Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week, time for CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law*. This week’s mama spotlight is the lovely Lake Forest mom of two active boys, artist and owner of Claudia Smalley Art+Home, Claudia Smalley! Claudia tells us how her career as an artist began at co-worker’s art auction event, how she steadily and painstakingly grew her business and how that hard work and grit has paid off in the form of prestigious publications and a robust art career. Welcome, Claudia!
Hi Claudia! Please introduce yourself. Where are you from originally? What brought you to the North Shore?
Hi! My name is Claudia Smalley, first-generation American to Polish immigrants, who immigrated to the Chicagoland area in the late 1970s… After college / grad school, my then fiancé (now husband) and I made Los Angeles our home, living there for about 5 years before the Midwest started to call us back! Since returning to Chicago in 2009, we’ve lived in downtown, Lakeview, Glenview, and we are excited to call Lake Forest our home! While living in Glenview for the past 8 years we were always finding ourselves up on the North Shore whenever we had free time on the weekends, so we figured what better place to move to!
I’m a mom to two incredible boys, a 6-year old and an 8-year old, in 1st and 3rd grade, respectively!
What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
I LOVE experiencing the world through the eyes of my children. I especially enjoy hearing the way they reason and process all of the information around us. They frequently challenge me to do [fun] things that our outside of my comfort zone, including riding the zipline at West Park or hunting cicada shells in late summer in the trees.
What is your least favorite mom task?
Laundry, but very specifically, putting pillowcases on pillows, and I suppose flipping my kids’ jeans right side out before folding! Thankfully my husband shares in our household tasks equally, so I’ve got help. Needless to say he’s a pro at pillowcase application!
What are a few things that people would be surprised to know about you?
1. I’m actually partly color blind and have trouble distinguishing from dark browns and purples.
2. I am one of the founders of a functional food company that focuses on creating incredibly tasty food products for people on restrictive diets (something I’m very proud of as those two things that don’t usually go hand in hand).
3. I love data science which I consider as equal a passion of mine as I do my art and believe it or not, I find that it inspires a lot my work.
Please share with us a few favorite local places to spend with the family.
We are a foodie family! That said, before we even moved to the North Shore, we loved coming up from Glenview to Market House on the Square (prior to its closing) in Lake Forest, and Maevery Public House in Lake Bluff. We’ve also enjoyed a Saturday (or two) at nearly all of the North Shore beaches this past summer. So that that we are officially locals we’re looking forward to having even better access to all that this area has to offer.
You are a mompreneur! Please introduce your art business. Tell us everything!
Yes! I’d like to introduce you to my business, Claudia Smalley Art + Home!
Here’s a little history … I’ve been drawing and painting all of my life, from landscapes and portraits (pets and people) to abstract arts – I attended University of Illinois in Champaign to study design and after I completed my undergraduate education, I stayed and earned a dual-focus MBA in Marketing and General Management, graduating in 2004. At that point I took a job in Los Angeles and began to build my career in digital analytics working at various global advertising agencies in Los Angeles. I had relegated my art creation to more of a “hobby” for about the first 5 years of my professional career until one day I received a flier for a Los Angeles advertising collective’s art auction event, and decided to create something to submit! Long story short, while at the event, I overheard a few folks as they were talking about my work and how it ‘spoke’ to them. As someone who has always enjoyed viewing and commenting on art from other artists, I’d never actually experienced it myself! So that one small event motivated me to pick up my art brushes again! My husband and I moved to Chicago in 2009 following an opportunity to further my career in analytics, and during this time (pre-kiddos), I was able to grow my art business/following. I would wake up at 4AM to paint / submit artwork / reach out to potential clients, then after a full day at work at my “day” job, I’d come home and start the hustle again, working well into the night.
Over time, I was able to grow my business, building relationships with locally respected art curators, galleries, publishers, and venue owners throughout Chicago and beyond. As a result, I am proud to say that early in my career, my artwork was recognized by Chicago Art Institute’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, James Rondeau as an ArtFutura finalist and since then, has also been featured in several publications from the Chicago Tribune to La Repubblica, (Italy’s national newspaper). In Chicago, my work has been featured in places such as the Boeing Building downtown as well as multiple local galleries including representation at Acquisitions of Fine Art in Hinsdale and various restaurants throughout the city. Additional highlights include competing on a TLC TV show called “Craft Wars”, hosted by Tori Spelling, and having artwork featured on the Stars Network show “The Girlfriend Experience”.
During the last few years as my children were little and my free time was in short supply, I spent the majority of my time focusing on commissions. Now that our kids are a little older and more self-sufficient, I am eager to be pushing the art business back into full swing!
Where do you sell your art – pop up boutiques, your own art studio, etc.?
My website is updated with all the most recent and available work (prints and originals). Prints are delivered directly to your home. Original work can be delivered locally or can be shipped internationally.
What commission requests do you typically take on?
As I briefly touched on earlier, commissions are a large part of the business! The art I’ve been commissioned to do has ranged from realistic portraits, to landscapes, to the abstract. Because of my training in multiple art mediums and photography, I am flexible in terms of the types of commissions I am able to take.
When do you find time to paint and create?
I’m happy to say that my sons and I have painting time together :). Outside of that I do still enjoy my early mornings where I’m able to focus on painting and running the art business while the house still quiet!
What advice can you give other mamas out there who are looking to start their own small business?
Take a step back and recognize the things you’re passionate about (which may be the most difficult part for us busy moms!), then solve for how you can make it work for you. Don’t be afraid to adjust your approach or if you have to pivot multiple times in order to derive the most optimal way to run your business!
What’s on the horizon for your business? Future aspirations, plans….
I will continue to pursue my current passion of creating artwork on an ad hoc or commissioned basis and help my clients place artwork (whether my own or that of another artist!) into their homes / offices or other spaces. I endeavor to reactivate my involvement in my new community!
Where do we find you for more information and to request a commission?
Please visit my website for more information and to view more works, reach out at [email protected] and follow along with my journey on Instagram!
About Our Meet a Mom Sponsor
A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm (wills and trusts). Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here!