal ski industry employee background. In that industry you're always like, oh, off season, what do I do? I need to generate some income. But on the flip side of that, like I also miss the traveling, just having time off and letting your brain refresh a little bit. I haven't had that in a while. I just feel like I’m always on these days. But I've found like within a month, they're kind of like little mini off seasons. If you catch up, all of the newsletters are done for everyone, all of the stuffed is planned out — you can take days or like a long weekend and have it as a small break from work. I've been trying to like do that as much as possible. So creating off-seasons within the season.
Q: What are your thoughts on social media?
Cecilia: I've gone back and forth about this one a lot. Sometimes you can get caught in this endless scrolling and negativity where you're like, oh my gosh, these people are doing these awesome things. Like what, what am I doing wrong? Why isn't the algorithm working? You can get in this weird rabbit hole of all of that. I had to make this conscious decision to not do that and to use it as a tool to engage with awesome people and have real conversations with people. I've met so many cool people lately. There are women who are freelance graphic designers in New York and we randomly connected because of Adobe PDF presets, which are stupid, but like helping each other out through that. I really enjoy the connections and engagement in that way.
I also think that being involved in your physical community is super important. So having an online community -- the word community is key. Having engagement and actively trying to make each other's lives better and to be better humans through it — I think you can achieve that through social media. But it definitely takes a conscious effort to do that and to not just like scroll aimlessly. Then making sure to spend time on your physical community too, which is hard when you work for yourself ‘cause you're on like, I'm like on my couch in pajamas, I don't really have time or motivation to go be social. I’ve been trying to make an effort to schedule lunch or coffee with friends and see people in person. It's really important.
Q: If you could give a piece of advice to someone who's thinking about working with you, what would it be?
Cecilia: I can be super flexible, but the more details they give me about their needs and goals, the better. I really like asking everyone what their vision is for their businesses so that I can make sure that photos and text and logos and branding all matches. If I could ask everyone to come up with three major values that they want to see in their business growth over the next five years. Well, I ask them that anyway. That and expecting it to be a creative and really fun process. It’s all about remembering that business is fun and it should be fun and I want to make sure that people are stoked about it. And I like to keep the sense of humor a little bit in there.