We were lucky to catch up with Tree Lily Butcher recently and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Tree Lily , thanks for joining us today. Are you able to earn a full-time living from your creative work? If so, can you walk us through your journey and how you made it happen?
Born in Nashville, TN, I knew what I wanted to be very early in life: in the words of 7-year-old me, “I want to be when I grow up I will be an artist and a mom because a mom is the best job in the world. An artist is a good job too I think because I love to paint pictures.”
As a high school student at The Webb School in Bell Buckle, TN, I started my own zine “Sheep Grenade” which caused quite a stir in the small country town due to age appropriate teenage dirtbag obscenity. Through this experimental zine, I found my love of hand-cut collage.
In March of 2020, I was 3 months pregnant, an unemployed waitress full of fear, anxiety and depression. So, I shut herself into my home art studio and ripped apart magazines while the world split at the seams. Change is at the very core of hand-cut collage and change is what inspired me to pursue art professionally.
TreeLilys INC was founded in March 2020 when I, an unemployed waitress and three months pregnant during the COVID pandemic, shut myself into my home art studio and ripped apart magazines while the world split at the seams. Change is at the very core of hand-cut collage and change is what inspired me to pursue art professionally. This artistic vision has grown to become a traveling pop up small business centered in Nashville, TN.
I never sought out to make a living doing collage art. I feel like I was pushed out of an airplane with everything I needed to build a parachute. I’m grateful I didn’t hit the ground. Bringing life into this world during a global pandemic was terrifying. I quarantined in my house and barely saw anyone. It was not ideal.
In May 2020, between Animal Crossing sessions and bouts of sheer panic sprinkled with existential dread, I put together a website using Squarespace to showcase my hobby of collage art. People started buying prints. This honestly shocked me.
September 11th 2020, I gave birth to my son and entered the arena of motherhood. When he was around six months old, I did my first pop up. I made $300. This was more than I would make at my old job! This is when I started really pursuing this as my career. I have done over 100 pop up events to date and am able to afford a comfortable lifestyle for my growing family.
I tell people I “make a living” doing art, but what does that mean? “Making a living” implies earning your right to live on this Earth. You and I both are inherently valuable by virtue of birth. Success and failure are social constructs. I am an artist because I was born one, not because people buy what I make.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
My art is exclusively hand-cut using found vintage books and magazines and is never rendered or edited with photoshop or computer software. The process of collage making is Sourcing, Cutting, Placing and Gluing. The final print process includes Scanning and Printing at various sizes in my studio in Old Hickory Village.
Commissions are a big part of my business. I do a lot of pet art which consists of me cutting out pictures of peoples pets to place in outlandish and surreal collages.
One client remarked,
“This was the first custom art I’ve ordered so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I emailed Tree Lily photos of my three cats along with a few details about their personalities and our lives, and she created a masterpiece! I couldn’t be happier with the result, which is beyond my expectations. It’s the most fun gift I’ve ever given to my husband (or anyone!) for Christmas!”
I get a lot of joy from doing special things for clients.
As a small business owner I am both boss and employee; CEO and new hire. I do pop up events 2-5 times per week. But that’s only part of it.
In between events, I manage my online presence both on social media and this website, teach collage classes, create custom pieces, fill wholesale orders and prepare for gallery shows around town.
I don’t work 9-5, I don’t get stuck in 5pm traffic and you won’t find me in line at the Starbucks early morning rush.
On the flip side, I work events in 100° and 20° weather. I drag my stuff in and out of my truck constantly wearing and tearing not only the truck bed, but my body, too.
This lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It is hard work, but perfect for me.
I started this business 8 months pregnant in a global pandemic. In September 2020, I became a mother. This journey has been both wonderful and terrifying.I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and prescribed antidepressants for the first time in my life.
Once that started to sort out, life has become easier. My four walls are safe even when it may seem like the world outside is burning down. This is where it gets really tricky. Over the past few years, I have let my business and my parenting come before myself and I have run myself ragged.
With the help of my family, I have learned that I have to put my oxygen mask on first before others.
In order for me to be the best mother I can be, I need to feed my spirit and take “self-care” more seriously. In order for me to continue bring the best artist I can be, I need to do the same.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
I get to truly be myself. I have embraced my true self more and more as I go down this creative and artistic path.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
As the late great David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” I take this to heart almost daily. I know nothing. I don’t know what’s best for me or anyone else. As a small business owner and artist, I live in the utter unknown. This can be terrifying if I let my anxiety and fears seep into me.
I have had to learn to live and thrive in the unknowable life of an artist. There are no bad choices or mistakes, just lessons and road bumps.
- Website: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @TreeLilys