Welcome to my first post of Creative Culture. Here I’ll be interviewing inspiring creative business owners to find out more about how they started their businesses as well as digging into the marketing behind their brands. For this very first post I interviewed Sara Laking, a self-taught natural light photographer and tattoo artist currently located in British Columbia, Canada.
Hi Sara! Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started with your creative businesses
Hi, soooo I have been a professional photographer since I was 20, (I'm now 28) and I made my first tattoo in 2012. Both came about in round about ways - photography came as an outlet through University when I wasn't allowed to take art as a degree, because "artist's don't make money". So I played more intentionally with a camera through the 4 years of University, primarily focusing on getting personality and honesty through portraits.
I loved being able to provide the gift of showing someone how I see them, everyone has such a unique and beautiful part of them that shines, although most of them have a really really difficult time seeing it. Reflecting that was (and is) pure joy for me. So yeah, with photography, as soon as I graduated I went and introduced myself to other photographers and just wanted to talk about how they got where they were. Standing on the shoulders of giants kinda thing. My first mentor was Danique Rowsell, she pumped me with all sorts of courage. The best whispers for beginners like me at that time was just to say it's all already there, trust the vision & drive and keep moving forward.
So then with tidbits of courage and hope and trying to be fearless, I taught myself how to use a camera as an extension of myself. Getting closer and closer to capturing what's in my minds eye kinda thing. Real fun trial and error kinda stuff.
So yeah after that I got to photograph for small local (at the time this was in ottawa - university was on the east coast, and i now have been living on the west coast since 2011) businesses in Ottawa, followed by families, portraits, and eventually got invited to document weddings. That was a game changer for me. Being invited to photograph some of the most important days of peoples lives, whoa, first pressure, then bliss - SO MANY EMOTIONS I get to be a part of and curate. I wasn't getting paid right away let me get that part straight; I was always making coffee on the side trying to pay for my photography habit. Slowly and surely I was able to get enough constant money to jump in the deep end and live off of it. I started my photography/visual brand @saraspectrum in around 2010.
So then in 2012 when I believed the world was going to end, I decided I wanted to travel a bit before doomsday. I left for New Zealand, that kinda changed everything again - I met a tattoo artist and really good friend of mine now, Clea Ferlay. At this point I had 3 VERY meaningful tattoos and understood the gravity of significance tattoos held for me. Although, I never ever thought I would actually start tattooing myself. Long story short, Clea and I travelled together for about 6 months, surpassed the end of the world and lived on, and by the end of it, Clea had to go home. Meanwhile before hand, she was tattooing out of a suitcase and I had the privilege of observing humans approach her, tell her the story of what they wanted, why and where, etc. Inspiring stuff I tell you! Then Clea had to go home and she asked me to tattoo her. I said "are you kidding me, no way" but she had seen me write letters and send packages of love and watercolour and words back home, and she said "Sara, you are tattooing a memory on me, and I don't want to see it until its done". She then taught me the basics, "this is how you'll infect me, this is how it's different from a pen" kinda stuff. And then I did it, and it was more adrenaline than jumping off cliffs for me. So yeah, that was a big seed planted.
I finally mustered up the courage to buy my own machine, and today I've been tattooing for 3 years. I was in Whistler, Canada when I started off, having friends and family as my canvas (I mean I was ready for second skin and fruits and stuff but, I guess I was lucky) and now I'm based in Ucluelet, Canada - so yeah, another untraditional way of jumping into another art - mostly self taught, with some guidance.
Could you talk a bit about the importance of sharing your work online and being recommended, how this has helped your business grow?
The importance of sharing work online! Gosh well, so damn important for me at least. In today's age, that seems to be the only way I get work. Especially with tattoos. I mean both photos and tattoos get passed around through word of mouth, photographs being on walls or on other peoples media sources, and it usually gets pointed back to the creator of the image. Then tattoos are walking around as advertisements, so it's wonderful in that way. But instagram and word of mouth is the only way I get work for tattoos. Its awesome. Photography I have my website (although am not the best at updating it). Instagram is our modern day portfolio, for better or for worse. I see all the positive sides of it though. I mean connecting people in real life is WAY BETTER, don't get me wrong, we can't get lost in the virtual side of things. However, being able to connect other businesses with yours, is amazing. It's a lot easier to do that with photography, as I am usually photographing for another business. With tattoos, I work along side a few other artists I resonate with so that if a client is asking for a specific type of tattoo, it might not be what I would design out of my head, but I can point them to these other artists. Then we both get paid, versus me just pulling from Pinterest as inspiration. It's nice connecting these things.
What have you found to be the best marketing technique to grow your businesses?
Hmmm the best marketing technique. Honestly, I'm not very good at marketing so I've mostly left it up to instagram. I put out my work, try and create an overall vibe with both of my businesses so as to attract the kind of clients that resonate with that style, that vibe. If that makes sense. In both photography and tattoos I don't "prize" to be able to shoot anything, to tattoo anything. I think (and hope) I make it clean that I shoot film-feels, natural type photographs, and with tattoos I keep to a more simplistic, mostly linework style. So anyway, I try and keep it simple and put out on instagram what I want, and (knock on wood) it has worked for me. When people ask me what I do in person, I generally say I'm an artist, and if they seem interested and ask more questions, of course I will tell them, but I haven't gone the route of the whole here's my business card unless it's been talked about for a while first. Collaborating with other businesses has definitely been very integral to my photography work. Because I'm not a landscape photographer, in my commercial work I am constantly collaborating and reaching out to brands that seem likeminded and with that, it also is a vice-versa thing.
What do you do when you’re in a bit of a creative rut?
Haha yeah, creative ruts. Those are real, but I've found they are also fabricated by the mind/the ego. It's easy to jump in the fear of that label "oh shit! I'm in a rut!" but yeah I'm not saying it's false, I'm just saying since its created, its also possible to get out of. I don't know if i have a good answer for this question, but I guess when I am feeling that feeling, I listen to it, acknowledge it, and might get a blank piece of paper out and just ramble on a page, anything that is in my mind - not well thought out, just like a mind barf. I'll come back to it a few hours later after a walk or some yoga or some sitting and breathing - or some brunch making and eating - whatever - and read it and realise it's a not so real feeling.
I guess another thing is just I'll create anyway, I'll draw something, anything, all the while hearing pieces of my mind saying "well this is shit" - I'll also come back to that a day later and think, hmm that's not so bad, I can add to this, this is a good start; that kinda thing. Same goes for editing photos. I might not be in the mood, all my colours suck, the photo sucks, etc etc, and then come back to the edits and see something new with it.