I tend to agree with Cara Tudor when she says that there are some fantastic people working at Willow Marketing. And as the next shrub to get the employee spotlight treatment, she’s no exception. Her dance moves are that of legend, her delicious and routine rice bowl creations are nothing short of mouth-watering, and, as many colleagues have described, her hair is straight out of a Disney princess film. She confidently takes her place among the ranks of the other quality characters here at Willow.
To the uninitiated, most might describe Cara as the quiet, dark-haired girl who gives offbeat hellos and works tirelessly in her corner of the creative pit—only emerging for meetings, to go home, or, you guessed it, whip up a rice bowl for lunch. While that all may be true, it’s only one side of the coin that immortalizes her favorite bearded president (she loves Abe Lincoln). In reality, Cara is a wellspring of personality that just needs a tap.
I caught a glimpse of this at the company lake retreat this past summer. With Kendal on DJ duty, Cara showcased a few of her slick moves that if you blinked you would’ve missed (All I’ll say is her high-kicks could’ve knocked a goose out of the sky).
“For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a dance choreographer who owned a bakery on the side,” she said.
It made her laugh when I mentioned that her early career plans, coupled with her infamous hair, was essentially the first act of a Disney movie. But, now I was confused. Graphic design is such a far cry from the bakery, let alone the dance studio. So when I finally sat down with Cara, I asked her, when forest animals weren’t happily helping her with her chores as a child, when did she realize she wanted to become a graphic designer.
“Well, growing-up my mom owned a daycare, so I was always in a creative, learning environment. Rather than give us coloring books, she used to hand us a blank piece of paper and tell us, ‘create something.’ Then, when my family would go on road trips, I’d collect brochures from each stop we made, and I would critique them. I’d analyze the layouts, color choices, the fonts—I had an interest in design before I really ever knew what it was,” she chuckled.
The design bug finally bit Cara in high school, but her affliction was met with some initial resistance.
“I shied away from art and drawing classes early on in high school because I always had friends who were incredible artists and because I didn’t think I’d be good at it,” she said. “But then, in my junior year, I took a drawing class and I was hooked.”
Cara’s passion for art and design began to seep into other aspects of school, including every high schooler’s favorite program, PowerPoint.
“I ‘designed’ PowerPoint templates for fun. You know that person in school who had the over-the-top slides and presentations—yeah, that was me. I was serious about it—I would legitimately get upset when other people used the stock templates or when someone would put a picture on the edge of the screen—honestly, why would you put that there? Then one day someone from the Art Institute (of Indianapolis) came to speak in one of my classes. The first thing they said, no doubt to promote the program, was, ‘Do you doodle in class?’ And I thought, um, yeah, I do,” she laughed.
Four years later, Cara graduated with a Bachelors in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Indianapolis and not too long after that, she began an internship with Willow.
“Ironically, I was working at a bakery at the time—it made me realize how bad I wanted to be a designer,” she laughed. “So, I sort of stalked Willow online and was able to get an internship in May of 2013 as graphic designer and they hired me a month later—I’ve been with Willow ever since.”
There are many facets to a graphic designer’s job beyond just creating and designing. And one, seemingly routine, aspect of Cara’s job I’ve always found fascinating is the creative process—everything that happens between the inception of the idea and the end result of a project.
“For me, the (design) process is an emotional roller coaster. First, there’s the research, brainstorming, and inspiration phase. This is the exciting part—the sky is the limit. Then, you start narrowing down your ideas and sketching them out, which is hopeful at best. You get into the design programs, try to make it happen, and it’s like you’ve hit a brick wall. You hate everything. Your great idea actually isn’t that great. So, you get depressed, rethink your career, and cobble something together. Afterward, you show it to someone for one of three possible reactions—one, they agree it stinks, two, it’s ok, and three, they say you’re crazy and it’s awesome. Then, internal edits, external review, external edits, edits, and then more edits and by the end, you think ‘that turned out better than I thought but I can probably do better next time’,” she laughed. “Creatively some days are better than others. Typically, I work better in the mornings—2:30 is about the time my brain shuts down. To help me get into ‘the zone’ when I’m designing, I like to drink a lot of coffee, listen to music, and I definitely like to be alone. It also always helps to have good direction and content first,” she chuckled.
Cara’s subtle jab is, of course, referring to the age-old conundrum reminiscent of the chicken and the egg—which comes first? Copy? Or design?
While Cara, without hesitation, quipped “Copy,” I tend to “agree to disagree.” Though, I will freely admit she has an uncanny ability to take half-baked ideas and turn them into visual brilliance. There have been numerous occasions where she has taken my clumsy words, retreated back to her den of design, and returned with what I can only describe as “that’s exactly what I was going for.”
“Every once in a while I’ll get it right,” she said (Disney princess humility, check). “Sometimes everything sort of falls into place—you get in the zone and the work feels effortless. Like the Zeta project, for example.”
Cara’s passion for typography was a major influence in the Zeta piece and coincidently ties into one of her three favorite things about working at Willow.
“Well, there is more than one,” she said. “First, I love the people. There are a great mix of personalities here who make working that much more fun. When I first started I remember thinking, ‘Why is everyone so nice?” She laughed. “There was a lack of egos I didn’t expect. Second, I’d have to say the constant variety of projects I get to work on. There is always a new challenge on the horizon. And third, Willow truly focuses on the individual—letting you work your passion into the organization.”
If you’ve worked with Willow or follow us on social media, chances are you’ve seen some of Cara’s great work. If you haven’t, you can see her 24 carat gold performance in Disney’s 2018 summer release, Carapatra.
She lived happily ever after.