This week marks ten years since I registered as self employed and began my business journey. Ten years! I honestly can’t believe I’ve been doing this for a decade. It genuinely still feels brand new. I still look at other businesses and think how nice it would be to be that established and to know what you are doing.
I thought it might be nice to write a little blog post for those who haven’t been on the journey with me from the beginning – a little summary of how this all began. To those of you who have followed along right from the early days: thank you for bearing with me! I love you all.
I officially launched the business in June 2011 but it all really began when I was a little girl. I grew up here in the Scottish Borders and I was absolutely mad for drawing. I would bring home feathers and pebbles and flowers and tadpoles to draw. My mum said I should live in a paper factory rather than a house because of the amount of paper I went through. At school, I wanted to be a vet or an artist. I was horribly allergic to fur and really quite bad at science. I ruled out vet and focused on artist.
I left school at 16 to move up to Edinburgh to do an art foundation course. It was a little overwhelming. I decided not to go on to art college proper. I knew I would get swallowed up by art school. I didn’t have the right aesthetic (I am not edgy). So I decided last minute to study Divinity at the University of Edinburgh instead. I made the most wonderful friends. I really enjoyed studying. But it didn’t take me any closer to my dream. In fact, I forgot what the dream even was. Fast forward three years and I was working at the National Library of Scotland. Once again, lovely people and a nice environment but no closer to the dream. I had rediscovered drawing. I was drawing in all my spare time. My poor flatmate (Sarah! I love you!) had to put up with my various projects strewn all over the place. I thought about drawing and making all day long.
My dad had recently died and my mum wasn’t keeping too well. I decided to quit the day job, move back home to the Borders and start a business. I was horribly underqualified and I didn’t have a plan. I just knew that I wanted to see if it was possible to earn a living from making things. I was lucky to be able to move in with my lovely mum – I was 24, I didn’t have any responsibilities. I gave myself 6 months to see if there was potential. I embarked upon an adventure of craft fairs, exhibitions and Etsy.
At the beginning I focused on textile jewellery. I made butterfly and leaf brooches from fabric and found materials (my lovely mum sewed on all the brooch backs, bless her). I made little fly brooches with wings made from melted bin bags. I sewed and sewed and sewed. I tried lots of different things. I did a lot of market stalls (shout out to the 3D2D events, especially the West End Fair, and to St Abbs Market). Market stalls allowed me to build relationships with customers, see what they responded well to, and begin to gain some confidence. They also introduced me to lots of other makers with lots of wisdom to share. I took really dreadful product photos for my Etsy shop and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t selling more online. I started doing pet portraits. I drew and drew and drew. A few shops agreed to stock some of my things (hi, Iona Craft Shop, I will be forever grateful!). And little by little I began to find my niche.
Around the same time I got the world’s worst behaved puppy. My Buddy. I replied to the wrong gumtree ad, went to see the litter and BOOM. Fell in love. He was absolutely awful though. He ate all my materials, stole absolutely everything, barked, chewed, ran riot. The only way we could make him bearable to live with was to walk the legs off him every day. That meant that I was out in all weathers traipsing across the fields and round the lanes. I began to draw what I saw on our adventures. I got to know the landscape I had grown up in again and I loved it.
That is how my business was born. I was immersed in the countryside I had known and loved all my life but had forgotten about for a few years. I began re-learning the names for the birds and butterflies and plants. I became more and more interested in pencil drawing. I gradually stopped doing the textiles. I combined my love of nature and the landscape I was living in with a passion for drawing. I developed a small range of nature-inspired greetings cards. I started taking them to Trade Shows to sell directly to retailers. My business slowly grew. Six months became a year and so on. I moved out from my mum’s house and into the Teapot Street cottage. My then-boyfriend, now-husband, built me a log cabin studio in the back garden. I sold to shops across the UK and to customers in Japan, Australia, the USA. My mum died. I got married. I built a new online shop that transformed my business (Martyn, builder of websites, I owe you a lot!). We moved to a bigger house with more studio space. Jenny started working with me in the studio. Ross & I had our little boy who is now two years old. The pandemic struck and everyone shopped online. Somehow it has been ten years and I am still going strong. I am supporting my little family with my drawings. I’m beginning to trust that it isn’t just a fluke.
I am very excited about the next ten years. I’ve got some new dreams to work toward (a brick-and-mortar shop maybe? What do you think?). I am loving living in this beautiful place, learning about the landscape, being part of the community, bringing up our wee boy in the same landscape as we were brought up in. I have so many drawings to do!!
Thanks so much for helping me live my wee dream. Writing this blog post has made me a bit emotional realising how wonderful it all is.
PS there’s a 10th Birthday Sale in the shop at the moment PLUS 10% of sales this month are being donated to a local organisation, Nature Unlimited, who nurture resilience, wellbeing and community through their forest projects in woodlands across the Borders.