How to Apply the Process Approach

When I spoke to Alexis Joseph, San Francisco native, watercolor paint maker, and owner of the studio art supply shop Case for Making in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood, for my podcast Making Ways, we talked about her upbringing with a craft-loving mother, her favorite childhood activity during play dates (making art projects), and her journey to opening up her own store, which included studying architecture in Colorado and later earning a MFA in design at California College of the Arts. Alexis approaches her life and work from a process-oriented perspective. It’s no surprise that this philosophy has led her to creating her own paints and building a business that is as much a learning, community, and workshop center as it is a storefront.

Let the picture come into focus

If you’ve been following Making Ways, you know there are many ways to bring a creative or business project to life. Of course, there’s the tried-and-true straight shot, formulating a plan and executing on it. But Alexis shares a more organic approach, taking baby steps toward something you love and letting the picture—your goals, project, business, or creative endeavors—come into focus as you get closer.

Alexis explains, “That’s how I approached my thesis project in graduate school.” Alexis knew she wanted her project to deal with the subject of “home” but “had no idea what that would turn into.” It wasn’t until she began interviewing people in the places they lived that her project’s mission became clear. Her thesis grew into a meditation on the way environments reflect the people living in them—expressed through a series of interior wall paintings of past architectural details painted into current living spaces.

Always be investigating

Alexis became a business owner in a similar fashion. “To a lot of people it looks like I had a really good idea, and now I have the shop, and now it’s successful. But in reality it takes years of. . .just letting yourself be interested in something without trying to think of some way to turn it into anything bigger. I think it’s also, in part, things just aligning at the right time. . . .And there’s also some mystery to it too.” And this view has served Alexis well beyond her business pursuits. She notes, “I think it’s also just a really nice way to live life—then you are consistently engaged and curious in whatever you are doing.”

And when it came to making her own paints, there was no master plan in place, only a curiosity and the urge to learn more. She admits, “I went to New York, and I took a class on making paints because I was fascinated. I wasn’t trying to take over the handmade watercolor world. I wasn’t even aware of that world at all. I was just really curious. And now, it’s so cool to see people get really excited about them and love using them.”

She continues, “And that’s how the whole shop was too, actually all along the whole process. We would create these events and lectures with artists that we were just interested in, and we were never worried if people would show up to the events. Because if nobody showed up, we still would have been so happy to be there and listen to the lecture.”

Start by getting interested

You too can use this process-oriented approach for your projects, business, creative endeavors, and even day-to-day living. I’ve used this technique in my own life. When I first began working at Google and was new to Silicon Valley, I felt very isolated from the “startup world” I was hearing so much about in the news and whispers around me, so I asked my colleague Kushagra, who was always meeting people at startups and app developers, how I could start connecting. He invited me to a few events, and I began to cultivate relationships with Bay Area entrepreneurs. Sometimes a simple change in mindset and a couple of steps into shallow waters can make something distant and unapproachable real and tangible.

After all, whether it’s an industry you’re trying to break into or a creative passion you’re trying to pursue, the first move might be as simple as experimenting on your own or even just having a conversation. Alexis adds, “The only way to make projects feel sustainable is to be pure to your own interests and honest so that your passion is present in everything you do.” And that kind of approach to life, business, and creativity can bring you closer to making the things that you love, the things that make your living.

To learn more about Alexis Joseph and see her beautiful watercolors, visit the website for her studio supply shop at Case For Making.

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