I recently had the pleasure of discovering Stephie Jones and her work on Instagram. She is a local artist here in Virginia Beach and her painting style is right up my alley. Her work features lots of cool colors, a contemporary feel with natural elements and very polished without being formal or stuffy. I asked to interview her and she welcomed me into her home studio and we talked non-stop the whole time. We talked motherhood, Real Housewives and spoof podcasts about Real Housewives, creative business, life and family. I’m really excited to share Stephie and her work with you here. You can also check her out at StephieJones.com.
F+F: How did you get started?
SJ: In 2006 I took a leap and made a career switch from Commercial Real Estate to running my own Graphic Design Business, Finch Creative. I enjoyed the freedom and the kind of work I was doing. Then in 2013, something terrifying happened.
I was delivering my second child when I suffered from a hemorrhage. Several surgeries and a hysterectomy later my husband was told that despite the measures the hospital had taken, they weren’t certain I’d be going home at all, and to prepare himself. It was a wait and see situation.
Four days later I came to in the ICU as a machine did my breathing for me. I’d lost my entire blood volume and found I had tubes sewn into two arteries that had been used for blood transfusions. It was a moment of awakening for me. It hit me quickly that there is no reprieve from tragedy, and even though our family had been through a lot, there was no guarantee from God or anyone else that we would be free of untimely death, injury or illness for the rest of our lives.
It was then that I decided I would move forward as an artist once my newborn and 18 month old were able to be more independent. In 2016 I launched my professional art career. Now I sell my paintings on StephieJones.com and at solo shows, galleries and shops.
F+F: What’s something that makes you really happy? Something you love to do – or WOULD love to do – in your free time? (I know, what’s THAT?!)
SJ: The thing that makes me happiest, without pressure of any kind––a pure happiness––is laughing hard. I try to surround myself with light people that I can fart around with—especially my husband, my best friends and my sister in law, Jamie. If you can’t take a poop joke and run with it, we weren’t meant to be friends. Life is too short to be taken so seriously.
Creating is also very fulfilling for me, and it’s something I derive happiness from, but it has its challenges and frustrations. When I have free time I love sewing or enjoying someone else’s creative work—I live on audiobooks. It’s my primary vehicle for getting any reading done as I juggle being the stay at home mom, caretaker of the home and business owner.
F+F: What does an example of a typical day look like for you?
My totally non-glamourous typical day…I’m a night owl, but after having kids I have to function in the morning. My days start by hitting the snooze button and having my husband, Josh, chide me for not getting up as he’s straightening his tie. By 7:15 a.m. I’m up getting the kids dressed and fed as well as snacks packed for the morning. I feed the cats and the dog and sigh at the mess the kitchen has already become (and I know I won’t likely clean it later).
We struggle with jackets ands shoes and then I get my son, Peter, on the kindergarten bus at 8:00 a.m. and then I pack up my 4 year old daughter, Edie, and we head over to Starbucks where I grab a coffee. We sit and talk, draw, or she plays on my phone while I plan my day. We’re at her school by 9 a.m. and then I’m off to my home studio to start working by 9:15 a.m.
I have almost three hours to work so I dive in. I have days where I paint and days where I tackle business activities.
Painting days include finding reference images for an upcoming collection, sketching thumbnails, determining media and surfaces as well as color palettes and putting ideas together. Then I’ll drag out canvases and just begin. Somedays I make work I love, other days I think “I wasted my time! This is trash!” Most days I don’t want to do anything, but I make myself start. Then it gets easier.
Business days include corresponding with clients, coding my web site, accounting, setting up shows or events, planning out speeches or blog posts, taking photographs for marketing/social media, hitting the art store for more paint, paying sales tax on items sold the previous month, creating product listings or working on SEO, packing and shipping paintings, checking out the work of my peers to see what’s new in the art world and what I can be doing better and finding inspiration or new ideas to implement into my own business plan.
At 11:45 a.m. I reheat my coffee for the 4th time and walk out to the bus stop to get Peter. My bestie, Jess, then drops my daughter at home.
From 1-5 p.m. it’s a smattering of laundry, cleaning bathrooms, playdates, dinner prep, scrubbing some cat puke, making a meal plan, buying and putting away groceries, trying to vacuum something, figuring out how to play Pokemon with my son or building something from legos, dressing up with my daughter or playing a board game, stopping at my easel to see if I can squeeze in some painting time, handling a tantrum, answering emails (or cringing at emails I‘ve seen but haven’t yet answered), feeling guilty because I’m irritated that my kids won’t give me a moment of quiet as I try to get some work done, or feeling guilty because they’ve watched more tv that day than is ideal so I could make a deadline.
I start cooking by 4:45 p.m. and we try to eat together at 5:30 p.m. Josh gets home between 5:30-7 p.m. and while he spends some time with the kids I usually clean up or try to get more work done. Sometimes we hang as a family, especially on Fridays (game night). By 7 p.m. we’ve started the pajama-toothbrushing-potty-story routine and we try to have the kids in bed between 7:30-8 p.m.
Then it’s more housework, some time spent on the business or a night of goofing off and Netflix. Bed by 11 p.m. Rinse and repeat.
F+F: I truly believe that one of the best ways to learn and grow is to fail. What was your “best failure” in business or life that made you a better person and your business better for it?
I have the feeling of being embarrassed often, but I realize I don’t have too many official “failures” because I see them as setbacks or forget about them. I just get up and keep going, and I work hard to get it right at some point. In business, I’ve failed to set boundaries with clients or failed to set the right price for a project. But I’ve learned and then corrected them later, despite it being uncomfortable.
I suppose the failures I remember most are more “personal” in nature than “business.” But I know that’s boring. So here’s a list of embarrassments, failures and shortcomings for you to enjoy.
• I definitely have been told a crushing “no thanks” at a middle school dance after mustering my courage to ask a cute guy for a slow dance.
• I tell jokes that bomb.
• I talk too fast and it confuses people.
• I’m long winded.
• I interrupt others to talk too much.
• I like to solve everyone’s problems. It goes well only sometimes.
• I have trouble distilling information down to concise relevant elements.
• One time I fell down a hill on my bike in front of some guys I’d never met and just gave them a thumbs up when they asked if I was ok (because the wind was completely knocked out of me).
• I once crapped my pants on vacation and instead of tossing that pair of underwear, I tied them up in a plastic grocery bag and packed them in my suitcase. TSA randomly searched my luggage and didn’t bother to put them back where they found them. They opted to crush them against my husband’s suit instead. Probably for revenge.
• I once said “Nice ‘stache, Palmer!” to the managing partner of the ad agency I worked for as I passed him in the copy room. He’d just came back from his vacation in Belize. He didn’t think I was funny or appreciate my delivery. He won’t be the last.
• I never passed the gifted program test in school (ahem…3 times) even though my 7th grade teachers confidently changed my whole schedule and put me with the smart kids before my testing date. I sat alone every Monday while the others all bussed off to a special day program.
• I didn’t win the position of SCA Secretary in 8th grade.
• I failed to grow boobs when everyone else did.
• I never won over the guy I really liked in high school. See previous about not growing boobs.
• I take terrible school photos (see attached).
• I failed to get into a Math and Science High School or UVA (when I really didn’t want to go to either).
• I’m also lousy at birthing kids naturally. But that last kid was 11 lbs, so I’m cutting myself some slack.
What I learned is that all you can really do is keep showing up and try not to feel too awful all the time. Feel that initial sting and keep going. It can be invigorating. Sometimes it’s nothing you can control (like boobs or childbirth), so you work to let it go. If it’s something I can control I try to do the painful thing and look at it objectively so I can make meaningful changes.
F+F: How do you feel about work-life balance – what does it look like on a day to day basis? What is your biggest challenge? Is there anything you feel like you’ve mastered or done well?
When it comes to work-life balance, I used to think working at home would be some kind of day dream. Balancing being the primary caretaker of my children, keeping the house running and starting a business serve as fodder for my best anxiety dreams. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it right, but as my kids get older it does get easier. I’m most successful with a tight routine and “chunking” my tasks so I can be effective during the limited time I have. My biggest challenge is “not being in the mood” for the task I have planned. I also feel restricted by schedules but understand they are necessary for my success.
I keep a bullet journal that catches every thought or plan I have so it’s all in once place. I plan my week on Sundays and organize the tasks by category. Then I mark the most urgent and/or important tasks and schedule those in my iCal. That way I know I have the time blocked out for them. I also pick my top 3 “MUST DO” items—they are the ONLY three things I must do each week to keep my business moving forward.
F+F: Do you feel like you are a success? A professional? If not, what will it take to get to that point? If so, what makes you feel that way?
I have moments where I oscillate between feeling like a success and feeling like an imposter. I do feel more professional as time goes on, and I can control that process so it becomes easier with practice. I think with “success” the trap is that you only feel like a success when you’ve met your goal(s)—it’s a fleeting feeling.
The trouble there is that in this game, you never really reach the finish line. You just set more challenging goals for yourself as you go along. I think the people who view you as successful are those who are behind you on this path and see you’ve mastered something they’re currently finding challenging. When I want to gauge my level of success I ask myself if I’m enjoying my life. Am I fun to be around? Am I having a good time? Am I present and enjoying myself?
F+F: What’s your WHY? What drives you to want to do what you do?
I once read a quote that I love by Thich Nhat Hanh (say that three times fast): “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”
When I paint I’m in a state of meditation. Happiness for me is derived by the act itself, and for a short time I’m immune to the problems of daily life. This is my “why.” Because if I walk out the door and die in a car accident today I can say I was making a good use of my life, enjoying it daily doing what I love with people I love. Or you can say it about me. I’ll be dead.
F+F: In a perfect world, in your wildest dreams…where would your business – and your life – go?
In my wildest dreams for my business, my paintings sell out in minutes for $4,000 a piece. I easily pull down a six-figure income and we all live happily in the home we have now. We enjoy nice vacations and travel, as well as the freedom to do what we like.
My true vision for the business is actually the same as my wildest version described above, am I crazy to believe it’s possible? If so, there are worse things in this life.
My more immediate vision is to produce work desirable enough that it sells, allowing me to paint full time and outsource the less fun parts of the job (packaging, shipping, product listings, marketing). I have a 3 part plan and I’m in phase 1. In 2018 I’ll reach phase 2 and in 2019 I’ll be able to paint mostly full time when both of my children are in school from 9-3 each day. That’s when you’ll really see me take off running. Right now, I’m doing my warm up laps on the track.