• Emily Powell

The Power of Three! (or possibly six)

Updated: Jan 27

All the advice is to just pick one thing.... sell one thing to one customer at one time and it's really great advice. It creates focus and clarity, doesn't confuse your customers, makes marketing and sales so much easier. In fact it makes everything easier. The only trouble is - I CAN'T CHOOSE!!

When you start a business in your 40s after building a career for 20 years working for large organisations, you realise pretty quickly that you need to get used to being a novice again for a while. There’s a whole world of businessy knowledge that you need but you just don’t have, and you can’t learn it all over night.

I’ve learned that you can’t work it all out on your own either, you need people in your life who can help and direct and support you, people who’ve done what you’re attempting to do and who can guide you.

As Brene Brown says, “We don’t have to do it all alone, we were never meant to”.

So early in my journey of growing my fledgling business, I took part in some online challenges, run by inspirational women who have successfully built and sustained their businesses, and even grown them through a global pandemic and world recession.

One of the consistent pieces of advice that really struck home for me was about focus and niching. Picking one thing. Narrowing down to one ideal customer, with one perfect product.

And it’s really good advice. It creates focus for you and clarity for your customers. It doesn’t confuse them with a myriad of different things that you can do, a load of different offers, that could mean that they give up trying to work out what you do and go somewhere else for what they need. It makes messaging and marketing and selling so much easier. It is absolutely advice worth taking, but I am having some trouble with it.

I draw lots of different stuff, for different reasons, in different styles..

I’ve got an online shop with 50 odd products – some are personalised and some ‘off the shelf’…. I draw bespoke commissions; some are detailed and realistic fine art, and others are whimsical and imaginative interpretations…. I create bespoke hand drawn infographics and re-usable graphic facilitation templates for organisations large and small. So by my count, that makes at least three quite different things; or maybe even six…

Thing No. 1 - detailed and realistic fine art drawings

a family of three zebras, a foal and two adults, one adult and the foal facing towards the viewer and one zebra facing away

I have always loved to draw and have been drawing all my life. For a while during my childhood we didn’t have a TV, so my big sis and I filled our time with arts and crafts, encouraged by mum and dad. We made playdoh models of tortoises and clothes for our dolls. We made models from polymer clay and we drew, and drew and drew. Mum read us stories before bed and we drew pictures while we listened. I drew horses and birds, tree roots and eagles and flowers. I remember drawing a cray fish (bit of an odd choice, I realise!) from a picture in a wildlife book and used to scour the other books from mum and dad's bookshelves looking for inspiration.

I got an A* for GCSE Art the first year A* was a thing and I won the school prize for art & music. I ‘knew’ I’d never earn a living through art or music, so after A levels, I got a ‘sensible’ job in Finance at B&Q.

My love of drawing was reignited when I had to take a couple of weeks off work after an operation. Over the two weeks, I drew ‘Peace’, ‘Dame aux Fleurs’, ‘Old Boots’ and ‘Family’. I wanted to be able to draw realistic animals so I spent some time researching ‘how to draw realistic fur’ and I discovered the work of Mike Sibley, who creates the most amazing fine art pencil drawings. I bought his book, ‘Drawing from Line to Life’, and I devoured it from cover to cover. I went to one of Mike’s drawing workshops and spend an amazing weekend in Glastonbury, learning new pencil drawing techniques and wandering round the beautiful town and enjoying the quirky and mystical shops.

I drew ‘The Dreamer’ and ‘Moonlight and Shadows’ after the workshop, slowing my process right down and spending 20 to 30 hours on each picture in order to achieve the level of realism that I wanted. I drew ‘Group Hug’ for my mum, from a blurry photo I took one cold wet afternoon at Twycross Zoo and I drew ‘Jenny Wren’ for my Aunty Jenny, to add to her collection of Jenny Wren inspired pictures and trinkets.

a pair of old and well worn ankle boots
"Old Boots"

Each of these drawings has a different story and personal meaning for me, and they fit together into my fine art collections, ‘Soul and Life’, and ‘The Wild’.

Drawing realistic and detailed animal pictures became a fascination for me, and I also started drawing dog portraits, of my own dogs and those of my friends and family. I did some people portraits too, but my love of animals won out and drawing pet portraits is something that I continue to enjoy doing to this day, capturing not only their likeness, but something of their character and personality as well.

Thing No. 2 - hand drawn infographics and visual communications

My drawing took a bit of a backseat as my career evolved and we had our two beautiful children, Katelyn and Thomas. After 13 years at B&Q, I moved jobs and started working for the NHS.

I fell in love with the NHS, warts and all, and I found opportunities to explore my creative side again. I co-designed a development session for the Finance Team and created a set of graphic facilitation templates. I didn’t realise what they were at the time, but I loved the idea of incorporating hand drawn graphics into the team away days as a fun and engaging way to generate and capture ideas and solve problems. I drew some doodles as a memory aid for myself during a week long training event and did some small illustrations for the staff magazine. Different people across the trust started to see my work and ask me to create visuals for their projects, and Thomkat Illustrations (named for Thomas and Katelyn) was born.

I created my first paid commission in March 2019 for Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust; an infographic describing what mental health ward rounds with respect and dignity should look like from the patient’s perspective. It’s hard to describe how much it meant to me to use my creativity to bring to life their voices in such a powerful and compelling way.

"Ward Rounds with Respect and Dignity"

Since then, I have created many more visuals for the NHS. I’ve drawn pictures to describe complex information in policies, procedures and legislation. I’ve translated organisational vision, purpose and strategy into accessible, engaging and memorable illustrations. I’ve drawn graphics for leadership development and workshop facilitation. My drawings have brought customer voices to life, promoted mental well-being, positivity and kindness and much more.

I am incredibly grateful to Beth Ford, Nick Broughton, Tom Westbury and Kim Perry, who gave me the encouragement and opportunities that helped my budding illustrations business take root in my heart and grow to where it is today.

Thing No. 3 – whimsical and colourful stylised illustrations

Creating these more informal and colourful drawings for the NHS opened up a new style of illustration that I hadn’t explored before. Compared to the fine art graphite pencil drawings, they were much quicker to create but no less satisfying. Instead of taking weeks or months to complete, I could finish a picture over a couple of days, and could make tangible progress in smaller snippets, rather than needing to devote several hours at a time to concentrated detailed pencil work.

I could draw a little character picture for a birthday card or anniversary, or little stylised family portrait in just a few hours.

The process of dreaming up the different and unique images to capture the various concepts I was asked to illustrate for the infographics also started my mind working in a different way. I’d read a document and think up ways to make it more understandable and memorable. I would hear a quote and imagine a little picture in my mind to represent it. On one of the online challenges I took part in, run by the awesomely amazing Gemma Went, Gemma’s little sayings inspired me so much that I drew little pictures to capture them.

Chateau de Beaulieu Christmas Card

I began creating drawings to illustrate personalised affirmations and the words that people were choosing for their 2021 word of the year. I drew little character pictures and got them printed on mugs as gifts. As more people were seeing my work, I started getting bespoke requests for illustrations in this different style from individual customers. I drew a Christmas card design for friends of their beautiful Chateau in France, a special picture of a beloved niece and a market stall full of flowers. Just for the joy of it, I drew a series of summer scenes for an art competition and put them together into a collection that I have called ‘Tranquil Times’, to capture the peace and tranquillity of lazy summer days.

I just can't choose

I draw because it lights my soul and makes my heart sing. And with each piece that I draw, the stories behind them, the understanding that they bring, the truth that they share, the emotion they create, the memories they capture; I hope to create a little moment of understanding, of magic, of beauty in the world.

I can’t describe how much joy I get from creating these pictures, whether they are detailed fine art drawings, hand drawn infographics or stylised and whimsical illustrations.

And that’s why I cant just pick one thing.

So here’s to chaos and confusion, to not choosing, and to living my dream. Maybe I’ll have to choose as my business grows and maybe the work I do will naturally increase in one area, but for now, I’m sticking with three (or possibly six!)

If you are someone who sees the beauty in the world, if you care about kindness, compassion, happiness and purpose, if you are looking for engaging, accessible and memorable ways of connecting with your people in a unique way, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line at emily@thomkatillustration.co.uk

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