In this series on The Southern C, meet some great Southern creative minds – the artists, designers, makers and doers – that are shaping our landscape with their vision and ingenuity. Go behind the scenes to see where they work, what they are working on, the path that led them to this moment and just what made them “take the leap” from idea to doing.
The subjects and their niche may vary but many share the paradoxical traits of creative individuals – they daydream, observe, ask big questions, people watch, seek new experiences, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, take risks and bounce back all while following their true passions. We hope you will be inspired as we spotlight the creativity that abounds in our region. According to Einstein, “Creativity is contagious” and this is one thing we are happy to spread!
This week we meet Whitney Herndon, who works her magic with sander in one hand and paint brush in the other. This artist and designer is based in Brunswick, GA, and thoughtfully creates unique pieces for your home, office and special occasions or events and all other needs in between. Shunning cheaper material and digitized machines, each piece is hand-crafted, not merely a cookie cutter reproduction. Sounds like a Southern creative to me!
Describe your brand and how you got started:
I’ve always believed that the small things make all the difference. It’s what people remember most after the reception, the party, or the dinner. The colors, the textures, and the attitude tell a story… they tell your story. Whether you are planning another big life event or just looking to update your your home or office, Grace Graffiti helps to make sure you don’t miss the small details and you have that one thing that catches everyone’s attention.
Our goal is to help your life and events become a little brighter, a little sweeter, and a little more memorable. We are creating the small details of life’s big events.
Grace Graffiti is committed to making quality wooden products from scratch. From the first sketch of pencil lead to the last piece of tape on the box, EVERYTHING is done by hand to ensure you have a piece of art that is unlike anything else. We recognize each client and their life is unique, and our work uniquely celebrates your story.
We got our start in our kitchen, selling custom orders to individual customers on Etsy. Five years later we now operate out of a studio and ship worldwide through our Etsy shop. We also recently began working in wholesale and our products are now available in shops and boutiques all along the East coast.
Describe a typical day in your work space:
I am very fortunate to have a studio in historic downtown Brunswick, GA. I also live in the downtown area and often run or bike to work. The community of downtown merchants is very supportive and I love being a part of the unified effort of revitalizing our beautiful city.
My uniform of choice is my men’s Hanes white v-neck tees and denim overalls with my Chuck Taylor’s. Safety goggles are also a must in my line of work, but it doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice style. I order clear frames from Bleudame.com.
A typical day at work can involve anything from emails to sawdust to having spontaneous dance parties with my three children. We have a weekly production schedule that we stick to pretty religiously. If we didn’t, we would be lost. Most of our Etsy orders are custom so it is very important that we have multiple check and balances in place to ensure all the small details are correct. Our process starts with pencil and paper sketches, moves to carpentry, then to paint, our distressing process, and any customizations. We finalize each piece with a triple check on the details, then pack it up and ship.
I listen to music all day everyday while working. My stations vary depending on what particular task I am carrying out. When I am running my tools it is Imagine Dragons. For painting it’s The Lumineers. And when I need a little pep in my step it is straight Pop Music.
Our shop runs 5-6 days a week, but we maintain a flexible schedule so that I can keep family a priority in my life. My children are as much a part of Grace Graffiti as anyone else, providing immense joy, fun, and inspiration.
What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
Growing up I recall changing up what I wanted to be on a weekly basis. Ballerina-doctor- military. Once I was in college I had a strong desire for business and was pretty set on working in marketing. All through high school, college, and my young adult years I dabbled in art – painting and sketching. I just never dreamed I could make a living at it. After so many birthdays you realize career is much more about doing what you love rather than “climbing the ladder.
How has your background influenced your work?
My mother definitely instilled in me the desire to pay attention to the small details. In home design, parties and holiday celebrations she always had every last detail planned out or embellished. I think what was more inspiring than the beautiful outcome of her design was the heart behind why she did it. My mother was never trying to impress the guests, her sole goal was to make people feel special. To her, southern hospitality and etiquette isn’t about a list of dos & don’ts, but about making people feel comfortable and loved. I try to make this attitude a part of my business on a daily basis. Thanks Mom!
Favorite biz tool, app or resource?
PicStitch, Stripe (perfect for AmericasMart wholesale transactions), Etsy (amazing resource for business questions), Pandora and Repost.
Where do you find inspiration? What motivates you?
One of the most motivational things anyone has ever said came from an 75 year old man named local gentleman named Albert Shelander. He said to me “you make good things happen.” That, plus the support of my closest friends and family is the best motivation possible… especially on the hard days when I doubt myself.
For inspiration, I love Instagram and am always inspired when I look at my feed. Love @stilettoandsand @bowmanandclark @sonalstyle. I am also continually inspired by surroundings – nature and often in my own home. Many of our products come from personal events and decorating that I need certain pieces for.
Also, one of my biggest sources of inspiration are my customers! They come to me with an idea or a need and let me dream on it. That may be one of my favorite parts of what I do. I love helping someone’s vision turn into a reality.
The rare (elusive) day off – what do you do to unwind and leave it all behind?
If it’s warm, 100% the beach. We are so lucky to live on the coast and our family can beach bum with the best of them. I think the beach may be the only place I can fully relax and be still. We are a pretty active family too so running or paddling are other ways we unplug and focus on each other.
Best business advice you ever received:
There are several things that come to mind. Love this quote from Abby Larson, Creator of Style Me Pretty: “Do what you love. And kick ass doing it.”
I also know to outsource what you are not good at. Accounting is not my strong suit. I hired great accountants that handle taxes, etc. I continue to handle daily transactions, bills; etc. and definitely still have an eye on all of it, but it gives me so much peace to know that everything is being handled as it should.
When you are just starting out I think it is crucial set up ALL social media, domains, emails first and foremost. This will help you be consistent with your branding and name.
Finally, any business requires risk. But there are ways to risk safely. If you have a dream, start pursuing it immediately. So many ideas never develop because we are waiting for the perfect moment and set of circumstances to start. There is no such thing. You just have to start doing it, work hard at it, watch it grow and enjoy it.
For more of Whitney’s Southern Creatives Q&A’s click the names below:
Whitney Wise Long, co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit, loves to connect with Southern entrepreneurs and learn more about their creative endeavors. This series – “In the Studio With” – offers her the perfect opportunity to do so!