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Sabina Fenn | Toronto | Stand Out & Be Memorable!

I actually never really knew I could be an illustrator, but during my time in Fashion School at Ryerson University, we studied fashion illustration and I became obsessed! Art was nothing new to me, as I spent my youth painting and crafting, however illustration was a totally new concept and I loved the fact that I could potentially draw or paint for a living in a commercial way. I started posting my fashion illustrations during university and getting my first commissions, then my work started to snowball from there. Today I focus more on lifestyle illustration but I still love to draw fashion here and there.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

I had a lot of anxiety for the first couple of years. This was mostly because I was living in the heart of Toronto, paying lots of rent and trying to be a full time illustrator. As a freelancer, income can be very scattered and having high expenses isn’t the way to go. So I moved, and since then the anxiety has slowed down. I think any entrepreneur deals with anxiety and each has their own ways to overcome it, but as an entrepreneur you’ll always be doing things a bit differently and it’s important to find peace within that. Not everyone will understand what you’re doing and not everyone will agree with it and that’s perfectly okay. People have opinions about everything, but there will be a market out there that will love your work and will want to support you.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

I’m actually reading very illustration-specific books at the moment. One called “The Indispensable Illustrator” by Alex Mathers which is so insightful and a great resource for illustrators. Another one I just started reading is by Alex as well called “How to get illustration clients”. I’m also reading “How to Sell your Art Online” by Cory Huff. To name a couple more, I love the book “How to be an Illustrator” by Darrel Rees and “Becoming a Successful Illustrator” by Derek Brazell & Jo Davies. For freelancers, I recommend the guide “Ethical Pricing Handbook”, it’s a great resource.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

Yes and no. My parents are very supportive, and they know how much art means to me and how much I love it. I think at first it was a bit hard for them to understand, but never stopped supporting me. There were people along the way who left me feeling very discouraged, who would say things like “you’re so cute” in a bit of a condescending way or “oh, you do that full time?”. These sound very non-threatening but when you’re just starting out and very insecure, these types of comments can be quite upsetting. Like I said a lot of people won’t understand. Today I love telling people about what I do and seeing the confused look on their faces! Haha, on a serious note, I feel like I’m a voice for other artists to pursue what they love to do the most. I think it’s time we stop treating artists like weirdos and treat an art career as a legitimate career path if done right. Quite honestly there’s nothing I would change about my journey or the way I handled criticism in the past because it made me who I am today which is a strong, peaceful and loving artist. My struggles make me want to prevent them for other artists and I think that’s a huge value I can give back to my community.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

Happiness and practice. There’s never an end goal or single success, it’s a road of lots of little successes and failures along the way. I say happiness because the happier I am with my work, the more I want to work which leads to more success. I truly believe happiness can be a great success driver, and although not every day will be wonderful, most days lately are just full of joy - which is when I feel the most successful.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

I wish I didn’t rush into things so much. I would have made it so much easier on myself if I kept my part-time job for awhile longer to pay the bills. But again, I don’t regret doing that because jumping into full-time work early on gave me that adrenaline drive I needed to make it happen. It was a “now or never” type of feeling and it made me find the motivation I still have today. I don’t think an art career should be rushed though, and I always tell other artists and illustrators it’s important to find your voice first, to figure out what you actually want to do not just what will pay the bills.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Get out there and make some personal connections. Tell everyone about what you’re doing and be the walking, living, breathing brand. When I first started, my first clients were always people I had met in person, because people like people and that will never change. I don’t think you can expect to hide behind social media and expect it to work out, but hey, the world is always changing and I’m sure that has worked for someone out there.

Beyond having a business, I think you really need to be your own mascot. You need to dress like your business from the colours you wear to your style, to how you cut your hair and more. I’m always conscious of what I wear, if it reflects my work, even down to my nail polish colour. You have to stand out and be memorable. I met a guy once who owns a company called Tree Frog, and he always wears green and even dyes part of his hair green, and I always remembered him and his company because of that. The more memorable you can be the more successful you will be.

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