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Meet Kimmie Gillespie of Kimmie Designs in Central

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kimmie Gillespie.

Kimmie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I originally moved from Ohio to Houston as part of a student teaching program. Out of the 75 people who has applied, I was one of the eight accepted into the program and got to complete my student teaching in Aldine ISD. Texas was my saving grace from getting out of an abusive relationship in college. I was able to build my own life in Houston and was finally free from all of the pain.

I was a teacher in Aldine for five years, Kindergarten for two and then for the last three years, I was the campus art teacher. Out of my love for Houston and passion for art, I created my own work of heart for my home. I experimented with modeling paste and acrylic paint and made my first Houston map in a red & yellow color scheme. A year later, I created a sequel and made a Texas map in the same colors. People would come over and actually ask me how much money they could offer for them to be able to take my paintings home. I was very stubborn and kindly let them know I would never sell them.

During my last two years of teaching, I decided to go back to school to pursue my MBA. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it but I knew I was wanting to get out of education due to the political nature education was turning into. I chose to specialize in Marketing and Leadership Development. Upon graduation I received an offer from a digital marketing agency where I was an SEO specialist for over a year, I learned an incredible amount of knowledge on how to optimize websites so I thought, if I could do this for my clients, I could do this for myself.

In February of 2019, I became a sole proprietor. I created my own website, optimized it, got prints made of my Houston and Texas maps, and turned my art into a business. I have created a black and white version of both maps due to an extensive amount of feedback of those wanting a color scheme that goes well with their current home furnishings. I have also created my Home Series, where I have ten Texas maps with color schemes based off of ten popular universities in Texas. I now sell all of my original artwork (but still not my first-ever Houston and Texas maps) along with prints of each one. I take on commissioned work where I create maps of any location of a client’s choosing along with the color scheme they desire. Additionally, I design and create murals for offices, restaurants, and nurseries.

I realized that making my art into a business was not only difficult but also time-consuming. In order to effectively market my business through my website and social media platforms, along with actually creating artwork, a 9-5 desk job was not going to work. I left my job at the agency and am now working for Hello Fresh where the schedule is extremely flexible and I have so many daytime hours to devote to art creation and marketing.

Long term, I would love for my art to be my sole focus during the day with no other jobs needed to pay the bills. I have a dream to be able to combine all my worlds of education, art, and business to start an after school art program for children. Art is one of the first things public schools cut for budgetary reasons but it is an outlet that all children need. During my time as an art teacher my art studio was a child’s safe place. A place where they were not judged, criticized, written off, or disregarded. They were loved and welcomed. I believe every child deserves to feel that way and I am excited to create an environment where that will be possible.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
This road has not been smooth. It seems like it has been a chaotic tornado of even trying to figure out what I am meant to do with my life. My whole life I wanted to be a teacher. When I became a teacher, I had the realization that I actually did not want to be a teacher. My world turned upside down but I did not know anything else other than I would have to go back to school. That was not a cheap decision to make and it also did not make a bit of sense to pursue an MBA. I was going from working with five years old to then going to class with a bunch of adults who have been in business for about ten years. Did I know anything about accounting or supply chain? Absolutely not. I could tell you everything you need to know about the development rates of a two years old but that couldn’t get me anywhere in business school. I had to work incredibly hard, use every resource possible to me, find a mentor, a solid group of friends in the program, and I had to only look forward at my one known goal – to get out of education.

Looking back at everything, I did not once think I would be an entrepreneur or a sole proprietor. For whatever reason, I felt like I would work downtown at a huge company and become CMO right off the bat with all of my amazing marketing experience from my two years in the MBA program. It was a tough wake up call for all of us in the program that this degree wasn’t actually going to get us to the top right away. For me, literally no company wanted to hire me because my only experience was in education. I wanted to shake everyone’s shoulders who interviewed me and scream “do you not know that teachers have the best time management, organization, patience, soft skills, think-on-your-feet mindset out of any of your applicants?!”

It was a rough road. Finally landing the digital marketing agency role, I then had the mindset that I am going to grow in the company so fast. Before I know it, I am going to be a team lead, and just keep getting promoted! Boy was I wrong on that one too. It was an entirely new and very technical skill I needed to master. I was using an entirely different side of my brain than I was used to and I was in a constant battle from wanting to be creative and needing to be extremely data driven.

Through that longing to fuel my creative side, I began to paint more. A friend wanted a map of their hometown done for their new house. I, of course, said yes to this challenge and went and bought the biggest canvas I could find at the art store. It was so big it wouldn’t even fit in my car and I had to awkwardly call my friend to use his truck to take the canvas back to my place.

Finding time to paint was a struggle. I would go home during my lunch break so I could have just a solid 20 min block of time to work on the commissioned piece. It was around that time I created my own website and Instagram business page. I began to live in two worlds again, where I was an SEO by day but a wild & free painter by night. I truly had no idea what I was doing and had greatly wished I had taken entrepreneur classes in the MBA program. Luckily, I had a large network of support from those I had met in the program and they were all cheering me on.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Kimmie Designs is a sole proprietorship where myself (Kimmie) is the artist. I specialize in abstract maps. I create maps of any location and any color scheme. Clients typically ask for their hometown, a location where they met their spouse, or their favorite vacation spot.

I also make my own maps of Houston and Texas, where I sell the original canvas and also have prints made of each. I sell these at art markets and shows as well as through my e-commerce website.

I am most proud to have made it this far completely on my own. I have no business partner and I have the freedom to run things the way I feel is best. From my marketing skills learned through the MBA program, as well as advice from mentors, I have done very well with building my brand through social media and gaining visibility and exposure. I get extremely excited when venues and shows reach out to me because they have scouted out my talent.

The most consistent feedback I hear is how unique my style is. People have never seen anything like it. I am able to make a typical map people see every single day into a work of art. I have so much texture and depth to my pieces and it brings me so much job when people take time to stand in front of my work and point to all of the roads and then identify where it is they live on the map.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I was always making art. Teachers would tell my parents that I would grow up to be an artist. I had crayons in my hands the moment I had dexterity in my fingers. I saw the world differently than other kids but did not realize that until well into college. My parents told me I never met a stranger, I could talk to anyone about anything, I was their little social butterfly. School was always a place for me to go see my friends, I really didn’t care about learning. My favorite subject was always art class because I got to create and I go to talk to my friends. I had a wide variety of toys from Barbies to Hot Wheels. I was blessed to live in a safe neighborhood where I got to ride my bike outside and create all kinds of make believe adventures with the neighborhood kids.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Madiha Hanif, Tim Herschbach

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