Grace Chon is a former art director in the advertising industry and self taught photographer. She merges her art director background with her photography work, creating modern, lifestyle portraits of people and animals. Her clients include ad agencies, magazines, publishing companies, celebrities, non-profit organizations and TV shows.
When she’s not writing about herself in the third person, Grace likes to go hiking with her dogs, meditate, and grow organic heirloom tomatoes. She makes a mean guacamole (want to challenge her to a guac-off?) and really hates Comic Sans.
Grace is also the author of 2 dog photography books, Waggish: Dogs Smiling For Dog Reasons and Puppy Styled: Japanese Dog Grooming, Before and After.
She lives in LA with her family and their beloved rescue dogs, Maeby and Zoey.
Tell us a little bit about your history. How did you end up being a Animal Photographer and author?
I’m a pre-med major that graduated with a Biology degree and went right to art school to study advertising and design. I’m so thankful I realized in college that I couldn’t go down the wrong path, just because my mom wanted me to. While working in the advertising industry as an art director, I realized I was so incredibly stressed out and unhappy. I had worked so hard to make this pivot into creativity, and it was making me miserable. The hours, the work culture, and the stress were overwhelming. To find some happiness, I started taking headshots of homeless dogs to help them get adopted. That turned into a side hustle pet photography business, that I built while working by day at the ad agency, and on nights and weekends as a photographer. After 9 months, I ended up quitting my job to focus full time on animal photography and haven’t looked back! That was 11 years ago, and now I shoot images for ad agencies, magazines, celebrities, publishing companies, and more. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have 2 dog photography books published.
Photo credit: www.gracechon.com
We love what you are doing with Creativity School it has the same spirit we are trying to do here, to help others unleash their creativity, greatness and inspire others. How did this idea begin and what has been the process for you to get to the point of finally starting the podcast?
I truly believe everyone is creative! I look at creativity simply as human expression, an energy inside us that wants to be birthed into the world. It’s an energy that can’t be ignored – to stifle it is to deny such a natural part of ourselves. And I know first hand that when you allow this energy to unfold, it can lead you down some pretty magical paths. My entire career over the last 11 years has been a magical unfolding of this energy, and I really want people to feel empowered to pursue their own creative journeys. I’ve always been really attracted to people who have had the courage to follow their creative passions, and especially those who have turned them into businesses. The podcast is really a celebration of people like that, and also a motivational message for those that want to begin their own journeys.
I was really, really nervous about starting this podcast. I fought through an immense amount of self doubt and my fears of being seen and heard. It’s really easy for me to put my photography work out there, but not my innermost thoughts! Most photographers do NOT feel comfortable being on the other side of the camera, myself included. Being honest and vulnerable on a podcast is 1000x scarier than having my photograph taken. But the message was too strong to ignore, and I took my own best advice and did it anyway. The podcast really is a journey of me biting the bullet and practicing what I preach!
What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve had to deal with in your business and how you overcame them?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is to overcome the limiting belief that I can’t make money doing what I love. My parents really drilled into my head for the first 22 years of my life that the only way to make a comfortable living is being a doctor, lawyer or other “professional jobs.” I had no idea how deep these feelings about money and creativity went, even when I started my photography business. In the early days, I couldn’t even look at my bank statements! I’ve done a ton of inner work regarding this belief – I’ve dug deep to uncover the link between my feelings about money, what I’ve been taught about money, and most of all to truly know that I can make a successful living doing what I love, on my terms!
Photo courtesy of Grace Chon.
You fill many shoe shoes in your business. How do you balance work and family life? And any tips you can share?
As I’m sure everyone knows, it’s SO INCREDIBLY HARD. I’m trying to work more efficiently and be better with my time during the day while my son is at school. I am consciously trying to look at my phone less, and try to prioritize my emails. I used to be so reactive with emails and feel like anytime something came in I had to respond right away. Now I don’t mind making people wait if it’s not urgent. I also recently started waking up really early, a few hours before my family does. I love working during this time!
What has been your favorite project and/or career highlight?
I think my latest book Puppy Styled has been my favorite project so far. It’s a photo series of dogs before and after their Japanese style dog grooming. It started out as a personal project that was really fun to shoot, because it was a collaboration with an entire team of extremely talented dog groomers. The series went viral, and turned into a book. The success of the series and book was really fun for me because it was such a collaborative thing, and celebrating it with a group of people was awesome.
Photo credit: www.gracechon.com
Do you have a signature style when it comes to your designs? What’s your process for creating and where do you look for inspiration?
My photography has consistently been very bright, cheerful, and happy! I like people to feel something when they look at my work, whether they feel something tugging at their heartstrings, or belly laugh because an image is so funny. I find my inspiration everywhere – I read a lot, love pop culture, love looking at magazines for photo inspiration, and nature. Nature is probably my biggest inspiration.
Does your son know a lot about all the amazing things that you do? What parts of your work do you feel are worth teaching him, even if they don’t choose to follow your footsteps?
My son definitely knows about my photography. One of the best things ever was when I got to share my first book, Waggish, with him when he was 4 years old. Reading the book with him and watching him react to the photos and captions was one of the highlights of my career! I always dedicate my books to my son and husband, so it was really cool to show him his name in the book too. It was always extremely important to me to have my son respect and have empathy for animals, and I think my work is a reflection of that. I’m glad I get to demonstrate that to him not just through the relationship we have with our dogs, but also through my work.
Photo courtesty of Grace Chon.
What are some of your favorite things to do, places to go and events to attend with your kids that spark their creativity
I love spending time with him in our vegetable garden. The backyard is such a wonderful place full of curious things. We marvel at the little insects in the dirt, we look at how flowers turn into vegetables, we watch ants. It’s such a marvelous time of being connected to nature and being fully present.
Do you have tips, resources or tools that you would like to share with other creative moms and moms out there?
I think it’s really important to pay attention to the things your children gravitate towards, and give them opportunities to be exposed to those things more. It allows children to like the things they like, and learn to get good at the things they like. It’s so great for building confidence, which leads to becoming a confident adult. I also think it’s important not to be attached to any outcome – meaning, if your kid loves drawing and shows talent for it, the end goal doesn’t have to be that they turn into the next Picasso. I feel like there’s so much pressure for children to achieve and be successful, and we should just allow them to have fun, be curious, and tap into the things they naturally enjoy, regardless of what happens with their talent.
Are there any tools you would recommend for other creative moms out there starting up a business?
Anything to stop being distracted by your phone – https://freedom.to/ for your web browser, or an app like Forest to keep you off your phone while you work. We are such busy people with such limited time, it’s so important to be efficient with the little time we have.
Most animals are hard to photograph. Do you have any tips for us novices trying to photograph our pets?
I tell people to approach pet photography like training – get a handful of their favorite treats (the more high reward the better – don’t use dry biscuit treats!), and reward them with the treat when they do something you like. Also use squeaky toys to get their attention! You can watch all this in action in this video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0u_Q6ay9ls
Finally, any good advice that you’ve received or words that have motivated you?
Nike said it best – just do it.