For Jessica Paola Gamez, Owner of Pao Pics, art and music are more than just creative expressions of one's passions, interests, stories and life experiences – they provide opportunities for healing and growth. Originally from Miami, Gamez moved with her parents to Dade City when she was just eight years old. Her parents wanted a change of scenery, more land and a quieter place to raise their two kids. Two years prior, a traumatic experience set the stage for her journey as an artist and an entrepreneur.
“When I was six years old, my appendix ruptured,” she said. “They didn’t find out until about a week later. I was in really bad shape. To make things worse, I woke up during surgery. The pain and trauma from that experience stuck with me for a while. While in the hospital recovering, I started to draw. It was something I could do to take my mind off of everything.”
With a musically inclined father and an artistic mother, Gamez certainly had the creative genes to do something special. After recovering from surgery, she did ballet, jazz, tap, music lessons and also started painting. Unfortunately, because of her traumatic experience, and subsequent anxiety and depression, she experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a difficult time for Gamez, but also one that led her further down the path of using her creative expressions as an outlet for healing.
After graduating from Full Sail University with a Bachelor’s in Film and Business, Gamez started working as a freelance artist. She did portraits and paintings while also working part-time at a local vitamin shop in Dade City. In early 2020, she started a 9 week “business crash course” with Pasco County Economic Development called SMARTStart. As Gamez shared, the program, intended to expose entrepreneurs to the many elements of starting and growing a business, gave her a much needed boost to launch her business.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “I learned how to budget, how to promote my business and how to get my mind in the right place.”
In July, Gamez officially launched her business providing portraits, paintings, mosaics and art therapy sessions – the latter of which is the main focus of her business. From her experience as a freelancer and from inspiration drawn from Bob Ross, the iconic American painter known for his “happy little trees” and someone Gamez admired as a kid, she came to the conclusion that art can be as therapeutic as going to church, the gym or even traditional therapy sessions.
“For me, I found that through art, there’s so much more than just painting,” she said. “I decided to focus on art therapy sessions. I do 30, 60 and 90 minute sessions where people come to me to paint or sculpt as a way to heal, rekindle their marriage, deal with something they’re struggling with or to help their autistic child reduce their symptoms and provide an outlet for self-expression. Creating art is a great way to let go of something that’s causing you pain.”
Gamez is generating revenue through her art therapy sessions and also through various art projects for individual clients. She recently completed a mermaid mosaic for a new pool build. The client had been waiting for 5 years to build the pool because they wanted the right artist. When they discovered Gamez, they knew the found the right person.
“It took about two months,” Gamez said. “The project also turned into art therapy sessions as I got to know the owner. Because of that experience, I’m now working with a pool company to help promote that side of my business.”
Looking ahead, Gamez is focused on taking her business online, making courses and sessions available through an ‘on-demand’ format and expanding upon a comic she started based on mental illness. The comic, called Upside Down Smiles, is used to show those dealing with mental struggles that they’re not alone. She also understands the importance of reaching those that aren’t easily accessible. Long term, her goals are to own a studio with multiple mediums of art forms.
What advice does Gamez have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Make small achievable goals that will lead to bigger goals,” she said. “Also, make sure you give it all you got, even if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s worth it in the end.”