Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

full time Maker

Retreat organizer and knitwear designer Varian Brandon

Today I'm delighted to be talking to retreat organizer and knitwear designer Varian Brandon. She shares how she got started designing, what a normal workday is like, and how she deals with the Comparison Trap. Varian's a member of the Starship (which is open now!) and we discuss how it's shaped how she thinks about her business. Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast99/

Today I'm delighted to be talking to retreat organizer and knitwear designer Varian Brandon. She shares  how she got started designing, what a normal workday is like, and how she deals with the Comparison Trap. Varian's a member of the Starship (which is open now!) and we discuss how it's shaped how she thinks about her business. If you loved this episode, hang out with Varian on Periscope!

How to listen

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  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

There's no transcript for this episode since it's an interview, but you can sign up below to get transcripts of all the other podcasts!

Adventures in Business with Fiber Artist Grace Shalom Hopkins



Today I'm happy to share the insights of Starship Captain and fiber artist, Grace Shalom Hopkins. Grace Shalom Hopkins is an author, handmade lifestyle blogger and all around handwork geek. You can find her beautiful photos, videos and fiber here


People have this fantasy of what it's like to be a full-time artist. But what's a normal day for you really like?

Firstly, I really struggle maintaining schedules and blocked off hours so I work from a To Do List and that means I have one big project every day that is comprised of several little supporting tasks.

The biggest fantasy fulfillment is right there – knowing I suck at schedules and being able to work with my strengths to find a rhythm that works for me and my business without outside pressure.

The structure of my days are pretty consistent though, regardless of what big project I'm focused on.

I usually wake up at 5 in the morning to my Army husband's PT alarm and then fall back asleep unless he's lost his keys (like this morning!). I'm awake again at 7 when he gets home to change and go into work.
I finally wake up naturally at around 10:30 or 11. This part is great, I lay in bed from the time consciousness is barely on me to the time I can't help but open my eyes and think about my day and my big project and whatever else is on my brain. It's my personal form of meditation!

From there I check my phone and do any quick replies to emails or Etsy messages from bed.

Then I'm up and ready to do whatever big project is at hand, today it's writing here and working on my blog so “up” just means an extra pillow to prop me up. However this afternoon I am finishing up yesterday's big project by spinning in the living room, so I do get up-up eventually!

The evening brings my mate home and I generally spend it cooking dinner, doing chores and cuddling up with a new favourite on Netflix.


There are so many ways to make a living as a maker – how are you doing it? What have you combined and how has that changed through the years?

I started selling hand dyed fiber with this vision of being 100% supported by it. That was 5 years ago.

I've grown a lot and learned to listen to my North Stars and myself in terms of success. Once I started to look inside instead of outside and slowly shed the playlists I thought I had to follow I really started to hone in on what my business looks like now.

I still dye fiber, but I only dye 4-6 pounds a month. I specialize in unique blends and you will rarely ever see Merino shadow my door. By keeping it small I find I look forward to each dye day instead of panicking about how I am going to get all this to sell FAST so I can dye X lbs by YESTERDAY!

Next are my ebooks. I went through a lot of crash and burn variations of packing up my teaching passion into a neat e-course before I landed on ebooks. I adore the entire process of creating these and foresee them being a huge part of my business for a very long time.

The final major component is blogging. Building a thriving handmade lifestyle brand with my blogging is one of my big overarching goals this year. I have had a blog since that first sale but in the last year I have really buckled down and created something I am extremely proud of.

I also write for magazines and sometimes teach in person.



What new thing are you exploring now?

Right now I am stretching my wings in this new kind of peace that comes with having stability in my business and my personal life that I've never had before.

In all honestly, it's been a really hard stretch.

To a kid who has always found home in chaotic frenzy, it doesn't feel totally okay to be at peace with where my business is.

I'm leaning in and trying to embrace this stability by improving the aspects of my business that I didn't feel like I could focus on before like building a store apart from Etsy and my email list.

What's your definition of success in your business?

To me success is being able to do what I love, which is living and sharing a handmade lifestyle.
I get to share my passion through teaching and blogging and supplying beautiful fiber.

I also get to share by being able to buy handmade and ethical products for myself and my family, which means I put my money where my mouth is in terms of my ethics and beliefs. For example I bought my husband and I handmade slippers from Ukraine instead of Wal-Mart because I now have the financial freedom to do that.

Making thousands of dollars a month or making enough so that my husband can quit his job (he'd be crushed to leave the Army) isn't what I want or need. Understanding that is okay was the most freeing lesson I've learned in business to date.


What's the next destination you're working towards?

My North Stars this year are Bold and Intentional.

Right now that means building a strong foundation under my business which is requiring me to be bold and intentional because it means not losing myself in another chaotic new project but also because some of those tasks are extremely scary or boring, usually both!


Want to learn from other  Starship Captains? Sign up here to read their stories!

Adventures in Business with Fiber Artist Ana Campos

Today I'm sharing an adventure with Starship Captain and full time fiber artist, Ana Campos. Ana grew up in Brazil, surrounded by beautiful colors and a ridiculous amount of books. She now combines hues and stories in her bookishly inspired hand-dyed yarn and knitting patterns. You can find more of her work here.

People have this fantasy of what it's like to be a full-time artist. But what's a normal day for you really like?


In some ways, the best part of being a full-time maker is that there isn't necessarily a normal day. The flexibility in schedule is great, so I can choose to do something completely out of the ordinary without giving anyone notice (as long as it doesn't conflict with my deadlines). On the other hand, the workload fluctuates a lot, so it can often mean working late into the night and on weekends. My time is taken up by a lot of things: dyeing yarn, working on knitting designs, book keeping, trunk shows, teaching classes, going to meetings, marketing, social media, product photography, customer service, and other odds and ends. The specifics of each day vary based on upcoming deadlines and priorities.

There are so many ways to make a living as a maker – how are you doing it? What have you combined and how has that changed through the years?

When I started my business, I was selling hand-knit goods. Since then, the focus has shifted to my line of hand-dyed yarn and knitting patterns. This means my customer base has shifted a lot – from people who buy finished knits, to people who are knitters themselves. What started as a strictly retail business is now a combination of wholesale and retail, and teaching is a big component of my business, too.

A skein of Ana's hand dyed yarn

What new thing are you exploring now?

My business is constantly evolving. For the last two years, vending at craft shows was a very significant part of my income, but the physical and emotional toll of the fall and holiday season was tough. I spent more than one Christmas morning nursing a bad cold, curled up on the couch with a thick blanket and a massive box of tissues. This year, I am exploring a different diversification of income streams to see if I can lessen my involvement in craft shows. My family will definitely appreciate having me be healthier and more present for the holidays.

A shawl design from Ana

What's your definition of success in your business?

My definition of success is being able to pay my bills and have a bit left over to maybe go to the movies and have dinner out a couple of times a month. I definitely won't be buying yachts anytime soon! Success is something that a lot of us in the handmade business struggle with – if we make enough to be able to take a vacation, there is this perception that we are “making too much.” But people working “regular jobs” are expected to be able to take time off and perhaps travel a bit. I don't understand why there is an overall expectation that makers shouldn't be able to have the same luxuries that other professions have, but that is something I hope to combat as I move forward.

What's the next destination you're working towards?

My new big thing is hosting my very first knitting retreat in May 2015. Community has become such an important of my life, both in business and personally. A year ago, I never would have imagined going in this direction, but I'm so excited!

Ana's sock design in progress

If you'd like to read more about Ana's story of quitting her full-time job (it happened aboard the Starship!) and those of her fellow Captains, sign up for the Starship Early Boarding Pass! I'll send you some more success stories of Starship members, along with notifications when the Starship opens – and closes –  to new members.

Adventures in Business, with artist Violette Clark

Violette Clark headshotToday I'm sharing an adventure with Starship Captain Violette Clark. Violette is a mixed media artist, art journaler, cartoonist, author and Idea factory.  She lives in a magic cottage with Mr. G in White Rock B.C.  you can find her on herblog or on Facebook.



People have this fantasy of what it's like to be a full-time artist. But what's a normal day for you really like?

My day tends to vary depending on what's up.  I usually get up and check my e-mail around 7:30ish. Then I respond to Facebook mentions and comments.  On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I blog in the morning usually and then share the post on FB.  Also I post photos of my art or funky home and garden on FB since that's a big part of who I am.  I probably spend waaayyyyy too much time on Facebook but then that's the place I have the most interaction on.  I'm also on Pinterest but don't like to go there too often as you can spend a whack of time there.  Afterwards depending on what I'm working on I may create a Journal Page or a cartoon like my 60 in 60 cartoons I made.  Since I'm an illustrator/cartoonist/art journaler my time is often spent drawing … but more time is spent connecting with other artists, working on interview questions, responding to social media and marketing etc. I think it's a fallacy to think that artists spend the majority of their time creating. They don't…..and quite frankly “I just want to draw!”.  Drawing makes me happy.  You might also find me working on a video – sometimes I post how to videos on Youtube or videos showing what I've done in my home I call the Magic Cottage. Because I'm a grandmother and daughter – I sometimes spend time with my grandchildren (often teaching them crafts) or with my elderly parents. Thankfully what I do is pretty flexible so if I'm needed I can take time off to help out.  If I'm teaching a live workshop much of the day is spent preparing for it and teaching it.

Violette Clark's Art, on TaraSwiger.com

There are so many ways to make a living as a maker – how are you doing it? What have you combined and how has that changed through the years?

Well I teach art journaling online and live classes. I've been blogging for 9 years, that led to a book deal 5 years ago and a book published on Art Journaling. My book, Journal Bliss, led to online classes as well as live classes. Right now I'm creating cartoons – 60 cartoons which are being made into a book, postcards, and tarot cards.  I'm not sure what that might all lead to but I'm open to what happens. I'm hoping to do some public speaking using my cartoons and art journal pages in inspiring PowerPoint presentations.  Also I have been asked to be a part of some online creative workshops so I'll be working on that soon.  For the last several months I've offered “mojo sessions” to help women in small businesses get their mojo going again – helping them with promotional ideas and inspiration.  I'd like to do more sessions in the future which can be done live or in person. I have a ton of ideas and love to share them with creative women.

I am moving away from doing live classes on techniques – I don't really enjoy that anymore and want to focus on creative activities that are meaningful and inspirational. So to sum up your question:  I teach, draw/journal, do 1 -1 consulting sessions and soon I'll be selling my cartoon creations on etsy and on my blog.


What new thing are you exploring now?

I guess you could say what I'm exploring now is “What gives me juice?”.  What that is is drawing.  Drawing makes me happy. Right now I'm assembling my 60 cartoons to fit into a book format as well as into a tarot deck.  Because I have never made my own book before (self-published) I'm freaking out a bit about doing it – change is always scary for me. I'm sure once I figure it all out I'll laugh at why I was so nervous about the entire venture. Also the wheels are turning on a possible online class that would embrace creativity and spirituality. I'm thinking in this might happen later

What's your definition of success in your business?

Doing what I love, inspiring people and making a decent income from following my bliss is my definition of success. Also success for me would be to have my business in my home in a quiet place near the ocean away from the big cities.  In my world I don't need a ton of money however that would be fine too!


What's the next destination you're working towards?

My next destination is completing the inspiring book of cartoons, tarot deck, postcards to be available in the fall – just in time for the Christmas buying season.  Since it's the summer now things are a bit quiet so I can focus on getting the cartoons into a marketable format.  Also I'm working towards having a landing page for my two websites – my business site (http://www.purplejuice.ca) and my blog (http://www.violette.ca) are too confusing for me and everyone else. I want to blend the two into one place but for now I want to create a landing page where you can click on the services and it will take you there immediately.