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I want you to picture a little 8-year-old girl with blonde hair, sitting on her living room floor, coloring in her notebook. But she doesn’t draw like an average 8-year-old would. She has a real gift. And any adult witnessing her artistry would say, “She’s gonna be an artist when she grows up.”
Then that little girl grows up and reality takes over. There are bills to pay. So she goes to work in the corporate world and her workload becomes so busy that, over time, her drawings and creative ideas don’t get finished or even started.
And after 10 years of the corporate grind, she slowly realizes that she isn’t happy. She doesn’t know how she got here and she doesn’t know how to fix it. But she just knows that something is truly missing and things can’t stay the same.
And then one fateful day she turns to me (one of her oldest friends) and says, “If I could just draw all day, I would be so happy.”
Photos by Dominic Miller
Meet Kasey Blaustein. She is the founder and lead designer of Kasey Jones, Ink., a one-stop shop for custom art and branded experiences. Started in 2014 and based in Los Angeles, she has worked and collaborated with brands including HBO, Target, Gap, Extra, TOMS, and Kettle—to name a few. Her services include Live Art activations, invitations, specialty gifting for brands or individuals, illustrations, a personalized photo booth experience called CHALK SHOT, event murals, signage and more.
While I could continue to list all of her career accomplishments and offerings—she was once that same woman who was feeling lost and without a purpose. She is the same woman who didn’t know how she was going to make her dream career happen and she certainly didn’t realize that once she finally took that chance, that she would become as successful as she is.
“I do actually draw all day,” she laughs. “I’ve never been happier.”
Read on to learn how Kasey figured out how to go after her dream career, advice for other small-business owners, and what happiness means to her now. She is, without a doubt, a woman who inspires.
Tell me about what you did before Kasey Jones, Ink. and what led you to start your own company?
For 10 years I worked in the corporate world working in brand management and event sponsorships. I represented brands mostly in the spirits and luxury lifestyle. I enjoyed it for the most part but after about seven years of doing it, something changed in me. I was burnt out. I wasn’t happy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed who I worked with and my bosses, but there was no passion or love behind it. I felt like I was selling something, for someone else, so someone else could benefit. There was no heart in what I was doing.
For 3 years I knew I wasn’t in the right place and I went through a depression. It literally felt like I hit a wall. My favorite thing in the world was being creative. But, I had no idea what that meant or how I was going to make a living doing it. I had this idea for awhile that I was just going to quit my job and work at a candle shop. I know that sounds weird but my point was that I was willing to make less money, no money even, if it meant I was going to be happy.
But I had to be realistic. I had bills to pay. So what was tangible to me was the dedication to myself that I was going to quit at some point and that I would have an actual exit plan where I was doing something that felt creative and that I loved. That commitment to myself, I think, was the start of everything. It felt safe to me because I knew I wasn’t going to quit until I was truly ready and had something else in the works. I hear that some people just quit and figure it out. But that wouldn’t have worked for my personality. I would have felt too unstable and out of control.
So what steps did you take next to figure out what you were going to do?
I was so unhappy at the time, I just wanted to be in a better feeling place. On Instagram, there was this calligrapher I really admired. Her work was so beautiful and her pictures on Instagram showed her calligraphy featured in magazines and it also showed all the places she traveled doing workshops. I saw that she was doing a workshop in Los Angeles and I felt like I had to sign up. It was so expensive and I couldn’t really afford it so I asked my parents to help pay for half of it as a birthday gift. They gratefully helped me out and I signed up.
Going to her workshop was the tipping point for me. It changed my view and vision about happiness. She was living proof that you could make a living as an artist, travel the world, and be happy doing the very thing that you love. It was funny too because we were literally dressed in the same outfit that day. It was as though I was looking in the mirror and saw a reflection of who I wanted to be.
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do yet but I felt inspired. And I felt her happiness and all I knew was that I wanted that. And, at the time, that was exactly what I needed. From there, I kept signing up for classes and started making things for friends and family. I was doing it so much that I started receiving requests for gift ideas etc.
And then one day, for my 30th birthday, I got an idea to make a large backdrop made with chalkboard and chalk so that my friends could take pictures in front it. My friend was a photographer so he set up his camera. It was sort of like a photo booth. Notice how I say “sort of?” Because that’s exactly what it turned out to be. It was an interactive and personalized photo booth. It also became the main event at the party. Everyone wanted a picture. It was so popular, that the pictures from the party got posted all over Facebook and friends started requesting it for their parties. Suddenly, I realized I had something really tangible where my creativity could be expressed. That is how my company Chalk Shot, a division of Kasey Jones Ink., was born.
After doing multiple Chalk Shot events, and getting referral after referral, I started to see that I was really onto something. Then, I got booked for the Golden Globes and got a pretty big check along with it. From that moment on, I was confident in the fact that I had a service that people wanted and that there was a real market for it. And so I did exactly what I said I was going to do. I quit my job and started my company Chalk Shot, which eventually turned into my larger umbrella company called Kasey Jones, Ink.
What was the feeling you had the day you quit your job?
It was scary. I had been at this specific company for 5 years. But my bosses, who are entrepreneurs, saw this coming. They knew I was doing Chalk Shot on the side and they saw how well it was doing. So when I brought it up, it wasn’t too much of a surprise and they couldn’t have been more supportive. They were so supportive that they actually kept me on as a consultant for 3 months while I was easing into my company full-time.
Did you ever question your decision?
Everyday I question what I am doing with my life. How am I going to make a living drawing?! But I make more money now than I did at my last job. New opportunities come every week and I have to remind myself of that. And I think questioning is healthy to some degree because it pushes me to the next level. I can’t ever get complacent. It’s nerve wracking to do something on your own. I don’t think it’s always easy to believe in yourself. You just have to do it anyway. The drive and desire has to outweigh the fear.
What does happiness look like for you now? How has having your own company changed you?
I wouldn’t change my process to get here at all. I feel like I quit at just the right time. I feel I found what I wanted to do at just the right time. I am just so proud that I paid attention to myself and didn’t just hit the mute button. I might not be here today if I had done that.
I’m creative everyday and that is truly when I am happiest. I feel empowered more than ever because I feel I have control over my career and my destiny. I’ve realized that if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you have to have a real vision and be so passionate about it that you are willing to live and breath it. And that passion actually gives me confidence. I am so clear in the life I want and my direction. Of course, I don’t know exactly how it is going to progress always, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about what I’m doing. I feel so good about that.
Do you feel someone has to have full clarity to be an entrepreneur?
You absolutely have to have focus. Clarity, yes, to some degree. You have to be open to how your business will change and mold. Kasey Jones, Ink. started as Chalk Shot and now offers a variety of services that I never anticipated, but am so happy my team can provide it. And it will continue to evolve. Most importantly, you have to be committed to it. But I will say, if you don’t have a focus or some sort of clarity, don’t quit your day job. And then when you do—save money and quit.
What are some of the challenges you face being a small business owner?
The legal work is very confusing. All the processes around taxes and insurance and contracts can be heady. And there are a lot of expenses and legalities you don’t know about until they fall into your lap. It’s also a learning curve knowing what to charge people. I’m only 3 years into my company and just now am I starting to really get a grip on that. It takes time. When I first started out, I used to be afraid that if I charged too much, I would lose business. But now I know my worth, I know my competition and I believe in my product. So if someone wants to pay less, I understand and don’t take offense or fear losing the business.
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
I would love to have consumer goods. Right now everything is service based, and custom to the client, so the price point is high. But I would love to have a few offerings consumers could just order online or buy in a store.
Who are your greatest influences?
My parents, grandparents, boyfriend, and girlfriends.
I get all of my creativity from my parents and grandparents. My mother and grandparents are, and were, incredible artists. My dad has a lot of drive and a strong work ethic and I think I get that part from him. I get influence and inspiration from all of them.
My mother influenced me with my career in a way I never expected. I want to be the kind of mother my mom was, so that was a big push for me when it came time to quitting my job. The corporate job I was in before would not have given me that ability to be that kind of mom. I needed to create a career for myself that could give me the space and freedom to be that.
My mother actually works with me in my company now. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. She and I have stayed up until 4 in the morning some nights to finish projects. My mom sends me creative ideas when I’m blocked and she’s a great person to bounce ideas off of. When we are working on a project, she is so detailed oriented that I call her my “quality control.” I can’t believe sometimes how much she does for me.
My boyfriend/partner of 8 years is with me everyday listening to my ideas and frustrations. He is so supportive, calms me and keeps me centered so that I can just focus on the work.
Lastly, a lot of my girlfriends are entrepreneurs and it is so inspiring to see how all of these creative, beautiful, and strong women are creating life on their terms. When I was first starting out, a lot of my friends would come and help me color in chalk boards on their off hours. I use them to bounce ideas off of as well, get help and to just laugh. I need their laughter. It really makes me happy and gets me through the day.
You have such a busy work schedule, how do you stay healthy?
Whenever I eat at a restaurant, my rule is I choose the healthiest option. I keep it simple and healthy. I work so much I don’t always have time to workout. Some weeks are better than others. If I do have time, I go to take a class that is close to home. But my main thing is walking. I walk everyday to step away from the drawing board and find inspiration. Some of my best ideas have come through when I’m walking. I sometimes take phone meetings on my walks. It is the single best thing I do for myself as far as exercising goes. It keeps me clear-headed and feeling good. If I have more time, I go hiking with my partner of 8 years.
What advice would you give to someone out there who is looking to be more creative in their lives?
I would say find a one-day workshop to sign up for that sparks your interest. It’s not a big commitment and doesn’t cost a ton of money. See what classes you’re drawn to. I want to take a pottery class and it has nothing to do with my career. I just think it sounds fun. I would also follow people on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook who you can draw inspiration from. I pin ideas and images all the time. If you like to make things, such as paintings or jewelry, gift them to your friends on their birthdays or on the holidays. Make any excuse to be creative in your life.
Do you have a life motto?
I can’t remember who said it but it goes, “The dream is free. But the hustle is sold separately.” I love that one.
Lastly, what does the word “woman” mean to you?
It means living your life however you want to live it. Whether it’s being a mom, a business owner, or whatever you decide. It’s about living on your own terms and feeling beautiful while you live it.
Click here to learn more about Kasey and her company Kasey Jones, Ink., or follow her on Instagram @kaseyjonesink