I'm a full-time photographer married to a professional ceramicist, trying to finish one fixer-upper home project before we start the next, all while our 75-pound rescue dog encourages us to ignore the world and play fetch endlessly. I love demystifying photography & business for makers as much as I love a dry rosé alongside an epic charcuterie board. Basic? Yep. True? 100%.
You addressed each of us and told us the skills and techniques that we needed in order to explore our personal styles. We all came out more ourselves with a stronger visual voice.
— Justus of @izaoctober
From undergraduate studies in music performance to living abroad, unplanned entrepreneurship during a recession, and making a huge life pivot amidst a global pandemic... My life's path hasn't been a straight one, but very few things in the world of the self-employed usually are. Here's the CliffNotes version of what has brought me to today.
Graduating from DePaul University in 2009 wasn't exactly the best timing to enter the workforce and the "safe" art choice of majoring in graphic design (after starting out as an oboe performance major) didn't open up nearly as many work opportunities as I had planned. I returned to the US after a year working in non-profits in the UK because I had promised my cousin I'd photograph his wedding (what had been my college summer job). During that wedding, I realized I kind of liked photographing weddings when I wasn't doing it for someone else. As it turns out, not being able to get a graphic design job was the best thing that ever happened to me...
All of my business endeavors have been self-funded and in the very early days, that meant working part-time jobs on top of starting my business. I was your local barista at 4:00am, a newly minted wedding photographer during the day, and the kiddo's favorite nanny at night (only in your 20s can you function on so little sleep). In 2012, I gave up my final part-time gig and never turned back. No more safety nets. Oh, and I stopped working out of my apartment and started sharing studio space at the same time as well. What? Taking on a major fixed expense at the same time you are quitting other jobs isn't the savvy economical choice? 😉 While I'm typically quite risk-averse, sometimes you really do need to push yourself off the cliff in order to realize that you can actually figure out this crazy dream.
From 2012 - 2019 it was onwards and upwards. Saying yes to just about every opportunity that came my way and unpacking a suitcase only to turn around and pack it again as soon as the laundry was finished. Over the course of 7 years, I not only grew the photography business by 368%, I also launched a second brand to expand into a new market and brought on my first staff for our storefront studio in the heart of Chicago. To go from the small-town girl to black-tie, invite-only soirees on the national stage was something I would have never even dreamed up. It was glamorous, but it was also exhausting.
To celebrate my 10th year in business, I decided to take a sabbatical by way of being accepted into a 3-month residential ceramics program in Italy (my muddy hobby that got me away from the computer). I knew time spent away from the hustle & bustle of the events industry was going to be a healthy change, but I could have never guessed how starting 2020 in a reflective state of mind would prepare me for what was to come.
As the world began to process the realities of the pandemic, I began to discern how I could take all I'd learned over the last decade of entrepreneurship and help others. The Maker's Playbook was born...
I firmly believe that the world would be a better place if more independent artists had viable businesses. Not only because art has a unique ability to shape culture, but also because small businesses have a dramatically larger impact on their local economies than mega-corporations. Whether it be rejuvenating "legacy" work, like Alex Matisse of Eastfork Pottery discusses on Episode 123 of our podcast, or tackling a major social issue head-on, like the People's Pottery Project, empowering creative entrepreneurs to build life-giving businesses, in turn, allows them to empower their own communities for the better. The joint beliefs that doing good is good for business and that you can build the life of your dreams around a business (and not the other way around) are the foundations of all we do at the Maker's Playbook.
"You have an unusually low voice for a girl. You'd be great in radio." Such a weird thing for an adult to tell a 6th grader, but I guess Mr. Davis was right! I started the Maker's Playbook Podcast in January of 2021. To date, we've had over 20,000 downloads and we're just getting started.
The Maker's Playbook Podcast explores candid conversations with ceramicists and other makers about what it's really like to make a living from the things they make. We pull back the curtain on the Instagram feeds and discuss the realities of life openly - who's full-time, who's part-time, who has a partner with amazing healthcare, and who's just throwing spaghetti at the wall. When we aren't interviewing other makers, I'm sharing first-hand lessons and easily-actionable insights into how to start building the business of your dreams.
HEY, DID YOU KNOW?
If it wasn't for the mentors and amazing educational resources I stumbled across in those early days, there's no way I would have survived that first year of entrepreneurship, let alone the following eleven! What are you worried about right now? What issue do you just wish you had a magic wand and could wave to make disappear?
By helping independent artists build viable businesses, we not only allow artists to create thriving lives, but together we create a sustainable bend towards equity in the world.