My First Year in Business

My First Year in Business

If you're a maker or a creator looking to find a way to sell your goods to the masses, I write about my first year in business on Etsy, debunk some myths, and share some tools I use to help me work more efficiently and effectively.

HOT ART Wet City : Eat Yo Self

Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show

Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show

Confession: Statler and Waldorf's sit in the balcony of my brain—mocking, criticizing, and laughing with each new idea I have.

Who else has this dilemma?

I used to listen to them a lot, thinking they knew best. (Sometimes I still do) I see them as my protectors who are saving me a lifetime of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation.

However, when I listen to them as much as I do, I find myself yearning and wondering 'what if'. That's when you know you have to tell them to shut up and sit down.

While I haven't found a way to get rid of them all together, I have learned to care less about what they think. I hear their criticisms and warnings but I try new things anyways, which really helps silence them - especially when I succeed. And even when I fail, I tell them that it's still a success because I know what doesn't work for me or maybe I know a better way to execute an idea now that I've failed. It's really a win-win.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend encouraged me to submit art to an art show at Hot Art Wet City. And of course Statler and Waldorf had a hay-day to know that I was entertaining the idea since it was completely out of my comfort zone. 

Even still, I kicked around some ideas and spent a good week or two developing and executing concepts. In the end, I had 4 strong concepts that I was really happy with and submitted for review and approval. Whether I was approved or not, was definitely not the measure of success on this project since that part of it was out of my control. The real success here was actually doing it and loving the results; Knowing that my little engine "could".

Low-and-behold, my pieces were approved and I was asked to drop off framed and unframed copies before the end of May. 

Take that Statler and Waldorf!

Here are the details for the event. I'll be there on June 3rd for the opening reception so hopefully you are too!

The Designer Becomes the Client

 "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." Ernest Hemingway

As designers we're all trained to do our own design work, naturally, to showcase our skills. But we never actually get trained on what it may feel like to be the client hiring a designer. 

Police are put through rigorous training to prepare for being on the force. Training techniques may include being cuffed, taken down, pepper sprayed, possibly tasered, and/or more. This is to help them function and maintain discipline in threatening circumstances and also to understand how much force is required to apprehend a suspect without inflicting injury. 

As designers we're all trained to do our own design work, naturally, to showcase our skills. We design our own portfolios, business cards, and websites to show off what we can do for our clients. But we never actually get trained on what it may feel like to be the client hiring a designer. How do you build trust? How do you find a process that works for you AND your client? How do you ease any concerns clients may have throughout the process?

When you're throwing money at stuff you can see like clothes, shoes, know what you're getting. There's no secret, no questions. You either like it and buy it. Or you don't and move on. It's a much different mindset when you're throwing money at something you can't see and won't know you're happy with, until it's finished. 

These thoughts have been on my mind recently as I became a client of an artistic venture for the first time; Getting a coverup tattoo. 

When I was 18, I got a silly little tattoo of a butterfly on my chest which I didn't put much thought into. After getting it, I felt so rebellious and proud. But a few years passed and I started to resent it. Everyone asked me about it and I hated showing it off because it was ugly and it didn't represent anything. It was just there. I thought about lasering it off but I came to realize that I genuinely really enjoyed having a tattoo; Just not that one. So over the last year I put more thought into what I might want on my body forever. I looked at themes I was generally attracted to and then researched the kind of tattoo styles I liked. That guided me to the appropriate artists and shops that employed them which led me to Craig Moston at Gastown Tattoo.

Going in I definitely had a few beads of sweat. This was my first major piece over $100 that would have some kind of story behind it and was one I had put more thought into. Plus, it would be much bigger than my last. I wouldn't be able to cover it up so easily so I had to make sure I loved it.

I put a deposit down for something I couldn't imagine which is not something I'm used to. 

What made me most nervous was that I had no idea how it would all come together or what it was going to look like. I put a deposit down for something I couldn't imagine which is not something I'm used to. As a designer, when a project presents itself I have an idea of the direction I may take and loosely get an idea of how it might look. Whether or not it turns out that way is another story but I have a vision and can imagine some kind of outcome. I couldn't read my artists mind so I had to make a conscious effort to not only trust the fact I did my research but also to trust my artist and his skill. Because, really, I have no idea what kind of considerations go into covering up something that's already there. I have no idea how certain elements will play off the natural flow and shape of the body. So after I put my deposit down, I left it in his capable hands to conceptualize and stylize. 

Coverup tattoo by Craig Moston @ Gastown Tattoo Parlour

Coverup tattoo by Craig Moston @ Gastown Tattoo Parlour

The morning of my tattoo appointment was the first time I saw the concept and when I saw it, I smiled with delight. I really loved it. We made a few minor tweaks and then got setup to do the tattoo. But even at this stage my nerves weren't settled as it was still just an outline so I didn't actually know how it would end up after it was on my body. All the "what if's" swirled but I, again, fell back on trusting my artist, trusting in his skill, and also trusting myself in the fact that I chose wisely.

5 hours tattoo was complete. I was sore and tired but I loved how it turned out.

I now have a new found respect for clients hiring me for design work and have learned to trust my decisions/instincts more. 

If you're a designer:

I would encourage you to hire someone for a service you're not familiar with; Writing, coding, art, a tattoo. It will definitely open your eyes to what you client may go through when hiring you to do work for them. Of course there are many that are comfortable with the unknown but a lot of clients aren't when they're throwing thousands of dollars at you for something they may or may not like so if anything, be aware of that.

If you're a client:

Remember you're hiring them because you can't do the job yourself. They are skilled professionals so trust them to deliver. Trust in their skill, experience, and capabilities. If you don't know what that looks like, I would encourage you to research that. Look at their portfolio. Inquire and ask specific questions about portfolio details, their process, and pricing structure. Maybe ask to meet with them if that makes you more comfortable. Tell them what you need to feel comfortable and happy. And always be weary of designers that don't follow a code of ethics. Ex. work for free or cheap. You always get what you pay for.

The proof is in this puddin', I spent the time and the money on a tattoo artist with skill and in the end got a really great art piece on my body I will enjoy for the rest of my life.

"Hickory-Dickory-Dock : Owl" Illustration

2nd illustration in my Hickory-Dickory-Dock series

2nd illustration in my Hickory-Dickory-Dock series

“It is not always by plugging away at a difficulty and sticking to it that one overcomes it; often it is by working on the one next to it. Some things and some people have to be approached obliquely, at an angle.” - Andre Gide quotes (French writer, humanist and moralist)

You might consider this to be what I found beyond the fence; An illustration inspired by my own work.

When I sat down to coax the creativity out of me, I didn't know what I wanted. All I knew is that I wanted to create something amazing, something fresh, something new.

I immediately lost all motivation.

After awhile I realized that "new" wasn't my answer because it was getting me nowhere, fast. So I sat down again, and tackled things from a different angle; Why am I doing this in the first place? It's not for clients, it's not my audience - however, I do appreciate the love :-) - it was for me to have FUN and breakaway from the process! And that is what I wanted to get back to. 

So I looked through all of the projects I have thought about or completed in the last 6 months and considered how much fun I had with each. Hickory-Dickory-Dock was the clear winner after all was said and done. I remembered how mysterious it was from the very beginning and how it just naturally unfolded into something quirky and put a smile on my face so that was my motivation - and goal - for this next piece. 

I didn't do as much drawing for this one - since most of the parts were already built so I sketched up a basic idea & composition, adjusting where I wanted to adjust things, changing what I wanted to change from the last one, and adding new pieces, for interest. I recycled and reused to rebuild something completely new and unique to itself. Especially since there was no owl in the original nursery rhyme.

This one had its share of surprises and it unfolded completely different than what I had originally planned for it but that's why it was so fun. I had found that freedom and curiosity I was missing. I even started giving it new direction with a new character which may inspire something completely different for the next one. 

We will see where the path leads next...

In the meantime, you can purchase a print of this on my RedBubble site.

Beyond the Fence

“Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen, even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind.”  - Leonardo da Vinci

As of late, I've been feeling creatively stagnant which leaves me feeling non-productive. And there's nothing I dislike more, than that.

Right now, I'm having a hard time putting the creative engine into gear, whether it's drawing, design, and even writing. I'm just drawing blanks. Everything I try, I feel like I'm failing miserably at and the results aren't up to snuff. (In my head at least.) Since creating is one of my favourite things in this world, it is quite frustrating when my right brain goes into sleep mode like this. On an average day, I never have a problem self-starting anything that comes to mind or getting items on my "to-do" list done. But these last few weeks have been far from productive.

I know that forcing the creativity to happen just won't work - as that theory always proves true - and leaves me more frustrated than before. I'd feel like quitting everything and start something new so I didn't have to feel like I sucked. I would describe this is as the "tantrum-phase", which I am slowly closing in on.

Luckily though, I've managed to get through many of these ebbs without flipping a table. I've also come to understand that the key to unlocking these creative blocks is movement. Whether it's doodling meaningless things on a page, to writing whatever comes to mind. The point of it all is to stop over-thinking and just do. I recognize that I am here now and am trying to work through it - even embrace it - and realizing it's only temporary. I'll get my fire back. It's all part of the process.

But first, I have to get beyond the fence in the backyard, so to speak, and stop waiting for something to intrigue me. I need to wander the neighbourhood, explore without direction or purpose, and see what comes.

At this point, it feels, that I'll be kicking an empty can down the block for some time until something interesting comes along but I can't worry about that - as it'll only make this journey worse.

So here I go...

Secrets to Achieving Your Goals : Course

"Don't stop at the first obstacle; have endurance to keep on going and you will succeed.” ~ Robert A. Schuller

Quite some years ago now, I started seeing a life coach after having a somewhat paralyzing experience at a design studio that I worked for.

With my new coach Jennifer ready to help, we discussed what I wanted to achieve over a matter of our 4 sessions (1/week). I didn't really know what to expect but after each session, I felt I was making baby steps towards getting out of my haze and was beginning to see things a little more clearly. Slowly, I started implementing what I had learned and began to gain back some confidence and direction. I continued with one session per month for over a year and saw tremendous results; I went back to art school for upgrades, I pursued side jobs that gained me a bit of exposure & helped build my portfolio, I became a GDC member, I found a job I loved at a solid company and made some life-long friendships. I was amazed at how much I achieved and baffled at how much I was getting in my own way. It was a valuable experience, giving me the tools I needed to succeed and I will continue to carry those tools with me in the future.

Jennifer has since 'retired' from coaching but recently a friend of mine let me know of a coach who was getting her certificate and needed someone to practice on. I gladly volunteered for a free session - as I'm always wanting to achieve just a little more. Her technique was a little different than my last experience but a good one - to the say the least - and I did see some small results just from that single session.

She mentioned to me that she's starting a course and sent me some details I thought I'd share if anyone was interested in the course, or coaching. So here you go!

Have you ever wondered why you can't seem to move forward and reach the goals you've set for yourself, even though logically you know it's the best thing for you? Wouldn't you like to know what's REALLY going on deep down that prevents you from doing what you say you want to do but can't seem to ever do? I am here to tell you that you are not alone and with a few small tweaks you can change everything and create the experiences and things that you desire.

As many of you know, I am in the final stages of achieving my Master Life Coaching certification with Secret to Life Coaching. A final step in my certification is to teach a course called The Secret to Achieving Your Goals. This is an incredible class that will help all who participate to reach and achieve goals that they haven’t been able to reach before.

In this 90-day course I’ll share with you the way to set and achieve your goals and get results! Here are some of the things you will discover:

  • Learn the key factors that most people get wrong when goal setting
  • Shift blocks so that you can clear the way for achieving your most desirable goals
  • Capitalize on your strengths and successes to take your life to the next level.

We’ll start on Wednesday, April 15 at 9 PM Eastern / 8 PM Central / 7 PM Mountain / 6 PM Pacific.  The sessions are one hour, and we wrap up on July 8. 

If you have any questions, or to register email Tonya at: tblakley at or call 604-363-8616.

Throwing Shit at the Wall...

You will have to experiment and try things out for yourself and you will not be sure of what you are doing. That's all right, you are feeling your way into the thing. - Emily Carr

When life is so routine and so focused on being productive, you stop having fun and you stagnate. Getting your brain thinking in a different way, is key to kick starting the creative engine.

I've been feeling a little stagnant myself. The routine of life was taking over and the auto-pilot was kicking into high gear. When this happens, my creative brain shuts off and life gets boring. That can't happen! So the last couple of weeks, I've been making a conscious effort to lose myself in every hobby I ever enjoyed; Drawing, sketching, journaling, reading, gaming, cooking. Some, I haven't even thought of doing in years; like stepping into a library, or picking up a drawing utensil for the purpose of drawing a work of art, or journaling for the sake of recording any random thought or idea that comes to mind. Already, I've noticed a significant shift in my thinking and processes as if I'm unblocking the dam and water is slowly trickling through. All I had to do was move something.

Sketch from my random thought book

Sketch from my random thought book

My only goal here is to create without judgement - for I am my worst critic. There is no agenda, no schedule, no design brief, or client to please. Just pick up a tool and go. I have no idea what I'm doing, what I'm going to create, what direction I'm headed. It's as if I'm throwing the proverbial shit at the wall to see what sticks.  

It's a little too early to say what will stick and what will sluggishly slide to the shop floor but I'm intrigued by the mystery of it all.

I forget that this is how it used to be so, if anything, it's nice to get back to that.