Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Elizabeth Kinahan. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Elizabeth, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. We’d love to hear about the things you feel your parents did right and how those things have impacted your career and life.
When I look back at my life, I am very aware that the way my parents raised me gave me a sense of trust and safety that I probably would not have had otherwise. I was encouraged to be curious and to self-entertain, and told that I could pursue any path that interested me. My parents were supportive in every way, and it was always clear that they would pick me up if I fell; either off my bike or in the broader swath of life. That psychological safety net, the idea that if I ever ran out of money or suffered a major tragedy, the worst that would happen was that I had to move back home, was what allowed me to take bigger leaps in my life. And if that happened, I knew there wouldn’t be shaming from them, they’d always be on my side and trying to help. I clearly remember my mom telling me in these very words: “There is nothing that you could ever do that would make me not love you”. I wish every child could be raised in an environment of such enduring love and support. My parents did a lot right, including teaching me about money and debt. My father opened a bank account for me when I was a kid, we would go to deposit any earnings I had accumulated from little jobs, babysitting or car washing. He taught me to fill out a deposit slip and balance a checkbook. When I was in my early teens, he got me a credit card. Each month when the bill came, I had to look over it, make sure I made all those charges, and then write a check for the full balance and mail it off. I had to know that I had enough money in my checking account to cover the purchases when I made them, or else I couldn’t spend the money. This is a practice I carry on to this day, and the simple notion of not spending more than I have has saved me a tremendous amount of stress over my lifetime. The way he taught me about money also made earning it really fun, I couldn’t wait to get my first job, and who doesn’t love getting paid?
Elizabeth, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I am an artist in the southwest, focused mostly on painting realistic portraits of farm animals. I’ve been painting since I could hold a brush, my grandmother taught me to draw what I see when I was four or five years old, and loved the challenge. I have continued to hone the skill of representing what I see ever since, and I expect I will for as long as I can still hold the brush. When I was a teenager and even into my early twenties I imagined I would have a “real job” and that art would be my hobby, but I never found anything I liked doing more than painting. When I was 24 I moved to Durango, Colorado and met an artist who saw my work and encouraged me to display it. I sold pieces! It was so exciting. I was working at the local art store at the time, which gave me a steady income that I could sock away, while introducing me to other professional artists and opportunities for displaying work. I kept that job for six years, until I had enough money saved that I felt I could rely on painting sales alone to support me.
But why farm animals? Was I raised on a farm?
I get this question a lot, and no, I wasn’t raised on a farm. I was raised in suburban New Jersey, with a major lack of understanding about where my food came from. I was also an animal lover from the very start, and that was beyond obvious to my family. It made sense to my parents to sort of blur the facts about meat for me, because they believed it was important for my health, and they wanted me to continue to eat it. When I was 12, at the dinner table (we were having steak), the facts came into focus. I was devastated, and vowed at that moment to spend my life working on behalf of those without a voice for themselves. It wasn’t a direct path from the dinner table to painting cows, it took almost 15 years for me to put the two together. In the meantime I was painting other things, and going door to door telling people about horrors of animal testing and the fur industry. They already knew. I was shocked. (I was also 13).
But that first time I stood at the edge of a pasture on some county road in southwest Colorado, and looked right into the eyes of a cow, it was as though the skies parted and the lightning bolt of inspiration hit me right in the chest. I couldn’t not paint that cow. The loves of my life converged and I painted her portrait, and it sold. So I went out and painted another cow, and it sold. This is when everything changed. This is when I found my voice, and theirs. I donated some of the money from those sales to animal welfare organizations, and went right back at it. Fast forward 15 years, I have been to countless farms, ranches and sanctuaries to meet the animals. I have painted cows, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, llamas, horses and bison. And I have donated thousands of dollars to the organizations who are helping to change the way these animals are treated in industrial farming situations. What I have discovered in years of visits with these great animals, is that there isn’t any difference between the dog that you cuddle with at night and the pig that is raised for meat. We all know that our pets have emotions, they display humor, loneliness, playfulness and grief, among others. These animals do too, all animals do. Last week in fact, I was talking to a rancher who said there is nothing more heartbreaking than the cry of a mother cow after her calf is taken away. He said it goes on for three days. But he “has to do it”, it’s just business.
I truly believe that if more people had a connection to their food source, we would have a far more compassionate world. But I know that many people cannot go stand on the edge of a pasture and make friends with the creature inside. So my paintings serve as that bridge. By painting a realistic, representational portrait, I am bringing the animal to you. My art focuses on the beauty and sentience of these animals, a soul you can see right in their eyes. I am not wishing to distress anyone with facts, I don’t believe people change through fear or exposure to horrific images. We change through love, experience and connection. We make the choice to eat one meatless meal because we just met the most beautiful calf, and witnessed the bond between her and her mother.
I paint in my studio almost every day, I visit farms and animal sanctuaries and learn about the animals, and then I paint their portraits. I work to support some amazing nonprofits who are doing the hardest work, rescuing abused and neglected animals and giving them the life they deserve. I grow a big garden and am learning about regenerative agriculture to build back up the topsoil and sequester carbon. I am deeply concerned about the track our planet seems to be on, but I believe we can still slow down the speed at which we travel, and so I try to do that. And I aim to bring beauty into the world, painted reminders that all life is precious, and all beings need and deserve love and compassion.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
The most rewarding aspect of my career as an artist is the freedom and responsibility to spend my days however I wish. The freedom element of this is obvious, but the responsibility is where the rewarding part comes in. I see a direct relationship between my actions and the results I get in my career. There are months where I am preparing for a show, posting a lot on social media, connecting with my email list regularly, and forging new relationships with farms and sanctuaries. I see a clear increase in the energy around my business when I put that kind of time into it. Sales increase, relationships are formed, collectors emerge. It’s amazing. Likewise, there are times when I get really focused on coming up with new ideas, reaching out to different organizations, and planning the trajectory of my next year. This is inspiring and motivating- and necessary- but it doesn’t generate income right away. Then there are the weeks of late spring when I’m getting baby plants acclimated to the direct sunlight and cold evening temperatures, getting seeds in the ground, and spending a lot of time in the garden. This doesn’t generate any income, clearly, but it needs to happen. So I find there are these waves of productivity and sales, and then those of quiet regeneration, and balancing them throughout the year is a lovely dance to learn. What I love most is seeing that clear correlation between how I choose to spend my time and how it affects my business. This puts all the power in my hands. If I want to push hard at 100% on my business, I can do that, and reap the benefits of it. If I want to slow down and tend to the snap peas, I can do that too, but I have to be alright with how it will impact my bank account. There is no one to point at when I’m not making money, except me. And I love that.
Are there any books, videos, essays or other resources that have significantly impacted your management and entrepreneurial thinking and philosophy?
Yes! Lots, in fact, but one of the best books I can recommend is Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles. It’s a little cheesy at times, for sure, but the major points he makes are ones that I believe in 100%. He advises things like writing out your dream life in detail, managing the thoughts you think, and making connections with the right people for the direction you want to go. It’s a book that truly outlines the steps from where you are now to where you want to be.
The other mind-blowing book I want to tell everyone about is Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza. The major takeaway from this book is that we have the ability program our minds to achieve anything we want. Our brains are the most powerful tool we will ever have for creating the life we want, and these two books are like user-guides for that tool.
- Website: www.elizabethkinahan.com
- Instagram: @elizabethkinahan