Starshine Designs by Julie Harris

May 30, 2019 - Shelagh McLachlan

Starting your own business as an illustrator.

If you are thinking about a career as an illustrator or are qualified as an illustrator or designer and are now thinking about becoming self-employed, you should read this blog about Julie Harris who has just launched her own business on Etsy called Starshine Designs by Julie Harris.

Julie talks about her career, and what has led her to taking this enterprising step. It’s also packed full of great tips on starting a creative business.



Starshine Designs by Julie Harris.image.jpg

What made you decide to start your business?

As I was approaching a certain big birthday, I found myself reflecting on my life experiences. Although I love my job as a lecturer in graphic design and illustration, I wanted a new creative project, something that would use all my skills and passions and an opportunity to develop myself. It was another lecturer that inspired me, by printing student artwork onto fabric. This ability to use digital technology to self-publish was a real light bulb moment for me. I loved the idea of using my illustrations to create soft furnishings. However there was a slight flaw to this idea – I could not sew. I enrolled on an evening class in the College and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to learn these new skills.

Tell us about your new business

I am inspired by nature, I have always loved drawing animals, insects and flowers, and my drawings allow me to bring that indoors. From my designs, I make a linocut print and enhance these digitally, capturing the beauty of nature in a sumptuous colour pallet. I digitally print my designs onto fabric through the Glasgow School of Art.  I use natural materials like cotton, velvet, linen and silk and create cushions, lampshades, cards, make up bags and other gifts.

Starshine Designs by Julie Harris.collage.jpg

It’s important to choose the right name. Starshine came to me during a spiritual healing reiki session. I asked what should I call the business, and an inner voice came through and spoke the name Starshine. My spirit guide gave me permission to use his name. How amazing was that? Divine inspiration and it fitted perfect with my nature inspired product range. Then after talking to a friend she suggested I add in my name to give credit to myself being the designer.

Where do you get your motivation from?

My motivation comes from a number of things. The feeling of accomplishment on completing a design/project. The pleasure my design can give the viewer, and receiving positive, happy feedback from customers. Having gone through some real sad times in my life, coming back to being creative really helps to feed my soul. My goals are to promote the beauty of our natural wildlife and encourage us to ‘Live in Harmony with Nature,’ also to boost the business to make more sales so I can continue to do what I love to do.

How challenging has it been to get your business started?

It has taken a lot of hard work to get this far. I started making lots of sample products and showing them to my colleagues for constructive feedback. I received great advice and felt really encouraged. I started small, selling through craft fairs and created a Facebook page.  

This also provided outlets to receive customer feedback and test the market in a low cost way. It is important to me to keep it manageable.

I have found it time consuming to find the right suppliers in terms of cost, quality and flexibility to supply small quantities. As a creative person I don’t enjoy the business side of being self-employed, I would much rather be designing. Obviously I have had to learn bookkeeping, marketing and administration.

What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?

Get your costing right so that you price your products to reflect all the time and skills you have invested in your artwork. I really like this quote from the Art Junction:

Starshine Designs by Julie Harris.quote.jpg

Contracts; even although I love designing and working in my business, I need to make the business work, so when dealing with suppliers, customers or third parties, if I take on a large design project, I would make sure I draw up a contract so that everyone involved is clear about products and service – timescales, delivery, quality, payment terms and so on. I’ve learned from past mistakes! After I was at university, I took part in the “New Designers Show” in London. I was commissioned as an illustrator for a company making pop up toys. I designed the logo for the business and all the characters for the toys. It was a nine month project and I was flattered to be asked to work on it.  I really enjoyed the work, and it was successful for the company with sales to Hamley’s and even Buckingham Palace! However I did not get paid for some of the work I completed, and I did not have a contract to protect me – it was just a verbal agreement. It was a hard lesson to learn!

Networking – I do have an inner confidence – I know I can do it! But you need resilience for the times when sales are not as you hoped. You need the right positive people around you to keep your spirits up and tell you to not give up, and keep believing in yourself. Networking helps with referrals and makes sure you continue to get your work out there, in the right place at the right time.

How you think your new business venture has made you a better lecturer?

My new business has re-energised me with a new creative vitality. I’ve put myself out there – my reputation as an artist is there for all to see so it keeps me on my toes and up to date. A large part of my job is about encouraging students to think creatively, opening up their minds to new possibilities, using different media techniques and exploring new trends.  My new experiences enhances how I do that. I have been able to add value to my teaching through my experience in market research and how to market my work through social media, Etsy, craft fairs, creating word of mouth etc. I have organised a professional photoshoot, attended Business Gateway workshops, learned about intellectual property, and data analytics and how to use this information to make the right decisions about my product lines. Hopefully I am inspiring my students as I go through this business journey  – they certainly inspire me, and it’s great when I see them following my progress by liking and sharing my posts. It’s important to be a good role model and if I can raise aspirations and encourage others to consider becoming self-employed, I will be delighted.

What’s next for Starshine Designs?

The next project I will be working on is creating a website. I’ve not done this before, so again I am looking forward to developing new skills. I am designing a new range for children. And I am exploring new sales outlets to widen the distribution of my products. These include; Not on the High Street online gift shop and the Scottish Design Exchange. I will also investigate the Westcoast Accelerator Programme to see how they can help me expand my business.

Digital technology offers so many opportunities for designers and the ability to self-publish I think is the most exciting part. Help and support is available for business start-ups so it’s up to me to embrace this and increase my network.

I’m enjoying what I do. It’s great to be a practising artist / business owner as well as teaching. I think I have a realistic expectation of how my business will work out and I will certainly give it my best shot.


Julie followed the NC, HNC, HND Graphic Design and Illustration route at college. She worked as a freelancer before returning to higher education at the age of 26, completing a degree in Illustration and Printmaking at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee.

Julie has been teaching Graphic Design and Illustration at Ayrshire College for 17 years.

If you are interested in following Julies footsteps – you can start here with one of our full time courses.

The part time sewing course Julie did was Sewing Machine Skills for Beginners

All Ayrshire College students have access to the Enterprising Students Fund where we work in partnership with Bridge 2 Business to provide a business mentor to help you create a business plan and apply for funding. 

Course Search


Browse all courses Advanced search