We can’t wait for you to hear about Kelsey of Studio Twenty Six in today’s feature! If you are parents or excitedly expecting, Studio Twenty Six makes the most amazing baby blankets and accessories. We love Kelsey’s mindset behind her brand, wanting her pieces to be a useful (and beautiful!) part of each family’s lives. Her blankets not only look so cozy, but are great to use for almost any age. And as Kelsey says, wanting a blanket that wouldn’t be quickly outgrown by her son was one of the reasons she started her brand! Keep reading to learn more about her start and the fun products she creates!
: Tell us a little about yourself.
: I’m Kelsey. I’m a 27 year old Iowa Native. When I’m not “making” I’m a wife, mom, bookworm, animal lover, and full-time sales territory manager.
: We love your Etsy shop, Studio Twenty Six! How did your store start?: I have always had a love for creating and an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was a little girl I remember going to my grandmother’s house and she would let me help her hand stitch her Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt. Ever since then I found a love for sewing, but it wasn’t until college that I got my first sewing machine as a Christmas gift. I worked on a few small quilts over the next few years, and it wasn’t until I became pregnant with my son that I really started picking up a passion for sewing all kinds of fun baby things for his room. As I searched for the perfect blankets, sheets, etc. I found it was hard to find something that fit my style and didn’t scream “baby”. I wanted his room to be modern and unique with a style he could grow with and wouldn’t feel outgrown when he transitioned from baby to “big boy”. I had so much fun creating everything, and with encouragement from my mom I decided to turn my new found hobby into a business. I spent my maternity leave putting together my first wholesale order, and as my wholesale business started to increase, I decided to take the plunge and open my Etsy store 6 months later in February 2016.
We could not stop adoring the Dragonlings created by Emizart and are so happy we get to share them with you today! We love how Emily created each of her majestic creatures with such distinct personalities showing through their faces. They also all have their own names, from Julep, Shmello, and Paisley to Kringle if you’re looking for a Dragonling with Christmas spirit! We think these would make such a fun desk companion, and they love to hold dice — so an added bonus! If you’re a dragon lover or know someone who is, we found the perfect present for you right here. Keep reading to learn more about Emizart and her fantastical creations!
: Tell us a little about yourself.
: I’m 26. I like being outdoors, working out, reading, cooking, making art, and spending time with my dog and family. I read almost every day, and my work is definitely influenced by books.
It’s already Friday and that means another cool talent is coming your way: artist Jeff Claassen! We love his style and the story of how he quit his day job to become a full-time artist and business owner. Being entrepreneurial ourselves, we found Jeff’s interview to be packed with a lot of great insights for turning your passion into something you can make a living out of. Additionally, he touches upon a subject that could be really useful for all you artists out there…crowd funding! He currently has an Indiegogo campaign that you guys should totally check out and contribute to if possible. As Jeff points out, there are a lot of new ways that artists can promote their work and make sales. The opportunities are out there for the taking. And on that note, you do not want to miss the opportunity to support Jeff’s Indiegogo campaign… With buttons, prints and original paintings, you can get a great Christmas present, all while supporting an artist’s work! Read on to find out more about Jeff and see some of his pieces.
: Introduce yourself.
: My name is Jeff Claassen. I am kind of addicted to Thai iced tea and I have an acute sense for finding a donut shop no matter where I am. I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember and in 2004 I quit my day job and opened an art gallery.
: Describe your journey as an artist.
: I know that I was always drawing, but my first concrete memories of drawing are from about 4th or 5th grade. When I got really into skateboarding in 7th grade was probably when drawing became an obsession. I loved all the skateboard graphics and would copy all my favorite ones. I also have some pretty funny drawings of bands I liked at the time. In particular the skull portraits of Guns N’ Roses from the “Appetite For Destruction” album, which I had on tape. I first started painting when I was 17, but it took a few years for my painting time to equal my drawing time. After watching the documentary “Crumb” I got obsessed with sketchbooks and had one with me constantly. I’d pull it out at restaurants and draw while waiting for food to arrive. Luckily I had a job as a telephone sales person for a mail order skateboard company at the time and I would just draw or read between phone calls. I wasn’t selling artwork at this point, but it felt like I was literally getting paid to draw. As long as you answered the phone and focused on the call you could pretty much do whatever you wanted between calls. When I was about 22 I moved to Los Angeles with big dreams of making it as an artist. I got into some group shows, but nothing too exciting came of it. After four and a half years I moved back to my home town where I eventually opened my own art gallery. By that point I had four more years of painting under my belt and being in a small town I was no longer a small fish in an enormous sea. I also had a self education of what galleries in LA were doing, which I think helped a lot when I opened my own place.
: How did you make the decision to take the leap and become a full-time artist?
: I basically got to a “now or never” point in my life. Working a day job was not for me and working to make money for somebody else didn’t sit well with me either. My dad was always an entrepreneur so I figured I would start my own business someday too. I had a few ideas, but it never occurred to me that selling art would be a business because I had assumed that an artist needs to submit to galleries and that sort of thing. Walking around town one day I saw a “for rent” sign for an upstairs office space. The rent was only $300 a month. I was sort of in between jobs, but had some money saved and I just thought, “why not open a gallery to sell my own stuff in”. The rent was low enough that it didn’t feel like a huge risk if I didn’t sell anything. To me it was worth losing $300 just to find out. The space was also month to month, as opposed to a year long lease, so there was no commitment or obligation to pay rent for a year. I had already amassed a big body of work, but made a lot more and put on a big art show. I sent press releases to local papers and left stack of postcards at any business in town that would let me. My idea was that if I can sell enough to cover the rent I’ll just do it again the following month. This “do it again next month” went of for two years until I moved to a bigger space on the street level.
: You use crowd funding to support some of your projects. How has that helped with your creative process?
: Crowd funding is an amazing tool! One of the biggest obstacles, I think, for artists that are trying to live purely off sales from their art, is that there is no guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month. We just paint and paint and dedicate so many hours on something and then we hope it sells. Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have turned everything upside down, in a good way. They allow artists to pre-sell work in a way we haven’t been able to before. This helps with the creative process in a lot of ways, but for me the main one is that I’ve been able to make paintings without that “hope it sells” thought looming over me. Creatively, being in that state of mind just makes for better artwork too.
: We’d love to hear about your latest Indiegogo campaign. Do tell!
: Thanks for asking! This latest project started with the idea that I wanted to paint 100 owls. I don’t exactly know why, but I love painting owls and it sounded like a fun idea to paint a lot of them in a short period of time to see how they’d evolve and what new details I’d come up with to make them all unique. I didn’t think painting 100 owls for my own enjoyment was enough of a reason to try to get funding. So, after sitting on the idea for about a year something finally happened where I legitimately needed help, which is what these crowd funding site are really all about. They want to help you. My newest campaign is to help me get out of my garage (where I’ve been working for a few months) and into a dedicated full time art studio. The reason I’ve reached out on Indiegogo is because my previous studio was open to the public and located in a popular downtown shopping district. Working in my garage has eliminated the whole retail aspect that I loved about my previous studio. Not having that has obviously had an impact on the amount of sales I’ve had. I’ve actually found a new studio to work in, but it’s in an industrial warehouse and lacks the retail setting that I need. Because of that I still spend more time working in my garage and will probably have to give up the new space. With this campaign I’m hoping to pre-sell enough artwork that I can justify having a space that’s not really open to the public. I took the owl idea, but expanded it to other animals that I like painting, so contributors can choose between getting a painting of an owl, octopus, kitty, fat bird or a bunny. They can also choose what size painting they’d like and the prices range from $30 up to $1200. There are a lot of more details and an embarrassing video at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/owls-octopi-kitties-fat-birds-bunnies-oh-my/x/4885211
I am very uncomfortable in front of a camera, but am totally willing to embarrass myself for my art.
: How did you find your artistic style?
: This is an interesting question because I’ve met a lot of people that became interested in making art later in life. When I say later I just mean after they got out of high school. You know, every kid draws when they’re really young and most grow out of it when it’s no longer required in school or they simply find other interests. These people I’ve met that got into making art later in life basically missed out on 8-10 years of drawing opportunity and they struggle with finding their “style” when they should be focusing on just drawing all the time. When you’re a kid you’re not afraid to suck at things the way adults are. For me, since I didn’t stop drawing when everybody else did in 5th or 6th grade my style came very naturally and at that age I didn’t even realize people had “styles” and because of that I had trouble answering this question for a long time. I finally realized that my style started developing when I was a kid in 6th grade because I hated using pencils. There was something I just didn’t like about them so I used a ballpoint pen for all my schoolwork and for drawing. My style came about because I couldn’t erase since I was using a pen. At a very young age I was forcing myself to draw things that I knew I couldn’t mess up at. Not in a perfectionist sort of way, but if I was drawing a face, I would purposely draw one eye super big and exaggerated and the other eye would be really small. Trying to draw eyes totally symmetrical when you can’t erase is impossible, so I developed this style where it was very obvious that I wasn’t trying to make a perfect face. When I did mess up I had to cover up the mistake in some creative way where I might turn an ink smudge into an alien character or something. I still do that to this day and it’s because of these “happy accidents” that I’ve ended up painting some things I wouldn’t have thought up on my own. These days I’m using a paint brush and a bottle of ink, but I’ve totally spilled and splattered ink on paintings by accident and then I’ve had to turn the spills and splatters into something else. My work is very spontaneous like that. I allow the element of chance to play a roll by not sketching things first and just seeing what happens.
: You make a wide variety of things from buttons, shirts, prints and originals. What made you get involved in all these areas?
: This kind of goes back to the movie “Crumb” I mentioned earlier. At some point in the movie he’s in San Francisco people watching and drawing and he makes a comment about how so many people are just walking advertisements. They have the SF 49ers logo on their shirts and hats and he thinks it’s crazy. I never really thought about it that way before and realized if I’m going to wear a t-shirt I might as well wear one with my own graphics on it (or at least a company I really believe in). I taught myself screen printing and started making shirts and stickers, which are a great way to get your artwork out in the world. The other merchandise items happened after I opened my art gallery and I learned very fast that not everybody can or wants to buy an original painting. To survive as a full time artist I had to make things across all price points, but it’s not all about business. I really like the merchandise and I think it’s fun to have. I read that Keith Haring would carry buttons with him when he would do his subway chalk drawings so that whenever someone would come up and talk to him he could give them a button and I thought that was great because it’s like a little tiny art piece that you can wear. Learning how to screen print is a really good thing to know because of all the different applications you can use it for. I’ve used screen printing in my originals and prints and have also printed on shirts, pillows, ties, napkins, belts, tote bags. Basically, anything you can lay flat you can screen print on.
: Who inspires you?
: My wife, Coral, is always inspiring me. Sometimes she pushes me to work more when I’m in a sloth mode, but watching her work is very inspiring to me because no matter what she’s working on she goes above and beyond what she needs to. She does a lot of different stuff with different clients ranging from photography, to copy writing, to designing marketing materials for the web or print ads. Sometimes I think she’s crazy because she’ll be working on a project and when most people stop at the “good enough” point she just keeps going and going and the end result is always amazing and far exceeds what you’d expect.
Over the years, I’ve become less inspired by other artists’ actual work and more inspired by the amount of their output or work ethic. When I see somebody being really productive it inspires me to get off my ass and create more. Also, since I’ve gotten more into business and marketing books I’ve seen an overlap in those topics with self improvement. I thought Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” was super inspiring. I read it years ago, but still think about it all the time. It doesn’t really fall into the business or self improvement section of the book store. I think it’s in the Psychology section, but there is a lot to learn about business in it and some of the stories are very inspiring. Another book I think about a lot is “The Mutt” by Rodney Mullen, who some would consider to be the best skateboarder ever. I think that even you are not interested in skating his story of persistence and determination would inspire anybody. His level of dedication doesn’t just border on insanity it runs right past it at full throttle.
: What art supplies can you not live without?
: Black acrylic ink and a paint brush.
: Describe one of your “this is the best day ever” moments in regards to your work or life in general.
: I get that feeling every time I sell a painting. Even after ten years of selling art as my full time job I still get a total high when something sells. With life in general though, I have three kids, so any morning that I can sleep in past 9:30am is the best day ever.
: Any advice/tips?
: If you want to be a full time artist I think it’s really important to draw or paint all the time. At the very least an hour or two a day. If you don’t have kids take advantage of the free time because you have no idea how little time you get for yourself once you have people that depend on you for everything. Read books and blogs about business and marketing and dedicate some time to those things because being “discovered” probably isn’t going to happen. I’ve seen some very talented artists fail because they lack a business sense. Unplug every once and awhile. Put your phone on airplane mode and close your laptop when you’re working on your art. The least amount of distractions you have will allow you to really dive deep into it and your work will be a lot better for it. Also, be open to opportunity when it presents itself because you never know what it could lead to.
We are super excited about our feature this week, Blessings by FAD! They make the cutest bags that also give back! Creators, France and Ami, decided they would use a percentage of sales to support a different cause close to their heart each year. Although France now lives in the U.S., they are both originally from the Philippines, so their first cause was helping university students there with the burden of paying tuition. We personally love that their bags not only spread messages of faith and positivity, but act on the mission of physically helping others. Their business story is truly inspiring! Keep reading to learn more about Blessings by FAD and its founders.
: Tell us a little about who you are.
: We’re France and Ami, managers of a small business that hopes to spread faith, love, and overall positive vibes through our products. We say managers because we believe God owns the business and we’re just running it for Him. ☺ We’re both former preschool teachers, having taught for 5 and 7 years before starting Blessings early this year. We absolutely love kids and are both big believers of a good and sound preschool education as foundation for lifelong learning. We’ve been friends for 2 years (and counting!) after having met at a preschool we both worked for. We live in different parts of the world France in California and Ami in Manila, Philippines but we’re bound by the same faith and the same belief that quality and details are important things to consider when making and selling products. We do this for Him, and mediocrity isn’t something we’d like to offer. ☺
: How did Blessing by FAD get started?
: This will sound cliché, but it’s really an idea planted by God. We initially wanted to do party printables for kids- cupcake toppers, cards, invitations, etc to be sold on etsy. We were in the process of designing themes for that when we randomly started talking about canvas bags and how there seems to be a lack of bags with verses as designs. At that time, I had another canvas bag business with other people but I wasn’t at liberty to design Bible verses and the like. I eventually left that business and I guess it sort of just fell into place with Ami. We figured, why not make our own bags with verses to spread His word? So we ditched the printables and designed bags. We come from the same faith, we have the same goals, and we have similar taste and so we simply said: Let’s do this. ☺
: Describe your design and production process.
: France: We just started early this year and we’ve had 2 collections- Spring/Summer and then Fall/Holiday. Because we live in different parts of the world, a lot and I mean LOTS of viber, email messages, and Imessages are exchanged to come up with one product. Thank God for technology! ☺
I usually come up with a list of verses and statements and we both decide which ones will go on our products. Ami does the designing of the prints/art work and we go back and forth until we’ve both agreed on the design. She loves bright and colorful things while I like classic, muted colors but somehow we always find the middle ground and you’ll see both of us in every product. We both come up with the bag style and turn to locals in the Philippines for production. That way, we also get to help the local industry. Fabric choices are done by both of us, from the color to the thickness of the material, we don’t agree until we’re both satisfied. The whole process- from the verses to the print design to picking the fabric of the bag, and final product takes about 5 months. And as with all things, we always say a prayer before starting the design process.
: What inspires your bag’s messages?
: We seek inspiration from everyday things. We believe that beauty is everywhere- a bright blue sky, the sound of rain, peonies in bloom, hand lettered notes… the things we often take for granted are all really beautiful and worth being grateful for. With that in mind, we both look for verses and think of statements that spread beauty and positivity. We also turn to Pinterest, Instagram, and the Bible of course for more inspiration. Our goal is to reach all kinds of people- students, adults, those who come from the same faith, and those who may not believe in God. This is why some of our messages have chapter verses while others do not.
: With each bag purchased you give a percentage of sales to a student who is struggling financially in the Philippines. Why did you decide to make this a part of your business model?
: France: Our goal has always been to help others and give back through the business. It’s always good to share blessings and pay it forward right? When we started Blessings by FAD, we agreed on helping a different cause every year and for our first year, we decided to help financially challenged students. I graduated from the University of the Philippines and so it’s a cause close to my heart. We’ve had the wonderful opportunity to find an organization called Sinag Microfunds, a group of young adults who have pooled their resources together to start a group that would help out students who don’t have enough financial resources to enroll and graduate. Growing up, I’ve always been blessed to have things I need and want. Tuition for college wasn’t something I had to worry about. But not everyone in UP has that privilege. There are so many amazingly intelligent students in that University but most of them struggle with tuition. Being able to help out, even in a small way through our bags is really a blessing. Education, after all has the power to change one’s future.
Ami: We believe in kids, the younger generation, and education. We also believe in paying life’s blessings forward. When we started the business, we agreed that its purpose would be to spread faith and love through helping others. Paying life’s blessings forward is something we believe in. We’re grateful we get to do that through Sinag Microfunds and hopefully in the next years, we help more people- other schools, orphanages, organization for kids, etc.
: What challenges have you faced in running Blessings by FAD?
: Probably logistics would be the number one problem. Living across the Pacific from each other also means we are in different time zones- Manila, Philippines is 15 hours ahead to be exact. This is why the design process for 1 product takes a long time to finish. Decisions have to be made by both of us. Because of the distance, it takes a significant amount of time to finalize a verse, a print design, or a bag style. Logistics also affects marketing too. We thrive on social media- Instagram and Facebook and people from different countries are active on different times. There are also different cultures that we take into consideration when marketing. We know this may sound silly but to give you an example, in the Philippines, people say bags while in the US people say purses. So it comes down to something as simple as that.
: On the other hand, what was one of the most exciting moments of owning your business?
: Owning a business is a long learning process and that’s always exciting. It’s been wonderful to connect with other small business in Instagram, meet new friends and people all over the world. Just recently, a travel writer, Katja Presnal of Skimbaco Lifestyle Online Magazine included us in her list of Instagram accounts to follow. That was really exciting for us because it allowed us to meet other people and widen our market. It’s also always exciting when people who don’t really have the same faith as we do buy our bags without even realizing that the message on the product comes from the Bible. We have a bag that says: Do Not Conform to the Pattern of this World. People have been buying it without realizing it’s from Romans 12:2 and when they do we always feel like saying: Score for the Big Guy! ☺
: Both of you were raised in the Philippines. What differences have you experienced between the two cultures? Similarities?
: France: There are so many differences from family ties to how the society works but we’ll talk about the things that affect our business the most. The Philippines is a third world country and so things are not as efficient as they are compared to the US. From bank transactions to online payment systems, we who live in the US probably take for granted the ease with which we accomplish these errands. We can easily take a photo of a check here and it will be deposited in our bank accounts, almost everyone owns a credit card, and Paypal is widely used. In the Philippines however, one might have to go through heavy traffic to get to the bank for a customer to make a deposit. For some reason, lines are longer and the process is slower. It’s interesting too because we met another small business in Instagram awhile back and they are California based but their products are made in Thailand. One of the owners said the same thing about the bank transactions over there and how common it is also to pay for products by going to the bank and making a deposit.
Shipping and delivery is also different. Most of the small businesses in the Philippines have the “meet-up” option. Here in the US, the mail is reliable, and it’s very common to purchase things online. I’ve lived in California for years now and sometimes I tend to forget these things… and admittedly I get impatient when things in Manila don’t get done as fast as things from my end do. Takes a lot of prayer and grace to not get upset when this culture affects the business. ☺
On the flip side though while things may be more efficient in the US, back in Manila though people seem to have and make more time for fun. There always seems to be more holidays, more 3 day weekends and traveling within and outside the country is pretty common. That helps the business a lot in terms of marketing because people take our bags with them and send us photos to post! ☺
Ami: As for the similarities, both countries have so many people who are eager to help a good cause. That’s a wonderful thing when you stop to think about it. There’s so much chaos in the world nowadays but it’s comforting to know that in every part of the world, there are people who have good hearts and who are always willing to help. ☺
: A lot of your customers like to take their bags on their travels all over the world. If you could go anywhere in the world where would you stop first?
: France: France for me! I’ve always wanted an album that would say France in France. ☺ Followed closely by Italy, Greece, and Croatia. I’m a sucker for beauty and a stickler for details and I think these countries just overflow with beauty and details.
Ami: I’m pregnant and it’s hard to think of traveling at the moment but anywhere with my husband would be wonderful. ☺
: What are your future goals and dreams?
: France: So many! ☺ At the moment, I’m just trying to plan a wonderful wedding and build a life with my man after. In the next year or so I want to put up another business, a center for children to practice movement and explore creativity. As for Blessings by FAD, we dream of a boutique store. We envision it to be a lifestyle store, probably in the Philippines first and one that would carry products of small business who all support a cause. We’d like to launch more products too- pouches, travel kits, kids bags, and bags for men. That’s a wonderful way to spread faith, positivity and love!
Ami: I’m about to have my first baby this December so I’m thinking a kids line for Blessings by FAD! ☺ Lunch sacks, kids’ backpacks, and mommy bags. And we’re really praying for a store someday that will carry our products and others too that all help a good cause.
: What makes you happy?
: France: Simple things- a day with the people I love, good dessert, dogs, children laughing, exploring a new place, flowers. Basically just being able to experience God’s goodness and passing it on to other people in whatever small way I can.
Ami: Good food, time with my husband, family, a good sale ☺, and being able to share God’s word.
: Any advice?
: When starting a business with a partner/partners, look for one that will have the same beliefs as you. It’s not about how long you’ve been friends or whether you are friends at all but choose one that has a similar vision and similar goals in life… same wavelength as others would say. And in all things, pray. Whether you are thinking of your dreams, setting goals, having a good time, preparing for a meeting, starting a business, marketing, learning something new, or making a life changing decision… do not forget to pray. Throughout your life you’ll experience many seasons and each moment will be different. Some days you’ll find things are perfectly awesome and other days you’ll deal with really serious struggles. But whatever season you are in, there is one constant thing: It’s that God’s love is limitless and His faithfulness never fades. And 100% of the time, He’s really just all you need for success.