“No one will probably ever buy a piece of art from me, but at least I can say I tried ”. I remember distinctly thinking that, when I first came across a website called Etsy that was an online marketplace for artists. It was featured in one my favorite (now defunct sadly) magazines, Lucky. I was working part time at Anthropolgoie, in a new city, Philadelphia. I couldn’t find work in my degree of illustration, nor had I really embarked at all in pursuing it because I was too afraid. I was far away from my family or friends, which was hard. Luckily I did get a chance to volunteer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was supporting my ex’s career move at the time, that brought us to this new city. He worked long hours, and traveled a lot for work, and we shared a car. So I felt a bit stuck at 27. I guess I thought I would have done more with my degree at that time. I felt a bit, like I was not reaching my potential at all. And it frustrated me, but I didn’t know what else to do about it. I had to cut myself some slack, because I was trying hard to make my spouse happy and feel well adjusted to his new career opportunity. It wasn’t our first move for his career, and it wouldn’t be our last. I know that as I write this, many people can relate to that feeling of giving up what you want in order to let the person you care about take the opportunity afforded them. You do it, because that’s what you do when you are in a relationship.
The idea of an Etsy shop, really excited me. All of a sudden, something brought this little glimmer of hope into my life. And because I didn’t have a website, or really any artwork to speak of, besides what I had made in school, and Etsy was affordable it just seemed like I should try to see if I could sell a few sketches. Just to try it out. I needed an excuse to paint and draw more, and it seemed quite natural. So I put a few sketches up.
My sketches….were on laser computer paper. And I used black acrylic that I watered down, because at the point I had never even painted with watercolors. It was inspired by a fashion photographer who I admired. Richard Avedon. I started spending many hours going to different libraries in the area. One of my favorites was the Philadelphia public library which was close to the art museum I volunteered at. I would go to the art, design and fashion books and just oh and aww over everything. I would check out so many heavy, art books it was hard to lug them back and forth. But I felt like I had discovered a treasure. It made me want to create. And it made me want to get back to what I stopped doing for a while. I took my dreams and artwork a bit more seriously as I knew it was a now or never type of situation. So I made some sketches, and I took a picture, very badly lit of it. I posted it for $20. And then I carried on and kinda forgot that I had even posted anything.
A few weeks later I got an email that said “Etsy Transactions: Congrats on your order”. I had to read and reread it many times, to really believe that it was real. Someone I didn’t know, who lived in the state of Washington, bought my $20 sketch! I was SO excited! Somehow that simple gesture, meant the world to me at that moment. I waited of course, for the funds to go through, because I was still a bit skeptical about it all. And when it did, I merrily took my artwork to the post office and wrapped up the sketch and mailed it out.
A week or two later the woman who bought my sketch even left such a positive review of my item. And I think something inside me clicked, I wanted to sell more sketches. I wanted to make people happy, because making art made me happy and making a few extra bucks would be highly welcome.
Just a month after I started my Etsy shop, my life changed drastically. I was facing the hardest challenges a human being could imagine, and I didn’t know how to open up to anyone I knew. My relationship was going through major struggles, ones I never fathomed would happen to me. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I cried myself to sleep and woke up crying. I felt so much pain from the hurt in my relationship and I kept that feeling of shame and embarrassment close to my heart. I look back now and wish I could have spoken to someone sooner, and knew I wasn’t alone in my grieving. And that is why so often I do share my story, or live a more open life because I have had time to heal from it. I also want anyone to know that none of us ever are truly alone in life, ever. All we have to do is talk, or open our hearts or pick up a paint brush and slowly but surely we will find someone to connect to.
After a few weeks of the crying I was so tired of feeling sorry for myself. I was tired of feeling the pain. I had worked out, I had written in my journal non stop, I tired to find a balance but I knew what I really needed to do was to paint. I knew that when I painted, I felt less pain. I felt like I had a hope. I felt like I did as a kid, when we moved across the country during middle school 3 times and I had to be the new kid and that terrified me. I wore Kmart clothes on my chubby body and got bullied-but all I had to do was sit down and draw and kids would come up to me and ask me questions and ask if I could make them something. I knew my art, could save my life. Just like it had gotten me through my teen years-which were hard for me as we moved from Virginia to Las Vegas to Tennessee and back to Las Vegas all in span of 4 years. I knew that it was now time for me to create art, as a way to channel the negativity that seemed to encompass my body and mind every day.
At first, I created from a place of wanting to do lots of works that emulated my favorite artist’s and trust me, almost everyone does this in the beginning. It feels safe, because it is. It didn’t take long for me to realize, that I needed to stop emulating others and start painting from what inspired me and what my eye was most drawn to. I made a deliberate choice to close a lot of the books I had been using for research. This was also before I joined Instagram and only posted on Facebook here and there. So I didn’t have as much distractions, or the constant influence of my phone by my side. So making the choice to paint from what’s inside, that’s when we feel most vulnerable. I painted every day pretty much, and I loved it. It felt natural and I felt an urgency to get better. I became a self taught watercolorist. I had not learned the art of watercolor in college as I studied oils and acrylics. I had not only reconnected with my passion for creating, but I had found the right medium for me. It was spontaneous, fast, and it allowed me to not overthink my work, and become more confident in what I was doing over time. All the while, I had a slow and steady stream of sales in my shop and I was getting more leads on commissions, custom work, and I was getting amazing press and traffic to my shop and website
It wasn’t long before we moved to Atlanta. I was a bit sad to leave Philly, as I was just beginning to make friends, but my ex really felt his dream job was here in Atlanta, so I supported that for him. I had faith that a new group of friends, and possibly a new life awaited me in Atlanta. It wasn’t long after I moved to Atlanta, that I met an amazing group of female artists who rocked my world! I met one of my closest friends now, Michelle Armas-a bad ass artist and a beam of sunshine that I needed in my life. These women really gave me a newfound hope. That I could make a living being an artist. It seemed like such a dream! I began really slowing down in my artwork, and becoming more intentional. My subconscious started coming through in my artwork. And when I recognized that, the artwork took on a more powerful and authentic meaning. It was almost like magic was happening, quite slowly, but it made me feel like I was on to something.
I continued some major hardships in my relationship. I suffered a miscarriage, and had to get a D & C. The impact of how sad I felt in my relationship, as I knew we both were growing apart and that the tragedies we had faced years previous did not seem to get better. And when I suffered the loss of a miscarriage, I felt as though I didn’t know what else to do, but paint even more. I felt so much loss and sadness, but I knew I had to keep working and processing that pain into my creativity. At this point, my Etsy shop had already become my full time job. I was shipping numerous orders a day, and feeling a sense of momentum in my life that I had never experienced before. I knew that my art was going to become bigger than me, and it would also provide a way for me to leave my marriage and be able to take care of myself financially. This was the hardest decision I ever had to make. As a woman, at 31, deciding to start my life over and feel like I could be disappointing my family, or friends was extremely difficult for me. But I knew, I deserved a life that wasn’t clouded with the negativity and darkness that my marriage had become. I knew there was something out there for me, that could allow me to live my fullest life and one day share my story of overcoming the odds.
My Etsy shop continued to evolve and grow with me as a person. I can’t believe I’m over 9000 sales now!!! It seems like that 1st one, was just yesterday at times. I was able to create artwork that I was proud of. It also opened doors for me, I had brands approaching to work with me that I could only dream of. Target was my 1st big job. And from there, the list has grown to just real pinch me types of jobs. Sephora, Starbucks, Lancôme Paris, Kérastase, Ebay, NYX cosmetics, and most recently the lovely Chantecaille! It’s been a dream that continues to grow with each day. And that is why, I share such a lengthy story. It is hard to just give a simple answer to how I have become the illustrator that I am today, or how my Etsy shop has grown to be such a huge stepping stone in my career. I could not be here today without the support of my Etsy shoppers. From that 1st sale, that brought me so much hope, to the sales I had this year to help pay off medical expenses from the blood clot in my lungs, (see previous blog posts), each sale has felt like such a pat on my back. Each compliment or words of praise, just allows me to know, that the only reason I have been successful at this, is because I did not give up and I took the hardships in my life and worked through them and fought back by making art and staying positive. I also have a lil deal with the man upstairs, that I’ll always share my story with others. Even if it’s for a small moment, I want to be a message of hope and brightness to anyone I cross paths with. I almost lost my life last year, while I was in the hospital, so my goal to continue to share and be more open has become a priority for me. Life is short and fragile, and we need to feel connected and share our messages of hope with others.
So my last thought is this, stay inspired by the world around you, share your story, use your voice. Make good art. Your life will be profoundly better, if you invest in your voice and future. Combat the darkness, with the light that is within you.