I first became obsessed with Alexis Joseph through her inspiring art shop in San Francisco, Case for Making, a few years back. It was early on in my return to daily art-making, and stumbling across her richly saturated watercolors + well-curated selection of supplies was the start of a steady influx of new papers, brushes and colors to work into my painting habit. The more I followed along on her journey, the more I wanted to learn (and share) her story. I’m so excited to be doing just that today! Her story and curiosity are so inspiring!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Hello! I’m Alexis and I run Case for Making, an art supply shop in San Francisco where we sell our favorite products and also make our own line of handmade watercolors and letterpress watercolor paper goods. I opened the shop 5 years ago after working in various fields of design and running the back office of different small businesses. Business to me is very creative, especially small business, its learning the way things want to work and then bending them and molding them to work the way you want them to work. Its trial and error and having ideas and testing them and learning from your mistakes and adjusting quickly. Being creative is about asking yourself questions, problem solving and coming up with new ideas to test. This works with any medium and business is just another medium to play around with and try to understand and make work better.
What is your FIRST memory of being creative? I come from a creative family and my mom always had art materials out and available to us. Our dining room had this long closet with three sliding doors and the entire shelving unit in the middle section was completely filled with art supplies and found materials and stacks of paper. When I was a kid I thought the only option, besides playing outside with friends, was to draw or paint. My happiest creative memories involved many, many pieces of paper covering every available flat surface being filled with color and testing techniques. Watercolors always fascinated me and I loved going from page to page making marks with various colors and then going back to the first ones to see how they dried.
You’ve had many interests + pursuits along your creative journey, from artist to shop owner, architecture to paint maker - tell us how you have woven each of these into your life today. This is a great question and something that maybe I’m starting to see more clearly as more time passes. It's fun to look back and think about how everything comes together even though it didn’t really feel that clear while it was happening! I went to architecture school for my undergraduate degree and I loved it but working at an architecture firm didn’t feel right to me. Working as a graphic designer also didn’t feel right to me when I was in grad school and when I tried to do each of those things on my own with clients I found myself trying to teach my clients to do the projects that they had hired me for themselves! Now it sounds so ridiculous… I literally got hired to do branding work or build a website and I would try to teach them Adobe products or Squarespace so that they could do it themselves! It just seemed silly to me that they would have to call me to change their phone number on the backend of their website so I wanted to teach them how to do it—also when you do something yourself you just feel so proud of and connected to the thing that you’ve made!
Small business became a way for me to be my own client. On any given day I get to design new built-ins or product displays, help build them, design signage and paint it, paint lettering on the front window, paint swatches and scan it into the website I designed and built, the list goes on and on. You get to do everything, there are always projects, any idea you come up with you can make happen if you decide you have the time and money to do so. Our entire paint line came from me feeling like I never really understood color or color theory—I wanted to feel it and understand it as a material and so I started learning about pigment and paint and then I got hooked and we started sharing the process and the paints and people were as fascinated as I was!
When you’ve pursued a new creative hobby or learning, what’s the first step you take in getting started? I think I’ve always had a natural tendency to understand materials. I mean that in terms of art materials like graphite or paint or paper and also building materials like concrete, wood, and steel—the inherent qualities of certain materials lend themselves to certain applications. I think this is a good starting point to learning anything new. What is the material, what does it want to do and why and how do you understand this enough to manipulate it? I was however, completely stumped when I tried to teach myself the guitar a few years ago. Sound was a medium I couldn’t hold or feel in my hands or understand and I found myself trying to visually makes sense of the strings, frets and chords worked but that didn’t work out very well. Learning the guitar became all about practice and memorization for me. But my distance from the musical process is the reason why I love seeing live music or listening to my partner play guitar because it's so foreign to me. In my mind, my partner plays guitar and makes sounds the way I know how to make mixed colors and certain marks with paint, which such familiarity and trust. This difference in creative mediums to me is so amazing!
What does your creative practice look like on an average day? Well these days my business is my creative practice but I’m taking some first steps towards making the time and space for my own studio practice to emerge. I just began The Artist’s Way and have been writing morning pages and am starting slow. I feel like when I’ve had periods over the last five years where I was painting more I was only dipping my toe in and I have this feeling like I want to create the time and space to totally jump in headfirst and only do that but it's not realistic for me right now. I’m excited to keep following the Artist’s Way to see how a creative practice can intertwine with the creative running of my business and see them work together side by side for a while.
I’m obsessed with too many of your colors to list...how do you go about choosing new colors to add to the CFM watercolor collection? Thank you!!! We’re totally obsessed as well!!! In the beginning I just started buying all the pigments I could find because I was just so excited and interested in them all! We were making them and painting with them ourselves for a while before we started to put them out in the shop and online for people to buy and then kept remaking the ones we sold the fastest. So in a lot of ways our core collection sort of built itself over a few years. I’m so lucky to be able to work with like-minded creatives each with their own unique studio practices and as you can imagine a lot of the conversations we have in the shop revolve around color and so we’re always researching, testing and tweaking the colors in our collection based on what all of us want more of while still maintaining a well balanced color collection.
Your shop is always a must-visit when I’m in San Francisco. It’s so full of happy possibilities. What are some of your favorite items that you stock right now? Thank you, that’s so sweet, that’s what I want people to feel in the shop! We’re here to remind everyone that we are all creative!!! The shop is small and therefore highly curated to only hold our most favorite products which hopefully make people feel comfortable to pick up a pencil and a notebook or a few paints in order to turn back towards their creativity. It's in the most simple items that I find the most possibility and also such happiness. To me there’s nothing better than a simple drawing kit that includes a bag filled with Blackwing pencils, a pencil sharpener, a few point sizes of a Pilot G Tec C fineliner pen, a great eraser (I love erasers,) a little ruler and the perfect sketchbook!
Rapid Fire Round.
Being creative means having ideas and testing things out and coming up with new ideas and being fascinated by the whole process
My creative habit brings me a feeling of endless potential and curiosity.
My advice to anyone looking to push themselves into a creative life is to actively stop thinking about what anyone else is doing or what you think they’re thinking and just get really interested and curious about your own thing and keep following that. You don’t want to know what that thing will look like in a month or a year or ten years, you want to be surprised!
Favorite read on creativity right now The Artist’s Way! I’m still at the beginning but I’ve found it to be very fun to read and also pretty on point even today.
Best place to travel for inspiration is anyplace really! I love traveling but I’ve also found that just taking a long drive by myself is the best way for me to generate new ideas.
Best way to get out of a creative slump. I feel like a slump is when something just doesn’t feel right or interesting anymore and then I just ask myself what feeling is missing and what do I want more of and try to cultivate that.
And last, we are all creative—we were all born creative—we can all make marks. It's not about drawing, painting or executing something well, it's about being interested in developing the marks that you make and ending up with a series of marks that could only ever have been made by you and being so interested in this process.
I couldn’t love her words + attitude towards creativity more. Thanks, Alexis for sharing your story with us! You can find the Case for Making shop here (with a few of my favorite products here, here and here) and find her on Instagram for more regular doses of CFM magic to inspire you to make marks, get creative and have some fun!