Power Figures, Relationships

How April Rueb and Samantha Zabell Turn Art into Activism

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Some creative types seem to have more hours in the day than the rest of us. Like Beyoncé. And Oprah. And April Rueb and Samantha Zabell.

In their previous digital publishing gigs, April started out as Sam’s mentor, and they became fast friends. Now, with new day jobs firmly rooted in data—April is an analytics solutions engineer; Sam is a social media strategist—they’re prolifically and profoundly creative in their free time. April is a renegade feminist cross-stitcher; Sam is a self-taught hand-lettering artist. After the 2016 election, they launched Craft for Change (C4C), a collective of artists whose work they “sell” in exchange for a charitable donation to a cause.

Bare Necessities talked to this tireless under-30 twosome about the healing powers of art, the difference between a passion and a profession and how to keep going when the going gets tough.

Q: How did you meet? When you’re friends and business partners, how do you define the bounds of your relationship?
Sam: April was my boss when I was a GoodHousekeeping.com intern in 2014. She taught me so much about digital publishing, social media and living in New York. When I moved to the city that summer, she always made time to get drinks or dinner—she made me feel so much less alone. Now I think we’re more…best friends? April could probably categorize it better. I’m like the annoying little sister and she’s the sage older sister.
April: I would love to be the sage older sister, but I go to Sam for advice way too often for that title. That’s what I love about us: Despite the initial boss-intern dynamic, our friendship has always been very balanced. I’ve never felt uncomfortable asking Sam how to handle stressful work situations or difficult family stuff. I often think of her as my other half—sorry to my boyfriend—because she so seamlessly helps me in areas I struggle with, like decision-making and cooking.

Q: What have your career paths looked like so far?
Sam: I started as an editorial assistant at RealSimple.com and, thanks to April’s mentorship, quickly moved up to social media manager. From there, I took a job at Time Inc. as a social strategist for the central video team. I also do some freelance writing and hosted a podcast for two years, so my path is a little nutty but more or less has stayed in the digital publishing realm.
April: In 2011, I started as an editorial assistant at Parents.com. From there, I went to GoodHousekeeping.com and Prevention.com to manage social media. In my last magazine role, I was the head of social for publisher Rodale. I’m very grateful for that position because I discovered how much I cared about data, analytics and code. My interest in tech solidified when I attended Facebook’s F8 developer conference in 2017. I left my job that summer and attended the Grace Hopper Program, a 17-week immersive software engineering course for women, last fall.

Q: How did you know what your life’s work would to be, as opposed to your creative interests, or is there a lot of crossover?
Sam: I went to journalism school, so I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in storytelling. I think the exciting thing about the way the Internet has evolved is that storytelling can exist in so many forms. I consider my side-hustles—calligraphy, freelance writing—to be a form of storytelling, which is what I wanted to evolve my career around.
April: I also went to J-school. I enjoyed my career in publishing for a long time, but eventually it stopped making me happy. Life is too short to keep working in an industry that no longer brings you joy just because it’s what you chose to study at 18. That said, I definitely don’t regret my time in magazines. Those experiences helped me find my interest in computer science and bring Sam into my life. Now, I think of my career as constantly evolving.

“I think of my career as constantly evolving”

Q: How do you attain mastery at so many different skills, be it coding or picking up a brush pen for the first time? What drives you?
Sam: I don’t know that I consider myself a master. I just really enjoy practicing and learning. That’s what drives me. I feel happiest when I can see a path of growth, and I think in art there’s always more you can learn and create.
April: To be honest, it’s a struggle for me. I usually want to quit when something I’m learning gets hard, but I’ve found little ways to keep myself motivated because I know how happy I’ll be if I push through. I tell my friends what I’m doing to keep myself accountable. I set goals, like running every day for a year, so that it’s harder to give up.

Q: Sam, tell us about how you got deep into lettering. 
Sam: It started as my 2016 New Year’s resolution. I wanted to pick up a hobby that would make me use my creative, artistic brain more and quell some of my anxieties. Calligraphy did that—it’s artistic, it’s meditative, it’s given me a new focus. And I love how different it is from my day job. I just want to make time for it, continue to use it to advocate for causes I care about and make beautiful things for people I love.

Q: April, what made you decide to switch careers? 
April: Going back to school was terrifying. I went to a coding bootcamp with a deferred-tuition policy, which meant I didn’t have to pay until after I graduated and secured a job, but I was still nervous. During the bootcamp, I learned that my former company was sold and that my old position was going to be eliminated, and yet I still wondered if I should have left. Isn’t that crazy?! That’s when it hit me that if I waited for things to feel 100 percent right, I would spend my whole life waiting. I’m now working as an analytics solutions engineer for an agency. I love that I get to combine my experience with analytics tools from my digital publishing days with my new coding skills.

“That’s when it hit me that if I waited for things to feel 100 percent right, I would spend my whole life waiting”

Q: What’s your mission with Craft for Change? How did you turn idea into reality? 
Sam: We were both connected to artist communities online—April to embroidery/stitching, me to calligraphy—and wanted to unite those communities and do some good. Following the election, we were looking for ways to contribute to the causes that needed us and felt that our passion for art was key. Our mission is to give artists a platform to share and sell their work for a cause. We’re really proud of the diversity of organizations we’ve contributed to and look forward to making even bigger impacts as we grow.

Q: What challenges have you had to overcome? 
Sam: Our schedules make it difficult to get exactly where we want to go with C4C, and we both want to give 150 percent to make it as good as it can be. When you have side projects, time management is a big struggle. Because you want to give your all to those projects, and you want to make time for yourself, and your friends, and you need to vacuum and…it’s just a lot. C4C is undergoing a redesign right now. We want to be more mindful about how we’re selling artwork to make sure we’re supporting artists but not overloading ourselves—like I said, we want to do this right! We’re still promoting artwork and education about the issues, and we’ll be selling original handmade art again by early fall.

Q: What does a typical day look like? Between demanding full-time jobs, side hustles and having a personal life, how do you find balance?
April: Sam and I try to run together before work a few times a week. Our runs are a combination of friend time, therapy session and Craft for Change brainstorming. I work from home most days, so I save a lot of time on commuting and getting ready in the morning. I also always try to be prepared for whenever I have downtime. If I’m going to the Philadelphia office for work, I definitely have a stitching project in my bag or coding articles bookmarked for the Amtrak ride.

Q: What does empowerment mean to you?  How about success?
Sam: I think April and I have a very similar idea of both, which is why C4C works. When you empower others, you educate and lift them up, and you celebrate their wins. Success comes when you feel like you’ve empowered others. I really try not to equate success with a number of followers or other statistics. I’m happy when we gain new followers, but I’m happiest when we connect with artists who are grateful that we’ve highlighted their work or who get to donate even $20 to a cause they love. That feels like success.

“I really try not to equate success with a number of followers or other statistics”

Q: What’s next for you guys?
Sam: C4C is going through a growth phase. We’ve both changed a lot since we launched, and our art communities have grown. We want to figure out the best way to elevate these artists, make the biggest impact on communities and prioritize diversity of sellers, buyers and causes. So we’re figuring out how to do that. Plus April codes now! So it opens up many new Internet possibilities.
April: That’s Sam’s not-so-subtle way of reminding me that I said I would build us a website. It’ll be ready soon, I promise! For now, be sure to follow us on Instagram to see what we’re working on next.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO APRIL & SAM

Favorite bra
April: I love Under Armour sports bras.
Sam: Me too!

Best way to de-stress
Sam: Calligraphy and a glass of wine.
April: A long walk while listening to a podcast.

Role model
Sam: April. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
April: Ditto—but obviously Sam, not myself. We just saw the new RBG documentary together.

Best advice you ever got
Sam: My dad always says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I’m trying!

Greatest extravagance
April: Wash-and-fold laundry service.

Guilty pleasure
Sam: Disney Channel Original Movies.

Bad habit
April: Not getting enough sleep.

Secret talent
April: I jumped rope while on a pogo stick during my 5th grade talent show.

Favorite app
Sam: Instagram.
April: Instagram.

Most useful emoji
Sam: The laughing-while-also-crying one!
April: Technically it’s called the hugging face emoji, but I like to think of it as jazz hands.

Current obsession
Sam: Jessica Jones on Netflix.
April: HGTV.

Best-ever TV show
Sam: Gilmore Girls.
April: Frasier.

Favorite book
Sam: Ella Enchanted.
April: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Happy place
Sam: Saturday morning, in my apartment, drinking coffee and reading a book.
April: Reading in Central Park on a sunny day.

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Brooke Glassberg
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, calligraphy, travel and her exceptionally adorable daughter and husband.
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