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How to Beat Pinterest Paralysis & *Actually* Design Your Dream Space

Alternate title idea: Imposter Syndrome is Real, But I Didn’t Let it Stop Me…Oh and Let Me Teach You How to Moodboard! Whew was that a mouthful, hence why it didn’t make the cut. Hey EHD world. It’s Arlyn, ex-EHDer who just can’t quit this blog. I’m here today to do a little storytelling and a little self-promotion. The former being something I’m perhaps too comfortable doing, and the latter something I’m, eh…working on.

Earlier this month, Emily introduced you to the Skillshare package of classes from the wonderful Albie Buabeng, Mikel Welch, and me. While I’ll definitely go a bit deeper into what my course is about, what I hope everyone will come out of my lessons equipped with, and even what my process was to put the workshop together, I thought it would be fun to get a look at some of the behind-the-scenes. Before my experience filming, I would have had no idea what went into working on something like this. I’m a writer, design-lover and professional behind-the-scenes-er, so when I was asked to yank myself out of the warm embrace of that very cozy (invisible) place and be an in-front-of-the-scenes-er, it was quite the journey through the treacherous land called Imposter Syndrome. Oh, the peaks and valleys. Settle in, it’s storytime.

(Article express lane alert: For anyone who doesn’t care a lick about behind-the-scenes, feel free to scroll down to the section called “The class I wish I had for myself 5 years ago.” I mean, you’ll miss all the fun, but I understand if you just want to get to the meat of it.)

do i look confident?

What It Was Like Working with Skillshare

First and foremost, I want to say that the team at Skillshare is full of such wonderful humans, and I promise I’m not writing this because I’m trying to get on their good side. I had the luxury of getting a small glimpse into the method back when Emily filmed her styling course. Velinda from our team at the time (oh what a wonderful time that was) was helping Em pull things together for the workshop and she always mentioned how lovely they were and how easy they made everything. She wasn’t wrong.

My first meeting with the team was before I accepted the project officially. It was a “feel it out” video call that I took from my bed. I was in the midst of some physical limitations (I injured myself back in August after falling off a bench…trying to rid my house of a pesky spider. The spider won). Worried filming would be too demanding for my weak, ailing back and legs, I was upfront and honest with them about it all. Some say “fake it ‘til you make it” but I prefer to put all the cards on the table and then see if someone is still interested. They were so gracious, saying they’d work with me however it suited me best, even if I needed to be seated the whole time. Lots of breaks would be built in, filming could be spread over a few days if I needed it. I mean, serious red carpet treatment, folks. They gave me a few days to think through it as I wanted to discuss it with my husband. He encouraged me to do it, and I said I’d see how I felt by the end of the weekend to make my choice. The truth is, I was partly using my injury as an out because I didn’t entirely feel “worthy” of the ask. Who was I to teach anyone anything? Keep reaching.

Anyhow, you know when you tell yourself “if so and so happens, then I’ll take it as a sign I should do so and so”? Yeah, half my decisions are made as a result of this practice. By Sunday, I felt not horrible (a miracle at the time), and delivered my excited yet very nervous “yes” the next day. A handful of calls and emails were exchanged over the next month, and filming would take place just before Thanksgiving.

What had I gotten myself into?

part of “b roll” was sitting on the couch, smiling, pretending to look at stuff on my laptop. i think i was convincing.

The BTS of Filming

By the time all my surfaces had been restyled, fresh flowers arranged, sofa velvet evened out, pillows fluffed, I had walked back some of the imposteriness of the previous weeks. Once I knew the Skillshare team wanted me to teach on the subject of moodboarding, I felt a little more comfortable. I had been moodboarding for years, sometimes for fun, sometimes for work, mostly to get out my design itches. There was even a dinner I had with a very close friend soon after I arrived in LA when she said, and I quote: “If only you could figure out how to make money teaching people how to do those design boards you do so well.” Ha, foreshadowing much?

The night before “the big day,” I could barely settle my pulse below 100 bpm. I wouldn’t call it panic so much as anticipation (and okay, a tiny bit of panic). While I was grateful there was no script, I was almost more nervous that I didn’t have something to go off. You see, we had established an outline together on what the lessons would be about, and the delightful Kaye from the Skillshare team kept assuring me that the filming would run like a conversation. She’d ask me questions, I’d answer them and talk through things, she’d ask more questions, I’d keep answering, and then we’d be done! Easy peasy-ish.

The two fantastic women who would be my on-site film crew (shout out to Stav and Kayci!) came by the afternoon before to set up lighting, do sound checks, move around furniture. I hadn’t had anyone in my home for months as I was a stickler about social distancing (and by that, I really mean social isolation), so I threw open all the windows for air circulation and prepared to hover at least six feet away from them at all times. For anyone who is curious, anyone on the in-person camera crew is regularly tested for COVID, wears a mask all day, and 100% abides by all the necessary protocol. For a dyed-in-the-wool hypochondriac and worrier, it felt risky, but I was resolved to trust the precautions being taken.

To them, it was a regular Wednesday afternoon, but to me, it was like watching someone else’s totally regular Wednesday afternoon through a TV screen…a layer of “unrealness” separating me from it all. It’s a funny thing that happens when you suddenly become the subject. I had spent my entire journalistic career on the other side of the recorder/phone/camera/inbox. To flip-flop the situation was 100% out of my comfort zone, but my mantra through it all was “why not me?” Those three words echoed in my head anytime imposter syndrome would kick in. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t still.

That night, I settled into the steaming tub of water I ran for myself, sprinkled in lavender-scented bath salts, and tried to relax. I rehearsed some thoughts out loud, trying to get comfortable with my own voice, trying not to sound questioning of my own statements. Teachers are confident, helpful, understanding. Did I sound that way, too?

not shown: the six or seven times i filmed the part where i tell the class that i’m a “writer and designer.”

Lights, Camera, Zoom Call, Action

This is where we jump to the part of the story where I tell you it was SO easy, a dried-up cactus could do it! While the team definitely made the process smooth, talking off the cuff to a camera with lights pointed at your face and a laptop not that far away with several faces floating on a Zoom call (the NY-based team videos in to make sure all is going according to plan) is not a natural feeling for a quasi-introvert. I stumbled, I asked to restart numerous times, I stared up at the ceiling envisioning my brain flatlining even more times. I remember a point where Kaye (my head producer if I haven’t mentioned that already) asked me to do another take of something “for options” and I sat there for what felt like 12 years, eyes blinking, not able to remember what I had just said. Through the laptop, she fed me back my lines with the patience and benevolence of a Buddhist monk. Bless you, Kaye.

I’m happy to report that once I got through the discomfort of talking about myself and got to the actual teaching, I settled in and felt natural. This is what I do. I’ve been instructing in one way or another in written form for over a decade. I got into the groove of walking through all the nitty-gritty steps of how I build my moodboards, how you can do it, too. Any lingering symptom of imposter syndrome cleared up. I remember telling my husband Charles at the end of the day how proud I was of myself. “I DO know things. I CAN teach people.” He nodded his head; he already knew both those things about me, he said back to me.

My last word on the behind-the-scenes is this: Skillshare is legit and they take the courses they release and the production that goes into said courses to release very seriously. I’m honored to have been picked to teach a workshop.

a super quick glimpse into my class. curious yet?!?

“The Class I Wish I Had For Myself 5 Years Ago.”

If you made it this far, congratulations! You just lived through what I jokingly said to Jess before turning this post in would be best titled “Arlyn: The Skillshare Years.” If you skipped ahead, hey, welcome, you missed all the fun (I warned you).

Like I wrote at the start of this post, I thought it could be fun to pull back the veil. The whole undertaking was a whirlwind to experience as a “normal” person (meaning, not someone who is used to being the “talent”). But let’s finally—GOOD GOD FINALLY—get to the topic of my class. While I won’t go line by line and essentially reteach everything here in the written form (gotta leave something for you to learn in the course!), I’ll give you a brief overview. Essentially, my Skillshare class takes you through the “pre-design” process, from inspiration through moodboarding, a.k.a. everything you need to do before you actually dip into your bank account and accept a delivery on anything.

I have been putting together moodboards for years, figuring out the kinks myself in how to do it best along the way. “The class I wish I had for myself 5 years ago,” is how I would loosely describe this to anyone who asked. When I was working through the syllabus with the team, I tried to think about areas where I struggled before I solidified my system. Mostly, they were organization, action, and the dreaded Pinterest Paralysis ™. If you just thought “that’s all the things to struggle with, Arlyn,” you’d be correct. I’d pin pin pin pin pin without knowing where to go next. Products and images across numerous boards that I’d stare at for months, years. Then I’d just buy something and hope for the best. THIS IS HOW PROFESSIONALS DO IT! (I’m kidding).

Not a single time before I finished my living and dining rooms did I actually create a space that felt cohesive and well-rounded. And I finally know why that is: because I didn’t do enough planning. Even if it’s not in your budget to finish a room all at once, I implore you to go through the moodboarding process. It’s my fail-safe way to “date” products and paint colors, see how everything works—or doesn’t work—together before ever spending a dime. I also found that splitting up the room you’re designing into multiple moodboards (what I call “vignettes” in the course) was crucial to not overlooking something. A lot of the designers I follow seem to plot out a room all on one board, but for a non-professional, I think that could be overwhelming.

a moodboard vignette looking toward my sofa.
on the opposite wall, an iteration of my fireplace and tv set up.
the finished product. ooohh aahhhh.

Another thing I go through is how to get from the save-all-the-inspo phase to actually shaping a room’s design. There’s a purging process, a “trend-spotting” part, and the pre-moodboard vision board. That last part is something I’ve added recently that has seriously helped me avoid wandering decorating eyes or distractions.

Now, something I want to say for anyone who has taken or will take my course is the following: You do NOT need to know Photoshop to do what I did in my course. I walk through the steps in Photoshop because that’s what is most comfortable to me, but you could apply all the same principles even if you printed and cut things out and taped it all together on an old school poster board. I promise. If you have Adobe knowledge, then great! If not, find the method that works for your skillset/program access, and proceed. (Skillshare has great courses to help you learn Photoshop, too, so take my workshop then get the most out of that membership and keep on learnin’!)

my zoom with em:)

Wrap It Up, Arlyn

Thank you for ingesting 2,000+ words up there. Hopefully, you had some fun, or at least scratched some curiosity itches, with all my behind-the-scenes details. And I’d be lying if I didn’t also hope you might want to head on over to Skillshare to take my class and learn how to plan out your perfect room! I spend time in the discussion boards over there and have had some great chats with some of my students, too!

Oh, and the best news: Don’t forget that you can get two free weeks of Skillshare (to take my course, Albie’s, Mikel’s, and a ton more, of course) with this link. I hope to see you over there, soon!

Opening Image Credits: Left – Arlyn’s Pinterest | Right – Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, From: Reveal: Arlyn’s Bright & Happy Rental Living Room Makeover

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3 years ago

I’m an over-pinner. I’ve subscribed to skillshare (uh, and bought a new house) so I can’t wait to get stuck into your course! You might answer this question in the course, but do you have other recs for mood board tools? I do have photoshop, but only on my desktop and I’d particularly love something I could use on an ipad if such a thing exists…. I’d happily pay for a decent app. I’ve done some googling but can’t tell what’s any good. Any suggestions gratefully received! Or just tell me to watch the class already if you cover it there, of course.

3 years ago
Reply to  CC

Hi CC! I think the trickiest part about doing something like this on your iPad is inputting all the images/products you need to. Working on desktop or laptop, you just drag things in, but I know it doesn’t quite work that way on a tablet. For other resources to use if Photoshop isn’t something you’re super comfortable, I know EHD wrote this great article: (I’d recommend Google Slides. I’d apply the same principles I walk through in the class for vignetting, etc. but it doesn’t have to come out picture perfect!)

3 years ago
Reply to  Arlyn

Thank you so much! That makes a lot of sense. I guess I have to actually get up off the sofa to do this properly, huh?? Really appreciate the reply and the additional link.

3 years ago
Reply to  CC

I use the free Adobe Photoshop Mix app on my iPad. It works fairly well to quickly cut and paste photos together. Easy to learn too.

3 years ago

Thank you for sharing the real story, Arlyn, and your class sounds amazing. So many of us struggle with imposter syndrome…I know I do. The irony is how much time we spend looking at those we admire as beyond such a thing. Thank you for normalizing the process of developing voice and confidence and doing that thing scared. All the best to you!

3 years ago

So, can you recommend some tech tools for effective moodboards?!

3 years ago
Reply to  Tracy
3 years ago

Hi! I watched your class over tgd weekend and just wanted to say how good it was! You covered a lot of things that I might have thought I knew…. But actually I didn’t. I really liked the idea of moodboarding the different vignettes in each room. What a great class – thanks very much!

3 years ago
Reply to  CC

That’s so nice to hear! Thank you so much CC!

3 years ago

Great read! I just bought a new house and am planning on taking your course to help guide me through the room design process. Thank you so much for offering it on Skillshare! Would you mind telling me where you got that rug? It’s EVERYTHING. I need it for my mood board….and, maybe, my new living room. 😉

3 years ago
Reply to  Lindsey

It’s the Alrik Rug from Lulu & Georgia, but it comes and goes, and right now, it looks like it’s not on the site. 🙁 Sorry!

3 years ago

Congrats on the class! Curious how this fits in with your post a while back about design collected over time, more personal and less styled (which I loved.) I’m building a new house and I see the wisdom in moodboarding like this and planning wayyy more, but there’s a disconnect between how to plan and how to account for amazing finds you can’t photoshop in and out, if they are bigger than just accessories. I want *everything* in my home to be unique and special and personal and layered and storied. Which I realize is kinda unrealistic. And definitely overwhelming when thinking about an entire new build. But I just want someone to talk about marrying the two —planning and spontaneity, moodboarding and serendipity—how you approach this personally and how you’d recommend non designers approach it.