We had the good fortune of connecting with Conan Zhao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Conan, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I think the line between work and life has definitely blurred a significant bit. Before when I worked a corporate 9-5 job, the difference was more distinct. Work is work, and when I got off work I never wanted to think about it again. I often hear from my coworkers that they’d go home and continue thinking about and doing work. I always listened to their weekend stories with suppressed confusion. I think even back then I knew I was not where I needed to be, if I hated work so much. Since I’ve started my own business, I can work all night and it never feels like doing overtime. Work and life are mixed harmoniously together. I used to have to steal time to work on my passion, and I’d call that life. Now I work on my passion for a living and it feels more organic and balanced. And I think that’s how I know I’m on the right track.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a professional fine artist who primarily paints in oil. My art can often be recognized by its stylistic rendering, backed by a solid composition. Most of my recent paintings are modeled after life that I have personally experienced: Jazz/Lindy Hop dance scenes, landscapes, along with inspirations and influences of my encounters. I often run these ideas through several drafts of composition, and ultimately render those compositions in a distinctive, soft, and atmospheric quality. For my art, the utmost importance is being able to demonstrate a solid aptitude with composition, which is why I often spend more time on the drafting stage than the actual paintings themselves. I never paint directly from and only from a photograph, always seeking to offer more than what cameras and Photoshop can. From there, I apply a rendering with a technique which comes from years of learning and developing. My goal is for the viewer to realize that my art is not about WHAT I paint, but HOW I paint them. While not quite abstract, my art often has a certain illustrative quality to its depictions. This digitalized age has lent great access to artists of all disciplines to easily showcase their work to the world. No longer are we geographically limited to where we operate, and no longer do we have to ask for permission of gallery owners before we can display our work. However the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that those same reasons can also cause your work to be buried amongst a sea of other artists if you don’t work on marketing and branding as much as you produce art. For me, I learned that it’s equally important to develop local relationships, meeting clients in person, and be patient in fostering those artist-collector relationships.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would definitely take them to the Aquarium. I’m a big fan of BBC’s Planet Earth, going to the Aquarium is like looking at those fascinating animals, but with air conditioning. I’d take them to Heirloom, one of my favorite BBQ joints; Tacos la Villa in Smyrna; Food Terminal in Chamblee; Hattie B’s Hot Chicken if they inspire such confidence; or the entire stretch of deliciousness in Duluth. Depending on the season, I really enjoy a stroll at Piedmont Park, lazily floating down the Chattahoochee River, or ice skating at Atlantic Station.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There were so many factors that nudged me in this direction along the way. One person whose encouragement definitely resonated with me is my friend Dave Gerber. He’s a professional life coach who had been my friend for many years before I formally solicited his service. Quitting a career that I dedicated a decade of my life for was not an easy decision, but over the years he really challenged the sources of my insecurities and helped me focus what really mattered.
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