The Art of the Creative Business:
“Business” is often considered a dirty word in the arts. But nearly everyone who works in the arts runs a ‘business’of sorts. If you are providing a service or goods which you are paid for- then you are in essence doing business. It’s the natural giving and receiving that enables people to create a living by doing what they love. Business can be creative in itself. You only need to look at some of the creative entrepreneurs who are also artists, crafters, designers and makers in the world and realize that there are no limitations to the way you can choose to live, work, and make a living now so its exciting times we live in.
I have always made some sort of a living from my creative pursuits. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love freedom and I like to be my own boss.
Creativity and business are in my genes. My mother was an artist and I grew up amongst a lively arts community here in Albany. But my sense of business comes from my dutch trading heritage on my father’s side. Dad was born in Gouda in Holland and who at 86 still runs a successful farming business in Torbay.
Growing up on a farm instilled me with a sense of independence and resourcefulness. As a kid I was always drawing, or creating imaginary worlds in the bush. Lots of space and nature fueled my world.
As a teenager I made elaborate mobiles from beach findings and sold them at Amity Crafts. I studied Fine Arts at Curtin University and as an art student I taught myself leadlighting and sold leadlight mobiles made from recycled glass offcuts which would supplement my painting. In the 90’s I made brightly decorated mirrors from recycled gyprock offcuts and this also grew into a business. I used to exhibit in Melbourne & Sydney at the huge Reed Gift Fairs sharing a stand with Golden Hill Candles. As a result I stocked many shops around Australia, and some overseas.
I then got into Community arts using the medium of mosaics and this took me far and wide on projects and residencies from Christmas Island, to the Phillipines and Tibet, and to numerous remote aboriginal communities in the WA and NT deserts. Mostly funded by arts grants.
This all happened in conjunction with my painting, which I would regularly exhibit and sell. So my work has always been in the arts but always exploring and moving in a range of creative directions.
The catalyst for my current creative business ‘This Papercut Life’ resulted from a cancer diagnosis in 2010. In short I had a lot of love sent my way. My art changed and became more about sending that goodwill out in gratitude. I also realized that I just wanted to be in my studio designing, making and creating. And I wanted a slower gentler stress free life.
This Papercut Life has grown and expanded over the last 5 years. I create a range of papercuts, woodcuts, jewellery, and home wares. I stock 22 shops and galleries around Australia and have a website and an online store in which which I receive orders from around the world. I also create artwork for exhibitions and competitions, and receive both private and corporate commissions. Running my own creative business is as much about lifestyle. I enjoy life here in Albany and I also get to travel extensively which is another one of my passions.
Originally I started by hand cutting all my artworks with a scalpel knife but demand grew and my shoulder ached so I bought a lasercutter (and recently a second larger one) to help me. This technology has enabled my design work to expand in both materials and applications- and in production. I can create one single design in numerous ways- and using a range of materials including paper, Perspex, and local timbers.
My inspiration comes from the appreciation of the big things in life and include themes of people, family, community, and environment. There is a strong storytelling aspect to my designs and they remind me of the drawings I did prolifically as a child.
This Papercut Life has a large following and many customers. Relationships are central in all aspects of life, but it’s also important to develop great relationships with my buyers, and also with the stores and galleries, and anyone that stocks or promotes my work. My work has featured 3 times this year in the West Australian Style Counsel due to the development of a good relationship.
Marketing is also important. Facebook Pages and Instagram work for me and I find Facebook is an excellent free marketing tool. There is so much more opportunity to share work online to such a huge audience and the tyranny of distance is lessened as we are able to connect with new networks through the internet.
Originally This Papercut Life had two streams- product design and making, and the other was one-off handcut paper artworks. The two have now merged. For example in 2013 I had a residency and exhibition at Aspects of Kings Park and this included a diverse range of my products as well as an exhibition of one-off artworks.
Another example is a collaborative project I did with Perth artist Tony Pankiw. We where shortlisted for the National Anzac Centre Public Art project. We didn’t get the gig but one of the designs we submitted (Ship of Stories) has gone on to have an extended life. It was made into an aluminium cut out sculpture which has been exhibited in Sculpture by the Sea here in Albany and Sculpture at Bathers Beach in Freo- and has since been purchased by the City of Fremantle to be situated at the Round House. I also lasercut this design as a papercut and woodcut and supply the Forts Store and Fremantle Arts Centre with them.
I have also recently been doing design work for a group in Brisbane called (Urban Art Projects) who make artwork for public spaces. So there is a lot of diversity in the way I work which makes it all really interesting.
Qualities such as passion, perseverance, flexibility, and openness are all good to have in abundance when running a creative business. Energy is a precious thing and when its focused into something you are passionate about it can be a very powerful thing. But you need to cultivate that energy by looking after yourself: Eating well, exercising, taking time out to refuel, and cultivating balance and kindness.
For me the important thing is the journey. I have no doubt I will experience much more as I travel this road and discover and move in new creative directions, especially with the realization that life is too short not to do what makes you happy and what you love doing.