Artist Erin Jackson didn’t have a studio to create larger pieces, so she scaled down her canvases so that she could work in her small Boston apartment. It was only after friends started requesting tiny paintings for their homes that Jackson realized she could share her art at an accessible price point.
The young creative launched Erin Jackson Art in August 2020, offering everything from tiny colorful paintings inspired by public gardens to abstract monotype prints that use recycled materials like old T-shirts, plastic, and crafting paper.
Hello Alice caught up with Jackson to discuss starting a business in 2020, what inspires her as an artist, and what she’s learned so far as a first-time entrepreneur.
How has it been launching during COVID?
I started my business in the middle of a pandemic, which was a little odd. It helped that online sales are a huge thing during the pandemic, which helped me ease into things and selling my goods.
You’ve said that creating tiny art came out of necessity. Could you elaborate on that?
After graduating college, I had to do all my art in my very small apartment. Because I was working in my apartment, I couldn’t paint large. I couldn’t make a mess. I didn’t have ventilation. So, I switched to smaller art, and I realized it was cost-effective for me and for people who buy my art. It helped in spreading my message in my art in a more accessible way.
I think there is a stigma around fine art that it’s so fancy, expensive, and luxurious, which it can be, but I think it can be something anyone and anywhere can buy and hang in their home. Tiny art has allowed me to share my art with more people, have conversations, and allow them to create a unique space in their homes without having to spend a ton of money.
You currently offer tiny art, mixed media pieces, prints, and cards. How do you decide what to sell in your shop?
That’s something I’ve been working on. I have been struggling to identify what my brand is because I do so many different things and am looking for new ways to create. It’s been a challenge, but I had good advice given to me about this, and they said, “You are the person making it, so all the art makes sense that it’s your hands making. It’s your mind making it.” And that’s some of the best advice I could have gotten because it’s true — I’m the creator of the art. Even if it doesn’t look like it matches, ultimately, it’s my passion and desire to connect with people that is behind all of them.
What inspires you as an artist?
I listen to music when I paint, and sometimes, when I find a really good song, I’ll put it on loop and let the music drive whatever I’m doing. I also love to wander around the city and watch people or look at the boats that are going by and think about how life is going around. I like to put that in my art in a way that other people can have a conversation about something that’s going on in their life or something they care about. I care a lot about women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, so I want to start those conversations through art, especially on tough topics that people don’t want to jump right into.
How do you balance creativity and the business side of things like accounting, taxes, and shipping?
I went to art school, so I didn’t have that business or finance background. At first, I was trying to do my best. Right now, I allot two days a week to do more finance and administration. On Fridays, I have a studio space I can use for art. Online resources have also been very helpful.
What resources have helped you as a new business owner?
A lot of women-focused business centers during COVID have been giving online classes, which has been so amazing. I want to say I’ve learned Hello Alice through them. Places like that have been helpful in free resources and learning materials.
We hear a lot from owners on the challenges of promoting their products and services. What has helped you in spreading the word about your business?
One of the most helpful and challenging things has been Instagram. I use Instagram as my main platform to connect with people, and it has been the most welcoming. I was surprised at how welcoming the Instagram small business community was. On the other side of that, the algorithm has been challenging for small businesses.
Your business donates 20% of proceeds to local organizations that donate menstrual and hygiene products throughout Boston. Why was it important for you to incorporate this social mission into your business?
I think those things specifically are so necessary and not attainable for all people. That was something I have always been active and supportive of. When people buy something that contributes to the community, it just furthers ties in that conversation aspect of “I bought this art, and it also went towards buying tampons for women. This is so important; all these conversations are being had.” It’s just a simple thing that I can do, and I think it’s really important to be able to help the community that has supported me for over eight years now.
How have your sales been so far?
It’s been so great! Once I’ve decided to commit to this, which was a huge leap of faith, I was afraid that because of COVID, it wasn’t going to do very well. But people have been so supportive. Even though it’s a financially tough time for everyone, people are understanding and are willing to share images of my business or through word of mouth. It’s been a lot of emotional support.
What’s one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned as a new business owner?
I learned that people are willing to help you. For example, the Instagram community — I made so many great friends there. I reached out to my friend and asked, “Hey, I’m doing a market for the first time. Could you give me some advice?” And she sat on the phone with me and helped me plan out what my table was going to look like. So, that’s been the most surprising thing — how willing strangers are to help one and another.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Starting a new business? Learn how to create a business plan through the Hello Alice Write a Business Plan Guide created in partnership with the AARP Foundation.