25 May 2020.
George Floyd.
A tipping point.

Business as usual, my sadness met with apathy. This isn't the first time my blood boils and my heart cries when a Black person is killed by the police, but I can't really do anything, right? My privilege allowed me to carry on a few days more.

The days following felt like a tidal shift. The revolutionary fire had been reignited. A strong and rightful push of Black Lives Matter art and messages made its way across social media. And so began protests, riots, we called on our *injustice* system for better. Uncomfortable topics, calling out large influencers, let down by fellow creatives, friends lost. Sitting face to face with my shame, I realized, there was something I could do, after all, and it starts with my community.

As a business owner, you are told from the start to have a clear idea of your audience and who your ideal client is. I modeled my ideal client after the things I liked and let my art call upon any and all, because to me it was an unspoken rule; any and all are welcome here.

What I didn't take the time to realize is that unspoken rules are not clear for the oppressed. It is an unspoken rule that if someone calls the police on me I will, at most, be arrested. Not Murdered. For Black, Trans-Black, Gay Black, Black Indigenous and the like, this is unfortunately not an unspoken rule and therefore cannot be assumed. My privilege has blinded me.

For me right now it is not a question of when "business as usual" continues, but how. Here's how I want my business to change; I want to find new ways to show oppressed communities (Black, LQBTQIA+, Latinx, Indigenous and beyond) that they are welcome here. I want to learn new ways to respectfully include them in my art, and make it a spoken rule that they are welcome and valued here. I am imperfect, I am learning and unlearning, but I hope these steps can help as a catalyst for real change, deep within our souls and system. Black Friends, your life matters to me.

I hope those of you reading my post have made it this far. It's incredibly important to discuss how we can actually change our businesses and implement this spoken rule of inclusivity so we can disrupt the previous idea of "business as usual". Here are some actionable steps business owners can take;

Understand and Know Your Implicit Bias
A couple months ago my husband and I dedicated time to take these implicit bias tests from Harvard to better understand where we stand and how we can begin to unlearn. It felt good to take this step. Make no mistake, we ALL have bias. It's crucial that we understand and acknowledge where we are in our bias so we can take the appropriate steps to move forward.

Showcase Diversity In Your Work
As a calligrapher I often share quotes written in my script or create examples of work with fake couple names for photoshoots. I want to make a point of catering my exemplar work to include more diverse communities. Moving forward I pledge to honor LGBTQ+ couples, because their love is worthy. I want to seek out quotes from Black visionaries, because their voices need to be heard. I want to showcase more Indigenous names and invite these groups to view my art as something for them. Show them you SEE them and VALUE them. It needs to be spoken.

Question Your Current Business Model
How diverse is your referral list? Am I hiring/collaborating with a diverse team? These are two questions I've asked myself this week. Shamefully my answers were "not very" and "no". My goal is to change this and to continually check myself moving forward.

Remain Open-Minded
Think you've got this all figured out? Think again. As a white cis-woman I will never know what it's like to have a hard life made harder because of the color of my skin. I will never be perfect when it comes to allyship, but I won't show up pretending to be, either.

Don't Be Color-Blind
If you don't see color, you don't see injustice. That mindset erases Black culture, Black heritage, and shrouds the inequality that so desperately needs to be changed. Don't discredit Black history, learn from it. And while we're on the subject of color, please don't use Black people as your "poster child" or to show you aren't racist, that's called tokenism, and if you aren't familiar with that word I invite you to investigate. Now is not the time to scramble for Black clients or models so you can create last-minute content to show how inclusive your brand is, it isn't about your brand right now. Rather, now is the time to implement new ways of making Black people feel valued and part of your brand story. Make the space in your community to include them moving forward, but give Black creators the spotlight right now.

Lead Your Community
This. Is. Not. A. Trend. Black lives matter always, and will not be saved by a momentary burst of passion. This is going to be a long road ahead, but one worth traveling. Use your voice long after social media "performers" lose their steam. If you're on social media, you're an influencer. No matter how big or small your platform is, use it for good. Influence the change you want to see. Make "business as usual" different than it was before.

Amplify their voices, offer monetary support when you can, hold yourself accountable, offer compassion, do your research, appreciate Black culture, honor Black love, allow yourself to be a work in progress. RESPECT OTHERS.

2020 has been incredibly isolating, the news can be terrifying and the outlook at times seems quite dim and bleak. I acknowledge and respect those feelings, but I want to try to shift your focus...

The first thing we have to do is release ourselves from any pressure. You are not obligated to "make the most" of this quarantine time. The house does not have to be spotless (although it might help to tidy up a little), you do not need to get "shredded" (but please keep your body moving) and your business doesn't need a complete overhaul (although this is a great opportunity to work on your business if you can't work in it). You are obligated, however, to respect yourself and others. Creativity is a beautiful way to do this. It allows you to accomplish something small, explore ideas and soothe your mind all from the comfort of your home.

Jump In
Oftentimes the idea of starting a creative endeavor can be so daunting that you never actually get to make something. One of the best ways to combat this "paralysis" is to just jump in. Grab your camera, (yes, your phone works too!) and take a walk, now is a wonderful time to reconnect with nature! Turn on some music that inspires you or choose a playlist that evokes a mood and see where that takes you. Light a candle and write a poem by the soft light. Put pen to paper and draw a shape over and over again to create a pattern. Splatter different colors of paint across an empty canvas. Take the plunge and let creativity lead you. 

Gathering inspiration often proves just as fulfilling as the actual creation process. I just revamped my Pinterest to cover a wide variety of different creative interests. Check it out and then create your own board with images that inspire you! 

Experimentation can also lead you down a creative path. Just DO IT. Stop researching if this will work if you do this. Instead of asking people what they use, try it out yourself. Learning what works through experimentation can leave you feeling so inspired and has strengthened my art in ways I cannot describe with words.

Admiration and Retrospection
Another way to keep up your creative focus is to admire other creative or makers. When I'm not creating, I'm watching somebody else do it or scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram connecting with the art that really speaks to me. Supporting the makers whose art and creativity guides you is truly fulfilling. And, while we're on the topic, you don't need to box yourself into admiring the creators and makers doing what you want to do. Watch people turn wood on a lathe or cast things out of resin. You can learn a lot from other people's passions, too! 

Lastly, looking back through history to see how processes have evolved or how a traditional craft began and asking yourself how we can expand on that today can really stretch your creative mind in a positive way. A lot of precesses that were originally done out of necessity are now considered crafts, specialty skills or hobbies today. Calligraphy, soap or candle making, book binding, foraging, pot making, etc. all originate from some basic need being fulfilled for a community. Now, we consider it "artisanal" if we buy products being made with these traditional processes. 

And even if you're not feeling creative; often history has a habit of repeating itself, so looking back can prove quite helpful in challenging times like this.

Wishing you creativity, strength and peace. 
With my first *official* anniversary of being in business coming up in July, I wanted to share the meaning behind my brand name; Black Tulip. All of June and July of 2018 were spent creating business plans and logo designs around the name "By Hand Calligraphy", which was a pretty solid name, but has absolutely no backstory other than the obvious; my calligraphy was being done by hand.

Photo Courtesy of Corey Lynn Tucker

Before Black Tulip
I developed a color palette of pastel blues, greens and pinks because that's what I saw others were doing. Light and airy photos, bright whites, crips linens and swirly letters to compliment. I've been making art "seriously" for almost 10 years, and never have I ever created anything from the heart that had pastels as the main color palette. But I had also never tried to market my artwork to a niche of clients before and I had no idea what I was doing, so I followed everyone else's lead. 

Just before my official public "launch" in August, I had a complete breakdown. I felt like my personality and creativity were missing from my brand. As an Aquarian, I pride myself on being quirky, weird, and different. My business looked just like all the other, albeit beautiful, but Uber-pastel calligrapher brands. What I was doing was not authentic to who I was/am as an artist. My message and purpose were not apparent and it made me feel like I should just throw in the towel before the adventure even began. 

I needed that authentic, raw, real and imperfect element to my brand to make it feel like my creative home. I needed a welcome space to be who I truly am. So I stopped trying to be what I thought others would want me to be. I swapped my pastels for dark and moody blacks and browns, earthy greens and a bold and powerful red. I thought of my life, my inspirations, my happiness and that is where Black Tulip was waiting for me. 

The Netherlands + The Color Black + The Month of February = Black Tulip
I'm pretty sure this is common knowledge, but tulips are kind of like the "poster child" for the Netherlands, the country where I was born. Holland is where my dad kind of taught me how to drive a stick shift (lol, thank God automatic is the standard in the USA). It's where we celebrated my birthday every year in February. It's where my family lives. That country is home to some of my most cherished memories, so it only felt right to have a tulip as part of my brand. 

The color black has been my comfort through difficult years. It is my safe place, and a major part of who I am and what I create. It is a color that embodies who I was and who I grew up to be. It was only natural that any color palette I create for my business be centered around black.

Black Tulips are actually a very deep shade of purple. Purple not only symbolizes royalty (my name Stephanie means "crowned one") but also the month February by way of the amethyst. Being born in February, I have always surrounded myself with this beautiful stone. 

As you can see, this brand is unapologetically me. It is my past, my present and hopefully also a part of my future. 

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