It's easy to get sucked into looking at all of the beautiful art that gets shared on Instagram. I, for one, am constantly saving artwork I come across daily. If I'm being honest, though, I probably have more pieces saved from Designed by Shea than almost any other I follow.
Shea O'Conner is the artist behind the name, and she's constantly producing beautiful pieces. Some are just pretty, some are of her (and my) favorite works of pop culture and musicals, and many are inspired by vintage style and the women Shea follows. One of my favorite things about her is that she's such champion for other women. It can be so easy to fall into the comparison trap when it comes to those who are so good at doing vintage hair and getting dressed up to the nines. Shea, though, shares what. she loves about them and draws them (both for fun and as commissions). I was so pleased to read about how Shea works as a children's book illustrator, and I think her story can be helpful for artists trying to figure out to make their passion into a career. Can't wait for you to gt to know her and fall in love with her work!
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting to sell your art? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?
A: I had been working at my first job at an agency for several years as a graphic designer. I started to get burnout and realized that I missed drawing, and drawing in a style that was uniquely my own (you learn to wear a lot of different style hats working in the corporate design industry). I started teaching myself to draw again and began to share some of my work on Instagram to see if it resonated with anyone and to get feedback from peers. People started to ask if they could purchase my artwork (my mind was blown), so I started an Etsy shop.
Q: What was your first piece to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?
A: I simply adore vintage musicals and drawing them makes me happy. Oddly enough, there is totally a niche market for other vintage souls who really enjoyed the musical-inspired illustrations I was creating. My “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” art print was a very popular piece and encouraged me to lean into the vintage vibe.
Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you starting this as a career or a business? Were you nervous to share it?
A: I’m super lucky to have a great support system. Even though it was a risk to quit my first job to pursue illustration, my family has always trusted me. I’m a pretty driven person, so when I set out to do something, I’m stubbornly determined to succeed at it. They know this about me and trust me to make the right moves and have shared a lot of wisdom with me along the way.
Q: Is this your full-time job? If so, how long did it take you to transition into full-time?
A: After I quit my first job, I freelanced and ran my Etsy shop for about two years. I was working from home all the time and sometimes wouldn’t leave my apartment for days. Needless to say, I really needed some community other than my cat. I asked one of my favorite freelance clients if I could come on part-time and they agreed. I am currently signed with an agency (Shannon Associates) illustrating children’s books, I freelance, I run my Etsy shop, and I work three days out of the week at Rhyme & Reason Design as a graphic designer, motion designer and illustrator.
Q: What has been your experience with selling on Etsy?
A: It’s been super positive. It provides me with a good structure to manage the business side of things. Also, the type of shopper who uses Etsy is generally someone who appreciates hand-made, custom pieces which is perfect for what I offer.
Q: Do you prefer to create original pieces or do commissions?
A: I jump back and forth. I always love creating original pieces, but it can be intimidating starting from a blank canvas whereas you have some point of reference when you’re working on a commission (plus they bring folks a lot of joy). I used to have commissions available all year around, but started getting burnt out on them. Because of that, I now offer them at limited times which helps me give each commission the time it deserves.
Q: What have you done to build a community and connect with your customers on Instagram?
A: I’m inspired by others who have chosen to appreciate vintage ephemera, especially those who wear vintage clothing/hairstyles on the regular. I literally cannot resist drawing somebody when they are representing themselves in such a positive, dapper way. Drawing these portraits of real people has been a way to encourage them and also share my work.
Q: What do you wish more people knew about running a small business?
A: I think just to be patient with the shop owner and realize that we aren’t all able to match Amazon’s pace when it comes to delivering something quickly. Also, it’s important to respect people’s time by not DMing them at odd hours or on weekends.
Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?
A: They’re currently sold out, but I absolutely love my Galendars. I do these every year and design an original Gal for each month. Every month, I share free iPhone screensavers in my IG highlights and send exclusive desktop wallpapers in my E-Newsletter.
Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?
A: I’m really enjoying working on children’s book illustrations and can’t wait to share what I’ve been working on. Ultimately, it would be really lovely to self-publish a book. I would also love to be able to sell more items beyond art prints and commissions like phone cases, dish towels, compact mirrors, etc. I’m just excited and grateful to be able to draw the things I love and want to share that joy with others.
Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?
Follow along with Shea:
Shop Designed by Shea