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The highs and lows of running a small business

Spoiler alert: it’s a real roller coaster.

I love my job. I have always wanted to work for myself but I can tell you for free that running a small business is not easy. I’ve been running Drawn by Rhiannon for three years now and pretty much every day is a struggle. However, for me nothing beats being your own boss. Today is a beautifully sunny summer’s day so I’m writing this blog post with an old fashioned pen and paper outside in the garden. Of course I will have to type this up later but that’s a job for this evening when the sun goes down. And that’s one of the first things I love about running my own business – the flexibility.

It’s great to be flexible.

I have never particularly been a morning person so starting work at 8am every day isn’t an ideal situation for me. I find I’m much more productive later on and in to the evening so I love that I’m able to start work at 10am and work until after tea instead. Sometimes I can be working until two in the morning if that’s when inspiration has struck and that works great for me.

Drawn by Rhiannon studio
I’m lucky to have a great studio at the bottom of my garden

On the flip side, the negative aspect of working from home is that you’re never able to switch off. I’m lucky to have a fabulous studio at the bottom of my garden where I do all my sewing and most my designing. Unfortunately my internet doesn’t stretch to the studio so all the website designing, marketing and general computer work has to be done inside the house. There’s always a never ending to do list so the temptation to just quickly finish off a few things soon turns in to several hours of work when I’m supposed to be taking some time off. The work life balance is something I’m constantly battling with to prevent me from spiralling in to a full blown burnout.

Freedom is liberating

The main thing I love about running a small business is being able to design what I want. You wouldn’t believe the amount of junior designer jobs that mainly consist of making coffee and doing dry cleaning runs. I didn’t go to university for four years to do that! This is part of the reason that I wanted to work for myself because I didn’t want to lose my creativity or all the skills I worked so hard to learn. I love taking inspiration trips and deciding what prints to design next. And I love not having to work to a trend brief or having to stick to a restricted colour palette.

Drawn by Rhiannon watercolour painting
I love being able to be super creative in my job

On the other hand, not having anyone to bounce ideas off can be difficult too. When you’ve spent several hours working on a new print design, staring at the screen and nudging layouts a millimetre here and there, it becomes impossible to know what looks good any more. As the business grows I plan to take on a couple of staff to help with the workload which would be a huge bonus (and would hopefully stop me going stir crazy and asking my pet rabbit which colour background she thinks works the best). Until then I rely on all you lovely lot to keep me sane so I really appreciate you replying to my questions and commenting on my social media posts.

Money talks

Now for some serious talk – money. As much as I love what I do, at the end of the day I can’t keep doing it if it doesn’t make money. I’m fortunate to have a part time job in a craft shop which ensures my house and bills are paid for each month so I don’t have to worry about becoming homeless. However, if you’re working 30-40 hours a week running a small business, you kind of want to see some profit return on that right? This is something I still find very tricky to manage, especially as the gift-orientated things I make are really quite seasonal.

I was on such a high at the end of 2018 as I’d had my best Christmas ever and was actually taking a full time wage. Obviously this was due to a huge amount of work and I spent most of the Christmas break in complete brain dead zombie mode but that’s how it is. I even earned enough to book a holiday in February to Belgium (check out the blog posts about that trip here) which I was absolutely over the moon with.

The Christmas markets were a huge success and it was brilliant seeing people wanting to buy my items for special gifts for loved ones.

However after all the buzz of Christmas, the start of 2019 hit me like a tonne of bricks. I barely made any sales and at Easter time I almost packed the whole thing in. Which brings me to my final point.

Confidence and motivation

Without a doubt the hardest thing about running a business is having the confidence and motivation to keep it going. There are times when I’m consistently working 12-14 hour days and only seeing pocket money in return. When you put your heart and soul in to something and people don’t really seem that interested it can destroy you. Sometimes I just have to keep ploughing on because I know if I stop and really take a look at things I might not be able to carry on (sometimes doing the books at the end of the month can be really devastating).

The words ‘I can’t do this any more’ have gone through my head more in the past three years than in the rest of my life combined, but so have the words ‘I love my job’. The minute I receive a message from a customer saying how much they love their order, or see someone smile at a print I’ve designed on my market stall, it makes it all seem worthwhile.

Running a small business is hard. By supporting a small business you are supporting a dream
Every purchase you make really does make a huge difference

I would love to say that Drawn by Rhiannon has been an overnight success and every day is better than the last but that wouldn’t be true. It would mean the world to me if you could all support me to help me achieve my dream by shopping small and interacting with the brand on social media. One day I hope that I can do this full time and employ some wonderful people to work alongside me but I’m not there yet. After all, nothing good in life comes easy does it?

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Print designing ahead of the trends

Sheep wash bag

My background is in fashion design so I’m always keeping an eye on the latest fashion trends and print designs.

Although I enjoy looking at the season’s newest styles, my print designs aren’t really inspired by current trends. I set up Drawn by Rhiannon to provide fabric designs that you couldn’t find on the high street, so following trends didn’t make sense to me. My inspiration comes from all around me, usually from my travels, but also from the beautiful British landscape. However, I thought it was interesting that this season I’ve picked up a couple of trends without even realising it!

Animals

As you know, I love drawing animals. I would say about 75% of my designs are inspired by animals because I love them! They come in all shapes and sizes which gives me a real challenge in drawing. I also love quirky designs so what’s better than a fabric covered in dinosaurs or puffins!

It looks like I’m not the only one who thinks that because the big fashion houses are at it too. Look at this fab dress by Dolce & Gabanna, covered with a mix of farm animals!

I never would’ve expected to see high fashion designing fabric with chickens on but it’s great to see them having some fun.
I’ve designed several farm animal prints over the years, and the chickens are one of the most popular.

Chicken print design on a hair bow
Chicken hair bow

The chicken print was inspired by some very free range chickens that used to escape their garden and make a break for it down the village road. I loved the rich colours of their feathers and their cheeky characters.

Since then I’ve designed a sheep print, inspired by a particularly sassy sheep we spotted one day. I really enjoyed creating the wooly texture of the fur on this print design.

Sheep print design on a coin purse
Sheep coin purse
Sheep passport cover
Sheep passport cover
Sheep print design on a water resistant wash bag
Sheep wash bag

I’ve also designed a cow print, inspired by some beautiful cows in Graves Park. You can find out more about the cow print design in the blog posts here.
I was really chuffed with the cow print design so used it to make a variety of items which are all available for sale.

Cow print design passport cover
Cow passport cover
Cow wash bag
Cow wash bag
Cow coin purse
Cow coin purse

I like the farm animal theme so I’m hoping to add to it in the future with pigs, horses, donkeys… any suggestions? Comment below!

Butterflies

Insects and other bugs can be really interesting to draw. You get to zoom in really close and see all the little details that you didn’t know existed which makes for quite a challenge. The bee print I designed is now my most popular print, but before that I designed a butterfly print.

Butterfly wash bag
Butterfly wash bag

I loved how colourful and fun this print was to design. It’s currently not in use on any of my products, but if you’d like to see it make a comeback please comment below!

Butterflies are also a big trend on the catwalk this year. The pretty bugs have been featured by many high fashion brands, including this beautiful dress by Mary Katrantzou.

As you can see, you don’t have to spend a fortune to be on trend this season. Just add a splash of print to your home and shop small instead!

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The finished panda print

Drawn by Rhiannon panda print

With the panda drawings being simple black and white pencil sketches, they were nice and simple to digitise ready for their print design. By playing around with the levels and tones on Photoshop I was able to create a nice bold image of the pandas. Next it was time to design the print.

Usually when I design a print I don’t quite know the direction I want to go with it, but for the pandas I had a very clear vision of what I wanted the pattern to look like. I took both the panda images and resized them, rotated them and flipped them to create a mix of different shapes and sizes. I then arranged them so that they weren’t too crowded or too far apart until I was happy with the layout. After some last minute panda shuffling, the print was finished. Introducing my very first monochrome print design…

Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design white background

If you’re familiar with my print designs, you’ll know how rare it is for me to have a completely black and white pattern. So of course I had to try it with some different coloured backgrounds too!

Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design blue background
Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design pink background
Drawn by Rhiannon panda print design green background

So what do you think? Which is your favourite? Please let me know by commenting below!

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When your job calls for studying photos of pandas you know you have a good job

Drawn by Rhiannon panda

If you’ve joined me from reading the previous blog post, hello again and thanks for continuing with me on my panda journey! If you’ve just landed here from out of the blue then it might be best to check out the previous blog post first to see what’s going on.

Every time I want to design a new print I start by researching. I always try to design prints from things I’ve seen and photographed so that I can get a real feel for what I’m going to be drawing. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I took some great photos of pandas when I visited Edinburgh zoo so to begin the print designing process, I took a while going through my panda photos and having a really good look at all their features.

Drawn by Rhiannon panda

Next it was time to start drawing. I chose to simply draw in pencil for this design. Most of my designs are full of colour so knowing that I would only be using black and white was a real challenge for me. By using a soft pencil I was able to add some areas of grey shading as well just to give a bit of depth and tone to the drawing.

Drawn by Rhiannon panda drawing

The first panda drawing took inspiration straight from the panda I saw at Edinburgh zoo that was sat eating bamboo right in front of the viewing window. I just love how cute and chubby they are!

Drawn by Rhiannon panda drawing

I always knew that I wanted two pandas in my panda print to represent the two pandas that live at Edinburgh zoo so I set about drawing the second bear. This one took a bit more imagination as the photo I had of the panda standing up at the zoo was surrounded by bamboo so I couldn’t see all the details. Using a collage of the photos I had taken, I worked out what should go where and how the panda’s frame would sit. Just look at his cute little smiley face!

With the drawings all sorted, it’s time to scan them in to the computer ready to be made in to a digital print. Check out the next blog post for the finished design!

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A quick introduction

Drawn by Rhiannon

Seeing as I’ve started this new blog and some of you are new to Drawn by Rhiannon, I thought I would make a post of a quick introduction so you know who’s talking to you.

This is me! I’m not a fan of having my photo taken so you won’t see my face much around here (but if you ever want to talk to me face-to-face, come and visit me at a market! Find a list of events here).
I studied Fashion Graphics at Southampton Solent University and graduated with a First Class Honours. I’m going to do a whole different blog post about how I got into print design and my process, but for now, here’s some random facts about me to get a sneak peek into the designer behind Drawn by Rhiannon.

  1. Just in case you weren’t sure, my name is Rhiannon and I like to draw.
  2. I live in Newcastle Upon Tyne by the sea and I love it here! The beach is my absolute happy place and gives me so much inspiration.
  3. I’m not originally from here so don’t be surprised when I don’t talk with a Geordie accent. I’ve moved all over but grew up in Derbyshire.
  4. I have a ridiculously cute pet rabbit called Cucumber. If you follow Drawn by Rhiannon on social media you’ll see snaps of her now and again on there.
  5. I am most definitely a sweet person rather than savoury. I can’t get through the day without chocolate and biscuits!
  6. I love travelling. I’m always saving up for the next adventure to experience new cultures, food and print inspiration.
  7. I’m big into music, especially rock and jazz. I used to play the flute but now my main instrument is the ukulele. In total I have two ukuleles, two guitars, a flute, a keyboard, bongos and maracas.
  8. If you hadn’t noticed from my print designs, I’m a fan of bright colours. My house is literally a rainbow.
  9. I really enjoy cooking and baking so you might see some foodie posts on here sometimes – would people be in to that?
  10. Finally, I love my job! Every day it amazes me that I’m lucky enough to do what I love for a living and I’m so thankful to all you lovely lot for making it possible by supporting me!

So that’s a little insight in to me, why not comment below with some random facts about you?