Traveling Calligrapher was founded with the goal to inspire travel, creativity, and help keep journaling and writing alive. I'm celebrating the 2 year anniversary of running Traveling Calligrapher full-time! These past two years has been a steady slow growth with lots of trial and error and an incredible journey overall. I still have a lot to learn and my capacity for growth is endless.
To celebrate, I thought I'd answer the questions I got from a poll I took on Instagram and take this opportunity to share my story, my experience, and what's next for Traveling Calligrapher.
"Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."
-- Winston S. Churchill
1. How do you know when a risk is too big?
I don't think I've come across any opportunities where I felt like the risk was too big or I think I just look at this question with a different mindset. Instead, I would question "Is the risk worth it?". If I didn't take any risks, I wouldn't fail, therefore, there would be little lessons learned. If I didn't take risks, I wouldn't know how far I can go. I think for me, as long as I can live with the worst case scenario and the pros make me excited, I'd take the jump. I've done this multiple times so far: (1) when I quit my full-time corporate job, (2) when I would say yes to projects that I thought I couldn’t complete/too hard, (3) when I decided to open a store front. For example, with the shop front, would I be okay if I spent all the upfront costs to open the store and then not make any money back, would I be okay with that? If yes, then I take it because there are so many other pros besides money.
2. Advice for those who want to turn their art into a profession/monetize it?
Keep going, especially when it gets hard. This is a pretty broad question because there are so many routes and paths for any artist who has made art their profession. If I want to give a broad answer, I would say to first work on mastering your craft and don't stop learning. The other thing that people don’t think about is that when you own your own art business, you are not only the artist who creates but also a business owner who manages all the aspects of running a business. With that said, don’t skip the latter part. I would suggest reading about what you need in order to start a business, what legal things you need to do before you start (business registration, tax ID, sellers permits, etc., ) and lastly, it takes time in both areas to develop and as long as you keep at what you're doing and look at your own progress as your motivation, that can set you up for success.
3. What's the hardest things about being a self-made artist and small business owner?
There have been different growing pains throughout the past years. The early phases was learning how to handle unhappy customers and/or pricing issues, I actually still go through this, but I’ve learned not to dwell on my feelings of messing up and feeling like I’m not fit to do the part. Instead, I’ve learned sit with that feeling only for a moment and then move forward. I do my best to provide kind customer service, professionalism and action. You are only human and you can only spend so much energy beating yourself up. Mistakes are good, they are lessons and allows us to grow. That’s if we don’t quit before we learn the lesson. Remember, don’t quit, push through if you can!
Another challenge through the years is as a small business owner, I don't have a manager to lean on to resolve issues or get guidance on what to do. My boyfriend and my closest friends are a huge help and they have been so helpful in supporting me but they can't always be there so I have to make my own judgement and decisions. I might want to seriously think about finding a mentor.
Balancing my time is pretty hard too. Sometimes I work around the clock and if no one is home to tell me to stop working, I'll work till I roll into bed and I'll wake up rolling to my computer. It's not like that everyday, but making and effort to set boundaries to create balance is what I’m currently striving for.
4. What/who was your biggest motivator to get started with the business?
When I first started English calligraphy in the beginning of 2014, my biggest motivator to practice and continue practicing calligraphy was for some form of therapy. I was going through some emotional pain at that time and was trying to find ways to heal and calligraphy was there for me. I find writing in general to be very healing and writing it out in a beautiful way was therapeutic and satisfying.
5. How did you figure out the financial side of running your own business in the beginning?
Through trial and error and not all at once. I'm still learning and haven’t figured it all out, tbh.
6. How is it to run a business based off your craft?
It’s not as glamorous as people think because it’s hard work and long hours. I’m not only producing art, but I’m also running a business (admin, customer services, provide estimates, website, IG, bookkeeping, taxes, planning, the list goes on...). I mean, grass sometimes seems greener on the other side, but I try to remind myself of how much there is to be grateful for. With all that said, I’m living a dream I’ve created for myself and I love it!
7. What encouraged you to pursue calligraphy/art full-time? Was the choice difficult?
I had been doing calligraphy for around 4 years as a hobby and gradually in the 4th and 5th year I started to post more stuff on Instagram and grew my portfolio on IG which then helped clients reach out to me. It was a steady slow growth while I had a full-time job.
Participating in craft shows selling my maps was a huge encouragement because I was able to get feedback from my customers. The 2 years leading up to when I quit my job, I was constantly dreaming/planning about how I can make my side gig a full-time gig. While I had my full-time job, I was teaching classes almost every weekend, making maps and attending craft shows as much as I can to put myself out there. I was doing that for about 2 years and was constantly going back and forth on the idea of whether I am able to quit my job and pursue calligraphy full-time. It was a mental battle. I would make a pros and cons list, talk it out with my partner, talk it out with my family. It was a full process before I actually made the decision to pull the trigger. After I quit my job, it felt good and then immediately I was like "okay, shit, what do I do now with all this free time?" and then immediately after, "okay, let's get to work".
So long story short: I did calligraphy on the side for 2-3 years and grew it until I had to make a choice. The classes, the craft shows (my maps), and the client work that I was doing on the side gave me a taste of what my business would look like in terms of income streams. I made a gamble with myself saying to myself, "If not now, when?" I thought, if I could put 100% of my time into this, where could it go? I didn't have any major responsibilities at the time except for rent, student loans, and food and took that into consideration. I then listened to what my heart/gut wanted.
8. How did you get opportunities to work events at places like Burberry?
It was at my first craft show in November 2015. I had a 5x10 booth with little inventory: 3 maps, handmade cards, and home baked cookies to sell. During that weekend, someone came by the booth and took my card. She later on told me that her friend, who is the regional events manager for Burberry in Norcal, asked her the next day if she knew any calligraphers because he is in need of one for events at Burberry. She said, "you know what, I do, I just met her this weekend at the craft show". The next week, Burberry called me to book my first event and from there, I've created a great relationship with them. I was able to put Burberry on my portfolio and through that experience, it gave other retailers such as Timberland, Tiffany and Co, Goop, Dom Perignon, Maker's Mark, and Zola the confidence to hire me for events.
Long story short, if you put yourself out there, opportunities will reach out to you. You never know who is watching, who's interested, who needs your services.
1. Is having your own storefront/business harder or easier than you thought?
I would say there is definitely a learning curve in the business aspect. I have been learning about the hiring process, scheduling, payroll, and running a shop on a day-to-day basis. There's more expenses now and that's a whole other level than what I was handling before and I had to sacrifice a lot of things to open this shop that I did not think about. Overall, I knew it was going to be more work, but I didn't expect it to be this much work however, I did anticipate A LOT of learning which makes all of what I said okay because I just take each thing as a learning experience.
1. What has calligraphy taught you?
Patience, how to enjoy the progress, and that I’m capable of doing anything.
2. What is your favorite city and favorite city map (or are they different?)
I usually make maps of cities that I've been to and when I make a map, I have memories and experiences attached to the place so during the process, I feel as though I'm reliving the experiences, feelings, and memories associated with the specific place.
3. What did you think your life would look like at this age?
Good question! I can tell you one thing. Calligraphy and owning an art shop was not something that ever crossed my mind. However, when I was younger, I wanted to be on Broadway or performing/dancing. When I was traveling the world in my early 20's, I saw myself living and working abroad, and maybe opening up a coffee shop one day.
4. How do you stay motivated?
I definitely have motivation mood swings. I also stay motivated in certain areas and unmotivated in others. I will have days where I'm like, "Heck yeah! I'm feeling pretty good about my progress.", and then some days I'm like, "Can I just go back to a 9-5 job, work in one area that I'm good at, and get a steady paycheck with benefits?"