Today we meet Elana Gabrielle, an illustrator, maker, and designer of printed textile and paper goods. Elana started her business as a side project while at art school, where she quickly fell in love with textile design. After selling some prints and cards locally, she soon realized the business potential in her talent for design and began to work full-time producing and selling her goods. How does an artist like Elana turn her passion into a living? What kind of business challenges does she face along the way? Let’s find out!
My name is Elana Gabrielle, and I’m an illustrator/maker/designer of a collection of printed paper and textile goods for the body and home. I started this business while I was still in school while working a few side jobs as it grew. I now work full-time making and selling my goods and doing freelance design work, and I’m so grateful!
I officially started my business about three years ago as I was graduating from art school. For my college thesis, I created a capsule collection of goods that I illustrated and made by hand, centered around the theme of endangered species. I sewed, screen printed, designed, and produced the collection with the intention of raising awareness for endangered creatures, and through the process, I fell in love with textile design. I began selling prints and greeting cards to small shops I knew of around town, and gradually began to add bandanas and other textiles as I learned more about production and how to run my small business. I work with small local companies to do my printing now, and I just hired a wonderful part-time assistant to help with packaging and shipping!
There is a lot in flux at the moment, as I am revising my line to let go of some older pieces and make way for all the new designs I’m working on. This year, I am focusing on sharing more of my story and process through my newsletter to share inspiration, resources, and more, and I’m excited to find more connection in this way, during this time of solitude. I am also building more mindful methods around how and where I source my materials, the products that I choose to create and expand with, and the stories that brought them to life.
My biggest challenge right now is finding balance in growth. As there are so many parts to running this business, it’s hard to find the time to do everything well, while also taking time to care for myself and the other aspects of my life. But I am also grateful for this challenge. There are many wonderful things happening, and I am motivated by the joy that I experience when creating and learning new things!
To be quite honest, I have not spent much time and energy in the realms of marketing, aside from Instagram and my website. That is something I will be focusing on more this year, as I really want to share and connect with those who are interested in my work. Rather than focusing purely on sales, I will be working more on sharing my process, resources, tools, and elements that inspire my work and my different collections.
Begin anyway! Fear, imposter syndrome, doubt… often it feels like there are endless reasons not to start. Rather than waiting for things to be finished or perfect, write down your long term goals and break them down. Start with tiny action steps rather than trying to tackle the whole thing at once. There is no perfect time to begin, and failure and challenge help us learn and grow. I often get overwhelmed or spend too much time researching, preparing, making sure it’s the “right” space, time, and situation to make art or develop skills but the truth is that it is often fear speaking and holding me back. So I tell myself to just do it anyway, even if it ends up not being “good enough”. I believe in you!
I absolutely love my collection of books and reference them quite often. For business in art/illustration, I highly recommend The Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. It has so much useful insight and information for pricing work, negotiations, contracts, best practices, etc. For learning more about natural dyeing I reference Wild Color by Jenny Dean. For inspiration I have a collection of zines that I’ve found at fairs and markets, boutique shops, online, there are so many wonderful offerings of all kinds. I especially love the Little Otsu Living Things Series.
I also collect vintage field guides and botanical books like the Golden Guides – I love to learn about the natural world through different lenses, and it’s inspiring to have them around me in my space while I work.
I’ve also started taking quarterly workshops with One Mill School, which I’ve been enjoying – the workshops focus on helping creatives in areas of finding clarity, finances, marketing, and brand storytelling. It’s always great to revisit my roots and reconnect with why I started this work in the first place!
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