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Meet Cara Finnerty Coleman of Little Bear Illustration

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cara Finnerty Coleman.

Cara, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve been drawing and painting since I was very young, I even wrote and illustrated a little handmade book when I was three. If I recall correctly it was about my friends in the neighborhood and probably made no sense at all, but the passion was there even way back then.

Growing up my parents were very supportive and my Mom always made sure I was involved in art classes, summer theatre programs, and nature day camps. I attended Massachusetts College of Art and Design and after graduation I was floating around, working retail jobs and not knowing what to do.

I figured if I was going to float I may as well try somewhere new, so I packed up and moved into a one-room apartment with a shared bathroom on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

After some years spent working many different types of jobs and generally having what I’ll classify as youthful good times, I found out about a chance to submit a piece for a group show at a tiny gallery called Charmingwall that specialized in small works.

I remember the deadline was really close and I was working so much at my animal hospital day job I had to call out sick to get the submission done in time. I’m happy I did, it still ranks as one of my best decisions ever. The piece I submitted was a 6″x6″ painting of a bear in the woods under the stars, and to my absolute shock, it sold at the opening.

I showed several more pieces at that gallery until it eventually closed to make way for an atm vestibule or something. After a couple more years at day jobs and doing commissions at night, I moved back to my home state of Massachusetts so I could afford the transition to making art a full-time gig.

I started applying to shows and making prints, it was exhilarating and completely overwhelming all at once. It still is! Lugging my tent, a show set up and products all over the place week after week beats my old desk job hands down, and I still get to meet dogs so this is definitely the happier life for me.

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?
Oh. Oh God, no. I could laugh and cry right now thinking about this question. The challenges of my job are different than most any job I’ve had although sometimes when I’m swearing at an excel spreadsheet I’ll have deja vu.

It’s hard, I’m good at the art portion of my job but then there’s the accounting, administrative work, advertising–and that’s just the things that start with ‘A’! Being the sole proprietor of a business requires wearing many hats, several of them don’t fit at all and they often need to change multiple times a day.

Working from my home studio also presented an unexpected challenge. I like to call it “Hermit Crone Syndrome” and the symptoms are neglecting to run a brush through my hair before running errands, forgetting how to make conversation with other humans and keeping very odd hours.

I also make mistakes and lots of them. I’m not as afraid to make mistakes as I used to be, yet I say that while I’m wincing about something from last week that I swore I wouldn’t worry about anymore. I care very deeply about my work, I’m a perfectionist and full of anxiety–that’s Artist Bingo for anyone keeping score.

I’m really lucky that I know so many other amazing small business owners in our creative community who have the same struggles and give fantastic advice and friendship. It’s not a smooth road, but at least for me, it’s a necessary one.

I spent a lot of years not making art or doing anything creative and those were the bad times. Any day that I get to spend making art is a gift, and that sounds embarrassingly corny but that’s really what it is. I didn’t get to do this for a long time and I was miserable.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I cannot express how much joy it gives me when folks say that my work moves them in some way. When I hear that something I made is going on the wall of a new baby’s room, that a piece of mine is going to be a small part of their childhood, I’m just so proud of that.

The children’s books and art that were around me growing up are such a huge part of my inspiration, so to be a part of that for someone else is really special. And adults who bring my work home for themselves are just total kindred spirits. I love anyone who shares my fondness for mystical animal imagery.

Little Bear Illustration has a focus on woodland animals, their adventures within enchanted, dreamlike landscapes and the tiny hidden places they like to hide out. The business is named after my own little bear, my dog Fefu who had the heart of a grizzly in a miniature package.

She was my constant companion and her funny little quirks and misadventures provided endless inspiration. She sadly passed away in January so now all of this is in her honor.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I was a shy kid, quiet and sensitive. As an adult, I can recognize my introverted tendencies but I didn’t know what to call it back then. I loved animals, drawing, drawing animals, being in nature because of the beauty and how it provided a convenient close proximity to animals… you can see the path to where I am today was forged early on.

I enjoyed making things like dioramas out of Kleenex boxes that became little apartments for my stuffed mice. I collected miniature trinkets to display in my room, and I still do that but now they’re hanging out in my studio. I loved going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with my Mom, and on Saturday mornings she took me to the art classes there.

I can still smell the paint and clay of the classrooms in that sort-of secret studio they had all the way upstairs, it was great. I took summer theatre classes and painted sets, and spent a lot of time in the water and the tide pools at the beach. My life has sort of come back around to a lot of what I enjoyed as a kid, and that’s a happy place to be.

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