In 2009 when I started college, and I chose graphic design as a major, because I was told “there are no jobs in painting and drawing.” Even though that’s obviously a false statement, I believed those advisors (ahem and my parents) and got started learning the basics of the graphic arts.
While I was in college, I never once felt drawn to a career as a graphic designer, believe it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t feel drawn in any other career direction, I just simply lacked ambition. While my classmates were seeking out internships at prestigious agencies or magazines around the country, I got a job at a little family-owned screen printing shop. I’m telling you, there was absolutely no indication in my life at the time that I would be a successful, professional artist before I was 25.
The first time I stepped out of my comfort zone was when I applied for a job at a local advertising agency as a graphic and web designer. The middle school t-shirt designs weren’t challenging my artist abilities enough, so I found something that I thought might do that. Little did I know, my experience at that small agency would trigger an plan in my brain and my heart that I never knew existed.
Within six months of working at the agency, my boss signed me up for a networking group. Kudos to him for seeing the marketing benefits of my extroverted personality instead of fussing me for always talking at work. Before my one-year anniversary at the company, I began earning commissions on contracts that I had brought in for website re-designs and Google ad campaigns.
And I was loving every second of it.
I found it incredibly fulfilling to solve a problem – something I had never felt like I could do through design work alone. I learned how simple the sales process is, and how to do it well: instead of starting with a product and making someone buy it, you find a need or point of frustration in their life, and you provide a solution.
Before long, I was filling my schedule with client meetings and networking events. This became a problem, because I was spending less and less time doing the work that I was hired to do. In hind sight, had my boss seen that transition happening and switched me to a sales position, I might still be working for that company! But that’s not what happened…
He told me to cut back on the meetings and spend more time behind my desk. Begrudgingly I did so, because he was the man signing my paychecks. It was not long before I was hungry for the hunt again, but this time, I had a different business in mind.
Two months shy of my second anniversary, I put in my two weeks, and created Torregrossa Art and Design, LLC. I have been told many times that I should have started this little venture while I was still working full time, because I struggled a lot in the beginning to make ends meet, but the fact is it was that desperate need to survive that motivated me the most!
In the very beginning, I painted anything and everything. I didn’t have a specific ‘look’ or ‘style,’ and certainly didn’t have a target market. However, one thing has remained the same since the beginning, and that is my mission: to bring joy to people through my artwork. Custom artwork, actually. Not that my original works don’t inspire joy and happiness too, but I have found that if I can capture my client’s passion and reflect that onto the canvas, I can generate that happiness that I am looking for.
These are a few of my earlier original paintings, inspired by the elegant composure of swamp and marsh birds. I will always remember the client who purchased all of these for his wife – I was struggling to pay my bills one month, and this sale gave me the courage to keep at it.
My journey creating custom paintings these past three years has given me the opportunity to paint several murals, large multi-paneled pieces, many portraits and hundreds of pet portraits. These pet portraits continue to be my #1 request, aside from wedding paintings. The live wedding painting era began in 2015, when I was 24.
Since 2015, I have focused my marketing on the wedding world by providing live wedding and event painting services. I have made my style my own, capturing the realistic detail in the figures and their faces, as well as attention to detail in the setting of the reception hall or ceremony venue which is growing in popularity.
During the week, I work on running the business, which is more time consuming than one might think, as well as continuing to create custom paintings using reference photographs that my clients send me. It is a fantastic career, and I am humbled to have figured out how to apply my talents in a productive and positive way at such a young age.
As I sit here today, typing this story for you to read, drinking my third cup of coffee, I want to share a bit of wisdom that I heard three very short years ago, that I still say out loud to myself in the mirror sometimes, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” Wherever you are in life, no matter the chapter or season, you do yourself a disservice by comparing your life or your career to someone else’s. I have worked my tail off to get where I am today, and I still fall victim to the comparison bug, but it’s not fair to ignore the progress I’ve made. 20-year-old Stephanie would absolutely idolize 27-year-old Stephanie – she would not compare her to 35-year-old Stephanie. Make sense? I won’t do it to myself if you don’t do it to yourself anymore. Deal? Deal.
I wouldn’t have bet my money on that 22-year-old floating through life with no ambition, no money, and no clue what she wanted to do with her life… I underestimated myself big time. I have created a life for myself that allows me to manage my own time, get paid to travel the world painting fabulous parties and weddings, double my salary every year, and go to bed every night anticipating the adventures that the next day might hold.
Life’s funny, isn’t it.