Creative is the New Black Launches with Help from Mentoring Program

By Nancy Saunders

Ashleigh Meraki is the creator and artist behind Creative is the New Black—social platforms, a website and blog through which Meraki showcases her art with the dual purpose of sharing her creations with the world, and staying accountable to her craft.

“I started creating art a couple of years ago, and I began posting to Instagram solely to motivate myself and to have some accountability to create, because I feel like it’s really motivating to have a space where it’s housed. Kind of by accident, as these things go, people started to ask about whether they could buy my artwork,” says Meraki, a mom of two and a full-time teacher who lives in Thunder Bay.

Encouraged by positive feedback and wanting to build momentum, Meraki decided to expand beyond Instagram by creating a website. Conversations with Digital TBay’s Digital Service Squad member Brook Dallaire were instrumental in Meraki taking that step.

“I started to talk to Brook about it and she asked, ‘Well, have you thought about [this]? Have you thought about [that]? What website are you going to use?’, and I said, ‘I don’t know any of these things’,” says Meraki. “Brook said, ‘Why don’t we book a session and we’ll just geek out and spend an hour making a website for you?’ It sounded like a really fun, creative activity to do; another piece of learning; something that I could even eventually teach my students, and even just for my own interest. There were so many things that she was able to show me. I had no idea how to make a website. When we got in there I realised how overwhelming it was, and so having her there to walk me through the process was really helpful.”

Meraki took what she learned in her first session with Dallaire and got to work laying out the website as “a dream space ... where I’m building it ... as a place to house my work until later on when I’m ready [to launch].” With the website itself being the first step in turning her passion into a business, Meraki took her time and appreciated having some breathing room. “Building something from the ground up and having that information ready to go before you even enter into it is so much more helpful than responding to it once it’s already gone live and you’re wanting to make changes ... I think most people would probably get overwhelmed before they even got there,” she explains. “To create all the things in real time when you’re already in it feels really overwhelming. Having stuff ready to launch before you even go live makes it feel so possible! ... The website makes it feel concrete. Having this stuff set up right off the bat feels really good,” Meraki says.

Meraki appreciated being able to check in and book a subsequent session with Dallaire to talk through gaps and roadblocks she encountered as she worked on her website. “Halfway through the process, I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know how to make [this] work, I didn't know how to format [that]—so I booked a second session. Between the two sessions and with one being halfway through the process, and having [Dallaire] hold my hand through the rest of it once I had a million questions, was so helpful. Now the website is set up and ready to go, and it’s linked to my Instagram and my Facebook accounts. I’m doing my own research now and thinking about what I might want to add to it.”

Dallaire offered additional advice on securing the domain name Meraki wanted and on search engine optimization (SEO), something Meraki was not familiar with. Dallaire also provided expertise on Meraki’s logo and branding. “[Dallaire] got me thinking about my logo, and using an icon instead of the whole name—simplifying it as something people can associate with a brand.

So we were thinking about branding, and colours; using Canva, and incorporating that into social media posts ... [It] makes me feel like it’s more possible to build the business even though when I started the process, I didn’t feel ready. It was a ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ thing,” says Meraki.

“Now I have a place to house my art. It’s really exciting! Being able to do that for free and getting that mentorship ahead of time was really helpful. [Dallaire] was really helpful and she’s done it so many times that it was really easy for her to navigate; she’s already encountered all of the questions I had. She was also able to suggest things and ask me questions ... Having a mentor is so helpful when you’re starting out: to handhold, to save time, to save money—stopping you from just getting stuck in the weeds before you can even get it off the ground,” says Meraki.