Make it or break it: Jamie Shelman @ The Dancing Cat talks top tips for startups

24 Jun 2019 | Interviews

Make it or break it: Jamie Shelman @ The Dancing Cat talks top tips for startups

By Laura Giffard

Jamie Shelman, artist and owner of The Dancing Cat online print and stationery shop, lives in Baltimore with her husband Tom and their neighbour’s cat Brooksy, who has adopted them. Jamie’s happy place is in her studio, with the cat nearby.

What does your typical day look like?

Filling orders, creating new work and snuggling with the cat. My husband Tom helps with packaging, shipping, brainstorming new ideas and keeping me sane! My neighbour’s cat Brooksy also hangs out with us in the studio all day, he approves all the orders before they ship out with a head bump!

What do you do after work?

Read, watch cycling races and drink San Pellegrino.

Tell us about you and your business.

I studied painting at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and just consider myself an artist, which can encompass many styles and ways of being from how you draw to how you live. I always thought I’d be selling large abstract paintings but living in tight quarters right after graduating from school and having no access to a paint studio sparked new creative ideas and outlets.

I started The Dancing Cat ten years ago when I read an article about a then new online company called Etsy - it was a great small platform for us to get found and seen. Now I draw cats for a living - formally beautiful and functionally silly, I love the humour and beauty of cats.

As well as our direct sales, we’ve also worked with international companies such as Art Group, who have used some of our designs on their greetings cards. They contacted us after seeing my work online and I love that our art gets to reach a larger audience when we work with bigger companies, especially overseas. I was late to join Instagram but love the exposure and seeing all the great art peeps post - it’s a great platform to connect and get seen!

Growth comes with exposure, so finding your audience is key - in our case local craft shows have been a great supplement to our online presence.

They say year 3 is when you make it or break it as a start-up. Have you ever come close to breaking it? What’s your single piece of advice for making it?

You always feel close to breaking it! I think the biggest challenge so far has been self-doubt. I guess because I studied painting and not illustration, for a long time I still considered myself a painter and what I was making wasn’t serious enough or didn’t qualify as real art. But then after a while you just realise that’s bullshit. Art is what you love and what brings you joy, whether it’s a 10 ft. oil painting or a tiny ink drawing of a cat on a piece of paper.

Don’t let someone else determine what your value is. I often think of the E.E. Cummings quote when feeling down: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

The real achievement comes from feeling like you’re doing your best work, even if no one picks up on it yet, they will. My best piece of advice is to stay true to yourself, find your own unique voice and style and have fun!

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