What do you get when you combine fine art with archeology, history, natural fabrics and textures? If you have a flair for design, the answer is ARTeological, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based textual design, bookbinding and handmade paper studio owned and operated by Robyn McClendon-Jones. She services clients in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area and expects to gross $265,000 this year. “I design images for products, commissioned projects and public places,” says McClendon-Jones, 40, who employs three production assistants. “Our mission is to produce cross-cultural pieces.”
Initially, the going was far from smooth for McClendon-Jones, the mother of two. She faced many obstacles while trying to gain financing for her studio. “Though we had an established background, and I had shown that I could gain national accounts, the banks still felt that we were a risk,” she says. “They just couldn’t see the vision.”
To overcome the reluctance from banks, which said they couldn’t track her industry sectors (African American greeting cards and culturally-based fine art) and that clients’ invoices represented future (not current) monies coming in, McClendon-Jones used $5,000 of her personal savings and a $10,000 revolving line of credit from a credit card to finance her company. By minimizing her personal debt, she was able to maximize other financing options to get her business off on the right track.
When it comes to marketing herself, her work and her studio, McClendon-Jones is all business. While other budding artists avoided larger shows, she sought them out. “I focused on growing my business by doing stationery, craft and other trade shows in New York, Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco,” she says. “Doing those shows separated me from the other artists, and I really expanded my business.”
Since starting in 1993, she has created artwork for African American gift and specialty shops and individuals. Her work has been displayed in galleries and museums around the world, and her client list includes retail heavy hitters such as Macy’s and Nordstrom. She also markets selected images for licensing as surface designs for textiles, home accessories and paper goods.
“I have marketed my products to most of my clientele by doing trade shows, like Surtex and the New York Stationery Show,” says McClendon-Jones. “I do these shows because it puts me right in front of the customer.”
At a trade show, artists usually purchase a booth, and various manufacturers survey their work. If a manufacturer likes a particular design, negotiations begin for a licensing agreement. McClendon-Jones says the agreements usually last about one year, and she receives an up front commission plus 2% to 3% quarterly in royalties on all profits from the design.
McClendon-Jones, who has a background in history, has also worked in marketing, public relations, event planning and political fundraising for some of Washington’s elite, among them former President George Bush. Although she found this work enjoyable, she says it didn’t nourish her soul. She says: “I use art as a documentary of culture.”
ARTeological, 8 Filbert Court, Gaithersburg, MD 20879; 301-869-5599