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Working Large By Living Small: Simple Living Makes Artist's Dream Come True

Insights & Ideas Team •  March 31, 2015 | Inspiring Stories, Business and Careers

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” When three deaths and a job loss rocked her world, Norma Fredrickson clung to this proverb.

In 2011, Fredrickson lost her mother to old age and two close friends to illness. One of those friends had built and managed a website where Fredrickson marketed the art she was producing in her spare time. The other ran a custom furniture business where Fredrickson worked full time as an in-home design consultant and showroom manager.

When that business folded, Fredrickson lost her day job. “That job was my safety net,” she said, “and now it was gone.”

Not Ready for Retirement

Just past age 60 and in no position to retire, Fredrickson needed work. She mapped out options and landed on the idea of self-employment.

“I decided to bank on my ingenuity. It was time to invest in myself.”

She made art her full-time job. In 2012, Fredrickson opened Studio Three 17, a business devoted to creating and selling her “artful expressions for daily life and sacred spaces.” Her primary medium is fabric. She urges people to see, touch, and use her work, from small handbags, scarves and wall art to large, custom-designed pieces for worship spaces and galleries.

Fredrickson started her business knowing the income might not be enough. Years earlier, Fredrickson had taken an investing class.

“They taught me ‘know your exit,’” she said. “So when I decided to do art full time, I told myself if I wasn’t making enough money after three years, I’d go back to work.”

Why three years?

“I crunched the numbers,” said Fredrickson. “After years of following good financial advice, I had created more security than I realized.” With assets of a modest savings account, investments retained after divorce, and her portion of an inherited family farm, she counted enough buffer for three years.

But to make it work, she knew they would have to be lean years.

Small, Simple Living

“I knew I could learn to live more simply,” she said. “I gave up fashionable shoes. I ate less meat. I stopped all magazine subscriptions. I don’t have a TV or landline. I do my own yard work.”

Fredrickson had already altered her expectations for living space. A few years earlier, she had relocated to Berryville, Va., population 4,281. Knowing that one day she intended to work less and create more, she had chosen a home she could afford on part-time pay. Now that small house—a converted chicken coop of less than 800 square feet—became headquarters for both life and full-time artistry.

To live and work in limited space, Fredrickson equipped every room for multi-function. Nearly half of the galley kitchen is devoted to art supplies. She can paint all morning and then stow the work to make soup that night.

Her furnishings serve multiple purposes, too. Living room shelves house a library of books, as well as colorful fabrics and hand-dyed yardage.
Fredrickson also keeps possessions light.

“There’s not a thing I cannot move myself,” she said. “I place furniture for purpose and season.”

She also creates her own tools. Fabric-covered insulation foam provides a large, lightweight surface for painting and designing. Standing on end, the same piece becomes a photography backdrop.

Smart, Simple Business

Fredrickson sources materials to contain costs and delight her customers. She invests in quality thread and paint. She transforms a vintage wedding gown into christening outfits. Donated material that would otherwise go unused (imagine decades of fabric stashed in an elderly quilter’s closet) becomes the foundation for fresh products.

Well-honed skills and economical supplies not only save money; they liberate her to take risks.

Big Opportunities from a Small Footprint

From her tiny studio, Fredrickson reaches a vast market. She shares and sells her art locally and globally, thanks to a few tools she can carry in one bag: laptop, tablet, smart phone and two credit card readers.

“If I have my purse with me, I’m ready to sell you something,” she said.

Online, she maintains the Studio Three 17 website and blog, the fibergig Etsy shop (shared with her daughter), and an active presence on Facebook and Pinterest.

Nowhere Near the Exit

Three years into entrepreneurship, Fredrickson doesn’t need an exit.

“I woke up and realized I was no longer hanging at the end of the rope,” she said. “It turns out I’ve always had a safety net: my resources and skills. I am creating an environment that supports the way I want to live. I’m doing what I love.”

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