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Does your art suck?

Has anyone ever told you that your creative work sucks?
 
If not, just wait. It'll happen. And when it does, avoid the urge to hide in a hole. Instead, consider it a rite of passage...
 
I've been told several times over my career that I'm not a good writer. And my photographs have been dismissed as well. Like most artists, I internalized those hurtful comments and even believed them.
 
But I never let them stop me.
 
Well, for awhile I did give up my dreams and got a "real" job selling other people's art. But I pulled late nights and early mornings to write the scripts, essays, and books that haunted my spirit and demanded to be given voice.
 
I never stopped writing or taking pictures. I just couldn't. 
 
It took a long time to realize that "they," my critics, were simply wrong. Everyone brings their own experiences, aesthetics, and stories with them when they look at art. Just because someone doesn't like something, doesn't mean it's "bad."
 
But more importantly, no one is born a brilliant artist. It takes time and dedication to a consistent practice to get to the good stuff, to develop your craft and find your voice. 
 
A few years ago I was at a dinner party with the gorgeous artist Kiki Smith. Kiki's had massive success in her career, the kind most of us only dream about. We were talking about our journeys as artists. 
 
A curator quipped in, "I studied fine art in college, but I realized I wasn't a good enough painter to make it. So I became a curator instead."
 
Kiki caught him, "No," she said, "that's not why you quit. You quit because you aren't an artist. An artist wouldn't have quit. An artist would keep making art because he couldn't help himself."
 
It's that simple. It's not about whether you're good or bad, it's not about how much money you can earn. It's about owning who you are, giving voice to your ideas, doing the work, and not letting anyone stand in your way.
 
The difference between artists who succeed and artists who fail? Purpose and dedication.
 
Never quit.
 
 
 
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Overcoming Overwhelm

I recently suffered a crisis. My relationships weren't connecting, my creativity wasn't flowing. I was overwhelmed and overwrought. It felt like the work was stagnant and it became a battle to get through all the stuff that needed to be done. 
 
Have you ever felt like this?
 
In times of crisis, I look for those wise teachers in my life so I turned to Andrew David Smith. Perhaps you'll remember Andrew as I've written about him before? Andy is not only a talented artist, he's also a blind visionary and one of the most profound spiritual thinkers I've met.
 
I shared my angst with him, pouring out all of my frustrations and fears.
 
"It sounds like your be-ing is coming from your do-ing," he responded calmly.
 
My what?
 
"Your be-ing is coming from your do-ing. You have it backwards. For your do-ing should always come from your be-ing."
 
I was so moved by his words that I wrote them down. "My doing should come from my being." 
 
But what does that mean?
 
It means that the work you do, hell, everything you do, should come from the essence of who you are. It should tell the truth, be authentic, reveal your vulnerabilities, celebrate your strengths, share your story. And as artists, this is where our best ideas come from, this is where we encounter the flow. 
 
Too often we get hung up on productivity and results. We stubbornly cling to the timetables and outcomes we want. And we forget that it's all about the process.
 
When you start to define yourself by the results of your work, when you begin to believe the hype, or worse, internalize your failures and give power to your critics, you lose the way. Your be-ing has started to come from your do-ing. And this is when we find ourselves struggling.
 
Andy was right. The best work comes from within. Not from outside. "Center yourself," he said.  "And let your be-ing guide you as you move forward."
 
So now I ask you the question my teacher asked me ---                        
Is your be-ing coming from your do-ing?
 
Or does your doing coming from your being?
 
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Alumni Profile: Leslie Jean-Bart

“Becoming a working artist has literally saved my life.”

So admits Haitian-born photographer Leslie Jean-Bart. Now an avowed New Yorker, Leslie has spent the past few years as the sole caretaker of his mother who suffers from dementia.

But Leslie has always been an artist. His background includes a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, followed by an impressive photography career that took him all over the world. His commercial work has been lauded with accolades including award-winning books and photo-collage projects.

Yet despite the recognition, Leslie’s career was placed on hold when he had to shift his focus to his mother’s care. In looking for relief from his new, often challenging role, he began making regular treks to the beach near Coney Island. Never without his camera, Leslie began to discover inspiration and to document visual metaphor amidst the constantly evolving ebb and flow of the sands, tides, and reflections.

Leslie became possessed by the direction this exciting new work was taking him, but he lacked the confidence to take the next steps. In spite of his illustrious career as a photographer, Leslie admits, “I knew absolutely zero about navigating the fine art world before taking The Working Artist course.”

After completing The Working Artist Master Class, Leslie now has the tools to approach the art world with confidence. The course not only helped him create effective art career foundations – it also taught him the importance of cultivating strong relationships within the art world.

“The exposure I’m getting now is largely due to the relationships I’ve built. I would have continued to just focus on the work until Crista’s class made me realize how essential it is to be an active part of the artistic community.”

Along with newfound confidence and vibrant, active art connections, Leslie has observed that his entries and proposals for group shows and fairs are now being routinely accepted. What’s more, he’ll be featured in his first solo exhibition at Xavier University in New Orleans later this spring!

You can learn more about Leslie Jean-Bart’s beautiful work at http://www.realityimagination.com.

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Dancing With Haters

Artists often confide to me that they're afraid to put themselves "out there." Afraid of what other people will think. Afraid of what other people might say. Afraid of haters.
 
I get it. Both being an artist myself, as well as having an online business has opened me up to abuse. People can be mean. 
 
But we can't let the darkness hide our light.
 
Take Sean O'Brien, for example. Sean is not a svelte man; in fact, he's rather large. Out with his friends at a club in his hometown of Liverpool one night, Sean was moved by the music and started to dance. 
 
He knew people were laughing at him, and it hurt, yet he carried having fun with his mates. But the next day he realized that some idiot had filmed him and posted the video online. The comments it elicited were vicious and Sean wanted to hide under a rock and never, ever come out.
 
Sean had been shamed. And every artist knows, shame is most painful when aimed at that which comes from your heart.
 
Then a group of women in Los Angeles saw the video and its awful comments. They decided to give Sean's story a different ending.
 
First, they set up a campaign to find Sean. #FindDancingMan Then they invited him to a party in LA, held in his honor, and raised the money via crowd-funding to do so. 
 
1700 people donated to the cause and the opportunity to dance with Sean. All together, they raised over $40,000.
 
Imagine Sean's surprise when he found himself on a business class seat to Los Angeles. Imagine how he felt when he found that Moby had offered to DJ the party for him. When he found himself being interviewed on TV, invited to dinner by Monica Lewinski, and even throwing the first ball at a Dodgers game in front of a roaring crowd. 
 
The party itself was a massive success. Sean spent the whole night dancing with abandon, surrounded by love and acceptance. In the end, there was money left over to donate to anti-bullying charities in Sean's name.
 
Sean O'Brien wasn't afraid to dance that night in the Liverpool club. And the cyber-bullies who tried to shame him were never able to hide his light. For in a race between light and dark, the light wins every time.
 
So dance in your own light, let it shine for all to see, and never again be afraid of the dark.
 

 

 

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Men Like Him

He thought his career was over.

Bill Jay had been a professor of the History of Photography. He'd published dozens of books and hundreds of articles. He'd founded two majorly influential photography magazines. He'd travelled, given lectures, and taught around the world. As he supported other photographers, he'd become known as a fine photographer himself with solo exhibitions and books of his work.

And then he was bit by a rattlesnake.

One medical mishandling led to another, and Bill Jay was forced to retire and give up the career he'd built so passionately. He moved to a small seaside town outside San Diego and created a new life for himself, a smaller life.

No longer able to throw himself into his work, to travel, to carry heavy camera equipment, to meet with other photographers or students, Bill resigned himself to his fate.

But once a photographer, always a photographer.

He took to carrying a small digital camera in his pocket, always looking for new images to capture.

His daughter, noting the bearded and wizened faces of the homeless men who roamed the beaches of his new town, joked that this was the perfect place for him, "Look! All those old gits look just like you."

Bill looked at these homeless men, and realized that it was only fate that separated them. He began to meet these men, to talk with them and learn their stories. He took their pictures, shooting them in tight stark close-ups which he printed in hard blacks and whites.

He carried the prints with him and upon meeting one of his subjects again, would give him a copy of the picture. He imagined that, without a home, most of these images ended up in the trash.

But one day, one of the men came looking for Bill, "Come with me." 

He took Bill down an alleyway and into an abandoned warehouse where the homeless men were known to gather and drink. Once inside, Bill found that they'd staged an exhibition. Their pictures were all taped to the wall. They'd titled their show The Wall of Shame. But, in fact, they were proud.

Not prouder than Bill. He said it was the biggest accolade of his career. This small exhibition meant more to him than a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the perfect ending to his career.

A friend asked Bill if he could have a set of the prints? He took them to a homeless advocacy group in New York and they used the images to raise money for the cause. A book was published, titled Men Like Me, and suddenly Bill's career wasn't over. It was just different. But he was still using his work to help others, he was still making a difference.

And the success of Men Like Me led to two other book projects.

I've never known an artist to retire. That urge to question, to draw connections, to create, runs deeper than blood. And when we devote ourselves to it, when we share it and use it in service, the world can't help but notice.

The last time I spoke with Bill, he'd sold all of his belongings and moved to Costa Rica. "Crista," he said, "when you moved to France, you inspired me to change my life."

I inspired Bill Jay, the man who'd been my greatest teacher and mentor. Fancy that.

Bill Jay, who took this photo of me (above) the last time I saw him, died in his sleep in a hammock in his tiny Costa Rican hut. He was the Anne Sullivan to my Helen Keller, showing me how to see the world through new eyes and dance to its music. Because that's what teachers do.

I wish there were more Men Like Him.

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The Wise 11-Year Old Artist

My nephew Phoenix turned 11-years old yesterday, though I've always secretly suspected him of being 41. 

I'm visiting to help him celebrate his 11 years and see what new things he can teach me. He didn't disappoint.

"I've learned how to knit!" Phoenix announced proudly as he showed me his beautiful handiwork. He creates hair accessories and gifted me with a pretty red bow fastened to a barrette. I'm wearing it now.

I always knew Phoenix was an artist. But imagine how proud I was to discover that he's a Working Artist!

He'd created an Etsy shop for his wares. And a Twitter account. He'd learned how to promote his work well.

Even more impressive, he'd researched what others with similar products were selling their work for and set his prices accordingly. He took into account time and materials. He found out what the shipping rates would be and figured out packaging. I was impressed.

Phoenix shared his business philosophy with me, "I believe in under-promising and over-delivering." To that end, he created a discount coupon for returning customers.

He's even cut a future deal with a classmate who makes soap, taking a commission on her sales in his shop.

I asked what would happen if his hair accessories became suddenly popular and sold out? 

"That's not a problem," Phoenix assured me gravely. "I'm committed to spending every Saturday in the studio creating new inventory and expanding my range."

I've worked with a lot of wonderful artists in my career, but I don't think I've ever been more proud.

 

Visit Phoenix's Hair Duds on Etsy. And keep on eye on this one, I think this could be just the beginning.

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The Artist Who Couldn't Be Tamed

Artist Luis Jimenez died tragically in an accident in June of 2006. At the studio where I worked, Luis was the first artist I knew to pass away. Artists Fritz Scholder and Keith Haring had also worked with us and gone before him, but Luis was on my watch and he was family.

Luis Jimenez was inspired, charming, egotistical, accomplished, and cantankerous.

In the early days, when Luis was first working at the press, he would sleep at the studio so that he could work on his lithography stones all night.

By the time I met him, he was older, blind in one eye, and had suffered a heart attack. He slept in a fine hotel.

But the focus, the drive, and the talent were still there. Though he was primarily known for his monumental sculpture, there was no greater draughtsman than Luis JImenez.

When he was just starting out, a local gallerist decided to take a gamble and give him a place in a two-person exhibition.

But even that big gallery couldn't contain his ego. Luis didn't want a two-person show. Luis wanted a one-man show.

The deadline for the delivery of work came and went. No work, no Luis.

The day of the show arrived. No work, no Luis. The poor gallerist was beside herself.

Doors opened, guests arrived. Everyone poured into the other artist's room and the party began.

That's when Luis stormed in, a roll of butcher paper under his arm.

He went into the empty room that was to be his. He tore a sheet of butcher paper off from the roll, sat on the floor and he drew. He signed the drawing and cast it aside. A curious by-stander snatched it up.

Luis ripped away another sheet.

Now everyone was interested in what this mad artist was doing. They began streaming in and surrounded him. Then they started fighting for the work. He couldn't draw fast enough. The gallerist clutched fistfuls of checks and credit cards.

The next day, all of Luis's sculptures and prints arrived. Sight unseen, his show had already sold out.

It was the start of an illustrious career.

The boy whose parents carried him from Mexico on their back to a new life in America, would become a highly honored superstar in the art world.

Artist James Turrell once told me that he'd privately nominated Luis for a MacArthur Genius Award. Luis would have loved that.

Shortly before his death, I'd asked Luis to send me an updated resume. Instead, he faxed a handwritten account of his life. It was surprising in many respects, but mostly because it was uncharacteristically sentimental.

A few days later, he called and asked me to forgive him for being behind on a project that we were doing together. I'd never heard Luis apologize to anyone. Ever.

The following week Luis was killed when one of his monumental sculptures fell, pinned him to the ground, and severed an artery. He'd worked years on that piece and more than once I'd heard him complain that this project would be the death of him. And then it was.

Luis had completed a print with us a few years earlier and asked me to put the entire edition in storage rather than release it to the market. It was an odd request, but Luis was going through a difficult personal period, so the prints were packed away as soon as the ink dried.

After his death, I pulled the prints out. Denver Mustang with Airplanewas a study for the sculpture of the same name that killed him. It was a beautiful print of a rearing horse, but each time I looked at it, I saw more.

I saw Luis' characteristic bold lines that continued right to the edge of the stone. I saw how wonderfully he captured the spirit of his own favorite horse. I saw a life dedicated to the fierce expression of talent.

I saw the end.

Luis Jimenez had a wild spirit that wouldn't be tamed. It shows in his powerful work and it spilled into his professional life.

I don't advocate that any artist handle his professional obligations as Luis did, because Luis' career paid a heavy price for it. He was a lone cowboy, a renegade who was willing to take those risks.

But I believe that all artists harbor a wild spirit, and by connecting with it, by passionately protecting your spirit while putting it forward into the world through your creative expression, by believing with your whole heart and soul, you will make art that is strong and true. This is the lesson that Luis left for us.

Claim your wild spirit.

 

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Are You Giving Your Power Away?

I guess it won't surprise you know that I've always believed in magic.

I look for those small moments of synchronicity that let me know I'm not alone. I don't know Who or What it is that walks beside me, but by dropping that penny in my path, I've felt that everything is going to be okay. By nudging me to catch the sight of a falling star, I've been given an opportunity to make a wish. And the funny thing is, the more I look for magic, the more I find.

But when I worked in the art business, I stopped believing in magic. I was busy. It was a high-pressure job and I was responsible for a studio full of employees, and their families. If I didn't sell art, my employees didn't eat. And man cannot live on four-leaf clovers alone. The art business is really, really hard. If you think it's difficult selling your work, try selling the work of 100 artists. Or maintaining relationships with thousands of clients. I couldn't afford to have lean times; I had to make quotas right through recessions, art market fluctuations, good times and bad. There was no room for magic.

I had to rely on myself; to grit my teeth, put my head down and keep going, drawing on will power and grim determination. But when you rely only on yourself, you sometimes start to give yourself away.

Piece by piece, little by little, you can't believe that anything good will happen unless you make it happen. You work into the night because everything hinges on you. You sacrifice your sleep, your relationships, and your health. You smile at the client who just chased you around the gallery trying to steal a cheeky kiss, because you need to close that sale. You hire an assistant to drive back and forth to the Starbucks 8-miles away when a visiting big shot artist demands a steady supply of fresh hot coffee from THAT Starbucks, even though there's one right next door. Back and forth, to and fro, your poor assistant drives past 15 other Starbucks all day long, for six weeks! But your job is to keep that artist happy.

You stay professional when some of those you deal with are outrageous, offensive and even cruel, because you've given everyone else your power, believing that their cooperation is more important that your feelings. You hide your light for the sake of others.

The work held meaning for me because I believed in the art we were creating in our studios. And by placing it in major institutions and collections, I knew that it would have a life beyond me and my discomfort. That felt important enough to make sacrifices for. But what I learned was that when you measure success by numbers, your success is in the hands of other people. And sometimes you have to give away pieces of yourself to those people.

It was when I returned to living the magical life, things got a lot easier. It's not just about fairy dust and angels, you know. It's about finding a new way to measure success. It's about meaning. It's about faith.

For example, when I quit the art business and moved to the middle of nowhere in France by myself, I found that two dear long-lost friends had also moved to the same tiny village at the same time. And suddenly, I wasn't alone any more. Coincidence? Yeah, right.

It was when I started to work with other artists, teaching The Working Artist and sharing my secrets for selling art that the magic really started to escalate.

When I ran a crowd-funding campaign to bring the program online, artists from around the world supported me -- even though we'd never met. Then I needed someone to film and edit The Working Artist. And just like that, an old friend who happened to be a filmmaker re-appeared in my life and offered to do it - for free. When I needed someone to put my program online and create a learning platform that would speak the way artists learn, voila! Someone from a small island in the middle of nowhere offered me a platform he'd created for specifically for creative learners. And it looked exactly like the one I had in my head.

Each time I jump, the universe catches me.

When I trudged through life working, trying to make a quota, I suffered endless physical maladies. The world is heavy when you carry it on your shoulders. But now that I dance with The Invisible again, my life is richer. My faith is stronger. And grace happens.

So go ahead and make a wish. The funny thing about wishes is, it's impossible to wish for something you don't truly desire. Making wishes insures that you always follow your heart. And when you follow your heart, the world opens up for you.

Just like magic.

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The Magic Formula For Success

I was taking a week-long Deep Writing workshop with the extraordinary creativity coach Dr. Eric Maisel.

I've been writing for a long time now, so this wasn't a how-to class, it was more about connecting with my work on a deeper level. What I learned about myself is that I was ready to fully embrace the writer's life.

What does that mean?

It meant that I was committing to writing every day as a practice. Because that's really what being a writer is all about. Writing. It's not about being published. It's not about accolades or money. It's about sitting my behind in front of a blank screen every day and filling it with my ideas.

It's the same for all artists.

Consider your journey. It begins as an interest, a hobby. Maybe you've always made art? Maybe you've taken a break and just started again? But you suspect that this art thing is more than something you just do, it runs deeper than that. It feels like it's part of who you are.

The next phase happens when you start making good work. You've been doing it for awhile, but now something has really clicked. Your ideas start coming together, your work speaks to you and even to others. You begin to suspect that you might actually be ... good.

And then you don't.

One moment you're feeling great about your work and the next you're terrified. You struggle with confidence, with direction. And the only reason you keep going are those wonderful moments of clarity and connection. They're addictive. But life still gets in the way. You take a day off, and sometimes that day becomes a month or a year. Or more. But like a lover you can't resist, art keeps drawing you back.

And now you feel ready. You're tired of playing artist. You want to step into the role, to fully commit to becoming a Working Artist. But you don't know how.

This is where you devote your time to your practice. Maybe not every day, but a consistent schedule that you stick to. No more starting and stopping. No more allowing the fears and doubts to get between you and the work. You fully step into your Self. You become a Working Artist.

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But what about money? How do I make a living? It's fine to be working every day, Crista, but artists gotta eat too.

You're right. And this is the question I get asked most frequently. How can I make a living from my art? Everyone seems to think there's a magic formula to this stuff. And they're right.

Do 3 things each day toward marketing your work.

It could be a blog post, contacting a gallery, or researching grants. It could be a social media update, writing a new Artist Statement or planning an Open Studio event. It could even be taking an online workshop like The Working Artist.

Really Crista? Three marketing tasks a day? It's that easy?

Yes, it is. They could even be teeny tiny tasks, that's what I do, but at least it's forward movement.

Great talent and wishful thinking does not equal a business strategy. And we are talking about a business. But remember, the quality of your results depends upon the quality of your actions. So writing a half-hearted Artist Statement and stopping at the first draft because you hate writing, or sending blanket e-mails to galleries because you're too shy to contact them properly, or relying on The Google for your professional information because it's easy, aren't going to give you stellar results.

To play in the big leagues, you've got to up your game.

What I know for sure is that small consistent steps will deliver the results you seek. And I'm not alone; Dr. Eric Maisel preached the same formula at my writing workshop.

Understand that it takes time. And there's no final destination. Once you achieve your professional goals, you'll set new ones. Marketing has become part of your practice.

Whether you're ready to fully embrace your role as a Working Writer, a Working Artist, or a working anything, you've got to commit yourself to the work itself. And to bring it out into the world, you've got to commit to the tasks that will take you there.

This is the magic formula to success. So now the question is, what are you going to do with it?

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My Landlady is an Angel

I'd moved to England three years earlier, living in a small town in the country. It was pretty, but also pretty lonely. Facebook was my closest friend.

And it was on Facebook that I first met her. We were both American expats, she was living in London. We each used Facebook to share our creative work, and I quickly became a fan of her poetic posts.

We also shared a mutual friend; the boy who grew up across the street from me in Arizona had met her when he went off to art college in Maine to become a painter. The art world, I find, is a small world.

She and I admired one another's work and then, on a whim, decided to meet in person.

It was like I'd known her for years, her grace and calm beauty matched her lovely poems and we giggled at all the same things. A friendship was born.

It was when she invited me to her London flat that my admiration was cemented, I drank in every detail. I'd never fallen in love with a flat before. Could she be any more cool?

Yes, Companion and I had flirted with the idea of moving to London ourselves, but the city was suffering an epic housing crisis. There was just no way.

Until I received a message from my Facebook friend. She wrote, "My job is taking us to New York for three years, maybe more. We love our home and want someone to look after it, someone who loves it too. We'll give you a great deal. Will you come to London?"

It was shortly after moving into The Most Beautiful Flat in the World, that I went home to Arizona for a visit. I was talking to our mutual friend, the boy who grew up across the street from me, and I told him that I'd moved into her flat. Her, the girl he'd known at that Maine art college all those years ago. He laughed.

"Do you remember the painting I gave you," he said, "when I came home from college?" Yes! of course! I know the one, the painting with the beautiful angel. I've proudly hung it in every house I've ever had. I love that painting.

"That's her," he said. "She was my model when I painted it."

It seems she's been my angel all along.

We've lived in this flat for three years now and not a morning goes by that I don't say "Thank you" the moment my eyes open. It's magical.

But I guess that's what happens when your landlady is an angel.

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