Art Entrepreneur

Chelsie Tamms '16 wrote a lettering book and launched a small business while a Bradley student. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
July 18, 2016

Chelsie Tamms ’16 dreamed of owning her own graphic lettering business, but didn’t realize it would happen as a college student. A 2014 summer internship and spare-time art project changed that, as she found the inspirations and connections to write a book, launch a business — and win a handful of awards for her efforts.

Building on the summer inspiration, Tamms, a graphic design and Spanish double major from Cary, Illinois, developed a lettering how-to book, “Just My Type of Lettering” and began the legwork to launch her own business, Lettering Works. Her entrepreneurship and design won Bradley’s Brave Pitch and Project Springboard competitions, top honors from Peoria Ad Club’s American Advertising Awards and a case competition in New York City.

Tamms’ innovative spirit took flight the summer of 2014 as an intern for a Chicago-area personalization company. While there, she recognized career potential for her niche interest. Additionally, she challenged herself to complete a series of hand lettering projects during one month’s free time. Those insights formed the foundation for her book and business.

“I didn’t anticipate everything coming together for a business and self-publishing a book while I was in college,” she said. “Though I thought it would be great to start a business one day, I didn’t know it would happen so fast. I was doing what I was most passionate about, and everything worked around that.”

Inspired by the summer, she focused her last two college years on uniting art and entrepreneurship. Relationships with faculty and staff in the Smith Career Center, Honors Program and several academic departments pushed her toward the dream.

“Bradley has so many resources that there is no way I could take advantage of all of them, no matter how hard I tried,” she said. “Faculty and staff want to see students do well, and they will find a way for you to accomplish what you want.”

Tamms also built significant relationships with Peoria’s startup and arts communities. She found support for her ventures through regional small business catalyst Startup Peoria and Central Illinois Arts Organization’s monthly First Friday community art shows.

As a result, Peoria became a second home.

“We as students need to get out and explore the city,” she said. “That’s how I’ve become friends with people who made a huge difference in my Bradley experience. I realized I would lose a lot of valuable connections if I didn’t stay here.”

Tamms acknowledged her interests required sacrifices of sleep and free time. She often spent late nights filling business orders, practicing her craft and planning future projects.

However, she wouldn’t settle for less than her best effort.

“Without passion, you won’t be as determined to get things done well,” Tamms said. “I worked hard to make the most of the limited time I had in college. My close friends knew how much I worked, and I’m grateful their confidence was rewarded.”