I was featured in a Newsday Business section article written by Arlene Gross. The excerpt focusing on my background and my life choices is copied below. If you’d like to see the article in it’s entirety you can see it on my website in the Press section.
At midlife, taking lower pay to begin more satisfying careers
By Arlene Gross
Special to Newsday
11:07 AM EST, January 4, 2008
Mary Ahern had (experimented) in art for many years, but had never been able to actually make a career of it. Until four years ago, that is, when she made the switch to full-time artist.
“I had always been a creative artist,” the Northport resident, explained. “Life, however, intervened, and as a single parent, I was never able to create my art on a full-time basis.”
Changing careers at midlife is no small feat, and switching to one with substantially less earning potential is more difficult still. According to Randy Miller, founder and president of ReadyMinds, an online career counseling service, downsizing a career can be a source of great anxiety.
Yet for some people, any fear or hesitation is mitigated by the yearning to follow a dream. Seeking more spiritually uplifting endeavors can be the ultimate challenge, and Miller said any attendant loss of income is often compensated with a renewed sense of purpose and newfound happiness.
“There are a lot of people who go through life and think, ‘What if?'” Miller said. “With a strategic plan, coupled with the new passion and ultimate objective of doing something different, one can more easily achieve their ultimate goals.”
For Ahern, a new husband provided the impetus and financial support to move forward. Income, the couple concluded, was less relevant to the quality of their lives than the legacy they wish to leave behind.
“When we married, Dave urged me to follow my dream,” she recalled. “The hard part at first was trying to find inside myself what that dream actually was. You spend so much time marching forward and doing what you do, you lose the essence of yourself.”
Once their five children — all from previous marriages — were finished with college, Ahern felt it was OK to follow her calling.
“My income from my art doesn’t yet come close to the money I’m used to making in either my career in computer graphics equipment sales or my own graphics design firm,” she said.
One of her greatest sacrifices was a big dip in retirement savings, which now come exclusively from her husband’s salary.
“We have a comfortable nest egg,” she said, “but by coming out of a conventional career, I no longer have the extra cushion to add to my existing portfolio of tax-advantaged savings vehicles.”
Despite her diminished earnings, Ahern says she is happier. “I am living the life I am meant to live,” she said.
Excerpt of Article posted in The Times of Northport
Artist cultivates her livelihood like a garden
By Arlene Gross
June 13, 2007 | 02:39 PM
Northport resident Mary Ahern is a successful artist who practices a unique technique she describes as. “Digital Mixed Media Painting”.
But Ahern, who… (was) among the exhibitors at Arts in the Park in Northport July 8, (2007) was not born an artist. “I didn’t come to paint until I was older,” she said. “I didn’t even know I had a facility for it.”
As a young girl, she focused on music: playing trumpet and saxophone for the high school band and conducting her Fort Hamilton High School graduation in Brooklyn with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“I’ve been in the bleeding edge of those kinds of issues,” she said. “In those days, girls didn’t conduct.”
A life-changing moment came in her 20s, when a friend gave her a coffee table book of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
“I opened it up and turned the pages and wept,” she recalled. “It was completely transforming. I could only look at 10 pictures a day, it was so overwhelming.”
From that moment, Ahern knew she must study art and, then a resident of Queens, attended Queens College.
Although she was influenced by O’Keeffe and painted similar subjects, such as close-up and sensual florals, Ahern said she did not mimic her idol’s technique. Whereas O’Keeffe painted with direct and rapid strokes, Ahern’s traditional paintings were created in grisaille, or gray scale, and layered with washes of pigment on top, giving the subjects a glow through the optical blending of glazes of pigment.
After divorcing her first husband, Ahern took a job at Barnard College’s career counseling office, where she herself was able to get some career guidance. Through her Barnard position, she attended Columbia University for free by working there while raising sons, Chris and Michael, then ages 10 and 8.
“I knew if I couldn’t stay home and be a mom and paint, I had to make a decision: I’m going to make as much money as possible,” she said.
With profit in mind, Ahern went into technology sales, selling computer graphics and eventually becoming Northeast regional sales manager at Chyron Corporation in Melville (and a National Marketing Manager at The Dynatech Video Group.) Then she started Online Design, a digital graphics company.
For Ahern, feminism was not a word to bandy about but, rather, her day-to-day reality – working as a single mother in a male-dominated industry.
“My single-minded focus on providing a good life for my sons enabled me to ignore the tremendous obstacles, prejudice, emotional assault and loneliness that comes from breaking through social barriers,” she said. “I, like my father, pulled myself up by my bootstraps. As a woman in a male industry however, I, like Ginger Rogers, did everything in high heels and backwards.”
In 1989, Ahern fulfilled her dream of buying a house with a spacious garden in Northport, which she said, “was like a step back in time to a slower and more gracious lifestyle.”
“The center of town with a Main Street embedded with trolley tracks leading to the harbor breezes and music in the gazebo captured my attention and insisted upon my attendance. I needed to move here.”
Eleven years later, she renovated her home, adding an airy, second floor art studio, and now natural light trickles throughout.
The garden, which Ahern designed, encircles the house, with its artfully designated focal points and meandering paths, everything flowing gracefully.
“I practice nonviolent gardening – no rose bushes to stab you – all soft inviting plants,” she said.
Seventeen years after her first marriage ended, Ahern married David Ruedeman, an engineer at Chyron. The couple worked together there but got to know one another only when he became a client of Online Design. This year will mark the couple’s 10th anniversary…
Early on in the second marriage, wishing to reinvent herself, Ahern got a degree in horticulture from SUNY Farmingdale in 2000, with the idea of becoming a landscape designer, which she did for a year. “It was too much for my (aching) body,” she said, of the many hours spent working on bended knees.
From there, it was a two-year course studying botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
Her (Mixed Media) painting, a culmination of expertise paralleling her life’s progressive journey, combines a passion for the fine arts, gardening, computer graphics and botanical painting.
“To be creative, you need to know your medium,” Ahern said of her computer graphics skills. Through her paintings, she seeks to make people look around them and become more aware of the nature surrounding us.
Dr. Roberta Koepfer, her friend since 1971, said, “She’s like a phoenix. I have seen her rise up from a fair number of devastating experiences. Every time she comes back, she comes back more dynamic, more focused on her art and with an increased zest for life and personal growth.”
When it came time to sell her art, Ahern’s business savvy came in handy; she started in Northport as an exhibitor at the annual Arts in the Park series (in 2004) and now participates in about 15 art shows in New York and Connecticut between May and September, with her husband lending a hand.
Ahern’s work has also been the focus of several gallery exhibitions, including a one-person show at Greenlawn’s Harborfields Library this past February.
Susan Hope, gallery coordinator for the library, noted that Ahern’s exhibit was well timed: her cheerful florals brightened the gloom of winter. “It has an eye catching appeal,” she said. “People really enjoyed it, whether they were art savvy or just seniors on their way to their meetings.”
Today, Ahern is either painting her botanicals, selling them or lecturing on the business of art at libraries or schools, although her business persona has changed radically over the years. “I did trade shows in high heels and silk suits,” she said, “now I’m doing business in Birkenstocks and shorts.”
To anyone seeking career guidance, Ahern advised, “Don’t throw away anything you’ve done because you want to transform yourself. Take the good portions, the positive elements and try to incorporate them into this new self you’re creating. That’s how I’m living my life.”
Mary Ahern- Art Naturally had a Successful First Time Showing at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show
The 2007 CT Flower and Garden Show moved to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford CT. We never showed at this venue before so this was a new experience for us.
We brought our Traveling Art Festival Gallery to this exciting and very popular event and we’re sure glad we did.
The promised crowd of over 30,000 people showed up and at times, I felt as if I got to speak to each and every one of those winter starved gardeners.
This 4 day event has very long hours. Evenings until 8 each session. Did I mention very long days?
I’m glad that I brought my new bamboo director’s chair even though there were many hours I never got to touch it except to put my coffee in the cup holder.
The new lighting inside our Gallery worked just as we hoped so next time we’ll probably add the same system to the outside wall. The color correct lighting really makes a difference when showing Art.
As you can see, we’ve added new furniture to the Gallery and it makes writing up orders and taking information so much easier. Drawers in the desk really help me stay organized and the wood adds a nice sleek and solid look.
The racks on the outside of the Gallery were less than successful and we’re looking into alternative systems to show the small prints.
Mary Ahern-Art Naturally booth at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, 2007.
In making the decision as to whether or not to blog I came up with a few Pro and Con positions.
Reason #1. Use the disciple of writing a blog to organize my thoughts. (I discussed this issue in my posting of 2007-12-5 Why Blog?)
Reason #2. Give back some of my knowledge of the world.
During this journey through life I have zigged and zagged through many fields of interest and a variety of careers. Often I’ve been asked to lecture on various subjects or to sit on a discussion panel of one subject or another. Several subjects I’ve spoken on in the past have been:
• Creativity and the Business of Art.
• “Creating, A Life” A presentation showing & discussing the evolution of an Artistic vision and the application of that vision as it applies to Fine Art, Business Development and Life in general.
• Careers for women in electronic publishing.
• Use of the Internet in a comprehensive marketing program designed for businesses in the field of horticulture.
• Use of color measurement and management devices in the development of multi-media design projects for use on the Internet and in print.
• Presentation of my fine arts catalog raisonne with a focus on the evolution of personal style and artistic influences.
• Electronic Paint Systems and Character Generators. Defining their use in creating graphics, illustration and design for television stations and production houses.
• The Shady Garden. Plants I grow and why.
• Garden tools I can’t live without.
• Techniques I use in my creation of my Digital Mixed Media Painting.
• “The Future Through Both Ends of the Looking Glass. Broadcast Computer Graphics. Where Has It Been and Where Is It Going?”
• Oil Painting techniques I’ve learned and use from studying the old master painters.
I could go on but compiling this list helped me to recognize that I have enough subjects and material to justify a blog. What a waste it is it if I keep this knowledge bottled up inside my head. I believe that some of my learned experiences will touch others in new, different and unexpected ways. Isn’t that where innovation and evolution comes from? I’m just part of the process.
There are quite a few reasons to blog or not to blog. I’ve struggled with justifying whether to spend my time writing, considering that I’m primarily a Visual Artist. Here are some of the thoughts I pursued as I worked towards a decision.
To Blog or Not To Blog?
1. Organize my thoughts.
2. Give back some of my knowledge to the world.
3. Open up my rather cloistered existence for greater conversation.
4. Drive people to my website.
5. Sell my Art.
1. I’ve never been naturally drawn to writing articles or letters to people.
2. I’m a bit of a hermit.
3. It will take time away from creating new Artwork.
4. I’m already too busy. (I’ve just added Pilates to my schedule)
5. If I’m going to do it I have to stay committed to it.
Obviously I’ve decided to Blog so here is an elaboration of one of the reasons.
Organize my thoughts.
I have a head full of ideas that it makes my brain spin. I want to write down and categorize the ideas, the priorities and the projects. I’ve always been a goal-oriented person and this is how I’ve always arrived at goals. And yes, I always arrive at my goals if I go about them systematically. So one of the things this blog is going to do is to help me create and organize my steps towards achieving my next goals. (Hopefully)