One of Leanne Dowdall’s favourite parts of her job is when she’s able to captivate the imagination of a reluctant new customer.
A recent encounter with a hesitant 14-year-old boy, for example, sparked a conversation about the World Cup. Later, the teen left Dowdall’s store with a proudly made Brazilian flag in tow.
Dowdall is the owner of Cambridge, Ont.-based Crafty Creatures — an artistic space for drop-in crafting that opened its doors in April 2018. She envisions the concept as one that appeals to everyone, from toddlers to retirees. Families or individuals can drop in and choose from a collection of over 100 pre-designed crafts to create in store. If time is an issue, customers can also buy art kits to bring home.
“We’re all crafty creatures, no matter the age. Our studio attempts to appeal to everyone by allowing individuals to explore what creativity means to them while taking home art pieces they can be proud of,” says Dowdall.
Although the target demographic for the business was originally school-aged children, adult workshops have been a surprising success for Dowdall. For adults, DIY workshops target the home-decor obsessed with trendy items such as hand-painted signs, string art and bath bombs – all made with a glass of wine in hand.
To launch Crafty Creatures, Dowdall tapped into her inner child: one that loved painting kits and exploring her inquisitive nature. A technical illustrator and graphic designer by trade, she runs a successful freelance business in addition to her work with Crafty Creatures. As a technical illustrator, she’s responsible for designing explanatory drawings and animation in manuals and marketing pieces.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Dowdall says. “Working full time as a graphic designer for companies such as [retail marketing firm] Matrix and [customer experience management firm] InMoment was always the safety net until I built up the freelance illustration business enough to take that leap off the cliff. Starting a family delayed the jump slightly, but it still happened.”
After quitting a full-time job to pursue her own illustration business, Dowdall was in search of an interesting activity that she could do locally, with her kids. A self-starter by nature, Dowdall conceived of the idea for Crafty Creatures spontaneously.
Dowdall drew on her corporate background to build Crafty Creatures, and continues to tap into that experience to promote the business as well as her own freelance work. Prior to attending Sheridan’s Illustration program, she worked as a marketing co-ordinator for architecture and interior design firm LM Architectural Group, and after graduation, served as a creative team leader and graphic designer at Matrix.
“The challenges of running a business when you have an illustration background are needing to know how to run a business. Your work is your first impression to someone new, but if you can’t follow through with great business skills, you will never succeed,” she says.
Another part of the canvas behind Dowdall’s business plans are the skills and connections she formed at Sheridan. When she was developing the Crafty Creatures concept, Dowdall gathered the friends she had made from her graduating class.
They spent a weekend developing the basic designs for 100 of the children’s crafts on offer at Crafty Creatures, including a rocket, princess mask and hat, jewelry, and a lobster with claws that pinch.
“We're all crafty creatures, no matter the age. Our studio attempts to appeal to everyone by allowing individuals to explore what creativity means to them while taking home art pieces they can be proud of."
“They were tried and true friends that I still have today, even though I was a good five years older than they were when I chose to go back to school. I’m blessed to have a Sheridan community — a big propeller in my career has been contacts and communications, and my Sheridan family is at the core of that propeller,” she says.
Today, two of Dowdall’s four employees at Crafty Creatures are Sheridan graduates, and she looks forward to continuing to extend her connection with the school as she potentially begins franchising the Crafty Creatures concept and developing the space further.
“I’m always into being ever changing,” she says. “It’s so easy to become stagnant. If I’m not adapting or learning in a role, then why do it?”