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Life and Work with Colleen Walsh

Today we’d like to introduce you to Colleen Walsh.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am an artist. That is hard to say, because it takes a level of bravery and confidence (that I sometimes lack). Additionally, it sounds like one knows what they are up to and earn a solid income. But, what I mean is, that I am endlessly compelled to make things. All the time. I am a painter.

Being an artist was a natural (and oft heard) progression from drawing endlessly, to over-doing simple arts and crafts projects in grammar school, to spending all my energy in the art wing during high school, and ultimately having no other viable path in college. After receiving my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, in painting from University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana I went on for a “practical” Masters Degree from Columbia College in Art Education.

Today my first job is Mommy. When you ask my kids, they will tell you I am an Artist. So, I think I am doing something right. Without the support of my husband, friends, and family I could not have pursued being a Painter as a profession, which is the path I am aggressively following now.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Being an artist is not a straight line from ‘A’ to ‘B’. There is one million paths to get there, especially now. When I graduated college, you could be a gallery artist or a commercial artist and I didn’t know how to be either. Now, the creative marketplace is incredibly diverse. The world is our oyster!

You cannot be an artist if you do not call yourself an artist. So, go ahead and start there… then, work hard, trust your instincts, surround yourself with positive people, don’t take shit from anyone, seek opportunities, and have fun. There are a lot of current books, podcasts, and people who give loads of advice better than I. There is an ocean of information and resources, so gobble it up.

Please tell us more about you.
My current body of work reimagines the narratives of found, antique photographs. My mixed-media figural work, is mildly abstracted, using color and line almost as much as facial expressions and gestures. I am imagining a story while I manipulate the image to push the narrative further. I gravitate towards vivid and saturated colors. My work ranges in scale.

I love using old photographs because of how raw and unedited the imagery feels. Each image is packed with information: sideways glances, messy hair, tense shoulders, empty bottles, a blurred head, dated outfits. One quick shot really can capture the nuance of a family party. I comb through an estate and garage sales, thrift stores, and occasionally family photographs to find imagery. The very nature of how I find photographs, means my work generally focuses on relationships. When you are looking at the salvaged keepsakes of other people, they most often capture the positive side of life with friends and family, and always the group photo.

I like to think that my paintings are funny, most of the time they are trying to be- even if the story is serious. While I don’t necessarily seek to make beautiful imagery, I do intend to highlight the beauty of living. It is downright glorious to be in love, go on vacation, have friends, have cousins, play a board game, own a dog, or experience a sunny day.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Networking is a big word. I stuck with the creative friends who get me. I have a core group of creatives in my life that I constantly consult for editing, attending workshops, wild projects and socializing. We call them productive hang-outs. Because in addition to lunch or wine, our activities include, but are not limited to brainstorming, critique, and construction.

I have several virtual mentors, via the magic of Podcasts and the World-Wide Web. Artists and leaders in the field, such as Danielle Krysa, a.k.a. The Jealous Curator, are increasingly more transparent and inspirational in their journey as an artist. Lisa Congdon is another illustrator who is endlessly wise.

Recently, I have branched out to find mentors through small business owners and entrepreneurs.

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