By Keysha Drexel
In order to live to life of her dreams, Dori DeCamillis said she has had to learn to take risks and to accept change.
The 49-year-old Hoover woman has constantly had to reinvent herself–and her art– as she forged ahead with her dreams of making a living as an artist.
Dori is the owner of Red Dot Gallery in Homewood and said in the art world, if you don’t keep evolving and changing and growing, you don’t make it.
“You can’t become too entrenched in any one thing. Everything is always changing, and you either have to embrace that and go with it, or you’re stuck,” she said.
By the time she was 29 years old, the Colorado native said, she was making a living as an artist but never really imagined that someday she would run her own art gallery and studio.
Dori spent three years living out of a RV with her ex-husband, traveling to art shows across the country. The couple settled in Birmingham in 1994 and had a daughter, Annabelle.
“About six years after we settled here, we split up, and I found myself a single mother with a child to support,” she said. “With my ex-husband, I had been painting these miniature landscape scenes, and he was going to continue with that. So, in addition to all the other changes, I had to change my art.”
That’s when Dori considered getting a desk job and backing off from her artwork.
“I would walk into these places on job interviews and see this sea of cubicles, and I knew I just couldn’t possibly do it,” she said. “I knew that I couldn’t stop being an artist any more than I could stop being a girl.”
So Dori set about finding a way to support herself and her daughter through her artwork. She took on students and traveled around the Birmingham area teaching painting classes.
“I also started painting these landscapes with big fluffy trees, and they helped us make ends meet, but I hated it,” she said. “That change taught me that as an artist, either I’m going to stay within my own artistic integrity or I won’t do it at all.”
Dori said it has always been “pretty scary” to reinvent her artistic style.
“For an artist, that can be career suicide. You have to start all over on the marketing and everything. For many people, making that change never works,” she said.
But Dori said she has always had a passion and a determination to do things on her own terms.
“I guess that has helped me survive–that stubbornness. You have to have the attitude that you are going to make a living doing what you want, no matter what,” she said.
After Dori remarried, she began thinking about changing her life again.
“I started thinking about opening a gallery and a studio. I wanted to try the next step in my art career. It was a major risk, but I knew it was something I had to try,” she said.
So Dori and her husband, Scott, decided to open Red Dot Gallery at Pepper Place.
“The whole time we’re working on setting everything up for the new business, I was thinking that I must be crazy. But it was that same determination and passion that kept me going,” she said.
Also helping her through the transition from artist and teacher to business owner, Dori said, were the wise words her daughter said to her one day.
“Annabelle was just 7 years old when we started the business, and she asked me why I was so worried, and I told her I was scared about opening a business,” she said. “She just looked at me and said, ‘You will never know until you try.’ Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.”
That same willingness to experiment also led to more artistic style changes for Dori.
For a few years, Dori did large panels with tile inlays on historical places in Alabama. She even received an Alabama Council on the Arts grant for the panels.
“But in the past couple of years, I started getting tired of those big panels, of the expense and the time-consuming nature of those pieces, so I decided to try something different,” she said.
Dori started creating 16×20 paintings of animals dressed up in costumes, just to please her own artistic sensibilities. The bonus, she said, was that people loved her new direction.
“That was for myself. I wanted to do more intimate paintings, and the funny thing is, they have been more popular than anything,” she said.
Even though she is a successful small business owner by any measure, Dori said she still doesn’t consider herself a business person.
“I don’t feel like a business person at all. I just filled out the form,” she said, laughing.
Dori said she feels very lucky to be able to earn a living as an artist and to share her passion with others.
She said without being able to embrace change and take risks, she never would be in the place she is now.
“Somewhere a long time ago, I guess I just decided that being a risk-taker was going to be easier for me than taking the traditional path,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean it has all been easy. It just means I worked through the scary parts, the hard parts.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘I didn’t say it was going to be easy, I said it was going to be worth it.’ Judy Garland said that, and it something that rings very true for me.”
Dori said her next adventure is writing about her artwork. She wrote one book about her travels with her ex-husband and a second book called “My Steamboat” about her childhood. Her third book, which she is working on now, is about her new paintings.
“Each step of the way, something new opens up and unfolds, and you have to be ready to take action,” she said.
For more information on Red Dot Gallery, go to http://reddotgallery.com.