My name is Laura Connelly, Founder, and artist behind Stellar Villa. I’d like to share how I launched this business at the start of the pandemic and have since grown to become one of the leading pet art companies online.
The start of the COVID-19 pandemic was among the darkest days for many. I remember the fear and negativity that overtook social media as cities across the country went into mandatory lockdowns. I wanted to do something to help my community and lift peoples’ spirits, I just wasn’t sure what that could be.
Pet Portraits for a Cause
Many faced financial uncertainties as businesses closed their doors, and for a local New York City animal shelter, this meant that the stream of donations they relied on to operate had also been impacted. When I heard about this shelter that needed funding, my heart went out to the animals in their care and this sparked an idea in my head. What if I illustrated peoples’ pets for free while accepting donations for the animal shelter? And so it began…
I set up a GoFundMe page called Distracting Chaos with Pet Illustrations. I announced on my Instagram that I would be drawing peoples’ pets for free and all they had to do was send me a photo of their dog, cat, horse, or otherwise. On completion, they could make an optional donation to the fundraiser if they chose to do so. A few hours after the announcement, it took off like wildfire.
My DMs were flooded with messages, and the next thing you know I was drawing pets from sun-up to sun-down. Local news stations caught wind of my efforts and that caused the fundraising campaign to catch some virality. I dedicated three weeks to the fundraiser, during which time I illustrated well over 1,000 pet portraits and raised nearly $12,000. All of the money went directly to local animal shelters.
A New Opportunity Was Born
Even after the fundraiser concluded, my e-mail inbox and IG DMs continued to be flooded with requests for my work. The fundraiser had put my pet art in front of thousands of people, and they wanted more.
As I nursed my sore wrist and drawing hand back to health, I thought about the opportunity in front of me. Pet adoptions were skyrocketing as a major portion of the population was working from home. I already knew people loved my artwork from their feedback and it seemed like an opportune time since everyone was bringing home dogs, cats, and other pets at a record rate.
I had always dreamed of being a full-time artist and I thought to myself, this could be it. That’s when I decided to launch my website and become a full-time pet portrait artist.
Challenges I Faced Early On
Within a matter of hours after launching my website, I was completely booked with a month’s worth of custom pet portrait orders. However, that’s not to say there were no challenges along the way.
One of the most difficult things to do as a new artist is to price your work. You have to be able to price your work in a way that as an independent artist, it’s possible to make a living but also somewhat competitive to the market. It took me a while to work this out, and I’m still making adjustments as needed.
Another obstacle I faced was managing my time. Since I had a lot of orders coming in, I would often get overwhelmed. When you’re creating custom art, nothing is constant. The time required to complete each piece can vary greatly, yet it’s important that you give customers accurate estimates on when their drawing would be completed.
I started to only accept a limited number of commission orders per month, and when the limit is reached, I close commissions until the following month. This has helped me prevent from taking on too much at once.
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Building a Pet Portrait Brand – Stellar Villa
From the start, I have relied on Instagram to help promote my business and build my audience. Instagram is a very visual platform, perfect for artists. I focus on sharing great content and doing so regularly. Beyond just sharing my work, I think the “social” part of social media is most important and I strive to build real relationships with people. It’s worked out great as I’ve not only grown my following but have developed many great friendships along the way.
One of the downsides to being a commission artist is that I am limited in the number of pieces I can create within a given timeframe. Oftentimes, I have a waitlist of people who want a pet portrait created. Sometimes people have to wait for weeks until I have availability.
To continue to grow the business, I have enlisted an additional artist onto the team. This has helped me keep commission open, but sometimes people still prefer to wait for me. I hope to bring more artists on board over time and offer a greater selection to customers.
Achievements of Stellar Villa
Among my accomplishments, I am most proud to be featured in many prestigious publications such as Forbes, Marie Claire, Martha Stewart, and Yahoo News. I’ve also been featured in pet publications such as Pet Lifestyles Magazine among others. In addition, I’m also happy that I’ve been able to make giving back a core part of this business. I have developed great relationships with animal shelters and rescues and continue to work with a number of them.
As I look to the future I’m excited to make our pet portrait company even better. We will do so by focusing on quality and doing things differently than our competitors. We offer digital pet portraits and printed options. For our prints, we use gallery-quality materials, both paper and inks, so that our portraits will last for generations.
We also offer pet portraits in 10+ styles, more than anyone else. We have pet portraits in cartoon style, line art, digital painting, mid-century modern, and even seasonal themes. Our goal is to be the #1 pet portrait brand, something we are working towards every single day.