Finding freedom in personal work with Mary Kate McDevitt
On Overtime, illustrator and letterer Mary Kate McDevitt shares her path to becoming a freelance artist. After attending Tyler School of Art and moving to Portland, Mary Kate found her voice by setting goals, authoring books, and teaching classes.
Mary Kate shares a behind-the-scenes look at the tools and process she uses to create her beautiful, detailed pieces. She also shares how teaching has helped her refine her process and how she throws that process away and finds freedom when doing personal work. Blasting a little classical music helps too.
This episode is brought to you by Wix. Push the limits of design and start creating beautiful, impactful websites that are uniquely yours at wix.com/dribbble.
Links Mentioned on Overtime
- Mary Kate McDevitt
- Mary Kate on Dribbble
- Mary Kate on Instagram
- Mary Kate on Twitter
- Celebrate Making for We Make
- Tyler School of Art
- Mini Goals Notepad
- Carpe Diem Journal
- Hand-Lettering Ledger
- Every Day Is Epic
- Mary Kate’s books
- Mary Kate’s Skillshare Courses
- For the Birds Illustration
- For the Birds Instagram Story
- Kyle Brush
- True Grit Texture Supply
- Creative Market
- Okay Fine
- Melissa McFeeters
- Ladies, Wine & Design
- Pop-up Letter Show
- 100 days of People and Pets
- Norma and Nigel have really done it this time
Dan Cederholm: Thanks for being here on the show, first of all.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. Thank you so much for inviting to be on. This is such a pleasure.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, awesome. Yeah, I mean, we’re all big fans at Dribbble, for sure. And I mean, looking through your work, it’s like, “Oh my God.” I can’t even imagine … Are you always working? Like, constantly?
Mary Kate McDevitt: I mean, in a way, yes. Sometimes I wish I was, but I do like to take my time into other creative paths. Like this summer I feel like I wasn’t as productive in terms of personal work. But it was just like client work, client work, client work. But then it’s like any of my free time I was spending in the garden, ‘cause I just like-
Dan Cederholm: Oh, nice. Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Started redoing my garden this summer. And it just should have like … In a way I was kind of hoping for it to trigger all these personal projects. Like, maybe I’ll make this, I don’t know, like a thing about gardening. A book about gardening could maybe come out of it. But really, just like a ton of tomatoes, flowers. That’s all that came out of it. And that, I’m fine with that.
Dan Cederholm: That’s good, too, though.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, definitely. I’m finding more and more that your life doesn’t need to be all about work and all about lettering and illustration and stuff like that. It’s important to be … To kind of try other things.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, to tip that balance, right? That’s tough.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, definitely.
Dan Cederholm: That sounds familiar, too. Like sometimes when I have a hobby or something … Okay, so that it doesn’t feel like I’m quote unquote “wasting time”, like maybe just had enough of this feet into something work related, so I completely get that. I mean, I should say … I said work earlier, but really it’s like looking at your portfolio or your Dribbble or your Instagram or whatever, it all has this fun aspect to it to me. I mean, like I’m sure not all of it’s fun.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Most of the stuff I post, it’s … I don’t post the misery projects.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, exactly. Well, and just like … I don’t know. There’s a sense of playfulness to it and color is amazing. And has that … How’s that style of all … Like, have you been doing that for a long time personally? Or did it start right away with ….
Mary Kate McDevitt: I mean, I definitely think some sort of humor and playfulness is always played a big part in my work. It’s funny. I was actually … My Mom just dropped off like a truckload of all my old art supply stuff from college, because she’s cleaning out my room apparently. And so I was looking through all my old sketchbooks and I didn’t … I kind of just forgot like I would draw little comics about like day-to-day stuff. And I’ve never been a comic person at all. I never even really read comics or thought that I drew them. But just anything that happened that was funny that day, I would kind of document it. I would-
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Did illustrations of all of my floormates in freshman year of school. And they’re the most hilarious portraits that I can’t … Like literally this morning I found that picture. And I took a picture and I’m about to text everyone and being like, “Sorry, guys, but this…
Dan Cederholm: This is how I saw you.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. I mean, they’ll think it’s great. And maybe it was collaborative. I’ve no idea. But yeah, even in high school, anything that I could make fun of or something … because I’m only … I can only really do work if I’m excited about it. And if I’m … I don’t know. If I’m smiling while I’m doing it, that’s a good way to keep you encouraged to keep going.
Dan Cederholm: See, that comes through I feel like. It does look like you’re passionate about what you’re creating. Which is-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Thanks.
Dan Cederholm: Which is super … Yeah, which is awesome and super infectious. Another thing, I’m just looking through your work and I’m like … I don’t even know where to start in terms of like … I kind of want to know the story behind all of these, you know? And if we take one … This one jumped out at me. And a lot … For color, big time. It’s the Celebrate Making poster.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh, yeah.
Dan Cederholm: I guess it’s for We Make! … Was the client. I just love it. I just wanted to know selfishly … How did you come up with the colors?
Mary Kate McDevitt: The colors for that were provided. I’m trying to find-
Dan Cederholm: Oh, no, no, no. Alright. Nevermind. They’re terrible.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s the We Make! With like we make making, constantly making…
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it’s got like make by hand and keep making and …
Mary Kate McDevitt: I didn’t invent those colors. That’s the We Make! … Like their brand color. And yeah.
Dan Cederholm: And then … Okay. Oh geez.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Gah! You picked the one that I didn’t do from scratch.
Dan Cederholm: What am I doing? You know, the colors are okay. But like, what I really like-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, the colors weren’t great.
Dan Cederholm: About it … Yeah. Were they really?
Mary Kate McDevitt: I made the colors work.
Dan Cederholm: That is part of it, too, right? I mean, if someone just gave you, “Here’s our brand colors. Blue, yellow, red”, I think making those work together, that’s difficult to do sometimes, you know?
Mary Kate McDevitt: It really is. And I definitely think when I have a project and I’m given particular colors, it’s like something I struggle with. I’m like immediately frustrated by it. I’m just like, “These will never work.” And then I work at it, work at it. And I’m like, “Okay, these colors are okay. I guess they didn’t pick the worst colors.” And then … But it’s just like it’s that extra step of, “How am I gonna make this work?”
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Like this is a part of the puzzle that I need to figure out.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And sometimes that can be fun if it … A little challenge, a little struggle never hurt anybody.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, yeah. And I was wondering, too, if that was a … Sometimes it’s an advantage. Like having the constraint’s like, “Okay, here’s the colors. I don’t have to think about that. I’ve gotta make it work, but, you know, I don’t need to worry about it I guess.”
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. It really depends on the illustration itself. Like, if there’s a ton of detail and I want to use a lot of colors, just to distinguish between certain details to another, if you’re only working with three colors, that provides a pretty big issue to deal with.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it’s very constraining.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. So there’s that part. So if I’m working on something and I know it’s gonna be kind of simple like that We Make! Poster, I just was like, “Well, I’m not gonna have a ton of dimension. It’s gonna be like mostly simple kind of lettering and illustrations working in this grid kind of format.” ‘Cause I’m working on this mural right now … Not mural, like not on the side of a building. Like a thing that’s gonna happen during a conference, and that’s actually next week. And-
Dan Cederholm: Oh, awesome.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, I’m excited about it. And I’ve been doing a practice mural, because it’s not something I do very often.
Dan Cederholm: Are you actually painting the mural, too? Like, you’re-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Not just designing it mostly-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Right, exactly. Like, I’m gonna be-
Dan Cederholm: Wow. Okay, yeah. Wow.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So … But, I have this idea to do … I’m gonna do two-color to keep it simple so I don’t overdo it and I’m not all stressed out the day of. Now it’s six colors and don’t worry. I’ll be fine. But I don’t know how to … It’s really hard for me to reign it in sometimes.
Dan Cederholm: Wow, six colors. That’s a lot of … I mean, it’s a lot of time on a ladder or whatever, you know, painting.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. Step stool. It’s not a huge mural. But-
Dan Cederholm: Okay. Alright, step stool. Still, still, but physical. I mean, is a lot of your work by hand, too? That was another thing I wanted to ask you because it-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: It appears that way. But maybe it isn’t necessarily, right? If it’s digital or-
Mary Kate McDevitt: I mean, you know, define by hand I guess? Like-
Dan Cederholm: Good point. It’s all by hand, really.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. But, okay. So honestly I use the Cintiq. So I’m drawing by hand digitally. But it’s funny, I’ve been working on a Cintiq for probably four years. Four years, five years. And before that I was doing everything by hand, maybe in a little more of the traditional sense on paper.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that’s what I meant. I’m sorry, yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And … No. And scanning it in. And I had this lightpad … The Artograph Lightpad. It’s the light table or lightpad that I suggest to everybody because it’s a really good light. It’s not like fluorescent lights like how you used to have. It’s really flat. And I was like, “This is basically my Cintiq.” I used to get all precious about it. And refusing to incorporate more technology. I’m like, “I have my scanner and that’s all I need. And Photoshop. And Illustrator.” And …
Dan Cederholm: Yes. For those that don’t know, though, the lightpad is something for analog work, right? With paper-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It’s mostly for … Like I do the sketch, refine sketch, and then I take that sketch, put a fresh piece of drawing paper on top and that’s when I ink it up. And then sometimes it’s like I’m inking and working in layers. So it’s …
Dan Cederholm: It’s like analog layers.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, it really is. Because otherwise I’d have to, you know, do workarounds and Photoshop. And I felt like that was more of a pain in the butt than just like drawing it, scanning in, lining it up.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. And then you have the sketch on its own paper layer initially, right?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, mm-hmm.
Dan Cederholm: That’s not touched or … Interesting.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But … Yeah. It’s funny. My job folders back then always used to be like super thick like books for almost every project-
Dan Cederholm: Right, I bet.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Because it’s like sketching a sketch, sketch. Put that away. Now, it’s like it is kind of depressing because my job folders now are basically nonexistent. And I just do everything on the computer. I have a sketchbook and I still do my initial sketches in the sketchbook, but even-
Dan Cederholm: Right. Like conceptual-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. Thumbnails and everything all happens in my sketchbook. A lot of doodling and extra farting around stuff. And then the sketches I present to the client, I usually do on the Cintiq and I just kind of use a Photoshop brush that looks a little pencil-y, just to kind of keep that feeling a little bit.
Dan Cederholm: And that in itself is I feel like an art. It’s so easy to go heavy-handed with that and not-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh, yeah.
Dan Cederholm: And make it not … You know, make it obvious that it’s not so … But you’re … Yeah, you’re textures in there, it’s spot on. It’s amazing.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Thanks.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it’s super great. How did you get started? I think it’d be nice to hear about that, because here you are … And we’ll get to like your teaching and your books and Skillshare and all of that shop you’re doing. In terms of your path, like, how did you get to where you are?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Well, let’s see. I went to art school. I went to Tyler School of Art. So that basically placed … You know, I was like set to do something with art. I had no idea I was gonna be into design or even illustration. Like, I was this close to becoming a painting major because … Even in design classes it was a struggle because it was really hard for me then to take what my ideas were, put them in the computer … The whole design part was a struggle for me. And I wanted to do everything by hand. And I would come in with these sketchbooks.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And it’s funny looking back at my sketchbooks just this morning and looking at my design sketches. I just remember my teachers being like, “You can work like this, you understand? You don’t have to like find a font that feels close to that because guess what? That doesn’t exist on Dafonts.com anyway.” And I was kind of like, “Oh, okay.” ‘Cause I have all these illustrations, textures, and lettering. At the time what I was doing a lot in college without, I don’t know, realizing it I guess … So a lot of my projects in college ended up being really hand-drawn projects. And then right after school, I got a job at a design studio, a pretty small design studio in Lancaster, which is like two hours west of Philly. But-
Dan Cederholm: Okay, yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Most people know it as Amish country.
Dan Cederholm: Right, right. Lancaster, yeah. Pretzels-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Pretzels, really good pretzels. Horses everywhere. And I mean, I love Lancaster. It’s a beautiful place.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it must be beautiful. Right.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And I was working on a lot of stuff that brought me back to like the nightmare situation of having to design and production work that was not my strong suit. So anytime we had a chance to do something … Like, that design studio did a lot of work for nonprofits and fund organizations like that. But the problem is you only had such a small amount of time to work on that fund stuff because the rest of it was like these really brand standard client heavy type of projects entering SKU numbers and samples and stuff like that in these catalogs.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So I really wanted to start doing stuff on my own. In my free time I was making posters and paintings and stuff and these chalkboards that I called Mini Goals Chalkboards and selling them on Etsy. And the Mini Goals Chalkboards kind of started because being … Going from a college student I guess to someone with a full-time job … Being like there’s no time to do anything anymore in my life. When do you even get a chance to go to the bank? And I have this system where it’s like if I just do two things a day that are productive, then I’ll feel really satisfied. So that’s what the Mini Goals Chalkboards were.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And at first I started giving them out as gifts. And then, you know, I started selling them on Etsy. And I posted them … Or I was emailing a bunch of blogs about them because in 2008 that’s what you did to promote yourself.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, right. That’s where … Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And it was featured on Design Sponge and Drawn, which …
Dan Cederholm: Oh, yeah. I remember Drawn.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, so … Oh my God, such a good blog. It was so sad when it went down.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. It was a great blog.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But that … And I definitely remember Drawn very fondly because that’s the blog that connected me to an editor at Chronicle Books.
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So we turned the Mini Goals Note … Or, sorry, Mini Goals Chalkboards into a notepad.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, wow. Yes.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And that was really the one project where I’m like, “Okay, this is a real client. I can do freelancing. Not a problem.” And I mean basically made the switch right then and there. Probably immaturely, but I’m a scrappy person. I don’t mind, you know, doing it a little … A little chaos … I like to invade a little chaos into my life. So …
Dan Cederholm: I love it. So this is the … The book you’re talking about, it’s the Carpe Diem Journal, right? Is that …
Mary Kate McDevitt: Well, that was the … That came after-
Dan Cederholm: Oh, okay. That was later on.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So that the first one was the Mini Goals Notepad. Like, it meant to kind of look like the chalkboards. Not … I mean, then I thought the lettering was really cute and fun. I look back and I’m a little like, “Ugh!” That it’s still available. So people buy it, but you know, don’t …
Dan Cederholm: I’m sure. Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: No. I mean, the Carpe Diem Journal, that was one where I was a little bit more comfortable in my freelance career. A little bit like taking on actual clients and doing lettering as a job. I think that came out in like 2010 or ‘11.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. Geez. And since then you have several other books-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Right. Hand-Lettering Ledger and Every Day Is Epic. And then your latest one is I guess is the Illustration Workshop. Is that-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. The Illustration Workshop and Every Day Is Epic came out this year. Those were so fun to work on. It was … Yeah, and it’s really great to continue working with Chronicle doing the more instructional books, workbooks. And then working with Workman on more like calendar kind of stuff, motivational stuff.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. Yeah, this is fantastic. So we … So you’re in Lancaster?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Sorry, I made us digress there a little, but-
Mary Kate McDevitt: No, I know. Jumping around. So when I … After … Sorry.
Dan Cederholm: No, no, no. It’s all good. I just wanna … I love pretzels and horses. So-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yes.
Dan Cederholm: So you were … Actually, that’s where the Mini Goals Chalkboards-
Mary Kate McDevitt: That’s where they were born, absolutely. In my little apartment, which I actually … Some … Every three years I Google Street View that apartment because I loved it so much. It was so one of my favorite apartments. And yeah, Lancaster’s such a cute town. The best vintage shops. It was like it set the bar so high for any town that I’ve lived in that I go back still for vintage shopping a lot.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But so after … So switching to freelance, wanting to like really make a go of it and change everything up completely, I moved to Portland, Oregon.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, wow. Okay. So you moved … Yeah. Across the country.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So we moved cross country. I moved with my boyfriend and my cat Pepe, too.
Dan Cederholm: Who’s there right now, right?
Mary Kate McDevitt: He’s right here sleeping on an Amazon box of something that has to get returned. But she’s been on it for days. I’m like, “I’m never returning it.”
Dan Cederholm: She’s telling you something.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. She’s like “Stop buying stuff on Amazon that you know you’re gonna return.” Okay, so-
Dan Cederholm: So Portland, yeah. So you got to Portland. Now, was … You were freelance at the time? You know, was that-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Was that a conscious effort because clients were there? Or maybe just more friends or networking or-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, more … I mean, yeah. It was completely like … I think the month before any of this happened, my boyfriend Fred was in Portland visiting his sister, who lived in San Diego. Something like that. I don’t remember. But anyway, he’s like, “Portland’s really great. If you’re thinking about switching careers kind of, maybe we should just move here.” And I’m like, “Okay.” I had never been there.
Dan Cederholm: I mean, Portland’s so great that it … You know, it really is.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. I mean, it’s really easy to use … And, I mean, the people were so incredibly welcoming. I kind of knew a bunch of people from Flickr early-
Dan Cederholm: Oh, yeah. Excellent.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But like early social media-ing.
Dan Cederholm: Flickr, those were great days. Honestly.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Honestly. Yeah. Although I’ve hidden a lot of my photos. That’s the only website that I’ve like hidden any photos. Everything else is … But there’s some weird ones from college days-
Dan Cederholm: From the early … Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, I don’t want to … No one needs to see that side.
Dan Cederholm: Now I’m paranoid. I think I should … I’d forgotten about my Flickr account. Which was super active back then.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s what happened when I was like, “Ooh, maybe I should hide some of these?”
Dan Cederholm: Oh, gosh. Especially before this … It’s probably-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Don’t worry about it.
Dan Cederholm: Okay. I won’t.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Don’t go to our Flickrs, please.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, don’t. Yeah, don’t. The Flickr … It’s sad when they closed down and-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah gosh. You guys here?
Dan Cederholm: So … Okay. So you moved to Portland. But I mean, was it difficult to … I mean, this is a dumb question maybe, but difficult to make the leap from full-time to freelance? That’s the thing that a lot of people always struggle with or are scared of or, you know-
Mary Kate McDevitt: I think it was definitely different. I wanted different so badly, so I think it’s hard for me to think that it was like a problem. I mean, it was slow going at first. A lot of our time was spent in the park. Which if you know Portland or spent … Like, the parks are always full of people on nice days. So we were like kind of lounging it up, biking around constantly. So it as sort of like taking time off while scrapping it up. Just selling on Etsy as much as possible. ‘Cause that was really the only way I was making rent. And really kind of small client projects. I was doing a lot of logos for blogs, actually. And I knew some people who had worked for Portland Mercury, the city paper there.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So I had done some illustrations for the Portland Mercury and Williamette Weekly. And then slowly kind of being a part of group shows and joining a studio with a bunch of other people. And that was a really … And there’s so many events and so many creative outlets for joining people together. So it was really easy for me to meet people and kind of network that way in a non-network-y way to get more clients and just like … Also just gaining confidence to make work and post work and then obviously getting a lot more client work through your website and online and everything.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Being a part of group shows and joining a studio with a bunch of other people. And that was a really … And there’s so many events and so many like creative outlets for joining people together. So it was really easy for me to meet people kind of network that way in a non-network-y way to get more clients and just like … Also just gaining confidence to make work and post work and then obviously getting a lot more client work through your website and online and everything. And I tried to get Fred to get into it because I actually really like a lot of sketch comedy, like Kids in the Hall will always be my favorite.
Dan Cederholm: So from Portland … ‘Cause one thing I want to touch on for sure is like your teaching and your sharing process and you’re actually putting on workshops and even some of your books are, you know, very-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Instructional.
Dan Cederholm: Explanatory .. Yeah, you’re kind of … It’s almost like you’re kind of pulling back the curtain a little and saying, “Here’s how I … Here’s how you can be like me.” Or whatever.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. “Here’s how I do it.” Yeah. That’s-
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. “Here’s how I do it.” Yeah, which is amazing I think. And was that something that came later? You kind of always felt to share, you know, the process?
Mary Kate McDevitt: I never … I mean, honestly, if Skillshare hadn’t approached me to do a class, I probably wouldn’t have done it.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. So they came to you and said, “Let’s do a class”? Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, they … And I was like, “No, absolutely not.” And it was probably like a year and a half until I actually went through with it. And the first class I did was just the first applicant in lettering. And it was just taking your idea to a sketch. Not even getting into color or anything, although students did post projects that had color. And I’m like, “I wish we saw more sketches and more” … I always say like … I mean, I’m really terrible at analogies. And the ones I come up with, I always talk myself out of it because they’re too basic. But I’m always like, “It’s like math homework.” You have to show your work. “How did you get here?” And that’s what that class is all about. It’s basically just like taking a sketch and just really carving away at it. See, this is one area I lose my math analogy. Because I’m not interested in math homework at all.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But … Yeah. So it was just about sketching. So anyway, when they reached out to me, I think there was already a couple like lettering Skillshare classes on there. And I was like, “I mean, they basically covered it. It’s not that different how we work.” And they’re like, “Well, it’s really just important to get a wide variety of opinions and how many different people do it.” And I’m like, “Okay. Alright. Look, I’ll get back to you in a year, probably.” But when I did that class it kind of made me realize how I actually enjoy teaching and how making yourself reflect on your own process is really important.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So when I was kind of creating the outline for the class, I would be like doing something. And anytime I was like, “Oh, I wonder if people don’t realize this one little detail to like create, I don’t know, like a drop shade or something like that. That kind of … Any kind of little tips and tricks that you can kind of spell out a little more clearly for students is really helpful. So it was really nice to just like kind of take a step back and look at my work from like a bird’s eye view basically.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I bet. Oh, totally. It’s funny, ‘cause there seems to be a theme with a lot of the people we’ve interviewed this year have that as well. And that need, that desire to teach or … And a lot of times it comes from what you just said, I think. We only get a bird’s eye view of your work. And kind of gives you a different perspective of how you work. And I always think it’s wonderful ‘cause it’s letting people in on … Taking away some of the magic.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, yeah. Pulling the shade, pulling the curtain or whatever that-
Dan Cederholm: Exactly, right? A Wizard of Oz reference. ‘Cause … You know, so I think it’s just so valuable. And do you think it’s helped your client work as well? Like in do you find there’s a balance there of like personal work/teaching and them client work as-
Mary Kate McDevitt: I think … I mean, I’d say with teaching just that I’ve laid out my own set of rules to follow each project I approach. So if I feel like I start straying from my own process, then I’m like, “Oh, better go back.” And you know, check … Do a revision or something like that. So it’s helpful to know that you have these set of steps that you have to follow I guess. And the personal projects are usually ones where I don’t follow it basically at all and I just kind of like … I start with something where it’s like, “I want to draw birds. And I’m gonna do a drawing about birds.”
Mary Kate McDevitt: And then I start drawing and if something pops up and it’s like … There’s no brainstorming. There’s no really crazy amount of sketches. So I like having the personal work to like loosen up a little bit and not be so precise and have to follow it. Because it can feel restricting if you feel like you’re just only following this one process each project. It’s like, “Uh-uh. I want to let loose a little bit.”
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Now, you mentioned birds. Actually, I’m looking at … Your Instagram has a For the Birds illustration.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, that’s the one.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. And which is awesome. And you actually talked quite a bit about process in there, right?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah-
Dan Cederholm: What you used and brushes you used and even music and that kind of thing.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. I almost forgot about that. Yeah, it was … I was almost kind of not gonna share that drawing. ‘Cause I do a lot of like drawings for fun … I mean, if they’re good enough I’ll share it, but if they’re kind of crappy I won’t. But I was alone in my studio, my studio mate was away on vacation. So I was blasting Classical piano-
Dan Cederholm: Nice.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. Livin’ it up. And I was clicking around and I … I don’t know how many people are aware of ASMR?
Dan Cederholm: Oh, yeah. Right, right.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But I was getting like … I was like really into the piano and the click-clacky and tapping and stuff. And I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna click the video tape.” ‘Cause sometimes I’ll straight up make my own ASMR videos if I feel like people aren’t making good enough ones. I listen to them when I’m to work. So I was like, “Oh, maybe people will like this. I ought to pop them on an Instagram Story.” And then I know anytime … I mean, and I think this is great. I love people’s curiosity. But I know as soon as I post something that maybe it doesn’t look like an iPad, people are like, “What is this thing you’re drawing on? What is this app?”
Dan Cederholm: Oh, right. ‘Cause you were sharing video of you actually-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yes. Drawing on my Cintiq. So they see this thing that’s like, “That’s not an Apple Pencil ‘cause-
Dan Cederholm: It’s not the new iPad.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, exactly. And so I was just bombarded with a ton of questions like, “What is this? What’s this app? What are you drawing on? What is” … And I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna have to post a more detailed description of what I was actually up to.” Because then a bunch of people were asking me, “What are you listening to?” And I’m like, “Okay, yeah.” So I think it’s-
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that’s great.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And it’s really great when … ‘Cause you know people are curious. And it’s great that people can reach out and ask about it. But not a lot of people do. I’m a person that it’s kind of hard for me to reach out to people and ask questions. ‘Cause, you know, you feel really vulnerable and it’s like, “What if they think I’m dumb ‘cause I don’t know this one particular thing.” So if you have knowledge then you should share it.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, amen. Geez. I agree. Totally. I wish everybody shared that, you know, with people.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I know. Like, “Guys, what are you getting paid for all your projects, guys?” Just share.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, right. Exactly.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I mean … No, that’ll forever remain a mystery.
Dan Cederholm: Just get it out all on the table.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, guys.
Dan Cederholm: Alright. Yeah, ‘cause … Well, again, there are some folks that wouldn’t want to … Just wouldn’t want to expose what they’re using. Whether it be the Cintiq or the brush that you’re using-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh, yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Talk about the brush that you’re using, and that’s like … I don’t know. For someone learning, it’s like that’s gold. That’s like, “Oh. Cause that’s … I want to achieve that kind of mood as well.”
Mary Kate McDevitt: Totally.
Dan Cederholm: “And thank you so much for pointing me to it.” You know?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And you’re welcome. Just kidding. Yeah, I mean, I … And it’s funny. It’s like one of those things where it’s like I didn’t know Kyle Webster brushes were a mystery. I mean, who doesn’t know Kyle brushes? But some people don’t. And yeah, they gotta know. ‘Cause those are the only brushes I really use aside from True Grit Supply. Is that what the-
Dan Cederholm: Oh, that sounds right. That sounds familiar.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. From Creative Market.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, nice. Yeah, yeah. Creative Market’s
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh yeah. I mean, I’m always hitting up Creative Market for like different textures and brushes, too.
Dan Cederholm: Yes, likewise. But I think you’re right. I mean, also I think people … I have to remind myself this, too, is that there’s so many people that are just getting started and that might be following you and they might not know about Kyle brushes yet or whatever it is that you’re … That you sort of take for granted or you think is obvious or whatever. So I think it’s awesome. And it’s just cool to see.
Dan Cederholm: And so Skillshare approached you and then you ended up doing some classes with them. How was that experience? And has that affected your other work at all?
Mary Kate McDevitt: I guess like in terms of getting new work or just my process of…
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, maybe like do you feel like you’ve landed clients because of your teaching or your books or …
Mary Kate McDevitt: I don’t know. Maybe. It’s kind of hard to say. ‘Cause I do think that images from my Skillshare class, like whether it’s mine or my students’ projects, were passed around on Pinterest a ton. So maybe through like social media sharing possibly. No one ever really tells me, “I found your work here”, unless it’s like through someone in particular. But I wouldn’t say in terms of exposure … I mean, even though I have a lot of students signed up, but students aren’t always the ones hiring.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But I did get a project from someone who follows me on Instagram and the person reached out to me like, “Oh, my daughter follows you on Instagram and told me to hire you for this project.” And I’m like, “That’s hilarious.” ‘Cause I’m thinking she’s probably like 16 years old. And I’m like, “Wow. Nice. Project manager starting young.”
Dan Cederholm: Wow. That’s amazing. But yeah. See, now, maybe I should rejuvenate that Snapchat account that…
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh my God.
Dan Cederholm: That I closed down.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I never figured out Snapchat. But I am always surprised, you know, if you go on your Instagram statistics and it’s like what age ranges are following you.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, you can find that out? Interesting. Cool.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. So my demographic … I mean, it’s like 75% women, which I’m not mad at. But like, “Alright, dudes. Dudes don’t like playful lettering I guess.”
Dan Cederholm: This dude does.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, thank you.
Dan Cederholm: I’m telling you. I mean, like, big time. But … But that’s interesting. And you never know. I mean, those people’s parents-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, I know.
Dan Cederholm: Could be potential clients or they’ll grow up to be potential clients, right?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, who knew? It was for this really fun farmers market. It was like a fun, small project but … Yeah. Pretty funny.
Dan Cederholm: That’s great. So you’re in … You’re in … Currently you’re not in Portland. You’re in Philadelphia?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Is that where you grew up?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Near where I grew up, yeah. I grew up … Yeah. Like 45 minutes outside of Philly.
Dan Cederholm: Okay, great. Pennsylvania, though.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And before … And after Portland, I lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, great.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Until I decided to move back to Philly. Mainly because I’m … Okay, two things. First, I knew I wanted to come back to Philly. It was gonna be part of my like, three-year plan. But I … Three-year plan … I’m so terrible at goals and planning and I’m very much more like … I have an idea, I want to get to it right away, whether it’s a personal project-
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, Mini Goals.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Exactly.
Dan Cederholm: Mini Goals.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Two things today.
Dan Cederholm: You’re living the brand. It makes sense.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So I have that nature. But I’m also obsessed with Zillow, and the sum of those two things that made … If you understand what I’m getting at. Is I bought a house very quickly.
Dan Cederholm: I do. I totally get it. Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I found a house that I absolutely loved in a neighborhood I love. And been here ever since. This is three years ago.
Dan Cederholm: That’s awesome.
Mary Kate McDevitt: A little over three years ago.
Dan Cederholm: You have a studio there?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Okay Fine-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Great name.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, oh my gosh. Okay, so let me just quick tell this story. ‘Cause it’s really funny. So we had been in our studio space, which is right around the corner from me on Girard, which is like kind of a main street here in Fishtown. So it’s like a retail-ish kind of spot. So we moved in and we’re like getting all these ideas of workshops and events and stuff like that. And it’s been slow going. It’s really hard to do that kind of thing and have freelance careers at the same time.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But anyway, me and my studio mate Melissa McFeeters, I went to school with her. And we’ve been friends. She’s a really talented illustrator. And we were trying to come up with a name and we couldn’t get anything done. It was like four months of thinking what the name will be. We’re like completely stuck with moving forward with anything in the studio at all until we had a perfect name. So we’re like … I’m like, “Okay, let’s just write down a bunch of words on little scraps of paper and anything that sounds studio-y related.” And we’re like, “Okay.”
Mary Kate McDevitt: So we write down … Literally, I wrote down a hundred words, Melissa wrote down a hundred words. And then we had this stack of words. We’re like, “Okay. This is useless.” So we both like card games, so I’m like, “Let’s just turn this into a card game.” So we have all these cards, these little scraps of paper. And I’m like, “Okay, you pick a card from mine, I’ll pick one from yours.” And we both put down a matching one. It was, I mean-
Dan Cederholm: Wow, no way. This is how it happened?
Mary Kate McDevitt: This is how it happened. And we were coming up with things like … I don’t know, like Gather and Grid. And we didn’t want one of those ampersand kind of names ‘cause, first off, I mean, not that’s played out, but I mean, you know … Well …
Dan Cederholm: Oh, I know what you mean. Yeah, yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Okay. And it-
Dan Cederholm: Did you say Gather and Grid?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, Gather and Grid.
Dan Cederholm: That’s perfect. That’s like-
Mary Kate McDevitt: I mean, someone use it if you want.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that’s a perfect brand name for like-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Like a tattoo parlor/florist-
Dan Cederholm: Barbershop-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Which … Oh my God. I would … I don’t have any tattoos, but I probably would get a tattoo at a florist shop. How beautiful.
Dan Cederholm: I might. I might, too.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So Melissa picked “Fine” from mine, and then she wrote down “Okay”. And she put down, “Let’s just call it this.” Like, “Okay Fine.” And we were laughing hysterically and it’s so perfect, like, let’s call it a day and we’re done. So that’s how we came up with the name. Because naming is extremely hard.
Dan Cederholm: It is. It is.
Mary Kate McDevitt: There’s like websites devoted to coming up with names randomly.
Dan Cederholm: Absolutely. Then you … Actually, then you have to think about the domain name, for instance. Or the handle-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh yeah.
Dan Cederholm: On social media or …
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. So our domain is okayfine.studio because okayfine.com was taken.
Dan Cederholm: Right. Of course.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And Okay Fine, I think even Instagram was taken by someone who doesn’t even post anything. So it’s … Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that happens. And then they can’t do anything about it. But that’s alright ‘cause you-
Mary Kate McDevitt: ‘Cause it’s Okay Fine.
Dan Cederholm: I just … I love … Yeah. To be a fly on the wall for that one. Okay Fine. We’ll just call-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Okay Fine.
Dan Cederholm: Great. It’s perfect. And now it’s a co-working space?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: In studio kind of a mixture. You can kind of do all sorts of creative stuff in there, right?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. I mean, for the most part it’s mostly our workspace. And we wanted to do an event every month, but I gotta say it’s so hard to put together those things. I need … Like, after we do an event, I need at least a month of down time before I can even think of another thing to do.
Dan Cederholm: Oh yeah. Totally. Totally relate to that. Lot of energy. But that’s great that you have … That you’re able to do that. Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And it’s … Sometimes we … We hosted Ladies Wine and Design recently. And that was great because you don’t really have to do anything, you just invite ladies and there’s wine involved. And then everyone sits around and chats and it was a really great chat with a bunch of local designers.
Dan Cederholm: Sounds great.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, it’s project … Hold on … Started by Jessica Walsh and now it’s like in a bunch of cities.
Dan Cederholm: Okay, right. Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I think the Philly Chapter’s been going on for two years. I think two years.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. See, I love wine. And design.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I know. So .. And ladies. So get together.
Dan Cederholm: I wanna go. But I … No. That sounds awesome, though. It does.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, it’s really fun.
Dan Cederholm: And so you’ve hosted that there and there’s … You mentioned retail, too. Are you creating physical goods that you’re selling there?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yes and no. Yes that we … Okay, our latest show was a pop-up letter show. Melissa had all of these old tin letters. I mean, I say old but I honestly a lot of them from like Dunkin Donuts. Because her boyfriend used to work at a sign shop, so anytime they would dismantle a sign, he would hold on ‘cause it was just scrap metal to them.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, right. Right.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So … And they were selling them years ago and it just ended up in storage. ‘Cause it takes up a ton of room. So we’re like, “Let’s just put ‘em on a wall and sell them for like really cheap.” And then, of course, us wanting to just complicate everything even more we’re like, “Well, let’s just quick design letters and we’ll do some prints, too.” So it was like in a week we hung the show, I designed half the alphabet, Melissa designed the other. And we made prints. And it was a really fun show. So like we had an opening and then we were open for a couple of weekends. But mostly it’s like closed for business. But the show was really fun and we ended up selling a lot of the letters. And they’re still up. So if anyone wants to swing by-
Dan Cederholm: Whoa.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And the door’s not locked and I’m not like giving you the evil eye not to disturb me when I work …
Dan Cederholm: I’ll have to make a trip. These are great. ‘Cause I’m looking at some of the letters you posted here and it’s super great, you know?
Mary Kate McDevitt: You know, we have a … We’re trying … We’re gonna post some words that you can … Like some good words that you can spell out.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, by buying multiple-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And at a major discount. ‘Cause now it’s getting to a point where we might want to switch up what’s on the wall and … But yeah. We’re getting ready to put all the prints on sale online, too. But just the prints, unfortunately. Because the letters are just such a pain to ship. So you have to come in person if you want the real thing.
Dan Cederholm: Some of them are big, aren’t they?
Mary Kate McDevitt: They’re pretty big, yeah. Big and with neon, and the neon can be fragile.
Dan Cederholm: You’re in Philly and you’ve got the co-working space. What comes … What’s next for you in terms of more books and teaching? Or …
Mary Kate McDevitt: Well, so in teaching, I’m not teaching this semester. I usually teach Senior Illustration every spring. But I decided not to this year because it gets … Spring can be a really busy time for me. So it’s a lot of time spent on client work. And then you spend so much time with your students and thinking about your students and …
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. I can imagine. I-
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, it’s hard to balance like … Teaching a Skillshare class, you can kind of put it out there and like dust your hands, you know? You’re kind of done. So apart from like gliding into the comments and being like, “This looks great. Work on this. Blah, blah blah.” But teaching students at a college level, it’s a lot more to do. And I’m gonna miss it for sure. I’m already thinking of assignments I would want to give and I’m like, “Oh, I’m not doing it. But I’m gonna spend my Mondays doing something else.” ‘Cause it’s a six-hour class. It’s pretty long. Or not six hours, I’m lying. I think it’s five hours. Wait, 12 till five. Whatever that is.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Still, that’s long. That’s a long …
Mary Kate McDevitt: It is really long.
Dan Cederholm: That’s the day.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And it’s on Monday, so it’s like all Sunday I’m spent preparing. And then all week you’re spent emailing. So it’s hard. But … So I won’t be teaching. But I am gonna try and think of something else I can fill that time. ‘Cause I obviously can make the time just for that day. But if I’m not, you know, constantly worrying about it it might free up some other time to do something else.
Mary Kate McDevitt: But I’ve kind of made a conscious effort to switch gears a little bit. It’s kind of funny because I started posting on Dribbble again. Which I guess I kind of dropped off for a couple years.
Dan Cederholm: That’s-
Mary Kate McDevitt: I blame the election.
Dan Cederholm: Oh boy, right? Yeah.
Mary Kate McDevitt: 2015, 2016 were rough.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it’s true. It’s still rough.
Mary Kate McDevitt: It absolutely is still rough. Today in particular has been a rough one.
Dan Cederholm: It has been a rough day today.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So-
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, I hear you. I hear you. But you have posted some stuff recently, though.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So I decided to post new stuff. And I kind of gave my website a refresh, which I hadn’t done in probably like five years. Just a few months ago. So I’m … Yeah, maybe putting myself out there a little bit more. That sounds so weird, but it’s like when you go … When you don’t post stuff that often it feels like you’re making such … Like, you’re making a statement. Like, “I’m not taking on new work” or something.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So soon as … It’s funny. It’s like as soon as I posted that, first of all I get an email from you, which is really great. And I’m like, “Whoa, it works!” And I get an email about this mural project, and I’m like … I said yes to that. Which I think maybe last year I probably would have said no. You know, just switching gears … Switching mindsets a little bit and trying that out. ‘Cause something … It’s like I don’t want to be steadfast on anything. If you want to switch gears on something, you have to switch it up and, you know, try anything once. And if it works, great. And if it doesn’t, you know, roll on.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Like, one of my main phrases of … My motivational phrases … And I have a bunch I guess. But I try not to take ‘em too seriously. Because lettering artists can seriously become self-help gurus really quickly. Because we’re so … We have … We know all the quotes.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, well, that’s true. Right, right.
Mary Kate McDevitt: It’s so funny. So it’s a slippery slope. But the one that I like to talk about, especially in like speaking gigs and stuff is, “Roll with it and gain momentum.” And it’s just like just taking it easy and not overly planning. Not under-planning. And then if it goes well, then you’re on the right path. So that’s kind of what I’ve been working on the past few months. Just kind of changing it up. So I’m excited about what’s to come. I’m trying to think of … I’m trying to bring up some old projects, which is so difficult to do. But I really feel like there is possibilities there.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I did a hundred day project a few years ago called People and Pets. And it’s like these little stories almost comic-like, but just little comics I did every day about a person and their pet. And I loved working on that project so much because it was a great way to incorporate more illustration. And that’s another one of those things where it’s like I felt like I was getting a little sick of doing lettering, lettering, lettering all the time. And I really missed doing illustration, ‘cause that’s kind of where my lettering kind of was borne from. It was borne from illustration.
Mary Kate McDevitt: So that project was really a way for me to draw characters and draw little scenarios more. So I’m trying to turn that into a book. And it’s something I’ve talked with publishers before and they’re like, “Yeah, let me know when it’s a book.” And I’m like, “Why isn’t it already a book? Like what do you mean?” It’s like, “All the art’s right here, guys. Just put page numbers on it.” But, yeah. So I’m like rehashing it a little bit. So it’s really fun. And if it doesn’t work, maybe I’ll self-publish. I don’t know. Who knows?
Dan Cederholm: This is … I want to see this. I want to see this in the world.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. I mean, that would be really fun. I think they’re pretty funny. And it’s like I really didn’t give myself very much time on each of them. So the spontaneity of the stories is also kind of … Makes it a little bit more funny. Just like … Just ridiculous. Like there’s this one that I remember being completely stumped on an idea. And I really wanted to hold myself … And it was during the summer, so it was really hard … But I really wanted to hold myself to doing one every single day. But there’s this one where it’s this ghost boy and a ghost moose on … Oh my God, what is the story? It says like, “ So and so and so and so really did it this time.” And you don’t know what that implies. It implies that someone-
Dan Cederholm: Oh no.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. And they’re dead because of it.
Dan Cederholm: They’re both dead.
Mary Kate McDevitt: And it’s just … I got real grim on that one.
Dan Cederholm: There could be a whole movie behind that picture, right?
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. I mean, Pixar, come at me.
Dan Cederholm: Exactly. I’m looking at a few of them that you have on your site. And they’re awesome. I mean, they’re hilarious. Like Mae And Mel wait for the mail.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Oh yeah, that one. I like that one.
Dan Cederholm: They’re just looking out from the bottom of a door. There’s so … These are great.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. They’re kind of ridiculous.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. Well, this needs to be a book.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, right? I’m working on it.
Dan Cederholm: Absolutely.
Mary Kate McDevitt: I’m gonna work on it.
Dan Cederholm: I mean, this is great. Any publishers out there, check it out.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah, it could be really fun.
Dan Cederholm: A Hundred Days of People and Pets. It’s awesome.
Dan Cederholm: I gotta thank you for being on. ‘Cause it was really just awesome hearing … You know, peeling back the curtain as I said, again, to hear about your work. ‘Cause it’s so great and it’s so fun. And yeah, I just … I can’t wait to see what’s next for you.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah. Thank you so much. It was so fun chatting with you.
Dan Cederholm: Awesome. Thanks, Mary Kate.
Mary Kate McDevitt: Yeah.