Thursday, August 21, 2008

How to have a career with pets

It's time for a formal introduction:

I am an artist, writer, pet sitter and graphic designer- how do I combine all these careers? Through my love of animals.

My art and love for pets merged into a pet portraits business I have pursued for 18 years now. I used to love painting old Victorian houses and abstract color studies. In college and afterwards, my mom and I would do shopping mall art shows- her with her oil paintings of landscapes and flowers, me with my eclectic collection. Professionally, I’ve always been an artist, as an art director for Builders Emporium and other retailers, but in 1990 I was fortunate to be able to quit the corporate world and pursue my true love, animals.

Up until 1990 I had volunteered for rescue groups, and showed my first dog, a sheltie named Sherman, in beginning obedience. I became a dog trainer, working at the Academy of Canine Behavior in Bothell, WA. I began fostering dogs for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue, eventually caring for over 60 dogs a year in my home. I eventually served on the Board of Directors for SPDR and also the Humane Society for Seattle/King Co.

In 1990, while sitting on a patio at a hotel in Monterey, I pulled a photo of Sherman out of my wallet and decided to sketch. It came out pretty well (see above), and when I got home, I tried the same drawing in color, with a set of pencils that had been gathering dust for years in my studio. From there, I practiced on friends’ pets, and from photos in magazines. I quickly learned that other people’s photos are copyrighted, so I built my own files. I started taking photos of every dog I met, and today I have thousands of photos in my files.

Meanwhile, I began a pet sitting business in Issaquah WA, to supplement my income. All this time spent fostering and training dogs served me well. But pet-sitting was still quite an education, braving rain, snow and downed trees to reach my clients in the dead of winter. There's a lot more to pet sitting than just feeding pets.

I decided that being a professional dog trainer was not for me, so I started working one day a week at an art gallery and learned how to do custom picture framing. I also took watercolor painting lessons and tried pastels during classes offered by the gallery owner, Judy McNea, who also became a close friend. My artwork improved, and soon I was drawing Labrador Retrievers for the 1994 National Specialty show, Goldens for the Evergreen Golden Retriever Club, and Irish Water Spaniels for the Puget Sound club. I did my own sheltie artwork and sold out of a limited edition print edition of 200.

But it’s hard to make a living as an artist, and I dabbled in writing too. This led to the Delta Society, and for eight years I wrote and produced their Pet Partners Newsletter. Pet Partners make animal assisted therapy visits to schools, nursing homes, and more. I joined the Dogwriters Association of America, and was proud to win several awards for my writing and artwork. We moved to California in 1997.

In 2003, my life took a dramatic turn. I got a divorce and was suddenly responsible for all the bills myself. I was terrified and wondered how I would ever survive. I’d been out of the corporate world for 13 years. Last time I worked, Windows hadn’t even been invented…

Today, I am still terrified on a daily basis, but I have survived and thrived. My pet sitting business has grown to a point where it is my major source of income. I now board dogs in my home, and that part of the business has boomed. I still make visits too. It is hard, exhausting work, and when dogs are visiting, I never have a minute “off work,” even in the middle of the night. If there’s a disaster to be had, I’ve been through it.

My pet portraits business is slow but steady, suffering more from a lack of focus than anything else. I am so busy with other things, I do not paint nearly as much as I would like. I spent thousands of dollars developing product lines and experimenting with art fairs, and have decided to abandon all that because of the massive investment in time and money required. The Internet and word of mouth grow my business faster than anything else I do. My graphic design and production background enables me to offer services like logo design in addition to my pet portraits.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and I needed a Web site. I went back to school, learning Web site design, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Besides my own site, I now design and maintain sites for a number of small businesses, many of them dog related. I also work from home for a web site design company, Savvy Sites. It is hard to work alone, in a vacuum, and I’ve appreciated their help on projects, and learned many new things.

I abandoned writing for a few years, but opportunity knocked, and I grabbed the chance to write my first book: Basset Hound, Your Happy Healthy Pet, which will be released in December, 2008, by Howell Books, a division of Wiley Publishing. I now have an agent and a second book proposal in the works.

This all keeps me pretty busy, as you can imagine, but I am happy. I love working at home, surrounded by my cats and dogs. I can look out the window and see my horses munching on their hay. It would be hard to have a roommate with so many animals, so they function as my family. I make sure to schedule contact with friends so I don’t become too isolated. Everyone is different, but I find I get restless and can’t concentrate if I haven’t seen any real people in a while. 

So that’s my career(s) in pets! 

No comments: