We’re calling it – Amber Kemp-Gerstel is kind, colorful, and so damn crafty, and you’ll never meet anyone like her. If you read her name and went, “Wait, isn’t she one of the massively talented contestants on Making It with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman?” you’d be correct! Amber is currently showing off her crafting skills on the small screen, but she’s been a full-time crafter since 2015 on her blog, Damask Love, where’s breaking down the coolest crafts and encouraging the creator in all of us.
We talked with Amber about her transition from full-time psychologist to full-time crafter, how she’s letting her son discover his own creativity, and, of course, what Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope are like in real life.
Name: Amber Kemp-Gerstel
Location: Miami, Florida
Current Position/Company: Owner and Crafty Girl behind Damask Love
Education: Undergrad at Duke University, Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University
Children: Markus, 3
What was your first job and what skills did you take away from it?
As a young kid, my mom would send me to summer camp every year. As soon as I was old enough, I ditched my role as camper and started working as a volunteer camp counselor. From that point on, I worked my way up the ranks of camp counselor titles. Then, during the summer before I left for college, I worked two jobs – one at the camp and the other as a sales associate at Old Navy. From those early years, I learned quickly that I am a go-getter-hustler type of girl with lots of ambition. I’ve carried those characteristics with me –I mean – what other kind of person quits her psychology gig to try out a career as a crafter?!
You started your career in child psychology. How did you choose that path?
Remember those days when I was a camp counselor? Yeah — that was when I figured out my love for working with young children. I loved helping them and problem solving with kids and families.
To this day, I remember one of the little girls who attended the day camp where I worked. She was completely silent all the time and refused to respond to anyone. I could see the intense anxiety she had every day. I remember wanting to do more for her and kids like her. Experiences like that let me know that I wanted to pursue a career working with kids. To be honest, I first thought I would be a pediatrician – but one semester of organic chemistry was all I needed to realize that the medical profession was not for me. Pre-med turned into a psychology major and landed me on a career path toward being a child psychologist.
What should all moms know about child and family therapy?
I am probably the biggest fan of therapy that you’ll ever meet! Personally, the idea of sitting down with someone every week, for an hour, to talk about yourself, your concerns, your goals, your plans, etc. sounds so awesome to me!
When it comes to therapy for children and family, my attitude is no different. As moms, we get so laser-focused on the day to day tasks of “mommying” that it can be helpful to have a third party to give a little insight. I’ve been on both sides of therapy – I’ve been the therapist and the patient. From both sides of the experience, I’ve come out a better person and a better parent.
You’ve been crafting your whole life! What prompted you to finally switch into crafting as a career?
Exhaustion will make you do crazy things! HA! I was a new mom, I was working full time as a psychologist, and I was working full time to grow my blog. It was too much. Every night, I would come home and have a breakdown from being overwhelmed, not knowing the best decision to make. I felt like I was doing a terrible job at everything. Thankfully, with the support of my awesome husband, I opted to leave my job as a psychologist to see if I could pursue my passion as a crafter and maker. I was fully prepared to return to psychology if the whole “blogger-thing” failed. It didn’t fail, though. Hallelujah!
What have you learned about blogging and crafting since starting your blog?
I’ve learned that my job is as much about crafting as it is about relating and engaging with people. Every day, I get messages from new readers and followers who are NOT crafters. They only connect with me because of my journey as an entrepreneur and my positive outlook on life. Sure, I can teach you how to make a handmade card or paint a paper succulent, but I also connect with other women who have creative dreams and passions. Both roles are equally important to me.
What advice would you give to moms looking to launch their own websites?
Think it through. Have a plan. Focus on execution.
It is REALLY easy to start a website…like, almost too easy. Because of that, it can be tempting to launch an online business at the drop of a hat without thinking through your intentions. For me, I’ve found success by leaning into my niche and remaining fiercely loyal to my creative mission. On countless occasions, I’ve been tempted to dive into another category of blogging: fashion, food, travel. It’s hard to ignore the beautiful distractions of the internet and stay on course with your own business plans.
I try to always keep that in mind, and know that my corner of the internet provides unique and specific types of content. It’s okay to leave the fashion, travel, and food to other talented businesswomen. I don’t have to do it all.
What skills from blogging have helped you as a mom? Vice versa?
As a blogger, I hustle constantly. As a mom, the same is true. In both of my roles, I’ve learned that long days and demanding schedules are par for the course and my threshold for busy-ness has grown tenfold ever since adopting my role as a blogger and mom. Even when I am in the depths of the overwhelm, I know that I will get it done.
What does an average day look like for you?
As of late, my daily schedule is sort of like picking a number out of a hat. There’s no “typical” day anymore. I travel A LOT – nearly once a week – which means coordinating my flights with the family schedule so I can depart after Markus goes to school. On travel days, I try to keep things as normal as possible in the morning, but always remind Markus that “Mommy is getting on an airplane,” and “I’ll be back in ‘two days.’” Note: I literally always say “two days” because he’s three and has no concept of time and to him, “two days” gets across the point that I will be out of the house for a while.
My favorite days are when I wake up, work with my husband to get Markus off to school, then head to my studio for a productive day of creating content! On those days, I work from 9:30 am to about 4:30 pm. Once 4:30 hits, I’m on mommy duty, picking Markus up from school, making him dinner and playing until dad gets home.
Every day is different, but such is life when you’re running a business!
What advice do you have for parents trying to spark their kiddo’s creativity?
Follow their lead! For the longest time, I tried to get Markus to paint with me but he hated it. I thought I just needed to try harder. Nope. The fact of the matter is: the kid hates painting. It’s just not his thing. He does, however, love cutting paper and gluing it to make a collage. He loves drawing with a pencil and paper.
Once I stopped trying to be the boss of his creativity, we were able to discover lots of crafty projects we could do together.
You’re a contestant on NBC’s Making It, congratulations! Can you tell us what that application and interview process was like?
I was one of the very first people to be interviewed for the show, which means the process lingered on for quite some time. After an initial Skype call with a casting producer, I was told to wait while additional candidates were considered. I thought for sure I’d never hear back, and I was totally okay with that.
About three weeks after my first interview, I got a text saying, “You’re still very much in the running!”
The next few months went on like this. Lulls in communication punctuated by a quick text or email letting me know I was still being considered. At times, the producers would contact me with a general question like, “What do you usually wear when you craft?” or “Do you have a photo of you in your craft space?” I never knew the significance of any of these questions – I just answered them and assumed if it was meant to be it would be. If I didn’t make it on the show, I’d gladly watch and see who they ended up casting! (Sidenote: all along my husband never faltered and believed wholeheartedly that I’d be cast!)
Just a few days before filming was set to begin, I got final word that I would be on the show! In a matter of days, I had to pack up and be ready for my Making It adventure to begin.
How was your experience being on the show? We have to ask — what are Nick and Amy like in real life?
Being on Making It changed the way I create and the way I approach my business. There is truly nothing like being issued crazy challenges, crafting for hours upon hours, in a barn on a ranch…with cameras at every turn. You have no choice but to grow as a maker and reach into the depths of your own creativity to come up with something television-worthy. After doing Making It — there is no creative challenge I can’t take on!
Oh, and let’s talk about Nick and Amy for a hot second. Yes, they are exactly as amazing and kind and hilarious as you would imagine. The only bad news I have for you is that they are totally and completely normal, relatable people. There is not one ounce of celebrity ego. They are so easy to talk to and were nothing but encouraging during the taping of the show. Sorry, I don’t have more drama for you – although one time Amy did ask to borrow my scissors and I don’t remember getting them back. DRAMA!
What was different about crafting for your blog and crafting as a competition? Did you find yourself struggling or thriving in that environment?
Every project on Damask Love is intended to be replicable, approachable, and doable for the DIYer at home. On Making It, I had to leave some of this behind and make each project bit more elaborate. I had to “wow” the judges. It was definitely a struggle for me since I am so passionate about encouraging the maker in everyone. After a few challenges, I found my groove and hopefully viewers still find inspiration in my projects even if the entire creation is too much to tackle.
How do you and your husband divide parenting roles?
We are a pretty in-sync team. We share all the responsibilities, which is a must since we both have grueling schedules that occasionally take us away from home. Even with our tag-team approach, there are definitely things that mom does better than dad, and vice versa. Dad will forever be King of The Laundry and Master of the Swiffer. Mom is Chef Extraordinaire and Diva of Discipline. And now I’m beginning to think we may need t-shirts for these awesome job titles!
How did you handle your child care situation?
After having Markus, I had three months of maternity leave when I could stay home with him; at the time I was still a full-time child psychologist and had a more traditional job setup. Once my leave ended, Markus began going to daycare. Ever since then, he’s spent his days in a childcare/preschool setting while my husband and I go to work.
How are you raising your son to have a well-rounded worldview?
Markus has a tendency to be very shy and slightly anxious. For this reason, we do a lot of work with him to encourage socialization with other children and other adults. It’s a challenge, especially given our busy work schedules but it’s necessary.
Thankfully, we live in a city where we regularly see and meet people who speak different languages and have different appearances. Having grown up in a diverse city, I truly appreciate the value of being surrounded by others who look, speak and think differently than you.
How did your view of motherhood change when you changed careers?
I’m blessed to have a rewarding career that allows me some flexibility in my schedule. Being self-employed means I work endless hours, but I can also be flexible with my agenda when mommy duties are required.
I truly bow down to moms with more traditional or less flexible careers. I just am in awe of how they manage both. The working world just isn’t designed to support 10:00 am speech therapy appointments or 3:30 pm phone calls from the school alerting you that your toddler just vomited all over the table. It’s a shame…but that’s another interview for another day!
As a mother, what are you confident about? What are you insecure about?
Is it terrible that I laughed out loud at this? Confident? HA!
Every day I wake up confident that I will do my very best for my family but every night I go to bed thinking there was more I could have done. I just being honest here. It’s hard. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like I’ve done enough. Some of this probably stems from my ambitiousness and the overly-high standards I set for myself.
Thankfully, I am also confident that Markus is a happy, healthy kid who is learning good lessons on how to be a good person. That’s all I can really ask for.
If he grows up to be an award-winning novelist or saves lives as a physician, those are bonus points. Building good character, solid self-esteem, and compassion for others – those are the things we strive for as parents.
If you have to pick just one, what’s your favorite mom moment so far?
Giggles and unexpected hugs are the absolute best. Markus’ uncontrollable laughter is the best sound on earth, and when he runs up and gives me a hug for no reason, I feel like maybe I’m not doing such a terrible job!
Amber Kemp-Gerstel is the Everymom…
Guilty pleasure snack?
A heaping spoonful of peanut butter with a bunch of chocolate chips on top. I also REALLY love Cheez-Its.
Currently, I am obsessed with my planner. I have a Happy Planner that I use to keep myself organized, but it’s also my place to decorate with stickers, washi tape, photos, and more!
Go-to self-care practice?
I am terrible at self-care. TERRIBLE. That said, I do really enjoy Friday nights when I typically take a few hours away from work to veg out on bad television.
Best way to end a long day?
Sleep? Is that a fair answer? Any day that ends with a full night’s sleep is a winner in my book!
Most embarrassing mom moment?
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, and I truly hope no one hates me but…
There was a period of time when Markus would stall bedtime by telling us he had to go “poo-poo.” As many moms know, you can ignore most stalling technique, but the call for poop must be answered.
Well, he would sit on the toilet, pretending to poop…and nothing would happen. He’d keep sitting there, insistent that the poop was coming soon.
On one particular night, punctuated by extreme mommy exhaustion and impatience, I just couldn’t take it anymore with the poop-stalling-technique. After a solid fifteen minutes, I said in a very stern voice, “Markus, you need to shit or get off the pot!” No one was around to hear this – which probably makes me crazy for retelling the story – but it happened. I’m not proud. There’s definitely truth to that old saying, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to apply to 2-year-olds refusing to go to bed.