Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Week18: Interview with Jenny Alexander

Please welcome Jenny Alexander to the blog today.  She is an indie artist, from Lancaster, PA, and is here to talk to us about the wonders of being a mommy, business woman, and creative superstar!!

How did you get started as an artist?  Did you always want to own your own business?

I always wanted to be an artist of some kind and but never even imagined that it might happen one day.  I've dabbled in photography from about age 9 or 10.  My dad was a professional photographer and I grew up shooting photos with him and with a darkroom in our basement that we used all the time.  It was where I really felt the need to create for the first time. I dreamed of being a professional art photographer for many years.

I really found my "place" in live performing venues.  It's strange because I was always very shy as a child but was able to be more bold onstage.  

In college, I met and teamed up with the man who, years later, would be my husband and we began a 10 year career as professional magicians.  We traveled all over the country performing for corporations and at private events and we finally put down roots in Las Vegas.  We headlined there together at Caesars Palace for about seven years and in other venues around the city until we were expecting our first child in 2004.

Once our son was born, I continued on in the show but it eventually became more difficult as he got a little older.  I joke that I retired but really I left the show to be able to stay home more with him.  I gave up the bright lights, celebrity encounters, huge crowds for the quiet joys of motherhood.  It's a choice that I never regretted, although I may make a return to the stage someday!  

It was during this time that I began dreaming of having a career that would allow me to be home, yet still express myself creatively and be successful.

And it was around the time that our second child was born (a little girl this time), that I began creating the technique that I use now.  I use vintage ephemera - old advertisements, antique wallpaper patterns, old sheet music, love letters, greeting cards and art papers.  I collage these together in what I call kaleidoscope collages.  I take a section of the original image and repeat it so that it mocks the look of a kaleidoscope.  The backgrounds are layered with additional vintage images.  It's an intricate look and process and one that I hope is unique and recognizable as my style. I hope that viewers can see a piece and know that it's mine just because of the feel and look.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration EVERYWHERE.  I keep a notebook in my car, keep notes on my phone, remember ideas in my head and try to write them down before I forget them!  I'm completely inspired by old things like antiques, vintage items, old photographs, old letters.  I feel like these things have held onto a piece of the energy from the person who owned them and I love to dream about what life must have been like for that person, at that time.  

I'm also very inspired by music.  When I hear a song that really moves me, I challenge myself to create a piece that mimics that feeling.  I try to create images that tell a story.. through the feel of the piece, the title, the colors and textures, the type of description that I give each one.  It's important to me to give the viewer something to emotionally grab a hold of when seeing the piece.  And I like to give my buyers a story to tell along with the piece to adorn their walls.

How do you balance being a mother, artist, and business woman?  What is your typical daily schedule?

Oh my.  Well, some days I don't balance it very well! With three small kids in the house, (they are all under 6!) things are sometimes a little unpredictable.  An added challenging element is that my husband is still a performing magician and he's often gone on cruise ships for a week or two at a time.  So, everything is on my shoulders during those times and, honestly, it's not easy.  I like to think that I handle things gracefully and everyone says that I do.  I hope they're not just being nice!

Mornings are pretty crazy getting my oldest two kids ready for school and on the bus.  I always make sure I have time for coffee and a quick email check.  I can usually address one or two quick emails first thing in the morning while the kids have breakfast.

My little one is almost 21 months old and, once the kids are on the bus, we have breakfast together and I can get some work done during Sesame Street.  Thank goodness for Elmo.  Really, really, really.

He plays in the studio while I work and that sometimes goes well, depending on his mood that day.  I'm sure all moms understand that some days kids just need more attention, are grumpy or just plain difficult.  My baby is generally so happy-go-lucky and I'm a lucky Mama that I can do everything that I do with him hanging out alongside me.

His naptime lasts about 3 hours and that's when I hit the work HARD. No stopping by twitter to check on everybody, no peeking at facebook for a quick chat.  If you follow me on any of those places, you'll notice that I disappear from all my normal social media hangouts in the afternoon!

During this time, I'm doing the actual work.  Getting orders "in process," packing up new orders for my daily trip to the post office, working out new ideas and techniques, answering business emails, working on my wholesale contacts and getting into the thickest part of my work day. It's hard to do all that I need to in those few hours and some days, I am literally running.  I save the "leftovers" of work for later on, after the kids are in bed.

Once the kids are home from the bus, it's all family time.  Dinner, homework, playing, reading, baths, snuggles, bedtime.  It's the best part of the day. Those quiet moments tucking them in and whispering in the dark, their faces lit only by their nightlights, reminds me why I work so hard.  It's so I can be home for every moment of their childhood, be their role model, be their best friend, be a great Mama and teach them to be good people making wise and loving choices in their lives.

And I'm proud that my kids see me doing what I love, balancing a pretty tough schedule and making it work.  They see me trying new things every day, sometimes failing but getting up and moving on.  I hope that they learn from me to be passionate and be flexible.  It's what has gotten me where I am right now.

What advice can you give to beginning Etsy sellers?

First off, be patient.  Chances are, this isn't going to happen overnight for you. It certainly didn't for me. Etsy is a huge community with so many sellers and buyers.  Make it as easy as you can to be seen.  Take great photos with some personality.  If I see a product, I'd love to know right away that it was yours, just from the feel of the photo.

Another great tip that I have I usually save for good friends but, we're all good friends here, right?  My biggest break so far was being in an Etsy Finds email.  It was last year and was themed around the movie Eat, Pray, Love.  I actually contacted Etsy about curating a find based on this myself but it was already in the works with an Etsy administrator as curator.  I was excited to be included in the Finds a few weeks later!  I got a ton of sales, contacts, hearts and wholesale contracts. So many eyes saw my shop that week and I'm still riding the wave that it started.

So, here's the nugget of advice... Study what's big in pop culture and tag your items using those things.  Movies, pop culture icons, upcoming holidays (even random ones).  Think like an Etsy admin.  What hip and unique thing could they possibly have their eyes on that might fit with something you make?  Don't stretch it too far and try to draw a ridiculous line between the two things but pick some keywords or phrases and put them in your tags or descriptions as it fits.  My item was black and white henna designs on stone coasters.  They were rustic and warm and I tagged them with "India" and "Eat, Pray, Love."  It was an easy match for Etsy with a nice, clean photo. It made a huge boost in my business and I hope it might do the same for you!

Can you give 5 things that have kept your business successful?

Innovation - All of my collage work is square and I am constantly looking for ways to use those square images... throw pillows, candle holders, magnets, coasters.  Everything I do is pretty much square so it's an easy mold to fill when looking for new ways to use my images. Having new items keeps me interested and hopefully keeps my shop new and fresh for those die hard customers.  Plus, I only make things that I personally love.  That way, even if the new idea doesn't fly, I can keep them for myself!

Flexibility - Whether it be with your daily schedule, fitting in your passion around a full time job or family, flexibility is the key to evolving.  When I feel stuck on an idea and just can't find my way through it, I relax and try to work around the issue, instead of forcing a solution that might not be perfect.  I try not to be too hard on myself and to roll with the punches.  I also do a number of art shows throughout the year and flexibility is a MUST for those!

Face time - Speaking of doing live shows, I think that's so important.  You've got to get out there to see what people are really drawn to.  I have been able to focus my style and product lines so much more easily by doing art/craft shows.  You get to meet your customer and see what they want, see what questions they ask and work on your presentation.  Having this presentation or "elevator pitch" helps you to succinctly express exactly what it is that you do.  This comes in handy in so many situations!  

Down time - Take a break!  As creative, small business owners, we are constantly thinking, creating, networking and DOING.  It's exhausting and I often don't realize it until it's too late and I'm overwhelmed.  So, try along with me to remember to just *stop* a few times during the day.  If I'm not physically working, I'm thinking, planning, conceiving new ideas.  But I've got to take a break, especially in my head!  Even if it's just sitting down with a cup of coffee and watching some Elmo with my baby and having a giggle.  It's just the small break that I need.

Confidence - One thing that I've learned by tackling all of this on my own, is that I can do anything.  If I can run a household, raise three kids, build a business and not go crazy, then I can do ANYTHING. And so can you!  We've all got a ton on our plates while growing businesses, following our dreams and loving those around us.  With good time management, loving support from our families and the energy that momentum brings, we are really unstoppable.  Go for it and share your gifts! 

Do you have any projects you want to promote?

I'm currently preparing for my three big East Coast Spring shows and that's keeping me really busy.  I'll be at Crafty Balboa's April Showers show in Philly, April 30th.  

I'm excited to be a new vendor at the highly coveted Art Star Craft Bazaar in Phildaelphia May 14-15th.  It's at the beautiful Penn's Landing and hosts tons of super cool, artsy and innovative vendors.  I'm over the moon to be showing there alongside several Team Handmade in PA sellers.

And I'll be returning to Silver Spring, MD for one of my favorite spring shows, Handmade Mart on May 22nd.  It's such a great show, with fabulous crowds of handmade lovin' folks that really appreciate my style and my work.  It'll be a great way to round out my spring line up.  

If you're on the East coast, please stop by and say hello!  I guarantee these shows will be fabulous!

And, my work is always available online at my Etsy shop.  I'm always working out new ideas, new product lines and one of a kind or short run goodies.  Drop me a line and say hello!  I love hearing from new Etsy sellers and buyers!

All artwork and pictures courtesy of the talented Jenny.  Thank you so much, Jenny, for taking the time to answer some questions.  You are a true inspiration to all of the busy moms, wondering if they can have it all.  What a beautiful life you have.  Wishing you lots of love and success!  THANK YOU!!


Suzanne said...

What a great interview. She truly has a unique artistic style. She was quite generous with her Etsy tips. We're all here to help each other out!

Jess said...

Suzanne, I love that this has become a safe place to share and help other creative folks.


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