When Hannah Davis’s cousin in Charlotte, North Carolina, mentioned plans to commission a portrait of his child for $10,000 Davis imagined the child squirming for hours as the picture was painted for an exorbitant price.
By blending Southern charm and Asian artistry, Davis found an effective solution to the dilemma; Art Gallery Originals  was born.
Davis, a Princeton graduate, worked in the banking industry, but had long dreamed of entrepreneurship. An extensive traveler, she had spent a lot of time in Asia, including China. After the conversation with her cousin, a business idea clicked. She would match Chinese artists with American buyers. After all, she knew that top-tier artists in China would work for lower wages than their American counterparts.
And so, with the help of a Chinese business partner, she began to sketch the business model for Art Gallery Originals. A photo would be stretched to fit a frame, which a Shanghai-based artist would use to create a portrait with oils on canvas. The cost, for a small painting, would be less than $1,000.
“I just created a business based on what I love,” says Davis, whose grandmother was an artist. “I’m not a good artist myself, but I must admit that I’ve got a good eye… especially a good sales eye.”
Several years later, business is booming, especially in the Southeast, where child portraiture is a longtime tradition. Her most successful markets are Atlanta, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Nashville, though she’ll travel anywhere.
“Two years ago, I had never been to Birmingham,” she says, having now driven back and forth several times between the Alabama city and her headquarters in Winston Salem. “But with the word of mouth of our clients, one opportunity has led to another. That’s where quality work will get you.”
We asked Davis to talk about some of the qualities necessary for an entrepreneur to be successful. Here’s what she said:
“When things didn’t work out on the first try, I knew right away to try something new. There’s a difference between persistence and ignorance, so it’s very important that if something isn’t going to work, to move on with unbridled hope for the next try.”
“That creative spark isn’t always there, but if it isn’t—wait for it. Don’t hasten into a business venture if you don’t think it will work. The ideas that are most successful—and most rewarding—are always more creative.”
“So you want to start a business. But businesswomen will understand that a lip-balm venture is a tough start-up. You’ve got a thousand tubes of your product, but they’re selling at twenty-five cents apiece. Where does your fortune come from? And how long will it take? Again, wait for the idea that will thrust you toward success, not make you scratch and claw for it.”
“Things always take a lot longer and cost a lot more than you plan for, so you have to be ready to work around the clock, especially at the beginning, to make ends meet and make things happen. Does it help me that I’m single? Probably, because I can give my business 24-7 attention. And that sounds like a pain, but for me, it’s the beauty and the joy. I wanted a journey of personal growth. And I got it.”