It was the creation and love of art that brought Stormy Mochal and Connie Twining together. The business partners own Outside the Lines Art Gallery, with locations in Dubuque and Galena, Ill.
“I saw Stormy’s artwork before I actually met her,” Twining said. “I was a parent volunteer at the Nativity School, and they had a mentor/mentee relationship with Loras College. Stormy had her senior show at Loras prior to graduation. The art chair, Tom Jewell-Vitale, suggested that I bring the children from the Nativity School over to see it as it was a colorful, joyful collection. Shortly afterwards, Stormy and I met when she did a show at the Rocco Buda Arts and Resource Center, where I served as chair of the gallery.”
After graduating from Loras with a degree in painting and art history, Mochal was an AmeriCorps member for two years, serving at St. Mark’s Community Center, Lincoln Elementary School and Carnegie-Stout Public Library. After the AmeriCorps term ended, she worked part time at the library and was a cocktail waitress at The Lift.
“I started to participate in juried art fairs in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin and sold at a few galleries in the tri-states area,” Mochal said. “I also taught art classes, often working three jobs at once.”
Twining, a Marine Corps spouse, traveled around the country and spent time in Japan.
“When my husband retired from the Marine Corps in 1994, we returned to Dubuque to be closer to family,” she said. “While my husband was in the Marine Corps, I spent a lot of time volunteering for a number of organizations including our children’s schools, humane societies, a thrift shop, gift shop, as an art auction coordinator and as the chair of the Rocco Buda Gallery, a nonprofit art gallery.”
Mochal was four years out of college when she decided that she wanted to open a brick-and-mortar art gallery with the goal to help artists blossom and sustain themselves.
“I called Connie in 2003 to brainstorm some ideas, and by the end of the conversation, I asked her if she would be my business partner,” Mochal said.
The first Outside the Lines Dubuque location opened in November 2003 in a tiny space that adjoined a coffee shop and an even smaller pottery gallery.
Mochal and Twining made a list of all of the artists they thought would be a good fit for the gallery.
“Our first couple years, we had almost all local artists,” Twining said. “Our timing was a fluke but a good fluke. There was a dearth of opportunities for artists to show their work, and we filled a pretty big need.”
The shop opened with 45 artists, including Mochal’s paintings. The gallery has moved twice to other locations, as more space to display art was needed.
“We also restructured the business model and evolved as we grew,” Twining said. “Who knew all those years ago where we’d be and what we’d be today?”
Now, the work of 150 artists from around the U.S. is featured at the Dubuque and Galena locations, which opened in 2014. About 70% of the artists featured are from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Outside the Lines also offers in-home and on-site corporate design consultations and installations.
Eddie, a border collie mix and official gallery dog, greets customers at both locations. Mochal brings him to work as she and her husband adopted Eddie from the humane society when he was 12 weeks old. Eddie turned 8 in June and has been the gallery dog since he was 1.
The mission of Outside the Lines is to offer high-quality, handmade items at affordable prices.
When Mochal and Twining look at an artist’s submitted portfolio, the first thing they ask is “will this appeal to our customers and would I buy this if I saw it in a gallery for myself or as a gift?”
They also look for a high level of craftsmanship in the work, the presentation, the ability of an artist to produce the level of work to maintain a selling relationship and if the work is within a retail price point that the gallery customers are willing to pay.
Mochal sells her artwork in the gallery, but because of the time demands of having two locations, she took a hiatus from painting for about four years and recently started up again.
“I find inspiration everywhere, and my work contains farmhouses, starry-filled skies, birds, flowers and people,” she said.
Mochal also illustrated the children’s book, “The Juggler,” written by Jeanette Hopkins and published by Ice Cube Press.
Twining describes herself as more of a craftsman rather than a fine artist. She explored metal and wire sculpture and original design jewelry.
“I created one-of-a-kind jewelry for Outside the Lines for a few years,” she said. “It opened my eyes to the amount of work it takes an artist to keep a gallery’s need fulfilled. I have the utmost respect for artists who have the passion to make art their priority. Their dedication is beyond admirable.”
Both agree that forming relationships with the artists, as well as their customers, is one of the rewards of owning a business.
“We know all of our artists personally which enables us to accurately describe their processes and products,” Mochal said.
“Getting to know our customers and building relationships with them is beyond satisfying,” Twining said. “Also, knowing that we’ve made an impact on the people in our community is incredibly fulfilling. We’ve known some of our customers since they were kids coming into the gallery with their parents.”
Jill Carlson is a freelance writer from Madison, Wis.