It Girl | JESSI MICHELLE THOMAS
By: Danae Edmonds
One of my favorite things to do when I am in need of inspiration is to browse the 'Explore' feed on Instagram. The pictures I find there are always so beautiful! I had the pleasure of stumbling upon @EttaVee and I was instantly in love. The pictures of Paris, original artwork and behind-the-scenes looks at her full-time job are absolutely stunning and I am pretty sure I 'liked' every single photo I saw. Her feed is a perfectly arranged blend of an American girl living in Paris creating beautiful artwork and enjoying life. I am completely thrilled to bring you the woman behind the magic, Jessi Michelle Thomas.
Name: Jessi Michelle Thomas
Job Title/Company: Founder + Artist / EttaVee
Education Background: I have a Masters of Fine Arts specializing in Art Direction and a BA in Communications with a focus is Advertising and PR
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I'm Jessi Michelle, I'm a 28 year old American artist living in Paris with my frenchie fiancé. I was born and raised in the Mid West. Lover of all things colorful, leopard, food and travel! I believed in working hard and keeping being optimistic. I love inspiring and bringing joy to others.
2. Can you explain to us what you do for your 9-5 as well as your work with Etta Vee?
9-5: During the day I work as an art director at a small advertising agency located just outside Paris. My job includes, developing ad campaigns, graphic design, branding and directing photo shoots.
Side hustle: By night I run EttaVee, an online art print and fine art boutique on etsy. I would describe my pieces as colorfully whimsical, from the heart and always with a dash of gold leaf, which I add by hand! A lot of my work is inspired by travel, pop culture and nature. I aspire to have this as my main hustle!
3. What do you enjoy most and what are the biggest challenges you faced as an American living in Paris?
Being an American in Paris is much different than I had imagined! Before moving here I had often heard that the French weren't big fans of Americans, but in fact I've found it to be quite opposite!! They really appreciate our optimistic "can do" attitude, openness, ambition and fun approach to life. And contrary to popular belief - they also love to practice their English ;) I really enjoy living here. It has helped me grow as an artist. There's so much art and history readily available here, one can't help but be inspired. My fiancé is a pastry chef so I've been enjoying all of the delicious food that comes my way! Also, it’s nice to have so many different countries just a train ride away!
I would say learning french has been the biggest hurdle I've had to jump since moving to Paris. French is a complicated language, even for French people! I started studying French a few months before moving here. I found it to be especially challenging when interviewing for jobs and when I eventually started working. In the advertising industry I need to be able to communicate creative ideas, which can already be challenging in English- let alone in French. Let's just say, I have had my fair share of laughable mix-ups and awkward moments! Thankfully, my french has improved immensely.
4. How did you find your passion for art and designing?
I’ve been a maker for as long as I can remember. My parents noticed I was artsy at a young age as I would always draw scenes from my favorite disney movie The Little Mermaid. They put me into weekly painting classes when I started kindergarten. I developed interest in everything from fashion design to photography. I guess I've always known I wanted to make a living being creative.
What I have realized is that my passion for art is continuously renewed by travel /new experiences. I like to put myself in unfamiliar situations causing me to open my mind and grow. I studied jewelry making abroad in Italy in 2007. That sole experience fueled my love for travel and the desire to pursue a life of art and beauty. After moving out of Indiana I headed to New York City where I interned for fashion designer Betsey Johnson as her social media intern. This was my first look into the world of what it means to be a brand.
Moving to San Francisco was a huge turning point for me. I pursued and obtained my Masters of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University. It was such a creatively inspired time in my life to be surrounded by so many creatively hungry people in a city unlike any other in the states! I wanted to take in all of the culture I could which in turn inspired my creative work. I learned to keep pushing for better ideas and for better work.
5. Who are you most influenced by?
I would have to say I'm most influenced by my parents. My mom has traveled all over the world for her job. She has always encouraged me to see the world. Also, since a young age she's encouraged me to work hard at what I’m passionate about so I can one day work for myself. My dad is an optimistic person - always looks on the bright side of any situation. I have been able implement the same thing into my life through his example. This skill has benefited me in all aspects of my life.
6. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
My first job was as an art director at a small advertising agency in San Francisco. What I loved most about being at a small agency is that, because of it's size, I was able to work on a lot of projects. A lot of my work got put out into the world, which was super exciting for an art director starting out! Not only did I leave with a portfolio of interesting work, but also with a new gained sense of confidence
7. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
Initially, EttaVee started off as a jewelry boutique. It was my way of escaping the world of graphic design and the computer in order to make something with my hands. I have always been interested in home decor. When I moved into my apartment in Paris I wanted to create some art for the walls. After designing one, I just couldn't stop! I then opened my second shop which specializes in art prints. I’ve since added paintings to my shop as painting has been a lifelong passion of mine - I find it’s very therapeutic!
8. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned from being an entrepreneur?
I think the most important skill I've learned from being an entrepreneur is perseverance. I've learned that you can make your passions a reality if you simply keep going, changing, learning and growing. I’ve had to fail many many times in order to get to where I am today. If I had given up when things got to hard, I would’ve missed on this wonderful journey of being a small business owner. I celebrate each and every sale I make and it only motivates me to keep pushing!
9. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
I’m so proud of what I have built thus far and am looking forward to what is in store for me. In 5 years I plan to have turned my side hustle into my main hustle!! By then I hope to have a beautiful studio to work out of with a wonderful creatively driven team. I hope to have some of my work licensed to major retailers. Also, I'd love to collaborate with major brands and other artists!
10. What is a typical day like for you?
I start most week days off with a big cup of coffee and a delicious chocolate croissant (those things are addictive)! I’ll usually check new orders before heading out the door to my day job. I take the metro to work and like to take this time to clear my mind, read a book or sketch. Work is pretty busy all day long, I'll usually run my orders to the post office at lunch time or stock up on shipping supplies. I usually get home around 8 where I turn on a podcast, pour a glass of wine and work on getting orders together. I'm also planning a wedding right now so it's been a little hectic lately! I usually reserve all of my creative ‘play time’ for the weekends. I'll spend most of the day painting, it's so therapeutic and a nice change from all the computer-heavy graphic design work I do during the week. I also use the weekends to take photos for my etsy shop, website and Instagram.
11. What was the biggest obstacle you faced so far in the process of pursuing your dreams?
Over-thinking and perfectionism has been the biggest obstacles for me as an entrepreneur. I've realized that if all I ever do is wait around for things to be perfect, I'll never get anything done!
It's important to think through ideas, plans and strategies, but there comes a point where you can't let that hold you back from moving forward.
12. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
"Play more" was the response I had gotten when I asked an art school instructor of mine the same thing! It's something that has always stuck with me and that I’ve been implementing into my daily life. It means don't want to work your life away and add a little more fun in your life!! This is actually a huge reason why I'm an entrepreneur, because the work is fun and doesn’t feel like work. No matter how mundane the task, I've tried to start approaching life in a more playful manner. Paint your world with bright brushstrokes!
13. When do you get your best ideas?
I find that I often get my best ideas when my mind is clear and I can let it wander. This usually happens, in the metro or while on a train ride. I always make sure to carry a notebook with me at all times. I love taking a notebook and blanket and relax in the park with my fiancé on a sunny day. As a pastry chef he's always writing new recipes, so it's cool to be able to take a creative brainstorm moment together. Also, I take photos of EVERYTHING to help spark ideas later on down the road!
14. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
A moment that stands out to me was near the beginning of my creative career, when a freelance client of mine dropped me from a design project. It hurt my confidence and made me question my design abilities. In the end, I don't think we were a good fit for each other, which is perfectly fine! But what I soon realized is it's necessary to fail in order to grow, to be better and learn from your mistakes.
I love the French phrase "c'est pas grave" which literally translates to "it's not grave". They use it the same way we say "don't worry about it" in the states. I really love the drama of the phrase though. Sometimes crappy things happen, but you're still alive and everything will work itself out in the end.
15. How do you unwind?
Depending on my energy level I tend to unwind in two ways. 1. Is a quiet night at home with a glass of wine, netflix and a bubble bath. 2. When i’m feeling more energetic I love to dance the night away. It’s like a reset button!
16. What would you tell someone else who wants to start their own business?
- Time management is everything, especially when you’re juggling a full time job and side hustle.
- Keep it positive! A positive outlook on life in general can move mountains.
- Find your tribe. Connect with people who "get it"! I’ve had so much fun connecting with other girlbosses via instagram!
- Put in the time.
- Be authentically you.
- Don’t compete with yourself and not others.
- Go for it!! You never know unless you try!
17. What do you hope people take away from your story?
Whatever it is you love to do it with all your heart and you’ll be unstoppable!