We had the good fortune of connecting with Nicole Ray and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Nicole, how do you think about risk?
Risk played a huge part in me starting my business: I likely would not have ever done it if it wasn’t forced on me. I have been a risk taker throughout my career, walking away from jobs to travel, working as a freelancer with all the uncertainty that entails for the bulk of my 20s and 30s, taking any job that would allow me to live in interesting new places. But when it came to trying to do the thing that I really wanted to do — illustration — that was a risk I couldn’t seem to tackle. Fear held me back.

But in 2008 I moved to Michigan from New York right when the economy was tanking. I couldn’t find a job. I had graduated college in 1994 and never not been able to find a job. I had gone back to school for illustration while living in NYC and though I had completed my degree in 2002, I had never really tried to work in the field. Again, fear held me back.

This was the early days of Etsy and while I searched for jobs, I opened an Etsy shop. Here was a low-risk way of putting my work out there. Who would even see it? I very much did not think of this as starting a business, but really just a fun, distracting thing on the side. Through the shop though, I was quickly connected with the most welcoming local creative community. My business grew slowly, organically, over time. Once I had cleared that initial hurdle of fear, I went back to my risk-taking ways and haven’t looked back. Whenever I hesitate over a new risk that presents itself, I think back to those early days and dive in head first.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am the owner and artist behind Sloe Gin Fizz, a line of whimsical illustrated goods carried in over 150 small gift shops and galleries across the country. My hand-drawn illustrations are accessible and fun for a wide range of audiences, blending a lively mix of whimsical animals, cozy domestic scenes and quiet moments in nature. I sell art prints, greeting cards, stickers and more.

Presenting your art to the world is such a vunerable act. When I started my business, the bulk of my work was in-person events. As an introvert, every single time I was terrified. My hands would shake, my voice would quake and my face would be bright red the entire time. I love to think about this and think about how much has changed because now, fourteen years later, those same in-person events are some of my favorite things to do. To stand in front of your work and meet people and see how they interact with your art and respond to it is invaluable and a privilege. True, you have to develop a tough skin. Not everyone is going to love what you do, and that’s okay. But when something about what you’ve created brings up a memory for someone, or reminds them of a certain person, or simply makes them laugh, there is nothing like that feeling of connection and recognition.

As someone who makes fun, whimsical work, I don’t think I ever imagined that it could reach people in the way that I’ve seen it do. You never know what an image is going to invoke for another person. I’ve had people share stories in tears because of a powerful memory that a drawing of mine has invoked for them. It’s given me a greater understanding and appreciation of the power of art.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The creative community I found when I moved to Michigan has played such a huge role in the success of my business. I have never met a more supportive group of people who stand behind each other, share information freely and who live in the idea that we are better together and that when one of us rises up, we all rise up.

 Website: https://sloeginfizz.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sloe_gin_fizz/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SloeGinFizz/

Image Credits
Nicole Ray

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