Buckhead resident Pat Fiorello has an impressive corporate resume. She’s a Harvard Business School graduate, and she’s worked in high-level marketing positions with major international companies, including Nabisco and Coca-Cola, the latter of which landed her in Buckhead in 1997.

Corporate life left her unfulfilled, so she took the drastic step of walking away from the corporate world to pursue a newfound passion for painting, an activity she once dismissed. With extreme dedication to the craft over the last 20 years, Fiorello has now joined the ranks of some of the top artists in the nation. In May, one of her works was selected as the Best Oil Painting in the prestigious PleinAir Salon Art Competition, a year-long contest that included over 11,000 paintings by more than 3,000 artists from 73 countries.

For Fiorello, her journey underscores her credo.

“If there is something you are interested in or passionate about, with dedication, work, and persistence, you can do anything,” she said. “You can change paths and still pursue excellence.”

Fiorello hopes her path from the corporate world to nationally recognized artist will inspire others to pursue their own passions.

An unconventional path to artist

Fiorello’s accomplishment is made more significant by her atypical path to painting, even beyond her career change.

“I’m not one of those people who knew they were going to be an artist since I was a child,” she said.

In fact, Fiorello actively avoided art classes as a kid. She distinctly remembers a third-grade teacher who would scream at students about cleaning up art supplies. It got to the point that Fiorello would make excuses, like feigning sickness, to avoid art class.

However, she discovered painting in what she calls a “low point” in her mid-30s. She was working for Coca-Cola and burned out. Seeking a way to “replenish” herself, she took a one-hour watercolor painting class on a whim. Though she describes the result as “refrigerator art,” the kind painted by a child and displayed on the fridge by their parents, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She continued learning and practicing.

“What I really discovered was my higher purpose was about developing beauty,” she said. “As an artist, my job is creating and sharing beauty to uplift people, and that became my true north. The corporate life didn’t fulfill my soul. And if my calling was to share beauty, love, and inspiration, I knew I had to make a change.”

From painting to teaching

At 43-years-old, she left her business pursuits to continue painting, and she threw herself completely into the craft. Over the last 20 years, Fiorello’s dedication has remained unabated, and she is helping to develop other painters in the process.

Fiorello now teaches painting classes, including at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Dunwoody, and she has hosted 20 international painting workshops in France, Italy, New Zealand and Spain.

She also compiled the book, “Bella Italia: Italy Through the Eyes of an Artist,” which includes 80 original oil and watercolor paintings highlighting the beauty of the country.

Fiorello says June marked the 40th anniversary of her graduating business school, so her working life is now bifurcated with 20 years in the corporate world and 20 years as an artist and instructor. She has no regrets about changing paths.

“Never give up if you are trying to do something that can enrich your life,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be like me making a full-blown career change; just make space in your life that’s creative and will fill your soul. It’s just a matter of making time for yourself.”  

Inspiration and dedication

Fiorello submitted her piece, “Wall of Flowers,” to the PleinAir Salon competition. It was inspired by a visit to a courtyard in Tuscany, Italy, and her surname, which is effectively in Latin, “wall of flowers.” She learned the piece earned the top spot for oil paintings in the competition while watching the award ceremony on her iPad in Italy, where she was hosting a painting workshop. She said hearing her name called was a shock, so much in so she had to watch the ceremony again to ensure she heard the announcement correctly. In addition to her surprise, she felt a feeling of intense accomplishment.

“Getting the award was really coming full circle from just starting to paint to actually developing myself and becoming a teacher,” she said. “To me, that was the significance of it. Not so much the award, but just the message to people that if you want to do something, even if it may be off track of what you were trained to do, you can do it. It took work, time, studying, practice, and commitment, but persistence over time really makes everything possible.”

That is the message Fiorello hopes to convey to her students. Creating art can be discouraging for children, she says, when they reach an age where their peers begin passing judgment. That’s when many kids self-opt out of artistic pursuits. Likely though, the kids who continue to pursue art are those who are encouraged, not discouraged, she said. There are also those who feel that some people just have the talent to create art while others don’t.

“As adult learners, people are impatient, and art is not a thing you instantly ‘get,’” Fiorello said. “Go to a museum, and you may forget it took people a lifetime to grow into their mastery. It takes practice, but it’s a learnable skill, and anyone can do it if they have an interest in it.”

Fiorello’s interest is in capturing nature and flowers, “Something that has a spark.”

“I want something that connects at a visceral or emotional level that makes me say, wow, that’s exciting, and I want to paint that and share it with others,” she said. “Nature takes us out of all the hurried and frenetic life to be present in beauty. That’s what I hope my paintings do for people.”

View more of Pat’s work at patfiorello.com