Celebrating Women: Heather – The Life of an Artist

Continuing with our March Celebration of Women, I’m honored to introduce Heather. I have been in awe of her artistic skill for some time and I’m so glad she’s part of our celebration!

What I love most about this interview, aside from getting to know Heather better, is how her passion for art, life and God absolutely shine through. She is so genuine and her responses so heartfelt. She’s got a great sense of humor, too! Such a joy! Thank you so much, Heather!

Before we get to the interview, I’d like to share these encouraging words from Heather:

“You didn’t ask, but I’d like to share that I have no degree, and only about 6 months of college. When it’s your thing and you’re passionate about it, you can find someone to teach you or some way to learn. I’ve had a few people I’ve worked with be snotty about that, but then I’d be mad if I had their student loans too. College is awesome and if you can go, go. But just because you can’t, doesn’t mean you’re less of a person, stupid or not worthy of career greatness.”

Talk a bit about your background. Have you always been interested in art? Was there a specific moment you decided art would be your career?

My mother gave me a pilgrim and his turkey that I drew when I was three. To be fair, the turkey looks like a turtle with dinosaur spikes on his back, but you can tell I was working through how to make what was in my head get onto paper. The pilgrim resembles those entertainers that paint a face on their belly and wear giant hats over their shoulders. I’ve always drawn. My mother kept a sketchbook, her and my father both work with wood and leather, and my mother was also a mechanic. My maternal grandmother was a bead and sewing crafter. I’ve just always been surrounded by makers. So, I think I always said I wanted to be an artist, except maybe for that brief minute in 5th grade when archeology stole my heart and then again in 7th grade when I thought a missionary was my calling. But those didn’t stick the way my art did.

How did your first job as an artist come about? What lessons did you learn during your first job as an artist that you’ve carried with you as you pursued your career goals?

My first real job as an artist came when I’d just come home from my first semester of college in Savannah at School of Visual Arts and was trying to change to an Atlanta art school. I had a weekend job at a bank, but my mother was not happy with that so she told me that I must have a job for the rest of the week, Monday through Friday or get out. I was not about to settle for the vision I had for my life. Rather than going to the closest McDonalds as she wanted me to do, I went into the closest sign shop in the area, off of Main Street in Forest Park (located in Georgia), and asked if they were hiring and they were! This was my first experience learning sign making and really having daily use of computer designing. Of course, I was a smart-ass teen so I went by Zesto’s on the way home and brought in Gyros for my mother and I announced I had a job. She got a huge smile and said, “At Zesto’s?” I smiled back and said, “No ma’am, at a sign shop.” I was proud and she was annoyed that I wasn’t grunting in something I hated. This is just where we were then. The biggest thing I learned at that job was not to settle. If I wanted to be an artist, there’s always something I could be doing to make money and use my skills.

You are a wife and mom who has worked full-time as an artist. How have you managed all of your responsibilities? Any time management and/or organization tips you’d like to share?

I honestly have a lot of regret on this subject. The first five years with babies I just did design work at the company I worked for and didn’t really do much art at home…maybe a painting a year. Then I was struck with an uncontrollable urge to create and honestly, I haven’t stopped since. I really would like to tell you that I just worked on art once the kids were asleep or when they played, but it was just all the time with them at my feet or playing around me or sitting next to me. I wish I had taken more breaks to play with them, it goes so fast. Now I beg them for time, and they haven’t got it to spare. Word to the wise – it really does happen in the blink of an eye. I do have a tip for people who want to make art but are always on the go. I carry a field sketch mixed media sketchbook, water color paint, and a water brush pen in my purse at all times. When I’m in the car rider line, in a waiting room waiting on the doctor, auto repair shop… whatever, I have my paints and it’s easy to use. It’s great to get ideas out and capture moments. My house is never the neatest in the neighborhood. I’d rather paint. And I’m the queen of frozen dinners!

You seem to have an incredibly solid faith. How has your faith impacted your life as an artist?

This is possibly the easiest thing to answer that you’ve given me. When I was in my young and stupid teens doing everything I could to find myself and was as far from God and what he wanted for my life as I could get, the art didn’t come. I was blank. The little that I got out was just a cheap imitation of what was influencing me, not even a good representation. It’s unfortunate, it was the true jumping off point, when you want to get those scholarships and opportunities and nothing. I did some art, sold some art. But it was just not what I have flowing through me when I’m close with God. Once I came back to him, the flood gates opened. And so did the opportunities. I got my job designing in the Coca-Cola Company HQ for a contracted company through a prayer list. I started designing for Shane’s Rib Shack because someone asked a friend of mine from church if they knew a designer… all from God. I learned the method of stroke by stroke classes from a dear friend and mentor (spiritual, artistically and maternal) that God put in my life when I was a teen and who I reconnected with as an adult. When you know the source of your gifts, it’s easier to harness them.

You have started your own business as a graphic design artist. What led you to decide to start your business?

First, my husband’s support and encouragement. Without that I wouldn’t have attempted this! He’s kind of my manager, my chauffeur, counselor, etc. I was tired of being used up and then being put out to pasture. The first time I was told there would be no more raises ever, no matter inflation, etc…forget that! I was out of there within a month. The pay wasn’t up to par as it was. The second was after 13 plus years for the company that contracted with Coke. Coke did a series of layoffs each time business got slower, until finally the last layoff took our big clients. Then I was laid off by the contract company. After seeing how well my contract work was going and that these companies really valued what I had to offer, I took the leap. Well, actually I was shoved…you know with the layoff. And the Lord’s made sure the clients and projects have come on a regular basis so Praise God for that!

Have you faced any obstacles while starting your business? How did you handle them?

Fear. Luckily my husband is great at calming those and again encouraging me. Forgiveness. It’s something I had to work on. But if you don’t get that straight, you’ll poison everything you do. Those lost years that ended up flickering out at other companies did grow me, and sure not everything is fair, but I can’t get anywhere holding a grudge. Also, self-employed taxes. Can I just be frank? They suck. After I pay the man and then the bills, there ain’t much left. But I only started this working for myself thing in June and the bills are being paid. Some companies take a long time to get there, so I’m very grateful. I’m grateful that now, when I’m starting my business, we have the leader we have in Washington. He has a heart for American businesses and small business, and it’s been a relief tax wise.

Who and/or what sparks your creativity? Are there artists who inspire you?

That’s a great question! So very many things inspire me. Little day trips to small towns with my husband, remembering my grandmothers, a good sermon, my own emotions (Lord help me and those around me), trying new foods, a good documentary or movie. A trip to Disney fills my creativity tank for a good year plus! I take in the foods, the gift shops, merch, the atmosphere… it’s seriously a creative recharge. Covington Square (located in Georgia, east of Atlanta) was the initial shock to the system when my oldest was five that started me painting again. I was so inspired by the shops and atmosphere that I went home and painted for a year straight. My hands hurt that year! Oh, new art supplies are a great boost to creativity too.

What does your art mean to you?

Breathing. Creating art is not a choice, it’s a must. It’s involuntary at times. Sometimes it’s very planned and other times it’s a huge vomit of emotions at a canvas before my head explodes with hurt, anger or joy. Plus, I just always see pictures in my head.

What is your favorite artwork that you have created? Why is this your favorite work?

This is so tough. They are all my babies. I’d have to say it was one of these two. I keep both by my bed side. So that while I drift off to sleep, I can see my favorite place (on earth that is, Heaven’s gonna rock!)

What advice would you give aspiring artists and anyone interested in starting their own business?

You simply have to do because you love it. It’s just not something you do to get rich. Not to say there aren’t rich artist out there, and sure there are times of great influx of funds, but there are also the other times, so you’ve got to love it. I’d do this whether I was making money or not. I just wouldn’t get to do it as much if I wasn’t making money with it. Be persistent. Look for ways to make money with your gifts.

Tell everyone you meet what you do and ask if they need your services/art. I literally go door to door, town to town like an old encyclopedia salesman to see what shops need design help. I’ve had one or two be rude, but I’ve had so many thank me and say that they’d been praying for help and that I was an answered prayer. That really feels amazing.

Most of all, read anything you can get your hands on by Dan Miller. Especially an old copy of No More Mondays or 48 Days to the Work You Love. He has a free weekly podcast and walks people through how to do what you love for a living. He believes that it’s insane to think that you could make more money doing something you hate than something you love and are therefore more passionate about. I listened to him for years before I began this adventure and I really feel he prepared me for where I am.

For more information on the skills and talent Heather has to offer, please visit her website.

If you are interested in researching Dan Miller and the books/podcasts Heather recommended, please visit his site.