Behind the Scenes

Lily & Val – A New Chapter

This post took me months to write. Actually, in a way, it took years. Years of learning, growing, transforming, and mistake-making (mostly mistake-making as it would seem.)

The truth is, last Spring I wanted to quit my business.

Some might say I’m not supposed to admit that. But I promised to share the journey with you… The whole journey, and if it helps just one person, it’s worth it.

After over a year of soul searching, tears, hours of journaling, counseling, and taking a huge step back (thanks in large part to sweet baby Vienna for forcing me to finally slow down) I want to share my story.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter

I don’t have everything figured out, which makes me hesitant. I’m still in the middle, albeit the path is filled with glimmers of light and I can mentally process better. But truthfully, I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point of “arrival”.  I share this because maybe you need permission to start a journey without your own arrival plotted out. And that’s the beauty and the stress of life. We change. I’ll always be growing and changing as a person and an artist, but I feel I have a better awareness of what doesn’t serve me.

Mak and I were having one of our countless conversations about this topic and I said to him “I think I’m ready to share my story, but I don’t know how.” Without hesitation and as matter-of-fact as I can count on him to be, he said “why don’t you draw your story.” “Okay, I will try that,” I thought.

So, here it goes…sketches of my feelings…

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan

I think back to the beginning and Lily & Val was born accidentally and innocently. There was no pretense, only a newly-married Pennsylvania girl with a love of vintage who wanted to cozy her kitchen with a rustic, hand-lettered chalkboard. This started me on a journey I could have never predicted! It’s still surreal and humbling to think about. For the first several years, it was such a joy. I had nothing to lose! I think back to things like the first time I made the front page of Etsy, getting my first corporate client (Clearasil!), receiving my first wholesale request, seeing my art in a real store, my husband, Mak, coming on-board full time, meeting with a publisher in New York! It was all such an unexpected thrill and I honestly pinched myself that it was happening.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan

But as this accidental business continued growing, the pressure started to mount and some nasty weeds crept up in my heart.

Things like:

The pressure to constantly create
The fear of losing it all
Keeping up appearances
Feeling like the success was just “luck”

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan

Without tending to the growing weeds, they grew into bigger, deeply-rooted weeds that began to steal my joy, the reason I started in the first place.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan

With an inner environment like that, topped with some lofty mistakes turned failures, it paved the way for a strong, toxic voice to come in and choke out the creativity and the life I had left. Looking back, I craved the confidence that was offered because I was living in insecurity. I felt incapable on my own and allowed someone who didn’t have my best interests at heart to further that narrative.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan

I felt trapped, disconnected and constantly drained. The reason eluded me – I just thought I was doing what I had to do in order to have a successful business. This is the point when I saw no way out but to quit what I had built over these years and take up a new hobby.

Then something changed.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan
Over the past year, the fog began to lift. I felt the right move was NOT to quit my business, but instead, pull out the weeds, do the hard things. Little by little, I’ve confronted the fears haunting me, but I’ve done so with the newfound knowledge that the alternative is far more painful. It choked out who I am and didn’t serve the life I want to have.

I am an entrepreneur and small business owner, but being an artist is my lifeblood. I need it to survive. If I allow that side of myself to shrivel, then the rest will shrivel too.  The older I get the more I realize I want to spend my time doing life-giving things. I’m not a stranger to working hard, but if the core of who I am isn’t being authentic then the hard work becomes like hitting my head against a wall instead of making progress. This life is too precious to waste.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter, Pen & Ink Botanical by Valerie McKeehan

I was listening to a podcast interview with Beth Moore about her new book “Chasing Vines“ (which I highly recommend) and there was a line that stopped me in my tracks.

“Sometimes growing looks a lot like shrinking.”


That is the new chapter of Lily & Val.

Standing here bruised and weathered, I’ve been stripped down to my core. I think back fondly to those first few years, but I’m not going back to the beginning of naïveté. This would be impossible. Instead, I’m staring into my days with a refusal to spend them in ways that don’t bring me life. I know that creating and sharing what I create with the world around me is my purpose and I trust in that. That purpose trumps all of the “have-tos” and “what-ifs” that kept me paralyzed. That trumps past mistakes and failures. I feel lighter in view of these realizations and this is why I feel like a different person.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter: Valerie McKeehan headshot

What does all of this mean for the future of Lily & Val:

  • I have new products in the works, but one thing I can promise you: I won’t be creating anything that I myself wouldn’t want to own. If this means not putting out a collection, then I won’t. I struggled with this in the past…the pressure to create & launch collections in the name of business and not becoming stagnant…all the things you learn. I would burn myself out and I just can’t do this. I’m not going to put out my best work that way. It’s also important to me to create meaningful products that tell a story. Before, I would feel guilty about not releasing more products, but I’ve come to realize that’s not what I’m all about. I prefer to take my time making sure it is something I am proud of. I want you to be able to expect something meaningful from me and I take that seriously. What it boils down to is: If I don’t want to own it, I don’t expect you to either.
  • A re-brand! The original Lily & Val Logo from 2012 has never been updated. I worked with Tyler of Studio B Print & Design for many months to not only update the logo, but create a brand that truly feels like me. She is brilliant at what she does, taking all of my existential thoughts and turning them into this updated brand. The new look makes me so happy and I hope you like it too.
  • A new website. The new website is a much-needed breath of fresh air! It’s cleaner, more organized, and easier to use. I hope you will give it a peek and let me know what you think!
  • I wanted to be transparent and tell you what life looks like at Lily & Val right now. It’s me (and my baby) in the studio of my townhouse creating art and dreaming up ideas. I’m balancing motherhood with business and art, which has been difficult to say the least, but I want Vienna to grow up seeing me create and fulfill my passions. Mak is still involved on the business side, but since accepting his full-time position as the Creative Director at Northway Christian Community, his time is limited. Nicole, our Operations Manager, so beautifully handles customer service and many intricacies and logistics of the business. Together, she and I also run @lilyandval on Instagram. When you communicate with L&V, you are speaking to one of us. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for Nicole. I don’t know if we’ll have a big team again. Truthfully, I don’t see that happening any time soon. I love our tiny team and working from home. I’ve never been happier.
  • In some ways, I don’t know what all of this fully means for Lily & Val yet, but I can tell you I haven’t felt this FREE in a long time. Free to explore, to play, to create, to re-discover what lights me up and makes time go by in a blink. Right now, that is experimenting with soft pastels. I would love for these items to make it into the shop at some point because Lily & Val is the expression of the art I love to create. The difference now is that I will control the shop and not the other way around.

Lily & Val - A New Chapter: Valerie McKeehan headshot

Wow, that was a lot. If you are still reading this, I’m honored that you would take the time.

To the customers and friends who have been on this journey with me through all the phases of Lily & Val, my heart can’t hold the gratitude I feel for you. You have changed my life in incredible ways. For those recently joining me, welcome. It’s an honor.

To everyone: thank you for your support. You allow me to live a life by creating art that brings me life. I have tears in my eyes thinking about what a privilege that is. It’s because of you I have a story to tell. I don’t take a second for granted. I don’t make perfect decisions, but I am constantly trying to do my best.

Here’s to you and the next chapter of Lily & Val. I hope you will come along with me!

Lily & Val - A New Chapter: Valerie McKeehan headshot

Thank you to Tiffany from Hot Metal Studio for my new headshots.

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