We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Jessie Gibbons a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Jessie, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Earning a full time living from one’s creative career can be incredibly difficult. Have you been able to do so and if so, can you share some of the key parts of your journey and any important advice or lessons that might help creatives who haven’t been able to yet?
I have been able to earn a living being a full-time artist. I quit my corporate job in May of 2020 to join XOXOart & Company as a partner and to run my side-hustle turned full-time business, Papergarten. Although the brands are different, the foundation is the same: custom art created from scratch.
I worked as an art director for seven years in the corporate advertising space. I don’t regret one second spent there because I believe the fast-paced, “this was due yesterday” lifestyle that infiltrates the industry prepared me for the million things owning a business throws at you daily. I always wanted to work for myself but never made it a priority or gave it a second thought. In 2016, I found a masters program focusing on marketing and entrepreneurship and completed a two year part-time program while I was working full-time in Houston. That masters degree was where I started my company, Papergarten, in a class called “Women in Entrepreneurship.” Juggling a part-time masters and full-time job helped me prepare to manage multiple projects of various scales. It took a bit of courage, blind optimism, and a pandemic to snap me out of the fact that I don’t have to suffer through a corporate job every single day of my life. I’m much happier now. I don’t think I would’ve changed my path because the experiences I had along the way made me appreciate working for myself that much more.
Jessie, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I’ve been painting my entire life because my mother is an artist. It just came naturally to me…I won first place in my kindergarten coloring contest. I traveled all over Texas due to winning random poster contests for Soil & Water Conservation or Fire Safety. I never paid attention in high school physics because I was doodling. I always knew I wanted to be in a creative field but couldn’t nail down what I wanted to do. My mom went to art school and then studied to get her MFA. She loved it, but she and my dad encouraged me to find a more business-centric path. I went to the University of Texas to get a degree in Advertising, and I completed the Texas Creative program in art direction.
Just a year after I started college, I saw my mom start her company, XOXOart & Co., in 2012. She was an art teacher for over 31 years and, as an artist, she knew she would never retire. That was one of my first up-close glimpses into seeing what running your own business looked like. I went to wholesale markets in Dallas with her and saw that retailers craved her work because it was new and fresh and well thought out. But mostly, it was because it started as hand-drawn art. It was unique in the sense that she created from scratch what didn’t exist elsewhere.
In 2015, right after I graduated college, my now cousin-in-law asked me if I designed wedding invitations. I told her I would take a stab at it. I painted florals, got them printed locally, and sent out her invitations. As the years went by, I just happened to start designing and painting for close friends and coworkers that were getting married. Mostly as gifts and favors, but then I started getting requests to design for people I didn’t know. Word of mouth is so powerful. It wasn’t until I was in my graduate program’s Women in Entrepreneurship class that I finally thought about starting an actual business. I was required to create an social media account, so I made an Instagram for Papergarten. I always identified as an artist but was terrified to post work online. What if everyone hated it? What if my high school classmates saw that I had only 12 followers and laughed at my attempts at starting a company? I can’t thank the University of Houston enough for having a class in their business school that required that you to start a business. Just starting was the biggest hurdle I had to get past. Apparently, a grade was the only motivation I needed to start posting my art online.
Fast forward to now, I was fully booked for 2022 weddings and I get to make art with my mom every single day as her partner. I never thought I would be here, but I’m glad I am. And despite Instagram’s ever-changing algorithm being impossible to decipher, I still enjoy sharing projects for both companies online.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
I consider the relationships I have through both companies a complete treasure. It has been life-changing to meet people who value the work that I do because it’s unique and special to them. Whether it’s art for a retailer to take to the National Finals Rodeo or a custom watercolor wedding map that will hang in my couple’s home for the rest of their life, I have been connected with incredible people that treasure what I paint for them. It’s a gift to find those who appreciate the work I do.
Is there something you think non-creatives will struggle to understand about your journey as a creative?
There are many ways to make money that doesn’t come from a standard corporate job. And those in that world need to be informed, open-minded and receptive to the opportunities a non-traditional job can hold.
I don’t believe in the starving artist narrative. The people that perpetuate that narrative are usually the ones that don’t want to pay artists for their work (and they always need the most help). The best way to understand what a creative does is to look at their work and to express interest in what they do. If I told you I run a wholesale apparel & accessories company and make wedding invitations, that could mean so many different things. There is such a stigma around telling others you’re an artist. But if you look at my website or hold what I make in your hands, you get it. Sometimes you have to see to believe.
- Website: www.papergarten.com, www.xoxoartandco.com
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/papergarten, www.instagram.com/xoxoartandcompany
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/xoxoartandcompany/, https://www.facebook.com/papergartengoods/
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/papergarten/, https://www.linkedin.com/company/xoxoartandcompany/
Paige Vaughn Photo | PVP Brands