I had the pleasure of meeting up with Tobi Wood Designs over the weekend and let me tell you, interviewing Tobi was such a pleasure. She had so much to say about her line and the experience of owning her own business. I’m sure you will find her words especially helpful if you are contemplating starting your own business. Even if you already have one, you’ll find her thoughts on the process so encouraging. I hope you enjoy the interview as much I do. Please post your comments below so Tobi can hear what you have to say. Enjoy!
decor8: Thank you for taking the time to introduce yourself to decor8 readers, Tobi. For those who aren’t yet familiar with your work, can you tell us about Tobi Wood Designs?
Tobi: Sure. There are currently 32 designs in my line, divided in to 8 collections with 4 designs per collection. (bulb, bloom, flower, grass, leaf, stem, tree and vase.) The collections are available as boxed note cards, journals, magnets, wall art and prints. The wall art and prints are available in set sizes or custom. The designs really look amazing in the larger format. Right now I am concentrating on getting my products in the public eye and in more stores. There are so many avenues that I would like to explore with these designs. Something that I am especially interested in is developing a line of textiles.
decor8: Where are you based and what do you really enjoy about it there?
Tobi: I’m in Atlanta, Georgia. I love this time of year, it’s especially beautiful here because all of the pear and cherry trees are blooming. All sorts of flowers are coming up and on the days when its sunny and about 70 degrees, it is just amazing. I am also super excited about going to the new aquarium. I’ve heard it is spectacular.
decor8: I miss spring down south. I grew up on the ocean in South Carolina and remember that mid March, we were already heading to state parks for picnics beneath the cherry blossoms. You live in a beautiful part of the country. Tell us about your background, training, work experience, etc.
Tobi: When I decided to go to college, I didn’t know what I was going to go for. But after my under grad work, when I had to declare a major, I decided on art. I had taken a bunch of art classes in high school, and always enjoyed making things. When I was in art school, I thought I wanted to be a printmaker. The school had started to offer some graphic design classes and my printmaking professor thought it would be a good idea if I took some classes. So I took a couple, and to be honest, I hated them. It was agony for me. But when I graduated and needed to get a job, there were obviously more jobs for graphic artists than printmakers. I finally got my first job as a graphic artist. Over time, things just kinda progressed for me. I moved around to a couple of cities and ended up working in advertising as an art director and designer for 12 years.
decor8: What gave you the idea to start your own line?
Tobi: I had been making my own cards for years. Mostly for family and friends. People kept telling me that I really should sell them. I had a line of cards that I was working on previous to this one that involved a lot of labor. It made it hard to keep up with orders. Someone mentioned that they really liked my graphic work and that I should consider giving those a try. (over the years I have stockpiled quite a few designs.) I had toyed with the idea of starting my own business in the past, but for whatever reasons, it just never worked out. After having a baby, I resigned from my job to stay at home with her and realized that this was the best time to give this a shot. I picked the designs that I wanted to use and had them printed. I hadn’t done any research on having a business and had no idea how I was going to sell them, but I figured that out later. About the same time all this was happening, a friend of mine was starting a breast cancer awareness site and had asked me to design some note cards especially for her. So I did. She told me that her site would link to mine. That’s when I realized I should probably have a website, so I taught myself how to make one.
decor8: Your website is beautiful, too. It’s amazing that you learned all of that in addition to starting your own business. How did you get started in design?
Tobi: I think my love for design has just really a happened over the past few years, or at least the kind of design that I am working in now. I worked in advertising and wasn’t always so much in to the message. I just enjoyed making things look pretty. In my free time I found myself doodling and thinking about certain shapes and colors and how they would look good together. I came up with designs, not really ever knowing what I was going to use them for. I have always liked things to be organized and clean and simple in appearance and I guess a big part of my design stems from that.
decor8: Where do you draw inspiration?
Tobi: Nature. I love using the macro lens on my camera to zoom in on things to take a photo. It is really surprising what you can get. Things that you can’t see normally, the camera can, like underneath the tiny mushrooms that grow in my yard. They are fascinating little things. Grass, leaves, tiny little flowers, bark, you name it. Not all of my inspiration comes from my backyard though. It can be anything. Last summer, I was making plum baby food for my daughter. Once the fruit was all peeled and cut and in the pot, it all looked so beautiful. The color was amazing that I took a picture of it. Also, I am a freak for fabric. I have TONS of fabric swatches. I used to work near a fabulous fabric store and when I needed some inspiration, I would walk through and touch and feel the fabric. I am a very tactile person. The fabric is on giant bolts, and they let you cut your own samples. I would cut some of the ones that I felt like I needed at that time. I always felt rejuvenated when I left. I would return to work and spread them out on my desk. I still have them all and keep telling myself that I am going to make something with them.
decor8: I’m very tactile also; I can certainly relate to your obsession with textiles. After your creative spark sets in and you are ready to work, do you have a particular theme that you work with? I know you’ve mentioned nature…
Tobi: It seems that nature is the theme these days. When I started this whole thing, I didn’t really set out to have a theme, it just kinda ended up that way. I also am a big fan of bold colors. I like shapes, symmetry and repetitiveness. I haven’t done anything with that yet. Maybe that’s next.
decor8: How does your work reflect your personality?
Tobi: My work is pretty simple I think. The designs are very clean, but bold. I like simple things. I like my house and my clothes to be simple. I also like a little bit of funkiness. Something unexpected. I think my designs reflect that.
decor8: What are the main characteristics of your work and your work method?
Tobi: When it comes time to design, there are several ways it all happens. Sometimes I get an idea, see it in my head, sit down at the computer and pound it out. Other times, I sketch it out and then work with it on my computer. Then there are times it is just pure accident. I like it when that happens.
decor8: Do you have any advice for those looking to start their own business?
Tobi: I would say make sure you love whatever it is you think you want to do. There will be days that you will wonder what were you thinking. It makes it better if you really have a passion for it and believe in what you are doing. Have confidence. This is the hardest thing I think. It’s always so easy to second guess yourself and your path. If you believe that your stuff is good and you are passionate about it, then you have to give it a shot. That way you won’t have any regrets. Yes it’s hard and time consuming, but like my friend tells me constantly, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” It’s so true. Oh and research. Lots of research. Talk to as many people as you can. Thankfully we have the internet where so much information is available. Finally, take lots of deep breaths!
decor8: Great suggestions. My family taught me that you have to believe in yourself or no one else will. You’re so right about passion, too. Passion is what gets you going when everything feels like it’s falling apart. We all have days like that, when energy levels dip and we question our path. Passion for what you are doing is essential. All the passion in the world won’t remove obstacles though. Tell us about some obstacles that you’ve had to overcome? How did you overcome them?
Tobi: Oh where do I begin, there are so many! First, how to balance running a business with being a mom and a wife. Luckily my husband is super supportive and my daughter is just happy that I am here. Just learning how to start a business. How to build a web site. The biggest challenge for me is finding vendors that can produce my items in a way that I feel is representative of me. That has been my biggest hurdle. Getting someone else to understand exactly what I expect from them. I think as a business owner you are ultimately going to have to rely on outside sources. That in itself can be really frustrating. You want everyone working on your product to be as passionate about it as you are and that just isn’t the way it is. For them, it is just a job. Finding those few people that do want to give you a great product in the end is hard. I don’t believe in being mean to get what you want, but I think you need
to stand your ground and let people know what you expect from them. To stand firm until you get what you want. That is honestly the least ‘fun’ part of this so far. Well that and the whole bookkeeping process.
decor8: Bookkeeping, ugh! Since you work out of your house, can you please describe a normal work day?
Tobi: My work day doesn’t begin until the afternoon. I have a toddler and once she goes down for a nap, that is when I work. Depending on what I have going on, I sometimes work for a bit at night.
decor8: If someone could grant you three wishes right now, all pertaining to your business, what would they be?
Tobi: 1) no production issues. 2) to have the opportunity to turn some of my designs in to textiles. 3) a crystal ball.
decor8: What are some of your favorite magazines and websites?
Tobi: I love Metropolitan Home, Lucky, Elle Decor, and Martha Stewart Kids. As for websites, I don’t know that there is an absolute favorite, there are so many. I
just love seeing what is out there and what kind of cool things people are coming up with.
decor8: Out of all the places you’ve seen in your life, where would you live if money were no obstacle and why?
Tobi: My first reaction is to be near water. I am from the beach and I miss it desperately. I also really like North Carolina. If I could move my entire family with me, I would relocate to a hilltop in Florence, Italy. A few years ago, we stayed in a fourteenth century castle. It was actually someone’s home at the time. It was amazing! Perched high upon on a hilltop, lavender blooming everywhere and across the meadow, there was a monastery. You could hear the bells in the morning. It was truly peaceful.
decor8: Sounds breathtaking. I think many of us would love to relocate there, especially if money were no obstacle. To wrap up this interview Tobi, what are ten things that you can’t live without?
Tobi: Okay, these are in no particular order, except the family being number one. 1) my family (of course) 2) lip balm 3) my giant water mug 4) frosted mini wheat 5) long hot showers 6) my cats and their warm bellies 7) friends 8) sunshine 9) the smell of the ocean, fresh cut grass and orange blossoms 10) really soft pillows and sheets.
decor8: What nice things you’ve selected, sunshine and soft sheets along with the smell of the sea or fresh cut grass does it for me, too… Thank you so much for allowing decor8 readers into the world of Tobi Wood Designs. I’m sure many will be inspired by your words.
If you’d like to learn more about Tobi and see her complete collection, please visit her website. psst: Don’t miss her bargain basement page with great deals on notebooks and cards, too!
(photos from Tobi Wood Designs)
**** comments anyone? ****