Elizabeth McDonnell Started Her New Career With a Blank Canvas
byRachel WarrickJul 21, 2017
It was 2013
and Elizabeth McDonnell, now mother to a 1-year-old son and the artist behind
the ElizabethMcDArt Etsy shop, found herself on the edge of turning 30
and on a career path that no longer worked for her. She had been working in
nonprofit management for 10 years and was burnt out. But she knew that entering a
new decade in life was an opportunity to switch things up. Although she had often
worked with artists in her day job, she never considered pursuing a career in
art—until she met someone who changed her perspective.
upon an artist whose story transfixed me. She’d left her first career at age 30,
when she discovered painting, and it transformed her life. I could see how she
inspired people and how her whole life just radiated joy," McDonnell tells Mom.me. "It was an incredibly
powerful realization for me that someone could so purposefully create her own
happiness through her art, while also contributing so tangibly to the happiness
She thought about the story for weeks, then finally
gave in to that little voice in her head telling her that maybe—just, maybe—this kind of change in career was possible for her, too.
terrifying. Admitting that I wanted to create art professionally meant
uprooting my life and starting from scratch. I had no business background and
hadn’t painted in years, but once I sat down at my desk and put paint to paper
for the first time, I felt such genuine happiness that everything snapped into focus,”
She hasn’t looked back since that day. McDonnell spent a year
building her portfolio with inspiring paintings for imaginitive children and learning the business before opening her shop in
2014. Today, McDonnell spends her days with her son and her nights on her art
and business, filling orders and shipping her work around the world.
tells Mom.me how she managed a career change and building her business while
also tackling the challenge of being a new mom.
How long have you been creating artwork? What
made you want to pursue this as a career?
I painted in high school but lost track of creating
my own art during college. I didn't create any art for 12 years, until I decided
to start a business and needed to create my portfolio. I had to teach myself
how to paint all over again, which was a humbling and entertaining process. I
love creating art so much, and I love that something I've made with my own hands
and heart is making someone else's life a little more joyful. Once I
rediscovered painting and realized that artists could make a living from their
work, it was the only way forward for me.
As a mother, as well as the
founder of ElizabethMcDArt, how do you make it all work?
Every day is different and I had to
learn quickly how to be very flexible and gentle on myself for moving more
slowly in my business than I'd ideally like. Slower progress is still progress,
and my 1-year-old son will only be little for so long. I currently stay at home
with my son and work from my home studio after he goes to bed. We take field
trips to the post office to drop off orders, but other than that, I keep my
focus on him during the day and save my work for evenings. What motivates me
most is knowing that my son will grow up watching me reach for my dreams
every day. When he gets older, I'd love to incorporate him more into my art life
by painting together.
When did you first
The first time I truly felt
successful was when an early customer left me feedback that they'd bought
my “You Are Loved” art
print for a friend's new baby as a welcome into the world. I felt so honored
that my art was being given as a gift of such love and celebration. It felt
like I'd achieved my primary goal of creating something that had personal
meaning for people.
As a successful female entrepreneur,
what are some ways that you want to teach your son about "girl
I want my son to see that his mama has big dreams
and goals and that I'm working toward them every day, no matter how long it
takes or how difficult the path may be. I want to model hard work and passion
so that he grows up with a strong female role model and never knows anything
different. I wasn't always on this path, as my previous career was making me
miserable by the end, and that could have easily been the path my child saw me
on. That fact in itself is very motivating, and I'm excited to show him that
while I can't do it all, I can prioritize what makes my family happy
and what contributes meaning and value back into our lives and the world.
Has there been anything
about creating Elizabeth McDArt that surprised you or inspired
you in a way you didn't expect?
I've been so inspired to hear the
stories of why people choose my art for themselves, their children or as gifts.
One mama offered art to her 10-year-old daughter to boost her confidence and
help soothe her anxiety. Another gave a gift as a comfort to parents who had
recently lost a child. There have been “thinking of you” gifts, “I love you”
gifts, “welcome baby” gifts and so many others that have completely humbled me
and made me feel so honored to be even a small part of how people choose to share
their love, grief, support and tenderness.
What's your advice for moms who are
looking to start their own Etsy shop?
If you have a craft or product that
you love making but feel intimidated by the business end or don't have much
time, [Etsy is] a great place to start and test the waters. Etsy has a lot of resources
that take the mystery out of things like taxes and shipping, so that you aren't
walking in blind. That being said, definitely take the time and do your
research first so that both you and your customers feel supported. Personally,
I made sure I had clear policies in place and fully outlined what the process
looked like to get a package out the door to a customer before I opened my shop
so I wasn't scrambling when that first sale came in. Owning a business and
raising a child has proved to be incredibly hard, but it's been such a
worthwhile journey all the same.
What sacrifices have you made as a
mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
Sleep, of course! It's also a rare and special
treat to see friends or go on an actual date with my husband, since our time is
often accounted for. I rarely go shopping or watch movies and spend my evenings
working on my business after my son is sleeping. I generally work until
about midnight and sometimes during my son's naps, as well, so that I can be
there for my family during the rest of the day and evening. It's a pretty
exhausting phase we're in right now and it stretches me quite thin at times, but
I know it won't last forever. I'm thankful that my schedule is flexible enough
where I can be there for my little guy without giving up on my dream.
Are there any new initiatives or products on the
horizon for Elizabeth McDArt?
My big dreams include writing and illustrating a children's
book, as well as creating some beautiful products with my art like blankets or
growth charts or calendars. I'm also working on a new collection of
inspirational art prints for kids featuring some of my favorite animals and