Maggie Fearn


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Illustrating at Home With Kids

With a two and a half month newborn in tow and her first children’s book available on Amazon, Maggie talks to us about expanding her illustration business, while figuring out how to include her two daughters in the process.

Maggie, a former apparel industry merchant who once lived and worked in New York as a Merchandise Manager for licensed DKNY product, talks about building a creative business since leaving corporate work, going abroad, becoming a mother, and returning to her hometown in Salem, Ohio.

Zine: You opened your Etsy store several years ago – what prompted that? Can you tell us about the experience, compared with what you did before?

Maggie: I decided to open an Etsy store because I really wanted a creative business. I’ve always been interested in different kinds of creative pursuits, like photography, painting – any kind of fine arts and sewing. I studied apparel design in college. I always liked the process of making things and having projects to work on. I settled on doing watercolors, because at the time we were living in a small apartment in Brussels, and I didn’t have a ton of space to do other big things. I thought it would be easier to ship custom art to people, if it was small, so I started doing made-to-order watercolors of houses. Then I decided to create downloadable digital origami cards because they were something that I could set up just once, and customers could download them whenever they wanted, no shipping required. I chose Etsy because it was a platform that already existed, and it was kind of easy to use. Although, I have to say, listing the pieces took a long time. It took about an hour to list each item, not including the time to take the photographs.

Zine: When you did custom work, did you sell the original work, or did you also turn them into prints for sale?

Maggie: Yes, I did sell the originals – and they were one of a kind. I did that because I wanted to make more money. I did some prints, and sold those too, which I stopped doing after I had my first daughter, because I thought, ‘I can’t’. To hurry and get it to the post office and make sure I could print it out and do all that stuff – it was just too much. Although, I was thinking I could relist the prints when I have more time to do that. But the per price you get when it’s a print, unless you’re selling a ton, it isn’t that high. And the custom work, in the end, it took me so long, it makes me think maybe I should have raised my prices. But the price of what people are willing to pay and what you end up doing aren’t necessarily the same. I spent a long time on them. The house image pictured here isn’t one of the custom pieces, but it’s in the style of what I would have done. I don’t think I’ll go back to those, because they would take me 7 or 8 hours to get done. Thanks to having my work out there on my website and on Etsy, a friend of my mother’s, Barb Clary, contacted me to see if I would be interested in illustrating a story that she had written with her daughter, Deirdre, when she was little. We worked on it together to prepare in advance of Deirdre having her first child, and she received the surprise book at her baby shower. Barb was thrilled with the book and wanted to share it with more people, so she searched for a publisher. We are all excited that it will soon be available on Amazon, published by Fruitbearer Publishing.

Zine: What are your thoughts about working for yourself, and what challenges or advantages does that offer you, as a woman and now mother? With your second child, how does having an online store help you achieve a work-life balance while your children are still so young?

Maggie: I love working for myself, because you can determine what exactly it is you want to work on; what your mood is at the moment; what it is you feel like doing. The difficult thing I think is that even if you’re focusing on one thing all the time, which was what I did when I started illustrating – you still never have enough time. And it’s even more true with kids. It’s just about prioritizing whatever it is you really want to get done, or what you have to get done. The challenge of being a mother is that you just don’t have as much time. Although, you can sometimes get kids involved in what you’re doing, and they’re just happy to be next to you and alongside you. I haven’t worked a whole lot since I’ve had my first daughter. I’m enjoying spending my time with my girls. Now that my first is older, I can see that when I try to involve her with what I’m doing, I’m able to do some art. I love working on my own projects and doing my own thing. I’m still working on my business to make it profitable. I think the challenge is always just time and prioritizing what it is you need to get done. I’d like to do more illustrated books going forward.

We had our first child, and then left Belgium and moved back to the US when she was a year and a half old. Then we bought a house 2 years ago, and we renovated it. We’ve been doing lots of things that have made it hard to work on personal projects. I haven’t worked since Belgium really. I just haven’t had time to do art. But now that we’re all set up, things are more conducive to being creative again. I’m so excited to have this studio space for myself, with lots of room to work. Now that life has settled down a bit, I’m really looking forward to creating more.

All photos courtesy of Maggie Fearn.

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