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Colorado Springs Small Business Feature & Giveaway | Ember & Co

 Caitlin Thompson, full-time graphic designer for  Westone Laboratories  and owner of  Ember & Co  graphic design and branding

Caitlin Thompson, full-time graphic designer for Westone Laboratories and owner of Ember & Co graphic design and branding

  Enter for a chance to win this mug with one of Caitlin's designs! Instructions and the inspiration behind the design can be found at the end of this post.

Enter for a chance to win this mug with one of Caitlin’s designs! Instructions and the inspiration behind the design can be found at the end of this post.

I had the privilege of being raised in in the same little mountain town and of knowing Caitlin during high school when she was friends with my sister. I have been inspired by her heart and hard work and creative spirit so I wanted to share her story with you! Obviously life stories could take up pages and pages of words, but I asked Caitlin to give me a quick summary of what shaped her growing up. Her life story snapshot:

I was born and raised in a small mountain town 30 minutes west of Colorado Springs called Woodland Park. I spent my entire childhood in a small log cabin that my grandpa built when my dad was a child. Because it sits on 5 acres of land that backs up to national forest, my younger sister and I spent much of our childhood in the woods — pretending we were being chased by dinosaurs (Jurassic Park was a big deal back then), racing around in our go-cart, building forts, and occasionally picking the wild strawberries and rhubarb as we came across them.

When we weren’t outside, I loved to do art — any kind, really. My dad worked as a Creative Director at a large ad agency in Colorado Springs, and when we got old enough, my dad would bring us to his office and allow us to “play” on Photoshop. At the end of the day, he’d print out our digital masterpieces, cut them into bookmarks, and laminate them. We felt so proud of our creations. My parents were always so supportive and nurturing, no matter what was going on in their own lives. To this day they still have one of my paintings framed in the guest room — a red tulip (shaped like a heart) in front of a blue sun. I believe that their unconditional support and love for us gave us both a really safe place to grow and explore our interests.

On education and that dreaded word: work….

Growing up with a graphic designer for a Dad, I always had a feeling that I would end up in a similar field. In summer of 2008 I was actually enrolled for classes at CSU in Fort Collins, but at the prodding of my then-boyfriend I looked up Full Sail University, and ended up switching at the last moment when I saw how much better their graphic design program was. The week of Christmas my family drove down to Florida with me and we spent the holiday setting up my apartment. The day they left was the first time that I ever saw my dad cry. I spent the next year in their accelerated design program, graduating with an associates of science as Valedictorian. It was a tough year, but extremely valuable. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

When I moved back to Colorado I got connected with a local company (Westone Laboratories) for some contract design work, and after a year of exploring a couple other job opportunities (and spending three months in Thailand), they ended up asking for me to come back and join the marketing team full-time. That was over four years ago, and while there have definitely been some bumps in the road, I am enjoying my role there more than ever.

I also have a freelancing business on the side that has been growing organically (through references and word of mouth) over the last five years. Sometimes it gets a little crazy. Last year I had 17 freelance clients (some with ongoing projects) on top of my full-time job, and I love almost every one of them. I’ve learned a lot and the extra income has helped tremendously with my student loan debt, which is nearly $600/month. I think I will cry for joy the day I pay those off!

My dad always told me to find the combination between what I like and what I’m good at…and figure out how to make money doing it. I’m still working on that as I grow my photography business and hope to do it full-time someday, but I think I have followed his advice so far and am on my way! Caitlin has mastered this concept as she follows her dreams with graphic design; I loved hearing about some of the reasons she loves it and the impacts it has on her life.

I think the thing I love most about graphic design is the way that it blends creativity and intentionally. It requires an eye for beauty and balance, but also a deep understanding of people and communication. When you’re designing, every movement and stroke needs to have a purpose. It’s made me a better listener, since so much of my job involves asking the right questions and genuinely seeking to understand the response. I view design as a service in a lot of ways, which provides a lot of purpose to my everyday work. I love to see a client’s (or coworker’s) face light up when I’m able to provide them with a design that brings life to their ideas, and the excitement that it often sparks. Between my full-time job on a marketing team and my part-time job as an independent freelancer, I’ve been given a vast variety of experiences. Working on a team has taught me how important it is to enjoy the people you work with every day, and how transformative it is when you have a boss that you are genuinely inspired to follow and learn from. My freelancing has taught me the importance of personal accountability and efficient time management. Sometimes, holding up both jobs gets challenging. There are days that I wake up at 4:30am to spend three hours on freelancing at a coffee shop, then head to my full-time job for another eight or nine hours, then home to my husband to cook dinner and attend to other obligations. There was a day not long ago that I worked 18 hours. There are also months that my freelancing is slow and I only focus on my full-time job.

It’s also taught me a lot about myself and my limits. Sometimes it’s important to find the humility to admit when it’s too much, or when I need to let go of other obligations to make room for rest. The other day I had a bit of an emotional breakdown and my husband had to remind me that it’s okay to fail sometimes, to learn your limits and embrace imperfection. That has always been hard for me, as I like to think that I can do it all — be the perfect employee and perfect freelancer and perfect wife. Sometimes I just can’t be, and I’m learning that that’s okay.

Goals, dreams, and hopes for the future…

To be honest, I really thought I had my life all planned out up until about six months ago. I had told my full-time employer that I was going to leave at the end of the year to take on freelancing full-time — then my new boss joined the team and we hired another teammate and I went from a marketing “army of one” (as they liked to call me), to working with a team that I genuinely adore. Now I’m not really sure where I want to take my career. There are pros and cons to in-house graphic design and freelance design, and I love both for different reasons. I do have hopes of starting a family someday, and perhaps my career will naturally evolve when that time comes. For the time being, I’m just focusing on continually growing my skills as a designer and infusing as much passion as possible into what I work on every day. I also like to focus on being a genuinely great human being, because that’s important. Always.

For those interested in the graphic design world…

There is something to be said for natural talent, but it’s also a lot of tough work. Joe Sparano once said that “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” The best designs are often deceiving simple. When they created the latest refresh of the Google logo, they sent their entire creative team on a week long retreat to develop it. There needs to be intention and purpose in everything that you create. According to Paul Rand “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand,” which means that you need know your client’s brand and their consumer almost better than they do, so that you can create a design that genuinely represents their brand and the need they’re filling for their target audience. Graphic design is an ever-changing field, it really keeps you on your toes. It’s important to stay relevant and up-to-date if you want to build your career and do work that will continue to delight and enchant. You can’t ever really get comfortable. But you also need to make sure that you’re genuinely having FUN, no matter what you’re doing. It can be hard work, but at the end of the day, the most effective design has the most passion and heart behind it.





Caitlin shared with me that the inspiration for the “be the bee” design comes from the excerpt below:

 Thanks to  Fifty Fifty Coffee House  for the cute setting!!

Thanks to Fifty Fifty Coffee House for the cute setting!!

“I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two categories.  A third category does not exist; people either belong to one or the other.  The first one resembles the fly.  The main characteristic of the fly is that it is attracted by dirt.  For example, when a fly is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground.  It will start messing around with it and feel comfortable with the bad smell.  If the fly could talk, and you asked it it show you a rose in the garden, it would answer: “I don’t even know what a rose looks like.  I only know where to find garbage, toilets, and dirt.”  there are some people who resemble the fly.  People belonging to this category have learned to think negatively, and always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of good.

The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on.  When a bee is found in a room full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet.  Now, if we ask the bee to show us where the garbage is, it will answer: “I don’t know.  I can only tell you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar;” it only knows the good things in life and is ignorant of all evil.  This is the second category of people who have a positive way of thinking, and see only the good side of things.  They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men; on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and bring it to the surface.

When someone comes to me and starts accusing other people, and puts me in a difficult situation, I tell him the above example.  Then, I ask him to decide to which category he wishes to belong, so he may find people of the same kind to socialize with.”

From Elder Paisios on the Holy Mountain


  1. William Spahr says:

    I have the distinct pleasure to know Caitlin and her family. She is as beautiful in her heart as she is outwardly. Caitlin, you are indeed an inspiration.

    Will (Innokenti) Spahr

  2. Roze Sharp says:

    Great article! Liked, commented, posted!

  3. Sophia Shubert says:

    Shared purely for the beauty factor 🙂

  4. […] Check out the interview on Kira's website! […]

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