The publishing house where Theresa Hamilton worked as an illustrator of children’s books tended to dole out assignments according to gender stereotypes. “I was a girl, so they figured I should draw flowers and things like that,”says Hamilton. “So I would put my name in as Tee, so they couldn’t stereotype me. I was really better at drawing dinosaurs and cars, and I liked that a lot more.”
The red-haired self-described comic book geek kept the nickname and now uses it professionally in her role as head of the Creative Alchemy agency, a small business, based in Clearwater, FL.
Most of Hamilton’s clients are other promotional products professionals. Creative Alchemy specializes in design services (illustration, graphics, marketing/ad layouts, Web/mobile apps, toy and product design, photography and storyboarding/copywriting) and consultation (art/creative direction, development and branding).
Hamilton’s dad worked in the distribution sector of the promotional products industry. As a kid, she was the student who came to school with logoed pens and pencils from small businesses she’d never heard of and were a bit of a mystery to her and her classmates. But she didn’t follow directly in her father’s footsteps. The path to starting Creative Alchemy in 2013 circuitously started in Baltimore, led to Atlanta, swerved around and down under the world to Australia and then doubled back to Florida.
It was a romantic quest to continue a relationship with an Aussie boy that prompted Hamilton to pack up her illustrator pens and paints and move to Melbourne. Alas, the relationship didn’t last. But the opportunities afforded by being in that country were instrumental to Hamilton’s career success.
“I’d started in children’s books in the States and that led me to working in toys and other kids’stuff,”she says. “The thing about being in Australia was that there were so many jobs available for young people. The population there is so much smaller than here in the United States. If you were a go-getter and willing to take a chance on new opportunities, well, the competition was a lot less.”
One of the jobs she picked up in Melbourne was designing toy bears for a line of Beanie Kids collectibles, similar to the Beanie Babies that were popular in the U.S.
“I did that for four years,” Hamilton recalls. “I designed about five different bears every month. Some bears were aimed at being rare, so they were only released for one month. Others were made available for years.”
After designing a menagerie of Beanie Kids, Hamilton found jobs working on Web design for a telephone company, moved into doing media projects aimed at kids, then moved around to working for a toy supplier. All the while, she was picking up a wide range of tools that would come to be implemented in Creative Alchemy.
Once back in Clearwater, she decided to focus on design services specifically for the promotional products industry.
“I noticed a disconnect between the distribution and supply industry and the artwork,”she says. “A lot of them don’t have people on staff, so they call me for design service. I really enjoy helping people, and focusing on people in this industry.”
Hamilton enjoys speaking at industry educational events to get to know more distributors and build her company’s street cred.
She believes anybody that might be considering a career in this industry needs to embrace one very important aspect of their personality: creativity.
“Get in touch with your creative side,”she says. “The way this industry is going, it’s what will set you apart and lead you on the road to success.”
Don’t just be a mug-and-T-shirt hawker, she advises.“If that’s all you offer, then all you’ll be about is price,”she says. “Embrace the product world by seeing how you can be different than everybody else. Don’t be afraid to miss a deal because somebody else is offering it 10 cents less than you.” That’s the canvas on which Hamilton has drawn success.