Fan Questions, Part 1

This is the first in a series of blog posts where fans ask questions about my art or my art journey. The first comes from Doug, one of my earliest adopters and the first person to commission me to paint someone. He has been a huge supporter for ten years and I am honoured to call him a friend.  He asked the following question.

How did you know when it was time to start painting full time and take on the risk of not having a full time "regular" job?

The answer to this question lies somewhere in the middle of a terrible fire. The wildfire that devastated the community of Fort McMurray and the surrounding area in 2016 separated me from my family. I was on one side of the fire doing a painting workshop; they were on the other. I tried to get back but came face to face with a wall of flames that had to be 200 feet high.
I evacuated south; they went north. We relied on text messages back and forth for several days before they got an emergency airlift from the Horizon air strip north of Fort McMurray to Calgary. 

I did two things when we were back together at Heather's brother's place in Calgary. I grabbed my paints and finished the portrait I had started at that workshop the day of the fire. We were all working on paintings of Chief Dan George.
I finished mine and put it up for auction to raise money to help in the recovery of Fort McMurray. Then my sister Corinne suggested that I should paint Fire Chief Darby Allen. He was all over the news and in many ways was our Winston Churchill during a time of great stress and uncertainty. 

I painted his portrait that evening, posted it on my Facebook, Twitter and maybe Instagram (but I'm not sure) and went to bed. By the time I woke up the following morning those posts had been seen by millions. Next thing you know, the media wanted to do interviews and by that night I was on regional, national and international news. 

That unexpected exposure was like a shot of adrenalin to my art career. It was crazy. It lead to countless commissions, live painting appearances, and too many unforgettable opportunities to remember. 

I continued to work with the United Way in Fort McMurray after the fire and was a part of a team that raised millions for the recovery of the social sector in the community. It was important work and I found multiple ways to use my passion for painting to help. 

By the following year, I was unable to keep up with the flood of commission requests and found myself getting super stressed. I hated letting anyone down, but many customers were falling between the cracks because I didn't have the capacity to keep up with the demand. It was then I started asking myself (and Heather) the question. Can I do painting on a full-time basis?

Thankfully, we were all set up as a company. We had created Birdsong Connections Inc. as a corporation back in 2014 to manage several large consulting contracts. By 2016, the largest percentage of revenue was coming from painting. So, we had the financial infrastructure in place to consider leaving traditional employment and going fully on our own. 

While I don't remember the exact moment I made the decision, I do remember framing it as a sabbatical. I would take a year off from traditional employment as an experiment, to see how it would feel. If it didn't work, I could always return to a marketing and communication job somewhere. 

I think the only thing that scared me about making this leap was fear of losing employment benefits like health insurance, paid vacation and things like that. While I do miss being able to take holidays and get paid while sitting on a beach, everything else has worked itself out. After my year of testing the waters, it was clear that this was what I was meant to be doing. 

Thanks for the question Doug. And thanks for all your support over these many years. I look forward to seeing you in April at the SOLD OUT Hand in Hand Humble Roof-Raiser in Calmar. 


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