Valerie, the artist behind Lily and Val, floored me with her beautiful chalk drawings and after seeing her stunning photography, I knew I had to interview her here on Create & Thrive. She’s been so successful that she brought her husband on board as her business and wholesale manager. Get ready for one amazing interview!
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to create. Although I never pursued any formal drawing or art training, creativity was a big part of my childhood and always encouraged. I attribute that to my very artistic mother. My father is a small business owner and I get my business side from him. I graduated from college with a degree in marketing and pursued a career in advertising, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2012 when I discovered my true passion – drawing and illustrating in chalk. By that summer, with the prompting and encouragement of my husband and family, I opened my Etsy store. After the holiday season of that same year, I was able to make Lily & Val my full time job. Six months later, my husband, Mak, also began working at Lily & Val full time as the business and wholesale manager. He handles the business side of things so I can spend my days creating new designs. We make a great team. I feel grateful everyday that I get to do what I love for a living.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
There are many challenges to overcome in business. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Growth is a wonderful thing, yet at the same time it is a challenge to grow in the right way – in a smart way. When I first started Lily & Val I was offering original, hand painted chalkboards. This quickly became unsustainable since my business was growing so quickly. Figuring out how to streamline and change processes, inventory, shipping etc. was a necessary step in that growth process.
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?
I was completely thrilled to be featured in Good Housekeeping Magazine. It was my first national, printed press piece and I will never forget how it felt to see my work in print. The most recent successful moment was being the Etsy Featured Shop in July. It was such an honor.
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?
I think this is part of the “Creative’s Curse”. There are certainly moments of doubt and equal moments of feeling like there’s just no time to accomplish what you want to achieve. Every creative needs to balance being true to themselves while constantly innovating and thinking ahead. This is tricky and something I experience regularly.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Moments of burnout certainly occur and during those times I feel completely zapped. In the midst of the long to-do lists and stress, the best possible thing to do is take a break and completely step away even if just for an hour. I will read a fashion magazine or go for a quick walk. It is hard to do this, but every time I give myself that break I come back renewed and ready to create again.
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
Balance is a conscious effort for me. I find that if I don’t have a routine or schedule in place I will tend to lose all sense of balance. For that reason, I like to create small rituals in my day that allow me to break away from work and make time for what matters most. My husband and I like to juice in the morning. This tradition is important to me and it starts my day on the right track. It allows us to connect before work and is a healthy habit. I also have scheduled days when I work out with my brother who is a personal trainer. Having these days scheduled is extremely helpful otherwise it’s easy to say, “I’ll skip working out today.”
In the same way, I strive to schedule my business tasks. I once read that you should complete something productive in the morning before checking email. This is a wonderful strategy! Once in my studio, I like to begin each workday by completing a creative task such as sketching out an idea or starting a new piece of artwork. After I feel a sense of accomplishment (even something tiny) I will check my email and respond accordingly. Email can be a draining task and I find I work best when I have email check times. Limiting distractions as much as possible is the best way to keep my days productive.
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
Developing a strong voice on social media has been integral in my marketing. It’s great to connect with other makers as well as customers. Social media allows me to give a glimpse into my creative process – the heart and soul of Lily & Val. I personally love purchasing from the people and companies that I strongly connect with and social media offers the perfect way to build this.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Don’t dwell on what everyone else is doing. This is such a trap and will drain your creative energy faster than anything. Spend time developing and reflecting on what makes YOU unique and what impression you desire to leave with your customers. Lara Casey offers fabulous business tools for finding your core passions and creating your distinctive brand voice.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In 5 years I see myself continuing to grow the Lily & Val brand. I’m not sure what that will look like exactly as far as design and product, but I will remain true to the brand, which is rooted in simple pleasures, comfort, and whimsy. I plan to start a family in the future and am excited to embark on that incredible journey.
You can find Lily & Val online at:
Her website: lilyandval.com
On Etsy: etsy.com/shop/lilyandval
On Instagram: instagram.com/valeriemckeehan
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/lilyandval
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