Welcome to DELVE Interviews, a look into the unique paths of artistic and creative individuals. These conversations are a branch of our DELVE Workshops and Events, where we celebrate and discover everyone's unique paths as artistic and creative forces.
Today we're excited to be speaking with Sharon R. Reaves of Reaves Projects. She delivers websites with a clean design aesthetic that are easy and affordable to maintain. Sharon first became interested in design out of necessity after opening her first business as an artist consultant (Starting-Artists) in 2005. By 2007, they had transformed into a retail art gallery (Reaves Gallery). In addition to design, she manages a private contemporary art collection. She is an independent curator, art consultant, collector and frequent juror for national and international art competitions and film festivals. She maintains several blogs and recently self-published her first book of poetry.
Thanks, Sharon, for sharing your path with us!
Can you describe your path in the creative industry – from where and when you began, until now?
The short answer is by accident and necessity. I started collecting art in 2000 and in 2005 I curated my first art show, which evolved into my first company, Starting-Artists. I like to say I did “pop-ups” before pop-ups were cool working one-on-one with artists on pricing, marketing and installation – the complete exhibition experience as a training ground for them to understand consignment, sales and self-promotion. My “day job” at the time was in finance but as the demands of my company grew along with my passion, I decided to invest in myself and pursue art full-time.
I took on various consulting projects but during an interview for a marketing position with an established gallery, I saw an opportunity to give my artists a permanent home and I took it. I didn’t get the job but instead talked my way into a business partnership co-managing a storefront gallery in the Castro (San Francisco). I honestly had no clue what I was doing but drew from past experience in finance, event planning, marketing and the entrepreneurial DIY approach gained from my time at a software start-up.
I created my first website in 2007 using GoDaddy’s web builder. It was very basic bordering on cumbersome. As luck would have it my initial business partnership was short-lived and two new partners intervened, one of which happened to be a graphic designer. Together we created (or I should say re-created) the brand for the gallery. He taught me Photoshop so I could design my own marketing materials and I gave our website an overhaul transitioning to iWeb. I loved having the ability to make changes as often as I wanted without relying on anyone else.
I remember early mornings waking up at 3am with an idea for future exhibitions that I just had to draft out in Photoshop or an idea for how to improve the site. There was something very Zen about those early mornings. It was my most productive and focused time and one that made me very happy. I also used these newfound skills to help my artists, friends and colleagues, learning the newest Content Management Systems as they became available.
Fast forward to 2009, the gallery closed along with many others affected by the economic collapse. I made the decision that if I had to start over I would do it in New York. I rented a car and my dog, Ella, and I arrived in New York with $200 and my cousin’s couch as a launching pad. I revisited finance for a brief stint before finding a job managing a private contemporary art collection all the while continuing my side projects.
During all of the twists and turns, the two questions I ask myself are does this make me happy and am I adding value? I believe design is a composite of my past experience and fulfills both of these goals. It allows me to be creative, curate in some form or fashion, consult with small business owners and act as their cheerleader. I see each project as a little blessing - both to them and to me - and for this I am very grateful!
Can you describe a day, or week, in your professional life?
I never thought I’d say this but I have become an early to bed, early to rise type. I don’t set an alarm and naturally wake up between 5:00 – 6:30am. I grab my coffee and my laptop and climb back into bed to check in on activity that occurred over night as my clients are scattered globally. After a few hours, I hit the gym for a quick run, take the dogs to play in the park for an hour and am in the office by 11am.
Office time is divided between projects and administration, which includes: emails, new business development, accounting and client support. I leave the office at 6pm checking in from home if necessary. The next few hours are all about relaxing with the pups, making something edible and an hour of Netflix or a book before the early to bed part kicks in.
What is your favorite project that you've worked on?
There are so many great ideas and unknown worlds that I have access to: competitive jump rope teams, vintage vases, photographers who allow me to travel to places I may not otherwise have the opportunity, yoga and meditation teachers, writers, etc. But if I am honest my favorite project is my own website.
The quote, “At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you…” has appeared on my website since 2005. It is even the namesake for one of my dogs (Goethe). I had such a strong connection to my identity as “Sharon Reaves of Reaves Gallery” but when I asked myself what made me happy, it wasn’t curating art but curating content. Once I was able to let go of my ego, I gave myself permission to move forward. At that moment, I sat down with my laptop and Reaves Projects was launched. It was my commitment to “turning pro”, honoring my time and talents and giving gratitude for the people who believed in me.
What's the most valuable lesson you've learned from managing all of your projects?
I love what I do and can get lost in it which typically works to my clients’ advantage. Recently I abandoned my notepad scribble and migrated to online tools to track my time like Toggl.com and 17 Hats. It’s startling to realize how much time I was giving away. It helps me to provide more realistic quotes and 17 Hats includes an ongoing To-Do list, contacts and templates for invoices, quotes and contracts. It even integrates with PayPal. It’s become my portable personal assistant.
I would also add that regardless of how much work needs to be done, I always put “me time” on the calendar. My morning dog walk and gym time not only make me more productive and focused but nicer to deal with. If I don’t take care of me, I have nothing to give to others.
What advice do you often find yourself giving to the clients that you work with?
Your website is not going to make clients magically appear. Google can only do so much and social media is a great tool but don’t forget the actual being social part. You have to take charge of your in-person presence as well. Network. Meet people. Talk about what you do. Ask questions. Join groups. Take classes. You never know where your next lead or client will come from and for most people the most valuable asset that sets your product or services apart from someone else is you.
And finally, where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?
Go ahead and laugh but I have a favorite rock in Central Park. If the weather is nice, I go there to clear my head. I can sit there for hours watching bikes whir past, couples holding hands, kids squealing with excitement, dogs pulling on leashes. It’s a nice reset from the attachment to my laptop. I do a walking meditation along the reservoir on my way to the office in the morning. Nature feeds my soul and energizes me.
I also need the yoga mat for a reset. Somehow everything seems less important when you look at it from a perspective of standing on your head.