Combining her love for art and animals, Chris Bohannon is happily letting pets and passion guide her entrepreneur journey.
“I absolutely adore animals,” said Bohannon, the artist behind Artist KC — a Waldo-based small business specializing in custom pet art. “I am a crazy cat lady. I love dogs. I think hedgehogs are super weird and cool. I just love them all.”
Art has always been an integral part of Bohannon’s existence, she shared. It’s something she uses to express feelings and navigate the world — and 20 years ago, it led her from St. Louis to a school district in Johnson County, Kansas.
“A lot of people, especially teachers, will tell you that it takes a certain kind of person to work in a middle school,” Bohannon said, laughing. “I guess I fit the bill!”
But after 17 years of teaching, Bohannon felt that she needed a change, she said.
“[Teaching] was a really wonderful experience, and I really felt that passion to share my skills and love of art with those kids,” she shared, “but I think I got to the point where I just wanted to create for myself.”
It was time to leave behind the steady paycheck and become a full-time entrepreneur, Bohannon said. And it all started with a medieval cat.
Click here to check out Chris Bohannon’s original works through Artist KC.
Imagining pets of the Middle Ages
While brainstorming possible business ideas, Bohannon spent her new-found free time painting a memorial of her late-cat, Copper, she said.
“I was trying to show [Copper’s] personality and his fighting spirit, so I painted him in a medieval scene where he’s wearing chainmail and a helmet,” she explained. “Once I finished that and took a good hard look at what I was able to accomplish, I started thinking this might be my business route.”
Bohannon created an entire medieval series of five fantasy paintings. The other four pieces were inspired by cats at Another Chance Cat Rescue, where Bohannon serves as a board director and volunteers every Saturday.
With the business snowballing, Bohannon celebrated the three-year anniversary of Artist KC in September. Within those three years, Bohannon has painted Corgis at a Royals game, French Bulldogs cheering on the Chiefs and kittens sliding down the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“That’s all part of my Kansas City Series — Kansas Citians are really proud of their city, just as I am,” Bohannon said. “We have some really great imagery. You can’t deny the iconic buildings like the Kauffman Center and the beauty that our city has to offer.
“I really think the curves of the Kauffman Center are what inspired the whole series because it looks fun,” she continued. “I just imagined how cool it would be if pets were gigantic and could use it as a playground. So the creative process can really begin with that one spark of an idea.”
Along with her original prints, customers can request custom pet art, often drawing upon favorite photographs of their pet. Although Bohannon enjoys that process, painting pets in outfits or among a special scenery really sets her creative side loose, she shared.
“One of my favorite jobs was a client who asked me to paint each of her cats on a separate canvas in a different country,” Bohannon said. “So she gave me photographs of her cats, and we collaborated on how to show their different personalities in each painting.”
The best part of the process for Bohannon is sharing the final product with her customers, she said.
“Most people cry or are speechless and beaming with a huge smile, which is what keeps me going,” Bohannon said. “That’s the biggest compliment I could ever ask for.”
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In the transition from teacher to entrepreneur, Bohannon found more parallels between the two occupations than she expected, she said.
“There is a crazy amount of stuff that goes on behind the scenes [of teaching],” Bohannon noted. “We are psychologists, managers, accountants — we’re all kinds of things. In my classroom, I was preparing and presenting, taking inventory, maintaining supplies — those skills really helped me in this transition to a small business owner.”
For other local artists who are pursuing becoming their own boss, Bohannon said to seize opportunities in Kansas City. Since founding Artist KC, Bohannon has been attending Global Entrepreneurship Week hosted by KCSourceLink.
“It’s an entire week of free business classes,” she said. “I always block out the whole week, so I can attend and learn and take notes all day. It’s fabulous.”
Other resources Bohannon recommended for blooming artists are Kansas City Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, InterUban ArtHouse and utilizing social media.
“In my experience, social media has been invaluable — not only in finding clients, but finding others who are willing to share advice,” Bohannon said. “The artist community is very supportive. We’re all trying to make a living while sharing our passion with the community.”