The handmade parent is a series of interviews with parents who have an art/craft business or passion. The series explores how the artist/crafter manages their family and their creative passion while promoting their work. Today I talk with local artist ASH, owner of Giraffes + Robots. ASH creates fun art for kids and grown ups to decorate their walls.
Kidoinfo: What inspired you to start your business?
ASH: My mother surprised me by printing note cards with images of my paintings on the cover about eight years ago. I sold them all within months. Once they sold out, I kept getting requests for more, so I did a second printing. Whole Foods stores in the area started carrying the cards and often called me for more stock because they had sold out. It all happened very quickly and I was pleasantly surprised at the response I was getting. So, I would say positive feedback is what inspired me to turn my artwork into a business.
How did you start your business?
ASH: I created a website for people to see my work and be able to commission paintings or prints online. I also started selling T-Shirts with my designs and most recently, started selling a coloring book, which was a lot of fun to do.
My first few commissions were a large painting for a little girl’s room and a huge canvas mural for a little boy’s room. I loved painting them and I love the fact that these children will have my work on their wall for years and when they are older, it will bring back memories of their childhood. Kids react happily to my work, which keeps me motivated.
How do you balance work and family?
ASH: Since my son was born I have been focusing on doing Pop-Art portraits and designing party invites, birth announcements, personalized posters, etc. All mostly computer-based art, which is much simpler to do with a toddler running around. Taking out all the messy paints will have to wait until my son is a little older and can paint alongside me.
When I get a commission I work on it mostly during naptimes and bedtimes. Although sometimes I work on it when he is playing well on his own. I love it when he looks up at the computer and gives me a compliment on my work by shouting “Elephant!” “Lion!” or I get a great big “ROAR”.
Please describe a typical day.
ASH: We get up and have cereal or oatmeal sitting at the kitchen table. We plan a play date for the afternoon. We go for a walk, if the snow does not make it impossible to leave the house. During our walk we often stop by the bookstore, the park or for some egg salad at Whole Foods. Then, we go home for naptime. That is when I have two to three hours to do some work. After naptime we have something to eat (I have gotten very good at cooking healthy, super quick meals), have a play date or go out for another walk. Then we come home for dinner, another bit of playtime and then bedtime. After my son falls asleep, I get to work on any artwork I have pending, or create something new. I get pretty obsessive about finishing my work, so often I will work very late. But it is fun work, so I don’t mind. I don’t even notice how late it gets. Once I get into a piece time just flies.
Do you have any time-saving tricks that you could share?
ASH: I think cooking can really swallow up a lot of time, plus young kids don’t like to wait for their food. So I make a lot of vegetable purees on the weekend, mix them with roasted vegetable pasta sauce, and freeze them in single serve portions. Then, when it is time to eat, all I have to do is defrost, boil some pasta or make some rice. I also use a lot of canned lentils because they are yummy, high in iron and so simple to make into a delicious meal. I cook them with some olive oil and onions for a pasta sauce, or with some scrambled eggs with shredded potatoes and peas as a meal. Anyway, I am giving away my cooking secrets! You will have to wait for business number two; Simple, nutritious and quick meals for toddlers.
If you could give your past self (pre-kids or pre-business) any advice, what would it be?
ASH: Don’t eat so much when you are pregnant because it will be hard to shift the weight afterwards!!
Where do you find inspiration?
ASH: I LOVE good design and great patterns. I get so excited when I see funky/retro textiles, cards, wallpaper, tiles, origami paper, basically anything that is colorful and makes me smile. Great children’s books are a joy as well.
What is the one kid or parent product that you could not live without?
ASH: Couldn’t do without my stroller, so that would be my most essential product. And diapers.
My son loves listening and dancing to Mika, The Beatles and Madonna. I know those are not kids CD’s per se, but they are just as much fun!
What do you do with your kids on a rainy day?
ASH: On a rainy day we throw all the couch cushions on the floor and jump around or have a dance party, it is a lot of fun.
What is the last great non-kid book or film that you loved? What made it so great?
ASH: Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Really great stuff. Watch it and see what I mean. I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
ASH: Having food delivered after my son’s bedtime so that I can eat at my desk while I work.
If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
ASH: Read the paper. The actual paper paper, not online.
Can you share a story or anecdote that is symbolic of your dual life as a business owner and a mother/father?
ASH: Whenever I have a commission, I end up working on it exclusively and immerse myself in it. Immediately after finishing, I am driven to do one of my son. If you look at the samples of my Pop Art portraits on my websites, you can easily guess who my son is! It is a lot of fun doing the Pop Art portraits for other people but nothing is more fun than doing one of my own kid!
How has the experience and on the job training of being a mom/dad prepared or changed you in business?
ASH: There is nothing more fun than designing new prints and characters featuring whatever animals or toys my son is into. It makes him so happy and I get to post new work on my site. It really is the perfect business to have when you have a kid. I would pay for this stuff and get it all for him, if I didn’t make it myself!
What is next for you and your business?
ASH: I’m trying to grow the Pop Art Portrait side of things because I really enjoy doing them and I found a company that prints them on canvas to a very high standard. It is a product I can offer while being confident that my costumers are getting good value for money. I am thrilled to announce I will be selling my art and Pop Art portraits at Mod Mama on Wayland Square.
I am also joining forces with another illustrator, my friend Tatyana Feeney, to do collaborative illustrations. We already have the concept all planned out, the name of the company and the domain and webhost set up. We just have to finish the joint illustrations and launch the site. She is in Europe, so she will take care of things on that end and I will run the US side of things. Look out for TWEET ROAR soon!