If only someone would have told Danielle Evans to play with her food sooner.
The artist and designer struggled to find her path during college, feeling that she was caught between design and illustration. She was drawn to clean lines, shape-based type, and vector illustrations, but couldn’t bridge the gap between disciplines to the satisfaction of her professors or herself.
After she graduated into the recession, her search for her style and audience continued until she decided to begin a project combining food ingredients – flour, paprika, cinnamon, coffee, and so on – with her love of typography. She handcrafted clean typefaces out of the foods, using them to spell out clever takes on her subject, and began sharing photos on social media. Six months later, she landed a campaign for her first big client – Target. Operating under the business moniker Marmalade Bleue, she has completed successful campaigns for Macaroni Grill, Kellogg, and Nationwide, and has begun moving beyond food items to the wider canvas of dimensional type.
Lightbulb Moment: “Like most good ideas, I think they’re simple and they don’t initially mean as much to the person because they can sound deceptively easy…it just made so much sense and was so natural to me that I didn’t think anybody else would value it. But once I started putting it out there and making it known, people became very interested and excited and it seemed fresh and new. And it kind of shed a light on what it actually was doing for me.”
College teaches foundational skills, but you have to do in order to find your way. “It’s kind of like trying to roller-skate. There’s an aspect to roller-skating that people can tell you, ‘Oh just move your legs back and forth,’ or if you’re gonna whistle, ‘Just pucker up your lips and blow,’ and those are very basic instructions that don’t catch the nuance of what it is that you’re trying to achieve. So in those two examples, I feel like school is this person giving you very basic instruction, but it’s missing the nuance of whatever you need to unlock your potential and to unlock your success, and I feel like for a few years I’ve spent time just flopping on my butt or spitting my gum out of my face trying to whistle. And finally I’ve discovered the nuance of what that is.”
Find the balance between overly generalized and tiny niche appeal. “If [artists] could figure out how to kind of bridge that a little bit and reside in the sweet spot of, ‘This is accessible, but it’s still me,’ I think more people would have more success. And that takes a long time to hammer out because that path isn’t just built for everyone. I mean, obviously there was no way for me to major in type and food. That wasn’t a thing.”
Business debt is not necessary for a solo entrepreneur. “Run away from debt. Debt is not helpful to a business. It may seem like it, but really you can make it in a business without amassing more debt. I have personal debt; I have no business debt.”
Artists and creatives shouldn’t be afraid to see themselves as purveyors of products. “If someone comes in to you and goes, ‘I want three widgets,
but I only have money for two,’ then you go, ‘You get two widgets or get the hell out of my store.’”
Separate yourself by caring about everyday details. “If art is the backbone of my business then I guess the business aspect of it is the skeletal structure around it that really carries it and moves it, and I think that I find empowerment in having to do those tasks even though they’re mundane, because I know that it’s making my business better. And when I see how little effort that actually takes and how few creatives are willing to do that, I realize that I’m already ahead because I’m able and disciplined [enough] to put in the effort.”
Aim strategically on social media. “I think it’s realizing where the decision-makers are and who your audience is …I really loathe Pinterest because it’s so easy to misappropriate work, and that’s something that is a constant struggle in the business I have, but at the same time it’s showing people my work that I could never hope to connect to, hundreds and hundreds of people removed from me.”
Take control of as many parts of your work as you can. “A lot of creatives pin themselves down because they want to have someone else eventually take care of all of these things – the promotion, and the sharing, and the financial aspects, and expanding into products.They want someone else to deal with those things, and in reality, if you’re gonna make a business you have to be aware that there’s an endpoint for the work that you do, and you should do as much as you can to show the viewer the context of where this piece could be used or how it could be seen.”
You may be all of the business, but the business is not all of you. “It’s a very delicate balance. There have been a few times where my husband’s had to sit me down and go, ‘You are not this business. You are so much, but you are your own person, and you need to take care of the person that runs the business.’…it’s getting harder and harder to determine where those lines are, but I know that at least now, my brand doesn’t need to eat, my brand doesn’t need to sleep, and I certainly need to do those things. [laughs] But both always need to have fun.”