August 27, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: CEO Claire Lew Complements the Art of Leading a Business with the Art of Painting

What are you working on—on the side?

I spend my days as the CEO of Know Your Company, a software company that helps business owners overcome growing pains. We help 15,000+ employees at companies, like Airbnb and Kickstarter, build more open, honest workplace environments.

On the side, I love to paint. I typically paint with acrylics, but lately have been focused using oil on canvas. You can view my paintings on my personal site.

I grew up painting and drawing—thanks to my mother who is an artist and designer. I feel insanely lucky that she exposed me to creating things with my hands. Almost every day we were doing some sort of art project: making models of clay, doodling with markers, glueing masks, cutting out prints, you name it.

To this day, that exposure to art has affected the way I think and see things: space, color, light and perspective matter to me, because of it. I can tell art influences the choices I’ve made in running our software company, Know Your Company—whether it’s in how I design our powerpoint slides for my talks, or the design choices we make within the software itself. In fact, I illustrate all of our blog post images myself.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Whenever I’m in the mood for some alone time, I paint. This often happens on a Friday or Saturday night. Sometimes, I’ll do it on a weeknight. I’m an introvert, so alone time is key for me to feel recharged ツ

I try not to pressure myself to produce a certain number of pieces or finish something by a certain date. Running and growing a software company is hard and stressful enough, at times. So I try hard to make sure my painting never feels that way.

That’s the beauty of a side project: It’s supposed to be fun. Nothing more.

Why have a side project?

Painting is very much “therapy” to me. I try to paint whatever it is swirling in my mind or I’m feeling at the time. It is my way to give my emotions or thoughts a visual, physical manifestation of what they might be. The same way journaling or writing can help a person think through something more clearly, I see painting as being very similar.

Especially, being in front of a computer screen for 8 hours a day, if not more…I crave doing something physical with my hands, away from anything involved with technology.

Painting is also one of the few things I do for myself. It’s sole purpose is to make me feel good, and no one else. I think I have a tendency to want to give, give, give…which is a good thing! But it can wear you thin. Painting is one way I make sure I’m still giving something to myself.

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Diptych courtesy of Claire Lew.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

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