I am literally so excited about this post today – I was beaming when I found Sarah via her etsy shop. She has such cute and simplistic style that carries across in all her products and designs. The fact that she is from NYC (or close enough) is just pretty awesome for me (definitely a location on the bucket list). But that’s not the only awesome thing. Sarah comes across as a down to earth creative who is just doing what comes naturally to her. I hope her interview will motivate you to get back to the basics, find what inspires you as an individual and take the risks to do what has been in your heart for a while. I love what she says about finance (surely put things in perspective for me) “Sometimes I can get a little obsessive over sales and income and costs of doing business, all of which is important because I, like everyone else, have bills to pay, but when that happens, I try to take a step back and get a little perspective: I get to do what I want and create what I want EVERYDAY and so far it is supporting my (fairly frugal) lifestyle! That’s pretty much the dream, right?” And it can become a realistic dream for a lot of us! Make sure to give her FB and insta page a like – links below the interview! Here’s a little bio about Sarah…
“Sarah K. Benning is a self-named design business dedicated to creating authentic and accessible art for the home and cards for everyday life. The founder/designer/maker, Sarah K. Benning, employs contemporary embroidery techniques to create unique greeting cards, uplifting wall décor, and whimsical stitched landscapes. Every step of the creative process is meticulously carried out from concept to finished product, ensuring quality goods and emphasizing all the perks and quirks of the handmade. Each card is hand cut, folded and stitched while each hoop is carefully crafted from start to finish by Sarah, all in order to provide the highest quality art for the home. Sarah K. Benning received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013 and has been working as an independent maker in Upstate New York ever since.”
1. What made you decide to study at the Art Institute of Chicago?
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and was fortunate enough to attend an arts magnet school where I focussed on the visual arts. When it came time to apply to colleges, my top two choices were the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), which was right down the street from my high school, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Ultimately, the idea of venturing off into the unknown was way more appealing to me than staying close to home. SAIC also has a very conceptual and experimental philosophy, which was an exciting change after spending four years of vigorously studying the traditional fundamentals of art making.
2. What inspires you most as an individual?
I love to travel and I love patterns found in nature.
3. What was is like moving to New York and setting up a studio?
I left Chicago two days after my graduation in 2013 and moved to Albany, NY (about 2 hours north of NYC), where I immediately started working at the New York State Museum designing housing for 3-D objects kept in the Scientific Illustration Collection. Being busy right away, made the transition a lot easier. After that project wrapped up we decided to stay in Albany because the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in the city. Also, it’s close enough to allow me to make many trips into NYC for events and opportunities.
For the time being, I work from home. We converted our living room into a work room that cosily houses my desk and materials and my partner’s instruments and recording equipment (he is a composer/musician). Spending so much time at home I get a little antsy, so I am constantly rearranging things to keep the space interesting and inspiring. As my business has grown, one of the biggest challenges has been to find space to store bulk materials and packaging supplies. We are only planning on being in New York for another 6 months or so before we relocate to somewhere else (TBD). Neither of us like to stay put for too long!
4. When did you decide to go online and open up shop (via etsy) and would you encourage others to head this way?
I opened my Etsy shop right after I left school, though it was some time after that where I felt like I really found my voice and style and created a more cohesive body of work. I like to kind of dive into things without a whole lot of planning, so I figured I would open a shop and see where it went. It’s grown a lot over the past year and a half and my business now extends beyond Etsy into the real world in the form of markets and stockists. My next big project is to launch a person website outside of Etsy which will feature my cards and hoops and some larger scale fine art pieces.
My philosophy on Etsy is “Why not?” It’s so easy to open a shop and allows people all over the world to see your products, so why not open an Etsy shop? That being said, I think it is important to diversify, and strongly encourage other makers to look beyond Etsy and other ecommerce sites in order to build a sustainable business.
5. How did you develop your unique style you have now? What was the journey?
My style is always in a state of development. Generally I make what makes me happy and keep my fingers crossed that other people will like I’m making too. Sometimes they don’t though, and then I have to go back to the drawing board and tweak an idea until it works or abandon it. It can be a little painful to let an idea go as unsuccessful, but that is part of the artistic process, especially when you are making it public and opening yourself up to feedback and criticism. And usually, the result of rethinking a design turns out more interesting than the original anyway. Sometimes I feel like my style is splintering into too many different directions and I try to take time to assess what is working and what direction I am most excited about. I’m sort of a packrat, so I rarely throw anything away with the idea that I can always revisit an abandoned direction sometime in the future.
6. What was the hardest part in starting your business and do you have any regrets?
I like to think of my business as a micro-business rather than a small business, since, for the time being anyway, it is a one-woman show. I design, manufacture, package and ship each piece in my collection, while managing the financial side of business and attempting to have spare time to enjoy life. This autonomy is empowering and exciting, but comes with its own set of stresses and uncertainties. It took me about a year and a half to fully commit to Sarah K. Benning as a self-supporting business, so during that time I worked full time during the day and designed and created at night and on weekends. Finding the time and energy to develop and expand my brand was difficult, but I don’t regret the struggles for a second.
If I could do it over again, I would leave my day job sooner and put greater faith into my creative endeavours! There will always be slow times and busy times and I think the most important thing is to stay focussed and positive. Sometimes I can get a little obsessive over sales and income and costs of doing business, all of which is important because I, like everyone else, have bills to pay, but when that happens I try to take a step back and get a little perspective: I get to do what I want and create what I want EVERYDAY and so far it is supporting my (fairly frugal) lifestyle! That’s pretty much the dream, right?
7. Do you think your art represents a bit of your personality?
I know it’s cliché, but I can’t imagine my life without art. The creative process is so engrained into every aspect of my life that I have to assume as much of my personality is engrained into what I produce. Often, when people talk to me about my work they are amazed at the time-consuming process and detail of hand stitching patterns and cards, but really I think the methodical and meditative qualities of the process is all that keeps me sane!
These days, my efforts are mostly focussed on the more commercial side of my creative practice, which is a fun challenge of balancing my artistic voice with creating products people actually want to buy.
8. What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not creating art?
I love spending time in natural history museums, mostly in the mineral and bird sections. And I love to take care of my plants. Our apartment faces north and it has been a very cold winter so it’s been a struggle keeping my guys alive. During better weather, time spent outdoors is always good, biking, hiking, swimming, etc. I’m also really good at darts! But honestly, keeping up with orders and developing new designs keeps me pretty busy!
9. What are you looking forward to most in 2015?
I am pretty much looking forward to everything in 2015. It is the first year where I am 100% dedicated to developing and growing my business, so I am bursting with ideas for how I can expand product lines and generate excitement for my brand. As I said, we will be relocating sometime in the relatively near future, so I am excited to explore a new city and put together a new creative space. And I am looking forward to all the unexpected developments and events of 2015. I am happy and young and feel like probably good things are to come!
10. Do you have a favourite place in NYC at the moment?
My favorite place in New York right now would be the New York Botanical Garden. It’s safe to say that my favourite part of any city would be the botanical gardens/conservatories. I am obsessed with plants and often look to them for inspiration.