An interview with Thérèse Cilia of Strawberry Snail Illustrations.
Describe your business.
Strawberry Snail Illustrations began in 2011 out of my studio in Toronto. It was really just a way for me to build a children’s illustration portfolio I could send to publishers while keeping myself accountable. Over the years I took on a lot of commission work and that has really built my business. Learning how to work with clients, and teaching myself new applications so that I can grow.
Now I create work for all kinds of applications—picture books, websites, textiles, stationery, and my self-directed paintings. I also love working with clients on special projects; currently I’m working with a composer illustrating a children’s music book.
What brought you to the region?
I landed in Belleville in a roundabout way after living for a year in Newfoundland, which was my escape from Toronto. After a while there, it became clear I wasn’t able to sustain a living, so I stayed with my sister in Belleville until I could figure things out.
As it turned out, Belleville and I became a good match. It felt “country” enough for me, without being remote and I met great friends, and eventually my Prince Edward County born-and-raised husband!
What makes the Bay of Quinte a good fit for your business?
My first impression here as people started to receive my work was that people were genuinely interested. The illustration market is not overly saturated and that helps a lot too. I started to get press and a lot of feedback—something that I wasn’t used to in Toronto.
Also the craft community here is really strong, and we’re a very supportive group. There are lots of markets to showcase your work and customers are very loyal. There is also something about the landscape here that is inspiring to me (although my work is not directly about landscape); it definitely plays a part in how I work and am inspired.
What was the hardest thing about starting a business?
Managing time and money. It took a lot of years before I could do illustration full-time. Working full-time jobs and making art on the weekends and evenings was tough. Being at work for 8 hours knowing I could be doing something more fulfilling with my time was frustrating and disheartening. But it’s all part of the process. I did it because I couldn’t stop.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the area?
Reach out! Keep an eye and ear out for what’s going on in your community—events, groups, collectives, etc. Even though I’m an introvert, I found that when I started talking to other creatives I couldn’t stop. We learn so much from each other—solving problems, commiserating, sharing successes, inspiring each other.
Starting a business is really daunting and it can feel like we are alone in the fact that we have no idea what we’re doing. Sharing our experiences with others really helps with that. It’s not just about networking.
What surprised you about starting a business in a smaller community?
The support and interest of others. There are lots of great groups and communities in Toronto, but I still felt like an outsider there, and like people were getting together but ultimately trying to succeed alone. Here, there’s a lot of support from peers, the press, and customers. People recognize you and aren’t afraid to open up and share.
Describe your perfect day off.
Hate to disappoint but it’s actually working! I have a 20-month-old now so I don’t get to shut myself in the studio like I used to, so I crave mornings where I have the house to myself.
I make a french press of Starbucks dark roast, pour it in my favourite handmade mug by Krystal Speck, turn on the CBC or my favourite podcasts and zone out drawing and painting. If there’s a croissant around it’s a super good day.
But I do take breaks. I love good food so eating out at Capers or L’Auberge de France or Bourbon & Bean is a treat. Walking is imperative—I like to go down to the waterfront or the Frink Centre or take a drive over the bridge and visit the County.
What’s your secret to surviving winter?
Hot drinks. Coffee, hot chocolate, hot chocolate mixed with coffee… you get the idea. Warm blankets, wool socks, twinkly lights, and comfort food.
If you were to have one word tattooed on you, what would it be?