We had the good fortune of connecting with Charlene Eldon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charlene, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I went back to school in my mid-twenties for graphic design, and am now a freelancer. It’s a great idea for disabled people such as myself to freelance rather than work full time for someone else; even if we manage to find a boss who isn’t upset about us needing frequent sick days and doctors visit, we’re often let go from jobs because our health insurance is expensive and causes everyone else’s premiums to go up. Being a freelance graphic designer means I can work remotely, aka accessibly, and keep my health insurance through a combination of different gigs.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was a performer and a theatre major up until my early 20’s when my disability, rheumatoid arthritis, became too pronounced for me to ignore and I had to switch tracks. After working as an office administrator for a few years I decided to go back to school for a graphic design certificate, since I’d always loved drawing and painting as well. When it came time to make up some credits with an internship, I cold-called every museum in the Bay Area and ended up getting one at the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. I offered to help create scientific illustrations for an online climate change exhibit while I was there, which turned into me getting hired as a part-time employee.
The contacts from the Exploratorium led to a six month contract in 2021 on the exhibits team of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which was a huge dream come true; I’d studied cultural anthropology and world history in college, and I really wanted to help out as the institution updated its narratives and repatriated some of its objects. I got to help with their renovation of the “Northwest Coast Natives” exhibit, which is a massive hall of indigenous items taken from the same tribes whose children’s mass graves were being uncovered at Canada’s residential schools that year. It was an emotionally heavy project that I felt honored to work on, even though my role was the less-than-glamorous job of fixing multiple iterations of the same template-based exhibits.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My area is Napa County and the SF Bay Area, so there’s a ton of nature to visit alongside some of the best food out there. I love driving adventures along the coast or to the redwoods; picking up some tacos from the truck in the Safeway parking lot in Guerneville (trust me), then driving out along the Russian River to Bodega Bay for incredible views and saltwater taffy.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have a couple of amazing mentors; first, Shelley Gruendler, a PhD of Typography who was my professor at UC Berkeley Extensions. Some of Shelley’s best career advice that I still follow is to never refer to my work as “play” or “playing around”, which is one of the many ways women tend to undervalue their own artwork. Second is Lara McCormick, another typographer who hired me as an intern when she was the Artistic Director at the Exploratorium, and one of those wonderful bosses who praises and thanks her employees. She taught me a ton about typography and hand-lettering, and really encouraged my relocation from California to New York.