Since December of 2010, I have been an Etsy seller, offering hand-painted (and now printed, too!) ceramic mugs with a literary or geeky bent to readers, fan groups, and above all, tea and coffee drinkers around the world. I have painted and sold thousands of mugs, and made lots of friends along the way. Feel free to pay my Etsy Shop a visit!
The mug story… (Or, How a Starving Artist Keeps From Starving)
I never meant to go into the coffee mug painting business.
No, indeed, from the age of sixteen I entertained grand schemes of becoming a child prodigy of a writer, of publishing an overnight success, and of rocketing into an easy career of book writing and publishing that would carry me into old age.
Having an artist for a father, I ought to have known that “creativity” and “easy career” don’t belong in the same sentence. But some things are best learned the hard way.
When I graduated college with an English degree (child prodigy prospects beginning to look bleak), I set off to become a bestseller, little knowing the long, hard road I was facing. But an English degree wasn’t the only thing I had to my name; I had also recently acquired a Pebeo Porcelaine 150 Paint Pen.
For fun, I painted one of my favorite poems on a coffee mug. It was by e.e. cummings, and I thought it would inspire me as I wrote. It did. So, I made an Anne of Green Gables mug each for my mother and grandmother. And then a Walk Two Moons mug for my best friend. They all liked them. A lot.
My artist of a father, whose craft-fair gypsying always played an instrumental role in our family, suggested I paint some mugs to send with him to a show. “You never know,” he said with a shrug. “Maybe you’ll sell some.”
I did. And then some more at the next show. And at the next.
One-point-five retail jobs, several dozen paint pens, and zero publishing contracts later, it started to occur to me that very few people make an easy overnight start to their dynamic publishing careers. In fact, I gathered that most writers tended to endure a painfully long slog before they finally caught their break. That pattern seemed to imply that I still had some time to wait before my name appeared on the NY Times Bestseller list. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if I could stay financially afloat without having to sell my soul to a cubicle?
And so, two days before my birthday in December of 2010, Ophelia’s Gypsy Caravan, the Etsy Shop, was born.
I stole the name from my dog (she said she didn’t mind), and started painting and posting the kinds of mugs I liked best. To my happy surprise, I found that other people liked them, too. (Even the obscure ones!) In fact, most of the people buying my mugs seemed to be a lot like me; many, as Anne Shirley would say, were Kindred Spirits. Etsy buyers are an exceptionally wonderful breed. And though I now have a literary agent and am editing toward publication, I find that mug painting–once a mere whim of a hobby–has taken root in my life and heart.
Over the last nine years I have grown to love posting new listings, simply for the joy of finding more people who adore the same things I do. It thrills me to know that the mug I am swaddling in bubble wrap is going to someone who loves Harry Potter, or Pride and Prejudice, or Lord of the Rings, or Doctor Who every bit as much as I do. That the person who will be drinking from it is really just a friend I haven’t met.
I can’t think of any better way to keep from starving.