One of the great joys of autobiographical writing is the element of surprise. Ordinary people have extraordinary experiences, and lives that look placid on the outside sometimes go in odd directions.
We’re starting a new blog series featuring people with unexpected side hustles, pet projects, and cool obsessions. If you know someone whose life has a surprising twist—and if they’d like to share how they got there—let us know! Maybe you’ll see them featured here.
First up is Andrea Strongwater. She’s a visual artist, but she’s not interested in hanging her work in a gallery. She illustrates books, designs ketubot (Jewish marriage documents), and creates everyday products, from tea towels to wrapping paper. But her real passion? Jigsaw puzzles.
“Ever since I was young, I always wanted to design jigsaw puzzles. I absolutely adore them.
“Jigsaw puzzles generally need to be very complicated, very dense. You don't want a lot of blank space. I’ve done enough of them right now that I get a lot of freedom in style, in painting them and organizing them. It's just a tremendous amount of fun.
“Years after I graduated, one of my professors came to a show of mine and said, “Oh my! You've totally organized chaos.” And it's true! That's exactly what I like to do, and that's the essence of a jigsaw puzzle.
“The first one I did was a reunion gift for my Cornell class. That was hugely successful, and the Cornell store asked me to do more. And that led to working with a textile manufacturer, using these images on products of the same design. If you have an image that's doing gangbusters, you want to get the most out of it you possibly can.
“It's very unusual to be both an artist and an entrepreneur, but I’m totally entrepreneurial. It turns out that this part is a little hereditary. A cousin of mine designs packaging for Revlon, and another cousin is a magazine art director. I didn't know all this when I was young, but I see the connection now.
“People think projects fall in your lap, but they don't. If you don't know what's going to work, you have to ask as many people as you possibly can. And you have to keep at it.
“I don't like to bother people, so I struggle with that. You have to get out there and network and be charming and delightful. I mean, do you think I would have gotten a book deal if I hadn't asked 300 million people?”