Janet Hill has been painting since her early years, yet more recently she made the growing success of her trade into a full-time career. Previously the owner of a retail bath and beauty location, Janet already had the experience and know-how for taking on such a feat. After leaping into successful online selling, she’s now hired an agent to help with the promotion of her Etsy shop, JanetHillStudio, and is looking into the possibility of inviting her husband into the managerial side of the business.
How did you originally get into painting?
I discovered I liked painting when I was a teenager. It was around the time that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to take in university. I was pretty good in science but terrible in math, and I was a little confused as to what I should do. So, I did what any normal person would do in a time of crisis — buy a giant piece of Masonite board and start painting on it. Suddenly, I knew the direction that I wanted to go. I had a great art teacher who helped me cobble together a good portfolio, and before I knew it I was packing up and heading off to school.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
I owned my own retail store that specialized in European bath and beauty products for six years before switching to painting full time. I tried to work in the corporate world but it was very unfulfilling for me. I figured that owning my own store would be a little more creative and would likely provide a decent income. Though I found a pretty good location for the shop, the timing wasn’t so good. It was 2002, and the economy was pretty rocky. In spite of that, I showed a healthy growth for three years and even launched my own line of skin care products which developed a strong following.
Then 2005 came along and it was like a car crash. I’m still not sure if it was the war in Iraq, gas prices, or just a general feeling of economic doom, but tourism to Canada — what I depended on the most — seemed to plummet. I took on a lot of debt to keep the business afloat. Every day I wondered if I should keep it or bail out. At the same time, I was beginning to discover that I really didn’t like owning a retail store. It wasn’t so much the constant bill paying and everyday issues like shipping delays, merchandising concerns, shoplifting and even vandalism, but dealing with the public that was starting to wear me down. The products that I carried were higher end, and it became a nightmare to explain why a bar of beautiful French-milled soap cost $8.00 when so many people are used to mass-produced merchandise and big box store prices.
How did you make the transition?
I knew I had no other choice but to declare bankruptcy. It was startling to file for bankruptcy before the age of 32, but I knew there was no other way to manage the debt. It was a terrifying time, especially when faced with the likelihood of losing my house. On top of that, I didn’t know what direction to go after I closed the store. In the end, I was able to keep my house and that same year I met my husband, the eternal optimist. He had this unbelievably positive attitude toward everything and, with his support, I started to realize that perhaps losing the store was for the best. I always had a funny feeling that I wasn’t living my life to its fullest potential.
Around the same time, my parents encouraged me to start painting full time and sell my work online. They had watched a news report about an artist who made a great living by selling her work on eBay. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, as I had a formal training in painting, and felt that art should be sold in galleries. Out of desperation, I listed something small and immediately received a bid. I got over my apprehensions of selling online when that first bid appeared. Soon after a friend told me about Etsy. I listed some small paintings (3″x5″) and they sold quickly. For a while I posted my larger pieces on eBay, but preferred how Etsy focused on handmade and vintage items.
What has been your single most effective marketing strategy?
I came across Anna Spiro’s Absolutely Beautiful Things and was totally enamored of her style. After a while, I got the courage to email her with samples of my work. I was shocked when she replied with very complimentary remarks and featured my paintings later that week. That post pretty much got me off the ground. I strongly recommend seeking and contacting blogs that relate to your style.
Walk us through a day in the life of Janet Hill.
- I try and wake up around 8, have breakfast, and pack lunch for my husband (I know…how 1950s of me).
- After some primping and preening, I take my little King Charles Spaniel, Finnegan, out for a long walk. It’s the only time that I can let my mind wander, and I often come up with concepts for paintings.
- When I return home I usually find myself glued to the computer for at least two hours, answering convos and researching ideas. (Okay, there is a little online shopping too.)
- After lunch I head into my tiny studio for about 4-5 hours. I’ve tried to paint longer, but generally it seems to go downhill after five hours.
- I ship orders out twice a week, and if it’s a shipping day I’ll spend the early evening preparing prints and paintings for shipping.
- Then it’s time for a cocktail.
Sweet tooth alert: What happens to those decadent desserts after a painting session?
Thankfully, not too many of them actually exist beyond my imagination. I think it’s a self-preservation thing, because I would be in big trouble if they were sitting in front of me all day.
What do you miss most about having a day job?
I think the only thing that I truly miss is the social aspect. It can get a little lonely sometimes, and my two furry companions don’t really provide stimulating conversation, or just downright good gossip, for that matter.
What’s the hardest part about running your business?
I think trying to please everyone is possibly the hardest part. My business has been steadily growing and it can be difficult to keep up. I am responsible for customer convos, shipping, updating my blog, researching ideas, ordering supplies, all while coming up with interesting ideas for paintings.
This year I’ve acquired an agent who has been terrific with the more commercial side of what I do, such as publishing and licensing my work, negotiating contracts, and promotion. I also got my brother’s company, 49digital, to take over my website maintenance. I think it’s important to collaborate with others who have talents and skills that are different from yours. Trying to do everything yourself can lead to a lot of frustration.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path?
This may sound corny, but I wish I would have had more faith in myself and my abilities. I think I spent too much time letting people tell me that being an artist was going to be difficult. In reality, it seemed very natural to me. Sometimes people can be quick to discourage others from pursuing their creativity, whether because of jealousy, fear or insecurity.
What goals do you have in store for JanetHillStudio?
I try not to have too many goals and let things happen naturally. In the past I always had goals and all sorts of plans which drove me crazy. The constant pressure to achieve something caused me to make fast decisions, perhaps the culprit for my bankruptcy. However, one goal I have is to convince my husband to manage the business side of things so I can focus entirely on the creative part.
Have any favorite Etsy shops we should know about?
- Elle Moss – I love her clever photographs.
- Dimdi – She paints amazing little watercolour portraits of animals. I have a hedgehog painting that I adore.
- Claudia G Pearson – I just recently discovered her fabulous illustrations.
- Joetta Maue – She has such a unique spin on embroidery.
- Be Joyful Vintage – Lovely vintage books and pretty things.
- The Shop at No 144 – I just love bows and ruffles.
Thanks to Janet for sharing her story. You can see some of her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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