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Ellen Picken

Published:

I run my own mural painting business, creating designs in Spokane and painting throughout the country, while also managing Factory Town Films with my partner, Rajah, from our studio in Spokane, Washington.

I was born and raised in Spokane and the surrounding region. My family had a small orchard in Chelan, and we spent most of our vacations backpacking in the Rockies and Cascades. My mother, Mary Picken, once told me during a pivotal time in my angsty teens, “Stop whining and do something about it.” While her tone was rough, she had a huge influence over me, and her short response told me that she had no doubt about my ability to solve problems. “Do something about it,” correlated to, “I know you are smart enough to find a solution. I know you have the willpower to try.” After that moment, I have rarely experienced fear or the feeling of self-defeat. Being uncomfortable became my comfort zone.

When I was young, I regularly fought against becoming a meticulous engineer like my father, sitting over blueprints with pencils, rulers and an eraser all lined up in a row. Instead, I thought I’d be a wild performance artist. It is funny; as now, I do both in the creation of my murals. I work with architectural drawings and have my studio desk set up just like his—very organized. And, when out painting on the street, I’m performing for the public. I have a large family and love being around people.

Today’s creative people are told they have to brand themselves. Social media is a weird intersection of the personal and commercial spheres. Somewhere we’ve gotten the idea that we have to curate our lives—no bruised fruit and everything fresh daily if you want success. It is a sickness: “What do you do?” “I sell myself,” to which I say, “No thank you.” I’m not an internet hermit; it is  good to be in touch with the world, but I feel best when I do so in person and not allow the internet to monetize my life.

I developed my desire to become an “entrepreneur” back when I was just a teenager, working at a chain bookstore. At the end of the year, we were asked to dump the discontinued books in the garbage after tearing off their covers. It was so wasteful, but I couldn’t contest the demands of corporate headquarters. I decided at that point, I was never going to have a “regular” job again where I was asked to do something I didn’t believe in or agree with. I progressed towards working for myself from then on, although calling myself an “entrepreneur” never was a dream of mine; the word itself still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as to me, it carries the connotation of someone who uses their intelligence merely as a means to make money.

I would not describe myself as a “business owner” either. I am a person who helps make cities a little more livable and our clients’ stories a little deeper. I instead consider myself a friend, volunteer, loner and social butterfly. I have lived in a community where the people had either three jobs or none at all. The question, “What do you do?” was irrelevant or rude and talking about work too much was boring. I instead try to focus more on relationships with the people I interact with.

Captured Observations

  1. Keep an eye on the trajectory of fads to avoid accidental imitation and stay in touch with the creative community.
  2. When work is slim, use that time to deepen your understanding of your craft. Never stop working. Use that new skill to take your work to the next level for when you pitch your next project.

  3. Give people credit for work they do. The more you support others, the more others will want to share.

  4. Always finish your work even when a relationship with a client isn’t perfect. I’ve seen other companies and artists check out halfway through a project resulting in poor reputations, which gets around the business community fast.

I am always curious and excited to experience the world. This drives my personality, leads me to create, make new friends, learn more about the people already in my life, use my time wisely and contribute a little curiosity back into the world.

Asking deep questions of our clients is helpful to creating our best work as nothing is more innovative than a personal experience; however, pulling out adequate input from clients before I start designing is my biggest business challenge. For some reason, when I ask, “Please fill out this questionnaire and give me as much information in phase 1 as possible,” they still undeniably change their minds twenty times during the process. It is a challenge to figure out how and when to put my foot down before the project possibly turns into mud.

Work for me, from the start, has never been about simply making money. When I watched my granddad work, he always had a smile on his face though he was a laborer.

For me too, work must be purposeful, and I want to smile while I do it. The very first business I started with my best friend, Jill, was just about that. We must have been ten years old. It was called Pups & Pooches. We walked dogs, which we loved, and with the profits bought warm clothes for the people living at the local homeless shelter.

That was it for running my own business again until three years ago when Raj, my partner, and I started Factory Town, our videography business. We work well as a creative team. I trust his judgment, and he trusts mine. Our personal life started off helping each other with creative problem solving so going full time together made sense. We work seriously when we work, play, eat, sleep and make sure to have alone time as needed.

Photography by Raja Bose

East Central Mural Project

Being an artist has prepared me to work for myself. I was often curious about how things worked and how to create something new. I needed to be self-motivated to paint, and time management was a must for balancing three jobs and a social life. Over the years, I have had a handful of many interesting jobs—rural postal carrier, housekeeper, co-op manager, and ranch hand—all have helped me to build people and business skills along the way.

For my murals business, I like to keep things simple. My work is in the public eye so I don’t have to advertise, though I do have a great photographer who documents my work. I keep up a basic website for people to get in touch with me and for more work. I have a standard method of working with clients: consultation, contracts, design process and implementation. I do try to find out and regularly monitor what the going rate is for mural work each year. I believe that artists often undercharge for their work, and it is important to bring each other’s value up.

In the end, I feel great whether I create a small project or a very large one, as long as the neighborhood is happy with my work. And, any time I get a hug from a stranger, I’ve done my job and feel the biggest sense of accomplishment.

I run my own mural painting business, creating designs in Spokane and painting throughout the country, while also managing Factory Town Films with my partner, Rajah, from our studio in Spokane, Washington.

I was born and raised in Spokane and the surrounding region. My family had a small orchard in Chelan, and we spent most of our vacations backpacking in the Rockies and Cascades. My mother, Mary Picken, once told me during a pivotal time in my angsty teens, “Stop whining and do something about it.” While her tone was rough, she had a huge influence over me, and her short response told me that she had no doubt about my ability to solve problems. “Do something about it,” correlated to, “I know you are smart enough to find a solution. I know you have the willpower to try.” After that moment, I have rarely experienced fear or the feeling of self-defeat. Being uncomfortable became my comfort zone.

When I was young, I regularly fought against becoming a meticulous engineer like my father, sitting over blueprints with pencils, rulers and an eraser all lined up in a row. Instead, I thought I’d be a wild performance artist. It is funny; as now, I do both in the creation of my murals. I work with architectural drawings and have my studio desk set up just like his—very organized. And, when out painting on the street, I’m performing for the public. I have a large family and love being around people.

Today’s creative people are told they have to brand themselves. Social media is a weird intersection of the personal and commercial spheres. Somewhere we’ve gotten the idea that we have to curate our lives—no bruised fruit and everything fresh daily if you want success. It is a sickness: “What do you do?” “I sell myself,” to which I say, “No thank you.” I’m not an internet hermit; it is  good to be in touch with the world, but I feel best when I do so in person and not allow the internet to monetize my life.

I developed my desire to become an “entrepreneur” back when I was just a teenager, working at a chain bookstore. At the end of the year, we were asked to dump the discontinued books in the garbage after tearing off their covers. It was so wasteful, but I couldn’t contest the demands of corporate headquarters. I decided at that point, I was never going to have a “regular” job again where I was asked to do something I didn’t believe in or agree with. I progressed towards working for myself from then on, although calling myself an “entrepreneur” never was a dream of mine; the word itself still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as to me, it carries the connotation of someone who uses their intelligence merely as a means to make money.

I would not describe myself as a “business owner” either. I am a person who helps make cities a little more livable and our clients’ stories a little deeper. I instead consider myself a friend, volunteer, loner and social butterfly. I have lived in a community where the people had either three jobs or none at all. The question, “What do you do?” was irrelevant or rude and talking about work too much was boring. I instead try to focus more on relationships with the people I interact with.

Captured Observations

  1. Keep an eye on the trajectory of fads to avoid accidental imitation and stay in touch with the creative community.
  2. When work is slim, use that time to deepen your understanding of your craft. Never stop working. Use that new skill to take your work to the next level for when you pitch your next project.

  3. Give people credit for work they do. The more you support others, the more others will want to share.

  4. Always finish your work even when a relationship with a client isn’t perfect. I’ve seen other companies and artists check out halfway through a project resulting in poor reputations, which gets around the business community fast.

I am always curious and excited to experience the world. This drives my personality, leads me to create, make new friends, learn more about the people already in my life, use my time wisely and contribute a little curiosity back into the world.

Asking deep questions of our clients is helpful to creating our best work as nothing is more innovative than a personal experience; however, pulling out adequate input from clients before I start designing is my biggest business challenge. For some reason, when I ask, “Please fill out this questionnaire and give me as much information in phase 1 as possible,” they still undeniably change their minds twenty times during the process. It is a challenge to figure out how and when to put my foot down before the project possibly turns into mud.

Work for me, from the start, has never been about simply making money. When I watched my granddad work, he always had a smile on his face though he was a laborer.

For me too, work must be purposeful, and I want to smile while I do it. The very first business I started with my best friend, Jill, was just about that. We must have been ten years old. It was called Pups & Pooches. We walked dogs, which we loved, and with the profits bought warm clothes for the people living at the local homeless shelter.

That was it for running my own business again until three years ago when Raj, my partner, and I started Factory Town, our videography business. We work well as a creative team. I trust his judgment, and he trusts mine. Our personal life started off helping each other with creative problem solving so going full time together made sense. We work seriously when we work, play, eat, sleep and make sure to have alone time as needed.

Photography by Raja Bose

East Central Mural Project

Being an artist has prepared me to work for myself. I was often curious about how things worked and how to create something new. I needed to be self-motivated to paint, and time management was a must for balancing three jobs and a social life. Over the years, I have had a handful of many interesting jobs—rural postal carrier, housekeeper, co-op manager, and ranch hand—all have helped me to build people and business skills along the way.

For my murals business, I like to keep things simple. My work is in the public eye so I don’t have to advertise, though I do have a great photographer who documents my work. I keep up a basic website for people to get in touch with me and for more work. I have a standard method of working with clients: consultation, contracts, design process and implementation. I do try to find out and regularly monitor what the going rate is for mural work each year. I believe that artists often undercharge for their work, and it is important to bring each other’s value up.

In the end, I feel great whether I create a small project or a very large one, as long as the neighborhood is happy with my work. And, any time I get a hug from a stranger, I’ve done my job and feel the biggest sense of accomplishment.