There’s a story Carrie Jadus tells just about every time she’s tasked to talk in front of a group of people. Five years into her career as an electrical engineer, she was sitting in her car, eating her lunch, in the Honeywell parking lot. She was 30 years old.
On a radio call-in show, people over the age of 80 were talking about their biggest regrets. “And so I thought, if I kept living life the way I’m living it, if I was 80 right now, what would my biggest regret be?”
For a while, Jadus recalls, she’d been nursing the nagging feeling that something “wasn’t right” about her trajectory. “And I just immediately knew if I did not pursue art, while I was young, and not just become a retired artist, I would be very regretful.”
Today, 13 years after “The Sandwich in the Car Moment,” as she calls it, Carrie Jadus is not only one of St. Petersburg’s most successful fine artists – her impressionistic oils hang in galleries, offices and private homes in every corner of the bay area – she is a co-founder and cornerstone of the three-acre Warehouse Arts District, the hurricane-eye of the city’s ongoing artistic renaissance.
Jadus, who grew up in Tampa, says she knew from a young age that she was destined to be an artist. “I would sit at the table and draw, really quietly,” she remembers, “and my parents were like ‘Wow, that’s really good!’ Probably keeping me quiet.
“And I was so happy that they were happy with what I did, and kept on doing it. And I loved the idea of looking at things in three dimensions and then putting them on paper. That always intrigued me as a child.”
At 12, she received her first set of paints – her debut canvas, a “really bad” portrait of a pelican, still hangs in her parents’ garage. She laughs every time she sees it. The learning curve, she discovered, was going to be rather large.
She attended Gibbs High School’s in-house Pinellas County Center for the Arts (PCCA), and although her skills had been suitably honed, she switched gears and decided that a career in art was simply too risky – the road to success, of course, is littered with the remains of creative types who tried and failed.
So she “got responsible.” A whiz at math and science, with an analytical, problem-solving mind, she enrolled at the University of South Florida and got a BS in electrical engineering. After traveling Europe on a work visa, she came home and got to work.
Next, that “regretful” radio show changed her mind. Jadus, who describes herself as “patient and determined” and a woman who’ll follow every dream to its conclusion, read everything she could find about making a living as an artist. She created a lengthy, detailed business plan, and took the money earmarked for a new car and bought supplies. “I worked my ass off and didn’t look back,” she says.
The hurdles were many: At the same time, she was the mother of two young sons, and in the middle of a divorce. Could she make the switch?
“I had a moment where I considered going back, shortly after my divorce,” Jadus says. “I went in for an interview, and as I was sitting there, there was a sign hanging on a cubicle that said Smile – Things Could Be Worse. And that whole environment, people just living this cubicle life … I couldn’t go back to that. I couldn’t wait to get home. And I thought ‘I don’t care if my kids and I have to eat Ramen noodles for years, I am not doing this.’
“The next day, a woman I had worked with on a project called and asked me if I would be her official portrait artist for her clients. And that was almost like a door opened, after I had made the decision to close the engineering door.”
So “The Ramen Noodle Moment” never arrived. “There were times when I had an electric bill to pay, and I was like ‘OK, I need to paint something and sell it by next week,’” Jadus smiles.
“And then there came this day when I was six months booked with commission work, and I thought ‘I think I’m going to make it.’”
Jadus’ Soft Water Studios is a loft and gallery in the main Warehouse Arts facility. She’s there most days, painting, and still tweaking that original business plan. “My formula changes probably every year due to something a little bit different,” she explains. “I’ve been getting bigger commissions and jobs now, where I do less smaller pieces.” This year, she’ll paint the poster art for the 10th anniversary season of St. Pete Preservation’s Movies in the Park series.
In 2017, Jadus married sculptor Mark Aeling, whose MGA Studios is next door to Soft Water. The pair signed a business agreement, leasing the 50,000-square-foot space together, when they were dating. And the Warehouse Arts District, with its centrally-located Arts Xchange gallery and studio space, grew from there. All 28 of the initial studios were rented before move-in day.
You’ll find them both there during the Arts Alliance’s monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk event, along with the other artists who lease workspace in the neighborhood.
“Meeting and greeting,” Jadus says, was never one of her favorite activities. Learning how to do it, and how to get good at it, was all right there in the first draft of her business plan.
“One of my big secrets of being successful is forcing myself to communicate with other people,” she says.
“I’m not naturally an extrovert, or an expert at socializing. But when I first started my art business, one of the things I had to work on getting over was shyness. I wanted to make a living making art so badly that I was willing to give myself obstacles to overcome. Like if there was an art show, or an event, I would volunteer to paint there if I couldn’t buy a ticket. While I was there, I would say to myself ‘Tonight, I’m going to meet 15 new people. I’m going to ask them how they’re doing, I’m going to get to know them …’ It was really hard. At the end of the night I would be absolutely exhausted. It was so out of my element, my palms would sweat.”
People are more inclined to like your art, she says, if they like you.
And now that she’s a veteran, she can see others facing the same hurdles. “We’ll have guest artists showing here, and they won’t say a word to anyone,” Jadus explains. “They’ll just … hide. And I think that’s your first instinct.
“You’re putting yourself and your work out there; you want it so badly to be well-received. But it’s really scary.”