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The Gift My Dad Gave Me

Do you remember when you first knew that you were an artist?

I do. It began when my Dad gave me a gift.

Let me explain.

My parents were divorced and Dad lived far away. Though I loved him like mad, I rarely saw him.

When I was 16 years old, Dad invited me to join him on a two-day business trip to the city. He’d be in meetings during the daytime, but we could hang out together in the evenings.

It would be a huge adventure.

To keep me occupied while he was at work, Dad showed me how to use his old Olympus OM-10 camera. Dad loved to collect things like cameras and gadgets, but I'd never taken pictures before.

“There’s only one roll of film in the camera,” Dad warned. “That’s 36 shots for two days. Choose your images wisely.”

When I remember those two days, I remember how it felt to be so free. I wandered the strange city with that Olympus OM-10 around my neck and followed my instincts as I hunted for photographs.

I had all kinds of adventures!

Two years later for my 18th birthday, Dad sent me a gift. I’ll never forget opening that package and finding his old Olympus OM-10 camera.

That camera became my best friend. Together, we explored the world as I sought to find my place in it.

For years, I shot pictures at sporting events and public gatherings, thinking I might become a photo-journalist.

Later, people began to hire me as I picked up commercial photography work.

But it was when I changed my college major to fine-art photography that I knew I wanted to be an artist.

I used that Olympus OM-10 for all my assignments, and even took it with me for a year abroad.

When I returned home, my Dad died.

It happened unexpectedly - right before my wedding. I was marrying a photographer of great repute. I’d considered quitting photography myself, not wanting to share a profession with my husband.

And then on our honeymoon, my Olympus OM-10 was stolen.

I’ve never missed anything so much. That camera was a part of me, my story, and the only thing I had of my Dad’s.

I took the loss as a sign. So I created a new life for myself, without a camera.

I began representing other artists and photographers, selling their work to museums and galleries, helping to grow their careers.

But I missed my Dad.

One Christmas, I pulled out the boxes of slides he’d left behind. I poured myself a glass of wine as I sat in the dark looking at the projected images of his photographs.

I loved my Dad but he was no photographer. The vast majority of his images were pictures of his car, or pictures from the window of his car. There wasn’t a whole lot of interesting imagery going on.

Until there was.

One roll. One roll of film was interesting. After literally thousands of shots, one roll captured my attention.

I was mesmerized. I could see what he was going for with each shot. These images spoke to me, making my heart sing.

And then I understood why.

This was the roll of film that I’d shot all those years ago. My very first roll of film. I was able to recognize my own 16-year old eye.

And I liked what I saw.

Even though he was gone, my Dad had given me a gift. He had reminded me that I was a photographer.

I bought a digital camera and started shooting again.

I eventually split with my husband and built up a successful career as an international arts dealer.

My photography was something I only did for myself.

And then one Christmas, a friend sent me a gift.

It was a framed picture. A true work of art, he said. A work by a great artist, someone he thought that I needed to pay attention to.

It was a photograph that I had taken.

Not long after, I made the decision to leave the art business and focus on representing just one artist’s work – mine.

Today, I travel the world taking pictures.

My online business school for artists allows me to share what I’ve learned about showing and selling art. I’m teaching artists how to build their own careers.

And I’m able to use my creativity in service of others.

It’s been a gift.

I don’t know about you, but 2016 has been rough for me as I suffered some very sad personal losses. Not the least of which was the loss of my image library. My pictures.

Though I had four different back-ups on various hard drives and in clouds, my photo library was corrupted.

I lost thousands of my favorite pictures.

It’s been heart-breaking in a way that only another artist can understand. All that work, gone forever.

I wondered if maybe it was time to step away from photography?

A few weeks ago, I dropped by a neighborhood garage sale to poke around. There, still in the box, was a pristine Olympus OM-10 camera.

“It’s never been used,” said the owner. “Someone gave it to me as a gift in 1979 and I never even took it out of the box.”

It was a gift. To me.

It felt both familiar and strange in my hands.

Shooting an old film camera is nothing like digital. It makes me work slowly, to focus, to make every shot count. This Olympus OM-10 is teaching me about myself as an artist all over again.

It’s a wonderful gift.


I love that the word to describe an artist’s talent is “gift.” Don’t you?

In many ways, all artists view their creativity as a gift, a special endowment that we’re entrusted with. For better or worse – right?

When did life first show you that you had a gift?

What do you hope to do with it?

My wish is that 2017 is the year for you to share your gift in a way that makes your heart sing. And lets the world take notice.

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Meet Artist Karen Jilly

Rewind to the Great Recession of 2008. Galleries closed. Art dealers moved on. Curators chased other professions.

Karen Jilly, a mid-career artist who unlocks beauty in deceptively ordinary, forgotten cityscapes, suddenly found herself without key trappings of the art business. She was also faced with the immediate need to care for two aging parents.

“I decided to take a break from art. It seemed like a good time to focus on family. So I stepped away from the art world,” Karen said.

Karen converted her studio into a caregiving space. Any last artworks that she created were given away. She even stopped subscribing to art magazines, going to museums and galleries or staying in touch with other artists. “I purged myself. I thought I would feel better not doing art,” Karen explained.

But Karen didn’t feel better. “In my heart, I couldn’t really stop making work,” she lamented.

Not being an artist began to erode her confidence. “I lost my self-esteem, I lost a sense of value in my work and I lost my voice as an artist. I completely lost my identity,” Karen described.

Fast-forward five years. Karen received a call from former gallery director and friend Crista Cloutier.

Crista was building The Working Artist, a new online course for artists. After hearing about Karen’s situation, she persuaded her to try the class.

Karen was beside herself: “I was hesitant. I didn’t know what to expect. I had lost all faith that I could even draw or paint. I felt unworthy to take Crista’s course.”

Karen’s reaction to Crista’s curriculum was tenuous. She wondered if she was just too old or too exhausted to start all over?

In a Working Artist video, Crista described a litany of things that artists tend to pigeonhole about themselves—from too old or too young, to lacking money or time. It was the catalyst Karen needed. “Crista’s unique insight hits on all of the inner struggles that artists have.”

As Karen pored through The Working Artist, she gained confidence and momentum. “Crista’s teachings helped me rediscover my artistic voice and how to reexamine my entire body of work,” Karen emphasized. “Her methods have a way of cutting through to pin-point your stumbling blocks. She helped me uncover what I was really trying to say with my art at a time when I felt like I had forgotten how to even speak about my work.”

 “I have a real sense of wonder and purpose in my work again,” she mused. That’s what I’d lost: something calling me in the morning; having something to wake up for.”

Now, the woman who tried to erase herself as an artist is rising again like the Phoenix, mirroring the city she calls home. Karen Jilly, who once ignored her deepest callings—is now the subject of a 25-year museum survey!

“Alternative Beauty: The Work of Karen Jilly” opens at the Mesa Arts Center in Arizona, accompanied by a stunning 52-page catalogue.

If you have the opportunity to visit this exhibition, do. Otherwise, check out Karen’s gorgeous work at

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The Questions Every Artist Must Ask

As artists, we’re constantly questioning ourselves. And questions are good things, it’s important to ask questions.

But are you asking the right ones?

It’s easy to get caught up in questions such as:

  • Am I good enough?
  • Does anyone like my stuff?
  • Do I have what it takes to succeed?
  • Am I too old? (or too young, or too thin, or too fat, or too poor...)

These kinds of questions aren’t helpful because they’re disempowering.

I challenge you to begin asking better questions. Because the better the question, the more useful the answer.

Here are some questions that every artist should be asking.


That’s the best question to begin with. Ask yourself, as an artist, who am I?

You see, I believe that the artist’s life is all about answering that question. Your work is where you document your progress as you get closer to the answer.


What is it that you want to accomplish? If you’re like me, you probably have 100 answers to that question.

But sometimes when we have too many answers, that question never gets answered.

If you were to focus on what you want to do next, what makes the most sense as a next step for your practice, how would you answer that question?

What is it that you want to accomplish?


Where do you want to go? When you dream your dreams, where do you see yourself taking your work?

Are you going there now?

Are you at least pointing in the right direction?

Is it time to pull out the map again? 


Now. That’s the only answer to this question.

No, it’s not too late. It’s never too late.

So you tell me that you’re even older than the famed Grandma Moses? Then beat her record for being the world’s oldest artist and you will have your own Unique Selling Proposition.

But seriously, if not now, when?


“Why” is one of the most important questions an artist can ask. Ask it often.

  • Why is my art important to me?
  • Why do I feel compelled to create?
  • Why should people care about my work?

And I’ve said it before: I don’t care if your art is about craft, post-modern theory, politics, flowers, pet portraits or landscapes; just as long as you’re engaged with meaningful work.

Just as long as you’re trying to make the world a better place for you having been here.

And now you’re asking, How?

Baby steps. That’s how.

You are either on the journey or you’re not.

If you commit to baby steps, you’re always moving forward, you’re always engaged, you’re moving closer to your goal. That’s all that matters.

Never stop asking questions.

Because it’s questions that will lead you toward your answers.

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How Will Your Art Save The World?

I believe in the power of art. I believe that artists are leaders. And I believe that there has never been a time in our history when art has been so desperately needed.

This is a call to arms.

The world is changing quickly. As more people stare into their phones, trusting everything they see, following rhetoric that’s easier to believe than to question, art still has the power to make us think and feel.

Art is communication.

And though we find ourselves in the so-called “Communication Age,” never has there been greater need for true communication. Never has there been greater need for understanding, for ethics-driven principles.

Art brings human values back into the conversation.

So this is a time of opportunity for us. Not only do more avenues exist for you to share your work and spread your message, but your voice and sensibilities are essential now.

This is a time for artists to lead. For you to lead.

I understand that it’s also a very scary time. But know that artists throughout history have boldly risen to the challenge, and we shall too.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be apologetic. Don’t make yourself small.

Use your work to speak out about whatever you feel called to say.

How do you want to leave the world behind for you having been here?

If you read my messages, you know that I believe that art is about more than just pretty pictures. It’s about the communication of ideas.

That’s why I feel it’s every artist’s duty to use their work to heal the world. And it starts by using your work to heal yourself.

But, you might be thinking that your work is about flowers or pet portraits or landscapes. How can you heal the world?

I don’t think there’s anything more healing than beauty. Do you?

I know that this challenge is difficult. Being an artist always has been. It’s easier to succumb to the overwhelm of everyday life, the pressures of money and relationships and tasks.

But life will always give us this kind of friction.

And it’s even more difficult for us because as creators, we crave the “ah-ha” moments. We’re addicted to the euphoria.

The truth is that we need the friction that real life brings to create work of value. We need to push ourselves with new directions and new problems to solve.

We need to overcome these challenges in order to get to those places of flow, of magic, of connection. There’s no other way.

If you want change, you have to make that change happen. You have to be that change.

You must commit to the tasks at hand, commit to making work of value, and commit to sharing it with a wider audience.

This is how you will save the world.

Because you are an ARTIST.

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Who Will Save You?

I saw him across the crowded room at the high school reunion. The memories came flooding back.

He was my hero, always coming to my rescue.That time that I lost my footing climbing the tall theater ladder to the catwalk, he climbed up and carried me down.When a classmate was too rough with me, he suddenly appeared at my defense as he karate-chopped my tormentor.

When my ride home from work failed to appear and left me stranded, out of nowhere a motorcycle roared up. Once again, I recognized my hero straight away.

But when I introduced myself to him at the reunion, he didn’t remember me at all. “I’m sorry,” He smiled politely. Not a clue.

I was mortified.

Until I asked him to tell me about his life since high school.

He explained that he’s made a career out of traveling the world to lead search and rescue missions.

Search and rescue, of course!

I realized that all those times he played the hero didn’t have anything to do with me. He was probably rescuing kittens and other girls at the same time.

Because rescuing people was about him – That’s who he was.

And I thought about you and me and other artists. I’ve always believed that art isn’t just something we do. It’s who we are.

What would happen if we followed the breadcrumbs of our lives backwards? Would we find that the seeds of our inner artist were there all along?

I know I would. Would you?

At the reunion, my friends and I spoke about what we’ve learned about happiness over the years.

I’ve learned that happiness is about being more of oneself. Happiness is being able to experience our true nature, our true self, more deeply. That's why happiness is an inside job. It comes from inside and moves out, not from the outside in.

My friend found happiness through rescuing people because that's his true nature.

But what about you? Are you embracing your true nature? 

If not, don’t waste another minute waiting for someone else to rescue you.

Be your own hero.

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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

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