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Christy Roushey is no shrinking violet

Enter a Zoom video chat room to find two women raise similarly oversized mugs to their lips: chai tea for one, coffee loaded with cream and sugar for the other. Anyone who follows the sole proprietor of the House of Roushey, Christy Roushey, on Facebook or Instagram might already have guessed that it was her sipping the less amplifying chai tea. This very well could be a side effect of cultivating an online presence. True followers zoom in on details that make emerging artists stand out in the first place: nuances that repeatedly shorten the distance between them and their creative crushes.

Roushey, forty, gave up mechanical engineering in 2016 to pursue life as a self-propelled artist and designer. Her delicate touch with botanical illustrations and hand lettering have earned her a reputation for beautifying other people’s spaces.At the same time, they have allowed her to spend more hours at home, in Webster, with her family—husband Ben Roushey, a comptroller, their eleven-year-old daughter, and their seven- year-old son—and less being reminded that she is Black. Or female.

Racism. Sexism. Misogyny.Without complaining, Roushey explains that there were many moments as an engineer when she thought, “I’m not comfortable with this … or with being small anymore.” In the end, she says, “I’ve come to terms with a lot of what engineering has done to me.” She was tired of logging ten-plus hour days and sacrificing quality of life while struggling to fit in.

“I can see,” she concludes, “how much I sacrificed.”

Having participated in 4-H club and craft projects in her youth, she was always what she dubs “a maker—a creator—of something.” A chance gift from an aunt that was chock-full of crafting supplies came complete with ink wells and calligraphy pens, prompting Roushey to expand her skill set further. She had her heart set on being “the career woman working outside the home,” when hand lettering emerged as a profession. It sparked her curiosity. She thought, “Oh, I can [revisit] these skills!”

Roushey expresses happiness over connecting with a warm and welcoming community of deeply feeling creatives who also occupy space within the Rochester arts scene. She speaks of feeling safe to be herself, create, discuss, and learn.

Read on to hear from the creative wunderkind.

What inspired you to choose hand lettering as a profession?

It honestly fell into my lap. I had recently left my job in engineering to become a stay-at-home mom and I needed to create space for myself. I was gifted a book on lettering for Christmas and started spending fifteen minutes each day practicing my new skill while the kids played. I started sharing the things I was learning about myself and the artwork I was creating (online and off) and people started asking me to create gifts for their friends or family. Six months later, I followed the same process with floral illustration. After years of planning what I wanted my career and life to be like, I decided to take things as they came … even if it was for a year or two. Here I am four years later, and I’m thrilled at what it’s become!

Along the same lines, what inspires your floral art?

Nature, the things I’m learning about life, social justice, and the role I play in making things better. Over the years, I have learned a lot about floriography: the language of flowers. Becoming popular in the Victorian era, people would send secret messages through small bouquets of flowers. It was a secret code! It reminded me that there is so much more than meets the eye. I try to incorporate the language of flowers throughout my personal work or work with clients as a reminder that our significance goes so much deeper than what we see on the outside.

Where were you formally trained, and what are your thoughts about that?

I do not have any formal training. However, I would consider myself a “maker at heart.” From an early age, I have always enjoyed learning new techniques and trying out new mediums. From collecting rubber stamps to sewing to refinishing thrifted furniture, I have always felt a strong desire to create, and it has been encouraged by my parents.

If you were asked to pursue a dream project, what would it be and why?

This is a tough question. I have many dreams about this business. I would love to have a stationery line. I am a sucker for paper products: a cute journal, adorable paper for list making, etc. And I have dreams of continuing to utilize my artwork to support broader change in areas of social justice, equity, and mental health.

What’s a typical day in the life of the House of Roushey like?

Ha ha! As a mom of two school-aged kiddos, there are rarely typical days. The early morning is a blur as I get the kids out the door for school. After my family leaves for the day, it is essentially my time. I always like to take time to settle the home and wake up with a cup of tea before I start work. The tasks for the day really depend on what my family and my business require of me. In the last year, I have tried to be very intentional about what projects I take on. Success, in this moment, is being available for my family—physically, mentally, and emotionally— while doing something that brings me joy.

What three things could you not do without in a typical day and why?

Oooh, this is a good question. One? Music. My kids like to say that I could be a “One Momma Musical,” since I’m always singing and making up songs. But seriously, music helps me to focus on computer work, push through mundane housework, and relax enough to draw. Two? My phone is my lifeline to family, friends, my calendar, and business. It allows me to be flexible with work and life. Three? Free time. I am an extroverted introvert. I need time with people and time to recharge. So, I try to ensure that each day has some time to take care of myself whether it’s a nap after putting the kids on the bus or meeting up with friends.

Are you always working on client projects, or is there time to fit in personal work?

The balance between client projects and personal work ebbs and flows. Since my workflow for personal projects is more flexible, it tends to span several months. For example, I sketched out the designs for my latest collection in the early parts of the summer to launch in the fall of 2021. Client projects are usually a focused effort of four to six weeks.

What themes do you think recur in your work—and why?

There are so many common threads around self-love, self-care, growth, and identity within my work. Art is the way I process emotions which are just below the surface and I haven’t put words to just yet. In the last several years, I have worked really hard to heal and learn from the process of becoming. Combined with therapy, I was learning so much about contentment and self-love from the beauty and language of flowers. We don’t stop to criticize a bent petal or torn leaf. We stand in awe at the immense beauty before us. So why are we so quick to judge ourselves? I wanted to remind myself of the intrinsic purpose of being enough as I am. And, hopefully, encourage others as well.

Christy Roushey, photo by Michael Hanlon

Where are you from, and where else have you lived and/or traveled to?

I have lived in Webster for most of my life and consider Rochester home. I stayed local for college, attending Roberts Wesleyan College—where I met my spouse, Ben— and RIT. I then moved to the southern part of New Jersey for work. I, Ben, and our kiddos now live in Webster near family.

What might (585) readers be surprised to know about you?

It usually surprises people to learn that I have degrees in mechanical engineering (a master’s from RIT) and math (a bachelor’s from Roberts Weslyan) and that I then worked in manufacturing for over ten years. My path has been very non- traditional. At times, I wondered if those early years were a waste of time. But I wouldn’t trade any bit of it. It has shaped me into who I am still growing to become.

 At one point, Roushey says, her studio consisted of what fit on the dining room table. She has since taken creative control over her home’s entire basement. The dining room, though, is still dubbed “Mama Chill Zone.” (Quiet, please.) She has primarily used ProCreate, by Savage Interactive, to brush and pen lush botanical prints—at times accented by hand-lettered messages.

In terms of the scale, Roushey has proven herself to be anything but small in gesture or mind. She may not be in-your-face large, but she is no shrinking violet. If pressed to select one word to capture her spirit, it might be: encompassing. As her work attests, Roushey never once distances herself from her community.

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