How a Dying Woman Showed me the Value in my Mini Art Business

By April 19, 2016 No Comments

On a whim, 2 years ago I started an online Etsy shop where I drew illustrations on notebooks and sold them. Unusually for me, I didn’t have overly ambitious plans to grow my shop into a massive online retail store. I just wanted to try selling my fine art for the first time.

For most of the notebooks, I would translate a name into a fictional language called Gallifreyan based off the cult British sci-fi show Doctor Who, and then I’d hand draw the name on a notebook.

This process took a long time.

When I received an order, I would first draw every single letter of the name onto a scratch paper. (H, A, N…) Then I’d draw the Gallifreyan equivalent next to the letter. Then I’d assemble each word together (“Hananiah”). Then I’d put all the words together to create their full name (“Hananiah Elise Wilson”). Then I’d sketch the design in pencil on the notebook, go over the design in pen, erase the pencil, put the notebook in a clear bag, write the thank you note on my manual typewriter, and package the notebooks.

As you can tell, a lot of steps go into making one notebook. But since the end product is just a single notebook, I only charged $18 for them. Even though I wasn’t even making minimum wage, I was happy doing a few notebooks here and there, because it was fun.

 A batch of custom Gallifreyan notebooks I drew for  my Etsy shop  this past Christmas

A batch of custom Gallifreyan notebooks I drew for my Etsy shop this past Christmas

But last Christmas, I had an avalanche of orders. One or two every day for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Since I already had an extensive plan for making personal cards and gifts for my family (I even had an excel sheet with the list), having the Gallifreyan notebooks on top of everything else was exhausting. I would come home from work, draw notebooks until I went to sleep, mail the notebooks in the morning, go to work, and repeat.

By the time Christmas came around, I was seriously considering stopping the Etsy shop. Statistically speaking, the shop did not have a high ROI.

But then somebody sent me this message.

I just wanted you to know that this was a gift for my auntie who was diagnosed with terminal cancer just before I saw and bought this. This was one of the gifts we got her. She loves it, and I just thought you should know.

That really took me back. Her notebook was just another in the stream I was producing for Christmas, and I had no idea it would be given to a dying person.

Then I realized why I had kept my Etsy shop going through the fluctuations of not enough or too many orders. I was making a fun product that people loved. If my customers didn’t leave me such kind reviews to say how much they enjoyed the notebooks, I would not have continued.

I got this for my son for his 10th birthday and had everyone write advice for living life and growing up. He loves the custom cover and the notebook. Fantastic!

(That is so cute!)

Best. Thing. Ever!!! I wanted a tattoo of my daughters name and this is exactly what I wanted.

(This review was for a digital Gallifreyan design. Someone out there has a tattoo I designed!)

Amazing! I couldn’t be happier. It is literally perfect.”

(How can you beat “literally perfect?”)

I created gifts for boyfriends, girlfriends, children, and cancer-diagnosed aunts. I hopefully brought a tiny bit of joy into their lives.

So I continued my Etsy shop. (In fact, after I recovered from the Christmas rush I had a trillion ideas about how to expand my shop into a Gallifreyan/Doctor Who website and storytelling blog. You’ll hear more about that later if I decide to start the project.)

What I learned is: don’t put pressure on yourself to Make Money and have Great Success with everything you do. If you want to sell your art, don’t make yourself start a full-fledged e-commerce site with 150 original pieces from day one. Just start small, have fun, and see where things go.

I can be ambitious to a fault and burn myself out of projects because I expect too much of myself.

But now whenever I’m tempted to say that what I’m doing is not enough, I remember the dying woman who loved the notebook I drew.

And I decide that money is not the most important thing in life.