In today’s episode I sat down with Essie Bergen who is a local artist in Dunedin, Florida. Essie has a unique story of how she got to be living and creating art here in Dunedin. She also learned some great lessons along the way that have helped her find something she is passionate about. I’m super excited for you to hear Essie story and for you to check out some of her work. She’s always challenging herself and finding new ways to create art.
Looking to connect with Essie!
- Website: https://essiebergenartwork.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/essiebergenartwork/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/essiebergen.photography
Listen to the podcast here:
Essie Bergen | Artist
In this episode, we sit down with Essie Bergen. She’s an artist, wife and stay-at-home mom. I’m super excited to sit down and chat with her and to share her story with you. I found her online on Instagram and we connected from the get-go. Her story inspires me and hits home with me because she was in a position where she had people around her in her immediate group, her circle of five that pushed her to find her passion and do something with her passion. I’m super excited. She’s got a great story and a lot of great things to share.
I appreciate you jumping on the show with us at Palm Harbor Local. I’m super excited to share your story and what you’re about with everybody else. We met because I found you on Instagram. You have your artwork on Instagram. You had an illustration that you did of a home and that’s what caught my attention. I’m like, “That’s perfect. That’s a great gift for a buyer I’m working with.” I reached out to you then and it led to us meeting here. Thank you for coming here.
Thank you for having me.
Tell us a little bit about what you do, about your artwork and go from there.
I have started a little art business called Essie Bergen Artwork. I have a passion for everything artsy. God has given me a gift of art and I love being able to share it with others. You found me on Instagram and I started my business that way. I’m a stay-at-home mom, first and foremost. My kids and husband come first. I love art. It overflows in every way. Our garage is not a garage for the car if I’m honest. I started that way.
I’ve had a lot of people in my life who encouraged me to pursue it more and that others would enjoy it. When you start something new, there’s always fear there. It’s like, “I don’t know if they’re going to like it or if you’re saying that.” I trust my friends but there’s always going to be a little bit of fear there. It took a while. The first place I started was my Etsy shop. My husband had to push the launch button because I wouldn’t do it. I was like, “My name is terrible. It’s simple. Maybe no one will like it.” I’m sure others can relate in that area. That’s where I started with my Etsy shop.
I started researching what to do for branding. When I say I do everything artsy, it’s graphics design. I’m a photographer. I make my own templates. I try to always be learning. My clients don’t have to buy stuff from me for me to give to them. I’m trying to always give others, my clients, friends and family the best that I can give. Through that, it would glorify the Lord that in some way. Through my art, people would know there’s something different and I can be a witness through that. That’s how it started. I had some people who were like, “You need to start.” I’m like, “Okay. I’m going to try.” That’s where it started.
Have you always been into art? Where did that come from? Is it something you grew up with? Are you naturally drawing stuff? How did that start?
If you want to excel at something, even if it is only a little, do it every day and get better at it.
I’ve always loved photography. I was probably drawing on everything. My mom has said before that I drew on everything. I learned I’m not as academically geared. I passed school, praise the Lord. My goal was not to pursue school per se in mathematics or anything like that. When I learn, I usually draw or sing a song, something that visually connects with me and I’ll remember it versus reading something and trying to remember it verbatim. To me, that doesn’t stick well.
I remember in school, even in grade seven, I had this awesome teacher who realized that that’s how I learned. She was my biology teacher and she gave me credit for drawing on my notes or making my notes look creative and keeping them in our journals. She would use those sometimes to log what we’ve done. That was encouraging for me as a seventh-grader. In seventh grade, you try to figure out everything. There are many different changes.
I have quite a unique background. I was overseas. I had a boarding school in grade seven in a dorm. That was important in my life, to have someone see that and invest in me that way and say, “It’s okay that you learn differently.” There are people who love that and want to encourage you to do that. That was one stepping stone.
I’ve always been a giver. I love to give. I always write notes to people or draw things. I remember consistently when we travel overseas and the long flights, eighteen hours. All these kids would be drawing and coloring pictures for the stewardess and the pilots. Those things, I was always encouraged to do that, to use that and share that with others. It’s always been something that I’ve grown with. Believe it or not, I used to hate painting because I was scared to try. My mom finally was like, “You need to try.” I did and I was like, “Maybe I can do this.” That’s been a journey.
To try new things is most of the time scary to me. Being more of a perfectionist personality with my artwork, I don’t like to fail. Who does? Some of us take it a little harder than others. Starting my business was to be my own art and to try and find something that I felt confident in doing and that I felt I was good at and that people enjoyed. It wasn’t like, “Do it,” and that’s it. I would passionately pursue it. Painting has become something that I love. I’m surprised at that.
Most of your art now is painting.
It’s a mix of everything. I try to do everything myself. When it goes all the way down to learning a new skill or something, I’ll do research. I love learning from people. I don’t want to say that I don’t like learning from people. When it comes down to my branding or designing something, if I want something to look nice, I’ll do a lot of research into how other people do it and then try and figure out how I can learn how to do that. That coincides with the graphics design and then the photography.
If I’m making a card, for example, my process is I’ll paint an original and then I photograph it. I’ll maybe do a slight lightness at it or something. I try not to change much. I’ll then put it into a template I’ve made. That took time to learn, how to make a template where all your lines are right, the bleed lines. I do that and then I’ll go get it printed and cut. I then package everything myself.
I’ve learned along the way different things that I could include. Initially, my cards didn’t start with my business name on them. That’s something I’ve added. On the back, it’ll have my business name, my email address and where you can find me, Instagram, Etsy, Facebook or whatever it is. I took time to learn because, in the beginning, you don’t know anything. It all blends together.
With photography, I was able to already have a skill in that and have a good camera because I’ve already done weddings before, senior portraits, some newborns. That was before I started getting into the painting. It’s neat how I’ve been able to use it all. Now, I still do photography for people. I just don’t do it as much because I have kids. I can’t jump in the car and go. I have to schedule more for that and my window for that looks a little different than in the past.
You’ve morphed everything that you’ve done in your past into this business.
My oldest one loves to learn. I have no idea of her potential, skill levels or anything like that. I know what I have skills in so I want to be a good steward of that with her. It’s been neat how the more research I’ve been doing. Since she loves to learn even when she was two, I did a lot of learning stuff with her. Starting this business has encouraged me to use my artwork to teach her, which is even more fun. When I’m passionate about something, I get super excited.
When your mom is excited about something and you’re little, it’s like, “This could be cool.” I’m more motivated to work with her, teach her and help her. They’re never too young to learn. We’re gifted with them. Parenting is an important job. I feel strongly that’s where it starts, with our kids. We would invest in them and model what we believe for them. Hopefully, in my case, they will love the Lord and follow Him and see that I love my art but I love the Lord more.
Through that, it would not just be idle words but it’d be a testimony to them to see there’s truth to that. It’s neat how it’s been morphing together and to now use it. I’ve been encouraged to use what I’ve made for my daughter like the templates and stuff. For her to get it out to people, that’s like, “I want to go down that road but I don’t know how.” It’s like a different season of learning in that area.
Let’s jump back to starting the business. What is that process like? You had had fears of starting it. I’m sure a lot of people have had those fears of starting a business and because of those fears, they don’t do that. What enabled you to push past and be like, “I’m going to do it. Let’s see what happens.”
I would say a lot of encouragement from other people who truly know that you have a passion for something and they’re not going to tell you to pursue something that they know that you’re not good at. It may not always be the case but our society pushes this idea that everyone can be good at everything. Everybody should try different things. God has gifted each person with different gifts. I know that I’m not good at mathematics but there are other people who I know that are better. I’m thankful once you’ve helped me finish school or these kinds of things.
Be open to guidance and wisdom from others. Do not think you have everything figured out because you will never learn and fall by the wayside.
It’s the fact that I had people who saw that I had a gift and continued to gently encourage me to use it. A good basis of friends who know what your gift is and to encourage you in that way. Starting a small business and stuff, in general is going to be a lot of learning. Be open to guidance and wisdom from others and not go in thinking you have it all figured out. If you have that mentality and mindset, you’re never going to learn. Many things are going to fall by the wayside. You could be doing your business so much better. Even learning from those who’ve already gone before you and have learned, there’s so much wisdom in that.
Also, doing research. You can try something all day and you might get a little bit better. I’ve watched some things. I can’t tell you the names of what they were. I remember one guy that I watched and he did all these different art things. He loved doing different things. He and his employer were close. He said, “If you want to excel at something, let’s say it’s drawing, do it every day even if it’s something little. Do it every day so that you can get better at it.” Yes some people are naturally gifted. A gift, especially in art, can continue to get better with practice like anything else. I thought that was neat. It’s something that I gleaned from him and being like, “If I’m able to do it every day, I can hopefully improve that.”
I’m also a big advocate of being a good steward of my finances. Before I started this business, my photography was word-of-mouth. I used that to slowly build up and get a nice camera. I never went into debt with it. In my case especially, it was important to use that and be wise with the funds that I’d been given.
When I started my business, I started with what I had. Don’t be afraid to use what you have. Be creative because that’s what makes a good business. Find something that you have in the house. Maybe start doing little tutorials for people. I did that for a while too. I used what I had. As people find you and if they love your art, it will show because they will want to invest in you. Continue to put that back into it.
One other thing is it’s important to give back and to invest in others. How do you encourage someone to start something like this when they’re nervous about things or whatever? If you’re someone who has been there and you have had people help you along the way, be intentional to do that for others and encourage them to try new things. That’s what America is built on, entrepreneurship. If you do it all alone, it’s so much harder.
It’s the creative part of it too, thinking outside the box, trying new things, failing at things, learning what didn’t work and going after it again. There are a lot of good points that you brought up. Consistency is another one. Consistently practice what you’re doing or consistently work in your business or on your craft. When you start seeing the overnight successes, they’ve been doing it day in and day out for ten years. Now, people are noticing it. There are lots of good information that you have in there. Getting back to your art, one thing I want to talk about is what you enjoy, drawing or painting. Where does your inspiration for those things come from?
For me, I did photography. I still do photography. I’ve been doodling for a long time. Friends can encourage or discourage you when they’re good at something. I have a few friends who keep me humble and I’m thankful for them. I remember in school, he could come up on his paper with a Pixar quality animation. He was so gifted. I was like, “I am so bad at art. I just want to watch you draw.” I had no problem with that.
It’s such a learning thing. Even art in itself, it’s not just one thing. People say that art is objective and it’s true. You could look at something, love it, your friend looks at it and they’re like, “I would never touch that with a 10-foot pole.” Learning that too and being okay with that will probably always be a learning thing. It’s been a journey of learning.
That’s running a business. Day-to-day, you’re always learning something. I was looking through your Instagram and all your photos and some of your past work and stuff. In a lot of your paintings some of the birds and alligators have glasses on them. It’s cool. It gives them a personality or something. Where did that idea come from?
When we first moved here, we lived in a rental. It was fine and everything. I love to give. It came up, Christmas time and I was like, “I should do something for my neighbors.” There are some artists who’ve done glasses on things before. The first one was a cat with glasses on because my neighbor had a cat. I was trying to think of something that I don’t mind baking. Everybody gets Christmas cookies or whatever and that’s great. I love that. I was trying to think of something more unique. I’m always trying to look for something that they’re never going to get from someone else. Not to put me in this place of like, “I can have the best gift.” That’s not it at all. I just enjoy doing that.
I was like, “What do they all have in common that I could do?” I used the saws a lot too with my work. Most of my framing is done myself or with the help of my husband. I was like, “Maybe I could paint them something.” They all had a pet. Most people have a pet especially in the Dunedin area. They all had a pet and I was like, “Maybe I could paint their pet or something.” I started doing that and putting glasses on them. It started from there.
I gave my four closest neighbors either side of me and then across the street, a picture of their pet or some rendition of the pet with glasses. One neighbor, I didn’t put glasses on hers because he was too cute without them. I did that. I didn’t think about it for a while. We bought the house that we’re in now and I was like, “Maybe I should start doing birds or whatever.” We moved into this house and I started painting these birds with glasses on and these birds started showing up at my door. It freaked me out. If you know what a wood stork looks like, they are not the most elegant-looking creatures. They look like a vulture mixed with a fat egret.
One day, I was moving plants to my front porch, I opened the door and there’s this wood stork right in front of my door. I was like, “Okay.” He stepped forward. He was trying to come into my house. It was so funny. I had an egret show up. Apparently, the last owners fed them so it makes sense but I didn’t know that. I’m like, “This is weird.” I had started painting an egret with glasses. I paint a lot of turtles. Is there going to be a turtle in my yard? That was funny.
Around that time when I started doing more, I had an uncle and aunt who were visiting. They had been encouraging me. They’re like, “People love your stuff. People would pay money for this.” I’m like, “Okay.” My uncle was like, “I want you to do a series for me.” That gave me that extra boost because I was like, “Are you sure?”
He wanted several pieces painted with the same theme in the background. That’s when I came up with my initial characters that have grown into different things. If anybody follows me and has seen my Instagram page, there are a few that show up quite regularly. I have a group of three and they’re called My Three Originals. They each have a name. If you start looking into my stuff, most of my characters have quite hilarious names. I like to give them a little personality.
In my three originals, I have Bedford Brighthouse who is an egret and he has these little circular glasses. There’s Clover Feathertail, a flamingo. Louie is an ibis. We get Ibises in our yard all the time. Take me back there years ago, I would not know what an ibis is. Probably one of my clients’ favorite things to get is the series of three. If you come and look at my art, you’ll see them there. They’ve moved into trying different birds. I never knew I could paint birds so it was fun to find out and to grow in that.
Be there for others who are nervous about starting something. Encourage them to be brave in trying new things.
That goes back to trying new things, figuring it out and seeing what works and what doesn’t. What is your favorite thing to paint? I’ve seen a lot of birds, turtles and gators.
I initially paint the alligators because I have a lot of people who love those. I’ll paint them and add the glasses at the end. Usually, I’ll paint the whole character and I’ll add the glasses. I kid you not, 99% of the time I will laugh out loud at my own characters because they’re funny.
What’s your favorite character to paint?
I don’t know if I have one because I do so many different things. I’ve started this home illustration thing so I wouldn’t consider those characters but I enjoyed those as well. It’s fun to do those. I don’t know if I could pick one. I love how everything goes together. I also do the coastal signs too and those don’t necessarily have characters on them but they have a lot of bright colors. I couldn’t pick one. I love My Three Originals. I like that series. It’s probably one of my favorites. I know I excel at my turtles, at least in my mind. I can’t pinpoint one per se.
You mentioned the house and you started doing that. That’s how I reached out. I know we were talking before but we closed on the first one that you illustrated for a buyer of mine. I was super excited for them to get that. We framed it so they could hang it up in their house or do whatever they want with it. It’s a cool idea. We talked about it when we first met. For any home, even if you don’t think the home has character or anything, which some of the Florida homes are lacking some character, that’s for sure. When you paint it, it comes out and it makes a huge difference. There’s something about it when you put it on paper. That’s pretty cool.
I’m not a mathematics person. Drawing a house is not something that I would have ever probably tried in a million years. I had no idea. The first one that I illustrated I’d done this way because the one that you’ve received is a watercolor. When we lived over at that other rental, we’d walk Edgewater Drive. I love all the houses and characters there. I was like, “Someday I’m going to draw those.” I had that on my list for a while and I started getting to know Dunedin a little more and some of the local businesses. I was like, “I love this town.”
Most of the stuff that I’ve started with has been interesting. It’s been a giving to start. I even make more connections when I talk out loud. It’s neat to see how whatever had started like the birds was something that I had started with giving to someone. It wasn’t something that I made to sell. It’s fine that it turned into that. I love that I can touch that. Initially, it was like, “I want to give you a gift.” With local businesses as well, not with all of them but there are certain ones where I love the character and their building.
Even the houses on Edgewater Drive, they probably thought I was a crazy person at first or something. I was quite nervous to do it. You wouldn’t have known. I’m sure other people have painted it too. I was like, “It would be so cool if the artists came in and gave me their thing.” Whatever it looks like. Unintentionally, I ended up making a client out of one who I got to illustrate her best friend’s house or a friend’s house as well. It’s been neat. It’s something I would have never tried before. Though I’m a perfectionist, I love how it turns out but I know it’s not perfect and that helps me to realize that every line doesn’t have to be straight and it’s okay.
That’s taken me a long time. I could point out things that I didn’t like whatever that was. It’s like, “It’s okay. We’re going to keep doing this. We’re going to keep learning.” It’s fun to see that people find joy in it. I get excited hearing about you giving that to your client. It establishes a relationship there where your client knows that you care about them, you’re not buying them something and giving it to them. You thought about this.
You had to not only think about a gift but then reach out to an artist or whatever it was. Take the time to make sure that’s who you wanted to make it. From there, get it framed. There’s a lot that goes into it. It says a lot about your character as well. It’s been encouraging to see others who have similar desires to share in the community. It’s that joy and they want to do their best.
That’s super important and that’s what this show is about. It’s about sharing other local stories and other local businesses so the people and the community can get to know these people. Dunedin, Palm Harbor and our surrounding cities are cool because there are a lot of unique small businesses. In some cities, you don’t have that. There are a lot of commercials, your big box stores and that’s it. It’s pretty special to have Dunedin and these cities that we live in right around us so it’s pretty cool. We talked a bit about your upbringing and where you came from. You’re not originally from here. What is it about Dunedin that brought you here? Why did you decide to settle here?
I wish that it would fit in with everything that I said but it does not. When we moved, we had a dog. We got her when she was eight weeks old. We’re coming from rural Canada. If anybody knows their geography, it’s an hour and a half from Calgary which is a small town. It’s in the prairie. There’s nothing there. You drive 1.5 to get to Walmart. There are places like that. I love that people live there.
Picking down here, I left it up to my husband because I wanted him to do the research. I thought we were never going to move back to the States and I was super excited about it so I was like, “Why don’t you choose?” There were a lot of faith moments in there because we had to have a lot of things in line to move down here and one of them was housing. You’re not going to come without somewhere to live but when you do it all online sometimes you’re like, “Is it going to be there?”
“What’s this place like?”
We moved here without visiting here. We’re crazy. It was so good how it turned out. Much of that was a journey for me with my husband. I was close to the end of my pregnancy when we moved. It was like, “We’re going to go.” Our first goal was to find a good church that we knew the Lord was leading us and that we could invest. From there, we didn’t know where we would turn. My husband used to be a carpenter and he is not a carpenter anymore. He did not want to do that in Florida. I don’t blame him.
Picking that was his area and we’re like, “Our goal was to come.” We had that place to live, which we did and it turned out fine. We loved Dunedin. We’re so thankful that we chose here. I haven’t gone there, love it there and moving there. We’re like, “Lord, we’re seeing you that you’re going to grow us in our marriage,” and he has. My husband and I have grown so much. We have two beautiful daughters and a whole bunch of great friends.
Artists do not produce perfect output at all times. Sometimes, the lines they draw are not that straight, and that’s okay.
I love meeting other people around here too because it’s quite a variety we have here as well. In real estate, you see that a lot of people are not from here. That’s neat in itself because it adds so much more to it. There’s this love that I found for this area and the people who live here, at least from the ones that I’ve met. They do want to invest in it. I have a passion for supporting and encouraging other businesses. Even if I’m so small, I work out in my house, out of my garage but through my Instagram and stuff to promote that small business for the community. What builds the businesses is the community.
If we support those small businesses, they’re going to thrive because small businesses, unlike the box stores, are families. They’re your neighbors and they’ve taken that step out in fear. They’re trying things and they have been encouraged by others. I feel like it’s so important, how big or how small your platform is, to encourage others to try that. I love that the whole goal of your show is to just promote that even more.
It’s pretty cool. It’s crazy that I didn’t know that story about how you ended up in Dunedin. Dunedin was the perfect spot especially with your art and passion.
I had no idea of the art side. We saw some stuff but I had no idea. I was like, “This is so cool. The potential.”
“This is perfect.” I feel we can keep talking but we got to wrap it up. I know you probably have somewhere to be. I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to jump on here and share your story and stuff. Thanks for being with us.
Thank you. It’s such an honor. Thank you for having me.
Where can people find you, follow your art and that sort of stuff?
I’m on Instagram, predominantly @EssieBergenArtwork. You can go and search and you’ll find a gal with red hair. That’s my profile picture there and you’ll know me right away. I have my Instagram and it’s linked to my Facebook account, which is the same name. I also have an Etsy under the same name as well. I go everywhere. I also have a second Instagram that’s based on my coastal signs. It’s to branch off to keep the arrows by themselves. It’s called @MyMileMarkers but it’s linked in with my other ones. If you ever go on there and you’re like, “I should check out the other stuff.” It’s all there. As much as I can I try to be in the community and encourage others to do the same and not be scared to try.
Get out there and do it.
A big thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I’m honored.
Thank you. Go check her out and thank you for reading.
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About Essie Bergen
Essie Bergen absolutely loves creating one of a kind pieces of art that bring joy! Her fulltime job is being a stay at home mom to two lovely little girls M + O, they keep Essie quite busy – a good kind of busy! In her spare time, Essie enjoys painting, wood working, gardening and really anything that creativity offers her. Essie’s prayer is that God would use each creation to spark joy, love and a desire to know whom all these gifts come through and from – Him.