The Ultimate Branding Checklist

Your go-to-branding guide is just a click away!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Pepper Raccoon on Setting Healthy Boundaries, Creating a Community, and Adapting as an Artist

Creative Business
min read
In this article

This week on the Brand Your Passion podcast, I was joined by artist, illustrator and Twitch streamer, Pepper Raccoon.  

Pepper is a digital and ink illustrator who creates original artwork and merch for sale on her online store, as well as running a commercial consultancy for illustration. Pepper believes that art should be accessible for everyone, and streaming her art on Twitch is one of the creative ways she shares this! 

In this amazing episode, we talk about how to transform your creativity into a business, finding and embracing your brand, building a community whilst staying true to your passion, and so much more!

*This episode is powered by Hnry. Hnry pays and files all of your taxes for you, so you never have to think about it again. Plus, it makes quoting, invoicing, payments and expenses so much easier, so you can stay on top of all things financial.

If you are a freelancer or contractor in New Zealand or Australia and want to spend more time creating and less time worrying about taxes, sign up to Hnry today and use the promo code PASSION to get $50 off your Hnry fees!

Hey everyone, welcome back to this week's episode of Brand Your Passion. I'm super excited to be joined by the wonderful Pepper Raccoon this week. Welcome to the show! 

Do you want to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what it is that you do?

I'm Pepper Raccoon, and I'm an artist and illustrator. I run my own online store where I sell merch and my art prints. I also stream my art on Twitch and I run a commercial consultancy for doing illustration.

Amazing. Just a few things! 

So you obviously are a creative, it's everything that you are and what you do. But do you want to tell us a bit about your journey to where you are now? Were you creative as a kid? How did you get to here?

I don't know when the pivotal moment happened where I thought, “I'm gonna be doing this forever”. But I drew a lot as a kid and in fifth grade, me and my friends would all draw together. We would draw copycat stuff, we would copy anime and we’d draw the same things. Then as I went through middle school, I realised I was kind of the weird kid and I didn't really know why. It turns out that I just have a really different way of thinking about stuff, mostly because I have a weird neurodivergent brain. 

I got to high school and I realised that normal careers probably weren't my vibe, and that I really liked to do art. My parents were nice enough to help me go to a couple of pre-college art programs that really helped me realise that art could be a career. And that's kind of where I got started. 

"I realised I was kind of the weird kid."

I feel like there are so many creatives who felt like the weird kid in school. We were that weird person illustrating or drawing weird stuff in the corner. I was talking to someone about how so many creatives started making magazines, and I thought that was just something me and my friend did! 

So you did the pre-college stuff, and then you went to college for art, right?

Yeah, I went to CalArts for university in Los Angeles. Coming out of high school, we didn't have gap years or anything like that. That's not really a thing in the States, so I had to choose kind of quickly what I wanted to do. I went to a very University-focused high school, so it felt very pressured and so I made the choice to go to CalArts because it was prestigious. 

While I don't regret that decision, I was offered a scholarship to another school that I wish I had gone to, which was much more focused on craft, technique, learning how to draw and all that kind of stuff. CalArts kind of assumed you already know how to do that and didn't value it as highly. I ended up learning a lot more about conceptual thinking, which ended up being really useful, but if I could do it all again, I probably would have gone to the craft-based school that was cheaper!

Hindsight is 2020, right? So many people don't know what they want to do for college and then have to pick something random just to pick something. But picking the right college or degree even when you know what you want to do is hard.

I'm glad I at least picked the right major, if not the right school necessarily. 

Yeah, totally. So how long were you at CalArts for? 

I was there for 4 years. It kind of hit me in my second year that it was a weird place for me. I thought, “Huh. I'm actively fighting everything that the school teaches.” But I actually really enjoyed being there and had a great time. 

So I was at Cal Arts for 4 years, and then I graduated and did a year at an artist residency in San Francisco. Then I moved to New Zealand, which is where I was born so I have dual citizenship. It seemed like the natural move because I love this place.

And you're now in the “creative capital” - which is what they call Wellington. 

Hell yeah. Hope it stays that way.

We're on a mission to keep it that way. So you're doing art at college. How did you get into doing the illustration that you're doing now?

That’s a funny story. When I was in fifth grade, I made and sold bandanas because they were really popular at the time - I think Britney Spears wore one or something. But everyone wanted a freaking bandana, so I hand-sewed them with my mom and then I sold them at school. I got in trouble because I made one bandana that wasn't the same quality as all the other ones, and I realised that sometimes you have to refund people's money. 

All of that experience made me realise that I actually really like making high quality products and selling them to people on top of my art, so I started a career in UX design and eventually landed a job as a junior designer. I realised that I didn't like working in an office, so I tried to get a job somewhere else - that fell through but I had already given notice at my old job. I ended up just holding the short end of the stick. It was like, “Cool, I have to freelance now, because I can't trust anybody to actually give me a job apparently. I’ll just do it myself.” So I did that. 

But I noticed that enamel pins were coming up. I saw that Jem Yoshioka, another Wellington artist, was making one and I bought one of hers and asked her to tell me how it went. Then a whole bunch of people realised it's a viable thing we can do here in New Zealand, so a bunch of us started making pins. I made a ‘Nasty Woman’ pin during the Trump/Hillary election that went viral. The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed collections and a whole bunch of other websites had ‘Nasty Woman’ collections and my pin was one of the first things that popped up. 

That kind of launched my product-based thing. I really wanted to make good quality stuff that I could sell, just like those bandanas when I was in fifth grade, in order to fund my art practice. Because while doing commercial art is fun and I do enjoy it and don't ever want to give it up entirely, I'm really driven by exploring my fine art inclinations. For me, the way to fund that is mostly through products. I can take those fine art things, turn them into products, and then people can afford them - which is great because fine art is quite expensive. That can then help me cut out more time from my day to make things. 

"I can't trust anybody to actually give me a job. I’ll just do it myself."
Pepper first started selling her creations in fifth grade, when she made and sold bandanas. Later in life, she learned that she really wanted to create high quality products to fund her art explorations, which in turn allowed people to enjoy fine art products in an affordable way.

You know, there's this kind of fantasy or romantic notion that you start your business with all this money saved up and ready to go, but it comes out of freaking necessity.

I was in tears, like in a closet crying because I had gotten dumped from this new job that I was supposed to have already basically gotten. I was at my old job just sobbing. And I was like, “You know what - fuck it.”

Now is the time. 

Yeah, exactly. I was like, “I can’t rely on anyone else.” That’s not actually how I feel, but at that moment I realised I’m gonna have to do this myself. I've actually found that works a lot better for my brain.

Totally. My full time freelancing was pretty similar - it was a shit situation and I was like, “Well, fine. I guess now is the time.” But I think it's a testament that we were both just able to take that leap and give it a go. We've obviously made the most of it and have done a pretty good job. We are doing it. 

How did you feel back then turning a hobby into what is now your business?

I took my skills from my design job and bridged the gap with that. I took what I knew about doing graphic design, digital design and web design, and I started freelancing with that. I used that to fund and roll into doing illustration. 

I saw some of those clients fall away and I saw new clients come in, and that actually bridged fairly smoothly. Then at some point, I was able to just take the graphic design portfolio off my website. I don't actually enjoy doing web design that much, so it was great to just be like - bye! 

Now I'm going through another transition where I'm folding my commercial illustration business brand into my personal online store brand and making it one portal for all of those things, which is just ideal.

Pepper was able to take her graphic, digital and web design skills to build her illustration business.

I mean, it’s so much easier to manage than having all these different brands that you're trying to get going. So you said you started with those design clients - where did you find those first clients?

They weren't great clients. They were kind of random internet things that I found in a Facebook group of New Zealand online startups. I was moving up to a different part of New Zealand so I looked for work up there and ended up doing some pretty not great work for a not great client. 

I started learning how to pick up on which clients were the right ones for me and how to spot red flags. Then I started changing what I told people I did. At first, I told people I did web and UX, then I told them I did graphic design and illustration, and then I told them that now I only do illustration. People just went with it. You feel like you're faking it till you make it - but I did have the skills. I wasn't telling people nothing, it was good stuff. You can tell people you do whatever, and as long as you actually can back that up with your skills, it's all good. 

"I started learning how to pick up on which clients were the right ones for me."

And you can niche over time, right? There are so many people who start freelancing and feel like they need to figure out their niche right from the beginning, and they need to only do this certain type of work for this certain type of client. But actually, that's 3 or 4 steps down the line. For me, I'm now on my fourth niche down. It's kind of good to know that you don't have to do it right from the beginning - it's a process.

I’ve always been a go-it-alone kind of freelancer, although this is changing because I just have no time left. But I was always like, I'm going to do everything myself. I'm going to do my accounting, my admin, my everything by myself, because I just can't afford to hire somebody. If I hire somebody, then I'm spending money and then I don't have that money for something else. I wasn’t factoring in that my time is very precious. 

When I started the branding, I did it myself and it was very hand drawn. I was trying to communicate that while I did design, my main interest was actually in things that felt a bit handmade, so that's what I did. That was Pepper Curry Design and that was entirely commercial focused. Then out of that spun Pepper Raccoon, which had been my nickname for a long time but it really suits what I do so I kept it and used that to launch my online brand with my store. For a long time, those two things have run parallel. I did do all the branding for both of those myself. I did pretty much all the web design myself, everything like that. And then I eventually learned it's good to hire people!

"I wasn’t factoring in that my time is very precious." 

It’s definitely a process to figure that out. I was exactly the same. I thought, “well, I'm a creative. I know how to do all these things, so I might as well do them all and it'll save me a bunch of money.” But then you spend weeks designing a new website when you could be doing all this other stuff. 

It's super true. 

But that's a necessary thing when you're first getting started, right? Yes, you kind of have to figure some stuff out on your own. Then slowly over time, when you do have that cash to invest in your business, you can start making those investments. You said you have started hiring people and working with people. You worked with me on your branding, which was awesome. 

Tell me a little bit about what made you decide to work with a branding coach? Because I'm sure there are a lot of people listening who maybe aren’t sure if they need a coach or don't even know if they need to hire anybody to help them with their brand. 

The main thing for me is that when you're in the flow of your work and you're deep in that headspace, you don't have the outside perspective that you need to step away and find the larger why and how, and all those kinds of mission statement things that you need. I was abundantly aware of this because I did a ton of business communication illustration work for larger corporates that was all around those topics. 

"When you're in the flow of your work and you're deep in that headspace, you don't have the outside perspective that you need to step away and find the larger why and how."

As much as I don't want to be corporate, I realised that it's really important to have those things locked down and to understand who you are and what you're doing - especially when part of your brand is you. I knew I had to do that kind of work, but I really needed a guide on that path because I just couldn't get myself out of my own little world that I had built. I needed somebody to help me step outside of that, look at all the pieces and put them together in a way that made sense to other people.

"It's really important to have those things locked down and to understand who you are and what you're doing - especially when part of your brand is you."

It's good to have that kind of outside, distant perspective from someone who's not living your day-to-day life and to pull those things out of you. What was that process like for you, and what's changed since then?

It was really good. I did a little bit of the visual branding beforehand, because the way that I learn and communicate is very visual. I had an image in my head of what I want to feel like, what I want my things to feel like, so I made that and showed that to you. Then we sorted through what that meant, what that meant to me, looked at the integrity of what I do, and figured out why that was so important. All of those things are really, really life affirming. 

Part of what was important to me in that journey is the fact that as an artist, your art is effective if it communicates who you are or your message to your audience - but that's not the whole picture when you run a business, even if it's really tempting to think that your art speaks for itself. The reality is, I don't think that's true in today's economy. On social media, you have a second. And yeah, your art will catch someone's eye. But understanding how to describe why what you do is important is what gets you people to care about you and what you do. That whole journey helped me understand that sure, my art has impact, but it's also really important to tell people I'm eco-friendly, I'm super sustainable, I don't use much plastic at all, I care about the environment, I care about my customers, I spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning and value of what I put into my work. All of those things are really important for people to know, and just looking at a picture or product that I've made doesn't tell them that.

"As an artist, your art is effective if it communicates who you are or your message to your audience - but that's not the whole picture when you run a business."

Awesome. So part of your brand isn’t just about the colours and the fonts and the visual stuff - it's about what people know you for. And specifically for you, I feel like one of those things that people really know you for is your style of illustration and the topics of the illustrations that you do. How have you grown that connotation that people have with you of doing this kind of spooky, nature-inspired stuff?

I think this is true for a lot of artists, but when I started, I did a lot of derivative things without even realising it. For instance, I was following the trend of enamel pins, so I designed enamel pins that looked like other people's enamel pins. The art I was doing was inspired by a lot of Instagram and social media stuff, so I was trying to cater to topics that fit my audience. 

I've also always been a nature artist so there was always nature there, but I didn't feel like that gave me much of an identity. When I moved back to Wellington from Northland, I realised that I had neglected a large chunk of who I was as a person for quite some time, which is that I'm a bit goth. I'm real spooky. I've always been into death and the macabre and just messing around with strange images and occult stuff. I'm a bit of a dabbler but I take it quite seriously. So I was like, “Well, why wouldn't I bring that into my art?” I'm a huge fan of traditional tattoo, I'm a huge fan of all these dark artists. It seems silly for me to just not have this. It's such a strong visual element that it's really helped me to find my brand. I've also tried to make it educational, which I think is part of what gets people to engage with it on a deeper level, rather than just liking spooky stuff. I have a lot of audience members who don't like spooky stuff, but are really interested in death as a process and I explore that a lot in my work. So there's that sort of thing.

Pepper has always been inspired by nature, death and the macabre, as well as traditional tattoo styles of art, and has brought these strong visual elements into her brand.

I assume you feel better by leaning into the stuff that you actually love? 

Yeah, I have infinite passion for it. My attention span is super short for things I'm not interested in. I have ADHD most likely, and if I have to draw stuff I don't care about then it's really hard to focus. The more niche I've gotten and the more specific with my messaging and with my art that I've gotten, the more I can spend on something. I've been working on the same series for two years, which is unheard of for me. I usually do one drawing and I'm done. These are drawings that take hundreds of hours and they all have similar subject matter, and I still seem to be interested - so that's a really good sign. 

"I have infinite passion for it."

And they're beautiful and people love them. It's a win-win, because you love it and your audience loves it, it’s magic.

So you’ve told us a little bit about your audience. Primarily, you’ve got your audience on Twitter, which I find so interesting. I'm also on Twitter, but a lot of artists and visual creatives flock to Instagram - it’s flouted as the visual platform for creatives, that's where all the creatives are. I'm super interested in your thoughts on why Twitter is a cool place to share your art. 

For me specifically, I have to caveat it with the fact that in New Zealand, Twitter is especially good for artists. New Zealanders are proud of their country and they want to support people from their country who are doing interesting things. So that gives me a leg-up. But also in general, as an artist, the fact that your art breaks up an entire feed of chaos is actually a really good thing. People are scrolling through and then they see something cool that looks good and catches their eye. I also think the ability to retweet and to retweet your own stuff (which I think every artist should do) gives you a lot more visibility on the platform. Not to mention that the Instagram algorithm is heartbreakingly tough. If you don't give money, it's really hard to get anywhere. I’ve kind of neglected my Instagram. I still put posts up every so often, but Twitter is easy. I also think Instagram is very visual and that means people don't hear what you have to say sometimes. A lot of the time, they don't read your caption. They just tap ‘like’ and move on. Whereas on Twitter, I post all the time and people feel like they really know me. That personal connection is a lot of what drives my audience to support me.

I think you're definitely right about breaking up the feed. Everyone's doomscrolling at the moment. I started following so many illustrators on Twitter and it made it really inspirational and bright and joyous. So yeah, you're totally right in that. I think it's also good to not necessarily focus on all the platforms, right? You say you’ve neglected Instagram, but it's fine - Twitter is your place. That's where your community is. It's working and you enjoy being there. So frickin focus on Twitter, don't stress about having to be on Instagram and Facebook and everything!

I know, there are so many blog posts and stuff online that say you need to be on the top four platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I don't have time for that! 

And it sounds exhausting.

It's the same as paying somebody to do something for you. Is this going to take time away from me or is it going to free up my time? Twitter makes it really easy to share stuff, so that's a win. On Instagram I have to slog to figure out how to get people to see my posts and that's a lot tougher. Put your time where it's easy.

Totally, 100%. Speaking of other platforms, you’ve recently started streaming on Twitch. People listening maybe know about Twitch and think of it as a gaming platform, but there's actually a massive community of creators and artists - people doing pottery and wood carvings and so much cool stuff on Twitch. Tell me a little bit about why you started streaming on Twitch and how that process has been going?

So I got started during the lockdown last year. We basically only had a month locked down in New Zealand, which we're very lucky for, but during that time, I realised I was not going to see a lot of work coming my way for the next couple of months and I kind of freaked out. It turned out not to be as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I started thinking about different ways that I could share my art. My partner and I are both really into gaming and he suggested trying Twitch for my art. At first, I said no, when I go on Twitch, I usually watch a stream for 10 minutes and then I just move on to the next one. I wanted that longer engagement with my audience. But once lockdown happened, I was like, actually this makes sense - if we're going to be housebound, this is one of the only ways to get my art out to the world. It lets me talk to people when I'm trapped in my house and I can entertain people who might be sad and bored. It's a win-win-win. 

I got set up in July of last year, so I'm at 9 months now. I had a pretty good first 3-4 months of streaming and I got featured on the Twitch ANZ Creative Showcase, which helped my numbers. I have a small but loyal audience that shows up to watch my streams. The best thing about it is that I earn a little bit of income from doing it. I'm working on stuff I would be working on anyway, I'm connecting with my audience and they're seeing me create a product. If they like the product, they can buy it when it's done. It’s time best spent, so it’s great.

The beauty of Twitch is that Pepper's audience can come along on the journey of creating her art. They can watch her create a product and then even buy it at the end when it's done.

Yeah, amazing. People love to see the process behind stuff, it gets them so excited for the end product if they've been invested in the whole process. They feel like they’ve been a part of the whole thing and now it's here. That's a great way to build hype and get your products out there. 

How have you kind of felt about growing a community on Twitch? Is it different from growing on Twitter or kind of the different things that you've already done?

There's a few differences. When I started on Twitch, I was like, “I'm gonna kick this thing's ass” and got in there. But it’s a slow growth platform that’s sold as a fast growth platform. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned over my whole career is about expectations. Some people have imposter syndrome and think no one is going to care about their work, and that's wrong - but thinking that everyone is going to care about their work and that they’re going to grow super quickly is also wrong. There's a happy medium in the middle. I found with Twitch that I grew super fast at the beginning because I had an existing audience that came over with me, but it’s really limited in terms of organic growth. It's all about the platforms that you have outside of Twitch. Twitter, again, drives traffic to Twitch for me. If you don't already have that audience, it can be really slow going on Twitch to grow your audience and that's something I think people should be aware of. 

The other thing is parasocial stuff - with Twitch, people feel even more like they know you because you're talking to them while they're chatting with you in the chat. I've started to think about how to frame how I talk, how I communicate, what I say online and all that kind of stuff to have a healthy relationship with my audience, because I do get DMs from people who think that we're friends. As much as I appreciate that they like me and think I'm a nice person, I don't have the energy to spend all of that time with people. I'm also quite introverted - as much as I can be extroverted, I like to spend a lot of time alone at home, so to have strangers in my DMs sending me photos of their kids or asking me for art advice and taking up a lot of my time makes me reach the point where I need to be like, “Hey, thanks for this message, but I don't have the capacity for this.” I'm really just starting to dip my toes into figuring out how to do that in a way that doesn't alienate people. I think Twitch is definitely the way that happens a lot for streamers. 

Yeah, totally. It’s that balance of wanting to be friendly and for people to feel that they know you, but you also need boundaries.

Yeah, I want to be friendly, but we're not friends - as much as that's sucky to hear. The people that you see on the internet are not your friends. If you don't hang out with them or you don't have a personal relationship that extends beyond watching their content, you're not friends. That's quite hard for some people, especially when you’re young. I do get it, I've been there. The goal is to help people feel like it's a safe and happy place for them to hang out, but that I personally am not on call.

Yeah, that's definitely not going to scale when you have thousands of followers - because we’re believing that’s gonna happen!

Hell yeah. Eventually. 

There's no way you can reply to 1000 people. 

At the moment, it's 2-3 and that's fine. But I'm seeing how this could get problematic. 

Definitely. I think it's awesome that you're already thinking about how to set these healthy boundaries and figuring out that dynamic from the beginning, rather than getting to all those people and going, “Well, shit. What do I do?”

It's been a big topic of conversation about streamers on Twitter. Recently, there's talk about the parasocial concept and what that means. I think it's really good that people are talking about it - I didn't know about it until I read about it this week! So that's my new headspace that I'm working in. 

That’s great that people are talking about it, it helps explain what you’ve been experiencing. 

More and more people are getting into streaming, and as you were saying, there is that perception that I’m going to join and be at the level of all these other famous streamers. The same thing happens on YouTube, right? I’m going to be this famous YouTuber making videos and all of a sudden, I’m going to be making millions. So of course people are going to be excited about getting onto Twitch and starting this. 

For anyone listening who is thinking about starting streaming, what would you recommend focusing on when you start building your channel and branding your channel? 

I think the main thing is not to spend a heap getting into it. It's really easy to get talked into buying crazy gear and investing in crazy branding. If you look at what a lot of people start with on Twitch, it's pretty minimal. A lot of people's brands are things they just did themselves, and most of them are not artists or designers. The bar is fairly low so you don't need to go overboard. I think that's the main piece of advice I have. I went a little bit overboard, but I'm also mid-career and could manage it. If you're a young person looking to get into streaming for art specifically, just get the basics. Don't worry too much. Especially if you're doing digital art, it's really easy to get started with just the tools that you have at hand. That's what I would recommend. 

Also just setting reasonable expectations. It's okay to stream to no one for a bit. - just pretend you're streaming to someone, it doesn't matter. People will stumble on your channel, they will find you, and if you're positive and doing your thing and kicking ass, they will follow you. Don't worry if you just have 2 viewers, don't worry if you have 4 - it's hard just to get above 10. People need to be cognisant that the first few months can be a slog. But if you stick with it, build your social media presence, and you remind people that you're streaming regularly, it will happen. It just takes a little bit.

"If you're a young person looking to get into streaming for art, just get the basics. Don't worry too much."

The same thing happens with every social media, right? Maybe someone only has 100 followers on Instagram, but if you thought about 100 people in a room, it's amazing. Think about it as - I've got 5 people in the room with me who want to watch me do this thing. That's amazing. 

Exactly. Anybody who engages with me during my stream, I just think - you're amazing, I love you. I sit for 4 hours and work on a drawing, and there's people who sit and watch me draw for 4 frickin hours. I know they're doing other stuff too and that's great, I'm totally happy to be somebody’s pocket companion while they're drawing or doing work or whatever. I think you can get hung up on the idea of being the main focus of somebody's life, having a huge audience and getting rich quick, and none of those things are realistic. It's really important not to focus so much on the money with something like Twitch - as much as you read blog posts about exponential growth and think it's gonna happen and it's gonna be so easy, it really isn't. But it's a lot of fun. I think that's the important thing - enjoying the journey. Slow growth is healthy growth. Fast growth is actually kind of scary for a lot of reasons. So as much as it can be tempting to buy into the idea that just going viral and getting famous would be great, slow growth gives you much more time to decide what you really want to do and what you like doing, and just continuing to build on that.

"That's the important thing - enjoying the journey."

For sure. And yeah, you have that small audience of Twitch followers but you can create a really cool community with that small audience and really get to know each other and build it together. 

Yeah, we talk about the same stuff all the time. We pick up the same topics and a bunch of us know the in-jokes, and that's quite cute. As the community grows, we let go of some of those, but that feeling of familiarity that we all have with each other is really nice. 

Switching back to your whole career - as an illustrator, what do you think has been the best part about branding your passion and building this business?

I think it's the freedom of it. Honestly, I think that's always been the main focus - finding my path that I want to walk as a human being. That's my spiritual journey that I'm on. Where I'm going with my art, where that's going to take me and having the freedom to pursue that has been the greatest gift of branding my passion. Definitely. And also just being like, “Look, I love this. I'm going to do it. Sorry about it.”

"Where I'm going with my art, where that's going to take me and having the freedom to pursue that has been the greatest gift of branding my passion."

Try and stop me. 

Even as a kid, I was so abundantly aware of the fact that everybody feels pressure to cut corners and pick a job that they maybe don't want in order to make money. Not everybody has the privilege of being able to not do that. But if you can, you should, because it's your life and you get one, so it's really important to spend it doing what you love. Sometimes that can be heartbreaking and stressful and horrible, but it always feels like it's worthwhile. 

"It's your life and you get one, so it's really important to spend it doing what you love. Sometimes that can be heartbreaking and stressful and horrible, but it always feels like it's worthwhile." 
Pepper's journey as an artist and illustrator has been the greatest gift of branding her passion.

For sure. Every time I have a stressful day at work or money goes up and down or whatever, I just remember that I could be sitting in an office. I could be sitting at a 9-5 job, sitting at the same desk, doing the same thing, pushing the same frickin pixels. 

I already had to deal with annoying clients at my last job. The fact that I don't really have annoying clients anymore is the greatest blessing.

I love that that's the best part and I wholeheartedly agree with you. What do you think has been the most challenging part or lesson that you've learned along the way?

I think it's been adapting to the ebbs and flows in energy, income, time - just everything. It’s understanding that I'm the only person who's driving this, so when I feel unproductive, I need to take a break. When I feel like I don't have enough money, that's just sometimes the way that it is and you have to plan for the future. There's so much adaptability that you need to have, and that's definitely the hardest thing to learn. I definitely haven't mastered it yet. But I've been doing this for 5 years, so I've learned to not completely freak out if I don't make much money in a month, because I know the next month is usually better. 

It also takes time to get used to being assertive with yourself and with your clients. You have to learn to be like, “You know what, I need to take two weeks off this year in the middle of the year. I can't work during this time” or “Oh, you know what, I need to send that email to that person telling them that what they did wasn't okay.” That ‘being your own boss’ stuff can be really hard.

It’s going back to that romantic notion of freelancing as a creative and thinking, “I'm just gonna create all day.” But actually, there are all those business-related things that we have to do.

If I drew a pie chart of how much time I actually spend making art at the moment, the pie chart piece that would be art-making is probably 30-40% of my time. It needs to be more, but also -  I'm trying to run a frickin business here, so I’ve got to do the work. That's always going to be the tension with freelancing, especially when you care about what you do.

For sure. As a one-man, one-woman, one-whatever-you-identify-as band, you have to juggle a lot of different jobs. 

Get an accountant. Get someone to help you with your finances, those kinds of things. You can take off your plate. I think the first thing that everybody should do as a freelancer is to have someone else deal with your money. 

Yeah, totally - or put it into Henry. Something that's going to help you not have to worry about it.

So last question - what advice would you give to other creatives when it comes to branding their passion?

Don't sell yourself short. I think a lot of people think, “People aren't going to like the thing that I like, so I'm going to do things that cater to my audience.” And I'm not saying you shouldn't care about your audience, but I'm saying don't do that at the expense of what you actually love. I actually talked to a young artist this week who really wanted to make her own original content, but her Patreon is all fan-based. She literally said, “I’m a slave to my patrons, so I can’t make what I want. When I do make it, no one cares about it.” I’m like, it's because you started with fandom - you’ve got to go down the original content route. That's the spiritual advice I would give. Don't sell out your spirit to cater to the masses for success, because it will not make you happy. 

"Don't sell out your spirit to cater to the masses for success, because it will not make you happy."

Then on the practical side of things, start cheap. Do things yourself for a bit, but be ready to hand off some of that stuff to some other human beings to help you free up your time. You are more powerful when you have time to spend on the things you love the most.

"You are more powerful when you have time to spend on the things you love the most."

And you get to support other cool creators and other people along the way. 

Pay other humans. It's good. Help us all survive. We're all doing the gig economy. 

Totally. Do you want to let the people know where they can find you? And what you've got going on right now that you want to promote?

Sure. Pepper Raccoon is my store. I have a whole bunch of information about personal and commercial commissions there, as well as all my products. I stream on Twitch and I’m also on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter - I'm everywhere.

Omnipresent Pepper Raccoon - amazing. Well, thank you so much for joining me. I obviously love talking to you on the regular anyway, but I'm just super excited for everybody else to be able to hear your story and hear your experience as an illustrator. Thank you very much.

You're so welcome and I hope that was helpful!

Thank you so much to Pepper Raccoon for joining me on this episode of Brand Your Passion - I LOVED this conversation and I hope you did too. Pepper’s passion for her work is incredible and I am so inspired by her journey as an artist! 

You can find Pepper on her website, Instagram, Twitch, Twitter and YouTube to check out her work!

Pin one of these graphics to save this post for later

No items found.

May 12, 2021


Brand Your Passion

more from

moxie matters header

The Ultimate Branding Checklist

Your go-to-branding guide is just a click away!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.