Artist & Founder of Artists Who THRIVE
Listen to “This Artist’s American Life” Ann Rea’s interview with Alex Blumberg, NPR Producer of “Planet Money” and “This American Life” founder of Gimlet Media and creator of the podcast “Startup.”
An Ordinary Artless Suburb
I grew up an ordinary, artless, segregated white suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
Alcoholic family dynamics, and a British tradition of suppressing emotion, made a perfect recipe for my long struggle with anxiety and depression.
Channeling Unwelcome Feelings
Bored with school I chose to channel my unwelcome feelings into art.
A scholarship to a prestigious art school started my journey.
For five years I learned how to make art, not how to make money.
When I asked my professors about making money with art, I was dismissed.
An Impractical Practical Long Detour
I graduated. My student loan bill arrived.
Needing to make money, more than needing to make art, I abandoned art and moved to California with my seemingly steady handsome new husband.
Reluctantly, I took a practical job at a dull and militant computer company to pay my student debt and the mortgage for our new track home in suburbia.
While I endured two hour-long daily commutes to a grey-base colored office cubicle, my closeted alcoholic husband’s abuse emerged.
He falsified my signature on credit card applications, hid the bills, our track home entered into foreclosure. I needed a divorce and a place to live.
I asked for my family for help, their words, “You’ve made your bed, now you can lie in it.”
With no money or home, I took job with a relief agency and traveled from one natural disaster to another.
I enrolled in a self-development workshop in San Francisco where I met a writer experiencing “writer’s block.”
A week later I visited a childhood friend in Ohio.
She suggested that if I took up art again, I won’t be so sad. I ignored her.
We meandered into an art gallery and came upon a luminous sea scape painting.
Tears fell down my face. Then I noticed my friend’s misty eyes and we both stared laughing.
“What was that?” “Whatever it was, go get the watercolors you have hidden in your trunk and let’s paint.” I said.
In the moment after I decided to paint, I looked up. Ten feet in front of me stood the writer I’d met one week earlier in San Francisco, over 2000 miles way.
It was unreal. “Hello. Do you still have writer’s block?” I asked.
His forlorn reply. “Yes.”
“Because you’re just not writing.” I thought.
My friend and I sat in a garden by the art museum with her cheap watercolor set and for the first time in over a decade I painted, with ease.
What My Famous Mentor Didn’t Teach Me
After I returned home, I painted weekly.
I mustered the courage to seek help from Wayne Thiebaud, an American art icon, whose paintings were selling for over $1,000,000 at auction and a touring retrospective of his life’s work was displayed the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He said, “You’re talented, you should pursue painting full time.”
“But how will I make enough money?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m not a businessman.” He replied.
“The tax man sure thinks you’re businessman.” I thought.
So I started studying marketing.
Going Around the Art Establishment
Wayne Thiebaud revealed a persistent disconnect between making art and making money.
His glowing letter of recommendation, moved art galleries to crack open their doors. Sometimes I got paid, sometimes not.
So I went around them. I sold my painting myself and kept all the money. Some artists where jealous, some scared.
Kickstarter Before Kickstarter
While working at a music distribution company, and selling my art, my other mentor Gregory Kondos invited me to a painting retreat in the south of France.
But the following week my seven-year relationship ended abruptly and Napster finally annihilated the company where I worked.
I had to come up with the money to go to the south of France or lose half of of my large deposit.
I sold French chocolate from my office desk with a sign that read, “Send a kid to France.” My co-workers bought all of it.
I wrote a letter to everyone I knew offering to create a small painting in the south of France, made especially for them, if they enclosed $500 in the self-addressed stamped envelope by the following week.
My envelopes returned with enough to pay for my trip to France, a side trip to England to see the nice side of my family, and I earned a a profit.
All before Kickstarter.
After returning from France I took a job as a project management consultant at Pacific Gas and Electric working for a manager who was aptly nicknamed “Snotty Scotty.”
He kept asking my about my relationship with Jesus, during my billable time.
I respectfully changed the subject.
Then he waited until everyone had left the office and he silently backed me into a corner.
So I threatened to kick him, got around him, and I vowed to never to return to an office.
That evening I thought about my last job where too often I would sit and bitch about office politics with two work mates.
But one time, I remembered that both of them had actually just entered into remission from Stage IV breast cancer.
So I turned the conversation around and asked them, “If you had a magic wand and could do anything, and be assured of success, what would you do?”
“I don’t know.” Meyrea said sadly.
“I’d be an interior designer. But I’m too afraid.” Angela reluctantly replied.
“Are you more afraid of going after what you really want than cancer?” I asked.
“I would have an art studio overlooking the ocean.” I said.
My fear about not trying became scarier than my fears of failing as I faced the fact that none of us are getting out of here alive and we never know when we we’ll die or how.
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
From a Dream to a Plan
I decided to go for it and become an artist.
Then I spotted a small ad for a rental in San Francisco and I went to see it.
It was extraordinary. Less than a mile from The Golden Gate Bridge, directly across from the Pacific Ocean. I took it.
I didn’t have any local contacts but began writing a plan to sell over $100,000 of my art by the end of the year.
The $100K+ Goal
Living less than an hour’s drive from Wine Country and tourist dollars, I decided to use alcohol consumption as a marketing strategy.
I painted wineries’ vineyards and sold them the reproductions. I sold my original oil paintings at wine tastings.
Wineries gained a permanent presence in their customer’s homes and hearts, long after their wine was gone.
I didn’t have a reputation but I exceed my sales goal and made more money selling my art during my first year as a full time artist than I had ever earned in an office.
Then I heard from the press.
Slaying the “Starving Artist” Slur
Artists from around the world were asking for advice but at first I avoided them.
But the phrase “starving artist” became increasingly offensive. This disrespectful slur, that had once limited me, had to stop.
At a dinner gathering, after an interview with Jonathan Fields on The Good Life Project. Leo Babauta recalled why he went from an over weight and out of work writer, contemplating suicide, to creating Zen Daily Habits, with over 1,000,000 readers.
Scott Dinsmore, whose TED talk went viral that day, shared his favorite quote from Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This wisdom inspired “Live Your Legend.” A global community that meets in person to support each other to do work they love. Sadly, Scott lived as he died, while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro during a world tour of his community.
This gathering, and the artists I’ve worked with, inspired me to lead a revolt against the scarcity and permission based art establishment and show artists how they can sell their art without selling out.
Cracking The Code
I’ve compiled over a decade of my experience selling my art, combined with the experience many other of artists who I’ve mentored, from around the world.
For over two years I’ve poured this working knowledge into a clear road map. Including eight action-oriented courses revealing an iterative process of building an artistic enterprise.
The New Creative Class
My mission is to eliminate the disrespectful and destructive“starving artist” slur by inviting you to join a growing community of Artists Who THRIVE who secure their creative freedom through business savvy.
Founder of Artists Who THRIVE
Ann Rea’s artistic talent is commended by Wayne Thiebaud, an American art icon.
Rea’s art, and her business savvy, have been featured on HGTV, ABC, The Good Life Project, in Fortune and The Wine Enthusiast magazines, and in the San Francisco Chronicle, in the book Career Renegade.
She’s a popular instructor on Creative Live’s “Money and Life” channel, broadcasting to over one million students world-wide.
without feeling like a sellout.
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