I was browsing through Instagram a few weeks ago when I came across this great campaign by the swimwear brand Nettle’s Tale. I noticed that they had tagged @dani_press as one of the collaborators for the postcards and thought that I’d love to know more about her story. I’ve seen her prints floating about the interwebs for a while and have even spotted them in my favourite local shop, Brick and Mortar Living.
A reflection of her adventurous spirit, Dani’s work is full of heart and hope. In the short time I spent chatting with her she shared so many wise gems of advice that I have carefully tucked away in my head and heart to pull out later as reminders of what’s really important. And now I get to share them with you.
Name: Dani Kreeft
Lives: Toronto, ON
Works: Owner of Dani Press
You have such a great story of starting Dani Press. Can you tell us about that?
I did the classic left high school and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life thing and instead of going to school I just travelled. I ended up travelling on and off for about 8 years. In that time I completed a journalism diploma. Dani Press started because I had the idea at 18 to make greeting cards, but I didn’t have the experience to know what to say and what that would look like. I also didn’t really think it was a valid career. Eight years later I had a big stack of travel photography and journals to work with. I knew it was one of those things that if I didn’t try I would look back in 25 years and wish I had. I didn’t want to ever wonder why I didn’t do it. It started out of three loves: writing, photography, and stationery.
I love the idea of starting it even though you don’t know if it’s going to work. I had that with the magazine. I thought: I don’t know. This is probably not going to work, but you know what? I’m just going to do it. Otherwise I’m going to look back and wish I had.
Yes. I think it was appropriate for me at 18 to know that I needed a little more experience. You can’t really resonate with people if you have no experience. Then the idea came back to me 8 years later and that’s how I knew I needed to do it. I think the idea would have died if I hadn’t felt like I needed to make it come to life. It would’ve just been left in my teenage years.
What does a regular day look like for you?
I’m up pretty early; usually around 6:30. The first thing I do is throw on some clothes, grab my Bible and head over to a local cafe. I spend half an hour to an hour just praying, journaling, reading. I decided over a year ago that I was so tired of saying things like, “Oh I should get a devotional. Oh I don’t spend enough time praying.” I figured the only way I was going to survive this whole thing was to make Christ my top priority and give Him the first fruits of my day. I decided to get up a little earlier, get my coffee and do that. While everybody else is getting to work and commuting I’m centring myself.
After that I head back—my office hours start at 9. I decide my weeks on Sunday—I plan my days, what needs to be done, so I know I’m hitting all my bases. But it’s anything from accounting and paperwork to branding, marketing plans, social media and research. I’m also the Creative Director at my church. That’s a huge role that I’ve been in for 3 or 4 months. I work on that all day Tuesday and attend staff meetings as well. I work on writing gigs for different brands. My day never looks the same, but that’s a good thing.
How does your faith interact with your career and your creative pursuits?
I don’t think I would want a career or to pursue anything if God wasn’t in it. Not only is it imperative that He’s a part of my life, but if He’s not directing what I’m working at then it would feel like way too much. My faith directs everything I do. For a long time I was focused on how God could help me use my gifts to help other people. So I was always knocking at His door asking for His help in allowing me to tell my story. I have these passions and gifts and I wanted to inspire other people with my story. I started to realize that the whole time He was knocking at my door asking the same thing. Will you offer your gifts, passions and talent to tell my story and not your own? Because your story is going to be so much better when it’s in the context of who I am. I just had it flipped around for a long time.
I love that so much. That thought really hits home for me too.
I’ve spent 6 years building this company and thinking there was nothing wrong with asking God to bless the work of my hands and to contribute to the world this way. I feel like He’s given me this company and I’ve never heard Him say no, but I was missing the point by a million miles. It took me 6 years to kind of figure that out. So I don’t blame anyone who’s only a year in and wondering why God isn’t on their team and working for the things they want to do. It’s possible you’ve got the hierarchy wrong.
That’s so good. I might have to write that on my wall.
You’ve got the hierarchy wrong. If you’re ever really struggling it probably has something to do with that.
So what are some tools or tricks you use to stay inspired?
When I get writer’s block or I’m feeling really tired or I get really bored I step away from anything creative that feels like work. It’s taken me a while to give myself permission to do this, but now if I don’t take the time to go for a walk or take photos that don’t need to go anywhere it’s hard to stay inspired. You need to have things that you do: going for a walk or to the movies, talking to a creative friend or mentor, drawing (even if you’re not good at it)—anything that’s creative that you’ve given yourself permission to do. Just take a step back and be able to delve into that for 20 minutes.
I definitely have that. When your work is creative sometimes it becomes hard to separate that from creating things just for the sheer joy of creating them. It becomes ugh I have to do this work, and you need to remember that you actually like it.
Yeah, I actually totally signed up for this. It’s not bad, it’s just maybe you’ve been doing this for too long or you have so much to do. You’re going to be so much happier doing it if you just take half an hour. I go to the movies because I love being able to put my brain outside of the movie theatre and go in and delve into someone else’s story. I’m always so entrenched in my own. Sometimes I’m done talking about myself; I want to think about someone else’s story.
I love that. So what’s one career dream you have for your future?
I want to write on the road. If I find myself in a foreign country being paid to write, that’s my wildest dream. If I can combine my love for adventure and exploring the world with my love for writing and how I feel when I get to do that—that would be my ultimate career dream.
That’s really cool. What are some of your favourite places you’ve been to?
South Africa is my 100% all time favourite. I’ve been there a bunch of times and I love it. It’s the one place where I can fly into the airport in Cape Town and know how to get places. Some people go to New York a lot and they know the subway lines; I feel orientated enough in South Africa that it’s like a second home to me. New Zealand and Bali round out my top three.
Wow. I’ve never been to any of those places.
You need to. Especially Bali. It’s just beautiful. Rent a moped for two bucks a day and just drive around, eat fresh fruit and visit the beach. It’s just, I don’t get how this is a country.
That sounds amazing. So what has starting a creative business taught you?
That is the world’s biggest question.
Haha. I was just thinking that.
Where do I start? I think the thing that it’s taught me the most is if you think just loving it is enough, then you’re wrong. It’s like marriage. All the accounting, taxes, networking. It’s not until you knock on the door and say yes to it and walk in do you realize how much is at play and how invested you need to be—especially in the parts that you don’t like. Your creativity is like love in a marriage—it’s not enough to make it. You can’t just expect that you’ll create this stuff and the world is going to validate it. I don’t think the world really cares. I think you need to show you can put yourself under the umbrella of everything that it takes and work away at it. I think the measure of how well you can do lies far more in the vigour you bring into the things that you don’t like, but that are necessary, instead of just “I’m going to paint 95% of the time and hope that my work sells.” It’s naive and misplaced to think that just loving it is enough. It’s not. I don’t say that to discourage anyone, but you have to work hard at the scope of things or you’ll unknowingly cut your creativity at the knees. The practical side of things will limit you. It’s a machine that has all these moving parts. You can’t play in the one area and think it’s still going to work.
It’s also taught me not to hold my creativity like a precious baby. As soon as you set up your creativity like that, it’s too close to you. You’re unable to take criticism or to evolve or step back.
That’s the hard part about starting something you’re so passionate about. It’s both really good and really bad.
You have to separate the hustle of it and your feelings. It’s the sweat and tears and something you’re offering out of the vulnerability of your heart, but if you’re not careful you’ll offer that up and wonder why nobody’s buying it. You really have to know your audience and where you fit.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a creative career?
Don’t identify your absolute being and heart and mind with your work. You are not your job. You are not your work. I am not my stationery. It’s taken me a long time to figure that out. And it’s hard. You could be sitting at a tradeshow and you’ve paid for this whole thing—this is years and years of travel and hours of work to set this up. Then you’re sitting there and you’re like a vulnerable bowling pin and you wait for people to walk by. If you’re too close to it, everybody who walks by and gives you two seconds of attention is going to confirm your insecurities and knock you right over.
The other thing is practice. For whatever you want to do, opportunity is only answering to the prepared. Are you prepared? Are you practicing? People who just wait for it end up waiting for a really long time and then they just give up. Be smarter than that.
This is such great advice. I need to save this somewhere and remember these things. So what’s one surprising thing about you?
I’m an introvert. Around people I’m quite gregarious and easygoing and I love talking to people, but I get charged by being alone. I have a big tank that needs a lot of reserves at any given time.
And that I love The Bachelor. People think that a girl who loves whiskey and vintage clothing and old records won’t like that total TV drivel. But we take life so seriously, we take our work so seriously—so for me when it’s The Bachelor season it’s like Monday Night Football. It’s the best. We all get together and build community and eat. It’s so nice to turn off your brain and be involved in something that’s so meaningless. I love surprising people with that. And FYI, anybody who says they don’t like The Bachelor is lying to you.
You’re going to hate this but I’ve actually never watched it.
You need to watch it! It’s so hilarious. I’ve never watched Breaking Bad or any of these TV shows that people are binge-watching, but I don’t care. But then when someone tells me that they don’t watch The Bachelor my brain like short circuits. I don’t even understand it. You need to watch it. Especially this season because Ben is the best.
I’ve heard so many people say that, but I don’t know. I don’t really watch a lot of reality TV at all.
It’s the only TV I watch. It’s this living vicariously through other people that ABC has a monopoly on. Everybody can relate with the themes of The Bachelor—love, dating—all these things are so universal.
Right. Who hasn’t had their heart broken at some point?
Everyone can relate to someone on that show. It’s also really dramatically produced so you can just bleed out of your brain for a little bit and you feel better.
I might have to put that on my To Do list.
Thank you so much Dani! Your advice is so great.
Can you relate to Dani’s creative business experience? What piece of her advice do you need to hang on your office wall? And most importantly, are you a Bachelor fan?
Psst. Looking to kick start your creativity? Sign up for Spark Your Creativity is only open until January 31.