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Graphic Designer by Day, Rope Artist by Night

Boise native, Katie McKinstry Stylos, explains how she built her graphic design business and now generates half her income by making one-of-a-kind pieces of rope art.

Morning artrepreneurs! Welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

We have a lot of new friends joining us this week! Thank you everyone for your continued support of the newsletter and helping it grow & evolve into a valuable resource for artists everywhere! 🤩

This week we’ve got:

Katie McKinstry Stylos - Artist and Graphic Designer

📸 Instagram: hyalite_designs

🌐 Website: hyalitedesigns.com

All successful artists have to have been interested in art their whole lives right? Like since they were little kids?

That’s not the case with artist and graphic designer, Katie McKinstry Stylos.

Katie actually spent much of her life riding horses, and got seriously into rock climbing shortly after graduating high school.

She always had an appreciation for art, but was never one of those kids that was constantly drawing or painting while growing up.

After a few years of working at various climbing gyms in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, she found herself coming to terms with the fact that working at a climbing gym wasn’t going to be sustainable long-term.

Katie was living in Bozeman, Montana when she decided her future would be brightest if she enrolled in a college program that could teach her a valuable new skill.

After skimming a pamphlet from the university in town, she saw they offered a degree program for graphic design.

Years spent working 12-hour days 7 days a week cleaning stables, training horses, and teaching young equestrians how to ride granted Katie an incredible work ethic that she knew she could apply to anything.

Confident and excited for a new chapter in her life, Katie enrolled in the graphic design program 7 years after graduating high school.

Although Katie was older than most students enrolling in bachelor’s programs straight out of high school, Katie had the vision to understand exactly what she wanted and what she needed to do to get there.

She knew this degree would have to help her earn a living one day. She knew that she wanted to be a freelancer. And she knew that she wanted to register her business while still in school, so that it would be waiting for her when she graduated.

Katie essentially created a business with room for one employee - built the website, made connections with potential clients & other designers, improved her skills - and then only needed to step into the vacant role when she got her degree and had the time to begin working.

By the time she graduated, Katie’s business, Hyalite Designs, had already been out there in the world for 4 years. She had a small portfolio from school projects and knew a handful of potential clients and other graphic designers that were already working.

After recuperating from the the years of classes, projects, and homework, Katie dove into the world of freelance graphic design with renewed excitement.

After some time, however, she felt a certain type of creative itch wasn’t being scratched.

Although graphic designed checked many of the boxes she was looking for in a job - even a creative one - her time spent riding and climbing made her accustomed to working with her hands.

This is when Katie began making rope art.

Using climbing rope that has lived a full life safeguarding rock climbers in the mountains, Katie carefully designs one-of-a-kind pieces depicting mountainous landscapes from around the country.

Between the freelance graphic design and rope art, Katie has discovered a fragile balance of achieving all the things she wanted to when she set out to enroll in design school.

She works for herself and sets her own schedule. She gets to work with amazing graphic designers and clients from around the world. She can make beautiful & meaningful works of art away from her “desk job.”

And most importantly - she still finds time to climb.

Katie was awesome to talk to, and shared a bunch of insights with us relating to building and growing her business as not only a graphic designer, but as an artist that makes physical works as well.

Courtesy of Katie McKinstry Stylos

Build Working Relationships with Other Artists in your Space

Much like Gene Gonzalez told us in last week’s edition of the newsletter, Katie strongly suggests that artists, especially graphic designers, connect with other artists that work in the same sort of space.

Instead of allowing yourself to see other artists as competition, you should realize you each have your own strengths and can be valuable sources of future work for one another.

Katie explained to us that nearly all of her graphic design jobs currently come via word of mouth.

This is because throughout her education, she connected with classmates, as well as those in classes above her, and other alumni & professors from her university.

When one of them has too big a workload, they keep Katie in mind because they know she would do the same for them. Since each graphic designer in her network has a different style, they can recommend clients to those who are better suited for particular jobs.

If Katie ever hit a period of slow work, she’d be able to reach out to these friends and likely connect with one of their clients without any stress.

As remote freelance work can be pretty lonely, Katie even meets with some members of her graphic design network on a biweekly basis in order to connect, talk about new jobs & opportunities, and spend the day in a coworking space together.

Lean into Areas of Expertise You’re Already Familiar With

Katie spent much of her life as an equestrian - riding horses competitively, training other riders, and hanging out around stables.

When a graphic design job related to horses or horseback riding become known to Katie’s network of graphic designers, she’s the obvious choice to take it.

Once she’s connected with the client and they see how well she understands their world, she has significantly better chances of booking future jobs with them.

Although she can still successfully complete jobs for clients in areas she’s less familar with, winning recurring work in those instances isn’t as likely.

If somebody came up to me with like a karate business, I'd be like, yeah, I'll do the best that I can, but I don't know anything about this, you know?

Katie McKinstry Stylos

Situations like these give Katie a good opportunity to suggest a more appropriate designer for the job - a favor that’ll likely be returned some time in the future.

Utilize a “Product Drop” Methodology

Do you think it’s better to post each piece you create to your online store as soon as you make it?

Or is it maybe better to let your followers know that a collection of new work will be released all at once on a specific date in the future?

Neither approach is necessarily wrong, but the second method certainly has some benefits.

Releasing a collection of work all at once allows you to:

  • Build hype & anticipation by consistently telling your audience that only a select number of items will be available on a single day each month, quarter, or even just twice per year.

  • Grow a mailing list by telling your followers that those who provide their email addresses will be first to hear about details and updates regarding the next product drop.

  • Focus all efforts on driving traffic to your store just once per some extended period of time instead of trying to constantly convince followers to visit your shop multiple times per week or whenever you create a single new piece of artwork.

This is a classic example of “work smarter, not harder” that can save artists time & energy - as well as boost sales.

Courtesy of Katie McKinstry Stylos

  • Build working relationships with other artists that are in the same space as you. Instead of competing, try sharing creative insights, business strategies, and even clients & commission opportunities if your circumstance allows it.

  • Lean into areas of life you’re already familiar with when creating art. As a designer, working for clients in spaces that you’re knowledgable in can lead to recurring work. Your expertise in a given area will likely show in the quality of your work.

  • Utilize a “product drop” methodology when releasing new work to your store. Use the time leading up to the release to build anticipation. Doing this allows you to drive traffic to your store just once per month (or less) instead of multiple times per week.

Additional Tidbits
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks. For artists and designers that are fortunate enough to have constant work, avoiding burnout should be a top priority. Managing your schedule appropriately and assigning yourself time off will ultimately allow you to produce higher quality work for longer.

  • Katie uses her mailing list to connect with her customers and let them know little tips and tricks that will give them a better chance of snagging some cool rope art before it all sells out on new product release days. Sending newsletters to mailing lists like this is a great way to form a closer connection with your audience and place product listings directly into their inboxes. If you’re interested in starting your own email newsletter, you can join Beehiiv for free here. If you’d like to sign up for one of their paid plans, that same link will get you 20% off your first 3 months after a 30-day free trial.

Katie’s Tech Stack
  • Wix - Website builder

  • Google Drive - Tracking spending, income, invoices, inventory, & scheduled work.

Why Email Beats Social Media ✉️

Imagine a scenario where the social media account you spent years growing gets hacked.

Maybe it gets suspended on accident, or Instagram changes their algorithm and begins suppressing your content.

In many cases, completely losing access to a social following can be devastating for artists and creators.

Letting the success of your art business be determined exclusively by the whims of social media companies implies huge risk.

The best way to counter this risk, is to create a mailing list of your followers’ email addresses, and to reach out to them occasionally in an email newsletter.

Email newsletters are a professional means of mass communication to your most loyal customers and fans.

Better yet, there is no way for someone to take your mailing list away from you. No algorithm changes will prevent you from communicating directly with these followers of yours.

In this sense you truly own your audience’s attention, whereas on social media, you’re only borrowing their attention (which can be lost at any time).

Email marketing can also drive sales far more effectively than social media can. It’s way easier to sell new art by letting your mailing list know about a new product drop than it is to announce it somewhere on Instagram and hope people rush to your link in bio to buy.

Fortunately, you can start your own mailing list & make your own newsletter on Beehiiv for free - and not for a limited amount of time, but free forever.

If you DO, however, want to take advantage of one of their payed tiers that offer more features, the button below will give you 20% off your first 3 months with Beehiiv after a complimentary 30-day free trial.

Whether you want to send your newsletter weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even just a couple times per year, adding this one feature to your business might be the lowest-effort, highest-return change you ever make!

Producing 3D Digital Assets of Your Real-World Artwork

Do you work with clay? Maybe you’re a sculptor of some sort. Perhaps you build physical pieces of art made from wood, or foam, or metal.

If this sounds like you, then you’ve probably also found that it’s a bit of a pain to share images of your work that fully capture its detail from every angle. This level of detail is especially important when creating high-ticket product listings.

Instead of posting 12 different photos per listing, sharing just a few static images along with an interactive 3D version of your work may leave your customers with a better idea of what they’re buying.

Not to mention - you’ll stand out compared to the artists that aren’t doing this, and customers will be impressed with the quality and care you put into each listing.

This is exactly what the makers of the app, Plinth, designed it to do.

The app provides a step-by-step tutorial of how to accurately image your artwork using just an iPhone and iPhone camera - no other equipment necessary.

They do mention on their site that using an iPhone 12 and up is recommended. Unfortuantely, the app is not yet available for Android.

Art Business News (that’s not gonna put you to sleep 😴)
  • Artists, Sand, and Star Wars✨ - With summer having finally arrived (in the northern hemisphere), you may find it hard to stay indoors all day working on growing your art business. What if you could take home up to $6,000 for a few days work building sand sculptures on the beach instead? This story details a long-standing competition in New Hampshire, but you can find sand sculpting competitions like these wherever you find popular beaches.

  • Banksy’s Missing Rat🐀 - Some of us can only hope that our work is so desirable one day that others would plot to steal it, however, those feelings are probably long gone (if they ever existed) for the anonymous street artist known only as “Banksy.” A man has been sentenced to 2 years in prison and fines totaling over $30,000 for the theft of one of Banksy’s 2018 pieces. The artwork, a stenciled spray painting of a rat holding a boxcutter, is still missing after the art thief forwarded the section of street sign it was painted on to his criminal accomplices who have yet to be caught. Banksy’s highest valued piece to date sold for $25.4 million in October of 2021.

Has filming art content for social media been a HUGE pain?

That’s actually a rhetorical question, because yes, it’s always a pain.

The Canvas Lamp, along with Canvas’s other lighting products, makes this painful process wayyy easier.

Canvas’s Summer Sale is live right now - which means items in their shop are up to 25% off!

Not enough for you? Use code SKETCHY10 at checkout for an additional 10% off your purchase.

Thanks for checking out another edition of Stay Sketchy. Catch you next week! ✌️

If you have any comments or suggestions on how to improve this newsletter, please let us know by commenting below.

As an Amazon Associate and affiliate of various partnership programs, the owner of this publication may receive commissions to linked products or services in this newsletter at no additional expense to the reader.

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