Baron Dreamcatcher

I’ve been posting on Instagram to roll out some of the artwork we’re featuring for The Custom 20 backpacks.  Below is a long form explanation for Baron Dreamcatcher, the 4th of 6 new bags that we’ll be debuting at EAST Austin Studio Tour, Nov 11-12 and Nov 18-19.  Longer than usual post here to fill in some backstory for a bag that could probably best be rolled out by saying:  

Baron Dreamcatcher features artwork by Matt Hill.  It’s a beautiful bag, featuring beautiful artwork.  🙂  

Baron Dreamcatcher, original artwork by Matt Hill

Details:  I met Matt in January 2016, while participating in Seth Godin’s altMBA, we were both working to refine our ruckus making skills.  Matt told me that he would love to help Badass Backpacks in any way that he possibly could.  The Baron Dreamcatcher backpack that is part of The Custom 20 is the result of a first collaboration with Matt.  I’m already looking forward to the next time we will have a chance to work together.  

Matt Hill is an artist, photographer, and a generous human being.  He teaches night photography with National Parks at Night, taking his skills to various national parks where he uses his camera to capture stunning images – and more importantly, teaching the art of pushing your camera to do more than you might dream that it can do.  You can see some of his photography work on his website.  Matt also creates cut paper artwork.  When we spoke about his inspiration for the cut paper works he creates, he narrated a scene of putting on the music and letting the paper take shape, not always knowing what he might make, but simply working to create something beautiful, without judgement while it takes form.  He doesn’t always have a predetermined direction.  And that “letting the art self-guide itself into being” was reflective of the path for how this backpack featuring Matt’s artwork was created.  He generously gave us access to a large archive of cut paper artwork.  When we opened up the folders of images he shared, we began stumbling with joy through different things we thought we might create.  And then the work stalled.

For a long time, Matt’s amazing cut paper archive was sitting at my finger tips, along with an echo in my head of his encouraging words:  “Adam, just look at these pieces, and use them as you need.”  At that time, I had no idea how valuable Matt’s generosity was going to be.  Out at the edges, I was working on a number of graphics projects that required me to level up my Adobe Illustrator game… and I needed to start working with vector graphics.  As it turns out, cut paper art happens to be an amazing, fruitful, and inspiring starting point for creating vector graphics.  As I started pouring over Illustrator tutorials in YouTube, I had a secret weapon — folder after folder, photographs of Matt’s cut paper artwork.  Matt, you should know that during the last 6 months, my Adobe Illustrator skills have been seriously leveled up (like 10x).  And your artwork was a huge part of that journey for me.  Gratitudes to the max for your generous sharing.  During that leveling up of my vector graphics skills and Adobe Illustrator skills, I began collaborating on a project that was supposed to be part of The Custom 20.  Unfortunately, that particular project fell apart.  It does not matter why.  What’s important is, it totally fell apart.  We were on the eve of sending off our graphics to get fabric printed for The Custom 20 backpacks, and there I was, sitting at Flightpath Coffeehouse, with my head in my hands.  I was devastated, knowing that all of this work we’d done was not going to be printed.

[Side note to this story:  The Custom 20 was not originally supposed to be 6 bags — there were more bag designs, and several of the bags we were working to create, did not come to fruition.  That’s a story for a different time.]

So what to do?  What to do in this situation where we had a chance to print fabric, but couldn’t use what we had previously created?  I thought about Matt’s encouragement to just dive in, and I leapt.  I put on my headphones, cranked the music, and in an inspired 3 hour session, I worked several of Matt’s pieces into our bag pattern.  The result is a backpack called Baron Dreamcatcher, named after the piece that is featured on the front of the backpack.

Baron Dreamcatcher, cut paper by Matt Hill

The inside of the zipper pocket has the phrase “Rule Number 6”.  This is an ode to one of the altMBA values, that Matt and I embrace:  Rule No 6 is “Don’t take yourself so damn seriously!”  [*Borrowed from a book called “The Art of Possibility” by Zander and Zander.]  The work by Matt for that interior piece of the bag is untitled.

Rule Number 6 - from Baron Dreamcatcher backpack featuring artwork by Matt Hill

Matt’s piece at the end with orange color is titled, The Fire Beneath.

The Fire Beneath, cut paper by Matt Hill

Badass Backpacks works under several guiding principles, one of which is “to be intentional”.  Don’t fake the funk.  But sometimes, the best grooves are unexpected and improvised.  Looking for advice from two altMBA alumni on how you can catch your dreams?  Let go of your expectations.  Stop taking yourself so seriously.  Leap.  Inspired by walking that journey, Baron Dreamcatcher is beautiful backpack.  First chance to see it will be at East Austin Studio Tour — Matt, thank you again for your support, for your nudging, for your courage, for your encouragement, for your generosity… you are an inspiration.

Portrait of Matt Hill

Big smile for how this one came together.  

The Custom 20

Badass Backpacks has been working behind the scenes all year long to manifest our next round of bags – The Custom 20.  I shared this sneak peek image on Instagram last week, showing snippets of the artwork featured on these newest bags.

The Custom 20 - Badass Backpacks

As we move through the final days of 2017, I’ll be sharing more on Instagram about each one of them.  Each bag, beautiful in its own right, features a different artist and a unique theme.  The first chance to see these limited edition bags will be in person at EAST Austin Studio tour where we’ll be setting up with Articulation ATX at the North Door in East Austin.  A couple of things to explain:

What is The Custom 20?

The Custom 20 is a limited edition production of 20 bags.  There are 5 artists total, and 6 new themes, 6 different bags.  These numbers feel odd — and while I could offer explanations and stories for how the numbers landed where they landed, I’ll hold back, and will simply say:  This all worked out perfectly.  Just the way it was supposed to.  This initial production is limited to just the 20 bags; following that, we will be exploring these new themes to see about a larger production round for each one, along with a way to pre-order online… make sure to follow us on Instagram over the next few months and let us know what you think.  I’m as curious as you are to see which of these bags resonate with our followers.  Badass Backpacks’ purpose is to create beautiful bags, and The Custom 20 is an amazing opportunity to experiment with new artistic mediums to tell a story — illustration (Eudaimonia), comic book art (Lost in the Woulds and PopGun Underground), photography (Look Up), cut paper artwork (Dreamcatcher), and iteration based on feedback (Self Reflection Encore).  Of course, finessing each one of them onto a backpack.

The 6 new bags:

Eudaimonia, artwork by Patrick Moran.

Eudaimonia - Original artwork by Patrick Moran

Lost in the Woulds, artwork by Clint Watson.

Lost in the Woulds - original artwork by Clint Watson

Look Up, featuring photography by Ann Alva Wieding.

Look Up - photography by Ann Wieding

Dreamcatcher, artwork by Matt Hill.

Dreamcatcher - cutpaper, original artwork by Matt Hill

Popgun Underground, artwork by Clint Watson.

PopGun Underground - original artwork by Clint Watson

Self Reflection Encore, artwork by Eli Halpin.

Walrus Trio - original artwork by Eli Halpin

How do these 6 new themes work together?  They don’t.  But they do.  The bags were created separately.  And yet somehow, having all of them made together: fabric printed, fabric cut, and bags sewn – I can’t help but notice that they all work together to tell a story.  A story about flourishing, persisting and sticking with it (even when lost in the woulds), remembering to look up, catching dreams, making them into reality, and celebrating where we are… every step of the way.  The Custom 20 has weaved and bobbed and ebbed and flowed — ever changing throughout the year as we worked to bring these bags into the world — and it puts the biggest smile on my face to see that after all of the growth, evolution, and change… The Custom 20 bags, work well together, telling a beautiful story.

The Custom 20 - themes in logo

Leading up to our time at EAST Austin Studio tour, I’ll make sure to post more info about each one of these individual themes from The Custom 20, as they each have a story to tell… and on Nov 11-12th and Nov 18-19th, you can come out to see us in person to check out the bags.  Both Patrick Moran and Ann Alva Wieding will be showing their work with Articulation ATX during EAST, which means if you do visit us, you’ll also have a chance to chat with them about all of their work.

Fall time has arrived (Spring for our Southern Hemisphere followers) — the changing of the seasons always makes me smile.  New journeys ahead, new stories to tell.

Self Reflection – time for center stage

We’ve got a lot of buzzing energy with our newest production – Self Reflection – especially with the first bags making their way into the hands of our pre-order customers.  Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered one of these bags!  First followers rock!  I posted on Instagram some quick shots of Eli putting her signature onto some of the pre-order backpacks.  Preorders have ended — that said I do have one more Heron bag that is hand-signed by Eli.  If you would like to order it, you can use the promo code “i_read_closely” and you’ll get the pre-order price.  If you choose any bag other than the Blue Heron bag, it won’t be hand-signed by Eli, but you’ll still get the 20% discount price 🙂  If you try to use that code and it doesn’t work, it means that another blog reader has beat you to it.  

In more ways than one the fun is only just beginning.  We have an exciting photography opportunity on Aug 11, which is perfect timing for Self Reflection to take center stage as we head into the last half of the year.  With bags in hand, we’ll start updating all of our photography and product shots and I can’t wait to start promoting Self Reflection more heavily.  For many of our longtime blog followers — long time coming, right!?  🙂  These things take time.  We’re learning.  Buckles are polished, packaging is ready… time for Self Reflection to take center stage.

And what’s happening at the edges?  In the wings?  Where the drama lives.

“The real drama of life is never center stage. It’s always in the wings.”
— Fred Rogers (yes, that’s Mr. Rogers)

We’ve been pushing hard for the last few months on a special round of new bags; a test round of some new thoughts, ideas, and concepts.  Rusty and I have been referring to this experimental round of sample bags as, The Custom 20.  All this waiting, and now there’s more.  While the polish of Self Reflection is ready for the spotlight, we are also thrashing with new scintillating drama off to the side, in the wings.  The Custom 20 is an effort by Rusty and me, to experiment; new artwork, some tweaks to bag design, Photoshop, Illustrator, painstaking debates over pixels and measurements, late night discussions, lots of late nights…  and I have shied away from updating this blog and social media with insights into that work.  My running list of teachers, inspirations, and muses all encourage me directly to stop worrying too much about social media and to focus instead on Doing the Work.  (Advice that is a comfort to receive.)  With so much happening all at one time, the summertime has forced me to make some important choices and decisions about how I spend my time.  And doing the work has eaten up every spare scrappy minute I could possibly snatch up or dig to find on my calendar.  I can’t wait to blow some dust off our blog during the next few months so we can start sharing more about the work – all of it.  Stay patient.  It’s coming soon.

And in the meantime:  get ready to enjoy a center stage rollout for Self Reflection.  I can’t wait for our Aug 11 photoshoot, because these bags are stop-you-in-your-tracks gorgeous.  And when you’re done pausing for their beauty — they also make great companions for taking steps on the journey that Badass Backpacks cares about most:  the journey to better understand who we are, and who we are becoming.

Self Reflection Bags - Final Versions

Self Reflection Pre-orders Extended

We’re extending our Self Reflection pre-order availability through the end of June.  Yes, that means that if you are waiting to buy one of these bags, you can still order one at the reduced pre-order price of $200 (that’s $50 off and all pre-order bags will be hand signed by Eli Halpin – that’s a hell of a deal).  As soon as we get our bags in hand, we’ll be getting them signed by Eli and then boxed up and ready to go.  That’s also when we’ll change the price from $200 to $250 on our website.  So what gives?  Why are we extending the pre-order window?

I’m so embarrassed to bring news that we won’t have the first bags in hand until later in June.  I just recently traveled out to Vancouver, WA, where these bags are being made.  The trip to Vancouver was a really great journey.  And that gave me a lot to smile about; but, I must admit that following that trip I’ve been carrying a weight.  The weight of disappointment that we won’t have the first bags ready by my original expected date.  We waited, and waited, and waited some more before launching pre-orders to make sure that we had absolutely everything lined up … and yet here we are.  Right where I never want to be:  stuck in the waiting game as our step by step supply chain has met delay after delay.  Even though later than expected, we’re still more excited than ever that we will be shipping these bags out before you know it.  I just hate that I missed on our dates and expectations.  I’m blushing, and embarrassed.

Good news here:  I am sloughing off that feeling of disappointment.  At the end of the day, these kinds of delays happen.  Big picture — I know that we’ll still be able to ship out these bags very soon, and it’s not the end of the world.  If nothing else, this gives us a chance to tell more people about the amazing pre-order deal!  

To everyone who has preordered — I’ve sent you a separate email.  Thank you for believing in us!  The bags are gorgeous, and this project has been transformative for Badass Backpacks.  In moments like these, I grab a gut check and an encouraging nudge from Steven Pressfield.  Keep moving forward.  Pictured here is us, reading two of his works – The War of Art, and Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.  🙂

Rusty and Adam, reading Steven Pressfield

Inside the Box

If I preorder one of the Self Reflection bags, what will be inside the box when it ships?

Number One – The Box

We’ve designed some custom boxes for this project, and they are stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful.  They feature beautifully printed snippets from Eli Halpin’s Oil Spill collection.

Self Reflection Box

Self Reflection Boxes - Turtle Side

Self Reflection Boxes - Polar Bear Side

Number Two – The Tissue Paper

Inside the box, the bag is wrapped in custom tissue paper – a backdrop of the drops that are part of the Polar Bear painting from Eli, and lettering work by Paula Lemmon.

Self Reflection Bag Wrapped

Self Reflection getting wrapped

Self Reflection - tissue paper for packaging. Artwork by Eli Halpin

Number Three – The Giclee Print

Each bag will also ship with a high quality giclee print of the artwork that’s featured on the bag.

Herons Oil Spill - 12.5 inches wide

Number Four – The Bag

Unwrap it all, and there is your new Badass Backpack.  Ready for you to put yourself inside.

Back of the Bag Doesn't Get Shown Enough :)

We’ve put a ton of love into the packaging and the process for shipping Self Reflection to your door step.  Packaging gives our bags an extra touch.  We want you to pause, even if just for a moment.  We want our packaging to grab your attention.  “Wait!”, the box screams — this might be important.  Slow down.  We want the experience of owning and using a Badass Backpack to give the wearer some comfort in asking big questions.  Intentional and beautiful packaging is where that starts.

Self Reflection Packaging

Stacked Boxes - Heron Side Facing Forward

Inside the Bag – Part 2

Badass Backpacks is a very raw and experimental project.  And each of the bag productions we are thrashing with take on that raw and experimental energy.  The bags part of our equation is the easiest part to talk about.  See my last post.  The Art aspect – much harder.  Combining two unsuspecting things together will inevitably create something new.  Why are we doing this?  What’s the point of it all?  Is it just pretty paintings, printed onto a bag?  Maybe it is.  Or maybe we named this newest bag series “Self Reflection” for a reason.

The most beautiful part of these bags is what’s on the inside.  In my last post, I showed a pic of the Walrus bag pockets unzipped.  Our sample bags didn’t include all of the printed fabric for the interior of the bags.  Our production bags will feature more artwork by Eli Halpin inside the front pocket.

Self Reflection - Interior Pocket 1 change

Additionally, on the interior of the bag’s main compartment is printed a message that runs down to the bottom of the inside of the bag.  I have intentionally kept that message blurred out and illegible in most of our photo sharing.  Here’s the clearest photo I’m willing to share.  The rest of that message is for our bag wearers to enjoy.

Self Reflection - Interior Message Partial Share

For those that are only interested in the beautiful bags – stop reading here.  You’ve seen enough, and you can smile knowing that if you buy one of our bags, you’ll be carrying your daily artifacts in a slamming, stunning, fantastic vessel.  For those of you that are willing to get vulnerable with me, for those of you that want to say “yes” to our Badass Backpacks’ open invitation to Put Yourself Inside, for those of you that are willing to smile with us on a journey of asking big questions – keep reading.

The muses I have leaned on while working to create the Self Reflection bags are many.  I am finding leaders, books, people, and connections galore that urge me to consider closely what it means to be alive, and what it means to be me.  I have drawn inspiration from my peers in the altMBA, from Seth Godin, from Hugh MacLeod, and from Simon Sinek to look closely at my purpose.  I have mused on amazing words from artists like Marianne Williamson and Martha Graham that remind me to stay true to who I am (and to stop being scared of my own Truth).  And I’ve been reminded by effusive emphasis from leaders like Gary Vaynerchuck and Neil DeGrasse Tyson to consider with great awe the infinite-amazing-and-odds-defying fact that we have the opportunity to be alive.

My list of muses for Self Reflection goes on – and it even includes many of the people who are followers of this blog.  Just yesterday, I sat in my car, captivated by this episode of “Think” – these muses are popping up everywhere!  What do all of these Self Reflection muses have in common?  Self Awareness, waking up, being vulnerable, searching for truth, and seeking to understand who we are.  Know thyself.  Nosce te ipsum.

“We must look at ourselves over and over again in order to learn to love, to discover what has kept our hearts closed, and what it means to allow our hearts to open.” — Jack Kornfield

What is inside this bag?  I don’t know what you’ll put inside.  But I hope that some of you will smile with us as we leap with big questions.  It’s not as scary as you think.  I know, I know, I know.  I’ve sat with many of you, and I’m aware that this can get uncomfortable.  Olé to you, the ones who might lean into that discomfort with us, as we dare to ask:

Who am I?

(As always, I hope you’ll also grin with us as we keep Rule No 6 top of mind.)

Portrait of Adam Lemmon - by Kaiyao Duan - Inspired by Hugh MacLeod

Inside the Bag – Part 1

Lots and lots of questions about what’s inside these bags.  I perhaps have too many thoughts to share about what’s inside these bags.  We’ll start with the facts.  Part 1 — the backpack.  What’s the inside of this bag like?

Peering into top of Self Reflection Walrus Bag


The printed fabric is a synthetic poly fabric, manufactured in the USA by Aurora Textiles.  The material is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.  Before being cut and sewn into our bags, this material makes an extra stop in our supply chain at Hampton Prints in Tennessee where the large scale digital dye-sublimation printing is completed.  The rest of the bag is made from a variety of nylon fabrics, including a light 2-ply nylon for the cinch at the top of the main opening for the bag, a heavy weight ballistics nylon for the interior of the large pocket, and a lightweight cushy mesh nylon for the shoulder straps and built-in laptop sleeve.  The small logo patches that you see on the front of the bag are pvc, manufactured in California.


Dimensions: 10.5in x 16in x 5.5in


2 zipper pockets.  One large, and one smaller one that can be accessed even when the top lid is buckled shut.  The zippers are remarkably large which makes zipping and unzipping the pockets a very smooth action.  The oversized zippers are one feature that we get a lot of compliments on from Sincerity Inside bag wearers.  Zippers on Self Reflection bags are the same.  

The main compartment has a cord cinch closure at the top that can be adjusted.  Inside that main compartment is where the built-in padded laptop sleeve rests.  And then finally, the upper lid has aluminum buckles for closing the bag when it’s time to put it on and move.  (If you’re viewing this post in email, the below slide show will likely not load, but if you view this post in your browser you can swipe through a few photos of the interior.)

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What kind of adventure is this bag ideal for?

This bag is a medium sized backpack, that fits most adults quite well.  It has a book bag feel, and it has enough space to carry your laptop, a notepad, some books, and a change or two of clothes, along with some room to spare for your pencil case, your headphones, your chargers, and your other small artifacts that might hide in the small front pocket of a daily use bag.  Its functionality is straightforward — but there’s something very important that I haven’t mentioned in this post yet, and that’s the fact that this bag has one more feature built inside.  This bag is an invitation to think about your journey.  It’s a feature that doesn’t come with every backpack.  It’s called Self Reflection for a reason.  I’ll talk more about that in a Part 2 post about what’s inside this bag.

Peeking inside Walrus Bag - Self Reflection Series

This is Art. This is a Bag.

Early Changes Will Change Things

My last few posts have focused on the changes that are happening for our bags between sample bag and our final production bags.  This is certainly not ideal.  I feel like a stage performer that’s doing my costume changes on stage.  There’s a reason that most changes happen behind the scenes, where you can’t see them.  It’s often times, for the best.  I also smile in celebration of the fact that Badass Backpacks has the opportunity to get vulnerable and experiment by showing you what’s happening as we stumble along step by step.

The Heron bag in our Self Reflection series saw some changes last minute before we printed the fabric for our initial sample bags.  We changed the positioning of the artwork to go up the bag vertically instead of across the bag horizontally.  That change caused surprise and momentary panic across our small collaboration team.  Would such a change work?  Is that going to look weird?  I don’t know.  It might not work.  But maybe it will.  The shift allowed us to get more of the painting onto the bag and it pulled the Heron into scale beautifully.

Change is constant.  Change early, and that will change the changes that need to be made later in the cycle.  The Heron bag will see very little difference from sample bag to production bag.  Aside from a slight cropping shift on the exterior lid of the bag – this one will look exactly like the sample bag we’ve been showcasing. 

Fabric and Print Heron Oil Spill - Original artwork by Eli Halpin

Heron Bag - Lid Change - original artwork by Eli Halpin

Printed Fabric - Self Reflection Heron Bag - Original artwork by Eli Halpin

I’ll also share again the beautiful shot of Self Reflection project collaborators standing below Eli’s Heron Oil Spill painting (left to right, Adam, Eli, Rusty, and Michael):

Adam, Eli, Rusty, and Michael in Eli Studio

Sea Turtle Quartet

Our sample bag for Eli’s Sea Turtle Quartet painting was a bit off.  It’s hard to see the turtles.  From Sample Bags to Production Bags, this one will see the most drastic changes of the four.  We’ve changed the cropping on the printed fabric both inside and out.  A few people have started asking about the interior of these bags.  Stay tuned and I’ll post some details along with better pics of the inside of the bags.  In the meantime — here are some quick shots of fabric changes for the Sea Turtle bag, including a view of the final fabric print.

Sea Turtle Bag - Self Reflection - original artwork by Eli Halpin

Full printed fabric view:

Sea Turtle - print fabric layout - Original artwork by Eli Halpin

Interior of bag lid:

Self Reflection - Sea Turtle Quartet bag - original artwork by Eli Halpin

Oil Spills Blend In – Walrus Bag Changes

The first few shots I took of the Walrus bag were outside, and when I got them back to my computer — hehehe… they blended in like camouflage.  Like this:

Walrus Bag from Self Reflection blending in

So we’ve decided to make some changes to the printed fabric for this bag.  By adding some color and adjusting the color levels all over, we think the new printed fabric will make this bag even more beautiful.  For those of you who are looking closely, the production bags will look a touch different.

Walrus Sample bag - front pocket fabric change

In addition to the slight coloring change we’ve also made a few cropping adjustments on this bag.  Minimal changes to the artwork layout.  Here’s what the full printed fabric pattern looks like for the finalized version of the walrus bag.

Walrus bag from Self Reflection - low res of final fabric printing