Even though since COVID began it seems like most of us are busier than ever, some members of our HerMoney community have used the time that was once devoted to social engagements or vacations to be a little more artistic. For example, that needlepoint project that you’ve had tucked away in a corner basket for two years just might have gotten dusted off … or those sketches that you haven’t picked up since your last trip abroad may have recently seen some new ink. And let’s face it, there’s a reason why adult coloring books are now on every single bookstore shelf across America. Countless studies have shown that when we’re making art, our levels of cortisol — the stress hormone that can wreak havoc on our bodies — lowers dramatically. And these days, who doesn’t want less stress?
Furthermore, as countless successful artists will tell you, there are reasons to create art beyond just its beauty and the joy it brings to both artist and observer — many artists sell their creations as a lucrative side gig, and sometimes that can even turn into a lucrative full-time gig.
That’s exactly what happened for artist Mary Engelbreit whose lifetime sales now top more than $1 billion. On this week’s episode of the HerMoney Podcast — our 250th episode! — Mary joins us to discuss how she launched her company over 40 years ago with a simple line of greeting cards. Today her signature artwork appears on more than 6,500 products including books, calendars, stationery, fabric, dinnerware, kitchen accessories and so much more. She’s also the author of 15 books, and her inspirational and whimsical drawings have brought joy to countless fans the world over.
Listen in as Mary tells Jean how she got inspired by fairy tale illustrations as a child, and made the decision to become an artist at age 11. (She and Jean also talk about why age 11 can be a touchstone in our lives when it comes to deciding what we want to pursue.)
She started out as a teenager by selling greeting cards to a local gift shop, and then years later got her first big break at the New York Stationery Show, with a small collection of just 16 greeting cards. “We were noticed by New York Magazine as one of the best in show, and that was what really made it take off. And we learned, by the seat of our pants, what licensing was. So we started licensing and we’ve never stopped,” she says.
Mary also speaks candidly about balancing her business and her family, and how she managed to carve out space for both. “When I had kids, they just played around me while I was drawing, and it just moved forward. And then my husband joined the business, so we were all very involved. The kids would go to the store openings and it was just part of their lives, too,” she says.
We also dive into a discussion around what art really means to the creator, and how it can be an incredible method for de-stressing. “It’s such a personal thing, and it’s such a private thing. You know, you’re not doing it to please somebody else, like to please your family. It’s all for you,” Mary says. “Your peace of mind. Your satisfaction. You know, just to draw something that turned out the way you meant it to turn out, or to sew something that turned out really cute. It’s just very satisfying. And that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with pleasing yourself like that. I think it’s very important to your happiness.”
Mary also discusses how she expanded her brand to have stores and a magazine, and she speaks candidly about what she might have done differently in her journey from artist to entrepreneur. For creators looking to follow in her footsteps, she talks about the importance of social media and growing your brand online.
Jean and Mary also talk about planning for your financial future as an artist, selling your products on Etsy vs. exhibiting in galleries, and how to know if there’s a market for your work.