Nicky Chadwick, for those of us who roam around LinkedIn she is fast becoming a household name for her wonderful pet pictures. Sensitively drawn in coloured pencil. (I am a particular fan of her little videos too!). She is doing what we secretly all want to do: to make our hobby into our profession. This is how she did (and does) it.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? About what you do, and your business?
I am a pet portrait artist. I draw anything from cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, iguanas, you name it I draw it. I just don’t do people.
I draw with coloured pencils, because they’re dry and they’re clean and they’re easy to store and easy to use.
I’ve always done art as a hobby. I was told I wasn’t very good at art at school! But I
I still enjoyed it. I always had a sketch book on the go.
It was only when I went to a talk by a coloured pencil artist a few years ago that I really got into coloured pencils. She had the most amazing art work and I couldn’t believe what you could do with a coloured pencil.
One of my friends had said to me ‘Do you fancy coming to this talk about coloured pencils’, and I thought ‘Really?’. I wasn’t sure that was for me. It was £2, this talk. It was the best £2 I ever spent. The way that she explained how the medium worked and what you could do with it was just mind-blowing
It kind of reignited what I was doing. I’ve always loved animals. It was an easy way to combine the two: the love of animals and to draw. So that’s how I got started.
What did you do before?
I left school at 16 and went to hotel/catering college. I did a degree in hotel management and managed restaurants, hotels, industrial catering units. I then went into facilities management. I had big dreams of managing a big hotel and living in the penthouse on top. That's now how it went!
How did you go about making the change?
I was already working from home. I already had a space. I honed my craft by taking online classes, physical classes. About what you can do with coloured pencils, and what pencils I wanted to use. What surface I wanted to draw on. And I did a lot of practice. Until I settled on what I’m using now. I couldn’t play at it. It had to be. I wanted to make sure that I was doing things properly all the way through.
How did you make it into a profitable business?
I did a lot of work with a lady called Bonny Snowdon. She has been a successful artist for a long time. And she helped me work out things like pricing and where to market myself and things like that.
I them bumped into Helen Pritchard online. She was advertising her 5 day LinkedIn free challenge. I was sceptical. In my head LinkedIn was for business to business. It was a professional platform. Nobody was interested in art. But at the end of this five day challenge I had two commissions from LinkedIn. I couldn’t believe it.
I use LinkedIn as my marketing platform. I go through my feed, commenting on posts I’m interested in. Engaging with people in conversation. Asking people who comment on the drawings if they’ve got a pet themselves. And if they have, share a picture with me. The posts that seem to do really well are the work-in-progress ones, sharing a little video of me drawing a dog’s eye or some fur detail. Because of that I started to attract the right people.
How did you find your audience?
It turned out that the people that were booking me on LinkedIn were people who needed a bespoke gift. For a loved one in their life. Or a really good friend. Or a partner. And I was an easy solution. Because I work from photographs. Everything is done online. So I was an easy solution for a present for people. A good percentage of the people that were commissioning me were people who couldn’t think what else to buy as a special gift.
Did you find the transition into art easy?
There were certain days where I thought ‘I’m never going to get enough commissions to .pay the bills’ and then there were other days where I thought ‘my goodness I’ve got too many commissions, I don’t know what I’m doing’.
In winter, especially when coming up to Christmas, there’s only so many light hours in the day. And really drawing needs to be done in daylight rather than in the dark.
But I think the hardest thing for me was overcoming other people’s problems. Family saying it’s never going to pay, your friends saying ‘but surely you’re going to have to have a part-time job, because that’s never going to make you enough money’. They had to be overcome. But the only way to overcome this is to prove people wrong.
I’m not driven by money, I’m driven by people’s happy smiling faces when they receive their pet portrait. But you have to be quite firm about your prices. You’ve got to value the time you put into it. I know that there is a market out there that are quite happy to pay it.
So the people that are arguing saying ‘You’re too expensive’ are just not my audience.
And when the Corona virus situation started I thought it wasn’t going to work. No one is going to pay for a pet portrait. But actually, it was the opposite. People had more money, because they weren’t going out, they weren’t going on holiday. And actually, I’ve been busier than ever!
What do you see as the main advantages of making your switch?
Flexibility. If I have a day where I need to go somewhere because my parents need some help. Or I need to do something with my daughter. I can do that. Other than me providing a commission that the client is happy with I don’t have to answer to anybody. And to me that’s the biggest advantage.
In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I might have done it sooner. But not any differently.
But then I may never have met this woman who got me into coloured pencils. Who knows! Things happen for a reason. And I’m quite happy with the direction I’ve taken the business in, so I don’t think I would have changed any of that. But if I’d have had the opportunity I would have done it sooner.
What else are your plans for your business?
During lockdown I started to draw a range of wildlife pictures, some of which sold for charity. And they are all now going to be included on a greetings card range. I’ve got cushions, mugs, things like that. I plan to do more wildlife drawings along those lines.
I’m reopening commissions for my mini-portraits this week, which I only reserve a few a year for those. They’re tiny portraits, they’re 4 inches square. I love doing them. And they’re great because people can put them on their desk, or on a small wall or whatever.
The normal size is about 12 by 9 inches, with about 8 to 15 layers. On a smaller portrait the layering takes a lot less time. Because you’ve got a lot less space to cover.
And finally, a website is ready to launch!
What are your recommendations to women who would want to pursue art – or doing something creative - as a career?
I know there are loads of stumbling jobs for people, but in my experience there’s always more reasons you can find not to do something. But really you should be looking for the reasons to do it.
I speak to so many people who are in similar positions as me who are so much happier now that they’ve done what they’ve done.
It is achievable. There’s loads of people out there that are making a living out of it.
I listen to podcasts all the time from artists who have made a living out of it. It’s totally achievable. You just have to find your audience, that’s all. And once you’ve found them, there’ll be no stopping you!