Ep.8: Why doing art equals running a business with Erin Dollar from Cotton & Flax

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Sep 14, 2017 •  Interviews

Erin Dollar is a surface pattern designer and textile artist living in San Diego, California. Since 2012, she’s created boldly patterned home goods for her company, Cotton & Flax, which features products made in small batches from high-quality, natural fabrics. 

As a student at UC Santa Cruz, Erin studied fine art printmaking, which led her to experiment with printing on textiles. After graduating, she continued to experiment with textile printing and further refined her aesthetic vision before founding Cotton & Flax, which became a home for her textile designs.

Through Cotton & Flax, Erin creates beautiful textile designs using her unique hand printed fabrics. Erin also teaches printmaking workshops and shares her love of printing with her students. By drawing upon her background as a fine art printmaker, she hopes to share her love of handmade textiles with a wider audience and promote a thoughtful approach to decorating your home.

Get in touch with Erin

Key Takeaways

“As a creative professional, it’s not just about the work … if you only work, you will burn out really fast. You need to be able to treat yourself with care – exercise, refresh your brain, eat healthy”

Resources mentioned

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Special thanks to Erin for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Erin Dollar, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life, where it’s all about how you can turn your creative passion into a profession. So my guest today is super talented textile artists and veteran designer from sunny San Diego. She is the founder of cotton and flakes and home goods company, which features products made in small batches from high quality natural fabrics. Through cotton and flax. She creates beautiful textile designs using her unique hand printed fabrics. She is also a great teacher teaching printmaking and creative entrepreneurs workshops. So please welcome Erin Dollar. Happy to have you here.

Erin Dollar

Thank you so much for inviting me.

Iva Mikles

And I would like to start right away with the like, beginning of your career. Did you always knew that you wanted to be a designer?

Erin Dollar

Um, well, I definitely always had that creative impulse, right. So I even as like a really young child, I was always working on creative projects crafting, you know, more traditional fine art stuff when I got older. And when I went to college, I, you know, kind of tried to quash that a little bit and ignore that impulse. Oh, maybe I’ll study science, I’ll study. I think I went to college thinking I was going to study environmental studies. And that was really, maybe a couple of semesters that sort of was working out, okay. And then I realized, no, I really need to be focused on what I truly love, which is creative projects, art, all of that. And so then I completely switched gears started studying art history and traditional fine art, I focused on printmaking. And it was just, it’s one of those things, I think that I’ve the more creative people that I’ve met, the more I hear people say, you can’t not do this, when this is part of who you are. It’s like it’s gonna come out of you no matter what. And so it’s easier just to lean into it a little bit. Yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah, it was kind of the same for me. Because all of my like family and friends back home, they were like, Oh, you cannot leave from art. So I actually went to study business.

Erin Dollar

Oh, really? Yeah. And I wish that I’d done a little more of that. Now, I think, you know, I always knew that creativity and making an art were going to be part of my life. I didn’t really realize I think until you know, the last decade that it was going to be how I made my living. I think that that was really the reality of what it is to have a creative career. And then it’s not just sort of drawing and, you know, sketching all day, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. So needing to know about some of that business stuff is so important.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. And which were the biggest decisions or turning points for you, in order to get where you are now?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, I mean, definitely, studying art in college was such a mind expanding experience. And I got to learn so much about just the history of fine art and learn more about contemporary artists and kind of what they’re working on. And especially just seeing artists working and like getting to, especially with some of my mentors who kind of worked with me during those college years, getting to see how they were living as artists. So that really kind of expanded my mind and going to university meeting other artists were making their living as creative people. And that kind of gave me the idea of, oh, this is really possible. This is something that I could do as well, I think that it’s really hard. Especially early in your career, if you don’t have a lot of models for that type of success. How do you kind of like figure out what to do next? How do you know what steps to take and kind of what’s possible for you if you don’t have people modeling that in your life, so that was really important for me. And honestly, just timing, I think I graduated in the middle of the recession in the US. And so it was just, you know, there weren’t a huge number of traditional jobs that I could move into full time, there was a lot of part time work available, but it was sort of finding this patchwork of sort of side gigs and you know, other things to kind of make ends meet. And being able to use that sort of as an opportunity rather than, you know, a negative thing of just oh, this means that I can really focus on maybe making some money from my art and then when that went well, just continuing to follow where that lead. So yeah, sort of half timing, half sort of lack of meeting people along the way who are super encouraging and helpful and then some of it just like bullheadedness and stubbornness.

Iva Mikles

That’s actually really good as well. Kind of surround yourself with the people who can inspire you. And I read that you have also intrapreneurial family. And

Erin Dollar

a little bit. Yeah, yeah, I, my big one for me was my aunt, my, my mom’s sister was an entrepreneur all through my childhood. And she had a flower design business and did all of this beautiful stuff with flowers and landscaping and all these beautiful projects that had to do more with like, environmental things. So that was sort of maybe where that seed got planted. But watching her in her studio, working with flowers going with her to the flower market, sometimes really early in the morning, and just seeing her work ethic and how driven she was to make her business work, I think was really inspiring for me. Yeah. And finally,

Iva Mikles

and what was like a best advice, and maybe also worst advice you’ve ever received.

Erin Dollar

Yeah, I think people are really well, meaning everyone really wants to help. I think that that’s the thing that I really learned and being self employed and having a creative career is that people really want to help you. It’s hard, because I think sometimes when you’re alone in your studio, you can feel really isolated, you feel like Oh, I’m in this all by myself, but everyone really wants you to succeed. I think if you’ve surrounded yourself with other creative people and have encouraging friends and family, you’re always gonna get this well meaning advice. And some of its good. And some of it’s a little bit not great. But you know, I think the best advice that I’ve received is just sort of like, research study, focus on what you really like to you know, pursue and then you know, the ideas will come don’t have that fear that, you know, creativity is limiting, somehow, it’s really, the more energy you can kind of put towards it, the more rewards you can really reap, you know, bad advice. I can’t really think of too much bad advice. I think that there definitely been times when I felt like people didn’t necessarily understand my vision, or what I was trying to achieve. And being able to kind of take their advice with a grain of salt or being able to separate Oh, I really liked this person and think they’re really smart. But maybe they don’t really necessarily understand what I’m trying to do here and being able to say, Okay, I’m gonna maybe not do everything that they tell me, I think being able to think for yourself is so important if you’re going to have a creative career.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. Or something, what you kind of believed in in the past, and you change your opinion about it now?

Erin Dollar

Is there something there? Hmm. Yeah, that’s a tough one change an opinion. Yeah, I mean, I think the big one for me right now in my career is that you kind of start to think, oh, there’s this like, particular path that I need to follow. And for me, as a textile designer, as a, as a textile artist, it’s sort of this idea of, Oh, I’ll create a product line. And then when that becomes successful, I’ll open a retail shop, and then I’ll hire a bunch of employees and expand that way. And that’s sort of the path that’s modeled for my type of business. And, you know, I was looking at that for a long time and thinking, Oh, some of that really doesn’t appeal to me, I don’t really want to have a retail shop. Manager, huge, you know, group of employees are really have that level of kind of managerial stuff on my plate, I really wanted to focus on the creative work. And so for me making that decision of like, I’m not going to follow that path. And I’m going to kind of carve something different for myself. I think that it really is only in the last year that I’ve felt more comfortable with that I think that it’s easy to see models for success and think that that’s the only way and it’s really not true. There’s so many different ways that you can go about having a creative life.

Iva Mikles

Because there are also like new different services just coming up like Upwork or 99 designs, and all of these where you can actually find people, which like they can help you, you don’t have to necessarily hire them for full time.

Erin Dollar

Yeah, and I’ve had really good luck. You know, with the limited amount of hiring or sort of outsourcing I’ve done for my business, I’ve been really lucky to find those specialists. Like I work with a graphic designer, who I really love and photographers who I really love and they really get my aesthetic vision and kind of what I’m trying to aim for. And having people like that who can kind of take work off my plate, who are also experts in their own right is such a relief. Oh, I don’t have to do everything. This is great. So yeah, definitely. Then it’s

Iva Mikles

good to find like people they actually understand your vision for

Erin Dollar

Yeah, yeah. And that took a while I think that you especially when you’re creative, small business person. It’s so personal. A lot of times for you it’s so important to be able to get that creative vision across and so releasing some of that control and letting other people in on that creative process and collaborating. It opens up so many new possibilities, but it’s also a little bit nerve wracking because you’re like, Oh, are they going to be able to do this the way that I want? And what if we don’t get along? Or, you know, there’s all sorts of different things that you worry about when you start to collaborate more. But when you do find those people who really get it, who are really on the same page with you, it’s so amazing, you can really do really incredible thing.

Iva Mikles

That’s really good. I’m happy for you. No, thank you. And you’re promoting unique style or unique products for the decoration? How would you describe your brand or the vision you have.

Erin Dollar

So for me, it’s really it comes back to the materials, even the name of the company that I started cotton and flax, it really is focused on the materials cotton and flax or the plants that are grown to make the fabric that I use. And I really try to stick with natural materials, sustainable practice, things that are really more eco friendly. And that’s such an important value for me, and something that I really try to, with every new product with every new design kind of circle back and make sure that I’m kind of focused in on those ideas. Beyond that, I really liked this idea of simplicity, or just thoughtfulness and living. I think that that’s been something that I’ve really kind of tried to imbue all of my designs with this really simple, thoughtful design, something that’s minimalist, but also not completely overworked or too basic. It’s really a kind of this delicate balance of kind of wabi sabi or this idea of like intentional, but a little bit off or imperfect that I’ve been kind of trying to imbue all of my design work with. And I think that those things, the sort of eco friendly and the kind of interesting take on minimalism are the core values for me. And then thinking about where can I grow from that? What are some things that I can do in terms of collaborations or larger projects that also build into that sort of system of thinking or value system or ethics, even when it comes down to it? What is growth look like? From there? Because it’s one thing, you know, when you’re just an artist working on your own and making pillows, and you know, that’s great, but then where can I go from there where I can still kind of hold on to those core values? That’s really where I’m at now. And like your five, your six, where am I?

Iva Mikles

Yeah, because so important to have a brand in mind and kind of have the vision? Because when you want to expand or hire people, then you need to be able to describe what you actually want or

Erin Dollar

Yeah, exactly. And what makes you different from other people. I think that that’s the thing is you can get so sucked into I want to do something trendy, I want to do something that will sell well. But it’s like you really have to kind of think about what’s important to you, and and how can I create a brand that’s around those values? Or those ideas? That’s been that’s worked really well for me? Because if you really care about what you’re doing that comes through in the work,

Iva Mikles

yeah. Because positioning on the market. And exactly as you mentioned, like what different or what else you can offer to clients or customers, which kind of differentiates you from the rest. So

Erin Dollar

yeah, right. Exactly. Exactly.

Iva Mikles

And where do you take that inspiration from? Or what is maybe the weirdest thing you are inspired by?

Erin Dollar

It’s so tough. This is a question that I get a lot. And I think it’s a popular question, because I think creative people really struggle with this. And I think non people who aren’t in creative careers are really fascinated by this idea of like, what is inspiration? How did this work? What is this process by which you get these ideas, and it’s really hard to describe, because especially for me, it’s just like part of everyday living. I feel like I gather inspiration from being out in the world and the people that I meet and researching, you know, art historical things, artists who come, you know, from anywhere in the past that maybe have influenced my work, I think there’s this idea that, Oh, I just like go to the museum. And then I’m inspired and I can go and make my work. But it’s way more complicated in that it’s, you know, it’s what you’re reading, it’s what you’re doing for fun. It’s the conversations you’re having with friends. And, you know, in terms of like weird, weird things that inspire. I mean, yeah, I mean, it is just weird things that inspire you, because it’s anything that catches your interest that maybe is out of the ordinary. You know, it’s kind of funny, I’ve noticed recently, I moved to San Diego in the last year, and it’s always sunny here. It’s so beautiful. And so I’ve been kind of taking advantage of that and doing a lot of walking and exploring new neighborhoods, and I’ve been going swimming too, which I love but I didn’t always have time for and I find that there isn’t a lot in the pool that’s going to inspire you. It’s you know, people are just exercising around you but the sense of flow or you know, kind of focusing your energy in that way. I do kind of get inspiration from strange things like that where I’m like, I’m not, you know, sketching while I’m in the pool. I’m just sort of doing my little workout and swimming laps. But something about the the way that your brain changes when you’re just focused on an activity like that it does open up the possibility for getting fresh ideas or getting inspiration, even if it’s not something I’m directly seeing in front of me. It’s It’s mysterious. Yeah. Yeah. Because yeah,

Iva Mikles

I heard that also many times that people get ideas when they’re in the shower or something. Yeah. So for me, it was like, oh, being on a treadmill, maybe you’re just running when your mind is focused on something else. And then you are thinking or it’s relaxed, then it’s not like, oh, I have to be creative right now. So

Erin Dollar

yeah, because our brains don’t really work that way. Usually, I mean, if you if it does, you’re so lucky. But it’s like, if you just sit down in front of the blank page in a sketchbook, that’s when I think a lot of people tend to go, oh, gosh, I don’t know, I can’t think of anything or you know, they kind of freeze up. But it’s when your brain is kind of mind is relaxed, and you’re able to kind of Yeah, almost be a little bit less focused. It’s when kind of ideas sort of present themselves. It’s funny how that works.

Iva Mikles

Now you have a studio in San Diego, or because before you had it in LA, right,

Erin Dollar

all right, exactly. Yeah, I love my old studio in LA, I was sharing a space with some other designers and artists who I really was great friends with. And now I’m more a little bit more isolated. My new studio in San Diego is more private, and I kind of go in there and I have got my head down. And I’m working. But I’m not spending as much time sort of having the daily kind of conversations about my work. And I really missed that. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to kind of dig into the creative community here and make a few more connections where that will be a little more fruitful. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

Is it like a co working space? Or are you already

Erin Dollar

kind of Yeah, it’s a little bit more industrial, the space that I’m in now. So it’s like a fourth floor, walk up the private space, it’s all closed down. You know, I don’t have the luxury of kind of sharing the space, right and kind of peek over and see what somebody else is working on. It’s a little bit more isolated. But you know, it’s nice, because it is a little bit more affordable. Los Angeles is kind of tough for creative, folks. There’s a lot of studio space available, but finding things that are affordable, it’s a little tricky. So yeah, it’s kind of a it’s a balance, it’s good and bad.

Iva Mikles

Also, like beach life, I visited San Diego first time last year, I was like, Oh, nice.

Erin Dollar

It’s really nice. I feel like just the level of being able to get out and be outside. And you know, that lifestyle is so great. And I think that for me, especially being multiple years in, it’s being a creative entrepreneur, it’s like, you start to realize, after a while, it can’t just be about the work, you’ll burn out so fast. If you’re just focused on your work, and you don’t do anything else, you have to be able to exercise and treat yourself with, you know, care and be able to have that time outside of the studio and outside of your normal office hours just to kind of refresh your brain and get new ideas and keep yourself healthy. Because if you don’t like burnout as a whole, yeah, it’s a whole thing to watch out.

Iva Mikles

So how do you design your day or week? What kind of contributes to your success? Do you plan ahead?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, I mean, a lot of it is planning. So I’m very meticulous with my Google Calendar, I’ve everything sort of mapped out in terms of marketing and product releases, and sort of what’s coming up the pipeline for that type of stuff. Um, you know, I really try to focus on a blend of both the sort of normal daily administrative tasks, answering emails, you know, shipping out orders, focusing on marketing and sales and stuff like that, with a blend of research and kind of doing that deep dive for inspiration on a daily or weekly basis. Because I found that if I just focus on the kind of administrative staff that research time, that time to kind of be thinking about future projects, or brainstorming that can really get lost in the shuffle for me. And so it’s important for me to build that in really every day where I’m sketching or, you know, kind of thinking about all who somebody may be that I want to collaborate with doing research about other people in my neighborhoods, or you know, nearby who might be good to collaborate with or talk to talk to you about creative projects. And for me, that’s so important to build in just so I don’t get to that point of burning out.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. So So you mix everything like every day.

Erin Dollar

Yeah. And I mean, it’s nice because being self employed, it’s super flexible. But I think that like, it’s a blend of having that more rigid schedule that I’m keeping in the calendar of, okay, deadlines, things to get done. But then, you know, between those different projects that I have to work on, I’m trying to build in that time for creativity, because I just

Iva Mikles

heard from one of the podcasts about the productivity that some of the people actually put like, day by day, like for example, Monday is for writing, the Tuesday is for marketing, marketing. And then Wednesday is for meetings only, you know, so kind of, they can like, put together all the activities, they can relate to each other and then they are more effective. So I was wondering if you also do maybe something Yeah, I

Erin Dollar

mean, I’m not quite as Bridgette is that I think that I, I try to be more flexible with it because it’s one of the biggest benefits for me of being self employed is that flexibility of being able to kind of follow my interest and, and not be stuck on that sort of normal office schedule, I think that’s so much of what I love about being self employed is being able to follow an idea if something, some spark comes to me, you know, six in the morning, and I’m like, Well, I have to ship orders. But as soon as I do that, I’m gonna go back to this and focus on this idea, being able to carve out that time, at will is really the one of the best parts of being self employed. So I really kind of try to let myself follow those leads. Yeah, that’s it where

Iva Mikles

if someone would want to do the same as you do now, or start with the designing textiles, what do you advise them to start with? Or maybe compare also what you started with, like tools? And what do you use now?

Erin Dollar

I mean, I think the biggest thing is just developing your own style, thinking about what you want to be known for kind of what your priorities or goals might be, and kind of working from there. For me, it was, you know, getting a traditional art degree. But then, on top of that, I think teaching myself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator have been really useful for me and building my career. I think that knowing those tools backwards and forwards is probably super vital. If you want to do surface pattern design or illustration. There’s definitely workarounds. And I think that for me being able to work with pen and ink and paint, and you know, those traditional art mediums is really valuable, but it’s unnecessary. I think there’s so many different ways that you can go about this type of work. Um, in terms of building a business, I think that that’s the, that’s the one where I have trouble giving people advice, right? Because sometimes I think to myself, like, in the same way, it’s like artists get drawn into it, they can’t avoid it. It’s just something that they feel like this almost compulsion to make creative work. I think that sometimes business owners or entrepreneurs are kind of like that, where they have that drive, they have that determination, I think, but it’s important for especially for creative people to have a realistic view of what it is to own a business and to be self employed. And to think about whether or not your temperament is right for that, because I know a lot of people who do creative work who it brings a lot of anxiety and stress to be worried about, okay, where’s my next paycheck coming from? How am I going to get these clients to pay me? What am I going to do to like, get my next job. And, you know, I think for some people being self employed might not be the right option, because it might be a lot less stressful to work in a more traditional, you know, agency or a studio environment with multiple artists or to be working for a larger company, where you know that that paycheck is going to come in, but you still get to do the creative work, I think that it’s important to know yourself and to know kind of where you’re at in terms of that anxiety or stress around money around building a business, how comfortable you are with marketing yourself, and then to make a decision about whether you want to be truly self employed, because it is a lot of work. It’s a bit much sometimes so ya

Iva Mikles

know, what is your kind of the most exciting project you are working on now or something coming up?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, I mean, for for me, right now, I’m really excited about my fabric line, I just did this collection of fabrics with Robert Kaufman that launched last month. It’s called a royaux. And it’s 44 patterned fabrics that just got released are going to be starting to be sold in stores next month. So I’m thrilled with how they turned out. And it’s been about a year in the making. And so finally getting to see it out in the world and seeing what people are sewing with it and kind of how that is breathing new life into my own creative practice. It’s so fun, I’m just like, I get so excited to talk about it. Because it’s completely different from a lot of the things that I’ve been able to do in the past. It’s such a bigger scale of production and, you know, finding a partner that was willing to work with me on this and to really bring that knowledge and that specialized sort of ability to produce something this big and big. And scale is just a really rare opportunity for me. So I’m I’m super excited to dig in more with that and kind of be working more with fabric stores to promote it and talking with people who are sewing to see what they like and don’t like about it. And so when I do another collection, I’ll be able to kind of bring that information back and kind of help that that to shape my next work. So yeah, I think that’s kind of for me the big one right now. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of other things that I’m working on in terms of looking for those larger scale collaboration, thinking about maybe other people that I could partner partner with on larger fine art projects. I think that where I’m at with cotton and flax is I’ve kind of built this business That’s so focused on retail and wholesale, for the day to day kind of way that I make money, but I’m also really interested in teaching and kind of working on these larger scale projects that maybe don’t earn me a paycheck, but that are really satisfying in terms of my creative goals. So I think for me, I’m kind of trying to pivot and focus on a little bit of that right now, since cotton and flax are running really smoothly. So that’s good. That’s good. Yeah, it’s nice.

Iva Mikles

And how do you combine your income then? Is your main income from cotton and flakes? Or do you have multiple income streams? As you mentioned? Yeah, so

Erin Dollar

cotton and flax, the retail and wholesale stuff as my primary income. I also teach I do creative workshops, as well as like kind of more business focused workshops. And so for me that that’s a way just to kind of keep things interesting. For me, it’s nice to have those multiple income streams, because it’s a little bit like I was saying before, there can be that anxiety of Oh, sales weren’t as good. And what am I going to do? It’s having multiple income streams helps to relieve a little bit of that stress. So for me, it was both strategic and a way to keep things interesting for myself. So yeah, I do the workshops, both in person and online. I partner with people like creative lives teach both printmaking focused workshops, as well as things that might be useful for other creative entrepreneurs, like learning how to use social media, learning how to communicate your values to your customers, and, and things like that, that might be really useful for creative entrepreneurs like me when they’re starting out, I think that that’s crucial. Finding that knowledge can be so helpful when especially in those early days. So I really want to do what I can to kind of share what I’ve learned. And in my experience, it’s really beyond Yeah, and beyond that the licensing stuff that I’m starting to do with companies like Robert Kaufman, and that’s sort of the third income stream. For me that’s separate from cotton and flax to some extent, but it really kind of connects and is pretty similar in terms of the style of work that I’m making, it still kind of falls under that umbrella of focusing on the minimal patterns, and the simple kind of thoughtful design all fits together. But it is a little bit slightly different.

Iva Mikles

You have so much going on.

Erin Dollar

I know it feels like a lot to manage. But it’s it’s one of those things where I wasn’t doing all of those things from the beginning, right. So I started with just the retail side of cotton and flax. And that was, you know, on Etsy, or on my own website, and when you’re just managing that it can feel really like oh my gosh, there’s a lot. But then, you know, over time, it becomes more manageable. You start to develop systems for shipping and you know, marketing and all those things. And so once you kind of get one thing under control, you can kind of build and add more things on. But yeah, for me, it’s just a way to keep keep my life interesting.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. So So first you niche down, and then you expand on more.

Erin Dollar

Right, exactly. And a lot of that is shaped by what my customers are asking me for. They’re curious about pattern design, they’re curious about printmaking. And so you know, I’m happy to teach them when I have opportunities to do that. So it’s really for me all about listening to those, those core group of customers, and what do they want? What are they asking for? And then when I can kind of building on that,

Iva Mikles

and also like listening to customers? And when you also find new paid projects? How do you do that? Is it more social media or networking through different events? Yeah, it’s

Erin Dollar

both definitely, I think that networking for me in LA helped to introduce me to so many people who then ended up being great, you know, collaborators for work projects. But some of it is also when I think of a project that I really want to do kind of doing some research and then pitching those projects out to companies that might be good partners. For example, the fabric line that I did, that wasn’t something that they approached me about that was something that I put together a pitch and, you know, said I’d really like to do a collection with you. This is what I’m doing right now, this is sort of the connections that I think might make this really fruitful, and then figuring out how to kind of sell that to a company. And that’s been really important, because relying on people finding you is just, yeah, maybe not maybe not the best plan. I think there’s so many people who are making a go at doing this type of creative work. You have to figure out how to brand yourself, how to market yourself, and then really being, you know, kind of shameless and putting yourself out there and just saying, Hey, this is what I’m trying to do. You seem like you really know how to do this. Let’s see if we can partner on this or, you know, just being open to that collaboration, I think is super vital. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. And when you have so many projects, how do you decide what to say no to and yes. How do you differentiate?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, that’s tough. You know, and I think being able to say no is really important, obviously, because you have limited time. You really want to focus on the projects that are most interesting to you are most valuable. But at the same time, I think I try. I try not to say no, if it’s a project that I think would be good for me and would be good for the client if I could really deliver something that would be great for them. Even if I’m busy, I will sometimes take on a little too much work if it’s a project that I’m really excited about. Another thing that I’m starting to realize is as long as you set expectations for that client, and they know kind of what the turnaround time is going to be and what to expect from you know, a lot of people do have flexibility. There’s definitely some times when there’s, you know, the short deadline, they really can’t budge. And you’ll have to say no, because you can’t fit it into your schedule. But there’s definitely been times where I’ve said, Man, that’s a really cool project, I really want to work on that. But I’m booked out, you know, for the next couple of months, can we put this on the backburner and come back to it, you know, in August or in September and, and they’ll, they’ll sometimes be flexible with that. So I think remembering to ask and to say all, you know, this is great, I’d really like to work on this with you, but then trying to propose some sort of alternative or alternative timeline, or maybe a more limited thing in scope, or whatever it might be. I think trying to maintain those relationships and communicate well with those clients is really important.

Iva Mikles

And I would also like to know, what was your worst career moment? And how do you keep yourself motivated?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, because I think I was saying before, like, the things that are really difficult in year one look so easy. By year five, you know, the things that are really hard when you’re starting are, you know, kind of having the confidence to put your work out there and, you know, pitching ideas and, you know, maybe trying to get your work covered by different media or press and all of that stuff feels really scary and intimidating. And now it’s more second nature for me to do that type of work and isn’t as isn’t as stressful. But I think now, the biggest things that are struggles for me are just the long term planning, thinking about career goals, thinking about how to save for retirement, all the sort of like real adult career stress.

Iva Mikles

Now, we’re adults.

Erin Dollar

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s like, it’s one thing when you’re 22, and you’re fresh out of college, you’re kind of like, well, what do I even want to do with my life? Those problems are like, sort of more existential. And then once you get into your 30s, and you’re like, Okay, how do I make this work long term? That’s really I think, where I’m at now, where I’m trying to look at what the what the opportunities for growth are, how do I not stagnate in my career, and really focused focusing on pushing myself so that I don’t get into a career, right. I think that that’s really the struggle right now. I think probably one of the darkest moments in in work for me in the last couple of years is when I’ve had my my work ripped off by other designers or other companies. And that is something that is like, just the cost of doing business. When you’re a creative person. It’s like, if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. So get ready. And I think that when that happened to me, it was just like, devastating because you take your work. So personally, you really put so much time and effort into making original creative work. And then when someone steals it, it’s like, maddening. It’s absolutely maddening. And so yeah, well, and I think that for me, it really took me. You know, it took me a while to feel comfortable fighting for my work, and to really approach people, especially larger companies who are stealing from me and saying, you know, this isn’t right, I want to work this out. And then, you know, working with lawyers to kind of get them stuff settled was really a difficult but important process to learn how to navigate because if you don’t stand up for your work, it’s like, yeah, what’s the point? What’s the point of making anything creative? Yeah. So I think being able to kind of have the dedication to pursue those things to a successful conclusion was challenging, but also being able to know when to kind of like, let it go. I think that that’s the thing that for me was really hard, especially because I take my work so personally, I’m kind of starting to see the other side and kind of the silver lining of that which is that you’re if you’re getting ripped off, it means you’re making marketable work, it means that your work at some element that is trendy or popular. And, you know, ultimately, that’s a good sign in some ways, even though it’s really frustrating to have to deal with. It’s it’s actually good to know that my work is so marketable that other people think to even steal from me.

Iva Mikles

So look at the positive side, which is

Erin Dollar

hard in the moment, but like, you know, with time I think it’s easier to kind of go Oh, actually, okay, now that that’s done. Okay.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. And what what would you wish to know before you started kind of like, advice to young yourself?

Erin Dollar

Um, yeah, that’s tough. You know, because it’s hard to think back and think what would I have really done differently? I think personally, I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was really young to succeed very quickly. And I think that idea of like, it’s not a race. Take your time. Try to just you know, focus on your own style and trying out different types of projects until you find something that’s working like. Just I think, yeah, give myself the advice to like, relax. Like, don’t be so serious get away. Okay. Like, I think that that that process of coming into your own starting your career was really overwhelming for me. And I think that if I had known, you know, if you if you come into it with the idea of like, it’s going to be okay, like, just focus on doing things that are really interesting to you and fun, and that bring you joy. I think that, you know, if I could have focused on that instead of Okay, what’s next? What’s next? What do I have to do? Where do I go? Who do I network with? I think, if I had taken a more laid back approach, I might have enjoyed it more. Yeah. Yeah. Enjoying it now?

Iva Mikles

And do you read or watch movies? Maybe you have something to recommend to our listeners?

Erin Dollar

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I feel like I’m trying to watch less TV and less movies, because I feel like that screen time for me is just becoming too much. I spend time on the computer. And then, you know, the way that I wind down at the end of the day is staring at another screen. It’s like my eyes are just exhausted. I do listen to a lot of podcasts, though. I feel like that’s been the thing for me in the studio that I’m always trying to recommend to people because especially when you work alone, having that sort of background noise or you know, a comedy podcast or music on in the background is really it helps pass the time. So the one that I’ve been recommending to people a lot is this podcast called to Dope Queens, which I just think funniest ever. Those women, there’s so cool. With them? Oh, yeah, they’re amazing. It’s yeah, it’s they do live shows in Los Angeles. Sometimes I’ve never been able to go, but I’m just I’m obsessed. So that’s the activation that I’m recommending to people these days.

Iva Mikles

I will have to I will definitely research to dub queen. And what about the book, maybe something you will give as a present?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, you know, I just got a gift of this book. I actually like right behind me, it’s called in the company of women. And it was written by Grace Bonnie, she’s a woman who does Design Sponge, the blog. And I just find it so inspirational. I think that one of the things that I was saying in the beginning of our interview is that I’m always looking for people who are kind of modeling the type of success that I want to achieve. And, and sometimes it’s hard to find those, those models of success in women, I think that there’s so many men who have kind of climbed to the top of their careers as designers or artists. And there are a lot of really successful women in these industries. But sometimes they don’t have the same visibility. And so having a book of all of these creative women or people who are really driven or interested in these sort of higher level career things is so inspiring for me to read. And I think for a lot of people my age, were pursuing creative careers. This is a book that I would absolutely recommend. It’s super cool.

Iva Mikles

Oh, cool. Okay, I’ll add that to my reading list. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Because right now, I was reading the tools of the Titans, which is Oh, I haven’t heard of that. It’s like about it’s like collection of different interview tips and techniques, which Tim Ferriss was doing on his podcast? No, okay. And he’s trying to structure it as well, like health business, and you know, these kinds of sections. So it’s actually really nice, because you can always find something which can apply to you.

Erin Dollar

Yeah, and I think that books like that, or resources like that are really useful, because maybe not all of the advice is stuff that we need right away. But when you can kind of turn back to it and, you know, maybe later on in your career to something will resonate more when you know, than when you read it a year ago or two years ago, I think that there’s always I go through kind of cycles of like, what do I need help with right now? Is it focusing on taking good care of myself? And, you know, making sure that I’m getting enough time with friends and family and feeling part of a community? Or is it I really need to feel energized and focused on my career and motivated to work on bigger scale projects? And, you know, I think that sometimes you need help with one side of that, or the other side, and being able to kind of have a resource that helps you with both is really valuable.

Iva Mikles

And is there is there a resource you bought recently or ever, which simplifies your life? Maybe software or product?

Erin Dollar

I mean, Google Calendar, that’s the big for me, it sounds like it doesn’t simplify things. But being able to not hold all of those deadlines and projects in my head simplifies my ability to move through a project without feeling like I have to remember all these things. And for me being able to schedule and plan it, it is a simplification tool, because when I’m done with my work, I’m done. I don’t have to keep thinking all afternoon or evening about all of the Things I do the next day like they’re in my calendar. I’ll think about them tomorrow. So yeah, that’s it. That’s a big one for me.

Iva Mikles

And something else as well, which helps your business, like from tools you use. Hmm.

Erin Dollar

I mean, social media is a big one. But that’s kind of obvious. I’m like home, you think about specialized tools. You know, I think anytime I’ve made an investment in building out my website, that has been really useful, because you see it pay you back in dividends. And for me, it’s not so much a tool as a person finding a web designer, who I really like working with, and who has been able to kind of implement those changes for me, and that, you know, we talked about that a little bit earlier of just finding those people who can really help you make those changes. So you don’t have to learn everything yourself. And you don’t have to feel like that’s your burden to like learn about web design or you know, find a tool or something that you have to pay for. It’s like, find a person who has that specialized knowledge and let them help you. Yeah, yeah. It’s really been

Iva Mikles

and where do you find them? Because it through word of

Erin Dollar

mouth? Yeah, I mean, it’s been, for me, la have such an enormous creative community that I’ve always had friends that I can ask. But you know, I think that there are lots of different community spaces and forums where you can get recommendations or kind of do a little bit of research, my favorite thing to do is like, if you have a designer or an artist, or a creative person who you respect, just ask them who’s helping you with this, you know, send them an email be like, I really love your work. This is something I’m really struggling with, do you have any recommendations, and I think a lot of people are really happy to help when they can or give you a name of somebody who would, you know, help you out with projects or whatever it is that you might need? I think that that’s been that’s been really useful for me. And I try to do that when, when people reach out to me as much as I can to say, oh, you know, here’s a resource for that. I hope that that’s able to help you and just kind of be like, good luck. We’re all struggling out here.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, it’s really nice to help each other for sure and inspire each other.

Erin Dollar

So definitely, definitely in.

Iva Mikles

Is it last quotes, I would like to know if you have a favorite quote, which you would maybe put on a schedule.

Erin Dollar

Oh, okay. Um, yeah, Not off the top of my head, I, I’ve just been starting recently to, I’m going to look on my file, I can’t really look it up. But there is this. I’ve started featuring quotes on my Instagram as a sort of way to share sort of the frame of mind that I’m in and kind of what’s what’s on my mind. I think that one of the ones that I featured recently by Doris Lessing was really hitting a chord for me, and I’m struggling to remember the exact words, but it’s essentially, you know, whatever you’re meant to do, do it now, because the timing is always going to be wrong, or it’s always going to feel impossible. And I’m like, Yes, that is exactly what I need to hear right now. Because I think that there, especially when you’re reaching for really big goals, and you’re kind of looking at things that you really want to achieve, but feel a little bit far away, it can be hard to take the first step and to start to move in that direction, because of that intimidation, because of that feeling of fear of failure, or whatever it might be. And you can make all these excuses. I’m too busy, I have too much going on. Oh, that’s I don’t have enough training. I don’t have enough experience in that. But it’s like, I love this quote, like, it’s always gonna be impossible, just do it anyway. Sometimes you kind of need someone to be like, just just do it. You’re making excuses. So that’s been a good one for me recently.

Iva Mikles

I totally agree. And I would like to end with some questions about the future. And I would like to know, where do you see yourself in five years or five to 10 years? And if you imagine you cannot fail? What would you be doing?

Erin Dollar

Yeah, that’s such a good way of thinking about goals and thinking about what you really want to achieve, right? Because I think like I was just saying, it’s like, there’s all these things that kind of hold you back. And fear of failure is a huge one. I think, especially for creative people. It’s like we take our work. So personally, it’s so uniquely tied to our ego, that I think that there is that fear factor that really can keep us from from reaching for the things we really want. For me. For me, it’s just really thinking bigger in general. And the next few years, especially I want to do projects that are larger in scale. Maybe we’re I’m not doing all of the production myself. I think that part of what has limited me in the first few years of my work is that I wanted to make everything myself, which is so fun, and it’s a really great learning experience. But I think then you start to think what am I holding myself back from by my choosing this type of production method? What can I gain by trusting others to work with me and to partner with me to work on a bigger scale and I think right now No, that’s really appealing to me trying to think about larger scale projects that are tied to my fine art sort of ambitions, as well as the sort of product and illustration and surface design ambitions. I think there’s, there’s a lot left there, that’s super intriguing and exciting to me that I want to kind of start to go after Him that might be murals that might be larger scale fashion collaborations that might be things tied with interior design and creating custom, you know, wallpaper or products that are more like furniture, larger scale, things like that. But it also might just be returning to fine art and focusing on on that side of my career, too. I think that there’s, there’s a lot of possibilities and doors that feel wide open to me right now. And I’m just kind of trying to feel out, okay, which is the most, which is going to be the most exciting for right now. So I think there’s a lot there’s a lot in store in the next five years. So I’m looking forward to,

Iva Mikles

I’m really looking forward to see where you will go. Thank you. And what do you think you would like to be remembered for in like, 100 years?

Erin Dollar

The cynical part of me is like, no one will remember me, it’s like, it’s hard to imagine on that timescale. I mean, obviously, the design work, I think being becoming known for my style of design, and if any of my, my products are designed to last for that long, I think it would be absolutely wonderful, I try to create my products on that level of, you know, heirloom quality, really beautiful designs that will last for a lifetime. But more important than that, to me is, is really the relationships and the community that I’m part of, I really have been trying in the past few years to foster a really collaborative and close knit creative community that I’m part of, and to try and lift everyone up in my community as as they’re lifting me up. And I think, you know, that is something that maybe isn’t necessarily going to be remembered a few generations from now. But I think if I can have an impact on other creative folks in my world, and to help them do what they want to do, and to and to be part of something larger in that way, I think I’ll feel really successful.

Iva Mikles

Oh, that’s really nice. Yeah, and that one, right. I really like.

Erin Dollar

It’s like, that’s the thing is like, it’s one thing to be known for your creative work too, but to be part of a movement of makers are part of, you know, that creative community and in one part of the world or another. It’s like, that’s really satisfying. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

Oh, so cool. Thank you so much for being here and taking the time from your busy schedule. Thank

Erin Dollar

you so much. Thank you so much for having me. Chatting. Super nice.

Iva Mikles

Do you have a last piece of advice maybe for our listeners?

Erin Dollar

I can think of yeah, just I mean, coming back to that, quote, if you’ve got something you want to do, do it now. It’s always gonna be hard, just due to the pain.

Iva Mikles

Oh, yeah. But

Erin Dollar

I hope that people will connect with me on social media you can find me at at cotton and flax. That’s my username on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and all that. So if you’ve got cool creative projects that you want to show me just tag me I’d love to love to have people say hey,

Iva Mikles

yeah, we will put all the show notes like links and like, bro, that Yeah, I think there so people can check it out. So thank you again so much.

Erin Dollar

Thank you. I’ll talk to you soon. Yes.

Iva Mikles

Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you. So go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes, hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcast, because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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