Networking, mentorship, business education, multiple streams of revenue — not necessarily concepts you associate with artists. For Holly Springs resident, and yes, artist, Brenda Priest, they have been the focus of her 20-year career as a pen and ink illustrator.
Priest’s study of interior design and architecture led her to an internship where she fell in love with pen-and-ink drafting. But it wasn’t until several years later, while on maternity leave, that Priest really put those skills into action.
“I started doing pen-and-ink illustrations for the Parade of Homes,” she said. “I did the drawings in my pajamas with my kids crawling all over.”
It was a great opportunity for Priest to stay home with her children and do part-time work she loved. As her daughters Abby and Maggie grew, Priest had more time to put into her business, Your Door & More, and its custom pen-and-ink-home portraits.
“I had this talent, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” she says.
Priest joined a Holly Springs networking group and started learning all she could about 30-second marketing and growing a small business.
“I focused on the business as more of a business than as a passionate piece of art that comes from my soul,” Priest says. “It’s a very different perspective than a lot of artists have.”
“I’ve had many mentors that have really taught me a lot,” she says. “I knew the arts side; I knew the drafting; I didn’t know the business side.”
Her sketches of homes were initially used as marketing tools for home builders, but when Priest started doing illustrations for family, friends and clients, her work took on new meaning.
“I love doing the house sketches, because people have such an emotional attachment to where they have lived,” she says. “You hear lots of stories of the people who grew up in a house.”
There was the client who asked for a crack to be drawn into a window, a telltale sign of a long ago baseball accident. Or the homeowner who needed bushes precisely sketched into the front landscaping, because the grandmother had planted a shrub for each grandchild that had been born.
“These are invaluable memories of home,” Priest says. “People want to remember where they have come from.”
Priest received an unexpected break when she was contacted by Winning Streak, a sports memorabilia company based in the Midwest who had discovered her work. Winning Streak wanted Priest’s signature pen-and-ink style for a collection of sports stadium banners.
“I almost didn’t do it,” she says. “But a basic principle in the business community is: If it’s out of your comfort zone, you will grow if you say ‘yes.’”
Starting with 12 Major League Baseball stadiums, including Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, Priest’s collection of fully-licensed sports stadiums has grown to include 78 professional and college teams across the country.
“It was a smash success,” she says. “It has become the bread and butter of my business. It has really changed everything.”
In 2018, Priest sold 600 banners. In 2019 she more than doubled that number.
“Hysterically, I don’t follow any sports,” she says. “I have learned to be able to talk smack to my customers and raz them about their rivals.”
Priest sells the banners at craft shows, through her website and at Our Moments in Time in downtown Holly Springs.
“To have my work in a locally owned shop on Main Street — I feel so proud,” she says.
Priest’s collection also includes local landmarks, such as Duke University chapel, the NC State University wolf statue and the North Carolina Executive Mansion, which took 22 hours to sketch, her longest yet.
Priest has become a vital figure supporting arts and entrepreneurship in Holly Springs. She was the driving force behind the Holly Springs Arts Council, which worked alongside the town to encourage growth among local artists. Though the council eventually dissolved, the organization’s efforts produced a community arts festival, supported classes for artisans and fostered arts awareness in the community.
Priest also served for three years as a mentor in Wake Technical Community College’s program LAUNCH Holly Springs, an entrepreneurship incubator that provides training, funding and resources for small business owners in Holly Springs.
Our Moments in Time, owned by Beth and Jerry Martinez de Andino, where Priest and several local artisans have work on sale, is a graduate of the LAUNCH program.
“What Beth and Jerry have created here at the shop is an arts community. And all that revenue is staying in the community, because we are all local people,” Priest says.
Despite being a successful illustrator, with her work on sale locally and nationwide, Priest has long struggled to identify as an artist.
“I’m not a classically trained artist. I don’t paint. I didn’t fit into any box that I felt comfortable with.”
“I’ve been sketching for 20 years, I think it took 19 years to feel comfortable calling myself an artist with confidence. It wasn’t who I am inside, until now.”
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