Episode 164: Outdoorsy Puns & “Subpar” Parks – Illustrator Amber Share

Episode 164: Outdoorsy Puns & “Subpar” Parks

Interview with Amber Share

Sponsored by Ikon Pass, BetterHelp, & Oregon State University E-Campus

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Amber Share is the creator of Subpar Parks, a National Parks illustration project with a satirical twist. Though her sense of humor leans on sarcasm, Amber’s love of the outdoors and helping adventurous creatives achieve their goals are purely genuine.

In this episode, we talk about Subpar Parks, Amber’s relationship with the outdoors as it blends with creativity, her path to becoming self-employed, and more.

Amber’s bio says it best: Amber Share is an outdoorsy lettering artist with an affinity for colorful and punny illustrations. Her work is inspired by her interests — hiking, climbing, gardening, brewing kombucha, and, as a major introvert, spending time recharging at home. She strives to translate the joy of adventure into funny, light-hearted designs that spark conversation and help people connect.

Full transcript available after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Amber Share

Hosted by Gale Straub

Ad music in this episode is by Josh Woodward, Swelling & Lee Rosevere using a Creative Commons attribution license.

Music is also by Afterlight Parade, Eric Kinny, Analog Heart, & Utah via MusicBed.

Resources

Sponsors and Discount Codes


Amber Share & Her Work

Amber’s lettering bio!

Amber (L) & her friend and business partner, Mallory

A fun card available via ambersharedesign.com

Amber at home in North Carolina, among a few of her many houseplants.

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Like a lot of people on the Internet, I first stumbled on Amber Share’s illustration and lettering work through her project, Subpar Parks. It’s a series of National Park illustrations, with a satirical twist.

Amber Share:

Subpar parks is a series of illustrations that I’ve done, and I’m still doing where I illustrate part of the park and alongside it, I hand letter texts from a one or two star review of that park, just to sort of poke fun at the negativity that tends to be out there on the internet. And yeah, I finished all 62 national parks, and now I’m doing a short series on Canada, the UK Australia. And then I’ll be going back to some of the other U S parks that aren’t designated as scenic parks.

Gale Straub – Narration:

It’s tough to paint a picture over audio, but one illustration is an iconic view of the Atlantic Ocean with cliffs and evergreen trees. As a New Englander, I know the location right away — but rather than the words Acadia National Park, the text says, “The water is ice cold” These words are straight from a 1 star review. Amber’s caption keeps the joke alive, “Hey Acadia, what’s the ETA on your Atlantic Ocean heat pump?” Subpar Parks is a blend of truth and fiction – yes, the words are from a real 1 star review, and the humor springs from that place, but each phrase is carefully chosen by Amber, who describes the project as a tribute to the parks, but also a means to poke fun at the fact that everyone’s a critic. That concept is underlined on the platform it took off on . Instant tam is full of unfiltered opinions, even via the comments on her feed.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Amber’s not the first to point out the humorous nature of 1 star reviews, or those of our National Parks. But she does have a knack for marrying compelling illustrations and hand-lettered text to bring them to life. Scrolling through Amber’s personal instagram, I stumbled lettering illustration of a bio she wrote for herself. It said: Amber Share is an outdoorsy lettering artist with an affinity for colorful and punny illustrations. Her work is inspired by her interests — hiking, climbing, gardening, brewing kombucha, and, as a major introvert, spending time recharging at home. She strives to translate the joy of adventure into funny, light-hearted designs that spark conversation and help people connect.” I wanted to talk to Amber because I was curious about the creator behind this project and the meaning she’s found in it throughout 2020. I wanted to know more about her relationship with the outdoors as it blends with creativity, as well as her path to becoming self-employed. Also, if I’m honest, I wanted to laugh a bit, too. Amber’s an illustrator and designer today, but her background is also in advertising. Which speaks to her short, quippy copywriting. I asked her where her interests sprang from.

Amber Share:

I really like to think that I’m almost like this perfect mixture of my two parents. My mom is very artsy. I grew up watching her like paint, like she painted this beautiful garden and butterfly scene on my little sister’s bed when we were kids. And she’s just a very talented like hobby artist. She never pursued it professionally, but she totally could have. And my dad is just this very witty snappy one-liner type of person. And I kind of became this merging of those two things. I’ve just always been very sarcastic and that’s just sort of my humor language. And I always wanted, I think I, in kindergarten, I said I would be an artist when I grew up. So that was kind of always there in my life. And then in college I discovered that advertising and graphic design could be a sort of merging of my humor and my art interests. And it just kind of went from there

Gale Straub – Narration:

Despite her dry sense of humor and love of art. Amber never particularly saw herself as either funny or an artist. It kind of makes sense. Both humor and art are wildly subjective. And there’s something about that label that can be tricky to just slap on yourself. Sometimes you have to have other people tell you what they see in you, but in the last year with the success of subpar parks, Amber is starting to think about herself as a funny artist. It was years earlier though that Amber started incorporating her love of the outdoors into her lettering and graphic design.

Gale Straub:

When did you start weaving the outdoors into both your lettering and your visual?

Amber Share:

Um, probably only in the last few years I grew up. I wouldn’t say my parents are like, you know what you’d think of when you traditionally would describe like an outdoors person? We went to parks everywhere. We went, it was just like a, it was a big part of my life, but it was always kind of in the background of what we were doing. It was like family time and we went to a park or, you know, we played sports, so we were outdoors. So it just, it always felt kind of secondary to what we were actually doing. And then in my adulthood, living in DC, we had great parks there. Rock Creek park is amazing and I’ve found myself wanting to be outdoors a lot more. I used to love when I was learning lettering. I would go to the park and just lay out there and draw. And it took me a long time to realize that that’s really where I felt inspired, whether it was just sitting in a city park or actually going out a bigger, more wild park with my friends. So over the last few years, I really just wanted to actually start showing the outdoors in my work because I realized that’s where all my inspiration comes from anyway.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Amber designs cute pun filled cards that say things like your love is “in tents.” Take a hike in (preferably with me). And this one’s really cute: I will never desert you, but I will go to the desert with you. Though she lives in North Carolina, Amber has a special place in her heart for the desert.

Amber Share:

It definitely started really early, but it was one of those where I didn’t quite realize what was happening. I went to the grand Canyon with my family. When we moved back to the contiguous 48 from Hawaii, we took a road trip across the U S and we went down to the grand Canyon and I was just immediately just drawn to it. I just wanted to hike down there. I wanted to know what was down there because it just looked like this a bit from up above and we didn’t have time to do that. So we just kind of like wandered around the rim of it. But, um, then when I was in high school preparing for college, I took a trip just to Phoenix for a soccer tournament. And I considered going to Arizona state actually just cause I just felt so drawn to that area. And I still just never quite knew why, but I didn’t end up going that route after college, my friend, Mallory and I, and another friend, we, um, planned a trip to, uh, the Havasupai tribal lands backpacking. And as soon as we hiked down, it was just like this instant. I don’t know. There’s just something about the desert that does resonate so deeply with my soul. It sounds cheesy, but that’s the only way I can really describe it.

Gale Straub:

Do you remember what the first piece was that, that you created that had some type of inspiration in the outdoors or from the outdoors?

Amber Share:

I think my a woman’s place is in the wild sticker was definitely pretty early on, even though I didn’t post it for a long time. I started dabbling with like that and really drawing some more desert landscapes. I actually think two years ago I posted, I drew like the front end of the yellow kayak, like kind of through almost like a Lake Powell Canyon type of area. I think that was like the first time I posted a truly not abstract straight from the outdoors kind of piece. And it just resonated with so many people that I realized, Oh, I could, I could focus on this and it wouldn’t be weird.

Gale Straub:

So there’s like a piece of you that maybe always would want to create something like that. But what, what’s the weird aspect just like that you wouldn’t want to feel like you’re kind of alone in expressing yourself that way?

Amber Share:

I think there are, and I feel, feel that way. I think there’s sort of a big barrier for me feeling like I’m not enough of an outdoors person to be able to take up that space in my art. I’m always really self conscious. Cause even now with subpar parks, having the popularity that it does, people will message me and ask for recommendations in parks. I’ve never been to. And I always feel just like paying. I was like, Oh, you’re a fraud. Just cause I don’t have this deep knowledge of all of our parks and all of these trails or even like best practices in certain areas.

Amber Share:

So I just, I have this, this imposter syndrome that still comes up, especially when it comes to the outdoors world, because there are so many people who know so much more than I do.

Gale Straub:

You know, I see someone like you and Subpar Parks started as a hobby, really. Like it was a, it was almost a challenge, right, that you created that from and you were also doing a lot of freelance art and I believe you were working full time, too. Right? So like there’s really only so much that you can do and be, you know, quote unquote expert in as well.

Amber Share:

Yeah. Um, yeah, I was working full time at the start of Subpar Parks. So now I’m actually full time for myself. It’s funny. Cause I started Subpar parks as just this, like purely a little passion project on the side. It was just kind of the thing I stumbled upon that there were one star reviews for all the parks and I knew I wanted to illustrate them all.

Amber Share:

It’s just like a personal goal. And that just was the twist that I found. So I never, I never set out to do this to be like, Oh, I’m gonna own parks in art. Like that’s gonna, that’s gonna be my role in the world. And there are definitely people who look to me now as some kind of an expert. And I am not that expert.

Gale Straub – Narration:

In the last several years, there have been a lot of art projects inspired by the National Parks, especially since Doug Leen or Ranger Doug resurrected and began reproducing the color vintage WPA National Park posters originally created by Chester Don Powell. Art projects have also been influenced by the rise of popularity of the National Parks in the last ten years, partially through the help of social media and the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. We’ve featured artists on the She Explores website over the years who have dedicated projects to the parks. In 2015 Sarah Coyne’s created the “Post for the Parks” project in which she mailed a watercolor painting to each park in the US. Hannah Rothstein’s National Parks 2050 project plays with the vintage National Park style and illustrates what the parks will look like in 2050 if climate change continues on its current trajectory and we fail to act. All these projects spring from a love of the parks and their natural wonders. Each project uses different tools to raise awareness. Amber’s is humor, which has had some unexpected effects. I asked Amber what the positive interpretations of the Subpar parks project has been.

Amber Share:

There are actually a few, the one most obvious one, which definitely has been sort of done before. And the one star review world is just, I call them, it’s a feature, not a bug, which is where the negative review is actually why like most people who like that park like that park, like Joshua tree being that the only thing to do there is walk around the desert. That is why most people go there. So that is kind of one where I’m just kind of flipping it on its head. The other sort of positive, which I didn’t really anticipate when I started the project is that so many people who work in customer facing roles, whether it’s retail or at a restaurant or even just customer service for a company have reached out to me and expressed how thankful they are for the project, because it helps them realize that they don’t have to take the customer feedback that they deal with every day quite so seriously.

Amber Share:

Um, because no matter what you bring to the table, someone’s going to be unhappy. And that’s kind of been my favorite happy accident of it. And I think another accident, which cause I started this in December and so Coronavirus was not even really a thing yet. We had maybe just started to hear about it. Overseas is so many people now who couldn’t travel this year have reached out and said that it really, it was kind of like a little salve for their wanderlust just because it gave them a little humor and a different way to look at the parks with the illustration instead of, you know, all the instant photos that give you wanderlust. So that’s been kind of cool too and not something I anticipated. Yeah. It does also feel like if you read through the comments on them, a lot of people take the negative review and they, it’s not like they, they totally go the opposite way, but it encourages them to share what they love about that particular park.

Gale Straub:

And like you said, that sometimes is the thing that they love, but like there can be an additive quality there. Then it’s also kind of maybe triggering those positive memories that they had at the time as well.

Amber Share:

Yeah. So many people actually tagged me in stories where then when they see their favorite park featured, they will share pictures from their trips to that park, to their stories and tag me in them. And I love that so much. Like it’s almost like these people just rally around their park to be like, no, it’s amazing. And I love it.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear more from Amber after this.

 

MIDROLL AD BREAK

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back. Before the break we heard from Amber about some of the happy surprises of the subpar parks project. I was also curious to know whether there have been any negative interpretations.

Gale Straub:

Have there been any negative interpretations of the project that you were surprised by or any feedback that, that you weren’t anticipating?

Amber Share:

Very, very, very little. I do want to emphasize that because I think people, whenever I share like jokingly that someone was really negative towards me. Like all these people start messaging me and I’m like, I’m okay. Like this is once in a blue moon that I get messages like this, but I’ve definitely had a few people reach out. Like some people don’t realize that I’m making fun of the reviews. They think I’ve written that. So that’s the most common thing that I get. And then I get people who just like, they think I’m agreeing with it. And so I’ll get messages where they’re like, this is, this is so disgraceful. Our parks are a treasurer and I just reply and I’m like, I agree. They are addressed. I don’t know what to tell you. That’s really it though. And most people that I’ve talked to really love it. Even if it’s not for them, they get that. It’s funny and they move along. But there are, you know, there’s always going to be a few people. It is the nature of the project after all.

Gale Straub:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I have heard in other interviews that you’ve been a part of, or that I’ve read that people might say like, how could someone possibly say this, you know about a park, but there is also this, I was actually curious whether you might have more empathy for some of these one star reviewers after reading. So many of them like thinking that someone might just not have had exposure to a park before and didn’t know what to expect. There’s like a, an aspect of that as well. Just kind of humanizing that there are, there are actual people who are writing this.

Amber Share:

Absolutely. And it’s funny cause I really do try to emphasize that for people sometimes because sometimes people get pretty like nasty in the comments when it’s their park. And they’re upset that someone thinks that about their favorite park, but that’s one of the things I’ve learned through this. And it’s even causing me to reflect on my own the way I act with people who I encounter, who are in like a service based industry, just like having a little bit of compassion for other people and realizing like we’re all just out here doing our best and not everything is for everyone. And that doesn’t mean I need to, you know, ruin your reputation on the internet and we can laugh about it because it’s, you know, a national park. It’s not, it can’t take it personally because all the ones I choose are criticizing the nature, but we all have that impulse in us to like get annoyed at a situation and want to just like rant about it online. So it’s definitely having compassion for that part of myself and other people, but then also having more compassion for people on the receiving end of that kind of feedback.

Gale Straub:

So I’m sure when you started subpar parks, you weren’t expecting it to grow as quickly or to be as big a platform as it. I mean, I think there’s like 270,000 followers on Instagram or something, which in nine months is pretty explosive growth. Yeah. How have you been handling that? Especially as someone who I know you identify as an introvert and also how do you feel about like, do you feel like there’s like a responsibility to use the platform for good as well.

Amber Share:

So much so, it’s especially right now. It’s just so interesting because I, I also have, you know, my personal Instagram, which is a much smaller platform and I post a lot more of a variety of stuff there in terms of like the types of content my illustration and lettering work is about. Um, whereas with subpar parks, it’s just, it’s almost like people think of it as like a meme account because it’s really consistently just that thing. So I really debated about how an, if I should use that platform because I definitely have a really diverse audience on there.

Amber Share:

And I did share in June, you know, some other artists doing a lot of stuff for black lives matter. And I, I made my opinion on that pretty clear. So I try a little bit to do things like that. It’s really tough in this election year to know where, where I should be on that line. Cause it does really matter to me, but that’s also not what the project is really about. So that is definitely weighing on me a lot. And as an introvert, I just, sometimes I feel like I’m just hiding from my DMS. There are just so many, um, I love all of them because most people it’s just like, they’re sending me reviews. They saw that they think are funny or they’re sending me pictures of my artwork that they’ve purchased in their home, but it’s just so many every day that I can’t keep up with it.

Amber Share:

So I’ve kind of given up on that. I like pick random ones to read and that’s that, but yeah, the introvert thing it’s been pretty tough to manage because so many people want my attention now in my email and my DMS. And I really had to like set a boundary with myself of like, okay, you don’t need to check this any more today. You can only respond to this many every day. And that’s just the way it has to go.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Talking with Amber. I got the sense that she’s still figuring out how to navigate such a large platform that highlights our national parks, which for all the gifts they give us have a dark history of racism that still shows up today and overt and covert ways. After reflecting a bit on the project, I’m with Amber on hoping that the parks and the modern review culture are the butt of the joke, not the idea that certain people know best when it comes to our parks, because whether it’s a book or a restaurant or a park, I know my five star review is another person’s one star and that’s okay, too.

Gale Straub – Narration:

With the success of subpar parks and new freelancing opportunities, Amber decided to leave her full time job back in March, just as we were starting to shelter in place due to the pandemic.

Amber Share:

So I actually ended up giving my two weeks notice that my job, which was a really tough decision because of all the jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I mean, they were, they’re amazing people. I loved working for them. It was just a matter of, you know, my personal goals for myself. So I ended up giving my notice and the next day they decided we all needed to work remotely for the foreseeable future. So I actually finished out my final two weeks at home by myself. Yeah. So, um, yeah, so basically since late mid March, somewhere in there I’ve been working for myself.

Gale Straub:

So you said it was something that you’d been thinking about for awhile. Were there any like practices that you cultivated that helped you to get there besides the practice of, I think it’s T it was two illustrations a week with subpar parks.

Amber Share:

Yeah. It started as one. And then I just loved doing it so much that I decided to do it two times a week, which then became too much. And now I’m back to one time a week. Um, but yeah, I mean, I think just consistency is really the big key. And also just knowing what you need to do, like what your goals are. I have gotten really good over the years at like figuring out whether it’s income or habits that I need to build or supportive tasks like marketing and getting my name out there. I’ve gotten really good at like setting these sort of big goals, knowing what I need to hit and then like just sort of breaking it down to what I need to do now. Like what do I need to do every day, every week, every month to get there. And so that’s just been, the biggest key for me is just being really practical. Like I think people think there’s a lot of magic involved with like getting to a place where you can work for yourself or just do live life in a different way than the way society typically tells you to live. But it’s really just about setting your goals and knowing what you have to do to hit them.

Gale Straub:

Hmm what’s what’s the hardest part of, of that aspect of it?

Amber Share:

I think knowing how to know when a goal isn’t quite right for you is probably the hardest thing. Because even when you are trying to do something, like in my case, working for myself and stuff, you still get this idea in your head of how you’re supposed to get there. And even just like my personal goals, I think it’s just really about learning to be flexible and realizing like the journey might not always look like what you think it’s going to, and you need to be willing to adjust and rotate as you need. I’m actually, I joke that I’m a pretty big fan of like canceling goals. Um, when they’re not right, like earlier this year, I got it in my head that I was going to run a marathon. It’s always been something I want to, my gym was closed. I couldn’t do anything but run. So I was like, okay, this is the year I’m going to run a marathon. So I installed like a marathon training plan on my Garmin watch and I was going and I just realized one day I was like, wow, I hate this. I really don’t want to run a marathon. I am not pursuing this goal anymore. And I just deleted it and it felt so good. It was so freeing to like free myself of this prison. I’d created for myself where I felt like I had to do the thing that I didn’t even enjoy.

Gale Straub:

What did you dislike about it the, the time out there, the structuring your day around it, what did you dislike about it?

Amber Share:

Well, the funny thing is I’m not, I’m not running any less. I’m still running. There’s just this almost like identity that develops for me around things like that, where I feel like I have to do this to be a runner. And it kind of goes back to what I was saying about kind of feeling like an imposter in the outdoors world sometimes too. Like, I feel like there’s a certain level of knowledge or experience or ability I have to have to have that label in my life. And so I think like just the pressure to be a marathon runner that I was putting on myself was really just what I had to get rid of. And now I love running again. I was hating it while I was training for a marathon. I’m not doing anything different now, other than that, I don’t have a race date in mind and now I love running again.

Gale Straub:

Oh, well, it’s great to listen to yourself with that. So, um, I believe another thing that I read through you was that you also believe that rest and balance is really important, you know, in, in achieving those goals. So what ways do you incorporate rest into your life? And also has it, has it become harder on the last six months since going full time freelance?

Amber Share:

It’s become so much harder and it’s not even just the full time freelance thing. Cause I also, my husband is super involved in amazing and supportive. He helps me with all things up our parks, fulfilling orders and answering emails and all of that. So he definitely takes on a lot of it for me to help with the overwhelm. But I think it’s just that mental load that builds up makes it really hard to just unplug. So what I’ve really had to do is like forced no screen time, just for like quick risks, like daily rest. I need to stop looking at my phone and stop checking my email and have like set hours of sort of that quiet space where I don’t have screens in my face, which I’m definitely not as good at as I would like to be, but I’m getting there. And then I think it’s just really, I’ve been really deliberate about actually taking time off. We went up to the mountains in August. We just rented a cabin and went up there for a week and a half. And it was really nice because our internet was super body. So we kind of had to unplug. So that was really nice. And I’ve just been really deliberate about planning days where I am not doing anything, even if it’s just a random Friday or a whole week, if you have to actually plan it or you won’t do it.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Amber has also started a small business called Bright Beta Co with her good friend Mallory.

Amber Share:

So we actually met, we both were moving to Raleigh, like within a couple of months of each other, me from DC and her from Connecticut. And we just both happened to be in this female entrepreneur Facebook group. I don’t even remember which one, but I just posted that I was moving to Raleigh. And if anyone lived in the area, I’d love to meet for coffee. Cause I didn’t know anyone. And she commented and said that she was moving down just a month or so after me. And so we ended up finding each other on Facebook and totally forgot about each other. And then, um, later that winter, I was trying to look for a meetup at our climbing gym because I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have anyone to go climbing with and I was on meetup and it showed me like your Facebook friends who also like this gym and Mallory was on the list. And I was like, Oh my gosh. So I messaged her and I was like, I think we’re supposed to be friends.

Amber Share:

And so, yeah, we’ve been friends for a few years now and um, we’re just very similar in our mindset about things and in our approach to things. And when at the end of last year, we both were trying to buy our planners for the year. Cause we’re both big paper planner people. And we were just so bummed at sort of the lack of options. And the ones we bought were pretty disappointing when we actually got them. Like they, weren’t what we thought they’d be. And we’re actually climbing one day and talking about them and just like, Oh, I wish my planner had this. I wish we could do this in it. And then we looked at each other and we were like, wait, should we just make this a thing? So that’s how it was born.

Gale Straub – Narration:

They decided to call it the “no limits” planner, a 2021 planner designed to help you not only manage your time, but to be intentional with it too.

Gale Straub:

It’s really hard in my mind to like, think ahead two weeks, you know, let alone start planning 20, 21. But what do you, what do you think are the benefits of doing that of kind of, you know, starting off your year, you said you’re a really big proponent of setting goals, but like on top of that, like what’s the, what are the benefits of dreaming a little bit right now?

Amber Share:

I mean, I think the biggest benefit is it just helps you realize that like right now is not forever, even though the fear feels like it has been a decade, this won’t always be where you are, wherever it is that you are right now. And if you can sort of look to the future and you know, just kind of imagine your future self and connect with that person, I think it makes you so much more motivated to work your way out of whatever situations you’re in right now that you don’t love. And I think this year, especially for at least, I hope for a lot of people, it’s been a, a pause for reflection on your life and what you are not happy with. Um, I know for me, it totally has. And It’s one of those things where this is obviously been a really rough year and a lot of terrible things have happened, but I don’t think those types of things happen without also being an opportunity to sort of examine and stopped and see where you want to go from here. So I think it is just really important to continue looking forward because that’s the only way there is to go.

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