We had the good fortune of connecting with Annie Dunn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Annie, alright, let’s jump in with a deep one – what’s you’re definition for success?
Some years ago a young woman came in to my booth and told me that she had previously bought some of my work. It was the one with the skeleton sneaking through the forest. She told me that she picked it out because she was going through cancer treatment at the time, and looking at the artwork every day helped her face the possibility of death. I remember stammering some kind of response. It should have been better, something more empathetic, but I was just so completely unprepared. This was the first time I can remember being made truly aware of the potential impact of what I do. She probably never knew this, but her brief visit changed me. I’ve been told similar stories since, about personal struggles, the loss of beloved pets, and sometimes just the joy of looking at something every day that makes a person feel happy. For these people the artwork becomes part of their lives, not just something they bought. In terms of success, of course I want to make an income to contribute to my family and take care of myself, but these stories make being an artist more than a job. Success means finding buyers who feel an impact from my work.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I once had an art show attendee walk into my booth and say “What’s special about this?” It sounded horribly abrupt, but really I think that’s what everyone wants to know when they encounter something new. I used to think that paintings of cats would be enough because so many people love cats. But in retrospect, no artist can compete with photos of real cats. They are just too fabulous. My tagline now is “Chaos in Color, where the cats are alive and the people are not.” That’s a catchy way of saying that it’s okay to think about mortality, but hey look, cats, so maybe things aren’t so bad. I’m also very conscious of portraying cats in a positive way. Even when they’re the villains they are lovable villains. When someone tells me that they are not a cat person but that they like my cats, that feels like progress. Trying to create artwork while vending at art shows is a huge challenge. There aren’t enough hours in a week for that, at least not for me, and I really wasn’t completing enough new artwork. A few years ago I started doing a painting every week, and I’m still doing that now. Some of them are quite simple, and some of them are quite bad. But many of them I really love, and by finishing a painting every week I’ve been able to break a lot of new ground with my drawing and painting skills. Starting up the weekly paintings is probably the best decision I’ve ever made as an artist. I publish them all on my Patreon page, and prints are available for both patrons and subscribers.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’d start the first day with the La Gattara Cat Lounge, and Butterfly Wonderland, with the Phoenix Bat Cave at dusk. Then somehow we’d have to fit in the Wildlife World Zoo, Out of Africa, and the Phoenix Zoo because they all have big cats. If my friend wasn’t squeamish we’d follow that up with the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary, because snakes are cool. Then we absolutely must spend a day to see the Flagstaff Arboretum and the Lowell Observatory, with a scenic drive both ways. It would be a long day for sure, but Tucson has the Sonora Desert Museum, Reid Park Zoo, and the Kitt Peak Observatory. We’d need one final day to hit the breweries and art galleries in Prescott, plus a walk around Lynx Lake. Every night when we weren’t already at an observatory we’d head to a dark area with the telescope, some binoculars, and the Stellarium app. I’m not sure when we’d have time to eat, but we’d have Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake pizza with Four Peaks Kilt Lifter every day, and then one final dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. The building is really neat with all that stained glass, and you really can’t go wrong with pasta and spumoni.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Digital painting is my second career. I started out as a programmer. I liked programming, it can be highly creative if you get to work on the right projects, and it pays reasonably well. I was unfortunately miserable as part of the corporate culture, and one day I quit. After that I spent most of my time volunteering for a cat and dog rescue group. And by that I mean that I put in full time hours, quite often more. My partner, John, never once complained to me about the hit we took to our income. He didn’t mind when we spent nearly every weekend at the adoption center or at the pound. He didn’t object when I left the house multiple times throughout the night to check on the TNR cat traps. He even helped me pick out and purchase a swamp cooler for … you guessed it, the community cats. At every step along the way he has made it possible for me to pursue the things that I think are important. John encouraged me to get the tools I needed to become a digital artist, even though at the time I hadn’t produced much of anything to suggest I could launch an art career. He has attended every single art show with me, doing the driving, the heavy lifting, and a good portion of the setup and tear down as well. My post-programming life would not have happened without his ongoing support, and I do often wonder what I’d be doing today if not for him. In addition to John, my customers of course, and my collectors especially, deserve my thanks and appreciation. Their early enthusiasm made me believe an art career was possible, and they keep me going now with online orders and by sponsoring my weekly paintings. One customer recently told me that she and her daughter (who lives in another state) each hung my cat artwork on walls facing each other, one east, one west, so that they could see each other around the world. I love how they turned their purchase into a meaningful connection. Customer stories like this are a big part of my driving motivation.