Was your plan always to become a graphic designer?
I always wanted to be an artist, but I was raised to believe that wasn’t a real job. I needed a job that would earn me a living. So, I pursued a career in civil engineering. I received my engineering technology degree just before turning 20 and then started a business drafting technical drawings for civil engineers. I was drawing site plans of roads, sewers and drainage systems – very technical drawings back when blueprints were still made with ammonia. I did that for seven years, but when I was hit by a drunk driver and broke my hip and ankle, I couldn’t work for about six months and decided to finally go to art school.
What made it the right time?
I had some money saved up, and I really couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. The ammonia fumes were starting to get to me. So, even though my mom was upset because I was leaving a career, I went to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. I drove from Lake Stevens to Cornish every day, but that was before Amazon moved down the road – so there really wasn’t much traffic. It was hard – I was completely starting over, but I graduated after four years with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and started my design business, The Design Poole. Going back to art school was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Did you always want to work for yourself?
Yes. While attending Cornish, I got a job working for a book company as a designer making $7 dollars an hour, but it cost me a dollar an hour at the time to park my car. I just couldn’t afford to work for an agency. Going out on my own, I could oversee my own fee schedule and working hours, and I thought I could do it better. It was about survival. It’s funny because I was fired from every job I ever had when I was in my 20s for not being a hard worker. When you’re working a cash register, what’s there to really care about? But building a company from scratch – that’s hard work I’m passionate about. I would have both my kids in my studio when they were babies because I couldn’t afford childcare. Most nights, I’d have dinner, put them down to bed and then work into the night.
What was the trick to your success?
My business growth has 100% been due to referrals and relationships. One of my first major clients was Wolfgang Puck. Working with him gave me a level of credibility, and that job was a stepping stone to grow my client base. A friend of mine was a marketing assistant there, and she told her boss about me when they were looking to upgrade their packaging, so I went for it. I’ve met a lot of people at charity events over the years. I worked with the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm for eight years as a designer and an event photographer for them. I photographed Henry Kissinger, Howard Schultz, Bill Gates and Gary Locke while at an event for the law firm (China President Hu Jintao’s arrival at Paine Field) in early 2007.
Michelle with Wolfgang Puck, one of her first major clients.
One of Michelle’s photos of Paul Newman at Camp Korey.
What is one of the most fun projects you’ve ever worked on?
I created the logo for the SeriousFun camp located in Carnation, Wash., called Camp Korey. That work led to an opportunity to photograph SeriousFun’s founder, Paul Newman. In 2008, he was in town for the opening celebration, just a few months before he died. I was photographing him from afar because he was just such a huge, influential person. But I knew I’d never have this opportunity again, so I walked up and asked if I could take some close-ups. He pulled his sunglasses down a little, looked over them at me and said, “You can do whatever you want.” It was just so memorable for me. Another fun project was going to Barcelona, Spain, to create an illustration of a winery for a wine label I designed for Perinet Winery.
How did you end up working with Blueprint?
I’ve known Ryan Neal (Blueprint President and Co-Founder) for a long time. After he started Blueprint, I saw a need that I could fill and began working with the company in 2016. I wanted to help elevate the image of the company visually. I came on part time in 2018 and now oversee all aspects of the brand, including design. Some of the early projects I worked on that were really fun were the culture books and designing the interior graphics for the original HQ office, bus graphics and outdoor signage. One of the very first projects I remember working on was an ad campaign for the Puget Sound Business Journal about “creating the next big thing.”
What has been your favorite part of working at Blueprint?
The people. I had worked alone my whole career – just me in my studio. But my kids were getting older and in school, so I was feeling a little isolated. It was the right time to see what it would be like working with a team, and I’m so glad I did. Blueprint is really fun, and my Marketing team is like family. For the first time in my career, I meet with six other people every morning – on Teams since the pandemic. They are all smarter than I am, but I’m funnier – so it’s a win-win. But really, they are great collaborators, they have the best ideas in the company, and they truly love what they do.
What did it mean to you to win the Core Value Award in April 2021?
It was great. I love that Blueprint shines a light on our employees who are making a positive impact on the company and always going above and beyond. Honestly, I feel like other people at Blueprint are more deserving of the recognition. I’m just the type of person who works hard and gets things done. I worked for clients all over the world, so getting an email at 2 a.m. meant getting up and finishing a project in time for someone’s meeting – it’s just what I’ve always been used to, and I love it.
What do you do outside of work?
I love to take off in our Sprinter van, hiking and working in my yard. And I love doing DIY things in my house. I bought my house in 2007, but it was built in 1924. It is so fun to make small improvements to it. Recently I sanded down my entire driveway and then stained it and varnished it. I also refinished my basement floor – and I am just in love. It used to be that gritty old concrete that would flake off constantly and just always looked dirty. I used a stencil and transformed the whole basement floor.
Michelle loves home improvement projects. (The basement before/after stenciling.)
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
Oh man, there are a few things. I was a finalist for season 2 of “Shark Tank,” promoting a new camping/survival jacket. I actually had to take voice lessons from ABC for six weeks because I guess they didn’t like my voice, but then I was cut two days before filming. I was also on “The Apprentice” – the UK version – and went to London for two weeks, but I got cut again. I was also a contestant for Miss Washington Teen when I was 18, and I was sponsored by McDonald’s – after they fired me … they must have believed in my potential.