Yelp is all about connecting people with great local businesses, and we recognize that these businesses — led by artisans, doers and creators of all kinds — are the lifeblood of our communities. Behind every business is a great story. The Tucson Makers + Shakers blog series showcases local makers, artisans and innovators. Find out what makes them tick and discover why they love being in business in Tucson.
If you’re not following Adela Antoinette Navarrette on Instagram (@CactiOasis) or checking out her art shows, you need to be! Her watercolor cactus illustrations and patterns are beautiful, fun, colorful representations of this gorgeous desert we live in. We were lucky enough to get to talk with her during this busy holiday season and gain some insight on her process. We’ve loved having Adela’s extraordinary face painting services at various Yelp community events over the years and are so excited about her newest artistic venture!
How did you get your start?
I loved having my face and body painting business and being able to meet people through that medium. I’ve graduated to doing more illustration work, that’s what I got my degree in and what I have a passion for. My professor at UA, David Christiana, was very influential to me and was my mentor while I was there. I thought I wanted to get a degree in animation and he asked if I wanted to animate other people’s work or if I wanted to be the creator. I had a lot of thinking to do and I decided drawing and illustrating was where I wanted to be. I was pushed into a show in March of this year at Crooked Tooth Brewery. My friend David Contreras did a show there the month before and had a very successful turnout. He’s a very motivated person who also motivates others. He told me I needed to do this show. I kept pushing him off thinking I wasn’t ready. I finally decided to do it. I created a whole line of work called Cacti Oasis which is what I’m selling now. The point of the show was for me to try to get the cacti stuff out of my system; I wanted to paint all the stuff I wanted to paint and had ideas for. In school you can’t really produce all the stuff you want, you’re learning about different mediums and doing assignments. I thought I would move on from the cactus, but that didn’t happen and I’m glad for that. I did acrylic on wood, watercolor, and oil painting and found what I really enjoyed was the watercolor and woodwork. I sold 8 pieces at that show and I felt really successful. I found out what people like, and what I like doing, and what I was passionate about doing. I have been working on a lot of pattern work as well, and eventually want to translate that to fabric. I had a show in September showcasing some of the patterns I created.
What was the moment you knew your brand had to happen?
I think it was definitely after the show at Crooked Tooth. I think when I was taking down the series and wrapping up the pieces that sold to give to the people that bought them, the wheels were turning in my head. Changing up my website and starting the Instagram for my brand, Cacti Oasis, really helped as well.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Recently my biggest challenge has been trying to figure out what, as products, to present. I think that having prints is great, but at the same time everything is still new to me as far as selling merchandise and I’m not sure what sells. As far as gallery work I kind of know because I’ve been doing that for the last few years. I’m not sure what to order: do I need more buttons, more Christmas cards, more stickers? My business license is also a challenge, I’ve been trying to really learn the business aspect of having an art brand. They don’t teach you that much about it in art school. It’s one of those things a lot of other artists don’t really know about, unless they’ve gone through it, so I’ve been reaching out to other artists for advice. I want to learn all the stuff I can and then pay it forward so I can help other artists.
What do you do to make sure you are regularly inspired?
I run, I go on jogs. I live in Armory park and I love it. I’ve lived there for the past three years and I’m inspired by my neighbors cute little cacti in their yards. It’s inspired all the stuff I’ve done lately. All the cactus I’ve painted are found in my neighborhood, and on Tumamoc Hill. I bring a travel watercolor kit with me sometimes as well and go out and paint.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
I feel like after the cacti oasis show I had a lot of people that kept asking if I was going to push some of the work I was doing. I had one pattern print in that first show, and I have a friend that has a business selling pasta at the farmer’s market and she’s been very helpful giving me feedback about my artwork. She has been pushing me to sell t-shirts and clothing with my patterns and she has been suggesting ideas. I can see these ideas turning into things I love creating.
What’s your advice for other makers, business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
I feel like asking questions from other artists is huge. Check out other people’s Instagram accounts and websites. I look at people and artist profiles I really enjoy and whose work I love. Getting engaged on social media, and looking at other people’s websites are so important. Why do I like this website? Why is this work attractive? What makes it different from what other people are doing? I look at other people’s marketing tools and take notes in my journal. I break it down into things that I like and how I can apply these things to my own brand and make it my own. I ask other artists from Popcycle, and the owners of Mabel’s on 4th and Rosie’s Barket, the guys at Tanline Printing have been really helpful as well. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and have the motivation, it helps with being successful in this industry.
What makes you most excited about having your business in Tucson?
I’m surrounded by so many other people like me: passionate, motivated, wanting each other to succeed. I see other people work hard. Tucson just really- at least within the last 7 years has been developing and growing. People are really excited about being here and that makes me excited about it too. The Made In Tucson market on November 18 was put on by the 4th Avenue Merchant’s Association and it’s so exciting that it featured just Tucson artists. It’s really exciting to see there’s so much support. It makes me want to stay in Tucson. I thought as soon as I graduated I would be moving away to Portland or NYC or somewhere, but I’m happy to be here and excited to stay.
If readers/customers come away knowing just one thing about your business, what do you want that message to be?
I did put a slogan to my brand: “A collection of love for the surrounding desert and my home.” I’m not just painting some cactus you see somewhere that’s part of a trend. It’s cactus from people’s homes; it’s from Tucson. It’s meant to remind you of what you see in the desert. I am trying to make my work more personable and unique.
You can find Adela’s work at the upcoming Cultivate Tucson- Holiday Pop-Up Market on December 2nd, through her website at adelaantoinette.com (she takes commissions!). Her prints and products are also for sale at English Salon Spa and Popcycle.
By Amanda Schreiber, Yelp Tucson Marketing Assistant.