I am super stoked to introduce you to Crystal Sandoval and her company, Swan Lettering & Design. She has a special gift and a beautiful spirit. I am also stoked because this post was crafted by my daughter Lindsay, who met Crystal for coffee a while back, and came away inspired by Crystal’s vision and wisdom. Crystal’s faith inspires her work, and in turn, her work inspires faith. Enjoy!
– Michael Anderson
Crystal Sandoval is the sole owner and operator of Swan Lettering & Design, an Encinitas, California based company specializing in custom hand-lettered artwork on everything from wooden signs to chalkboards to buildings. Her website’s tag line is, “If you can dream it, I can make it,” and one visit to her Instagram page will show that this is no exaggeration.
She is also a middle child.
Born and raised with two other siblings in the Balboa Park area of San Diego, CA, Crystal found herself sandwiched between a “sister who is all art and brother who is all science,” and came into her own as a unique mixture of both. This led to a more pragmatic form of self-expression; she admits, “I do not approach art the way my sister does – I approach art from a science and math angle, so it’s a little bit more methodical, it’s a little bit more planned out.”
Heading into college, she actually went to two freshman orientations – one for the science department and one for the art department. Torn between pursuing marine biology and her artistic endeavors, she first attended the orientation for the science department – and hated it. She described it as feeling stark, rigid, and while they were doing great, meaningful work, Crystal felt the personality that she craved just wasn’t there.
“Then I went to the art department orientation and I just felt like I belonged there. I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the colors, and I wanted to do what they were doing. But I had a really big academic chip on my shoulder. My sister was already a painter and already doing art school … so in my young mind, not realizing, I thought, ‘That role is filled.’ The way I reasoned it was, ‘Well, if I ever want to do art, I don’t have to have a degree; but if I want to go into science or any of those fields, I have to have a degree.’“
She decided to go the science route, receiving many scholarships for Kinesiology, and graduating with honors. Admittedly, she ended up loving her major, but upon entering the work force, realized she had no desire to pursue an actual career in the field.
Crystal soon became a mom and decided to stay home with her two boys from the time they were born, and even homeschooled them. She found herself doing a lot of art as side projects and has always had a love for experimenting with handwriting.
“With the kids, I felt like handwriting was very important. It’s kind of like a lost thing they don’t teach in schools. It has such a strong correlation with critical thinking and other skills, so I really hit home with that with my kids, because I was teaching them – so I could do that.”
From there, she began doing small projects and Christmas gifts for friends and family. It was something that brought her joy, and she was happy to do, but being that she was a full-time stay at home mom and teacher of two energetic boys, it hadn’t fully occurred to her that this could become a viable professional pursuit.
As her boys got older, however, that mindset began to shift. “In 2016, I really sat down and thought, ‘You know, I’d really like to do this. My kids are getting older, what am I going to fill my time with?’”
Although the progression was gradual, Crystal remembers first creating herself a website and putting together a small portfolio of work, and most crucial to her: she prayed. At the time, she was still unsure of how the marketing in this industry worked, and if she truly had the time she needed to commit while still homeschooling. One month later, however, the door that she had been knocking on swung wide open.
Three big jobs – jobs she hadn’t looked for – fell right into her lap. Crystal recalls feeling at the time that this was the sign she needed, but not a sign that there was only smooth sailing from here. Instead, she felt like God was responding, “You asked me the question, I said, ‘yes,’ … and now it’s your turn to do some of the work.”
Though she was fortunate to have a small network of friends and family already, Crystal quickly learned that succeeding in this industry was going to involve much more than being good at lettering. She dove headfirst into learning how to market herself, how to network, and how to use social media/online platforms to increase her client conversion rate.
“What I’ve learned in this world is how you manage yourself is everything. You can be the most incredible artist and never make a dollar. And you can be a mediocre artist and have a career, because you know how your market works, you know what your prices are, you know how to work with a client … people want to know that you’ll take care of them.”
Crystal quickly learned that while Etsy and Instagram have been and will continue to be huge in this entrepreneurial generation, it can be intimidating to scroll through carefully curated pages that seemingly have it all together. Although she admits it is easy to get caught up in the comparative, Crystal knows that there is no true correlation between an aesthetic Instagram and actual monetary success. Some businesses churn out content day after day, but if they don’t have a grasp on how their market works, posting cute photos can have little to no effect on growth. “Your stuff can be ‘low level’ and you can make a living – if you know how to work.”
Swan Lettering has undeniably grown since the days of making Christmas gifts for extended family, but what makes Crystal so special (even unique) in her journey is that while she stresses the need for business savvy and leaning into the “nuts and bolts business work,” she is not concerned with being the best in the business.
“It’s so silly that we don’t do what we love because we’re afraid to be second best, or third best, or tenth best … What if you’re actually really good at that, but you’re not the best in the world, or even the fiftieth best in the world, but you can create things that people love? You don’t have to be the top artist. Most people are not out there hiring the top person – they can’t afford the top person, they don’t need the top person, and the top person doesn’t have time to serve all these people. We need everybody else.”
Of course, there will always be moments of insecurity in any business – especially in the industry of custom artistic services, with collaboration between client and artist. Crystal says she doesn’t regret any of the choices that got her to where she is today, but without any formal art education, the imposter syndrome pops up from time to time. She recalls a time where a large, custom wooden sign meant to be a wedding gift for a client in Montana, was delivered broken. And late. Crystal had gone to great lengths to protect the sign during shipping, and while the client was gracious, that feeling of letting someone down when the stakes are high, and they’ve trusted you with a unique idea, can be devastating. “They have a million vendors that they can go to, but you hope they’re glad they came to me.”
How does she push through these difficult times? It’s all about perspective, and purpose. From the moment you meet her, you can tell Crystal is really doing this for the people. Her art is a beautiful representation of bringing the ideas of others to life, of creating something that strikes the balance between timelessness and capturing a meaningful memory or moment in time. That ability – and acknowledging that her art can’t be created without them, allows her clients to feel that extra measure of beauty and joy. It creates meaning.
Throughout this journey, the driving force behind creating and sustaining a successful business has come from her faith.
“(I want others to see) how much I love the Lord. And what comes out of me, comes from my relationship with Jesus … I want people to meet God. And if it’s from some random quote that somehow makes them pause and think about bigger things than their to-do lists … it would be an honor to be a part of the ‘pause.’”
If you want to add a bit of beauty to your day, check out Crystal’s Instagram: @swanlettering.
Or her website: www.swanlettering.com
And on Etsy – www.swanlettering.etsy.com
Crystal specializes in custom lettering – prints, signs, tattoos, canvases, digital design, corporate projects, murals, weddings, and more.