Hey, I’m Ashleigh Fish, a licensed watercolour artist and surface pattern designer living in beautiful New Zealand! I thought it’s about time I share my brand beginnings and timeline with you, especially if you haven’t been here since 2017 which I first started.
2017 – the year my daughter was born and my year of maternity leave began. We had very little spare money and I was rather bored at home so in October I started crafting with intention of making my amazing midwife a gift and our Christmas gifts as our budget did not stretch to buying gits that year. I bought a plain white mug and some gold ceramic paint and hand painted my first mug! This quickly led to ‘orders’ from friends and family who also wanted their own personalised mugs. I had requests for fluffy cups (babyccino cups) and my business took off!
2018 – was the year that my skills improved, I gained the confidence to start charging a bit more for my work and also expanded my range into things that were a bit easier to do with a baby who was on the move. I began lettering and trying to work out my modern calligraphy style.
late 2017 I had been prototyping ring cones and these launched in January
I also took up alcohol ink painting
By Easter I was flat out with bunny fluffy cup orders and we worked out that if I earnt $200 a week through my business I wouldn’t have to go back to work (spoiler alert – I’ve been self employed since)
I continued to work on my calligraphy and started painting so many animals and flowers on request. In April I began watercolour and have been obsessed ever since! I immediately combined watercolour and calligraphy and florals, perhaps the beginning of finding my style.
In May I began making earrings which were presented on hand painted watercolour cards. By June I discovered polymer clay and decided to make earrings from it. This was before there were fancy cutters, tools and a lot on information online. I really had to work it out myself which took a lot of experimenting.
In August I had my first market and the earrings and ring cones were a hit!
In October we moved from Christchurch to Masterton and we had a spare room which I could use as an office and increase production!
I created Christmas earrings and these were very popular, I began batch working and trying to do things more efficiently as I was working late into the night to keep up with my workload.
This was a busy year with a lot of markets, a lot of painting and earring making!
2019 – This was a busy year continuing with mugs, earrings, and ring cones. Looking back I feel like I was beginning to work out that as a part time job while I had a pre-schooler this was great but it was never going to work full time. If I worked out how much I could make and sell it wasn’t enough for the hours I put in – I would be better in an hourly position. I became pregnant with my son this year so the need to work out a more sustainable way of doing things wasn’t too pressing yet.
*I got an ipad for my birthday in March
2020 – I has slowed down after Christmas as we had family visit from the UK and I was closing up after Easter as I was due early May. We all know what happened in 2020! Here in NZ everything shut down overnight so I had Easter orders I couldn’t send and was in a bit of a strange position as I had planned to close for a bit with a baby due but everything turned upside down. I ended up making some free colouring pages to help keep kids entertained during lockdown which you can still find on my website today!
My son was not the cruisy baby my daughter has been so getting any work done with him at home was very challenging. With the general issues through 2020 I took a bit of a step back – I had my products in a store in Wellington and that was the main way I sold things as I could batch work and top up in bulk rather than balancing personalised orders and a clingy baby.
By the end of 2020 I knew I had to do things differently – either charge a lot more or find a different way to offer personalised mugs. Some how I came across photoshop and worked out that I could paint my designs in watercolour, digitise them and have them printed onto mugs that way.
This was a huge turning point in my business and a very steep learning curve – I had never used photoshop and had no idea where to begin!
I took some skillshare classes and piecemealed my way through getting a transparent background on my watercolour motifs so that I could print them on mugs. (I will write a post on how to do this another day).
2021 – The year my orders went crazy and I took a course that changed my business!
I had finally worked out how to digitise my artwork, found someone who could print them for me (we have no spare space at our home for printing) and started advertising ready for Easter.
I also invested in the Immersion course by Bonnie Christine. My orders went crazy for Easter right as immersion started so that was a challenging time spending my evenings slowing doing orders in photoshop – each mug with a hand lettered name – while learning step by step how to use illustrator. It was very overwhelming and I felt like I would never work out how to do it.
By the time I finished Immersion I was pattern obsessed! At this stage I was painting watercolour motifs, editing in photoshop, saving as a PNG and then doing the pattern in illustrator (I have a way better way of doing this now which I will share in a future post).
I collaborated with an amazing local company Fluffy Ducks and have my patterns on their MCN’s and wet bags.
I moved all my mugs to sublimated and essentially ran these as a POD business right here in NZ.
I used my surface pattern design skills to manufacture my own eco friendly wrapping paper (details in a future bog post) and continued to make earrings.
*hand painted mugs and ring cones were discontinued.
I started my spoonflower store and learnt to use mockups to display my patterns. I began to gain confidence in illustrator and photoshop as well as in my ability to create art.
I took Leverage Your Art with Stacie Bloomfield and scaled my mug business!
This year I took immersion and leverage your art again! I had a better grasp of my style and how to use adobe and re taking these courses really helped to work out the direction I wanted to take my business.
I set up a 100 day challenge with Happy Tines (which we didn’t complete) but it gave us both a whole heap of work to use and helped us to discover our signature styles.
I also set up an etsy store selling digital products – SVGs and patterns.
I got my first licensing deal – yet to be announced, as well as a few others.
I seem to have suddenly have a primary school girl and with that comes school holidays!
I launched my first ever skillshare class – where I show you easy watercolour techniques in a short 24 min step by step tutorial.
I realised that I want to focus on patterns, creating art, pitching and licensing so set in place a plan for 2023.
I have just announced that I will no longer be making my mugs – a huge step as this is where my business began! I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year brings; I’ll be busy creating art and pitching my work.
I am also hoping to spend this year helping other creatives, I have begun this blog and I plan to share tips and tricks I have learnt along the way.
If you have made it this far, I cannot wait to being this new journey with you!
Ashleigh Fish xx
So happy to see where it all started for you and where you have come ♡ I absolutely am blessed to know you now on a personal level it’s amazing to hear all your stories and see you grow. Adore you and your family ♡ thank you for supporting me in my business journey with my fabrics and now earrings ♡
Wow! What a great read! You’re truly a master of so many crafts, I am obsessed with the little digger mug and saucer 😍
I’m excited to see what this year brings for you! X