This month I couldn’t be happier to start the series with an interview from Mackenzie Ford of The Gladdest Thing. Mac’s been on my list of favorite artists for a long time for her whimsical, colorful illustrations and adorable hand lettering.
I first came across her work on Instagram and instantly connected to her fresh colors that feel like a fresh spring breeze. Since that time, Mac’s been busy creating new designs and filling my feed with beautiful product photos.
I’m so thrilled she’s agreed to be the first artist in the spotlight this month as we peek into her inspiration and how she took the leap and started her illustration business on the side. Now with an adorable Etsy shop and plans to expand into wholesale, we’re catching up with Mac before her work goes viral. Read on to learn how she finds inspiration and plans to grow her beautiful business.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started your business?
I’m an illustrator from the rainy, green Pacific Northwest who loves un-fancy coffee, true crime, and anything with stripes. During the day, I’m a Special Education Assistant at a middle school, where I work with kids who struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges. In the evenings, I work on my illustration business and Etsy shop, The Gladdest Thing.
I started my Etsy shop during a frustrating period of job searching. I’m a very future-oriented, let’s-make-this-happen-right-now kind of person, and it was killing me to wait so long for responses and approval for jobs I wasn’t sure I even liked. I just wanted to start working on something I loved and felt passionate about, and I’d always wanted to start an Etsy shop. During that summer after I graduated from college, I tried to paint and learn as much as I could about running an Etsy business, and then I opened my shop in September. Since then, it’s turned into a freelance illustration business as well, and I’m so excited to keep evolving and offering new things as it continues growing!
Did you always do this? If not, what did you do before this?
Not at all! Before this, I worked at an elementary school SPED program and as a content creator for wikiHow, where I wrote hard-hitting articles like “How to Replace Pool Tiles” and “How to Fly a Small Drone.” (Please don’t Google those.) My degree is in English/Creative Writing, so I’d always planned on finding a full-time writing job! But I love that what I do now combines all my favorite things – illustrating, writing, taking photos, and being able to take mid-day power naps.
What makes your art unique? How do people recognize your style?
My work is bright, whimsical, and warm – I love working with punchy, vibrant colors and playful shapes. I print all my paper goods through a local, family-run print shop in Battle Ground, WA (shoutout to Ink Ability!), so having that local community element is so important to me as well.
What inspires you to create?
Forests and beaches, flowers, children’s books, road trips, thrift stores, comfort food, and magical realism. Right now I’m so inspired by the colors and style from the Netflix show Hilda! It’s dreamy and adorable. Also, I recently saw a teacher post a little lettering piece I’d made – she projected it on the whiteboard as an affirmation exercise for her students, and no joke, I almost cried in my car. That was like an inner-compass-realigning moment, and it reminded me that making art that delights and inspires people (especially kids!) is my biggest inspiration.
Do you sell mainly online or in stores, too?
I sell completely online, but I’m working on creating a wholesale catalog as well! I’d love to support and partner with more local small businesses.
What have been the top ways that you’ve been able to grow your business?
The most important thing (and the hardest, for me) is just to keep working and creating, even when it feels like no one’s paying attention. Keep sharing your work! Sticking with it shows that you’re consistent and committed.
And it sounds so simple, but just telling people about what I do was a huge step toward growth. The first stranger I told about my Etsy shop was a barista who complimented my phone case. As an introvert, sharing my shop with people still feels kind of scary and uncomfortable. Telling anyone who hasn’t found me on social media feels like I’m revealing my internet Hannah Montana double life (haha). But every time I’ve shown my shop to a coworker or a stranger, their reaction is pure support and kindness, and it gets so much easier. And it reminds me that people truly love to hear about what YOU love! Plus, chances are, if you never tell people what you do or what you make, they probably will never find out. I’m proud of what I do, so I’m going to be brave enough to share it, put it out into the universe, and see what happens. 🙂
Finally, if you’re looking to grow with a community, join a challenge – this is a great way to develop your style, create lots of art, and find creatives that you love! It also gives people an easy way to find you and creates curiosity as you continue the challenge. I started a 365-day drawing challenge in January this year to build my body of work, define my style, and learn more about Procreate. Even though I don’t share my daily work regularly anymore and I’ve veered off from the original prompt list, just starting the challenge has made a world of difference. I still draw almost every day, and through this challenge, I’ve learned so much and met so many amazing artists! Looking back, most of the exciting opportunities I’ve gotten this year have come from that decision to start a daily practice. I highly suggest trying a weekly or monthly challenge like Inktober. If you come across a prompt list that feels fun and natural to you, give it a try. Get involved, seek out other participating artists whose work you love, and share encouragement! Getting involved helps everyone grow together and you never know what kind of magic will come from it.
How do you make creative connections?
The best way I know to connect with people (especially online) is just to consistently share and engage with the things that spark your own interest or curiosity. I promise that if you do that, people with similar tastes and interests will find you! You’ll get to know them organically and it’s the best – there are so many incredible, super-sweet people out there.
Can you give us a hint of what’s in store for you in the near future?
I’d love to start offering wholesale options soon (maybe that’ll be a goal for next year!). There are also some fun Christmas products, more videos, and some fun side projects coming in the future. And way, way down the line, hopefully, illustrating a children’s book!
Thanks again to Mackenzie for sharing her story and her whimsical world with us! You can find her shop here and get in touch for commissions on her website, or follow her Instagram here:
If you know someone who makes beautiful things, or you’d like to be featured on this blog, get in touch and let’s talk about it!