Persistence | How We Overcame the Odds and Critical Challenges to Build a Successful Art Business

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had several conversations with artists who were feeling despondent about their business prospects. Though each had a different set of specific challenges, the general sentiment could be summed up in this blog post comment:

It seems like there are a 1000 artists for every buyer and that you need to know the secret password or have a key to the clubhouse to reach the few collectors that there are. Would love gallery representation but they are few and far between especially when you live 120 miles from the nearest big city. I have read Jason’s book and I follow his posts but I still feel I need the secret formula to get on the inside. How does an artist keep from getting discouraged and continue to keep striving for that larger audience?

Phil

I suspect that with a little reflection and self-honesty we can all identify with Phil at some level. It often seems like things just won’t go our direction.

I can understand Phil’s sentiment on several levels. First, I work with many artists who are right in the thick of the struggle. They’re working extremely hard to create great art and to find buyers, but just aren’t generating the sales they need to in order to make their business profitable.

More importantly, though, I can empathize with Phil because I’ve been in the same position myself with my business. Without boring you with too many details, let me briefly share some of the struggles my wife Carrie and I have faced as we worked to turn Xanadu Gallery into a successful business.

Many of you already know the basic outlines of my story after having followed the blog or having read my book, but let me begin by hitting the highlights of our story.

I’ve been in the gallery business for over 20 years. I began by working in a large, western art gallery in Scottsdale while still a teenager. I literally started at the bottom of the business, working in the backroom of the gallery shipping and installing art, and running errands for the owner of the gallery. Over the years, I worked my way up to a sales position.

Carie and I just after opening the gallery. Young, hopeful, more than a bit naive, and with far less grey hair!
Carie and I just after opening the gallery. Young, hopeful, more than a bit naive, and with far less grey hair!

After I married Carrie, we decided that we wanted to have our own gallery. Part of this desire was that we had a great love for art and wanted to try our hand at showing work that was a little different from the other art being shown in Arizona.

We also thought that there was the potential to make a good income for our growing family. I started in the business in the mid 1990’s when there was a huge boom in the art market. The dot-com millionaires were buying a lot of art, as were the oil barons and business executives. It seemed like all one had to do was put up a sign, hang some art on the wall and start reaping the profits.

Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t great. We opened our gallery on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, and at literally the same moment, the world fell apart. Not only was that fateful day in the fall of 2001 the dawn of the war on terror, it roughly coincided with the bursting of the dot-com bubble. The easy money in the art business dried up, and the party was over. Just as we were opening, many galleries closed.

Starting any business is incredibly hard, but in the ten years after we opened, we also faced the advent of artists selling directly to customers on the internet, and the largest financial crisis of the last 70 years. Just thinking about it as I write this makes me feel weary!

It would be easy to say “but we survived – all you have to do is hang on!” but saying that would be glossing over the huge sacrifices we had to make and the struggles that we faced.

These struggles and sacrifices are far enough in the past now that I feel I can share a few of them without suffering a mental breakdown. I want to share the struggles, but also what I learned from them in the hopes that it might help you with whatever challenges you are currently facing.

Do Whatever it Takes to Make it Through

As we struggled to get Xanadu Gallery off the ground, we built great relationships with art buyers and collectors and had some great sales. Unfortunately, in the beginning, the sales were sporadic. For the first few years it seemed as if no matter how hard we worked and how many sales we generated, our expenses outpaced our revenue. We quickly burned through our meager savings, racked up credit card debt and took out home equity and bank loans. We borrowed money from family members across the continent.

We thought that if we just kept at it, eventually we would get over the break-even point and start to realize a profit. As the years went on, however, it seemed as if the hole was only getting deeper. We were in a slow spiral where debt was paying for debt.

At one point during those years, my truck’s transmission went out. There was simply no way to pay for the repairs. So, I rode the city bus to get to the gallery. I had hoped that this would be a temporary situation, and it was; I only rode the bus every day for three years! I would have to rent a U-Haul or borrow a vehicle to deliver art to clients.

We sold our house to pay for debts and rented a tiny house for our growing family.

At one point, I took a part-time job working from 5 am to 9:30 am, after which, I would rush to the gallery on the bus to work all day, and often into the evening. That part-time job was the only way I could put food on the table.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that much of what we did in our personal lives in those early years was done out of desperation. But we did what we had to do to survive, and we did survive.

You Have to Believe, Even if Believing Makes Absolutely No Sense

DSC_1671So why did we stick with it? You can believe me that there were many moments during those hard years that I stopped and asked myself if it was all worth it. Every time I asked that question, however, somewhere deep down inside the answer would come. “Yes.”

I believed to my core that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I love owning a gallery. I love working with art lovers and helping artists make their dreams come true. I was never able to imagine myself doing anything else, and so, in spite of the fact that it made absolutely no sense to do so, we kept at it.

Make a Plan

As we worked through the years to build our business, we were always trying to do something new. We always had a plan in the works. We mapped out marketing strategies, we created show schedules, outlines and benchmarks, and we came up with client interaction scripts. I can’t think of any phase of our business where I was just headed into the gallery to sit at my desk and wait for someone to come in the front door, and I still don’t. I have found it incredibly powerful to create a roadmap and then pursue the plan with every ounce of energy I have.

You Have to Work Beyond the Point of Exhaustion

I will sometimes chuckle when I hear a friend complain about an arduous week at the office that required hours of overtime. As a small business owner I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with myself if I were only working a 40 hour week. I have found myself in the gallery hanging a show at 2 0’clock in the morning, and I’ve worked 65 day stretches without taking a day off. In fact, even when I’m not in the gallery, I’m almost always working.

I suspect you feel the same way as an artist, but, tell the truth, can you imagine doing anything else?

Remember, no Matter how Bad it is, it Can Always Get Worse . . .

There were many times along the way that I thought to myself, “this is it, it can’t possibly get any worse than this.” And then it would. I guess that through many of the trials, my belief kept me going, but after a while I simply became numb to the tribulations that seemed to keep piling on.

And there was something deeply liberating about knowing that however bad it got, and even as it went from bad to worse, we could keep going. At some point misfortune no longer holds any power over you.

You also realize:

However Bad it is, It’s not as Bad as You Think it is, And it Will Get Better

DSC_1665At one point, just after the stock market crashed, I looked over our financial situation and realized that things had reached a critical stage. We were behind on our gallery and home rent and bills. Sales had dropped off a cliff with all the news of banks collapsing and impending fiscal crisis. We now had four children ages 8, 5, 2, and 1. I admit it, I flinched, and I realized I better look at the alternatives.

I sat down with a bankruptcy attorney and gave him all the gory details of our financial situation. As I finished explaining, I sat back and expected the attorney to shake his head and tell me what an amazingly awful situation I was in, and how I should be ashamed of myself for making such a mess of things.

Instead, I remember him looking down at my balance sheet and asking, “Has anyone sued you?”

“Well, no,” I said.

“Is your landlord threatening to evict you?”

“No, not yet.”

“Well,” he said, “if I were you I would keep doing what you’re doing. Keep in touch with all of your creditors to let them know what’s happening, and just keep at it!”

This was not the conversation I had been expecting. I’m not sure if he looked across the table and saw something in my eyes that told him I would succeed, or if he looked over my balance sheet and realized there was no money for attorney’s fees, but I would rather believe the former.

I did exactly what he advised, and was able to renegotiate our lease and obtain forbearance from our other creditors.

Walking up to the door of that attorney’s office has to be one of the low points of my life, and yet, within a few short years of that encounter, everything had turned around. Sales picked back up, and we were finally in a position to make a real profit. Things have only improved since then, and, I believe, having passed through all of these difficulties made us both smarter and wiser.

Faith

Finally, I’ve learned that it’s incredibly helpful to feel that, at some level, your success is out of your own hands. I’m never one to mix business and religion, and I don’t care if you believe in an almighty creator, in fate, chaos, or karma, but there are going to be times when you flat out need a miracle or two.

Conclusion

GallerySquareAnd so, going back to the question Phil asked in the beginning of this post, is there a secret formula or magic word that brings success? If there is, I’ve never been lucky enough to find it! There’s nothing easy about the business, and there aren’t any shortcuts.

Of course, in a post like this I can really only scratch the surface of what the last fifteen years have taught me. But I hope this gives you a glimpse of what I’ve found it takes to make it.

Can I promise if you do everything I did that you will succeed? Absolutely not. Failure is not only possible, but even likely whenever you set out to pursue a dream. At no point was our success guaranteed, and for that matter, it still isn’t. I can only hope that 50 years from now I’ll be in a position to write another post like this – and I suspect I’ve only begun to learn the lessons that are still ahead – but what an awesome journey!

Acknowledgements

I would be ungrateful if, after writing a post like this, I didn’t acknowledge the amazing support I have received from everyone in my life.

First, I can’t express enough gratitude for my wife Carrie through all of these years. She has made incredible sacrifices, beyond what a mere mortal could withstand, and has remained a faithful and loving partner.

I would also like to thank my parents, and especially my mother, who stepped in as my gallery director during the financial crisis and worked without pay for a year, and then stayed on and has become an incredible asset to the business. If you’ve had the fortune to meet her, you’ve undoubtedly gotten a sense of her dedication and enthusiasm.

I also thank Carrie’s parents, who have not only been a source of financial help, but also incredible moral support.

I also have to thank the amazing collectors who’ve caught Xanadu’s vision, and the artists who have crafted amazing art that captures the imagination and the heart.

What do you Think?

If you are an artist who has found success through persistence, what advice would you give an artist who is struggling? What have you done that has helped you weather the storms and build a successful career?

If you are an artist who is struggling, what helps you get through the daily struggle?

Tell your story, or share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

59 Comments

  1. I knew the essence of this story, but am going to save this post to read every time I start feeling low. No one promised any of us, in any walk of life, an easy ride. Every morning I tell myself: “Get up. Get dressed. Get going.” Your courage and perseverance — and that of your family and friends — will always be an inspiration.

  2. My art career is beginning to take off after huge struggles & sacrifices. I have had other careers but have only truly felt that I am an artist & I have to create art! Self belief is vital & I have always had that in abundance.

    I use visualization techniques, I visualize myself as the artist I want to be having the career that I want to have & just keep working towards that goal come what may… When the successes come they are so much sweeter because of the struggles & I appreciate them so much.

    I met one of my collectors at the weekend for the first time & what a pleasure it was, such a lovely couple! They want to commission me to paint a picture of their vintage Jaguar car & they introduced me to a gallery owner that wants to represent me. I love to meet the people that buy & collect my artwork, no other career could ever satisfy me as much & I just love it!

    1. The comment above – “I met one of my collectors at the weekend for the first time & what a pleasure it was, such a lovely couple! They want to commission me to paint a picture … I love to meet the people that buy & collect my artwork” – relates directly to a different comment thread about whether or not a gallery should share client contact information with artists. How could the artist and collector get to know each other if galleries won’t share information with their artists? If they do share information, what is an appropriate referral fee for the gallery if the collector commissions further work? Does that entitle the gallery to a fee every time forever if the collector commissions work or purchases other pieces over a period of several years without gallery involvement?

  3. Hi Jason,
    thank you very much for this post. Wow, what a journey. I admire your dedication and persistence. I am starting my journey (I create and sell knitting patterns online). And I already can see it is not easy, it takes more time and effort than I expected. And yes, I do need persistence and do need keep going. People like you inspire me a lot, it keeps me going.
    Thank you very very much.

  4. An excellent article , thank you for sharing . Let me share a few things with you. I’m at an age (70’s) with declining health and energy . The short story is having worked at other occupations to support a family left little time for real development with painting, but that’s not a complaint. I would not trade my wife and boys for all the artistic success in the world . To try an built a reputation or career at this stage seems to be out of reach. Of course I’m open to any suggestions.

  5. How true it is that you learn more from failure and challenge than you do from success.
    In a life long journey of creating art, I have found three incidents, in particular, that charted new directions and improvement in my work as an artist. One was the temporary loss of use of my legs, the other was a wax fire that left third degree burns to my hands, the most current is the increase in a hereditary tremor. Each challenge you face forces you to think outside the box you are in. So, it is not a matter of accepting defeat, it is the celebration of accepting the challenge. Don’t cheat yourself of the opportunity to grow by accepting defeat. Believe in your dream, chart a course and set sail.

    1. I have developed Essential Tremor and was upset with how this was affecting my painting, so I research whether other artists might be dealing with this. I was surprised to find that quite a few artists deal with it and have found various ways to work around it. Like some painters go off into Impressionism. Even though it’s still mild, it’s caused me to re-evaluate my technique and to be more adventurous about painting.

  6. Jason, I’m incredibly proud to call you friend. It’s been a pleasure and honor to work with you on various projects over the years. In the decade I’ve known you, I’ve never seen an ounce of self-pity. Quite the contrary, you exude confidence, competence, and good will. I’m sure that is what the bk lawyer saw, too. Thanks for sharing this powerful story. I’m sure you will help thousands of artists and other small business people to not give up on their dreams.

  7. Jason, thank you for your continued support and sharing of your insights to us artists. Your blog posts are always worth reading!
    It was very confirming to read this latest blog as I have had similar experiences and feelings over the past 20 years.

    Thank you for sharing so much about yourself .
    Sincerely,
    Jeannine Young

  8. Thank you Jason and all the people who shared. I have worked as an artist for many years and am starting to have the success I’ve worked for and dreamed of. Persistence seems to be a key ingredient in my success and most people’s success. Persistence and focus. And patience. Finding community in the process is one of the wonderful benefits too.

  9. Thank you Jason for sharing some more of your life story and so nice to see the great photo of your lovely family.
    I am a positive person and always hope for a better day ahead when experiencing difficulties. Like you, I also believe in having a plan to follow because the things a person wants, are not going to magically fall into place without a path mapped out. And yet, what a person wants might not even materialize exactly as planned even with hard work. But it is best to spend some time doing what you love, give back to the world, treat everyone with kindness, and try to stay upbeat even when things seem to be at rock bottom. Don’t look at problems in defeat but as challenges to overcome, and to grow as a person, as an artist. Live life with a smile.

  10. Thanks Jason,your story and journey is a remarkable evidence in purpose,self perseverance and continual hope.If we truly believe we are in the right place doing the right thing it will be challenged beyond any limit.That is where we are melded and burnishd to stand and keep going.I will keep going!

  11. Great Story Jason. While raising my 4 kids I had a rule that I had to visit my studio everyday, usually after a full work day. On weekends I set up the kids with story tapes and made rules that no one could talk for 15 minutes while I painted. Gradually I carved out more and more time for my art. For the last 20 years I have painted at least 6 month of the year. I put all the money from sales in an account and pay myself (a small wage) to paint. I work/play hard at my art and less hard at the marketing which is a current quest. I have a rich and fulfilling life as an artist and it seems like magic when I actually get money for my work.

  12. When I made the conscious decision to be a professional artist I had left a full time job and moved to a smaller city. I was prepared to live a frugal life. Buying food on sale, purchasing clothing at the Thrift stores etc. just made sense. I got a part time job. I saved and bought a used van for transporting my art.
    I buy art supplies when they are on sale. Several artists get together and carpool to art supply stores and shows. I have done some bartering , exchanging art for services. It does not mean you have to be the ‘starving artist’ It means you have to watch your money and spend wisely. Eat at home.
    Think twice before becoming a full time artist if you have no financial savings or someone to help pay the bills.

  13. Jason. What a wonderful story! I remember when I first signed up for your ABA course. I ran across a google story on galleries titled “failing galleries in Scottsdale ” and name Xanadu was in the first part of the teaser. My heart stopped for a moment and then I read the whole story. It said many Scottsdale galleries were closing, but Xanadu was growing – giving credit to you because you were changing the gallery model by using social media and helping artists learn how to market their work. It was high praise well deserved. I have painted part time for many years while teaching. Health problems required that I quit teaching but my need to paint is what helped me survive. Perseverance and taking your course have helped me find galleries and also start a newsletter. The newsletter has helped me connect and reconnect with many people who own my art that I’ve never met. One woman who saw my newsletter on Facebook wrote me and said she owns 3 of my pieces and is coming to visit my studio next week.
    I feel so fortunate to have my passion and the energy to be persistent in my painting.

  14. I know this will sound way too simplistic. If you have decided this is what you are going to do then stop thinking about it. That means you are done with “if” and now it’s all about “what” and “how”. If you are REALLY done with “if” there is no point in wasting any more energy on it. Take a second job, take a third job, live in the basement, take the bus, forget going to the movies and dining out. You just do whatever you have to do to make it happen. In reality there is no failure – it is only a thought.

  15. Hello Jason,

    Thank you for sharing this story! I would only add that as an artist you make a commitment to producing art for 50 years! In that time you will fail many times and succeed many times. It is the cycle of making,learning and creating, being, becoming and beyond that keeps us all in this wonderful profession.
    Again, Thank You for sharing your story,
    Sincerely,
    Reno Carollo

  16. Thank you, Jason, for such an inspirational story. I’ve heard you explain your experience is briefer forms, but it is so motivational to hear the “full” story. I agree with you and what others have said. Persistence, self-confidence, trusting yourself and using things like blogs and newsletters to allow others to trust you are all essential ingredients for success. I’m lucky to be focusing full time on my art after working in another business for a number of years allowing our family to get through those earlier tougher times. Now working hard to make a second career, as a full time artist, requires many of the same things that made me succeed in my first career, with an even more genuine effort to get to know collectors and build rapport with them in new and different ways. Thanks for all that you do for artists and all the inspiration lessons you share with us.

  17. Jason, I really enjoyed this article. I can definitely relate to the struggles you had starting your gallery. I opened my executive suite business in 1984 in Houston when the oil and gas industry went into recession. I used credit cards and fortunately had free rent on a long term office lease. It is difficult to start a business and I think you did an amazing job. My story continued in that I sold the business in 2008 and as a result I have a cushion for the gallery business I started in 2011. Thank goodness. Like you, I think the business is wonderful and plan on continuing. I can also relate to the artists, as an artist myself, there have been times the past year when I wondered why bother. But I’m still at it and I can say, if you’re able to stick with it, things will get better.

  18. Hi Jason thanks for a great article and your honesty. I am a partner in a gallery from the bottom of the world on a tiny island called Tasmania. Huon art is now 15 months old and every month has paid its bills and artists but as yet not us! What struck me most in what you wrote was the unseen higher power that surrounded you for we too feel this. We love our gallery (my partner John works from home doing all the admin) I work in the gallery sometimes 21 days straight (haven’t reached your 65 as yet!) we love and respect our hand picked artists but often there is a human story behind why someone is buying a particular piece of art. I know that there is more than the physical element involved.
    For example a lady saw a piece titled “going home” it was a painting of a Tassie Tiger walking through bushland. She came back to the gallery 3 weeks later on a Monday saying I can’t stop thinking about this painting I am going to buy it. I found out later that at the exact time of purchase the artist’s father had died and the message to the artist was “I’m going home”.I could repeat similar stories a dozen times. The spiritual side of our art gallery is something we cannot understand but I always say our little art gallery isn’t just an art gallery.

  19. Hi Jason, Outstanding blog. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I have read a number of art blogs. The on going theme was not to give up. NEVER… Thanks for your book and blogs. Artists, follow your passion and not a trend. Great picture of your family…

  20. Jason, I wish I still lived in Tucson, I’d love to meet you! Your story is the story of all true entrepreneurs; I know, I was one for 25 years, and am now a professor of entrepreneurship, and (newly) a painter, having “semi-retired” from teaching. I find I am now trying to think about my work as an artist in the same way I did my business, and in the way I teach students about startups. The most valuable part of your article, I think, was the part about talking to the bankruptcy lawyer. Faith (and passion) are essential, but after that, you must be analytical: what’s working? what’s not? How can you manage uncertainty? What can you control, and how can you diversify away risk that you cannot control? Who are your best customers: focus on them. Learn to say no; not everything is an opportunity or good use of your time. Trust your judgment about your own business (work) and don’t do things just to please: focus on the long term (that belief in what you do) and the highest standards. Educate people to make them followers.Be prepared to have it take time. There’s more, but this is what I thought of as I read your post. I have only been painting for 16 months, but am having some success but, most of all, I am doing what I believe in, and I am ruthless about my own work and standards. I couldn’t care less what people “want”: the cardinal rule of entrepeeneurism is that they don’t know until you show them and help them see why they need/want it..

  21. Thank you Jason . . . Very inspirational! Through the years I have worked concurrently a full time graphic designer, freelanced as a graphic design, and worked in both my metalsmithing and painting studios. Not making art is simply not an option for me and so I do what I can to develop my following, galleries, and collectors. Sometimes it’s a slow-moving ship, sometimes it all comes together like a beautiful dance!

  22. Jason, Thank you for sharing your story. It is inspiring and is a great reminder to me of a quote from the I Ching, “perseverance furthers.” We often see the surface glamour of a life, and most often never know the endurance and perseverance it took to get there.

  23. Thank you for sharing such detail Jason! Your story clearly defined perseverance. I’m currently reading a book titled GRIT by Angela Duckworth. Her definition of grit is passion combined with perseverance and her whole theme us how it’s not those with the most talent who succeed, but those with the most grit. Clearly you have a lot of grit! As artists we need to be willing to do what it takes, as long as it takes!

  24. Jason thank you for sharing, as folks like to say here in West Michigan. Thats what life as an artist feels like, where you seem to be failing everyone, especially your kids, the only thing left is the art. The difficulty also led to social practice, the most urgent need. in admiration

  25. Thanks Jason….beautiful story, beautiful family. As the parent of an adult son with classic Autism, I know what it means to persevere. Keep calm and carry on….easier said than done sometimes, but the alternative is always counter-productive! Life is BIG!

  26. Retail and small businesses share a common denominator … struggle. I’ve never known a business that didn’t. Neither have I known one person who was born into so much wealth they started their own business immune from challenges. We live in a volatile world on an economic roller coaster. Success is not inevitable. Pluck any era out of history and we read of incidents that buried many a solid concept, many a well run business. Entrepreneurs are called on to be almost visionary prophets. You can do everything absolutely right and still fail … financially.
    I don’t think I’m missing the point here but name any business that is exempt from problems. It’s inbred to a capitalist economy. My resume is ridiculous having worked in so many industries; none were exempt and I didn’t expect art to be either.
    The difference is, making a living verses serving a calling.

  27. Wow what amazing resilience and commitment. I sure most would not get past the bankruptcy attorney. If not too personal I would love to hear more about your wife and the labor she may have dedicated to the business. The role of a mother/partner (looks like you have 4 children!?) can be overlooked as a huge asset to the overall operations!

  28. Thanks so much for sharing the story of your struggles over the years to not only get Xanadu up and running, but thriving. You’ve been through a lot! Probably a lot more than you have related here, but your belief in your self, perseverance, hard work, long hours and the help and support your incredible family has seen you through. You should be very proud of what you have accomplished and for sticking with it when many would have folded. You continue to work at a pace that absolutely amazes me. You deserve every single bit of the success you have achieved. I hope you, your family and Xanadu continue to thrive far into the future.

  29. Jason, I feel like one of the family as I met you when you came and talked in Charlotte, right after the start of the financial crisis. I have followed you and your lovely family, including your mother, ever since. And I admire you greatly, especially how honest you are about your life and about your views about artists. I have read all your advice from your posts for many years, purchased your book, took courses from you and your mother and have enjoyed and learned much from those experiences. And I have advertised my art in your catalog many times with some success as you have sold some pieces.

    You are so right. It is a struggle and sometimes you just feel like talking to the universe and ask them to send you a sign that you are on the right path. And if it isn’t the sign you wanted, throw it back up there and tell the universe you want a better sign! I have been an artist in one form or another most of the last 30 years as an illustrator and graphic designer with my own business. But my heart has always belonged to fine art painting but could only do that when time allowed for many years because I had to make a living. When the financial crisis came along it was actually a turning point in my life. My business was floundering so I closed it and went into painting full time. My belief is that you have to make the best out of what the universe is giving you so I put all my efforts into painting and building up a reputation. And meeting you and following you has helped in that endeavor.

    I have to say it has been a struggle but the answer for me and what I always cling to is that you have to believe in yourself and so that is what I do. Several years ago, with the death of my husband, my whole world turned around again. It took me awhile to pick up the paint brushes but then I had to put them down again because of buying and renovating a new place I purchased so that I could downsize for me and my lab, Annie. What a project and again my brushes sat idle. But 4 months ago, I picked them up again and am feeling stronger then ever that this is my purpose.

    Life has a way of interfering with your dreams but a lesson that I learned when I wasn’t painting was that something vital was missing in my life and if I didn’t get it back, I would wither and be unhappy no matter what else I was doing. I know this must be apparent to many artists that have many painted canvases sitting around their studio unsold as I do. But what can you do when art defines your soul and purpose in life? So believing in yourself and your talent is my advice to those who struggle at times with what seems to be the artist’s plight in life. Start a new painting or sculpture. And you will get the call from your gallery or association that someone wants to buy your painting if you believe it will happen and take all the necessary steps. I got that call last month for one of my paintings selling for $3100 from my gallery and the man was from Washington, DC and he was buying it for his daughter’s wedding present! Hurray.

  30. I too sat down with a bankruptcy attorney. I was worried that business was failing, my painting wasn’t making money, and since I wanted to get married I wanted to know how it would affect my new spouse if I needed to go bankrupt. He too looked at the financials, put them down and looked at me seriously. Then he asked if I was happy at the thought of the marriage, and I said extremely. Then he asked me if my prospective spouse knew of my finances. I laughed and said, yes, we have lived together for 10 years! He smiled and said, “Go get married. Be happy. And if the time comes I will work with you. But the time is not now. I don’t even see the time in the immediate future. Never ever drop your dreams on just the possibility of failure.”

    We have been married for 4 years in August, and we still have not needed to go bankrupt, yet. SMILE. Thank god for honest attorneys! I think back on how he turned a customer away with no payment whatsoever…. Keep faith and do what you love.

  31. Jason you are an inspiring person. Reading it was like reading my own personal story of my own similar struggles. My husband’s booming building business crashed under Jimmy Carter along with the whole construction trade. We ate apples from the public park to feed us. No food stamps. We owned our house so we did not qualify even with zero income. We tried to sell our home with no luck. We rented it out to another family for just enough to pay the mortgage and we rented another smaller cheaper place and sold door to door vacuum cleaners to make that rent. A church we did not even belong to gave us food. We had 2 handicapped children in wheelchairs. We endured and got through it without destroying our credit. My husband went on and got back into business as the economy improved.

    I started to pursue my own art career in the 90’s ( after the kids grew up) when you could sell it as fast as one could create it. I suffered the same fate as you and many others. I don’t sell much anymore. Seems to go in streaks. Definitely more when I take time to market myself. Gee there is actually something to that! I mostly paint for myself now and my sanity.

    I am glad for your blog and inspiration it brings me. The community of artists who comment on your posts remind me I am not alone in this journey of life and learning.Keep writing! I feel like I sort of know you from it. I met your Mother 3 years ago in a visit to your gallery. She is very sweet and made us feel very welcomed there. She is an asset to your family and gallery.

  32. I’d like to respond to Phil’s question of “what the secret password is…” There is no “word”; only determined action. We artists imagine and create our art, so imagine and create the opportunities you need to get your art out there. The life of an artist is not so easy. We turn our dreams into reality…with hard work. Isn’t creating your art a necessity?
    When the recession hit and my galleries and agents told me they had no sales; I started driving the 60 miles to the next large town. I set my art up in Flea Markets, small art and craft shows and anything else I could find. I got my art out there. I talked about it with anybody that seemed interested. I sold my art! I sold my art to people who had never bought a piece of original art! They were all so THRILLED! Which made me feel really great. Will those people enjoy my art and how it makes them feel in their homes? Will they now look at other artists work with more interest, understanding and appreciation; perhaps buying another piece of art; maybe from me but more likely some other artist. It is Hard Work, but for me being able to create my art is as necessary as breathing. I do what ever I have to, in order to keep creating what I love to do. Oh yes! Staying open to the Serendipitous Opportunity that may come your way is important too.
    Jason, I’ve appreciated your blogs for years now. The inspiration, sharing and hard work you’ve shared with us all; it’s helped me along my way. Thank you.

  33. What a great story Jason, one I can relate to . We had our own business for 20 years (building kilns for glass art, pottery, etc) and in the end, it more or less ruined us; financially, credit wise, etc. But, we hung on and I continued to create art the whole time and tried my best not to let it affect the art I produced. It was not easy, in fact, it was miserably hard, and there were times I thought it would cost us our marriage. But—it didn’t. We’ll be celebrating our 33rd anniversary in January.
    You are such a positive influence on many of us and your candor is appreciated. It gives all artists a boost to hear that a good –or even great– outcome is possible if you hang in.
    Plus, you have a lovely family!
    Thanks..

  34. Thank you for such a forthright and honest story. I’m sure we all feel like we’ve known you forever now. But more than that I feel like I haven’t got a thing to complain about. I appreciate how you are running the academy and how you are helping not just me, but so many artists. Good on you Jason.

  35. Someone told me that in the art world, it’s the persistent artists, combined with a ton of hard work who have the best chance to “make it” – kind of like the last man left standing. We’ll, I would refine that by adding that by consistently developing your skills, finding your unique voice, and being as professional with gallery owners as possible, doors open a little wider. I just got back from installing an exhibit of my work. The gallery coordinator asked if she could use my show entry package and write-ups as an example to other artists on the right way to apply for a show. She’s done offering opportunities to artists who don’t take the time or care to follow her instructions or write good marketing copy, provide good photos, don’t show up for “meet the artist” nights, or even showing up on time to deliver/pick up their art (which she said has been happening lately). If we as artists do everything possible to make a busy gallery owner’s job easier, then I’ve found, they become a real partner in marketing your art. We need to be thankful for the opportunity a gallery gives us rather than thinking we are doing THEM a favor by dropping off some art.

  36. Jason you are truly inspiring and such a lovely family. I just keep moving my feet
    after so many challenges these past couple years. I finally now have been working on
    updating my website . Thanks to you for your on going support and newsletters.
    Gratefully, Joanie

  37. Thank you, thank you, and THANK YOU! I. needed this most vulnerable post today. Ill confess i was dragging my feet geting into the studio today. It’s been a long hard season and just telling myself to keep going wasn’t working the magic. Thank you for the energy injection!

  38. Sounds like a common thread. “ON the Ropes” each persons tribulations are lessons in our lives. Yes, we too had struggles and by the grace of God survived. Now retired I am working / aspiring to an art career. (part time) I have learned that you have to believe in yourself (or why would anyone else.) Work hard and do at least one thing everyday to move toward your goals. Make a list – doesn’t have to be a formal “plan” – but what you need to do to help meet your goal. Use building blocks – they build success.

  39. Hi Jason, yours is such an incredible tale of survival against all odds that I find it difficult to properly comment on it. Looking back on your work ethic learned at a young age, I’m not at all surprised that you would keep working at your dream until it was finally realized. And, as the saying goes,”behind every good man is an equally good woman” is surely true in your case – obviously you and your soulmate make an outstanding team. Your determination and unending hope for a measure of success when there seemed to be none in sight is to be highly respected. What a story that I plan to tack on my studio wall.
    Thank you for sharing with us what was a very difficult and personal time in your life.

  40. This was a wonderful post. So inspiring. I wish you all the very best Jason and your family. I admire your faith. I think with me that after 17 years pursuing my passion for painting landscapes and not being successful financially I learnt finally that the word passion actually means suffering. And I lost my faith in my passion. Which was actually good because I found faith again but in Christianity. Life has truly humbled me – but I probably need some more humbling. I continue with the art and I even made an internet sale recently. But I do wonder sometimes whether my art is just a selfish indulgence. Sometimes I get remarks from people that make me think differently. But this is the thorn in my side at the moment. Shouldn’t I be doing something that is more beneficial for others? If you make art, but don’t sell it then it leads to a lot of self-questioning. I realize though from reading your post that I need to put more effort into what I do. To have faith despite the lack of results. I really admire your work ethic. All the best, Gareth.

  41. Jason, your story is truly an inspiration. You are so encouraging. I have followed you over the years and you never let on what struggles you faced. There was actually one point in your story where I started to cry because I can totally relate to that passion, that drive, that grit and determination just to end up wondering where the next rent payment is going to come from or how am I going to pay that extra bill or even get my supplies I need to create. There is a saying I repeat to my self, well, many sayings….”But God!” Or “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” I don’t know how others do it without faith in God and trust in him also, but also trust in the process. Anyway, you really have struck a cord with so many of us. Thank you for your story and being vulnerable enough to let us see your human-ness. Thank you and God Bless you and your family.

  42. Thank you for sharing your story in depth! It is both inspirational and a reminder that hard work, persistence, doing something you believe in will result in success if you don’t give up.

    Currently, I am a struggling artist. Years ago, I tried to put my work out there, but did not have the proper guidance or knowledge of how to properly go about it and, while my work generated interest, it didn’t sell and I gave up. After nearly a decade of doing other things, I went back school at the University of Glasgow to earn my MLitt in Celtic Studies and rediscovered my passion for art through both the courses I took and the encouragement of my family, friends, colleagues, and mentors who saw some of my previous work and some of my works in progress. Shortly after I returned to the States, my father became quite ill and my job hunts were curtailed while I helped my mother out with both the care of my father and the upkeep of the house. When we had downtime, I started producing art again. Now I’m working steadily on creating new pieces combining my love of Insular Art with my love of literature, folklore, and story telling. With the encouragement of my friends, am starting to put my work back out on the market. I’m working on art full-time and have a small part-time job, so it is a financial struggle now, but I feel in my heart that this is what I am meant to being doing and am confident that one day my artwork will be a success.

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