Women in Business, Part I: Annalisa Schaefer

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Annalisa at work. Photo by Susan Borgen.

I know a lot of women who have their own businesses. So I thought I’d write an article about them. Even better, I sent them questions and they sent me responses. I don’t even have to write the article, I just have to cut and paste.

Annalisa Schaefer is an amazing artist and has her own business painting pet portraits. This is basically the dream life, making a living doing what you love. Still, she faces some challenges. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you discover your talent?

  Since I was very young, perhaps 5 or 6, teachers and other kids my age commented on my drawings and paintings. I enjoyed many activities when I was young but art was something people really connected with me on. Even kids who I hardly knew in school would take notice of my art.

Why paint pets?  I love the challenge of painting representationally–to create a 2D representation of a 3D object that looks really real. I’ve always loved portraits, landscapes, and still life paintings for that reason. Pet portraits came into my life the year that my brother lost his childhood cat, who had gotten to be very old. That Christmas I did a painting of his cat as a gift and I was struck by how touched he was when he unwrapped it. At that moment I realized I had something there: doing paintings of beloved pets is a special way to reach people. It dovetails nicely with my personal interest in realistic art and connecting with viewers’ emotions.

One of Annalisa's beautiful pet portraits, borrowed from her Facebook portfolio.
One of Annalisa’s beautiful pet portraits, borrowed from her Facebook portfolio.

How hard is it to start an art based business?

  I would say the hardest thing about starting an art-based business is facing the “starving artist” stereotype. I get the feeling there’s this unspoken assumption in our culture that an artist in business for themselves really doesn’t know what they’re doing. As much as I’ve done my research and consider myself fairly knowledgeable on creating and selling art, it’s fairly common for people who have completely different specialties (say, realtor, optometrist, and so on) to seem to think that they know better. Often these folks will offer their advice (unsolicited) to institute business practices that are outdated, counterproductive, or I have already tried and found impractical. While I appreciate the good-hearted intention to be helpful, I do find it frustrating sometimes.

Do you see trends in your clients? Like, do they commission you for pets who crossed the rainbow bridge? Or new pets?

  There’s definitely a trend toward clients coming to me to commission a painting or drawing when their pet is elderly or has crossed the rainbow bridge. It makes the work bittersweet but also that much more meaningful to me. When I’m creating a portrait of a pet who’s passed on, there’s a sense of creating a legacy. Oil paintings and handmade drawings have an element of the timeless about them anyway, and this kind of situation just makes me feel like I’m helping to honor a special family member who will be cherished by the family always.

Do you take other commissions?

  Yes, I have been known to take other commissions that are not pet portraits. My most unusual commission was of a motorcycle (it ended up being really fun painting the shiny chrome). The biggest question for me on any commission is always, “What kind of photos are available?” Like most artists pursuing realism, I don’t create likenesses out of my head; I need a photo (or several) to work from. The photos need to be clear and in focus, with enough detail so I can create an evocative painting. Sometimes if the client doesn’t have suitable photos but the pet (or motorcycle) is available I will take photos myself. I think it would be fun to paint a commissioned landscape painting of a favorite beach or cove or forest scene, but I haven’t been asked to do that yet.

What’s your favorite thing to paint, for your soul instead of money?   

My favorite thing to paint, other than pet portraits (which I genuinely do love to do), is what you would call fantasy illustration. Think warrior maidens, wizards, and dragons in forests and mountainous places. Fantasy has long been my favorite genre of novels and films, so it’s something I love to paint as well. I like to pull from Greek mythology as well as the pseudo-medieval Western European aesthetic for these illustrations. My goal with these paintings is to create an emotional moment for the viewer.

How can our readers contact you?

  You can contact me in several ways! You will find my e-mail address and phone number on my website http://www.art-by-annalisa.com under Contact. You can also find my professional Facebook page linked there. I would love to hear from you! I also teach private art lessons to kids so I’m open to inquiries about lessons as well.

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