Hey friends, I wanted to kick off this series with a woman who has been along for the Autumn Jade Studio journey since I opened up the old store front in Manning, Carolyn Gerk of Velvet Hand Designs! I met Carolyn through the business, but she has easily and quickly grown into a friend.
Carolyn grew up here in the Peace Country, where she now lives and works. She is an independent artist who creates portraits, logos, illustrations, relief prints and ink and watercolor designs. I personally am a huge fan of her relief prints.
Carolyn is an avid reader who loves spending a lot of time outdoors with her husband and kids, which shines through in her art. I hope you enjoy my interview with Carolyn, you will be able to find links to her social media, and etsy at the bottom of the page.
Tell me a little about your business.
My business is called Velvet Hand Designs. I sell my work via my etsy shop. I sell greeting cards, stickers, art prints, portraits as well as linocut prints and some original artworks. I've been creating art all my life, but I've been operating as Velvet Hand Designs for over 10 years!
Is there a story behind your business name?
The name Velvet Hand Designs comes from a snippet of a lyric in the Beatles song Happiness is a Warm Gun. The song has had many theories and interpretations over the years, but it's always been one of my favorites.
What was your introduction to art?
That's hard to say, specifically. I've been drawing since I was very young. I can definitely remember poring over stacks of "how to draw " books and Scholastic art tutorial books. It's tough to say whether I gravitated towards art books and artwork because I was something of an artist or if I was something of an artist because I was drawn to beautiful things!
What do you draw inspiration from?
I've always been heavily inspired by films and literature. My old sketchbooks were filled with my own interpretations of movie posters and fairy tale illustrations, and I was always really inspired by illustrations in children's books. Looking at my work now, you can see that influence. There's a lot of film and literature reference throughout and a sense of illustration and storytelling in my art.
I love folklore and I'm really fascinated by cultural history and people; the ways the collective 'we' see the world and how that shifts and changes over time and place. And if I'm ever really stuck and just need to create, scientific animal and botanical illustrations are a delight to pore over for inspiration.
You feature a lot of horror prints on your social media, what's your favorite horror movie?
Are you kidding? How can I pick one? This is egregious! Lol. I refuse, I'm giving you at least a top 3. The Exorcist, an absolute classic, but the way it impacted film and storytelling and societal views is really fascinating. Not to mention the practical effects are remarkable for the time.
The Shining is another fave. I'm not veering from the mainstream path with this one, but I adore Kubrick's film, and I've done so much reading on it. The theories and analyses of it are so engaging!
And let's get a little more modern, and I'll go with Hereditary. Stunning, gripping, chilling and devastating. And Toni Collete is FANTASTIC in it.
Who are your favorite artists?
When I was young, I became enamored with Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh. I can recall feeling absolutely, cartoonishly smitten with their work, like my eyes would turn into hearts and I'd start floating.
I'm a little more grounded now. I still love the classics, but in the age of social media it's so easy to find currently working artists to be enamored with. I've been a huge fan of Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh's work since I joined Instagram. Her work with relief printing really inspired me to try the medium.
I also love Emily Louise Howard (@thediggingestgirl), Brian Reedy, Brianna Toswill, Esther Muñoz, Phoebe Wahl, Taynee Tinsley.....to be honest, I could go on all day.
What were the biggest struggles you encountered when you first started your business?
One of the biggest struggles I had was communicating with customers. Often, a customer will hear "artist" and take that to mean that I can do any type of art on any surface using any medium. Or, sometimes, they just don't understand the difference between, say, watercolor on paper and acrylic on canvas. So, I'd accept any job because I was so grateful that someone wanted to pay me, even if it wasn't my Forte or preferred medium.
One time, I accepted a job to create a custom landscape canvas. I made sure to show the customer examples of my style and let them know that I can't do photorealism. We moved forward and once I was done, they politely declined the piece because it wasn't realistic.
I was devastated, but now I am much clearer about my process and materials... And I get paid upfront!
How would you describe your art style?
This type of question is so hard to answer about your own work! I think my art is whimsical and dark, fluid and loose and just a bit rustic (subtext, messy! I am not a precision artist!)
What is your creation process like?
That depends a bit on the medium and the project, but let's say I'm working on an illustration of a portrait. I begin with a basic sketch, which, in the case of complex designs or detailed portraits can sometimes include tracing basic shapes on a light board. Next, I spend some time outlining my edges and texturing a bit with pencil (which is both a guide for myself and a good way to show a customer what to expect; I always like to send a process photo at the sketch stage).
My next step would be adding masking fluid to protect any areas I'd like to keep white, and moving forward with India ink outlines and shading. Color comes in last for me, and it's often the most fun. I really like to let my inks blend and bleed into one another. Once everything dries, I'll remove my masking fluid, touch up details with India ink and white highlights. I'll allow things another round of drying and then I scan my image and save a digital file. If I'm creating a portrait, I'll ship out the original. If I'm making prints, I'll keep the original and I can adjust my prints digitally if need be. (Though my digital art prowess is shockingly lacking!)
Of course, the processes for carving and printing or embroidery art are quite different!
Do you remember the first AHA moment you had where you knew this was what you were meant to be doing?
I've always wanted to be a professional artist, and I spent a fair few years being afraid to create an online shop. I'd sell canvas paintings at markets, and while it was gratifying to make a sale, it was never a huge success.
Once I opened my shop and started to get interest in prints, getting my first consistent week of sales, I realized this could be a way to make art my JOB. I could spend time creating new illustrations and paintings, produce prints, and essentially fund myself to keep going. As a parent doing work that people have often viewed as a hobby, I've held myself up to a standard of expectation that I can't commit sizeable amounts of time to artwork if it doesn't produce returns. That might be a harsh outlook, and I've softened it a lot since then, but I think receiving my first payment that was equal to the paychecks I received at my last job made me see that I could actually realize ART=JOB, a job that actually contributed to the household.
What is one tip you would like to share with other artists or entrepreneurs?
Well, for someone running their own business, never underestimate the power of social media. Schedule time to prep and plan your posts, to research and make connections with artisans both locally and internationally!
In terms of art, do not be afraid to experiment. You absolutely need to create for creation's sake. To me, it's like a muscle. If you are only creating what is specifically requested and ordered, you start to lose a bit of the passion that most artists possess. Don't forget why you started selling your work; most likely it's because you love to create.
Any words of encouragement for people just starting out?
Don't forget that you're doing this because you love it. It will take time and it might be hard, but don't lose the joy you feel when you are creating! Be patient with yourself.
Do you have any message you would like to say to other women in business or women who are thinking about starting their own business?
I think of myself as an artist first and a business person second. I'm glad and grateful to be selling my work but to be honest, the biggest goal is to support my ability to keep creating art full time. Art was the dream and business was just the method to get me there. So my advice to you is to tap into your resources. I could not do this without the help of my husband and my network of friends and creators. I have relied on the help of so many people for guidance and technical skills and support. You do not have to do it all on your own. It takes a village and all that!
A huge thank you to Carolyn for agreeing to be my first interview, and I hope you all enjoyed it! You can find Velvet Hand Designs on the following platforms:
Velvet Hand Designs Etsy Shop
Instagram: Velvet Hand Designs
Facebook: Velvet Hand Designs
Tik Tok: Velvet Hand Designs
If you have a female owned business you'd like to recommend for this series please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.