Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Kimmie Gillespie. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Alright, Kimmie thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. When did you first know you wanted to pursue a creative/artistic path professionally?
I started my professional career as a kindergarten teacher. I did that for two years and then was able to transition into the role of the art teacher at the same school which I did (and loved) for three years. The last two years of teaching I was also going back to grad school to pursue my MBA (Masters of Business Administration). I loved teaching but it was becoming so political and I knew I needed to open up another door for myself. I had big dreams to get my MBA and then magically become a Chief Marketing Officer at some big, awesome company. What a big wake up call I had. Every company looked at my resume and saw ‘teacher’ and ‘MBA’ and they’re like “what are we supposed to do with this? You have no corporate experience”. So I had to begin at entry level. Meaning, I took a pay cut from teaching to land a job, even with now grad school student loans. I became a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist. In a nutshell, I’d spend all day on a computer at a desk, reading and manipulating code, to get a website to be on the first page of Google to bring that company more business. YAWN. I quickly found I did not fit in, I didn’t like my coworkers, I didn’t like my company’s management, and I definitely hated sitting at a computer all day. I had no creative freedom and I was ready to scream. My only release was to go home during my lunch hour and spend 20 minutes painting a map that someone commissioned me for. I found pure joy in those 20 minutes of my day and I asked myself, “why aren’t you taking everything you’ve learned from business school and become an entrepreneur?” I also had an abundance of random knowledge about how to build my own website and generate high quality leads to my site. It all became incredibly clear this was the direction I wanted to go. I kept my SEO job, mainly because I was secretly soaking in as much knowledge as possible to make my own business more profitable online, but also so I’d keep receiving a paycheck until I was ready to break free. It was the most incredible feeling in the world to quit my job!
Kimmie, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I moved to Houston, TX from Ohio to escape an abusive relationship. I was trapped and scared to leave, but after being 1 of 8 out of 75 people to apply, I was accepted into a student teaching program in Houston and that was my way out. I got a therapist and a lawyer and gained the strength to pick up my life and move without fear of my ex coming after me. Houston became my saving grace. I always loved how the Houston highway system was laid out on a map. I wanted to pay tribute to my new home and I also wanted to play around with a new found material, modeling paste. I created my own map of Houston. At the time, I used an image of the map and simply eyeballed on the canvas where the lines should go. I hung it in my apartment and I got so many compliments. I was also told by everyone that I should sell it. I was like, no way Jose! This is MY map!! But it did inspire me to make more. I created a sequel to the piece which is a map of Texas. I then created a black and white version of each. I then expanded and made a Texas University series of all the major colleges in Texas. I was then receiving requests from friends and families of custom maps they wanted. I love using bold colors, creating patterns and balance on the canvas, and I can’t get enough of modeling paste!!
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
When I began to add murals to my portfolio, I felt like I was simply unstoppable and could take on any project. There was a sense of pride I had in me and there was no job I couldn’t take on. I told myself that murals are just giant canvases and as long as I can see it in my head I can replicate it onto the wall. Over the span of a year I had gotten two leads from my website wanting a mural. The first was a treehouse. I met the client at her house and she showed me the treehouse, it was a beautiful space with a big staircase leading up to it, windows, and even AC inside. She wanted the entire interior painted like a nature scene, fading from sunrise to sunset with different animal scenes and a big tree. I was like “yeah!!!! I can do that!” Named my price and signed the contract. She liked my design I did on paper, and she also liked my beginning stages of the process. Before the third time I came to the house, I received an email where she thanked me for my time and would compensate me for it, but I was fired. She didn’t think it was going to turn out the way she wanted because my style was too juvenile. I was like, wow that really blows. But was extremely grateful I was paid for my time and that she didn’t bash me on an online review. The second job was at a new restaurant. He wanted a big “Texas/Mexican riviera/abstract beach scene”. Very broad. But I drew it out, sent him inspo, he sent me inspo, and he approved my design. We signed the contract and I began to work. Again, he liked the beginning phases but before I go in for the third session I get a call and I’m fired. Once again I was super lucky, he paid me for my time, he said there’s nothing against my work, it’s just not the style he wanted. I then had to accept the cold hard truth and realize that I’m not good at everything. I now ask upfront if the client is looking for realistic art. If so, I politely decline the job. Sometimes it’s tough to turn down money, but, I have to be at peace knowing my style is nurseries and children’s rooms. I needed to learn to be confident in my strengths and be honest to myself and prospect clients about my weaknesses.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
With map creation and special commission projects, I get to hear the amazing backstories as to why a client wants that map. Just like I had a reason to create my first Houston map, places have meaning to people and the stories are incredible. My favorite commission was a map of three Canadian provinces. This would be a surprise gift for her husband. She wanted two parts of the map to be highlighted. These spots were the two lakes where his family had cabins and he would spend the most wonderful summers with his father there. I learned that his father recently passed away and this would be a tribute to him. She said when she presented the map to him he stood there and tears fell down his face. This of course brought tears to my eyes that my art was able to spark that emotion out of someone.