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How Brooklyn artist Samantha Rothenberg turned passion into Instagram profit

Inside the studio with the 32-year-old behind the Instagram account, Violet Clair.

Williamsburg-based artist Samantha Rothenberg, 32, talks about the inspiration behind her greeting card company and viral Instagram account, Violet Clair on July 6.  (Credit: Meghan Giannotta and Noelle Lilley)

A Brooklyn-based artist ditched a potential career in art history to chase her passion; nearly 50,000 Instagram followers later, she has no regrets.

“Do what you really love doing and I promise you’ll make it work,” Samantha Rothenberg says, offering words of advice as she doodles at a desk in her one-bedroom Williamsburg apartment.

On a Friday afternoon, the 32-year-old artist behind the popular Instagram account, Violet Clair, drowns out the faint noise of construction (slowly blocking a skyline view) with the sounds of ’60s rock band The Velvet Underground.

“I am a shy person and I feel like when I meet people, they’re getting a really small sliver of who I am and what I’m about,” the artist says. “By having this thing going on, people can get a better sense of who I am.”

With little business experience, Rothenberg set out to design her own greeting card line in 2015 after a “hard time,” stemming from a bad dating experience, left her longing for change.

“I wanted to build a life that I’d love,” she says, shrugging off the mentality that she says society drilled into her mind growing up that she couldn’t make a living off of art.

But Rothenberg did just that.

The illustrator, who says she does her best work at home alone, let amNewYork into her creative space to discuss how she launched her own line of “voicey webcomics” and turned it into a profitable brand of holiday and birthday cards, invitations and more.

How did you go about starting your own greeting card line?

I had a little bit of money saved up. I gave myself like six months to make it work. I wasn’t sure how to go about being an artist professionally.

I looked at classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) thinking something would help me get started in this. One of the classes was, “Start a Greeting Card Company.” … One of the things the instructor told us to do was to exhibit at the National Stationery Show. It was months away and I had no line, nothing … I put together a booth. I just started to put my company altogether and made a catalog, in like four months.

But did you know anything about running a business at that point?

I didn’t know anything about anything. It was really, really crazy. It totally tanked. I understand now why my line tanked, I played it super, super safe … The one good thing that happened that year was I was approached by four different publishers that year who said my style would work well as an adult coloring book.

One of the things I was doing was reaching out to influencers on Instagram to help get my book proposal out there. One of the influencers I reached out to was Chelsea Fagan, who I’d been following since her days writing for Thought Catalogue … Her agent got in touch with me and sold the proposal within two weeks. That gave me enough money to get through to the next year. I went back to the exhibit the next year and did so much better and really started to find my humorous style.

How did your Instagram go from hobby to highly followed page?

I first started using Instagram to showcase my art when I decided I wanted to do art professionally. But then I remember I started to experiment with a little bit of humor and I made this one comic that was based on the show “Girls.” After I posted it, Lena Dunham reposted it and I have no idea how she found it … it just went nuts from there. Not forever, but that day it was totally nuts. I got like 10,000 followers. So I was just like, wow, this is a tone that I think works well for me. It felt like a sign that that’s the direction I should go in. In 2016 I started posting comics and humorous things and those got the best reactions of anything I’d post.

You call your comics humorous, so do you consider yourself a funny person?

I feel like I’m not funny, just hanging out in person. No, I don’t really consider myself a funny person and I don’t think most people would say I’m funny when they first meet me … I feel like my humor comes out in my work or with people that I’m really comfortable with.

Now, you have an online card shop with more than 100 designs, have been commissioned to design art for television shows like “The Bold Type” and post new comics to Instagram weekly. How do you continue to find inspiration?

For the webcomics, my life is an inspiration. Funny stories from my friends. I feel like the ideas for my comics will just come to me randomly or I see something on the subway. A lot of my comics are dating focused … When you live in a city like New York, you get to see lots and lots of humans interacting on a daily basis and observe it.


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