Learning to Grow

I've discovered so much more about how to run an art business since I began in 2011. Essentially, I knew nothing then. Not a lick. I'ts empowering to be able to start over and have a sense of what I am doing. At the same time, I know there are a lot of artists that are just starting out for the first time and probably feel like I did back then. 

And yet I feel like I am still learning. I have confidence this time around that I know what I'm doing. That makes me feel motivated to get things done. The learning never ends, though. It's a constant process. For instance, I learned that I didn't need to spend a ton of money on a website. I created and built this one for free, and it only costs me $12 a year to renew the domain. I wish I had this knowledge when I first started. (In case you're wondering what I used, it's Google Sites for the website, and Google Domains, where I purchased the domain for $12).

I've been working on starting my art business over since the end of last year. I'll be honest I thought it was going to be easy to just start over and have everything I needed in place by March. But that wasn't the case. I tend to bite off more than I can chew and set goals that are sometimes unrealistic (although sometimes I do achieve them!). This is one of those cases. I admit I was eager and excited, but as I began to plan I could see there were some issues I need to acknowledge. 

For instance, time. I don't have a lot of it. In fact, I had to carve out a whole new area in my day just to get the painting production done! I get up at 5AM on most days just so I can get extra time on the canvas. The sacrifices I make! It has been helpful, though. I've achieved a lot with that level of consistency and dedication. Another part that has been challenging is developing a system for organizing and prioritizing tasks to complete projects. That's especially important now that I am going to be operating four websites at once!  I suffer from SOS (shiny object syndrome), if you're like me then it is hard to focus on something you started when there are cool things over there to excited get about too! So the system I've developed helps me focus visually by looking at the projects on a large dry-erase board. So far it seems to be working, but there are times, I gotta tell ya, SQUIRREL!

Moving into flow

There are books and studies on this topic. That's how nuanced it is. Some people describe it as that feeling when time stops becoming relevant. Or when we become present in the moment and everything just "clicks in". But how the hell do we systematically get in it? How do we capture something so elusive that only comes when we stop trying, but escapes us when we notice it? It's like spotting a snow leopard out in the wild. Ok, you get it. It's not easy to capture. But I think I have it.

I think flow is elusive, the same way that having a "good" day seems random and elusive. Do you get up hoping the day will go well, but find yourself expecting the first sign of disaster as soon as your day begins? It never fails, does it? That is, unless something wonderful happens, and you ride that wave until it ends. Then you're right back in that anxious state waiting for disaster. It's not random, although yes, life can be unexpected. That is not the point. The point is that we expect the worst to happen at any given moment and only relying on "luck" to bless us with something lovely, as if we never really deserved it, is why we can't seem to sink into any moment. 

As human beings, our minds are hard-wired in a certain way to make assumptions about our future based on our learned past. We fill in gaps where needed. For instance, we expect that a trip to the DMV will be long and annoying, so what do we feel when we are there? If you thought "annoyed", "frustrated", or "inconvenienced", you're dead right. We are linear beings on a linear path. So of course we use these experiences to form our reality. The worst part is that for those of us that have harsher experiences, it tends to form harsher expectations. But what if there was a way to interrupt that? What if instead of struggling to get on the easel, sketch pad, sewing table, or tablet, we were able to be in complete control of our experience? It's not luck. It's called emotional presence

The only way we can be in charge of our experiences, isn't to try and control our outward environment. That's impossible, I'm sorry to say. Instead, we have to turn inward and pick apart the things we have come to expect from our future. We need to ask "why". From my own experience, those honest and sometimes painful answers have allowed me to discover parts of myself that limited my ability to truly be present. It has nothing to do with wishing or hoping. It's about digging deep and pulling out that ugly feeling and confronting it. 

You probably were expecting some secret tip, huh? Or a "life hack". Those never work for long, if at all. 

The results come from doing the work (as we call it in our home). It's not easy, in fact it's down right uncomfortable and sometimes painful. I can tell you, though, it's worth it. The pay-off isn't your wildest dreams coming true. It's peace. Peace to go through your life not assuming it will go one way or the other, it just happens, and you receive it. The reality is that you have more control over how your life feels, and you've just been so afraid that it's created a feeling of helplessness?

After all of that, you can choose to get into the flow at any time you please. Even if it's in the line at the DMV or on your easel.


The Age of Creators

Every time there is a major change in technology, a new age of creators emerges. It happened when the dj's in the 80s began mixing their own tracks, it happened when the home video recorder allowed kids to direct their own home movies. Now technology is allowing an entire generation to create worlds as small or large as they want. Don't believe me? Google, "Unreal engine 5" and watch what videos are being made by users. 

Combine all that access with the emotional experiences we are all sharing because of the pandemic, recession, war, human rights, and the list goes on. All of it gives creators the context and ability to connect with others creatively. I have no doubt the next Van Gogh or Georgia O'Keefe has already been born and is creating as we speak. But they won't necessarily be painters, they'll podcasters, directors, or self-taught clothing designers. Yet they will share something that all creators share, passion and guts. 

It's not easy being a creator. 

I've been a creator since 2011. At that time, the term influencer was just beginning to be tossed around. The gates hadn't fully opened yet for creators until the late 2010s. Just before the pandemic arrived, we were beginning to hear about people making sustainable livings from the passions. Then all hell broke loose, and we all were left with contending with what made us happy. It was not our 9-5 jobs. Technology allowed us to explore those passions from our homes. It was the age of awakening for creators. People began taking real chances on themselves and the things they cared about. It brought more people together under shared interests, hobbies, topics, and experiences. 

Now the creators, everyday people, are changing the world faster than Hollywood celebrities once did. My kids know the names of YouTubers and TikTokers better than movie actors and popular musicians. 

How do you trust your instincts as an artist?

(Disclaimer. This is my own perspective. I talk about things that I went through.

Easy for some, really friggin hard for others. So why is it difficult to trust our judgement about what we create? Is it because our teachers beat creativity and critical thinking out of us? While our parents further reinforced that by only giving us validation when we “performed” well? 

Yea…that’s probably it.

But, that still leaves us in the same position. How do we develop the skill of trusting our own decisions without it turning into a mental wrestling match (or sometimes a straight-up brawl)? I’ll tell you what the answer ISN’T. It is not just saying: 

Me: Be more confident, YEA! I can do that!

Also me: But you’re a piece of shit, that can’t do anything right.

Pause reading here

(Ok, take a breath. Yea that stung, it was too honest right? It’s okay, it’s not true.)

Back to reading (drying tears)

We are only two and half paragraphs in, and we’ve already yanked on a thread that was probably something we all want to avoid thinking about. Here is the kicker, how can we create something from a deep place that connects with and moves people if we don’t want to feel our own complicated emotions? This is why we can’t trust our instincts. We were never given support to be ourselves, so we never learned how to give it to ourselves as adults. 

Most people we see walking around are afraid to be themselves for all the reasons I listed. More so now because the criticism (land mines of unpredictable human behavior) are all around us. It’s terrifying.

People want their own feelings to be validated, in order to feel connected to others. Why do you think fandoms are so loyal? Because everyone shares a common passion that brings them joy. 

Inner voice: That feels safe. Safe is good.

If we want to create the same sort of connection that fandoms have, we have to confront our fear of someone not liking the part of us that we keep hidden. The people pleasing part prevents that from fear becoming reality. 

Inner child: So if we do more people pleasing, it makes us feel more safe?

Conscious me: Yes, that’s correct. But “safe” doesn’t always mean happy.

It’s like a snake that eats its tail. Around and around we go.

The only way off this demented Ferris wheel is to confront our issues head on. So we can have true freedom to create.

So what's on the other end of 'trusting our instincts'? Well inspiration. True inspiration comes from trusting our own taste. Our own taste comes from being a fan of something; an artistic movement, a style of music, a fan of a fashion icon, a movie, you get the point. From there, you get to play and become part of a subculture. That is where communities exist, where everyone gets to enjoy creating, consuming, and recreating. Eventually, you create something born from an idea someone else had. Van Gogh and Japanese art married with early impressionism solidified Van Gogh in art history. Elvis Presley, taking blues and marrying it with gospel sounds, helped usher in rock to the mainstream. I can keep going, but you get the point. Give yourself permission to fall in love and create from your favorite fandoms, and eventually you will have one of your own.

The art community is more vulnerable than ever.

I’m sick and tired of how the art community is creating unrealistic ideals about earning income as an artist.

For reference, I have run several art businesses in the last 12 years, and I worked as a certified business advisor for the SBA (Small Business Administration) where I helped entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

Now, what I am not saying is that I am tired of artists learning ways to earn income. I think there is a disparity between the ways artists can earn income and the pressure they feel to use them all and reach lofty advertised goals. I learned an important lesson, the hard way, about chasing art sales without much consideration for what I was creating in order to sell. I think this happens to other artists as well. Especially now that our culture has created overnight success stories that seem to fill our newsfeed daily. And then we get another spoonful when we open up our social media app. 

How can artists escape this feeling that they’ll never reach the goal set forth in front of them? 

I find it interesting that adjacent to the traditional art community you have digital artists doing the same thing, but they do it a little differently. Most of the big name digital artists cultivated their presence by being part of the community first, then brought their knowledge to it. More people are willing to trust them because they know who they are. We need to fill that part of our community with seasoned artists giving away their knowledge, the problem is that many of them still don’t use social medial. The main ones out there that do use social media, only started their careers less than a decade go. 

In the art community, it's more acceptable to get knowledge from someone who has been in it for at least 15 years. So why are so many artist selling courses that have limited experience and knowledge? Because there is a vacuum in the knowledge base of the art community. There is blood in the water. 

You really have to go digging around for knowledge in the art community online. Sometimes when you think you have it, you pause and wonder if you can even trust it. After all, you only came into knowing this person and what they are selling by doing a quick Google search or seeing the ad on your social media feed. I think the one place you will begin to find true knowledge that is trustworthy is on TikTok. You may be rolling your eyes, but it’s already happening. The great news is that the more artists that have decades of experience show up on TikTok ready to give away their knowledge, the better off our community will be.

But why TikTok? Because it is creating a diverse landscape where an infinite number of communities can exist and enjoy creating, discussing, and supporting each other. This space also includes leaders of those communities, and they are respected for their knowledge, dedication, and willingness to share resources and provide meaningful insights.

Art and business is like mixing oil and water.

Is there a phase before starting an art business? Has anyone ever mentioned it before? I doubt it, or at least no one has talked about it. Perhaps because it doesn’t involve making art or selling it. Two things I see the most of on the internet. After all that’s all we really care about right? Well, at least the majority of us artists that start trying to monetize their creativity. We get on that ride, and we never get off. We just go round and around. But there is much more we need to realize before we even start thinking about sales. And no, I don’t mean filing your LLC or getting your EIN. Not even ordering business cards, stickers, or even building a website. 

If artists truly want to prepare for the mental, emotional, and financial battle that is to come from owning an art business, we need to prepare them ahead of time. Because let me tell you, it’s a rough ride when you haven’t been briefed on what you’ll face. But don’t worry, I’m going to give it to you straight.

So what kind of stuff do artists need to be thinking about before they enter start up?

I’m glad you asked.

The stuff that helps prepare your expectations of what is to come. Stuff like:

I wish I had this checklist before I started back in 2011, I could have avoided so many mistakes. As a business advisor, I was able to train other entrepreneurs on these pre-startup tips and provide examples from my own journey. Now imagine if all artists had access to this advice. How many of us would be able to find success faster and with less stress? How many would avoid burnout or come in better prepared to handle stress? 

If you'd like to listen to the podcast where I go in depth on this topic, click below.

I used quiet quitting to build my art business

I think it’s fascinating to see changes in society, especially at scale. It’s relatable, in this case, to two separate generations (Genz and Millennials). I’m a millennial. Born in ‘83, I was raised in the wake of the 80s Wall Street boom, where everyone was encouraged to achieve no less than a bachelor’s degree. Where we all were told that missing ‘zero days of work’ was a badge of honor. Hell, we were rewarded for it in school, and perhaps still are. So it’s no wonder when we were all presented with the work from home situation during the height of Covid that we suddenly became painfully aware of how much we were used to working our asses off without more compensation. Because we realized that we could achieve similar results without putting in more effort, working remotely. We were lied to.

So when I started my previous job after working for myself for five years, I went into it knowing that some of my energy would need to be conserved for still running my small art business. Yet, I had to make sure I was still valuable to my employer. So I made it my mission to do my job well up to the point where my contract dictated. No more and no less. My coworkers on the other hand gave their all in order to move up the ladder. Kudos to them! I have no problem with folks that choose to do that. However, for people that have other aspirations for how to use their energy and time, a middle ground is preferable. Even useful!

When I decided I was going to reenter the workforce, and leave my dream (for benefits and better pay lol) that I would only do it if it aligned somehow with what I was already doing. In this case, it did. I took a job with the university as a business advisor, to help local business start and grow. You can probably imagine after 4 years of doing that full time how much I learned and applied it to my own business. It was a win, win. 

The key here is to try and find something that aligns with your passion, and if it doesn’t align right away, keep your focus looking in that direction and always look for opportunities that can help you make that transition. Quiet quitting doesn't have to mean you hate your job, it can be a healthy balance of the two.

If you'd like to listen to the podcast where I go in depth on this topic, click below.

Consistency, the key to everything.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the creative process and how it works alongside the business process. I’ve owned three art businesses now in the last 12 years. I’ve made all the mistakes you could imagine in running a business. I’ve read many books on business as well as advised hundred of small businesses with the SBA (Small Business Administration) and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is one thing that affects both the creative and business sides in a negative and positive way. You would think it would be funding, skill set, or even general business knowledge, but CONSISTENCY is, in my opinion, the biggest factor that impacts the success of an artist run business.

I’m a Gemini, so I tend to already be averse to anything that binds me or keeps me from feeling “free” in a sense. If you are the type of person that likes processes and routines, then this may be an advantage to you. As an artist, consistency helps build an inventory, complete projects, meet deadlines, learn new skill sets just to name a few. The challenge for artists like myself when establishing consistency, especially when it comes to creating art, is understanding their own individual creative process. It’s a very intimate process for artists, and it differs from one artist to another. Yet it has the most significant impact, so why is it largely overlooked when operating an art business? In my experience, it’s most evident in self-taught artists. I think it’s covered well in BFA and MFA programs. For everyone else, we are figuring it out as we go along. It’s useful if you can get a mentor that can tell you about all of this, but I digress. 

In business, consistency can quickly kill any plans for start up or growth. It’s broad also, it covers so many functions, things like operating hours, marketing, product/inventory, and customer service just to name a few. I remember early on when I was operating my art gallery how quickly changing your operating hours or waiting too long to respond back can affect your business’ revenue. I was young and didn’t seek out enough advice on how to properly operate a business. Boy, did I learn a lot! 

Here is my advice now that I’ve illustrated the importance of creating consistency. Pick one thing to focus on and keep it simple. Especially if you struggle with consistency like I do. It’s hard and can feel uncomfortable at times, but the great news is that once you establish even just a few weeks of consistency you will see results, and it feels great! Just make sure you are doing it in a healthy way, establish some boundaries and limits, so you don’t burn yourself out.

If you'd like to listen to the podcast where I go in depth on this topic, click below.

Cheers to Merida, MX

We are currently visiting Merida, Mexico. It's late November 2023 and this is the second year in a row that we've been here to visit during this time of the year. I've noticed many things about Merida. The tropical weather, the amazing culinary scene, the affordability of almost everything. But the things that stands out the most is the focus they have on community. I don't mean having a convention center or meeting place. I mean that the element that keeps people here or attracts them to move here is the sense of community. It's not religious based either. Sure they have beautiful colonial era churches and cathedrals but there seems to be contempt for those here. I mean they have a sense of genuine care for each other.

I was speaking to a local gallery owner and native to the Yucatan and she commented on the unique trait that the Yucatan has developed in Mexico. One that stands out among the rest of the states. Community.  Not to mention that they have the lowest murder rate in the Western hemisphere. Making it one of the safest cities to live in for both men and women. Even with the some gentrification beginning to emerge they are truly a united city among it's native locals. They don't reject foreigners wanting to move here but instead invite them to integrate into their local culture and frown upon any attempts to commercialize their history and customs. On this particular trip I've been able to dive much deeper in getting to know locals and understanding the city. Don't get me wrong there are still issues that have a negative impact on it's residents. The most prevalent being the poverty and quality of life. Despite those challenges they still find many ways to hold special events and celebrate their culture. I'll add that most of the decor used for event are handmade. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see that so much of what we have enjoyed here whether it's food or products, have been locally. 

The final thing I'll comment on is the growth. I've spoken to natives and transplants, and the consensus is that there is major growth coming to Merida. There is a passenger train being developed to connect the major towns and cities in the Yucatan that will add to that growth. As well as a public transportation system that was recently implemented (my wife and I rode on it) that is modern and easily accessibly (albeit a little crowded). Still the city is very affordable, especially when it comes to the basic necessities. We have been able to enjoy much more than we thought possible in the U.S. here in Mexico. While at the same time finding comfort in their community even during our short stay.

Wanna listen to the podcast version of my experience? The link is provided below.

Live Painting is my Roman Empire

Live painting, an often overlooked gem in the world of performance art, transcends the boundaries of traditional canvas strokes by bringing the creative process center stage. I once regarded it as a casual pursuit, tucked away behind the safety of my booth. However, the dynamic shift that occurs when you step into the limelight, billed as a performer, is nothing short of exhilarating. It's a rush of adrenaline, inducing a tunnel vision that echoes the theatrical energy I experienced during my high school drama days. Yet, live painting carries an added layer of anxiety; the performance is timed, and the entire experience hinges on the final outcome. Every brushstroke becomes a crucial note in the symphony of creation.

The payoff, though, is akin to a well-delivered drama performance. As the final stroke lands on the canvas, there is a collective exhale from the audience. They haven't merely witnessed a painting; they've actively participated in a shared, immersive experience. For this synergy to occur seamlessly, the live painting performance must be thoughtfully paired with an event, ensuring it complements the theme rather than distracts from it.

Choosing the right live painter is the linchpin to crafting the perfect experience for your event. Each artist possesses a unique style and specializes in a specific facet of live painting. Some revel in throwing paint around vigorously, creating a kinetic dance of colors, while others intertwine their work with music, turning the canvas into a visual melody. Preferences extend to canvas sizes, with artists opting for intimate, small canvases or expansive, attention-grabbing larger ones. Personally, I find the sweet spot in larger canvases, such as 36”x48” and beyond, providing optimal visibility for intrigued onlookers who prefer a more distant vantage point.

Live painting can take on varied roles at events, from being an attraction that sparks casual conversations to a central focus on the main stage for everyone to witness. When I'm invited to paint casually, I engage with the audience, weaving discussions around art, the event's theme, or playfully interacting. This flexible approach works seamlessly in events with a multitude of simultaneous activities. Conversely, being placed in the spotlight on the main stage adds a layer of intensity, turning the act of creation into a captivating spectacle.

In essence, live painting isn't just about creating art; it's about crafting an experience that transcends the visual, uniting the audience in a shared moment of creativity and expression. So, when planning your next event, consider the transformative power of live painting - an immersive journey where every brushstroke weaves a unique narrative, and the canvas becomes a living, breathing part of the occasion."

The flow state happens when..

you are not worried about the outcome. Focusing on the outcome inheriintly attaches your insecurities to the process. That is no way to create. Your best work will never truly develop, evolve, and manifest itself because you are too distracted by expectations. I learned this the hard way by painting what I though everyone else wanted for the first 10 years of my art career. I try to accept that as practice years lol. It's good for my sanity. But in all honesty I was insecure (I'm still a little insecure) but now I know how to recognize when that insecurity is hijacking my decision making. You know what helped the most? Therapy. That and my darling wife Shelby. She is my sensibility when I get too carried away.

Storytelling in visual art

On the most recent episode of the podcast I dived into storytelling as a concept for developing visual art. The reason for this was because, for most of my career, I couldn’t dive deeper into my art ideas. Perhaps that was due to my own limitations with uncovering more complicated emotions. Presently I have been through a lot of emotional introspection with the help of therapy to understand my own emotions at a deeper level. That was a missing piece to being able to convey more complex ideas in my own art. However, I still lacked the basic understanding of story structure to successfully convert my emotions into fully formed ideas, and then those ideas into cohesive stories. Granted, storytelling is traditionally made of structure and various elements that are expected with a book or even screen written movies/tv shows. However, there is an interesting overlap that I noticed when watching films and shows that incorporates visual storytelling in the storyboard process. This isn’t anything new but it was sort of an ‘aha’ moment for me so I could incorporate this into my own art. Sometimes I wonder if I would have gone to art school if I could have walked away with a deeper understanding of visual storytelling. Currently, I’m still learning about storytelling through a book by famous screenwriter Robert McKee. It’s been a revelation and ignites a lot of excitement in my own art. Hopefully this will lead to a deeper connection with the viewer through a better understanding and execution of the storytelling process. More to come!