To many, life can be a puzzle. For Aimee Stewart, creating puzzles is part of her life.
Stewart is a digital artist and the creative mind behind Foxfires. She designs everything from jigsaw puzzles — her most popular item — to phone cases, to T-shirts.
“As a little kid, that’s what I did,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t as interested in dolls so much as art. In school, I was that go-to girl to work on art projects. I just always loved art.’
Instead of sticking to pencil and paper, Stewart found her calling by creating art with a mouse and a computer screen.
“I got into digital art around 2005, and I just taught myself the ropes,” Stewart said. “Now, there’s such amazing technology that works like a giant digital art pad. I can use projects that act like pencil and paper but I don’t need a giant studio and I don’t have to keep buying.”
The flexibility that creating art digitally provides can be handy when Stewart is close to deadline on one of her art contracts.
“I find that I can change it on the fly, which is helpful when I’m making stuff for mass markets,” Stewart said. “They might want things changed overnight, and it’s hard to change that with paint on a canvas.”
Although Stewart’s studio is based out of Cashmere, her agent, MGL Licensing, is based in London and much of her merchandise is sold there.
“The path to making a living out of art while living here wasn’t so clear,” Stewart said. “Now, with the Internet, if you want to get into a creative job, you can live wherever you want and share your work through the Internet.”
Stewart first started working on digital art as a hobby to wind down after work.
“I was really interested in video games,” Stewart said. “I loved the beauty of that kind of art, and I just started thinking about the possibilities for artists. I just started experimenting with it and it became it addiction, it became an escape from my daily grind. My visions of art and what I was able to produce didn’t match up too well until I was proficient at creating art on the computer.“
Before foraying into the world of digital art, Stewart held a variety of jobs including working as a court recorder.
“I think I bounced around a lot because I wasn’t happy,” Stewart said. “I was so creative and I was just trying to find something that would entertain and it wasn’t working.”
Her art projects quickly turned into a career when she gained some attention with her work in an art magazine.
“One day I saw a digital art magazine that was asking for submissions, and I said, ‘why not?’” Stewart said. “They published my work, and a couple weeks later, they asked me to write a tutorial. I ended up writing 20 different features for the magazine and kind of teaching myself along the way.”
An agent noticed Stewart’s work in the magazine, and started to get her into creating merchandise.
“That’s when it really got serious,” Stewart said. “I don’t just do mass marketing though. I work on all kinds of projects, like I’m working for a green screen for a movie right now.”
Eventually, Stewart’s work became popular enough to attract the attention of larger licensing firms.
“In 2013, my contract with my original agent wore out, and I signed with MGL and it became an international deal. Once I made that leap, their knowledge of what the markets want really helped me. I would turn in a piece of art and they give me suggestions to help my work. By the end of the year, I’d see my work in all the chain stores.”
The success that Stewart enjoyed while contracting with the new firm brought new opportunities for both her and her husband, Larry Stewart.
“From 2013 on, it became a livable income,” My husband was able to retire from his own work and work as a photographer with my agent.”
Now Stewart is able to work on her art full time.
“Every day I get to wake up and do what I love, and that’s an amazing opportunity,” Stewart said. “Having worked all those kinds of jobs, I never take what I do for granted. I’m so thankful for it. I get to set my own pace, and being able to work without adhering to someone else’s rigid schedule is a huge benefit with a creative brain.”
The flip side of not having to work on a fixed schedule is the challenge of being organized enough to stay on top of all her art projects.
“I tend to be a wonderful procrastinator,” Stewart laughed. “When it’s up to you to be the one to get a project marching along, a lot of things can get in the way. That’s probably the biggest hurdle.”
One of Stewart’s favorite kind of projects is creating art for local bands.
“I love to give back to local Washington bands,” Stewart said. “If I really love their project, I try not to think of the money aspect. It’s hard enough to make money as an artist.”
The jigsaw puzzles that Stewart creates are sold in stores all over the world.
“I really love doing the jigsaw puzzles. I had no idea you could make a living out of it. It’s fun, it’s challenging and I get to hear from people from all over the world who put them together.”
Stewart created a children’s book that she wrote and illustrated called “The Kingdom of Trill: King Coda’s Reprise,” in 2013. Stewart’s grandfather Don McCune, also known by his TV personality name “Captain Puget,” wrote a number of books and the TV series, “Exploration Northwest,” which is where Stewart got her inclination for writing.
“We believe that our book is great the way it is, and you can’t always do that with a publishing company,” Stewart said. While she has a physical copy of the book already made, she’s hoping to start a Kickstarter to raise money to publish it herself and donate part of the profits to the Save The Music foundation.
“Just keeping doing what you love, do it for the joy and the fun of it. Do it because it feeds your soul. If you keep going at life like that, that’s when good things start to happen.”
You can find Aimee Stewart’s work at www.foxfires.com.