I’m writing this from my phone in a small town in Mexico. We are here as a family of four celebrating my 30th birthday. I love very few things more than traveling. Whenever possible I like to use my passport and drink foreign beer. I think my love for travel comes from a love for
the unknown, excitement and the cocktail of fear/adrenaline that kicks in when I’m someplace new.

I’m fairly sure this is part of my love for being a business owner. There is fear, adrenaline, sales and losses. There are leaps to be made and avenues to explore. Ahead lies the story of how I went from full time middle school math teacher at a high poverty school to a full time mama and block print artist. I hope you enjoy the ramblings that follow.

After my oldest son was born I took eight months off from teaching and then returned part time. Motherhood had reawakened my creative mind (I started my undergraduate degree as an art major but ended up with a degree in cultural anthropology). I started brainstorming and sketching, researching and day dreaming my way through nap time. I met a artist friend who had established herself and her business predominately online. I learned about Etsy through her.

Around this same time my son was turning one. I set out to make an invite that was fun, original and could be duplicated. I rediscovered block printing through this project.

Soon I was carving simple silhouettes for art in our home. The original Things That Go series of Tractor, Truck and Car was created for my son’s wall, Tractor is now one of my most popular designs.

I added many designs throughout the next 2 years. I also worked hard on my Etsy shop, joined an Etsy team, made the Etsy front page a few times, started this blog, learned about photography, graphics and web design, added greeting cards and framed work, started printing on reclaimed wood and continued teaching 3 middle school classes.

My first run of apparel was screen printed by some great guys in Bellingham, WA in the fall of 2011. They did an amazing job (the screen printing process involves sending in my scanned image and they burn it to a screen and print the fabric by pulling ink through the screen). This method allows for large quantities of prints with limited customization. Seeing my designs on apparel piqued my curiosity. I started playing around with inks and researching how to block print directly onto fabric. I now print all of my goods in house, directly from a hand carved block. It is a very hands on process where I ink the block with a roller, lay it in the fabric and use my body weight to create a press. I love printing this way even though is it more labor intensive. It creates small variations in each piece and produces a wearable piece of art.

In February of 2012 I launched my own online shop; around that time I applied for a big art/craft show in Seattle in July. A few months later I received my rejection email. I was bummed but I soon decided it was a blessing in disguise. You see, I had never done a craft show before. I had zero in-real-life market experience. All of my business happened online. I took the advice that I often give my students when they’re tackling a tough math problem; start small, start simple. I knew that I needed experience and that I needed to start somewhere. My town’s farmers market accepted me as a vendor and I started selling my goods each Saturday.

With the business growing and my kids at ages where they need me I decided to quit my teaching job. I resigned this past June and began working hard on the business. Quitting my job gives me more time and energy to put into elSage and it allows me to work from home on a flexible schedule. My boys are 3 1/2 and 1, I am thrilled for the opportunity to be with them daily.

Every step in the process of elSage had been terrifying and rewarding. Even rejection and months of slow sales have taught
me valuable lessons. This latest leap, quitting my job, taking this business forward and selling at markets, has been scary and exciting. I think the best thing I can do in life is to work hard and be resilient (also be nice to people). I’m excited about the next year, I’m excited for the journey ahead.

This blog post is part of a story telling blog hop, check out Jane over at The Mindful Drawer and tomorrow visit Laura C George.

To see more of my visual story find me in instagram {search elsagedesigns}, Twitter, and Facebook

  • sallie

    Oh Phoebe, I love your story! You are such a great writer. You have so many talents ! ( Not only are you an amazing artist and mama!) Hope you are having fun in Mexico!

  • Stacie

    REally enjoyed reading your story…I love the Pacific NW…and lived in Bellingham for a few months a couple of years ago…all the things we learn by getting out there and doing it…so gratifying! Beautiful work…love this hop!!!

  • http://twitter.com/BrigitteLyons Brigitte

    I just love the way you lead into your story! And I’m doubly impressed you posted this from your phone and on the road. Thank you for participating!

  • NergySaver

    Just came across your blog. It was great to hear about your journey. How do you fit it in? I mean the whole super mom, meal, change a diaper, create art, change another diaper thing? I am forever losing the artistic battle and succumbing to the forever craziness of everyday tasks.
    Thanks for sharing. Would love to hear from any of you other creatives out there

    • Anonymous

      We remain fueled by coffee (me) and bribed by fruit snacks (kids). Husband helps a ton… I don’t think there’s an answer to the “how do you get it all done?” question. It will always be there, it’s a delicate un-balance. I do know that I do the action stuff (running errands, heat setting at the local shop, product photography outside, post office runs) with the boys in tow and the focus stuff (carving, printing, framing, packing orders) at night, during naptime or when I have someone to watch the boys.

      The only advice I have is, start small and start somewhere. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you start. Just start.
      Good luck!

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