WOODSTOCK – Making it as a full-time artist is no easy task, especially in a small town. Rachel Canada, 42, has managed it.
Canada’s cards and stationary, featuring dog drawings of her own design, are stocked in several local stores as well as HomeGoods and Marshall’s nationwide. She’s also signed a deal with a large national company for her images to appear on its home furnishing products.
(Canada was not able to reveal that company’s name due to terms of a non-disclosure agreement.)
When Canada signed the card deal with HomeGoods, she regularly checked the store in Winchester to see when her cards would pop up on the shelves.
“I had asked all of my friends on Facebook, ‘Hey, if you have HomeGoods in your market, can you please go look? ‘Cause I don’t have them in my local market, and I’d love to see them,’” Canada said. “They just got them in this week. So last night we went in and looked and it was so crazy to see, like, your own product, boxed up on that shelf. Freaking HomeGoods, you know?”
Her cards have been sold in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and even Texas.
In 2007, Canada was drawing oil paintings of dogs on commission in addition to full-time work. Six years later she made her first dog-emblazoned Christmas card, for her own use, and posted it on Facebook. The response from her friends was explosive, and Canada thought, “Hold on, there’s something here.”
Eventually, she quit her full-time job doing tile design in Tennessee and moved back to Woodstock, where she designs cards full-time.
“As much as I loved that job in Tennessee, I remember often thinking, ‘Is this it? Like, is this what life is?’” Canada said.
The transition from a steady paycheck to supporting herself off of her artwork was not without growing pains.
“I was broke for a while,” she said.
But, eventually, the business took off. Canada was able to make a profit and keep herself afloat, but the big break came when Canada heard about a trade show in New York for the stationary business.
Between buying the booth space, the cost of travel, and various other expenses, the trip ate up nearly all her profits from selling cards over the previous year. But to Canada, it was worth it.
“It was a gamble,” Canada said. “Go after it. Like, you can have beautiful paintings, and you can draw great dogs, but if they’re in your living room, nobody’s ever going to see it. You have to go after it.”
So Canada loaded up her samples and headed up to New York, showing off her work at booth No. 1124 among 700–800 other vendors in the hopes of getting noticed. Big names in the stationary business like Hallmark and Anthropologie walked the aisles.
Eventually Canada started speaking with a large national company — whose name she could not provide — and eventually agreed to license 16 of her designs for the company to put on its home furnishing items, like pet beds and bowls.
Under the deal she struck with the company, Canada retained the rights to use her designs on her own card products. Navigating art licensing laws was a trial by fire, she said.
“That’s been a lot to learn in a short amount of time, especially when it comes to art licensing. When you’re just selling product, it’s kind of clear, OK I’m selling them this many cards and then it’s done,” she said. “But when you’re licensing an image and you have to make sure you’re comfortable with all the terms and usage that they want for that image and for how long, there’s a lot to learn.”
That deal more than paid for the entire trip to the show, Canada said.
After all these years, Canada hasn’t grown tired of drawing dogs. She likened the angles of a dog’s muscles to how some people appreciate the innate grace of horses. A canvas in Canada’s workshop features a huge horse, in fact, but her true muse is dogs.
“I love that the way that their bodies are put together,” she said. “Like their joints, their bones. Just looking at a dog is fascinating to me, you know?”
Canada had one piece of advice for artists trying to make their art into a career.
“Get out there,” she said. “Just because you’re an artistic person doesn’t mean you just like stand in front of your easel with a beanie on. You still have to sell it.”