Today we’d like to introduce you to Erin Vaughan.
Erin, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
In May of 2012, I graduated with my BFA in studio arts from college. I had focused much of my time as an art student in drawing/painting, design and illustration classes. I was surrounded by a few professors that really instilled in me good work habits in the studio and belief in me to pursue illustration as a career. Right after I graduated I went full time as a freelance illustrator and Etsy shop owner. I just decided I’d rather just give it a go and see what happens, then spend my time doing something I wasn’t passionate about. Additionally, I knew businesses take lots of time, and so I wanted to start working on it as soon as I could. Fast forward 4.5 years and I’m still pursuing my illustration business full-time today. It’s been a whirlwind of hard work, honing my craft & style, disappointment at times, sacrifice, and a major learning curve with the business side of things.
It’s been totally worth it because I get to wake up every day doing what I love.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s definitely not been a smooth road. I was so surprised how many “jobs/variables” there are within the career of a freelance artist. Much of the last 4.5 years has been learning by doing. I’ve made tons of mistakes along the way. I didn’t take any business classes when I was in college so I really had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. To be honest, I’m still learning new things all the time. Both in my artwork and through the business side –things are constantly evolving.
More specifically in the context of running a creative business dealing with finances, marketing, difficult clients, rejection, time management, making a product that is successful, etc has been really hard.
But it’s all been part of the process.
What are your plans for the future?
My basic goal for my future is to be able to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel really grateful that I get to do what I love everyday. Running a small business is so difficult. There’s ebbs and flows constantly. So there’s always that fear in the back of your mind on whether you’ll really “make” it long term. So my plans for the future are to just make little improvements, move forward, and keep existing.
Additionally, my most recent goal was to be able to move to a studio. I was working out of my garage for the last 4 years and I have finally been able to move into a larger space. So that was a big change, but a really good one.
Some other things I’m working towards is allowing more time to travel so I’m able to get more inspiration for my work. In addition, I have a variety of new products I will be getting started on at the first of the year. I’m also working on growing the amount of shops I’m selling in and hoping to partner with National Park gift shops.
My plans for the future always involve that balance of making new work, marketing and finding space to get inspired.
Let’s dig a little deeper into your story. What was the hardest time you’ve had?
I believe it was about 2 years into my business, I was looking over my finances with my Dad one day and felt so discouraged. We crunched numbers and just saw how I was basically not making anything and really not getting any business. I was thinking about getting another job to supplement my income and even thought about just quitting and start looking for a 9 to 5. I was so close to giving up. I had put in two full years and nothing was happening.
I think in that moment I just remembered how many people had told me that growing a business can take at least 3-5 years if not more. I thought what a shame it would be to have wasted the last 2 years and give up now.
I also thought, if I’m ever going to do this, it really has to be now. This is the time of your life to just go for it. I was like 23-24 years old. So I hung in there a little longer. I couldn’t really picture myself doing anything else. And very shortly after that moment of uncertainty, my National Park Calendar started selling on Etsy and things started to pick up little by little. I definitely don’t think I could have hung in there without the support and encouragement of my friends and family.
Also, I think taking a look at what I can offer to culture through my art has helped give me value to my vocation and has helped me get through those rough moments.
Do you ever feel like “Wow, I’ve arrived” or “I’ve made it” or do you feel like the bulk of the story is still unwritten?
I think I’m always going to have moments of doubt or insecurity on whether my business will sustain itself. In all honesty, I don’t feel like I have “made” it. I think that’s just the nature of the career I chose.
Sales are always up and down, and sometimes you have dry spells with freelance.
But I think the moment I had hope that it could stick was the moment I shared earlier about my National Park Calendars starting to sell on Etsy. I finally found my niche and realized more who I was an artist and what I wanted to say through my business.
- Website: erinvaughanillustration.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erin_vaughan
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinvaughanillustration
- Other: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ErinVaughan
Photo by Corey Vaughan