Ruth Allen, of Blue Eggs and Tea is a true creative spirit; an illustrator, an artist, a jewellery designer, a poet, a mountaineer. Oh, and all on top of a full time job.
We were lucky enough to squeeze a few questions into her hectic schedule.
How do you find time around your day job for your many creative pursuits (poetry, illustrations, jewellery making to name but a few!)?
I suppose the main thing is that I am very passionate and committed. Once I have set my mind on something I lock on like a bird of prey! This makes the job of finding the time to balance it all a lot easier. If I didn’t desperately want to succeed then I wouldn’t do it. You should see how little cleaning gets done in my house.
The peril for me is that I love and enjoy a lot of things that I have started over the years – I am a serial hobbyist – but some I don’t want to let go of, so I just have to make the time. I did a writing MA whilst I was working full time a few years ago, and now that’s with me to stay, it has to get factored into the hours for work and play.
Also there are sacrifices, and no one likes to talk about those do they? I make so much work for myself that I am chronically sleep deprived. Also, we don’t get out much in the week. I don’t currently have children. We don’t have a TV. But actually, it’s just as I want it for now. There’s so much I want to do that I just feel compelled to use every scrap of time.
I guess ultimately it comes down to how much do you want something? You can make excuses forever, but it’s you. Your time. Your dedication – that’s how you make the magic happen.
How did you start selling your creations, and what have you learnt in your first year (and a half)?
Oh goodness. I’ve learnt so much from starting with nothing. I just woke up one day and decided to open a shop. By the end of the week I had done it. I only started drawing about 3 months before that. Someone on Instagram said ‘you should sell cards’, so I did.
I went to Hobbycraft and bought some card blanks. Then ordered sleeves and paper etc. I don’t even sell cards much now. The worst that could happen was that it didn’t work? Loss of face? A little bit of cash, say £30. I don’t care much about losing face, because I respect those who give it a go. I got started before I could change my mind, and opening an Etsy shop only takes 10 minutes. It’s very low risk, so why not? And it was one of the best decisions of my life.
I have no artistic training. No business training. No links, connections or experience. But I have so much heart and love for it. I quickly learnt how to harness that and make it part of my ‘brand’.
I’ve been going for 18 months now and it’s been a huge learning curve: the people you meet, the customers you deal with, setting prices, creating new products regularly, photography, letting some things go, finances….it’s been the most fascinating and empowering journey. I never thought I’d sell one piece of my art work, and yet I have sold thousands now.
I have also learnt that you open a door to a whole new community… I have made genuine friends with people I’ve met through social media and that has been the biggest unexpected blessing. Countless other people are absolutely vital at providing support – that helps you through the self-doubt which comes thick and fast every day.
Now I’m at the stage where I want to grow and expand, and I am learning the hard way that more has to give. I have to create even more time out of nothing. The pressure to balance Blue Eggs and Tea with work grows stronger by the day. So my latest challenge is what do I do now? My day job is more than just a time filler – it’s my ‘career’ – and I have some tough choices ahead of me if I don’t want to burn out…
As well as your career and running Blue Eggs and Tea, you’re also working towards your Mountain Leader qualification. Why is that important to you?
Mountains are the home of my heart. I trained as a geologist. I’m an outdoors person. They are always with me. But I want to take that further and help other women find a home in the outdoors. This is a big dream of mine. So I want to consolidate my skills into a qualification that will make it possible. That’s another blog post right there.
I’m such a fan of lifelong learning, as you would expect with a career in higher education. Education is transformative and for all stages of life… having an enquiring mind is just what you need to build your own business from scratch.
It’s through learning that we continue to grow and so my ML will be good for my Dream, but in it’s own right it’s revealing things about my character that I need to see…my strengths and weaknesses. It challenges me and I use that energy to keep developing myself, the dream, and Blue Eggs and Tea.
The mountains and surrounding wildlife are a clear inspiration in your art, what or who else inspires you?
Good people inspire me. I love listening to people. I watch the world around me; listen to the news too much… I see all that suffering and I tend to take it on very deeply. I feel such sadness a lot of the time. I‘ve had my battles with depression and loneliness. Creating art with a powerful message is just my small way of saying ‘we can do better for each other’.
I pride myself in affordable art. I put in way more effort than the money I get out, but I do it because it feels right. So following my moral compass inspires me. Other than that, and mountains and wildlife, I’d say my odd imagination, Quentin Blake and Dr Suess.
What advice would you give someone thinking of changing careers to do something completely different?
Firstly, I would say go for it. You only have one go at your life. Don’t waste it living with an itch you’d love to scratch but daren’t.
Secondly, I would say don’t be afraid to take it in steps. You will see those around you who appear to be living the dream with a creative job. They post wonderful photos of their studios and all the glamorous things they are doing. Good for them. But you don’t see the un-curated picture. You don’t know whether they have a partner to rely on, family money; you don’t know if it’s as good as it looks (hopefully it is!). So take your time and do what you have to do.
I’ve been doing Blue Eggs for 18 months but I still work full time. I’m cool with that because I’ve worked since I was 11 – it’s what I do. I’m from a family of nurses so everything I’ve done I’ve done for myself. I’m not giving up my job right now. I’ll change when I know it’s right. You have to beat your own path. You have to take risks, but make them calculated.
There is nothing like a lack of financial freedom to stifle your creativity. I have less time than some, but I have a bit more cash to invest in myself and my product development. I take risks, and I take them quickly, but I don’t do anything rash.
Am I tired? Yes. Have I made compromises? Yes. Has it been easy? No. I have many fitful nights in bed worrying. Every day I think today might be the day I burn out. But is it worth it?
Yes! Emphatically, yes.
It’s the best buzz in the world to sell something I’ve created. To know my work is sitting in Australia, Turkey, all over Canada, Hong Kong… everywhere. If burn out comes I will deal with that, I won’t fear it.
You can buy her beautiful art and jewellery here.
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