A Glass Act: Joby Shimomura’s Shift from Politics to Art

A Glass Act: Joby Shimomura’s Shift from Politics to Art
Joby Shimomura models some of her own glass jewelry work. Photo Credit: Charlie Nunes

A self-described public policy addict, Joby Shimomura brought her passion for politics to DC before settling in Seattle and managing electoral campaigns for those running for city councils, the state legislature and congress, She also worked on the electoral campaign for Governor Jay Inslee. After serving as his chief of staff for three years, Shimomura’s career took a turn for the more creative: glass art. Shimomura now runs a studio in Olympia where she experiments with new techniques like painting on glass and welcoming “the organic process of the unplanned” into her art.

We asked Shimomura about shifting from the high-pressure world of political campaigns to making glass art in her studio, and how she uses the skills she gained working in politics to help her be a successful creative entrepreneur.

In 2005, you moved from a career in politics to opening a custom stained glass studio in Pioneer Square. What inspired that career shift?

At that point, I had been working in politics for 15 years. I was a Congressional chief of staff in Washington, D.C. and after six years of that high-intensity, always a crisis, very reactive environment, I kind of wanted to gouge my eyes out. I was ready to do something different with my life and my time. After quitting my job and moving back to Seattle, my hometown, I took time off to explore what I wanted to do next. Eventually, after months of sifting through what I thought I should do, and what I really wanted to do, I decided that the only thing that would make me happy was to find studio space and create stained glass panels every day. Getting lost in designing and building glass windows felt so dreamy and exactly what I needed at that time. I had taken a stained glass class and fell in love with the medium.

Your career has spanned many transformations. There is a misconception that the duality of an analytical mind and creative mind cannot exist together. Did you struggle at all at establishing yourself as a creative when your community knew you as a political professional?

I think the political community is actually pretty creative and open-minded. After making the career transition, I felt deeply supported by my political friends and colleagues. Many expressed their own interest in making a drastic career change. I think two other misconceptions are the idea that we can only have one career in our lifetime, and that we don’t have control over what we do. We can choose to have multiple careers, and we can choose to define what those are.

Joby Shimomura fused glass. Photo Credit: Joby Shimomura

What has your office job taught you that makes you a better creative entrepreneur?

There have been so many lessons from my previous career that have helped me be a better creative entrepreneur: understanding your audience, networking, and developing relationships. For me, the biggest transferable lesson has been the importance of authenticity; being yourself. In order for my work to connect with people, my creative business has to reflect who I am.

What are the biggest challenges of running a successful creative business? And how do you address them?

For me, this business still feels kind of new. I began Joby Glass, my Olympia glass art studio, five years ago after leaving what was my second stint in politics (from 2010-2016). I’m constantly learning and trying to figure out how to define what success looks like. 

My biggest challenges are: 

1.) Splitting my time between creating art (love!) and marketing the art (ick!). 

2.) Imposter syndrome. This feeling prevents me from taking risks that are needed to expand my work and get my work out there. 

Both of these challenges require asking for help. I’m a one-person shop, so oftentimes I’ll turn to other artists, friends, and mentors for advice. They help me process and problem solve these challenges. Creating a community of people who want to see you succeed is invaluable.

What do you recommend for someone who has a full-time job, who wants to make their creative sides hustle their full-time job? How can a person get from part-time hobbyist to full-time creative business owner?

I think there are a couple of ways to approach this: You can take the impulsive-just-do-it-figure-it-out-as-you-go-along path, which is what I did. Or you can begin with a more thoughtful approach that involves due diligence. You don’t have to figure everything out at once — getting started is the most important step. Talk to other creatives who have made the transition; learn from their stories and get their advice.

Where do you find inspiration in your community?

The Olympia Artspace Alliance is made up of local artists and arts advocates and I am proud to be on their Board. I am inspired by their individual talents, their commitment to supporting artists, and their openness to ideas. Being able to work with people who know more than you is a great gift that fosters so much creative thought and energy.

Joby Shimomura stained glass, Photo Credit: Joby Shimomura

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