Tips, tools, and techniques for building a successful business doing what you love.
Profiles In Excellence...
Interviewed by Bruce Andor
Friends know me as the world's biggest 5 year old! So when I came across Marilyn Scott-Waters folding paper toy site at The Toymaker, I thought I was in heaven!
Marilyn makes her unique creations available online for children all over the world. Last year, she published her first book of toys. Some of her designs are stunningly intricate, like her paper theaters, and yet easy to put together.
Marilyn was gracious enough to take a break from her busy schedule and talk with me about her life as a self-employed artist.
You mentioned having been a "cube dwelling Art Director". What prompted you to make the move to being self-employed?
I was an Art Director for Nike for four and a half years with a staff of eight designers. My travel budget was bigger than my salary and I got to travel to many wonderful places and see lots of things. Then I had a baby... and everything changed. I left Nike and got a job closer to home with a lot less travel involved. For two years I designed high performance motorcycle gear which was the same old thing day in and day out. One Friday they wanted me to work late... which wouldn't have been so unusual but it was Halloween. I had a three year old in a little kitten suit that was going to go trick or treating for the first time. My boss couldn't understand why I couldn't stay late. Feh! Two weeks later I was laid off. I'd thought about working from home for a long time. I was tired of the travel, not getting home until seven in the evening, not seeing my husband or little boy, so I took the leap and started freelancing. It was great and I never looked back.
What have been the biggest benefits of making that move?
I have been able to spend more time with my family. The day that my little boy graduated from preschool I cried through the whole slideshow showing all the field trips that they had been on. If I was working in an office I never would have been able to go to the Pumpkin Patch or to the petting zoo. Another side benefit of freelancing is the amazing variety of projects that I've been able to take on. I've designed everything from brochures, tee shirts, websites, logos. I just finished illustrating a children's book for a client! It was a dream!
What do you find to be the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is doing work and hustling work at the same time. Getting paid can be a pain sometimes, though I've been mostly lucky in that regard. Most of my work comes from word of mouth. Budgeting time can be a challenge, getting projects done and picking up the dry cleaning, running errands, picking up the kid from school, email, etc. You have to watch for time wasters.
As an artist, how has the change to self-employment impacted your creativity? Your choices as an artist?
Being self-employed has made me three hundred and fifty four percent more creative. Having a wide variety of clients and projects has really made me stretch as an artist. Everyday is a challenge and something new, which I like!
You have two websites... The Toymaker and your design practice. Is one or the other your main source of income?
My income comes from Scott-Waters Design and doing commercial graphic design work. The Toymaker is my pet project. I am Building a brand and am not worried about having to rely on it to pay the bills. The paper toys are free to download. (Although Paypal donations are more than welcome to help pay for my ever growing bandwidth.) My goal is to help parents and kids spend time together making things. I've really learned a lot by doing it, it's been like getting a Master's degree in brand building. I've learned how to promote a website, get to the top of search engines, put up a shopping cart, as well as build a huge mailing list. I've also learned how to get a book printed, ISBN numbers and all that. I figured out how to get my book carried by Amazon as well as Borders and Barnes and Noble. Oddly enough I've received a lot of illustration work because of my paper toy site so it does function as an online portfolio. I'm hoping to grow The Toymaker into a line of paper toy books. Wouldn't that be cool?
Marilyn, I get a real sense of play when I look at your websites. That's often a difficult feeling for soloists to hang on to amid the pressures and daily practicalities of running a business. How do you maintain that?
Play is what makes life worth doing. We all have to work! Today I have a stack of technical drawings to grind through as well as a letterhead redesign. (Which I find to be kind of relaxing, sort of like knitting or doing needlepoint or jigsaw puzzles) Designing fun paper toys for kids to make is more of a compulsion, a passion, something that keeps me up late at night. It's not work, it's play, so it feeds me and makes me a better designer. I'm pretty good about bribing my inner child. Finish these schematics and you can work on your lightning bug and butterfly dominos I also have a very supportive family. My husband is awesome. I couldn't have begun to do this without him. My parents and siblings are so encouraging too. It's all good!