By Sofia Lenore Fowler ’14
In the spring of 2019, I took the leap and became a small business owner and watercolor artist full time. Painting had always filled my evenings & weekends with joy and color, and for years I had thought about turning my hobby into something more. Leaving the stability of a position in collegiate admissions was definitely nerve-racking, but it was with skills learned at William & Mary and the support of colleagues and friends (many also W&M alumni) that my dream of being a full time artist came to fruition.
Unlike many industries and careers, there is no specific formula for becoming a freelance artist. Each creative entrepreneur’s income streams, business models, and products are totally different, but we each work out very individual ways to grow while staying true to our style and abilities. Taking the leap to start Sofia Lenore Watercolors, LLC (sofialenore.com) requires me to continually educate myself in all aspects of business. While I had the phenomenal creative outlet of Art & Art History as one of my majors at W&M, I didn’t actually take any entrepreneurship classes. That said, I feel that the Tribe community is full of self-starters. Being surrounded by so many driven, passionate scholars at the College taught me how to uncover the knowledge I needed through initiative, dedication, and research. There have been many many hours of research on web design, taxes, starting an LLC, contracts, becoming a wholesale vendor, financial planning, marketing, search engine optimization, and budgeting while I was getting my business off the ground.
There have also been multiple projects that have stretched the limits of my experience as a businesswoman. Within 3 months of starting my business, I was able to pull from my experience supporting publishing projects as an intern at the Muscarelle as I collaborated with an author to illustrate a children’s book inspired by her two daughters. In 2020 I also had the chance to collaborate with William & Mary Admission to help illustrate a campus map sent out to applying high school seniors. My husband (whom I jokingly refer to as my Board of Directors) and I have a lot of “I’ve never done this before, but wouldn’t it be SO COOL?! Let’s make this happen!” conversations and it’s joyful and exhilarating each and every time.
Freelance work also requires the ability to pivot and adapt quickly. For example, in January & February 2020, I had prepped my business to focus heavily on creating watercolor work and paper goods for large scale events and weddings. Little did I know that the pandemic was on the way, and that the nature of being a creative supporting weddings and events would change drastically. With events no longer a viable income stream, I looked to find other ways that my artwork and experience might still be valued.
Through Sofia Lenore Watercolors, I’ve especially loved the difference each day brings and all of the clients I collaborate with. A single week could see me creating layouts for a bridal shower invitation suite, illustrating a classic family recipe, and then painting corgis dressed up in Harry Potter costumes for a client’s wife. I am so grateful my leadership roles at William & Mary helped prepare me for such a client facing role. When I was a Tour Guide and Senior Interviewer, I always reminded myself that this visit experience could be the one time that a high school student makes an impression of W&M, and I had to make it special. Similarly at every AMP event I worked, I wanted to make the event fun and memorable for each student that came. I think of my art projects the same way by putting my best effort into each work of art and client experience so that we can create something together to fill their home with love and joy.
If any of you out there are thinking of making the leap to be your own boss – YOU GOT THIS. I wish you all of the success in the world as you make the transition and reach your goals. Remember to never stop educating yourself; stay flexible and adapt within your industry; and find strong support in your Tribe.
No matter where you are this holiday season, share your messages of gratitude and upload to Twitter or Instagram using #wmYuleLog and you’ll be automatically entered in a random giveaway of an exclusive festive W&M Wren Building watercolor print designed by me!