Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Letting go of old Passions

Today guest blogger Kathy Weller talks to us about letting go of a creative passion that possibly no longer fits. Kathy is a disciplined artist that has the grit and determination to succeed at anything she sets her mind to, and her successes are many.  Recently she discovered she also has the strength to say goodbye to one love and let one creative pursuit go to make room for more. I asked Kathy to talk today about her decision to put the breaks on her pet portraiture business....

 Petamorphosis: My journey into, and out of, pet portraiture
by Kathy Weller

I started doing pet portraits in late 2004. Choosing pet portraits as an independent creative business hit so many important areas of growth for me - areas that I wanted to really push hard. Pet portraiture hit them all. It was a match made in heaven. And I did push hard. I pushed really hard. I did not even know I had such ambition and drive before I decided to do pet portraits. But I found that it was there, lying dormant, waiting for a context to live within.

© Kathy Weller

With pet portraiture, the dam broke. The dam held a lot of my long-held dreams and hopes to find a special and unique outlet for my art. I have always been an artist, and a pet lover too—but I haven't always been so good at all the other skills necessary to turn your art into a business. Once I began to gain knowledge in the areas that were important for the growth of my pet portrait business, I learned how much more capable I was in many other areas. Learning business and marketing fueled my self-confidence. Creating the portraits sharpened my technical drawing skills, maybe more intensely and consistently than any class I've ever taken. Communicating with clients, especially clients of emotionally-faceted custom work, turned me into a customer service guru. And doing everything on my own (no buck-passing!) proved how resourceful I could be.

© Kathy Weller

Doing portraits was great, and so exciting. I was thrilled with my new business! I had my own 'thing' - something I built myself, something that was unique and was focused on animals, which I loved. It was perfect! Then, after the first couple of years, I discovered that the business model I'd built my house on might not be conducive to a lot of growth. There were only so many portraits I could complete in a given time frame, and, while I did revise my prices several times during my tenure, there was a sort of 'invisible ceiling' that I really didn't think I could break without pricing myself out of the market. Aside from everything else, I was also starting to feel creatively confined. While I had initially set out to "learn-by-doing", I started to notice a few side-effects, some of which I wasn't completely prepared for. When I noticed my work was growing far more technically tight, I worried what the catalyst was for that change: Was the change due to the natural progression of my skills, or had I molded into this new 'shape' partially due to client feedback? Regardless, it was clear that I had begun to grow too close to the creative template I'd set. And, unfortunately by that point, it was really set in cement. Maybe not through an objective lens, but I could not see past my nose. I didn't know how to change it, if I even wanted to change it, or how I would change it, if I could. Where pet portraits were concerned, I was having trouble defining, or feeling like I was holding on to, my own artistic voice apart from the "custom" part of the "custom pet portraits" style I'd so carefully crafted. It seemed that I could not see the forest from the trees any more. This was something I did not plan for.
© Kathy Weller

I started to mix it up with some other creative work, in addition to my portraits. This helped my perspective a great deal. It also took some of my time away from doing portraits. I did not mind; the change felt good and I was so proud of the new roads I was traveling. As my confidence grew, so did my goals. I finally felt like I had a real compass for my creative career, plus the business skills to back it up. After all, the 'business' part was already set up.
© Kathy Weller

My compass grew ever larger: I got a job to illustrate a children's picture book, which led to a partnership with an agent, which led to more children's work and a new career in children's. Now a career in children's was something I'd always wanted, pined for, even- for years and years. But I never knew if I could, or would, accomplish it. Now that this myth had been effectively - and thrillingly - shattered to pieces, my goals grew bigger and I grew more confident in my ability to accomplish them. At this point, it was clear to me that my pet portrait business was just not built to contain this tornado I'd started.

© Kathy Weller

After much thought, I'd established a truth with myself: if I was going to continue with pet portraits, there were some fundamental things that needed fixing. One of those things was that it would have to be a completely new and more flexible model, because my current one was just as tightly rendered as my portraits were. After much deliberation, "what if" scenarios and various theories outlined and discussed at length, the only real, viable answer to the problem was that I needed a clean break. There was no way around it.

I knew this for some time before I actually acted on it. It took me time to accept this and to move forward. In fact, I didn't actually move forward until things got to the point where continuing on with pet portraits was actually hindering my time and energy I wanted to spend on other goals I so desperately wanted to pursue. It was hard to let go, and scary, too. Pet portraiture was so much more to me than the catalyst for 'Business 101'. Obviously I am a huge pet lover and parent, and having something of value to help out animal advocate organizations was an important and positive element in choosing the business to begin with. Portraiture also opened me up to a warm, generous community of other pet artists, pet lovers and pet parents. (Hey, these were 'my people'!) Not only that, but after awhile, my pet work informed my artistic identity - especially externally. I became known for my pet portraits and during my tenure, I got a good amount of press featuring my work. All told, closing up shop was not at all an easy thing. Saying good-bye to my pet portrait artist identity and all that came with being an active part of the pet portraitist community was just as hard as hanging up the portraits themselves.

I probably waited a little longer than I should have before quitting. But, in the end, it's a good thing that I took the extra time. When I look at the portraits I completed during and after my decision, they take my breath away. I experienced an incredible sense of freedom and ease and, by extension, had more fun working on the last few portraits than I had in a long time. I guess it should not be a surprise that my work on these portraits is among my most technically proficient as well. In hindsight, the worries I had during my pet portrait creative identity crisis were, ultimately, all for naught. I see now that I was just experiencing artistic growing pains, but within a situation and a context that was, at the time, unchartered territory. I wasn't seeing the forest for the trees. I see now that a little distance can do wonders. In the end, I am proud to have ended my portrait work on a high note in every way.

For more of my pet portrait writings, please see the following links.

Why I Chose Pet Portraiture Part 1

Why I Chose Pet Portraiture Part 2

Posts all about my last custom portrait (several with musings on leaving pet portraiture)


Moira said...

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your growing pains and the path that led you to this decision. So many of us are out there on our own facing the same issues in our growing (or stagnating) businesses. It's invaluable to hear how others navigate these creative/economic waters. I am going to feature it on my Dog Art Today blog too. Good luck with all your future endeavors.

Mary Richmond said...

what a wonderful story of your progression and your work is so charming! yay for you!

artpaw said...

Moira- I agree, it is great to hear someone speak so well about their journey. So many of us just allow the road to unfold before us ...never taking the wheel. It is inspiring to see someone making choices and hard choices to drive their art career in the direction they want to go.

Mary, thanks for stopping by!

Manon said...

Kathy's post was terrific! I can relate with my own pains of first dropping my pet portraits and then the mosaics. As artists, I believe that we're always growing and changing as Kathy has.
Thanks for sharing your story Kathy!! Good luck moving on!!

Kathryn Hansen said...

wow...i really related to what you went thru because I'm going thru the same thing. thanks for sharing your story!!

Christine Throckmorton said...

As always, I am enthralled and inspired by Kathy's eloquent words. Kathy's last pet portrait was of MY dog, and for that I feel incredibly honored. I am currently reciprocating with a portrait of her dogs; I just hope I can make Kathy as happy as she made me!

Great guest blogger, Rebecca! And great job, Kathy! Thanks to you both.

artpaw said...

Hi Christine- I have a Weller original too and I feel very lucky! She did a great portrait of our little girl Pixel. Thanks for stopping by!

Gina Perry said...

What beautiful work Kathy. Each pet-parent is lucky to have such a treasure. I loved reading about your journey.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much everyone. Boy it was not easy to write all that-I kind of felt like I was revisiting and reinvestigating things too soon. To the contrary, I learned even more about myself and my choices by taking the time to put it all down on, um, email. Anyway, thanks so much for reading and I'm SO glad that you were able to take something from it. That was truly the goal-especially because it truly isn't all just the "pretty picture" all the time. That said, I truly loved the work I was doing so much which made it that much harder to hang it up. But I know I made the right decision. So THANKS. :) XO

Autumn Leaves said...

Gosh, Rebecca. A great time for this post personally. I have a heck of a time letting go of old passions. I just keep trying to add new ones to the old. My mom has said a couple of times that art is the one thing I've been passionate for my whole life and that she is glad that I am now putting a concerted effort into it. (Alas, they all miss the mark, but what the hay?!! LOL) But still...there is cross-stitching, knitting, and I want to learn to weave...At least none of them are a business, so I shuffle them around to fit according to my moods and my yens. Still, life gets crowded. Good when one can release something to make room for more!

roz said...

What a fascinating post, kathy, thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. I think we all can resonate with the "growing pains" and it helps to read that it's part of the process. Choices, choices, choices. It all comes down to that and using our inner voice to help guide those decisions. Obeying though seems to be the hardest part sometimes! For me anyway.

artpaw said...

Roz- your right it is all about choices. There is so much power in knowing that we have choices ...too often we don't realize that just reacting to all that life throws in front of us is not exactly making a choice.
Kathy thanks again. I did feel like I was asking you to talk about a divorce before you had really processed it. AND I can't wait to see your future projects!

Carol A. McIntyre said...

As an artist who is just beginning her pet portrait business, it is interesting to read your post. I will keep it in mind as I progress. It is not unlike my letting go of my landscapes to paint pets!

artpaw said...

Hi Carol- Thanks for dropping by. Enjoy your new beginnings in portraiture. The early years of a new business are some of the most exciting. Who knows ... the landscapes may creep back if your clients start asking for elaborate natural backgrounds. Good to have extra skills!

Jill Beninato said...

Thanks for sharing your story artists we need to grow and sometimes that means taking a new path...I commend you for following your heart...