December 19, 2017
20 Questions With: Riley Sheehey
Riley Sheehey is the 28 year old watercolor artist, illustrator and founder of Make Things Co. An alumnus of University of Maryland (B.A. Art Eduction and Studio Art), Riley started off her career in a whole different space: in education. She began her teaching career as a fifth grade homeroom and middle school history teacher, but quickly found herself thriving in the role of art teacher. While she truly loved teaching, she couldn’t forgo her passion for creating art. But her career trajectory changed in the summer of 2014 when a good friend asked if Riley would be interested in designing a custom watercolor invitation suite for her wedding. Needless to say, this singlehandedly reignited Riley’s creative passions and put the wheels in motion for a jump back to art. A few short years later and Riley had left her teaching days behind to pursue freelance art full time. And since then she’s worked with private clients and big name corporations (hello, Sorel!) to create everything from watercolor portraits and paintings to wedding stationery and fashion illustrations. And you’ve probably already caught a glimpse of her on Instagram through her illustrations of the day (which is exactly how Allyson happened upon her). It would be an understatement to say we are obsessed with Riley’s style (to us it’s classic with a touch of whimsy, a tad New England and a whole lot of fun), and totally appreciate her sincerity, dedication to her craft and creative spirit. From sharing the best piece of career advice she’s ever received to her spirit animal, we’ve tasked Riley with 20 of our favorite questions.
1. What was your first job out of college?
My first year out of college, I worked at an elementary school in Bethesda, Maryland as a fifth grade homeroom/middle school history teacher. I stayed at the same school the following year, but switched positions to become the art teacher, and I held that job until this past June, when I pursued freelance illustration full-time.
2. When you were in college, what did you think you’d be doing today?
I actually don’t know! That probably sounds terrible, but I think that in college (especially my freshman to junior years), I was so focused on the present, and on having the time of my life that I really wasn’t very career-minded. My senior year, I interned full-time as an art teacher to earn my teaching degree, and at that point, I think I thought I would be teaching for at least the next ten years.
3. What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
I have two so far, and they’re actually the opposites of one another, but I heard them at two very different points in my career. The first is to never say no to a job. This came when I’d just started my illustration business, in the Summer of 2014. I’d opened an Etsy shop in hopes of selling some hand painted mason jars (I never did sell any!), and a few of my friends saw a wedding sketch that I’d done just for fun and asked me if they could commission a few for wedding gifts. I had never been commissioned to make anything before and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to deliver. My now-fiance told me that if I wanted to build a business in the illustration/art world, I would be silly to say no to those opportunities.
The second came a few months ago from one of my friends, who is also an illustrator. I was feeling excited but also a little overwhelmed, and scared that my career was becoming a bit of a runaway train. She told me that I shouldn’t be afraid to say no to a job, and that sometimes it’s important to say no to certain opportunities to ensure that you’re allowing room for opportunities that are better suited for you.
4. Can you recall the moment you felt like you hit a groove in your career?
I would say that there are a ton of daily moments when I feel like I’ve hit a groove in my career. Like getting an email from an exciting potential client, working ahead of schedule, or hearing from a happy customer. But then the very next moment I will be humbled by something else, like an exciting project falling through, a missing package or spilling my coffee on a commission that was almost finished! It’s a lot of ups and downs!
5. What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office every morning?
I work from home, so the first thing I do is make coffee. And on good days, I change out of my pajamas.
6. What’s one thing you do daily to stay organized?
I try to run almost every work day. It’s a different kind of organization. The organization of my thoughts! I feel like I can be so scatterbrained throughout the day that it’s one of the most important things I do to clear my head.
7. How do you sign off emails?
8. What’s the one character trait that’s vital for success in what you do?
I don’t know if it’s a character trait, but I would say staying passionate about what you do. There are so, so many talented artists and illustrators out there, and it’s very easy to get caught up in their successes and beautiful artwork. I find myself comparing myself to them and then feeling discouraged, instead of feeling inspired by their work. The only reason I was able to pursue illustration full-time is because I love what I do. I love art so much, and I can’t help but to draw and paint every day, so I feel very lucky to have been able to turn it into a career!
9. Can you share a career goal for 2018?
To not sweat the small stuff. I throw myself into a panic about something at least a few times a week. In the end, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I originally planned, it always seems to work itself out. That, and to figure out a better way to achieve work/life balance. I’ve heard this is a universal struggle, but it’s easy to get carried away with work, leaving less time for everything else. I would like to be better about that.
10. What’s your favorite magazine?
11. Do you have a can’t-live-without beauty product?
12. What’s your go-to cocktail?
Beer. I wish this weren’t the case, as I feel like cocktails are so cute and fun, but I just can’t get into them!
13. Do you have a wardrobe staple?
In the fall/winter, I’m almost always in black leggings and a large sweater. And in the spring/summer, I prefer sundresses.
14. Do you have a spirit animal?
I love deer, and I always point them out and get excited when I see them. My mom once told me that my spirit animal would be a deer, so I’ll go with that!
15. Do you collect anything?
Dresses. I don’t really love to shop, but I really, really love dresses. I find them about a million times more comfortable than pants or jeans.
16. How do you stay healthy?
Running. I keep telling myself I’m going to start eating healthy, too, but so far, it’s just running.
17. What’s the best hashtag of all time?
My best friend created one for my wedding next year: #tilthekoughscomehome (my fiancé’s last name is pronounced “cow”).
18. What’s your decorating style?
That’s a great question! We’re moving into our first home at the end of the month, and it will be the first time we have a place that’s big enough to really decorate. I have been flipping through magazines and scrolling through the internet, and I am pretty lost, but I do love the blue and white color combination.
19. What do you eat for breakfast most days?
Coffee. I’m not a big breakfast person.
20. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing career-wise?
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