Creative Family Series | Small for Big

by , posted on March 13th, 2013 in creative family series

interview with mari richards of small for big

I’m just going to come out and say it: I have a girl crush on Mari Richards. She’s an accomplished toy designer, writer and she has the cutest family ever. She’s one smart and talented woman. Mari generously gives us a peek into her world today as she talks about family life, her creative process and how she manages the whole freelance thing. I’ll be taking notes for sure.

How do you define creativity?

Creativity is being open-minded, taking an old idea and making it new, finding pleasure in the smallest things, thinking about things in a new way, drawing for drawing’s sake, and laughing out loud.

But it’s also making a killer spreadsheet, picking the right meal for dinner, skipping down the hallway, finding a better way to get through to your kids, and staying positive amidst the dregs of daily living.

It’s a combination of transcendent moments and everyday decisions.

Have you always considered yourself creative?

Yes! Though as a kid it wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just the choices I made. I was always labeled the artist in school. (well, that and “nerd”, but we won’t go there)

family creativity

How do you nurture your own creativity?

In fits and starts and random decisions! There are days when it is so easy – when life is good and being creative just makes sense, like breathing. Then there are the other days. To be honest, getting enough sleep, staying healthy, and laughing with Birdie make a huge difference. But also reading, enjoying the view outside whatever window I’m nearest to, and in general keeping involved in the world around me is a big part of filling up the well.

Did you grow up in a creative household? If so, what were some of the ways your parents nurtured your creativity and curiosity?

Oh yes, both my parents are music professors. For a child of the 80’s, I never even listened to the radio until I had my own in High School. I still know very little about 80’s music that my husband makes fun of me, such a shame. But I’m positive absorbing all of that music helped mold me into who I am now.

My grandma was also an artist, and very inspiring to me – she still inspires me even though she’s gone now. As a kid, my house was filled with easy art supplies, my mom would often sit and draw with me, and my parents were always wonderfully supportive towards whatever it was I was trying to do: whether drawing made-up monsters, making mud pottery (mud pies?! How mundane!) or playing the piano.

nurturing creativity in children

How do you hope to nurture it in your daughter?

Nurturing my daughter’s creative mind is one of my biggest mom-goals. I love having lots of materials around so we can make things together, or for her to use on her own. The raw materials make me happy too. I try to play classical music regularly – I really believe the studies that say classical music helps our brains in so many ways. (unfortunately, sometimes she tells me it’s too boring, my four year old teenager!) When she’s making things, I want to help her understand that any creative solution is a good one – she can get too worried about making things “perfect” and “right”. Our entire hallway is her art gallery, she can put up whatever she wants – she loves that! I like to ask her open-ended questions, and when she’s looking to me with 10,000 “why’s”, sometimes I’ll simply ask her “What do YOU think?” instead. We always drive home from school looking for cloud animals too – I try to be silly with her as much as I can.


What are some of your favorite ways to spend time together as a family?

Movie night at home is a family favorite, the zoo, going to our favorite restaurants, mini road trips, and lounging around doing nothing together. In the summer, spending time out in the yard and garden is always a top priority.

small for big family

How have you been able to integrate work with pursuing your creative passions?

I feel so fortunate that I found a design job right out of college. Becoming a toy designer was completely accidental – I had no idea it was an actual option. My first few years I was riding high on way too many hours at work and the joys of loving what you do. But the downside was all my creative energy went to my day job – even on the weekends. For awhile it was completely out of balance, but that’s also part of busting your butt in your 20s! When I finished my MFA, I started realizing how important it was to have my own work. So now that I’m older and “wiser”, I’ve found I need multiple creative outlets. For example, I love doing freelance design for clients, but I also need to have my own creative projects where I make all the decisions. 


What drew you to designing toys? 

I’ve always loved playful things. Even my undergraduate artwork involved interactive discovery: opening drawers, lifting flaps, or peering into holes. I landed my job as a toy designer because I was the only candidate they interviewed who also owned some of their toys! Which, considering I was 22, is rather funny.

What are you working on now? 

On the blog, I have some great DIY projects planned for Easter and beyond. I’d like to find a bigger outlet for my children’s book, Birdie Learns to Fly. I also have some new freelance projects just beginning! One is a new logo for a playful company, and another involves a lot of trend research, line exploration, and brand development. I love the variety that comes with being a freelancer!

an interview with mari richards of small for big

From time to time everyone’s creative juices wane. How do you handle that? (do you do something specifically or do you just ride it out?)

Pinterest can be a great jolt to the system. I’ve realized that sitting down to doodle or paint with my daughter has created some great offshoots too – get dirty with your kids! I also enjoy reading up on other creative types. I’m so competitive that their projects often spur me back into a creative mood so I can have my turn.

The plus side to working my own hours is that sometimes I can rearrange my schedule to wait for that creative spark to return. But not always! Then it’s best to dive in with a real pencil and real paper and just start sketching.

I can’t be the only one whose heart melted over that sweet exchange between Mari and her daughter. Seriously, I’m all mushy now. Love it! You can catch more of Mari on her site and follow her on facebook and twitter. Go be friends!

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4 Responses to “Creative Family Series | Small for Big”

  1. Sandra Says:

    March 13th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    I love Mari! And now I love her even more knowing that her parents were music professors – my geeky self swoons….I too have a big hole where 80′s pop music knowledge should be. Oops…

    Charming and creative and thoughtful. Lovely.

    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    My 80s pop music knowledge is vast. I can help you two out anytime. ;)

    Sandra Reply:

    Mari and I woulda been the two nerdy kids and you woulda been the cool kid. Sit with us in the cafeteria?

  2. stacy Says:

    March 14th, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Yay Mari!!! Love getting to know her this way, wonderful interview Jen. As always you both rock my socks off

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