Occupation: Artist/Product Designer
Website: Scout Dog Studios
Biography: Jen Griggs Sebastian is an artist and product designer living in Denver, Colo., and sharing her home/studio with Matt the Husband, Scout the Dog and Izzy the Cat. Though her business is constantly evolving, she currently is focused on painting commissioned pet portraits as well as developing her ScoutDog and Friends character/product line that includes whimsical dogs, cats and other animals.
What do you do and how did you start?
I am an artist, product designer, website designer, entrepreneur, owner of ScoutDog Studios… really I do whatever is necessary so that I can continue to follow my passion and make my own path. I have always been a doodler and have always had a list of projects and ideas that I wanted to do.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to do what you’re currently doing and how old were you when you actually began.
Looking back, I think that I always knew that I wanted to be an artist and an entrepreneur. It just took me a while to realize that it’s alright to create a different path. You don’t have to do what you believe everyone else thinks is the right thing to do. But it wasn’t until I was 28 (about 1 1/2 years ago) that I quit my corporate management job at a newspaper group’s interactive division and started ScoutDog Studios.
What jobs did you have before you went out on your own?
I was a journalism major at the University of Colorado and began working as the college newspaper’s online editor while in school. Once I graduate I worked as the online editor for The Denver Post and the Oakland Tribune, as well as those newspapers’ parent company.
What steps did you take to create your own business?
Well the biggest step I took was quitting my corporate job after eight years. It was just draining me of any passion and creativity. I know that this is not possible for most people, but you need to do what is possible for you to make your dreams come true … even if it just 15 minutes a day during your coffee break. At this time in my life it just felt right … it was time to take a chance and do what I wanted to do instead of what I was “supposed to do.”
I am creating and recreating my business everyday as I get feedback and have to make adjustments to products, ideas and the priority list. I think the most important thing to remember is to listen, observe and evolve your ideas.
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I worked for eight years as the editor/director of a number of online newspaper websites after getting a B.S. in journalism for the University of Colorado at Boulder. Also, I’m currently working on getting my M.B.A. from the University of Colorado at Denver. I have taken some art classes, but primarily am a self-taught artist and entrepreneur.
How did you first begin to sell/market your work?
It’s funny how sometimes it really is all about being in the right place at the right time. My husband and I decided to sell our condo and move into something a little bigger with room for a studio. I just happened to have finished a large painting of Scout the Dog, and one of the Realtors who was showing our condo asked if I did commissions … I thought, “Wow someone actually wants to pay me for doing what I love … crazy.” Of course I said yes.
After that I started thinking about trying to get more commissions and purchased a booth at one of the large art fairs in the Denver area. At the fair a local pet store owner said that she wanted to carry my products in her store. It really just starting snowballing from there. Also, since I have a background in Web design and online journalism, I designed a Web site for my business and offered online ordering.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? The most frustrating?
Being my own boss. It’s empowering as well as scary to know that I am responsible for making things happen … the good, the bad, the success, the failures. Also when I see people smile and laugh when they see all of my dogs, it makes me feel like I am doing something to make others happy and that really helps keep me going. I will always remember what one little boy said while walking past my booth: “Dogs are funny.” I think that the most frustrating part are the feelings and things you start telling yourself after being isolated for a number of days in a studio or office by yourself.
The most frustrating thing is having to overcome people’s perceptions of what it means to “be an artist” and “working from home.” This doesn’t mean that we all sit around eating bon bons and watching “Days of Our Lives” (though some day it does … all of us need a creative break.)
What has been your biggest struggle(s)/challenge(s) with your creative career?
There seem to be new challenges everyday. I think though my biggest struggles have been learning how to be a good boss to myself. When you are your own boss and work on your own, you can lose perspective and get wrapped up in your work and end up working yourself to complete exhaustion. Also since I work out of my house, it is a challenge to separate work from home. So it is necessary to set a work schedule and stick to it. And remember to work hard but also play hard … and give yourself a day off every now and then to recharge.
The other challenge is learning how to wear many different hats … from CEO to bookkeeper to delivery girl to creative director … and have the ability to switch between these different hats many times a day. Keeping that in mind, it is also important to realize when you need help and have the courage to ask for help. You can’t do every job perfectly so you need to focus on what you do best and then find other people to help you with the jobs that are your weakness. It is very challenging to be disciplined and self-motivated to be a successful entrepreneur but it is definitely worth it.
Do you have any fears about what you do, and if so, how do you deal with them?
Definitely. It’s scary to put yourself out there and open yourself up to criticism and rejection. And not having the comfort of a weekly pay check. My big fear is not being able to figure out how to make a living doing what I love. My biggest fear is having to return to a standard, cubicle-dwelling, 9-to-5 job in the corporate world. But really, you just have to keep working and you will get over that day’s hump … the more humps and fears that you push your way through, the easier it is the next time.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
When I have a creative block I usually return to the old standards. I will get out a small canvas and paint one of my dogs. This will usually relax me and open my mind to allow me to explore my other ideas. Usually while I’m painting, I will come up with some new ideas and jot them down on one of my many lists. If that doesn’t work, I do something to release the tension … cry, scream, go on a run, do some yoga … you have to let out your frustrations so that you don’t carry them with you and allow them to hold back your creativity.
What kind of work environment do you have?
I work at home in our industrial-style loft with concrete floors. My work companions are Scout the Dog and Izzy the Cat. My desks are a fancy combination of hollow doors and saw horses from Home Depot … honestly these make great desks, for only about $40 a desk.
Have you encountered any financial obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Definitely. It is a constant challenge for me to overcome my fears about money. For me, I just have to stay organized with my money and do all the anal accounting-related work on a weekly basis. You have to overcome the idea that to do the hard business work is selling out … artists need to know how to put together a budget as well. It is a constant learning experience where you have to learn to prioritize and learn to balance and make sacrifices. Though we may have given up going out to dinner 5 nights a week, in return I have actually found another creative outlet and love to cook.
What is your definition of success?
Getting to start my day with a chai latte and my sketch pad. Never having to work for The Man again. Being able to work from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. or 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. … whenever the mood and inspiration strikes. Being an artist and not experiencing the Sunday night and Monday morning blahs, because your work is your life — you get to do what you love.
Who or what are your inspirations?
Matt the Husband, Scout the Dog, Izzy the Cat, Leigh the Sister, Beth the Mom, and Frank the Dad. Also, really, anyone who is an entrepreneur and is following their passion. And, honestly, sometimes inspiration can come from a commercial or something might click while walking the dog … you have to be open to getting ideas from anything and everything.
Words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals.
Don’t be afraid to change and don’t try to control everything. Giving up a little control and just going with the flow, though often terrifying, can lead to new paths and adventures. You have to be willing to give a little and evolve your ideas. This doesn’t mean giving up on your passion and ideas and going to work for The Man. It’s important to listen to your customers. They can teach you a lot about your product and yourself. Also, try to set aside at least one day a week to take care of all of the business stuff: marketing, accounting, client follow-up, etc. This way you can take care of the icky details and then have a clear plate in order to enjoy the creative work in the studio.
What I have learned most from this experience and what I would like to share with others is the importance of just to keep on keeping on and remember to have fun. Also you have to be able to evolve and change. It is sometimes hard if you are in love with a certain idea … but listening to others and observing how people respond to your work may lead to some even better. Also I know that people can get wrapped up in their passion, which is great, but it is also important to face reality as well and remember the everyday business objectives as well. So it is important to find a good balance between the art and the business sides in order to be able to live your passion. (I am also currently working on getting my MBA.)
And finally, if you are going to invest money in one thing to get your started, invest the time and money necessary to get business cards professionally designed and printed. Business cards are something that people pick up without really thinking, so if you have something that creates interest and looks professional, when they reach into their wallet and pull your card out two weeks later, you will have made a good impression and probably generated a few clients.