When you visit Angie Wendricks’s Instagram feed, @countyroadliving, you’ll notice a few things right away. First, it’s full of clean lines, soft whites, handmade touches, and vintage finds. Second, it’s shot almost entirely within the bounds of Angie’s under-800-square-foot house. And third, even given those two constraints—somehow, despite them—it’s not repetitive. Instead, it’s a testament to the power of a keen eye and a deft hand, as well as the passion that prompts Angie to spend hours every day styling, arranging, waiting for the perfect light, and making the most of her modest equipment. She depends on that modest equipment: a digital camera, a self-taught method, and the determination to (as all artists) practice, practice, practice. With that determination, she’s turned an Instagram feed into a thriving photography business, been featured in magazines and on the radio, and found at long last work that she can’t wait to do.
Angie doesn’t have a degree in photography or design. She didn’t know, when she started her first Instagram account in 2013, that it would become her vocation. Instead, she started it as a way to document her home, and the home she was then building with her husband. She felt drawn to the subject matter of interiors, naturally styled shoots that highlighted her aesthetic and taste for natural light, arrangements, and materials. “My dad and my aunt and some cousins are, I guess you could say, amateur photographers,” she says, “and I’ve always really liked the styling and the capturing of that moment.” But when she started, she hadn’t had much experience with photography. To gain that experience, she experimented, focusing her efforts on getting the pictures she imagined. “I practiced on my own. I got pretty good with the iPhone, and basically just practiced every day, sometimes for hours, just: angles, light, what lighting is best in my house for this photo at this time.”
At the time, Angie was working one of a series of jobs she’d held over the years. “I worked part time…I’ve done about everything,” she says. “I’m one of those people that you ask, ‘Oh, have you had this job?’ and yeah, I’ve had that job. I just never really found what made me happy. All these years, even though I went to college and was in the medical field, it was just like: I don’t like doing this. It doesn’t make feel happy. It doesn’t make me feel complete.” She started documenting the small house she and her husband were building on a 7-acre plot of land in Indiana. They did most of the work themselves and decorated the space with vintage and reclaimed elements. Her Instagram feed filled with carefully styled shots of the clean, white, beautifully minimal space—and shortly after, messages began to arrive. As she describes it, “People were messaging me saying, ‘Oh, can I send you this pillow [to feature]?’ And then it just kind of snowballed into this business where I’m getting all these things sent to me by these companies, and I thought: You know, I’m going to roll with this. And so it turned into kind of a little styling business for me.”
The business started small: a few items here and there, tagged in her well-followed feed. For a while, it expanded, as more companies commissioned her to include their products in her photographs. Slowly but surely, her confidence and customer base grew. Then, when she had around 42,000 followers, hackers broke into her account, stole the photographs, and severed many of her contacts. Years later, this setback still frustrates her. “Social media’s already hard, and then you get hacked, and get all your pictures stolen. So I had to start all over again, and that was very frustrating because I thought: I’ll never get back to what I had.” For many people, this kind of experience would spell defeat. Instead, Angie took it as an opportunity to regroup.
Soon, Angie had repopulated her Instagram feed with new photos, and taken next steps towards turning her project into a formal business. The biggest step for her was transitioning from iPhone to the Canon digital camera she uses now. “I was always very intimidated by [the camera],” she says. “I had my camera—embarrassingly enough—almost a year before I ever even took a photo with it. Because I was so comfortable with iPhone, and it takes totally different photos and angles, and I almost didn’t want to do it. But then I just picked it up one day, and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m doing it.’”
It was tough going at first. “I didn’t know anything about my camera. I didn’t know anything about editing. So it’s basically just been practicing and practicing.” But on some level, she says, it doesn’t feel like work. “I just thought, you know, I really love this. It gives me a really good peaceful feeling when I’m doing it, and I enjoy it, and I can do it in my house.” She reflects on what it is that brought her back to the camera, day after day. “It’s like a zen thing for me,” she says. “I tend to think a lot, so when I’m in the photography, and I’m doing that, I’m in the zone. I’m not thinking of a thousand other things.”
Whatever is in Angie’s zone, it certainly attracted interest. As her skill and following blossomed, her home and photographs were featured in Dwell, Country Living, and other national publications. At first, the publicity felt unreal. “I was in the airport, and I opened [Dwell] up and there was my name, and my dog, and I was just thinking: This is crazy. Someone in New York is picking this up and looking at me. I’m not famous, but there’s my name.” Soon enough, though, that publicity turned into invitations to collaborate, to style and photograph lifestyle brands, and County Road Living became more than great photographs. Angie found herself helming a business.
“I never really tried to make it a business—my whole goal was nice photos and styling,” she says. Managing what County Road Living has become involves the kinds of daily business decisions that Angie confesses she’s working on—or at least mustering the strength to work on. “I just kind of wing it, I’m not going to lie,” she says, reflecting on the more technical business end of her operation. “I don’t have a website page where you can go and pick prices [for a photo on Instagram or styled shoot]. I just kind of say, ‘I’ll help you, you help me. I make money, you get some cheap advertising.’ Because I’m not a business type of a person, I’m more of a creative type of a person. So in my perfect world, somebody else would be taking care of all of that stuff, and all I would be doing is taking the photos, because all of that stuff is not interesting to me. And that’s the part about it that I didn’t think about. I was just like, ‘I’ll take photos, and I’ll make some money,’ and I wasn’t thinking about making a business plan. But it’s working, and I know I need to get a little more technical about it—I’m working on that now.”
Another challenge of a social media-based business is the pressure to stay connected at all times, which Angie fights. “I need to work harder at social media,” she says, “but it’s so exhausting to me and I don’t want to spend my whole day doing it.” Instead, she keeps her routine organized around what energizes her. She describes a typical day in spare terms: “I get up; I have coffee; then I exercise; I come home and work in the garden. Then for a few hours in the afternoon I do the photos, or I go out and do the photos.” The schedule keeps her from checking in on social media too often and helps her balance her life and family with creative work that could easily consume her waking hours.
Having made it this far as a successful creative business, Angie has plenty of empathy for newer entrepreneurs following in her footsteps. “It’s all attainable, but it takes practice,” she says. “That’s what I tell people: you don’t whip out your phone and just randomly take a photo. You’ve got to work at it a little bit. If you’re willing to do that, you can do anything.” She points out that even now, years into her work, she doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to express her vision. “I don’t have professional equipment: I don’t have special lights, I don’t have backdrops, I am just very natural in my house, and wait on good lighting. It is surprising, because I know there are photographers out there who have way more experience and equipment than I do—I mean, I have a camera, and a house, and some props. I don’t have fancy anything.” Even without the fancy anything, though, Angie is differentiated by her clarity of vision. She says, thinking aloud about the advice she’d give herself: “Always, always stay true to yourself, and your style, and what you like. Absolutely don’t follow trends. Just do your own thing, because it’s organic, and it’s natural, and it’s you.”
Looking forward, Angie is experimenting with moving into more portrait photography. She’s started with portraits of people and pets, styled in her characteristic simple, natural mode. It’s a new challenge, and a new direction for her. But for Angie, that’s part of the joy of it. “Everything I’ve done, really, is overcoming those things you feel like you can’t do. Because you can,” she says. At the end of the day, finding an inner voice, an inner passion, has been her greatest asset. “Who would have thought all my ideas and visions would have ever turned into anything if I had listened to everybody else?” she asks. Knowing what she knows now, the future doesn’t intimidate her as she says, with conviction born of experience, “If you just stick to what you love, I think that you can’t go wrong.