As soon as I saw Caroline Zucchero Hurley’s jewelry I developed a big crush. Then I saw her hand-printed linens and I coveted each and every one. Then I discovered her colorful, modern, playful oil paintings and I thought, “Really? One girl with all this talent?!” Yep. Turns out the multi-talented artist has quite a cast of admirers including Lucky, Design*Sponge and Wax Magazine. The admiration is well-deserved – some of Caroline’s achievements include an Anderson Ranch Residency, an Artist Grant from Brown University and a VCCA residency. So how does a girl who grew up in Memphis and did everything from being a personal assistant to working in PR and finance to working as a tutor become such a successful fine artist, who also has a chic product line? For starters it helps that her entire family is creative (“My mom teaches creativity, one of my sisters is an architect and the other is a graphic designer.”) and that they traveled around the world while she was growing-up. One thing I found interesting after talking with her is that at a very young age she was a natural entrepreneur, making her own rules and hustling for herself — as a girl she would sell puffy-paint adorned clothing and lemonade to her neighbors That entrepreneurial spirit has done well for her! I hope you too will fall for Caroline’s work… I asked her to share her experience, insight and advice as an artist and an entrepreneur. Enjoy!
Name: Caroline Zucchero Hurley
Home: New York
Best part of your job:
I love that I get to play every day and do what I love. I really do try to bring that sense of fun in to studio and everything I make.
Most challenging aspect of your job:
The most challenging part for me is the organization part; I am realizing more and more that to run and operate your own business you have to be super organized (which does not come naturally to me!!). I’ve really had to work on filling orders/invoices, collecting receipts, keeping a catalogue of what has sold, etc. Like many entrepreneurs, aside from actually making my art and products I do everything myself: website design and maintenance, logo design, photography, etc. so it’s a lot of work. My dream is that someday I will be able to have a team of people working with me so that I can focus all my energy on the creative part, but for now this works. I think its good to know how to do everything yourself, it builds confidence.
Did you go to school or get formal training for what you do now?
Yes, I went to RISD as a Painting major.
What advice would you give someone just graduating from art school?
Be open minded! Don’t take yourself too seriously, travel a lot and stay in close contact with your artist/designer pals. It’s really nice to have a network of people in the same field.
You’re a fine artist who has also started making your own product line on the side. Most artists don’t like the actual ‘selling’ aspect and leave it to their gallery reps or agents to do that part, but with your line you sell direct to the public or trade yourself. What prompted you to do that?
For me, both my fine art and products are part of the same thing. I grew up in a really creative household and my siblings and I would make art projects constantly. We created neighborhood productions where we would write a play, make all the sets and costumes and charge admission (my old neighbors still remember the events). I remember setting up a stand on my street and selling puff-painted and stenciled t-shirts, lemonade, and repurposed toys that I would paint all pink and sell as sculptures. In high school I was making bags and I carried it through to RISD. I actually had a little business going, I was selling in a bunch of cities and was featured in Lucky mag and Shop mag and a couple other places. What I am doing now is an extension of that, only now I feel more confident about my designs, who I am, and what kinds of things I want to make.
Do you work in your own studio or a shared space?
I work in my studio in Dumbo however recently my work has spread to my apartment in Manhattan too. It’s great because it means my business is really expanding but I am feeling the need for more space and am sort of dreaming of a beach house where I can make things by the ocean… Maybe someday! There is rarely a time these days where I am not working either on an order to be shipped out or a new idea for a product or painting.
Have you been able to “make a living” as a fine artist in our current economy?
For me a part-time teaching job balances things out and actually helps my process (it’s nice to know you have a paycheck coming every two weeks). That’s the scariest part about being an artist, you really don’t know if you’ll sell a painting or get a big order that month or if you’ll be able to pay your rent – but in a way I think that’s also what makes the process so cool. You have to figure out a way to make it viable and to make it your own and for each artist that is different, you have to try out a couple different combinations; sometimes it’s a part-time job, sometimes it’s selling online, sometimes it’s applying for grants and residencies. It’s all a process and you have to just be open to it and also willing to let it change.
What does a typical work day look like?
Before I head to studio at 1pm, I teach preschool art part-time which I have realized has helped my art making process immensely. I basically go into work and act like a clown, throw glitter everywhere and make cool projects with kids from 9am – 1pm. Then I head straight to studio. It’s cool because I get to design the curriculum and do what ever I want, so lots of times I will bring projects that I play with in studio to the school and vise versa. The necklaces I make are an inspiration from my class: we made pasta necklaces and the kids were SO cool – supper drippy and painty with these rad colors – so I tried them out in my studio. I really didn’t expect for much to come of the jewelry to be honest, I started wearing them and making them for friends and walked in to JF and Son (a cool store in NYC) and the owner saw my necklace and asked to sell it! So from there I got press and people asked for orders, and then more stores approached me, etc.
What inspires you?
I LOVE the beach and I love to play! (I sound like a kid, ha!) I guess I am most inspired by color which is why I try to take one big trip a year to gather inspiration. It’s amazing how traveling can open you up. Sometimes my eye gets so used to the colors of NYC that I forget to really look at things, so traveling jolts me out of that. Last year I traveled to Bali with some pals from RISD and it was the main reason for my exploration into textiles. The Balinese have the best sense of pattern and I was really blown away by the colors there, it was unlike anything I had ever seen, I swear the air had a golden blue tint to it. This year I am planning to go to India to explore more textiles. I am venturing into home products now too so I am really looking forward to seeing that part of the world.
Any advice to future entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself and keep at it. It’s hard sometimes but doubt can really get in the way of productivity.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about starting and maintaining your own business?
Pace yourself and try to keep organized. And travel often!
To see more pictures of Caroline Hurley’s studio and other design spaces, visit our Studio Snapshots board on Pinterest!