Makers & Shakers: Meet Maddy Smith
Makers and Shakers People | May 2nd, 2016
Running a small business can bleed into every area of your life. The line of distinction between ‘free’ time and work time gets blurred everyday. For tattoo artist and art-repeneur Madeline Smith, that line all but disappears when you’re the name and face behind your brand.
Nearly seven years ago, Madeline, Maddy to friends, made the life-altering decision to quit college and pursue a career in tattooing.
“I was going to school for music production and I enjoyed it, but I could just tell that people around me were way more passionate about it than I was. I had a really hard time focusing and caring.”
Around that time, Maddy had rediscovered her love of drawing and was devoting more and more time to her art.
“It’s something that I did when I was younger, but I was never very good… you’re never very good when you’re younger. You just have to keep doing it.”
That love for drawing led Maddy into one tattoo apprenticeship and then another, and after three years of hard work and ample practice, she began to make her living doing what she loved.
“It’s interesting, when you’re a tattoo artist, you’re also always growing as an artist and you go back and forth. Your skills in painting increase and then your skills in tattooing increase and it kind of ebbs and flows.”
With tattooing bringing in a steady income, Maddy had the freedom to begin expanding on her fine art and was invited to participate in her first gallery show. From there she entered another show where her piece won an award for its varied style. Coming from the highly competitive and oftentimes clique-ish world of tattooing, Maddy wasn’t intimidated by the fine art community.
“I think it’s much harder to get an apprenticeship than it is to get into a gallery show, depending on the gallery of course…people are very guarded of their [tattoo] shops so you have to prove to them you want to be around. Then they can start thinking about bringing you into their [shop] family.”
The back-to-back successes of her first two shows gave Maddy the motivation and confidence she needed to begin expanding her art into its own business.
“I realized not a lot of people are going to buy a $250 painting even if you did spend 15 hours on it because they don’t know you. I [recognized] that I probably have to make more collectible and cheaper things that people will want and that those will generate interest for the bigger stuff later on.”
In 2014 she opened an Etsy shop and began selling her original paintings and drawings alongside prints of her favorite pieces. She continued to expand the product line with handmade greeting cards and novelty items such as the ‘cat classics’ bookmarks and hand-embroidered patches. Offering a variety of products featuring her art allowed Maddy to attract customers outside of her tattoo clientele.
“It’s nice to have things people can get if they like my art but don’t necessarily want to get tattooed…It’s cool being able to branch out to more than just the one audience that would be interested in body modification.”
With interest in her art continuing to grow, Maddy decided to take another leap and launched Missplaced Clothing. Though her concept for the line was well planned, Maddy found herself fighting with wholesale vendors on the clothing’s quality and facing delays in shipping.
Rather than admit defeat, Maddy chose to drop the separate branding for her clothing line and reintegrate those items under the overall umbrella of her Miss Maddy brand. Now, instead of relying on random vendors for large orders, she is collaborating with her seamstress sister on smaller batches of unique pieces.
“I’ve had more success with doing cool, little one-off things or limited run things than trying to do a mass produced t-shirt…I like the idea of having it made from the ground up.”
She has already started selling cosmetic bags made from the feminine-themed fabric of her own design. Next up, Maddy says we can expect to see a line of intimates created from similarly designed textiles.
“I would love [my sister] to do some really nice bralettes…or some boy shorts…I think it would be cool to collaborate with her and get closer to the idea that I wanted with the clothing in the first place.”
With an ever-expanding product line, the Miss Maddy brand is constantly evolving. By following other artists and staying current with trending products on Etsy, Maddy’s goal is to continue piquing the interest of past customers while garnering the interest of new ones.
“I’m trying to find ways to make things that people will buy, but not have them all be the same thing, like a print.”
Though business oriented when approaching much of her art, Maddy never allows herself to create products simply for the sale. Even when inundated by art in her day job and side hustle, she still carves time out of her busy schedule to create solely for her own pleasure.
“I think part of growing as an artist means trying a lot of different things and learning as much as possible. It can be very personal when you make something that you don’t try to sell to people.”
It is important to Maddy to keep in touch with her clients and followers while growing her brand. With the majority of her tattoo clients coming from social media (Instagram specifically), she has begrudgingly accepted the need to stay in the social media spotlight and keep putting herself and her art out there.
“It’s like a science…In January I took inventory of how my social media is doing and I’ll reestablish pillars of what I want to post under…I’ve had to keep myself motivated to keep up on the social media stuff. Because if I don’t and I let it go for a couple days, people don’t follow and then I don’t pop up or they unfollow because they’re bored. And the more attention I pay to it, the more emails I get and the more I sell a thing here or there on Etsy.”
Currently, Maddy is preparing for her June art show at The Golden Bear in Sacramento, CA.
“I want to do something that is all pen and ink pieces, some big, some small, maybe some with embroidery. I’ve been doing ‘bummer art’ as I call it because I’ve been moody. I used to cartoon a lot and I’ve found that I really like being moody through cartooning. I think it will be fun.”
For those with their own hobby, passion, or side hustle, Maddy has some advice for taking it to the next level:
-Patience: A lot of people get discouraged because success can take a long time. If you can accept that you’re going to get frustrated from time to time and just keep working through the frustration, eventually you’ll make something out of it.
-Accept Constructive Criticism: As much as it stings, try to listen to any constructive criticism your mentor, customers or peers may have. They may be saying something that is true. And don’t be embarrassed; remember why you enjoy whatever it is you’re doing and learn from their critiques.
-Don’t Skip Steps: Particularly when tattooing, failure to follow necessary protocol can be downright dangerous. Do things the right way, whether that means getting a legitimate tattoo apprenticeship or approaching a gallery to show your work. When you’re starting out you don’t know everything and shouldn’t act like you do. Ask questions, do research and be constantly growing.
Miss Maddy is a tattoo and fine artist working in Sacramento, CA. Shop her goods on Etsy at MissMaddysShop and follow her endeavors in art on Instagram and Facebook. For tattoo inquiries, email her directly at MaddyG8tor@live.com.