To continue the Creating Creative Lives interview series, I'm so excited to share an interview with Kim Vargo, of The Pet Shop. If you've been reading for a while, you know I love her because of the right-on-the-money portrait she painted of Jammer last year. But I learned about her shop through hers and her husband's blog Yellow Brick Home, where they share everything from how they renovate and decorate their small Chicago walk-up to ridiculously adorable photos of their pets (of course!).
I was super excited to get to interview Kim over the phone, and she was just as nice as I had imagined. It was clear right from the beginning that she loves what she does and puts so much of herself into each one of those little pet portraits.
If you've never heard of Kim, be sure to check out The Pet Shop and Yellow Brick Home. I'm sure you'll be sucked in just like I was!
1. Do you remember the first thing that you ever created?
I don't think anyone has ever asked me that! I've been drawing my whole life, ever since I was a little girl.
Okay, I guess my first vivid memory of something I created - in first grade - I remember this specifically because my best friend now keeps bringing it up to this day. It's this weird joke we have from when we were six. I remember being in first grade and it was Martin Luther King Day. We had to make an art project where we had a drawing of MLK's face - pre-printed - and we had to use tissue paper to kind of mod podge together his skin coloring and his hair and to do his suit using tissue paper. It sounds so messy for a six-year old. I've always been OCD and a kind of crazy type-A person, and I'm very much a perfectionist. I remember very meticulously and carefully filling everything in. At the end of the project, I even watered down my glue to spread a thin layer over the whole piece. The incentive was if you won the contest - the teacher was going to judge - you would get balloons the next day. So I won the contest, but my friend Jill came in a close second. And to this day, Jill will say when she comes to Chicago, "remember your MLK that I almost beat you at."
I gave it to my dad and he still has it.
[We laughed a lot about that one]
2. How did The Pet Shop come about? There's something so particularly delightful about the tiny size and the bold color of the background - how did that all come about?
It was never really planned, that's for sure. It's kind of crazy that it came about at all. And I feel really lucky and fortunate. It started very specifically probably about 4 years ago when Scott really wanted a dog, and we lived in this tiny house. We already had two cats, and I didn't think we had the space. Scott had never had a dog before, and I'd grown up with them, so I know how awesome they are, but they're a lot of time. You kind of have to plan your days around them. You can't just leave for the night without coming home, without feeding and walking and all that. So as a joke, I painted him that little boston terrier portrait that we have in our entry way. Sort of a "here's your dog" type of thing. And he was like "Oh awesome" - he was expecting a real one, which he didn't get for another year.
I remember I shared that on the blog right when I did it, and people started asking for them - just in the comments. And I thought, "yeah, haha." But then I started getting emails, and it just kind of evolved. It started out with just a couple. I would say, less than 5 readers sealed the deal and I sent out the portraits. I didn't have a shop or anything. And I was doing friends and then friends of friends' pets and it all just kind of spiraled to the point where I felt like rather than just deal with these emails organically as they happen, I decided to open up the shop that you see. I'm actually in the process of creating a new site. Hopefully within a month, I'll have a whole new site that's more detailed and user-friendly.
It all just happened out of the blue from this painting that I gave Scott. And I mean, being an animal lover and a pet lover more than I probably can ever explain, I can't think of a better way to spend my days. My favorite part, for sure, is hearing people talk about their pets to me. And I just love that. I totally get it.
3. Do you run The Pet Shop and the blog full time?
I do it about 4 days a week from home, and I work one day a week with a very good friend of mine who's a photographer, and I do all her photo editing. The other time, I'm home working mostly on The Pet Shop. I kind of squeeze in the projects for the blog so I have something fresh and new. It's hard, but at the same time it's important to me because my readers are the ones that support my shop, and my readers come for the blog first. It's kind of weird how it's all connected even though it feels disconnected sometimes.
4. What's the hardest thing about running your own business?
I think the times that I get overwhelmed and a little flustered with the way things are going with the shop, it's because of me. It's because I'm a perfectionist. The hardest part is trying to break away from my perfectionism, like if I'm working on a new puppy that someone got, and they're so excited for the portrait. And I'm all invested in this puppy all the sudden because I know everything about the puppy. I know where it came from. And sometimes people will send me pictures of their homes so I can see where the portrait will go, and so then I feel even more connected to the person. And I sometimes will get so caught up in that, and I'll need to walk away.
It's more Scott having to kind of reel me back in, honestly. If it was just me, I can just imagine myself kind of sitting over a painting and fussing for far too long. But I have a whole cue of orders, and I never want to not spend enough time on one if I don't like it. I don't want to give something to someone that I don't like either. But I do have to kind of keep myself in check and bring down my perfectionist side and realize that I maybe need to step away for a little bit, which Scott has to constantly tell me. When that happens, I might have to come back the next day and look at it again and then think "what was wrong with me?" I think everyone does that, whether you're painting or drawing or anything. You just start to get caught up in it. Walking away is my best defense for sure.
5. Does Scott do work for The Pet Shop as well or is that a one woman show?
Scott will sometimes help me paint some of the backgrounds - a little assembly line going with different colors that I'll have mixed for him. And then he'll get them on there for me - at least the first coat or so. Aside from just doing things like that, even though he's not physically doing the paintings (and the same with the blog, even though he's not writing every post), I still consider him a major part of it because without him, I would probably lose my mind. He's the one that has to tell me to calm down. Or he's the one that comes home from a long day at work because he works full time, and he'll see this painting that I've done that day, and he'll say "Oh my gosh that's great!" Or "Oh how did you get the eyes to look like that?" And he'll remind me that I am doing the right thing. So I would say that a lot of his involvement is definitely just being the support because not once through any of this has he ever been like, "Get a real job!" Not that someone would ever say that, but he knew that when he married me. He knew he was getting a fine arts major.
6. Do you paint things just for fun that we never see on your blog? That aren't part of The Pet Shop?
I have to say that I don't really paint stuff aside from The Pet Shop paintings right now, except for furniture or something, just because I don't really have the time for it anymore. But I used to. It's funny because I didn't concentrate on painting in school. I was a photography major, but one of the things I wanted to do was painting. The reason I actually chose photography over painting was - and this is going to sound like the weirdest reason - I hated the painting professor. He just didn't get me, and I didn't get him. I didn't feel inspired in any way, so I kind of dabbled in photography and painting. My photography professor is actually still a mentor for me to this day, and we still email each other about things. Probably the last time I painted for fun was in college and maybe a couple years after that in the first couple of apartments with roommates - painting abstract things to hang on the walls. But not a lot since then.
7. Do you miss that part?
Kind of. I do have all these ideas of things that I want to paint for fun, but it's all for The Pet Shop. So it's kind of worked its way into a more business mindset. You know, I do - for Renegade (craft show in Chicago) - I have painted the prints that I sell in my etsy shop. And those were all just things that I wanted to do, scenes and the animals that I picked. I have more things like that, but it's a matter of learning to manage my time a little better to be able to implement those things.
8. What do you do when you're not creating? I know you guys love to brunch (as do we!).
Chicago is just full of good food, and I can honestly say that a lot of things that we do when we're not creating or working (including blog stuff), is eating. We just love to go out with our friends, and we actually have a great core group of friends in Chicago. I refer to them sometimes on the blog as "Our Chicago Family." They really are like our family. There's a group of like 7 or 8 of us, and we all kind of have roles that have just sort of evolved over all the years knowing each other. So I think I've talked about on the blog - or maybe Scott has - that for Thanksgiving we go to Grandma and Grandpa's house, and that's really just our friends Pete and Rachel. They've taken on the Grandma and Grandpa role, and Scott and I are referred to as Mom and Dad because we're kind of take the parental role where we keep all the kids in check. We're trying to make the schedules and make sure everyone shows up on time, where Grandma and Grandpa are making the cookies. And then all the "kids" - none of them are married and they're dating new people, and we're trying to interview some new guys or new girls that are coming into the group, making sure that they're okay for our friends. We hang out with them a lot, and we kind of do everything together as a group and take advantage of what the city has to offer. We try to go to a new restaurant once a week, and we call that Thirsty Thursdays, which I guess sounds really lame. [I assured her that it did not, since Thirsty Thursdays were a big part of my law school education!]
It kind of just evolved because we started by watching The Office every Thursday night with our friends - probably 7 years ago - and when the season ended, we started just going out to dinner. And now we've been doing it for years and years, so once a week on Thursdays we get dinner. We try to find a new restaurant in Chicago to eat at. We just go out and explore. There's so much to do here. Not all of us can get together all the time, but at least 2 or 3 times a month, we do. We usually try to find a BYO place so we can each bring a bottle of wine and get loose.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world for one year - money wasn't an issue - where would you go?
I have actually lots of answers to that question. The thing is, Scott and I love to travel to different places. We don't do anything crazy - we travel as money allows. But every time we visit a new place, we try to look at it as a potential "could we live here one day" place. I think both of us realize that we're probably not going to live in Chicago forever because as much as we love it here - and we really love it and can't imagine leaving just yet - but we still think about a house and a yard. We don't even think about kids; we think about fostering dogs. We just want that. We want to have more animals, which is perfect considering what I do. I don't think - knock on wood - that we would ever live in a Chicago suburb because a Chicago suburb looks like every other suburb in the world in my opinion. In which case, why would spend all that money to live in a 'burb that's just like stripmalls? So, we're always thinking about where else could we live and there's one thing that's always been on my list. The first city I thought of when you asked your question was New York just because, growing up, I always told my parents I was going to move to New York and be a famous photographer, which didn't happen. But that's what I always told them. I think Scott is a little more hesitant when it comes to New York, but I'm pretty sure he would either say somewhere in the mountains like Colorado or somewhere in Southern California, like San Diego. But mine would still be New York.
If it the question were where we were going to live forever and money weren't an option, then I'd probably choose San Diego and we'd find a house on the beach. Every place we fall in love with just happens to be pricey, unfortunately for us. Including Chicago.
I think when we do eventually move, we'll want some of things that a big city has to offer but on a smaller scale. We want to be able to see a show and get some food from a family-owned place but also have a yard. For our first year anniversary, we went to Nashville, and we actually fell in love with it. I could see us moving there one day, but I think we're stuck on the fact that it doesn't have a big body of water nearby - no big lake or ocean. I think we've been spoiled by the lake here.
Thank you so much Kim!