Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in fine arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Athena Cooper, Visual Artist, Creativity Coach & Entrepreneur, based in Calgary, AB, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I am an acrylic painter based in Calgary. Born with a rare genetic disorder and a wheelchair user since the age of six, my work explores what it means to live an ordinary disabled life. Currently, I am in the research and development phase of a solo art exhibit set to open in the summer of 2024. In "The Extraordinary, Ordinary Nature of Interabled Love" will highlight the relationship between myself as a disabled woman and my husband as an able-bodied man as I explore representing the everyday aspects of our relationship through a series of paintings.

Most of my efforts are focused on work for the exhibit at the moment; however, I also have some original paintings and greeting cards available for sale through my website.

Tell us about yourself

All through the 15 years that I worked in web development, graphic design, and digital marketing, I always knew that my calling was to be an artist. I began teaching myself to paint by doing studies of Tiffany's stained glass lamps and windows. I began to explore other subjects such as landscape, still life, and portraiture, all the while keeping that stained glass flare.

Rather than leave my day job right away, in 2012, I began to steadily build up my brand and my voice as an acrylic painter. I started submitting my paintings to group shows in 2017 and had my first solo exhibit in 2019. I left corporate life behind in 2021 and now split my time between working as a visual artist and as a creativity coach with the Tilted Windmills Healing Centre.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I would say leaning into what I believe in and then going in search of how to deliver that message to my audience. Initially, I got caught up in trying to do more generic, mass-appeal artwork; however, when I realized that my passion was telling my story and my point of view as a disabled artist, I really began to key into opportunities that better aligned with that vision. In my case, that included pursuing grant funding for artists with disabilities to really kickstart this phase of my career.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Patience and self-discipline are key, in my opinion. We're often told by society to simply jump ship and follow our passion; however, I spent a good decade with my business as a side hustle to my day job because I knew that by not requiring my art to put bread on the table, I would give it the space it needed to grow and find its voice. That was a frustrating period because I constantly felt like I was being pulled in two directions, but I know it was worth it in the long run, and I try to apply that same patience and self-discipline in everything I continue to do today.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Don't try to be everything to everyone.
  2. You can't find your voice as a business or a brand until you start speaking.
  3. One step at a time.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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