Every so often, we like to check in with the ladies over at The DIME Store and highlight one of the makers whose work they sell in-store. This month they spoke with newcomer, Shawna Smyth, about chalkboards, dad jokes, and why there's not a best coffee shop in town. We also learned a little bit about her work as a maker, too, but ya know-- getting off topic is fun. Read on to learn about this talented maker's continuing journey as a freelancer and risk-taker.
First of all, we need to address the fact that you have the world's coolest day job: you are a freelance chalkboard artist. How'd you get that gig?
Honestly, I kind of fell into it! I was working as a cashier at Central Market when I was approached to join the Art Department there to help out during a busy period. They knew I was studying art at UNT, so figured I might be a good fit. Over time, I worked really hard to prove that I was worthy of a full-time position there.
I started researching letterers, chalkboard artists, and sign painters to get new ideas for the weekly chalkboards that I took responsibility for, and I quickly fell in love with lettering. I watched timelapse videos to learn different techniques from other letterers, read countless interviews, bought lettering books, started following lettering superstars on Instagram... My new found love blossomed into a full-blown passion, and soon I was drawing letters everywhere. During long lectures, I'd sketch out quotes I liked. Waiting for the bus, I'd practice the letter 'S' in different styles. Suddenly, every birthday card I sent was done by hand, and I ended up hand lettering my own graduation announcements and mortar board. Lettering invaded almost every part of my life.
Well, it turns out... when you're passionate about something, research the heck out of it and you practice a LOT, you get pretty good! I would post pictures of my Central Market chalkboards on Instagram and Facebook, and slowly people started messaging me about doing a wedding chalkboard for them, or a high school graduation announcement. An executive from a Westlake corporation approached me to do a chalk mural at her office because she shopped at my store and liked my work. People actually wanted to pay me REAL MONEY to do something I was passionate about! What the... how does that even happen?!
At this point, I was going to school full time, working at Central Market full time,getting ready for graduation, and squeezing in freelance chalkboards whenever I could. It got overwhelming, and I got angry and I didn't laugh as much as I used to. But, a few months after I graduated, I decided I had built up enough clientele from side jobs that I could leave Central Market and make the HUGE leap to full-time freelance artist. Some stuff has been scary. Like figuring out health insurance, learning about taxes, and that ever-looming fact that you have no idea when your next paycheck is coming in. But, overall, it's been hugely liberating, and gratifying! I've met such interesting, wonderful people, I make my own schedule, and every day I get to have fun for a living. This chapter of my life is pretty neato, and I find reasons to laugh every day now!
What's your favorite type of chalkboard job?
Hmmm.... all of them? I LOVE doing chalkboards! The medium is so forgiving, it's great. Even when you're using chalk markers, you can typically erase with window cleaner and a sponge.
Besides that, I absolutely adore clients who offer me food and drinks while I work. I have to say, the chalkboards I've done at bars have been some of the most fun I've done. Haha!
Did it seem like a natural fit to add your line of clever, handlettering-driven art to your income as a freelancer?
It really did! Kind of a "duh" decision for me, and I'm so glad I did it! If I had chickened out (I was sorely tempted) I never would have gotten to know the ladies of the DIME Store. Rachel, Shelley, and Savannah have been HUGE in helping me navigate this crazy new path I'm on.
How do you come up with your cheeky and quirky designs?
Cheeky and quirky, I love that! Well, if you meet my dad, it'll make sense instantly.
I developed my sense of humor with my dad's humor as the blueprint. He's always been the funny guy in the room, that guy surrounded by a group of people laughing... but you know, in a good way. Not, like, pointing and laughing. But yeah, growing up I was taught to put a high value on laughter, and I guess it shows. If I don't make a single cent on my "dad joke cards" but I make a few people laugh in the process... that's worth it.
You're just getting started with your collection of cards and prints, and we've already seen you add paper dolls and mugs to your line up in the past month. What motivates you to try different formats for your work?
Curiousity! I'll never know what I'm capable of if I don't try new things. Also Pinterest. Pinterest makes me believe I can do anything. Sometimes I crash and burn (oh hey, jewelry making), but every once in a while I'll try something new and it works out awesome.
So since you obviously have a love affair with coffee, who's got the best shop in town? Favorite beans for home?
Oh, it's that obvious, huh? Yeah, coffee and I have decided to run away together (don't tell my boyfriend), and we're just going to be super productive all the time! Yessss!
Best shop in town?! I don't think that exists... each shop has it's own greatness! I liked Big Mike's for it's location so close to campus, and the people-watching was superb! I like Jupiter House on the Square for sketching (half my cards were drawn here), the WhiteHouse for when I can't decide if I want beer or coffee (or both), and I'm super digging Shift right now. The owners are so SO nice, and super knowledgeable about coffee. And this isn't "in town" but it deserves honorable mention, Roots in Highland Village! They have the coolest chalkboard walls, and this amazing honey latte. It's like when you eat a bowl of Smacks cereal, and the milk at the bottom of the bowl is super sweet and honey flavored... add that to espresso, bam! Amazing.
Favorite beans for home? Anything by Addison Coffee Roaster. Central Market turned me into a coffee snob, and I can't appreciate Folgers anymore. My wallet is sad.
Aside from the DIME Store, where can we shop your work? (plug your Etsy, your website, other stores, upcoming events, etc)
For now, just my Etsy shop.
I'm hoping to expand soon, though, and I'd like to try to do more craft fairs.
How did you become involved with DIME?
My mom. She was visiting me one weekend, and I decided to take her to the DIME Store. Well, like any great mother, she embarrassed the heck out of me by going up to one of the owners of the store, Shelley, and going on an on about how great I was at drawing and lettering. Maaaaahhhhhhmmmmmm.... ohmygosh.
Well, it turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me! Shelley gave some great advice for someone like me, just starting out. I immediately started thinking up ideas of cards that I could make (starting small), did lots of research about Etsy, and then jumped in! I submitted an application to sell my silly cards at DIME, and the rest is history!
What's your favorite part about being involved in the creative community of Denton?
The people! Hands down, the people who create and the people who buy from the creative community in Denton are THE BEST. Everyone I've met so far is super supportive and kind. The makers I've met aren't out to one-up each other, and it's really beautiful. If anything, collaboration seems to be highly valued.
Do you have any advice for aspiring Etsy sellers or other local makers?
Research research research! The creative community (not just in Denton, but all over) is very kind and supportive! You can find advice all over the internet! Before I made the leap to start an Etsy shop, I read countless blogs and articles about Etsy shop owners and small business owners. You know, the kind of stuff that's titled "30 things I wish I knew before I started my business" and "This gal runs a fortune 500 company, sews her own clothes, feeds the homeless and is a mother of 3! How does she do it?!" There's some good advice out there.
I feel like a lot of people I know don't do the Reddit thing, but let me tell you... that community has been fantastic to me. I subscribed to CraftFairs, Denton, Etsy, EtsySellers, and SmallBusiness subreddits to stay informed. I reached out to the Etsy subreddit before my first craft fair (the Handmade Harvest this year) and SO many people responded with great advice and encouraging words.
I also started pinning a lot of "Go get 'em!" quotes to my Inspiration board on Pinterest, and would use some of them as backgrounds on my phone. One of my favorites was "Quit Slackin' and Make Sh*t Happen!". It helped me to not waste time on Facebook every time I looked at my phone. Without these motivational backgrounds on my phone, every time I picked up my phone would go something like this: What's that? A notification? I should probably just check that real qui...ohh, half an hour's gone by. Rats. But at least now I know what cat from Disney I am! -I'm Mufasa-