12Qs with Justine Ma
We would like to introduce Edmonton-based illustrator, designer extraordinaire, and entrepreneur, Justine Ma.
1. Tell us about Justine! Where are you from, what do you do – give us the run-down?
Hi hi! I’m Justine, I grew up in Spruce Grove and moved to Edmonton after attending the University of Alberta. I graduated with a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communications. Since graduating, I’ve worked in small studios to large agencies before making the leap to full-time freelance design in 2011.
Currently, I reside in Edmonton, with my talented husband Michael, 5-year-old daughter, and puppers Ralphie.
2. When did you first realize that design and hand lettering was a passion that you wanted to commit to pursuing as a career?
I call myself the “accidental stationer.” My current career was totally accidental. I never wanted to own my own company or be my own boss, I was just a passionate doodler.
After taking a silk screening workshop and making hundreds of prints, I decided to sell them at a local market. I had many requests for greeting cards. From there, my accidental hobby turned into a career due to demand, which I’m so grateful for.
I am now a full-time stationery and home goods designer. I sell my products online and in a variety of stores across Canada and every day I feel so grateful that I get to do what I do!!
3. What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received that has helped you manoeuvre the ebb and flow of your own business?
Juggling motherhood and business has been the hardest to figure out so learning when to say no has been invaluable. It is extremely difficult to turn down work. My organization and response time has suffered, but when you are only one person, you begin to forgive yourself as you are only human.
4. What would be the most valuable piece of advice you could offer someone who is looking to start their own business?
Oh gosh, so many things! The biggest one would be to network and work hard. Don’t cut corners, do the research and be kind. Making community connections will be so beneficial to starting and in general, just having peer support.
5. As someone whose office is at home, how do you balance the hours you dedicate to building your (awesome) brand, with the hours you need for personal time with your family, friends, and adorable furry friend, Ralphie?
This is so tricky! I have just under three hours of straight office time (minus a wee break to walk the dog) while my daughter is at Kindergarten on weekday mornings. I can be super-efficient during this time, mostly answering emails and doing computer work.
Afternoons are usually dedicated to mother/daughter time, which twice a week we sneak errands into that. We specifically built our home office with a loft space where I can hear and keep an eye on Ruby playing if I have to get something done. She plays well independently, so it works very well. Lately, she’s been asking to help, so I’ll pull out some production work and we’ll build ornament boxes, sticker items and poke pins onto their pin cards.
I often will also work at night, when the babe is in bed and the dog is tired. I like to do my lettering at night when the house is quiet.
6. What do you think is the most important thing to remember when entering a networking situation with fellow creatives/entrepreneurs?
Be friendly and listen. Bring business cards!! I always forget this, but I’m also not great at networking ha.
7. What are THREE things that inspire you on the daily?
Colour: my mood is very responsive to bright, happy colours.
Instagram: I love scrolling through content and watching stories.
My office: we were so lucky to build a very bright space that I’ve filled with my plant babies and items that make me so happy. I’m a maximalist and this space truly reflects that. I have work, artwork, photos and colour around me at all times in this space and it brings me such joy.
8. What’s your favourite part of hosting your calligraphy and watercolour workshops?
Just being with people that want to learn what you love. I think sitting down and taking a workshop where you are out of your element to try something new is fantastic. I love hearing that they’ll continue to practice and make place cards for their next family dinner. We are so connected digitally, that doing an in-person workshop is really special. Having real-life conversations is also a mega plus when you work by yourself!! Haha.
9 Who is your biggest role model?
My mom. She’s like Edmonton’s Martha Stewart. I often call her the Original Pinterest, because she did it all. I admire her drive to try new things and master them.
10. The holidays are fast approaching. As a designer who hand-paints all of the ornaments you sell during the festive season, how do you cope with the holiday ornament demand stress? Or just the general stress that comes with owning your own business?
This made me laugh. Deep breaths!! And my chiropractor!! She’s a dream! It’s taken many years on how to master the hand-lettered ornaments. I’ve finally found a great rhythm this year, by releasing small batches of 20 so I don’t get overwhelmed. This is also the season where we do our best in sales, so we do prep in the fall for it and each year we get better on knowing what to stock up on. Also, having the community support small shops like mine is a dream come true. It’s really the customers that are my drive to do good and make more.
11. What has been the most rewarding fruit of your labours over the past 5 years?
Customers who tell me their stories about their mug or show me their pin that was gifted to them, or how they framed a card from their partner. It’s just so amazing to have people love something that you make.
12. If we asked you to host an event of your choosing in your city, with NO budget restrictions, what would that look like?
What a dream! It would be all the tasty snacks (but bring your own cup and plate, because mother earth), great music, a photo booth (with all the fun props), a donation to some organization and maybe a craft of some sort.
I recently did my first “make ‘n take” and it was super successful. A collaboration between me and you. I supply all the pieces and you put it together. That way everyone is well fed, well entertained and they get a wee take-home piece while helping an organization in need.
Connect with Justine Ma