I’ve made the proclamation and just like in the past, I’m so tempted to dive in and get my hands dirty. I’m thinking about my portfolio website design and how I might edit the images. However, I’ve already jumped into things too quickly before, so I think it’s best to take a few steps back and really start from the beginning. There are so many thoughts running around in my head and although it’s great to take advantage of the excitement and momentum, I think it’s also really important for every person who is thinking of starting a creative business – to think long and hard about what it is you are really want before investing your resources. You need to reflect on yourself and your work before moving forward with the nitty gritty.
For those who want the main point of it all…Simply take with you the main message of my first creative business step – to assess the situation and prepare mentally for the adventure. There is something to be said about visualization and planning before taking action! Think about yourself and your work. Why do you want to start a business? Are you diving into something you really want – the lifestyle, the work, the 24/7 effort that is required especially at the beginning? Are you confident about your work? What are you offering up and why is it special? I know this sounds a bit harsh, but seriously why is your work worth putting out there into the world? There is no right answer – there is only your particular answer that is necessary. This is because you need that guiding light to help you find the way even through the hardest times. Often we can be bursting with energy at the start, but then lose sight of the objective and remain lost and confused midway. I believe that it’s necessary to prepare emotionally for all that comes with putting yourself out there. Whether it be rejection… success… indifference… perhaps even insults? Failure and more failure. You will probably experience the entire gamut of emotions and situations, good and bad. It’s far too easy to be distracted and lose sight of the path, so you need to have that solid core to return to for inspiration, energy and purpose. It’s going to be your rock. You will always be able to remind yourself of why you are doing what you do and what ultimate goals you are working towards.
Suffice to say, you’ve got to be ready and willing to dive into the crazy stormy sea of creative businesses! I already tried slipping into it slowly…but that mostly results in a lot of flailing in my opinion. You need to know where you are now…before you can start heading in the right direction tomorrow. Let’s pump ourselves up, take an honest look at the situation and then move forward. So take some time to think and assess your situation this weekend. You certainly won’t have it all figured out in a few days – no one has everything figured out anyway – but try putting your thoughts in writing and passionately, authentically answering those questions for yourself. It’s fine and dandy to want something really badly, but you’ve got to be ready to take all that it comes with as well. Be ready to dive in.
Onto my personal story and thoughts…what I’m putting in writing. I have never really written about my journey specifically, the unique conditions and path that has led me to where I am. For those who have followed my blog, I’m sure there’s an inkling of adventure from the fact that I’m an American expat living in Italy. More than anything, I’m posting it here as a record for myself and sort of talking out loud way of thinking. I’m hoping that it will help me sort things out.
I’ve tried many a time to write a proper about page, but it always seems a bit too crafted or too long. I settled on writing this one sentence on most of my profiles…”A girl who moved to Italy to settle down with her love and chase her dreams…” And that phrase is totally fitting because it encompasses my story – where I come from, where I am now and where I want to be. But let me back up a bit more. I grew up in Southern California, a completely typical valley girl-type without a lot of worries being the youngest child of a big family. I did my best in school, went to college and graduated with a degree in Mathematics. It was at that point in life when I realized how complicated and difficult real life could be. We all experience the growing pains of facing reality and I had to deal with some serious family issues at that time as well. Overall, it was enveloped with the listless feeling of graduating and not knowing what to do with my life. Oh, it is a common story these days, isn’t it? My aversion to the corporate life was immediate, upon first interview during my senior year. So I gave up in a way and decided to continue going to school. I do not even remember the reasoning for choosing my particular path, but by the magic of destiny I decided to apply and go to an art school in Italy for my post-baccalaureate. It was probably the most far off left decision ever. What did my friends and family think?! Oddly enough, there was no real objection. Although I’ve always been a crafty and artsy person, I never considered that as a possible route for further exploration in adult life. Perhaps others saw it in me, when I didn’t see it in myself. It’s clear now that I was trying to escape from reality…but at least I learned that turning to Art made it all better.
I spent a year studying in the wonderful city of Florence and totally fell in love, in more ways than one. It’s funny how I felt as if my college years were simply extensions of my high school years…and finally when I studied in Italy I went through the growing up that others experience in university. Yes, I might well be a late bloomer in many respects. I dove right into an art school with no prior training in the arts. I see now how brave that was…talk about fearless! Of course, I was studying digital arts, so I played it off as graphic design, the practical applications of it all. But it was an enlightening experience nevertheless. I never had my work critiqued in front of all my peers before…the way things worked inside an art school was so different. It didn’t mean that I agreed and loved every aspect, it just opened up my eyes to another world. That things can be different and life wasn’t the cookie cutter pattern I had seen all around me in suburbia. The year abroad helped me to grow so much. More than anything specific, it planted the seed of courage in me. I saw in people around me what was possible and what you could do with your creative dreams. People lived happily as artists, they didn’t have to starve or be in the constant state of agony as some stereotypes might have you believe. I didn’t know if I wanted that exact life, but I did want something more than the ordinary. I just didn’t know how to get there…I felt so far outside of that world…
After my year of study, it was time to get back to reality and find a job to make a living. We all have to eat afterall. But somehow, I managed to squeeze another 3 months in Italy with girlfriends, sort of taking our last adventure before submitting to our eventual back-at-home lives. I took a sewing and batik class during that time, trying to soak it all in before it was good-bye Italy. It was during these 3 months that I met my husband. A friend of a friend, a completely random and beautiful event. We hit it off immediately and we grew very close. So after 3 months, we decided to keep the relationship going long distance. My connection to Italy was still alive! Was I simply living out one of those short-lived cheesy films?
I had to go back to Los Angeles – like going through the motions of simply what had to be done, no time to evaluate if it all made sense. I flew home, found a web design job locally and talked to my Italian boy over the phone nearly every day. It went on like this for years. During this time, I pretty much buried the creative side of myself. It was time to grow up and be practical. Just do the 8-5 thing, because that’s what everyone did. That’s life. It was slowly eating away at me. Things seemed fine from the outside, but I wasn’t happy. Perhaps it was because I was across the ocean from my love. Perhaps it was because I hated my job at times. Perhaps because I was just not satisfied with my life. I had moved up the ranks in my career and had a great situation going on after the years went by. I admit that it was a stable situation that anyone would be happy about. It just wasn’t for me. I didn’t get the satisfaction that I needed to keep working in the corporate world. I would constantly be asking myself, is this it? This is what my life will be day after day for the next 50 some years!? I was certainly thankful for all that I had (I actually had a serious shopping habit – retail therapy!), but truly I was depressed…missing my love and dreaming of what could be…if only.
Despite all odds against us, after five years of flying back and forth to visit each other – we decided it was time for a change. We can’t live in two separate continents and have a life together. Those years apart were some of the hardest years of my life. I was so happy to see him, every time he visited – he even quit his job multiple times so he could stay for months with me. But every time he had to leave…gosh it was hard. It’s like getting a treat and then having it taken away…again and again. It all finally came to a breaking point and I made the biggest decision of my life. I was finally ready. With encouragement to do what made me happy instead of drudging through the motions of what was expected…I quit my job and moved to Italy. We got married and now live happily here in the Tuscan countryside. I know…sounds like a fairy tale, huh? I am so thankful for how things worked out even if it does sound so cheesy! I can’t go into all the details…but basically, I had finally let myself go free. I finally trusted in myself and in us to go out into the world and take my chances with Fate and Destiny. We can never grow, if we don’t leave our little protected bubbles. I definitely had many fears…but the joy of it all helped me to overcome all doubts and fears. BTW, it’s been more than 2 years and I’ve never once regretted my decision to leave my LA life behind. I miss old friends and good times, but the decision to leave was the best decision ever.
I started doing freelance design for a small partial income to pay some ongoing bills. But since I was lucky enough to not have to worry about room and board anymore…I was given the time to cultivate my real passions and interests in Art. It still took me a long time to gather up the courage to show people any of my work. I set up blogs and starting sharing things, slowly, timidly. It was all part of the process…the build up to where I am now. I’ve learned a lot through experience and I’m at the point now where I feel like bursting! I’ve gotta get it out there…because otherwise I’ll just be suffocated.
Why do I want to start my own creative business? It’s my passion. I know, that sounds generic to say. Duh. But really…this type of work simply makes me happy. The desire and emotion compels me to draw, design, share my work and happily see people smile at it. It’s enjoyable and I like fun and I like happy. So it’s really not that difficult of a decision. Never mind the practicalities. I started as a web designer and moved into management, then found myself moving back into the creative field of graphic design – doing the actual design work and then into illustration. Blogging about my creative journey has taken me farther than I’ve ever thought. And after starting up a few shops online and getting a taste of what is possible, I so want more. I know that people like my work, I like my own work and yeah… it’s all good.
Although I have never been formally trained as an illustrator and took only one graphic design class in school, I’m doing just fine. I can certainly draw and design, teaching myself things and continuing to learn and grow. I’ve already seen great change in myself in these past years of blogging and sharing. So I know it can only get better and better moving forward. I suppose this kind of confidence comes with time and experience. It took me a long time and a fair amount of tears to get to this point. It’s not about comparison and feeling better than so and so. It’s about being at peace with yourself and your work, knowing that there is also room for growth and change. I know that we all have bad days, when everything just seems to be going wrong and you think – oh dear, maybe this isn’t my thing – or perhaps I’ve lost my mojo?! But I’m at the point where I can take the ups and downs and go with the flow. Sometimes you just need a day off and I like being able to take those days off. Perhaps you might want to listen to the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity… I love that talk.
On the note of taking a day off, I also gravitate towards the lifestyle this type of work creates. Contrary to what it might seem like, it’s not all fun and games. Starting your own business means you are going to work more than you ever did for anyone else. It’s your own little baby, so of course you are going to throw everything you’ve got at it. However, the nature of the work allows you to structure your own day. I love this aspect. I work more efficiently during certain times of the day and it’s not 8-5. I like to take my puppy out for walks and make lunch for my husband, so he can come home and dine with me every day. When we are ready to have children, I want the flexibility in my schedule to pick them up from school and be around more often than not. I’m not saying any one lifestyle is better than another. I only know what I want. It’s home life and career life at the same time… all the while living in beautiful Italy, drinking wine and eating a lot of pasta. Yes, it is definitely a beautiful life! It’s about thriving as an artist…not starving. I learned and gained much confidence through listening to Creative Thursday podcasts by Marisa Haedike. It’s motivational and informative. It’s helped me to shape what I want in life.
I think in the old days, especially as a fine artist…you had to be really talented AND lucky. You had to be discovered by someone important and/or have rich patrons. Connections connections connections. With the Internet, I think the playing field has been leveled in a lot of ways. We all have so much accessibility and power to promote ourselves. We can reach out to people all over the world with just a few clicks of the mouse. Not only can you connect and ultimately do business with anyone in the world…it’s one on one as if you were in the same place at the same time. Technology is changing fast and I think it will only help us to do what we want, when we want, how we want – it’s freedom and control. I love this lifestyle and to make it all possible, I need to be able to sustain myself. Hence the business part of things, to make a profit, to make a living. I don’t think it crazy to want to do what you love and be able to make a living out of it. What a thought! I’ve always been the type to say “why not?”, versus “oh, I can’t…” – I suppose that type of optimism and sort of naive eagerness is just my nature. I think it’s a good thing though – anything IS possible!
I’ve also realized that my personality also caters to this type of work. I like to have lots of alone time in the studio, living out my fantasies in creating things. I have no issues in working many hours and working hard…I think I already do that in my freelance lifestyle. Specifically regarding art licensing, which is what I want to get into… I think it’s a perfect match for me. I have the experience working with clients and editing things as necessary – having that flexibility to create the best product possible. But at the same time, I have the freedom to create my own type of collections, whatever interests me. The subject matter that is natural to me – cute little girls and motifs – is perfect for mass marketing as well. Although you need to be special to succeed, you also need to appeal to the masses to license art on products. Why am I special though? I suppose this might be the hardest question for most to answer. No one wants to pipe on about it – hence why marketing yourself can be so uncomfortable. But honestly, I am unique and everything I create comes from my specific blend of experiences. I come from a very specific journey and struggle, but things have worked out for me and I think that is totally inspiring. If you are reading this, I think my story has obviously captured your attention! I come from a traditional Chinese family, but now live in a traditional Italian family. I’ve traveled all over Europe from Moscow to Greece to Serbia and experienced so many things – beautiful and ugly. It all gives me a very specific perspective to draw from and I want to share my experience, the beauty, the positive feelings, the energy and the love with others. I know how hard it can be to see the beauty in life, when things are rough. I hope to do what I can to bring a smile to people’s faces…so they can enjoy life. I would much rather be a pollyanna than a debbie downer. We must live our lives to the fullest and be happy. If you want inspiration and motivation, sign up for the Brave Girls Club Daily Truths emails…you get a daily email with beautiful words of wisdom to keep you going. I feel motivated, I am healthy and I am totally committed to moving forward. I am proud, brave and myself – I am Linda.
Whew…that was a lot to write and I’m sure to read as well! If you’ve made it this far in the post, you must really love me 🙂 Seriously though, it’s taken me a long while to get to this point. Although I don’t have all the answers and I haven’t figured it all out by any means – I’ve found some sense of balance and ready to go forward to the next stage of my life. Now I’m finally ready and willing to dive in. Are you?