I had the pleasure of asking Angella Watterson, Founder of Angelope Design, a few questions about her entrepreneurial journey as a designer and illustrator. Based in Seattle, WA, Angella creates beautiful, bright, fun greeting cards that literally fly off the table whenever I participate at vendor pop ups.
As a solopreneur (a one-woman show), running her business end to end, there is definitely sound advice that Angella offers to those who are looking to capitalize on their talents in this Q&A below!
Q: Where does the name Angelope Design come from?
A: The made up portmanteau “Angelope” was a nickname that my good friend gave me! Many years ago, we were joking about which animal best represented each of us. The mythical jackalope was such a funny and perfect fit for me as we are both whimsical weirdos. A couple of friends designed birthday cards for me with the word “Angelope” on it and I loved it. The name stuck and I knew I wanted to use it for my brand one day.
I have 100% changed and morphed over the last 10 years, not only because trends have changed but I have way more exposure to artists around the world via social media; I’m influenced in a way and scale that I was never exposed to before.
Q: When did you decide to be an illustrator and how did you learn how to illustrate?
A: Oh gosh, I don’t know if I ever “decided” to be an illustrator but rather it was a part of my being since I was a wee kid! I was drawing long before I started talking. My grandparents, who raised me, would give me a large sheet of butcher paper, some crayons, and that’s how I spent most of my days. Drawing would consume me for HOURS. The cartoons that I watched as a kid influenced my early work, and at that age it was more about imitating the things I liked (The Last Unicorn was a life changer!) Then as I progressed from middle school to AP art in high school and eventually post college, I started honing in on styles that felt like “me”. The places I worked at influenced my work. Becoming a mom influenced my work. I have 100% changed and morphed over the last 10 years, not only because trends have changed but I have way more exposure to artists around the world via social media; I’m influenced in a way and scale that I was never exposed to before.
When I was in the third grade, I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer because it was the perfect marriage of fine art and financial stability that my parents always feared I’d miss if I became an artist. I’ve never once regretted this decision!
This sounds crazy, but my business started as an accident and came out of a sad time
Q: What inspired you to start your business?
A: This sounds crazy, but my business started as an accident and came out of a sad time. In early 2021, I learned that my dad was diagnosed with stage 3 bile duct cancer. My whole family and I were devastated and stressed out, trying to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Those first couple of nights were the hardest; there wasn’t much I could do, and it was hard for me to fall asleep at night. So to stay distracted, I started making polymer clay earrings. I made a bunch, and wanted to sell them to see if anyone thought they were any good. Fast forward a few months and I had a full blown small shop. I no longer make earrings and focus on paper and novelty items, but it’s crazy to think how something so sad can lead to something bright.
If I think something will bring me joy, I do it! If something that I’m doing no longer serves me and stresses me out, I stop.
Q: How did you discover your creative passions?
A: Drawing was my first creative passion, and that I did since I was a kid. But new passions that come up in my adulthood usually start because of something that I see online… Instagram, Pinterest, or even TikTok. Late last year I noticed that a lot of folks were creating polymer clay jewelry and it looked really fun, so I bought some supplies and gave it a shot. During the start of the pandemic, I learned that “wow I really love plants” so now I own 34 and love repotting them or rearranging them throughout the house.
If I think something will bring me joy, I do it! If something that I’m doing no longer serves me and stresses me out, I stop. It’s easier said than done and something that I just want to remind people because in society, we have this weird notion that “once you start a creative passion you can’t give it up or you’re a failure” and that stops us from starting so many cool things.
Korean culture is so colorful and rich. All those details that surrounded me growing up 100% affected my art and who I am as an illustrator today.
Q: Tell us a bit more about your Korean American identity--were you always based in Seattle, where is your family based, and how was the experience growing up as a Korean girl in your community?
A: I was born in L.A. but raised most of my life on Maui, Hawai’i. Being raised Korean American in Hawai’i was such a unique experience because it’s already a melting pot of so many different cultures and backgrounds, but I didn’t know many other Korean kids growing up. Most of my classmates were Japanese, Philippino, or a mix of races which we call “hapa.” My mom is the only person in my life who is the “thread” that ties me to my culture; thinking about it now I laugh because she is WAY more in touch with Kpop and Korean soap operas which I know nothing about!
Korean culture is so colorful and rich. All those details that surrounded me growing up 100% affected my art and who I am as an illustrator today. I favor bright, saturated palettes. I love creating cute characters and faces. The food, clothing, and essence of Korean culture was infused into my style at an early age which, at the time, I was completely unaware of. But looking back, it makes sense why I draw the way that I draw today.
Q: What are the best parts about being an entrepreneur?
A: Learning that my work resonates with people who I’ve never met and will never meet all across the country is the best feeling. They are buying my work because they relate to the words or images that I create - like whaaaat?! WOW that’s so cool.
Q: What are the hardest parts about being an entrepreneur?
A: Finding the time and space to truly create (without fear of thoughts like “will this sell?”) and then figuring out how to up my customer base, distribution, and the logistics of how to run a business is the trickiest part of being an entrepreneur.
No one told me that the first year you launch, you will lose more money than make money (you may not see net profit until month 4, 5, or 6!)
Q: What are some experiences you’ve gone through with your business that no one prepared you for?
A: Oh boy, I have SO many learning experiences. First off, no one can prepare you for the sheer amount of WORK involved in getting started. Right now, I’m a one woman team. I am the art director, designer, marketing team, sales, web developer, and social media lead. When you’re first starting off, you have to be prepared to handle it all and make sure that the quality of what you create is near perfect because it all falls back on you. No one told me that the first year you launch, you will lose more money than make money (you may not see net profit until month 4, 5, or 6!) I’ve learned that the artwork that sells best isn’t necessarily your favorite ones. Also...learn the name of the USPS person that picks up your mail (his name is Fasa!) I see him a lot throughout the week and can’t thank him enough for all his help.
Have some money saved up prior to launching a new business or brand, especially if you’re selling hard goods like me.
Q: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to make money with their talents?
A: I do!
1) Creating a new piece of art takes TIME and energy. If you create something, think about the many different ways you can profit off of that one work. Does it work for a card, a print, tote bag, or sweater? That way you’re working smarter, not harder, and can reap the $ of one art piece across many different mediums rather than trying to pump out 27 unique designs every month.
2) You’re gonna learn about a bunch of new apps or platforms that you’ve never heard of before. For instance, I now use Shippo and Trunk to help me manage shipping and inventory respectively. I sell products across three different platforms (two Squarespace sites and Faire) so using a platform like Trunk helps me manage inventory across all three very quickly. Being backordered on a design because you ran out means you are losing money too, so finding that sweet spot of having enough inventory but not too much is crucial.
3) Have some money saved up prior to launching a new business or brand, especially if you’re selling hard goods like me. I say this because it takes money to make money, and while I don’t like ordering a super high qty of cards up front because it’s expensive, doing the math has shown me that ordering a higher qty in one go means each unit (card) costs less to print and therefore in the long run I’m making more money ALSO...if you are selling items that do not take up a lot of footprint (small items like stickers, pins, or cards) you may have the storage space to house these items and therefore it’s worth it to order a lot and just store them away assuming they will sell over time.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add? :)
A: Don’t be afraid to ask other entrepreneurs questions! We’ve all gone through the hardship of starting from scratch and learning as we go. I think many of us are happy to give you free advice and pay it forward.