Saturday, March 24, 2012

Claudine Hellmuth - The Interview

My heroine and a HUGE influence in my life, an interview with Claudine Hellmuth..........

I first came across Claudines work around four years ago. I had recently had my second child and for the first time in almost a decade I felt the urge to be doing something creative once again. After leaving University with my Textile design degree, I felt totally exhausted and overwhelmed by it all. I had lived and dreamed art for such a long time, seven years in fact, that when I had the opportunity to take a break, I did. I didn't realise however that it would take me so many years to have any desire to pick up a paintbrush again. I did work in the Textile industry for a while, but my passion for colour, form and texture had disappeared totally. I needed a break. 

So when I felt this little artistic niggle, I went down to the local library to find some inspiration. The first book I came across was one of Claudines.

It has taken me a long time to gain back my confidence with my art. To finally be doing what I really want to do and to be taking my art to where I want it to go. It almost feels like I have just left Uni once again, but this time I'm ready to fly. I'm fresh with ideas, passionate and am full of energy. And a huge part of that is because of Claudine. This is why she is my heroine and why I am just bowled over that I can now be interviewing her!

Claudine Hellmuth

Artist, author and illustrator

Claudine is a mixed media Artist. She creates mixed media collages that incorporate paper, paint, fabric, pen and photocopies. Claudine describes her work as whimsical and colourful, with a dash of retro.

Always being artistic as a child and coming from a very creative family, Claudine graduated from Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington, DC in 1997 with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art degree.

Her concentration was in painting, but in her senior year she began to do more mixed media work, which led her to collage.

Claudine works on many different projects, custom artwork, workshops, illustration, licensing books, artistic products and DVD’s to name but a few!!


the interview....

1.You work on many different projects – How do you manage your time and prioritise?

It's really difficult to juggle everything!! I don't have any set plan I work on whatever is due first or is stressing me out the most. Sometimes what is due next isn't always the most stressful thing, so I'll need to work on the most stressful thing first to get that off my plate so I can concentrate better! 

2.You must have had many ideas over the years. How do you know what ideas to pursue, which ones will work, like Poppets for instance, and which ones to leave behind?

If I am really excited about an idea I'll think about it for a few weeks and if it's staying in my mind I pursue it! I give it a shot, and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm really up for trying just about anything. You can't tell if it's a great idea until you try it out. Sometimes what i think will be a great idea, doesn't pan out in the creation process, but I always try!! 

3.Have you made any BIG mistakes on your business road, if so what were they (if you care to indulge). Also is there anything that you wish you had done differently?

One major mistake I made at the beginning of my licensing business was to have a neighbor who was a lawyer look at my contracts. This was a mistake because in licensing you need to have a lawyer who is well versed in licensing law review the contracts. There are hidden pitfalls you can avoid by using someone who knows the inside of the business. Fortunately I didn't get myself into too much hot water at the time but it was a lesson well learned!!

4.What are the five pieces of advice that you could give to creative’s out there who feel are ready to jump onto the next step of the business ladder?

1) You don't have to quit your day job. Build your business while you are working. It will take the pressure off while you are growing your business. Then when you are bringing enough work in, you will be able to move into your business full time with confidence!
2) Have a web site!! it doesn't have to be a big fancy one, but an Internet presence is a must!
3) Use social media and blog!
4) Know that the money worries never go away, but just do it anyway.  Even after 12 years of working for myself, each year I have anxiety about if I will make enough money. But it always works out!
5) Don't be afraid to try new things in your business! 

5.At what point did you realise that you and your business were ready to take the next step?

I was working in a day job as a web site designer and I had built up my business so much that I was wondering how I would be able to do everything I needed to do at my day job and my own business. Just as I was thinking this, I got laid off from my day job in a company wide lay off. I was relieved I didn't have to figure out when to take the next step! The decision was made for me! But that didn't make it any less scary!

6.Have you got 5 key tips to staying organised?

1) Do the small tasks as soon as you can. Paying bills, entering things into your accounting software etc. Don't let these pile up thinking you'll get to them later
2) Speaking of accounting software. I use and it's great and free, makes life so easy!
3) Use google calendar or some type of reminder software to remind yourself of important tasks. As soon as I think of something I need to remember, I put it in there so then I don't have to worry I'll forget it. 
4) Figure out what you need to do for the next day at the end of the work day. This way you won't spend the first 30 minutes of your work day figuring out what you need to work on.
5) I like to at least partially start a project for the next day. This makes work go much faster because when I come to my desk it has been started and I can jump right in. On the days when I have to start something new from scratch in the morning, I am always much slower! 

7.Being self employed and working by yourself, what keeps you motivated, positive, fresh with ideas? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed and lonely (with work) – If so how do you deal with these feelings?

I often (almost always) feel overwhelmed with work. There's only me and only so many hours in the day I can work.Most days I know I have a lot to get done and I don't freak out, I just get to work and keep my head down and the focus on what I am doing right now, knowing I'll get to the other stuff later. For the loneliness there is always social networking! it;s my virtual water-cooler! I also listen to a lot of podcasts which keep me entertained and not feeling alone while I am working! Being self employed we are in a unique situation where we have to be alone to get work done, but often that can feel very lonely! I have friends that I could meet for lunch, but I rarely do, because if I meet up a friend there goes 3 hours of the day! I am also not one of those people who can get any work done in a coffee shop. I have to be in my studio, by myself. Fortunately i like my own company. Last year my husband went out of town for 4 days. For 4 days I worked like a mad woman because I was on deadline, and I never saw anyone else but I hardly noticed because I was working so hard!

8.I see you love to use social media, me too! However, lots of people find it addictive and find they can easily waste a lot of time on there and not really achieve anything positive for their business. It’s very easy to fall into that trap, especially when you work alone and can get instant feedback from e.g. photos of your work that you may post. What do you think is a healthy relationship with social media? How often do you think you should be posting, blogging and tweeting to keep your readers attention, yet not get bored? Also what type of things do you think your readers like you to post about? Do you have a favourite: Twitter, FB or Blogging...?

Some days I am more active on social media than others. When I am really busy and under deadline I hardly tweet or facebook, I'm in "mole mode" Phone notifications go off. I don't even open firefox or gmail. But other days I am hopping on there off and on all day. I try not set a rigid schedule for myself knowing that when I am really on deadline I am very disciplined about it and I won't be wasting time! I am guilty of tweeting and facebooking about everything from my cats, to my artwork, to TV shows I like to watch. I think it's good to be a little personal but not too personal. People want to get to know you, the person behind your business so it's a delicate balance with social media, I get the most response when i post photos of my very fat cat Mabel!!

As for blogging, I do try to blog at least 3-4 times a week. I used to blog every day, but now that everyone uses Facebook and twitter so much it feels so much harder to blog every day. I think of my blog as a more formal interaction with social media. It's got less and less personal information on it, I post more business stuff here. I save the more personal every day stuff for twitter and facebook - the cat photos for example! 

9.Do you have any business books, links, resources, networking sites that you love and could share with us?

The Switchboards is a great forum for women in business: - free accounting software - love it!
Podcasts I like to listen to..... some business some not:

10.It’s very easy for some people to give up at the first hurdle. Have you ever come up against a bump in the road with regards to your business and how did you deal with this on a personal and professional level?

Everything I do in my business has some sort of hurdle. Even just the art creation has it's own set of hurdles. All my artwork goes through an ugly phase where I am ready to give up, but then I keep going and (usually) it will turn out good in the end! When you are self employed nothing is a straight up easy all the way through, but during the process you have to decide if it's something that you really want, then you are willing to go through with the struggle no matter how hard it seems. That doesn't mean that I don't have my moments where I feel like crying and just quitting everything. I can't tell you how often I have told my husband I am just going to quit and work at Starbucks instead!  But then I'll calm down and know in my heart that this is my dream to do this type of work and that I will keep on trying no matter what. But everyone has those moments where you just want to quit. That doesn't mean you will. You just need a little break so you can come back at it and try it again! When you feel like quitting, it's a great time for a nap! Or a walk with your dog! Or a movie. Do something different and then you will come back with a new perspective!

11.I see that you are now licensing your own products. Could you tell us all how you get into something like this? What are the advantages and disadvantages and what kinds of things do you have to actually do to produce one of your own licensed products?

I have been licensing my art for use on products since 1998. In the early days, I was more in the home decor markets and now I am licensing to the craft and gift markets as my work has evolved to a more whimsical look. Licensing is a tricky business. As soon as I feel I am making good headway in it, something falls through. I often feel like with licensing it's two steps forward one step back. If you are interested in licensing your work, the artist Tara Reed has some great information on her web site to get you started. One thing that is good to know about licensing is that it isn't as much money as it appears to be! It looks like an artist who has her own stationery line would be raking in the $$, but when you look at the numbers, she's probably only making $0.25 per notepad sold. You've got to sell a lot of notepads to pay the rent!! Still, there are some artists that make 6 figure incomes on licensing, so there is the possibility to really make a good income if you hit the right markets!

12.You seem to love the business side just as much as the creative side to your business. Me too! When you have to do everything yourself, popping on your accounting hat, your creative, marketing, blogging, selling hats....How do you cope? How do you make it work? Have you always got outside help or have you sometimes just muddled through and worked it out yourself?

I do not have any outside help. I keep telling my cats that they will need to learn how to use Photoshop so they can start helping me in my business! I have often thought about hiring someone to help with smaller things in my business but then there is so much that I need to do myself that I just don't see what an assistant could help me with. Also, I am a complete control freak and even the smaller tasks I feel I would have a hard time letting go of! I really enjoy the business side as much as the creative side, but I know someday if I want to grow my business I'll need to get help. There is only so much one person can do!

13.How has the tutorials on you tube helped your business?

People love the tutorials and it helps sell product because they can see how they would use it. But in addition to youtube the non video blog tutorials do just as well. I think sometimes people don't like video because they can't watch it at work!

14. I have limited time to put into my business and I personally feel that I am ready to stop custom orders. I feel that they hold me back from being creative and starting new projects. How o mange to carry on creating custom orders alongside everything else that you do? Also, how long, on average would it take for you to complete one of your custom pieces?

I am at the same place you are. I have learned I can't do it all! My new line that I have with HSN (the Home Shopping Channel) has literally been taking up every spare minute of my days, that I have had to put the custom artworks on hold. I had been doing the custom artworks for about 6 years. so I was feeling like it was time to take a little break anyway. I may resume them again at some point, or I may decide to move on from that part of my business. For now It's up in the air! it's hard to let go of something you had been doing quite successfully in your business. But I also think that being self employed you will learn that you business grows in new ways that you never expected and you have to allow things to naturally evolve. Some things will change and you'll let them go to make room for new work in your business. And that's OK too!!

a HUGE thank you to Claudine.......

What truly down to earth and honest answers to my questions. Wonderful, really, really wonderful!!

O.K enough of my adoration (clapping hands!!) please feel free to leave all your comments and messages for Claudine below :)

The Cheeky BLOGS are on hold over Easter, giving us all a few weeks off. However they will be back on Sunday 15th April with the wonderful Charlotte Macey textiles

If you would like to read all the other fantastic BLOGS by guest bloggers, please click here



  1. I'm new to cheesy pickle but there's a lot here that I'm finding interesting and useful as I'm just starting out on the new business route. I'm going to go right back to the beginning to make sure I don't miss anything!

  2. Click on the HERE in my last sentence. ALL the blogs are listed. There is quite a lot of advice, so take your time. Don't try and read them all at can always come back. To subscribe just go to the top right of the page - Ali :)

  3. It's always so useful to hear advice based n the experience of experienced artists and businesswomen. Thank you! Helen

  4. Another great blog post Ali.

  5. Thanks Ali, I am really enjoying your series of blogs from creative business women - they are so helpful and informative. Claudine's five key points for staying organized are great tips - I always try and start a new project the day before so you can swoop right in the next morning, though it took me years to realise that it really does help speed things up :) Another tip I would add is to always leave your studio tidy at night. So many days I slunk out of my studio for a well deserved glass of wine leaving chaos behind me only to have to tackle it before I can do anything the next day. Now I am very strict with myself about tidying LOL. Thanks Claudine and Ali, great read xxxxx

  6. another awesome Blog, thanks for taking so much time to get these blogs together.