…building a business: nate burkus

I must admit that if I am not pressed with a deadline to complete on Sunday, I love to come home from church make myself a cup of coffee & turn on Super Soul Sunday on Oprah. The French doors are open to the veranda, the kids are outside playing and DH is cooking up a yummy frittata. Love.


This weekend was one of those Sundays and Nate Burkus was the guest. Not sure if you ever watch his show or even heard of him, but he is a designer that Oprah basically discovered and gave him his own show. It was good. It had interesting ideas. And then it went downhill.


He talked about taking chances with his career and thought a show was a good move for him. He was ambitious and considered it a once in a lifetime opportunity. BUT, he realized even in the first week of production that it did not feel right to him.

I thought it was a good lesson and one worth considering when we are given new opportunities with our creative businesses.



Is it right?

What do you need to change to make it feel right?

Are you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

Do you feel relief to end it?

These questions make me think of a job that I worked really hard to get before having children. It was with an amazing firm in a very cool space working on interesting projects. It really did seem like a dream job, but something did not quite feel right and I knew it immediately. I tried and tried until my body took on an awful virus basically forcing me to deal with my situation and leave. I felt a huge sense of relief. I was down a path that was not right for Christen.

(Below: a picture of my younger self sitting on a chair I found at a yard sale & could not afford to slipcover yet chatting on the phone with Gram about my work problem. I still remember.)


When you are your own boss you get to experiment. You can go down a road and see how it feels, if you like the people you meet, if the work is fulfilling. There is freedom when doing your own work. Your biggest constraint will be financial. You probably cannot afford to put yourself too far out there, but just enough to test the waters. This could mean entering a fair or market to experiment selling your wares, starting your own website or opening a shop on Etsy. I could mean opening a real shop or consigning or starting to ship your product.


I think it’s useful to try these things. Does it feel right to you? Is it working? Is it getting easier once you know what you are doing or is it becoming a monster and making your cranky and eating up all your time & energy?

There is always a balance too. New endeavors do not have to be black & white. They can be a bit grey, in fact. For example, if you are attempting to start shipping and the process is getting to be too much of a headache. Can you ship only smaller items? or hire someone to do your shipping? You don’t have to quit the process all together.


I’ve talked quite a bit about having to tweak the effort I put into my endeavors so that it conforms with my family & lifestyle. I feel like I’m constantly doing this and each time it feels a bit better and more comfortable as I listen to my own needs. I encourage you to follow your ambition, but ask yourself periodically, “Is this working for me?”

I’m hoping my younger self would agree with my choices.


…building a business: snowflakes

“Be who you are. Everyone else is taken” – Oscar Wilde.

images (1)

I think we all can gain inspiration from one another by seeing the creativity in people around us. It’s really inspiring to walk into an art gallery or studio or home or beautiful shop. We can appreciate what others have presented and the product/s they are selling and displaying.


I would challenge you to look a bit harder when in these spaces of your colleagues or studios or homes. What will you find? They are not YOU. I think it is so interesting that what we find is true in our personal lives also translates to our small, creative businesses.

Just like a snowflke that has no other match, God made you alone and what better way to honor that gift & yourself, but to show it in your work. I think it’s what sets special artists apart. They are staying true to their history, their circumstances, their taste & their talent.


What is your history?

I spent my childhood at the foot of my dad’s stool in his studio watching him bend & create jewelry. When we traveled we went up to Queens where I was shown his father’s studio and the many amazing creations he designed. It feels very natural to want to have a studio of my own and create with my hands whether it’s in paint or clay, etc.


What are your strengths?

I have always been obsessed with my space and the job of creating a cozy environment that reflected my personality. Books, art, cushions, textures; accents with a story behind them. I get excited just thinking about it. I also married a man that loves to build & work with his hands. We designed & built our house to suit us. We love working side by side to create something sustainable.


What is your circumstance?

For me, I have 3 kids and they will not hide behind me during my endevors. I want them up front learning the process and watching me. I want them coming to buy the paint and shop at flea markets and decorate the house. We have made our house into a project bigger than just building a home. I’ve created a business from it and I want them to see my passion.


You may need to benchmark when starting out and observe how someone else is doing it. But, I challenge you to dig deeper by moulding your business to who you are. You have something new & interesting to bring to your work that no one else can. You have a unique history & circumstance that no one else has. How can you incorporate that into your craft? Maybe you traveled as a child. Maybe you have a physical handicap. Maybe you grew up on a farm or in the city. Maybe you lost a loved one. Maybe you inherited your Grandmother’s special tea set. Maybe you had a nickname. Maybe you had a large family.

Good or bad – how can you incorporate who you are into what you do. The shape of us, chinks in our armor can only benefit us. I believe this will make our endeavors more successful, more personal, more lasting.


…building a business: clear space, full mind

There is something to be said about a clean, organized space in order to do your work and enjoy your process. It can be very frustrating to have to move pieces about, hunt for drop cloths and discover I don’t have the color paint I need to complete an order. I know this is the same in most creative endevors. I used to have my own pottery studio and keeping it organized was always secondary to the fun part of creating, but if the environment got a bit out of control I always felt blocked creatively.

I do wish I had a barn to work in and hopefully one day I will, but until then I have the garage that I completely highjacked from any cars or lawnmowers….and it’s still crowded!


Space. A full work space can be exciting & daunting at the same time. It’s always a relief to feel stocked and ready to go. The hunt is over for the time being and the work is going to begin. It helps to know where you are and where you need to go. Furniture is BIG so it’s a bit more tricky to sort as it takes muscle and some extra hands sometimes. I have a dear friend, Kris, that makes/sells the cutest little girl hair accessories and she has a corner of her home with  a desk, rolls of ribbon & sorted bits in drawers. It makes sitting down to work much more appealing.

Organization. I spent yesterday organizing my paints & supplies. I decided to keep a little piece of furniture that I believe was some type of washing table (truthfully I have no idea what it was, but it’s perfect for my purposes). Works perfectly.


Supplies. Every artist has tools that they use. It much easier to work when everything is clean & ready for use when you have set aside the time to work. We are all busy and sometimes creating fits in during nap time or those brief moments between life. Make sure your supplies are waiting for you.



Meet my funny, little gold lion that I found in a drawer of a purchased piece. He likes to hang out near the Country Grey.

Work Schedule. Decide what you are going to work on & in what order. It will help you accomplish your goals and finish your orders in the time alotted. You will feel good about being able to meet your demands on time. I have experimented a few ways in what the best tool to schedule is. I find that an enormous calendar at my desk with a bright pink pen is best. I write in drop off times, work times & delivery times. This Fall I’m going to be better at the work times so I make sure I’m fitting in time for what my own needs are too. Creativity minds need to be recharged. It is a battery that will wear out if you do not tend to your needs & take moments to relax & enjoy.