10 Questions with Rachel Shingleton of Pencil Shavings Studio
“I’ve never met a color I didn’t love.” This phrase describes, in a nutshell, Rachel Shingleton’s original approach to design. A graphic and product designer, an interior stylist, and the blogger behind the popular Pencil Shavings Studio, Rachel is on a mission to “banish the beige” and make life—and everything in it—more vibrant and exciting.
With almost a decade under her blogging belt—including two best-of awards from Better Homes & Gardens—and running a successful home-based business while balancing the demands of motherhood, Rachel has a unique perspective on digital media. Back at home in Oklahoma City, she sat down to talk about her evolution as a designer, blogger, and businesswoman, and about learning how to be vulnerable in front of an audience of tens of thousands.
Robin Catalano: What’s your earliest memory of being interested in design?
Rachel Shingleton: Books and magazines were my gateway drug to design. I loved looking through shelter magazines at the grocery store while my mom shopped. I’d frequently come away with a handful of them and scheme on how I would redecorate the entire house.
RC: You started out as a graphic designer. Were you on staff at an agency or on your own? Did you always have a plan to be a business owner?
RS: My first job was as an in-house designer to a tiny apparel company, and that really set the tone for how the rest of my career would unfurl. I learned so much about wholesale, trade shows, and getting your product out there. It has influenced me in a thousand different ways. I didn’t intend to own my own business; in college, I would have said that I’d be in an agency somehow. But I love the flexibility of running my own show.
RC: How would you describe those first couple of years of business ownership?
RS: Flying by the seat of my pants is probably the best description. No day looks the same, and you’re out there trying to get as much done as possible, to get as much experience under your belt as you can.
RC: You’ve also done quite a bit of product design, but eventually made the decision to close your online shop in order to free up time for other projects. What have you been most excited to work on since then?
RS: I felt it was important to take a step back from retail. I was quickly approaching burn-out, and aesthetically I was ready to head in a new direction. I’ve been most excited to have more time to be creative overall. Running your own business means not as much time for the creative side; I needed mental space (not to mention actual time) cleared up to allow me to figure out what I wanted to do next.
RC: What have been some of your favorite interior or product-design projects?
RS: I’ve loved collaborating with other creatives. The Koko’s Nest blanket collab was one of my favorites. Koko’s Nest creates these beautiful organic cotton knit blankets that are so beautifully rendered. It was thrilling to me to walk through the process of idea to completed product and to see how stunning they were in person. I’ve also loved the collab I did with Jill Rosenwald. So much of my product design experience was a quick and easy turnaround. But both of those collaborations required a lot of time and handiwork to get to the final product. It was a reminder that good things don’t always come quickly. It takes time, effort, and intentionality to create something beautiful and lasting.
RC: Besides the long hours and tons of cross promotion…what drew you to blogging?
RS: Ha! Blogging was a natural fit for me from the beginning. It’s amazing to think that I’ve been writing online for nearly nine years now. But I’ve been a lifelong writer and journaler; the Internet was just another medium for me. I loved those early days of blogging when you could stumble on another creative and tumble on down the rabbit hole, hopping from site to site. It was so inspiring to me to find other creative women (moms, especially) as I was seeking to find my own footing. I wanted to be a part of that community.
RC: How long did it take you to feel really established, or to have that moment of “I can actually make some money with this” recognition?
RS: Going to Alt Summit in 2012 was a galvanizing experience. That was where I felt legitimate as a blogger and like I could actually do something with it. However, that being said, running my shop for five years was also a major part of my identity. I made the majority of my income from product design; the blogging was the cherry on top.
RC: What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of blogging for you?
RS: Identity shifts have been the most challenging part. What happens when you decide you want to take things in a different direction, be it aesthetically or topically, as a writer or designer? Or what if you have a baby? Do you become a “mommy blog”? All these issues are complex. Additionally, I felt an identity loss when I closed the shop and that’s been something I continue to grapple with, even over a year later.
The best parts of blogging to me are the relationships, and the stories that I can continue to tell. I hope that my children will cherish these stories of our life together one day and remember the fun we’ve had.
RC: Your color sense is so uplifting and memorable. Why is color important to you, and how do you approach the use of color in an interior?
RS: I was raised in a home saturated by color and light, so for me the connection between color and experience is vital. I feel happiest when surrounded by colors that I love, so it’s only natural to me to include color when designing for interiors. It’s intensely personal. How do you feel when you wear your favorite color? Or when you sit in your favorite room surrounded by things that bring you joy? All these things have to be considered.
RC: Though you clearly adore your kids, you’ve been very open about some of the less glamorous parts of motherhood, such as postpartum depression and feeling imperfect. How hard is it to put your personal life out there?
RS: Well, I like to say that I’ve been oversharing since, oh, 1986 or so. Vulnerability isn’t always easy, but it’s in the sharing of those imperfect moments that we can really connect and forge relationships. Nobody wants to feel alone in their experience, and motherhood is one of those places where we need our support system in place. I’m hopeful that maybe my voice will help one other woman out there feel just a tiny bit less alone.
RC: What’s the one piece of advice or concept that women who want to run their own businesses should know before they get started?
RS: Know who you are and who you are selling to/writing for/targeting. I’ve met far too many entrepreneurs-in-the-works who have no idea who they are or why it is they want to open their business beyond “I want to make some money.” That’s a huge red flag. Your why is everything. If you’re only in it because you think you could make a quick buck, you’re going to have a hard time attracting people to you. We want to support brands we can get behind. Have a story to tell and be willing to get a little bit vulnerable.