Friday, 28 March 2014

Friday Finds - Brooke Witt Art & Design

Morning! Today I have an interview with a fabulous young designer Brooke Witt who is based in the U.S.A. We met virtually during the Make Art That Sells course last year. Brooke is the designer behind the Near and Dear Designs on Etsy. She runs a full-time design and illustration studio as Brooke Witt Art & Design.

© Brooke Witt

When did you start your business and why?

Hi Gabs! Thank you so much for asking! If I had to give my business an anniversary date, I’d say it would be August 5th, 2011 when I said my final goodbye to my day job. However, the story that leads to that day is interesting. 
Fresh out high school, I enrolled in my local college’s fine arts program. The program was basic and provided me with an introduction to visual arts. I worked hard and had plans of transferring to an art institute when I discovered I was pregnant. In 2001, I gave birth to the love of my life, Olivia. She’s much of the inspiration and motivation behind everything I do. I chose single-motherhood and decided to keep pursuing a creative career. Definitely, the road less travelled. I’m sure some people had their doubts - hell, I had my doubts - but the heart wants what the heart wants.
So, I worked a full-time job while I juggled graphic design courses and a toddler. With a lot of persistence, practice and patience, I was able to build a career as a graphic designer. I’ve worked in areas of marketing design, small business branding and graphic illustration. I’ve designed product catalogs, magazine layouts and large-scale graphics. Along the way, I’d loved and overcome loss, changed cities, changed jobs and changed my mind…. several times! I once painted and sold a series of children's folk art prints to several national children's hospitals, daycare centers and private collectors as a self-representing artist on eBay back in 2003. That was pre-Etsy! A few years later, the loss of a dear friend lead me to illustrating song lyrics. In 2007, I officially opened my first Etsy shop. It was slow going online, so I showed my newest body of work at art/craft fairs, small music venues and coffee shops around town. This lead to several wholesale accounts and custom orders. Over a few years, the series grew to 100+ illustrations representing song lyrics from all genres collected by music lovers worldwide, including many famous musicians! 

I've since fallen in love and married a blacksmith, said goodbye to in-house design and opened a full-time successful Etsy business. In late 2010, I started The Near & Dear Collection. The idea for the series started with my own need to give unique and meaningful gifts. As I created each new gift for someone in my life, I quickly saw the possibility to tell other people's stories through familiar imagery and strong iconic design. By thinking personally, yet seeing an opportunity in the consumer marketplace, I was able to develop a series of personalized art prints and custom illustrations that tell a story completely unique to it's owner.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been designing and producing personalized gifts and custom illustrations on Etsy for folks all over the world . The Near & Dear Collection has been wildly successful with 13,000+ sales in under 3 years and growing! Each and every order is designed, printed, packaged and shipped from my home studio in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn? 

I love this question because, truth is, I have the answer everyone wants to hear. As I was opening my current shop and setting up the initial listings, one sold right out from under me! Sure to be a good sign, right? The collection quickly grew from my own ideas as well as customer requests and within 2 months I was taking so many orders it was hard to balance my day job. It became apparent that I had a decision to make - risk cutting back on the amount of orders I could take OR put in notice at my job and figure it out! Like any sane person living paycheck-to-paycheck would do, I put in my notice.

Do you do your business part time or full time? 

Is “all the time” an option? Yes, my husband and I now run Brooke Witt Art & Design, LLC full-time. We’re now in our 3rd year and we continue to sell strong! However, I’m a big believer in diversifying your income, so the Near & Dear series on Etsy is just one series out of an entire portfolio of work we offer here. I also work in art licensing and surface design as well as freelancing design and illustration for a variety of clients. Aside from working with me, my husband is a blacksmith who runs his own studio, The Designer Wrought Iron Company - to which I have a hand in as well. We're quite busy.

Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you happy with it as it is and why? 

Oh, I’m no where near done yet! So many ideas, so little time! In early 2012, I started exploring art licensing and surface design and I have long-term plans for continual growth of that part of my business. I would love to partner with another designer gal and startup a co-studio for surface design. I love my husband but I could use some creative girl time in my life!
I also started developing a line of personalized graphic t-shirts inspired by old vintage logos which is still in its early stages yet seems to be getting great customer feedback! I've also been brainstorming on ways I can help other makers & crafters make the most of their own businesses through one-on-one mentoring. I've learned a lot over the years and I have a lot to share that could really help another artist just starting out. I just need to find my first guinea pig.

If this is your full time job do you mind saying what your approximate turnover is annually (before costs and expenses)? OR you could say less than 15k/20k/25k/30k/35k/40k and so on.
Hmmm… while I would like to be the one to address the elephant in the room, I’ve decided to pass. However, I can share with you that I’ve taken 13,000+ orders, created approximately 20,000 unique designs (many customers order more than one at a time) and both my husband and I left our full-time jobs to support this business within the first 6 months of opening the Etsy shop. 2 years later, we purchased a home as a direct result of our combined efforts. It really has been a dream come true!

Where do you sell your work? 

Etsy is our primary income with the Near & Dear collection. I have partnered with a few boutiques and online specialty shops who carry my work under private label. I show at select events and have a Society 6 shop with my print and pattern designs

Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you? Why do you think this is? 

Oh, Etsy by far! I've really taken the time to do my market research, learn about Etsy's search results through keywords and tagging, SEO, utilizing my shop stats and thinking like a shopper! I’ve found that by taking the time to properly and thoughtfully implement SEO throughout my listings, Etsy shoppers do the rest! I do a bit of strategic publicity and a reach out to the world via social media, newsletters and blog posts. However, I’m confident that the best marketing is word of mouth. We strive to provide a high quality product and excellent customer service. And we always toss in extra business cards! 
Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you approach them?

Three months into running my Etsy shop full-time, I received an email from Us Weekly magazine that they featured one of my designs in their Valentine Gift Guide and the issue was due to hit stores a week before the holiday. To be honest, I didn’t think too much of it. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was real! Oh, but it was… The magazine hit store shelves and it must have been just the right product at just the right time because we sold 800 personalized prints that week - yes, you read that right, 1 week - as a result of that feature! It was seriously the most beautiful and stressful time ever! My husband and I (I guess he was my boyfriend then) worked day and night for over a month to fill those orders. 

Since then, my prints have also been featured several times in Good Housekeeping Magazine, Cleveland Magazine Best of 2012 and many popular websites and blogs such as MSN living, Huffington Post, Apartment Therapy and Style Me Pretty. 
Who do you think your typical customer is? 

My customer base is a pretty wide market as I make personalized designs that can really be applied to anyone for any occasion about any relation. I sell to mostly women who shop on Etsy and pride themselves on being thoughtful gift givers. My customers are always coming up with ways to even further customize the design ideas in my shop. Their ideas are brilliant!! 

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy the most? 

Truth be told, I love just about everything! Creating personalized and meaningful gifts is really fulfilling. I hear tons of great stories about love and special connections. I get pictures of people surprised or crying because the gift was so special. I love when a customer has a unique idea because a stock design in my shop sparked something about an inside joke or a story that they can document. I love the marketing and branding, I love printing and packaging a final product. I love the "cha-ching" the Etsy app makes when you've had a sale. In fact, our family has a tradition. We say "thank you!" out loud each and every time no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It helps to spread the good vibes! And of course, I love designing each and every piece myself. 

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today? 

Probably not. I’m a “leap and trust” kind of girl. I have to learn as I go and hope for the best. There’s a million ways I could’ve prepared but it all happened rather organically. As I grew, my work grew. I was in business before I even knew I had a business! 

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive? 

I'm definitely more instinctual when it comes to developing new designs or products. When I have an idea, I run with it. I don't wait till it’s perfect because there’s no such thing. I just do and figure it out along the way. I’m also pretty instinctual when it comes to my social media/blog plan. If you follow me, and pay any bit of attention, you’ll see clear patterns between my introverted and extroverted self online. I don’t follow a set plan. I just be myself!
I do keep very clear monthly sales goals as the cash needs flow, so I have a few backup plans to drive traffic during the slow months. I like to have fun and offer flash sales or a contest/giveaway here and there. It’s fun to do those things with my customers when we’re slow because when we get busy…. we get busy! 

Do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, bookkeeper, accountant, packers? If you do how did you find people who were the right fit for you? 

I do! My husband does customer service and sales, shipping/receiving and inventory management. We have an accountant who was recommended to me by a friend. Late last year, I decided it was time to hire an assistant for all those admin tasks that take me away from designing orders and creating new designs. After trying out a VA (virtual assistant), I realized that it takes a lot of time to train someone and I needed more of a quick fix. So, I offered a part-time position to my mom who has plenty of project management experience. I'm very happy we decided to keep it in the family, but I'm not finished looking for outside help. Ideally, I'd like to bring someone on board who can assist with online marketing and quick design tasks - Photoshop and Illustrator experience necessary. I'm still searching to fill that role. It’s hard to let control go of every little thing, so finding someone who is passionate about this industry, and who I can trust with my intellectual property, is a challenge.

Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see that changing? 

I work at home with my husband. Last year, we purchased our first home with a completely finished basement, that is now a full print/production studio, and a barn out back for the blacksmith shop. Previously, our studio was stuffed in the living room of our teeny tiny apartment! Something had to give… So, fingers crossed nothing changes! It’s the best life ever!

Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business? 

I don’t really. I’m a part of some amazing community groups on facebook that really help with some quick business questions or allow me to commiserate when the moon is full and customers are batty - but it’s been really difficult finding a confidant other than my husband. I worked with a coach twice on some target marketing and branding exercises but I best make my decisions after I’ve done a bit of soul searching. Mostly it’s about following my gut. 

What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise? 

As of now, I spend a lot of time filling orders. I design each order myself, so throughout any given day I’ll work on approximately 15-25 different designs with around 100+ new orders a week. Creating first draft proofs, making suggested revisions, printing, packaging and shipping all happen here in our home studio 5-6 days a week. It’s rare we take multiple days off in a row. Some days I have time to bum around on facebook, interact and say hi to my people, other times I go days without a moment to check in. I’ll schedule blog posts and social media marketing as much in advance as I can during some down time. When not working our Etsy shop, I’m working on new collections for my surface design portfolio, taking online art classes, studying all I can about every aspect of creative entrepreneurship and brainstorming new designs and products. It’s an obsession really.
Besides working, we have our typical family routine of getting ready in the morning, breakfast, then out the door and off to school for Olivia. Daily runs to the post office, running household errands, picking Olivia up from school, dinner and homework. My husband has his own body of work he creates in the blacksmith shop, so evenings and weekends are critical to him.

Anything else you want to add… tips or plans or ambitions or even special offers to my blog readers? 

One of my favorites quotes by Joseph Campbell comes to mind: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I think the most import thing is to remember to trust the process. Have ideas! Make art! Design! Indulge yourself! Love what you do and put it out there to the Universe. Doors will open that you never expected and don’t be afraid to walk through them.
Is that too corny? 

Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story! Friday Finds is such a wonderful way to get acquainted! I'd like to offer your readers a 10% off coupon to my Etsy shop with code FRIDAYFINDS14 until June 1st, 2014. 

And if anyone is interested in a paying internship, starting a co-studio for surface design or if you'd like to work with me for one-on-one mentoring, please don't hesitate to reach out and let me know why we’d be a good fit! 

Finally please tell us where we can buy your work! Links please!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wooden Bunting for Spring 2014 - Moobaacluck

I painted this today in between coats of paint on Moobaacluck orders. Over the last few weeks I've been collating images of art and illustration that really appeal to me and spotting parallels in paintings and drawings I've done this year. It's really fun to experiment with my findings.

You can buy it here

Monday, 24 March 2014

Bolt fabric design for Make Art That Sells - March

I am really pleased with how potential fabric design worked out for March's Make Art That Sells Bootcamp with Lilla Rogers. Everyone's designs will be available to look at here tomorrow!

It's mainly made up of watercolour and gouache paintings I made over the course of a few days a couple of weeks ago put together using Photoshop and a tiny bit of Ai.  I find Illustrator is very useful when I have some dark ink lines that I want to change into other colours; live trace is fantastic for this - saves selecting every single tiny mark separately which is what I used to do!

For this project I even made jelly and poured it into the wine glass you see here and the mold with the blue internal pattern you see here. The latter was a literal flop but tasted delicious! My children loved it :)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Friday Finds - Emma Mclaughlin - Paper Buzz

Good morning! Today's Friday Finds is a paper engineer and designer Emma McLaughlin of PaperBuzz; we first 'met' on line during a branding course a couple of years ago and discovered we were both Notonthehighstreet sellers.

© Emma McLaughlin

When did you start your business and why? Tell us your story of how “Paperbuzz” came to be!

After a childhood spent making weird and wonderful things out of cardboard and sellotape, I made my first proper cards for my own wedding twelve years ago. I spent the next few years making wedding stationery for friends and family and so it seemed a natural progression to turn my hobby into a business. I started out with fairly traditional wedding stationery, but I realised that if I was going to stand out then I needed to do something a bit different. I spent a long time trying out different ideas and considering the direction in which to take my cards. I like ‘clever’ things, things that are unexpected and interesting, so I started to play around with pop-up type cards. I trialled lots of different cards, but the ones that really seemed to be a hit were the popping ones that I now sell. I sold them as wedding invitations and save the date cards initially, but after having my youngest daughter (now 2) I decided to concentrate more on the greetings card side of things rather than wedding stationery.

Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn?

Things have definitely been a slow burn. My business has developed organically, and over the last year or so I feel like I am gradually managing to shape my business into something that I can be proud of.

 © Emma McLaughlin

Do you do your business part time or full time? 

My business is part time as I have two young children (aged 2 and 5) who demand quite a bit of my attention. I also teach part time as well, so I’m always busy!

Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you happy with it as it is and why? 

I would like to grow my business so that as my children get older this becomes my full time job.

Where do you sell your work? 

I sell my popping cards on which is a great website to be part of and a brilliant way to get my cards seen by thousands of customers.

Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you? Why do you think this is?

I like selling online on because it allows me to focus more of my time on making a quality hand made product and developing new lines, whilst knowing that there is an excellent marketing team working hard to bring customers to the site. I used to have my own website, but underestimated the amount of time and effort it took to maintain and promote it. In the future I hope to get it up and running again as the girls get older and I (hopefully) have more time.

 © Emma McLaughlin
Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you approach them?

My hen party dares card was featured in the Scottish Wedding Directory magazine last October, in a section called ‘SWD likes’. They contacted me through social media asking for photos as they had already spotted the dares card and wanted to include it in the issue. Obviously I was delighted! A few years ago I was approached at a wedding show about sending in some photos / samples of my wedding stationery to a wedding magazine. They featured me a couple of times over that year. I know that I’ve been lucky so far, but I will need to start approaching them myself in the future.

Who do you think your typical customer is?

I think my typical customer is someone who is prepared to spend some time and effort looking for the perfect card to send to someone special. They don’t want to send a run of the mill card, they want something personalised, unique and well made. In the past I have sold cards that weren’t personalised, but discovered that almost everyone wanted to personalise them so they are all personalised now. That makes sense – it just makes a card even more special and helps to show that you really care. The fact that the card looks so innocent until it is opened and then the recipient gets a little surprise when the cubes pop out means that again it is more than just a ‘normal’ card. Many customers deliver the card by hand just so that they can watch the recipient’s reaction when they open it! Sometimes I get contacted by customers through social media with ideas of new ways to use my popping cards. Often these ideas get turned into new products. I just love that customers are excited enough by my cards to create their own uses for them.

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy coming up with new ways for people to use my popping cards, or coming up with twists which help to make them even more exciting. There are just so many possibilities! I’ve now got a birthday card with a matching game inside, dares cards for hen parties, birthdays and wedding receptions, conversation cubes to get your guests chatting at a wedding, trios of birthday / Mother’s Day surprise announcement cards, as well as cards for all the usual card giving occasions. All are based on a basic popping card, but designed for a different purpose. I’ve got so many ideas in notebooks and in my head – it’s just finding the time to prototype and develop them into actual products that is the hard part.

 © Emma McLaughlin

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?

I guess that ideally I would have liked to have started up with a clearer idea of what I wanted to do. Saying that, I’m happy with how things have progressed over the years. Every decision I’ve made has seemed right at the time and that’s good enough for me. If I had started out with the pressure of having to make lots of money straight away I would have had to have approached things very differently. I suppose that I had the luxury of being able to evolve over time.

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?

Definitely instinctive. I do have some general long term and short term goals, but mostly, it’s just to keep developing my product range as much as I can. As I make all of my products myself, when I get an idea I’m able to run with it quite quickly. Depending on customer feedback I’m then able to change and adapt ideas as and when needed.
Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? If you do how did you find people who were the right fit for you?
I don’t employ anyone at the minute although I do have some very lovely friends and family who are always willing to help out when required (in return for tea and cake).

Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see that changing?

I work from home and often have my 2 year old daughter competing for my attention. Most of my work is done at a desk in the living room, and I’ve got a little walk-in cupboard for storage. Ideally I would like to have my own studio. It may not be possible at the moment, but it’s something to aspire to. 

 © Emma McLaughlin

Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business?

My husband is really good for bouncing ideas off and friends and family often have useful suggestions too. I find that putting things out on social media can be a good way of gauging reaction to ideas. offers lots of great advice for helping to advance your business and they run e-courses and live Q & A sessions throughout the year.

What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise?

The morning usually consists of doing the school run and then going home via the post office to post the previous day’s orders. My 2 year old enjoys helping to post the orders so sometimes it can take a while! Now that she’s getting older (and is starting to understand that any bits of cardboard are ‘Mam’s, no touch’) I’m often able to make cards through the day. Occasionally I manage to upload new products or develop new ideas too, although usually I leave things like that until the weekend when I can get some time to myself without the children. After doing the school run again in the afternoon and posting any orders that have been made that day, it’s a whirlwind of dinner, homework, bath-time and bedtime routines. After the girls are in bed I usually spend several hours making more orders.

Anything else you want to add…

I would like to think that in a few years time I will be doing this full time in my own little studio. I guess I will just have to wait and see.


Thank you so much Emma - it's clear you have a real passion for what you do and pleasing your customer base with a high quality product. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Defining my style with the Smart Creative Style course and Monica Lee

As anyone following me on the internet knows I've been taking part in a fair few courses in my mission to really get to grips with how I want my business to develop. I've been talking about a second brand for at least two years and thanks to the Smart Creative Style process with Monica Lee I feel a lot more sure about what I want and where I am going.

As part of the course we had to put together mood boards - not necessarily on pinterest - but that's what most of us did; it was incredibly fun and I think I've fallen in love with that process. Nothing is ever fixed and I know I'll be adding and subtracting from them as time goes on.

I can't wait to get stuck in designing for a new shop in the summer while creating new Moobaacluck work that is more in line with my new discoveries. I'll be building a spin off look board specially for Moobaacluck to make sure I'm on track. There are images on the above board that specifically relate to Moobaacluck as it's a combined board but the next step is to dig deeper into that to make sure that all future designs for my current brand fit my emerging aesthetic.

The above board is a section of the board addressing potential brand colours and type.  As someone who has a bright acid yellow cardigan that I wear to death I think it's fair to assume that has to be part of my brand colouring - it pops up in all my boards!

I've absolutely loved Monica's course as it's given me a framework from which to understand more what I like and why... the whys are harder of course but really essential. My business is a massive part of me and my life and not something I will ever stop doing so it has to be fulfilling and truthful.

There is still a hell of a lot of work to do but I have searched my heart and know that the ultimate goal is an eponymous brand with the Moobaacluck brand as a smaller one within that aimed primarily at children. Sounds feasible to me!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Friday Finds - Penny Lindop Designs

I met Penny a few years ago at a WiRE event in Norfolk where we both had stands. Penny makes and designs a wide range of gifts - from hand finished gift tags to mugs and even silk ties featuring her trademark fluffy sheep. Penny Lindop Designs exhibits regularly at some of the best retail and trade shows in the UK selling direct to her loyal customers and has to retailers all over the world. She's very modest for someone who has built a strong business virtually single handed...

 © Penny Lindop

When did you start your business and why? Did you plan how you started meticulously or was it almost accidental? Tell us the story of how “Penny Lindop Designs “ came to be!

I never really “started” a business; I wouldn’t have known where to start. Way back then I graduated with a degree in archaeology and after some years of struggling to find work (there was a recession back then too, so I really know how some of these young graduates are feeling) I found myself working at the British Museum in one of their darkest underground stores. I felt priviledged to be there, but to be honest without the break every summer when I went to France excavate a rock shelter, I’d have gone mad. For some reason I became interested in textiles and as I worked in the prehistory department I started researching prehistoric textiles, and particularly the technology – I made spindle whorls and loom weights, and taught myself to spin and weave and researched ancient sheep breeds. I fell in love with sheep and was hooked! I spun every day – yes, every single day for many years. I resigned my safe job in the museum as I needed something more. I packed a rucksack and went off to family out in Australia, spending time in Indonesia on the way. And I kept on spinning. One side pocket of my rucksack was dedicated to my spinning tools – the smallest I could find, so a tiny spindle for cotton. I spun on the beach, in my cabin room which was on stilts on a rice paddy, anywhere and everywhere! When I got to Australia I was greeted by the most amazing family, and a spinning wheel! I worked with spinners, weavers and dyers over there, and gave talks about my prehistoric spinning. With the support of my family and the life they offered me I was able to get more perspective on life, and I felt I could start breathing again. It was good. I could combine my love of textiles and sheep. A year later and I was back in England. Time passed and I married and had 2 daughters in quick succession. We had lots of fun – I was lucky, I didn’t need to work. We weren’t well off but we could get by. After tea we would cover the table with plastic and do messy play. One evening there was some blue ink left over and some yellow fleece on the floor – and that was the beginning of what was to become my business.

 © Penny Lindop Designs - the inspirational piece that sparked the business

I’d always played with paper, doodled and made stuff and with a bit of persuasion I faced one of my many fears and took some cards I’d made to a few shops. Much to my amazement they were greeted with enthusiasm! As a family we were ready for a move, so we took the bull by the horns and in 1998 moved to Norfolk where we took over a little village gallery, filled it with lots of my work and work from other craftspeople. We had some financial security as husband Mike continued with his job in London. However, my hobby business was pushed into becoming a bit more serious by some life events. My children were young and Mike found himself unable to return to work after illness; I needed to work a bit harder/smarter, but still needed to be at home. The gallery was perfect, but just needed to generate a bit more income. I was pretty handy with a spinning wheel and ran courses for a while, but didn’t see how that could earn us much.

 © Penny Lindop - Yorkshire Show Stand

I took a huge leap and took my wares to my first trade show. This was the right decision for me at the time and so I did more; I would be away for about a week at a time, which was do-able – filled the freezer with meals and covered the fridge with to do lists. I had to face plenty more fears – I went on every course I could find (at the time there were loads of free ones!) – computer skills, business courses, you name it and I probably did it. When I went to my first trade show I didn’t even know what a Pro forma invoice was, I was that green. I mean, does a degree in Archaeology really qualify you to start your own business?! 

Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn? 

A slow burn, very slow!

Do you do your business part time or full time?

Definitely full time now, although part time when the girls were younger. 

 © Penny Lindop

Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you happy with it as it is and why? 

While the girls were young I deliberately kept the business quite small and manageable. As they grew up they joined in with the shop and  the business (we eventually decided to close the shop as I was getting too busy with wholesale, and I needed more flexibility for family life). The girls even started their own business for a few years while at high school. My elder daughter, Emma, did some work on the business when she did her A level Business studies – since she got top marks, I thought I should read it and decided to implement some of her suggestions. This was the start of attending high end consumer shows. Gradually we dropped the trade shows, and just did the consumer shows – all across the country! It’s been fantastic, but hugely hard work. 

© Penny Lindop

When either daughter could, they'd come and help, which has been lovely. I continued to supply all the shops, and was exporting quite a lot. I had to develop a website (totally out of my comfort zone), but now I have a decent site and also sell on other online platforms, such as Possibly I let myself down on this side of the business as I’m not a huge fan of uploading products and my photography skills aren’t great. Sometimes I play with new ideas, take them to the shows and then forget that I’ve done them! Emma still works for me remotely from Taiwan where she’s currently working, and I just really love her support and enthusiasm. When she had more time she would upload products which was fab, but now her work timetable has filled up she just about finds the time to do my monthly newsletter and a very rare blog post. 

If this is your full time job, do you mind saying what your approximate turnover is annually (before costs and expenses)?

My turnover is now between 50 and 75k which is really a lot less than it probably should be since I’ve been going for 16 years, but life has to be a compromise and I’ve not always been able to do some of the things I’d like. 

 © Penny Lindop

Where do you sell your work?

I supply a lot of retail outlets across the UK, and overseas (last year, Norway, Germany and Japan mainly) and go to quite a few consumer shows – London, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Worcestershire. On line I sell from my own website and partner stores. 

Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you? Why do you think this is? 

For me, now, I’m finding a mix of selling methods is working well – not having all my eggs in one basket. The retail outlets are good for volume, but the consumer shows are lovely for customer relationship building, feedback and inspiration. And online is doing ok too. 

Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you approach them? 

No! I’m very poor at promoting my work – it’s a confidence thing.

Who do you think your typical customer is?  

Mainly women between about 25 and 70, but I do have quite a good male customer base too as my products are very countryside orientated. Typically they appreciate handmade work and enjoy something a bit quirky and out of the ordinary, and are happy to pay a higher price for this. 

 © Penny Lindop

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most? 

The shows and chatting to customers! (Which is odd, as I was very shy as a child)

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today? 

Absolutely for sure, but I wouldn’t know what. I think you do the best you can within the boundaries of your life circumstances at the time. I certainly didn’t always make the right decisions, but hey, it’ll always be like that. I try and learn from the mistakes and move on! There are plenty more mistakes waiting for me round the corner. I would have loved to have spent more time with my girls, and I would have loved us to have had holidays, but we did ok, and I’m super proud of both girls. 

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?

I’m not a great planner or goal setter, but I’m getting a lot better. At the outset I just was learning – how to use a computer, run a business, get designs together, get them onto greeting cards and pictures etc etc. There was no room in my head for goals! Now I’m working really hard at planning and forecasting – I’ll bet I’ll make some more mistakes here! 

Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? If you do how did you find people who were the right fit for you? 

I have a book keeper who comes here once a month, and Sue who comes in 3 days a week to look after orders, packing and stock – I couldn't run the business without her now. I also have a couple of people who work from home packing for me. 

Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see that changing?

 Currently I have 2 log cabins in the garden, joined together. But it’s squashed and chaotic, so we’re looking at some alternative ideas. (I’m blowing hot and cold at some of the alternative ideas as anything that involves working away from home involves lots more expense). I enjoy working on my own, particularly at weekends when there are no interruptions. I tend to do the artwork and designing then, and do all the admin type stuff during the week. I take days off during the week to catch up with friends. I love the flexibility the business gives me. I don’t think I could ever be employed again!

Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business? 

I don’t have an official mentor, but I have several people whose opinions I really value. I lean on them heavily from time to time. I’m also part of a support group which I started – just 4 of us, all artisan/makers. We meet to support, encourage, critique and it’s been great. We don’t seem to be meeting as often as we used to, so I must address this as I miss them.I also have meetings with myself and my notebook. I find it hard to think about the business and plan while I’m in my studio. So I take my notebook off to a café and chat to myself in the notebook. I’ll then go back to the notebook in a couple of weeks (another excuse to go off to a café!) and reconsider what I wrote then. It’s a good system for me.

What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now?

I’m up around 7 am but sometimes later as I don’t sleep so well these days. I see to the cat and dog and check out emails and social media while I drink the first cup of tea of the day and eat breakfast. I’m usually down in the studio by 9. The mornings (and sometimes the afternoons) are spent on orders and admin stuff. If possible I keep the afternoons for more creative jobs or website updates. Early evening’s are for photography and sometimes a little more social media. 

 © Penny Lindop - Sheep + Willow Trees - a new design

What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise? 

Just now that has to be a day in the sunshine with both daughters out in Taiwan (my dream day will be happening this spring!) 

Anything else..

You can see a selection of my work at and

For blog readers  I’m offering a 20% discount on the hand finished prints within the art gallery section. You’ll need to enter the code FRIDAYFINDS at the checkout.

I'd love people to like/follow me here too :

Thank you so much Penny for such a candid, personal account of your business; I really appreciate that you answered every question. *** Meet Penny from 19th-23rd March at the Country Living Spring Fair***

Friday, 7 March 2014

Friday Finds - Natalie Rymer - Painter

Morning! Today I feature Natalie Rymer whose paintings I came across on Facebook about three months ago. I just love her work; it is textural and vibrant - full of colour and pattern. 

© Natalie Rymer

How did you start your business and why? 

I have always been interested in  Art, both my parents are Artists and I studied Fine Art at A-level, going straight onto complete a BTEC National Diploma at Reigate School of Art followed by a BA Hons degree in Fine Art at Wimbledon School of Art in London. 

Having finished at Wimbledon, I needed a break from Painting, with  my now husband, we moved back to Sevenoaks, Kent  and purchased a run down Victorian house and renovated it over several years. We then had 2 children over the next few years, and my life was filled with parenting duties and bringing up my 2 daughters which I loved.  

 © Natalie Rymer

How did things take off ? 

I started to help out with Art classes at their schools and we moved to a farm cottage in the countryside which had  a large studio in the gardens backing onto fields. This inspired me to start painting again, I also submitted some card designs to Phoenix Trading and had a fine art painting “Full Sail” accepted as my first printed card. I continued to work with Phoenix for several years designing around 10 cards for their ranges. I also opened my studio as part of the SEOS South East Open Studios scheme and took part in an Art Auction for a charity in London. As I had started to build up a body of work, I looked for avenues to start to sell these and came across 

My early philosophy was to sell mainly watercolours at very affordable prices so that anyone could afford to purchase my work, and I began to build a customer base and began to work up the Art Gallery best sellers list to the top 10.  I expanded my range to include Acrylic paintings on canvas but kept prices affordable to help attract custom.  With the development of social media I already had a private Facebook page, and it then became obvious to develop a business facebook page and I started to advertise my work on  this ticked over and I gained around 30 or so followers but never really selling. We had just had a lovely Christmas but money was tight in January 2013 and I felt I really wanted to help out my family. Then one day in early January I all of a sudden  started to pick up more followers on my business Facebook page and I couldn’t believe my eyes that by the end of the day  my site had grown to a few hundred  followers. Then it just seemed to take off and through my site being shared by my followers my numbers started to grow and grow. I started to sell my work and my site became more active as followers were spreading the word and I was receiving very positive feedback. 

© Natalie Rymer

Is your business full or part time?  

I work full time on my business, 24/7, I am always available and always thinking about my business, I tweet and post all day every day interacting with all my followers and clients. 

Do you intend to grow your business into something bigger…? 

I would like to continue to grow my business and my artwork to be always available to all who are interested, whether that be original paintings, prints, greetings cards or other products. I value all my customers. 

Where do you sell your work? 

I sell my work direct through my Facebook page and am in the process of relaunching my own website. I also sell my work through selected Art Galleries such as D’Art Gallery(Dartmouth) Lyndhurst  Gallery (New Forest) Rye Gallery (East Sussex) Moree Gallery (Australia) The Art Agency (Surrey). I am also working with some new galleries such as The Janet Bell Gallery (Anglesey) , I have been asked to work with more but at the moment demand is outstripping supply. 

Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you and why?

Primarily Facebook enables me to interact with my followers, sell direct, and pass clients onto Galleries, whilst sharing my interests in other artists, materials, etc using it like a scrapbook of my work life. I think that my attitude to valuing every follower and taking time to respond and interact with them helps to build a rapport with my customers, I now have nearly 6000 followers many of whom I have built friendships with via facebook.

 © Natalie Rymer

Have you had publicity in National Magazines?

To date, I haven’t had any National magazine publicity, however I have been featured in a few regional magazines and online with The Examiner, I hope to build on this and would love to feature in magazines such as Country Living, and Interiors magazines. 

Who do you think your typical customer is ?

I think I have a broad range of customers, which include fellow artists. I am often asked for paintings for Birthday or Anniversary gifts or to mark a special occasion. I am moved by the reasons my clients give for buying my art, which often relate to the effect of the colour used in my work, one very touching example which I will never forget was a lady who bought a painting for her husband whose sight was failing and who was also suffering from dementia. I was overwhelmed to hear when my painting was hung on their wall he showed a response and reacted to the painting, this really makes my work so rewarding and worthwhile.

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most? 

It is always tough starting a new painting, I imagine it is like climbing a mountain and it is a long journey where you put things in, take things out, add things you like but find they don’t work in the painting and save that idea for another. I find it impossible to work on several paintings at a time as I become immersed in the painting I am creating until I am satisfied it is finished. I love working with colour and pattern and exploring new colour combinations and creating patterns, for me the best paintings tend to be those that just work spontaneously. 

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?

My only regret is leaving my Garden Studio in Kent before my business had really  taken off, it would have been the perfect space to paint, package, and I would have loved to run workshops and show clients around. I am looking forward to finding or creating another similar space as my business grows.

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?

Typically, my work is instinctive and spontaneous which is part of my persona, but I do have goals and I have achieved many in the last year which I initially would not have felt possible. These include working with Woodmansterne and Whistlefish (Milkwood Publishing) showing in galleries I love such as Rye Gallery in Sussex and working with the lovely Moree Gallery in Australia, I am thankful to all the galleries that support my work especially The D’art Gallery in Dartmouth who really helped and pushed me into producing more and larger pieces to a wider range of customers. I hope to visit the gallery at some point.This year I have also plucked up the courage to submit a painting to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. 

Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? 

I don’t employ anyone at the moment although it is something I have thought about recently. Sometimes it is really difficult to keep up with things, and I really like to spend my time Painting. Aspects such as packaging, book keeping, posting take an enormous amount of time, fortunately my husband is very supportive and we are often packaging work late into the evenings. It really is a full time job! 

 © Natalie Rymer

Could you describe where you work, are you alone or with others, do you feel the way it is is the best fit for you or do you see it changing? 

My studio is a room downstairs in my house looking out onto my garden. I work on my own which I am happy doing, I would like to explore making my studio bigger in the future so that I have room to work on larger paintings. 

Do you have a mentor or people you are able to discuss your business with?

My parents are my mentors as far as my artwork is concerned, both are artists and it helps to bounce ideas and talk about my work with them. I like to involve my husband in the business side of my work, he helps with my accounts, my websites and investigating new projects for my work. 

What is a typical day for you?  

I like to start the day by taking my daughters to school in the morning, I start work having done a couple of housework jobs first thing, settling into my artwork from 9.30-10am. If I am starting a new painting the night before I will have prepared the canvas, I check references from artists that I am looking at and I start my work, never with a real plan but spontaneously putting my ideas onto the canvas. I really like listening to radio 4 extra while I work, I enjoy the stories and comedies. I fit lunch around my work, unless my husband is home when we like to have a lunch break at Pooh Corner Tea Rooms. Sometimes I wrap orders ready to post while my mornings painting is drying and in the afternoon I am back at my easel until my children come home from school. I check my social media sites, and I usually start the dinner, then return to my studio. In the summer months in the light evenings when my husband returns from work, we take our dog, Dotty the Dalmation out for a walk around the countryside often stopping to take photos to use in my work. 
We have some spectacular views living in East Sussex and Ashdown Forest is on our doorstep. After Dinner, I often go back to my studio and check my Facebook news and interact with my followers and continue with my paintings – there is often  a deadline to meet for a client or a gallery, and I will then start preparing my work for the next day.

Thank you so much for sharing your work process with us Natalie, truly inspiring. I particularly like that you identified publishers and galleries with whom you'd like to work and worked your way steadily towards achieving everything you intended to; no doubt you will be able to have your ideal studio again soon.

Please see more of Natalie's work via the links below.