Courtney Jentzen of Swiss Cottage Designs
Between my other business A Wool Story and Rosemarine Textiles, I have been a creative small business owner on a consistent basis for the last four years. It's definitely been a journey and a learning process! One of the most inspiring parts of running your own creative business is connecting with other people who are working towards the similar goals of expressing themselves creatively through their work and making a living.
I'm excited to continue to share the work of some of my friends and favorite local business owners - what their creative process is like, the day-to-day of running their businesses, and what they're working towards. This week I'm chatting with Courtney Jentzen, a Detroit based artist and illustrator behind Swiss Cottage Designs.
What does your business do?
I am an illustrator and designer. I mainly work with publications, personal commissions, and some wedding stuff - mainly invitation design. I work primarily with watercolor, pen + ink, and digital illustration.
Do you have a business partner or employees?
Right now I work solo, but back when I lived in New York I had three employees helping me. They definitely taught me a lot and helped me figure out better and more efficient ways to doing things.
How long have you been in business?
I started my business in 2009. The name Swiss Cottage Designs came from a neighborhood called Swiss Cottage in London where I lived.
Do you do your business full time?
Yes. I work on Swiss Cottage full time and I also teach Digital Illustration at Oakland University.
Where is your business located in Detroit?
My husband and I bought a house in Corktown that we renovated, which is where I was working until recently when we bought and renovated the house next door! My office is in the new house, which is great for me because I do better with the home/work separation (even if it’s just one house over).
How long have you lived in Detroit?
My husband’s job relocated us to Detroit when I was pregnant with our first child. It was a lot of change at once! We bought the house in 2015 and moved to Detroit in 2016. Before that, we lived in Brooklyn for x years. I loved living in New York, but everything was so crowded. i love that in Detroit, there is always something fun going on and it's easy to enjoy. You have space to breathe here!
What does a normal day look like for you??
I typically work three days a week, Monday - Wednesday. Sometimes I work a few hours on Thursdays and on the weekends too. I start my day around 9/9:30 and I don’t really have a set routine. I prefer a more leisurely schedule. I usually plan out the evening before what I want to work on the next day so I can just wake up and get going on my work.
What's your favorite part about your process?
I just love illustration. It’s such a joy to be able to do what I love. It feels so good when I can get into the zone in a project, especially the part where I’m just starting something new and getting excited about it.
What's your least favorite part about the process?
I’m sure this is typical with other creatives but I don’t love billing. Collecting money, figuring out taxes, not my cup of tea!!
What's the biggest lesson you've learned about running your own business?
Definitely learning how and when to say ‘no’ to people. It took me saying yes to everythign to the point of burning myself out and seriously overworking to learn this lesson. Whenever people ask me for a super rushed job, free work opportunities for celebrities or publications that offer ‘exposure’ as payment, people asking for free work for instagram posts - no thanks. I have been in business long enough now to know how to value my time more and what makes sense for me.
Another big lesson is just figuring out what my vision of what I want my illustration business to look like is. It’s so important to have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you want your business to be, because everyone wants to tell you what they think you should do. But at the end of the day it’s YOUR business and you know what’s best! Do what feels right for you, not what people say you should.
What are your goals for your business?
Right now I’m working on just continuing to sustain and grow my business to be able to continue working for myself and find happiness in what I’m doing. I’m also pursuing more teaching opportunities which is a fun new component to my business.
Where are your favorite places to go in Detroit?
I love Detroit Institute of Bagels - my go to is the everything bagel with egg, cheese, and avocado.
I also love going to Avalon Bakery. My daughter and I go there after she gets out of school for a little treat.
What's next for you and your business?
I just started teaching at Oakland University! I will be a professor of Digital Illustration there which I am excited about. I’m also working on more books in 2019 which I l am happy about because it’s what I love to do.
What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
I really enjoy reading. I’m currently rereading the Harry Potter books. I also just love perusing bookstores. I love to buy my daughters books at real bookstores, but I typically read my own books on my iPhone kindle. It’s so much easier to always get reading in because I have my phone with me all the time and I can work on reading whenever that way. I also enjoy spending time with my 2.5 year old daughter and my baby Stevie.