When you decide to turn your art into a business, you open yourself up to so much opportunity, as well as a whole host of challenges. Critique and criticism become part of your daily routine, because it’s that critique that makes customers happy with an end product. And I can remember from my photography days, that a lot less of your time is dedicated to actually creating, and way more is spent on the nuts and bolts of running a business.
Someone whose artistic talent, as well as her business sense, I admire so much is Sheila Chen. Her pet portraits and children’s literature art are so special — My parents have a Sheila Chen original hanging in their home of our late pup.
I’m so excited to hear all about Sheila’s journey into the creative entrepreneur space, what she’s learned about navigating the space, how she markets her craft, and the lessons in boundaries that keep her business a fulfilling endeavor. Artists, makers, musicians, designers, photographers, anyone who turns their art into a business, this one’s for you.
The Pivotal Moments
Sheila Chen tells everyone she meets that she was born with a paint brush in her hand. She’s always loved art in many forms, and her early career aspirations were focused on animation. However, after she got married and joined the “military spouse life” as she calls it, she left the community and resources she knew in California and found herself in the frigid winters of Connecticut.
Pursuing a career in animation while also living the life she wanted to live and eventually being the mom she wanted to be wasn’t an option. Sheila was a dedicated listener of the Goal Digger Podcast from the start (such an honor to hear this!) and she said a pivotal moment in her decision to start her own business was an episode of Goal Digger. In the episode, I granted each of you the permission to pursue the big dreams and goals in your hearts. Sheila took action.
She pitched the idea to her husband — all she wanted was a year to test the waters and she’d invest $500 to get off the ground. Her husband was completely supportive of her endeavor.
However, as the months ticked on and she grew her client list and body of work, she realized that she was still unhappy. Despite the success she saw so early on in her pursuit, something was off. That’s when Sheila sought therapy and discovered a diagnosis that would give her the answers she didn’t know she was seeking.
Sheila has CPTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Long-term trauma can lead to triggers that are harder to identify, and can present incredible challenges for anyone facing CPTSD. However, what she learned through therapy about surmounting her triggers was that boundaries are their kryptonite.
So many times we’re told to set boundaries, to have work-life balance, to say no or ask for what we need, but as Sheila explained, very rarely are we given a specific framework for putting boundaries into place. It’s not an inherent skill we all have. Creating boundaries can be very challenging and uncomfortable.
Sheila shared the formula she uses to set boundaries in her business and life, and it’s so good. Try this:
“Hey friend, the last time we talked, A/B/C happened. It made me feel 1/2/3. Could we instead Do/Re/Mi?”
This formula is the simplest way to say what you’re feeling after an interaction or conversation and then offer a solution. The last part is key — offering a solution. “That’s what a lot of us tend to not think about when setting boundaries,” she explained.
Boundaries in Business
“When I started pet portraits I knew I wanted to become a mom,” Sheila began. Once she became a mom, the work she’d done her whole life became secondary to protecting precious family time… But she still wanted to work. For Sheila she really worked on, “Finding that boundary between focusing on family and focusing on work, and then after that, diving full in one way or the other.”
In the process of determining her boundaries, she realized she needed to produce work that could be created faster, still offer quality, and yet be more efficient for her time. That’s when she developed her own pet portrait technique called Impawstos.
Boundaries in business for Sheila boils down to one powerful, mic-drop statement: “If you’re not paying me enough to step away from my son, then it’s not worth my time.”
When Art Becomes Work
Sheila has always loved art, and then suddenly picking up a paint brush became her work, not just her craft. While it’s so incredible to be paid for what you love to do, it brings with it some mindset challenges that people new to the profession might not anticipate. Sheila spoke on this so eloquently.
“Artists are almost scared of losing their original voice. They want to hold onto that, and they feel like success means that you sold yourself out,” she began. “As an artist and a creative in general, you have to embrace the business part of it. You can’t be a professional artist without the profession.”
Sheila continued, “You can be a hobby artist, that’s fine, there’s no shame in making a side hustle out of doing that, but if you want to be a full time artist you have to embrace all the hats that come with it.”
“It will not stifle your creativity, in fact, the opposite. With business boundaries it actually helps you find your niche and clean up your voice and your vision,” Sheila explained.
More from this Episode
When did Sheila Chen determine that pet portraits were her secret sauce and why did she feel like a “sell out” when she started painting dogs and cats? How did she attract leads and new clients in her early days of business? You’ve GOT to hear how she attracted new clients at Starbucks — it’s brilliant! Press play for this discussion and more from the talented and insightful Sheila Chen.