Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Interview with Hilary

This week, BDT founder Hilary Dildine gives us a closer look at her life as both an artist and manager of a successful business. She offers some great "Behind the Art" insights! (You can also follow Hilary on Instagram to see pictures of BDT in action.)

How did BDT get started? What was the spark?
Bleu de Toi Handmade really began in the Fall of 2009, when Josh and I were married. We are both
artists and had a very “DIY” wedding, with all sorts of personal touches that reflected the creative people that we are. I really wanted something to remember the day in a visual way and record guests. Searching through blogs and photos (we didn’t have Pinterest back then!), I saw something that inspired me to use fingerprints and a hand-drawn tree design as our guestbook. We actually did a couple before settling on the one we used, the Great Oak, because it was hard to figure out how much space we would need for fingerprints. The first tree we did was the Twisted Oak, to this day it is our most popular design. Everyone at our wedding  (and for months after) was raving about how clever the fingerprint tree had been and how they had never seen anything like it! I didn’t love my desk job and wasn’t making enough money there, so I decided to give it a go and see if we might be able to sell more on Etsy. In February 2010, we became to first people online to sell hand drawn guestbook fingerprint trees.

In what specific ways has BDT grown and changed since you first started?
In the beginning, we were running things out of our tiny newlywed apartment. I drew everything on my coffee table, printed shipping labels from my cramped breakfast nook, and filled the living room with packages weekly. I was also working full-time for a university doing event planning, so I had to come home after working a full day and then work some more. We moved to a bigger place with a garage and a studio office, but I was getting pretty burned out with my schedule, so in the fall of 2012, I quit my day job and dedicated myself full-time to BDT.  I saw my quality of life improve a lot after that and business really expanded. Now we offer so many more designs, most of which are prompted by client special requests.  We still love working with our clients who are all planning celebrations for really exciting times in their lives. A lot of joy and excited energy that is wrapped up in communications with these special people.

Another way that things have changed since we started is I now have helpers! It used to be a 2-person show and now we have a whole team to make sure everything gets done with someone specializing in each specific aspect of the work. So much more fun!

What are your inspirations?
I began my journey as a painter with my MFA in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. With Josh’s active involvement in the LA Contemporary Art scene, I still see my fair share of cutting edge artwork. I think the designs we make are very inspired by antique botanical etchings though. Since adding to them with fingerprints and signatures brings in more color and complexity, our motto is “simple is beautiful”. Lately (since the birth of my son in 2012) I have been looking at a lot of beautiful children’s book illustrations, which have been really inspirational to me and the way I approach making images that are both aesthetically pleasing and tell a story.

What does your business partnership with Josh look like?
When we started making products for BDT, Josh was in grad school as an art student and he helped me craft most of our canon of original designs. I used to say that I wanted everything we did to have both of our handiwork in it, since I felt like the way I draw and the way he draws is the perfect combination of structure and organic lines (I am ‘structure’). His career has progressed in lots of different chapters over the past 5 years and his involvement has fluctuated with it. We had a season where he was not teaching and working solely on painting in his studio and drawing/packing/shipping for BDT. It wasn’t ideal for our marriage to be so intertwined in each other’s work, so we decided to have him take a step back. Now he oversees the approval of all new designs and peeks in every day to run quality control. Whenever I have a sticky situation with new work or an issue with a client, I run it by him and he advises how it should be handled. I get very practical sometimes, and Josh is the “yes” guy. He’s always suggesting free shipping if we are running behind, telling me I can fit in an order for a bride who’s event is next weekend and her brother threw her other guestbook away by mistake, and solving ways to bring a client’s vision to life that I can’t see. I may be running the everyday grunt work of what we do, but he is the constant voice that keeps our customer service superb and our products flawless.

Do you have any drawings or products that you’re particularly fond of?
So, everyone orders the Twisted Oak. It is a super stunning design and we probably ship out 10 each
week of just that alone. I am really fond of the medium Birch Tree and Twin Aspens though. They are
so delicate and lovely. I always get tickled about new designs that I’ve spent a lot of time working on. The wine bottle was a fun discovery. Oh, and I really like the Willow Tree. So many drawings, its hard to keep track of them all sometimes!

Dreams/plans for the future?
We have A LOT of dreams for how to grow in the future. The fun thing about being married to another artist who is quite the dreamer is all of the brainstorming sessions we have about new things that we can make and sell to you fine folks. I’ve got a whole binder chocked full of “next steps” and ideas that I have no idea when I see come to life. We recently hired Nick in the fall to take over a lot of the business side of what we do and to man marketing and growth (he actually has a degree in that stuff!), so now I can focus on making things. We have plans for customizable artwork for the athletic community, wedding invitations that compliment our guestbook designs, and maybe children’s book illustrations.

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