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Small NI Businesses in Lockdown: The Artist Edition with Willow & Weeds

About Willow & Weeds

Jo Rourke is a mum of four from Northern Ireland who writes beautiful poetry for her hand-illustrated prints, stationary and cards. She sells her creations through her small business Willow & Weeds which she launched in September 2019 after discovering a love for poetry and art.

Jo wanted to share the poetry and art that she enjoyed creating for her children. A lovely example of this is the verse below which formed the beginning of a bedtime poem that Jo transformed into a lovely print for others to buy and enjoy.

It's sleepy time,

My little love,

The stars are out,

The moon's above.

Jo's poetry ranges from nursery themed, friendship and nature. Her primary art medium is watercolour however she often creates charcoal and pen sketches. All of Jo's pieces are designed and sold with sustainability in mind. For instance, her cards have a perforated middle fold that allows customers to easily frame their verse after displaying on their mantlepiece.

Adapting to Lockdown

The School Run

The closure of schools as a result of the pandemic meant that like many parents throughout the UK and Ireland, Jo took up the role as teacher and small business owner. While juggling the two jobs brought about it's own challenges, no more school and nursery runs actually gave Jo more time to focus on her small business.

Making a Comeback

Following the birth of her daughter Evangeline, Jo took some time away from Willow & Weeds. Since the business was relatively new, Jo felt nervous about returning however support from fellow small business owners and customers gave her the courage she needed to get drawing and creating again.

"I can’t tell you how you all made me feel yesterday when I posted to say Willow & Weeds is open for business again. Actually, I can. I felt inspired! Inspired to draw, make, create, paint" - Jo

Willow & Weeds Art Activity & Colouring-In Book

During lockdown Jo diversified her business by creating Art Activity Books to help kids reap the benefits of having more creative time and to help frazzled parents like herself gain some well deserved peace and quiet.

Each booklet contains 3-4 detailed colouring-in pages and 1 simple art activity accompanied with a how-to tutorial video on YouTube. To cater for different interests, Jo offers several booklets to choose from: Space & Steggy, Tea parties and forest friends and Under the Ocean & Around the Farm.

Willow & Weeds Artwork

In July 2020, Jo took the plunge and decided to sell her artwork as standalone pieces of wall art. This was a big step for Jo as she had always considered herself a writer and not a "real artist". She realised that she had been hiding her art behind her poetry and that it was time to be brave and showcase her artistic talent.

"It seems like the right time to shrug off that cloak of fear and do it" - Jo

She launched three artwork collections on her website; Skyscapes, Birds and Florals. Some of Jo's artwork is now displayed at The Village Newtonbreda café which marked a significant step forward in her career as an artist.

Willow & Weeds 2021 Calendar

Jo is particularly proud of her Willow & Weeds 2021 Calendar which she launched in September 2020. The calendars are double A4, wire bound with each month featuring one of Jo's beautiful watercolour illustrations. They have already proved to be incredibly popular having sold out at the Saintfield Saturday Market. A family organizer is also available to allow more than one family member to plan and organise their weeks ahead.

Doodle with Jo

During the extended half term break, Jo hosted live drawing sessions for kids through her instagram stories. These proved to be a hit which encouraged Jo to later launch 'Kids Art Kits'. The aim was to provide kids with something physical that they could use to apply their creative thinking to on a more regular basis. The kit includes an A5 sketchbook and all the necessary stationery needed to produce great doodles.

For the adults, Jo launched a journaling kit with access to her hour long journaling workshop which introduces the basics of journaling and how to create some fun illustrations. Jo believes that journaling is one of the greatest self-care gifts we can give ourselves particularly for managing our mental health during these difficult times.

Christmas launches and virtual markets

In the run up to Christmas Jo designed and created a variety of hand-painted watercolour Christmas cards, prints and even wrapping paper. Like many small business owners Jo was disappointed when her local market was cancelled as a result of lockdown however she adapted by offering her products online and also the option of a click and collect service at Tribe Coffee.

She was pleasantly surprised by the response these had stating in one of her instagram posts; "I never, EVER imagined that I’d need to contract some of the printing out to a printing company AND that I’d be sold out before Christmas even came". Jo loves nothing more than seeing her work take pride of place on the walls and mantlepieces of her customers.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead Jo already has plans set in motion for 2021 including a month long journal-along in January. This will entail plenty of doodles, creative time and most importantly a way to looking after mental health during what feels like endless periods of self-isolation.

New products are also underway including A6 notebooks featuring Jo's artwork on the front cover. Jo also plans to get some professional imagery done of herself alongside her lovely poetry and artwork to showcase on her website and social media channels.

One of Jo's biggest lessons of 2020 was to have confidence in her artistic abilities and trust herself. She has came along way from having a forth child in February and taking up painting for the first time in May not to mention adapting to all the challenges the pandemic has brought including home-schooling and the cancellation of markets. Her continued hard work and belief in herself will no doubt take her and her small business Willow & Weeds a long way.

Visit Jo's website by clicking on the image below where you can also find links to her Instagram and Facebook.

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