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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Finding Your Path: From Artist to Entrepreneur

This article is the next installment in our "Finding Your Path" series. Over the next few months, our friends at 40:20 Vision will feature successful 40-something women sharing their stories on how they found their career path, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

Joy Newton, Founder, Joy Newton

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A skater—until I realized my true love was in art. You couldn’t pry me away from my crayons.

Education: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Parsons School of Design in New York City.

First job: Scientific illustrator apprentice at The Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, contributing artist for National Geographic Traveler magazine, and graphic designer at a toy company. Yes—all at once!

Most surprising place you’ll find her: Painting root vegetables at Blue Hill at Stone Barns for her new bag pattern for fall.

One thing every 20-something apartment should have: Fresh flowers.

Background: A graphic designer and illustrator by training, Joy’s early career spanned a number of diverse experiences—from drawing insects for the Smithsonian to designing makeup palettes for Chanel fashion shows. Later, she added marketing to her resume and rose through the ranks at a large sports medicine company.

But despite her success in the corporate world, she still felt something was missing. She longed to be outdoors enjoying the seasons—and that’s where inspiration sparked. She decided to take her own drawings of beautifully rendered plants and birds, and turn them into an eco-friendly collection of note cards, bags, and home accessories that bring the beauty of nature home.

Over the past 10 years, that line has grown from being a part-time job and a few pieces in a gallery show to a company that sells its “urban sophistication meets nature” decorative arts across seven product lines in the U.S. and abroad.

But finding her sweet spot at the confluence of science, art, and business wasn’t a simple equation. Read on for the path Joy took to turn her handmade hobby into a successful business and career.

Did you have any entrepreneurial aspirations in your 20s?

I always wanted to be an artist, but throughout my career, I became increasingly interested in the marketing side. But, I had no idea I would end up actually designing and manufacturing products and loving analytics.

What was your aha moment of inspiration to go for it?

Working long hours inside in a corporate office, I missed the seasons. I spent so much of my childhood outside, and so much of my adult life gardening! I adore the smell of fresh soil. I realized the beauty of nature was as absent in other people’s daily lives as it was in my own, and I wanted to bring the outdoors inside.

When did you know that the line was more than a one-gallery show? 

The following I got from my first show was humbling. I got notes and emails saying, “this was my late mom’s favorite plant” or “this bird reminds me of a favorite vacation spot” or “this flower was from my wedding.” I connected people to their memories and experiences, and I saw that I could bring happiness into people’s lives, while at the same time making more room for joy in mine.

Around the same time, the company I worked for was sold to a national health company. My son was starting kindergarten, and I didn't want to move, so they offered me the opportunity to train and consult. This allowed me to spend more time in my studio, be closer to my son, and eventually make my own big transition, building my business full-time.

What was the turning point in knowing you made the right move?

I started getting substantial store orders and selling out of my products quickly. Then, the press came and over the 2008 holiday gift season, things really took off. The boxes were piled so high for UPS that they blocked the door. The best part of that holiday was thinking of so many people opening our designs as gifts—that I could share that beauty. I realized it was my calling.

What was your best day in business?

The day a specialty national chain told me they wanted to carry my line in all 23 of their Northeast stores.

And what was your hardest day in business?

Also the day a specialty national chain told me they wanted to carry my line in all 23 of their Northeast stores!

It was apparent I had to make big changes. I had to find a manufacturing process that maintained the integrity of my handmade designs. I spent a week deciding, but I knew there was no other way. It was a big transition—facing new financial challenges and finding people to work with who shared my vision. Sourcing is such a big challenge.

What did you learn from your previous career that contributed to your success as an entrepreneur? 

The company where I worked as a graphic designer offered to train and support me as the marketing coordinator. I had no experience, so it was a little scary, but I worked hard and advanced in the role. If I hadn’t taken that challenge, I wouldn’t have gone the direction I did, and started this business. Challenges will come your way, but you can grow and learn from them. I try to give others that opportunity now.

What was your biggest mistake?

I had a massive order of glass products for an important new client. Every piece of the order shattered in shipping. I lost a lot of money. On top of it all, I didn’t insure. Proper packing is everything. Now every holiday my family gives me bubble wrap as a gift!

What did you learn on your path that you’d share with women in their 20s?

Delegate. You can’t do it all yourself. It’s not humanly possible. I’m not the only one who can manage things. I used to think no one could do anything better, but that changed with age and maturity. I wish I had let go a little earlier.

Early on someone in the press said I was “a soft-spoken perfectionist.” I thought about that for a very long time. Now I try to not be such a hard-lined perfectionist. Sometimes, imperfection can be a beautiful thing.

Check out more from the Finding Your Path series at The Daily Muse!

Explore Joy Newton at

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