We had the good fortune of connecting with Amy McKay and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Amy, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?

Until three years ago, I had ZERO interest in running my own business. I was perfectly happy working for someone else, leaving the heavy lifting to the CEO, the admin team, the managers. I wanted to leave my job at the office each day so that I could balance my life with family time and my art.

Eighteen years into a career as a landscape architect, I started to feel unsettled. I couldn’t put my finger on why. For over a year I attempted to get the core of this feeling. I stopped managing projects, thinking that the overlap into my personal life was the issue. When that didn’t help I cut back on my hours to see if having more personal time would mean I could catch up on household chores and THAT – a clean house – THAT, would solve my problem.

It didn’t. (Although a clean house does make me uncommonly happy)

At this point I was feeling lost. I’d always liked my job – never dreaded going to work, liked my colleagues, believed in the ethos of the company – and my husband worked there too…our kids grew up coming to the office. It was virtually like family.

Then I started to get these little whispers of something bubbling up inside me. I didn’t recognize it at first, but what began as a whisper quickly accelerated to a holler – a shouting I could not ignore. I’ve never had this experience before but it was suddenly so clear that I needed to leave my job and become a full time artist. After nineteen years in a career, at nearly 45 years old, this was a complete surprise to me. I had planned to retire at my current company, and continue to happily dabble in art in my spare time. Was this a reasonable decision to quit? Possible? Stupid even?

As luck would have it, a decision to join a backpacking trip the weekend of my 45th birthday found me at 10,000 feet elevation in the Sequoias in January, with a full moon illuminating the snowy landscape around us. It’s the kind of quiet beauty I can’t even describe. (but that’s why I’m a painter and not a writer.) Just thinking about this moment still makes me emotional. As I looked out over this incredible winter’s night scene, I knew I had to take a chance on myself. If not now, when? When I retire at 65? If I waited, I knew I’d look back and always wonder what I could have accomplished as an artist in those 20 years. I had to jump. I had to know. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.

Three years in, I’m still pinching myself every day, anxious to get to the studio, excited for Monday mornings, and with no regrets about making the leap.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

Although I’ve been making art since I was a kid, I only started pursuing it seriously in my 30’s and that was between working a full-time job and raising two kids. Since I’ve only been a full-time artist for three years, I still feel like I’m in the infant stages of my creative career. It’s only now that I’ve been afforded the time to truly figure out who I am as an artist, what I want to say and what really moves me.

What I keep coming back to, though, is the mundane – the seemingly banal moments and objects in our lives. This peaked in me after becoming a mother and watching my children experience the world for the first time. It’s only then that I began to realize that there is so much joy around us all the time – we just have to have the presence of mind to slow down long enough to see it. It may seem like a cheesy sentiment – a ‘stop-and-smell-the-roses’ approach. But I’m okay with cheesy. I mean, I’m not creating “Live-Laugh-Love” signs or anything.

Our daily lives are inundated with bad news, locally, globally, environmentally, socially. My focus on the ordinary is my way of coping with all of that. It provides a break from the overwhelm of the news cycle. It’s not meant to be avoidance – just a pause, a quiet place. The art I choose to hang in my home provides this pause, makes me smile, has good energy. This is also the art I choose to create. I’m also hoping that the isolation of commonplace objects in my work will actually reveal the beauty in their form and function.

I make this art venture work by diversifying my efforts and creating multiple streams of income. I create original acrylic paintings that I sell online and through art exhibitions. I also do the occasional commission piece.

I have developed a series of digital illustrations celebrating various hiking trails. Many feature trails in San Luis Obispo County, which is where I’m based, but I also recently added Canylonlands National Park and a series of the Mount Whitney Trail. All of these works are based on personal experience and are from the viewpoint of the hiker. I realized a few years ago that these trails are meaningful and memorable in many ways to avid hikers and lovers of the outdoors. These are meant to be little memories to take home with you. My digital illustrations also include a variety of other subject matters but at their core, they are meant to be accessible art. They are simple for me to reproduce and therefore can be offered at a price point anyone can afford. It’s important to me that anyone be able to hang beautiful art in their home, even before they can afford an original painting.

I have formed a mural team with two artist friends. We are just getting started but have four murals currently under contract, with the first being installed in late July. (www.marmalademurals.com)

I’m most excited about showing my work for the first time in L.A. with the Superfine Art Fair. It is being held February 3rd – 6th, 2022. Venue TBD.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.

Okay, the locals will have to forgive me if any of this sounds predictable or touristy.

Morning hike to the Hollywood sign. (Which I have yet to do myself, but it’s on my list for next time) From there, head to Grand Central Market for lunch from one of their amazing vendors, followed by a walk to Olvera Street for a little shopping.

Anyone who hasn’t worn roller skates since childhood NEEDS to rent a pair, and maybe all of the protective gear, and skate along Venice Beach boardwalk. Especially if you take yourself too seriously. Then visit The Sidewalk Cafe for food, drinks and people-watching.

If after some shaky and not-so-graceful skating, you’re still taking yourself too seriously, you should buy tickets to the Comedy Store in Hollywood and arrive late enough so that the only available seats are in the very front row. Hopefully after the show, you’ve learned to laugh at yourself while you have a drink with the comedians who were just tearing you to pieces.

And while you’re in this part of town, go for drinks and a concert at the Roxy Theatre.

Now it’s late and you’re hungry again, so you need potato pancakes with applesauce AND sour cream from Canter’s Deli. Might as well get a Reuben sandwich on the side as well.

Finally, if it’s February 2022, you’re spending the day keeping me company at the Superfine Art Fair.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?

There are so many people along the way who have been pivotal in my art career. At the core of it, is a family who have my back and understood why I needed to do this. These people know I was born an artist, and have always supported me in this pursuit. I absolutely couldn’t do this without my husband and two kids, who are my biggest fans and physically helped me build a studio some years ago. They get me. That’s big.

I have friends who show up to all my shows and events. They buy me beers and bring me lunch, keep me company if it’s slow, talk me up to other people. Solid humans. (You know who you are)

Having never run a business, I wasn’t anticipating how much the support of other local business owners would mean to me. Connecting through classes and round table discussion groups has created a sense of belonging for me with my business community. The shared knowledge within these groups is amazing.

The connections I’ve made with other creatives has been a life saver for me. When you are a ‘solo-preneur’, you have no colleagues to bounce ideas off of, to commiserate with, to ask how the hell to file your taxes. I text these people regularly, have formed a mural company with two of them, meet them for drinks, and request to be their neighbor at pop-up markets. These are people I can be real with. They embody the phrase ‘community over competition’.

Which leads me to my last shout-out – Amanda McClellan of Amanda Lee Design, who nominated me for this interview. A talented artist herself, a fellow introvert and a fellow mama-running-a business, Amanda has been by my side since almost the very beginning and I’ve so much appreciated her support and sense of humor. We’ve navigated all kinds of ‘firsts’ together, and it has been such a joy to share this journey with her. You can see her work @amandalee.design.

Website: www.amy-mckay.com

Instagram: @amymckay_art

Facebook: amymckay.artist

Other: https://fineartamerica.com/art/amy+mckay https://society6.com/amymckay_art https://amymckayart.faire.com

Image Credits
Photo of Amy painting: BryMarie Photo

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