We had the good fortune of connecting with Briana Paxton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Briana, why did you pursue a creative career?
Creativity has been a part of my identity from a very young age. Many of my relatives are artists and musicians, so I come by it honestly. I started my own business, Briana Paxton Fine Art LLC in 2011, but it was mainly a side hustle. After working a series of deeply unfulfilling “real jobs,” I decided that my mental health and happiness are more important than a steady paycheck. About six months ago, I quit a particularly toxic job in order to focus on my business full-time
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a multimedia artist, art restorer, and firm believer that variety is the spice of life. I graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2010 with a BAFA in Studio Art. After graduating, I attended New Mexico State University where I received training in museum conservation. While at NMSU, I began my art career as an oil painter, painting horse portraits in my apartment’s kitchen. Due to the lack of job opportunities in museum conservation at the time, I decided to leave NMSU and start my own business.
I enjoy learning new things, so I tend to dabble in different media. As I mentioned earlier, I began my art career as an oil painter. My Dad is an equine veterinarian, so I grew up around horses and animals in general. Horse and pet portraits are my typical subject matter, but I also paint wildlife and landscapes. In addition to painting, I create intricate beaded skulls. My process is similar to the Mexican Huichol beaded skulls, but I hand-glue the beads into place rather than attach them with beeswax. My beadwork designs draw influence from patterns found among the world’ indigenous cultures. As a resident of southwest Colorado, I take considerable inspiration from local Native American pottery and textile designs.
Pursuing a career in art conservation was my initial plan going into college. However, museums were hit particularly hard during the 2008 recession and many struggled with basic funding for years afterward. So, finding a paid conservator position within a museum was going to be difficult. That was a deciding factor for striking out on my own.
Being a self-represented artist has been one of my greatest professional challenges. For the most part, my art business was a side hustle and supplemental income to my primary jobs. I went back to school in 2016 and earned a second bachelor’s degree, this time in business administration. In mid 2018, I was very fortunate to connect with Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango. The art restorer they had been working with retired, so I was able to step into her role. Toh-Atin has been instrumental in my business’ success in recent years and has paved the way for many new opportunities within Durango’s creative economy.
The art world is an ever-changing landscape, so creative entrepreneurs have to adapt with it. I feel that diversification has been key to my professional success over the years. If something doesn’t work, keep exploring new ideas until you find something that does.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Unfortunately, many of my favorite spots closed during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, downtown Durango has a lot to offer as far as food and shopping are concerned. Supporting small, independent, and family operated businesses is important to me, so I tend to frequent those locations. For lunch, I like to eat at Sizzling Siam. It is a small, family owned and operated Thai restaurant. I used to work next door and got to know the family pretty well. For dinner, I like to hit up Chimayo. They have an excellent wild mushroom pizza and one of the restaurant owners is a glass artist, which is a plus!
Durango recently received a creative district designation, so there are a bunch of art, music, and theatre related events throughout the year.
Durango is also a hub for outdoor recreation. No matter which direction you go, there is adventure to be found. I personally enjoy history and archaeology, so a trip west to Mesa Verde National Park or south to Aztec Ruins National Monument is usually on the itinerary.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First, I would like to thank Toh-Atin Gallery for affording me the opportunity to finally work for myself. Their steady supply of projects and referrals have been a significant boon for my business and professional credibility.
Secondly, I would like to thank my parents for their financial backing when I was first starting out. For displaying my artwork in their office, fielding questions and handing out business cards to potential customers. And for being my “roadies” at art fairs, hauling equipment and helping set up and break down booths.
Most of all, I would like to thank my partner, Matt, for being a grounding force in my life. For pushing me to be my best self, for encouraging me to pursue my dreams, and for putting in a good word whenever he can.