by Sara Tams of sarah + abraham
I met Julie Chen of Life Verse Design a little over two years ago when we both opened Etsy shops at around the same time. I’ve formed lots of great friendships online, but being able to get together in person is even better. It’s always so much fun to spend time with someone who shares the same interests and the same challenges of running a business and being a stay-at-home mom.
I was so happy when Julie agreed to be a guest contributor for Oh My! Handmade Goodness, and I thought an interview would be a great way to introduce her…
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a mommy of three adorable kids, ages 2, 4 & 6. I have the most supportive hubby in the world.
Ever since I was in first grade, I wanted to be an artist and a missionary. Now, through my work, I’m doing a bit of both.
How did the idea for your business come about? What were your first steps to make it a reality?
My business came about when I was pregnant with my third child and chasing around two toddlers. It really started out as doing artwork just for me, as a spiritual act of worship. You see, while nursing a newborn and chasing two toddlers I knew I would not have the time I wanted to spend in God’s Word, so I wanted it visually around my home. In the past, I would write Scripture on index cards and put them around the house. One morning while brushing my teeth, looking at my Galatians 5 notecard I thought to myself, “Why don’t I make these beautiful?! I am a designer for crying out loud!”
So, I decided to create the first verse, the fruit of the Spirit. I then gave a print to everyone in my Bible study, and they all said I should be selling these. So, when my baby was six weeks old, I did the church craft show and almost sold out!
Do you have formal training in art/illustration/photography or are you self-taught?
I am a mixture of having formal training with major aspects of being self-taught. I have a BFA in illustration. Since graduating college, I’ve made my living as a book designer (which I LOVE), so all of my design training has been part on the job and part instinct. Bringing Up Boys, The Left Behind series (books 4-12), and The Jesus Storybook Bible are among some of the best-selling titles I have designed.
Throughout life I have always loved photography. In college I took a darkroom class, which was magical. As a book designer, I have shot several covers and worked with some great professional photographers. I’ve picked up tips and tools from working with those professional photographers, gleaning from them as I observe them work. But I am essentially self-taught as a photographer.
Please describe your workspace and process for filling orders.
My workspace consists of two spots in our little cape cod home: one is my “warehouse” in the basement full of packaging materials, backing boards, frames, and inventory; the second workspace I have is a shared office with my hubby. We turned our fourth bedroom into an office and spend most nights there working back to back, listening to music. The majority of my work is done digitally on my IMac, in Photoshop and InDesign.
I tend to do much of my creative work in the summer, as that is when I love to shoot outdoors. Then the rest of the year is selling on Etsy and doing art shows. I am constantly “fitting in my work” throughout my days, as I am first and foremost a stay-at-home mommy. The nice thing is that I can check orders, hit print, and go play. Then come back, package them up and take a walk to our local post office (which is merely four blocks away).
What have been the major turning points, obstacles, and/or lessons you’ve learned as you’ve grown your business?
My blessing of working inside of the home is also sometimes also my obstacle for two reasons:
- It never ends. there is not much separation between work and play, as I said earlier I am constantly “fitting it in.”
- I am a self-proclaimed workaholic. I LOVE creating art. I have grown to LOVE selling it also. My “down-time” at night consists of work because I like it so much, but sometimes it is just too much and can consume me. I need to be better about scheduling or setting limits or something. This year so far is much better than last.
My major turning point was definitely being discovered by Demdaco! It was more than I would have ever dreamed and it has been such a blessing to my family. They are the ones who really extended my line beyond Scripture art. I now have a baby/child line, general inspiration, and family/occupation line.
One lesson I have learned in the last two years is that at heart I truly am an artist and not a business person. I love the creating aspect much more than marketing and selling, though I am growing in those areas. I also have to be patient with myself and give myself a break, as there are so many dreams now on my “to-do” list, which is endless, and yet I need to keep my family first and be okay with the somedays.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a small business like yours?
If you would like to start a small business I would first recommend starting on Etsy. Within the site alone are so many resources, and it is so inexpensive, it is basically risk free. (One of my dreams is to have my own website, and I have designed part of it in my head, but am not yet willing to shell out the big bucks.)
Research products that are similar to yours to see how they are pricing items and displaying them through product photography, and create your own look. Be professional, as first impressions (ie: visual) are everything. Order shipping materials in bulk, like from Uline, as you will save so much money in the future.
You also need to either know how to become an official business with the government and taxes, etc., or hire someone who does.
And of course, go for it! Make your dreams come true!