When most people find out they’re being laid off from their job, they usually switch into self-preservation mode or, possibly, depression.

Carmen Cano did exactly the opposite.

She went into her home studio and started painting for a purpose — helping the homeless. In fact, at the time of this interview, she’d been painting for the past 90 days straight with 10 more to go. Cano said the challenge of coming up with new ideas to paint each day has been therapeutic. It was about the same time this Gutsy Broad found out she would be losing her job that she toured a homeless center in her hometown of Seattle. Cano said her experience was so moving, she knew she had to do something to help.

“I decided to do one [painting] a day for 100 days and I’m selling them for $100 each,” Cano said, adding that 100 percent of the proceeds are going to DESC (Downtown Emergency Services Center) in Seattle. Her paintings can be seen and purchased through her Etsy shop.

“La Dama Incognita” by Carmen Cano. See more of her work on her Etsy shop.

DESC partners with the city of Seattle to end the homelessness of vulnerable people, particularly those living with serious mental illness or addiction, according to its website. It serves about 1,400 people each day and sleeps about 400 each night.

A life-long artist and wordsmith, Cano has been involved in publishing and media for most of her career.

“I love books and words, and I love being part of something meaningful. Being in media makes you feel that you are part of something greater than yourself,” she said.

In her most recent role, Cano served as vice president of customer experience at Getty Images. Prior to Getty, she was general manager of innovation and digital products at The Dallas Morning News. Other positions have included design director for CBS Sports and the Seattle Times newspaper.

“I started getting involved in news in the early ’90s, in Spain, by pioneering interactive solutions for digital news in CD-ROM,” she said. “I also did illustrations for El Mundo and El Sol (now defunct).”

“The memory of a wave is a bird” by Carmen Cano. See more on Etsy.

Cano, originally from Madrid, isn’t new to risk-taking, which makes it easy to understand how she can be so focused on helping others, while facing her own challenges.

She moved to the U.S. in 1997, after only one visit.

In the ’90s, Cano taught herself to code and spooled up a website where she displayed her art. People would occasionally email her about her work, but there was one person from the U.S. who contacted her and “it was different.”

The pair continued communicating through email for about a year. Finally, Cano decided to come to the U.S. and meet the man with whom she’d built a long-distance cyber-relationship. She’d never been to the states and although she could write and read English, she didn’t speak it.

“It was a crazy and beautiful experience,” she said.

After her visit, Cano returned to Madrid and told her family she was moving to America — to get married.

Her family thought she was nuts, but she knew it was meant to be, she told me.

“I knew I had to give it a try or I would regret if for the rest of my life,” Cano said.

Cano, who taught herself to speak English, and her husband have now been married for 20 years.

“What you see besides the moon” by Carmen Cano. See more on Etsy.

And, in a similar way, it’s her art that has been the catalyst empowering her to take a chance, again, even while facing uncertainty in her career.

She wants others to be aware of homelessness and understand that everyone is vulnerable.

“[The message] I wish I could convey is that homelessness is not a personality trait,” Cano said.

Of course, she’s looking to go back to work because, as she said, “that’s what pays the bills,” but for now, she wants her to use her talents and her time to make a difference for others.

See the rest of Cano’s work here.

About the author:

Jana J. Pruet is a Dallas native and award-winning journalist. She has written for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and many other media outlets.

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