Modern Maker: How Jessica Chan planted the seeds of Sowing Ground, a small business rooted in joy
Cultivating joy and celebrating the creative process with nature-inspired art
This story is a part of the Modern Maker series, which focuses on womxn-owned businesses in Seattle and beyond.
In late 2019, you could find Jessica Chan in a 10 x 10 booth with two other vendors at Wayzgoose Kitsap, an annual arts festival in Downtown Bremerton. This was the beginning of her journey with Sowing Ground, a small business that draws inspiration Jessica’s love of nature and cats.
“I had attended art festivals in the past, but I never thought I’d be one of the vendors.” Jessica says. “A year later, there I was. Putting my art in front of people felt so vulnerable, but I knew that I wanted to pursue my small business wholeheartedly.”
By the end of the day, Jessica had built a community with folks who stopped by. In some moments, she bonded with attendees over stories about their cats. Other times, you’d find her looking at people’s photos of their beloved house plants, both of which are subjects in Jessica’s work.
In short, it was a full-circle experience, especially as someone who had always been in community with other artists and small business owners.
“When you purchase from small business owners, you’re doing it because you love what they do,” Jessica says. “To be on the other side was very surreal.”
Although this experience led to the launch of Sowing Ground as an online shop, Jessica’s passion for art has existed since she was a child. On most holidays or birthdays, you could find her asking for a gift card to Michael’s.
At the same time, she wasn’t always encouraged to pursue art as a career.
“For most Asian Americans, the idea that education is the gateway for building a life for yourself is drilled into you by your immigrant family,” Jessica says. “Growing up, I was taught that art was a hobby, not a viable career option. That’s something I had to unlearn.”
Jessica ultimately found her way back to art when she asked herself, “what have I always loved?” In short, it wasn’t the biology or chemistry classes she thought she’d take in high school. It helped that her parents wanted her to prioritize her own happiness, whatever that looked like. Still, her journey wasn’t linear.
“Even with supportive parents, there was a deep internal battle where I fought to believe that it would be acceptable to pursue an art degree,” Jessica says. “I was afraid of graduating. not being able to pay my bills, and ‘wasting’ all the sacrifices my parents had made for me and letting down my community.”
Post-college, she took a catering job, feeling burnt out by school and not confident enough to pursue a job in the art or design industry. After sustaining repetitive stress arm injuries from that work, a condition that subsequently became chronic due to further aggravation while doing admin and tech support work at a diabetic insulin pump company, she eventually moved up to Seattle with her fiancé, now husband, Bryce.
To pass the time while applying for jobs, she picked up embroidery and drawing again. This quickly became a healing experience for Jessica.
“I had spent a lot of time trying to check all the boxes of what was expected of me, and I didn’t have the down time to think about what I wanted to do or be,” Jessica says. “I was living for others’ expectations, but moving to Seattle gave me the space to reflect on my buried dreams and goals.”
At the time, Jessica had one year of savings left and had to decide what to do next.
She asked herself: if she couldn’t build a career in a traditional sense due to her physical limitations, what could she do instead? This was the moment when she dove into the world of being a small business owner and applied for a business license.
From there, Sowing Ground was born.
“I approach life the same way I approach creating,” Jessica says. “A lot of my art is inspired by my surroundings or things that I’m learning and experiencing. If I did my research, I knew I could build this business.”
Through Sowing Ground, Jessica has created art that draws on her love of nature and animals, which you’ll often see portrayed in her stickers, prints, stationary and other handmade products.
“Nature is a refuge for me, and I like to capture those feelings in my art for other people to bring into their lives,” Jessica says.
Running Sowing Ground has been a labor of love and a return to art, while also enabling Jessica to blaze her own trail.
“As much as it’s a business endeavor, it’s also a project to explore who I am,” Jessica says. “Pouring myself into art and my business has been such a fulfilling experience.”
Follow Sowing Ground on Instagram for art, product updates and reflections on Jessica Chan’s creative process. Check out the Sowing Ground store to purchase prints, postcards, greeting cards, stickers, and more. Join the Seed Club newsletter for all things Sowing Ground and insider perks.
Embracing her identity as an artist
Once she applied for her business license, Jessica felt accountable to mold and shape the future of Sowing Ground. She was still on the journey to embrace her identity as an artist, but she’s realized she must value her work first and foremost.
“I’ve found that I’m not alone in my struggle to call myself an artist,” Jessica says. “For me, it really clicked with Sowing Ground. I’ve been trying to accept myself and see my art as a worthwhile investment of my money and time.”
As she built Sowing Ground, her confidence continued to grow.
“People affirm you in the way that they respond by purchasing your art or engaging in conversation about it,” Jessica says. “Seeing that people are willing to spend their hard-earned money or put your art in their home lets you know that your work is resonating with others.”
Sowing Ground has also been a space for Jessica to continue to explore her identity as an Asian American woman. While attending UC Santa Barbara for college, Jessica had researched the practice of foot-binding and discovered that she wasn’t many generations from that happening to her. In fact, her grandmother narrowly escaped this practice because the matriarch of her family didn’t allow it.
“Today, we’re not binding women’s feet, but there are still many limiting beauty standards and expectations that oppress women,” Jessica says.
Jessica also dove into art and print-making classes in tandem with coursework on Asian American Studies and Gender Studies. There, she explored her own identity and how it informed her work as an artist.
“My coursework helped me articulate my experiences as an Asian American woman,” Jessica says. “My senior graduation show was entitled ‘Liminal Spaces,’ and it was about feeling stuck in the middle of two worlds and feeling like I had to choose between being American and Asian. I wasn’t fluent in Chinese, but I didn’t fit the mold of American society. No matter what, people associated me with difference.”
Jessica has often felt torn between two worlds — she’s been told that she’s too white-washed and not Asian enough because she can’t speak Chinese or perfectly cook all of the dishes that her mom and grandmother make. She’s still working through this duality and defining her identity on her own terms.
One way her identity has come up in her work? In honor of Asian American Heritage Month, she created a print that explores themes of femininity and strength in Chinese culture.
“I created a portrait of an Asian woman with a floral headpiece and phoenix earrings,” Jessica says. “In Chinese culture, the flowers I used represent aspects of feminine strength, and phoenixes are a symbol for female royalty.”
By creating art like this piece, she’s deepened relationships with customers and other artists who resonated with her work. She’s also built a following on Instagram, a platform that empowers her to celebrate the creative process.
“A customer once said, ‘When I saw your phoenix piece, I immediately knew I needed it,’” Jessica says. “When people circle back and share how my art has touched their life or encourages them to pursue their own creativity, it affirms that I’m meant to be an artist.”
Who you are will shape your business
Jessica acknowledges that there’s a lot of emphasis on quantifiable wins, like your number of followers or sales. Over time, she’s realized that each person’s journey is different. To celebrate her lessons learned and turn personal victories into victories of everyone, she shares her reflections on Instagram, which cover everything from works in progress to tips for creative and positive living to lessons learned from her own artistic experiments.
Jessica encourages people to join the conversation by sending a message or sharing a part of their own journey.
“Who you are will shape your business and inform your art or whatever it is that you are creating or offering,” Jessica says. “You will set yourself apart based on who you are. Don’t give up because eventually you’ll find your way to where you’re supposed to be.”
She also focuses on sharing her process, not just the product. Jessica is always grateful when people add her art to their home, but she also wants to build a community where people are empowered to use their own power and abilities to cultivate a life they love.
“I hope I can inspire people to feel the fear and do it anyway. It doesn’t have to be as big as doing an art market or a gallery show. It doesn’t even have to relate to visual arts at all. It can be as simple as making small changes that make a big impact over time,” Jessica says. “I also want to use my voice so people know they’re not alone in their struggles. There is as much to learn in making mistakes as there is in reflecting on our accomplishments.”
Jessica also sees herself as a lifelong student, which lends itself to running a business.
“You have to wear a lot of hats besides that of an artist,” Jessica says. “Social media and marketing, finances and accounting, these are all worlds of their own. My motto is, ‘if you don’t know how to do something, you can always learn.’”
Jessica has big plans for the future of her business. The heart of her mission? Helping people discover their inner artist and express themselves creatively.
“Ideally, I’d love to have a brick and mortar store or cooperative space where I can host events or even an artist’s retreat,” Jessica says. “We all have outlets for creativity. They might look different and require a little digging around to find, but the reward is worth the work.”
Like this story? Check out the other founder stories in the series:
How She Gifted This: Tokki
Bridging connection, thoughtful technology, and sustainable design to make gifting unforgettable.