Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off
our souls.” Artist and entrepreneur Caryn Mitchell creates art that not only awakens
souls, it makes them sing. She believes that art should inspire and spark joy as well
as transform a space. In addition to creating stunning custom works, Caryn has begun
to expand her palette by offering retail pieces. She also brings her artistic passion
to identity design, designing branding in harmony with her clients’ corporate culture
Why did you choose to start Calliope Design Inc.?
Calliope Design was born because I wanted to work for myself and continue to learn
about the art of creating a business around the things I enjoy doing. About eighteen
months ago, I decided to start adapting my creative skillsets to expand my business
into a blend of design services and art décor products.
Tell us a little about your business and what makes it unique.
Calliope Design is my boutique-style design studio, where I work as a visual brand
stylist and consultant, designer and artist. I’m known for designing brand identity
for companies that helps them connect to their customers on an emotional level. Alongside
my brand identity work, I started creating mixed media mosaic artwork that brings
a touch of class and style to homes and offices. As a creative entrepreneur, I’m always
trying new things out, blending traditional and digital art mediums. This has led
me to create beautiful art prints and patterns for art decor products that engage
the human spirit and allow people to create their own happy place.
What was the problem you were facing when you decided to contact the Illinois SBDC
at Harper College?
I decided to contact the SBDC at Harper because I needed help to revive my existing
business and start paving the path of where I would like to take my business. Over
the last few years, I have had to adapt swiftly to the challenges I was facing as
a creative business owner developing my services.
My business began by providing brand identity design services and freelancing with
ad agencies and marketing firms. Then, I asked myself how I could adapt my creativity
in new and fresh ways that would not only contribute to my happiness, but also bring
joy and inspiration to others. I began selling my original mixed-media artwork and
art prints online and plan to expand into licensing my artwork and surface pattern
designs for a range of wall coverings, paper goods, home décor and other household
How did the Illinois SBDC at Harper College help with the problems you were having?
When I came to the SBDC, I was kind of all over the place, focusing on things that
were contributing to forward movement. I was trying to do everything at the same time,
which caused me a lot of frustration. Marge Johnsson really helped me clarify what
I was doing, to identify my product mix and develop effective business strategies.
She helped me break down tasks into bite-size pieces--and continues to do so every
time I check in with her. Dennis LaPorta has worked with me to identify my target
audiences for both identity design and custom artwork. It’s taken a little bit of
time, but I now feel like the different hats I wear are more manageable. I’ve also
learned to let go of the “Everything Has to Be Perfect” syndrome.
As I’ve grown my art business, Marge researched sales tax laws and worked with me
to select the best tax software to sell my art nationally. Jennie Johns has been instrumental
in building and developing my website, allowing me to expand my ecommerce reach as
well as to fully incorporate my branding. Cheri Kretsinger has helped me develop a
thriving Instagram site, which is currently the main focus of my online marketing. Over
the next year, I plan to master this platform to help spread the word and grow a following
of enthusiastic, engaged customers.
Would you recommend small business owners use the services of the Illinois SBDC at
Yes! The SBDC team at Harper College is fantastic. As the owner of a multi-faceted
design company, I have found it challenging to find business advisors who appreciate
the unique nature of the creative industry. Marge, Jen, Cheri and Dennis understand
me and realize that a creative business works a little differently than traditional
businesses. Their wisdom, patience, business perspectives and suggestions have given
me the guidance I needed to move confidently in the direction I’m going in. I always
look forward to my advisory sessions.
What does the future look like for Calliope Design Inc?
This fall, I’ll be introducing three new product lines: canvas gallery wraps; notebooks
and journals; and printables. I’m also working on updating my website’s shop to sell
my art prints directly.
After enrolling in a surface pattern design course this year, I learned about creating
designs that can be adapted to an array of products from home décor, to paper goods,
to fabric and more. From there, art licensing came onto my radar as another track
to grow into. Aiming for implementation in 2023, I’m developing designs for collections
and creating new art series for wall décor.
Also, I hope to meet the right person who can wear my marketing hat!
What advice would you give to someone just starting a small business?
Practice positive mindset. Create a flexible plan. Start small. Take baby steps towards
each milestone. Be open to a better way of doing things. Surround yourself with like-minded
positive people. Ask for help when you need it. There’s no need to suffer or feel
alone to realize your dream. Celebrate your wins. Keep a daily success journal.