Martha Hull adapts and overcomes to grow Cute and Deadly Art
Name of Business: Martha Hull, LLC. I go by Martha Hull’s Cute and Deadly Art, I run under the umbrella of an LLC.
Years in Business: 9
What the Business does: I draw and paint cute and deadly art, then I reproduce it and sell it. It’s basically accessible dark humor. I tend to feature a lot of animals and inanimate objects as my protagonists, and sometimes add text for humor. I have an illustration degree, and there is an element of storytelling in everything.
Sales happen in-person at my local Farmers’ Market (in non-pandemic years), in small, hip shops, and online.
What led you to do what you are doing now? This was a calling. I’d been out of art school for a number of years, working at a rewarding but low-paying graphic design job in Vermont. I moved to Portland during the 2008 recession because my boyfriend wanted to move out west and I’d fallen in love with Portland on a short visit. The only permanent work I found was as an admin in a windowless office, and I ended up feeling trapped. Those were some dark days for me. Eventually, I heard about the SBDC, and they were fantastic. All the folks there were super helpful. Jackie’s insights and encouragement, in particular, helped me have the courage, patience, and knowledge to take the baby steps that slowly led me to where I am now.
I ran a successful Kickstarter in 2015, which got me out of my day job. This helped me fund the creation and production of a picture book I wrote and illustrated, Death’s Daughter and the Basket of Kittens. When that project completed, I honestly wasn’t sure what to do next. Through Jackie, I met a crafter who sells jewelry at Portland Saturday Market, who was very encouraging. I lept in as quickly as I could manage, as my wallet was getting thin. The fellow vendors there were a hugely supportive group and taught me a lot. When I moved to Vermont in 2016, I had an expected bit of a business setback, but I did my best to hit the ground running, and got into the local Farmers’ Market (which is about 30% craft vendors) and have been growing the business on the East Coast and online since.
What is working? What are you still working on?
I’m still making sales, but they are less than normal, as I’m selling in fewer places. I’m optimistic about the future, and I’m continuing to make art, which I have confidence will sell eventually.
The pandemic put the brakes on meeting the customers face-to-face for now, which is seasonal where I live in the best of times. I am still working on a longer-range plan for wholesaling my products, on at least a national scale. There are a lot of things I need to learn and prepare to go in this direction. It’s always a challenge figuring out what you need to know, how to learn it, and when to move forward (even if things aren’t totally ready and perfect because they never are.)
I’m also always looking for quality new products/ways to showcase my art that people want to buy, yet don’t require a huge financial outlay or large amounts of time for me personally to produce.
One unpleasant thing I’ve had to learn to get comfortable with on my entrepreneurial journey is the constant feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing. I can step back and feel good about how far I’ve come. Yet there is always some big thing I don’t know how to do, that I really need to learn. The other big struggle for me is finding the balance of running the business and spending time making the art. I try to enjoy everything, but one of these elements (and I bet you can guess which one) is way more fun for me than the other. I’m also trying to see the difference between doing side projects for extra money (for me, making masks) and mission creep. You don’t want to “pivot” so successfully that you end up doing something you never wanted to do. Luckily, the art helps keep me grounded in why I do what I do.