Meet the Maker – Joel and Ashley Selby of This Paper Ship

Chloe Tate

meet the maker - this paper ship


This week on our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know illustrators Joel and Ashley of This Paper Ship, which the pair runs out of a refurbished cotton mill in Saxapahaw, NC (where they also live – how cool is that?) We’re so happy to have you, J+A – welcome!


LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as entrepreneurs?

Joel + Ashley: It was both of our childhood dreams to be independent artists, but we took the leap by necessity when we were preparing to graduate with design degrees during 2008–2009’s terrible economy. When months had gone by without so much as an acknowledgement of our job applications, we created our own jobs.


LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

J+A: We always knew that it would be based on collaboration between the both of us – the simplest form of which was our two hands working on one drawing at a time. Other than that, we really had no idea what we were doing at the beginning except that we always wanted to make a living drawing together, and have fun doing it!


LBC: How would you describe what you create?

J+A: Whimsical illustrations + paper goods for children and the young at heart.


meet the maker - this paper ship


LBC: Where can we find your products?

J+A: Our in-house art prints and greeting cards in Etsy shop, licensed goods on our Society6 shop, and fabrics on Spoonflower. We also sell at small gift shops and boutiques in North Carolina, California, Arkansas, Iowa, Massachussetts, and Washington (with many more on the way) and at two West Elm locations (Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC).


LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

J+A: We get up with our baby girl around 7 and begin our work day around 9 when she goes back down for a nap. Joel heads to the print shop in our apartment, taking care of retail and wholesale orders until lunch, while Ashley tends to in-house illustration or administrative duties (email, inquiries, etc.). We break for lunch for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon, we juggle illustration client work, administrative duties (blogging, accounting, etc.) and spending time with our daughter, breaking for dinner around 5, after which we reserve a couple of hours for family time. We put our daughter to bed around 8, and then we squeeze in a couple of hours for in-house illustration (shop goods, the blog, social media) before winding down for the night.

Our workdays vary—we like to try to take off a day in the middle of the week—but that’s the general pattern.


LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

J+A: Looking back, something that helped us was learning to answer some really basic questions:

1. What do you want to do? For us, it’s always been drawing! Everything we’ve set up at This Paper Ship serves our #1 craft, drawing.

2. Who do you want to make for? This has usually been a more abstract, nebulous concept for us, but we basically have always drawn goods for our own enjoyment. Sometimes this means we produce drawings we love but don’t sell well, but at the same time, trendsetters don’t always achieve mass appeal.

3. Most importantly: WHY are you doing this? We have asked this many times over the years as tight finances have caused us to question everything, but we always come back to the fact that we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else!


meet the maker - this paper ship


LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

J+A: Our faith in God. We both feel blessed that we have been given the gift of our craft and the drive to use it, so we both believe that we are simply working to be good stewards of what we’ve been given. Now that we have a child, supporting her has given us even more wind in our sails.


LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

J+A: We (finally) started tweaking the business end of things last year by creating a cash flow spreadsheet. Numbers don’t lie! It’s one of our most powerful business tools because we can use it to see which revenue streams are strongest, which in turn helps determine how we use our time.


LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

J+A: We had a booth at the National Stationery Show in 2012 and did so well that we found ourselves underprepared for the amount of wholesale accounts we opened. (Which is a good thing… learning how to swim by jumping in the deep end!) The mistake was filling each wholesale order… and then completely dropping wholesale from our business because we were so exhausted and we just wanted to focus on freelance illustration, which unfortunately is a lot more unpredictable and unreliable as an income source. It wasn’t until 2015 that we realized we wanted to do wholesale again; we’re bouncing back by rebuilding our wholesale lines and planning a return to NSS in 2017.


meet the maker - this paper ship


LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

J+A: We’ve had a really good experience contributing to the Red Cross during disaster relief efforts and are currently looking for a good way to contribute to nonprofits regularly.


LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

J+A: Our cash flow spreadsheet, Basecamp (our project management platform), and our CRM app.


LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

J+A: A well-oiled retail and wholesale machine, several children’s books with our names on them, and our illustrations showing up all over the children’s market at major retailers!


LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Joel: Savory pies for lunch, sweet pies for dessert.

Ashley: Snack platter prosciutto, salami, and cheeses. I could gorge myself on them. Daily.


meet the maker - this paper ship


LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Joel: Doodling when I’m supposed to be paying attention. (Started in 3rd grade and never stopped.)

Ashley: Eating cookie dough or cake batter right out of the bowl when baking… everyone does it when they’re kids, but I still do!


LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?

Joel: Walking the trash to the dumpster halfway across town. (Except a neighbor’s enterprising daughter started a $1/bag business doing that, so I do pay someone to do it.)

Ashley: Putting away folded laundry!


LBC: What are your favorite quotes and who said them?

J+A: “…[W]hatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I Corinthians 10:31

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” — Walt Disney

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” —Theodore Roosevelt


Thank you, Joel and Ashley, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing with This Paper Ship, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your brand. We’re cheering you on!


Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!


About the Author

Chloe Tate

Once described as “relentlessly cheerful,” Chloe is a lover of all things colorful and practically every fruit known to man. She lives in Atlanta and divides her time between supporting Lucky Break clients, keeping shop at a local artisan market, and event planning for business conferences. She’s also working on the launch of her skincare line while finishing her degree in Organizational & Leadership Studies. True story: Chloe shares 50% of Lela’s DNA and is poised to inherit her obscenely large shoe collection.

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