Entrepreneur Highlight: Turning Your Creative Passion into a One-of-a-Kind Brand

I first discovered Kimberly and her artwork on Instagram several years ago. Her unique illustration style and cheery thoughtfulness stood out to me, and I was eager to follow along with her journey.

One of her posts in particular caught my eye. It featured a polaroid of a mailbox and asked, “what is your favorite thing to send through the post?” I’ve always loved paper and letters, so I left a comment. Kimberly responded but also replied with a question, which sparked a conversation and quickly led to a friendship.

When I had the idea to start a weekly series highlighting other creative entrepreneurs, Kimberly instantly came to mind.

Sprinkled with lovely photos of her work, this post includes so many wonderful insights and tips to glean about small business ownership.

Kimberly has recently taken her brand Lacelit full-time, and I am so very excited to have her join me on the blog today to share her story!

But you may want to grab a comforting cup of coffee or tea because Kimberly has an enchanting way with words, so this feature is a certain treat to cozy-up with and read.

Entrepreneur Highlight Turning Your Creative Passion into a One-of-a-Kind Brand with Lacelit

It’s so great to have you, Kimberly! I’ve been looking forward to this!

Share Your Story:

Kimberly of Lacelit Ponder Trail Blog Feature

What’s the mission behind Lacelit?

My mission is to create affirming greeting cards and home goods for the intentional soul. By pairing endearing illustrations with sentimental phrases of poetic wordplay, I strive to create gentle starting points for meaningful connections between the most kindred of spirits and those we wish to support and encourage regardless of distance.

Amidst an influx of email, text messages, social media, and alert notifications, the intentionality to be found in a handwritten note is often missed or lost. Yet in quiet moments with pen in hand, thoughts, affirmations, and encouragement seem to find their way to paper in ways that are not always as easily expressed in a given moment or the quickened seconds between one brief interaction and the next.

The gentle pause that comes with penning a note to a loved one bids the writer to be contemplative- to consider which words best convey what they wish to say. This mindful pause communicates something in addition to the words on the page. Sending a letter through the post imparts, “I’m thinking of you and want you to feel this in a tangible way.”

For the reader, receiving a letter can be incredibly uplifting, carrying with it a sweet surprise. And yet, is equally unassuming and unintrusive. A letter can be read immediately or tucked away for a moment that is less tired or perhaps one that could use a little extra light. Its contents can be read as time and energy permit—all at once or in increments. It is therefore gentle as it requires no immediate response from its reader, nor does it ask them to give anything in return. It delivers not only care, but also space, and has the potential to bring new warmth each time it is remembered or re-read.

With each new design, I strive to create these types of gentle starting points where meaningful connection can transpire through letter writing and gift giving.

Lacelit Close-Knit Friendship
Lacelit Frond of You

When did you first discover your passion for illustration? And, how did you decide to turn it into a creative business?

Lacelit’s inception came several years after college and a psychology degree had come and gone. I had grown up in the performing arts with choir, piano, handbells, theatre, dance, and choreography making up my creative identity. A chronic knee condition necessitated that I stop choreographing, so I dabbled in freelance photography for a while as my primary form of creative expression and was even accepted into a master’s degree program at the Academy of Art in San Francisco for photography. My heart just wasn’t in it, and I couldn’t see myself making it through a rigorous master’s program with a medium that felt like more an effort than an extension of me (as dance and choreography had been). I declined admittance and worked several more years in administrative jobs before accidentally happening upon ink and watercolor.

In the summer of 2010, I began doodling geometrics with fine-tipped Sharpie pens in an old sketchbook I had acquired at some point in my life long before I knew I would ever fill its pages. I began creating delicate, freehand geometrics, and several friends commented that they reminded them of lace or delicate stitchwork. I began to doodle “on purpose” to see what I might create. Almost immediately, I began to imagine the possibility of merging this with my love of stationery and paper goods.

As a child, my Japanese-American mother would drive my two sisters and me into Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, for us to visit the Kinokuniya Bookstore. I remember saving my pennies for these merry jaunts and while my older sister headed straight to the manga book and magazine sections, I beelined it to the paper aisles filled with rows of stationery sets, notebooks, pens, desk accessories, and origami paper. After carefully perusing every shelf, I would make my selection and take home a new stationery set or two, and some new gel pens to accompany.

Fast-forward into adulthood, and my love of paper has not waned. While creating the first of my geometrics, I began to dream about developing a line of paper goods. For years, I had been absorbing inspiration from some early creative blog pioneers including Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou and Geninne Zlatkis who were in the beginnings of growing their art businesses from home. Their example was so inspiring to me and gave me hope that if I honed my skills, I might be able to build something. Two years after I’d begun doodling, I launched Lacelit with a small collection of cards in January of 2014.

From there, I began exploring with freehand watercolor patterns and eventually shifted into hand lettering and illustration through a lovely opportunity to do so for two books of poetry by Jet Widick with art direction by Kristen Alden. My experience working on the Sage books was a significant step outside of my comfort zone as I did not consider myself an illustrator at that time. Yet through the process of working closely with Kristen, an exceptional artist and graphic designer, my confidence grew and I discovered a dear passion for illustration and design.

I love the name “Lacelit.” It fits perfectly with everything your brand encompases. What is the story behind the name?

Such kind words, thank you! The name “Lacelit” comes from the delicate, lace-like geometrics that first opened the door to my creative exploration. Each geometric is made up of numerous six-pointed flame shapes, and I quickly discovered that I could use these little flames to create a wide variety of freehand geometrics and patterns. The name “Lacelit” combines the words “lace” and “lit,” which characterize the delicate nature of the geometrics and the little flames of light that started it all.

Though my aesthetic has grown to include more illustration and hand lettering, the name and my artistic roots come from the same delicate, minimalist aesthetic that are at the crux of all I create.

Lacelit Calendar

Do you have a favorite piece of work you’ve created or a favorite moment you’ve experienced, perhaps?

It’s challenging to narrow down a favorite piece of work because even my earliest pieces—though far less refined—remind me of the process and what I was learning at the time.

As far as favorite experiences, I recently transitioned out of a 15-year-long career in administrative work into growing Lacelit full-time. The day following my last day at my former job, I shared a meal with a small group of my closest friends and family to celebrate. After dinner, we gathered at my younger sister’s apartment, and I had the opportunity to thank each of them for being such a steady source of support and patience throughout the past 5 years while I was working 80+ hours a week trying to build something. I was then moved to hear each share their personal observations, affirmations, and beautifully insightful words of guidance and encouragement. That evening stands out to me for so many reasons as a meaningful reminder of the importance of taking into account all that has transpired as well as the beloved friends who inspire my work again and again.

The style of your illustrations is so lovely and unique. What inspires your work, and how did you hone your craft into the beautiful, one-of-a-kind aesthetic your work possesses?

You are so kind! While exploring and developing my artistic style, I began to notice the many ways in which my Japanese roots influence and impact my art. I see this in my love of paper and my focus on minimalist imagery, working small with intentionally balanced detail and soft color palettes, and the sentimental phraseology that gives life to my work.

Growing up half-Japanese and half-white American, I was introduced to multiple ways of thought and expression simply by observing the behaviors, communication styles, thought processes, opinions, and traditions seen in each side of my family. I have always loved and resonated with different aspects of each culture, and learned early on that there are several ways to see the same thing. With two diverse socializations, I’ve always understood that it is through the decisions I make and actions I take that I truly choose who and how to be. It is in the culmination of both cultures that I look, listen, laugh, and create.

Since I discovered art in my late-twenties and am predominantly self-taught, so much of honing my craft and developing my aesthetic has been through experimentation and exploration. Since I haven’t taken art classes or gone to school for art, there are so many terms and techniques I’ve never learned. Because of this, I simply try-and-do until I find something that works or suits me best, and then continue to play and build on those discoveries and what I’ve learned through the many trial-and-errors.

Lacelit Golden Navigator
Lacelit Weird As Can Be

A Day in the Life:

Describe a typical day working on Lacelit.

Prior to growing Lacelit full-time, my day consisted of getting ready for- and commuting to- work at Harvey Mudd College in the Marketing and Communications department. Lunch breaks were for post office runs and any task I could complete remotely. Following a full day at work, I would then rush home for a quick bite before heading up to the studio at 6 p.m. for Lacelit work to begin. I’d usually retire sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. before rising in the morning to repeat. Weekends were my primary Lacelit workdays and the only times when I had a steady stream of consecutive hours for focused design time, print and production, or fulfilling retail or wholesale orders.

Now that I’m growing Lacelit full-time, I’m working on discerning what schedule and rhythm is most conducive and effective for me. I’ve been experimenting with different strategies such as time blocking for batched tasks or assigning certain projects to certain days of the week, and making note of when I’m most productive and inspired as I go. I’ve learned that I am most creatively productive in the morning. At the wise suggestion of my friend Jackie Sun of Wondershins, I’ve committed to spending the first 2 hours of each morning working on creative projects before opening up my email. Creative projects may include design, composing my Paper Trails e-newsletter, blogging, or honing my skills through exploratory sketching. Only after I’ve put in some devoted time to the creative side of things do I turn my attention to the business side such as replying to email, managing my online shop, bookkeeping, planning, or engaging with community on social media. Being an immense planner by nature who wants to layout an efficient schedule, I’m trying to let myself take my time and test out various methods before cementing my routine.

What do you love most about owning and running your creative business?

I love how running Lacelit merges my skills and passions together. While I love creative expression, both conceptualizing and physically making art, I also love organization, developing and implementing systems, writing and communication, and strategic planning. Running Lacelit allows me to exercise all of these aspects of myself at once.

Lacelit Graphing My Way

What are some business tasks you carry out on a regular basis to keep your brand thriving?

I make a point to reply to inquiries within 48-hours. While this isn’t always possible when unexpected scenarios arise, responding to those who are interested in my work and who took the time to reach out are important to me and I want to respond in kind as much as possible.

I’ve also implemented Financial Fridays, which involves reconciling my books so that I can know at any given time exactly where I am with my earnings and expenses for the year and in comparison to previous years. Once per month, I also use this time to pay any contract or sales rep payments, or any expenses charged to my business credit card to make sure I’m not building up any debt with my business. I’ve found this practice invaluable so that my accounting is always up-to-date for accurate budget projection as well as sales tax or income tax reporting.

Do you have any favorite tools and must-haves that help you with your process or behind the scenes?

I use Asana as my organizational hub for Lacelit. Asana is an online project management tool that allows me to create project boards and related tasks. I can then assign each one a deadline, which feeds into an overarching monthly calendar enabling me to see what is going on at a glance. I have project boards for Lacelit’s overall design projects, each new product release collection, freelance/commission work, retail, wholesale, Paper Trails and editorial, press, events, website, long-term goals, a list of vendor contacts, and general admin.

The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is an indispensable resource for people who create graphic art and design with current information on industry-standard pricing and guidelines for creative professionals.

In regards to apps, I love Toggl, which allows me to time-track to specific freelance projects, making billable-hour tallying so much easier. I also love the VSCO for editing social media photos and PLANN for visually curating my Instagram posts for a consistent grid aesthetic. Mono: Hashtag Library is another favorite, which I use to categorically store all my favorite hashtags and access quickly when posting to Instagram.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs and new collections?

Each card design begins with the sentiment or phrase element of the card, and the imagery then follows. Most of my phrases come to mind when thinking of the types of things I would wish to say to my own friends and close family in any given situation, whether it be a time for affirmation, celebration, shared sorrow, or support. Once I have solidified the phrase copy, I begin brainstorming imagery that will help convey the sentiment.

Lacelit Honey and Lace
Lacelit Cards

Business Tips + Takeaways:

How do you stay productive and motivated?

Engaging in creative community is incredibly meaningful and motivating. I’ve found such kindness, affirmation, accountability, and inspiration amidst these intentional communities:

  • A mastermind group with 3 brilliant card designers and illustrators I adore: Cheryl Loh of Quirky Paper Co., Kacey Schwartz of Mudsplash Studios, and Tessa Worley of Fox & Bear Paper Co. We meet up via Skype each month to troubleshoot issues, brainstorm ideas, share resources, hold each other accountable, and celebrate wins.

  • The endearing community of Art Stew dreamed up by artist Rhea Amyett. Art Stew is a cozy band of creatives who respond to an art prompt each week and share in the joy of making via several points of connection—IG takeovers, a private Facebook group for sharing news and where I host weekly games and activities, the Art Stew 52 Patreon hub, and Art Stew 52 Podcast by artist Brandon Hayman.

  • A creative accountability group with 3 beloved friends: Jackie Sun of Wondershins, Shirlee Fisher of Quiet Lines Design, and Bryan Schnebelt of Being Yon. We meet up via Skype once a month to check in with each other on creative explorations, goals, and projects.

I’ve found creativity community to be so integral for growing as an artist and small business owner, and being able to support others who are doing the same.

Are there any struggles you have faced or helpful lessons you have learned along the way?

Being self-taught and without any sort of formal credentials in this field, there have been many moments when I’ve doubted my ability or been reluctant to claim an identity of “artist” or “illustrator.” I sometimes fall into thinking that my many artistic role models are the “true artists” and I am merely an imitation or wannabe. Yet with each newly completed illustration, confidence begins to sprout and my insecurities become less prominent in their impact on the decisions I make and actions I take. I believe that it’s never too late to discover something about which you are passionate, nor is it too late to act on it and strive to make it into something meaningful. I find great comfort in knowing that I will always be growing—both personally and as an artist—and therefore, my work will be ever-shifting and ever-changing, taking new shape and form. And, this brings with it a certain freedom that begins to take away the pressure and replace it with motion.

Lacelit Recipe Cards Sweet

Do you have any tips for managing a small business?

Establishing systems for organization and business processes is super helpful. Create an annual and monthly calendar to keep track of your projects, deadlines, and events. Set up your bookkeeping system and get into the habit of using it regularly. It’s so much easier to manage the financials from the get-go rather than trying to implement new systems once sales tax deadlines are looming.

Batching tasks is an effective time saver, especially if you’re juggling a part-time or full-time job in addition to your creative business and have to make every minute count. When we repeat a task over and over again, we can get into a rhythm, which usually speeds up our overall time per task. Instead of taking several minutes to print and package one card, I can batch aspects of production together to lower my per-card production time. Similarly, when a single card order comes in, you can print 10 of the design instead, storing the extras for next time. I also batch tasks like responding to email, product listing updates, wholesale outreach, press pitching, and Post Office runs. This not only saves me time, but also allows me to focus and give each task 100 percent of my attention.

You can also batch ordering supplies. Many companies offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount. I try to order supplies 2-3 times per year to minimize the overall cost of shipping, which quickly adds up with each reorder.

Lacelit So Much Brighter
Lacelit Tidings

What advice do you have for someone who wants to turn their passion into a creative business?

Whenever I want to embark on something new, I carve out some time for a mini creative retreat of sorts. This might be as simple as a jaunt to a nearby park or coffee shop with a notebook in hand, or a full weekend in my creative space or perhaps even off in a new environment entirely—whatever best removes me from my daily routine, mindset, and distractions. My retreat often includes jotting down the following:

  • What (offerings: products or services)

  • Why (purpose: what my product or service provides)

  • Who (audience: who needs my product or service)

  • Learn (questions or concerns I have and research required)

  • Resources (who can answer my questions—specific person, organization, company, book, course, etc.)

  • How (actionable steps, preparation, and timeline)

This gives me a starting point and breaks things down into smaller pieces to reduce any overwhelm when embarking upon something entirely new. Devote some time to ironing out the Why behind the What and Who. Kayte Ferris of Simple and Season has a wonderful exercise on discerning your Why and Who, and discusses it on her podcast Grow with Soul (episode 6).

It’s also important to take the time to set up your creative business as a legitimate one. When you have a product or service ready to offer, it can be tempting to jump straight into selling. And while it may not be the exciting part of launching your work, setting up your business will help it run so much more smoothly, grow more steadily, and prevent you from having to backtrack when you’re already on a roll and gaining momentum.

Research the requirements for your country, state/territory, and city. Acquire your business license, seller’s permit, and fictitious business name statement before you begin selling. This can prevent potential penalty fees or the possibility of having your business shut down, and will also allow you to move forward without obstacles that might mean putting off an amazing opportunity because you have to go back and take care of the legal side of things first.

When I first started Lacelit, all the set-up aspects of being a creative business owner was overwhelming, but taking care of these items first was empowering. When you take your business seriously by setting things up the right way, it can give you a sense of ownership and confidence as a business owner. Doing so helped me establish a deep commitment and responsibility to building Lacelit well. This in turn, helped my customers and fellow industry professionals to view Lacelit as a legitimate business rather than a hobby.

Lacelit Postcards

Goals + New Things:

What’s something you are really working toward or working on with Lacelit?

I’m working to grow my wholesale line and establish a better rhythm throughout the year for accommodating three larger product releases per year: January, May, and September. This will help me in meeting stationery industry standards and providing new designs, enabling my sales reps to bring in new accounts and reorders more frequently.

I also recently launched my reimagined e-newsletter, Paper Trails. It serves as a way for me to connect with and give back to my lovely readers. Within its contents, you’ll find:

  • Tids & Bits - Written and visual storyettes keeping readers in the loop on studio explorations, ponderings, and any news I’m bursting to share.

  • Noteworthies - New discoveries of the creative variety including my favorite artists, podcasts, blogs, book recommendations, community events, and resources I love.

  • Meet & Greet - A spotlight on one of Lacelit’s greeting designs with a little backstory into the inspiration from whence it came.

  • Treatfuls - A bonus treat from me to my readers. This may come in the form of a digital download, free printable, seasonal playlist, or some other merry surprise for their enjoyment.

I’ve enjoyed expanding my creativity with a happy return to written words, and sharing them with devoted readers.

What’s in store with Lacelit? Do you have any new or exciting things in the works you’d like to share with us?

I’m excited to launch my fall collection to my online shop Monday, Oct. 29. This product release includes 9 new greeting cards and the 2019 calendar, which features twelve original freehand watercolor patterns. With this launch just around the corner, I’m already looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting started on illustrations for new designs.

I’m also in the process of solidifying my fall/winter event line-up, which includes the Makers Arcade Holiday Fair in San Diego, Dec. 8. Keep an eye on Lacelit’s events page for fun calendar additions.

Lacelit Thrill of Hope

Stay in Touch:

Where are the best places to follow you and stay in touch?

Find me in these happy places:

Website | www.lacelit.com
Instagram | www.instagram.com/lacelit
Pinterest | www.pinterest.com/lacelit
Facebook | www.facebook.com/lacelit
Twitter | www.twitter.com/lacelitwonder
Paper Trails e-newsletter | www.bitly.com/lacelit

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Sarah, thank you so much for including me in the loveliness of Ponder Trail, and for championing fellow artists and small business owners in meaningful ways. It’s been such an honor and delight.

  • Photography credits:
    Portrait: Michael Finster Photography
    Product Photos: Deborah Tracey Photography

Thank you so much for sharing your lovely story and insights with us, Kimberly! I’m sure it will be a source of inspiration for years to come.

I hoped you enjoyed reading Kimberly’s highlight as much as I did. What were your favorite parts of the feature? Leave your comments and thoughts below, and I’ll be sure to reply.

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business tips for creative entrepreneurs