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Harper College

Caryn Mitchell, Founder of Calliope Design

Calliope Design

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 and goals.

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 products.

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 Harper College?
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.



Last Updated: 6/5/24