Another month means another Hustle Profile! This month, I spoke to world traveler, pup owner, artist, and general amazing human being, Natalie Fortunato. Natalie picked up and moved her and her dog to Germany from Florida to be with her love and she now focuses on creating stunning watercolor pieces. She’s an artistic hustler who aims to grow her Etsy shop and increase her sales. Read on to find out more about Natalie!
Tell me about yourself.
Hiya! I’m Natalie, a 27 year old artist currently living in southern Germany. It feels a bit surreal to finally admit that I am an artist. When I was 5, I remember being asked the infamous question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always responded naively, “an artist.” As I grew older the dream faded and the realist stepped in. People stomp on the arts and I soon told myself “it will never happen” like they had told me repeatedly before. I still carried my creative energy and channeled it through anything I could get my hands on, but I adopted it as a hobby and accepted that a career was impossible. From that point on I never pursued it, and one day it literally bloomed overnight from the seed that had been planted all those years ago.
How did you get started with your business?
I hadn’t touched my paints in a decade and after a drought of inspiration and a severe quarter life crisis living abroad, I decided to pick them up and see if they sparked something. I ended up making every single decoration for my wedding and I remember my good friend commenting saying “Nat… you should be selling this stuff.” From that moment on I decided to own up to my talent and give it a shot. I started practicing non-stop and tirelessly worked to develop in my craft. I’d come home everyday after my 9-5 and sit for hours at my desk studying, learning, progressing. Less than 6 months later, I started an Etsy specializing in custom made watercolor paintings. Here I am 6 months after that averaging at least 5 custom orders a month and now working on wedding decorations, personalized wooden ornaments, and bullet journal inspiration. Sometimes all it takes is that nudge of encouragement from a friend to realize your full potential and abilities.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur, an artist, or both? Why?
I’ve always hesitated to call myself an artist because it feels a bit pretentious, but the more I progress and truly take a step back and look at my work I realize that I need to take pride in it and own up to the title I deserve. It’s important for me to stay humble, but it is of utmost importance for me to stay honest- so in short, yes, I am an artist.
When would you or when did you say ok, I can call myself a business owner/artist now? What happened or would need to happen for you to give yourself that recognition?
I think I always sell myself a little short as a defense mechanism. The last thing I want to be viewed as is prideful or egocentric. I’m one of those people who truly feels uncomfortable when complimented. I cling to humility fiercely, but I’ve recently learned that being humble and taking ownership are not mutually exclusive. I can call myself an artist because I’ve worked really f*cking hard to get to where I am. I sat with my mom for hours at the dining room table painting my entire childhood. I used to lock myself in my room when I was 10 and use oil pastels until I got blisters. As a child, I asked for art sets from Santa instead of toys. I spent hours erasing and starting over and tearing final pieces apart. I’ve been told my whole life how talented and creative and unique I am, but it took me 27 years to push aside my issues with pride and look myself in the mirror and say “yeah, I am.”
How do you balance growing your business with other parts of your life?
I’m a planner. I plan out my week every Sunday and my focus changes weekly. I try to balance my business with my other priorities so if I see I’m falling behind somewhere, I’m capable of putting my business on the back burner for a week to recenter myself. I honestly think this is something that young business owners forget to do which is why they frequently burnout so quickly. It’s of utmost importance to nurture your business, but I’m a believer in personal growth, self-care and maintaining meaningful relationships. You reap what you sow and if you only invest in your business and nothing else, that’s all you’ll be left with in the end.
What specifically do you find most difficult about balancing your business and everything else?
Balance is the most challenging aspect of running my business. I’m notorious for dreaming big and biting off more than I can chew. I work full time, I’m learning a new language, I like to work out regularly, I have a dog that requires a lot of exercise and attention, and I have a business that requires a significant amount of my time. Trying to maintain a social life, a fruitful marriage and keep in touch with my family and friends in the states on top of all these things sometimes feels virtually impossible, but I’m still learning and I’m getting better at it each day.
How can you tell when you’re stretching yourself too thin and you need to pull back to take a break? What do you do when you’re feeling that way?
This is honestly my biggest weakness. I never know that I’m stretching myself too thin until its too late. Luckily my other half knows me better than I know myself and he always knows when to tell me to rest. In addition, we make the best team- his ability to share my weight of responsibilities is the reason I’m able to pursue this dream. I’ve always persisted through sickness and stress and never knew when to stop, but having a realist like him tell me when to pump the brakes is the best thing to happen to me.
How or where do you find inspiration for your work?
Initially, I drew all of my inspiration from Instagram artists. I replicated and practiced their techniques for months. I’ve always been better at copying instead of creating original content. Recently, though, I am inspired by the smallest thing that grows into an original idea. I’ve been obsessing over galaxies and moons the last few weeks because I’ve been exploring my personal beliefs of religion, creation and zodiac. Somehow those things feel very connected to me at the moment and my intuition has the biggest effect on what I feel compelled to create. My surroundings and personal tastes have a strong influence on my aesthetic and inspiration as well. Our house is minimalistic, neutral, with whites, woods and full of plants. These things have slowly worked their way into creating my signature style.
How do you interact with other entrepreneurs/artists and support each other?
It is entirely based on an unshakeable foundation of encouragement. I think the phrase “community over competition” has really resonated with who I am and how I want my business to be perceived. At the end of the day, I want everyone to do what makes them the happiest and if that means exploring their talents with art, I say dive on in. I don’t perceive it as a threat. I live to see people grow in their talents. Luckily, this community is filled with an amazing group of women who are focused on empowering each other and pushing one another to challenge their boundaries and I am so proud to be a part of it.
How many hours do you typically spend on your business in any given week?
Since it is freelance, my hours vary greatly. In November I worked around the clock to pump out almost 60 wooden ornaments in time for Christmas. In December, I only had 6 orders. I would say I work at least 10 hours a week during slow seasons and up to 45 hours a week during the heavier seasons. Social media requires a good chunk of time between taking aesthetically pleasing photos, posting on the platforms and interacting with followers. Conversations for commissions can last for weeks to establish details before I even start a custom piece. Commissions from start to finish can be extremely time consuming depending on the size, requests and modifications. Everything is calculated, measured out, sketched-erased-re-sketched again-repeated. The painting itself is the easy part. Lastly comes packaging, posting and follow ups. It requires a significant amount of time and effort and more often than not, I undercharge for the amount of labor I truly put in but at this point I’m happy to be receiving any compensation for doing something that I truly enjoy and am more concerned with perfecting my craft and growing a following than profiting.
What’s next (a year from now, 5 years from now, etc)?
Honestly, I have no idea. This has been an absolute whirlwind and I hope I can continue to build this business steadily. I have been moving in a direction focusing around weddings and events and I feel that this is a niche I feel most comfortable in and from a business standpoint, has the most room for growth. I’m truly excited to see where it leads me and grateful for all the opportunity this business has already provided.
Is there any advice you would give someone who is looking to start their own business?
The first piece of advice is that if you’re only starting a business for money- it won’t work. My first few months I worked tirelessly on custom pieces and ended up spending more money than I made. The only thing that kept me going was my love and curiosity for my craft. I think you truly have to be passionate about what you’re doing to make it work. In addition, balance is key. It’s an endless power struggle, but if you can find a way to balance a business without neglecting any other areas of your life, that’s when you and your business will thrive.
What do you wish you had known before you started?
I wish I had known how much positive feedback I would receive. I would have started much, much sooner. Sometimes we are the biggest barrier standing between ourselves and our dreams.
Where can people reach you if they have questions or would like to buy your product?