Lorraine Potocki earned an art degree, then worked 29 years in the corporate world. But when her position was cut in 2008, she turned to her passion. "I've always wanted to be an artist," said Potocki, 59. "I started Florida Pastels LLC in February of 2008 and never looked back. I'm finally doing what I always knew I was meant to do." This weekend, she is the featured artist at the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce Fine Arts and Crafts Festival. More than 100 artists will display their work at the juried fine arts show Saturday and Sunday.
Potocki worked in marketing at various health care companies for nearly three decades. When she lost her job, she said she could have tried to find another. But the artist in her was calling.
While starting her own art business, Potocki worked at odd jobs to help pay the bills.
She sold Tampa Bay Super Bowl T-shirts at the airport. Greeted people at conventions.
Her latest temporary gig is a nine-week long-term substitute teaching assignment at Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg. It ends Dec. 10, but she'll remain busy, thanks to her art.
She sells pastels of untouched Florida, gives private lessons in her studio, wins art contests and presents workshops. She has even been commissioned to paint an animal lover's deceased pet. Potocki says whatever she does, she will have her heart in it.
"If someone asked me to paint, say an acrylic, I'd graciously decline," Potocki said. "Recommend another artist. Only because I want to do what I'm known for. Do what I love."
In less than three years, Potocki has grown her business one step at a time. As part of that effort, she believes giving back is important.
She donates art to charitable causes. Speaks at local libraries. Teaches community workshops.
"People are finally starting to say, I know your name," Potocki said. "Or didn't I hear you speak? I look at everything as an opportunity. My corporate work was training ground for any business.
"Many artists don't have that background so when they get into their art, they don't know what to do next. In any business, you need to be patient, know where to go if one thing isn't working, and just be out there."
Being out there earned Potocki third place in the "Fall in Furniture Love" Scan Design Competition, Tampa region. Doing what she loves got her featured in Tampa Bay Magazine's July/August 2009 issue. She was also the 2009 United Way Volunteer of the Year in arts and recreation recipient for working with Baka Equestrian Center's Horses for the Handicapped in Tampa.
Potocki's design won the 2010 Clearwater Jazz Holiday Poster competition.
"It was thrilling to walk around and see my posters everywhere," she said. "To see people wearing my design on T-shirts and have people ask me to sign them."
Potocki's latest T-shirt design comes from her pastel Time and Tide. It features a combination of scenes in the Greater Palm Harbor area and will be featured on T-shirts at the festival.
The donated Time and Tide pastel also will be auctioned at Evening Extraordinaire: A Moment in Time on Feb. 18. Proceeds go to the chamber, which funds a $1,000 scholarship to a Palm Harbor senior pursuing an art career.
"Our featured artist has captured Palm Harbor in pastels incorporating the Main Street clock, which Palm Harbor Rotary donated, the dog and boats known to people on Crystal Beach," said Connie Davis, president and CEO of the chamber. "The pastel is stunning."
Ask Potocki how she feels about receiving the hometown honor and she lights up.
"It's a humbling experience," she said. "I love Palm Harbor and being in Florida. … It's a great opportunity. An absolute thrill. Something that will always be."