Thaneeya McArdle: From Full-Time Nomad To Award-Winning Artist
In October of 2013, renowned artist Thaneeya McArdle took the first step towards following her dreams. Donating most of her belongings to Goodwill, she left home and became a full-time nomad, roaming across the U.S. and abroad, creating art. While on the road, Thaneeya landed upon a major licensing deal for her artwork and began working remotely – a venture which lasted two years – managing her art for coloring books. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that her freeing passion could grow into an empire.
How did this coloring book venture start for you?
It all unfolded in a very organic (and unexpected) way. In 2009 I created an online tutorial on “How to draw a mandala” that I posted to my art education site, www.art-is-fun.com. Within a year, that page received over 200,000 page views. I received a lot of emails from site visitors who appreciated the tutorial, but still didn't feel quite confident enough to create their own mandalas from scratch. At that point, it dawned on me that I could offer a downloadable e-book of mandalas that people could print and color. Little did I know that it was an “a-ha” moment that would change my life!
In early 2011, I released my first coloring e-book called “Mandala Coloring Pages”. It was such a hit that over the next 3 years, I released 5 more e-books. Just as I was about to release my 6th e-book, Groovy Animals, I received an email from Peg Couch, an editor at Fox Chapel Publishing. She had seen my work online and asked if I'd be interested in publishing a series of coloring books with her company.
It sounded like a fantastic opportunity to see my work in print! During a brief phone chat, Peg asked me to email her 4 potential coloring book themes. I sent her a list of 9 potential themes and asked her to choose her 4 favorite. To my surprise, she replied that they wanted to contract me for all 9!
That was spring of 2014, before the coloring trend made international news. That fall, my first batch of 6 books appeared in Michaels stores around the US. In 2015 the adult coloring trend took off and I've been creating coloring books ever since!
Many women today aim to be entrepreneurs, but most refuse to devote the time and effort it takes to "make it" in their industry – as a traveling artist, how did you do it?
Being a self-employed entrepreneur is certainly a dream job, but the reality is that it takes hard work, dedication and discipline to make it happen. There's no way around it!
I had been self-employed for nearly 10 years before I hit the road in 2013, so I already had the skills, experience, and motivation to make it work. I already had a fanbase and had worked with 2 publishers by then, so my business was pretty solid. It would have been a lot harder if I had to start from scratch while traveling (though that's not to say it would have been impossible).
The bottom line is that with the right mindset, and a lot of hard work, just about anyone can achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. Just make sure you let go of any illusions that it will be easy or glamorous – hard work rarely is!
Were you able to maintain that much-talked-about "work-life balance"?
I wish I could answer “Yes” to this question! For the first few months of full-time travel, yes, I enjoyed the perfect work-life balance. I got to explore Oahu, San Francisco, and parts of Australia and New Zealand with my husband. Being a full-time nomad was everything I had hoped for. Then in March 2014, I signed a coloring book contract, and life became hectic ever since!
After that, life felt more like work than play. In addition to the coloring book contracts, I was also creating art for licensing (such as puzzles, calendars and jewelry). This amounted to a very busy schedule that left little time to actually explore each new location I found myself in. I had to sacrifice a lot of free time in order to meet deadline after deadline.
All the while, I was aware that being too busy as a working artist was an extremely “good problem” to have, so I didn't mind buckling down to get the work done. Although it was hard at times, overall I was grateful to be in that position.
Do you believe art and travel go hand in hand?
Absolutely! Both art and travel offer us new opportunities for self-exploration, as well as exploration of the world around us. For example, experimenting with color and materials when making art is a way of exploring our immediate environment, while traveling immerses us in new surroundings and cultures, inviting us to explore the wider environment. Both experiences allow us to step outside of ourselves and see the world in new ways, while simultaneously encouraging us to connect with our inner selves as we process those experiences.
When you travel, what do you look to for inspiration, and how does that translate onto your paper?
A key part of travel enjoyment for me is observation - simply taking in my surroundings and making mental notes of what makes each place unique. For example, I love architecture so I'll examine the local buildings and try to identify what I like about certain buildings, whether it's the vibrant colors in a lovingly restored Victorian mansion or the charming hand-painted details on a Swiss chalet. I also love nature, so I enjoy studying the plants, animals and landscapes wherever I happen to be. Inspiration is all around us!
As a free-spirited illustrator, how were you able to get your art noticed?
It's all thanks to the Internet! In 2002 I set up a website for my art at www.thaneeya.com. During college I sold a few of my paintings on Ebay and then when Etsy launched in 2005, I set up shop there. I set up a Zazzle shop in 2006 to sell my art on t-shirts and other products. In 2009 I launched www.art-is-fun.com, an art instruction site where I share everything I know about art-making. Eventually I embraced social media and started accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram (amongst others). It's hard to pin down which of these efforts has been more worthwhile than the others – it seems more like the effect has been cumulative, with people discovering my art through all these different channels. Now that my art is being sold on products (coloring books, calendars, etc) people are also chancing upon my work in shops.
What advice would you give to other young artists looking to have your amazing career?
Learn as much as you can! The Internet offers a treasure trove of useful information, such as online classes, forums, articles and blog posts where people discuss and explain how they managed to “make it” in their chosen field. These days there are so many ways to launch – and sustain – an art career via the Internet, so if this is your dream, I encourage you to do as much research as you can about what steps you need to take to reach your goals. Thanks to the Internet, it's more possible than ever to carve out a creative career – you can essentially create your own niche!
Contact Thaneeya McArdle at firstname.lastname@example.org.