Exploring Nature with Phoebe Wahl

Exploring Nature with Phoebe Wahl

Meet Phoebe Wahl, the artist behind our new Spring Collection! Phoebe is an award-winning children’s book author, illustrator, and surface designer. We've been admirers of her work for quite some time. When her daughter was born last year and we saw her name show up in our Esembly orders list we literally jumped with excitement. We couldn't believe she was using our diapers! We waited a few weeks (you know, to play it cool 😜) and then reached out to see if she'd like to design some spring prints for us. And the rest is history! Keep reading to learn more about her as an artist and mama....


Esembly: What's your all time favorite thing to draw?
Phoebe: People, plans, houses. Probably houses the most. Interiors, exteriors… I love drawing all the details that make them homes.

Page from Phoebe Wahl's illustrated book

Esembly: What inspires you?
Phoebe: Nature, folklore & fantasy, books, music, feelings.

Esembly: What makes you laugh?
Phoebe: My daughter, partner, and friends, tv, movies… My daughter just discovered how to blow raspberries on me while nursing, and sometimes she’ll do it while falling asleep. It takes all my energy not to laugh loudly and wake her up!

Esembly: What’s your favorite thing about spring?
Phoebe: I think just the feeling of everything coming alive. I live in the Pacific Northwest where winters are very dark and rainy, and I never realize how badly I need to see bright little leaf and flower buds until they arrive, just in time, to bring a much needed dose of hope and excitement into a world of gray. There’s always a specific spring smell that is so wonderful too, like wet earth and blossoms and a little bit of sun.

Fairy in a wheelchair holding onto flowers

Esembly: How did you make your way to your current career?

Phoebe: I always knew that I wanted to be an artist of some kind, and was lucky to have a family with enough time and resources to allow me to really dig into my passion and hone my skills in a unique way—I was unschooled through high school, and spent most of my time drawing. In many ways I feel like I spent my childhood preparing for self-employment as an artist; by the time I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design where I studied illustration, I was already somewhat used to managing my own projects and time. I was able to start doing illustration freelance work while still in college, for Taproot Magazine, which allowed me to transition into full time illustration right after I graduated. In 2014 I started doing my first surface design projects, making t-shirts, prints and cards, and was lucky enough to have my first picture book, Sonya’s Chickens picked up by Tundra Books not long after leaving school.

Esembly: What exciting things do you have coming up career-wise?
Phoebe: I have my first not-for-little-kids book coming out in September, it’s an illustrated young adult novel called Phoebe’s Diary, which is based on my own high school journals. It was an absolutely massive undertaking, and I’m really excited that it’s finally going to see the light of day this fall! Plus I have more picture books in the works, and plenty of new goodies on the way from my brand, too!

Esembly: Your daughter recently turned 1, right? What is something you never want to forget about her at this age?
Phoebe: Her openness, and curiosity and joy. I feel like she is just brimming with new information constantly, completely overflowing with new insights about herself and the world around her, which is pure magic to witness. She also is really starting to develop a sense of silliness, which is so much fun.

1st birthday party with woodland critters illustrated by Phoebe Wahl

Esembly: What parenting advice would you give your pre-kid self?

Phoebe: Don’t worry so much about being perfectly prepared, and having all the little ‘things’. You can always get them if you need them along the way. Although, my partner, who has a 16 year old, did TRY to tell me this and I didn’t listen, so I’m not sure my past self would even listen to my present self either! I guess over-preparing with all the little gadgets and knickknacks was just an important part of my nesting experience. It’s just funny to revisit now as I find little things that felt so important that I haven’t touched since putting them in their place in the nursery.

Esembly: What’s been the most surprising thing about parenting so far?
Phoebe: How constant, and all consuming it is. I think it’s something that I just never could have adequately prepared myself for— the intensity of being emotionally and physically available for someone else’s needs 24/7, both how beautiful and special it would feel to have that connection, but also how difficult and exhausting too.

Esembly: Share a day in the life of Phoebe, what does it look like from start to finish?
Phoebe: I get up around 7:30 or 8, I’m really up much earlier but my husband often takes our daughter out of bed around 6:30 to give me extra rest to compensate for night nursing. He then hands her off to me, and I make a big mug of black tea with milk & honey, and then take care of her until childcare arrives mid morning. Then when I pass her off I often have a bit of a freeze/panic trying to decide what is the most urgent thing to do in my precious few hours! I usually start with catching up on emails with clients or my employees who run my retail business, and then dig into creative work, whether it’s sketches, final art of books or products, or writing/editing. Sometimes I’ll take a break from creative work to hop on a call or go over to my store’s warehouse to check in with folks there or have a meeting, but I’m back by late afternoon, at which point if my husband has a flexible workday, he’ll take over care for our daughter so I can continue to work, or I’ll stop around 3 and play or go on a walk with my daughter until dinnertime. My partner and I switch off cooking, and then he does bath time and I do bedtime. Then I either collapse into bed and watch tv or read a book, or if I’m able to summon enough energy, do chores or play Scrabble with my partner. If I have a big project that requires lots of uninterrupted time, I’ll sometimes work after evenings…It’s not ideal, but post baby, inevitably I’ve had to just squeeze work in wherever I can.

Forest scene illustrated by Phoebe Wahl

Esembly: If you could go back to your pre-kid days—how would you spend a day?

Phoebe: I would sleep in, for starters. And then spend hours and hours on a just-for-fun project, like sewing clothes or organizing photos or something, while watching a relaxing tv show. Then maybe I’d go on a spontaneous adventure with my partner, drive to another city or county to go on a date or hike.

All things that require an abundance of time, which feels so difficult to come by these days!

Esembly: How do you find time to be creative? / How do you balance parenthood/being creative?
Phoebe: I struggle to, for sure. Finding balance has been really hard, and feels impossible most days. Most of the time I feel totally zapped of creativity, and like I’m just (barely) functioning. But, that being said, somehow this year even though it’s felt like I’m existing in a routine void of things I previously felt were incredibly important for my creativity (namely; abundances of time and energy) there have been some sprouts of creativity that have pushed their way through, like little plants volunteering out of unwatered soil. They usually come in the (rare) moments where my brain is able to rest, and wander. Before bed when everyone but me is asleep, or when I’m on a walk with my daughter in her stroller, but these days it can take a long time to fully envision them, let alone see them through!
I wish I had something more aspirational to say, but the reality is that it’s a constant juggling act, and one in which the other shoe is constantly dropping. If I take time for a creative project, there is almost always a setback somewhere else— less time spent with my daughter or partner or friends, less time spent on housework or errands, or work. But if the project or the idea is really juicy and cup-filling, then that’s worth it. At the end of the day, I’d rather have a pile of unsorted laundry on my bedroom floor if it means getting to feel creatively nourished and fulfilled.

Esembly: What’s your favorite thing about diapering with Esembly?
Phoebe: I love having one less thing on the constant rotation of things that we always have to buy. We have done a mix of Esembly cloth and disposables, but even doing hybrid diapering, it’s been amazing how much less often we have to add diapers to our shopping list, it’s just nice to know that in a pinch, we always have everything we need at home!

Esembly: How do you try to reduce waste while parenting?
Phoebe: We try to be mindful about the way things we buy are packaged, and buy a lot of things in bulk. We also are really lucky to have a big community of friends & family who have kids a little bit older than our daughter, and so we have received so many hand-me-downs that then we can either pack away and save or pass on to other friends. Both my husband and I are also big thrifters, so it has been like a fun game sometimes to hunt down used versions of the baby gear or clothes we want. When we buy new, and can afford to, we try to buy toys or clothes that will last a long time, or be versatile as our daughter ages.

Illustrator Phoebe Wahl holding her baby while she draws

Esembly: What does sustainability mean to you, and how do you inspire your kids to love and protect the earth?

Phoebe: To me it means dreaming into, and working at building a world and society that holds the holistic wellbeing of nature and humans at the center of its values and systems. My partner and I both grew up with ecologist parents, and spent a lot of time outdoors which really helped cultivate a deep connection to and reverence for the natural world. We try to offer and model the same thing to our kids— a relationship with nature, that we approach just like any other relationship, with curiosity and empathy and interest and respect.