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Meet Trailblazer Rosalind Bell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rosalind Bell.

Rosalind, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up in the UK, I loved photography, art and music (playing the violin from an early age). In my last two years at high school, I studied Craft, Design & Practice which despite the teacher who didn’t like me very much, I absolutely loved the subject and devoted most of my time to it. I didn’t let the constant negative criticism put me off too much as I just enjoyed doing it. But for university it was a tough choice between design and music. I went with music and ended up majoring in composition, something I had no idea I could even do before I started the course!

After some years in the music industry with Virgin Records and EMI Music, I hopped over to Warner Bros. Studios who soon transferred me from London to Los Angeles. This was all amazing life experience which I fully embraced but my work was always on the corporate side, not creative. Over time, I found myself further and further away from my creative roots, more and more unhappy, and suffering from ever worsening and frequent migraines. I don’t regret a single day though as I gained so much valuable experience, had a lot of fun along the way, and gained so many fantastic friends who I would not have today without those companies.

While at Warner Bros. Studios, I was tasked with organizing a baby shower for one of our team members who was having twins, a boy, and a girl. I wanted a card that summed this up but I knew I would never find one so specific so I thought why not make it?! The card was so well received that I started getting requests for other baby showers and occasions! My friends became more excited about opening the card I had made for them than the gift I had bought for them, and many people started telling me I should start my own handmade card company. So, I did!

My cards have evolved from more simple crafting to my own original designs. I’m also able to incorporate my photography by offering a line of photo cards which use real photos mounted on the card. And if I post any on-line videos, they usually come complete with my own music. All my passions rolled into one!

I’m certainly a lot poorer now and it took about a year for the migraines to improve, but now I rarely suffer from them and I am much happier and healthier as I rebuild my career in this completely different direction.

Has it been a smooth road?
It certainly hasn’t been a smooth road! And I naively thought it would be a lot easier than it has been. I knew there was a demand and I already had my cards in a few retailers before I gave up my full-time work. But trying to make a real living from it and getting the exposure you need is a very different entity from doing it as a hobby. There is so much more to running your own creative business than designing and making your product. For example, product photography, loading content online, social media and marketing, business taxes (no fun for a creative type!), participating in artisan events… the list goes on!

I have definitely had moments where I’ve questioned if I wanted to continue. At the beginning of this year, I looked at my numbers for last year. After all the work, time and effort I had put in, I really hadn’t made much and I was exhausted after all the Christmas events, and Christmas itself! The New Year hit and I got the flu. I was disheartened and sick for three weeks. But even during this time, in January, when I was sick and sales should have been at their lowest, more sales started coming in. Throughout this year, my sales have been consistently three times higher than throughout last year. The seeds I have been painstakingly planting have started to grow. It’s like the universe knew I was reaching a tipping point and threw me some encouragement! As small as the business still is, if I was to see this growth year on year, it wouldn’t be so long before it would pay my full living expenses.

As for advice, it will sound cliché, but you have to believe in yourself and work hard, really hard and for a really long time. It’s easy to believe that most of the success stories and multi-million dollar companies you hear about happened overnight. In reality, that is simply not the case for the majority. Most people spend many years building their business before it turns a true profit or gives you a real living. But if you love what you are doing, you will be motivated to keep on going.

Also, participate in events. If you’re an artisan, this is a perfect time as there has been a huge movement toward local and handmade products. Many people are fed up with the sameness of mass manufactured products. They want something unique and they want to know where it came from. You will find that the like-minded vendors you meet at these events will become your biggest support network. Surround yourself with these people who will also believe in you and encourage you. You will always come up against the naysayers. Instead of letting them bring you down, take that energy and use it as fuel to prove them wrong.

And finally, on a more practical note, anything personal you need to take care of during the day such as doctor’s appointments comes out of the time you need to spend on your business. When you aren’t salaried, you don’t get paid for a minute of time when you’re not working or investing in your business. If you get sick for more than a day or two, it can seriously impact your progress and earnings. You need to factor this in when you’re trying to work out if you can do this. Plan and save as much as you can before you quit any day jobs. It’s not easy but if you really have the passion for it, you will work out a way to keep afloat.

We’d love to hear more about The Wee Tree Co.
I specialize in handmade original cards and offer custom cards so if you need a card for a girl and boy twins like I did, worry not, I can create something for you to fit the occasion perfectly!

Once I have a final design, if I’m reproducing it, I have custom rubber stamps made so I can reproduce it consistently by hand, rather than having it printed through a manufactured process. It’s a simple technique but actually allows for plenty of variation including embossing which gives the design a raised glossy or glitter finish. My photo cards are all my own original photography with real photos mounted onto the card. They are perfect for framing and I now offer some already framed as well.

My niche is creating custom cards for other businesses. These may be thank you cards or gift cards allowing the business to include all relevant service details or monetary value and still leave space for the buyer to write a message to the recipient. They are highly customized to their own business and of course, they are all handmade. I hear a lot of feedback about how overjoyed people are when they realize they are not getting any standard gift certificate or piece of plastic, but something made with love and care to pass on to the lucky recipient.

I am probably most proud of how my brand often brings so much joy not just to others but to myself as well. One of my designs is of a beloved family cat who I brought back to life from a photo I took with my first SLR camera. It brought tears to my eyes as he started to jump off the paper. He has proved to be really popular which brings me so much joy and I love observing people light up when they see him as they are reminded of a similar beloved pet.

Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
To be honest, I’m not sure. As I look back, I think around the time I was brought up, child/youth development was often done in the form of heavy criticism. I had many teachers who only pointed out what I’d done wrong or what was still not good enough without ever recognizing what was good or where the progress was. This was incredibly discouraging to me.

I used to play the piano and since I already played the violin, I progressed quickly as I wasn’t starting from scratch with learning to read music. But I was never good enough for my teacher. Coming up to one exam, I switched one of my pieces last minute as I was so sick of practicing them over and over again only to still not be good enough. I just couldn’t play them with any feeling anymore and music without feeling is just clinical. Despite the last minute switch, which apparently gave my teacher a nightmare about me not achieving a distinction, I disappointed her with a merit (still above the standard pass) and so I gave up. That is probably the only time I regret giving up on something as I love the piano. I did take it up again at the university for a little while and I can still play but I could have been so much better.

I think due to experiences like this, it took a long time for me to believe in myself. It certainly wasn’t the case with all and I definitely had a handful of more encouraging teachers. And my mum is incredibly creative and was always supportive. As kids, she encouraged us to make cards and as mums are, she was always thrilled when she was adorned with even our worst efforts! She makes cards herself and also loved photography. We even had our own darkroom in our first house and she bought me my first SLR camera teaching me how to use it.

My mum also knits, sews, can draw, paint and plays the piano. She used to make lots of clothes for us and would put labels in them but not any old boring name labels. She would embroider a picture, who it was made for, when and where. Just incredible (and obviously not as appreciated as much as it should have been when we were younger!). She never did all this for more than just a hobby, to save money and to delight the recipients. But on her visits to LA from the UK, she has had to help with card orders and at events surprising both of us with her previously unknown superior sales skills!

Meanwhile, my dad is incredible in the workshop, especially with woodwork. He designed and made lots of things around the house, even a gazebo for the garden! He also taught himself at a young age how to make a boat in a bottle, crafting the whole boat itself and working out how to get it into the bottle. It takes ages to make one so you can imagine his delight when my two brothers and I all insisted on one each as adults! They are absolute works of art. And although he never seriously played an instrument (his family simply had no money to buy one), he sang at a high level with many choirs even competing with his Welsh university’s Male Voice Choir.

The more I think about it, the more obvious it is how growing up I was surrounded by so much creativity and music. Perhaps it was just a matter of time before it all came together to a point where I started to believe in myself and realized I would only be happy (and healthy) doing something creative.

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Image Credit:

Kayla Samiee, Rosalind Bell

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