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Rising Stars: Meet Dawn Secord

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dawn Secord.

Hi Dawn, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Thank you to Voyage Dallas for this opportunity to share my story. Life is like sailing. There are those days when you have the wind in your sail and all is going well. Then there are the days that there is no wind and you are floating. You know where you want to go but are unsure when you will arrive. I have been doodling and drawing as long as I can remember. My mother arranged for me to have private oil painting lessons when I was ten years old. Art and my pets were my passions. I was also an avid reader. Libraries were a wonderful place of discovery and literary adventure.

In high school, I had two scholarship offers for art school. At that time, I feared I would be unable to secure a prosperous future as an artist and chose to go into finance. In 1988, I worked for the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Company (FSLIC) in the Dallas operations and transferred to their Los Angeles office. Almost eight years later, at age 33, I was the general manager and acting CEO of a pet product manufacturing company in Southern California. The company made pet products and shipped to all the major pet supply retailers as well as distributors in the US. I was miserable and all I wanted to do was paint. My husband and I could not afford for me not to draw a salary and start up the art business so I looked for something that required little capital and would allow me a flexible schedule to paint. From a business aspect, I had been developing skills that would allow me to start my own business. The perfect industry was opening up at that time – pet sitting.

After consulting with a business attorney and deciding what type of company I would start, in 1996 I started Fur, Feathers & Fins LLC in Southern California. My business skills would prove to be a driving force behind my budding company. I didn’t need an accountant, or marketing assistance, or payroll assistance or business organizational skills as those skills had been honed over the career years working in the corporate world. My company grew and in 2003, I was named “Pet Sitter of the Year” by Pet Sitters International. That same year, I won the inaugural poster competition for the AKC (American Kennel Club) with my painting of an Irish Setter pup sitting in a silver trophy cup. The art was titled, Full of Dreams. My art career was doing well at the time. Winning the competition really gave me a push. Going into finance rather than art after high school proved to be a wise choice. Would I do it again? Knowing what I know now, I would have taken art as a major. My heart never was in the finance world – I was just going through the paces.

Since that time, my art career has blossomed. My work has been in juried competitions annually, national art shows, on the covers of magazines, and as featured articles in national publications. I have been featured in the Pastel Journal and have been a finalist in the Artist’s Magazine. I’ve illustrated several books for others and have several authors waiting for me to illustrate their books. There is a waiting list for my commissioned work. My art is in corporate collections nationally. I ship art internationally – both originals and reproductions. My newly released children’s picture book, No Ghoulish Green Monsters Here, has captured an international audience as well much to my delight.

I’ve been back “home” in the Dallas area since 2018. Though I spent some time in Southern California, Dallas was always home. The art groups in Dallas are second to none. It has been awesome getting involved in the art community here. One of my “to do things” is to contact my elementary school and see if I can come in and read to the kids and hopefully provide some art lessons too. In our home, we have designed a wonderful studio for my work. My studio has been opened up to private, individual children’s lessons as well as adult lessons. I recently had a group of 14 women and what a wonderful experience had by all.

For my art, I work primarily in oil and pastel. The oils are wonderful and the colors and texture of the paint make my heart sing. The downside is the drying time. It seems like anymore we all want immediate results. For the pastels, I love blending with my fingers. The medium brings the kid out in me. The pastels also bring this true to life feeling when painting animals that is not as easy for me to achieve in oil. It is as if one can see every hair. There is also no drying time. If I had to pick a favorite, it would most certainly be a tie. I love both mediums equally. When I was younger, I loved to paint BIG. The bigger the canvas, the better. I do have two oils hanging in our home that are 3’ x 4’. There is only so much room for large pieces that size. The last few years, I‘ve discovered the joys of doing mini paintings. They are fun and a great decorator item. An end table or small odd wall space is the perfect place for a smaller piece of art. The smaller pieces are great for those on a budget or just starting out with collecting.

In 1984, I knew I wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book and an Irish Setter would be the main character. Doing so would combine my three loves, my pets, my art and books. Years went by and it was never the right time or the right dog, but my dream continued. Careers would get in the way. Relocation from Texas to Southern California would get in the way. As life would have it, paths opened to allow my dream to begin. In 2009 I was creating an English Setter painting and wanted a critique of the conformation of the dogs featured. It was suggested I contact an expert, then AKC judge, Marsha Hall Brown. Mrs. Brown agreed to see the painting and a wonderful friendship began that day as she guided me through some adjustments that would enhance the painting. A few years later, Mrs. Brown asked me to illustrate a children’s book she was writing. We agreed on the project and a journey into the world of illustrating and publishing began. The book, Show Dogs Escape to the Seashore, won a Maxwell Award for the cover illustration from the Dog Writers Association of America as well as a Muse Award for a cat illustration from the Cat Writers Association. In 2012 my husband and I bred our first litter of Irish Setters. At that time, I had owner handled 4 Irish Setters to their AKC Championships, one to a Best in Show. The pick pup from this litter was named Bling. All of a sudden everything aligned. I was involved in the children’s book world, my life allowed me to illustrate and write my own book, I had the perfect dog with the perfect name for a children’s picture book.

A little background on the book. I purchased my first Irish Setter in 1984 from an ad in the Dallas Morning News – way before the internet. She cost $100. My family was one of true dog lovers. My great grandparents raised fox hounds. My grandparents on both sides of the family had dogs – Miniature Schnauzers and Kerry Blue Terriers. Dogs were family members unquestionably. It is difficult to explain but you know when you get that gut feeling. It is a feeling almost like you know what is going to happen in advance. When I brought that first Irish Setter home, I immediately knew I was going to write a children’s picture book and the main character would be an Irish Setter. I was 21 years old. Over time that gut feeling became a mission. We do not always know when the air will fill those sails, but we do know it will happen.

My book, No Ghoulish Green Monsters Here, is “that” first book. There are things in life that will happen if we keep our mind set and don’t force it but don’t give up either. It is the first in a series called “A Dog Bling”. The lessons for children in this book are facing fears, finding self-confidence and developing teamwork. My goal with the book is multifold. Considering my love of dogs, one of the goals is to promote dog ownership. Through Bling and No Ghoulish Green Monsters Here, I hope to reach families and show them how wonderful dogs are. My love of books goes back almost as much as my love of dogs. With books, I wanted families to have real pages to flip and touch. Another goal was to promote literacy with children. The book would help children with that goal. The book is a tool to assist families with the joys of reading rather than spending time playing games on electronic devices. My last goal was to provide families with a learning opportunity through my books and Bling. The book has a parents’ guide which is free and downloadable from the book’s website. The parents’ guide can make the book not only a storybook but an educational tool as well. There is a coloring book page, an art lesson, a history lesson, a geography lesson and a glossary which serves as a vocabulary lesson. A teachers’ guide is in the works.

My goals are being realized. Bling has done many virtual school visits during covid and children love her. She has visited libraries and home school groups. She is a true ambassador of the breed and the species. I am constantly receiving photos from parents and grandparents of their children reading the book. Parents of toddlers tell me their children cannot stop looking at the illustrations. Recently, a professional tutor was telling me how she was assisting a 3rd grade student with a reading disability. The child was given No Ghoulish Green Monsters Here as a reading assignment and was able to read the entire book. It was a milestone for everyone.

The book just came out in March 2021. As with my art, I’ve been entering the book in competitions (and will continue to do so). Here is what the book has won thus far and I hope there will be more:

No Ghoulish Green Monsters Here – a children’s picture book – awards:
Awarded “Silver Award” by Mom’s Choice Awards
Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators July 2021 reading list
Finalist – International Book Awards sponsored by American Book Fest
The book is currently in 6 stores in the Dallas and Austin areas as well as several local libraries.

I am currently writing the manuscript for book #2 in the “A Dog Bling” series. It is about Bling rescuing a kitten. The lessons will be about helping those in need and friendship. I’ll be fitting the illustrations in between the books I am illustrating for others and the commissions on my waiting list. I am aiming for a release date of 2023.

In 2016 a second book was released (published by Spinner Publications) by Author Marsha Hall Brown, which I also illustrated. It is a historical book following a whaling family’s life at sea. The title is Under Sun, Stars and Sails. On my easel are illustrations for another children’s book (for another author) featuring the story of a Cocker Spaniel pup.

When autographing books, I often say, “Always enjoy dogs, books and art” a message rings true to my heart.

One new avenue for me has been Zoom. I’ve been doing virtual book readings with schools as well as art lessons. While I am a person who really prefers to do things in person, I am thankful for the opportunities technology has opened up for my art and my children’s picture book.

Memberships:
Pastel Society of America – Signature member
Pastel Society of the Southwest – member
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – member
Dog Writers Association of America – professional member
Cat Writers Association of America – professional member
Irish Setter Club of America – Corresponding Secretary
McKinney Art Club – Member
Visual Arts of Prosper – Member
Irving Art Association – Member

Art awards can be found on my website at http://www.dawnsecord.com/InTheNews.html.

I do have many social media accounts- Facebook (several pages), Twitter, Blogs, and two websites – one for my art and one for my book.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been many obstacles along the way. I left home when I was 19 years old. At that time, I found a full-time job and went to school at night. I had a second part-time job to pay for school. When I relocated to Southern California, I had to stop my schooling and wait for two years to obtain a residence status. Otherwise, the tuition was prohibitive. In LA, the commutes to work were brutal. It was always challenging to balance a budding career, commuting, school and a relationship. In my financial career, I was fortunate to be promoted to respected management positions. This took a toll on my school work. My motto has always been to try 150%. I would rather fail because it was how it was going to go rather than fail for not trying. Having that dedication truly excelled me into demanding positions for the corporations that employed me. Something always had to give. That something was always my art. I couldn’t not work. It was not okay to get poor grades. Only so much time was left in the day, the week, the weekend. That meant I didn’t paint. When I didn’t paint, I didn’t relax. Painting is very therapeutic to me. It is not a job, it is like breathing. It is something I have to do. When I had the pet sitting and was trying to balance the art commissions and the pet business, rather than come home and crash, I’d paint. My husband would have to tell me to stop and turn in for the night. When I am painting, I completely lose track of time. It was an exhausting balancing of 2 career paths that each required 40 hours of work weekly. Being self employed pushed me to work hours I would have never considered in the corporate world.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
When I was younger, I painted some wildlife animals but mostly landscapes. In 1997 my dog passed away. She was an Irish Setter. We had another one, younger, who was six years old. I set out to find a companion for our existing dog. My goal was to rescue a retired show dog – female that would be a pet. This was before the internet was a great source of information and it was difficult to find an Irish Setter. Had I been involved in dog shows, that might not have been the case. Long story short, I could only find a male puppy that was show quality. We brought him home and I thought I would give this show stuff a whirl. I was told I had a natural knack for showing a dog and a new hobby emerged. I joined some dog clubs and ended up having a dog club event at our house. As a gift to a mentor, I painted her dog and gave the painting to her at the party. My dog show friends had no idea I painted. They simply thought I was a career person in finance. People loved the painting and I found a new avenue for my art. The interesting part was I had never had an emotional connection with people through my art.

This newfound avenue for my art would change all that. The paintings became personal primarily because of my love for animals. I was not just painting for someone, I was giving them a piece of their beloved pet through my art. My main focus when painting the animals were their eyes. As they say, the eyes are the window to the soul. When I talk to my animals, I look at their faces, at their eyes. I wanted my art collectors to have that special relationship (if you will) with the painting I created for them. I wanted them to see their animal, to have a connection with the painting. Through the paintings of animals, I have made lifelong friends. The art is emotional on an entirely new level now. Never had I given a painting to someone and had them cry before….or embrace me the way they do. The art collectors and I have a bond – a connection – from their painting. It is more than humbling to be able to touch someone the way I have with my art.

We’d love to hear about any fond memories you have from when you were growing up?
Several come to mind. When I was 14 years old my youngest brother had gotten up with me at 4 am so we could ride my horse around the lake we lived on to watch the sunrise. We were riding my horse in the pitch darkness, and I remember thinking what a cool brother I have that wants to get up with me at 4 AM, get my horse ready and ride in the darkness so we can get to a point on the lake that the rising sun will cast beautiful colors on the water. I vividly remember the first time my mother took me for a horse back riding lesson. I was about 7 years old and sat upon a large dappled gray horse. The horse never moved. I sat there on this magnificent animal for probably a half an hour (or whatever the duration of the horse rental was). Time stood still. I didn’t need to move. I just savored every second. Another great memory was with my younger brother, Jeffrey. I remember walking through a pasture with him while we followed our grandfather who was taking us fishing. We couldn’t have been older than 6 and 4. We’d spent the prior evening turning over every large stone or piece of wood digging up earthworms for our adventure in the morning. On that summer morning we had our cane poles and were ready for action.

Pricing:

  • Children’s picture book $21.99 plus tax and shipping
  • Painting commission prices upon request

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Dawn Secord, Rich Secord, Jennie Blackwell Turnell

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