Jenna Rayesky Floral Studio: “It is possible.”

Building a family trade holds fond memories for Jenna Rayesky, as she and her husband, Steven, grow their event planning and flower arranging business, Jenna Rayesky Floral Studio, in the historic suburbs of Philadelphia.

From an early age, Rayesky worked side-by-side with her mother at her store, Erdon, which began in Medford 25 years ago. “I feel like I learned so much from interacting with adults as a child and being given meaningful work,” said Rayesky.

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Jenna Rayesky putting the finishing touches on an arrangement. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

By the time she graduated high school, Rayesky officially joined the staff but was working in the high-end boutique as young as age 11 on the weekends with her mother. One day, her mother left her in charge while she ran across the street to make a bank deposit. She warned Rayesky not to change the window displays. “I was notorious for changing the window displays,” Rayesky explained. “A coat had come in from a designer in Paris. It was made beautifully, and it was the most expensive coat we’d gotten in at the time. It was $1,000 and it was in the window. A little old lady came in. She had her bag of donuts from the bakery next store.”

Rayesky helped her try the coat on, and she loved it and purchased the coat. Rayesky asked her what she was going to do the rest of the day, and the woman said, “I’m just going to go home and wear this coat and eat my donuts.”

When Rayesky’s mother returned, she saw the coat missing and thought Rayesky was joking when she explained she had sold it. “Everyone wanted to be the one that sold this new expensive coat,” Rayesky explained. “My mom really didn’t shy away from giving me meaningful work and letting me be a part of what typically isn’t a kid’s world. Grown women in their 40s were taking my opinion and letting me pick out things for them.”

Those fond memories encouraged Rayesky to include her own two children in the business she officially launched with Steven in spring of 2016. “My husband and I want them to see your work can be meaningful and you can enjoy it,” shared Rayesky. “I don’t feel like they have to do what we do, but I want to help them uncover what they enjoy so they can pursue that.”

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Steven Rayesky in a moment of glee. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

After joining the staff at the boutique, Rayesky started working with her own clients, providing personal shopping. Additionally, she utilized the retail space at the store for events that she planned. “It wasn’t totally random that I started doing events,” Rayesky said. “I just love hospitality in general. It’s kind of naturally evolved.”

The seeds for the business began in 2013 when Rayesky and Steven were asked to assist with a friend’s wedding. What started with floral arranging morphed into the other wedding details, and guests noticed. “My husband and I just loved doing the setup and loved working together,” Rayesky shared. “We didn’t think it would go further than that. We just did it for fun.”

Then the phone calls started, either from those who personally attended, or who had heard about the flowers from someone who attended. “‘We were at the wedding and I heard you were the florist. I got your number from the mother of the bride,’” Rayesky said, sharing some of the connections that led to more clients. “I felt like I was underground. People would call and ask, is ‘This the right number?’ Even my voicemail said nothing about the floral studio. We were like, we should probably make this official. Just this year, we launched our website.”

Now with an official website of February, inquiries have been pouring in and the studio is nearly completely booked for the year. “This has been the most insane month of our life,” said Rayesky.

They’ve been working on the business side, streamlining the process as more and more people hear about the studio. Rayesky also appreciates that the business allows her the space to include time for her children. She had stopped working as a stylist in 2013 to stay home with her daughter, and while she and Steven worked on the wedding, their daughter, just a few months old, was with them the entire time. “She was right there along with us in a bouncy seat while we were doing flowers and setting up a table,” shared Rayesky, who now also has a nearly two-year-old son. “I was home with her. We had free time on our hands when our friend asked us if we would help with their wedding. Initially, they asked if we could do the flowers for the wedding and it just morphed into all of the details. Not just the centerpiece but all the other details. I spent so many years dressing people’s wardrobes, picking out their entire wardrobe, that it’s hard for me to not see life through that lens.”

Rayesky found that her work in her mother’s boutique, creating window displays, helped her develop an eye for the details. “It’s hard for me to not see things through a cohesive lens,” she explained. “That’s how it morphed into more than the flowers. I didn’t set out thinking I’ll start working and do this job. It really fit naturally. I was home with our daughter and someone would find me, call me, and I’d be like, ‘Sure I’ll meet you for coffee and talk about your wedding.” We’d take time planning the details and my daughter would be in bed. Then the wedding weekend would come and we’d be super busy. My daughter would hang out with my mom or mother-in-law. My husband would handle the logistics of it. It would be like a date night/date weekend for us. We love working side by side. I love being creative and serving people in that way. All throughout it, my prayer was, I don’t want it to take away from my family. I only wanted to do it if it would add value to my family.”

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Jenna and Steven’s daughter helping before a wedding. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

Even the studio itself is close to home since the couple converted their garage into their working space, and wedding weekends have become dates for Rayesky and Steven. They’ve found that their strengths complement each other, and have been able to build a strong business model. With 75% of floral design requiring busy work, Rayesky handles ordering, designing, and creating the color storyboard board for weddings and events. Steven takes care of the logistics of obtaining and processing the flowers, which requires hours of cutting, hydrating and feeding until Rayesky creates the arrangements.

As their business grows, the duo outsources more, hiring assistants to help with the hours of processing and allowing Rayesky and Steven to handle other tasks. Rayesky has found that being creatively minded does not lend itself naturally to the business side, and they took some time figuring out how to make their business viable. “The first dozen weddings we did, the joke was, how big of a wedding gift do we give this couple?” Rayesky explained. “I would put hundreds of dollars more into the wedding because I wanted it to look beautiful. I didn’t want to think about numbers and margins. I still don’t. That’s been the biggest challenge. I have gotten a lot of wisdom from others on that.”

Rayesky realized that when a talent comes naturally, whether floral design, photography or another creative field, there is an intimidation when it comes to setting prices. “I had to overcome that hurdle,” Rayesky explained. “There was a wedding we did two years ago. When all was said and done, we made $3 an hour while working 80 hours. It’s insanity–working on four hours of sleep. We realized that if we’re going to make this a business, the hardest thing is, you don’t want to resent the love of doing something. You want to do something you love, but if the business model doesn’t work for you, then all of a sudden the thing you love becomes something you hate. We had to create a business structure. That part I don’t like. Starting out, I didn’t realize how long I had to sit in front of a computer. No one wanting to get into floral design thinks, ‘I just love crunching numbers.’”

Rayesky discovered that the time and money to make the business run smoothly was worth it. “It’s been hard but it’s so necessary,” she admitted. “We evaluate every few months to see what we can do better–we learn and change what’s draining us.”

She also holds onto the advice she was given when she started the business: outsource as much as possible, and protect your dreams. “This is hard, easier said than done,” said Rayesky. “It was hard for us. It’s so hard. I totally get the shoestring budget for starting your own business.”

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Jenna Rayesky with her handiwork. Photo credit: Hannah Marie Bruccolleri.

When starting a business in a creative industry, and there are no funds to hire people to write the copy or take care of the finances, it seems impossible to outsource. Rayesky turned to networking, bartering and gleaning from those who had already gone through the process.

She also realized she needed to be careful about sharing her dream. “Don’t just share it with everybody,” she encouraged. “There are not as many people who are creative. There are a lot of people who will say you can’t do something you love, that you’ll be a starving artist. I’ve learned I need to guard these seeds of dreams and not just let anybody hear your dreams. There are going to be so many people who aren’t going to get it. They’re going to discourage it. Try to confide those dreams and hopes with people who have already done it. Be wise with who you share it with. It is possible. We tell our kids, you can be anything you want to be, but when it comes down to it, do we believe it? Find the people who can share those dreams and they won’t crush it.”

Jenna shares her designs on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about the studio by visiting the (recently launched) website.

This is the sixth in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people who make money creating. Contact me to share your story.

The Inkling Girl: “I Paint What I Think is Pretty”

A sibling rivalry with one of her brothers turned Morgan Allain’s childhood love of drawing into a more serious pastime. “I wanted to be better than him,” said Allain, who now sells prints and wearable art as “The Inkling Girl”. “Then he got into sports and stopped doing it, and I kept drawing.”

At age 14, she snagged her first paid commission from the mother of a child she babysat. “I can’t remember how much she paid me,” she shared, “but I was pretty excited about it all.”

Three years later, while working as a nanny, the parents asked Allain to paint a mural in the girl’s playhouse. “It was super cute – flowers and fairies and bugs,” explained Allain, who spent two years with the family. “They hired me to do other art-related jobs over the course of the time I worked for them.”

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Rock Candy

Even with a lack of an arts program at the high school she attended, Allain maintained her interest in art and continued to draw and take art classes now and then until she attended McNeese State University. She majored in Art with a concentration in printmaking, which she enjoyed. “I never took any painting classes in college because I was a snob about it,” she shared.

While in college, she dabbled in drawing, book making, printing and other art odds and ends, until she earned her degree and promptly stopped printing, finding it much too expensive. “I picked up a watercolor set a year after I graduated, and that’s what I’ve done since,” Allain said. “I had to learn it all myself the hard way.”

Now, living in DeQuincy, La., Allain teaches a few private classes, but her projects are the majority of her work. “I love faces,” said Allain. “I always have. I’ve always doodled faces more than anything else, especially eyes and lips. Honestly, it’s my comfort zone. It’s comfortable drawing and what I feel most natural doing.”

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Skull Candy Rex

Following her theme of beauty, Allain worked on her “Muse” series for two years, painting 48 faces she found alluring. She also paints animal skulls in a series called “Skull Candy”, and previously worked on a series of birds that featured her usual style of bright colors and paint splatters.

Her current project is a portrait series, called “Sugar Pop”. Each piece has a name that reflects the colors she selects. She started the series this year and has eleven paintings so far. “I just want to do as many super bright colors as I can smash in there with negative space for the background,” she shared. “A lot of artists have meaning in their stuff, or pretend they have a lot of meaning in their stuff, but I have no meaning. I paint what I think is pretty. That’s it.”

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CoffeeMilk

Allain paints beautiful things, but she also has a practical reason for why she creates. “For me, personally, art is important because I tend towards anxiety,” Allain shared. “When I’m creating, I’m a healthier person in general and happier. For my husband, he just loves to create and tell stories. I don’t tell any stories. I don’t care about that. I like putting the pictures I see in my head on paper.”

Her husband of eight years, Danny, is also an artist, with a degree in drawing and teaching. They attended the same college, and while the couple never had classes together, Allain often ran into him and would occasionally flirt with him in between classes. After her boyfriend broke up with her, Allain and Danny started spending more time together. They connected instantly. Allain thought he was cute, but also found him nice, talented, genuine and straightforward. “Within two weeks, I knew I’d marry him,” Allain shared. “He later told me he knew within the first month, and even told his mom he wanted to marry me. We just have so much in common; we really enjoy each other’s company.”

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Goblin King in Blue

These days, Danny is working on a series called “Bones”, which Allain sells through her Etsy as “X-Ray Watercolor”. He has also written and drawn several comics, including a zombie western called “Dead Reckoning”, “The JoyKill Club”, and his most recent project for their daughter, “The King’s Lost Ruby”. “Danny wanted a comic book that our daughter could enjoy, filled with adventure, so he decided to create one himself,” Allain explained. “It’s wonderful! Funny, cute, and beautifully drawn. The protagonist, a little girl called ‘Frog’, is very much inspired by our daughter, Ruby.”

Ruby, now four, was just a baby when Allain first started her business, “The Inkling Girl” in 2012. Allain had worked at Starbucks for six years while doing commissions and keeping paintings and cards in the display case at work. When she decided to stay home to take care of Ruby, she started painting again and then making prints of her work at the local Kinkos. She moved onto having a booth at the local farmer’s market, but noticed that people weren’t very interested in buying a piece of paper. Allain realized she wanted to make wearable art, but wasn’t sure how to take the step from prints to jewelry. At the time, Danny was participating in comic cons with his comic books, and Allain joined him. At a con, she met Jessica von Braun, a fellow artist selling pendants featuring her artwork. “That’s what I wanted to do,” Allain said. “I picked her brain and she generously told me how she did them and where to get the stuff. Eventually I figured out to make them and put my art in them. It took me awhile. Then I went crazy and made earrings and rings and magnets.”

She’s been creating jewelry ever since as she continues to paint, making necklaces, earrings, magnets, key chains and more that she sells online and at craft fairs. She advises other artists to look for successful crafters and contact them. “Reach out to as many as you can,” Allain encouraged. “Some might be so busy or so overwhelmed and they can’t help you, but some like Jessica von Braun can help you. I think I figured it out a lot faster because she was so helpful. I make an effort to be the same to other people. I don’t keep secrets on how I make stuff because I didn’t come up with it myself. There’s no reason not to share.”

Follow Morgan on Facebook, snag a piece of art from Etsy or Society6, see some fun stuff on Tumblr, and catch her on Instagram or Twitter as @theinklinggirl.

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.