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Local design artist’s dreams come true thanks to Internet commerce

Tony Casey • Sep 30, 2013 at 8:50 PM

“Dream until your dreams come true.”

This Aerosmith lyric has become the motto of Johnson City graphic artist Jill McAmis. She’s experienced the ups and downs of a shaky economy all the way to where she is now, the operator of an extremely successful graphic design business.

McAmis said she was let go from a job she was working about 10 years ago, and met a fork in the road where she could have found another 9-5 job, or follow her dreams and open her own graphic design business. She chose to open her own business, but wasn’t met with the success she had hoped for.

About three years of rocky business, and growing debt, worried the East Tennessee State University graduate, who holds a degree in advertising, into nearly throwing in the towel on her dreams.

Even though she said he wasn’t sure how serious she was, she sought the advice of her mother, who ultimately told her to stick it out. In sticking it out, McAmis came in contact with a customer who asked if she could make him some stickers. McAmis never made stickers before, but with her business on the fritz, she told the client she could do it and took the job.

Her research on how to make stickers brought her to a website called Zazzle, which is basically a large online printing company. She designed and completed the client’s stickers, and maybe exposed herself to the greatest opportunity of her life.

“Zazzle,” she kept thinking over the next few days. The flashy name resided in her head until she looked into the employment portion of the site.

“My eureka moment came when I saw on their website, ‘you design, we print, and we pay you royalties,’” McAmis said.

From that point on, McAmis feverishly designed as much as she could, from post cards to invitations to stickers to website design.

“I designed like crazy,” McAmis said.

“Crazy” for this graphic artist was over 80 hours a week. She said Zazzle has a page for designers to check their orders, sales and numbers, which they refer to as the ‘magic mailbox,’ and she was astounded at the numbers she was racking up.

Now working around 50 hours a week, McAmis says her job is “absolutely lucrative.”

During the recession in 2008, McAmis was just getting into the groove with her designs on Zazzle and while everyone else was suffering in the economic climate, she couldn’t relate. She said had gotten so busy that one day she called her husband, Jamie, also an ETSU-trained graphic designer, and told him to quit his job as a probation officer to work with her on designs. Now, without him, she said she wouldn’t be able to maintain.

It didn’t stop there. McAmis has also brought on her sister to help with orders.

Opportunities of all kinds are presented to McAmis. She can get anywhere from 20 to 100 orders in a day, but her favorite thing to work on is logos. A lot of her work comes from designing logos and invitations for what she calls, “girly stuff,” such as spas, salons, boutiques and the like.

The advantages of working for herself are numerous, but what McAmis likes most is calling her own shots, not having to answer to anyone and not having a boss or supervisor.

“What I love is the freedom to design to my taste,” McAmis said.

McAmis said she does occasionally get orders from Johnson City and neighboring cities, but does the majority of her business all across the United States and globe. She’s gotten orders from Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Greece, the United Kingdom and more, saying without Google translator, she’d have no idea what most of the order emails she gets would say.

Going back to ETSU and talking to graphic artists would be something McAmis would like to do. Following her dreams, regardless of how bleak it’s looked at any time, has brought her to where she is now, and she wants to share her experience with others.

It’s as easy as having a computer, proper programs, and an Internet connection to get things started, McAmis said. The location of the artist doesn’t matter, and that’s why she and her husband have stayed in Johnson City.

“I could do this anywhere,” McAmis said. “But we have family here and we’ve talked about the possibility of leaving, but we just stay put.”

McAmis’ designs can be found at Zazzle.com with a search for Jill311.