Shannon Conway

Founder of Wicked City Apparel

Shannon Conway is a graphic designer, illustrator, content creator, photographer, and founder of Wicked City Apparel, a small level apparel production company that helps bands, brands, and businesses elevate to the next level with custom printed garments.

She was born and raised in the South Suburbs of Chicago, IL. For her, design is a lifelong journey of continuously honing her craft and being a student. She cherishes the ability to help empower fellow designers on their journeys while continuing to learn as much about the industry as she can from her mentors and peers.

Being very connected with her Japanese and Irish heritage, these two cultures frequently find their way into her personal work. She loves drawing samurai and a lot of her work has a Celtic influence. Her grandmother, Ayako, collected many traditional Japanese art pieces and home decor that have influenced her art and become a part of her illustration style.

Shannon holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has over 10 years of experience in design work direct with clients. She is very interested in the overlap of the graphic design world and fine art world and loves to mix elements from design and illustration together. A lot of her work is a mix of 2D and 3D elements.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I always knew that a regular office setting wasn’t the right place for me to be. The idea for Shannon Conway Art & Design came naturally as more and more people asked me to do artwork for them. I feel like it turned into a business on its own and once I realized what it could be, I poured all my energy into it to see what I could grow it into.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day starts by waking up at 7am, making coffee, and taking the dog on a mile walk. I used to wake up earlier but quickly learned the importance of sleep and how getting enough of it can actually improve productivity. After I return with my dog, usually around 8, I get started on checking e-mails. I try to schedule most of my meetings in the morning so I don’t have to worry about them in the back of my mind while working on projects. After e-mails and meetings, I get down to design and illustration work. I take breaks at around 1 and 3 to walk my dog again. Then continue working until 6 or 7 when I stop to make dinner. After dinner, I either spend time with my family or go back to work if I have a lot of deadlines coming up.

How do you bring ideas to life?

A LOT of research. Research. Research. Research. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for something and it sounds great in the air, but needs a little more refining on paper. I love to keep everything as realistic as possible. For example, If someone comes to me wanting an illustration on polar bears, I am going to read as much as I can about polar bears; how they act, where they normally go, how they go there, what their fur feels and looks like. I might even go to the local zoo and photograph a polar bear to use as reference. If it is going on a food label or for a certain product, I’ll see how I can really have elements of that product interacting with the bear on the visuals.

What’s one trend that excites you?

TikTok. I love all the trends that I see on TikTok with creatives. Being able to implement silly things and sounds into an art TikTok has been really fun and introduced another side of being a creative that I hope sticks around for a while. It’s really helped build up the art community.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Constantly drawing. I’ve been sketching my entire life. When I was in grade school and even high school I was told a lot of the time that art should just be a hobby and I should spend my time on more traditional things like business or science. Of course, I didn’t listen. As it turns out, creative jobs are abundant and almost every single field has somebody who needs to know how to draw pictures. Even the medical community has illustrators that draw out diagrams and bodies in medical textbooks. An important job because without those, it would be harder for medical students to learn. Every business needs graphic design or visuals for their marketing. Being able to sketch, draw, and observe has allowed me to do okay in every business situation I have been in.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be consistent. Looking back, I think I would have been able to go a lot further a lot faster if I had stayed consistent from the beginning instead of giving up or moving onto other things. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned patience and consistency is key. In our society today, everybody has been conditioned to want things quickly and it’s so easy to give up on things when that doesn’t happen. I have to remind myself that everything is a marathon and not a sprint. You have to give anything time to grow.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That anybody can learn to draw. Most people think it has to be a natural talent or something an artist is born with. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your brain is a muscle and like any other muscle, it can be exercised and it can grow. The hardest part is starting, but once you do any skills immediately start to grow and the experience stacks up. Going back to the last question, you have to be patient and give things time to mature and KEEP doing it. After a while, you’ll be so far ahead of where you started that it’ll surprise you.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Remove yourself from the working world at least once a day. Go for a walk in the forest, lay in the grass, breathe some fresh air. I used to stay cooped up in my office for 12-20 hours straight, sometimes even days without leaving the house. No work or project is more important than your body and mind. Allow yourself at least 30 minutes a day to not think about anything work related and make sure it’s outside with nature.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Being human. I used to think you had to be an expert marketer or advertiser to be able to grow a business. I’ve learned that the easiest way to grow is to be a human being. Do good work for good people and good things will come your way. Connect with others in a genuine way, be authentic, and don’t try to sugarcoat what you’re selling with fancy ad words and marketing. People resonate more with other people and things they can relate to. The more robotic or corporate something feels, the more people want nothing to do with it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Social anxiety. I’ve had bad social anxiety my entire life and only now as a 28 year old am I starting to really be able to overcome it and learn how to manage it in my everyday life. The biggest help I think was just pushing myself to go out there more and to start streaming my art processes online. I keep reminding myself that things are only scary until you do them and everybody is human.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ve always thought it would be super cool to have a gym arcade. It’s so hard to get to the gym sometimes and I feel like if the equipment were a video game, it would be so much more enticing. Full VR headset, 360º treadmill, the whole virtual world.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I finally invested in a good pair of headphones. I’ve always used cheap $20 ear buds from the convenience store. I finally splurged and got some over the head Beats and I am so glad I did.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I recently started watching other people draw on Twitch while I am working. It helps me not feel so alone in my home office and helps keep me on track. I see them drawing and I want to keep working. It also helps me keep time on how long I have been working and when I should be taking a break. A lot of streamers have timers and announcements to stay hydrated.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Win without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns. This is my number one book to read, especially when I feel down or like my clients are defeating me. This book is such an inspiration for business owners to take their work into their own hands and work more for themselves rather than the “customer is always right” mentality.

What is your favorite quote?

“Failure is a stepping stone to success”

Key Learnings:

  • Take care of your body and your mind will follow.
  • Be authentically human. Connecting with others in a genuine way is the best marketing.
  • Anybody has the power to learn anything if they give themselves enough time to grow.