I have a lot of role models (and hopefully you do too!) who I’m continually looking to for new ideas and inspiration. I’ve been following the success of Leah Duncan, an American textile artist and illustrator, for nearly a year now. Every time she comes out with a new line of work, my jaw drops into my lap. Today, Leah sat down with us to share some of her amazing journey. I hope it inspires you!
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
I’ve always been an artist at heart, but my professional career didn’t start until after college when I worked as a graphic designer for advertising firms and screen printing companies. While I learned a lot as a graphic designer and am grateful, I never felt creatively fulfilled with the type of work I did in those positions.
When my husband and I moved to Austin after our wedding, I was determined to make a living doing work I was truly passionate about. I started with putting my drawings on Etsy and my shop evolved to include textiles and stationery. That was in 2008 and, at this point, I think it’s safe to say, with a lot of hard work, I’ve made my dreams come true.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
Having your own business is almost always a challenge. I think one of my biggest weaknesses has been that I’m a people pleaser and will almost always do whatever it takes to make other people happy. The truth is as a small business owner and working artist you’re always pressed for time and you consistently have to look out for your own best interests.
This means being firm when needed and saying no when it doesn’t work for you. Looking back it seems so silly, but I think it’s something many women can relate to. It was a hard lesson learned with time wasted or people taking advantage of my kindness, but I got there in the end.
Triangles Tea Towel
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?
They happen every single day! Sometimes simply getting a wholesale order out on time or signing a print without my signature veering off and up to the right is the greatest thing I can achieve. The two biggest challenges I’d say have been taking a leap of faith financially to attend Surtex (an art licensing show) in 2011 and getting my latest collection ready to release last Fall. As a small business owner risks like this have to be taken and it feels amazing when it pays off.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
Absolutely! Doubts are a given but are also something that drive me to achieve more. I’d love to one day have my own brick and mortar shop/studio and also have a home goods line released with a well known retailer. I know I’ll get there one day, doubts and all.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Yes, and it’s a horrible feeling! I always find the best thing I can do is clear my mind and that usually involves yoga, a run, or a walk with my dog. If that still doesn’t work, sometimes it’s better to walk away for a little while and come back when my focus arrives. Or simply call it a day and have a nice dinner and a glass of wine!
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
It’s tough! It varies depending on the time of year and comes in cycles, but generally during the slower months I like to have two days set aside for creative projects. My typical day could be anything from sourcing textiles to creating a new collection to taking care of my books. It’s amazing how many hats you wear when you’re self-employed.
In a good week I’m able to take two full days off to focus on my friends, family, and general well-being.
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
Hands down, signing up for Etsy has been the single best way to connect my work with my demographic.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Follow your passion and don’t let anything stand in your way. Make it happen no matter what. Also, mistakes are lessons learned so never be afraid of making them.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
With my own shop and studio, hopefully creating two full lines a year, with a great team working for me so I can focus on starting a family and making memories.
You can find more of Leah’s work in her shop: LeahDuncan.com
And on Twitter: @leahduncanisme
Want to start or overhaul an Etsy shop?
Download this FREE 2-page checklist now - it's part of my Handmade Business Toolkit for Makers.
Don't make those common Etsy mistakes: make sure your Etsy shop is the best it can be!
(P.S. It’s also packed full of links to additional resources on all aspects of Etsy shop setup.)