RapidChat: Gwen Pionk on sticking your neck out for your side hustle

Nearly 50 percent of millennials engage in some version of a side-hustle. The majority are making money off of landscaping and home repairs, but a select few fall into the "arts and crafts" category. This is where Gwen Pionk — owner and designer of Stillcraft Co. — found her niche with dip-dye and macramé art.
Nearly 50 percent of millennials engage in some version of a side-hustle. The majority are making money off of landscaping and home repairs, but a select few fall into the "arts and crafts" category. This is where Gwen Pionk — owner and designer of Stillcraft Co. — found her niche with dip-dye and macramé art.
Rapid Growth: When did you begin working with fibers?

Gwen Pionk: Though I’ve always been an arts and crafts person, textile work is actually quite new to me. I’ve always needed a creative outlet — to be doing something with my hands. I used to paint animal portraits with watercolor. I tried my hand at sewing my own clothes (that was disastrous). Even gave photography a shot. But nothing stuck. It wasn’t until 2015 that I first dabbled with macramé when I found a large branch outside of my apartment that inspired it all. I drove to Meijer that night, bought rope, and started watching youtube videos. A couple hours and a few rope burns later, I had my very first wall hanging — strung from the branch I found outside. It was very simple but it was everything. And even later yet, in 2017, came the dip-dye creations.

RG: Which materials do you find to be most favorable?

GP: It really just depends on the project. I now create both macramé and dip-dye wall hangings; they both require different fiber. With macramé, I use 100 percent cotton, single twist (opposed to braided) rope. It’s soft and easy to work with. It also produces the most delicate fringe when combed out. For dip-dye pieces, I use 100 percent wool yarn. Through a little research and some trial and error, I found that this yarn holds dye far better than its synthetic counterparts.

RG: What inspires you?

GP: I’m particularly drawn to earthy and natural textures and colors. I’m most inspired by landscapes. But that’s not what a lot of my work speaks to. The vast majority of my work is commission based. I bring the client’s vision to life — their colors and shapes. This is why there is so much variety in the work that I produce. 

RG: When do you know when a work is finished?

GP: Artists are their own toughest critics. Each wall hanging goes through the same creative process. From excitement, to frustration and doubt, to impatience, and finally acceptance and pride. There are times that I need to walk away from a piece for a few days because I’m feeling discouraged, only to come back to it with fresh eyes and be completely in love. 

If it weren’t for strict timelines that I set for myself, and expectations that I give to my clients, a work may never “feel” finished. You can always do more. Tweak more. But it’s really the deadlines that keep me on track. 

RG: How much time do you spend on your side hustle a week?

GP: I work full-time as a graphic artist, which can make it really difficult to come home and “work” more. The beauty of it though, is that I get to choose how much time I devote to my craft. So the amount of hours is always fluctuating. I can go weeks without a custom order, only to be hit with five the next day. 

I once spent 30-plus hours, in the span of five days, creating a wedding backdrop. I would come home from work, say “hi” to my fiancé, grab a bite to eat, and then head straight to the basement. I’d be down there for five to six hours and then head up to bed only to do it all again the next day. It was well worth the work — but an 80-hour work week definitely called for a mini hiatus. 

But to answer your question, I’d say an average of 10 to 15 hours can go into each piece. From trips to hardware stores, staining and sanding frames, to cutting the yarn and rope even before the actual creative work begins, every little bit adds up. I never take on more than one piece at a time, so 10 to 15 hours a week when the work is coming in.

RG: For various reasons, nearly 50 percent of millennials have a ‘side hustle.' What is the motivation behind yours?

GP: This is actually something I’ve never thought to ask myself before. I think it partly had to do with feeling lost and not knowing what my purpose is; but also not feeling fulfilled by my career as a graphic artist. Wanting to be something — instead of just droning on with the status quo. I wanted more to my story than a nine-to-five. I wanted work to be something I do, not who I am. Not what defines me. Branching out and creating something out of nothing felt like the first step.

RG: Do you view Stillcraft Co. as your ‘Plan B’?

GP: I’m not yet fully committed to the growth of my business, which is why Stillcraft is still a side-hustle. There is so much more work to be done behind the scenes for this gig to really take off and I haven’t given it the attention it needs to blossom. Perhaps one day, but for now I’m enjoying things as they are. 

RG: What words of encouragement do you have for others that are interested in investing in their own side hustle? 

GP: I hate that I can’t credit the person who said this, but here’s a quote that really stuck with me and motivated me to take the leap. "Inaction is a form of action, because if you CHOOSE to stay in the stable, safe place instead of going for your dreams, then you're making a CHOICE to stay stuck. The action you're choosing to take is no action at all." I mean, that’s some pretty powerful food for thought. 

My advice? Don’t let the fear of failing paralyze you. It takes just as much energy and action to keep yourself small and safe as it does to move forward and invest in yourself and your ideas. Plain and simple: allow yourself to meet your full potential. Don’t hold back.

Jenna K. Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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