Dr. Rhino was a dentist — an imaginary teeth-pulling rhinoceros.
Years ago he lived in the mind of a little girl named Ashley. Today, his spirit lives on in the work of her cousin, California State University, Northridge alumna Jessica Marquez ‘04 (Art).
Marquez considered her cousin’s imaginary friend a symbol of creativity and imagination. Now it has morphed into Marquez’s online profile and the name of her flourishing business called Miniature Rhino.
Marquez, who currently lives in Brooklyn, is a photographer and embroiderer who has combined both talents to launch a successful artistic career.
The 34-year-old teaches online embroidery and photography classes and sells her crafts on the online marketplace Etsy.
On a larger scale, her first book, Stitched Gifts, was published in 2012, and she recently was contracted to produce embroidery kits for Nordstrom. They are available now under the name of, of course, “Miniature Rhino.”
“I definitely feel like the universe is telling me I’m doing something right,” Marquez said.
Marquez said she could never have imagined all this when she was a college student.
She is a creative freelancer who turned her passions into her career, and things have happened organically. But if she were a wallflower, would it all have happened?
Going for it
“She’s become Brooklyn’s darling. The Brooklyn ‘It Girl,’” said Marquez’s former CSUN professor Lesley Krane.
Marquez is shy at heart, something Krane said she noticed pretty quickly. However, Marquez had the fortitude to overcome her shyness and approach her professors with whatever questions she had. Marquez realized that if she sat back and didn’t engage, it would be to her own detriment.
“Compared to many other students, we communicated,” Krane recalled of her relationship with Marquez. “It was very symbiotic in terms of teacher-student. She took every lecture, every conversation, every suggestion and tried it. She was not afraid to experiment and not afraid to fail.”
Krane said her former student created beautiful photography at CSUN. The art professor didn’t know about Marquez’s other talent until later.
“She was a tireless worker, always prepared and pushing the boundaries,” Krane said. “But I didn’t realize until after she graduated and went to Rochester that she had an affinity for handmade crafts.”
After CSUN, the Chatsworth native attended Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She earned a master’s degree in photography in 2007 then stayed on the East Coast, eventually making her way to Brooklyn.
Marquez initially thought her path was teaching, but in 2008 she sold her first embroidery piece — something she recalls looking like a 5-year-old made it. Things started picking up at her Miniature Rhino Etsy shop.
“I started making sales. I didn’t think anyone would buy from me,” she said. “It was kind of a high when I got a sale. I thought, ‘Wow. Someone likes what I’m doing.’ It was validating. Then I got randomly called for a USA Today story on entrepreneurship and they used my quote.”
InStyle magazine was next, and it featured her custom embroidered heart and zodiac samplers in its “Holiday Gift Guide 2010.”
Marquez went from making custom pieces for weddings, babies and birthdays to making kits so people could create their own crafts.
Along the way, an editor saw what she was doing and put her in touch with a literary agent. That led to Chronicle Books releasing Stitched Gifts: 25 Sweet and Simple Embroidery Projects for Every Occasion.
How the “It Girl” Made It Happen
Marquez said her success has a lot to do with her overcoming her own insecurities and realizing the importance of marketing herself.
“Honestly, it’s not something I feel comfortable doing, but I realize the importance of it. Being online, people want to hear your voice. They want to see you,” she said. “People love a story. They love to connect with you. They want to hear about your pets or your quirks. The more real [you] are, the more they’ll connect with you.”
Marquez said she gained a lot of confidence during her time at CSUN. Her love of photography also grew while at the campus, and it has played a significant part in boosting her profile.
“Photography is a big part of what I do,” she said. “It’s really launched me to a different space I never thought I could be in. Having a strong visual presence helped me tremendously. It makes you stand out and makes people remember you. My whole deal with Nordstrom [started because] they liked my pictures.”
Nordstrom keeps Marquez pretty busy. She even enlisted the help of her mother, Cici, whom she flew in from California to help with the project.
This Miniature Rhino has become something big. Maybe it grows into something bigger. Imagine that.