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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.
So are you going to decide to make your wishes come true?
The decision is yours, if you wish.
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 www.davidfosterimages.net.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“But Crista,” they ask, “How can I make a living from my art?”
“I want to be wealthy! I want to live on a beach and be dripping in jewels! And I want my art to pay for it!”
Then I reply with something that artist Kiki Smith once told me:
Your art doesn’t have to support you. You have to support your art.
That’s right. Turn it around.
You weren’t given this talent so that you could take from it.
You were given this talent so that you could nurture it. You were given this talent so that you could share it. You were called to be an artist so that you could serve your work.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t live on a beach and make huge amounts of money. Maybe you can.
But it does mean that you’re looking at your gift the wrong way.
Instead of cursing it, instead of being angry that the collectors aren’t banging on your door clutching fistfuls of cash, try asking yourself this one simple question.
Are you supporting your art?
Are you continuing to learn those things that will make you a better artist? Are you contributing to your community? Are you leaning into those difficult tasks that get your work in front of a larger audience?
Imagine your artwork was your child, are you investing your resources into its future?
I challenge you to list 3 ways that you could support your creativity even better than you are now. And then take the steps to follow through.
Because the best way to make a living from your art? The best way to attract support from others? The best way to build a lucrative career?
Starts by investing in it yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I live at the mercy of an evil task-master.
I work and I slave and whenever I dare step away, it follows me. I feel guilty, anxious, because no matter how much I do, it always piles on more.
And its name is TO DO LIST.
Don’t get me wrong, TO DO LIST has gotten me where I am today.
It’s guided me through all sorts of challenges. From selling all of my belongings to start a new life in Europe, to crafting my workshop for artists, and TO DO LIST certainly helped me win my crowd-funding campaign to bring The Working Artist online.
People often look at the business that I’ve built and the international life I’ve created and they tell me that I’m “lucky.” Nothing makes me laugh harder.
Because all of those years that I spent head down, toiling until I felt absolutely wrung out, sure didn’t feel like luck. It felt like bloody hard work.
And my only friend during those lean times was TO DO LIST.
Now I’m setting my sights even higher. And I still believe that the key to success is TO DO LIST.
But somewhere along the way, we’ve fallen out of love.
TO DO LIST is too demanding. Yet when I complain, it threatens that I’ll never accomplish anything without it.
I’ve created a monster!
Has your TO DO LIST taken over your peace of mind?
It’s not that I don’t want us to be together anymore, it’s just that I’m no longer interested in working maniacally.
I want to work gracefully.
At the end of the day, I want to own what I’ve accomplished. I want to work at my best - rather than just work.
Unable to divorce, TO DO LIST and I are in need of some sort of couple’s counseling to learn how we can get along better.
So I turned to my community.
You’ve heard me talk about the importance of community in the past. I belong to a small group of art professionals who engage in the same sort of work I do, coaching artists. Many people might call them my competition, but we prefer to think of ourselves as colleagues.
Once each month we have a Skype meeting to discuss our professional challenges with one another.
“Help!” I cried out at our last meeting, “TO DO LIST is ruining my life!”
Their wisdom was right on point. And I think it may speak to you as well.
They said that when you engage with work you love, you’re engaging with the most authentic and important part of who you are.
How can you take time off from who you are? You can't.
But at the same time, when you work like a fiend, you’re cutting yourself off from your deepest source of creativity. It’s important to find ways to weave your work with your life.
My colleagues suggested that the heart of the problem is that old song that we all sing, “I’m not enough.”
Do you know that tune?
Well, it’s time to take the needle off the record and play some new music. “I am enough. I have enough. I’m doing enough.”
It’s time to change our beliefs that our dreams are out of our reach because it takes too much work, too much money, too much time.
I am enough. I have enough. I’m doing enough.
It’s time for you and I to celebrate how far we’ve come, all that we have, and all that we are.
I am enough. I have enough. I’m doing enough.
In fact, I’m going to put that mantra on my TO DO LIST!
I learned to do the work without expecting anything in return, and to concentrate on the things that I can do now and in the near future. This is how I made the “Jump” with The Working Artist. If one is doing the job, it will pay off soon. It’s hard work, but it does work! ~Tsvetomir IIiev, Artist.
Tsvetomir Iliev is a young self-taught artist from Bulgaria who ventured down the creative path by chance six years ago.
It all started when he was drawn to collect tiny pieces of fallen tree bark in the forests near his home. From that moment, Tsvetomir began experimenting with the bark’s rich, thick textures as the unlikely surface for his acrylic paintings.
This exploration of such an unusual painting surface gave rise to organic, nearly three-dimensional rippling landscapes, undulating seascapes and a feast of visual journeys with outstretched trees, pulsing moonlight and curling hills.
As Tsvetomir’s amassment of paintings on tree bark grew, so did his curiosity about the business side of art.
His first steps included visiting galleries in Bulgaria and abroad, as well as looking for information on-line. That’s when he discovered The Working Artist. “The information available left me without any hesitation,” Tsvetomir explained. “I was immediately compelled to try it and see what could happen.”
Initially, the course helped Tsvetomir better communicate about his art and organize his time. He also learned how to work through things that he didn’t necessarily enjoy doing, such as social media.
But after pushing himself, he realized that social media is likely one of the best available tools for an emerging artist such as himself.
Tsvetomir was eventually given a solo show in the Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo. He took Crista’s lessons to heart: he practiced his presentation, prepared food & drinks, and even planned a give-away gift, but, still, nothing sold at the show.
“I continued with my efforts. I also decided to retake The Working Artist course again to go even deeper into what I’d already learned. That’s when I began to sell my work and attract my first true fans.”
Since then, Tsvetomir has been very busy.
More than seven artworks have sold, two more are reserved and one of his paintings was awarded Honorable Mention in an on-line contest.
Media accolades are rolling in and he recently made his first website sale too. Exhibition invitations and art fair opportunities are also on the rise, including participation in two upcoming Bulgarian fairs in August and September. And Tsvetomir’s work recently made second-round of judging for the prestigious Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts.
And this is just the beginning. More opportunities are sure to be on the horizon as Tsvetomir continues to grow as an artist and do the work.
But see for yourself! Learn more about Tsvetomir Iliev and his work at http://www.barkflower.net
An artist recently spoke with me about her work.
She tearfully admitted that she’d been too busy to create new work of any substance.
She was afraid.
Afraid she won’t be able to connect with the muse again. Afraid she’d made a choice to have a family, a proper job, and now that part of herself; that wonderful, wild artist is gone forever.
Being an artist was something she used to do. What right has she to go back now? It’s not possible to hit the rewind button on your life.
I understand. I spent many years nursing a career in the art business. Only I was promoting other people’s work, not my own. I’d pushed the pause button in my creativity.
When I heard the call to return to it, I succumbed to guilt and fear at first. “It’s too late now,” I told myself. It takes years to build a creative career. Why, I could be 50 years old before I saw any sort of success!
But then I went deeper, fast-forwarding into the future.
With any luck, someday I’d be 50 years old anyway. How did I want to spend my time getting there? What did I want to show for it?
That little voice that’s urging you to make new work or rededicate yourself to your creativity isn’t there to make you feel bad, or to shame you.
That little voice is your creativity inviting you out to play.
Work doesn’t work without play, you know. Especially art work.
So forget about having to create a masterpiece or undertake a big project when you’ve been away from your art for awhile. Forget about the fears and the questions. Take that pressure off, it’s not helpful.
Instead, play with your creativity and connect again with the joy that it brings. And then follow that.
It will lead you on a journey that will last all your days.
To restart your creativity, first press PLAY. And then dance to the sound of your own music.
As she wiped away the tears, the artist told me her story.
She’d applied for a project that was a perfect match for her work.
She had all the right qualifications. She was certain that she’d get it. She even started to make plans for moving forward.
But then she wasn’t chosen! It left her stunned, questioning herself and her talent.
It took all of two seconds for “no” to turn into shame, to wrong, to not good enough.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
But here’s another story.
One day, I knocked on a neighbor's door just as he was opening a bottle of expensive champagne.
“Come in and join me!” he cried out, obviously excited. “I’m celebrating! I’ve just received another rejection letter for my novel!”
This man understands the lesson that my own coach, Kate Schutt recently shared with me; “Yes” lives in the "Land of No."
In other words, you've got to get past your ego and fears of failure if you want to get to where you want to go. If you want someone to say "Yes," you cannot be afraid of "No."
I know that it hurts when doors close, when you're rejected. But it’s your choice as to how to respond. And how you respond determines how the universe plays its next card.
So choose gratitude and curiosity and faith. And keep doing the work.
Do it better, do it bigger. Do it with champagne!
And above all, don’t be afraid to play in the Land of No. Because this is where Yes will find you.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I first spent time in France. Nearly 20 years since I met a beautifully talented artist from Hawaii named Maria Lee.
Maria was teaching at a small art school for American students in a tiny Provençal village. I was there for the summer too. We both had a profound experience at that school, deeply exploring our creativity. It was really quite special.
Maria was a hiker. She’d take long walks down the mountain where our village was perched, across the long valley and climb up a neighboring mountain to the other village. They had really good almond croissants in that other village, and I was jealous of Maria’s independence.
I wanted to venture out beyond the confines of our small village too, but I was afraid of getting lost.
So Maria drew me a map. This map pictured here, as it turns out.
I’d try to follow it faithfully; down the old Roman road, through the oak grove, over the creek, past the vineyards and the grand house with the turrets…
But I always got lost at the same place. Where the pencil points in the picture is where I’d always find myself going in circles, unable to pick up the trail.
Each time I made it this far I’d have to return home, unsuccessful once again. Almond croissant-less.
Over the years, I’d return to the village for a week’s vacation here and there, whenever time and money allowed. I love this place. It’s full of artists and history and the air itself is thick with inspiration. I breathe it in.
And each time I’ve visited, I pack this old piece of paper that Maria drew for me and try to pick up the trail again.
But I never could. The trail split in so many different directions, I couldn’t find the right one. I always got lost.
When, 8 years ago now, I experienced my “mid-life correction,” it was to that tiny French village of artists that I ran. My intuition said that this was the place that held the answers for me.
When I first arrived, I cried. All the time. I couldn’t believe I’d left my career, my family and friends, sold my belongings to come to a place so remote. So foreign.
I was afraid I’d made a huge mistake. Afraid of the loneliness that was threatening to engulf me. Afraid I was lost.
And then one day, I followed the signs for an exhibition at the art school. And across the room I saw her, Maria Lee.
She too had followed a voice that urged her to return to the village of inspiration.
It had been 13 years since we’d been there together, yet we were both there again. We’d arrived within a week of each other. Our houses were so close that we were neighbors. And I was lonely no more.
The first thing I did was to pull out this old map that Maria had drawn for me all those years ago. “Take me!” I told her. “Show me the path to the other village. I want one of those almond croissants.”
That was 8 years ago. And we spent a wonderful season together, hiking the trails as we chased inspiration and carbohydrates.
I haven’t seen Maria since then. But two months ago, she happened to be coming through Phoenix while I was there. So we met for lunch.
I was at another crossroad in my life. Things were changing. I wasn’t sure which way to go? I was lost and it was scary.
Have you ever felt that way?
I weepily confessed to Maria that I wished I could return to our village once more. I needed to connect on a deeper level with my creativity, with my self. But I didn’t have the means, it just didn’t seem possible.
The next day, Maria received an email from a friend who lives outside our Provençal village in the valley. He'd had to leave France and needed someone to live in his house and look after it. Did she know anyone who could come to France right away?
Three weeks later I arrived.
Now I’m living in a rustic 500 year-old stone cottage in the French countryside. It’s given me refuge, clarity, a beautiful place to connect with my work, and a hearty dose of creative inspiration.
This house has given me everything I need. Thanks to a beautifully talented artist named Maria.
I don’t know why I still have this old map? I most certainly know the way to the almond croissants by now. But for some reason I’ve held on to this folded scrap of paper.
And looking at the map now, I realize that this old stone farmhouse is situated at exactly the point where I got lost all those years. Where the trails forked and I couldn’t find the way.
But now, thanks to an artist named Maria, I know exactly where I am.
Because getting lost is part of finding your way.