Moonlighting: Pursuing Passions in Spare Time by Meredith Jean Morris

Moonlighting: Pursuing Passions in Spare Time
By Meredith Jean Morris

After a long workweek, many 863 residents look forward to a relaxing weekend spent with family and friends. However, for some, the weekend — and even a weeknight or two — offers the ideal time to moonlight. These creative folks pursue their hobbies and passions by working a second job.

“I wanted to make a difference in the community and utilize my skills in marketing and managing,” says Ashley Potter, a Polk County moonlighter. “I wanted to be a little creative and think outside the box. If you never try, you’ll never know.”

Potter owns Dog Shack, a business where she sells apparel for dogs of all shapes and sizes, including her own invention, Pawziez.

“I wanted to create a company that catered to all kinds of dogs,” says Potter, whose own canine pack includes five rescue dogs that range from 10 to 85 pounds. “I wanted to create something that was universal to all dogs.”

Potter developed Pawziez, a decoration for dog’s legs, as a way to dress up a dog.

“They stay in place,” she says. “Hairbows don’t always work for all dogs. Pawziez come in all sizes, from small to extra large — just like dogs.”

In addition to selling dog accessories, Dog Shack also promotes pet rescue.

While it might seem that Dog Shack is a time-consuming endeavor, it’s only Potter’s side job. She works as a master teacher for United Way, working in preschools in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties to support early language and literacy skills.

“I’m fortunate to have two jobs that I care so much about,” Potter says. “I believe in my company, and I believe in my product, just like I believe in United Way.”

Potter, who says her family and friends are very much her cheerleaders, isn’t the only one whose second job has gone to the dogs.

Sheri Fox, works by day for Engineers of Central Florida, and in her free time, she enjoys painting — specializing in pet portraits.

“I started painting seriously about 10 years ago,” Fox says. “I had played around with it for a while, but didn’t get serious about it until then.”

Fox’s interest in art started as a child, but after some art workshops and classes a decade ago, she realized her potential.

“We were painting a fish, and I realized mine didn’t look like everyone else’s,” she says of her experience at a marine painting workshop hosted at Arts Ensemble in Eloise. “Instead of ‘no, you can’t do that,’ I was encouraged. It hooked me to know it was OK to not follow the crowd and not stay in the box.”

While painting landscapes and portraits of people is enjoyable for Fox, she says she has found a niche — and a business — in painting portraits of people’s pets.

“I have animals of my own,” Fox says of how she started painting pet portraits. “I take commissions, and what I love about painting pets is when people tell me that even though I paint from photographs, that I can get out the character and emotion. [Customers will] say, ‘That’s exactly how they were.’ ”Maintaining a balance between work, family and painting isn’t always easy for Fox, she says.

“I’m always bouncing from one to the other,” she says. “Some days are a blur. I’ll work ’til 5 p.m., go to a Pilates class, get home and make dinner, and then I’m in the studio. If I can’t sleep at night, I’ll go to the studio to paint.”

On the weekends, Fox says she likes to spend time with her husband and their pets.

However, sometimes finding that time is a challenge. During the Christmas season, Fox says she had a lot of commissioned portraits to complete and experienced a little burnout after the busy period.

“Even when you’re feeling worn down, like you can’t take another step, just keep doing it,” she says of overcoming burnout. “It might feel forced for a minute, but you’ll get back into it and remember why you love it.”

Jay Thompson also is familiar with the idea of juggling a full-time job, family and a second career. The Winter Haven owner of Thompson’s Printing LLC, has been playing in bands he was 16 years old, balancing his musical passion with his day job.

Currently, he can be seen around the 863 singing lead vocals for Band Haven.

“We started Band Haven in 2008 or 2009,” Thompson says. “I had just gotten out of another band, and I wanted to be in a variety band that played all types of music. I talked with Duke Burr, who is another printer, and we decided to start Band Haven.”

The five-member band keeps an active schedule playing shows on weekends at community events, corporate events and weddings.

“Sometimes we play every weekend, but we like to keep it to half of the month,” Thompson says. “We usually play no Monday through Thursday or Sunday stuff.”

Practices are held once a month, on a Wednesday night right after work, he adds. Thompson has some advice for others looking to moonlight.

“First, test the waters to make sure it’s OK with your spouse,” he says. “Don’t go at it full force at the beginning, because it might be a shock. You’ll soon be able to sense what you can get away with.”

Thompson says he’s been in about 20 bands since his teenage years, but he feels that the time management is worth it.

“It’d be like if someone painted and they lost their arm and couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. “That’s what it’s like for me when I’m not singing in a band.”