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How Artists Find Their Voice

"Hey Crista, how do I develop originality and find my voice in the artwork?" one artist recently asked. "Do you have any tips?"

I do!  

There are several things that artists can do to find their own voice and nurture it. In fact, these steps are included in the practice of most of the successful artists I know.

* Journal. Sometimes we don't know what we really think until we write it down. Journaling helps us to connect with ourselves in a deeper and more authentic way than any other tool available. Whether you choose to journal in words or by sketching pictures, do journal.

* Look at other art. Lots of it. Both historical and contemporary. Where ever you go, make it a point to spend time in front of other artists' work. Nothing will inspire you more.

*  Read. Art is about the communication of ideas. Even if the idea is as simple as beauty, it still deserves your full attention. Learn everything you can about your field, your medium, your subject, your technique, your market, your business... Never stop learning! 

And remember, even if you struggle with reading, the world of ideas is not closed to you. Today there is a huge range of resources available to access the world of thought.

If you begin with these tips, you'll find yourself engaging with your creativity in a deeper way. Your ideas will flourish. Your work will connect with others in a more meaningful way.

No one said the path of an artist was an easy one, because it's not. But it is a joyful path. It is a significant path. And each artist's path is uniquely authentic.

I hold this wish for you:

That your journey be filled with curiosity. For curiosity will lead you back to your Self, revealing the powerful artist that lies inside.

The Universe is in conspiracy with artists, as we are fellow creators. So know that you are always supported. 

If you're struggling with meaning or with the work itself, begin by looking outside of yourself. Pick up an inspirational book, visit a museum, make a studio visit and chat with a colleague. Or do what I do and go for a walk to ask a tree about it. 

When you seek wisdom, it will always come.

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The Wisdom of Great Artists

I am a lucky girl.

I’ve spent my career surrounded by great artists, photographers, writers and poets. People whose names are known and works celebrated, others equally talented who remain unknown.

Most artists are absolutely lovely to work with, though there have been a few who were not-so-lovely. Yet something always told me to pay attention, to listen and learn. I knew that the lessons they shared would not only define myself and my own work, but that I might one day pass them on.

No matter what role I was playing in the relationship, whether I was collaborating in the studio, curating an exhibition, or selling the art itself, I always felt that my true work was to accumulate knowledge and experiences so that I might one day share them.

Share them with you, as it turns out.

Someone once told me that no one should be allowed to teach until they’re 50 years old and have acquired enough knowledge to have something to say. It’s an extreme view, but one with some legitimacy. And it may be true of artists as well.

Because real art isn’t just about pretty pictures.

It takes a lifetime to master a medium. And art is about learning to see, creating a vision, devotion to craft, acquiring the wisdom necessary to infuse the work with meaning and purpose.

For it’s only when one has ideas of value that the medium becomes important.

This can take a lifetime to learn. And an artist’s practice is an exercise in reaching for the fruits of this tree over and over again. Sometimes feasting on success, other times starved by failure.

But you never stop reaching. Ever.

This is the wisdom that artists have shared with me

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How To Be The Greatest

I imagine that you've heard of the boxer named Mohammad Ali. When he passed away a few months ago, the whole world mourned.

But Crista, you’re probably asking, what does a boxer have to do with art?

A lot, actually. Because there’s a lesson here that speaks to all of us who strive for greatness in what we do.

Mohammad Ali was gifted to be sure. But that doesn’t mean that his accomplishments came easily. He had to work very hard for everything he achieved.

We all do. It’s one of those inconvenient truths.

Ali called himself The Greatest and we called him The Greatest too. He was a brilliant self-promoter who used his celebrity to share his values.

A lot of artists tell me that they “hate self-promotion.” And I get that. But you don’t have to point the spotlight at yourself.

Point the spotlight at your work instead. And use your growing audience to share your values.

When Cassius Clay was a young boxer, he won the Olympics for his country. Then, against all odds, he won the heavyweight title. He was handsome, charismatic, and very talented. A worldwide phenomena, Cassius Clay’s future was very bright.

But when he made the personal decision to convert to Islam, a religion that many Americans viewed with distrust, he alienated his audience. When he changed his name to Mohammed Ali to reflect this new spiritual path, he was openly mocked.

Ali was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war, and refused to go. Refused to fight in a war that he believed was unjust.

They fined him, sentenced him to prison. He was vilified in the press. He was stripped of his medals and achievements. He was banned from his sport.

The most popular man in the world had become the most hated.

For the next few years, Mohammad Ali was not allowed to fight. Many said that The Champ had blown it, had lost his chance. Had thrown away a huge career on what? His values.

For that, the critics sniffed, he had thrown away a great career? For that, he had missed his prime?

And it’s true, when he was finally allowed to return to the ring he was fighting boxers who were younger and stronger.

But he believed deep inside that he was still The Greatest.

And he fought to prove it.

Today, we don’t remember Ali as The Greatest because of his accomplishments in the ring. We call him The Greatest to honor his victory in the most momentous battle of his life: a fierce belief in self, and his willingness to sacrifice success for his principles.

Ever the champion, Mohammad Ali accepted his setbacks as challenges. Even when fate dealt him the bitter blow of Parkinson’s disease, stripping him of the gifts that we thought defined him, Ali kept fighting.

He kept showing us who he really was.

Professionally, Mohammad Ali was a boxer. But it turned out that boxing was just a vehicle that he used to inspire.

And isn’t the ability to inspire the highest aspiration of all artists?

So often, artists tell me that they’re afraid it’s too late for them. That they missed their prime.

As far as art goes, they couldn’t be more wrong. For it takes a mature vision and mastery of craft to be a great artist. It’s never too late.

Artists will tell me that they’re afraid of alienating their audience, of using their work to tell the truth. And yes, that can be the path to a quiet life, but it’s certainly not the path to greatness.

So the next time you find yourself facing a professional challenge, the next time you find yourself feeling defeated by the struggle, the next time you wonder if the risks are worth it, remember the man we called The Greatest.

And then show the world your Greatness too.

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How To Get Decision-Makers To Read Your Email

Have you ever opened up an email that feels like a generic cold-call?
You know those emails that ask you to give your art away for “good exposure” ­– from someone you’ve never even met?
Artists don’t like it when people ask them to do things for free. Things they do for a living.
No one does.
I get emails from artists all the time that say, “Hey Crista! Here’s my work, will you sell it for me?”
Or worse, just a faceless message with a link to their website, or an attachment with 20 pictures of their paintings.
When these artists throw empty messages at me, they’re ruining that first impression. And first impressions last forever.
How would you respond to messages like that?
Probably the same way I do. *delete*
But I’m not the only person who deletes unsolicited emails.
Do you know who else deletes them? Art-World Decision Makers also delete them.
Why? Because we’re busy!
So what’s the best way to approach Art-World Decision Makers instead?
Firstly, do your research to find out exactly whom this person is and what it is they do.
Next, find out what their submission policy is. How do they prefer to be contacted and what kinds of information are they looking for?
Finally, write a professional letter, establishing your credibility, acknowledging theirs, drawing connections between what you do and why you want to work with them.
In other words, don’t make them work to figure out why you’re writing to them and what you’re after.
The art world, like every professional world, is about relationships. It’s about establishing a professional relationship based upon mutual respect.
Try thinking of it this way: instead of reaching out to people you don’t know and asking for something, start by offering something.
Something that they want.
Follow them on social media and show your support there. Send an article that might fit in nicely with their blog. See if they’re having a challenge that you can help with. Offer your services as a gift.
I’ve done this myself many times, and it works. In fact, it’s the model that a lot of young solo entrepreneurs are following and I love how it’s changing the culture of how we do business.
Artists can even do this with prospective collectors through their websites.
What can you give? What can you share without charge? What would delight your customer to receive and make them feel connected to you?
The saying goes that it is far better to give than to receive. It’s true.
And it’s after that bond of mutual trust is formed that you can ask. Then you shall receive.
Try it and watch how the world opens up to you.

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Meet Artist Tom Waters

In a world that often thinks being an artist is not a responsible thing to do, The Working Artist course gave me the ‘permission’ and the confidence to pursue being a full time artist. –Tom Waters

Prior to finding The Working Artist, Vermont-based Tom Waters described himself as a frustrated graphic designer and a “Sunday painter” who channeled art as an escape from everyday pressures. “I’d taken up painting landscapes late in life to flirt with a dream held long ago. I was afraid of taking it seriously. I kept listening to all those voices that said being an artist wasn’t a real option.”

Tom certainly had his hesitations. Would this be another online class more focused on upselling additional programs? Could the content actually help him constructively make the transition toward professional artist?

Ultimately, he admits that it was Crista’s personal story that compelled him. “Sometimes you question how deep someone’s experience is for teaching a course. This class gave me the sense that finally, I had permission to pursue this from someone who has truly been there.”

One year later, Tom markets himself through his website, through Facebook and Youtube. He now has over 1300 subscribers to his Youtube channel, with over 135,000 views, an exploding network of Facebook followers, and he’s expanding his mailing list.

The two biggest Working Artist take-aways for Tom include Crista’s constant encouragement. “She makes me feel like the most important person in her world during the class,” he mused.

He also remarked on how well thought-out the coursework is designed. “Regardless of which way you learn, Crista has anticipated and included all modes of assimilating knowledge into the course. This includes plenty of deadline-driven material, which gave me some much needed structure.”

After taking the course, Tom was able to overcome his obstacles—both real and in his head—to move from practicing art as a hobby to working as a professional artist.

In addition to seeking out a painting mentor, building his Working Artist Kit, crafting a 10-year business plan and entering a myriad of juried & group shows, Tom also started working in a prestigious Vermont gallery, where he was quickly promoted to Gallery Manager.

Best of all, Tom has doubled his sales in the year after completing the course and began winning several awards for his work. He’ll have his first solo show at the Gruppe Gallery in Jericho, Vermont in fall 2017.

“Literally, every time I am faced with what would normally be an obstacle to moving forward as an artist, I hear Crista’s voice, in that confident, reassuring manner, telling me to ‘Jump.’ It is the most tangible example of how taking her course continues to propel me forward. I went from being someone who was never ready to someone who now can ‘Jump’ every time there’s an opportunity.”

To see Tom's work, visit his website at

Back to Alumni Profiles Page

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Are You An Artist-Warrior?

I believe that the best artists are Artist Warriors.

But instead of taking up arms, we take up brushes and cameras and clay.

Artists are warriors of the spirit.

Like any warrior, artists must be tested, must be prepared. You must prove your courage and your commitment.

Haven’t you seen this is your own life?

As an Artist-Warrior, you must find your power, which is your craft and your voice, and you must sharpen its blades in preparation for battle.

It’s not easy.

No, the most difficult crown to wear is that of Artist-Warrior.

Because you must earn it.

You earn it through working and learning and growing. You earn your power through countless rejections, through overcoming obstacles such as time, money, and support.

As an Artist-Warrior, you break through all barriers to the reality you wish to create.

You are a maker.

You make art. You make meaning. You make beauty. Like alchemists, you transform base materials into gold.

As an Artist-Warrior, you already have this power. Like Dorothy’s red shoes, you simply must believe.

For artists are on the Hero’s Journey.

And heroes, as everyone knows, slay those dragons that threaten to harm us. To an Artist-Warrior those dragons are rejection, money, and time.

On the Hero’s Journey, the Artist-Warrior will fall down sometimes.

Hell, we fall down all the time!

But we always, always get back up.

For that is what it is to be an Artist-Warrior.

So learn to own your power and let it flow. Use that power that is your creativity to carry you through this journey. Nurture your spirit.

Engage with an inner life beyond gadgets and obligations and all those things that try to define you as something different than who you truly are.

Have a significant relationship with your work.

Have meaningful conversations with your Self.

Choose carefully those opinions you let in.

Believe in magic and alchemy and beauty.

Trust your intuition.

Try, and risk.

And say to fear, “You shall never stop me for I am on the Hero’s Journey.”

With your courage and your integrity and your work, you will light the way for others who follow.

You are an Artist Warrior.

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To Stop Wishing And Start Doing

For years I wished that I could be a writer and an artist.

I wished on every shooting star, straining my neck from the constant upward gaze.

I threw a small fortune of pennies into wishing wells.

I’ve got bad posture from the persistent search for four-leaf clovers.

Imagine what life would be like if I wrote and made pictures for a living? I wish I could have that life.

It seemed so out-of-reach, so unavailable to me. Maybe that sort of thing happens to other people who had the education, the money, the support, the opportunities and the talent that I could only wish for.

It was when I finally decided to be a writer and an artist that my real journey began.

As writer Scott Adams says, “Wishing starts in the mind and generally stays there.”

When you decide however, you take action.

You get a lot more clear about what it would look like.

You acknowledge the price you have to pay to achieve it.

And then you begin taking the steps. Even if they’re baby steps.

I believe that wishes have energy. I believe that wishes exist to show you what’s really possible. Those siren songs that whisper to your heart reveal what you’re truly capable of achieving.

If you can wish it, you can do it.

There’s only one thing a wish needs to become real.

A decision.

So are you going to decide to make your wishes come true?

The decision is yours, if you wish.

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Meet Working Artist David Foster

Artist David Foster has had a passion for nature photography for nearly fifty years.

He focused heavily on photography during his twenties. Then life carried David through cross-country moves, marriage, kids and thirty years of employment in the non-profit sector.

All the while, he maintained his interest in photography.

Ten years ago, friends finally persuaded him to show his work publicly rather than keep his talent hidden. He has been exhibiting his work regularly since then.

Recently he decided to take The Working Artist course so that he could continue to extend his reach.

“I have been, at best, a reluctant entrepreneur,” David explained. “After my long stint in the non-profit world where I created many mission statements and strategic plans for work, I have typically resisted similar goalsetting for my artwork. Crista’s instructional style is very effective at working through my internal obstacles so that I could get out of my own way and move forward.”

For David, sales and money are not the ultimate motivators for his artmaking. “My passion is about getting the work out there and having helpful, positive ways in which it can be experienced,” he mused.

The Working Artist helped him overcome his resistance to those important business steps. David notes, “The Working Artist offers tools and experiences that support finding and implementing your artistic vision.”

He also reports feeling more energized, disciplined, prepared and bold with a more deliberate, focused agenda for his work. “Since the course ended, I have a heightened sense of proactivity and intentionality. I’m more assertive about seeking out specific exhibition opportunities that are in line with my vision to express the healing power of nature photography.”

David’s class completion also rides on the heels of his largest exhibition to date: 70 images marking his 70th birthday at Georgia’s stunning Callaway Gardens this past spring.

This October, David will be installing a solo exhibition featuring over thirty-five images as part of the Augusta (Georgia) Photography Festival.

In spring 2017, he will have a solo show at the Taubman Health Center, University of Michigan Health Systems. He is thrilled about this opportunity  for his nature photography to nurture an environment that promotes well-being and healing.

In addition to the course itself, David also praises the benefits of Working Artist Network. By being connected with other artists who have taken Crista’s course, David was recently invited (by TWA alum Karen Thurman) to create four photo essays for upcoming issues of the online magazine On Your Doorstep that promotes nature’s preservation.

“Crista’s class continues to give back by providing  ongoing support for my artist’s journey” he said.

We invite you to experience David’s beautiful imagery at

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How To Achieve A High Level Of Success In The Art World

“Dear Crista,” the email began. “How can I achieve a high level of success in the art world?”
Ah! That elusive goal of "a high level of success." Artists ask me about it all the time. And this is what I say:
You’ll never get there.
I say that because once you attain what seems like success to you now, you’ll set your sights even higher. And then higher. And then even higher yet.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting more, but be careful not to live there. Every day that you’re alive doing what you’re meant to do is a high level of success.
So you can spend the rest of your career chasing the elusive, or you can enjoy the journey.
Once you own that, once you start living it and feeling your success, the more good stuff comes to you.
So is there a better goal?
I don’t think so.
A lot of insiders say that goals are for losers. And I tend to believe them because systems, they say, work better than goals.
Goals set you up for failure. Goals are adversarial, it’s you versus it. And until you achieve “it,” you’re losing.
But a system not only helps you achieve your desires, it can be modified to achieve more.
Let me give you an example.
Artists often tell me, “I want to make $100,000 a year from the sale of my work.”
My first question is “why?” Why do you want to make $100K a year? Most often it’s an arbitrary number that they’ve emotionally attached their worth to. If I make $100K a year, it means I’m a great artist.
No. It means you’re a busy artist.
I know an artist who makes $300K a year. She works, literally, from the time she wakes until bedtime. Her husband cooks dinner when he comes home from work and maybe they’ll watch a few hours of TV – but she never stops painting. She paints in front of the TV too!
She often complains about her market and how she’s long since stopped creating work that interested her. Now she’s just fulfilling a demand.
She doesn’t know how long her 15 minutes of fame will last but she’s determined to see it through, at the expense of her passion, her health, and her relationships.
I’m not saying that this is what happens to all artists when they hit the big money. But money as a goal is fraught with difficulties.
And to be honest, I know very few artists who are truly motivated by money.
What most artists are motivated by is a strong desire to spend more time in the studio creating what they love and then sharing it with a wide and appreciate audience.
Isn’t that what really motivates you?
To do this, I believe it’s best to create a system. Your system could include spending more time in the studio as if you’re making $100K a year.
Your system could also include sharing your work with a wide and appreciate audience.
Maybe you have an audience of 20 right now. Terrific! Let’s call that wide and appreciate and give them all you got. Develop a marketing plan to share your work with them and to grow this tribe.
Your marketing plan is a system. It’s an action plan that you adhere to that will take you where you want to go.
So now your focus is removed from the chasm that stands between you and the $100K, but instead you’re focused on taking joy from the activities that will get you there. These are the same activities you’ll be involved in once you attain your goal.
Do you see that?
So by acting as if you’ve already got what you want, by doing the work, you’re showing The Universe that you’re committed and on your way.
When you come up against brick walls, you make adjustments to your system. Real artists never stop learning, so keep tweaking your system to bring you more joy, more time, and more success.
How do you achieve a “high level of success” in the art world?
You imagine what that would look like on a daily level and you put a system into place to start right now.

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How To Live Like A Wild Artist

My heart stopped when I saw it.

How could I have lived in this house for the past five months and never known it was even there?

But sure enough, it was. Tucked under the shelf.

A bathroom scale.

Oh boy.

Since moving to France last spring, I have become what you might call a Wild Woman.

I’m living in a 600-year old stone cottage in the middle of the countryside. I can go days without seeing another human being. There’s no TV, no radio, no outside distractions whatsoever.

Every artist dreams of escaping to the middle of nowhere to focus on the work, don’t they? And this summer I was lucky enough to make it happen.

In my “real life,” I’m pretty regimented. Because one thing I’ve learned from working with world-class artists for so many years is the power of discipline.

And I came to France with the intention of being even more disciplined. I brought a long list of creative projects to complete.

But a funny thing happened while working with no distractions. Instead of discipline, I went feral instead. Feral, savage, uncontrollable…WILD! 

Instead of my structured routine of getting up with the sun and going to bed early, I go to bed whenever I damn well feel like it. Which turns out to be much later than usual. I even find myself taking naps in the middle of the day.

Naps! Me!

I eat everything I want to eat when I want to eat it. My usual stringent diet out the window. I mean, this is France after all.


What about my work? Well, that’s interesting too. Rather than stick to the rigorous schedule I created, I now find that I work whenever I want to.

Who works like that and actually accomplishes anything?

Me, as it turns out.

I’ve indulged in a different tempo than my usual strict marching orders. In fact, I’ve found my own rhythm.

This summer, I’m dancing to the beat of my own wild music.

And I like it.

I’ve always clung to discipline, afraid that left to my own devices, I wouldn’t accomplish my goals. I’d shirk off, spend my time reading novels and daydreaming.

As it turns out, there’s a fair amount of that.

But the truth is that I’ve formed a new relationship with my work, one that’s based on trust, on faith, on my own rhythm.

I’m accomplishing everything I need. I’m making new connections, both strategically and creatively. And I’m having fun.

France is delicious in every sense of the word and I’m licking the spoon of this experience.

But the presence of a bathroom scale put a screeching halt on all that. Now is the time of reckoning.

Can I truly trust the rhythm?

When I came here, I told myself that this would be the summer I hit my Magic Number. You know your Magic Number, right? The one you hit that time when you were 20 years old and miserable because you just got dumped, just as that bad stomach flu came on? And for one glorious moment in time, your bathroom scale hit a number that was forever etched in your brain as the one you would always aspire to?

The Magic Number.

Funny how we do these things to ourselves, isn’t it?

So when I found a bathroom scale peeking out at me from under a shelf, I panicked.

I’ve been living radically for months now. A Wild Woman.

Meringues, bread, wine, olives, all the French cheese I can keep down. Good Lord!

Surely, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I step on the scale and close my eyes. Who am I to think I can dance through life at my own rhythm?

But there it is.

My Magic Number.

Isn’t that wild?

So, now I ask you:

Are you ready to let go, trust your instincts, and become WILD?

Then it's time to dance to the rhythm of your own music.

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