How Martha Stewart gave me my big break - and what I've learned since then.

February 06, 2020

Waayy back in 2010, I decided to open an Etsy store. I'd been painting and teaching art for years, and sold original artworks on canvas through a great local framing shop. After my sister suggested I try watercolour, I fell in love with it and suddenly had a new medium to experiment with. Painting smaller works on paper meant that I could now ship my art much more easily and after sharing some of my paintings with my blog followers (anyone still here from those early Blogger days?) I'd accidentally stumbled upon a new business.

I decided to paint things I loved, so that if nothing sold I'd at least have paintings I was happy to use in my own home. There was a real gap in the market for artwork that wasn't terrible mass-produced rubbish, and high-end, gallery style paintings. Etsy was such a wonderful marketplace back then, as everything was hand made and you could always find something unique yet affordable. I opened my shop on the 30th September 2010 with a couple of original paintings and a few prints and I was thrilled when they sold within the first couple of weeks. That was in spite of my absolutely terrible product photos - I still cringe when I look at them but you learn as you go. It was (and still is) such a rush when someone loves your work enough to buy it for themselves. 

Early etsy listings

Yep - dreadful.

Fast forward to December and I wake up to find an email in my inbox. It's from someone in the US, saying they're a stylist for Martha Stewart, and would I be interested in sending some artwork to New York for them to use in a future edition of the magazine?

Yeah, right.

I honestly thought it was a hoax and almost deleted it straight away. But after a bit of a google search and finding that the person was in fact a stylist for Martha Stewart, I almost passed out. But I recovered enough to emailed back and say of course I'd be interested. 

The only catch - the paintings needed to be there in four days. It was the week before Christmas. New York was being smashed with a terrible snow storm. I'd never sent anything internationally before. Bloody hell.

I told Scott (the lovely stylist) that of course I could do it, no problem at all. Cool as a cucumber.  He gave me the address and I told him I'd send through tracking when they were on their way. 

I screamed and jumped up and down and freaked the dog out completely. I called my husband at work and told him what had happened. I called my sister and she screamed and then told me I should always listen to her ideas. And I then freaked out all over again because I had absolutely no idea how to get the paintings there in four days. After lots of research and a thousand phone calls, I finally got onto FedEx here in Australia and booked them for a pickup that afternoon. I sent them on their way, praying that they arrived a) in one piece, and b) they arrived on time. 

Ginger Jar Wall Art Kerri Shipp Driftwood Interiors

Ginger Jar in Ming

Ginger Jar Wall Art Watercolour Print by Kerri Shipp Driftwood Interiors

Ming in Indigo

Blue and White Ginger Jar Wall Art Kerri Shipp Driftwood Interiors

Dynasty in Ming

I really tried to put it out of my mind, and knew that often, magazine editors change direction and don't always use the pieces they request. I had a few months of no news, until Scott emailed and asked if it was ok for them to enlarge my paintings? They were going to be featured in the Easter 2011 edition, which had a blue and white theme, and my ginger jar watercolours were definitely being used. They might even be on the cover. O.M.G. Seriously? More screaming and jumping and scared doggo. 

At last, on the 15th March 2011, the Easter edition of Martha Stewart Living was released. My paintings didn't end up making the cover, but I didn't care; they featured in this iconic magazine and I couldn't believe it. The best part was that the iPad version of the magazine was interactive, and anyone who was interested in my artwork could click through to my Etsy store. I was inundated with orders and my store sold out hundreds of times over. I was away.

Kerri Shipp ginger jar prints in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

My blue and white ginger jar prints enlarged in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Kerri Shipp wall art prints in Martha Stewart Living Magazine

The interactive iPad issue was groundbreaking at the time. So exciting to be a part of it.

 

Around the same time as Scott's initial email, I'd been interviewed by The Courier Mail in Brisbane, by the lovely Paddy Hinz. Unfortunately, a bigger news story bumped mine but I was still in touch with Paddy and thought she'd love to hear about Martha. She definitely was and arranged for a new story. The photographer arrived the next day, and in spite of the fact that I absolutely hate having my photo taken, and that it was around a billion degrees, and that every print on my studio wall fell off during the shoot, he finally managed to get one decent photo. How he did I'll never know - the man is a genius. And has the patience of a saint. The story was scheduled to run that coming Saturday, but after the first one was bumped I really didn't think it would go ahead. Sure enough, it ran and I then sold out constantly, with local customers added to the mix. 

 

Kerri Shipp artist in The Courier Mail Brisbane

 

Thank goodness for black and white photos. And thank goodness the frames stayed on the wall for at least ten seconds.

 

Looking back, I still can't believe things happened the way they did. It was thrilling and exciting and terrifying and non-stop, and I loved every minute of it. I still love it now. When I first opened my store, there was no plan. There was no plan when I started my blog. I painted and posted what I liked, and figured that someone else might like it too. And if they didn't? That was ok. I'm so happy I just went with my gut and created from the heart. Because that's what makes the difference. 

After years of painting, the things I'm really interested in just flow easily; as soon as I paint something I think will 'work', or be popular, then it's a totally different story. So my only advice to anyone, whether you're creating or decorating or anything really, is go with what you actually love. Don't follow trends, unless you're really into them. Choose things that make you feel good as soon as you see them. Don't second guess yourself. You know what makes you happy, so go with that. You'll be happy you did, believe me.


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