From shifting college plans to big leaps of faith, Gabrielle Mullins has taken anything but a traditional path for a small town artist. I talked with her about that path and her newest project – the Fayetteville Coloring Book.
Give us a little background on yourself. How did you get started as a designer?
Art has always been a passion of mine from the very beginning. In Kindergarten, I told everyone I aspired to be an artist when I grew up. As I got older, people around me told me that there is no money to be made as an artist. Especially living in a small town, they said the odds of getting your name out there were slim to none.
This was before the days of social media marketing. Facebook came out while I was in high school, and at that time it was just a way to post glitter stickers and make silly posts shortening words like “you” into “u”. It seemed anything but a professional platform.
Throughout my K-12 school days, I was always the shyest kid in school. I even have a senior superlative to prove it. Gabby Bryant, Most Bashful, LCHS Class of 2010.
Did that shyness spill over into your college plans?
Because I lacked communication skills, I believed the naysayers. I believed I couldn’t put myself out there. However, I thought I may have one chance. Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
The top artists from all over the world went there. I thought if I could get into such a prestigious college that I would be discovered and make a career out of my art. SCAD being 6 hours away and very (did I mention very) expensive, I decided it was unobtainable.
What was the backup plan?
I went to Motlow State Community College and then Martin Methodist College to pursue an Education degree to become an art teacher. I felt that was the closest I could get to becoming an artist.
Art teacher never seemed to fit though. It’s an odd feeling to describe. But I felt like a fraud, like I was lying. Later, I would come to find out that was what settling felt like.
My junior year of college I met, my now husband, Edward Mullins. Like me, he was also an artist. He too had the same dream of attending SCAD, although it wasn’t such a stretch for him. He had received a $20,000/yr. scholarship to attend, but he ended up staying in Fayetteville.
We bounced our hopes and dreams of becoming artists off of each other.
Having someone locally share a similar passion with myself started to give me some hope. Maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea after-all.
I finally decided becoming an art teacher wasn’t for me. But what to do now? I had finished all my general courses, and there weren’t any art classes available at Martin the coming semester that I hadn’t already taken. Ed suggested transferring back to Motlow and taking some studio classes with him, so I did.
I hit a creative streak again. I was drawing more than ever. But there was still the dilemma of what to do with my life. Suddenly, Ed and I had a crazy idea. Let’s move to Georgia together and attend SCAD.
Our move, although talked about in great detail, was not actually planned out as well as it should have been. We moved to Georgia on a whim and had no money saved up to do so. We lived there for almost a year before realizing…. we needed to step back and re-evaluate our plan. My part time job and his sales job were not enough to sustain our dream. So we moved back to Tennessee, got married, and started planning new dreams.
That had to be tough. What’s going through your mind around the move?
At first, I was very disappointed the way things had turned out. I felt like I had fallen from the sky I tried so hard to soar in and now it was time to return back to the real world. But, I later found out, everything happens for a reason, and that fate had another direction for me.
Upon returning to Tennessee I obtained a part time job. Nothing glamorous, but it was the first job I found. Edward become a car salesman. And so, we were back to reality.
One night, I was at a family dinner, when my mom saw an advertisement in the local paper. Exchange Media Group was looking for a full time Graphic Designer. I laughed.
Why the laugh?
When I was back at Motlow, one of my studio classes had explored different areas of art for about two weeks at a time. From illustration, to painting, to sculpting… and then to Graphic Design. The first day of the Graphic Design instruction we sat down at our brand new iMacs in the studio lab, our teacher presented our assignment, and we were off…….or at least the rest of the class was.
I had zero knowledge of how to work Photoshop or Illustrator. I tried YouTubing tutorials, but found myself more confused than I started. Looking up, my classmates already had pretty solid looking projects. By the end of that 3 hour class, I still had a completely blank canvas.
I was so frustrated that I skipped the remaining Graphic Design classes and returned when we were on to the next subject (Somehow I still managed to pass the class). I cursed Graphic Design. [If my teacher is reading this, now you know where I was (or wasn’t) during that time.]
Wow – did your mom know about missing that?
If my mom knew I had skipped nearly 2 whole weeks of school, she would have beat me! So I didn’t tell her why I was so reluctant to apply, although I did end up telling her down the road.
My whole family told me the job opening was an amazing opportunity. They didn’t understand that Graphic Design and Illustration had a completely different skill set, and that I didn’t possess them.
After my family continued to badger me, I broke down and submitted an application right there. On my resume I wrote about the various art awards I had obtained, an art gallery I had been in, and a few t-shirt designs I had made in high school. While I did take my time filling out the application properly, in the back of my head I knew I would not get the job. I knew that the owner would laugh when he saw my attempt. But, I had to appease my family.
A few days later my inbox notification dings. That was when my life changed directions and took me down an unexpected road.
I was offered the job, although terrified, I accepted. I remember my entire first week thinking…. “I can’t do this. I have to quit.”. But I didn’t. My fellow coworkers took me under their wing and taught me these once inconceivably difficult programs. It is because of them that I found my passion in life. They believed in me even when I had little to no faith in myself. Shout out to Ben Adams and Todd Pitts!
Between my husband telling me not to settle, my family’s encouragement, and my coworkers’ patience.. I found my career. If I hadn’t of been so lucky…. who knows what direction my life would have moved in. Maybe I would have went on to pursue that teaching career…. or maybe I would have went on to a paper pusher job where it is just that. A job.
After three years of working as a Graphic Designer, I finally applied at SCAD. I am now pursuing a BFA in Graphic Design online. And let me tell you….just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you will ace every class.
SCAD is incredible challenging, which is what you want out of a college!
At the end of the day you don’t just want a piece of paper and a funny square hat that shows you finished. You want the experiences that took you to that finish line.
I am now the Public Relations/Marketing Coordinator for the Fayetteville City Schools. I am very lucky to have had the support of my loved ones to help me succeed in life. And who knows what the next chapter will be. I have learned that life can take you down some unexpected paths.
What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out in design, that you wish someone would have once given you?
If anyone out there reading this isn’t fortunate enough to have the support system I have had…. Be your own support system! Cheer yourself on! And push yourself! The biggest lesson I learned is to never give up on yourself! No matter how stacked the odds are against you. Life always finds a way. You just have to let it.
And I can’t forget the whole reason for this interview – my newly published Fayetteville, TN Coloring Book!
Although Graphic Design turned into my passion, Illustration has still been one of my passions too. Who says you can’t have more than one passion?
Exactly! So tell us about the Fayetteville Coloring Book. What prompted you to create it?
The idea for a Fayetteville Coloring Book has been floating around in my head for years!
Fayetteville is such a charming, unique town that it’s hard not to be inspired by it. However, this remained just an idea for a long time. I would start a page…. then get busy and scrap it.
I finally found motivation this past year to make this idea come true. Sometimes as an artist, you go through spurts of inspiration. I have learned to take full advantage when inspiration hits, because it can be pretty erratic.
What’s your tools of choice for creating your work?
All artwork was drawn on my iPad using the Procreate app and Apple pencil, then transferred to Adobe Illustrator to be vectorized and cleaned up. I finished up the cover in Adobe InDesign.
What was the process like – from first idea to seeing it in print?
The printing and distributing process happened a lot faster than I anticipated. Once my coloring book was finished, I printed it off and posted a little coming soon teaser on Facebook. The response I received was so much greater than I expected!
Originally, I had planned on printing them as orders came in and purchasing a spiral binding machine (which I had in my cart, ready to go). But when I saw the number of people reaching out to me for a copy and the interest from The Book Inn wanting to sell them, I decided to have them professionally (and locally) printed at Horton Printing.
I am so excited to see people find joy in creative outlets such as coloring books and I’m glad I can be a part of that. I am also excited to have the opportunity to showcase our beautiful town.
What’s the next creative project you’ve got planned?
I have lots of projects swirling around my head, so who knows which way the wind will blow and inspire me to start on one of them. There is so much inspiration in this town that a successor to the Fayetteville, TN Coloring Book may be around the corner. 🙂