Name: Shanlie M. Wolter
City: Troy, Alabama
Main Hustle: I work two part time jobs: I teach a kids art class at a local child health center, and I work as a companion/helper to a special needs adult. I’m also a single mother of two.
Side Hustle: I am a freehand cut paper silhouette artist. I create portraits using only scissors and black paper, within about three minutes time. I work in traditional 18th/19th century style, and there is no tracing or drawing ahead of time or digital alteration involved in the work that I do.
My side hustle is slowly becoming my main hustle, and I couldn’t be happier!
How did you get started?: I have always loved silhouettes, aesthetically. My grandparents had a silhouette in their house that I remember fixating on when I was very young (I inherited that silhouette, and it now hangs in my office). I’m an avid thrifter, and I started collecting antique silhouettes as a teen, whenever I found them at flea markets or secondhand shops. At age 17, I saw an artist at Disney World cut a freehand silhouette for the first time. I was blown away by the process; it was like magic! I resolved then and there that I’d learn to do it myself someday. I started making silhouettes a few years later…I spent about six years illustrating silhouettes in ink and dabbling in cut paper. I began working exclusively in cut paper about three years ago.
In my experience, learning this craft has been about 10% research and 90% practice, practice, practice.
When/where do you work on your Side Hustle?: I have a tiny 50 sq. ft. office space in my home, where I conduct most of my business. I operate an Etsy shop, where I take orders for silhouettes using a photograph of the subject.
In addition to fulfilling online orders, I travel regularly to events to cut silhouettes in person. I make portraits at museums, historic sites, at private events, art festivals, and boutique gift shops.
What are the challenges of your Side Hustle?: The biggest challenge has been figuring out the business end of things. Contracted events, licensing my work for reproduction, marketing, filing taxes, billing clients. My inexperience and lack of guidance/education led me to learning some hard lessons. I’ve gotten into a pretty good groove at this point, and I’m a lot more confident in my abilities as a small business owner, but I’m definitely still learning as I go.
Another challenge has been travel. As a single parent, balancing home-time and away-time is incredibly important to me.
What are the rewards of your Side Hustle?: It has always been my ultimate career dream to make art for a living. It’s beyond rewarding to see that dream steadily come to fruition. And as a mother, not only am I doing something that I can be proud of for *me*, but I’m setting an example for my daughters in the process.
On the creative end of things, I enjoy what I do and I take so much pride in my work. I love making my customers genuinely happy. The kind, supportive people I’ve met and formed relationships with are truly the icing on the cake.
Who is your greatest supporter?: My family and friends have supported me from day one; my ex-husband, especially so. He and I remain friends, and I still ask for his feedback on certain projects. I know I can count on him for an objective, honest opinion. I’ve also been fortunate enough to make some invaluable, professional connections. I have folks that will give advice, share ideas, and offer support in any way they can.
Who/what is your greatest source of inspiration?: I’ve spent a lot of time researching historic silhouettes and silhouette artists. Silhouette portraiture at the height of it’s popularity (during the 18th and 19th centuries) has such a rich and interesting history. I draw a lot of inspiration from the art that remains from that time.
There are also many cut paper artists, illustrators, makers, and female entrepreneurs currently working who I follow and admire.
Have you received recognition for your work?: -I’ve been included in the Early American Life Directory of Traditional American Crafts for the past two years. Inclusion in the directory is heavily juried and speaks to my abilities as crafts-person and my dedication to the traditional process.
-I won best in category (Traditional Decorative Crafts) at Troyfest Arts and Crafts Festival in 2018.
-I have original silhouettes included in the permanent collections of several history museums.
-My shop maintains a 5-star rating on Etsy.
What is your dream for your Side Hustle?: Being able to turn my side hustle into my main hustle is the ultimate dream! I’m working on a new set of goals to make that dream a reality at the moment. The goals I set when I first started out have all been met as of this year!
Do you have any advice for others working on a Side Hustle?: Be brave, be kind, be consistent, be patient.