Lori Steenhoek

Owner of Capital Pixel

Lori Steenhoek is an artist, designer, and mother living in Northeast Washington, D.C. She runs two small businesses and has a passion for projects that are both artistic and technical at the same time.

As Owner and Creative Director of Capital Pixel, Lori creates architectural renderings and animations for real estate marketing. Her work and background in the architecture and design realm inspired her to start making 3D-printed jewelry using similar design software. Love, Lori Michelle Jewelry was soon born.

Lori thrives on making things that tell stories, whether it’s an image that helps sell the idea of a space or place before it’s built, or a piece of custom jewelry to remind people of a special moment in time.

In her free time, Lori can be found on foot running or walking around DC, shopping for pens and paper products, and collecting rocks, plants, artwork, and vintage treasures.

Where did the idea for Capital Pixel come from?

Capital Pixel was started after graduating architecture school and then working in the industry in this realm. I felt the growing urge to work for myself and build something of my own, so I gathered as much working knowledge as I could during 7 years with a local design firm, and then decided to become my own boss. In school, I felt I was never very good at hand-drawing, but that I could produce more controlled results creating imagery digitally. It just felt right to me to work in architectural visualization. I was drawn to the challenges of 3D software and learning all the complexities of CG (computer generated) lighting and camerawork, and the variety from project to project that felt like the opportunity to tackle technical problems while also seeing myself grow as a digital artist.

Love, Lori Michelle Jewelry was sort of a later offshoot of that process. I could use the same software that I use for architectural drawings to create and design jewelry. I started doing it for family and friends and then decided to make it more by launching a web shop and asking local shops to carry my pieces.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Weekday mornings I wake up and snuggle in bed with my kids for a few minutes before getting them off to school. I’ll go for a run or workout, then shower, make my chai tea and sit down to look at my to-do list, which I still write down in a notebook so I can physically cross things off. I’m the kind of person who flies around from task to task in short bursts. I might work on something for 20 minutes, and then change course and tackle another job for the next hour. I mentally prioritize whatever is most urgent and go at it in smaller chunks of time until things are done. Most days, I’m working on 90% visualization work, and 10% jewelry but it varies by whatever projects come my way. I’m most productive when I have a full schedule of deadlines, because it makes the time go by. I like walking around my neighborhood in the afternoon to clear my head before getting back at it. Usually by the time I look up next, it’s time to pickup the kids from school and start dinner.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Everything I create is an interactive process. Ideas usually start with sketches or just jotting down words. When starting a rendering, I might doodle a loose skyline and write “moody” and “sunset” and “pop of yellow color” depending on the first things that come into my head. The next step is creating things in 3D, adding lights and textures, and then working until I reach a believable image. A lot of this is collaborative with the client. When something is done, and comes fully to life, I usually feel a sense of satisfaction and pleasure with my work. If I feel a nagging in my head or if visually something is still off, I keep going. It has taken years and years to sense the balance of if and when an idea feels complete. So some ideas take longer than others, and they go through more steps and revisions. Those are often the most frustrating but then ultimately the most rewarding.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am excited that people seem to be seeking more custom, one-of-a-kind items. There’s a lot of mass produced stuff out there, whether it’s clothing or artwork or jewelry. I get the sense that more of us want to try and invest in items that are created specifically for us, or with our input. That keeps artists in business and encourages more collaboration, more thoughtfulness. As a result, the trend towards handmade, homemade, locally made is well underway, and maybe one day there will be less consumerism.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Write everything down! I always have a notebook on me. I make tons of lists, and I make all sorts of obscure notes. Anything to help me stay organized, catalogue an idea, or to jog a memory later. If I have coffee with you, I’ll write down two or three words immediately after we depart about whatever we discussed. That makes it easier to follow-up. I can ask you about your trip you mentioned and feel more connected next time we speak. Don’t feel the need to keep it all in your head or organized in an app that you’ll forget to check. People have been physically writing things down for 3000 years, don’t stop now!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be your authentic self. I am still working on this every day, and probably will be forever. But I’d tell my younger self to be true to your beliefs, and not to try and appear one way in a certain crowd just to fit in. Authenticity is something you can’t teach, or design, or fake but I think it’s something that almost everyone can easily sense about others around us. Is something off about this person, or are they truly comfortable in their skin?

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I like the smell of skunks, I think they smell a little good. (There, I typed it, please still publish my interview!)

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As an entrepreneur, tell people about your work. Be your own best cheerleader, especially if you’re a woman entrepreneur. No one else is going to do it for you, in the way that you can. Be confident about your skills and your product, and don’t be afraid to tell the world. That doesn’t mean giving everyone a sales pitch everywhere you go. At the right moments in conversation, mention what you do. Word-of-mouth is so powerful and you never know when you might connect with the right person. I am constantly telling new people that I meet, “I am passionate about small business since I run two of my own…” or, “I just finished up the coolest custom necklace design for my sister…” Again, not necessarily an obnoxious sales pitch, but a reminder of who you are and what you recently accomplished. We can all get so busy wrapped up in our own lives that we forget what those around us are working on.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I’ll say it again: word-of-mouth. Be sure the early product you are creating is solid and reliable. People will talk if they are getting something they are happy with. Be consistent, be on time with delivery, and go the extra mile.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I failed early on in trying to do all the things myself. It’s a balance when you’re starting out, almost always cash-flow related. You think, oh, if I just design my own logo then I can save some money. Or, I’ll do my own bookkeeping but you know nothing about taxes. It’s easy to find yourself with some bigger problems if you don’t learn to delegate the parts of business that are not your specialty. I wish I had spent more of my time early in business focusing on doing the thing I actually set out to accomplish. I should have found help for the other things (like website design, accounting, etc.) earlier. After I few years, I overcame this by finding a network of people to help me. Let other experts do those things better for you, and then focus your efforts on your actual product and on business development.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Not sure how this would work, but a business that incentivizes people to walk more, bike more, or use public transit instead of driving.

Bonus idea: This is not original by any means, but I think we could use many more of them: well-designed spaces for families to exist. Combination cafe/play spaces that are indoor/outdoor and thoughtfully considered.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

High-quality, framed photographs of my kids. My family is everything, and since my husband shoots a lot of film, I like combing through his images to find the shots that really capture their little personalities. They are in 16”x16” thick wooden frames that sit on our mantle and every time I see them I’m reminded of what’s most important in life.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

At the risk of sounding really basic, I use Google image search constantly. I find so much inspiration there, in gridded visual form. For example, if I’m working on a jewelry design that has to do with leaves, I’ll simply search for “leaf” and see what comes up. I take note of where my eyes immediately go when the image results pop up. What leaps out at me? What has already been done? What is missing? What general color scheme shows up overtly? I realize this might sound really rudimentary, but sometimes the most basic web searches can help me be more productive with immediate visual clues and ideas.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Art & Fear, by David Bayles
You don’t have to be a capital-A “Artist” to read or appreciate this book. It’s full of advice, comfort, and lessons for creatives and makers. I have revisited parts of it over and over whenever I feel blocked or uninspired. The words within always help me restart and feel like I’m not alone in the struggles of the creative process.

What is your favorite quote?

Make no little plans; they have no magic
Make big plans; aim high in hope
-Daniel Burnham, architect
(words slightly shortened by me)

My husband and I had those words written on our wedding cake.

Key Learnings:

  • Revise, revise, revise. Everything we do is iterative. Build on your last mistakes and also your wins.
  • Write things down. Just do it!
  • Be authentic to yourself. People can sense when you are not.
  • Rely on word-of-mouth to grow your business. Share your accomplishments.