6 Things My Side Project Is Teaching Me About My Long-Term Career
I was pissed the entire election season, then I was heartbroken. Seeing He Who Must Not Be Named get elected felt like one half of the country betraying the other. Moreover, as an Afro-Latinx, it felt like too many lives I knew were at stake.
The betrayal hit hard. It permeated my attitude at every occasion. I was in a constant state of blegh. Blegh at work. Blegh at home. Blegh with my friends. Blegh on social media. So I did something crazy: I started a business.
I have never wanted to own a business or be a boss. I didn’t study any aspect of business, and the thought of being in charge sounds stressful. I like my life to be chill (because I am a neurotic person who lacks any and all chill). I also never thought I would be an artist, and yet here I am selling feminist enamel pins that I designed through my new company, GRL TRBL.
I always played around with digital art, but never took it seriously. I never thought anyone would care about my silly drawings. Yet, this election, the only thing that made me happy was illustrating politically-charged responses to what was happening.
So December of 2016, I said fuck it; I had my first pin manufactured. It was simple: three women’s power-fist in three different skin tones — the intersectional fantasy I wanted to live in, summed up in one image. I started selling them online on March 21st, and by April 20th, I was sold out.
Here’s what I learned.
1. Get A Hobby
I used to find the idea of a hobby silly, but now mine is a business. I started playing around with Photoshop when I was 17. A decade later, I am fully proficient with the photo-editing software. You never know when your hobby — something you’re passionate enough about to invest time in — can become a marketable skill.
2. Say Yes
Much can be made of saying “yes,” especially when women often find it difficult to say “no.” But “no” tends to be my fear-based reaction. So I started saying “yes.” People and organizations ask me to donate my pins and art to raise money for Planned Parenthood or the ACLU all the time. Other business owners of color ask for help, advice, or collaboration. I always say yes. The result has been meeting other cool people with the same values as me. Not to mention it’s incredibly special to me to have my art used for good, which is why I started making it in the first place
3. Don’t Do It Alone
I started this all by myself, but I’ll be damned if I finish it that way. Fulfilling and shipping packages, managing social media, figuring out money stuff — I have no experience in any of these things. When it became clear I was going to sink or swim, my BFF stepped up without me even having to ask. Now she is COO of the company. She has the Type A left brain I sorely lack. She asks questions, like how much are you charging, versus how much did this cost to make, versus how much time did it take to make it? I don’t think about stuff like that, and now I don’t have to.
4. Don’t Live By Comparison
I am a full-time writer; I’ve wanted to be one since I could articulate the fact. Living by comparison has been my safe place. “She’s the same age as me and she has a book deal!” “She’s younger than me and she works where?!” “Am I even talented on a basic level?” Starting GRL TRBL allowed me to sort of get over myself. I always identified as a writer so I thought, Well, I better be good at that. No one ever thought of me as an artist, so to be frank, I didn’t really care if my art was good. I only cared if I liked it. Yeah, people were more skilled than me. Yeah, people studied fine arts in college. Yeah, people could draw images so perfect, you thought they were photographs. Good for them. This is what I can do. This is where I am. If you like it, too, that’s awesome! If you don’t, enjoy someone else’s work. There’s plenty of space for all of us to occupy. Now, I am cool with sorta just doing me.
5. Continuing Education Is Legit
Right after I ordered my first pin, I figured out that if I wanted to continue making art, I might have to up my game. I took continuing education courses in Illustrator and Photoshop, which have been life-changing. While it turns out I didn’t need the Photoshop class, the Illustrator course was able to take my art up a level. Never shy away from the chance to refine your skills or learn something new.
6. Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Having a second job has made me appreciate my first one so much more. Without the income from it, I wouldn’t have been able to start to this business. It provides me with stability and safety (health insurance, 401K) so that this isn’t such a big risk. GRL TRBL is my passion project, it fills me up in a way my day job can’t, but because I am so much more fulfilled, it makes going to work that much easier. Every part of my life is better because I am doing something I care about.
It may sound silly but art saved my life; it gave me a voice when I felt voiceless. It gave me autonomy when I felt helpless. It gave me community when I felt alone. So I encourage you all to go out and make something you feel connected to — only good things can come from it.
Emerald Pellot is a full-time writer and self-taught illustrator living in New York City. She is currently trying to figure out how to draw boobs perfectly (she has butts down) and drinking a soy latte. She is also the founder and CEO of www.GRLTRBL.com where she sells feminist, inclusive pins and prints, and blogs every now and then. Check out her art on Instagram here.
Image via Unsplash