In the Cards: On Becoming a Creative EntrepreneurDec 10, 2021
Sophia van Hees shares the story of how she built her business to be reflective of her art practice and pulls back the curtains on the process behind how she made her new tarot card deck.
The first time that someone suggested I become an entrepreneur my initial response was to say that I wasn’t “that type of person.” I didn’t know the first thing about business. It was something that felt so incredibly unattainable, a whole different world that I would never fit into.
At the time, I had been struggling with debilitating depression, and I had made the difficult decision to abandon my postdoctoral fellowship. It felt like much more than just leaving a job. I was leaving behind a whole identity. I didn’t really know who I was without it, and I couldn’t figure out how my incredibly niche skills might transfer to anything outside the academy.
I was so lost in so many ways. Living without any meaning or purpose to anchor myself, so far away from my home in Australia but not wanting to go back a failure. The only thing that was bringing me any joy at that time was my art practice. I would sit down and draw in my sketchbook most days, and my mind would feel calm. When I was drawing, the only things that mattered were the shapes and lines on the page.
A Time of Healing, Exploration and Connection
Over the next few years, I worked in various support roles in academia, helping faculty identify funding options and writing grants. None of this work made my soul light up, but it kept me afloat while I strengthened my mental health. Importantly, I made time to focus on my art, to get my hands back into practice, and to find my artistic voice.
This was a time of creative exploration. I took a digital illustration course at the local art school, taught sewing classes at a fabric store, and began compiling a portfolio and setting up a website. Eventually, I joined an online community of artists who were all sharing their work and supporting each other every day. Coming from the ultra competitive world of academia, it took me a little while to really believe that these people were so genuinely kind.
With the support of this group, I started to think that perhaps I could do this creative business thing after all. I tentatively set up a couple of online shops on print-on-demand websites. But I still felt a massive divide between who I was and who I thought a “business person” should be.
I plateaued at this stage for a while. I was still enjoying creating my art, but not making much progress on the business front. Then 2020 came around, and the world changed. My teaching job abruptly ended, I left a terrible relationship, and I moved house multiple times, unsure when I could return home to Australia.
It was during this time that a dear friend of mine suggested using tarot cards as a journal prompt to help sort through all my feelings. I decided to give it a go, but I had one small problem - I had no idea what any of the cards meant! There were 78 of them, each with their own unique symbolism and meanings.
I previously thought that tarot cards were only used by people telling fortunes in dark rooms. But I found out that they could be used in other ways too. The meanings of the cards could provide some structure to help access and process complex thoughts and feelings.
As I was learning about each card, I couldn’t help but draw my own interpretation of them. While a lot of cards I had seen had quite a dark and aggressive vibe to them, my cards were soft and gentle. I created calm scenes using pastel colour palettes and designed them with an element of whimsy that reflects how I see the world.
I began sharing these drawings and my thoughts about the cards on Instagram and in my online creative group. To my surprise, people were actually interested in them. They commented on their unique style, saying they were more approachable than what they associated with traditional tarot. They became a way to connect with others and start conversations about their meanings and how we related to them in different ways.
"I realized that my art is so much more than just the product at the end."
While creating each card one by one, I started sharing sketches and process videos. Involving others in the creation process and sharing my own story along the way helped others connect with it too.
Somewhere in this process I started to feel like a creative business owner. I was doing something that felt meaningful, and it was bringing joy to other people. I finally realized that it wasn’t ever about fitting in to a different world. It was about being myself and connecting with others. I already had the things that I needed to build a business that aligned with my own values.
It was a bittersweet feeling creating the final card of the deck. I had left ‘the world’ card for last, as it symbolises completion and achievement. I stayed up until about 2am carefully drawing each element in the card, and when I saw all 78 completed cards together it felt like an even bigger achievement than submitting my PhD dissertation.
Creating the cards had been such a stable creative outlet during a very unstable time and part of me didn’t want that to end. But it was through this project that I began to see my own value, believe in myself, and expand my view of creative entrepreneurship. I came to realize that “entrepreneurship” wasn’t a single template or set of traits—it was something that I defined for myself along the way. I discovered that my creative business can align with my own values rather than those of other people, it can be led by my gentle nature and intuition, and it can be process oriented in a way that provides value to others.
Sophia van Hees, PhD, is Hikma's 2021 Artist in Residence and Founder of Brave Snail Designs.
Photos by Amanda Mary Creative.
Sophia's much anticipated Tarot deck, containing 78 of her whimsical illustrations is now available for purchase. She hopes it will provide a sense of calm and gentle guidance to the people it reaches.
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