An Interview with Designer and Artist Elizabeth Williams

Today's bitch has one of my favorite nicknames:  Squibbin. It's so fun to say! I've only officially known Squibbin for about a year, but we've been internet friends for awhile. We finally met at a friend's open studio night last year and connected over a shared love of vintage clothes, preferably at the ridiculous end of the spectrum. I can't believe it took us so long to meet because our friend circles overlap, plus our menz work in the same industry and are friends / sometimes work on the same projects.

The first night I met Squibbin she asked me to teach her how to do "lady makeup" and I asked her to please be my friend and teach me how to be cool. Elizabeth is insanely talented (have you seen her wallpaper?), plus she's warm, kind, and really funny. We never followed up on our promises, but I have slowly weaseled my way into her friend group. I love artists and I'm so in awe of what Elizabeth creates, not to mention her ability to tuck vintage sweaters into high-waisted jeans. Meet today's bitch, Elizabeth Williams!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

Okay, semi-complicated start... I make conceptual wallpaper/wallcoverings/art installations. I make graphic arts, digitally and otherwise. I (try to) make fine art projects: all mediums that suit me. I co-run a business called New Hat Projects, New Hat for short, with my friend and biz partner Kelly Diehl. This is where the conceptual wallpaper, wallcovering, art installation part comes in. As a freelance designer and artist, I call that part of my business life “ibotherme” under which the monikers include but are not limited to:  J.E.Williams and squibbin. I also make bad pottery, weird decisions and a delish guacamole.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Well, I learned about graphic design as an “honest” profession in college, as many people do, after taking art classes, loving it and then talking to my parents who advised me to channel my “creativity” “practically”. Which made lots of sense to me at the time because I had zero self-confidence in actually being an artist, I just liked the way it made me feel. I was also really good at writing research papers, but it made me feel nothing/terrible, so I realized I didn’t want to spend my days as an academic or a lawyer. In addition to college education, I got my “real life masters” at Isle of Printing. I learned more about art installation work, public art and translating bigger ideas into reality under the tutelage of Bryce McCloud, whom I worked with for about four years.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I didn’t. Just made the decision during the first semester of my sophomore year. I like to blindly leap into things. Big ambition, bad planner.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

What a question! Where to start!? Okay, so I decided to go to an all women’s college in Atlanta, Agnes Scott College, which seemed like kind of a big deal for me because I was from a small, conservative town in East Tennessee. All the dummies (boys) started calling me a lesbian after I announced my collegiate affiliation, which was totally great and complimentary in my mind, but it just illustrates the small-mindedness of quite a few of the people I was surrounded by. Anyways, learning there was such a great and hard experience, everyone was very focused, smart and interesting. I see Agnes Scott as a turning point in who I was to become as a person. I had the typical moment of leaving my small town and having a completely 180, transformative college experience.

So seeing as how I only equated happiness with praise, choosing a career was going to prove to be difficult for me. I thought I would be an English major because I was okay at writing (at the time) and I had a badass, young AP English teacher my Senior year of high school who got me all riled up about literature, poetry (S. Plath style, you know…) and creative writing. However, an art class derailed me, and I had much more of a passionate reaction to visual communication. It’s worth noting that I HAD NO IDEA what graphic design really was or meant or why or when or any of it.

Next step, I needed to transfer to a college that offered a design degree, unfortunately Agnes Scott did not. In the meantime, this is where the story gets even more cliche: I met a boy from Nashville. He came down to visit a friend and hypnotized me with this weirdness. Fast forward a year later, and I’ve made the educational transfer to Belmont University. My parents insisted that I go to a liberal arts college and disapproved of my moving to Nashville for a boy (as they should have! What a weird decision!). For the record, eleven years later, we’re still making life together.

Back to path: during college I thought I would move to NYC and work for Vice Magazine or some sort of cool, weird publication. However, I did no work and put no effort into making that happen, graduation came and I applied to one place, got the job and was there for four+ years. The “there” was Emma, here in Nashville. I started as an email template designer and ended as Art Director of the Emma brand. It was a very, very good experience for me on many levels. I learned how organizations can work, I learned how to be an employee, I learned that I was organizationally ambitious and most importantly, I learned that I didn’t want to follow the path that lead to being a Creative Director which seemed to be the path I was on. I had no desire to spend my life in meetings putting out political fires, and honestly I wasn’t very good at that part (too emotionally involved). That looked like it would lead to a life of immense stress and depression, and my boy from Nashville was very supportive by helping me understand that I didn’t have to live that life. I was able to hop aboard the aforementioned Isle of Printing train which gave me more confidence to focus on my creative endeavors.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Well, I had worked in the corporate setting, the small shoppe setting and I just realized the next viable option for me was self-employment. I sort of woke up one morning and said to myself, “it’s time.” I had gained (earned) the confidence of looking into the void without crippling fear outweighing my desires -- which might be the coolest thing/feeling that’s ever happened to me.

Additionally, the opportunity to start working intentionally with Kelly came up and it was kind of kismet. It's rare to find a collaborator that swells where you tend to fall flat.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

Eighty percent or more of small businesses fail, just so you know. The chances are very high that this won’t work out for you. But go on ahead and try.

-- dad (financial planner with masters in counseling), and big brother (CFO and CPA)

Their realistic advice has correctly set my expectations to keep-your-head-down-work-as-hard-as-possible-say-yes-do-more mode. I definitely romanticized the idea of being able to do what we’re doing in the beginning. I was kind of drunk on the dramatic change my life would take, so I needed to hear that as we began so I could properly expect failure as a way to trick myself into working hard. I’ll poke my head up if I can’t buy groceries or when I feel like we’ve done something really amazing. Otherwise, I just keep working and things just keep happening.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Funnily enough, the most difficult things are the things that I struggled with while working for other people: understanding the right priorities and doing them in the “correct” order. Focus. Fighting self-hatred when I get or feel lazy (I think there is a difference -- feeling lazy is just a badge you wear when you want to be sad and mad at yourself to justify inaction, “of course it’s too hard for me because I’m the worst!”).

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

I think the biggest lesson I learned so far was that there are no secrets or special skills. I think I was waiting for a sign or the exact right thing to fall in my lap or reveal itself to me, but I was lucky enough to recognize an opportunity and decided I had enough guts to work to make it happen. Also, I had learned how to live in basic poverty for several years, so economic crisis was no longer a deterrent to dreams. That’s probably a big detail?

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I fucked over a friend who asked me to do a really cool project. I got self-conscious about it and just ended up compartmentalizing it and never doing it. I still struggle with over-extending myself and falling short on things from time to time, but I remember specifically after that experience saying to myself, “You can never do that to anyone ever again. That was your one ‘free’ pass.” Gotta be a woman of your word.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Write beautiful, complicated letters to my friends and family, bike/move body more, cook more delish, complicated meals, paint without an intended result, more pottery making.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

Economic security. Boring but very true answer.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

Feel like that hasn’t happened yet -- I feel like it will though! When it does, can I tell you and update this part??

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Ugh. Email, Instagram.

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

The history books. Uline catalogs. Talk to Kelly Diehl. Take a shower.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Sitting alone in silence and/or bad television. The zero-effort-escapism of the TV stories is appealing. Lately, a little bike jaunt along the Cumberland river section of the greenway has been very therapeutic.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Oh, you mean besides time management, having no one to blame but yourself and having to constantly do things you’re bad at out of necessity -- well, I guess I’d say retaining the ability to trust your instincts. You have to make so many decisions and, personally, my brain can get over saturated by that and sort of just turn off which then makes it difficult for me to see what reality is and to remember that I typically have the answers. Have I mentioned yet that I have a mantra I say in the shower? Well, I do and it’s: “Confidence and Power, Power and Confidence”. There’s a bit of a sing-songy cadence to it that makes it extra effective. It was inspired by Pantera song “A New Level” off of their early 90’s effort, “Vulgar Display of Power”.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

TV shows:

  1. Breaking Bad
  2. Six Feet Under
  3. The Wire
  4. The (British) Office
  5. The Wonder Years


  1. Lil snack bites that I’m addicted to: off brand (Kroger or TJ’s) Triscuits with avocado and shaved Parmesan (must be shaved) - this is sometimes dinner if I’m being honest.
  2. White cheddar popcorn
  3. These spiced party walnuts that Kelly makes. UGHHH. Too good. 
  4. All cheeses
  5. Dark chocolate, sea salt, turbinado sugar covered almonds (from TJ’s)

All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Williams

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  College English Teacher, Amanda Salmon!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

An Interview with Stay-At-Home Mom Shannon Miller

An Interview with College English Teacher Amanda Salmon