Wake Up Call

This Creative Director is Proof that You Can Have an Amazing Career Wherever You Are

There’s no place like home.

By Jenn Rose Smith

One glance at her publication Territory, and it’s easy to assume that Sydney Ballesteros is just another creative who fled New York after years of high profile editorial work. Her eye for mixing periods, color, and texture is as sophisticated as it gets. But it turns out her story is actually much more interesting than the expected. Early in life, becoming a mom at 19 and limited finances kept her on the ground in Tucson, and in the years that followed Sydney found herself carving out an entirely unconventional career path through sheer ingenuity.

Walking into her home, you’re instantly met by her unique and thoroughly authentic style. An emerald green console next to the perfect peach velvet chair, all sourced locally. Art books you may never be cool enough to know about. A glass top coffee table covered in the most unique, curious objects… every corner is worth taking notes on, and all of it infused with authentic Southwest influence. We spent the afternoon with Sydney and her sweet mom who was there to hang out and help with quick wardrobe changes (hey — more benefits of living in your home town). Read on to discover why this creative director is living proof that you can have a first class creative career wherever you are.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

How long have you lived in Tucson? And what do you love most about it? 

I was born and raised in Tucson, and I’m grateful on a daily basis for its landscape and surroundings, the history and culture, family, friends and the creative community of peers I inhabit this space with, that constantly lift me up. Also the life I get to carve out for myself in this place is truly a beautiful one.  

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

The city has such a fun mid-century vibe… how has that inspired your aesthetic?

Mid-century is definitely apparent here, and there are some outstanding pieces of mid-century modern architecture around, but also, there’s a richness of old adobe houses original to the foundation of Sonoran Tucson architecture, along with styles of Territorial, Spanish Colonial, craftsman bungalows and pueblo revival. That is the beauty of Tucson, it displays a perfect mix of many things.

How would you describe your interior style?

My interior style aligns at the intersection of my personal style in the way that I like to mix it up with different design periods and a good balance of antique, vintage and modern pieces. I also love to incorporate pieces that I’ve picked up on travels. I try to find one little treasure to bring home from wherever I go to keep a memory of that place and time.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

What’s your favorite thing in your living room?

That’s always such a hard question cause I really only seek to collect and surround myself with things I love or that share a sentimental connection to me in some way, so everything in my house feels like my favorite, but to answer the actual question: I discovered I had a green thumb a few years ago and since then have been collecting and nurturing plant babies like a mad woman! They are all so healthy and thriving right now, and I’m pretty proud of that! In such a busy state of mind, it has become my therapy and my challenge. I’m like a proud plant parent when I admire them beaming in morning light, lol. I also really dig the emerald green wink ceiling light pendant I just installed (purchased at local Tucson shop MAST).

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

Tell us a little about your magazine, Territory. What inspired you to found it? Was it hard to get a print publication off the ground in Tucson?

The Southwest was in need of a quality independent publication that represented its depth in a slow journalism and art-forward format, one that intertwined powerful-authentic storytelling and beautiful visuals to accompany them, in all areas of art, design, history, culture, travel, etc. It was hard, and still is because it’s such a specific niche, but I believe it’s valued and inspiring to the readers who relate to the magnetic pull of the region, and appreciate its educational and timeless content. It was also important to me to have a home-base for all of the creative and inspiring artists spread throughout the southwest to congregate in a legacy piece of print that would remain collected and honored for generations to come.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

What is your artistic background? Did you go to school for fashion or design? Were there past jobs that you learned a lot from?

I’m the daughter of two musician parents, who divorced when I was really young, but that allowed me to share time growing up in two separate households full of artistic influence, and different mediums, be that music, style or design. I am grateful my parents exposed me to so many outlets within arts and culture, and raised me up to absorb so many interests. Academic Education was important to them of course, but it was more important for them to raise a well rounded human. They taught me to curiously always have my eyes and ears open, to hustle, be ambitious and brave, street smart, work hard, to never wait for a hand-out in life and to never forget where I come from or lose sight of who I am at my core.

Neither of my parents were in a position to help pay for my college experience, or help me slowly transition into adulthood, and I figured that out really early on in life. It was always a conversation of, you are capable of doing anything you dream of, but you are going to have to figure out how to put yourself there.

After high school I was working a part-time job and going to college for costume/fashion design which probably had something to do with my fascination for period films, history and my obsession with my mother and grandmothers style influences growing up. I dropped out the first go round at the age of nineteen to take a full-time job, once I found out I was an expectant mother. I realized that I wanted a more versatile arts degree that allowed me to experience a variety of mediums I could gain perspective on, I had an interest in a broader sense of visual design that delved into interior and graphic design, and wanted to take classes in things like photography, ceramics, jewelry and art history, so I switched my degree to accommodate that the second time around when I went back to school, in my mid- twenties. By that time I had already began producing, directing and styling, college was more of a personal accomplishment at that point. I wanted to prove to myself I could overcome the task as a working mom in her twenties, and as a former college dropout and teenage mom statistic…

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

I honestly always struggled with school in a traditional sense and was fully aware that I have personally always learned best by just doing, taking risks and fully immersing and educating myself on something I felt interested in or passionate about.

Most of my background just lies in pure passion, self-education, determination and willingness to learn.   

I’ve held many jobs throughout the years, from a vintage shop girl to a food service employee, to 9-5 office jobs, real estate, and believe it or not, a stint in the trucking industry (but that’s a story for another day) and I’ve walked away with a deeper knowledge and appreciation from each one of those experiences, and at some time and place in my life, all of them have come in handy.  

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

Was there ever a point in your career where you considered moving to New York or Los Angeles? What made you decide to stay in Tucson?

I entertained the idea from time to time of course, but was always really content cultivating my creative space here, while making professional connections, relationships and friends in New York or Los Angeles from afar. Since I was such a young mom, my first priority was to raise my child in a place where I knew I could afford to be comfortable while I was creating and be surrounded by family and a support system that nurtured me. That lifestyle was more important to me in those moments, and what I had to make work for me. In the back of my mind, I always knew that in time I would still be young enough to make a life change, if I felt compelled to.

Patience and sacrifice was nothing new to me, but the reality that I was not really in a position to be able to move to LA or NY in my twenties, never stopped me from envisioning or pursuing a creative voice for myself.

I didn’t feel that the fact I wasn’t creating in those cities defined my drive or my success. Traditional society has such narrow confinements of what success ultimately means anyway. I humbly accepted that my creative journey didn’t fit into a perfect box or sequence, it was messy, hard and untraditional in every sense of the word, but it was my own and I would be damned if I let those cliche’d confines rob me of my personal dreams or finding my happiness amongst all the moving parts. And in the end, the recipe for being able to travel in doses to those places and then come home to the desert really has never disappointed me, it always feels much more appealing and healthy for my personal being.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

Do you often connect with or work with creatives who live out-of-state?

Yes! All the time, it’s what keeps the exchange of knowledge and inspiration flowing and the shared conversations within networks open to receive meaningful relationships, growth and opportunities. It’s also important to me to make real connections with people.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

How would you describe your personal style?

I try to never corner myself, I like the freedom to dress with expression and evolvement, or just by feeling my mood out really, but I tend to gravitate towards a balance of feminine and masculine, alluring and sophisticated, hard and soft. I love to feel like all of those things at the same time.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

You’re so good at mixing different styles and periods in both your interiors and your fashion… any design rules to live by?

I have a few strategies when styling a space, but I wouldn’t call them rules. I don’t believe in rules, lol. I’ve broken almost every rule in the book of life and did everything backwards, and I honestly don’t claim to be the expert on anything, haha!  I like contrasting aesthetics. If it makes you feel good, you love to admire it when you walk by, and it speaks and connects to you on some level of good energy, then you should indulge in it. I love to see how people style objects they have a personal connection to in their spaces. I like spaces that feel warm, expressive, layered and lived in.  

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

Describe Tucson style in 5 words or fewer:

Expressive, Inspired, Unique, Cultured, Eternal

At home in Tuscon with Sydney Ballesteros.

Sydney and her mother at home in Tuscon.

Do you believe that you can live a creative life in any town?

I believe in this 100 percent. As much of a love/dislike relationship I have with social media, if anything good comes out of it, it’s about having a platform and a place to connect to a bigger network of people and resources, especially residing in a smaller city. With that being said I still feel that it’s important to create a community from where you are with what you have. And be in constant search of the things that make you feel grounded and passionate, while giving yourself the space and comfort to work within a good balance of personal passion projects and paid ones.