If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would one day quit my job to be an artist, I would have said you were bonkers.
How could a career-driven woman with a Masters degree and a career in Washington, D.C. ever move back to Florida, let alone abandon her traditional path to do something as silly as paint birds all day.
But that's just what I did.
And I couldn't be happier.
As is the story with many artists, I always had a knack for drawing or painting. I was always the little girl with crayons and markers, painted birds, flowers, landscapes and pets for birthdays and holidays, and was even voted most artistic in my high school senior year (then again, there were only 100 seniors in our class, ha!).
But the reason for me being an artist goes deeper than that. I was also - and still am - an avid outdoorswoman.
My family lived east of I-75 in Sarasota smack in between the coast and the cow pastures, and every chance we could we were at our family home on Little Gasparilla Island (seen in baby photo of me at LGI, loving the sand life!).
I never felt more at home than I did out in nature, whether it be in the maze of mangrove islands of Bull Bay, wandering the dunes looking for treasures, or in the inland scrub forests and swamps of southwest Florida. I loved everything about the land, the water, and the histories, stories, and wildlife found within, down to the smallest detail.
One thing led to the other, and before I knew it I was pursuing a Masters in Anthropology in Arizona, accepting an internship in Washington, D.C. with the National Park Service, and then jumping into a position at a land preservation nonprofit. I was committed to changing the way people perceived and appreciated our natural and cultural resources, and loved every moment of my career. The press conferences, the meetings on the Hill, the hell-bent preservationists I met across the country. I felt like I was doing something that really mattered.
(Above) In Arizona during graduate school on an archaeological field survey of National Park land.
(Above) Being interviewed for a PBS documentary about preservation of Revolutionary War battlefield land - a highlight of my time in DC!
There are a couple “linchpin” moments throughout my life - the ones that give us a good shake and wake us up. The first happened one night in DC when I was living in my studio apartment and in bed late at night - most likely back from the latest happy hour. I lay there, surrounded by all my goals met and achievements unlocked, and yet had the loudest statement in my head saying,
“I have all of this, but what is it here for?”
A few months later, a work trip brought me down to Pensacola, Florida and back to the Gulf. As I put my feet in the surf and looked in the direction of what I felt would be Little Gasparilla Island, I had that same loud, internal voice ring out.
Reflecting now, that was absolutely a God moment.
After securing a position at a St. Petersburg nonprofit (job searching took about 1 year!), I found myself putting in my two-weeks notice at my DC job, packing up my cat, and moving on a blustery 2019 January day back to the Sunshine State. Back home.
Hello, Litore Studio
This is the part of the story that I tell most often - the genesis of Litore Studio. In November of 2021 after a particularly challenging day at my job nearly three years later, my fiancé asked me,
“If you could be anything or do anything and money was not an issue, what would you do?”
“I’d be an artist.”
So, I just started. I put aside any notions of trying to be “perfect” or to have it all figured out. I started an Instagram account and painted what I knew best - birds and fish (aptly calling the account “Fins and Feathers Art”..... cringing now over that!).
My first paintings in those early months were acrylic on canvas, believe it or not! I painted, shared my process on Instagram, and tried to get comfortable showing my face on social media (spoiler alert, I’m still not comfortable!).
(Above) One of the first paintings I completed, an acrylic trout on canvas.
One evening, I saw a paint that moved like watercolors but had the opaqueness of acrylic - gouache. I purchased a $26 gouache paint set from Amazon, and fell in love.
One of the first “Litore Studio” paintings I did was two Great Blue Herons in a coastal motif.
Drawing on my love of natural Florida and conservation, I had this vision in my head of showcasing a heron with elements important to its ecosystem around it - fish mangroves, water, seagrass.
To my surprise, at its completion a family friend reached out and asked if it was for sale! And as any budding entrepreneur would say, I answered with, “Yes!”
(Above) The first motifs I ever painted, inspired by watching shorebirds and noticing all the details of their environment while out fishing.
And then, I painted more. This caught the attention of a sweet person who owned an event space in Tallahassee and reached out to me to ask if I would be a featured artist at her ticketed dinner event in six weeks. I remember sitting on the couch in a slight panic of how I would get ready for this incredible event amidst life, but also thinking: “This is the type of an opportunity one does not simply say no to.”
(Above) Smiles for days while set up at The Hub at Feather Oaks' "Evenings Under the Pergola." I was so proud of what I pulled together for my first art show!
Attending that event was one of the best decisions of my career. Within the six weeks leading up to it I created a website on Shopify, renamed my business to Litore Studio (which is Latin for “of the coast,” a nod to my historical background), figured out how to make giclee prints of my acrylic fish paintings, and painted motifs like a mad woman.
I met so many kind people at the event (many of which I am still friends with!), and was able to secure several commissions.
But guess what. I didn’t sell a single fish print! Not a darn one! Everyone was drawn to the motifs,.....especially one coastal map motif featuring Alligator Point and St. Teresa.
I found my calling.
Over the next ten months I painted more coastal map motifs (Boca Grande was my second one!), more elemental motifs (reviving the Great Blue Heron and Roseate Spoonbill from the show), learned so much about starting a business, keeping track of inventory, paying state and federal estimated taxes (ug), shipping and packaging prints with care, partnering with retail stores, and networking. I was invited to another amazing show in Tallahassee where I sold-out, and started getting noticed by content creators. I was also making 30% of my salary while only working 10% of my time.
All while running a department at a nonprofit and planning a wedding. Perhaps I was a bit bonkers.
(Above) Sitting in my new art studio with my new Roseate Spoonbill coastal motif.
Fast forward to the holiday season of 2022 (I promise we’re getting to the end of this story), and I found myself facing another loud voice in my head.
I really had something here, and if I just had more time, took a calculated risk, and put my whole self into what I was sincerely passionate about and that people wanted, I could make this work.
So in mid-January 2023, I walked into my executive directors’ office and handed him my notice while saying, “I’m going to be an artist.”
The look on my coworkers’ faces that day when I told them this still makes me laugh - because it’s so absurd! I get it!
And I know it won't always be easy, but no matter what, it will be worth it. You are at the ground-level of this wild and crazy journey of mine, and I so appreciate your support, whether you purchase my art, seek a commissioned artwork, share my art with your friends, or offer a kind word of encouragement. It all means so, so much, and from the bottom of my heart - thank you.
We’ll, this is getting long enough and my coffee cup is empty so I will leave it here! I hope you enjoyed my story, but more importantly, that it inspires you to do the thing that you have been putting off. Making that career change, building that dream, starting a hobby on the side, pivoting and keeping the faith.
Because darling, you are limitless.
See you on the coast,
I'd love to know what you think in the comments below!
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