unsolicited advice

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Once and a while, I get emails from people who are interested in starting their own businesses, asking how I knew when to “take the plunge” and how I got to where I am. The truth is, I’m still getting to where I’m going. However, I never refuse the opportunity to recall my path and remember my roots – it’s very revealing.

I figured I might as well post one of my most recent answers, edited a bit for the internet. I hope it does not come across as anything but an offering of unsolicited advice, and a place for me to put my story.

“I would be happy to tell you my story, which hopefully will be inspiring or helpful to you at your crossroads.

I feel lucky that I knew my calling from a young age. I was painting since I was able to hold a paintbrush.
I never liked school- math, science – I was so frustrated by it. I loved art. It’s where I felt most at home. In 10th grade, with my parent’s support, I switched from public to private school in order to take more art classes.

I applied to 4 art schools, and ended up going to the Rhode Island School of Design. I majored in Illustration but did mostly 3-d work. My teachers suggested I learn how to do taxidermy as I was very drawn to natural history, medical illustrations, magical realism, the macabre.
Per their advice, I went to taxidermy school. Took a risk, I guess- 6 weeks in the middle of Missouri, alone, studying this weird art. But I felt it calling so I answered it.

In 2009 after graduating I moved to NYC, worked at a natural history store and interned at the American Museum of Natural History. I worked so hard, and so long, I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. I was probably that annoying girl. You know the one. They hired me, finally, and I quit the retail. I worked there on and off (in the”off” I had other taxing but exciting jobs, like working for a metalsmith) and gave it my all but decided that the lifestyle wasn’t for me… NYC was too hard, too grating and generally intense. I was tired of getting pushed around. As a Gemini I wanted to do the pushing. I was in need of a change, so I took another chance and moved to Charleston.

Charleston has been very nurturing for me, but I can’t say it was easy to get into the scene here at first. I met anyone who would talk to me. I said yes to EVERYTHING. I babysat, taught private art lessons, worked restaurants, silly freelance gigs, and then went around to everywhere that was even “close” to the museum of natural history (i.e. the SC Aquarium) I gave my resume and website and said hello to anyone who would see me. Then I landed a few solid volunteer opportunities and then jobs that were in the realm of what I wanted to do. In the down-time between those neat jobs I thought, why not do this myself? I officially quit my retail job. Oddly enough, around that time, my Grandmother passed away and left me a bit of money, so I felt better about quitting the daily 9-5. It was a double edged sword for sure. I have spoken to a lot of people in this boat who don’t have a grandmother giving them any supplemental funding, and it’s tricky. There’s no “good time” to quit your day job. I am lucky to have had her support.

I love my job so much, but each day is a challenge, and to be completely honest, I’m not totally sure what the future holds for me. I don’t mean to sound negative, it’s quite the opposite. I’m SWAMPED with work and the business is starting to be incredible and overwhelming, but I have to constantly remind myself to look at reports and actually see if I’m being realistic. That being said, I pay my bills andI’m living a decent life… So, I plan on aiming for world domination. Just kidding. I would never want anything that leaves my studio to not be touched by me. I would love to continue to grow, but there is a limit.

So, long story not so short, I said YES a lot, even when I was scared, and I took a lot of chances, I stayed positive (and continue to try to) and tried to remain neutral about the outcome of it all. Nobody is born an expert on anything so I try to give myself time to adjust, learn, and reason. ALSO, I was friendly to EVERYONE. Even if they sucked. You have to be, because you just don’t know who might hire you in the future, or ask you for a favor, or maybe you’ll ask them for a favor… you know. Karma’s a bitch.

Anyway, in terms of a craft, or taxidermy included, any craft is what you make it. It’s about how much work you put into it. My advice there would be to create a brand if you need to, but DON’T OBSESS over it. It’s not about your BRAND, it’s about the WORK you put out. The work should speak for itself. You should be more concerned about the details of your product instead of how many instagram followers you have. All of that social media stuff is fabulous, and important, a great marketing and branding tool – but the actual work… how long you took to make it, how you re-did the parts that lacked finesse… that’s the stuff that’s going to make your work stand out. Anybody can make a zipper pouch, but are you PROUD of YOUR zipper pouch? What makes it worth what you’re charging for it?

I think it’s just about being positive and a dreamer but also being realistic and level-headed. I’m still on the dreamer side of things at the moment, but for example, just took on a huge job renovating the Natural History Gallery at the Charleston Museum, so that’s keeping us going while we take on more and more smaller jobs, getting the brand solid and getting our work in the world.
Be true to yourself, listen to your heart, go with your gut, and you won’t go wrong. Or, at least, that’s how I see it. Sometimes you’re not going to land that big job, and sometimes you’ll land it when you’re not ready for it and you’ll have to make it work.

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