My Creative Journey (Happy 20th Anniversary Sculley Design!)
This month is the 20 year anniversary of my business. Twenty years of Sculley Design! It has not always been my main source of income, but it has always been a constant in my life. It has move to three different countries with me. It has saved me financially a few times. It has always been an opportunity to travel, make extra money and to give me freedom. To celebrate, I thought I'd look back on the evolution of my business and creative practise over the last twenty years.
When I was thirteen my Mum would drag me and my 9 year old brother to 'Drawing on the right side of the brain' classes every Wednesday night for six weeks. I would protest and whinge because I was a teenager and that was what I did. Which is really sad, because most of my career I've been using elements I learned in that six week course. Thanks for persisting Mum.
At Our Lady's College, Brisbane. I'm pictured in the middle, back.
When I was in high school I wanted to become a scientist like both my parents. Then both my parents managed to talked me out of that idea. They said that it was a stressful career based on results and grants. Thank goodness they talked me out of it because I hate writing grants. I left school and went straight to University. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I studied Arts. A little bit of Criminology, a little bit of Psychology, some Art History, and a lot of very mediocre grades.
I went back to my high school to referee a basketball game (yes, that was my 'job' throughout university - refereeing basketball). My art teacher popped by and asked what I was doing. When I told her I was studying Arts because I wasn't sure what career I wanted she looked shocked and said 'I thought you would be studying Graphic Design?' I didn't even know 'Graphic Design' was a career. I had loved the unit on design we had done in year 11 Art in Practise. So I researched courses and applied for (and was accepted into) a Bachelor of Design Studies majoring in Graphic Design and Visual Culture at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. Sounds flash! I studied part of my degree on scholarship at the Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland. Which was an amazing experience because of the amazing people I met (most of whom I am still in touch with) but it offered diversity in my graduation portfolio (and a whole lot of grown-up life experience - picture me, crying and curled in a ball on the couch on my first day, freezing in the dark at 4pm because I couldn't figure out how to turn the heating on, or work the shower).
I graduated in 2002 along with the thousands of other graphic designers around Australia. For my birthday that year, my Mum bought me website hosting for a year and the domain name: Sculley Design. That's when I first registered my business and started picking up a few freelance clients here and there. My first paid freelance job was designing a logo for an upcoming EBV (Epstein Barr Virus) Conference. My Dad was the president of the Foundation. I was given a $100 cheque on completion (yes, a cheque!). Finding a full time job was tough. I worked so many part time jobs in between freelance work: for a horse magazine, for a place that built park toilets (that was a 2 hour train commute from my home), for magazines, for the same place my parents worked: Queensland Institute of Medical Research. I finally landed a full time job working for a telco company as their only graphic designer. After a few years I left the company and started working for myself while also teaching at Design College Australia. I had one large client, Vodafone who I did a lot of freelance work for. They propped up my freelance design business for a long time (about 15 years).
The first paid design job: EBV logo.
I wanted to work in New York, so I put my portfolio online on a few American Creative Job Seeking sites. Out of the blue I received a call from a business manager of a Design Studio in Shanghai, China. He was from Melbourne and was looking for a western designer to work as an Art Director at the studio. I was only 24 years old, and had only had 3 years of industry experience. But he sold Shanghai as the 'New York of the East.' It is not. I ended up taking the job, packing up my life, flying over to China and then got fired after 3 months. Hmmmm... stuck in a country where I didn't speak the language, with no money, no friends and no job. Lucky I still had Vodafone - so I wasn't destitute. Slowly I collected my own clients and built my freelance design business in Shanghai.
Anna and Nicky outside The Studio. Just some of the antics...
I opened an art studio with four other creatives/friends - [The Studio] - which, I believe, is still running to this day! I was working full time for myself as a graphic designer. Working with amazing clients like Nike, Ballentines Whiskey, Publisis, some very cool bars and advertising agencies. This is where I painted my first mural for a client. It's where I had my first solo art show. It is where I showed my artwork in a 'real' gallery. Living and working in Shanghai for three years propelled my career forward at an exponential rate.
Me painting my first client mural in Shanghai
Part of the finished mural (in total 8 x murals around the clients office)
I burnt out in Shanghai. Too much work, so much pressure, too much partying. I wasn't ready to move home yet. I moved to San Diego, California for a while. I was born in the States, so I have dual citizenship. Also, I had two kitties from China. To get them back to Australia, it would mean 6 months in quarantine which seems really mean. So, the three of us (me and the two kitties - Lilly and Poppet) moved to California where there was no quarantine for the cats. I rested a lot for the year I was there. I surfed almost everyday. I painted a lot. I tutored a few students in design. Played a lot of basketball, volleyball and roller derby. And then, of course, worked - thank goodness for Vodafone.
An art show I had in a custom shoe store in San Diego - Milo.
After the year in California, I was ready to move home. So back to Brisbane I went. With very little. Just me and the cats (and even the cats had 6 weeks in quarantine). The cost of living made it so hard to keep working for myself as a designer. I tried. I became very broke. I scrambled and was offered a full time job as a designer at Griffith University - my alma marta. Full circle. It was good fun (it helped that my boss was my roller derby coach too), but it didn't pay very well. I stayed there for a couple of years, but was struggling to pay my mortgage. So I shifted to a job in construction. This job was soul destroying. It paid well, but long hours and high stress came with the job. I really struggled. I was having stomach ulcer outbreaks every other month due to stress and bad lifestyle choices. When my Sydney designer counterpart died (in his thirties) from stomach cancer - that was my turning point. When I fell pregnant with my son, I decided the year of maternity leave would be my opportunity to work full time for myself.
I spent the 9 months, pregnant, working full time at the construction company and spending every waking hour getting all my ducks in a row to 'hit the ground running'. In between naps, that is. There were a lot of naps. Getting my website up-to-date, promoting my business, planning, building my body of work, booking a solo show, submitting work to every competition . Now lets all collectively laugh at the idea of having a new born and getting anything done! Ha ha ha...
It was a tough year. I managed to work casually as a 'craft incursion' person. Going into schools for their out of school hours care holiday programs and doing craft with the kids. Mainly it was glitter - bringing glitter, controlling the glitter, cleaning up the glitter, getting the glitter out of my hair. This meant that during school hours, 2 days a week (as I had a new born with me all other times) I could work on my business. Building my artworks for a solo show I had booked at the end of the year. The show went well. I sold most of the artworks. This gave me a huge push forward (and the financial injection I needed). I was also made redundant from the construction job - yet another cash injection. I also started working as a tutor at Queensland University of Technology to bring some regular income in. I had a handful of regular graphic design clients: brochures, business cards, logos, posters, flyers, print management etc. I painted artworks and sold them online in my store, through Art Lovers Australia and through bricks and mortar galleries. I ran a few workshops in schools and for the public and painted the occasional mural. I was teaching several different subjects at QUT and over time I was spending more time teach than working in my own business. I was burning out. I loved teaching, but I had taken on too much. Then March 2020 hit.
The solo art show at Juggler, Brisbane.
All QUT teaching was moved online. This didn't sit well with me. All the subjects I taught were practical subjects - how to use lighting, photography, drawing, colour, 3D construction. Moving online wasn't ok. So I resigned. At the beginning of a pandemic. All my design clients and live painting and workshops were being postponed. I had received funding from Arts Queensland to fly to Manilla in March 2020 for a street art festival. I thought this was the end of my business. I would sit in my studio for hours and hours running my finances over and over again, trying to figure out how we were going to pay rent. Much like most of the world really?
This was the last mural I painted before we were all locked down in March 2020. All gyms were instructed to close at 12 noon. As an 'infrastructure worker' I was able to keep working in the space. I just remember all the gym staff crying and standing around looking lost.
Then mid-2020 rolled around and my art started selling online. I started getting multiple enquiries for murals per week. Seems when people are stuck in their homes, they start looking for ways to bring joy and colour into their spaces. It became so busy that I was able to pull together enough money for a house deposit and in December 2020 we bought our first family home. The explosion in murals has continued since 2020.
Right now I work four days a week for my business. Monday through to Thursday. Fridays I take off to do things for me: massage, yoga, gym, coffee with friends. My values have shifted to include 'health and wellbeing'. I am now making more money working for myself than I was making at the construction company, with a lot less stress and some control over which projects I want to work on. It's been a bumpy ride at times, and there will likely be more bumpy times ahead, but right now I feel balanced and excited about my business and where it is going. Tell me about your business story...