From Corporate Misery to Artistic Bliss: Carolyn Wonders' Journey Back to Art

Paige Simianer | June 30, 2023

Featured Artist Carolyn Wonders was "art-less" for decades.

While Wonders graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a Bachelor of Fine Art, she initially felt intimidated by the art world, leaving her passion behind and pursuing a corporate career in marketing.

She described her "art-less" days as miserable—never feeling any sense of belonging in the corporate world. 

After her career ended, she never wanted to see the inside of a conference room again. She started drawing as a hobby and quickly rediscovered her talent.

By redefining herself through her art career, Carolyn has discovered that true belonging begins by embracing oneself. With each brushstroke and every art piece, she learns to unapologetically and authentically express her unique self.

For Carolyn, art is so much more than mere decoration, background noise, or words on a page—it's an experience that touches the depths of our souls. 

"Art makes us feel more connected if we let it: whether it's to an idea, another human being, nature, love, whatever you call god, or the powerful spirit of an animal," she reflects.

In a world filled with social and political debates that leave us raw, triggered, and anxious, Carolyn believes that art can transcend the noise. It serves as a universal language, enabling us to see beyond the carefully constructed rhetoric that surrounds us. 

Artwork Archive had the chance to chat with Carolyn Wonders about her creative process, how she rediscovered her passion, and how Artwork Archive makes her art career more manageable! 

You can see more of her work on Discovery and learn more about her art practice below. 

Carolyn Wonders, 'Warrior Wounds 4', 30 x 25 x 2.5 in, 2023

You mention that you gave up art for a significant period of time in your life. What motivated you to start it up again? 

In school, I was in my element. But, I didn’t fit in with the other artists, and there weren’t many opportunities for artists back then. So, after graduating college with a Bachelor of Fine Art, I taught myself graphic design and went to work in marketing.

Slowly, the idea of being an artist became a pipe dream. I vowed to do creative work “on the side.” But, “on the side” turned into “not a priority, right now.” It vanished completely once the sheer survival mode of motherhood prioritized my every waking moment—and often my sleeping moments, too. 

For twenty years, I worked in business. It was unfulfilling, but I was willing to suck it up because I had mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay. My hands didn’t touch a paintbrush or pencil until October 2019.

The wheels came off when the kids became adults and were able to care for themselves. My discontent with the corporate world turned to misery, and it was becoming intolerable to continue a life I despised.

One afternoon, while organizing a storeroom, I came across a familiar box. It had moved with me to a dozen different apartments and homes in several cities, but I rarely opened it.

That day, I did. I let my fingers run over the items one at a time. A blue plastic box filled with half pencils and bits of charcoal, a beaten-up package of oil pastels, and a couple of shabby sketchpads. The box was from college.

It was all that was left of my art degree.

Then it hit me: this is what I had always wanted. It’s what my soul was craving; what was whispering in my ear.

Finding those art supplies stirred something inside me. That evening, I casually mentioned to my husband, John, that I was thinking of painting again.

Over the following two years, I dove head-first into painting, taking some online classes, resurrecting my skills, and meeting other artists. It didn’t take long for my old skills to resurface on canvas. 

After being out of town one weekend, I returned home to a 12x14-foot makeshift studio in the back part of a storage area above our garage. The attic had a subfloor and open rafters, so John had stapled plastic sheeting over the studs to keep the room dust- and mite-free, while adding some warmth in preparation for the winter. An artist’s easel was in one corner, and a drafting table in the other.

The gift was of a magnitude even John didn’t expect: this was my own space—a dedicated space just for me to create things. Here, I could do what I wanted with abandon, without apology, and free from others’ judgments or criticism.

I was a mess of tears ... happy, cleansing tears.


Your studio space in the attic sounds like a creative haven. How does your physical environment contribute to your artistic process? 

Virginia Wolf once wrote that women’s artistic and literary achievements would lag without dedicated space and time to pursue their creative talents. I get that so much. 

In my studio, I am unapologetically myself without any pressure to change or be someone different. There’s no pressure to conform. I can be anything I want in my studio. 

Having time and space for myself is key to my creative process. I have a "do not disturb" sign to keep family from innocently popping in when I’m in deep thought. 

It’s also organized according to my process. Everything I need is within reach. Paint tubes are organized by color. Trays are on wheels. Everything is easily managed. Nothing can be more frustrating for me than to be in the middle of a creative burst of energy and not be able to find some tool I need. I also have a large sink, and a nook with a refrigerator for storing water and snacks.

I have a grid showing my weekly work, so I know what I need to work on each day. I also often light a candle and drum on a little metal drum, summoning helpful energies to accompany me while I work.

There are four skylights in the ceiling, and the light streaming through brightens my mood as soon as I walk in the door.

But, when I paint, I like to control my own light; I am heavily focused on color, and controlling the light is key for my process. Natural light changes throughout the day and coming back to a painting after letting it sit for a night can be quite shocking under different light conditions.

I consulted with a skilled photographer about what lighting would work best in the studio, and I absolutely love the control I have with that lighting. I also tend to paint at night, so I don’t worry so much about all the light the skylights bring in.


The role of art in our modern lives is emphasized in your artist statement—particularly in navigating the social, political, and cultural debates that can leave us feeling raw and anxious. How do you see your artwork contributing to these dialogues?

I am sometimes drawn to paint portraits of those who have struggled with inequity and oppression, images that encompass our social, political, or cultural debates. I feel deeply connected to my subjects as I paint and attempt to translate the story I see in their eyes. 

My painting 'Ukrainian Sunflower Field' was inspired by the story of a middle-aged woman, enraged to see Russian soldiers in her neighborhood. She gave the soldier sunflower seeds and told him to put them in his pocket, so that when he died at least something could grow. I can’t fathom the nightmare she was living, but I can feel her sense of injustice.

Sometimes, though, what I think will start a dialogue does quite the opposite. For example, one would think the viewers of my George Floyd painting might provoke a lot of questions: What is that painting about? Why did you paint that? But when people look at it, they usually don’t say a word. Perhaps the silence speaks volumes.

As humans, we define ourselves by our beliefs. But, we don’t always see the errors in our thinking, the other ways to believe and exist.

Seeing the world through an artistic lens can penetrate the space between logic and belief.

Art can even shed light on humanity, putting a crack in an idea or belief we see as infallible.

As an artist, I want to challenge the filters we put on our thinking.

Carolyn Wonders, 'The Space Between', 36 x 36 x 1.5 in, 2023

What does success as an artist mean to you?

I already feel like a success.

I have finally satisfied my lifelong search for meaningful work. To have this peace, this knowing, was something I worked long and hard to find. It’s something that eluded me for most of my life.

Now, it’s here, right in front of me. I’m doing it. I’m doing work that I feel called to do, work that never disappoints, and never fails to satisfy, and I adjust according to my needs. 

That’s success to me. A dream come true.


What impact do you hope your artwork will have on viewers?

I paint for me.

I paint to express myself and contribute to the world of art. I don’t think too much about what impact my work will have on viewers, but I do hope someone will love my work as much as I loved creating it.

I have heard it described like this, and it makes sense to me: When an artist pours their energy into a piece of work, those who need or are attracted to that energy are drawn to it.

I’m not saying that’s true, but it does seem that each piece has its own unique DNA, and there’s a bit of magic that happens when someone meets their match.

Carolyn Wonders, 'Mom's Tomatoes', 2022

Why did you decide to use Artwork Archive to inventory and manage your artwork?

At some point, I looked around my studio and saw it was getting full of paintings.

I was losing track of things. I had a website at the time, but not everything was for sale.

Then, I started thinking about the pieces I had created on commission, hidden away in a folder for no one to see. My folders were a mess. My manager hat went on and I thought, “This must be fixed. I can’t run a business this way.”

I came across Artwork Archive and loved the idea of ONE point of access. One place to go for each piece that contained ALL the information about that piece: where it is, where it’s been, the dimensions, media, who it was sold to (if it was sold), etc.


How do you use Artwork Archive on a daily basis?

Now that the work is cataloged and quickly accessible anywhere I am, I use it in many ways! 

  • I recently used it to show a curator my work. I sent her a link via text. She was able to see all my work at a glance, and a few minutes later, she told me the names of the work she wanted to use. 
  • Artwork Archive is also integrated with my website. So, if I need to update something, I don’t have to update it in two places. I just update Artwork Archive, and it updates my site.
  • In the description section of each piece shown on my Public Profile, I’ve added purchase links for my website.
  • I have linked locations and dates for shows, and Artwork Archive automatically sends me reminders of when to pick up my work.
  • I am adding to my descriptions and updating my tags so my work can be found easier on search engines and the Artwork Archive search bar.
  • I recently had my first sale through Artwork Archive. The customer emailed me within the platform and told me which painting she wanted. Creating an invoice was a snap.

Carolyn Wonders, 'Happy Baby', 20 x 16 x 0.5 in, 2021

Can you share with us why you chose to use Artwork Archive's website embed feature for your art business? How has it benefited you?

Here’s what happened. I was searching for web solutions for organizational problems, and I came across Artwork Archive.

My first thought, being practical and having a background as a marketing manager, was: If there’s no integration, it would mean I would have to enter and update my artwork in two places to make sure I keep that straight. So, it was one of the features I looked for first. If it didn’t integrate with my website, I wouldn’t have signed up.


What was it like to set up this tool and how does it work for you?

I had a website designer. This is what she said about the setup of the web embed tool:

“Setting up this tool was the absolute easiest!"

With all of my collections set in Artwork Archive, I was able to go into the embed feature and generate the HTML code for each collection. On my website, it allows you to enter HTML code directly into a simple box frame and then resize it for optimal viewing.

I was able to copy the code directly out of Artwork Archive for each collection and paste it into the box frame on each corresponding collections page on my website. It allows my artwork to be displayed as if it was being viewed on the Artwork Archive website.

This tool is saving me so much time because it allows me to manage and update my artwork and collections in Artwork Archive and automatically update my website without any extra steps.

What advice would you give an emerging artist during this time?

I am an emerging artist. My advice to myself is to balance building your business with your creative time.

Don’t let the work run you; you run the work. If you are feeling crappy or stressed, stop, breathe, and ask yourself if what you are doing is getting you toward your goals and how you imagined being an artist would be.

When it feels bad, it’s because you are compromising your values, or someone else is making you crazy and distracting you, or you have forgotten who you are.

I would tell myself to write for pleasure more, to do my morning pages more often, and to take more walks.

I would tell her to take care of her body. I would tell her the most important thing of all – you are right where you are supposed to be at this moment. There is no hurry. You are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, right now.

The one thing I don’t have to tell her is that she’s worthy because, for the most part, she gets that now.

Most of all, I would tell her she doesn’t have to do everything.

It’s okay to enlist others to help. It’s okay to need an editor and pay for one. It’s ok to get someone to look at what you’ve done and organize it. It’s okay to rely on others to do tedious work that keeps you away from painting. It’s even okay to expect your husband to make dinner because you are working.

It’s the realization that no one achieves their goals alone. We all need the communities we create around us. We are interdependent.

Carolyn Wonders in her studio. Photo courtesy of the artist

Carolyn Wonders uses Artwork Archive to catalog her artwork, keep her website up-to-date, keep track of where her pieces are, and so much more. 

You can make an online portfolio, catalog your artwork, and generate reports like inventory reports, tear sheets, and invoices in seconds with Artwork Archive. Take a look at Artwork Archive's free trial and start growing your art business. 

Share This Article
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Cookie Policy