We recently connected with Jen Schwenk and have shared our conversation below.
Jen , thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Alright, so you had your idea and then what happened? Can you walk us through the story of how you went from just an idea to executing on the idea
I have always been a dreamer. The creative ideas would surface and I would find any way possible to execute them and give them life. With my most recent project, I shot photos of small neighborhood businesses all over the country, then spent some time shooting desert backgrounds in Joshua Tree and Anza Borrego. I created composites by placing the buildings in minimalist desert settings. I wanted to allow the viewer to focus on the beauty of the subject rather than what was happening around it. After I sold prints, and wrapped up two art shows, I was able to give proceeds back to those struggling businesses. Sometimes inspiration is right in front of you, and it’s a matter of changing your perspective. Given that I want to create in order to give back, I decided to take a new path. I started my own business in creative direction. I work with exotic cars, event planners, models, and interior designers. I believe it’s possible to open those channels as an artist, rather than limiting creativity to one area. I also find that my art continues to evolve as I allow other mediums to influence my work. I’m really looking forward to what comes next.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I have been an artist since childhood. My last years of high school and college were spent studying fine arts. My major was in commercial architecture, but found it wasn’t for me long term. After school, I moved to Los Angeles to work on reality TV shows in set design. The Flavor of Love was my first show, where I was hired to decorate and build the set along with props. Once it ended, I moved on to the next show and the next. Fashion is also a huge part of my life and experience. I’ve worked in retail with Betsey Johnson in New York and backstage in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week as well. This led me to open my own vintage store a few years ago, featuring original and restructured vintage. Personally, as an artist, I could be working on illustrations, graphic design, photo edits and event planning at the same time. I truly find that I’m happiest when I’m able to express myself through different mediums. I would say what sets my business or art apart from others would have to be life experience. I have learned to live with nothing, and come up with something. The challenge is always learning to be resourceful. Anyone can go to school, or watch tutorials, but experience is what gives you cultured perspective. Traveling and working with all types of people and scenarios tends to build a platform that strengthens your resolve. Art means something different to everyone, and I hope to inspire others with what I create.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
Where do I start! Since childhood, I’ve faced so many struggles, but I always find the magic in those times. My family was poor when I was growing up, and it taught me to get creative. Later in life, after finishing design school, I was in a terrible accident while attending a wedding in Mexico. I was severely injured and unable to walk for over 6 months. I never gave up, and decided to start illustrating from bed. A year later, I was able to begin working again and had an opportunity with Betsey Johnson, working in her show room in New York. A dream come true. Fast forward many years later, I began an Event Design business focusing on Funeral Reception planning. I felt that while many families are grieving, they are taken advantage of during that time. So, I wanted to offer low income, creative services to make their final moments a more genuine celebration of life. Unfortunately, once I was established and consistently working, my partner lost his life. I was left to raise my baby alone. I decided to close the business and take some time to reflect. Many years, I just spent alone and trying to get myself together. I remember doing anything I could to stay inspired and distract myself. Years later, I began shooting photos of custom designed hats, models and then my recent project, small businesses. Now I make a living as a self-employed creative director and I’m able to travel and choose my own hours, jobs, and events. This change allowed me to spend more time with my daughter and find inspiration in many forms. It also allowed me to give back to many organizations and artists that are in need. Opportunities come and go, it’s what you choose to do that makes the difference.
Can you talk to us about how your funded your business?
There are always ways to start a business. I maybe had $100 to my name when I started. So I decided to sell some of my clothing and personal items to a resale shop. I came out with $300. It cost less than $50 to get a fictitious business name at the courthouse. When I did my research of where to sell items online, it turned out that Etsy had the lowest fees for listing items. Everyone discouraged me. However, within the first few weeks, I had over 25 sales. Later, I was gifted my first basic camera and I used it everyday. I watched tutorials online and just kept experimenting. I found Photoshop and Lightroom to be expensive at the time, and difficult to understand. So, I signed up for an online class at community college, and I just kept asking a lot of questions. Many community colleges offer online, inexpensive classes. The best part is that Adobe offers a huge discount to students, so I was able to afford all of the programs. It then became about consistency. Anything you do in life consistently becomes a habit, good or bad. You just have to choose what you want. I was tired of working for corporations that didn’t appreciate my artistry or value my time. Starting a business, even if it meant failing was better than going to a job that I hate everyday. Freedom and peace is so much more valuable than job security. Don’t get me wrong… it’s vital to have income, but don’t give up your dream just because of fear. Keep the mundane job or get creative until you feel confident enough to believe in yourself. Those mundane jobs actually help to acquire so many skills. For example: social skills, sales, organization, leadership, financial, managerial, and always new perspective. Without new perspective, it’s almost impossible to evolve and create.