We had the good fortune of connecting with Tracy Campbell-Himes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tracy, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
I think that one of the most important decisions that any creative (or person in general) can make is to just keep going. Keep going. When success doesn’t happen overnight and you have to work multiple jobs to pay your bills, keep going. When you haven’t sold even one of the prints that you created over a month ago and you feel like a failure, keep going. When friends or family don’t take your business endeavor seriously and refer to it as your ‘hobby,’ keep going. Ignore the little voice in your head that asks if you’re doing the right thing, the one that convinces you that you’re wasting time that you could be using working a ‘real job,’ the one that reminds you there are hundreds of other people doing the same thing you’re doing but better, and just. Keep. Going. Keep making progress, keep honing in on your craft and your skills, and keep striving towards your goals.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve been working as a professional artist for over a decade now in a slew of different mediums, but most notably as a tattoo artist and as the owner of a small, online retail business. I think that one of the things that sets me apart is that I make 100% of my income as a self-employed artist, and I have ever since I completed my tattoo apprenticeship in 2010. My business is also completely self-funded; I’ve never taken out a loan to create the products that I have, they’re all either funded out of my own pocket or crowd-sourced through Kickstarter. I create 100% of my own graphics, designs, and illustrations, and I’ve built and maintain my own website, social media accounts, and scheduling. I wear way too many hats, but I also wouldn’t have it any other way! When I’m not doing ALL OF THOSE things, I also do occasional commissions for paintings, digital art, and graphic design projects. I’m not exactly famous or rich or anything like that, but I’m still really proud of the fact that I’m self-made and that I can actually survive financially as an artist. I’m also incredibly grateful. It isn’t an easy thing to work for oneself and be completely responsible for your own success, because sometimes you don’t always feel motivated to be successful, but you have to find a way anyway. It’s also a slow-going process. Both in my tattoo career and as the owner of my own business, it took years of dedication before either one could be considered gainful employment; even now, Atomik Cupcake Designs still only brings in a couple hundred dollars a month of profit, which at this point just goes back into the business. It can be difficult to not want to give up, especially as you look at your peers in the same industry and see how easy they make it look. But, it’s important to realize that success doesn’t happen overnight, and to be successful in a creative field, you must have a lot of drive to continue and a desire to constantly be improving. There’s also a lot of trial and error involved, and I think you have to have an open mind to learn from the many errors you’re bound to make along the way. You can’t get stuck on your ego, and you can’t take your setbacks personally, or it’ll make it difficult for you to move forward. Most importantly, you’ll have to learn how to market yourself and your work too, which I think is the biggest challenge that I see among creatives and was a huge challenge for myself when I first began. Most creators want to MAKE things–they don’t want to learn about marketing, about how to use social media, about networking, about creating a brand for themselves. But unless you plan to hire someone else for this, it’s crucial that you learn how to be a businessman (or woman!), or it won’t matter how talented you are because no one will see it or know about it. It can be the most discouraging thing to even think about how much work is involved in such a thing, but if there’s one takeaway here, it’s that it absolutely CAN be done. There’s so much involved in being a self-made artist or creative, but if it’s your passion and something that you want to make a living doing, it is absolutely an attainable goal, and I really want any creatives reading this to understand that.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ah yes, for this question I need to try to remember what people used to do in the before times, before COVID-19 happened and we could all go do stuff. =D One of my personal favorite things is going into the mountains. I grew up there, and nothing that I’ve seen yet beats the views, the smells, and just the beauty of it. Some of my favorite places to go are Bailey (where I grew up), Estes Park, Boulder, and Roxborough Park, but really anywhere will do. So, let’s start out that trip with a beautiful hike in the Rocky Mountains or the foothills! Let’s say we come back down the mountain and end up in Morrison, where there are tons of little restaurants and gift shops just at the foot of Red Rocks (if there were a concert happening during this hypothetical trip, I would HIGHLY recommend a stop here…it’s hands down my favorite concert venue in the Denver area, and its reputation is well-earned). Willy’s Wings is one of few places that serves rocky mountain oysters–if you don’t know what those are, order them first because they’re delicious and THEN look them up to see what they are. =) Then, walk over to Ozzi’s next door and get some tasty ice cream! If you’re more into the vibrancy of downtown, I’d recommend some of the shenanigans at 16th Street Mall. Sometimes, there are street performers outside, and in the summer, the pedestrian mall has pianos set up that anyone can come play. One of my favorite arcades, 1Up, is located in Capitol Hill not too far away–1Up is a 21+ arcade that serves alcohol while you pay only a quarter to play a SLEW of games, including dozens of pinball machines. We went here for my bachelorette party and had a ton of fun! And speaking of bachelorette parties, I took my best friend to Voicebox Karaoke for hers, and we had a blast! I love it because you rent your own room with your friends, and you can sing as much as you want while they bring food and drinks to the room! I love to sing, but I hate to wait and I don’t like singing in front of strangers, so it was perfect. Also nearby is a neighborhood called Governor’s Park, which has–well, a park, as well as the Governor’s Mansion and quite a few other huge, beautiful mansions! One of them, the Grant Humphrey’s Mansion, is where we had our wedding. It’s also said to be haunted–we were able to go up to the 3rd floor for our venue tour, and someone even had a Ouija board up there! On our way back home from the venue tour, we stopped to get lunch and found what would end up being the BEST fried chicken place I had ever been to–the Post Brewing Co. in Rosedale. Seriously, they are incredible, and they brew their own beers as the name might imply. My husband and I try to stop here any time we’re in the area! While you’re in town, maybe you’d want to pop over to Parlour Tricks Tattoo in Golden and get a tattoo from one of six very talented artists? Am I shamelessly plugging my own shop? It’s just an idea!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There have been so many people that have been an incredible inspiration to me and who keep me motivated to do what I love most. To my mentors in my tattoo apprenticeship (there are many), thank you for showing a sheltered mountain teenager some tough love and how to stand on her own two feet in a highly competitive industry. Thank you to Erik, the owner of Parlour Tricks Tattoo, for giving me a tattoo family and a place to call my tattoo home, a place where I’ve been able to grow and thrive as an artist for the past 5 1/2 years. And, thank you to many communities on Facebook, including Artist Alley Network International and the Flourish group for entrepreneurs, for giving me the tools and encouragement to propel my business, Atomik Cupcake Designs, to the most successful that it has been since I began selling online over five years ago! And of course, I HAVE to give a little credit to my incredible husband Justin, who has relentlessly encouraged me and supported all of my creative endeavors. Even in times when I don’t believe in myself, he’s right there spurring me on. He’s an awesome sounding board for all of my ideas and helps me decide what direction I want to take on a frequent basis, and he celebrates with me even my smallest milestone accomplishments! I’d also like to thank my parents for giving me that entrepreneurial spirit–my dad was self-employed for most of my childhood, and he even patented an invention and advertised it at trade shows! They showed me that you don’t need a 9 to 5 job to make money and be successful, and that it’s okay to want to do something a little different.
RAW Artist Denver (for main photo)