THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Well, hello. This is your host, artists Miriam Schulman , and you’re listening to episode number 55 of The Inspiration Place podcast. I am so thrilled that you’re here. Today, we’re talking all about why being a mother can actually be an asset to our career. Now, this is something that I’ve always believed to be true for myself. So, I was a little taken aback when I was recently interviewed on someone else’s podcast and the conversation turned to motherhood. She wanted to know how I balance being a full-time working artist and being a mother. When I say full-time, by the way, I don’t even like those words. I don’t feel I was ever a part-time anything. I don’t think it’s even possible. Just because a mother works, doesn’t make her a part-time mother, after all.
I used to have a friend who used to say that when I was working, she called me a part-time mom, and that really used to get to me. At the time she hadn’t had her children yet. And now she’s had two children while building her career as a tenure track professor. So, I just wonder sometimes if she’d describe herself as a part-time mom, just because she works outside of the home. Here’s the skinny, this is what I truly believe. Whether I work in my studio one hour a week or 40 hours a week, or don’t get to my studio at all, I’m still 100% an artist. No matter how much time I spend with my children, even when they’re away, they’re both now in college, I’m still 100% a mother. So for me, there certainly hasn’t been any such thing as a part-time parent or a part-time artist. It’s truly been equal parts of my identity.
So, when I shared with the podcast interviewer that I’ve always considered motherhood to be an asset, her surprise stare made me realize that this was a topic worth talking about. Here’s the thing; the art world is full of enduring stereotypes. We’ve talked about a few of them here on this podcast. Of course, there’s the myth of the starving artist. Then there’s the crazy artist, or the alcoholic artist, or the depressed artist. And then, there’s the childless artist. And this is usually used to refer to a woman, not a man, a woman who is so obsessively dedicated to her craft that there’s no room in her life for babies. Oh, and by the way, this is not limited to artists. I was recently at a networking dinner with online entrepreneurs, not artists like myself, when one young woman who is very successful, she has a seven figure career, she shared that she would never have children. Maybe she would hire a surrogate, but she had no interest in being pregnant or having children because she didn’t want it to interfere with her career as an online marketer.
So this way of thinking, this either or thinking certainly is not limited to the art world. Now, before we dive deeper in this topic, I just wanted to let my childless listeners know that I do see you. Whether you’ve never had children by choice or by circumstance, there are actually many, many more examples of successful woman artists who also chose never to have children. Mary Cassatt made a career out of painting children as her main subject matter, yet she never married nor had any children of her own. Other examples of famous woman painters who chose similar paths include Georgia O’Keeffe, Helen Frankenthaler, Frida Kahlo, and Lee Krasner. And if you expand this list to include artists working in other disciplines like theater, then you’d have to include folks such as Katharine Hepburn or Oprah Winfrey, not to mention writers like Jane Austin, Virginia Woolf, and Edith Wharton.
The prevailing opinion of these women and the male dominated art world is that you do have to choose. And the predominant opinion is that women are better off without children. So, I don’t want to add to that side of the argument simply because there is so much evidence out there and so much discussion out there supporting that side. So, I wanted to provide a different perspective today.
Marina Abramović, she is a performance artist who performed in the MoMA. She recently made headlines by telling a German newspaper, this is an exact quote, “In my opinion, having children is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple: love family, children. A woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that.” Now, as you can imagine, this quote sparked a heated debate. Lots of ripples went through the art world. However, she isn’t the first to spout similar sentiments. For example, singer-songwriter, Stevie Nicks said, quote, “it’s like, do you want to be an artist and a writer or a wife and a lover? With kids, your focus changes. I don’t want to go to PTA meetings.”
On the other hand, there are also so many examples of women who rejected this stereotype, who rejected this either-or thinking, that you have to choose an art career over motherhood. For example, Kara Walker, she enjoyed an ambitious career as a working artist. Quote, “Having children isn’t for everyone, but offering up old school sexism isn’t useful to anyone.” She said this pointing out that she had her daughter the same year that she received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Genius grant. And I believe that was about 20 years ago. So, it’s not like her star has faded at all during that time that she was raising her daughter. You can find Kara Walker’s work in many major collections and museums.
What I want to talk to you about today is not whether anyone should or shouldn’t have a child. That’s not what this discussion is about. I certainly believe that this is a personal choice for many, and there are many women who are not given a choice. What I wanted to share today was why I’ve always considered being a mother an asset to my art career. And since in my Google research, I couldn’t really find many women talking about that, I want to add my voice to this conversation.
To begin this conversation, I thought it might be useful to start at my beginning of my journey into motherhood. And this starts with my first pregnancy. For those who know me and my children, Talia and Seth, you might be thinking that I’m talking about my pregnancy with Talia, but that actually was not the first time I became pregnant. Before Talia, at that time, I was still working full-time in a very demanding job, writing computer code for financial models for a hedge fund. And at that time I was painting on the side.
When I first became pregnant that time, I was taking an oil painting class and this was in an unventilated high school classroom. So, when I lost that pregnancy at 14 weeks, I blamed the oil paint. Now, my obstetrician at the time assured me that a once a week painting class probably didn’t do it, but I really never believed him. This is one of the many reasons why I now paint in watercolor, and I made a career painting in watercolor. Not only is watercolor nontoxic, but since it doesn’t require a ventilated studio, I actually can paint at home. More over, water color is easy to set up and clean up. It’s one of the many reasons I advocate watercolor for the women who I teach who have busy lives, and are looking to incorporate more creativity.
If you’ve listened to some of my other podcasts, you may know that I didn’t quit that soul sucking job on Wall Street right away. I didn’t quit until I became pregnant with my second child. And it wasn’t until 9/11 when I made the decision never to return. However, my children were still very young when I started selling my artwork and working in a nontoxic medium allowed me to paint at home, whether I was stealing those precious hours while they watched Sesame Street, or working at night on my dining room table. And when I first started selling my watercolors, these were landscapes of local scenes and florals.
I remember the first landscape I sold at that time. I sold it at a local art show. It was a mother of a boy in Talia’s kindergarten class. This is a relationship I would not have had without being part of the elementary school community. It was that same year that Talia was in kindergarten that I planned my daughter’s Disney princess party, which you also may have heard me talk about in a prior episode. Anybody listening are going to argue that I definitely wasted a lot of creativity on that party. And the truth is, once I dedicated myself to making it as a professional artist, those handmade birthday parties went by the wayside. So, that was one of the first things I definitely outsourced. I didn’t do a Chuck E. Cheese, but those types of places, like the local Y and whatnot. Birthday parties got outsourced, and those crazy theme parties went by the wayside.
However, it was during the Disney princess coloring project that I planned for these children that I stumbled upon The taboo technique that I am sharing with people who subscribe to my current Passion Portrait video workshop, and also inside my free master classes. If you’re listening to this podcast when it goes live in September, 2019, you just might be able to save your spot for my Encore masterclass on Wednesday, September 18th. To see if it’s not too late, just go to schulmanart.com/masterclass and those videos, the free videos should also still be available, schulmanart.com/videos. We’ll make sure all of these links are in the show notes. For today, the episode, schulmanart.com/55.
Now, the taboo technique is also one that I teach in great detail inside the Watercolor Portrait Academy. And it is the third P in the 5 P portrait painting process. The Watercolor Portrait Academy is open for registration until September 25th. I’ll share the link to that at the end of this episode if you’re interested. And once again, that link will be in the show notes. But let’s get back to today’s topic.
So, as an artist who made a name for herself painting watercolor portraits, I can point directly to first my miscarriage as the choice of my medium, and then my children for choice of subject. But the story does not stop there. After I painted my first formal portrait of my son in his Batman costume, it was my son who was my most avid marketer and spokesperson. My toddler son shared that portrait with his friends. He was so proud of it. He thought it was so cool that I painted him. And by the way, his friends agreed. And so when pickup time came, they dragged their parents over to look at it. And I can assure you that this behavior happens in all the other homes where my portraits hung.
Now, those who know anything about selling paintings, actually selling anything, you know that nothing sells themselves. Paintings don’t sell themselves either and even though something might seem like a cool idea, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to stick, or people are going to follow up without some sort of followup by me, the person who’s selling it or some follow through. The general marketing principle is that you need to see the same marketing message seven times, or is it nine times? Let’s just go with seven, seven times before taking action. But here’s how being a stay-at-home mom helped me get there. Okay. So, first of all, I kept lists. Anyone who expressed any interest at all in having a portrait done was added to that list. I admit I didn’t actually have an email list at the time, but I did have a phone and I had a computer and I had a list.
Once someone expressed interest in a portrait, I would continue to follow up with them. So, how did this take shape? Well, I would call them until they said, “No, I’m no longer interested.” Or I would send them a personal email. You know what, the best way was running into them at playground, at pickup. This made the process so much easier. Often, I would arrange to deliver the completed portraits at the playground because of the marketing buzz that this generated. And you know what, when these paintings went into other people’s homes, they became my ambassadors for additional portrait commissions. But I didn’t just rely on this passive form of inbound marketing. So, here are a couple of other ways where I marketed myself and how being a mom in the school system helped me, how that community was an asset.
I kept a brag book in my purse. Do you remember those? Can you still get them by the way, at the drug store? Those 4×6 albums, I would just print out my most recent paintings of the subjects, and when I showed up for, yes, Stevie Nicks, PTA events, I would whip this out of my purse, and as I weaved my portrait painting into the conversation, I would share paintings. And what made this marketing piece so powerful is that these moms would recognize the kids in the paintings, both providing social proof, as well as examples of how I captured a likeness. So, what I mean by social proof is they would say, “Oh, Linda did it,” or, “Julie did it.” So, it would kind of be a vote of confidence for me that they wouldn’t feel like they were the first ones. They see that all these other mothers had gone before them. But then also, they could see my work.
All the ones who expressed an interest in getting a portrait done, well, they went on the prospect list. And once they completed portraits with me, they went on my collectors list. And often people come back for repeat commissions. You know that old adage, “It’s much easier to sell to an existing customer than get a new one,” 100% true. So, they might have a portrait done of both of their children, but then they might want a portrait of each one separately, because my gosh, who gets the portrait of the two kids painted in the same painting? Who gets that when it becomes an heirloom piece? Who gets it, the first born? The oldest child? I always encouraged my portrait commissions if they do a family portrait to also get individuals. Then these portrait clients would then often get paintings done of their home, or of their dog, or of their parents’ dogs. It’s very common for the client to go on to collect many pieces of my artwork and not just commissions, but also the other fine art that I do.
What I found is, these women not only wanted portraits, but they also wanted art for their home. Oh, and let me just cut in and say something. It’s not just women who want the portraits. My kids’ gym teacher also commissioned me to paint his child. So, men want portraits too. It’s just that the women were the ones I was interacting with on a daily basis as other stay-at-home mothers or part-time working mothers who I interacted with at pickup time or during PTA meetings. Now, let me share also how I cultivated these kinds of relationships.
In addition to the brag book, I also would keep a fistful of postcards about my latest art show, whether it was an open studio or a solo exhibition, or even a group art show. I found over the years that the people who show up for these events are the ones who I personally invited by handing them one of these postcards during the days, leading up to the show. It is a truism in marketing that people buy from those that they know, like and trust. Although there are ways to simulate this relationship online, like the way you may feel you know me because you listen to me each week on this podcast, or you watch me on a Facebook Live, or you get my emails. There is no greater shortcut than actually knowing the person in person, even if this is just a casual relationship or an acquaintanceship. So being a mom who made time to be out and about in her community, well, that was always an asset for selling my art and selling my portraits.
Now, for my listeners who do not have children or those whose children have long left the nest do not despair. By the way, my children have also left the nest. Now, I’m leveraging my involvement in my house of worship and in my volunteer work. So really, any community that you take part in is one you should consider an asset for building your art career and enabling you to sell more art. And if you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh. I don’t want to sell to my friends,” try to think of this as a different way; you are sharing these events with your friends and it’s actually kind of rude not to invite your friends to your events. Think of it that way. People always love getting invited. They are flattered that you want them to come. It’s a nice thing to do. If you don’t know someone, this is a good way to start that relationship.
When I was explaining to my interviewer how being in the community really helped me sell art, which is something actually I know that she advocates about being part of a community and getting out of your studio, she still had a question, how did I get things done with young children at home to that? To that, I want to argue that a school day that is eight to three is plenty of time to work. If you go back to the interview I did with Alex Pang, I don’t remember the number, but you will find that schulmanart.com/rest, he argued in his book, which is based on his research, that the best authors, artists and scientists, both men and women throughout time did their best work dedicating no more than four hours a day to their work. So, his examples ranged from Hemingway to Charles Darwin. I believe Salvador Dali was another one who was a famous napper. If you think about it, even just anecdotally, how do you think Picasso got all his painting done while chasing woman?
What happens when you’re a mother, or really anyone who has limited amount of time, is that you have to think very carefully and very strategically about how you manage and prioritize your time. In this age of so many distractions, it’s social media that I would recommend sacrificing rather than motherhood, if that’s an option for you. I certainly would never have chosen between my art and my children, and I luckily don’t feel it was a choice that I really had to make. What became more of a nuisance as my business grew to encompass, not just painting and commissions, but also online art classes, selling art online and this podcast, was the sheer volume of administrative work that comes along with building an online business. So for that, instead of hiring childcare to watch my children so that I could do all this computer stuff, I hired high school and college interns, and I trained them to do all that. And then, I could either spend that time with my children or working on my art, or even just playing tennis if that’s what I felt like doing.
Now, I know there are many of my audience who have put their whole lives putting others first. If that’s you don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. Whether it was your children or your job, or you have aging parents, and maybe now you find yourself caregiving for them, and you’re wondering, “When will it be my time?” I truly believe that everyone deserves creativity in their life and everybody has time, because you don’t have to spend all day on your art to get better. Even if you only have an hour or two, you can learn the skills you need to create and sell your art. If your dream has been to paint your children or your grandchildren, or even your fur babies, don’t let that dream, that little voice you’re hearing in your head, don’t let that voice go unheard. You have the opportunity to change that. Whether you choose to learn the art of portraits from me or somebody else, I hope that my personal story inspired you.
For those who want to learn the art of painting watercolor portraits, Watercolor Portrait Academy is open, but not for long. We’ll be closing registration for it on September 25th. I would love to see you in there and teach you the magic of painting portraits, whether it’s to memorialize your loved ones, or whether you’re looking to create commission portraits of others like I’ve done, you can do this. To find out all the details and to learn more, go to schulmanart.com/enroll before September 25th, 2019.
All right, my friends, that’s all I’ve got for you today. I hope you’re subscribed because next week I have on Katya Varbanova, and we’re talking all about how to use the power of psychology, whether it’s in your marketing or to better understand yourself. You’re not going to want to miss this episode. So, make sure you’re subscribed. If you’re on Apple Podcast, you see that purple subscribe button? Hit that. Or if you’re on, I think Stitcher and Spotify you hit follow. Hit that to make sure you’re subscribed.
Thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you the same time, same place next week. Make it a great one. Bye for now.
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