For the second in this series of interviews with creative business owners I love, I’m talking to Jess Sharp. Jess is an illustrator based in Manchester, who designs positive reminders for people who need them most. I came across her on Instagram and have been in love with her art ever since – she never fails to create beautiful, positive illustrations that make people smile. I was so chuffed when Jess agreed to answer my questions – I hope you’re inspired by her words as much as I was!
Hi Jess! Thanks for getting involved in this series, I’m a big fan of your style and the positive messages you spread with your work so it’s brilliant to have you on board. Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself that we might not already know?
I’m 32 and I work full time in a lovely gallery in Manchester. While I’m not there I can be found writing and designing reminders and products. I moved to Manchester a year after graduation from uni in Preston; I’m originally from Milton Keynes but love the North so much I don’t think I’ll ever go back down South. As well as designing and writing I have a massive love of vintage, especially dresses, and I also have a bit of a tattoo addiction.
What led you to starting your business?
I graduated from uni ten years or so ago, with a degree in Textiles. For around six years after that I ran my own business under the name Nellie & Elsie, making and selling textile-based gifts and accessories. I loved it but towards the end of my time with it I got quite stressed and run down. Everything was made to order and it became very labour intensive; I struggled to keep on top of it all. All my shared studio artists and makers moved out and the studio I was working from became very isolating and lonely. I live on my own too, so there was no respite from the isolation and my own self-destructive thoughts. I became quite ill emotionally and made the tough decision to stop all together and get a ‘regular’ full-time job.
The job turned out to be awful. I had a terrible manager who was not empathetic or understanding towards my mental health struggles (and in fact exasperated them). Eventually I signed off sick and never went back. At this point I began going to see my wonderful therapist, who helped me through some of my lowest times. I was extremely lucky to have my parents help me out financially during this time; I realise that so many do not have this privilege and it’s something I’m so grateful for. It’s worth noting that all through this time as well, I was involved in a relationship of sorts with someone who was such a detriment to my mental wellbeing, so the combination of factors really didn’t do me any good.
As I began to feel better I started looking for another job that would suit me more and the job at the gallery where I am now came up. Whilst working here the relationship I was involved in came to a horrible head and all the ideals I’d previously had about my self-worth and boundaries were finally called into question (again with the wonderful support of my therapist). This was the point of my actual recovery beginning really. I began writing down the affirmations I needed to remember and started designing ideas. I realised creativity wasn’t just something I enjoyed, it was necessary to my emotional health and wellbeing. When other people started to connect with the messages, that was the turning point for my business. I began making the designs into greetings cards and gifts, and re-opened my Etsy with a completely re-branded look, product range and name.
What’s your biggest motivation for what you do?
Aside from the need to do it for myself, it’s the feedback I get from others. The messages I get saying how much something I’ve written has helped them or someone they love. The comfort of hearing that I’m not alone with my own battles and troubles and the community on Instagram of other like-minded people, connecting with and empathising with each other. It really makes me so happy to be a part of that.
What have been some of your biggest wins?
My most favourite thing to happen so far was when Carrie Hope Fletcher (an actress and vlogger who I follow and love) shared the pin I sent her and in a later vlog of hers, I spotted her wearing it. To me it meant she must have genuinely loved it and that was so lovely to see.
Where do you see your business in the future?
I’ve always said that I’d never want to do my business full time. Of course, this may change in the future but for now I feel I’ve finally got the balance just right. I’d love to get into some more shops and develop some more enamel pins etc. But a part-time business – whilst being able to get out and work in such a wonderful art-based social environment – is perfect for me right now.
What would you advise someone starting their own business, whether that be part-time or full-time?
To just make sure you’re doing something you love and are passionate about, because that’s all that matters really – feeling happy. Also, if you find you’re not enjoying it, don’t be afraid to change direction. Life is a tricky old peanut and as time moves on, sometimes so do we. We don’t always have to do the same things forever, especially if it’s impacting negatively on ourselves.
Who are some other creative business owners you admire?
And lastly, where can we find you online?
You can find me on Instagram at @jessrachelsharp.
I really enjoyed finding out more about Jess and her work. If you’d like to see more of her art, as well as checking out her Instagram I recommend a nosy over at her Etsy shop, where she sells greetings cards, prints and enamel pins.