From Passion to Profit

Photography by Sarah Unger

Being a craftsman is no walk in the park. From securing customers and clients to fulfilling and shipping out orders, there seems to be a never-ending list of things to do. And this doesn’t count refining the skills needed to make products. Here, seven local craftsmen talk about balancing their creative endeavors with the other requirements of entrepreneurship and how they were able to turn their passion into a profit.

Gray watten of gray luxury scents

Gray Wattenbarger

Gray Luxury Scents

“When I see customers smell a new fragrance for the first time, I love seeing their faces light up.”

Aside from creating the product itself, what other aspects of your business do you manage?

I assemble, mix, and pour all candles, I manage social media posts and responses, I track and manage inventory, and I keep the website updated. Since I don’t have the greatest graphic design skills, I do have assistance with the graphics for labels, but other than that I’m very hands-on. It has definitely tested my critical thinking when it comes to business-related decisions, and it’s really helped me learn better time management.

What are the most rewarding aspects of running your business?

The most rewarding aspect of running the business is the feedback I get after customers burn candles. When I see customers smell a new fragrance for the first time, I love seeing their faces light up.

Do you have any form of support system in place that allows you to do what you do?

The support system I have has been incredible. My friends and family are constantly helping me to promote Gray Luxury Scents by sharing or liking my posts on social media – something that’s very important since it helps grow my business through online engagement. At times, it can be challenging to innovate or grow your business, and there have been a few times I’ve wanted to give up, but with the support system I have, I’ve always been encouraged to keep moving forward.

How have the operations of your business changed from when you first started to now?

My operations have changed drastically in the almost two years Gray Luxury Scents has been operational. When I started, I was pouring candles in my kitchen with supplies from a beginner’s candle kit. Through trial and error, I’ve been able to change from wooden wicks and smaller jars to updated cotton wicks, natural soy wax, and clean-burning fragrance oils. I’ve added a line of smaller candles, upgraded the labels, and recently introduced a three-wick line. I’ve progressed from selling to friends and neighbors to shipping across the country.

Decosimo Corporate Finance web ad

John Mcleod of John Mcleod Art in chattanooga tennessee

John McLeod

John McLeod Art

“Putting something I have created out into the world and having my art resonate with people is a truly beautiful experience.”

Aside from creating art, what other aspects of your business do you manage?

Most of the business stuff I do myself, but I do have gallery representation, and they market and sell the work that I send to them. Having good gallery relationships is a wonderful thing, but being a visual artist still requires a whole lot of diverse skill sets in areas you wouldn’t expect. Photography, photo editing, website building and management, financial planning … There’s quite a lot to learn.

What are the most rewarding aspects of running your business? The most challenging?

The most rewarding aspect is connecting with people through my work. Putting something I have created out into the world and having my art resonate with people is a truly beautiful experience. The most challenging is staying on top of all the moving parts in my career that don’t have anything to do with making the work itself.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a leap to becoming an artist full-time?

A lot of artists tend to want to ‘go at it alone.’ Don’t. Lean into a creative community, and look for positive people. Ask questions, and be willing to share what you learn. Also, watch your expectations. No one is entitled to success (or failure), and being an artist is not an easy career. There have been times in which I’ve had to do a lot of side work to continue doing what I love.

How have the operations of your business changed from when you first started to now?

The major changes have come with the process of getting clearer and more concise in terms of running the business side of things. Other big changes have come about by exploring multiple materials and processes of making art. Sculpting with wood, stone, and metal. Painting in oil and acrylic. All of these have their own skill sets that take a good amount of time to become fluent with. They require a lot of dedication and focus, but the joy and excitement of exploration drive that.

Synovus Bank ad

John forman of forman pottery in chattanooga tennessee

John-Michael Forman

Forman Pottery

“I get to engage with such sacred parts of people’s lives in a way that is really gratifying and even humbling.”

What does your day-to-day look like?

My studio is right underneath my bedroom, so after getting my children sorted for the day, I’ll walk downstairs and start prepping clay balls. I typically spend about an hour and a half throwing, and in the early afternoon, the mugs are ready to come off their bats and receive handles, thumb rests, and logos. In the spaces in between, I’ll answer emails, schedule social media posts, and pack shipments.

What are the most rewarding aspects of running your business?

I’ve always loved seeing people respond to the things that I’ve made for them. Pottery plays such a personal role since it finds its way into customers’ daily rituals. I get to engage with such sacred parts of people’s lives in a way that is really gratifying and even humbling.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a leap to becoming an artist full-time?

I always tell people starting out to not get too far ahead of themselves. Take each step as it comes, look for markets that are both ripe and interesting to you, pay attention to feedback from customers, and build organically. A craft business will flare out quickly if you borrow too much money to get going, rent a space that is too expensive, or overextend yourself warranting employees too early on. Start small, start part-time, and grow as each step organically presents itself.

What are some common misconceptions that people have about full-time artists?

I’ve heard (and felt) people’s doubts that you can support a family off of an artist’s salary. A lot of times this is true, but with careful management, creative strategy, and long-term goals, it’s absolutely possible – it might just take 10 years. I’m incredibly grateful for my wife who has supported and trusted me this whole time and is content living a life without certain kinds of extravagances. We live an incredibly rich life with our three children.

How have the operations of your business changed from when you first started to now?

A lot of the core functions of my business are the same now that they were at the start but done much more efficiently. I’ve had to learn to change my little micro processes as soon as I realize that there is a more efficient way.

Raymond James ad

Conrad tengler of black sheep for Forge

Conrad Tengler

Black Sheep Forge

“The most rewarding aspects are clicking on the lights and the welder, firing up the forge, and making some noise.”

Describe your artistic journey.

I answered an ad in the paper that said, “Learn to weld art and get paid.” It was in a bronze foundry that was doing a run of Wyland sculptures, so that’s where my love of metal started. From there, I was building furniture and museum exhibits, repairing ski lifts, and building custom orders. I moved to Chattanooga and started Black Sheep Forge as a side project while managing someone else’s shop until I could go full-time with mine.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I’m always awake by 7 a.m., and I start my day by taking care of pricing, invoicing, drawings – all of the office stuff. I’ll then usually take a hike with the dog and try to have any meetings in the rest of the morning. Then I head to the shop where I can work the rest of the day.

Aside from creating the art itself, what other aspects of your business do you manage?

I manage a website, meet with clients, and manage my shop and the property it’s on. I have a network of builders who help each other when extra hands are needed, but mostly I work solo.

What are the most rewarding aspects of running your business? The most challenging?

The most rewarding aspects are clicking on the lights and the welder, firing up the forge, and making some noise. The most challenging is having to do something different every day and sometimes having no idea how I’m going to pull something off.

What is the importance of having a support system in place?

We rented a space downtown for 10-plus years and then all of a sudden had two months to vacate. Fortunately, we had secured a piece of land where we could move all of our equipment. Just renting space knowing we would have to leave at some point was limiting. Now we have support and solace in that we can invest in our studio.

VIC ad

loren howard of loren howard arts

Loren Howard

Loren Howard Arts

“I can only hope to pay forward the generosity of those who helped me in my formative artistic years.”

Aside from creating the art itself, what other aspects of your business do you manage?

I have been very grateful recently not to need to manage many of the left-brain aspects of my work like marketing or website maintenance. It has taken a long time to get to where almost all my employment comes from individuals or institutions with whom I have built long-term relationships.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a leap to becoming an artist full-time?

When I made the transition to a full-time artist, I didn’t have a long-term goal, but you should. Schedule your goals for the year along with your expectations, try to keep to your plan, reassess at the end of the year, and remove things that aren’t helping. Time management is important; don’t take that shiny and exciting new job until you are sure you can complete all your current commitments. Learn when to call something finished, and don’t sacrifice your standard of excellence but also don’t overwork a project where it never gets completed.

What are some common misconceptions that people have about full-time artists?

Many of my non-artist friends assume artists have all the time in the world to sit around and make their own work full-time. The reality is most artists don’t get to do their own personal work full-time, and we are making ends meet any way we can.

Do you have any form of support system in place that allows you to do what you do?

It takes years to build the foundations of a system that will help sustain you through rough patches. The support I have valued most has not been monetary. Time spent learning from another master, receiving honest – sometimes harsh – critiques, being mentored, or just being reassured by those who have taken stock in my life that I am not wasting my time goes a very long way.

What is the importance of having a support system in place?

The most important part of having a support system in place for yourself is it allows you to become part of the support systems for other people. I can only hope to pay forward the generosity of those who helped me in my formative artistic years.

Real Estate Partners Ad

Andrew Nigh of winter sun studio

Andrew Nigh

Winter Sun Studio

“It’s very gratifying to see the progression of an idea from a drawing to a stack of lumber to a finished product …”

What does your day-to-day look like?

My daily routine varies widely depending on my current work. Some days are spent entirely in the studio, while others may include things like materials acquisition or client meetings. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time making sawdust and vehicle exhaust than actual art, but it usually evens out.

Aside from creating the art itself, what other aspects of your business do you manage?

Aside from woodworking, there are a host of other things to manage such as studio upkeep and improvements, bookkeeping and billing tasks, and the overall organization of the studio to keep things flowing smoothly. Working with wood produces an incredible amount of sawdust and wood scraps, so keeping things clean and organized can feel like a full-time task itself.

What are the most rewarding aspects of running your business? The most challenging?

The most rewarding part of my work is probably the relationships I’ve made along the way and continue to make. It’s very gratifying to see the progression of an idea from a drawing to a stack of lumber to a finished product that hopefully not just meets but exceeds the client’s expectations. As for challenges, I think competing with a rising trend toward online sourcing of furniture and even ideas has been the most noticeable change.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a leap to becoming an artist full-time?

Having been in business for almost two decades, the best advice I have is to stay adaptable with your work. Flexibility leads to sustainability! Be open to new ideas while continuing to hone the skills you already have. Remember that working for yourself is a privilege that requires time and mental investment outside of normal business hours, but at the same time can be a very rewarding and freeing experience.

Do you have any form of support system in place that allows you to do what you do?

From the start, I have relied on business growth through word of mouth and building relationships rather than from a marketing or online approach. It takes more time, but generally has kept my schedule filled with the work I love to do and the people I love to work for.

Aquarium Pools Ad

Mike Kyser of resolute leather co

Photo by Ryan Long Photography

Mike Kyser

Resolute Leather Co.

“Watching people get enjoyment out of a product that came from my own two hands … is very humbling …”

Describe your artistic journey.

After 20+ years in the military, my body was trashed. Most of my hobbies were no longer available to me, and I needed something to occupy my mind or it was going to occupy me. I realized that I still had two good hands, and adopted that as my mantra.

Aside from creating the art itself, what other aspects of your business do you manage?

I currently manage a website, four social media pages, a Google shop, Google Analytics, and an ads site as well. I create all the logos and digital work that goes into maintaining the brand, purchase raw materials and tools, and research the latest prices and trends.

What are the most rewarding aspects of running your business?

Seeing my hard work get noticed and appreciated by customers, clients, and friends. Watching people get enjoyment out of a product that came from my own two hands with all the hard work that goes into it is very humbling – especially all the behind-the-scenes work that has to be done and knowing that it all started with this purpose to create something.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a leap to becoming an artist full-time?

Start as small as you can and allow it to grow with patience. Try to embrace the journey while looking toward the destination. Write down your goals, keep them in sight, and don’t listen to the negativity. It’s okay to do something others don’t understand. Be prepared to be alone, and learn to thrive in that space.

Do you have any form of support system in place that allows you to do what you do?

I have been blessed with an amazing wife who has become the master of all things Resolute Leather Co. She jumps right in alongside me on some late nights, printing labels and shipping packages, and she has become an amazing photographer. She’s the business partner driving me to become better and believing in me when I didn’t. Along with that, we’ve been lucky to have friends and family buying and promoting our products who never look for a discount or friend tax.

Sterner Financial Group Ad

You Also Might Like

6 Chattanoogans Who Give Back Year Round
Hands reaching out to make a heart

CityScope celebrates the people who make a difference by giving their time and kindness to the Chattanooga community every day.

Restoring Stories

By Rachel Coats Photography by Sarah Unger Every object has a story to tell, and individuals in the business of Read more

Preserving Our Parks
preserving our tn parks

Photos by Rich Smith, Emily Long, & Sheree Varnes. Tennessee is home to stunning scenery and diverse wildlife protected by Read more

From One Home to Another
world map light blue

6 Entrepreneurs Finding Success in the Scenic City By Chelsea Risley Photography by Ryan Long Photography Chattanooga is rich in Read more

Postal Service With a Smile
postal workers USPS

Local Mail Carriers & The Heart Behind What They Do Photography by Rich Smith Getting a letter or a package Read more

Interior Design First Impressions
interior design with moody lighting

Furnishings, Décor, Design, & More. Make the Perfect First Impression A Collection of the Best Styles, Colors, and Accents.