When Things Don't Make Sense // A Conversation with Frani Matthews

I met Frani when she was in 5th grade and I was in 3rd - we bonded over a mutual love for Relient K.  Back then she was making birthday cards for her family and I was taking pictures with a point-and-shoot, neither of us dreaming we’d be entrepreneurs or artists.  Now, over a decade later, we’re sisters-in-law and she’s one of my very best friends.  Frani has a tender heart, which she bares in a really vulnerable way, as she tells her story below.

authentic-by-frani-laughing-girl

CG: You just turned one!  How’d you celebrate your first birthday?

FM:  I did a giveaway on Instagram, and I gave away some custom pieces to two of my followers, which was fun.  And it was cool because they ended up being people that I knew, and they were people who probably remember when I started last year. So they were like some of the most deserving because they’ve been there since the beginning!  They weren’t the people who are like “I just found you because you hashtag-ed ‘giveaway’ and now I’m following you, and I just want the free thing.”  Nothing wrong with those people, it was just more special.

When exactly was your one year anniversary?

September 25th.  See, technically, the 21st is the real date, but that’s when I launched the photography half of it when I had no idea what it was going to be. I was just like, “I’m going to say it’s this, and we’ll see how it goes.” The 25th was when I put out a video explaining what I did.  Oh that’s so weird, I made a video..  *foreshadow to youtuber life*

Yay, Authentic!  Okay so that’s the day it started, but what led up to that launch?  What was going through your mind, and what did you think that you wanted to do?

I’ve always made cards.  That was always a thing that I did, and I never wanted to sell them, because I have weird baggage with money and charging for things.  That’s still really difficult for me, even now.  But, I think I just started making things for people, and I realized, “Hey, I could probably make money off of this. I’m in college; I have no money,” and I had a new coffee addiction on it’s way, so clearly that was God saying, “Hey, you need to make money for your impending coffee addiction,” which came a few months later.
*laughs*
No, but it was definitely a money-making thing at the beginning.  It was just like a spare cash thing.  I nannied for families and worked at a daycare when I was in school (and I still do things like that now). I think I’ve always thought my handwriting was good.  I liked making things that made people smile; things that were more special than going to Hallmark and getting a generic card.  I like personalizing things and really making something that resonated with whoever I was giving it to, even if it was my mom or my sister.

authentic-frank-sweet-girl
authentic-frani-calligraphy

How has the vision changed, and how has it stayed the same, since then?

It’s the same as it was when it comes to… the name.  *laughs*  It’s still Authentic, because it’s still me, but it’s definitely changed a lot.  Like I was saying, when I started, I kind of wanted to do photography, and I wanted to do lettering and card-making and stuff like that.  But I realized I didn’t have the equipment I really needed to be a photographer at the time. I had taken my brother’s senior pictures and my friend’s senior pictures, and that was all well and good.  It’s fun to take pictures. Photography got me through highschool.  But yeah, I just realized that I couldn’t afford to be a professional photographer. I realized all the things that go into that. I realized [photography] wasn’t what I was passionate about.  I was passionate about creating a way to encourage people and build people up.  And using beautiful things to do that.  And using words to do that.
I’ve written about this before on my blog; words are really important.  That’s kind of the heart of the whole thing.

authentic-frani-black-and-white
authentic-frani-calligraphy
authentic-frani-coffee-thoughtful

Why are words so important to you?

It really cuts way far back into my story, probably around the time when I started to exhibit freewill with my parents…  This past year I realized that I was [rarely] validated in my ideas, or in my thoughts.  Anything that I said that would contradict someone else’s ideas was met with “That’s the wrong thing to do,” or “That’s the wrong way to feel.” I grew up very comfortable; I had everything I needed; I had food and a cushy bed and a hot shower.  My parents do love me, I don’t doubt that at all.  But whenever I would express, “Hey, this is how something made me feel,” it was met with an, “Oh I don’t do that,” or “Oh that didn’t happen, you shouldn’t feel that way,” and it made me really closed off.  I didn’t realize this until I was in a serious relationship, and I realized, “Oh my goodness— I have a lot of brokenness in this area.”  I didn’t even know! There was a lot of prayer that happened and a lot of self examination.  Then I realized I was in school because I was expected to be there.  I realized I was just doing something that would check a box, and I was tired of checking boxes.  Believe me, this whole thing has been completely crazy and not exactly what I planned when I started.
There’s been a lot of learning.. I started posting on Instagram a lot.  And I realized — 800 followers later — that people really care about what I’m saying.  There’s almost always somebody who’ll comment, and say, “This is beautiful,” or “Thanks for sharing this.” Or someone will text me and say, “Hey, I saw what you posted today, and it really meant a lot to me.”  
But the reality is that a lot of times I’m just preaching to myself.  A lot of times, if I’m not filling my own mind with positive words and affirmation, if I’m not encouraging myself, then I have a tendency to just shrink and feel like I’m not worth anything or I’m not good enough to be doing what I’m doing.  And it’s still a growing thing.

I think it’s interesting that what attracts people to brands like yours and mine and the ones that we love, is that we’re building something that is us..

Yeah!  And it’s weird, because I went from being so closed off, and people not really knowing me (like, I had a few close people who really knew what I thought about things. #IntrovertProbs) to now [having] at least 150 people who needed to hear what I wrote, or thought something I did was beautiful. It’s beautiful for me because those are my thoughts that I just put out there.  It’s really validating. People are so negative when it comes to social media, but [Authentic] became a space where everyone was building other people up, and I’m part of that [encouraging] community now. It’s so weird to think that, because I would not have expected that last year.  I just wanted to make Christmas cards and Christmas gifts (Christmas is coming!).  It’s just the whirlwind of a year.
Or I guess really a year and a half… I think this all started when I cut my hair.  It was like my first act of defiance I guess.  It was the first time I said, “I’m going to do this thing, and I don’t care what people think of it.”  And that was really freeing.  Everyone says when you cut your hair it’s so liberating, (that’s so cliche these days,) but it really is!  That’s when all these things started happening in my brain.  It was like the foot in the door. It was like, “Wow you just did something that you never thought you would do.”  I think that’s when it happened.  Next thing I knew, I was like, “I think I’m going to start a business.”  What.  I think it just popped into my brain one day.  It’s weird how God does things.  It was like Him saying you’re not just good at one thing, and you don’t have to be just good at one thing.  It’s funny though, because now I’m really specialized, so I’m always trying to push myself and try things that are different. 

I think branching out is the biggest difficulty for me, because I still have that little nervous whisper in the back of my head that says, “They’re going to think this is ugly - do not post that,” or, “You didn’t say that eloquently enough,” or that, “You stole that quote from somebody,” or, “You looked at so-and-so’s design and you copied it,” or, “Everybody draws flowers like that,” or, “Everybody does brush lettering.”  So I get this little, “Just stop. Don’t post today. You don’t have anything good to post.” And I’m constantly fighting that. It’s like a war.

espresso-desk-calligraphy

How do you win the war?

You post it anyway.  
Because I overthink everything.. I think, “My picture’s not crisp, so I can’t post it,” or, “This picture doesn’t have enough flowers in it; I can’t post this!” or, “I have nothing good to say about it”.  When I post, it’s literally just word vomit.  Those moments where I need to share a thought, I look at the thing that I drew and the words that I wrote, and I think “What’s the first thing I think of when I look at this?” and I share it.  Sometimes it’s really short. Sometimes it’s a song lyric or a few emojis.  And sometimes it’s not even a thought, sometimes it’s just I post a thing and say, “Have a good day.” It’s a really rewarding business to have. And I know nothing about business.. I’m so thankful that Kelly knows all these things about business because I know nothing.  And he’s like “Oh, you should think about licensing fees,” and things like that, and I’m like, “What the heck is that?  How am I supposed to do that?”  

authentic-frani-thoughtful
authentic-frani-thoughts

Another thing that’s really hard is saying no.  Sometimes people come to me and ask me to make them things, and I’ll gladly work with them, but there was one recently where I was like “here’s what I need and here’s what I do,” and she was just like, “I can’t do that” and I just had to let it go.  There’s this fear that you’re not going to get another client after that one.  Once you say bye to someone, you get scared that they might tell their friends that “She’s terrible to work with.  She wouldn’t even accommodate my needs.”

But it’s good to say no.

It is, and it’s really freeing, because then you’re doing things that are promoting your brand and you’re investing in a community that you want to be a part of.  You don’t have to be a part of every single group of people, every style of lettering, or whatever.  So I could do everything, or I could be really good at just a few styles, and really knock those out.

authentic-frani-husband-wife-coffee-instagram

And that gives the people who love you and are a part of your tribe a reason to choose you.

Yes!  I think I used to want to do everything.  I used to mass produce cards, and I realized last Christmas that it was a really bad idea.  It was so much work, so I’m really limiting that this year.  It’s a learning thing, so you look back and say “okay, what did I like about this and what did I not like about this?” You decide if you’ll do it again, or what you’ll change.  That’s a really cool part of this experience; getting to figure out what I want to keep, and what I want to toss.  Sometimes the things I want to toss are things that people really liked.  Like custom work!  People really like having things tailor-made to exactly their vision and exactly what they want.  But that’s really draining for me.  It was taking the love out of what I was doing.  What’s really fulfilling for me is when people say, “Hey, here’s the quote!  Do whatever you want, I trust you.”  Because that’s what I do - I make things nice and beautiful and want to show it to everyone.

How are you practically limiting what you do?  What guidelines have you set up for yourself so you know when to say no and when to say “yeah, sure!”?

First, if it resonates with me - if the thing a [client] needs is something that fits within my brand or the styles just go together.  Recently I did a t-shirt thing, and I thought, “Oh yeah, I really want to do this.  I’m willing to work out whatever needs to be worked out so that I can do this.”  So that’s one criteria, but I kind of have a list.  I’m a list person.  So if it fits within that, I’ll go for it.  If they’re paying me really well, I’ll probably go for it *laughs*, because let’s face it - this is the beginning of a thing, I just moved to a new place, and I’m poor.  I need money, and it’s not selfish to say that.  I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to admit that you need money.  

Another thing is when people need commissioned work for other people. It’s tricky because this happened recently with someone I knew. The [piece] I was asked to make wouldn’t have been beneficial for that person to have. (It doesn’t apply to everybody, but I’ve only been doing this for a year so I have very limited stories.)  And I haven’t had to say no that often, because usually people are pretty good about saying “I like what you do, can we work something out?”  There was one time where I was asked to make something for someone I knew, and I was like, “I can’t make that” and definitely not for free -because it wasn’t beneficial for that person, and they were expecting me to do it for free.  I said, “If you would pay me for it, then I can meet your request.  But if I’m making something for free, as a gift from myself and from you, I can’t make something that I don’t think is beneficial for the person to have.”  So I had to say, “Sorry, I can’t do that,” which was really hard because I always want to help people out.

authentic-frani-calligraphy

What kind of challenges have you faced moving your location?  Because obviously you can ship your work to people, so there’s some flexibility with that, but has your audience or the type of work changed?

Definitely yes.  A lot of things have changed.  Mostly, the opportunities changed.  Northern Virginia was my home for 10 years, and everybody knew who I was.  People at church were like, “Oh Frani! Let’s put her on a pedestal. She’s so ideal.”  And with people at school, I was that straight-A kid.  So I had a lot of identity in Northern Virginia as the conflict-averse, really relaxed, compliant, safe kind of girl.  Definitely one who didn’t take risks.  Definitely checking all the boxes.  That way I was able to just slide under the radar and not worry about people paying attention to me or talking about me or anything like that.  That was me in Northern Virginia.
I wouldn’t say I’m much different now - I still hate conflict.  But moving here gave me a bit of a fresh start, which is another cliché (but that’s okay, because I’m a letterer, and I quote things that are clichés all the time… I feel so bad sometimes, because my sister will text me with all these problems, and I’m sitting here like, “Don’t worry about the future,” or “Be here now.” Just all the inspirational quotes come to my head, and I have to erase them because she does not need that - she needs her real sister right now.  She doesn’t need the fluffy, Instagram/Pinterest quotes right now.)
Anyway, I got a fresh start because moving to Nashville was completely foreign to me.  I came for a week in January, and it changed my life (cliché number 3).  I had been on winter break, so I was already out of school for a while.  Then I came to Nashville the last week of winter break, right before I went back to school, and I was just like, “Why don’t I live here?  Why am I even in school?  What am I passionate about?  What do I love?”  I remember sitting there questioning everything, and it all happened the last day before I flew back to Virginia.  Kelly was having a meeting with a friend, and I’m sitting there at the table — they were doing their own thing — and I had just finished reading Luke the day before, so I had started reading Mark just on a whim.  And in the very first chapter is when Jesus is calling his disciples and He’s just like, “Yo what up, follow me.”  (I tell Bible stories really weird) And they all say, “Alright.” They drop their nets, and they go.  You don’t realize what that means; most people don’t - they just think, “Oh yeah, sure.  When Jesus says to do something, you do it.”  But they gave up everything.  They left their fathers and their servants and everything on those boats, and they went to do what Jesus said.  That means they left their careers.  They left their comfort.  They left all their hope of having a secure, comfy life where they could get their wives and have their children. Complete the cycle.  So then all the questions started flowing, and I’m not even an inquisitive person.  And I’m just sitting there thinking, “If Jesus said to me, ‘Leave everything you know and leave everything that is comfortable in your life’, would I be able to do that?” and I answered,  “No.” I would not even want to think about being uncomfortable.  My biggest idol is my comfort.
But here I am in Nashville.  That was 9 months ago.  
So I left Nashville with all these thoughts: Am I passionate about music therapy? (which is what I was studying in school) Do I even want to do things with music?  What do I really love?  What am I really good at?  Am I doing things out of fear?  Am I doing things because I’m expected to do them, or because I actually want to?  Am I trying to please my parents, or meet their expectations?  Am I trying to meet society’s expectations of me, which is to graduate highschool, graduate college, get a job, and get married when I’m 32 (maybe have kids, but maybe not because of global population rises and stuff I don’t really care to worry about)?  I had to answer all those questions, and it was really difficult for me - I kinda just put them to the side for a while, and I flew home the next day.  I went to church on Sunday, and the pastor talked about the same thing I had been struggling with.  So I was like, “God, oh my goodness, what are You doing?  You know I just needed a break.  I didn’t want to think about this.” I sat there saying “I have no idea what this is.  This just popped into my brain and now I have all these problems and all this dissonance in my soul.  Great, now I have to answer all these questions.”  Pastor Billy started talking about how you shouldn’t do things because you’re afraid; you should be doing things to please God and not to meet the expectations of man.  We were in the car later, so I said, “Mom, Dad, Pastor Billy’s message really stuck with me today.  I want to be honest with you guys; I think that I’m actually really scared of what you guys think of me.  I’m really scared to tell you the things that I feel and think, because I don’t want you to be upset with me and I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.” And of course they said I could tell them anything, and not to worry about any of that.  So we get inside, and I said, “I recently read in Mark about the disciples and how they dropped everything and their comfort just to do what Jesus said to do. I think that I might need to take some time off of school.” Well that was a trigger because that did not go well.  That conversation went way, way south.  It ended up with me kind of calling my parents out for how I was treated growing up.   It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t a validating experience when it came to the things I wanted to share with them.  When I wanted to tell them real things.  So that was a really terrible time, but it was really important for me to share that with them.  Even if they didn’t change that much after.  They did change for a little while, but you always go back to your habits; to what has worked for you.  It was a moment where I could say, “Well now, even if nothing changes, at least they can’t say I never told them.”  Which was pretty liberating.  It hurt - it hurt a lot, but it was pretty liberating.
I went back to school and went to my advisors.  I was really working hard to graduate early, and my advisors were awesome.  They’re still awesome - they’re some of the coolest people I met while I was at school.  I think when I went back to school, ready to give the semester a try and finish things up and see how I felt, I realized that the things that were important to me were being a wife, being a mom one day (and hopefully a young one), and being creative, and building my business.  And I never thought I’d end up being a business woman. I realized that’s what I really want to pursue, and school will always be there.  Even more so in the future, because God-willing I’ll actually make money and afford to go. I made my decision, and was mentally preparing to withdraw from the university.  That was weird; having to tell the friends I had just made that I wasn’t going to be coming back.  That was really difficult for me.  
This is a really long story…  I was already engaged when my mom found out I wasn’t going back to school.  Because that’s what triggered all these questions of, “Well you’re going to finish school, right?!”  I got engaged right around my birthday, on our 3 year anniversary (which is super cute!), so my mom kept asking me questions like, are you going to finish school?  You're finishing school, right?  It wasn’t even a question, it was a “You’re doing this.” And eventually she was just like, “You’re not finishing school!?” and I was just like, “I guess not..  I really thought about this, and this wasn’t a decision made on a whim, and there was a lot of prayer that went into this.” Explaining myself, justifying my decisions, didn’t go well either.  I think they’re still probably disappointed.  But better things are coming, and I know they trust God and know that I’ll be okay because I’m being obedient to Him.  That’s what’s important to them; that’s all they really wanted for their kids in the long run.  To trust God and put Him first.  And sometimes putting God first means putting your parents a little lower on the ladder.
So then I dropped a bomb on my parents again, that,  “Oh by the way, the wedding is actually in July.  And we have 4 months to plan.  And here I go doing all these things that are so outside of my character, because not only did we tell them we’re getting married, we told them that a month later we were moving. That took a while to settle in.  

So that’s how I got here. Nashville has a lot of opportunities.  

authentic-frani-calligraphy

To go back to your original question, I’m a completely different person than I was before I cut my hair.  I’m not as scared, I’m a lot healthier, and I love myself more.  And I’m not scared to say that I do, and it’s not selfish.  In fact, it’s more selfish to be pouring from an empty vessel (cliché number 4).  It’s more harmful to yourself and the people around you, especially if you’re introverted and highly sensitive.
I grew a lot.  Kelly really encourages me to think differently about things, and to really question what’s valuable and important.  I’m sure you know this as his sister, but that’s the only way he thinks; it’s, “But what if this actually isn’t as important as everyone makes it seem like it is? And what if this actually matters more than that?” So I can press the snooze button again, or I can stay up really late working on this,” or I can say, “Hey I gotta do what I gotta do, and I’m sorry if you’re hurt.” That was probably the hardest part of all of this.  This whole business venture is so deeply rooted in the fact that God needed me to go, and I just had to say I know Your character, God, and that You’re going to take care of me when I say yes to You.  So I could go knowing that I’ll be okay.  People would ask if I had a job yet (no), if I had a place to live (no); but I was going.  “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe you’re doing something like this; you’re insane. This makes no sense,” and I think that’s the point.  Because when things make sense and you do the things that are within your own power, then you can say, “I did this. It was me the whole time.”  But when you do the things that you think you can’t, that’s when you get to say God took care of you through the whole thing.  You get to look back and say there was no way you could have done that.  That’s why I’m here; physically in Nashville, but also in existence.  This whole year has been the biggest part of my testimony.  I always thought I had the wimpiest testimony  ever; God’s like, “Let’s beef it up!”

authentic-frani-calligraphy
authentic-frani-calligraphy

What’s something that you’re looking forward to right now?

This December!  Winterfest!  I applied to be a vendor in Centennial Park’s Winterfest, and they liked my work.  I was shocked when I got the email; didn’t think it was going to happen, but it was free to apply, so why not?  I bought my little vendor space, so December 10th I’ll be in Centennial Park all day, selling my stuff.  I’m really hoping that if I have Nashville-area followers, that they’ll come and say hi.

What’s something that scares you about that?

That’s it’s going to flop. That I’m not going to have enough stuff there, or nothing’s going to sell, or I’m going to waste the whole day.  That my setup isn’t going to be beautiful and perfect, that people’s credit cards won’t work with the little square thing.  Just everything that could possibly go wrong freaks me out… maybe somebody will come by and steal something, I don’t know.  All things have run through my mind - that’s the really scary part.
I’m also really scared that things won’t be as small anymore.  The bigger things get the more taxes you have to pay.  I’m so nervous that I’m so full of words when I can plan them and type them, but then people will come up to the table, and I can only say, “blepblepblepblep.”
People would probably think you want your business to grow; like, you would hope to not have to keep reinvesting, and reinvesting, and reinvesting, and actually have a little profit. I always get nervous that it’ll get too big and I’ll run out of ideas or people will get bored with me.
I think I realized this year that I’m scared of a lot of things, but I can also look back and see that I did a lot of those things that I was terrified of.  It’s like an Ebenezer.

authentic-frani-calligraphy

What are you are currently consuming and love?

Almond milk (that’s a new thing - I really like it).  Lots of coffee.  Turtlenecks (not consuming them, but wearing them).  Turnover - currently my favorite band, I’m obsessed with their album Peripheral Vision.  It’s so soothing.  I ended up making a playlist of songs that would go with songs from that album, and I love it.  They’re so good.. I heard them at Starbucks.  You know, I find a lot of bands just from listening to the music at Starbucks.  I also found The Xcerts at Starbucks, and I’m obsessed with their first album.  It’s one of those albums you can listen to all the way through.  Same with the Turnover album.  I love albums like that.

Right; good albums like those, you invest in them mentally and emotionally when you listen to them.  They are stories and you just can’t skip.

And you can’t put them on shuffle because then the song you think is next doesn’t show up!  Also, this lavender latte that I’m drinking right now.  This is the only latte I’ve been able to drink while it’s luke-warm/cold-ish and not feel like spitting out of my mouth.  Usually once the temperature hits this point, I’m like no thanks!  What else am I consuming? …Vampire diaries (don’t put that in there).  I think those are the major things.  The good ones.

authentic-frani-calligraphy
authentic-frani-calligraphy

Final note: This whole thing is kind of a reminder not to put people on a pedestal.  I think the same problem I had with people putting me on a pedestal (they’d never say they were) was that I would tend to do the same thing in return.  I’d say, “You’re not my ideal this.  My ideal would be like that.”  But then I realized I’m doing the same thing they’re doing to me, and that hurt me.  Why would I want to continue that cycle?  Why not look at them and see someone who has a story too?

Connect with Frani:

Website // authenticbyfrani.com    
Instagram // @authenticfrani
Facebook // www.facebook.com/authenticfrani
Youtube // https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQBuuu_tN-JdD9WfVtZnDOQ 

authentic-frani-calligraphy-espresso-smile