Ten years ago today, January 1, 2000, I fulfilled a dream I had worked a decade to reach when, for the first time in forever, I stayed home to go to work. Even considering the wild ride this past decade has been, I wouldn’t reconsider my decision. I love everything I’ve had the chance to do, all the people I’ve met, and all the businesses and organizations I’ve helped to succeed. In return they’ve helped me, too, as every assignment has also been a lesson, and every accomplishment another level of confidence and credibility.
Needless to say, my cats also approved of the decision.
I remember the 1990s after I had bought my little house and done a good bit of fixing-up, and all I wanted to do was stay here and enjoy what I’d accomplished so far. When I left for work each day I’d stop at the door and look at this room with its new windows, new paint, my art on the walls and carry that vision with me as I left for another day of unknown length and content working as a typesetter for a direct mail company.
I don’t have a degree in art—I have a BA in English from Edinboro University, with minors in Graphics and Professional Writing. I had majored in art for a year or two, but looking at my output, decided that I was never going to “get it” while I was in college, honestly, I could not draw to save my life; I didn’t understand that I first needed to see, and this didn’t happen until I was a little more mature.
I also wanted to be able to get a job when I graduated, so I changed my major to the only other subject I’d been able to perform well in college, English. I loved my literature and language studies and intended to continue on in a Master’s degree in writing or language studies, then perhaps even a Doctorate so I could teach in college, and someday try my hand at artwork again.
After graduating, the economy kept me out of graduate school and I switched around in several jobs in Public Relations and worked for a while as a freelance decorator for a shopping mall. I got a job as a typesetter because I could type well, not because I knew anything about design, and from there entered the scintillating world of graphic arts.
But I have my cats to thank for being an artist. When, a year or so later, I chose to pick up pencil and paper and put them together, it was because images of my cats kept appearing in my thoughts as pencil drawings and paintings and I decided to draw what I was envisioning. I’m not sure when I would have made that move otherwise.
I stayed with pencil, taking a model study class to encourage myself to draw from life. I delved into pen and ink, charcoal, then, when I wanted to work in color, pastel—mostly because I was working irregular hours at the time and wanted to work in a medium that would allow me to work for short periods of time without setup or cleanup, and leave a piece for weeks on end.
My increasing skill encouraged me to make an attempt at creating some “real” works, not just little sketches. My “first” drawing was of my Sally, a rather large pencil rendering of her sleeping on a windowsill, and I had crossed over. In all the efforts I had made previously to create a work that looked like what I had envisioned and not quite gotten there, I had finally done it. I knew then, in the late 1980s, that I was going to spend the rest of my life as a creative person, wherever it led me.
Through the years my cats have been the subjects of dozens of works, and others, seeing these works, wanted a similar piece with their own animal companion as a subject. I have had the pleasure of creating more than 100 commissioned portraits of cats, dogs, cats and dogs, and cats and dogs and people. They are gifts for loved ones, memorials to cherished companions who’ve gone before us, and lovely pieces of artwork featuring an animal a person loved.
Animals give us so much in everyday life, but my cats have given me my career.
I had begun seriously pursuing freelance design work as a way of earning the down payment for this house, then kept that freelance after I’d moved in. As graphic design moved further into desktop publishing I got a computer at home and found even more, designing book manuscripts and various logos and brochures, along with creating commissioned portraits of animal companions and then moving out to other subjects for artwork.
When I looked at the field I was in and any other possibilities for what I could do with the education and training I had, I knew my move was farther into freelance, to work for myself, for the difference I could make with the skills I had and the opportunity to learn new skills all the time. I began then, in the early 90s, to save money, to set up an office and to learn about running a business.
By the end of 1999, I had gone from designing and proofreading to buying print at my day job, which gave me an immense background in printing processes, printing papers and costs and scheduling, the final touch for what I needed to succeed in my business.
And in those last few years, when I paused at the door before I left, it wasn’t to dream of just being here, but to look forward to the reality of working in this lovely room I’d created surrounded by my artwork and supervised by my cats, and outside of my windows, my vegetable and flower gardens, the birds in the trees, the skies and the seasons.
I have more time to devote to my artwork, and love the idea of using all my skills and talents to help others build their businesses as I build mine, designing logos, web pages, graphic design, photography and professional and creative writing and completing commissioned animal portraits and other commissioned works.
When I envisioned my business, I envisioned working for the organizations I supported and the businesses I patronized, or ones very much like them, and that goal has been fulfilled as well. What a joy to be able to apply what I do best for the good of things I believe in. My customers range from my local public library, the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, to the Allegheny Land Trust, an innovative land conservation organization in Allegheny County, to retail shops on Main Street in Carnegie such as Carnegie Antiques, to musicians such as the NewLanders. For these customers I’ve designed websites and photographed events, designed newsletters and signage, written brochures and illustrated detailed plans; please visit my website to see my online portfolio of customers and commercial work.
I still volunteer and sometimes freelance with local animal welfare organizations both in fostering and helping find homes for cats and other animals and I also participate in local environmental activities. I am a member of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and am a volunteer garden steward for a planting site in Carnegie. I am a member of several environmental organizations in the Lower Chartiers Watershed, and work to publicize issues, events and activities in the watershed, and even had a chance to write articles for their newsletters. And aside from volunteer labor and commerical art, I also support all of these organizations and more with donations of artwork to be sold in benefit auctions and raffles.
In addition, I am also working to make my hometown, Carnegie, PA, someplace special by being a founder of Carnegie Renaissance, which worked for community and business development for the town, serving on the board for our annual three-day community festival, the Carnegie Arts & Heritage Festival, as well as simply being involved and in touch with neighbors and businesses.
And, on a day-to-day basis, I am a very serious organic gardener maintaining my backyard wildlife habitat and putting great effort into my vegetable garden which provides many a happy meal both summer and winter, not to mention just enough of the right type of exercise to keep me from turning into a petrified person at my easel or in front of my computer.
Oddly enough, one of the benefits of working at home has been to be able to be with my cats as they age and as they have passed. I know that I’ve been able to prolong their lives with a good quality to each day, and keep them comfortable at the end, because I was here to do what they needed. And now, as a member of the Cat Writer’s Association, I am writing about those experiences and every day occurrences with this household of felines in hopes that I can help other cat owners in small and large decisions about cat care.
Then there’s that litter of black cats, the Fantastic Four, who I could be here to watch and guide as little residents to this household.
So here’s to another ten years and then some. Retire?