Lake Norman & Mooresville

Huntersville painter’s post-marketing career goes to the dogs

Frustrated time and again by several local business owners saying they desired but could not afford her branding and marketing services, Karen Dortschy of Huntersville adopted a new line of business in recent months – one that employs her newly-discovered talent: painting portraits of pets.

Dortschy, 56, said her epiphany began soon after she presented a seminar at a chamber of commerce. “At its conclusion, several business owners asked me to deliver my presentation for free at their company. That was the last straw,” she said. “Customers and workshop attendees obviously value my services and say my work is awesome; however, I realized that what I was doing was not financially or spiritually fulfilling.”

Dortschy spent most of her career years in a corporate setting performing marketing functions. After a company downsizing, she became a small business owner using previously-honed skills.

Her path toward a new career began recently. Not having touched paintbrush to canvas since a taking a class at college, a fun night of painting and sipping at Wine & Design of Lake Norman sparked her interest to paint again. This was followed by a paint-your-pet session run by Corks & Canvas. Dortschy said she realized later that, despite the chatter and giggles of participants in those sessions, she was totally focused on her work – and that laser-like focus is a benefit of her being profoundly hearing-impaired.

“It’s hard work to listen.” She explained that “work” includes reading lips, picking up bodily cues and being mindful of context. Helping her to hear is a cochlear implant.

Having attended Oprah’s “The Life You Want” weekend in October, Dortschy recounts she felt a stronger impetus to change direction.

After taking a painting course offered by Huntersville Parks and Recreation, the difficulty of learning in a group setting led her to seek a personal instructor, she said. Stephen Lursen, who was recommended by Donna Downey Studio, was engaged for private lessons. “He taught me the basics – color mixing, technical tricks, brush types and more,” Dortschy said.

In the meantime, her dad, a wood carver and painter, gave her his easel and painting supplies.

Bolstered by the ooohs and ahhhs her sister uttered upon viewing Dortschy’s painting of her dog, she owned up to her talent and decided to make a business of creating such paintings. And, she observes, “there is so much demand.”

Parlaying her marketing experience, Dortschy began raising awareness about her new venture by donating pet portrait sessions at charity fundraising auctions. She donates to pet-centered charities like Friends of the Animals, Puppy Up and Heart Speaks.

She reports she is working on a sheep dog for a customer who won the bid at an auction, in fact.

Via auctions and other means, awareness rose indeed. “I sold nine paintings in the first two months,” she said. “November and December were crazy because of the Christmas deadline.”

“I love making brush strokes of fur,” she said of the level of detail in each portrait. Moreover, “the intrinsic benefit of painting pets is very fulfilling.

“No one ever cried when I presented them with a new logo or new slogan for their business, but they do upon seeing their pet on canvas – every owner is touched to the core,” she said. “I’ve been communicating with people in a way I never did before.”

For example, she watched Mike Cook, owner of Cavin Cook Funeral Home as well as Pet Pilgrimage Crematory & Memorials, kiss the portrait she completed of his little white dog, Angus, known as the unofficial grief counselor. Cook hung Angus’ portrait on the wall of his business.

“I fall in love with every dog I paint, and I try to capture their spirit,” she said.