Jessica Dance does it all—she is a successful designer, artist and creative life coach. She creates little wool objects such as ketchup bottles, a computer, Nike shoes and plates of food. Each fabric creation is meticulously made, with an attention to detail that is often only found in the likes of miniature stop-motion sets. Working with clients like Vogue, GQ and Google, she has taken her art and transformed it into a desirable tool for creating design for clients—all the while still maintaining her unique style and creative agency.

However, as Dance explains, with every success story comes trial and error, experimentation and failure. And we have to be open to that to grow. As a certified life coach, she helps others find the “why” in their practice while helping them achieve a healthy work/life balance, boundaries, mindset and more. In this interview, the artist reminds us that being hard on yourself isn’t an admirable trait.

Join us in conversation as Dance talks about the importance of showing yourself compassion, being open to making mistakes and staying curious.

This interview was originally published in The Food Issue of Create! Magazine. Explore the issues here!

Photo by Sam Robinson.

I absolutely love your cute little wool creatures, food and other creations! When did you begin creating characters out of fabric?  

I started making fabric creations around 2010, just after graduating. I had always had a love for fabric, creating three-dimensional fabric art felt so unique and no one else was really doing it at the time. I really wanted to create something totally unique. I was so excited to combine the graphical, precision side of my papercrafting skills with soft and squishy fabrics.  

What were you doing before using wool to create your art? Meaning, did you ever use other materials?  

Previous to working in fabric I was working with paper. I really enjoyed papercraft and I still occasionally work on paper commissions now. I work in a range of materials, and many of my knitted pieces have solid foundations that I have carved out of various foams or balsa wood.  

Photo by David Sykes. Textile art by Jessica Dance.

What path led you to the art you are creating now?

A lot of trial and error! As well as an artist, I am also a coach for creative entrepreneurs and I often get asked by designers and artists how they can “find their style.” Finding our style is all about showing up, trying things, failing, getting back up, being open to learning what did work and what didn't work and then refining based on this.

Finding our style and path really relies on us being patient with ourselves. If we are scared that we will beat ourselves up when something doesn't work out the first time, then of course we aren’t going to want to show up and try things. We are going to avoid showing up at all costs and we are going to be seeking a shortcut.

Photo by David Sykes. Textile art by Jessica Dance.

You seem so confident in your practice!

It took me some work to get here, I do of course still have wobbles like everyone else! For me, confidence really has come from learning how to trust myself. If I know that I have my own back, then whatever happens, I’m not scared to show up and try things. I quit being the mean boss to myself and instead started being curious and compassionate when I was feeling scared or worried about a project. When we can be open and curious, we can understand and address our fears and concerns.

I have built a whole career on my playful sensibilities. But a few years back, I would have had periods in my creative career where I have felt unable to create because I was doubting myself so much. During these periods, I would be stressing, panicking, getting frustrated and feeling a lot of fear and anxiety—all of these emotions were moving me further and further away from my original goal of producing something creative. It is impossible to create when we are stressed because your brain is freaking out and it is consumed with SURVIVAL.  

When we trust ourselves and fully believe that we can handle anything that comes our way, we are able to be our authentic selves—we are relaxed, open and we can create. We feel safe and secure, we can spot opportunities and come up with solutions and new ideas. This is when we can enter a state of play. We are also far more likely to be open to experimenting, and if things don’t work out, we are able to figure out why it didn't work and try again.  

What never fails to inspire and/or motivate you?

I always remind myself of my “why.” As a coach and artist, I want to inspire people; I want to show them that they do not have to suffer for their art. Being an artist is a blessing, not a curse. It can be fun and it can be wildly profitable, too. I want to do this because I caused myself a lot of suffering for a lot of years, because I was believing my limiting thoughts about what it means to be an artist.

When I come back to my “why,” I feel rooted and powerful and I know exactly how to serve my clients. This is because I know I am accessing my true purpose—my lived experience leads me to want to help other creatives. When you don’t believe in the value you can offer, clients pick up on this. You are also likely to hide and wait for the work to come to you rather than going out and making it happen.

Running a creative business requires us to do the exact opposite of what your brain is wired to do, which is to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and to be efficient. Instead, as creative business owners, we are risking rejection, feeling discomfort, learning new things and failing on the reg.

This is where knowing your “why” comes in. The clearer you are about why you want to run your creative business, the more commitment you’ll have, and the more motivated you will be to keep showing up every day. You’ll be able to continue through rejections, obstacles and failure.

Your “why” is your compelling reason. A compelling reason is a thought that is powerful enough for us to take action—it is powerful because of the feeling that thought generates, and those feelings drive our actions, and our actions create our results. Your “why” is connected to something that you really value; it makes you feel something that drives you.

Photo by Jonathan Minster. Textile art by Jessica Dance.

This may sound like a strange question, but what is the best mistake you’ve made?  

Mistakes are great! Although, if you ask me when I’m in the middle of a mistake, I probably would not be saying that! I believe that growth comes from mistakes if we are willing and open to learning from them. This is what will move us forward and allow us to grow and evolve.  

My biggest mistake is probably not having boundaries when working on commissions when I started out. I used to work all hours of the day (and night!). I would respond to clients at all hours and on weekends and I would never push back and ask for what I needed when it came to time and budget.  

And another mistake (which I appear to not be learning from!) is not remembering that what I'm making needs to fit out of the door and into another door somewhere else! There have been several occasions where I have had to cut things I've made in half and then figure out how to fix them seamlessly in situ.

Photo by Metz & Racine.

I’m curious to learn more about your coaching. Can you tell us a bit about what you do and what sparked your interest in this type of work?

I'm a multi-passionate entrepreneur with a love for business. My career journey has taken me right around the houses to get to the wonderful world of coaching. I set up my coaching practice because I spent years looking like I was running a successful business. Technically it was and still is successful—I have designed for the likes of Vogue, BBC, ITV, Christian Louboutin, Selfridges, Mulberry and Google and have been featured in Stylist, Vogue, GQ, Creative Review, Tatler, and Harper's Bazaar. Outwardly I was achieving great success, but I was creating from a place of fear, working all the hours and judging myself. I thought being hard on myself was an admirable trait.  

My design business really took off when I cleaned up my mind. I don’t subscribe to the hustle mentality; if you asked me about that a few years ago I probably would have told you I invented it. The biggest news I ever heard was “it doesn't have to be hard,” and I am now living proof of that. I work less, earn more, and absolutely love the work that I do. I feel so much more peaceful and fulfilled. Do I still get stressed and have bad days … YES! Of course! I’m human!

I am ultimately here to help my clients build a life and business that is joyful, impactful and financially sustainable. I do this by teaching them about their mindset and alongside this we create a clear plan and a strategy that aligns with their goals.  

I have long had a love for podcasts about business, psychology and coaching. I spent a good few years sharing business and mindset tips through social media and I found that people really wanted this support. I went on to work with a coach with the intention of growing my design business, and that is when everything changed for me. Until I got coached, I had never been able to admit to myself that I wanted to be a coach—I would not even let my brain go there. After working through some mindset blocks and answering some tricky questions, I was finally honest with myself and decided to make the biggest investment in myself to date: I decided get certified as a life coach.

What is the hardest piece of advice you’ve ever had to accept?

Stop forcing and let go when something is no longer serving you.

Photo by Sam Robinson.