This week we’re featuring Amber and Brady of Serious Creatures. They’re a team that works together to make whimsical illustrated cards, art prints and notes. Brady brings his illustrating skills to the table, while Amber brings her entrepreneurial savvy. We love how their business got started. They were simply looking for something new and creative to do together, and a lot of times that’s how the best companies are created. When two passionate people come together to support one endeavor the result is usually pretty great. Read on to discover more about their awesome illustrations and lives!
: Serious Creatures is a husband and wife team. Tell us a little about yourselves?
: Amber- Brady and I married in 2000 and have ended up having an odd sort of life filled with unusual jobs and odd choices and experiences. Choosing those things and doing them together has both created and defined our life together. It’s been rough; it’s been great. It’s weird, but it’s a brand of weird that fits us just right.
We currently live in Lebanon where we work with abused and neglected kids by day and create and write and run a business by night. We split our time between Home of Hope, Serious Creatures, and lots of side projects, hobbies, and people. It’s weird, but it works. (Except when it doesn’t.)
Being new to Lebanon and to this kind of work can be really exhausting. It takes time to adjust and figure everything out. Even still, we love it. It’s a great way to spend a life, I think.
: How did Serious Creatures get started?
: Brady- We started the business during a difficult time when we needed more creativity in our lives and desired a shared hobby that would bring us together. I was working in Oman (near Saudi Arabia) teaching English to university students, and between the culture strain and the monotony of the desert landscape, our days were on the joyless side.
Things were particularly difficult for Amber. Even after overcoming the depression she suffered in the first few years, there weren’t many opportunities for her there. After people started asking how to buy various drawings I’d been working on, she suggested putting her business degree to work by starting an illustration business together.
I thought she was crazy, but I figured starting a business was cheaper than therapy or relocating. And Serious Creatures was born.
: How did you find your artistic style/aesthetic for your work?
: B-I think people end up leaning toward a style they think is attractive. I have always liked a more representational (realish) style as opposed to straight cartoony or abstract feels. I think it looks engaging and you can express thoughts and stories in a different way that makes people pay attention differently. I also always tended towards drawing animals mostly because drawing people is really difficult for me. It also makes the drawing differently accessible because I get to side-step gender and ethnic choices.
: You run your own online shop and take wholesale accounts. How did it feel when you made your first sale through these outlets?
: A- Like most artistic endeavors, our first sales were to people we knew. That was nice, but it’s hard to parse between what’s sympathy/encouragement and what’s genuine love of your creation, you know?
When we made our first sales to people we didn’t know, it certainly gave us a boost. But I think it was when people we didn’t know began gushing their love of B’s work that we actually got excited. Comments take effort and feel personal in a way that sales don’t. Personal comments motivate and encourage us the most, for sure.
: What is your process behind creating a print, card or art note? (Ex. pen and paper, painting, digital drawing etc.)
: B- Most of my stuff is drawn by pencil, then inked, scanned, cleaned up and colored in Photoshop. However I just recently got a Cintiq drawing tablet and am now drawing directly from that. It has sped up my process significantly. Speed is a huge deal for me because I work over 40 hours at the children’s home which doesn’t leave tons of drawing time.
: Do either of you have a favorite Serious Creature’s piece?
: A- I have a couple of favorites. I’ve loved Bill
from the moment I saw him. His eyes had me at hello, before he was ever colored or anything. I also love the Luchador
. I didn’t really get him at first, and kind of didn’t
like him. But he grew on me. And now I just adore him. He reminds me that Brady’s point of view is fantastic, even when I don’t understand it. He’s also become my poster child for that feeling of being misunderstood and wanting to be something that’s just not going to work out. For this and several other reasons, he lifts my spirits when I’m a down. He’s special.
I’m also partial to both owls: Mornin’
and the Halloween guy. I’m pretty sure they’re both me in disguise.
B- I think my favorite is either “Today
” (the elephant on a trampoline) or “Business
” (Gorilla in a suit). I love both of them because I drew them at such specific times in my life. Things were not super fun and they reflected a lot of feelings I was having. I also really like the way both of them turned out. “Business” was the the last picture I did in the pen and ink / “print making” style. I was really proud of the linework and the texture on his fur in the end. And “Today” was done in graphite which was a new style for me and from that picture I really fell in love with what is possible with graphite. It set me on a new path, and I hope to continually improve in using that medium.
: Many people come to a roadblock when it comes to turning a passion into a business. How did you deal with the legalities and formalities of starting a business?
: A- Turning passions into businesses is a tricky thing to navigate. Most often creative sorts and ideas people lack the interest in business-specifics and detail necessary to push toward profit. And we all need profit. We need to feed our families and fund the things we believe in. And we can’t do that making poor business decisions and not finishing things or following through.
As for us, Brady would never, ever do anything businessy with his craft on his own. But I’ve had the entrepreneurial bend my entire life and have a degree in business administration, so this has been really fun for me.
Even still, I’m that ideas person who can’t follow through. So I pay people to be finishers and to make sure I do my job. Seriously.
I generally think people should have at least a little interest in the intricacies of business before going the entrepreneurial route. Having these qualities in your business partner is also an option. Either way, it helps to embrace the business lessons and struggles as an education jeweled with relevant work experience. It is, and that’s a huge accomplishment you’ll carry with you forever.
But for a lot of people, the business part is disproportionally draining. Things that don’t naturally interest you or come easy to you will take you three times as long to accomplish (compared to people for whom they come naturally) AND will drain you three times as bad. Be prepared for that. And, above all, pay someone else to do the things you’re not very good at or that drain you every single time you can. You’ll make more money in the long run and enjoy your work more.
: You live in the Middle East. What are some of the cultural differences you’ve experienced? What is your favorite part about living there and what are some of the challenges?
: A- I think the biggest difference I’ve experienced is the difference between eastern and western cultural underpinnings. When we think of cultural differences, we often think of the way people dress, what they eat and how they eat it, or what words or hand gestures might be offensive. And indeed, these things are different between cultures. But these aren’t the cultural differences, they are the symptoms or effects of the cultural differences. The differences themselves are in values and history and stories and priorities and beliefs. And the combination of those things works it way out as the behaviors we see.
The west shares a whole host of historical elements (e.g. the renaissance, the enlightenment, the industrial revolution) that the east simply hasn’t lived through. People here see the world in an entirely different way. And that difference of sight is the defining cultural difference. It comes out in everything, and it’s endlessly fascinating.
My favorite thing about living in the Middle East (and I’m largely referring to Oman since we’ve only been in Lebanon a few months) is experiencing from the inside an entirely different way of seeing the world.
I don’t have room here to explore this fully, so I’ll share an example instead. One time we were invited to a wedding of a friend’s brother. While being the most extravagant wedding we’d experienced in our large village, there were very few people in attendance. When the host saw that the seats were empty, they sent people into the streets and invited the lower-class workers. We’d found ourselves smack in the middle of the banquet story in Luke 14. Reading the parable later, it instantly came alive in a whole new way. I understood things I’ve never heard anyone say before that were incredibly obvious in the living of it, but not so obvious to my American mind. The Bible and other histories have come alive from the inside. That’s my favorite thing.
As for challenges, where does one begin? Perhaps the biggest challenge is the assumptions we bring with us. The world just isn’t what we think it is, and when the assumptions of our upbringing get challenged, the inner claws come out and threaten to scrape a mind raw. Things we learned were absolute are absolutely not absolute. It makes your brain nearly explode sometimes. Brain explosion. That’s a challenge.
: You both volunteer in Lebanon helping abused and abandoned children. Describe some of the rewarding experiences you’ve had while volunteering.
: B- Seeing some of the kids take steps in positive directions has been intensely rewarding. There’s one kid who would always try to fight me and slam doors in my face, and now wants to sit and study English with me all day. Another kid used to steal things from me all the time and then one day told me that he was going to stop stealing from me because he realized it was wrong and wanted to change. One of our girls who was super beat down by school and embarrassed because she was a poor student has really started to blossom in our experimental school program and is now loving learning. Seeing them hope differently for themselves is amazing.
: When you ever have downtime what do you like to do?
: A- We like to explore and learn and create and eat. If we can do multiples of those things at the same time, all the better. Which also means we love travelling.
: Any advice?
: A- Lately I’ve been thinking about how, for the entrepreneur, it’s difficult to see even a couple steps ahead and impossible to have an idea of where things will end up.
It’s like embarking on a curious journey without a map. You decide it’s something you want to do, and you set out. You even have an idea of where you want to go. But to make your way, you have to respond to what comes each day, learning along the way, primarily from necessity and from other people. You find that some of the suggested roads are closed, and chance introductions provide new opportunities.
Once you’ve been on the road a while, you realize it’s not exactly the journey you expected. And you still don’t know where you’ll end up or how long the journey will last. But somewhere along the way you either gain your footing and have the means and desire to keep going, or you decide this kind of adventure isn’t the one for you. Both are great discoveries, and you can’t find out unless you set out in the first place.
I wish I’d learned to embrace this sooner. I spent a lot of energy being wound up about future unknowns with no possible answers. Now, most of the time, I embrace each day as a step in a chosen direction. A day to learn new things and find new opportunities and meet new people. Where does it all go? There’s no way to know. But the way to get there is one foot in front of the other, so I do that. I put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t make anything more certain, but I avoid the mental roller coaster and sleep better at night.