Kelly Stevens is an entrepreneur and an artist who has filled 4 etsy shops (and nearly a 5th) with an incredible collection of prints. Many of them revolve around the theme of animorphism and include a Victorian or Regency touch. When I first discovered her on Etsy, I spent far more time than I’m willing to admit scrolling through her work (and still haven’t decided which piece I want to call my own because I’d really like to create a whole book.) So I got in touch to find out more. Below, Kelly talks about her creative process and work space, shares the story of her most prized possession and offers some advice on what it takes to become an entrepreneur and run a successful Etsy shop.
LO: Tell us a bit about yourself.
KS: I’m originally from London but ended up in Worthing in West Sussex about 12 years ago via Glasgow! Life in a small seaside town came as a bit of a shock at first after being a proper city girl, but nowadays I love it, especially being so near to the sea.
I’m a full-time artist and live with my husband and four dogs. I’m not formally trained, nor do I even consider myself self-taught – that would imply that I have a clue about what I’m doing. I have to be honest and say that between creating new pieces and running the business, there is not much time for anything else. Except cake; there’s always time for cake. But if I ever have spare time, I’m a film nut, whether that be at the cinema or catching up with the latest films at home. And I adore reading.
LO: You run four incredible Etsy shops. Give us a short description of what we can find in each one.
KS: FabFunky is my very silly original images printed onto antique book pages.
DottyDictionary is similar to FabFunky but the main difference is that the images are mainly what I call Victorian Mash-ups. I love to take old images and engravings and mix them up together to come up with something totally different.
LoopyLolly is the Art Print version of FabFunky. So there you can find the same images, but they are done as art prints on art paper without the antique book page background.
NauticalNell is all about the sea! I love the coastal home look, and so this shop is full of artwork to give us all the coastal home look and bring summer into our homes year round.
Shop Number 5….. ah you didn’t know about that one did you? Well, it’s not live yet, and it will be a couple of months yet until it is. But there will be a fifth shop probably in the new year, and its name will be DizzyDodo. You’ll have to come and find it to see what’s in there!
LO: Describe your creative process. What is your work space like? Do you listen to music while you work? Is there a certain time of day you feel most creative? What do you love most about being an artist?
KS: I have to work in the middle of the house where everything is happening. I can’t stand the idea of being locked into a studio, isolated from everyone. So I have taken over the dining table and since the ground floor of our house is open plan,I work in the kitchen/dining room/living room.
It’s chaos! I have one dog who lives under the table and another two who like to wrap themselves around my chair legs, so every time I stand up I end up falling over dogs.
Radio 6 is on all day until about 8pm. Then the TV goes on, so that is the background noise. And we have on average about 4-8 visitors to the house every day, so I’m in the middle of that as well. Oh, and my Mum lives in an annexe attached to the house so she is in and out every fifteen minutes.
So that’s the reality. No quiet contemplation. Utter chaos all day long.
I keep notes on ideas for pictures in Evernote which is on my Mac, my iPhone and iPad, so I have access all of the time and am always jotting down ideas. And then when I’m in the mood, I go through some notes and usually end up doing something totally unrelated.
LO: What are some of the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur? Is there a piece of business advice you were given when you first started out that you still follow today?
KS: Although I’ve only been working as an artist for the last 18 months, I’ve actually run my own businesses since I was 24, so I’m 23 years down the road of being self-employed. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s never under-estimate your expenses. They will always come in higher than you planned for. And the other thing I have learned is that there is no replacement for hard work. REALLY hard work.
The reward is that I’m in control of my own life. The theory is that I can do what I want when I want, but the reality is that I just work a bit more. But I love it.
LO: One of the main themes running through your work is anthropomorphism against a background steeped in history. What inspired this originally, what is it’s significance to you and what do you hope to communicate through your art?
KS: The anthropomorphic thing is probably because I’ve spent my life surrounded by dogs and so I see very clearly their individual personalities and quirks. It’s easy to attribute them human characteristics even when they may not really exist. I see them because I want to I suppose.
Yes, I have a Victorian and Regency thing going on right now and I can’t see that stopping. When I was a child, my Dad worked in a paper mill and he used to bring home lots of weird and wonderful bits of paper and old books. A few of them I still have now, but I’m afraid that many of them are long gone. But I would read these amazing letters and documents written in a beautiful hand with elegant language and fell in love with the past. One of my greatest treasures is a letter that I have dated 1813 that someone wrote lamenting the death of his horse, and in the carefully folded letter is a lock of the horse’s mane. I very recently had the letter and the hair framed actually and it has pride of place in my living room.
The anthropomorphism will continue, but it is in itself morphing slightly in a new collection that I’m doing at the moment. So the trend will live on, I’m afraid.
LO: Which other artists inspire you and why?
KS: I’m obsessed with the painters of the Portal Gallery, especially Heather Nevay. I adore the sinister undertones that her paintings hint at (with a sledgehammer!), and the not-so-innocent looking children’s toys that are included in each one.
And Ray Caesar, what a genius. I love the fact that his artwork is created in a 3D modeling software programme and contains things that will never be seen. Putting things into the closed draws of furniture within a picture is intriguing. Oh, and he was born a dog, so that’s another reason to love him.
LO: Little Observationist is all about appreciating life’s little luxuries. What’s one of the little things you’ve enjoyed recently?
KS: I had an accident a couple of months ago and nearly sliced off the index finger of my right hand. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the splint off and I’m able to use my hand and I cannot tell you how much losing the use of your main hand makes you appreciate the everyday stuff that you would normally do with it. So right now, life’s little luxuries are as mundane as being able to not need someone else to cut your food up.
LO: What are your top 3 pieces of advice for running a successful shop on Etsy?
KS: List as much as you can. The more items you have, then the more chance you have of being found, because you will be using more search terms and key words.
SEO, of course. It’s a well-banged drum, but it’s vital. Think like a customer and use those phrases as keywords. I think that can be hard sometimes as we are all so involved with our own work that we can’t always see it how others might. So ask friends and family. You might be surprised at the words they use to describe your work.
And be careful of using similar SEO strategies to other successful sellers as it might not be what is actually working for them. I learned that lesson not long after I started on Etsy. I saw an artist who was having some success on Etsy and so I made the assumption that it was down to their SEO being good. It actually looked bad to me, but the sales told me differently, so I started to use titles and keywords in a similar way to them. No sales. Then by chance, a week or so later I read an interview they had done in a blog where they mentioned something non-Etsy related which they attributed their Etsy success to. So the truth was that their SEO technique was rubbish and their sales came from somewhere else. So I worked out my own SEO following advice on the forums and guides. And the sales started.
LO: If you think of Brighton and hear the following, what first comes to mind?
Sight: The pier
Taste: Donatello’s Cabonara – I love it!
Smell: It’s gotta be the smells of the different restaurants everywhere
Texture: Sand. Now that’s odd because there is no sand there, but that’s what a seaside town is all about, so I still think of sand.
LO: What’s your favourite Brighton discovery and what’s special about it?
KS: It has to just be the general ambience and laid back attitude that pervades the town.