Off Beat Characters

Quitting Her Day Job: One Utah Artist’s Journey

Former Utah corporate designer moves into a career as a full-time artist. How did she do it? Find out here.


Heath Ackley
Heather Ackley

Eighteen months ago Heather Ackley was working for Franklin Covey doing design work. In May of this year she had her first solo art exhibit at Mod a-go-go.

From one point to the next how are dreams fulfilled? For Heather, it happened when a friend commissioned a portrait of her dogs. Heather’s first inclination was to do a drawing of the dogs, but the friend suggested she try oils, which she had never before attempted.

She took a leap of faith with the urging of her friend. “You need to do this.” The dog portrait was a success and through word of mouth Heather started getting one to two commissions a month. She cut back to part-time at her job with Franklin Covey. When the commissions grew to one or two a week, she quit Covey and became a full-time painter.

“I grew up doing art, mostly drawing,” says Ackley. “My parents gave me as many notebooks as I could fill.” In college she wanted a major that would combine her artistic talents with a steady income, so she enrolled in graphic design classes. In addition to Franklin Covey, Heather designed, wrote and illustrated greeting cards for a time.

Ackley studies and admires traditional portrait artists, but tries not to model her style after anything else she sees. One of her favorites is PBS’s Bob Ross. She remembers watching his show with her dad when she was younger, and admired the artist’s enthusiasm and spirit. “He’s my dude,” she says.

Her work focuses on wildlife and portraits of people. She likes to focus on faces and says, “Eyes bring life to a painting and when they’re not right there is no spark. It is so challenging to try and convey emotion through the features of the face.”

In January of this year, Mod a-go-go owners Marcus Gibby and Eric Morley approached Ackley about doing a show. It would be her first solo show and they felt she could both bring a crowd and grow as an artist.

Heather_Ackley-8170Mod a-go-go opened in 2013 and Heather has been there from the beginning, displaying her art along with other local artists. The store offers, “middle class mid-century furniture” according to Gibby.

Gibby’s and Morley’s business model started when they realized how many talented artists there were in Salt Lake who needed a good venue to display their work. New artists trying to break in were “doomed” to coffee shops and restaurants, not always ideal venues to sell art. While higher-end galleries primarily feature established artists, Gibby’s and Morley’s genius was to offer a setting for budding artists to show their work and get noticed.

Heather’s show was a first for her and the store. Getting ready for the show, Heather says, “I was feverishly finishing a few pieces, so I didn’t have too much time to be stressed or nervous, which was a blessing. I was definitely nervous to be the center of attention and speak to so many people in one evening.”

Her showed opened May 16th with a reception. Heather feels the night was a success. The crowd was large and appreciative. “Everyone was so kind and enthusiastic for me, which was quite touching.” The show will be displayed upstairs at Mod a-go-go until the next Gallery Stroll on the third Friday in June.

Besides commissions, Heather is continuing to experiment with technique and subject matter. Right now she feels “the sky’s the limit. As I grow and learn and stay inspired, I get better and it will be amazing.”

Heather’s website is Mod a-go-go is located at 242 East South Temple.

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