Stride Stories: Illustrator Grows Her Business with Etsy


Katie Vaz is an illustrator in New York. You can find her work on her website or Etsy page.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got where you are today?

Katie: I’m 29 and went to school for graphic design at the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. From there, I went to graduate school in a small town in Germany, where I got a master’s degree in integrated design. That’s a combination of communication design, product design, and interface design. In 2011, after my masters, I moved back home to Upstate NY.

What sort of work did you do from your home?

Katie: I moved back home with my family and entered that quarter-life crisis phase. I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I had a really hard time finding a 9-5 job, which actually ended up being better in the long run. But at that time, I started putting cards up on Etsy and took on some freelance graphic design work.

Did your Etsy shop grow right from the start?

Katie: Definitely, and that led to picking up some illustration work. Through that, I realized that I really like illustration, and I never expected that to happen. I still sell on Etsy. I do some wholesale work and go to local craft shows and markets to sell in-person-- but I also do a lot of freelance illustration work.

Tell us a little more about your illustration business!

Katie: Last June, I actually published a coloring book with Andrews McMeel Publishing. That’s been a dream project of mine come true. The book is called Don’t Worry, Eat Cake, and it’s about my journey going through that stage where it feels like everyone but me has life figured out. I wanted to show others that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing, and you’re definitely not alone in those feelings.

I recently accepted a two-book deal with the same publisher, and will be working on those over the next year or so. The first book is called Make Yourself Cozy, which will be an illustrated, interactive guide for practicing self-care and emphasizing the importance of “me time." The second book is called The Escape Manual for Introverts, which will be an illustrated guide to humorous, sometimes absurd, ways to get out of social situations. I am so excited to get started on both of those! In addition to those projects, I'm also expanding my illustration licensing portfolio with plans to exhibit at Surtex (a licensing trade show) next year.

That’s fantastic!
Can you share your self-employment journey with us?

Katie: Etsy has been the best platform for me to find work and get myself out there. That was around 2012. It’s been almost a five year journey, which feels fast and slow at the same time. A lot of my earlier freelance work was from clients who’d been looking at Etsy for illustration and then found me. Etsy has been the entryway into illustration and hand lettering world for me. It’s such an awesome platform to be out in the world, and it was especially helpful for me since I was in a really small town. I wasn’t in NYC or LA, and I was still able to get really interesting work and meet people that I never would have otherwise.

How does Etsy work for you?

Katie: The best way to feel comfortable financially has been to have multiple income streams. Some parts of the year it’s really busy for Etsy and craft shows, and when that slows down, my freelance work always picks up.

How did you discover Stride?

Katie: Etsy sent out an email about health coverage. I qualified for Medicaid for a few years, but, as my business grew, I was ready to buy my own insurance. So when I saw Stride, I was like “perfect,” because I had no idea how to get my insurance myself. That email from Etsy was really helpful.

How has Stride empowered your self-employment?

Katie: There were certain aesthetic things which caught my eye in the very beginning – the site is really well designed. Having insurance language that is easy for a normal person to read was really nice. Also, it was really helpful to see health plans, pricing, and benefits compared next to each other. Finally, it was really nice to talk to an actual person and ask them questions.

It was really helpful to see health plans, pricing, and benefits compared next to each other.
— Katie Vaz

Do you plan to be self-employed for the long term?

Katie: I hope so! After years freelancing, I can see that I thrive in this environment where I work for myself and set my own schedule. It’s a lot of flexibility – I work a lot when I need to, and I can take time off when I need to. I’m naturally an introvert, so I do well working alone and on my own time. 

What is the biggest challenge of being self-employed?

Katie: Overworking. As a freelancer, I feel the pressure to overwork all the time, and it's a real struggle to make time for rest and self care. There is so much pressure these days, especially coming from social media. There are so many images everywhere of things looking "perfect" and lives looking busy and successful. We've started to glorify overworking. We live by this idea that being busy equals being successful. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to turn something great I’ve made into something disappointing because it doesn't "look" like what we see online.

We’ve started to glorify overworking. We live by this idea that being busy equals being successful.
— Katie Vaz

This mentality creates an unhealthy environment of constantly comparing ourselves to each other, and I think it can lead to things like stress, anxiety, and depression when we’re not moving at 100 miles per hour. I appreciate seeing posts online or hearing other people talk about slowing down, making rest a priority, and redefining what success actually means.

Hard work is absolutely necessary and respectable, especially when you work for yourself, but I want to feel and see less guilt about taking breaks. When I'm able to find time to relax and recharge, I feel healthier, I feel more grounded, and I might create my best work in that time. However, it's usually pretty hard to get there without feeling guilty or lazy, at first. As a society, I think the quality of our lives could improve if we all valued rest and celebrated the art of slowing down.

You can find Katie’s work on Etsy and follow her on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.