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Family Legacy

Jessica Gustafson follows in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother to become a professional painter

11 April, 2024

hree generations of women painters on an exterior repaint.

“Being in painting and owning my own business is definitely what I was born to do, I always tell my clients ‘I didn't choose painting, painting chose me!’” says Jessica Gustafson owner and operator of JLG Sharpline Painting, LLC in Bismark, ND. 

Even though she will tell you she was born to own her own painting business, she didn’t always know it. Unlike many young women, Gustafson grew up in a family that illustrated the capabilities of women as professional painters to her at a very young age.

It began with her grandmother, Hildagard Moos, who began her painting career in the ‘60s, painting for her husbands’ construction business. It was a time when women were more likely to hold administrative roles vs. laboring on the jobsite, but Moos proved her incredible abilities as a painter and made a lifelong career out of it. 

The painting trend continued with Gustafson’s mother, Bonnie Nies, who joined the family business as a painter at 19. After mastering the craft, she began her own painting business at only 24 years old. At a young age, Gustafson was able to accompany her mom on the jobsite, witnessing first-hand what was involved in a career in painting.  

“I remember going with her after school and watching her paint. Everything seems like such a distant memory, but the one thing I really remember is she used her paint can opener as her 5-in-1 tool. She would shove it in her back pocket only to be found again come laundry day as it would fall out of the back of her work jeans. I am sure she had as many can openers as I do now,” said Gustafson. 

Neis began her business specializing in staining trim, doors and cabinets. However, as the ‘90s rolled around, the wallpaper boom was in full effect, and Neis didn’t want to miss the chance to capitalize on this service as well. She learned the craft of paperhanging and was soon able to add that to her list of services. Through excellent work and strong work ethic Neis continued her business for 41 years. 

Despite her family having two generations of women painters before her, Gustafson still found herself curious about the world outside painting in her early years. She went to school for fine arts and photography. After school, she joined up with a painting company in Fargo that specialized in painting apartment rentals to keep the money flowing while she considered what she wanted the rest of her life to look like. 

At that age, life was carefree, and she was able to bounce from one job to another looking for something that fit her artistic skills and magnetic personality. She found her first opportunity to put her studies to work in Bismark, ND, so she headed west to pursue a career in photography. Even though photography was something she studied in school, she found that in practice it did not fill her days with joy. Ultimately Gustafson left to try her hand at radio sales and marketing. 

No matter where she went or what job she did, she always found herself doing side jobs painting rooms for people she knew. One day, she realized that word was getting out, and Gustafson was getting calls from people she didn’t know. The projects were also getting bigger and more complicated, and she even learned and was being hired for cabinet painting jobs. It was then that she realized that painting was more than a side hustle. It was her entrepreneurial career calling her. A good friend recommended that she take the leap and open a painting business. 

“Before I knew it, I was filling out the paperwork for the state of ND to start my own LLC. I think that was the scariest part for me; getting started, taking that leap of faith, and believing I could do it. I told myself, "I can do this! It's in my bones, in my blood, in my heart. If my mother could do it, I CAN DO IT!" 

The transition from working for someone else to working for herself ended up being much smoother than she anticipated. “I was lucky in that sense. This business can be very tough.” It turned out that working in radio sales gave her more than just income while she was there, it taught her some lessons that proved helpful as she transitioned into marketing her own business. 

Skills that built her success

“My mentors taught me the importance of branding a business and giving the public something unique; something that other businesses don't have.” Now she uses those principles to position her skills, diligence and demeanor at the center of her company’s brand. “I create a working relationship with all my clients and make sure that when I leave their homes or businesses, I not only did the job they hired me to do, but that I left a lasting impression on them. I do my job with superb craftsmanship, talent, and throw in a few great conversations while I’m on site.” 

Because of this she doesn’t have to do much advertising to keep her schedule full. She has a Facebook business page and has done a few sponsorships, but mostly works from word of mouth.

In addition to her branding skills, she’s able to keep strict control over the quality of work being done by choosing the path of solopreneur. She runs all her own business operations, sales and painting. This ensures consistency in everything that her company produces. 

Of course, owning every role in a painting business can be challenging, but Gustafson has a system she diligently maintains to ensure she spends as much time where she loves to be – on the wall. “I make sure to do all my estimate appointments during certain days of the week after business hours.” She also tries to send off proposals immediately and utilize her time wisely so that there is no wasted time waiting for the paint to dry. 

Despite the efficiencies, she finds that the work hours as a business owner are longer than when she was an employee, but they are much more enjoyable. “I love it, and it never feels like work. I really couldn't say that before I started painting,” Gustafson says. The only regret she has now is that she didn’t open her own shop sooner. 

It’s not just the craft that brings joy to each day, but also the clients. Listening to their stories and learning more about them is the cherry on top of a day filled with doing something she enjoys. These conversations are so engaging that she often ends up with not only repeat business but good friends in the process. “My husband and I even have board game nights with a couple clients who are also friends and neighbors to each other. It's really pretty great.” 

Gustafson also keeps a wide circle of painter friends both in person and virtually. “I will ‘talk shop’ with just about anyone who will listen,” she says. “My favorite groups on Facebook are Women in Paint, Painter Nation, and Painters Chat Room just to name a couple.” She also connects with painters individually; all of which have been generous with tips, tricks, support and camaraderie. As she communicates out in the social media universe Gustafson is always sure to tell others to “follow their dreams and passions and do the same thing I did. Believe in yourself and take that leap of faith.”

When she’s not painting, she and her husband love to camp and fish on Lake Sakakawea along with grilling and eating. To unwind Gustafson loves to listen to podcasts while working on stickers by number pictures.

Even though she is happy in her business as it is, she’s not finished learning more about the craft of painting. Her brother does oil paintings of nature, landscapes and animals. “I would like to follow in his footsteps with that one day,” she says. 

In addition to art, Gustafson sees a future of becoming a Fine Paint of Europe certified painter. “I see a lot of front doors around here that need some TLC, and I have just the plan to make them all shine.”  

But for now, Gustafson goes to work every day and has fun. She looks forward to returning to the project each day and works diligently to learn new processes, products and tools. 

Even though her mother left the painting industry, she has not given up on entrepreneurship. She now owns a small bakery in her town with her husband.

Just last summer, Gustafson, her mother, and her grandmother brought together three generations of women in paint to spruce up her grandmother’s home. 

From right to left: Hildagard Moos, Jessica Gustafson, and Bonnie Nies


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