Liz Day

Artist profile: YLK photography

Yony Lee Kim, the photographer behind YLK photography, is self-taught. She specializes in lifestyle and portrait photography. Yony is mom to three adorable kids. And she has mono to thank for her Etsy shop.

After doing portrait photography for a year, Yony got mono in the spring of 2010. “I obviously couldn’t do sessions with people during that time, so I started to go stir crazy,” she said. “If there is something about me that has been consistent since I was a child, it is that I always need a creative outlet. So I started picking flowers from my yard and just taking pictures.” She started a still life album on her Facebook page to keep up with her marketing. 

Friends loved the photos and encouraged her to sell them. “So in keeping with who I am, I opened my Etsy shop on a whim and did my first Jingle Bash later that year,” Yony said. “I was invited by Etsy Inc. to participate in a Pop-Up shop at West Elm in Mockingbird Station. It was a great event and I was so honored to have been asked. I had no idea something I started doing while I was sick would turn into what it has. I still do it for me, though. This will always be the area of photography that I do just for myself.”

Yony recently took part in a Q&A session with Liz Day.

Liz: You are self-taught. When did you gain an interest in photography?
Yony: My dad was a photography hobbyist for many years. He had a darkroom next to our garage when I was a kid and he was always sticking his camera in our faces. He gave me a camera for my birthday when I was in middle school. It was just a point-and-shoot, but I documented almost everything. In 2002, I became a mom, and the obsession grew, or maybe I should say that it exploded. Within a week of giving birth, our entire apartment was covered in photos of our firstborn. After a short while, my closest friends and family encouraged me to take my hobby and segue it into a business.

Liz: When did you know it was your calling? Was it slow and steady or fast and furious?
Yony: My husband, in particular, has always been my biggest supporter. He did a lot of the research on equipment for me and was just always very encouraging. He thought that I had what it took before anyone else did. One summer night, I sat at my computer and decided to do it. I created my logo, set up a blog, and a Facebook page somewhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. My closest friends know that when I make up my mind to do something, there is nothing slow and steady about the process at all. Almost every decision I make is fast and furious.

Liz: How do you balance family and your business?
Yony: I made a conscious decision to be more "present" at home. I consider the hours of their school day my working hours, so I try to get as much done during the weekday as I can. Once they are home from school, I don't do anything business-related until the night hours (and then end up going to bed anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m. most nights). I have whole weekends set aside when I will not book a session and that's OK. My kids aren't going to be kids forever and I don't want to look back and think that I should have spent less time shooting and more time just "being" with them. … I always figured it out. Balance is the key.

Liz: How do you market yourself? Which social platform has been your most successful?
Yony: I do not market my business in any traditional sense. I don't typically pay for ads. As with most photographers (most everyone these days, really), I use Facebook as my main marketing tool. … I try not to let more than a couple of days go by between postings. The key is to keep people interested, so letting weeks go by without posting something is a no-no. The flip side to that is obviously not to post too much, either, because people get annoyed. You just have to be smart about it. Anyway, there is nothing that compares with "word of mouth" and in this day and age, Facebook gets it around the fastest and easiest.

Liz: Have you always considered yourself an artist? Did you have another career before photography?
Yony: I was an English major in college and had various jobs before becoming a mom, but nothing that I would say was my career. They paid the bills. Once going professional with my photography business, it took me a bit to accept the new title. It made me squirm to think that I was using the words "professional photographer" to describe myself. Honestly, I don't know when it happened, but along the way, I got comfortable with it. I even got comfortable with the word "artist," because I do now believe that what I create is art.

Liz: What is your favorite topic to photograph?  
Yony: My favorite thing to photograph is still life/macro photography. I love the solitude of capturing a beautiful object or scenario. Some people say my still life work has a slight vintage feel to it. I have had a love of all things antique and vintage since I was a child. My mom was an art major in college and my childhood home was always decorated with Korean antiques and art. On trips to Korea, I was taken to antiques shops and art galleries. I remember loving anything with a patina (my dad's ashtray was my favorite) and one of the coolest things we ever owned was an antique organ (yes, I took organ lessons during my childhood, too). So, yes, if people sense a vintage vibe from anything I do, it is definitely there, ingrained within me.
My next goal as a photographer is to go bigger with the commercial side of my photography business, perhaps making a move to doing solely commercial work in the future. There is nothing I enjoy more than the creative process of coming up with a concept, styling a shoot, and then working with young models who "get" it. I hope to do more of this type of photography going forward, but we'll have to wait and see.

Artist profile: The Kessler Craftsman

Larry Pile, The Kessler Craftsman, has exercised a lot of different creative muscles to hit upon his niche in fused glass and woodworking.  He is a full-time artist with a straightforward approach to remaining self-supporting by producing quality work at reasonable prices. 

He recently took part in a Q&A session with Liz Day.

Liz: When did you start creating? 
Larry: I’ve been creative all my life. First musically. Then painting. Then photography. Then music again. Then furniture, stained glass and, of late, fused glass and sterling silver.

Liz: What brought you to glass and furniture making? 
Larry: I took a stained glass class so as to build windows for my 1926 Tudor home.  It blossomed from there. I needed frames for my stained glass pieces and so bought some small woodworking tools. Then I tried to make a piece of furniture. First a pair of crude Adirondack chairs, which I still have and still love, and then a fine Mission-style sofa table, which I sold for $600 at my very first art show of all time.

Liz: When did you start calling yourself an artist? 
Larry: Last week? Who knows? Calling oneself an artist takes courage and confidence; both of which have evolved over time.

Liz: Was it a defining moment? 
Larry: My defining moment was during an interview with a newspaper reporter, in advance of ArtFest, 2009 or 2010. She asked me about my evolving fused glass work and I realized at that very moment that I’d moved from stained-glass-style geometric pieces with defined shaped to a much more free-form, interpretive, evocative and courageous style – something that happened so slowly that even I didn’t see it!

Liz: What would you tell an artist starting out? 
Larry: Listen to your inner voice. Don’t underprice your work. Don’t think you can’t be an artist until you do it full time and make a living at it. I know very, very few artists who make their sole living (and without support from a spouse, etc) at art. It’s always been that way!

Liz: A discouraged artist? 
Larry: Get objective advice from people who will tell you the truth. Listen to that advice and heed it. If you thoroughly enjoy your work but it won’t sell, try to cease defining yourself by sales. Many successful, starving artists didn’t sell well during their lifetime. However you define yourself as an artist, YOU are responsible for pulling yourself out of discouragement. Don’t expect anyone else to do this for you. In fact, no one else can do this for you. This is true for all aspects of life.

Liz: What is your best marketing advice?
Larry: Simple: Market your work. Most folks love to create, but they don’t like to market. Figure out how you’re going to market and do it more than is comfortable. Stretch your boundaries in marketing. Be okay with “no thanks.” Ask gallery owners, shop owners, other successful Etsy sellers what works for selling from their perspective. And then try it. If your work is decent and fairly priced, if it is not selling, you’re not marketing it the right way. If you ever expect to sell to galleries, gift shops, etc, you have to price ALL of your work so that you can give wholesale (30-50 percent discounts) on your work. You can’t raise the price just for gift shop/galleries. Owners watch for that and will not work with you if you do this. This comes down to valuing and measuring your time, materials and, ultimately, your worth.