Slow Growth: Starting Your Craft Business With What You Already Have

Start your shop off right by offering something people actually want to pay for!

Read about the best ways to spend your time as a new business owner!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 4 years on Etsy, it’s that medium matters.

I’ve seen so many new online shop owners overlook this first and most important factor. They’re only interested in filling their shop with the art they love the most, without considering what people actually want.

Read about Starting Your Craft Business With What You Already Have here!

That means, your end product needs to be something people want to pay for. The sooner you choose correctly, the sooner you can reinvest and grow your budding business.

I’ve found it’s best to explore which ideas are worth running with before investing too much money in expensive apparel like enamel pins and crew-socks. If you’re a designer or illustrator, start small with RTP services and having your designs printed as stickers. 

Seeing your ideas come to life in your hands is truly exhilarating!

Final products are what keep me consistently going and my clients say similar things when they receive their buttons from me. Handing out free stickers and producing buttons for other makers in my circle has been my favourite way of building a community around my creative practice; this a great real-life example of “slow growth” in action!

I’m now going to share how I opened my Etsy shop and started my button-pressing and graphic design business with next to no money and no income:

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Tips to start you craft business with next to no income:

  1. Work with what you have—this sounds so simple, but is possibly the most difficult step! I know so many crafty people with a plethora of supplies in their closet, just waiting to be cracked open. If you’re not one of those fortunate people, I found swapping on Depop and Varagesale, as well as just asking ambiguously on Facebook if anyone has any supplies they have laying around!
  2. Only invest as much as you’re making—it’s tempting to take your first few dollars to the store and “restock” your shop, but don’t invest in new stock until you sell out of something else.
  3. Look critically at your expenses. Do you really need a domain yet? Yes, but you don’t need about anything else. Your domain (or url) comes with a shiny new business email and those are the only 2 things you need to start growing (although an email list wouldn’t hurt, either).

The proof is in the pudding, so I also wanted to highlight for you the first stages of my own online business!

What the stages of my own business looked like:

  1. Painting patches from up cycled fashion scraps and selling them on Etsy ($10 fabric paint, $15 startup fee)
  2. Buying sticker paper and selling stickers (I started with a cheap, crappy printer I already had for printing college reports) ($20 sticker paper and $25 in shipping supplies from the dollar store)
  3. Buying my first products, which were hand-pressed buttons for another local “button-pusher” ($40 for 100 buttons)
  4. Expanding with higher quality products: I transitioned to higher-quality vinyl stickers produced out-of-house ($56)
  5. Bought a button press off Ebay to start my own “button-pressing” operation ($180)
  6. This allowed me to Upgrade my printer to produce my own high-quality prints and zines ($250)
  7. Invested in my first batch of enamel pins ($560USD ~$800)
  8. Reordered and Expanded my line of enamel pins with a new provider ($600)
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Now that I’ve established myself in selling enamel pins and vinyl stickers—after 4 years—I can expand my practice to hand-made OOAK and custom resin crafts. This new and exciting venture wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t dedicated myself to my own personal “slow growth” method to build my online business.

Now go rummage through your craft rooms, storage bins, sewing supplies and leftover DIY materials to see how your slow growth will begin!


Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

My Top 10 Free Apps I Actually Use For My Online Art Business

These 10 apps will help you nail your next art project, keep on top of your clients, and build your social media presence!

I’ve been using an iPad Pro since I began working for myself, back in 2016. It was the first investment I had ever made in my business, ever. It was a big deal!

There were a lot of things I needed out out one device and couldn’t spend so much. I had limited experience with technology use and had an aversion to the big ol’ Apple Corp.

The iPad Pro has become my best artist tool and the most used technology in my office, even to this day.  

I’m here to help you get the most out of your Tablet experience, artist-to-artist, for free.

I’ve created a list of my favourite free iPad Pro apps to help artists and small creative online businesses.

These apps are easy to incorporate into your art, design, or online business practices. There is a learning curve, but they’re not too tricky to get a handle on. Once you get the hang of using these, you’ll be glad you did!

Here are my 10 favourite free apps I actually use for my online art business!

  • Adobe Draw (Art + Design) — A free vector-drawing app I have been using for years, all you need is a free account! I prefer using Adobe Draw over Fresco for certain projects because of its ability to import directly to Illustrator on my desktop.
  • Adobe Spark Post (Art + Design) — Perfect for quickly planning out design ideas for social media posts, blog covers, headings and footers, and much more!
  • Canva (Art + Design) — My absolute favourite design tool, Canva’s free tools and resources are more than enough to beef up your branding and get on your social media game! You can save pallets and fonts to your brand profile to keep your posts looking consistently beautiful and on-brand.
  • Sell on Etsy App (Business + Productivity) — If you haven’t already, check out my post about why I love Etsy as my e-commerce platform right here!
  • 2do (Business + Productivity) — The only to-do list you will ever need!
  • Hootsuite (Business + Productivity) — The best FREE social media scheduling tool out there, I’ve tried so many and now that Hoot covers Instagram, I’m all-in!
  • Photoshop Mix (Art + Design)Easy photo-editing on-the-go? Yes please! I also love using this for the photos I use in my Etsy shop listings.
  • Protonmail (Business + Productivity)You need to stop using Google, right now! I keep my clients’ information safe by using this encrypted email service for my business (and personal) emails. This means no one, not even Protonmail, can read my confidential emails!
  • Toggl (Business + Productivity)You need this for easy, detailed time-tracking! Toggl sends you a report at the end of each week, making invoicing clients accurately way easier.
  • Adobe Capture (Art + Design) — Quickly creates colour pallets, brushes, fonts, and shapes from real-life photographs!

As soon as you’re done reading this: download some of these apps, try them out, and tell me what you think. Comment which of these apps are your favourite, and why! I would love to know.

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In the meantime, I urge you to read about how to make people care about your art and how to maximize your time creating in your studio in preparation for the New Year. You can also download this journalling prompt sheet, absolutely free, to get a head-start on 2020!

Until next time,

-J

How I Accidentally Started A Brand And You Can Too!

Before writing more great advice about creating content, I wanted to give you a run-down of my background, what I make, and how I got started. I’ve been really excited to share this story, as I feel it’s a great learning experience to share with other creators, whether you’re just starting out, or stuck in a career-rut.

Toadstool Illustrates is the online apparel and print shop I run. I use it to facilitate creative conversation around LGBTQ+ and its’ expression. Toadstool has evolved with me as an artist, being the brand’s third iteration it has become exactly what I set out to do when I first officially opened up shop in October 2016.

But back when I started, that wasn’t my plan or even my intention. I actually had no idea of what I wanted other than “I want to make stuff and make an impact”. In the beginning I mistook that for something else…


How I got started.

The patches all started in 2015.

I was in college for Environmental Technology and found there weren’t any active environmentalists or other activists among my peers. I additionally found that even working for the government I couldn’t make in impact. It was extremely disheartening.

While in college I worked for a summer at a popular craft store, and was doing a lot of sewing and clothing alterations. I had piles of scraps piling up because I just couldn’t bear to throw it all in the trash. 

Table covered in scattered bobbins of thread, yarn, and other sewing supplies in a green cutting board.
Photo by Vladimir Proskurovskiy on Unsplash

Weeks go by and I’m still wondering what to do with all of these scraps. They appeared to be nothing but a pile of shredded denim and bleached t-shirt arms. I decided I would cut them into squares, as large as I could, and noticed they were all coming out at similar sizes. I still couldn’t figure out a use for them.

I am suddenly struck with these questions: can I make an impact by spreading messages? Can messages spread via the things you wear? Of course, that’s what brand logos and tattoos are for, but wouldn’t it be better if you could spread multiple messages at the same time? This and many similar thoughts led me to do some brainstorming.

After doing a little research, I decided hand-made punk patches were the perfect way to start. Even better, this idea allowed me to recycle over 90% of my scrap fabric that was piling up around my workspace! My patches are now all hand-painted on recycled scrap fabric.

I’m inspired by LGBTQ+ issues, and Transgender rights specifically, as well as other humanitarian ideals and sex-positive humour. I try not to take myself too seriously when it come to my patches and pins; they’re meant to be conscientious, but still fun.


About my pins.

I started collecting pins and buttons when I was a child. It was the early 2000’s, but my bags and lanyards were totally decked out like it was 1988. 

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m making my own buttons.

After the success of my patches in mid-2016, I was able to invest in new merchandise: buttons! I was so excited to take this next big step into new territory. 

I found the ideas and motivations behind my patches — that were too colourful and complex for fabric painting — easily translated into these tiny buttons. In the beginning I couldn’t afford a press and had to outsource production to other local makers.

After about 2 years I was finally able to buy my own button press!

Since then, I have been having fun helping other artists and creative businesses with custom button pressing and design services.

I include the first 20 buttons in the base fee to do my best to help out; I know starting off can be tough and buttons are great way to dabble into new merchandise.

I personally started with handing mine out for free at in-person events, which I feel really helped my online performance. I began working small craft fairs and art shows with them in about April 2017. By October people remembered me and were coming back to buy again!

Artists use them to experiment with turning their art into a physical medium. I’ve been told they’re also great when you want to expand your price range as a seller. 

My latest and biggest project so far would be my Sword & Shield Enamel pin set.

My LGBTQ enamel pin set was in the works for over a year. I still remember thinking — over 2 years ago at my first Hamilton Pride festival — about how I wanted to contribute to my community and how I didn’t think I could.

I definitely didn’t know at the time it would be with my designs. Giving people a unique way of showing their transgender identity was not the initial intention, but with a more neutral-masculine design and colour pallet my pin was a stark contrast to most of the other all-black geometric designs flooding the search results.

My main concern was that I love our flags’ colours, but didn’t feel comfortable being decked out in pastel garb (and got the consensus that other trans-masculine folx out there felt the same way). That’s what inspired me to begin sketching.

These enamel pins were meant to help bridge the gap between the Transgender pride flag colours and the use of original neutral/masculine design.


Text "DO MORE" on an iMac screen on top of a minimalist office desk.
Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

So, that’s my Etsy shop story.

Don’t leave thinking this entire article a big flex. It’s not, it’s for you to know I speak from years of real experience and about a metric tonne of books. I will be creating a 2020 reading list to help you get in a more creative and productive mindset to start your year off right. Let me know if that’s something you would look forward to, or any book recommendations you may have for me!

Until then, I hope you read through my last article where I talk about How To Use Your Doubts and Fears To Build And Motivate Your Business Part 2. If you missed Part 1 of that series, it’s important you go there first!

If you want to read some Etsy Shop tips I’ve gained through my experience go read How To Run Your Etsy Shop From Only Your iPhone And Increase Your Sales! Stay tuned for the next Artist Journal by following on Facebook or Instagram.

-Joey @ The A/J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

Use Your Doubts And Fears To Find Future Success: 2 of 2 articles

In my previous post: How To Use Your Doubts And Fears To Build Your Business, I brought up something that makes us all a little uncomfortable: our biggest doubts and fears.

More specifically, insecurities that have you stuck in your situation, or are hurting your ability to set effective goals for yourself.

I covered how improving your mindset will improve your productivity;

How to build the confidence to believe in your business, and the questions you need to ask to get better at what you do.

I introduced the idea that quality thought creates quality work.

Pretty deep stuff, but it’s just another way of saying that your thoughts combined with a healthy growth mindset can shape and improve your output.

Last time we also began to address our jealousy and insecurities. If you made the time for some deep thought on the topic, I’m glad you’re back. If not, you can still follow along!

Coffee mug reading "hustle" sitting on a desk with an iPad and Apple Pencil.
Build your confidence as a new entrepreneur by asking all the right questions.

Now thinking back on it (or if you’re anything like me you wrote it down and you’re looking at it right now), what were you thinking about?

What stood out to you the most, or what struck a chord for you? Use these to get back into a deep thinking state. I highly suggest recording your thinking process to refer to as your company grows.

In other words, what pissed you off the most? If the jealous feelings you were having before are more complex, odds are they’re not vain, and valid. The causes or solutions just might be too hard to see at first glance.

It must be 2005, because you may now pull out your burn book. You’re going to write why you hate that witch so much. Everything, don’t hold back.

Now that you’re left with some unbiased observations of your insecurities, you can now use this new information for good!

You’ve boiled this list down to the point where you can now clearly see your doubts and fears laid in-front of you. It’s daunting.

If you’re not a chaotic personality like me, I’m sure this can even be a bit scary. Our primitive monkey brains are programmed to do the easiest thing every time. To avoid confrontation and change, but that gets you nowhere really fast.

Using your simplified list of descriptive words, expand upon those words and state the real problem. Then you can create constructive solutions on how to tackle your problem.

An example would be if you’re jealous of how someone is better at you than something, you’re probably just not confident in your ability. A constructive alternative though would be that your skills maybe aren’t up to snuff. A constructive solution would be to enrol in a class or workshop to improve your abilities and confidence in what you’re doing.

For instance, when I’m having trouble getting started on a painting, I watch someone else paint for a while because it inspires elements of new ideas for me. If I’m feeling bad about my drawing abilities, I’ll visit the @IARTHAMONT private studio for Monday night life-drawing and get more practice in.

Reinforcing your knowledge can be the confidence-builder you need to keep moving forward, whether in your career or life or personal life.

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

I’ve done many revisions of my list and so you will need as well, as nothing in life is static. Skills grow while not being measured, there’s a human need for gradual change, and our values and emotions evolve with age.

This entire exercise was a big one in helping me start out when I decided to “make things work for me“ almost 4 years ago. It clearly helped.

You’re never too young to plan, or too old to dream.

But more specifically, this kind of thinking helped me first start to envision where I wanted to go in life and what I needed out of it, at 20 years old. I only mention my age because you’re never too young to plan, or too old to dream.

The points I listed in my own exercise also led me to look toward more positive role models in what I refer to broadly as my field in “content creation”. Whenever I have self-doubt or feel like my work is going nowhere I will put on one of their videos/podcasts/songs and remember why I started “making things work for me” in the first place.

You may not think spending the time with your thoughts helpful, but I hope after this two part series I have convinced you otherwise. What I call, deep thought or deep thinking, is such a useful tool that we should be making more time for and I will be mentioning continually going forward.

I think you can do it. If you apply what you’ve read today, you #canhaveitall just like every social media influencer you admire, youtuber you respect, or even another artist you envy.

Having your cake and eating it too may sound too good to be true, but I’ve been eating my cake for over a year. And that’s why I believe in you, because I’m doing it to!

Out of fear of not sounding gimmicky enough, just do it! 

Joey @ The A/J

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How To Use Your Doubts and Fears To Build and Motivate Your Business: 1 of 2 articles

Have you ever wanted to start over? Hit the reset button on your life? Quit what you’re doing and go for your dream?

Or you might even be in the situation where — as most people I know — you have a stable job that you don’t have an intention on leaving. You’re satisfied with where you’re at right now, even content. But, haven’t you had the urge to do more?

What if there was something you’ve always wanted to dabble with, or even profit from? And what’s the harm in making an enjoyable part-time income on top of a job you already enjoy?


A huge part is of getting comfortable with your fears is mindset.

  • “I don’t have enough.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “That’s not for me.”
  • “I’m no good at that!”

These are not what productive and successful creative minds think. These are limiting doubts, and we don’t have time for these!

I have enough. I am enough.

This is my biggest mantra I pass onto you, young grasshopper. Because once you are enough, you will be able to accomplish things you once thought you never could.

But, this all does not come by just believing in yourself. You can do as many self-love rituals and as much bullet journaling as you want, but if you never ask yourself the right questions you will not find the answers you need.

The human brain needs specific, measurable goals. An abstract concept such as mindfulness and dreaming are far less likely to have the same, lasting result. I have some better alternatives to get you in the right mindset to figure out where to go.


Can you tell me why don’t you believe in yourself? Are you simply lacking the skills you need to succeed?

Look at what relevant skills you are lacking, by locating where your insecurities stem from. This means look at those around you. The best way to see your own insecurities is to notice what you’re jealous of. If you’re jealous of someone, pinpoint why. This was a huge eye-opener for me.

This change in perspective helped me realize: how much I want to help others in their creative careers; that I needed to start my (third, cough) blog, that I’m Transgender…

So, what makes you jealous, and why?

It’s quite transformative thinking,(pun intended) and can help open your eyes to what you feel you’re lacking in your life and in your self.

That being said, some of these enviable attributes are healthy to indulge, but some are toxic. Looks, money, and fame are not qualities to be jealous over — they’re unproductive time-sucks and career-enders.

Instead, focus on a person’s credibility, influence in their field, the success of their online store, skills acquired through hundreds or thousands of hours of practice, or having the dedication to devote that amount of practice to something. Look for qualities in their work and practice as well as their lifestyle choices.

Some more constructive questions to ask yourself are:

  • How did you meet/hear of them?
  • What do they do in their career, or lifestyle?
  • How much more skilled are they than you?
  • What are they known for?
  • What qualities make you the most jealous, and are they vain/shallow?

You might posses a few of these qualities and you just can’t see it. You should ask some friends words they would use to describe you. Some things I have learned from others is that I’m brave, giving, loyal, strong, and confident; some of these things I would have never called myself.

You may find you have some baggage and honestly, you need to let that lie or deal with that shit later because we have bigger fish to fry today. I’m a big believer in “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Today we’re only talking about how to get up off your ass and take control of your thoughts and feelings, not a therapy session!

An amazing concept I’ve come across this year is;

Pretty deep stuff, but basically it’s saying that quality thoughts create quality work. Your thoughts combined with a healthy growth mindset can shape and improve your output, which in this case would be whatever you’re trying to sell!

This has probably been a lot to take in. Having conversations with people like this in person, I find many get overwhelmed with being confronted by their insecurities. We so naturally hide from them, so don’t feel bad if this is you.


I really want to help you get more confident in yourself and about your work!

That is why this is only Part 1 of 2 articles! After writing and formatting this piece I found it to be too much to digest at once, so I want to give you some time to think about everything we talked about here. I also want to hear how opening your Etsy shop has been going.

Speaking of, do you want to know how I increased my Etsy sales after freeing myself from my desk? I know my Etsy shop workflow and more will benefit your small business practice and make you feel like the badass boss you are! 

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Read about what live-streaming is and how it boosted my art at The Artist Journal.ca + download a FREE printable to get your goals ready for 2020!

Stay tuned for the next Artist Journal by following on Facebook or Instagram!

Until next time,

-Joey @ The A/J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.

How I Successfully Improved My Etsy Shop Performance: Love Setting Up As A New Shop Owner!

If you are:

  • Someone who has ever wanted to run a side hustle
  • A creator with too much physical merchandise
  • An artist with an overflowing archive
  • A crocheter or any other talented crafter with more creations than you can give away

My point is, if you make anything, one of my favourite ways for you to make an easy income is Etsy. I want to be transparent that this is not a sponsored post, I’m just a long-time user of their platform.

I use Etsy as my online business platform for the following reasons;

  • I found it the easiest to navigate; vs. Shopify, Ebay, Depop, or even Squarespace.
  • It guides you through filling out every attribute for a more thorough listing description, making it easier for people to find you in related purchases and Etsy searches.
  • Everything is there if you need it, you just have to look for it. The Etsy Seller Handbook is a good place to start.
  • I didn’t have reliable access to a computer until 2018. For 2 years I used my iPad to run my business, and website designers do not take kindly to them.
  • I find the fees reasonable for the service and customizability, as well as the legal protections your business receives as a seller. My shop was paying for itself within my first financial quarter.

I have been using Etsy as the marketplace to sell my handcrafted goods and artwork since October 2016. In the beginning, I didn’t have many resources at my disposal. At the time I was running the shop and making all of my work from my iPad and a $70 printer…

Increase Sales In Your Etsy Shop With This One Strategy
Increase Sales In Your Etsy Shop With This One Strategy!

My problems at the time were access to poor-quality cameras, rudimentary editing software, and having slower order turn-around times as a result. It would sometimes take me up to 5 business days to ship something out because using these poor quality tools took so long!

After switching to operating from my phone I was able to cut that time down to 1-2 business days, which is a huge advantage in regard to Etsy’s internal SEO.

The increase in quality lead to more sales, which I was able to use to buy a laser-printer for all my business printing needs!


Creating a listing using the Sell on Etsy mobile app is a breeze.

Esty’s app guides you through the first couple of tedious steps and then easily lays out all the other information your listing needs. You should be filling in as much as possible while also using all 13 hashtags. 

You must use the right hashtags. They should be more than one-word searches and not sweeping, broad categories. They should be as relevant and descriptive as possible. 

Try also using synonyms; buttons are to pins as paintings are to artwork. I use tags such as; punk patches, trans pride pins, pronoun enamel pins, etc. These are extremely specific to my niche market and relevant to my products.

I do all of my photography and editing on my phone.

vintage camera hanging from black strap against a white wall
Photo by Yoann Siloine on Unsplash

I use my iPhone 8 Plus to take all my photos. I only mention this because of the high quality camera with stabilization, so I don’t ever have to worry about my shaky artist hands. I’m sure many phones have this now, but I love the portrait function for taking photos of my apparel outdoors.

I edit my photos either using the in-camera editing function, or when I’m not happy with that I also use Photoshop Express. It’s a free Adobe mobile app; all you need is a Creative Cloud account!

After editing, they’re ready for uploading. I write up my item descriptions in either the Apple Pages or Notes app. Pages is great because it can give you a word count; you should be writing at least 250-500 words, this will additionally aid Etsy’s internal SEO.

Sales are clear and easy to manage.

After the listing is all set up, it’s time to address sales. When you make a sale, it will create an order for you in it’s own tab. Using the app I check the order contents and shipping info. This way I can pack my orders, still without touching another device.

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

I write my shipping labels by hand. I have pre-printed business cards, return labels, and flyers to stuff in my orders. That way I don’t need to print things more often than once or twice a month. Since I designed these assets in Adobe Draw on my iPad, I can access all of my printing assets through Creative Cloud and print them from my phone! Thought there was a loophole, huh?

I have found the one thing the app is missing is you cannot mark multiple orders as shipped at the same time. You have to mark each listing as completed separately, but if you’re not shipping more than 5 orders per day it’s not a big deal.

I fill out my international customs forms from my phone, send the barcodes to my email, and save them as pictures to a new note on my phone.

All I have to do is present the barcodes at the post office counter and pay with tap using, you guessed it, my iPhone! I guess you could use your wallet for this step, but it’s not as futuristic and cool.

Increase Sales In Your Etsy Shop With This One Strategy
Increase Sales In Your Etsy Shop With This One Strategy!

And that’s how I increased my Etsy sales by reducing my administrative work and freeing me from my desk. I know adapting this workflow will benefit your small business practice and make you feel like the badass boss you are! 

I would love it if you let me know what your trends look like after fully filling out your listings, or if you have tips to share about your Etsy shop practices. Stay tuned for the next Artist Journal by following on Facebook or Instagram!

Until next time,

Joey @ The A/J

Joey Dean is an illustrator and artist lifestyle blogger.

Since starting his online art-based business in 2016, Joey has been writing educational articles to help other artists learn essential solo-preneur skills like time management and productivity and is best known for his ability to translate left-brained concepts for right-brained people.

Share his passion for comics and creative lifestyle on his blog, The Artist Journal, and catch him at @joeytoadstool across the universe.


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