Kit Gray is a pastel and colored pencil artist who specializes in capturing the finest details of wildlife and pets in order to bring them to life on paper. With her history as a park ranger, educator, and lupus patient, Kit seeks to amplify the voices of disabled creatives and to inspire people to enjoy, share, and conserve their own local natural areas.
What inspired you to start your business?
A lot of creatives I’ve met have wanted to be artists for as long as they can remember. I actually don’t really identify with that myself! I received my degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Communication and I was incredibly passionate about my career as an environmental educator.
In 2013, lupus attacked my brain and I was told that I needed to stop working. I went through high dose chemotherapy to save my life, but when I came out of it, everything was different. My purpose had faded. I took a few years to focus on my health, as it continued to be a struggle. In late 2015, my mom gave me a large set of colored pencils as a gift for the holidays. So…I started drawing.
Once I shared a cat I had drawn, I was overwhelmed with messages from people who wanted to know if they could hire me to draw their pet. I guess I just decided to take the plunge! Being self-employed looked appealing because it would give me the power to develop the kind of job I needed in order to better manage my health. Anyone with a serious medical condition understands how difficult it can be to work a traditional job while also balancing the many appointments, treatments, surgeries, physical therapy, and insurance phone calls. To me, self employment meant purpose and independence. It’s just kind of amazing that it all happened because of a simple box of colored pencils!
What is something you would say to someone who is struggling in their first few years of business? Is there something you struggled with and learned from in those first few years?
During the first couple of years, I was killing myself by scheduling commissioned pet portraits back to back for most of the year, with a waitlist of more than 6 months at any given time. Stepping back, reevaluating the investment my time and skill requires and deserves, and accepting that it isn’t realistic to cater to every single person who loves their pet allowed me to have more time to focus on other areas of my business that I wanted to pursue, such as my wildlife collection. Don’t be afraid to value yourself appropriately and narrow down your audience. Build in some breathing room — you cannot serve your audience well if you don’t take care of yourself first. Focus on building a sustainable business rather than the one that leads to burn out and/or illness.
What hobbies, causes, or activities are you passionate about aside from your work?
I am a longtime musician and spent several of my younger years performing locally. I LOVE doing target and field archery on a recurve bow and you can often find me studying bird songs and calls in between work projects.
Lupus research is definitely a cause I’m passionate about. Most people don’t realize that lupus is a leading cause of death among young women and the disease also disproportionately affects women of color. I like supporting the Lupus Research Alliance, an organization where 100% of all donations go directly into research for better treatments and a cure.
I am also passionate about suicide prevention, particularly among LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Project is an organization that provides crisis counseling to LGBTQ+ youth and advocates for laws and policies that will reduce suicide among this population.