How I Got Started
I always thought I would be a professional artist. As a young kid, I was constantly making things. I grew up in a very creative family with artistic parents and I studied art in college. I spent a lot of time learning how to hone my artistic skills, but no one ever taught me how to translate that into making money. Suddenly, I was an adult, and not only was I not a professional artist, but I didn’t even have time to be creative as a hobby.
When I started drawing, it wasn’t with the intention of starting a business; I just wanted to bring a creative practice back into my life. And I didn’t choose drawing because I had a passion and connection to the media - I originally chose drawing because it was cheap, didn’t require many supplies, and I could do it at my kitchen table. I slowly started sharing my illustrations on social media and people started to ask to buy them or hire me to draw things for them. So I kept drawing, I chose a business name, converted a shed in my backyard into my studio, and I started selling my illustrations on cards.
All this time I had a secure full time job (running a watershed non-profit, of all things), and I would carve out time to draw after work and on the weekends. Slowly my business started to grow, and soon I was too busy to do it on top of a fulltime job. I was beginning to make money through Pen+Pine and after crunching the numbers and talking with my husband I quit my full time job and took a part time job, so I could continue to grow my business. Each step of the way has felt very natural, and I have grown my business slowly and organically. I have always had a loose plan, but I have found the most success in being open to opportunities and tuned-in to how I can best guide my business along. Now, seven years in, this is my full time job, I have one employee, a separate office space (in addition to my backyard studio), and have my illustrated goodies in over 300 shops across the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.
The hardest thing about getting started was simply GETTING STARTED! (Also being patient while things developed and evolved…)
I started small and grew organically and intentionally. I did not take out any loans and kept my overhead low. This allowed me to take my time and not have to make more money quickly.
Starting a business is scary for a lot of reasons, especially because it can be such a public endeavor. If you wait to launch your business until everything is perfect, it will never happen. You need to become comfortable with putting something into the world that is still a work in progress. You can't be embarrassed by being seen trying. You need to be comfortable with where you are currently so you can begin moving toward where you want to be.
To help illustrate this (see what I did there?) here is my business timeline from when I first had the idea to Pen+Pine to today:
Started a 100 day drawing challenge I found on Instagram and started creating a drawing practice (just for fun!)
Started a hobby business (people wanted to buy the things I was drawing, but I had no intention to make any real money from Pen+Pine)
Named my business + got a business license
Started my Etsy shop to sell my illustrations on cards
Started posting on Instagram + Facebook
Quit my full time job and take a part time job
Converted a shed in my garden into my studio
Did my first Pop-Up Shop in a vacant storefront in Eureka, California (the excitement and success around this showed me this could be a viable business!)
Started wholesale accounts with some local shops
Hit 1,000 followers on Instagram
Quit all of my side hustles and took Pen+Pine full time! (How did I know it was time? I was hitting my income goals and I was WAY too busy!)
Did my first BIG craft show (Urban Craft Uprising) in Seattle
Won Eureka's business of the month
Painted by first mural
Did the big local craft shows for the first time
Got my first licensing deal
Started my Shopify Shop
Taught my first workshop (with the Arcata Chamber of Commerce!)
Hired my first assistant
Designed my custom tissue paper
Start advising creative business owners through the SBDC
Design my first bandana
Host my first Backyard Bazaar
Start selling on Faire (wholesale)
Did a few covid-safe in-person markets
Started getting really into my garden and thinking of ways to integrate that into Pen+Pine
Painted my biggest mural yet!
Started offering custom home illustrations
Kept doing covid-safe in-person markets
Chosen to create the calendar for Coast Central Credit Union
Started going hard on bandanas!
Got an office space in Old Town Eureka
Continued to expand my Wholesale
Back to "normal" craft fair vending
Hosted another Backyard Bazaar (now an annual event)
Hosted my first illustration workshops in my garden
Published my coloring book
Started posting on Pinterest + TikTok
Featured on a local PBS artist's show
Updated my craft show displays
Hosted my first garden tours
Participated in Open Studios
Designed lots of custom bandanas
Featured in Handmade Seller Magazine
Continued teaching workshops for SBDC