I pitched this story rather selfishly actually, because… well, I’m so curious! It’s not the easiest time to make a living off one’s creativity. So, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to ask a bunch of cool, creative women whom I admire about how they make it work. They seem to have truly figured it out.
They’ve all made their careers in different fields, yet their common theme is: a thoughtful approach to creativity, innovation, artistry, and… business.
Though Creatives are notoriously right-brained individuals, I’ve come to realize that you just can’t make it without a little effort in the left-brained world of analytical thinking.
To spread the knowledge and share the love of these creative-minded career gals, I asked them a few questions below…
Julie Houts | Illustrator
How did you begin selling your illustrations?
I was working a full-time job as a Women’s wear designer at J.Crew for about seven years. I always made small illustrations on the side, just for fun, and for a very small following on Instagram. It was truly just a hobby, something I did when I was on lunch break. I began to get some very small illustration jobs as a result of what I was posting on Instagram. I didn’t know how much money to ask for, and wasn’t that worried about the amount, because I had a full-time job that paid me a reasonable, livable salary.
Eventually, my Instagram account grew a much larger following, and I began to get bigger illustration jobs. I also got a book deal. It was around this time that I decided to leave my job at J.Crew, and find an illustration agency to represent me. I immediately realized that I wouldn’t be able to support myself on client work alone initially. It occurred to me to sell prints of my work, but it truly just seemed impossible to do. I didn’t know where to begin (anything having to do with money, organization, logistics, or self-promotion is not usually my strong-suit. Ironically, it is almost all I deal in now). My saintly, extremely organized, and logistically-savvy best friend Madeline helped me get a website together and helped me to figure out how to sell prints of my work through it. She still manages my “studio”.
What was the turning point that allowed you to leave your full-time job and pursue illustration professionally? What was that adjustment like?
I think it was getting a book deal, and also getting a couple much more in-depth, involved jobs. I began feeling like I was overloaded and couldn’t balance a full-time job and this side-thing that was gaining some real momentum. At the same time, I was feeling a little stuck in my full-time job. Overall, I had a sense of, “if not now, then when?” I didn’t think I would ever have the same amount of momentum propelling me in this freelance direction again.
In hindsight, I am glad that I made the leap, but it has been at times (excuse me) super fucked up. I had (and continually have) to learn so many lessons the hard way. Things about taxes, budgeting, work-flow management, healthcare, payroll, invoicing, my own anxiety, did I say taxes? Cool, Also just want to add, TAXES. And once more, TAXES.
It’s funny and strange to me that I’m semi-often asked for advice for articles about women who have “done it”. I still don’t really know what I am doing – I feel like my heart is going to fall out of my butt like 80% of the time for a whole, overflowing portfolio of reasons. Cannot underscore this enough: I do not feel successful or sorted-out. This is probably when I should say, “but in the end, it’s all worth it!” But truly who even knows? I’m just out here trying until it blows up in my face and I have to go back to eating desk salads in a cubicle somewhere (it really wasn’t so bad, was it?? Or was it…?). Or until I’m skipping along on a sunny Tuesday eating ice cream on my way to a museum with so many dollars in my bank account and not a care in the world, at which point I will definitely circle back and let you know that I have really DONE IT, and it is WORTH IT!
Sorry, what was the question?
LaTonya Yvette | Writer
You began your career as a stylist, then you started the blog as a more personal passion project, then that grew into a full lifestyle site, and now the book (Woman of Color)! Within each of these iterations, how have you viewed the relationship between creative fulfillment and business objectives?
One of the cool things about all of those iterations and “roles” is that I never had a true xyz goal.
It wasn’t until I started the lifestyle site that I was able to combine my life as a stylist, writer, and mother. For me, that was the most goal-oriented project, but it was so much about a sense of self in a new-found space… motherhood.
After running the site for so long, I realized that while it was becoming a career, I also felt immensely creative! Which is surprising – we are often told we can’t be creative and have a career. But, it is the privilege of the world we live in now. Young women can successfully become business owners, mothers, and authors in the same.
When I am creative, I am personally happy; and therefore, I’m able to tackle the boring and stressful nuances of running a successful business that then provides for my little family.
Since generating creative projects has become your full-time job, how do you make sure to stay inspired and create authentic work?
For so long, I said I was inspired by people, but I think I am equally inspired by being present in the many phases of life. If you notice the things that are happening, and allow them to happen, and are truly in them, there’s a certain kind of magic that happens (during and after).
It’s like standing in water a bit. I don’t know how to swim, but when I stand, I can feel my feet shift in the sand, and the waves touch different parts of my body. I can hear certain things, too. Yes, I’m nervous and scared–hell, I can’t swim. But, if you just allow it to happen for a few moments, the fear naturally moves around you…
And I think that’s the becoming of WOMAN OF COLOR. It was never intentional to be a writer like this, or to have a “story to share.” But, it happened with life – because I was taking note and taking care…
Tanya Taylor | Fashion Designer
Your design work is driven by vibrant prints / colors and there is such a sense of optimism to your collections. How have you been able to harness that joy and let it lead the business portion of your work as well?
When I started the company, I decided that optimism would be a core pillar of the brand’s DNA. Being optimistic is a frame of mind that I have used as a tool to keep me moving forward when I hit a roadblock. I do not dwell on mistakes or missed opportunities and I have committed to always looking for a solution and forging on. This allows for a company culture built around optimistic thinking that leads to collaboration and a sense of commitment, and creates room for incredible creativity.
Most important thing you’ve learned from the process of turning your creative hobby into a business venture?
The biggest lesson I learned is the importance of thoroughly communicating your vision to your team and your customers. Sometimes creativity and communication don’t naturally coexist and it takes a lot of effort to be vulnerable and convince people to trust in your ideas. However, to be successful it is crucial that everyone not only understands the vision, but that they believe in it too.
Tala Mortada | Creative Director & DJ
Your day job and your side hustle both utilize creative energy. How do you balance that and not feel creative burnout?
My day job consists of managing a Creative Experiential Studio (Clap Clap Studio), along with the creative side of our Clubs (The Grand Factory and AHM)and Events. My side hustle is DJing in our clubs, while at the same time keeping an eye on our setup and operations. I also took on a consulting job in Berlin with an amazing Tech & Innovation Platform called Factory Berlin. Hopping between Beirut and Berlin, while working day and night, weekdays and weekends, is definitely not an easy task!
How I balance everything–especially since I really want to be part of everything–is by picking my battles within the different creative worlds I’m in. It took time for me to get to know my strengths, but once I did, I knew where to invest myself completely, versus where to only lead and delegate, where to partner up with strong people and assets, and when to say no to new opportunities.
What keeps you inspired to create?
I live in a small country, surrounded by turmoil and a rough socio-political and economic context. Here, the design and alternative music worlds are fairly new as industries, artists are thirsty for inspiration, culture, and creative growth. We have to travel to be able to get that kind of exposure.
My team and I happen to run the two biggest alternative nightclubs in the country. We bring in musicians and artists from all over the world on a weekly basis, we host workshops and competitions to grow local talent, and we create social activations within our venues to imbue positive thinking and actions.
What keeps me inspired to create is the awareness that our work holds the responsibility to inspire, encourage, and enable young creatives to step up and follow their passion. This is what makes our creations worthwhile, despite all the challenges surrounding us.
Laura Rubin | Writer & Journaling Expert
You created a product to aid in your own personal creativity. Now, it’s helping others’ creative processes as well. How did you make the connection that this thing you created, that brought you joy, could also turn into a lucrative business venture?
Actually, I didn’t start AllSwell with the idea it would be particularly revenue-producing. I hoped it would cover its costs, maybe throw off a little more, but it began entirely as a passion project.
AllSwell was born out of a genuine desire to offer up a product that would help people become more creatively connected and inspired. But the market showed me that I’d made something for which there was a real appetite: my first two printings quickly sold out. That’s when I realized there was a bigger opportunity here.
At the time I was running Left Left Right, the marketing and communications boutique I’d founded over a decade prior. I didn’t set out to become a journaling expert; it was a fairly organic process. But I paid attention to what the market was telling me. I showed up with products and experiences to serve the needs I felt the public would wake up to. I based this in part on the rise of personal technology and the prevalence of social media. I knew eventually we’d need an antidote and when consumers’ digital sponges were full, I’d be ready to help wring them out.
Best piece of advice for someone who is looking to make a career out of their creativity?
If you’re making a career change, I suggest wading in rather than diving off the high dive. Make the switch in stages so the stakes aren’t as high. Start small, test the market, ask a lot of questions and learn. Grow the venture a little, then grow it a little bit more based on the input you’re getting. This doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing situation. Rather than depending on this new professional direction to pay your mortgage, let it be an exploration you enjoy while mapping out the way forward.
If you’re just starting out at the beginning of your career, then I heartily suggest assisting someone in the field you’re interested in exploring. Making mistakes on your own dime is expensive so learn the craft from a person / brand / company you respect creatively, see how the game is played from the inside. Meanwhile, don’t stop generating your own work. When it’s time to shift away from a supporting role, you’ll have amassed knowledge, contacts and experience. That’s career rocket fuel.