We had the good fortune of connecting with Naomi Smentkowski and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Naomi, why did you pursue a creative career?
Creativity has always been intertwined throughout every aspect of my life. It is present in each step of my day to day routine, and at the forefront of my mind. The question was never truly “why did I pursue an artistic career” but more so “how do I pursue an artistic career” so that I could implant the ever-present creative thoughts into what I do for a living. It didn’t happen overnight, or even over a year. I went through many jobs (by “many”, I mean that at one point while I was in college, I was on 6 different payrolls!) and various types of job paths before I found my true calling. As a child, I used to put on singing and acting performances for my family, make costumes for my dolls, and transform old pieces of clothing into wearable, “fashionable” outfits. I loved Disney princesses (especially Jasmine and Ariel!) and would often pretend to be them. But I never once thought that these factors would all contribute to a future business that I would develop! I went to college originally for Broadcast Journalism, but quickly found that it wasn’t for me. I was at a loss of where I could see myself in terms of a career path, and so I randomly jumped into Elementary Education. This decision was driven by my love of children, and interest for incorporating art into daily lessons. While I was studying to become a teacher, I picked up a side job of acting as a princess at a nearby tea house that hosted children’s parties. After teaching in an elementary school for a couple of years, I began to realize that I could never implement the amount of art and creativity that I truly wanted to immerse the classroom in. All of my free time was spent trying to come up with new ideas that fit into the state guidelines, spark children’s interest (and accept that not ALL kids enjoy being creative), and grading papers upon papers. The data-driven mindset of Arizona schools absolutely wiped me out, and I no longer had time for my weekend job of hosting parties as various fairytale princesses. Over a summer break, I picked up teaching piano lessons and started doing princess parties on my own after making an Elsa costume out of pretty blue fabric that I had found at a local fabric store. I realized that I had MISSED that creative element in my life. I hadn’t made a costume in years, but my passion was reignited. I made three other costumes soon after, and launched full force into making a name for myself in the “party business” world. I took a part time teaching job that fall so that I could have a few days off to continue teaching lessons and developing my princess business. And once both of my side jobs took off, I stopped teaching in the public school system entirely and immersed myself into my true passions-working one-on-one with children (teaching lessons) and making costumes/performing at children’s parties. Looking back, I wish I would have started my performing business straight out of college, or even while I was still in school. I’ve learned that the more time you put into something, the more you get out of it, and I wish that I had been able to put ample amounts of time into my company back at square one. But who knows if that would have burnt me out, or turned me away? Often times, creative people aren’t as strong with the business side of things. I pride myself in being able to talk freely to clients and build a personal relationship with them so as to ensure that their party is the best that it can be, but I will be the first to admit that I also have a hard time standing my ground in terms of talking rates/negotiations. I have come MILES from where I started and am learning more every day, though, so I’d like to think that I will continue to get better with my “business driven” mindset over time. My business minded husband also helps me with that side, and I am so thankful for that. I understand that I will not be able to portray the youthfulness of a princess forever. But when my princess performing days are over, I will pass down the experience that I have gained to any girls that want it, and continue to use my creative mindset while teaching piano lessons! I am excited to see what other artistic jobs may come my way in the future, too. Because I know wholeheartedly that this is the career path that I thrive in, and I will remain open minded to see where life takes me!

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My main art form is making costumes and performing! I perform as various characters (everything from the little mermaid to Maleficent!) at children’s parties and events! I also recently started making personalized videos for kids stuck at home during the Covid quarantine, as well as hosting virtual birthday parties via Zoom! I think what sets me apart from others (and especially other party character companies) is the fact that I am the only employee in my “business”! I market myself, talk to clients and communicate closely with them until their party date, make my own costumes, style my own wigs, and then show up to the party fully in character! Clients see my pictures and know that I’m who they’ll get, whereas most companies in my line of work send out different performers every weekend with various skill levels. I am passionate and dedicated to my work, and strive to be as movie-accurate as possible when I portray these characters. Not once out of the hundreds and hundreds of parties that I’ve performed at has a client or birthday child been unhappy with the event outcome. I only have 5 star reviews, and I think that’s pretty special! It hasn’t always been easy-in fact, I moved from Arizona to California about 4 years ago and had to completely start over in terms of marketing myself. But through volunteer work, word of mouth, and networking, I was able to pick up again and get myself back in the game! I have never spent money on advertising (other than buying business cards)- all of my parties have been booked because someone saw my work personally, and wanted to hire me! Word of mouth is a POWERFUL thing, and learning how to market your business yourself if a wonderful lesson that I have learned throughout this journey. Always carry your business cards on you, and never be afraid to promote your work! Have confidence in yourself, and that will stick in people’s minds! Also, always make time for kids. If I was hired for a party at a public park or space, I always make a point to walk around the area after the party is over to say hi to the other kids. If neighbor children see me walking down the street to a party, I will go up and say hello to them before going into the party. It’s the little things that really make a difference to people, and I almost always end up getting hired to come to that child’s party in the future! Another lesson that having this job has taught me is to have patience. One aspect of this is that not all children will believe that you are “real” at the beginning, but with carefully constructed conversation, I love watching them slowly become convinced. It’s wonderful and adorable! Another aspect of patience comes with making new costumes and wigs! I have learned so much about sewing and hairstyling, and still have so much more to learn! It can be frustrating at times (sewing the wrong pieces together, hairstyles falling out, etc) but is so rewarding to have a finished product in the end! I love my job more than anything, and am so appreciative for the creative outlet that it has given to me!

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I LOVE our city! I moved to San Diego about 4 years ago, and in the past few years have tried to explore as much as possible! I am still discovering new and wonderful things every week, but here are a few points that I would make sure to cover with a visiting friend: -Balboa Park! I love bringing out of town friends to this beautiful park. It can easily take up a full day or two, depending on which museums you may have interest in seeing, but I tend to take friends on a walking tour for a few hours! The botanical gardens, Organ Pavilion, Spanish Village, and International Cottages are some of my go-to places to walk to. -The San Diego Zoo is another wonderful day spent! The pandas and polar bears are my personal favorites. When I take kid friends here, I like to paint their faces first to look like their favorite animal! -The New Children’s Museum is a great place to take kiddos, but if it were an adult friend that was visiting, we would go to -Leroy’s Kitchen and Lounge for some happy hour snacks and cocktails! It’s one of my favorite happy hour spots, and I like to make a day out of it by walking along Coronado’s beautiful beaches. The sand is so soft and lovely! -La Jolla Coves is another favorite to spend a half or full day. Park near the children’s beach, and walk one direction to see the sea lions barking playfully in the surf and splashing around the unique rock formations, or walk the other direction to see the seals basking in the sun, and go tidepooling around Cuvier Park. Then grab an ice cream or gelato nearby and walk through the gorgeous art galleries and fancy shops! -Favorite restaurants that we ALWAYS bring out of town guests to: Kebob Shop, the Modern Times “Flavordome”, Plumeria (the best Vegan food we’ve ever had!), Lupe’s Taco Shop, Taco Stand, and Crack Shack! I could write a whole book, but to wrap it up, the last time that we would do on this short itinerary would be to have a BBQ in our yard! The weather is always so beautiful here, and we love to play board games and introduce our friends to each other. Everyone in San Diego is so kind and friendly, and in my opinion, you can never have too many friends!!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I strongly believe that it is important to surround yourself with positive and uplifting people, so I would like to shoutout ALL of my friends and family. I have always felt constantly supported by everyone in my life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the humans that I get to walk through this journey with. Of course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my first side-job of princess performing. For that job and training, I owe an extra special shoutout to my boss/the tea house’s owner, Charla Chilcott. I also owe a special recognition to my mom, Jan Schmidt, who encouraged me from a young age to make my own clothes/art/etc, taught me sewing basics, didn’t let me give up on my childhood piano lessons, and brought me to voice lessons in high school/helped me with my singing and performing confidence. And lastly and most of all, my husband has been my rock for the past 6 years, and helps me through the business side of owning a freelance company! (AKA paying taxes and keeping track of money haha!!) Thank you, everyone! I love you and owe it all to you!

Website: www.magicalprincessparties.org
Instagram: www.instagram.com/magical.princess.parties
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/magicalprincesspartiesca/
Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/magical-princess-parties-san-diego
Other: Cosplay/creative Instagram: www.instagram.com/thattallprincess

Image Credits
DQ Fotography, Jackie Harvey Photography, Manny Llanura Photography, Bryan Babbich Photography, Jon York, ColdblueSky