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Breakfast with Brenda

We have a few “Breakfast” chefs-d’oeuvre coming your way in the next few weeks, and here’s one of them. Squeeze yourself a fresh glass of OJ and sit down with Brenda Ponnay, perhaps better known as the blogger Secret Agent Josephine. Brenda is also a mother, freelance graphic designer, illustrator, and painter. Brenda says that her secret to being creative is “I drink a LOT of coffee and I’m not a perfectionist (obviously). I think perfectionism hangs up a lot of talented people.” She may not be a perfectionist, but she certainly is talented.

Brenda (aka Secret Agent Josephine)

Brenda (aka Secret Agent Josephine)

CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
My real name is Brenda Ponnay but I go by Secret Agent Josephine on the web. It’s a silly little name I made up when I first started blogging when I had no idea what I was doing. It’s since become my own little identity and freelance business. You could say I’m a mom first, illustrator/graphic designer second. I just try do what I love and make sure it pays for itself and doesn’t take away too much of my time from my family. Balancing my freelance career and my family life is a constant struggle but I don’t think I could stop being this way even if someone unplugged me from the internet and forced me to live in some commune in the desert. It’s just who I am. As for my family, they are my husband Toby and my daughter Helena but we call her Baby Bug.

CC: Tell us about your design business and other creative pursuits.
I mostly illustrate banners, logos and various web graphics. From time to time I help someone design business cards, brochures, etc., but I prefer not to work in print anymore because it takes up too much of my time outside my home. I like doing web work because it is just me and the customer and I don’t even have to meet them face to face. Business by e-mail works best for me. My customers don’t care if I work at midnight as long as the work gets done!

Painting al fresco

Painting al fresco

Right now my other creative pursuits are limited to a few paintings that I sell in my Etsy shop. I don’t have any up right now because they sell pretty quick. Someday I’d like to do a children’s book and perhaps some games (like a matching game for toddlers). I’d also like to do a second version of my alphabet cards. What I’m really working on though is getting my website up and running again. I had to take most of my pages down a while back when I had an illustration theft scare and it’s taken me quite a while to even think about getting them back up. I also have quite a few side websites swirling around in my head that need to be created.

CC: Your blog is something of a phenomenon. What got you started?
I wrote about this on my Who is Secret Agent Josephine Anyway? page. But really all I want to say is that I started the site on a whim. I wanted to write about my personal life somewhere that was electronic and easy to use. Blogging fit that need perfectly and I have never looked back. I never realized it would become what it is now.

CC: Where do you do your creative work?

Brenda's office

Brenda at work

BP: Ha! I work in a box. Seriously. I have issues because I do not have my own space in my house. My husband promises me that I will have a studio someday when we buy a house…where I can paint and make big messes but right now I do not have that. I had to put my laptop (where I do most of my work) in a box in order to keep out the glare from the bright windows in our living room. What happened was really strange. I found that having my own space, no matter how small it was, gave me tremendous creative freedom. I feel more motivated to work when I am in my box. I love my box. As Virginia Wolfe says, “a woman must have money and a room of her own…” Mine just happens to be really really small.

CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?


Baby Bug

BP: I get two hours every day to do “me” stuff. These two hours are basically my daughter’s nap time so they are not always predictable. But life is what it is and I make the best of it. Most of that time I spend trying to get work done because I’m always behind. But sometimes I do what I want because I’m the boss of me and I can. I also try to do fun crafts with my daughter (when she is awake of course!). Firstly because it’s a great way to burn hours when I don’t know what else to do besides the endless housework and picking up after a toddler and secondly because it is fun for both of us. I really want her to grow up to enjoy being creative as much as I do.

CC: What do you struggle with most?
Balancing. Every time I think I have it all figured out and I have a routine that works and keeps everyone happy, something changes and I have to start over again. Those first few days of a change (like two naps a day turning into one because my daughter is growing up) are terrible and I whine and complain like nobody’s business. But then I learn to adapt and things get better. I think the hardest part for me is realizing that this is all a cycle and I have to roll with it. I need to remember that I’ve been through it before and what didn’t kill me made me stronger. Being a mom of a small child is only a short amount of time when you look at the big picture. I have to make sacrifices. I can’t do everything I want to do. But I know there will be years in the future (I plan on living to 102) when I will have more time. I’ll only have this time with my daughter once. So I have to do a good job for her sake.


Desk (note slippers & Hello Kitty mousepad)

CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
Hahahaha. What kind of question is that? Guilt. Well, after the screaming monkey that is my child is asleep, I often feel guilty that I got so cross at her when she was awake. I think feeling that guilt makes me try harder to be a better mother the next day. I think that is why God made children so adorably cute, so we wouldn’t kill them when they are being horrid.

CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
This is a good question. I think Keri Smith answered it best. The only thing that I can really say on this subject is that while my child has greatly hindered my productivity she has also quadrupled my inspiration. So it works out. She is my muse. She is my inspiration. I wouldn’t have half the ideas I have now if I didn’t have her around. I wanted a daughter very badly for a very long time. I felt like a part of me was missing. That sadness hindered me. So now she hinders me in the flesh but I would rather put up with that any day.

Inspiration board

Inspiration board (click for larger image)

CC: Where do you find inspiration?
Wow. I keep answering these questions before I get to them. My daughter inspires me. Her great big eyes make themselves onto a lot of my illustrations. I’m also inspired by the books she reads and the cartoons she watches. There are so many amazing children’s illustrators out there that I never knew about before. I never feel hard up for inspiration. If I do feel a little sluggish, I just drink a cup of coffee and I’m buzzing again.

CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs—the ones you read every day?
I hate this question because I don’t really have a top five. First I read my friends and family and then I read about five other random sites but they change from time to time. Here are my top random five of today:


You know you want some, baked or not

CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
Making cookies and eating about a third of the dough. It always makes me sick and then I hate myself for days afterwards but I still do it.

CC: What are you reading right now?
Hardly anything. I have a stack of books on my shelf to read but I am not reading them. The last really great book I read was Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. This was a good book for me but mostly because I have an addict in my extended family and I was struggling to make sense of it all. This book was an amazing comfort for me.

CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
My best advice to others is to do what you love. Don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t doing what you think you should be doing. You can only do so much and what you really enjoy doing will rise to the top. Pick one or two things and do them well. Then give yourself a break about the rest.

CC: Thanks, Brenda — er, Secret Agent Josephine. (Brenda is on blog haitus until September 15, so check back soon!)

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oooooohhhhh, I SO want a secret agent name. How fun! And I love your “box”. What a great way to approach a challange and have it become a help! I enjoyed reading about you Brenda, er, Secret Agent Josephine…

    August 15, 2008
  2. amy #

    I love Brenda- she is so creative and adorable. I had the pleasure of meeting her at Blogher this year- such a treat! Yay for an awesome interview

    August 15, 2008
  3. Cathy #

    can i have some cookie dough, too?

    August 19, 2008

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