A well-stocked digital toolbox can be just as crucial to modern making as any tangible art supply available in-store. Rachel Wilkerson Miller, one such inspired content creator, requires both to do her job. As a senior lifestyle editor at BuzzFeed, she packages DIY projects into popular posts, in addition to her frequent stories “about life, weddings, home, health, race, feminism, and vintagey things.”
Rachel started sharing her writing online “while in college before blogs were really A Thing,” she explains. Today she shows us some of her handmade creations, teaches us about her best tools for successful Internetting, and gives us a peek into her Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn apartment with original craftsman details — including the army desk she brought back from Houston that “weighs a million pounds,” but is the perfect place to practice a flourishing new calligraphy habit. Be sure to check out Rachel’s personal blog The REWM for a deeply relevant, curated weekly reading list by this prolific blogger who writes what she wants to read. —Annie
What’s in your toolbox?
I spend most of my time on my MacBook Air. And I can’t live without my old-school mouse! The Apple wireless mouse is beautiful but I hate its functionality, and the laptop’s trackpad is a non-starter for my poor wrists. Recently one of my coworkers complimented me on my dedication to bringing my mouse and mousepad along every time we relocate for a group meeting. If I’m not on my computer, I’m on my phone; I recently got an iPhone 6s to try out and I really like it — the camera is incredible, which is wonderful because that means I don’t have to lug my DSLR around. And there are so many apps now that make it wonderfully easy to create things in one place and then access them elsewhere, which I love. The whole notion of “the cloud” makes my job and my life so much easier. And iMessage is a godsend because I can be in contact with all of the people I talk to regularly without having to look down at my phone every two seconds. Oh, and I’m obsessed with my Joco mug; it’s so beautiful and I use it every day.
In my non-digital toolbox….
In 2015, I started playing with a Cricut Explore Air and that thing is a game-changer. I’m obsessed with it. At the end of the year, I treated myself by upgrading the tools I use the most — I invested in really high-quality scissors, and bought myself a sleek new glue gun. (I got deep into reading reviews after stumbling upon the corner of Amazon that can only be described as “what happens when marketing execs decide to sell glue guns to men.”) My HGTV/Sherwin-Williams paint gloves were life-changing because I do so many painting projects. And my biggest splurge was an Andover Trask tool bag, which I’d had a crush on for almost two years. I use it to store my fancy-ass tools and to bring them along on photo shoot days.
Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”
Content, excited, confident, brave, motivated. I make myself laugh.
What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?
I am very inspired by funny, smart, thoughtful, angry women, and I’m very fortunate to be able work with a whole lot of people who fit that description. Outside of BuzzFeed, I love everything Mindy Kaling is doing. Jane the Virgin is so fresh and funny and real, and it’s been giving me life. Phoebe Robinson’s Shondaland recaps on Vulture kill me. I adore Mallory Ortberg’s art history posts on The Toast. I’ve also been listening to more podcasts lately, and they tend to spark new ideas for me. “Big Magic” is good (as is the book) and I love the episode with Brené Brown. Oh, and literally everything about Broadway’s Hamilton inspires me.
How do you keep yourself organized?
I use a combination of apps — Google Calendar, Google Drive, Pocket, ScannerPro, Dropbox, Wunderlist, Pinterest, Basecamp, and Evernote. I use the Google products at work and keep everything important in Google calendars. I also have a separate Gmail address that I share with my husband and use for all our shared bills and home-related correspondence. (We also used that account to correspond with vendors when planning our wedding, which was incredibly useful.) I use Wunderlist for my personal to-do lists — like errands I need to run, bills I have to pay, things to buy at Target, etc. Basecamp is for big work projects with multiple people contributing. Evernote is where I keep basically everything I’ve ever wanted to save, including articles, recipes, documents, and a ton of home-related stuff, like which email address goes with which billing account, or a photo of the filters our vacuum cleaner uses, because I can never remember which ones to buy when I’m shopping. I use Dropbox for photos and docs I know I’ll want to be able to pull up on a moment’s notice. ScannerPro is great for receipts and other paperwork. Pinterest is great for saving visual things, and I use secret boards when I’m working on new projects. I keep everything I want to read in Pocket so I don’t have a million tabs open at all times. And at work each day I use a good, old-fashioned pen and paper to-do list. In January I started a bullet journal, but at the moment I use that more as a diary and a way of keeping track of my bigger goals than a daily planner.
If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?
I’d really love to be able to disapparate like in the Harry Potter books. Hell, I’d even settle for simply having access to the Floo Network. Aside from losing a huge chunk of my day to my commute, not having all (or even most) of the people I love nearby is hard, and traveling all the time just isn’t feasible. And if I could disapparate, I’d be able to quickly travel back to Houston to visit my beloved hairdresser regularly, so there’s that.
What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?
When I was 16, one of my instructors at the summer theater program I attended wrote me a note encouraging me to “keep challenging the shit that needs to be challenged.” I had never really thought of myself as a person who did that, but I realized that I am someone who does that, and I think about her note often.
My advice to others would be to create content for yourself… as in, create the content you want to be reading, that you wish existed. Create what others aren’t creating. It seems so obvious, but in editorial, and now in online publishing, the same boring ideas and terrible tropes get repeated for years because no one bothers to question them or to try something different. People are always trying to figure out how to get their work to go viral and it’s like, well… maybe try being original and do something that no one else is doing?
How do you combat creative blocks?
I love the group brainstorms we have at BuzzFeed because they always leave me feeling incredibly excited about writing and creating. And as long as it’s not raining or 90 degrees, I try to take a 15-30 minute walk every afternoon to re-charge.
Lately when I’ve felt stuck, I’ve tried to think more about the medium I’m working in; if this idea I have isn’t working as a post, would it work better as a single illustration or photo? Should it be a quick video? Does switching from an essay to a numbered list (or vice versa) help me get over the hump? A lot of times it does.
Ultimately, though, I know my limits. This post on different types of mental energy really helped me recognize where I am at any given moment. I don’t waste time pushing myself to create something great if I know that all I really have in me at the moment is the energy to scroll through Instagram.
Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?
Instagram is a big one. I love following florists and DIYers, and since I started playing with watercolors and learning calligraphy last fall, I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration from artists who do one or both. I spent way too much time on the bullet journal hashtag on Instagram the other night, and that definitely left me feeling inspired. Most of my writing ideas come from conversations with friends. For IRL inspiration, antique stores will always be my go-to. It’s like going to a museum (a museum where EVERYTHING IS FOR SALE!), and because there are so many household objects, it sort of becomes a museum of women’s lives, which I love. My husband and I can browse antique stores for hours. I actually had to cut myself off from trips to the Brooklyn Flea because I’ve reached the point where I just don’t have any more surfaces for displaying tchotchkes.
If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?
Oh gosh… Martha Stewart? Virginia Woolf? Shonda Rhimes? This is so hard! Actually, I guess I’ll go with Elena Ferrante since she remains completely anonymous and the Neapolitan novels blew me away when I read them.
What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?
Oh, that playlist exists — it’s just the entire Hamilton soundtrack. When my coworker Alanna and I were creating 50 Halloween costumes for BuzzFeed in a single week, we listened to it over and over again. I often put on “Non-Stop” right as I’m getting off the train/walking to my office in the morning because it really pumps me up and I’m like OK, time to go write like I’m running out of time! It’s basically Jock Jams for nerds. The other song I’ve had on repeat is “Monster.” What’s good?