An Interview with Artist Agnes Barton-Sabo

I met Agnes when I was invited to join an Illuminati-level book club comprised of artists, chefs and ladies with rad opinions and even radder tattoos in a yet undiscovered part of Nashville, east of the Cumberland River. The year was 2007. I was intimidated and in over my head, and Agnes was welcoming and kind.

Agnes's art is a direct link to her ice cream, pizza loving soul. You don't need to know Agnes to know what her personality is like. Her art shows you how fun, colorful and gregarious she is. I love Agnes for making my favorite Christmas card, answering my emergency cake disaster texts and for never tiring of Andrew W.K. re-tweets. Meet today's bitch, Agnes Barton-Sabo!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I make art! You can find it on paintings, greeting cards, illustrated recipes, pillows, shirts, screenprinted posters, wedding invitations and pizzas that look like Hall & Oates! My art superhero name is Betty Turbo.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Art has been my main focus in life since forever.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I have always been drawn to creative work, which was fully supported and encouraged by both of my artist parents. The tools and content have evolved over the years, but I don't think I really considered any other path.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

I went to college for photography, which was my obsession at the time, and only applied to one school (RIT). I was already shifting my focus more towards illustration and design by my senior year, but my school experience was beneficial for strengthening discipline, time management, how prolific you have to be, how hard you have to work to do "art" and other such Big Picture skills.  

After graduating I was planning to move to NYC... but I asked the universe for an alternate suggestion and my friend Al popped up. After hitchhiking around the country, Al told me I oughta go to Nashville and work at this old timey print shop. So I did! And thus began three bodacious years at Hatch Show Print. While working there, I did freelance work and opened my Etsy shop, selling online for the first time. I briefly moved to Chicago, but it was horrible, so I moved back to Nashville and decorated cakes for three years, building momentum in my Etsy shop and participating in art shows and craft fairs.

In 2010, I moved to Oregon and looked for jobs... but none really appeared! I was putting all of my energy into art and that focus turned into Hey Here I Am, Making Art All The Time, Woohoo!

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I always hoped I could abandon "day jobs" and be a full-time independent artist. Sites like Etsy and other internet tools were helping artists thrive and it seemed like a realistic possibility. As for the actual timing of when that happened, well, I don't recommend moving across the country after divorcing a narcissistic sociopath as a business plan, but a big change of scenery and lots of personal growth were definitely part of the jumpstart needed for me to become a Real Life Businessbabe.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I like to think the best life advice is good business advice, and that's actually the essence of one of my favorite inspirational quotes from Andrew W.K.: "My place in this room is the same as my place in this universe". Since I design my own schedule and my own worklife, what I do on a small scale is amplified into being "my thing" out in the world. Remembering the parts that are important to me and what I want to contribute to the world helps me focus and be authentic as a businessbabe, and as a human. It also reminds me that whatever else I want to be doing, or be known for, is something I have to start now, myself, and put it out there! 

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

I struggled to find actual role models and mentors doing things in the fashion I wanted to, or even who could understand what I wanted to do. I tried attending some business seminars and small biz development workshops and was totally nauseated by the level of condescension and old-school mentality that ranged from irrelevant to downright rude. Sometimes "Artist" is a big ole scarlet letter that discourages people from taking someone seriously. I think the rules and possibilities are changing so quickly, there aren't road maps for a lot of it! Which is scary at times, but ultimately important to keep in mind - just because you can't read it in a textbook yet, or find a living example, doesn't mean it's impossible!

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

LEARN ABOUT COMMUNICATION. Holy smokes, how is this not something we work on more in school? Learning about different personality types, and how to effectively communicate with them and express yourself - this is huge, whatever your field. Learn about yourself as much as you can, figure out which parts you excel at and which need practice. It's not about micro-labeling everyone and making excuses, it's about recognizing that your perspective is not everyone's perspective, but maybe you can still get on the same page to see where they are coming from, get everyone's needs met, and get the job done. If you have coworkers, you can benefit from your interactions with them, but if you work alone, it's even more important to practice communicating with other creatures besides your dog.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

Welllll, along the way of developing new communication skills on the fly, I have cried, thrown a phone across the room and broken it (Guess which country music star inspired that tantrum!), vastly undercharged for custom work, and burnt some friendships as a result of professional difficulties. They were some low moments, but they have all helped things run more smoothly now as I have to insist on Always Putting Everything In Writing and taking time to clearly discuss process and expectations prior to agreeing on commissions.  

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Read for pleasure and be one of those broads who bakes all of my bread from scratch.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

Stability? LOL. I'm still making things up as I go along. I have chosen a path that is not overlapping with a path of consistency or predictability at the moment! I have forgone some traditional things people usually accomplish by their mid-30s in favor of focusing on blazing a trail of exploration and creative satisfaction. I definitely don't think art life and stability are *necessarily* exclusive, that's just how my scene feels at the moment. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

One of the coolest things about how my business works is that I end up with some outstanding, genuine friends, from people who started out as customers. When I get to collaborate with rad folks, even better! A fave project of recent years was working with Natalie Slater to illustrate her cookbook Bake and Destroy: Good Food For Bad Vegans. But generally every new project is my new Favorite Thing Ever and I love turning out new things and seeing where they go and how people react. What's next?? 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Ugh. Email and Facebook, I guess. I should choose a more inspirational way to start the day. Maybe just some dog videos over my morning coffee.

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

Gotta say, inspiration is not something I find in short supply! More like, where do I find enough hours to Make All The Things?! I find inspiration everywhere. When I need to chew on an idea for awhile, baking and running are ways I mentally get into a different space.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

The truth is... gosh I love TV right now. I spent several years being someone who "didn't watch TV" because it's all garbage and I was too cool, but I'm done being a brat about it. I love storytelling, I think people are doing amazing things with TV right now, and I find some of it downright delightful. At the end of the work day, when my eyes and wrists no longer have any drawing left in them, and I'm not currently sucked into a good book, you will find me curled on the couch dialin' up the Neflixes. Or Hulu. Or Amazon Prime. YouTube, if I'm desperate.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Combating people's deeply ingrained opinions and hangups about money, including my own.  I'm pretty appalled at how often people comment on the prices of artwork or creative services as if every full-time artist is at home sitting on their pile of gold. Yes, I feel very lucky that I get to make art all day! The things I produce have different value to different people. I don't think money has to be gross, ugly, taboo, or the opposite of art. It's a thing we deal with. It's necessary for Doing Stuff. It's not the end goal. I am still learning how it all works. I wish everyone would work harder to remember what you see on the internet is not someone's complete life, and that we're all real humans with unique circumstances of which you probably know very little. I strive to boost up other artists and businessbabes. I think there is room for us all to thrive.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

My favorite brand-new show that I just watched is Aziz Ansari's Master of None, but I think the funniest show ever invented is The Mighty Boosh. My snack of choice is probably something from Trader Joe's that tempted me while I was hangry, but I would prefer something home-baked like a lil' gingersnap or some cheese straws...

*Agnes has extended an offer of 15% off with the coupon code "MYBITCHES" valid on orders $10+ until 12/31. So head on over to Betty Turbo and start shopping!

All photos courtesy of Agnes-Barton Sabo

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Quilter, Katie Haas!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

Super Thrift!

Super Thrift!

Half Ironman 70.3 Series