I am thrilled to have my friend Jenny on my blog today! Jenny is the beautiful talent behind the hand lettering & calligraphy shop, Three Letter Birds. This past week Three Letter birds celebrates 1 year in business on Etsy! I am amazed by what Jenny has accomplished in the past year and all that she has learned about starting her own business. When I started Hannah Eloge Creative, I knew I wanted a part of it to feature creative ladies who are doing great things, changing the world through their art and taking risks. Jenny is doing all these things. So I wanted to pick her brain! It’s so easy to let the self-doubt, the worry and the endless comparison to other artists stop us from doing what we were “born to do”. So, I hope this interview is an encouragement to anyone that has been worried that they are not good enough, or scared to pursue their passion fully, as Jenny says… “Don’t wait. Start by doing.”
Also, don’t miss our giveaway at the end of the interview!
How did you get into modern calligraphy?
Some friends had posted some pictures on Facebook of calligraphy they were doing and it totally jumped out at me as something I would LOVE to do. I bought a book and just sort of taught myself by doing the little lessons and practices. It seems weird, but it was like everything clicked into place for me when I discovered hand lettering was a legit thing I could do. I have always loved typography and handwritings. I’ve always loved lyrics, quotes, mantras, etc. I have always needed to be creative, be it art classes or decorating my house or designing everything for my wedding. And I’d never really found a good fit in life. I dabbled in so many jobs, but just never pursued any kind of art for some reason and was always left feeling unfulfilled.
What made you open your own Etsy shop?
I didn’t know much about Etsy prior to opening a shop. I think I just knew I had discovered something big about myself and I wanted to figure out a way to do it for a living. I had heard other people mention it here and there and when I checked it out, it seemed like a great, simple place to start a business.
What were the fears that kept you from following your dream?
I think it’s the fear most creatives have of putting yourself out there and being vulnerable and risking people not liking it or being unresponsive. I often worry that I’m kidding myself- that I’m actually no good at this and that people are just humoring me. And also the fear of not knowing what I was (am) doing and feeling insecure about being self-taught. Last year when I started my shop, I had just essentially taught myself calligraphy and then had to teach myself all of the ins and outs of Etsy. And then I quickly realized that I also had to teach myself the ins and out of business and marketing and customer service. It all felt VERY overwhelming.
How did you push past that fear to take the risk?
I think there’s a constant “pushing past fear and taking risks” when you’re a creative person. I think I’m doing that on a daily basis. But at the beginning, I just sort of essentially closed my eyes and jumped. I can be kind of impulsive like that. I was also so driven by the love of drawing and writing- that it felt vulnerable, but it also felt incredibly life-giving- and I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Who encouraged you?
The day I opened my shop, my very first order came in that morning from a dear, old friend, Rebecca. She sent a message in her order saying how proud she was of me and how brave she thought I was and she ordered a beautiful custom quote. And I will never forget that gesture. I’ll never forget how scary it felt that I might open my shop and that nothing would happen- nobody would buy anything or care at all. And dear, sweet Rebecca ordered that print and kept my mind and my hands busy working on her order all that long first day. So many other friends and family have been equally supportive, keeping me busy, pushing me to keep going, helping me tweak things here and there. My husband says often how he watched me come to life this past year and how thankful he is and how proud he is of me.
What other artists do you look up to?
Lindsay Sherbondy, of Lindsay Letters is just great. I love her sense of whimsy and her warmness that comes through both on social media and through her work. She has such great style and does a great “lookbook” every season with her new collections and I would just love to do something like that some day.
Looking back on this past year of having your Etsy shop, what has surprised you the most?
I can’t believe how many things I know how to do today that I didn’t know a year ago. I’ve taught myself calligraphy, the ins and outs of Etsy, Photoshop, Illustrator, basic scanning and printing at a print shop, watercolor, and now- this week- I’m learning basic web design. Not to mention, business, marketing, and branding. I’ve basically gone to the Google School of Graphic Design this year. I’ve been really surprised by how capable of it all I am. I didn’t know I had all of this in me.
What are your dreams for the next year?
I’m interested in trying out some new products- maybe some mugs, totes, notepads? A calendar or planner maybe? And I’m really hoping to start blogging a little bit now that I’m getting my website up and running. I’d love to have a little ThreeLetterBirds community to interact with and get feedback from. My husband has been a grad student for the past four years and is graduating in May. When he’s finished, I have my eyes on an online branding school I’d love to try out to grow my business.
What is your favorite piece you have created for your store?
Oh, that’s hard. I have two, actually. A few months ago, I created a trio of prints with the lyrics to Chelsea Morning by Joni Mitchell. I LOVE her and it’s my favorite song of hers. I did the background in watercolor, highlighting a bunch of words and phrases from behind with different strokes of color. I’ve not had much experience with watercolor and I’m just so happy with how it turned out. I’m still waiting to frame them for our bedroom. And the second is one I did very recently of a beautiful benediction from the World Council of Churches that mentions all of these women from the bible. I think I’m really getting at something with that one- because I’m seriously passionate about all-things-women. I’d love to do more pieces that encourage/empower women specifically.
What has been the hardest part about starting Three Letter Birds?
I mean, it’s been a lot of hard work, for sure- but hands down, the hardest part has been the self-doubt and comparing myself to other artists. It can sometimes feel really lonely and isolating and you can just drive yourself mad fretting about how your business is doing. But it always comes down to my love for what I do. I always come to the conclusion that I would rather do what I’m doing, even “unsuccessfully,” than anything else in the world.
How do you balance being a mom, a wife, and an entrepreneur?
This has been the SECOND hardest part about starting Three Letter Birds. It’s been very difficult. I have two daughters, who are almost 2 and almost 5 and both are home most of the day, every day. And as I mentioned before, my husband is a full time grad student, and works two other part-time jobs, so there’s not a whole lot of time left for Three Letter Birds. We’ve gotten creative with our time and have both learned to work a little bit with our girls around. It’s been really important for me, in our family, to step forward and start taking up more space. I think it’s easy for moms to shrink back and make life easier for everyone else, but a year ago, shortly before starting this business, that mindset was really starting to take a toll on me. I’m sure it looks different for everyone, but for me, balance has meant asserting myself and my needs and my dreams more.
What advice would you give to other creatives that are wanting to take a risk or start their own business?
My advice is: Don’t Wait. I have learned so much about everything having to do with my business by DOING. Even if everything isn’t totally perfect and if you don’t have everything figured out yet, just get started. It feels super scary, but a week in you know more than you did when you started. And then a month in, you’ve figured some more out and worked out some of the kinks. And then a year later you’re giving an interview sharing your advice with other creatives who want to start their own business!
Enter to win this Three Letter Birds print! Here’s how!
2. Copy and paste this blog post URL and share it on your Facebook or Twitter.
3. Leave a comment on this blog post (below!) telling us what your favorite piece of art is in the Three Letter Birds Etsy shop! Oh, and wish Jenny a happy 1 year Etsyversary!
You must do all three to enter. US/Canada only. Winner will be chosen Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 at 3 CT.