Meet Emily, from Little Human Art Company, who paints the most beautiful, expressive portraits of children and babies. I could scroll through her Instagram for ages admiring her work.
Below, she talks about what led her to start her own business, the challenges of juggling motherhood and painting commissions, and some of her business goals for the future.
LITTLE OBSERVATIONIST: Give us your tweet-sized elevator pitch. What’s your business all about?
EMILY WILSON: I paint watercolour portraits of children and babies, from photographs supplied by the customer.
LO: Now tell us more: What sets you apart from your competition?
EW: I aim to make the idea of commissioning a portrait more accessible to people who may have previously thought it unaffordable. Whilst I certainly think I have a style of painting unique to me, I don’t really see myself as a traditional artist, but as someone offering a service where the customer takes central importance. Using the customer’s own photo adds another nice dimension, because the painting will forever be a reminder of that moment in time when it was captured. I maintain regular contact with the customer, regarding the composition and progress of the painting, to make sure they end up with something they can treasure.
LO: Share a bit of background on yourself and your business.
EW: Art has always been a passion of mine, but one that’s been well and truly relegated to hobby-status for the 15 or so years that I worked (mainly) in admin.
Becoming a parent was everything and nothing I expected, and made me completely reassess my priorities. Painting slowly became my way to cling on to a little bit of “me”, whilst semi-drowning in nappies, sleep-deprivation and the general overwhelm of parenting.
I began to paint portraits as gifts, then whilst pregnant with my second little boy in 2017, I finally took the leap into taking paid commissions for portraits. I started with a Facebook page, quickly turning my attention more to Instagram, then finally a website about a year later.
When the time came to return to my pre-maternity job, the imminent balance of part time salary minus childcare made it potentially as cost effective for me to continue taking commissions instead of returning to work. I had literally zero money to invest in my business, short of buying good quality watercolour paper and website hosting. I have no childcare for my now 2-year-old and I work at a teeny desk in the corner of my kitchen, during nap times and well-behaved moments (of which there are sadly few, with my lovable, yet feisty, little boy!).
Having said that, whatever chaos surrounds my efforts to sit down and paint, once I’m actually there it’s just about the most calming thing I could possibly be doing.
LO: Which social media platforms do you use for your business? Has this been time well invested? Any tips for newcomers?
EW: I use Instagram more than any other platform. It’s hugely suited to my kind of business because it’s so visual and I’ve had a good number of customers through it.
I’ve been learning as I go, and taken a lot of advice on it, so my main tips are:
- use a planning app (I use Planoly) to schedule a week of posts at once, so you’re not having to hop on and off all the time
- connect with and comment on posts by other businesses who might have similar customers to yours, to encourage people to click on to your feed
- post regularly (I try to post at least every other day, but some people go for much more)
- try to keep a theme to your feed, without it looking too generic; use the Stories features for further engagement (I find this the hardest, because I overthink everything)
LO: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given that still resonates with you today? And your favourite resources for small business?
EW: I read once that when you build a business from scratch, you create it how you want it to be, not how you imagine it ought to be. Success means different things to different people, and that’s not necessarily saying yes to everything that brings you income. To me, it’s a delicate balance of time and income, particularly at the moment while my two boys are still young.
I love the Doing It For The Kids Facebook group and podcast. It’s a lovely community of people juggling parenting and self-employment. I also have a wonderful, inspiring book called In The Company Of Women, by Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge (also has a great Instagram account and is editor of Good Company Magazine), which is inspiration and advice from female makers, artists and entrepreneurs. I’ve also recently discovered podcasts while I paint, and can get lost down a podcast rabbit hole for as long as my toddler’s nap will let me!
LO: What have been your biggest challenges and greatest rewards as a small business owner?
EW: I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child, but it’s literally taken me over 20 years to summon the confidence to actually charge people money for it! I think this is probably down to imposter syndrome and obsessive comparison to what other artists are doing, as well as the feeling that it’s ludicrous to charge money for something I get so much pleasure out of. There’s been a lot of mental obstacles to navigate to start taking commissions, which I have to overcome again and again whilst I try to market myself effectively (not a skill that comes naturally to me!).
It’s also a really complicated juggle of parenting and working. I don’t have childcare for my 2-year-old, so painting, marketing and admin is all fitted in to nap times, evenings, weekends, and tiny pockets of time when my little boy is not screaming, rampaging or trashing anything. It can get very frustrating at times.
LO: What are your hopes for your business going forward: what would you most love to achieve as a short-term goal? And long term?
EW: In the short term, I hope to find some time to paint some pieces that are not specifically portrait commissions (but still my usual style of figurative art featuring children), that I could offer through my website as prints or cards.
In the longer term, I would really like to develop something like a surface pattern range, that could be applied to paper, fabric, etc. whilst continuing to take portrait commissions, of course. In a few years, my youngest will also be in school, so more time should open up to me.
Then, one beautiful day, maybe (just maybe), I will have my own studio space and can leave behind the kitchen table.
LO: Little Observationist is all about appreciating life’s little luxuries. Name three you’ve enjoyed recently.
EW: Ha ha, the word luxury has a very different meaning since becoming a parent. These days a solo trip to the supermarket is practically a holiday! I did discover Space Masks on Instagram a few months ago; that’s a really lovely relaxing treat on any occasion I can grab 15 entire minutes of quiet. Even better combined with a guided meditation from the Insight Timer app. Working from home involves a lot of unnecessary biscuit consumption. My favourites are Stroopwafels. Yum. I also have a little milk frother thingy, so I can make yummy coffee at home, and pretend I have the kind of important cosmopolitan existence where I might nip into Starbucks for a cappuccino.
Connect with Emily:
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