Danielle Spurge (a.k.a. The Merriweather Council) is a young woman committed to living the dream of being a successful, full-time artist! With a BFA degree from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she’s one year in to running her business full-time, and she’s learnt a lot along the way.
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
Turning my artsy – craftsy tendencies into a business was something I’ve wanted to do for a few years, and I am happy to report that thanks to a bunch of crap that happened to me in my senior year of College, I am now livin’ the crafty biz dream!
What was this craptastic thing that happened to me to which I owe my crafty biz? To make a very long and arduous story very short: I was set to attend an MFA program for which I was offered a full scholarship (!!!) but then a great big storm came and blew the school away! No, I made that up… truthfully, the university basically lost all my information, everyone I ever spoke to denied telling me anything and, sadly, there was no scholarship. Needless to say I decided not to go.
As this all happened approximately one minute before my college graduation – I felt a little lost as to what I was supposed to do next. The plans I had fell apart and everyone else seemed to know what they were going to do and suddenly I did not.
That’s when I decided to dive into the things I had always wanted to try – selling on Etsy, doing local art markets and being an entrepreneur. It turned out I was actually much more excited by the prospect of exploring those things than I was about enrolling in grad school.
It’s been almost one year now and in that time I’ve learned so much, and I’ve accomplished a lot more than I ever thought I would’ve and I’m so happy and grateful that the whole graduate school thing didn’t work out because I leally love what I am doing!
How did you come to settle on fibres as your favourite creative medium?
As a kid I learned to crochet and sew. These two processes allowed me to provide quite nicely for my family of four American Girl dolls. They were unbelievably spoiled with handmade gifts of clothing and crookedly stitched blankets! But at the time, I thought, “these are just hobbies, I’m meant to be a real artist, like Picasso!” and all through high school I was pretty much under the impression that unless it was painted or printed, it wasn’t “real” art and no one would ever take it seriously. So, I set my sights on a long career as a printmaker.
That lasted for about an hour and suddenly I realized that I don’t like to draw and I am actually pretty dismal at it and the printmaking program would’ve involved a lot of drawing.
When I realized that there was an entire department dedicated to the things I had always loved to do, I knew I had found my place in the world!
Fibers (the department) was full of old world charm, regal looms and shelves full of colorful cones of yarn!
These visual and emotional splendors absolutely swayed me but in the best way possible. I promptly marched on up to the registrar’s office and switched my major to Fibers!
Of course there are about a million different ways to be a fiber artist, but I’ve chosen embroidery as my main method. I love that I can bring it with me anywhere, and that it requires very few materials. I love all the variety I can achieve with just a few tools. Embroidery is extremely forgiving and versatile and I can be as detailed or broad as I’d like. The way it feels in my hands is another of my favorite things about it.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
Of course I have my doubts from time to time, but I am happy to say it is not often. (I feel pretty obligated to myself to be my own biggest fan and that requires a positive approach!)
This whole past year I’ve been committed to this single idea: try everything and see what works. Because of this, I’ve been achieving through experimenting. This was all really new to me and so there was no point in sticking to what I was positive about – I had to take chances and spend money and learn new ways of doing things so that I could get going.
The only thing I really knew was that I wanted people to know there was a human behind my business and that I was approachable, and I made it a point to be personable and use my own voice on my blog and such.
I’m ready for year two because in year one I worked out some solid ground for building the rest of my business on.
I do remember having one pretty big meltdown where I cried for a while because I had no idea what I was doing but wanted so badly for everything to work out. The things I want to achieve but haven’t yet aren’t because I don’t have time – but because now is not the right time for those things to happen. I am enjoying the things I am doing now, but planning for the future at the same time. I’m making the moves now so that when the time comes I will be ready and I will be able to move to the bigger and better that I have in mind!
What has been your most successful marketing strategy – the best way that you have found to get you and your work noticed? And have you ever tried something that just did not work at all?
When I set out to let my personality come through and make it really obvious that I am the human behind my brand – I didn’t know if that was good or bad – I just knew it was a lot easier and more natural for me to be myself than to be anything else. I believe this has been my greatest marketing strategy.
By acting like a real person, I am able to connect with other real people who share the same interests, goals and values as I do. I am able to do business stuff right alongside silly, regular life stuff. One minute I can be tweeting about something concerning Etsy and the next minute I can be tweeting about the Backstreet Boys and I always have a friend out there somewhere who is right there with me. I want to be approachable and help people when I can and let people see that I am happy to be doing what I am doing even if sometimes there are bumps in the road. People seem to respond to my blog where I write the same way I speak and to my products which are truly expressions of my personality.
I believe that people like to buy from and promote people who they know and trust and who they find to be likeable. By being myself, I am able to let people know me, maybe hopefully like me sometimes and trust me because I am not a robot but an actual human with actual emotions.
What key personality traits and life circumstances coalesced to lead to your success, in your opinion?
I’m one of those people who won’t sit still until they get what they want. I can’t let things go – I have to keep going after them until it’s been resolved one way or another. Mostly, I think this is good. I’m also super impulsive which I am learning to make work more in my favor. Impulsiveness has been a way for me to jump up and say yes to things – that I maybe have said no to had I given them more thought – that have turned out to be wonderful opportunities. I am also highly self-motivated, I can work alone and not lose focus, I can tell myself what to do and follow it through. I think those traits in combination with the timing of my plans for graduate school falling through have brought me to where I am right now.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful handmade business?
This is it: Your own artistic vision is your most valuable resource, don’t lose track of it because without it you’re basically just drifting. Don’t let others sway you and don’t follow someone else’s path. Be proud of your own ideas and nurture them.