Recently, I had the opportunity to interview with Made in Chicago Market, run by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Tell us a little bit about you and your business! Who are you and what do you make?
Hello! I’m Jenny, the owner, creator, maker, and do-aller at Greetings by Jenny. I’m a moonlighting artist, dreaming of making my small business my full-time gig. I make greeting cards, wall art, apparel, hats, totes, stickers, tumblers, accessories and more.
What’s the origin story of Greetings by Jenny? Why did you decide to start?
Greetings by Jenny started in the winter of 2018 – 2019 when I found myself needing to busy my hands during the cold, dark winter days. As a recovering alcoholic, keeping myself busy & staying out of trouble is key to staying healthy.
In the past, I hadn’t considered myself a very creative person. I grew up playing sports, studying hard, and later, a lot of partying. I studied business and economics in college and after graduation, headed to a corporate job. Sitting in a cube, contemplating my life, I became overwhelmingly depressed and hopeless. After several attempts to get & stay sober, I moved to Chicago with nothing but a few suitcases and a desire to start my life over.
Sometime around November of 2018, I found myself itching to make something to get the ideas out of my head and onto something tangible. Creative energy was literally exploding out of me, but I found a canvas or even a piece of paper too big to work with. I settled on a postcard, collaging together cutouts from magazines. Once I got started on postcards, I could not stop myself.
Since then, Greetings by Jenny has expanded to a multitude of creations from my chaotic mind including greeting cards, wall art, illustrations that I could put on apparel, tote bags and more. I was overjoyed with the kind, genuine, and authentic people I was meeting through pop-up events. I was meeting new friends, finding myself sincerely happy for the first time in years.
With a dry sense of humor and a splash of sarcasm, I began a mission to Make America Greet Again through thoughtful, silly, cheeky, sometimes even wholesome, greeting cards, gifts & accessories. My mission to Make America Greet Again has never been stronger amidst the world we live in circa summer 2020, and I am more inspired & excited than ever to spread happiness through the mailbox.
What do you love most about being an artist?
As an artist, I adore meeting people I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. At live events, I get to meet people from all over the city, state, country, and even the world, and had I not started my journey with Greetings by Jenny, I would have never met these amazing people.
Also, I find myself finally able to express feelings, emotions, and things that are stuck in the corners of my brain onto tangible items; items that other people connect with. My proudest moments are when someone walks up to my table and says “hey [friend]! Look at this card! This is hilarious!” The connection I make with strangers through my artwork is priceless and inspires me to continue to create.
What is one big challenge you face as an artist?
One big challenge I face as an artist is time. Time to design, create, and get my ideas out there. So many things must happen and fall in place for a card, tote bag, or print wall art to be available for purchase, and then the challenge is finding ways for it to be SEEN.
Recently, I stumbled upon research that says Millennials are more like to see art as an “experience,” not as a material good – but rather something that invokes (literally) “some type of feeling.” Trying to invoke “some type of feeling” through Instagram, Facebook, and my website is a challenge, especially during this time when I have minimal opportunities to physically get my creations in front of buyers.
On the other hand, older generations see art as a material investment, rather than the more emotional reaction of Millennials. Finding the balance of making art that invokes feelings and making art that is seen as an investment is difficult.
All of that coupled with getting my work out there – being confident enough to post new work on Instagram and other social media channels, plus the time to plan and effectively introduce new designs is challenging. As a one-woman-show, managing the design, marketing, customer service, and production of my shop seems to boil down to the amount of hours in a day and how much can I squeeze into those hours.
How has the global pandemic affected your business?
The global pandemic has affected my business because live events used to be my biggest source of income and used to be the way I would meet new customers, friends, fellow artists, and more.
Trying to fine-tune my skills of social media marketing, email newsletters, managing my website, and learning new online tools to connect with other artists, returning buyers, and new buyers has become essential. Sitting in front of my computer is becoming a bigger part of my day and running my business — ensuring that my greeting cards, artwork & accessories can be seamlessly purchased, shipped, & delivered on time has been a learning curve.
Staying on top of the inventory of my materials, like paper & envelopes, continues to be a challenge, as several of my suppliers went out of business, shut down, or faced challenges related to the pandemic themselves.
More than that, the emotional, mental, and physical toll of living in the era of COVID-19 and social unrest is real. Learning to take breaks, without guilt-tripping myself for taking said break, continues to be something I work on. I’ve taken to heart the saying “learn to rest, not to quit” during these times.
Personally, allowing myself to be sad some days, and overly excited for seemingly no reason other days, is OK. Sometimes, I feel the weight of my world on my shoulders, but fortunately, I found art pre-COVID as an outlet for escaping and “tuning out” rather than more destructive behaviors like the drinking I did in the past.
What is special about the Chicago maker community?
I’ve learned the Chicago maker community will welcome you, whoever you are, with open arms. Stepping into the maker community in early 2019 was daunting – it was a totally new culture for me at the time. But, the other artists & makers, and even buyers, made me feel right at home within an hour of my first show.
Chicago makers are a driven and motivated group, and that motivation to spread positivity is contagious. I’ve started a network of Chicago makers – called Handmade Happy Hours – and we are a group of 250+ local artisans. The community we have built is supportive and collaborative. This maker community has literally restored my faith in humanity.
What advice or words of wisdom do you have for other people who are dreaming about starting their own projects?
Be ready for a wild ride! Sometimes things go exactly as planned and other times they don’t and that’s ok because you’ve learned something along the way. Get those ideas out of your head and on to paper, apparel, ceramics, whatever medium you choose. Do not throw away a piece that didn’t go as planned, especially at first. Please don’t feel afraid to put your work in front of people, getting your work out there can be scary, but if you have an idea, just get started.
When things are fully open, what is your favorite thing to do in Chicago?
I absolutely love the choice & quality of Chicago cuisine. Going to local establishments and finding things I’ve never tried on the menu tickles my fancy.
Also, since I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2017, there are still so many landmarks, museums, and obscure destinations I’ve never been to. For example, the Open House architecture tour. One day, when we can freely roam, I will be able to explore the wonders of Chicago architecture.