Website: Stephannie Barba
Biography: Stephannie Barba is an award winning illustrator, calligrapher and stationery designer who ran away to New York at an early age. Her talent bloomed once she was surrounded by other artists, and it was there where she began her stationery and illustration “couture” house. Her client list includes fashion companies Christian Dior, Cynthia Rowley, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap, and her work has appeared in numerous fashion, bridal and travel magazines. She currently lives and works in San Francisco but spends as much time as possible in Paris.
What do you do and how did you start?
I am an illustrator, calligrapher and stationery designer. My illustration career began as soon as I entered art school as a means to pay for tuition. Since I had been creating and selling my art since I was a kid, I found it quite a natural step to try and work at selling it in New York, albeit on a grander scale.
After being introduced to letterpress printers and beautiful papers, I began creating my own line of stationery and wedding invitations utilizing my fashion illustration skill and love of handwriting. At the time, I was not really interested in starting a business rather I just created stationery that I loved. It was only through word of mouth that news of my wedding invitations spread, and my stationery career was born.
How old were you when you realized your dream and when you began?
I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. Since I was a dreamer, I had many pen pals that I corresponded with from around the world and spent hours writing to them and creating beautiful letters to send. I worked at developing my handwriting as a kid, and also fell in love with illustrated picture books. So I began painting on furniture, clothing, walls–anything I could find and also designed and created board games, books and journals. My illustration work was first published when I was 16, and I knew that I wanted to be an artist forever.
What jobs did you have before you went out on your own?
I had brief jobs doing gift-wrapping, package design, cake decorating, gift baskets and floral design, although I always did freelance work on the side.
What steps did you take to create your own business?
I was lucky to have so many successful artists around me at art school, so I learned from their experiences and asked as many questions as possible. They were also very supportive and had much more confidence in me than I did at the time. I was reassured that my illustration portfolio would be able to speak for itself, so I worked on making it very unique and sent it to every creative director and publisher in the city.
During the time that I was working on my illustration career, I was asked to create wedding invitations by art directors and other artists. The stationery career began as only a side project, but I found that I enjoyed so many aspects of it including the design phase and working with other artists, the relationship with vendors and printers and the process of choosing papers. As time went on, I worked with many more brides and decided to pursue stationery full time.
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York. My studies consisted of painting, calligraphy, product design, fashion design, book design, prepress and illustration. Art school taught me the importance of breaking rules and making mistakes. It was there that I became immersed in the artist community and found myself surrounded by the best designers and artists which was extremely motivating as I took the first steps to a freelance career.
How did you first begin to sell/market your work?
As a freelance illustrator, I created mini portfolios of my work and sent them to everyone that I wanted to work with. The list included mostly famous people, art directors, and couture houses. To my surprise, they called me back!
I followed the same process when I first began to promote my wedding invitations and sent handmade cards to magazine editors, actresses, and anyone, that in my opinion, would appreciate customized stationery. Today, I still stay in touch by endless self-promotion of sending handmade cards, and oftentimes when I am called in to see an art director, they will still have the cards that I had sent many years ago. With self-promotion, I try to create items that are very difficult to throw out, and I take the time to make each piece unique to the recipient.
I am very lucky that I never had to advertise my work, but instead utilized word-of mouth as the best publicity for many years. It wasn’t until recently that my website became an online gallery which reached brides all around the world.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Having the freedom to create my own schedule and work at home is the best thing about owning my own business. I’ve always loved being at home during the day with my dog and other animals. If I do not feel like working, I have the freedom to go to the movies or spend an afternoon at a museum.
The most frustrating?
There are many frustrating aspects: following up on invoices, problem solving with vendors, computer issues, knowing that if you do not get up in the morning, there is no one else to do the work.
Do you have any fears about what you do, and if so, how do you deal with them?
My fears change day to day. I try to live with them and realize that they are just a part of life and the learning process.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
The best way I have found to cure a creative block is to take an afternoon off and to a museum or gallery to look at the work of other artists. Since I spend so much time in the studio, it is very easy for me to get immersed in my own space and not be able to see an overview of the project. Just being in a different environment is inspiring.
I also go to trade shows to see products by other artists, to get ideas and be inspired. Finding new vendors and artists to work with keeps my products fresh and always evolving.
What kind of work environment do you have?
Because I live in the city, my workspace has always been very limited. I try to separate my creative space from my living space as much as possible and always include my animals. I surround myself with bright colors and things that I love which include memories of far-away travels-day dreaming sparks my creativity. I live across the street from a beautiful park so I have wonderful views and natural sunlight all day. Sometimes I also take my work on the road…to the beach, the park, Paris. I’ve even been known to do work on the train, airplane and in numerous cafes.
Have you encountered any financial obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them?
I face them everyday! I think that it is a part of owning your own business. When I encounter down time, I work on self-promotion and update my portfolio and website. Taking care of myself is also an important part of my slow-time routine.
What is your definition of success?
Enjoying and loving your life and the work that you do, knowing that you have created something that is uniquely yours.
Who or what are your inspirations?
City life is my biggest inspiration, especially the quiet daintiness of Paris. I find the femininity of French culture, with their attention to small details, so enchanting. Urban living often brings the unexpected, and I enjoy knowing that each new day will bring surprises.
Words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals:
As artists we are unique and extraordinary. Embrace your uniqueness and do not be persuaded to conform to what is perceived as normal. We think differently and live our lives differently. Being an artist is truly special.