DCF: Who Are You?
Riley Sheehey, Make Things Co. (more than likely soon to be Riley Sheehey Illustration) (DCF: Both are great name!) Freelance watercolor artist/illustrator.
DCF: Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
RS: I love being able to wake up each day and create something new. I love drawing and painting with watercolors, and feel very grateful that I’ve been able to turn it into my full-time job. (DCF: Being able to create and bring light is a wonderful thing.)
DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
RS: I would say that I’ve had two “mentors” throughout the past couple of years- my mom and my fiancé have both been incredibly supportive in different ways. My mom has always loved art, and when I was younger, she taught me to love it as well- she would take me and my siblings to art museums growing up, and ran an art education volunteer program in our elementary school. My fiancé inspired me to start my business, and has been a mentor to me from a business-angle. While I’ve always loved artwork/creating things, he’s helped me to be more organized, and with things like time management and bookkeeping.
DCF: What’s your happy place?
RS: My happy place is at home with my fiancé, a pizza, and a good show on Netflix– I’m definitely a homebody, and often have to talk myself into getting out of the house. Working from home has been a bit of a challenge in this respect- other than going for a run once a day and running out to get something to eat/coffee occasionally, I would be perfectly happy not leaving my apartment for a week at a time, and so I’ll try and schedule things here and there to make sure I get out and about.
DCF: Where do you get your energy?
RS: There are a few things that I try and do every day to keep my energy up/ inspiration/ passion for what I do going- these include going for a run (preferably outside- I’m a slow runner/ not a very good one, but I love it and it helps me clear my head!), drawing/ painting something just for myself (not a client project) at least a few times each week, and occasionally taking a trip to an art museum/somewhere new to keep me inspired!
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
RS: This is such a good question- I think that in an ideal/perfect world, I would make sure that I spread my time equally between my career, family, friends, spirituality/ faith, physical health/ exercise plan, etc., but it’s way easier said than done. To me, I think that the “balance” that I strive for is making sure that I’m not over-extending myself in any one area of my life at the expense of another area. (DCF: I like this idea of balance, it seems very… balanced lol.)
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
RS: It’s tough, because I think that no matter what you do, like you said, you’re going to make some sacrifices. There are certainly times where I’ve had to say no to different social gatherings/ events/ etc. because I’ve had to work, and the idea of “vacation” becomes very different when you’re working for yourself. I took my business full-time in June, and in July, I went to the beach with my family on our annual family vacation. It felt strange that I spent at least four hours a day painting/ sketching/ scheduling/ answering emails, and I felt a little on-edge the whole trip- even when I was out on the beach, I felt almost guilty and like I should have been working instead. I think that this is where the concept of “balance” really comes in, and I’ve read interviews with other artists/entrepreneurs where they’ve expressed the same sentiment- when you work for yourself doing something that you love, it can be easy to let that take over your life at the expense of other things – I think I’ve found that while it’s important to make sacrifices, it’s also important not to let everything else in your life fall apart at the expense of your business/career.
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
RS: I’ve been lucky in that I have not faced discrimination as a woman in my industry that I know/have read about many female entrepreneurs facing. That being said- right now there are so many female artists and illustrators that are present and posting on social media, and I think that as a female illustrator, it can be easy to feel like you are getting lost in the crowd/easy to compare yourself and your work to everyone else’s. I am naturally a very shy person, and so I’ve had to pull myself out of my shell a bit/put myself out there to form relationships with these other female artists/illustrators, and I’m so glad that I have. Once we’ve started conversations about things like artwork and structuring our daily schedules and even pricing, it’s broken down the “invisible barrier” that I think can exist- I love that phrase “community over competition.”
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
RS: I’ve been thinking about this question all week, and this is the only one that I can’t think of a good answer for! I will say that in college, I had a couple of wonderful professors, but I also had a couple who weren’t crazy about me painting and drawing pictures of fashion/ interior design/ etc. I think that I looked at the artwork of a lot of my classmates, and felt like if something wasn’t abstract and large and had some deep sort of meaning to it, it wasn’t good, and that I wasn’t a real artist because I didn’t paint “serious” subject matter. I think that I was discouraged by this, and I wish that I had done my own thing back then, because I think I would have had the opportunity to start my business sooner than I did.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
RS: I wouldn’t say that there’s been any one big “failure” or any one big “success” for that matter – it’s one of those one step forward, two steps back sort of things where I deal with different difficult situations on a weekly basis (packages getting lost or damaged, exciting opportunities that come up but don’t end up panning out for reasons unknown, overbooking my schedule to the point of feeling out of control in my career/ life) – I learn from each one of these situations, and try to reflect upon what happened and how I could have addressed things differently to avoid it – I always call either my mom or Dylan, my fiancé afterwards, and they give great feedback as well. Wine and pizza are also always helpful.
DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
RS: My proudest moment to date- I’ve gotten a couple of emails from women who have been working at different jobs and have told me that my work/ story so far has inspired them to get back into their own artwork again. Hearing this kind of feedback is more meaningful to me than any sort of collaboration/project could possibly be, and I am so grateful and appreciative of the opportunity I’ve had to make any sort of impact – I sent a similar email to an artist I followed since I started my business two years ago, and I think that it’s wonderful that we’re all able to inspire each other!
DCF: What are you currently conquering?
RS: I just finished some illustrations that are going to be in an article for the December issue of Washingtonian Bride & Groom Magazine, and I’m really excited about those! I also just illustrated a few patterns that are going to be used for a fun collaboration with Buttercream Bakeshop in Shaw- I’m very excited about that! (DCF: Super exciting, Buttercream is delicious!!)