One year ago, Paige Powell decided to become a full-time artist in Shreveport after quitting her job at a local casino.
In only a few months, her name became well-known on social media and at hip Shreveport events. Her artwork of The Strand graced the last Heliopolis cover, and her first show was a smash hit.
Fighting her timid nature, Paige Powell has thrust herself into the Shreveport Arts scene. While Powell has transformed the way we look at the Duck Pond or The Strand, the artist has undergone a metamorphosis herself.
Powell grew up taking art classes and started as a Fine Arts major in college.
“I always wanted to design record album art; it was how I was introduced to graphic design,” remembers Powell, at our interview at her temporary studio in artspace in downtown Shreveport.
However, Powell opted for a more stable career. Her Music & Business Management Degree led her to work for Stan “The Record Man” Lewis’s label and then the music industry in Dallas. In her spare time, she taught herself graphic design. Over the years, she worked her way up, from creating direct mail to designing a breadth of marketing materials. Eventually, she returned to Shreveport to work as a full-time, award-winning graphic designer for a Shreveport casino for 11 years.
“It was exciting to see my designs in so many different mediums, from billboards to backlit posters. But, eventually, I was cranking out work at warp speeds, and it all became redundant,” said Powell.
After Paige’s father passed away, she had an “aha” moment of perspective and realized she was ready to move on from her current career. She walked out of her office one day at 5:00 p.m, and never looked back.
After 6 months traveling across America, she returned to Shreveport ready to look for her next 9-to-5 gig. Instead, she signed up for a Downtown ArtWalk.
Powell exclaims, “I didn’t know what I was doing!”
Paige remembers sitting, terrified, in her car and on the verge of tears before setting up for her first public ArtWalk display. She brought out three posters and a painting and fought an uncomfortable shyness as she talked to guests.
Though still anxious, Powell started asking local businesses if she could set up a similar table – a “Pop Up” – to sell her art during special events. Through her persistence, this idea caught fire. Eventually, Powell was hosting one pop-up per week in addition to becoming a staple at ArtWalks. She promoted each event on social media and watched in surprise as her Instagram following grew and grew.
Though more necessary than deliberate, this strategy helped her build confidence in her work and to become more comfortable interacting with potential customers. Powell also built up her inventory and was able to put sales back into growing her business.
Her first pieces, the Couch Series, portray Powell’s friends sitting on a graphically-enhanced couch. The series combines the sensibility of a music album with the idea of a modern portrait, ultimately creating an image that reflects the individual’s personality.
Additionally, she wanted her art to be useful for customers, so Powell started making bags and purses with the compositions based on drawings she saved from babysitting her nephews.
“I like that [the bags are] art that we all share, rather that exclusively art that stays inside of someone’s house,” says Powell, “Though a friend texted me a picture of my bag being used in public, and that’s still so weird to see.”
Her Pop Up’s also gave her a plethora of feedback.
“While I don’t let other people dictate what I work on, I want to create things that create a response in others. I’m not a serious person, so I like when someone smiles at a piece and my sense of humor comes through,” she stated.
With this momentum, local businesses like Great Raft Brewery started reaching out to Powell to bring her Pop Up to them. Finally, she was applying her decade of marketing skills to herself, rather than a client, and was giving being an Artist, her dream, a shot.
Dutifully, Paige listened to podcasts on turning one’s passion into a business. She also attended eight weeks of SRAC’s Artist Up entrepreneurship course, finding both a cohort of like-minded Artists and business advice.
“I didn’t have a strategic plan,” says Powell humbly. “I’ve tried to say ‘yes’ to everything. I want to say ‘yes’ until I get too busy and can choose opportunities.”
Artistically, Powell started to incorporate Shreveport landmarks into a new 318 Collage series and posted them to Instagram. David Nelson, director of minicine?, took note. He encouraged her to develop the idea, and hosted her first solo show on May 31, 2018, at the informal and welcoming Texas Avenue venue. Again, Powell took initiative and created her own promotional postcards and gallery brochures.
New pieces like “The Duckpond” and “Norton” incorporated surrealist and saturated design elements, that bring the essence of places or architecture Powell loves to live.
About the popular collection, Powell says, “After moving back from Dallas a decade ago, I realized how much I love this community. Now, I’m tired of people doggin’ Shreveport. Let’s have some pride!”
“Also, the series opened up a lot of conversations,” Powell adds, as she points to a picture of The Strand and shares how a new customer told her the story of his first kiss at The Strand, back when it was a movie theater.
Most recently, Powell was selected as a Studio Artist in artspace where she has spent the summer working in a makeshift, public studio selling work and hosting demonstrations. Her work was also featured at the Meadows Museum of Art at Centenary College’s Midsummer Museum Crawl exhibition, and her pieces can be found for sale at the Agora Borealis, 318 Art, and artspace (Full disclosure: The author works with artspace.)
Although Paige has met and made opportunities, she noted that being a digital artist in a small city has interesting challenges.
Since Powell creates digital work, there’s no exclusive original and pieces can be printed on a variety of materials. Paige sees this as an opportunity and wants her Art to be affordable to as many people as possible (prices range from $20- $400).
Though, pricing artwork to support a professional career demands mollifying one’s self-doubt while also finding a receptive audience.
Paige notes, “The minicine? show blew my mind, but there is still something terrifying about selling work. Like, are they all going to call me tomorrow, realizing they made a mistake?”
Powell’s growth as a professional artist in Shreveport has been organic and authentic. Though she claims that she’s still getting her footing, Powell operates as an experienced small business owner.
At her work’s core, Paige is having fun, and she is sharing that joy through her whimsical, color-soaked creations. She summarizes, “I feel really supported, after a long period of time thinking that my art is too weird for Shreveport. I’m just happy to explore all of the opportunities here and then start branching out.”
As for the future, she has started animating her designs for social media, and she hopes to bring more light into her creations, echoing how her poster designs for the casino “popped” with backlighting or on a bright TV.
Also, just last week in artspace, a musician saw Powell’s favorite piece–one with her late mother–and he asked if she would create his record’s album art. Of course, Paige Powell said yes.