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Creative Spaces: Alison Kuczwara, One-Woman Studio

May 6, 2014

Creative Spaces Natalie Mueller Comments Off on Creative Spaces: Alison Kuczwara, One-Woman Studio

Meet Alison Kuczwara, a full-service, one-woman design and branding studio. On her own, Kuczwara is a graphic designer, but her love of working directly with her clients and their trust in her gave her the opportunity to grow her solo operation into something more: a complete studio. “I started leaning towards the studio side of things, and saying I could help clients with everything when I started having clients who needed everything,” says Kuczwara. And so, her one-person studio, Tiny Bold, was born.

Tiny Bold is a branding and design studio that focuses on supporting small businesses and goodhearted small businesses in particular. Kuczwara strives to help those whose business helps the world. And she does so from a small office in her quiet two-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood.

The Work

Talk to me about the transition from solo freelancer to a full-service studio.

Well, when I first started freelancing my goal was to work with agencies and eventually find one I’d be happy taking a fulltime position with. But once I started spreading the word that I was available to freelance, I started gaining my own clients and I quickly became more enamored with those clients than with agency life. And, as more and more clients needed more and more services, I expanded to offer them.

I’m very upfront in calling myself a studio and in the sense that I am ONE person, you aren’t coming to an office space with a bunch of people. But, I’m full-service in the sense that my clients can come to me, this ‘studio,’ and I can pull in talented friends to help on their project. I bring in photographers, web developers and copywriters most often. I like to maintain that connection with my clients where they know they are working directly with me. I don’t want to lose that with anyone.

The Work Day

You work 100% from home now, what has been the most challenging part of that arrangement?

Shutting down at the end of the day. It’s hard to say ‘okay, it’s whatever o’clock, I can stop thinking about work today. At the same time, it can be difficult to keep working when I need to keep working. When my boyfriend comes home at the end of his normal work day, I want to hang out, I want to be a normal person at the end of the day, but sometimes I can’t.

It’s hard because at all times work is at the most 100 feet away from me. So, it’s a constant struggle to shut that door. [And she does literally shut the door most days.]

What is your trick for winning the battle?

Reasonable expectations. Since I’m only one person, I often have a lot to get done. I make to do lists every single morning. They include everything I have to do and also what might pop up throughout the day. I like knowing what I have to do and making it a goal instead of just constantly being bombarded with the thought of it all.

What’s it like living with a ‘normal’ person?

It’s funny how very connected I am and need to be compared to [my boyfriend], Sam. His work day ends. He does his pile of work that he has to for the day and then he’s done.

It was interesting when we first moved in together and learning that dynamic. There were little things that he probably had to get used to; like coming home and finding me on a client call talking in my business voice.

The Workspace


Do you ever venture outside of your office to work?


Sometimes I go to a coffee shop or the library if I want to get out of the house. I’ve also been known to go to work with Sam and hideout in a conference room.

Occasionally, I will move to different spots in the house. The dining room table if I have someone over to collaborate, the kitchen if I’m working on something that doesn’t require a computer; the table top is smooth and perfect for drawing, plus it is nice and sunny. The living room is always off limits during the day — that is home space, the relaxation zone. I don’t want to taint it with work.

The center piece of your office is a gorgeous desk that you helped build and we’re sitting at a beautiful table that you made as well. Can you tell me about your newfound love of woodworking and how the desk project began?

My dad is a woodworker, craftsman, Ron Swanson kind of man and he’s always tried to get me to learn how to make things with him, but growing up I just wasn’t interested. Then, when I wanted a new desk for my office, I couldn’t find what I wanted at a price I could afford. Having seen my dad make everything including building our house growing up made me really stubborn about how expensive furniture can be. I thought, ‘I don’t need to buy that, I can make it!’

Turns out my next door neighbor was a woodworker on the side. She made beautiful desks, benches and tables from reclaimed wood and it was exactly what I wanted. I asked her if I could buy something from her on my frugal budget and instead she asked if I wanted to learn how to do it. So she taught me how to do it all. I felt super accomplished and now everyday I work at my desk and think, “I MADE THIS DESK, I’M WORKING ON SOMETHING I MADE.”

So, I got that itch. Then, we moved and discovered we needed a dining room table, so I did it again, this time collaborating with my dad.


What is on the infamous desk? Are you a tchotchki person or do you prefer a clean slate?

A balance of both. The desk itself is kept fairly clean, if only because I know that if it gets covered in papers I will lose something. The bookcase is my tchotchki and extra stuff area. When I worked in an office, I was a tchotchki person; I had stuff all over my desk. And now that I have my own office, I’ve flip-flopped.

What is most important to you in a creative environment?

Sunshine. I never would’ve thought that but in my last apartment I worked out of a corner of my bedroom and it was the darkest apartment in the world. My roomw was pitch black on the sunniest day with all of the windows open. Now, my office is the sunniest room in the house, and that is without a light even on. It makes a huge difference.

How do you keep organized?

In terms of workflow: a written out to do list every day. I also have a file cabinet and try to file projects away when they are done. And, you know, a lot of folders in my mail account…and color coordinating.

I do consider myself fairly organized. I know there are steps I can take to be more organized but I feel like that’s a learning process–especially with running your own business. When you work in an office you are just responsible for your own work and there is usually an organization system already put in place. But, when you’re own, you’re on your own. There are so many more things that you need to keep organized on top of the work you actually create.

What does your ideal workspace look like?

At some point I would love to not work out of my home. I think it would be nice to have an actual studio space to go to even if it is a shared space. Don’t get me wrong, there are giant benefits to working from home–not having to go outside during Chiberia was one of them. To make my home office ideal I have a few things I want to do. Little organization things like adding storage and shelves, maybe painting.

The main thing is that I want a fish. I really want a pet and it’s the only one we can have right now. I will build him his own little shelf so that he has his own little fish apartment. He can hang out and I will probably talk to him throughout the day.

What kind of fish friend do you want?

A beta fish. I had one in college and he was

so great. We taught him tricks. He would jump for his food. So I’d like another one.

What types of projects would you like to do more of?

My goal now is to just start doing more things with my hands. That’s the direction a lot of my personal projects are going. I spend

so much time in front of my computer so just to be able to sit in my backyard and spend some time a couple hours a week just
making something physical that I can hold, I’d feel really proud of it. I want to do smaller hand-carved projects instead of large furniture pieces and maybe even partner up with my father and try to sell some items.

At the end of the day, Alison records a nugget of the day’s events in a journal she and Sam keep on an antique typewriter.

of the day’s events in a journal she and Sam keep on an antique typewriter.

Find her work

You can find Alison’s latest work and musings at her website, Recently redesigned, now boasts Alison’s latest blog series: Mini Mighty Mondays, a series of interviews to show off small but powerfully creative studios and individuals and prove once and for all that good things come in small packages. A new Mini Mighty Mondays interview is posted every other Monday.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, Alison volunteers at 826CHI, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students through creative expression. Every three years, 826CHI compiles and publishes a Compendium of the best and favorite student-written stories
from the previous years. This year, Kuczwara had the honor of designing the Compendium in collaboration with illustrator Marnie Galloway. The Compendium will be available for purchase for $15USD in June at The Boring Store.

Additionally, 826CHI will be hosting a cocktail party at Public Hotel on Thursday, June 6th to kick off this year’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest. The event, called Prologue, aims raise funds and awareness for 826CHI while also just having an all around good time. Tickets will go on sale on the 826CHI website mid-May.

You can follow Alison and TinyBold at, on Instagram and Twitter.


If you would like to be featured on the Creative Spaces series, please contact me.

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