interviews

meet gretchen gammell

all images courtesy Gretchen Gammell

Is it cheating that I first saw Gretchen Gammell’s paintings in a gallery just a block from my home – and that I had a wine glass in my hand? Regardless, I was quickly smitten. She’s got a graceful, evocative, deceptively simple style and a near-obsession with technique.

Painting has always flowed through Gretchen’s veins. She was a creative kid whose grandfather is a working artist and whose uncle is a children’s book illustrator. “In my family, it wasn’t considered completely crazy to be an artist,” she says. “I was comfortable with art as a career path.”

After completing a painting degree from the Oregon College of Art and Craft, Gretchen began exhibiting her acrylic and watercolor work in Portland. Soon, the Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, B.C. came calling, then the Hallway Gallery in Bellevue, followed by Whistler’s Hayden Beck Gallery. December will take her into SoCal with a show at L.A.’s Left Coast Galleries.

Gretchen now lives in Vancouver, Washington (the other Vancouver) and takes commissions from private clients and businesses, in addition to expanding her gallery roster. Like her hero, the late American watercolor virtuoso Andrew Wyeth, Gretchen is focused on mastering her chosen subject matter – the female form. She’s determined to improve her painting with every brushstroke.

She’s also a heck of a lot of fun. You’ll notice that this interview is a little long. That’s because we kept talking and talking. If only Gretchen herself lived right around the corner…

1. What fuels your work?

I’m obsessed with becoming absolutely adept at working with the materials. Trying to master acrylic and watercolor paint is my main focus. It’s not about the images – it’s about asking myself, how can I come up with the best color palette? How do I handle line? How do I handle paint? It’s almost a science experiment for me when I’m in my studio.

I want to be a really, really good craftsman and luckily, I also really enjoy coming up with subject matter and themes and there are lots of things that I love to paint and draw, but once I’m actually working, it’s so process-oriented. I’m a perfectionist and I want to be the best painter that I can possibly be – in a strictly manual sense.

2. How do you organize the business side of your career so you still have the time, energy and focus to paint?

I find it amusing how people think that being an artist is so glamorous. They imagine I’m on an existential high all the time – and it’s so not like that. The older I get and the more I branch out, it also increases the paperwork and schedules and details. It’s exhausting, but I make painting my first priority. That’s what comes first. I treat painting like a job, and that means I go to my studio for at least an eight-hour work day, and I work and paint for that time, just like anyone else with a 9-to-5 job. Then I take care of all the other things and I usually go back to work until I need to fall asleep. So, I just work all the time.

I used to work in a separate studio, which I loved, but now I work from home, so I have access to everything else I need to do. It’s totally boring, but I can do laundry, take care of my dogs, handle mail and I can take care of everything else that goes with it.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

No, but not because there aren’t people I would admire, but because I never make time to find out what’s going on with anybody else. That’s just how I am. I don’t know many other artists and I don’t really talk about business with many other people. So, I never know how anybody else is doing it. It would be great if someone would show up and say, “Hey, I have this fantastic business model! Try it out.” But, I’d need it hand-delivered to my doorstep.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

Two. Gallery representation and commission work.

I’ve almost always had a part-time job on the side, too. There are a couple reasons for it: One, I’m super paranoid. I was raised by a father who wanted to make sure I was completely capable of taking care of myself financially, and being an artist is such an unpredictable thing that it’s nice to have one paycheck that you know is coming – even if it’s $90. Also, working from home as an artist can be incredibly isolating and your world can get smaller and smaller. Having a reason to get out of the house and be social and be back in touch with reality is really necessary for me.  Right now I’m working as a barista. I do that two days a week and I really like it.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Gallery representation. But, it does change from year to year. It’s very unpredictable. Some years I get a lot of commission work, and some years I don’t.

Where do your commissions typically come from?

Often people will see my website and contact me to request a commission. Other times, they’ll have seen my work at one of the galleries and maybe the piece they wanted had sold, so they want to talk to me about creating something especially for them. I’ve also noticed that a lot of businesses are starting to pay attention to artwork in their décor, so I’ve had a big increase in commissions from hotels and other companies.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

No. I’ve thought about it, but I’m not ready to go there.

Why?

I don’t think I’m established enough to make prints. I’m a big fan of one-of-a-kind pieces. It’s really wonderful to think about someone having the only piece. However, I’m not against prints. I think they’re great, but I feel like I need to be at a higher level to image that my work justifies having editions.

I also think craftsmanship is a really lost component of art these days. I think that art – fine art – is a craft, just like carpentry. It’s something that distinguishes artists from each other. It’s really important for me to stand behind my work, not just conceptually or aesthetically, but also to know that I made it the best I could possibly make it and it’s not lacking attention to detail – even the details that people don’t know or care about.

7. What tools or opportunities do you think artists often fail to leverage?

I know there are grants and other funding sources out there. I hear about them, but I just don’t have time to look into those things and I don’t have the energy to convince someone to give me money to make something. Maybe I’m choosing the harder route by not taking advantage of those opportunities, but I know what kind of energy levels I have, and I can only put my energy into so many places.

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Honestly, it’s people who are generous enough to support and spread news about me through word of mouth – even perfect strangers. I get a lot of emails from people who see my work and want to write about it, or post it on their Facebook profile, or they bought a piece and shared it at a dinner party. That’s how I’ve gotten attention over the years. I’m always amazed by how willing people are to advertise for someone they don’t know, just because they’re excited about the work – and that’s great.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

I think there are two:

When I first started showing my work, for about four years, I would always send a note to anybody who bought a painting – just to tell them something about the painting that they didn’t know, or to thank them for coming to a show. As a result, I have this box filled with the most amazing letters that people sent in response. They would send me very personal letters about themselves and pictures and incredible stuff that they were entrusting me with, just because they had one of my paintings. It was so cool to have these private notes and I think at the time, it gave me a great perspective on how people react to art. I don’t have the time to do that anymore, and I wish I did.

Then, two years ago, I got divorced and was having a very difficult time. I was burnt out and struggling. So, I went to France. My plan was to stay for three months to paint and get in touch with myself again, and I ended up not painting for three months – which sounds like the antithesis of investing in my career. But, it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself. It was the first time since I was a teenager that I didn’t touch any art materials at all. I just played the piano and shut my head off, and it was amazing.

At the end of the three months, I was supposed to come back to the U.S., because I had two shows opening and I needed to start working on them. I realized that if I didn’t make the shows there, I wouldn’t make them at all. I didn’t have a visa, but I had my materials sent over and I stayed another five months. I painted there and shipped everything home. It was really expensive and I was terrified that I was going to get deported – and I’m someone who doesn’t like to break the rules – but I just had to do it. And after those three months of not painting, I was so ready to work and something had changed for me. I was more focused than I’d ever been.

What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

It definitely wasn’t a waste, but art school was frustrating because I was very, very clear about what I was doing from a young age. My instructors all said, “You’re too young to know what your style is yet. You really need to start from the basics, then when you’re older and have more experience, you can start to develop your own style.”

I just knew that wasn’t true for me, so it was a battle all through school. I knew my style was young, but I just wanted to get a grasp on it and flesh it out and get better. I’m happy that I went to college. I met wonderful people and it was a good time to learn about materials, but it was difficult in the sense that I had to be kind of a brat in order to preserve what I thought was most beneficial to me as an artist.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

I don’t think that trying to make money from your art and treating it as a business is selling out. I don’t think you need to be starving and struggling all the time in order to be an authentic artist. Learning how to be a good business person, in my opinion, is a really smart move, because it’s all about protecting yourself and providing the means to be a better artist.

What I think of as selling out is taking your art in a direction that isn’t what you truly think it is. For example, because my paintings are so figurative and I use a lot of symbolism, they tend to get interpreted as having all sorts of deep meanings. But, I don’t have those kinds of thoughts, and I’m not super profound. If I claimed to have these really intellectual, deep, political, feminist theories behind my work, it wouldn’t be authentic and that would be selling out. People can project that onto my work as much as they want, and that’s fine, because it’s there for them to do so, but I can’t claim those things. That would make me a sell-out, because I’d just be pleasing what people want to hear.

Is there anything else you’ve learned and want to share?

The business side of being an artist is completely overlooked. I think it’s hard to balance being creative with being a businesswoman, because I’m not necessarily oriented that way. I’m very visual, I’m very color-oriented, so then I have to think about math and deadlines and being formal and it’s a very different side of me that I’ve had to train over the years. But it’s important, because you can get really taken advantage of. It’s not necessarily about making money. It’s about protecting myself and being in charge of what I’m doing. It’s about being self sufficient, and that’s really important to me.

Also, I think that simply making time to work is one of the most important things an artist can do. A lot of people don’t have the discipline to just work. When I was really young and thinking about an art career, my uncle said, “my only advice is that you go into your studio and you stay there until your work day is over – even if you just end up staring at a wall.”

Thanks, Gretchen!

posted 23 Aug 10 in: art, inspiration, interviews. This post currently has 9 responses.

a passive plan

photos by Jamie Beck

In every Inspired Outsiders interview, I always ask, “do you have a passive income stream?”

The answers have been as varied as the definitions of “passive.”

To me, it’s something you make once and then leverage to earn a profit multiple times over. It doesn’t require hands-on hourly work (other than sales and distribution channel upkeep and any applicable customer service tasks) and can literally sell itself while you sleep.

At this point, you’re probably either intrigued or repelled. The phrase “while you sleep” smacks of bad pyramid schemes, late-night TV gadgets and desperation. But passive income streams are powerful — and they don’t have to be cheesy.

Remember Jamie Beck and her lovely photo blog From Me to You?

Jamie and web designer Kevin Burg have just released a new blog theme called Southern Afternoon, based on the imagery of a hand-collected scrapbook. It sells for $49 to anyone who wants a nostalgic look for their blog or online journal.

Kevin gave From Me to You such a distinctive look that Jamie was constantly fielding design questions and flat-out requests to use her theme. The pair spent three months dreaming up a new, customizable template and now they’ve got a passive product that reflects Jamie’s charming visual style and extends her brand as an artist — without a hint of hucksterism.

Nicely done, Jamie & Kevin.


posted 13 Jul 10 in: art, business, interviews, retail. This post currently has no responses.

meet jamie beck

photos by Jamie Beck

Easy: Getting lost in the dreamy, evocative photographs of From Me To You.

Ridiculously difficult: Choosing just a few images to include in this post.

I have no idea what series of online snakes and ladders first delivered me to Jamie’s gorgeous photo blog; I’m just glad I ended up there at all. Not that the Texas-born, NYC-based photographer is suffering for digital traffic. The girl has a perceptive eye for everything from portraits to urban landscapes to make-you-weep still life shots — and people everywhere are quickly taking notice.

Jamie lives on New York’s Upper West Side and contributes to several online art and lifestyle publications, including Working Class, This Recording, Westside Independent, Apartment Therapy and more. She also shoots editorial and commercial work for a variety of clients and is working to expand her published portfolio (hint: hire her while you still can).

Food is a key theme in both Jamie’s life and photography. Her Friday “Dinner & A Movie” series serves up film-and-food pairings, such as Amélie with mussels or Viva Las Vegas with homestyle pot roast and creamy mashed potatoes. She also posts the recipes and photographs the entire process, so readers can simply drool at the delicious pics or re-create the feast at home.

Despite her busy schedule, Jamie was kind enough to share more about her work, her plans and her growing business. Read on and visit From Me to You to glimpse the world through Jamie’s prolific lens. Just be sure you have a good hour to spare — you, too, are likely to get lost in her extensive visual archives.

1. What fuels your work?

My imagination. It is a blessing and a curse. I can look at things or scenarios or even times of life and make believe what I want to see, which is what I capture in the end. I create through my work the world I see in my head.

2. How do you organize the business side of your life so you still have the time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

That is really really tough. At a certain point I had to just decide that my main purpose is to create and that creating will take priority. I try not to beat myself up when I can’t get everything finished on time or corresponded or there’s a missed opportunity, because I am only one person who can only do one thing at a time. So I just decide what is most important at that moment and do it.


3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I haven’t met anyone yet who has it all figured out and balanced. So I’ll just say that I admire French people’s approach to life.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I could have a few but right now I’m just focusing on creating work, getting shoots and putting my name out there. If I wanted to have a steady stream of income I could sell prints / postcards online, stock photography, in addition to being hired for shoots. But like I said, I’m only one person and I choose to spend my time creating and sharing my work in hopes to be hired to shoot commercial / editorial content.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Being hired to photograph whatever it is people want photographed.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

Not yet, however, because there have been so many inquiries about the design of my blog, I am developing a blog design with the web designer who created my blog that people can buy and start their own blogs with! So once that is up for sale, if it is successful, then the answer is YES!

7. What tools or opportunities do you think most creative pros fail to leverage?

I’m not 100% sure how to answer that question right now. I feel at the moment artists (much thanks to everything going digital) are being taken advantage of and devalued by others, as so much has become available through the Internet, and cheaper but better digital cameras are available to consumers. I think it’s really tough being a creative person and making money at your talent. I’d like for someone to answer that question for me!

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Hands down it has been my blog. It’s been such a great outlet to share projects I’m working on, what I’m doing for clients, and just as a place for this archive of images I have. Through blogging my work, I’ve gown so much as an artist and made wonderful connections which have led to work.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?
My knowledge of basic black and white photography. How film works, what it’s made of, how to process it and print it. It’s like how a chef first learns the basics, such as sharpening knifes. This is my foundation.

What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

Saying yes to many of those free shoots that promise “great exposure and opportunity.” Some are really worth it but most are not. Go with your gut.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

Yes, people can sell out. For me, at the end of the day I just do what my gut says and make sure it’s something I’m proud of and will always be proud of, I mean… it is my name attached to it.

Thanks, Jamie!

posted 20 Jun 10 in: art, business, food, inspiration, interviews. This post currently has 12 responses.

meet matte stephens

all images courtesy Matte Stephens

Graceful, eclectic, traditional and cheeky — with a nice dash of impending doom. That’s the world of Portland-based artist Matte Stephens.

Born and raised in Boaz, Alabama, one of the most amazing things about Matte is that he’s never had a job. That’s right: no waiting tables or selling hardware while painting on the side. Straight out of high school, Matte (who’s self-taught) set his sights on a full-time art career. He painted like crazy, put on his best duds and approached all the galleries in a 100-mile radius of his town, asking them to exhibit his work.

As the Internet developed, so did Matte’s career. He was among the first artists to sell his work on eBay — despite the auction site’s less-than-glamorous reputation at the time — and launched his popular blog in 2004. He experimented, made connections, and most of all, kept on painting his expressive gouache-on-panel creations.

Today, Matte shows his work at Seattle’s Velocity Art & Design, Jonathan Adler, and Sebastian Foster. He also does a brisk business from his Etsy shop, sells wholesale prints to galleries around the globe, and takes commercial assignments for select clients including Herman Miller, American Express, Disney, NPR, the Boston Globe, Sunset magazine, Glow magazine and IBM.

In more than 16 years as an independent artist, Matte has learned a lot about business, staying creative and imposing constraints on your work. He’s got a charming southern drawl that’s punctuated by an infectious chuckle – and he generously shared his experiences in a recent phone conversation.

My one regret? That we didn’t have more time to talk.

1. What inspires your work?

I’ve always loved old English movies – Alec Guinness films, like Kind Hearts & Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers, and lots of old European movies, too, like Jacques Becker’s Touchez Pas au Grisbi.

European stuff attracts me more than anything else. It has that sense of impending doom mixed with humor, and a class system that doesn’t exist anymore and that was kind of silly to begin with, but people still seem to have fond memories of it.

2. How do you organize the business side of your life so you still have the time, energy and focus to paint – and to paint well?

My wife, Vivienne, helps me with the shipping and business duties. Otherwise, I find it’s just not that hard. If you get orders, you ship them. If you get commercial work, you make time to do it. Our lives are consumed with it 24 hours a day, but you just make time to do what you need to do. Sometimes if you’re busy, you don’t have a regular life – you don’t go to dinner, or to movies, or have a weekend. You just get the stuff done and you have to find ways to enjoy your life while you’re doing the work. It’s not like we walk in somewhere, put in our eight hours and leave. I’ve lived and breathed painting for 16 years.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

Not necessarily. I started off selling my paintings on eBay in 1999, when I first figured out how to use it. There was an art section, so I thought, “I’m going to try this.” I’ve always just followed my own direction. In 2005, Velocity Art & Design picked my work up, and that changed everything for me. I’ve never asked anyone’s advice about marketing. I’ve just tried to do the work.

How did Velocity change everything?

I sold my work on eBay and made a living. I paid the rent and bought supplies, but there was no extra money. When Velocity picked up my work, it was a whole new world, because Velocity was – and still is, I think – a big deal. They had work by Amy Ruppel and Rex Ray and I already looked up to those people. John, who owns Velocity, bought one of my paintings on eBay for his son and asked me to show there, just out of the blue.

Mostly, it’s been luck. Jonathan Adler contacted me two years ago, and that’s helped a lot, too, with a sense of validation. When they say, “this is good,” it helps your business. And if they say it’s good, maybe other people think it’s good, too.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I do commercial work for clients like IBM and NPR, Chronicle Books and Disney. I sell paintings at Velocity, Jonathan Adler and Sebastian Foster and I also wholesale prints to galleries all over the world, as long as I like what they do. I make sure to keep control of it. Then there’s my Etsy shop.

My father had seven kids to support in his house, so he had a job, then at night he did woodworking and sold it on the weekends at flea markets. I grew up with a man who knew business really well and showed me that you can’t just depend on one thing to make a living – ever – because nothing is stable. I try to have as many things going on as I can possibly handle.

You want something coming in all the time, so if my Etsy shop is slow or wholesale is slow, then I’ll have commercial work. Something’s always there. The best advice I can offer is to do whatever you have to do. People don’t make that conscious decision anymore. They just think, “well, I’m going to try this,” and if it doesn’t work in a month, they quit.  I never had the option to quit. It was either do this, or work in a chicken plant.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Print sales through Etsy probably provide the bulk of my income. On average, I sell about 1,100 prints a year, with wholesale on top of that. Galleries will place an order for 30 or 40 prints at a time – wholesale at $60, cut in half to $30, and that’s still really good money.

People probably look down on artists who sell on eBay, but it was such an excellent start for me. I was also in a gallery that wanted me to paint 15 paintings a month. It taught me to be able to create quickly, which is important, and to have consistency in your work that is sellable and good, and it taught me the commercial aspect of art.

The other thing is that you can’t just paint whatever you want to paint; you need to have a connection with people to make a living. You have to find ways to connect or it won’t work at all. It’s the same thing with following trends. If you just follow trends, you’re going to hit a brick wall.

How have you learned to make that connection?

Over years and years of studying. I love movies, and when I was young, every extra cent of my money went to art books. I still study all the time. The European illustrators from the ’40s through the ’70s, for example, were so much further ahead of us Americans. It’s amazing. The stuff they did just blows me away.

English movies and early American movies, they also have a feeling to them. Jacques Tati is one of my favorite filmmakers. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle – I just love those films, and if you can capture a feeling in your art, people like that.

I put constraints on what I do, and that’s helped me a lot, too. I get most of my advice from a man named Irving Harper, who worked for George Nelson Associates in the ‘50s. He designed most of the clocks for George Nelson. He’s 93 years old now. We went to visit him in New York City and that changed my life – my ideas of what you should do in design and art, and how you should make your choices.

Constraints in medium are critical. The less you have to work with, the better you’ll make your work. If you limit yourself to a pencil and a piece of paper and five colors of gouache, you can do a lot more than if you have a computer sitting there with Photoshop, Illustrator, and inks and everything in the world. If you limit what you have to work with, you’ll be surprised by what you can do. They don’t teach that in school.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

Oh yeah – Etsy and wholesale print sales. I wake up every day and check my email, and most of the time I’ve sold something, and that’s wonderful. That’s dinner or a trip to Trader Joe’s!

I’ve been on Etsy for three years and it’s not just the money; it’s the idea that people are buying your work. That’s fun. There are a lot of people on Etsy who do a lot better than I do, too. I went in with the idea of having higher prices. That may have hurt me in some ways, but in many ways it has helped me a lot. My lowest price is $35 for an 8.5 x 11 print. I wanted people to want them.

Artists really need to open their minds to several different ways of making money. That’s what most people don’t understand. Especially out of college, they’ve been prepped to believe that their art is really good and that they deserve a certain amount of something. So they get out of college, they have all this momentum built up, and they’re very excited to start their career, but it doesn’t go the way they expected.

You have to come at it with a different approach. I didn’t think I deserved anything. Art was something that I had to do, instead of something that I chose to do or that I went to college for. Don’t get me wrong; I totally believe in college. I used to dream of going to college. We went to Chicago several years ago and sat across the street from the Art Institute at a place where all these artist kids hang out and it was just depressing to me, because I didn’t get to live that life.

But a lot of students will come out of school and have no idea how to make a living at it. They’ll go straight into commercial work, and that’s a drag. Half of it is boring. I turn down a lot of jobs just because I don’t like the idea, or the assignment doesn’t suit me – and I have the comfort of doing that because of Etsy, original painting sales and the galleries.

7. What tools or opportunities do you think most creative pros fail to leverage?

I think the first thing they have to do is get their work noticed. If they’re doing fairly well and they want to expand, I’d say try to make prints and promote yourself on a blog, and get a Flickr account. Become buddies with the other artists around that are doing similar work to yours. A lot of times other artists can help you as much as you can help yourself.

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Velocity Art & Design, for sure. But eBay as well. Overall, there were several things that happened. I was featured on Design Sponge early on, and I’ve been on lots of blogs, like sfgirlbybay, and my work was in (the now-defunct) Domino magazine. Having a painting in Domino caused my Etsy sales to shoot up in a single day. The blogs really helped, too. Now I have 16,500 people who “heart” my Etsy shop. That’s amazing. It’s just unbelievable to me.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Books. By far, books – and movies. Knowledge is the best thing that you can have. I collect design stuff, too, like old Herman Miller clocks. To be able to live with that quality of work, it helps you understand what they were doing.

Study and buy books and look at other people’s art and get inspired. Find things that you love about life – and it doesn’t have to be grand ideas. The simplest ideas are the best ones. It’s like when you’re a kid, you go to the fair and you want the biggest, cheesiest stuffed animal and there’s no way you’re going to get it. You want your art to be like that giant, stupid stuffed animal.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out” debate?

Contributing to some horrific idea of American consumerism. That’s my idea of selling out. And working for big companies that don’t mean anything to you. Taking whatever jobs people offer you.

To me, the point is career longevity, to be able to paint what I want and to control what I do. You’ve got to be very careful, especially if you’re licensing your work. You just have to keep your integrity – whatever that is. I’m not interested in making money for corporations, unless I like the corporation. A lot of artists strive to do that kind of work, but I just never imagined it.

– – –

Thanks, Matte!

posted 25 May 10 in: art, business, inspiration, interviews, retail. This post currently has one response.

meet sarah mccoll

photos courtesy Pink of Perfection

When the Internet feels bloated with inane semi-celebrities and nasty newspaper commenters, I gravitate to Sarah McColl – the sweet, gracious and whip-smart voice behind the popular blog, Pink of Perfection.

Described as “a guide to the simple pleasures of a creative life for the budget-minded bon vivant,” Pink of Perfection (or POP to its equally well-mannered readers) is a charming mix of recipes, inspiration, DIY projects, entertaining tips and thrifty finds. Sarah and her boyfriend (now husband), Sebastian, launched the blog back in 2006 as a forum to share the ups and downs of living a crafty, creative life.

The original POP featured video interviews and how-tos, but both Sarah and Sebastian were soon too busy with thriving careers to continue shooting and editing those time-consuming segments. Today, Sarah nurtures the blog for a loyal fan base and works as a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn. She’s written for high-profile magazines including Bon Appetit and currently blogs for the Shine network on Yahoo.com.

While it took some time to figure out what she wanted to reveal on POP, Sarah says the blog is now a comfortable online home and a source of creative motivation: “It’s as much a place of inspiration for me as it is for readers.” That down-to-earth approach comes through in a voice that’s warm, encouraging and unabashedly feminine – just like Sarah herself.

1. What fuels your work?

It’s like that old saying, “I only write when I’m inspired, but I get inspired every day at 9 a.m.” Habit is what makes me sit down every day, but inspiration is something totally different. I’ve been coming off a period where I felt like was phoning in my posts for Pink of Perfection, but I took a week off, relaxed, read some magazines, and that made all the difference. It’s important to let yourself go through those fallow periods.

It’s good to have habits that increase your chance of productivity, but when it comes to what actually fuels my writing, there are so many things: other blogs, great books, great art, podcasts, the seasons. I love being as open as possible to beauty. I’m really a sucker for beauty – in the biggest sense possible.

2. How do you organize your life so you still have the time, energy and focus to be creative?

You have to figure out what works for you and when you’re at your sharpest. I like to get up and just start the day. I like to get right into it. That doesn’t always mean that I get dressed, but it’s very ritualized, because I know that I can really focus in the morning. After lunch, it’s like my brain goes into a whole different space. But the morning is also the time when work is the most fun for me. So then it becomes an encouraging habit. And if your habits support your enjoyment of what you do, it’s much easier to get up the next day and do it again. You have to learn how to set yourself up to succeed.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I’ve always really admired Molly Wizenberg from Orangette. I assume she had full-time job when she first started the blog, but after a while she landed a column at Bon Appetit, which is every blogger’s dream. It’s a very legitimate, old-school outlet. Then her book came out, and she seems very entrenched in her community with the restaurant she now runs with her husband. I’m sure if I spent a day in her life I’d think, “whoa, this is too much!” but from the outside it seems like a lovely mix of national-level publications, a personal blog, and a restaurant where she gets to do something practical and hands-on (the opposite of cerebral writing) and she gets to interact with the local community, too. She seems to have it figured out.

When it comes to someone who’s at the level of Nigella Lawson, for example, who has TV shows and books and fame, I worry that you’d actually get away from the nuts and bolts of what made you start in the first place. So if there’s somewhere in the middle where you can live and make enough money and not be a superstar, that’s definitely the goal.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your work?

Two. Freelance writing and advertising income. Pink of Perfection is part of the Martha’s Circle ad network.  Monthly revenues are determined both by page views and how much ad space the Martha Stewart team sells.

Sometimes I have a crisis of conscience about advertising, but I always come around to the fact that people are getting to enjoy content that they like – for free – so it’s okay to find a way to make it sustainable for me.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Freelance writing, editing and blogging.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

Technically speaking, the blog ads. But I don’t think of the POP advertising as passive, because I do feel like I have to – and I want to – create new content in order to get the page views that pay the ad dollars.

7. What tools or moneymaking opportunities are available to creative pros that you think most people don’t leverage?

I always thought about selling stuff on Etsy, but I don’t think I’m a tremendous crafter who has the level of skill or artistry necessary to sell things that other people would spend money on. I love crafting more in the sense that it’s fun to do things with your hands and it’s meditative.

I also love Three Potato Four, which is a husband-and-wife team who run an online shop filled with a beautifully curated collection of great objects that you’d want in your home: ceramics, art, furniture, etc. I think so many people have that fantasy of having a shop of their own. But I’d only ever do that online.

This is random, too, but I’ve found that selling books on Half.com can be surprisingly lucrative. Every bibliophile has stacks of cookbooks they don’t use or duplicate copies of a book, and I’ve sold stuff on there, plus vintage dresses and other items on eBay. I don’t know if it’s a good tip, but it’s something I do sometimes!

8. What have you done that has brought the most opportunities and attention to you?

When I started the blog, it was really important to me to convey the idea the nothing is so hard. Our culture is obsessed with experts and people who are super-specialized. Throughout my whole life, I’ve felt frustrated that people want you to specialize. They want you to be really amazing at one thing. But for anyone who’s interested in a lot of things – like cooking and crafting and figuring out how to create a life for yourself – that feeling that “you have to be excellent at something or why bother” can be discouraging.

I try to use a voice on the blog that says “You can do stuff. It’s just dinner. Or it’s just knitting.” It is just that and you can do it, but it’s also so much more, because it can really transform how you feel about your daily life. I don’t know if that’s brought me the most attention, but it’s really important to me.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

As much as I hate to say it, buying a smartphone has made my life so much easier. I was afraid that having a phone that was clever would make me feel over-connected. But it actually makes me feel less panicky about whatever I’m missing.

Another important investment for me was changing blog platforms. I started Pink of Perfection on MovableType, and in early 2009, I moved it to WordPress and I hired these really great designers to redesign my blog. It made the blog look much more professional. The original design we had in 2006 was really forward, but by 2009 it needed to be spruced up.

I think sometimes people forget to make sure the look of their blog works with the content. If you have great, smart, intelligent, wonderful content, I think sometimes people might not get to that because we love things that are aesthetically pleasing and design-y and that can make as much of an impression as your actual content.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

You can do creative work, and your creative work can be important and it can be invaluable to other people and it can maybe even succeed in making the world slightly better. But you can’t continue to do that work if you can’t pay your bills, if you can’t keep a roof over your head, and you can’t keep eating. So, I definitely think there’s a line that you can cross, but you have to be able to take care of your basic needs so you can keep doing the work that is good. It’s hard though, because it’s a constant negotiation to figure out how to do what you love and stay pure and honest with it, and at the same time, get paid for it.

Thanks, Sarah!

posted 15 Apr 10 in: design, food, interviews. This post currently has 3 responses.

gen x & y on the radio

I did a fun radio interview yesterday with BCIT Broadcast Journalism student Vanessa Ybarra. We talked about the book I co-authored with Lisa Johnson, Mind Your X’s and Y’s, and the Free Agent Formula — the multi-media toolkit for entrepreneurs that we developed with our good friend and collaborator, Cassie Pruett.

Vanessa’s set to graduate in the next couple weeks and already sounds like a pro.

You can listen to our chat here.

p.s.

We’re gearing up to re-launch the Free Agent Formula (more affectionately known as the FAF) in the next couple weeks, so watch for more news about this one-of-a-kind program. It’s a six-step modern business plan designed for freelancers, consultants, solopreneurs and creatives of every kind. We’ve road tested it with many of our friends and colleagues — and it works!

posted 14 Apr 10 in: business, interviews, media. This post currently has no responses.

meet pierre lamielle

photos & illustrations courtesy Pierre Lamielle

Talk about a Renaissance man. Pierre Lamielle is a Calgary-based author, illustrator, cooking instructor, graphic designer, blogger, and chef. His fabulously quirky illustrated cookbook, Kitchen Scraps, was published in October and will represent Canada in the Best Cookbook Illustration category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards on Feb. 11th.

Pierre graduated from the Capilano University graphic design and illustration program and worked for three years as a graphic designer at the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers before accepting a design and illustration position at the Calgary Herald. When the Herald’s critically acclaimed SWERVE magazine was born, Pierre and editor Shelley Youngblut dreamed up a column that combined Pierre’s lively illustrations with original recipes for gems such as the “stud muffin,” “Adam’s apple ribs” and “hot under the collard greens.”

A couple years later, Pierre left the Herald nest to attend the famed French Culinary Institute in New York City, while continuing to write and illustrate his popular SWERVE column. When he returned to Calgary, he successfully pitched Kitchen Scraps to Vancouver’s Whitecap Books (after several rejections that claimed the book was “too wacky and weird”) and launched his new, multi-faceted, freelance food-and-art career.

I chatted with Pierre just before he jetted off to Paris for the Gourmand Awards ceremony – and an envy-inducing itinerary of exploring, tasting, shopping and “getting jazzed up” for his next book. While he’s certainly hoping to bring home top honours in Paris, Pierre says he’s “totally fine” losing to Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner. “The other two… I don’t know.”

Good luck!

1. What fuels your work?

Organized chaos is pretty helpful – especially when you’re trying to be creative. But everything around you needs to be organized in a way that doesn’t make you crazy. That means going to the library, looking in different sections that you’re not used to and exploring things that you’re not familiar with. Researching – that’s the chaos side of things. The organized side means that you need to have a system that you can feel comfortable in and make slightly repetitive. It’s important to create habits, but also when you’re in the creative process, it’s good to go elsewhere to find new ideas.

2. What are some of your habits?

I find that dangling carrots is effective. For example, I’ll tell myself that I can’t have a cup of tea until something is finished. And when I’m doing illustrations, I use a specific pencil, I use a specific pen, and I have a set way of doing things. Writing is a little bit more free form, but I try to keep a consistent format.

3. How do you organize your life so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

I don’t keep it all that well organized. My mom’s in Vancouver, and she has an accountant that helps me with my taxes. I give her a shoebox, she takes a look at it, then gives it to her accountant. I’m sure it’s riddled with mistakes, and I miss lots of things and I don’t write off everything I should.

Day-to-day life can get bogged down, but luckily I’m not very important, so I don’t get very many emails. I keep a low profile. I don’t have anyone I need to talk to on a regular basis. But it does get interesting, because I juggle a few small jobs. I do the column, I teach cooking classes and I try to work on my new book. I also live with my girlfriend and we have her two small kids with us every other week, so it’s hard to keep things consistent. It’s a day-to-day juggle.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I teach cooking classes and write the column for SWERVE. And then to supplement, I do illustrations for clients. I don’t solicit, because I find that you just don’t get anywhere. It’s a real struggle to approach art directors. So, I wait for them to come to me, and basically, I’ll say yes to anything that’s about food. Then I do some small catering jobs on the side. Oh, and there’s also the book. It’s an income stream, but I would say it’s the most work I’ve ever done for the least financial payoff.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

It’s a combination of the cooking classes and the column. I teach at The Cookbook Co. Cooks in Calgary, which has two demo kitchens, a wine shop, and a book and food emporium. I teach both public and private classes. So, it’s either group of accountants from an oil and gas company who come down and cook themselves a five-course meal – and I just make sure it tastes good. Or it’s the public class, where couples or singles or little groups of people come in and mingle and make a five-course meal.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

No. I wasn’t organized enough to think of anything that I really wanted to merchandise for the last book, Kitchen Scraps. I didn’t want to do illustrated prints, and I didn’t want to do mugs or anything like that. For the next one I’ll probably be more organized and now that I’ve got the process of a book down, I might be able to figure something out.

7. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

The book and maintaining a blog along with it. I think those two, hand-in-hand, have helped each other out. But that being said, I’m kind of sick and tired of doing a blog, because there’s no revenue stream, and it’s an awful lot of work. You either have to have some really good bread and butter work and be passionate about the blog, or be marketing a product and use the blog as a small marketing tool.

8. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Education. That’s pretty safe to say. Going to graphic design and illustration school was huge and got me on that career path. But then going to cooking school was phenomenal, too, because as much as I loved cooking and I’d always cooked, there’s something about the structure of a learning environment that catapults you way beyond anything that you can self-teach. There are aspects of being self-taught that are phenomenal and invaluable, but it’s also invaluable to get the foundation for learning.

What has had the least financial or professional payoff?

It’s hard to say. I’ve done this blog for about a year and I don’t really know the cash value of it. I suppose I’ve expanded the book’s reach, but I also don’t think it has really catapulted the cookbook anywhere.

9. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

I think you could quite easily sell out. I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything for fast food. Basically, wherever your personal ethics lie, if you feel strongly about something and you go against that grain, that’s selling out.

10. Is there anything else you’ve learned and want to share?

When you work at home, it’s really easy to wear pajamas. Your other pants will quickly become outdated. In fact, I just bought five pairs of pants the other day, because I realized that I had no pants – just one pair of jeans.

Thanks, Pierre!

posted 9 Feb 10 in: art, business, design, food, interviews, media. This post currently has 2 responses.

meet jason matlo

bio-matlo

photos courtesy Jason Matlo

Jason Matlo makes clothes that make women look good – and not just in a day-at-the-office kind of way (unless you work for a certain Condé Nast publication, perhaps). We’re talking slinky, shiny, drapey dresses, sleek cigarette pants and sharp jackets. The Vancouver-based fashion designer sells his creations in select locations from Edmonton to Boston to San Juan, but everything is designed and manufactured in Canada.

Born in Calgary, the 39-year-old, self-described “blackaholic” usually wears darker tones than the women he dresses – witness his Jet Set Barbie resort collection for spring / summer 2009 – but he’s got a famously sparkly personality and a dead-serious work ethic.

Jason made his first splash in the fashion industry when, fresh out of school, he won the 1998 Smirnoff Designer of the Year Award. Since then, high-powered clients have worn his dresses on red carpets at the Academy Awards, Gemini Awards, JUNO Awards and Leo Awards. He also appeared in an episode of the Life Network / Oxygen reality TV series, Making it Big, winning the opportunity to display his designs in the chic windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The Jason Matlo brand currently includes his main ready-to-wear collection, a bridal collection and a new line, Babe, which retails at about half the price of his ready-to-wear pieces. His style is a mash-up of cultural, aesthetic and historical influences, with a special eye on the modern femininity of the 1930s. But the women who wear Jason’s clothes are not exactly fanning themselves in the back garden. These are bold, confident creatures who are writing their own rules – much like the designer himself.

1. What fuels your work?

There are so many variables and components that fuel my creative process. I think the process seems insane to people who look into my world, but there is an order and structure to the chaotic madness.

First, there are timelines and deadlines. It is not easy to be creative on a deadline, but I am energized and fuelled by deadlines and a fashion market with a voracious appetite. I’m very inspired by the women I dress: my private clients who are very strong, successful, confident women; my mother, who has always had an amazing sense of style; Edie Bouvier Beale and the Grey Gardens documentary.

LADY GAGA!

I’m a bit of a cultural voyeur. My eye is fed by movies, architecture, books, magazines, drag queens, senior citizens, Starbucks and my friends. It is all a massive tapestry of eclectic inspiration that somehow results in a collection each season.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

Running a successful fashion design house today — and I qualify that statement with “today,” because the industry has changed so much over the last decade — can be illustrated as follows: 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration. There is very little creativity about what I do, so I have to be really creative to do it. I’m required to create a constant balance between fashion ideas that make a cohesive collection that also flatter the body with razor sharp price points. Creating a collection with design and commercial value is the Golden Ticket!  To answer the question on time and energy to focus on my craft; between midnight and dawn, the eleventh hour, time is my most precious resource. I’m always in a race against time!

3. Is there another creative pro whose business model you admire? Why?

This is such a cliché but here we go: Madonna.

I don’t think the majority of people would see Madonna as a creative pro or a business model. I DO! I so admire her drive, tenacity, bold naked ambition, and unrelenting determination. I believe she is a business person who knew where she wanted to go. She is a visionary.

She is a master of disguises, the media, and promotion. She has created a product that is important and contemporary over a 30-year time span and until recently, was totally relevant and modern. She is a cultural zeitgeist.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

I’m streaming. I have as many ways to make money as there are days in the week. Ready to Wear collection, Babe diffusion and Bridal are all streams coming from the same body of water, and there are also my private couture clients. I’m not afraid to work hard, so I’ve always been able to earn money.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Private couture clients. I have a group of fashionable ladies in Vancouver that have supported my work even before I received any critical acclaim. They are true devotees of fashion. They have never faltered in their loyalty to me. They still support me, even now that the clothes are available in stores. I love them!

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

NO!  Everything I do involves a lot of hard work!

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

Frankly there are not enough tools or funding available for creative people in Canada. I’ve looked, I assure you. There is so little support for the arts in Canada, with exception of Montreal, which very much supports the arts. It is actually disgraceful how the arts and creative people are under-funded by our government in this country. It is why we lack the rich creative history of other countries.  If you want to do anything creative in Canada, good luck to you!

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

This is a hard thing for me to pinpoint. I think I’ve always operated from a critical mass perspective. So my process has always been more revolutionary than evolutionary. By this I mean I would accept several opportunities at the same time. So when you introduce many variables at the same time, it’s hard to track which one or ones are the crucial components. The reality TV show [Making it Big] was probably a big help, or was it the Academy Awards gown? Who could speculate? Maybe it was a combination of it all. Getting attention seems to be the only thing that has not been hard work.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

The best investment that I have ever made in my career was in building my team. I have a group of people who work with me and are the backbone of what I do. I have invested in them, trained them, and taught them tricks of the trade such as sewing, draping, pattern drafting, you name it. They have been loyal and have stood by me when times were tough and the money was lean. You cannot undervalue your support staff and you cannot be heard as a single voice!

I’ve been very good about time management and money. Time is money and I don’t like to waste either!

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

Sell Sell Sell!!!

Thanks, Jason!

posted 18 Jan 10 in: business, design, fashion, interviews, retail. This post currently has one response.

meet alex witko & courtney hunt

Organelle portrait

photos courtesy Organelle Design

While Alex and Courtney of Organelle Design are not the first to transform waste into design objects, they may be the first to actually make these objects cool — to create something you’d be proud to feature in your home. Just take a peek at their lovely hangeliers, which turn lowly closet hangers and discarded bike rims into a series of inspired lighting fixtures. But that’s not all you can expect from this talented duo. They’ve got serious technical pedigrees and have built a practice that moves seamlessly between architecture and both interior and industrial design.

Courtney earned an honors degree in environmental design from the University of British Columbia, while Alex holds architectural degrees from the University of Maryland and UBC and has studied, practiced, and taught architecture for the past 10 years. They launched their partnership in 2006 and have quickly built both buzz and respect (not an easy combination) within the creative community.

When they’re not salvaging scrap materials (such as colanders and ironing boards) to create innovative pieces, Courtney and Alex work on architectural commissions, offer design and educational consulting, and provide contract building work. They’ve also got a strong social conscience and often collaborate on projects with non-profit groups in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, including a custom bench design and hangelier installation at Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women.

When asked how they handle the not-so-creative side of running a business (think paperwork, accounting, development and other less-than-glam tasks), Alex and Courtney gamely argue that business IS creative. I couldn’t agree more — and I do stand corrected. Read on for some great insights on design, marketing, and the challenges of creativity from the principals of Organelle Design.

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1. What fuels your work?

Our work is fueled by a simple ethos – waste is the most abundant local resource our cities have to offer.  This provides not only a limitless and ever-changing surplus of material possibilities but also a well of creative inspiration.  We often say that one piece of waste is usually just that – garbage, but once you start to have multiples of one thing, potential uses can be unlocked.  We also work from different positions simultaneously.  On one end creatively testing uses for found materials, and on the other hand, sourcing materials for current projects.  We apply this way of thinking to all scales of work, from buildings to furniture.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

While we agree that it’s time consuming, we would disagree that running a business isn’t creative.  Design and business are both based on problem solving and you can be creative about it or take a cookie cutter approach.  It isn’t always our favorite topic, but we have been more successful because of integrating it into our design methodology.  As a nascent design firm you can’t afford not to.  The minute you see [business] as part of the design parameters, it becomes an inspirational challenge rather than a nuisance.

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3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

We have been inspired by some really successful social enterprise non-profits.  We recently worked with one who had shifted to this model and increased their income by tenfold.  This is inspiring because while technically a non-profit, they aren’t at the mercy of donations and are in a much better position to actually help others.  Our work is helped by a lot of people in our community but you can’t overstep your bounds.  We have seen that people are more likely jump on board with something if you have a solid base.

Can you tell us more about the social enterprise non-profit model?

The idea of a social enterprise is somewhere between non-profit and for-profit in that it follows the rules of a non-profit (having a board, donation and tax requirements, etc.) but it is focused on making a profit through some kind of enterprise.  That profit is then put back in or redirected to internal projects without funding.

An inspiring social enterprise is Vancouver’s Potluck Cafe and Catering. They are now 90% self sufficient with catering/cafe sales, all while employing a variety of people within the Downtown Eastside. Any external funding allows them to do special projects (renovate or expand, for instance) and a lot of their donations come in the form of food from local stores who need to get rid of, say, 50 pumpkins because they have no capacity to use them on short notice.  Potluck, in turn, made a bunch of pumpkin- and squash-based goods for the holidays at little cost to them and then were able to pass savings on and turn a profit.

That profit goes back into the business to keep it going and doing more great things for the community.  The cafe, being a relatively small group, also teams up with others with similar interests and models to share and provide better purchasing power in the market — something that has also been working for us.  It’s not design per se, but it is an interesting and well-thought out model and I think there is design in that.

a2_organelle

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

Five.  Fixed-fee contract design work, fixed fee contract build work, hourly consultant work, educational consultant work, and retail sales.  There might be more… diverse incomes have kept us afloat and allowed for exploration and experimentation.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Contract architecture work.  This pays the bills.  But if we did this all the time we couldn’t explore other avenues, so the other sources of income go back into our business.

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6. Do you have a passive income stream?

We have some found objects — furniture and lighting that bring in some retail sales.  Some small investments as well.

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

It’s always amazing to us the number of young design entrepreneurs who don’t have business cards and websites.  This combo will bring you the most bang for your buck, even if you’re just starting out.  As far as physical tools go, try to share and exchange services and overhead as much as possible.  Good relationships will come out of this.  Most importantly, you have to allow for some experimentation and exploration with your own time and money.  Clients aren’t always willing to give you so much flexibility, but you don’t procure commissions without having a built body of work.  Most designers can’t get by on a resume — even if it’s spectacular.  You have to put a lot of time upfront to show that you’re capable and so the early processes of making is extremely important.  We believe strongly in compensated work, but you have to put yourself out there first — then the opportunities will open up.

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8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Though diverse in practice, our approach and ethos is very clear and distinct — we have set ourselves apart and this has been the best thing for us. It brings us closer to those who share similar passions, while providing a guiding light for our work.  It’s a lot better than some marketing strategy, because the branding is built-in.  People see it for what it is.  Some may decide it’s not for them, but those that do will seek you out rather than just say “oh, that’s kind of nice.”

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9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

Making things has been the best investment.  You have to be creating — constantly.  Ideas are great, but we’ve found that people really relate to things in a more visceral way.  This may be the crux of a young architect’s struggles, because it’s hard to build a lot in your young career and even if you do, it’s probably not a prominent structure with lots of exposure.  Our secret may be that the small scale stuff has led to larger scale commissions because it is relatable, accessible and conveys our larger vision.

The biggest waste of time is directly related — not making things.  If you spend too much time in your head or even in a computer design program, then you’re missing key opportunities to move forward.  We find that it’s always different in reality, so to speak.  Those differences are not barriers, but will expedite the process by providing key sparks of inspiration and information you couldn’t possibly foresee without the materials in hand.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

Because we believe business and design are quite intimately linked, I’m not sure one could truly sell out. Some might think that being true to your craft means you aren’t making money, but for us, being true to our vision has brought us income and business.  We think that (reasonable) profit is in part a sign of a well designed business.  It’s more like “selling-in” and believing that your craft is worth something — to you and to others.

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Thanks, Alex & Courtney!

posted 8 Dec 09 in: business, design, interviews. This post currently has 2 responses.

meet teresa smed

classic-teresa2

If you’ve attended a fashion or handmade gift show in Vancouver, you always know when Teresa Smed is in the house. Women swarm her Dotted Loop booth five deep – making it nearly impossible to glimpse the deliciously tangled pieces she crafts from ribbons, charms, chains, pearls, feathers and found objects.

Fashion runs fast in Smed’s veins. As a student in Athens, Georgia, she developed a line of bags and clothing made from recycled vintage fabrics. She returned to the creative drawing board, however, after a house fire destroyed her collection and life as a single mom of two brought her back to Canada in 2003.

She took a jewellery class and quickly fell in love with the medium. On a road trip to Calgary, Smed stopped at an antique store that was shutting its doors. She glimpsed the shelves of glittering antique baubles and suddenly, Dotted Loop was born. “Instantly, my whole world came together,” says Smed. “I just knew that’s what I was meant to do. I bought the entire collection, came home and started taking it apart and making new stuff.”

That collection is long gone (save a few key pieces that adorn her home studio), and Smed has since burned through piles and piles of remixed and recycled treasures. Her work has been featured in Elle Canada, Fashion, Flare, the Georgia Straight, and sells at retail stores across Western Canada. Then there are those insatiably fashionable women (and men) who snap up her pieces at shows like Portobello West and One of a Kind. As Smed sums it up, “beauty does come from ashes and old can be made new again.”

Vogue Necklace

1. What fuels your work?

Antique and vintage jewellery. It’s unbelievable how inspirational it is. I’m also totally inspired by rock and roll. I just designed an entire collection around Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced album and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m also really inspired by Gucci, Coco Chanel, and couture. Runway fashion is huge. I read Vogue religiously.

2. How do you organize the administrative parts of your business so you still have the time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

It’s really, really, really challenging. I spend so much time developing the business and building it and doing everything it takes. Little by little, I’m hiring people to help out, but I still do a lot of it myself. I have come to realize that I can’t make the same things more than once. Everything is one-of-a-kind, but the Glam Vintage Remix collection uses the same designs with different materials. So, outsourcing and having those re-created is a very good thing. It also helps me to stay focused on the more higher-end, wearable art pieces.

3. Is there an artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I pick and choose, and lots of different people definitely inspire me. I’ve worked closely with Wardell Professional Development and gotten tons of advice – things like putting systems in place and outsourcing where you need to do so, plus organizing a business in a way that’s sustainable.

I often think about the woman who created Robeez shoes, Sandra Wilson. She’s a mom and she grew her business, but not too quickly. I also talk to lots of local artisans and I like to take a lot of people’s opinions into consideration. To me, that’s how you learn. I never want to have the perspective that I’ve got it all figured out. I always want to learn more.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I sell wholesale to boutiques across Canada, I sell directly to consumers at markets and tradeshows, and I sell pieces directly from my website. I also donate to silent auctions and charities. Technically, I’m giving those pieces away, but I really feel it puts my name out there and brings in business.

I chose not to go on sites like Etsy. There’s some unique, amazing stuff, but there are also lots of people ripping each other off. I feel you can put yourself in a really vulnerable position, because there’s so much copycatting going on.

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5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

It’s split about 50 / 50 between wholesale and retail. I’m currently working to find ways to improve my online sales and I’m working with web developers to enhance search engine potential. That’s an area I’d like to maximize, but I need to get comfortable with updating the site all the time. It takes lots of work.

Press also brings a lot of traffic to my website. Whenever I’m featured in a magazine, my website sales usually spike for about two weeks.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

The wholesale side requires a lot less time and energy. You do need to follow up, but you just fill the wholesale order, people re-order again in 2-3 months, then you package it up and send it out. It’s not the same as having to be physically present at the shows, having a killer booth and chatting with people for four days straight. It also leverages the power of outsourcing those repeated designs.

7. What tools, money-making opportunities and ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

I invest a lot of time and energy and resources into marketing, and I think it really pays off. It’s so important. I have a graphic designer who has worked for me from the beginning and I have a publicist who does quarterly press releases. I have a professional photographer doing the photo shoots. I really want that area to be polished. I’m all about bootstrapping and pulling together friends and family to make things happen, but when it comes to marketing, I firmly believe in spending the time, the energy and the money it takes to make it super polished and to communicate what you’re doing.

Also, I don’t consider myself on the playing field with all the local jewellery designers in Vancouver. I consider myself on the playing field with Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. I want to be considered a high-end, fashion-forward jewllery designer. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I’m Gucci – but I’m setting my goals and my bar at the highest possible level, not somewhere in the middle. I want to push myself to attain my goals.

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8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Having a publicist. And nobody really cares who you are until you’ve been featured in a magazine. For example, with one magazine, I had to overnight product samples, pay huge FedEx fees and send jewellery on at least 15 separate occasions. It didn’t go to print 15 times, but on the 16th time it went to print and it changed the face of my whole business.

9. What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

There are many things that I have done that one might consider “mistakes,” but sometimes mistakes are the most valuable thing a person can do. The ability to learn from your mistakes makes them all worth the while.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

Good question. It is very possible to sell out. I almost think I am selling out by selling anything at all.  However, I believe it is important to stay true to my values of honesty, growing organically, buying and producing locally, waste reduction, and prioritizing community and family sustainability.  If I remain true to these fundamentals, then I won’t be selling out.

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Thanks, Teresa!

posted 6 Nov 09 in: art, business, fashion, interviews. This post currently has 5 responses.

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