Profile: FarmDog Studios, Owner Amy Dawson January
Amy Dawson January founded FarmDog Studios in 2014. FarmDog Studios is nestled in the heart of East Brookside, where Amy creates hand-painted wood signs and other home goods for the people and places you love. FarmDog’s ready-made designs include the popular subway-style signs for local neighborhoods and cities; custom creations are also offered to celebrate hometowns everywhere.
Have you always enjoyed making art? When did you first discover painting?
Yes. I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I was the THAT artist kid all through school. So it wasn’t a surprise when I majored in art at Miami of Ohio, starting with painting, but ultimately graduating with an BFA in Graphic Design.
Did you always want to own your own business? What did you do before starting FarmDog Studios?
No. I was an Art Director in advertising until my first child was born. I then stayed home for 12 years until my youngest started school. After a few months without any direction as to what to do next, my husband surprised me with studio space in the West Bottoms with the only stipulation being that I spend an hour a day in a creative space and be open to what happened. And all of a sudden, ideas started forming and there was no going back. It has been an organic journey with lots of twists and turns, but really satisfying.
When did you develop the concept of FarmDog Studios?
In 2014, subway signs from NYC and Chicago were becoming popular, but held no meaning for me. I wanted a sign that celebrated Brookside, my hometown. We made one and it turned out that other people wanted signs for their neighborhoods, too. So we started making more and more signs for the people and places our customers loved. Since then, we’ve expanded our home decor offerings.
What inspired you to choose the name?
My husband hails from Western Kansas. He always tells stories of the farm dogs that always were around. In his stories, those scrappy dogs were possibly missing a leg or an ear, maybe old and hobbling, but kept the farm running. When I went back to work, I was also still functioning as a full-time mom and always felt like I was missing an important appendage that would make everything easier. But as any mom will tell you, we are scrappy, we are determined, and we get shit done. Aren’t we all FarmDogs?
How did you develop your style?
All parts of my creative life have influenced it, but advertising and design takes center stage. Typography is so important to the look of FarmDog. I think of each sign as tiny billboards that quickly let you know what is important to the owner. This allows for a bold graphic look that is equally appreciated by both men and women, millennials and boomers. We only use 5 classic colors in many different variations to achieve our different looks, but the consistency makes the brand identifiable. And the signs also have many layers of paint that are all hand-sanded and which adds to their vintage look and feel.
Where do you start when creating new designs?
Usually in bed at 3 am. I don’t sleep much!
Name an artist or designer who inspires you.
So so many, but recently stumbled on a piece by Sister Corita and have been exploring that rabbit hole!
What is the process of painting one of your wood signs?
Starts with the message, of course. Each design is then designed in Adobe Illustrator. After that, the design is made into a vinyl stencil which is placed on a base-painted board and then painted. They are then sanded and finished. This isn’t as efficient as screen-printing, but makes it easy to customize each sign for the people and places you love. Also, because of variations in temperature, wood grain, paint consistency, each one becomes a one-of-a-kind treasure.
What is your studio like? Do you work alone or with a team?
The studio is light and bright, but cozy. I have one or two employees working usually, but try to have at least 2 days alone so I can hear my own thoughts. The building we’re in has other studios working in other fields, but even though they may be doing hats, or food, or pillows, we have formed a creative community that has been fulfilling on many levels.
Do you have open studio days or shop hours?
We are open by appointment or chance for local pickups and consultations or to pick up a last-minute hostess gift. The Made KC Marketplace has been really great for our customers with its convenient hours and well-known location to get their FarmDog fix.
Where are you from? How does being based in Kansas City impact the work you do?
I am a proud KC local! My parents were active Kansas Citians. I grew up spending weekends at Crown Center, summer nights at Starlight and 4th of Julys at Spirit Fest. One of my first jobs at 16 was in the information desk at Crown Center giving advice to tourists about Kansas City with a little history mixed in. When we started FarmDog, it was a perfect storm of KC knowledge, graphic design experience, KC connections and a big win by the Royals that catapulted the business quickly.
How has your business evolved over the years? Have you faced any obstacles along the way to overcome?
We bootstrapped the business from the beginning. Balancing the need and costs of a studio and retail space was the trick at first. Now, it’s a matter of how to scale and not lose the specialness of our product. Our production process is labor intensive. We’ve diversified with our other decor items such as tea towels and pillows. But what really makes us different are the wood signs. And, while there is a way to cut a corner and produce them much more quickly, I just won’t do it. Some things are always going to be better when made by human hands.
What entrepreneurial advice would you share with others?
Do you, do it well, and do it without apology. And jump in. You are your best investor, so get your hair wet all the way.
What do you find most rewarding about being a small business owner?
The relationships I have developed with customers. We have celebrated marriages, welcomed new babies, chatted about the places we love. My customers truly become my friends and I love making products for the people and places they love.