Meet Ellen Sweetman! Ellen is an artist and the creative force behind livelybrush, her business and art community. Ellen believes that art heals people, helps them tap into their inner worlds, and promotes self-discovery. Keep reading to learn how she carved out her unique career path and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
photo credit: Shelly Mosman
Tell us about your business.
Creativity is my business with a strong focus on fine arts. There are two main areas of my business: creating and sharing my knowledge. My works of art are originals. I sell my paintings and other creative goods directly from my studio, through pop-up galleries, online and commissions when requested. I paint the world around me and my inner thoughts and wonders. My artwork is colorful, whimsical, dramatic, romantic, and lively. My business is concentrated on process and discovery. Art heals. I enjoy making connections with people on a personal level and teaching them how to tap into their own creativity and explorations to find their unique artistic voice. I do this through critique, consultations, guided play sessions, and mentorship.
THE EARLY DAYS
Describe your childhood in one word.
Describe your childhood personality in one word.
When you were a little girl what career did you dream of having “when you grow up”?
Artist, Mom, and Baker.
What was your first job?
Selling food at Welch Village, a local ski resort.
photo credit: Rebecca Derdzinski
THE LEARNING YEARS
Where did you attend college?
College of St. Benedict BA in Art, concentration in Theater, and minor in Spanish
What was your first job out of college?
I worked as a nuclear power plant services attendant at Northern States Power Company (NSP) in custodial services.
List your jobs until you started your own business.
I worked at MGM Liquors, Red Lobster, temporary administrative jobs, a local nursery, a local farm, the Edgewood, Coronado’s restaurant, as an art teacher at an after-school program for latchkey kids, Dick Blick Art Materials, Renaissance Worldwide Inc. (an IT consulting firm), Glass Endeavors, Children’s Hospital and Clinics of MN (Minneapolis), U of M Children’s Hospital, Theatre Limina, teaching art classes through community ed, and a stay at home Mom since 2007.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL YEARS
What year did you decide to start your own business?
I officially started livelybrush, LLC in 2011, even though I had been creating works of art for people and their businesses since 1991. Until that time, I hadn’t realized it was possible for me to pursue this opportunity in art.
Why did you decide you wanted to start your own business?
I started my business with the intention of making art and selling it locally. After six years, I discovered my business is more than creating and selling a product. I’ve since reintroduced teaching but on a more emotional level, as opposed to teaching the technical skills of painting and plein air (outdoor). I’ve returned to taking on projects that suit me creatively and connect me to people that need me.
How is your business different today than when you first started?
The biggest difference is that I am more intentional and can see the worth in each product and service I provide.
What four lessons have you learned running your own business?
- Be true to yourself
- Outsource if you’re able to, start with what robs you of your joy
- Ask for help and let others help you
- Value your time and put a price tag on it (I’m still learning this one)
What’s next for your business? Top 3 goals.
- Partner with my community
- Teach more classes
- Explore my new ideas on canvas
What’s your strongest skill set that’s helped you succeed?
I’m curious, always learning, and I connect well with people.
On this journey, who have been your three most supportive people?
My hubby and my friends Elise and Sara were integral to getting started.
THE BUMPS IN THE ROAD
Have you had any hardships or setbacks in your business or personal life?
Yes. My biggest hardship was my upbringing. The trauma from that is still apparent in my everyday life. I grew up in an alcoholic and abusive home, my mother died when I was 15, and within the year of her death, I was raped. My day to day challenges includes a cluttered mind, giving first and taking last, and not asking for what I need. I’ve struggled to find ways to quiet my mind and put myself first. I thought all of these hardships defined who I was and only recently discovered this isn’t true. I struggle with getting out of my own way, trusting and celebrating each step, taking time away from my family, working alone and trying to find community in this business.
Financially there have also been struggles. Most times, there was enough money, but my trouble was letting my earnings define my worth. I grew up being told that art wasn’t a job and had no value. I’ve spent a lifetime proving to myself that isn’t true. One look at my work history and you can see I took most jobs to make ends meet, but they rarely suited my artistic purposes and goals.
I don’t have a business degree or background in technology. I’ve struggled with learning new skills to conduct my business. I built my own website, do my own marketing, and rely on trading services with other entrepreneurs to fill in the gaps of what I don’t understand and don’t know.
How did you overcome them – did they make you stronger or learn something new?
I graduated with a degree in art and theater. For the first time, I chose art over familial objections, economic considerations, and the expectations of others. I believe that the more vulnerable I become in telling my story, the more it opens up room in the world. Each day is a new struggle, but I continue to find the right people to become part of my tribe. I know I have to help myself each day before I can make this business what I envision it to be.
I also have a business mentor, joined a networking group with women, and hired an accountant.
ALL ABOUT YOU
Did you always dream of owning your own business or was it a surprise on your career path?
Owning my own business was a dream my girlfriends and I would talk about after a few glasses of wine. I hoped to one day own my own business but never thought I would or could actually achieve it.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I enjoy biking, walking, craft time, cooking, tinkering, sewing, sculpting.
Tell us about your family.
I have been married for 20 years. I have four children (16, 14, 10, and 7) and a rescue dog. I have always fostered and encouraged my children to find their gifts and explore their dreams. It took parenting them to realize that was an important message for me too.
Describe your career path to-date in one word?
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Age you’d like to retire at?
It’s hard to think of retirement when it feels like I’m just getting started. I see myself continuing to learn and do what I am doing until I’m not able to anymore.
Travel location on your bucket list?
Introvert or Extrovert?
Night owl or early bird?
My most productive times used to be between the hours of midnight and 3:00 AM until I had little ones. My best work is done at night when everyone is in bed. The question always becomes can I make it past 10 PM?
Favorite podcast, YouTube channel, or blog?
Podcasts: Vibrant Happy Women, Kristin Neff, and Tara Brach
Favorite business book?
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
Favorite business tool?
My #10 Bright Oil Paintbrush
Three female entrepreneurs you admire:
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