PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We’ll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
This week we are so excited to hear from Australia-based Cassie Sullivan, who is both a photographer of captivatingly moody images and a writer of beautiful words. Grab a tea or coffee (or a glass of wine!), sit back, and immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Cassie, below.
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a ‘proper’ job, rather a myriad of incredibly different jobs. My first career move was event management. I ran music festivals mostly. It was a job I fell into as an 18-year-old and loved for its intensity and difference. I knew from the beginning that a 9-5 wouldn’t work for me and I loved that this work could be 20 hour days for weeks or sometimes months on end. I loved that it fed my soul and my sense of achievement and was filled with like-minded and exciting people.
Has art always been in your blood?
I’ve always been drawn to the creative world but it’s not something I grew up knowing about. My family are very working class and hard work and a steady income were very valued in my upbringing. I wasn’t born with a ‘paintbrush in my hand’ as many other artists are and it’s a consistent challenge for me to feel like being a creative is a worthy adult pursuit.
What’s your main creative discipline and how did you get started in it?
My main creative discipline is photography. I studied an intensive photography course about 7 years ago. It was a steep learning curve but I had a strong idea that I wanted to have my own business on finishing the course so that really drove me to learn as much as possible. I trained further under a few people in my first few years but never felt truly settled until I went out on my own. I also freelance as a writer here and there which I love.
Do you see yourself as introverted or extroverted, and does being either affect the way you work?
I am 100% an introvert. I have had to learn certain skills to get me through a wedding day or editorial shoot, like better communication. On a shoot day, my sense of calm and quiet always benefits me by helping relax everyone and being able to document a lot of extra parts of a story without being ‘seen’. Day to day, working independently in front of the computer suits me fine. Luckily I quite enjoy being on my own, as photography and writing can be quite lonely professions.
What is your favourite kind of commission, and why?
At the moment I’m really enjoying doing editorial photography as it allows me to really define my vision and experiment creatively. I feel like I learn so much from them every time.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
I think it was always obvious to me that I would have my own business but I’m not sure I ever felt ready, or even feel ready now. It’s such a huge learning experience. I’ve learned things about myself that I didn’t know existed, and that’s the challenge and reward of taking the leap into working for yourself. It takes guts and no one ever feels ready BUT starting is the only way you’ll ever find out.
How did you go about starting your own business?
Whilst working for a few other photographers I transitioned into getting my own clients. I probably took the leap a little too early, to be honest. I thought my client base would grow quicker than it did but I’m a ‘follow your heart’ personality and spending my energy on other people's businesses was draining me. There are many different ways of doing it and leaping early is one sure way of learning fast. I’ve been fortunate enough in writing that people seek me out with commissions whereas photography is always me pushing myself out there.
How did you secure your first clients?
With photography, it was a lot of word of mouth and a willingness to work for very little in order to prove myself. I still appreciate the trust people placed in me so early on.
What is your typical daily routine like?
I let myself wake up naturally, alarms stress me out. I place my hand on my heart and sleepily try and centre myself for the day. When I get up I have coffee and open my computer. I work with very little structure, deciding each morning how I want the day to pan out. I try and answer emails first because I’m terrible at it and they haunt me. I’ll often break around 4 because it’s when I’m at my most tired and distracted. I don’t have a telly so I find night time is a great time to just think things over or chat with friends about creating. Giving yourself space to think of new ideas and creations and refine old ideas is so important.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
Ha, well I often think they cancel each other out. Artists don’t always do well with the monotony of day-to-day business but they usually are fabulous entrepreneurs. Artists are used to being treated as the black sheep so they aren’t afraid of doing things a little differently. I think artists have an innate sense of mood and feeling that can really help with building a strong brand.
How does being an introvert (or an extrovert) help or hinder you when it comes to business?
Being an introvert and reflective and empathic is at the core of why I create art, so without it, I wouldn’t have a creative business.
Do you have a favourite medium or technique?
I think just constantly exploring light; it never gets old as a photographer.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
Having the courage to share my work always pays off. I stew over it so much but I have to remind myself that it’s literally the only way people will know about me and the work I do.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
Absolutely. The healthier and more confident I feel within myself the easier I find it to create. I get itchy fingers, both to press the shutter and to type. My need to write comes from a deep place, it’s almost uncontrollable and when I sit down and start typing it floods out of me. There’s a great Ernest Hemingway quote: ‘Writing is easy, you just sit down at a typewriter and bleed'. Truth.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
Yes, all the time but I kind of like that. Photography and writing are similar in that you have an explosion of being surrounded with people and input and inspiration and life, then you go away and sit and filter it all till it makes sense to you.
How do you relax?
I meditate in my own very casual, dreamy way. I go to nature and just sit, feel the wind, smell the plants, stand in the ocean, touch the rocks. I live in an incredible place, Tasmania, it’s an island of Australia, I love its natural beauty and sense of community.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find it in connections with people. As a very empathic human, I feel all the things all the time. Being with people drains me completely but it fuels my creative process. Life is my inspiration.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Oh gosh, that’s a great question. Find you in you. Search high and low through experiences but never try and find it in other people.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Being kind. Having a courageous soul. A writer that intruded on people’s hearts.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Being asked to speak at camps about my writing has opened my eyes up to how effectual I can be. I tend to not really think that anyone actually reads my writing (because that makes it easier to share) but knowing that people connect with it so deeply gave me a lot of confidence to explore my writing abilities.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The flexibility it gives me to curate my own life. Whether that be to travel or stay home, I get to choose. Not many people have that option.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
Marketing myself is always challenging for me. If my life depended on selling something, I would die. Social media can make up for that somewhat, especially with my writing. What people read of mine online I could say maybe a tenth of it in person so I rely heavily on word of mouth marketing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Maybe not advice but a quote I try to live by…
‘The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.' – Neil Gaiman
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
Present: Neil Gaiman (see previous question)
Past: My Poppy
Portrait of Cassie by Alice Laidlaw.
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