“We don’t get more than one lifetime to create these big visionary ideas. We have to take the years that we’re given and just go for it.”
As an art student she was given the expectation that a career in art would be a constant struggle. “Struggling artist” is a social norm that Emily Jeffords just doesn’t believe. And though she set out on her art career journey with a tenacious attitude and audacious dream to beat the odds, at the height of success she was met with a mental battle she didn’t expect.
I’m not worthy of this. Am I worthy of this? A need to constantly prove her worth.
We are taught to hustle. We are taught to expect to struggle. But we aren’t often taught what to do when we succeed!
If you’ve ever felt you were not old enough or mature enough to accomplish some of your big, audacious dreams. Today’s interview with Emily Jeffords will challenge you to dream even bigger even before you feel quite ready or qualified.
For Emily Jeffords, her work as an artist started with a dream.
“I had this audacious dream when my daughter was born that I was going to quit my job and be one of those women who stayed home and made banana bread all day. That was the vision that sort of started this whole thing!”
Working at Banana Republic at the time, Emily turned in her notice to pursue that dream. The only problem? She didn’t love it.
“I didn’t enjoy not working the way I thought I would. I was really restless in that season, and I felt something churning inside of me. That churning was a sign that whatever was going on in my life wasn’t fully serving me. It was a sign I needed to dream a new dream.”
So, Emily weighed her options.
“I knew I didn’t want a 9 to 5 job, and I knew I loved painting. So, I put the two together and tried to make some money.”
The result? A painting-a-day program where she worked to sell one original work each day for a different dollar amount.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I priced those paintings for the dollar amount of the day. So on the first day, I sold for $1, the second day for $2, and so on. It made no financial sense at all!”
No, the project wasn’t priced to make her the income she needed, but it did serve Emily in other unexpected ways.
“I learned a lot in that season. I learned to show up and do the work consistently. I learned to photograph and list my work online. I learned to sell my art. I learned to be dependable to my clients. I learned how to depend on myself.”
Soon, Emily was pregnant with her second child so painting took a backseat for a season. But by 2013, she was ready to come back to art again, this time in a new capacity.
“It was the start of something new for me. That’s when I really became a full-time artist.”
This time around, she approached her work with more of a mindset for the business. She priced her projects with a financial goal in mind, she sold those paintings for more, and she opened the door for commissioned work.
“I really enjoyed it, so I just kept rolling with it. I started really taking my work seriously, and when I did, I found a serious market for it. It was such an empowering feeling to see my work being sold, even as my prices went up. That’s when it hit me: I’m a painter.”
Within a year, Emily was weaving education into her business, offering workshops and retreats for fellow artists. She was working hard on all fronts, painting, teaching, and growing a company little by little. Eventually, the pace caught up to her.
“I started to feel a bit like a machine, just churning out one thing after another. I was building out of scarcity, constantly afraid it was all going to run out. That year, I realized that if I wanted to breathe, I had to start building out of abundance instead.”
For Emily, that meant focusing on building what worked for her. She took on more commissions to give her business more of a financial safety net. And at the same time, she started diversifying the education side of the company, offering a 12-week online course and an ongoing membership for creatives and artists to find community together.
“Operating out of a mindset of abundance changed the game for me. Now, I have two sides to my business. There’s my art practice, which includes painting and selling prints. And the other half of my business is educating other artists on how to make their businesses profitable and create something sustainable out of this beautiful career path.”
Thanks to that shift toward a place of abundance—a belief that there can be enough— Emily is in the business of dreaming bigger for herself and her brand.
“I fully believe that if I dream it, I can do it. Even if I don’t always feel ready or qualified, I give myself permission to go for it and see what happens. I give myself permission to do big and beautiful things and dream big and beautiful dreams.”
For her, those dreams include maintaining a business with financial health.
“I think the best thing I did for my business is create work that I found valuable. If I wasn’t valuing my work, the audience I sold it to wouldn’t either. So, I’m really focusing on valuing the work I create and sharing about it in a way that expresses that value. The more I do that, the more my customer base has rallied around my work as valuable. And that has given me a lot of financial freedom as a result.”
Like any entrepreneur, Emily is still walking that line to find that elusive sense of balance in pursuing those big dreams and staying a healthy mom, wife, and artist.
“I’ve been a workaholic. I’ve worked way too much to grow my business and found myself really unhealthy at the end of it. So, I’ve had to adopt new ways of working that promote my health even before the health of my business.”
One such thing? A practice she calls “Inhale/Exhale.”
“I think of it like breathing. When you inhale, you’re bringing a lot of things in. You’re in a season of growth, expansion, and work. It’s a hustle moment. But then, there’s always room for the exhale after that. The chance to let it out and rest. To release and give yourself a break. You can’t have an inhale without an exhale. They have to cycle in order to stay healthy. You
have to make room for both.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Emily is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Making Art Work Course for Artist
Emily is an abstract impressionistic painter, creative educator, & writer living in Greenville, South Carolina. Her studio is based in a historic 1890’s light-filled converted mill house called the White Whale Studios. You may have seen her work featured in Anthropologie, The Land of Nod, West Elm and One Kings Lane to name a few.
October 6, 2022