Ginger Kuczowicz: “The simplicity of it is beautiful.”

Ginger Kuczowicz has a mission: crafting all-natural home and skin care products and providing ecological cleaning services to encourage healthier, greener living in Philadelphia.

Kuczowicz owns two different businesses, the first of which is Holistic Home LLC, an ecological cleaning service she started in 2010, and the second is a physical store called Soap Box she opened in 2013. Soap Box sells hand-made, all-natural skin care products and household cleaners. She now has ten employees, and Holistic Home LLC was named The Best of Philly 2014, and​ one of the best by Yelp and Angie’s List, while Soap Box won The Best of Philly 2015.

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Kuczowicz opened Soap Box as an extension of her cleaning business to provide simple, all-natural items. All of the products are handmade in the back of the store. “If you use soap and touch your skin with it 25 times a day, it should be healthy for you,”  Kuczowicz said. “Lotions, skin care, anything you put on your skin. We sell supplies we clean with at the store. We often have clients who say, ‘What can I do to make my home smell like the store?’”

Using vinegar, baking soda and essential oils as some of the foundations for her products, Kuczowicz explained that what she crafts is simple to make, and easily replicated at home. “The simplicity of it is beautiful, in my opinion,” Kuczowicz said “There’s nothing harmful about it.”

Kuczowicz developed a passion for cleaning during her upbringing in Upper Silesia, Poland, the most industrial part of Europe for the 20th century, with coal mining coating houses regularly in soot. “We had to clean from almost the moment we were born,” Kuczowicz said. “Every Saturday, everybody would just clean their houses. The windows had to be cleaned once a month or we couldn’t see through them.”

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She came to the United States in 2000 to be with her partner, who had made the trip the year before to work on his doctorate degree. Having gone to accounting school after high school at age 15, she was already an experienced accountant for the Foundation of Cardiac Surgery Development. When  she arrived in the United States, she continued to work in nonprofit accounting. She found a job with Your Part-Time Controller, a company that specializes in nonprofit accounting. “Every day was a different nonprofit,” Kuczowicz shared. “You become friends with them, because they care about certain causes that are close to your heart, like pets or the elderly. That was a great job too.”

She started cleaning on the side, and when considering the products she wanted to use for her cleaning work, Kuczowicz examined the number of cancer cases in the western world after World War II, and saw a correlation between health and the staggering increase in amount of chemicals that were being used. “The number of cancers has grown drastically,” Kuczowicz explained. “Obviously the chemicals in the cleaners did not help the situation. They were not even necessary. We just have a tendency to overdo cleaning. Simple vinegar can do the job just fine. It’s actually good to be exposed to bacteria, on some level.”

Three years after she started her cleaning business, Kuczowicz quit her accounting job. “It had grown to such a size that I could no longer do both,” Kuczowicz said. “It was just not fair to my employer at the time, or my own business. I couldn’t keep up with the demand on both sides. I had to make a decision. Either close the cleaning business or quit accounting world, which I enjoyed immensely.”

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Her accounting experience has proven invaluable with her businesses, and she encourages anyone considering starting their own business to keep good books. “Books are the most important thing to see how healthy or unhealthy your business is,” Kuczowicz said. “You can have someone do them for you, but understand what they mean. That’s something people have a tendency to run away from because it’s not easy or pleasant to learn, but it’s so crucial I can’t stress it enough.”

She also encouraged potential business owners to have a plan on paper, be aware of the time needed to grow a business, and set time aside every day for self care. “Get ready to be finished with their social life because there’s no such a thing as weekends,” Kuczowicz shared. “There is work around the clock. At a certain point, after a few years, you build a client base and are able to get help.”

Until that point, however, Kuczowicz stressed the long hours. The job is draining,” she said. “It is stressful either way. That will never leave you. I want to add at the same time the importance of taking a break. It is difficult to take a break because the amount of work is staggering, but I think a person should make a point to have thirty minutes or an hour to close the laptop, close your iPhone and do something for yourself.”

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She’s found other challenges as well. “Even though you are driven by your mission to do good things, that mission gets pushed aside by daily necessities of filling out paperwork, on compliance, or taxes, bookkeeping, hiring people,” she shared. “Normal business stuff that you don’t think about going into business. You think that you’re just going to be focusing on the mission – why did you even open the business. There can be only 20 percent of that left when you have all of those other obligations on your back. My desk is never clear. That is a challenge. I would love to have a secretary, but I’m not big enough to have somebody just yet.”

As many challenges as she faces, Kuczowicz has found her work to be rewarding as well. “When people tell me that someone no longer suffers from asthma attacks after we’ve done the cleaning or when we come to clean on a regular basis,” she said about the encouraging things she encounters with her work. “When we clean with natural cleaners, there’s nothing that triggers asthma. I love when people ask specifically for green cleaning, because they have small children, animals. A lot of them have the tendency to spend a lot of time on the floor. Dogs lick the floor. It’s fine licking vinegar but not so much Pine Sol. That’s very rewarding when people notice the difference. Not to mention they don’t have to spend the time cleaning. They’re buying time also from us.”

Visit Holistic Home LLC’s website, or Facebook. Follow Soap Box on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or visit the online store.

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.

Elizabeth Kinahan Paintings: “A Way We Can Share an Experience”

After a stranger noticed her first cattle painting through her apartment window and bought it immediately, Elizabeth Kinahan, a representational oil painter, has built a livelihood around painting livestock.

Originally from Westfield in north central Jersey, Kinahan’s love of art began when she was five years old. “I’ve been interested in painting and drawing since I was very young,” Kinahan said. “My earliest memory is my grandmother giving me an Alice in Wonderland coloring book. Instead of coloring in the book, I had a blank piece of paper, and I was trying to copy the picture. I did this drawing of the Cheshire Cat maybe 10 times before I came up with one I was so happy with. I think I was five. I still have this thing and I think it says 1986 on it. That’s the earliest memory I have of being interested in drawing. That just never stopped. I always knew art could be the class I could take if I wanted to do something relaxing I knew I could be good at and it wouldn’t be stressful for me. I was a straight C student in gym but art I was good at.”

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As a teenager, Kinahan completed portrait commissions. “They were trying to help me and give me a little money and improve my skills,” Kinahan explained of those who asked her to create. “They were all people who believed in me and wanted to help me out. It made all the difference that there were people who believed I could be an artist and I had a skill that was worth exploring and pursuing. I never really started as much as I just kept going with it. I’ve always loved it. It’s been a source of relaxation and joy and peace and pleasure. It’s an outlet. We all need some sort of outlet and if it’s creative, great. I never thought I could be an artist for a living. I didn’t think it was possible when I was young. As I moved along this path, I realized it’s not only possible but necessary. Historically and culturally, art is important, and if that’s what I get to contribute to this world, I’m good with that. I’m happy with that.”

Even with early talent, interest and encouragement, it took Kinahan a little while to find her path. She completed two years of college as a nutrition major, but couldn’t connect to the college or her choice of study. Kinahan left school for a few years and moved back to New Jersey, where she started working for an airline. “My father said, ‘You just need to get a degree in something. I don’t care. What do you think you can get a degree in?’”

Kinahan chose art, and found a small, all-girls Catholic school, the College of Saint Elizabeth. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 2004. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, getting into that school,” Kinahan shared. “There were seven art majors in my class. It was a very small group. Almost all the classes were taught by Sister Anne. She would teach us how to paint flowers and the chapel. There was not a whole lot of variety. She did teach screen and block printing and ceramics. She was an amazing woman and I learned a lot of techniques from her. When I graduated, I kept going.”

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Kinahan decided to move west after witnessing the destruction caused by 9/11. She had her sights on Arizona, but her boyfriend at the time suggested Durango, Colo. “The whole drive out across the country, we were friendly bickering about where we were going to move,” Kinahan said.

They decided to pass through Colorado on their way to Arizona 13 years ago, arriving in Durango the day of the Main Avenue Art Festival, a yearly tradition in the small town. “I get teary thinking about this,” Kinahan shared. “It was magical. It was perfect. It was a beautiful day and the sky was bluer than I’ve ever seen. We parked on Third Avenue and walked down. I remember sitting on the curb and I had a beer in one hand and a tamale in the other hand, and a stranger was sitting next to me. They said some generic kind comment. And I immediately knew I was home. I don’t ever want to leave this place. I have felt that way about Durango ever since. … I love it. I have found such kindness and support and wonderful like-minded people. That’s how I ended up here and I’ve never really looked back.”

The relationship didn’t last, but Kinahan has continued to thrive in Durango. She switched to oil painting from acrylic after realizing her acrylics were drying too quickly in the dry climate. She met a successful photographer when she started working for the Art House downtown, who taught her the value of visual art and how to approach other people about that value. “My responsibility as an artist is to think as creatively and outside the box as possible,” she shared. “That skill of visual art is valuable to other people. That is where I struggled the longest–in seeing there is value in painting pictures. He was powerful in teaching me a lot about that. He would say, ‘Let’s walk around town and go into the shops and see what art they have up. If they don’t have art up, we can say, wouldn’t it be nice if you had art on your walls? We’re artists. We can put some art up. And if it sells, we can give you 10-15% of that piece.’ I said, ‘That’s crazy. We can’t do it.’ He said, ‘Nope, let’s go.’ We got our art up all over the place. I ended up falling in love with him and living with him for six years. He opened my eyes to the vast possibilities of life and I’m very grateful to him for that. If you have a dream or vision or goal, you have to just ask for it. Ask people for help, and for their time and their ideas. And people actually want to help other people.”

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Kinahan began to understand the value behind her art and how it connected people. “I view artists as documenters of the current climate,” Kinahan explained. “Wherever they are, throughout time and geography, they are documenting the way it is there–animals, what people wore, documentation of a culture, people and a time that I don’t know if you’ll get from writing. Writing can be fudged later on down the line. Historians can change facts. But no one can take a painting from the 16th century and change the garments that were depicted and tell us, ‘No, they didn’t wear collars like that. This is what they wore.’ It’s a different way of charting the time. We as humans, part of defines us and separates us from the other living creatures on this planet, is art making. I think that’s pretty neat. I don’t know why we’re drawn to do it, but some of us, or most of us, are artists. That doesn’t mean we paint pictures or sculpt marble. But we make meals and want to arrange it beautifully on a plate. Or buy pretty pillows. It’s all art. It’s aesthetics and beauty and we want to add joy to a world that would be mundane and boring without it. Many more of us are artists than people want to admit. Almost all of us are doing something creative like that in our lives. That’s important just to acknowledge.”

She added, “It must be important because we’ve never stopped doing it. We’ve always done it. It’s like joining around the table with people you like for a shared meal. It’s important. Why? I’m not sure I can state all the reasons why. It connects people. It’s a way we can share an experience. With an image, you can share an experience with someone you’ve never met. That’s powerful. And exciting to think about. Art is a language of emotion. A visual way to depict feeling through imagery. That all creates this shared bond when you have an impact on someone through an image you’ve created, there’s a connection that has been made. I think this whole human experience is about making connections with other living things. If art helps us do that with other people, there’s got to be healing in that. We’ve always needed that and we will always need that.”

After switching her medium and realizing the value of her art, Kinahan started painting livestock. She had appreciated animals for as long as she could remember, and she loved being able to see cattle and sheep in pastures and get close enough to take pictures. She was living on Main Street above a coffee shop when she decided to paint three cows. “The painting could be seen from across the street,” shared Kinahan. “There was someone in the restaurant looking at me working on the painting. She actually came up the stairs and knocked on my door, and said, ‘This is really weird, but I can see you’re painting cows.’”

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The woman, visiting from Grand Junction, bought the painting. “I really enjoyed the process of painting those three cows,” Kinahan confessed. “As soon as that sold, I decided to do another one. That one sold and it made me realize there might be a market for this. That wasn’t why I started doing this, but it was really encouraging.”

She found more and more people connecting emotionally with her work. “That’s something I’m finding incredibly fulfilling and exciting,” she shared. “I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything that was so personal and something that my entire heart is truly in, and to find another person who shares that passion and that connection is kind of a benefit of the creative process that I never expected. I’m so touched – it just gives me chills every time a person looks at a painting and looks into the great, big eyes of a dairy cow with these big lashes and I’ve seen people truly moved. It’s so interesting to me and I love it. I just feel like this is an area that I have to pursue. I still paint other things. I love to paint. This is definitely where I’m going and what I’m going to be pursuing.”

As her paintings garnered more attention, she started getting invitations to visit herds or to meet an individual animal. When she first started looking for subjects, Kinahan had to learn how to adjust how she encountered the animals. “It was an interesting change in how I learned to actually physically approach an animal in a pasture so they wouldn’t run away,” she shared. “Sometimes they do, but I’m getting better at it. It was this process I didn’t expect, but as I started painting them more and more and displaying them in places, people would seek me out and say, ‘Oh you’re the one who paints the cows. The cattle lady. My neighbor has this exotic breed of cattle and maybe you want to come out and I’m sure she’d be happy to have you.’ I was super excited about those types of opportunities as they came up, and I would travel anywhere to talk to the person who owns the animals and hear the stories and learn what it’s like to raise cattle, how to approach them.”

Kinahan enjoyed hearing the personal stories shared as well. “I’m always surprised but grateful that the owners–the farmers and ranchers–have an understanding of their individual animals,” Kinahan said. “They’re aware of the different types of personalities that each animal possesses, and they’re just as excited to share that as I am to learn about it.”

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One of her most memorable visits was being introduced to a herd of ancient white park cattle, which was a surprise. She had scoped out the ranch for years, driving by and seeing the various animals that lived on the property. She drove by once a week, hoping the animals were close enough to the road for her to snap some photos. Then she started wondering if the owners noticed her visits. She sent them a letter, with a picture of a painting of one of their animals, explaining what she was doing. “Sometimes to a fault, I’m trying to be polite to other people,” Kinahan shared. “I included at the end, if this feels like an infringement, no worries, that’s just me and I’m not harming anyone and I’m just taking photos and that’s it.”

She got a call from the owner of the ranch immediately. “She said she’d love for me to come out,” Kinahan said. “She told me about the different sheep she has – this flock for wool, this for meat, and this is how the mommas behave.”

Then Kinahan got to meet the cattle. “I didn’t even know that was coming,” she said. “I thought it was just sheep there. She told me so much about the breed, and how it’s an English breed and how it came to America and was lost for decades. It was so interesting.”

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These days, Kinahan continues to paint, chase down animals, go on tours of ranches and farms, and donate to rescue organizations. She is also the co-owner of Studio & on Main Street in Durango, which is coming up on its seventh anniversary. Her partner at the time was a founding member, and she couldn’t fathom living and working together. “I tried to stay out of it for as long as possible, and then I finally realized it would be a really good idea for me to join with this team of artists who were doing progressive things in town and filling a void of some type,” admitted Kinahan. “With the outlandish practices we get to procure on Main Street and the uncensored art we can show. It isn’t anything lewd or terrible. I’ve had difficulty showing a nude painting or anything close to be a nude painting in Durango and I was happy to be a part of a place that would welcome that and not shy away from showing something noncommercial or out of the ordinary. There were a number of reasons I was excited to join the studio. It was an opportunity to show my art on Main Street without having to give 50% of my sales to someone who wasn’t working at all for me. To take home 100% or close to 100% of my sales was amazing and was what enabled to keep me being an artist.”

The studio does take 35% of commission currently, which is the bare minimum Studio & can take and still pay bills. “We really want to give artists as much as possible,” explained Kinahan. “For the first two years, we didn’t take any commission. Then we realized we were spiraling downward financially. We were forking out all the money for the rent, and drinks and food and shows and advertising. We had to start thinking about it. We settled on 35% and it’s been a good balance.”

Kinahan also encourages artists to utilize the internet, which makes it possible to connect directly to clients and collectors. “Most of it is free,” she said. “The most powerful tool an artist has is their email list. We can shoot around the side of galleries now. I’m not trying to talk down galleries. They have their place. Artists don’t always want to deal with self promotion. But if you want to keep more of your revenue, then you have the power to do that now. In the ‘80s, it was really difficult to do that. Now, we can do it. It’s a powerful piece for people to wrap their heads around and when they do, it makes things a lot easier.”

Elizabeth posts her work on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about her by visiting her website. You can see her work at Studio &  in Durango, CO or at Gallery Flux in Ashland, VA.

This is the fifth 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.

Quiet Bear Art: “Trading an Object that Means Joy”

Ken Webb of Quiet Bear Art sort of stumbled into an art career.

Webb started working with steel in high school, working for his wrestling coach in a steel fabricating shop. He wasn’t creating art, but he enjoyed the process of working with steel. “I wasn’t good in school,” Webb explained. “Disinterested. I had no idea of artistic stuff at that time.”

After a few years of steel work, he became a professional iron worker. He would use the scraps leftover from jobs to make some creative pieces. “I’d make something for me, or a family member or a friend,” said Webb. “I was making pretty good money as a steelworker at the time. It was a hobby type deal.”

After ten years, Webb began to realize he couldn’t stay at his job for another 35 years. “It was a decent job, but wasn’t too fulfilling,” he admitted. “It all came together at some point over the period of a few years that I wasn’t content and happy doing the daily grind that I saw people doing of getting up and punching the clock. … I was slowly doing more art as a side hobby and that was the direction I wanted to go. It was pretty difficult leaving a pretty secure job for something I didn’t know how to make a living at.”

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The process of building a viable business took some years. “I did it slowly over time,” shared Webb. “I held onto my job and I did the hobby more and more. I started doing some art shows while I still had a job on the side until I felt secure enough. … It was kind of a scary deal, because for several years, I didn’t do just art. I did art, but I did a lot of more construction type work, such as staircases and gates to make a living. But it supported my art. Slowly over the years, I knocked that out and did more just art. It was kind of a long process.”

Originally born in Arizona and raised in New Mexico, Webb made Silverton, Colo. his home in 2001. Drawn to the small mountain town by an art show organized on the infamous Blair Street, Webb spent a week there before deciding to move to the area permanently. He’d been living in Tucson while traveling for art shows, and he enjoyed being able to play in the mountains. “I was just traveling and doing art shows in the summer,” Webb explained, citing towns such as Sante Fe and Taos for shows where he could display his work. “I just liked Silverton, so I ended up staying.”

The art scene in Silverton hooked Webb initially, but the area and its people also captured him. He’d grown up in the mountains — a different kind of mountains, he clarified — and he enjoyed the outdoors. Then there was the community. “You may not know all the people in Silverton because it’s a transient place, but you know a lot of people,” shared Webb. “You can stay still and get your art all over the world.”

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It took a few years before Webb realized what he had accidentally stumbled into. “I realized that people from everywhere, from all over Europe and anywhere I can think of, have traveled to my shop. That was a complete mistake by me. It wasn’t planned that way. A couple years into it, I realized, ‘Wow, you get people from everywhere here.’”

Silverton has a busy tourist season, with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad transporting up to 200,000 visitors yearly. With tourists and the proximity to Telluride, Durango, and Ouray, Webb stays busy with custom work and commissions. “It’s a good center location without living in LA to have enough clientele to make a living,” said Webb.

He’s found that his pieces connect with his clients. “I don’t have to push it like a used car salesman does,” shared Webb. “People either don’t like it at all, or they fall in love with it and they’re happy to exchange some money for my art. I like that. Most of the people that buy the art I’m selling are really happy. You can see in their eyes that they made a connection with it and there’s no sales involved. They want to purchase it. Those kind of people I connect on a different level with. You’re trading an object that means joy to the person who wants to buy it.”

Webb stays busy by finding inspiration from nature, his fellow artists, and just the challenge of trying something new. “I like to be challenged, but it has to be something new to me. I like to  be challenged creatively, or spiritually. Trying to make something out of steel or copper that I’ve never done before. I like that ongoing challenge. Inspiration comes from all sorts of places.”

He also finds his art to be an important part of spiritual growth. “A big part of that is it can be meditative to go out to my shop and just go with the flow when I’m in a space where I can be so productive in a matter of hours. Other times, I’m disconnected and can’t figure out what I want to do. I’m sure some people write and get that, or exercise and get that, or meditate on a trampoline. Art is my avenue for a spiritual connection.”

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Webb encourages other steelworkers to ask for help and get involved in the blacksmithing end of steel work. There are often state blacksmithing chapters or some sort of metal working group. “You spend a lifetime and still have a lifetime of learning to do,” said Webb. “Ask for help. Ask questions. You’ll run across people who are very very helpful and you’ll run across people who don’t want to help you at all, for whatever reason, maybe fear. But just be consistent. In the blacksmithing community, more times than not, they’re very willing to help if you just ask. Fear kept me from doing that for a long time. I kept trying to figure it out.”

And perhaps even more importantly, Webb suggests finding work that’s enjoyable. “If it’s not fun, it’s not something I want to do,” he said. “I do a lot of art shows, but not nearly as many as I did at one point, because I have my gallery that’s open six months of the year. I see more people trying to make a living out of art, and almost make it into commercial art instead of following their passion. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the avenue for me. I want to do what I enjoy. I’ve run into people who aren’t doing what they enjoy. They hate it, but they’ve turned it into their job and way of making money. It’s too much work for the amount of money you’ll make. Whatever it is, if it’s not fun, do something different, whether that’s a job at IBM or an art career.”

Webb finished a show recently in November, and he has a few smaller shows in December. His next big show is in Tucson, starting January 26, with 18 days reserved to display and sell art. Follow Webb on Facebook or visit his website to see upcoming shows and more art.

This is the fourth 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 or someone you know has a good story.

Henna Blessings: “You Never Know if You Don’t Try”

Molly Arms saw a friend painting henna sixteen years ago, and on a whim, asked if she could try.  “I had seen it a little bit, traveling in India when I was 18, but I hadn’t thought about painting until I saw my friend doing it,” explained Arms. “I asked her if I could try it. She let me try and I really just enjoyed myself.”

Already an artist who enjoyed painting and drawing, Arms hadn’t tried to show any of her artwork publicly. Henna allowed her to create in low-pressure situations, using a method that connected with others. Six years after first painting henna, she realized she could work festivals herself. Living in California at the time, she started working parties, festivals, weddings, and baby showers with another artist.

The draw to the art form was deeper than something fun for her to try. Arms wasn’t interested in permanent tattoos, and henna provided a way she could wear her art constantly. “In the beginning, it was because I wanted to do henna on myself,” Arms shared. “I didn’t think about a business.”

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Photo by Brooke Schultheis

She also loved the culture henna stems from. Along with her travels to India, Arms knew the cultural expectations that comes with the art. “The way it is in those cultures,” She explained, “when you have henna for your wedding, you don’t have to do any chores while the henna is there. It’s also a really special event to get henna. They really pamper the bride. It’s not like that all the time.”

These days, Arms lives in Durango, Colo., sustaining herself working from May to October with her business, Henna Blessings, which uses 100% organic henna from Rajhastan. “In a different climate, I’d be able to do henna year-round,” she explained. “It makes enough money to live on during that season, which is great.”

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Arms ended up in Durango after the birth of her son. She was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at age 24 when she got pregnant. Her mother had been living in Bayfield, a town next to Durango, for a year at that point. Her son’s father left when the baby was four months old, and eight months later, Arms decided she needed more help. From there, she moved several more times, including back to California when her son was eight and Mexico, before she returned back to Durango about eight years ago. “It’s very lovely there,” Arms said, who is currently in Rhode Island for a month. “It’s very community feeling. It’s small enough but big enough. The college really helps with the concert hall. It’s been good. I like it there.”

When she first moved to Colorado, she started looking for festivals, since there weren’t as many parties as she was used to. Festivals weren’t cheap, costing anywhere from $50 to $1,500 for a booth, and she started with fairs. She worked her way up to the point where she can now make anywhere from $500 to $2,500 in one weekend. She also found that people often look for a henna booth, making the marketing aspect of working a festival quite easy.

She also found henna a way to become a self-employed paid artist. “That’s what really attracted me after a while, being able to be self employed,” admitted Arms. “I’ve been self employed for awhile, but was always a nanny or a private cook. To be able to do something I love, and be an artist and make my own career is really wonderful. I think everyone should go for it when they have something they’re passionate about. You have to keep sending it out. Even if you keep getting rejected, you can’t take no for answer. You have to keep sending it to shows and galleries.”

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She didn’t find henna to be as personal as her painting. “It’s more like doodling,” Arms said. “But with painting, it’s so subjective. A friend of mine is finally starting to sell work. She’s amazing. It’s taken awhile and she’s been entering into different shows. She’s finally having a couple of people buying her work consistently. She’s been really pushing me to do more with painting. The thing is, you never know if you don’t try. A lot of people don’t try because they think it won’t happen. That fear of rejection or failure. Do we really want to be in our sixties and seventies and think, why didn’t I try? You never know what your life will be like.”

There’s also the healing aspect of art that Arms finds comforting. “When I do henna or some other kind of art,” shared Arms, “like knitting or painting or whatever, and I can be having the worst day, but when I start making art, it goes away and it goes into the distance and I feel wonderful from it. It’s very therapeutic.”

Arms is attending Fort Lewis College, earning an art business degree and considering teaching overseas or offering art therapy. She’s been exploring different forms of art through classes that aren’t required for her degree, such as ceramics and printmaking. “When you start exploring the arts, you can find a lot of things you’re good at. A lot of people think they don’t know how to do art because they’re thinking of realism. I like to encourage people to pick up some form of art and not worry if someone else will like it. .. Even if you can’t make money from it, it’s still important. I like to make things and give them as gifts. If you think of all the artists out there in the world, who haven’t gotten their art out there, we’re all missing their contribution to society. They’re really important contributions to society.”

Check out Arms’ website at hennablessings.com and book her for a party if you’re in the Durango area. You can also friend Arms on Facebook to follow her business and see more designs.

This is the third 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.

Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”

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She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”

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MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”

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She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second 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.

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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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.