Jules Birkby – Now Then, Sunshine!
By Kate Marsden
I’m excited to be brining you the gorgeous work of yet another active Just A Card supporter today – the lovely Jules of Now Then, Sunshine! Our social media followers will no doubt be familiar with Jules’ hand lettering which was popping up all over our feeds last summer. Read on to find out all about Jules’ work and how she became such a dab hand with a brush pen!
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m Jules, a hand-lettering artist, designer and occasional copywriter. I make cards and wall art and sell them as Now Then, Sunshine! from sometimes-sunny Yorkshire.
I started hand-lettering during my second maternity leave when my friend bought me some calligraphy pens. I’d worked in the advertising industry as a copywriter for ten years and I love playing with words to make them sound interesting and engaging… but here was a way to make them LOOK beautiful too. I was hooked straight away and found myself doodling every evening when the kids were in bed. I began experimenting with brush pens, watercolours and calligraphy pens, then I started taking on commissions, as well as making cards and wall art. I set up Now Then, Sunshine! after a few months and I now sell my work commercially through Etsy.
What does a typical day involve?
My day usually begins with a small child jumping on my head at the crack of dawn. I have two children, so the first focus of the day is getting everyone up, out of the house and where they need to be by 9am. Tea plays a large part in my ability to function through these first two hours – I don’t know where I’d be without it. God bless Yorkshire Tea!
I don’t really have a set itinerary because it completely depends on what I’ve got on – it can be anything from painting commissions, making cards, packing up orders, writing blog posts, reading about marketing, doing product photography, hawking my wares on social media, creating a commercial portfolio… There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, especially when I only work three days a week and have to stop at 3pm to do the school run, so I usually work most evenings too. I don’t get half as much sleep as I should, but I think that’s just life with small humans when you’re trying to run your own business.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
My husband (a web developer) and I both work out of our studio at home, which often raises eyebrows, but it works well for us – apart from his apparent inability to make a cup of tea! He’s great for bouncing ideas (and screwed-up balls of paper) off though and we listen to a lot of music throughout the day.
My desk is big but usually chock-full of sketches, paintings, lists, rubbings-out, paint, brushes and general detritus. I’m very much of the opinion that a tidy desk makes for a tidy mind and I have a big tidy-up at the start of each week, but it never seems to stay clear for long. I’m pretty certain that a mischievous elf comes and ransacks my desk every night – I can’t be this untidy!
When I’m not working, I’m usually running around after small children or occasionally watching telly. I swim and do yoga and we go exploring in the woods a lot. The kids are really into crafting, painting, drawing and generally being creative, so we do a lot of that and it’s amazing watching their little imaginations develop.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer / makers at the moment?
I’ve only been doing this two years, but it seems like a tough old world out there at the moment. People like the idea of shopping small and independent, but wallets are being squeezed, so often it’s just not a viable option. Plus, supermarkets charge pennies for cards – and I just can’t compete with that. That’s why the Just A Card campaign is so important – independent businesses are super-cool and everyone needs to know it!
Then there’s the internet. Social media must have felt like a gift to small businesses who were trying to get noticed before the digital age – how on earth anyone managed to get the word out about their business before then is beyond me. But it’s also a bit of a curse: there’s such a saturated market that if you don’t keep on top of things in terms of marketing, it can feel like you’re just falling by the wayside.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
That’s a tricky one because I feel so brain-dead and sleep-deprived half the time that I can barely tell you what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone in a few years! I’m in the process of launching a wedding calligraphy service and I’m working on a commercial portfolio too. I’m also determined to find more ways to lighten my environmental footprint. I’m a big believer of looking after this beautiful world we live in – we recently gave up plastic for six weeks over Lent, which was darn hard and it made me realise just how much single-use plastic we get through. I use biodegradable card bags and print my cards on 100% recycled card with eco-friendly toners, but I know there’s much more to be done.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/ small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Be a sponge – learn everything you can about your trade, work hard, play hard and don’t give up. Seek inspiration from everywhere: galleries, the countryside, or even just sitting in a café and watching the world go by. Take long walks outside. Keep things in perspective. And surround yourself with ace people who do similar things and can give you advice. I’ve made some wonderful friends through Twitter and the Just A Card campaign: Tash (Hatchling Makes), Laura (The Treasured) and Jess (Load of Old Bobbins) are my go-to ladies for ideas, inspiration, laughs and daft GIFs.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
There’s a fantastic little shop near where I live in Leeds called Chirpy, which sells cards, art and gorgeous jewellery and gifts – the kind of place you could spend a fortune in. It’s basically exactly what I’d sell if I had the time or energy (or money!) to start a shop and I love going there. The Bowery, just down the road from me, is a great coffee shop and gallery; Colours May Vary in Leeds City Centre also sells beautiful art.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
I had! I sell cards, but I also sell wall art, notebooks and postcards too – and a purchase of any of them makes such a difference. *cough* Check out my Etsy shop! *cough*
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
Hugely important. It’s a bloomin’ brilliant campaign that highlights the importance of supporting and buying from independent businesses – and one which needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Honestly, every sale makes a difference. ‘The Happy Dance’ has been talked a lot about on this blog, but it’s an actual real thing and definitely happens here for every sale I get.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I heard about the Just A Card campaign on Twitter and have since had many a larf with fellow artists and makers during the #justacard hour. I’ve also made lots of purchases from makers I’ve found during the hour, which I love!
I’m pretty active on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I love Twitter for the chats, the sharing ability and general newsyness. I use Instagram as more of a way to showcase my work (I’m trying to make it more salesy, but it’s hard!) and Facebook for kind of a mix between the two.
I’ll continue to spread the Just A Card campaign message to other small businesses and to people who aren’t in the industry. And I’ll keep buying from independent businesses as much as I can, mainly because the products are awesome, but also because I like to imagine someone, somewhere is doing that happy dance too.