Laura Connelly had always dreamed of being an artist, but for many years followed a different path, believing it wouldn’t be possible to support herself with her art. But when the Pandemic hit last March, everything changed. She wanted to help her community and decided to do a fundraiser for a local animal shelter near her in Brooklyn, New York. She started giving away pet portraits she made, while accepting donations and within just three weeks made a whopping $12,000. Her efforts went viral. And while the Pandemic certainly isn’t over, it has inspired her to commit to pursuing her art as a career full time. Today Connelly is continuing to grow her client base and making custom commissioned artwork through her business Wall Art by Stellar Villa.
Connelly’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
Ever since I was a little girl I had always dreamed of being an artist. One of the happiest moments in my life was when I got accepted to the best art college in Ireland, where I was living at the time. I thought surely, I was on the right path to soon live out my dreams. Life, however, doesn’t always go as planned. I ended up moving to New York that same year and wasn’t able to attend the university.
Following the move, I was told by many people that it’s not possible to make a living being an artist and sadly, I listened to them. I got a “real” job as they call it but was never truly happy. I bounced around from one place to another. Finally I decided enough was enough. I quit my 9-to-5 and dedicated all of my time to pursuing my passion. I started selling my art online through Etsy and to my surprise, people actually started purchasing it. Mind you, I wasn’t making much at the time but it was a start and hearing customers’ feedback gave me a huge confidence boost.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and that’s when everything changed. As I watched all of the chaos going on around me, I decided I needed to do something to give back to my community. I paused everything I was doing and decided to hold a fundraiser for a local animal shelter that was in need of funding. To raise money, I gave away custom pet portrait illustrations for free, while accepting donations. Over the course of three weeks, I created over 1,200 illustrations and raised nearly $12,000. My fundraising efforts caught some viral attention and was shared across Instagram and on several local news stations. This put my artwork in the spotlight and people really loved what they saw. Even after the fundraiser ended, my email inbox continued to be flooded with requests for custom artwork and that’s when I decided to start Stellar Villa.
Success to me is simply finding true happiness in life. If there is one piece of advice I can offer, it’s to follow your passion. I learned the hard way, from experience, that you will never be happy unless you do something you love. If you can wake up every morning and be passionate about what you do, the chances are you will be successful. Mark Twain phrased it well when he said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I’ve come a long way in the past year. I quit my waitressing job and went all in, devoting every minute of my time to my artwork. Taking that first step was a huge leap of faith and an accomplishment in its own right. It surely paid off, as several months later I launched my own business. If I had to define my biggest success to date, it would be having my art featured in major publications like Forbes and Marie Claire. I think these features really hit home about how far I have come in the past few years and the progress I have made as an artist. They are both huge, well known and respected magazines and to have them mention my work is nothing short of a great honor.
The biggest challenge I faced was having confidence in my artistic abilities. I never felt good enough and always thought I needed to improve my skills before people would actually purchase my artwork. For quite some time, I didn’t value my work and the time I put into it, selling my artwork for very cheap prices. When I first started selling my work I was making well below minimum wage, nowhere near a living wage. The one good thing that came from selling my work, even if underpriced, was the customer feedback. People really loved my work and I slowly gained the confidence needed to charge a fair price for my time.
Another artist by the name of Nicole Steffes is an influential role model that I greatly admire. Early in my artistic journey I started following her on Instagram. We started up a conversation and on several occasions, she has helped me by providing great advice and offering insight into things I was struggling with as an artist. Not only is she a great artist but also a great human being.