Graduating from Making Art Making Money in Less Than 2 Weeks

Graduating from Making Art Making Money in Less Than 2 Weeks


Artist Claire McKenzie
Eureka, California

Ann Rea: (00:00)
Hello everyone, this is Ann Rea coming to you live from San Francisco, California. I’m a fine artist like you. I’m also the creator of the Making Art Making Money Program. And today I have one of my students here as a guest to talk about some of her experiences as a fine artist before she joined the Making Art Making Money Program, and some of the lessons that she has learned so that you can learn these lessons. So hold on one second while I bring her on. Hey Claire!

Claire McKenzie: (00:31)
Hi, Ann! Thanks for having me!

Ann Rea: (00:34)
You’re welcome. So Claire is sitting on the planet in Eureka?

Claire McKenzie: (00:39)
Yeah, I’m in Eureka, California about six hours north of you.

Ann Rea: (00:42)
She’s up here. She’s way up here. That way up. So I want to talk to you about– first of all, just to give people some context, right? Before you joined the program, what were your two top challenges as a fine artist? What were you struggling with the most?

Claire McKenzie: (01:07)
I think two of my top challenges were trying to spread myself too thin to be too many things to too many people. But that was a big one for me. And the other one would probably the first thing that comes to mind is just shaky confidence.

Ann Rea: (01:24)
Yes. Yes. That’s it. And that’s a really common one. So if you’re out there and you’re listening and you’re a fine artist and you have some shaky confidence, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. I used to have shaky confidence also. And my students typically experience a threefold increase in their level of confidence from the time they joined to the time they graduate. But I just want to highlight that if you feel that way, like Claire, and like I used to, believe it or not, , I used to, you’re not alone. It’s really common. And spreading yourself too thin, that’s also really common. And that’s where we come to the today’s topic, right? I’ve identified 43 different ways that artists use to try to sell their art that are ineffective, costly, time-consuming, confidence-crushing, and soul sucking .

Claire McKenzie: (02:29)

Ann Rea: (02:30)
And so, but they’re the most, that it’s basically, that’s how everyone goes about it, and it doesn’t work. And then they feel bad about themselves. But it’s not because of you, it’s because these strategies suck, everybody. They suck. They suck bad.

Claire McKenzie: (02:48)

Ann Rea: (02:48)
And let me just give you a distinction between most of the strategies listed and versus what we teach is you have to understand this. As a fine artist you own a business. You don’t believe me? Well, when you sell your art, you got to file a profit and loss statement with your taxing authority. So indeed, you’re in business. When you’re in business, it is your responsibility to define the terms of selling your art and to set your own damn prices. And third, to have contact with your customers. These 43 strategies don’t allow you to do this.

Claire McKenzie: (03:32)
Mm-hmm. .

Ann Rea: (03:33)
And it’s real basic. There’s no business that could survive if they didn’t know their customers. There’s no business that could survive if they couldn’t define their price for profit. And there’s no business, there’s just no business that would ever tolerate or be able to survive if they didn’t set their terms. Yet those three things are what most artists are trying to work with. And of course it doesn’t work. Of course, your confidence is shaky. Of course, you’re spread too thin. Of course. So on that list of 43, Claire, which one kicked your ass the most?

Claire McKenzie: (04:12)
. Well, considering I probably did 23 is what I counted.

Ann Rea: (04:17)
Right. I’m not surprised.

Claire McKenzie: (04:18)
Yeah. I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know. Right? And you’re doing your best.

Ann Rea: (04:21)
Exactly. Exactly.

Claire McKenzie: (04:22)
I’m waffling between two, which to share. But, you know, there’s the ridiculous, I have some ridiculous scenarios with galleries. And then the most, I think, the most emotionally difficult to overcome was art school, actually.

Ann Rea: (04:37)
Alright. Well, let’s talk about art school then, because you are not alone at all with this.

Claire McKenzie: (04:42)
That’s right. That’s right.

Ann Rea: (04:43)
Art school, if you approach most of your art professors about how you’re going to go about making a living or how you’re going to make money with your art, they’ll shame you. They’ll disgrace you in fact. And I’ve had art professors join the Making Art Making Money program in secret because they know that if their academic colleagues found out that they were enrolled in Making Art Making Money, they would be ridiculed.

Claire McKenzie: (05:09)

Ann Rea: (05:10)
So those are the people who are teaching you how you’re going to go about making a living. That’s their filter.

Claire McKenzie: (05:16)

Ann Rea: (05:16)
So no wonder it’s effed up. So tell us what happened. Go to the moment when you were in an art school that jacked up your confidence and hurt you emotionally?

Claire McKenzie: (05:26)
Yes, I mean, it’s so sad and unfortunate because it’s like the mixed bag of your tea. You’re learning everything you need to learn. I needed it.

Ann Rea: (05:36)

Claire McKenzie: (05:36)
And I was actually the height of it, I was doing really well. I graduated with high honors. I had a solo exhibit in the undergrad ,and all those things. Right? All those, like the things you’re supposed to do to move through the system.

Ann Rea: (05:49)
Yes. Unless you think you’re supposed to.

Claire McKenzie: (05:51)
Yes. You think you’re supposed to do. Right.

Ann Rea: (05:52)

Claire McKenzie: (05:53)
And so there I was literally half an hour before I’m supposed to defend my thesis, show my exhibit, and one of the people on my committees hadn’t read any of, you know, what I had presented and didn’t like the topic.

Ann Rea: (06:13)
Which is their tough problem because it’s subjective.

Claire McKenzie: (06:16)
You know, I was like, what? 20 something. I was naive of course of the things I was missing. I could have been mentored with. We won’t go there.

Ann Rea: (06:22)

Claire McKenzie: (06:22)
But essentially it was like whatever they were upset with, they said, “I cannot have nothing to do with this. I don’t want anything to do with this.”

Ann Rea: (06:32)
What did they actually say? So let’s go to the moment. Where– did you get a remark from this professor? Or what happened exactly?

Claire McKenzie: (06:41)
Yes, I mean, I don’t want belabor it too much, but I’m happy to share.

Ann Rea: (06:44)
I just want you to share it, not because I want you to like relive the pain so much as I want other fine artists to know that they’re not alone in this.

Claire McKenzie: (06:55)
Yes, I’ll start off by saying like, I’m way past it and you know, it doesn’t pull up all of it anymore.

Ann Rea: (07:00)
Yes, you are. And she is. I can vouch for this. She has.

Claire McKenzie: (07:03)
Yes. But there was a couple things going on. It was a professor I really respected. I wanted their approval. It was the art theory, and criticism professor. We shared a Jewish heritage. So it was like things that, you know, shouldn’t matter with a thesis. But I was, naively, I didn’t grow up in a religious context, so I didn’t know all the baggage. And I was doing a thesis on paintings of “Parables of Jesus” naively thinking that would fly. But anyway.

Ann Rea: (07:33)
Why not? Why can’t you do that?

Claire McKenzie: (07:35)
Right, exactly.

Ann Rea: (07:35)
I don’t see any reason why you can’t do that.

Claire McKenzie: (07:38)
I mean, have you read my name is Asher Liv? So anyways. . So anyway, I was–

Ann Rea: (07:43)
By the way, Jesus was Jewish, you guys.

Claire McKenzie: (07:46)
Right. Just FYI. So here I am. I am Jewish but didn’t, I wasn’t raised religious. So it didn’t have a context.

Ann Rea: (07:53)

Claire McKenzie: (07:54)
And so in his mind, he thought I was like trying to like blend to the culture or something, but it triggered trauma for him, whatever.

Ann Rea: (08:02)

Claire McKenzie: (08:02)
And he didn’t want to support this theme. And I would’ve been so welcome to learn why and to dig into it. But he never did.

Ann Rea: (08:15)
Yes. Why?

Claire McKenzie: (08:15)
He never did. He never engaged with me. So he just stepped off. I was offended to myself. I had to be one of the only people that ever graduate with only two thesis committee. And it just left me with nothing.

Ann Rea: (08:27)
So he just abandoned the whole?

Claire McKenzie: (08:29)
He just walked off the thing.

Ann Rea: (08:32)
Wow. So basically he abandoned his duty and doing his job with no explanation.

Claire McKenzie: (08:38)

Ann Rea: (08:39)
Of why, I mean, it’d be one thing if he said, “Okay, I’m not doing this and here is why.”

Claire McKenzie: (08:43)

Ann Rea: (08:44)
But just to bail, that seems irresponsible to me.

Claire McKenzie: (08:48)
Yes. So that’s like, I mean, a little bit of a unique situation. Not everybody does that in art school. But there are dynamics if you don’t– if you’re not kind of in the right streams of thought.

Ann Rea: (08:57)
Oh, they’re a prickly bunch. .

Claire McKenzie: (08:58)
They’re prickly. And the thing that was really heartbreaking is like, I thrived in it. I loved the educational context, but there’s two things that happened. So there was that, there was this feeling of shame, like that had to do with identity artwork, just what I do. Is that okay? Mixed with no plan after I graduate. So I got the degree, still got the high honors, all that, but there was no preparation of what to do next.

Ann Rea: (09:26)
There wasn’t.

Claire McKenzie: (09:26)
And so immediately, so I’m feeling shaking. I’m feeling like, am I ashamed? Am I ashamed? I don’t know. But I’ve graduated and then I graduat., I have my medical issue and I need health insurance. And I just dive into– I become a graphic designer. I stopped painting and I stopped painting for five years.

Ann Rea: (09:44)
You’re not alone. I did the same thing longer than you.

Claire McKenzie: (09:48)
And, wow! And it was like this mixture of, “Do I belong as an artist?” Is this, you know, there’s this so many head tricks.

Ann Rea: (09:59)
Yes. Yes.

Claire McKenzie: (10:00)
Mixed with like, yet I had this inner core of like, I know that I’m an artist. I know I need to be doing this, but I just didn’t know pragmatically.

Claire McKenzie: (10:08)
You know how.

Claire McKenzie: (10:09)
And how to take that step to be able to make enough money to, you know, to live with a health condition in States.

Ann Rea: (10:16)

Claire McKenzie: (10:17)
And to pay my bills and be, you know, independent. So anyway, it’s been a long road of like slowly cycling back and gaining confidence and learning different things. And I’ve kind of made it so far. But here we are. I mean, it’s almost like 30 years ago this happened.

Ann Rea: (10:35)
I know these wounds run deep.

Claire McKenzie: (10:38)

Ann Rea: (10:38)
And for a long time, and I feel like we heal a lot of it in the program fairly quickly.

Claire McKenzie: (10:46)
It’s been really remarkable and it’s really been remarkable to also piece together. Just like seeing those streams, like when you talk in the program about finding your mission and finding, you know, that your artwork serves that mission. Like finding the places in my life, it was remarkable. I just thought about this in the last two weeks. The places where I started painting, again, aligned with my mission that didn’t have to do with my artwork. It was like these little healing open places that, that kind of wooed me back into creating again.

Ann Rea: (11:17)
I think it’s interesting given that you have a health condition, that your mission is tied to healing. Isn’t that interesting?

Claire McKenzie: (11:23)

Ann Rea: (11:25)
And I am so against censorship, which is what your art professor did to you.

Claire McKenzie: (11:33)
We’re just going to lose this.

Ann Rea: (11:34)
. I really, I really do. I was just like.

Claire McKenzie: (11:39)
Oh, yes. I mean, yes. It became super controversial and it actually got me more attention.

Ann Rea: (11:45)
I don’t even know how like, who gives a damn? Really. Like, it’s just whatever. Alright. The moral of the story was you were a young girl.

Claire McKenzie: (11:54)
I was just young.

Ann Rea: (11:55)
Who had a lot of respect for a professor who had a lot of influence and power over you, and he was irresponsible.

Claire McKenzie: (12:04)

Ann Rea: (12:05)
And that left. That unfortunately put you into a tailspin that crushed your confidence for a long time. And this is what I hate. And this is the stuff that I really want to go after. This is why this is important to me to get the word out. Like “Look, everybody. If you’re a fine artist and you got to, you know, you’re not alone. These are common problems.” So let me ask you this. What are like, you know, you’re still in the program, you’re still learning, but what are the top two things that you’ve learned so far?

Claire McKenzie: (12:40)
The top two?

Ann Rea: (12:49)
Whatever comes to mind.

Claire McKenzie: (12:50)

Claire McKenzie: (12:51)
Yes. What comes to mind is that this, for lack of a better word “vocation.” Being an artist is incredibly important. Mm-hmm. . It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth staying in there for. I value what I do so much more through.

Ann Rea: (13:14)

Claire McKenzie: (13:15)
What so far where I’m at in the program. I’m only halfway through. But.

Ann Rea: (13:18)

Claire McKenzie: (13:19)
So settling into, you know, my life mission above and beyond my art, of course.

Ann Rea: (13:25)

Claire McKenzie: (13:25)
And that the work that I do isn’t just decoration. That it actually brings value to people’s lives and connects.

Ann Rea: (13:35)
It does too.

Claire McKenzie: (13:36)
Like you say, this connects them to their humanity. And to really shine the light on that has been hugely healing for me.

Ann Rea: (13:44)

Claire McKenzie: (13:46)
And powerful.

Ann Rea: (13:47)
And if I might brag, Claire earned her tuition investment back within two weeks. This woman works hard. So guess what? You know, you do the work, it can work .

Claire McKenzie: (14:01)
Yes, you do have to work . It’s not just getting the information in your head. And then

Ann Rea: (14:05)
No. It doesn’t work that way, everyone. Like your art is not going to market and sell itself just likenit’s not going to make itself.

Claire McKenzie: (14:13)
. Yes.

Ann Rea: (14:14)
You can’t just think about making art. You actually have to do it.

Claire McKenzie: (14:18)

Ann Rea: (14:18)
If you could go back in time to that young woman who is working on her thesis and who just felt really injured by her art professor, if you could give her two pieces of advice, what would you say to her? How would you help her out?

Claire McKenzie: (14:41)
Hmm. That’s excellent. Sorry. It’s like, it’s 30 years later. I’m like feeling this deep emotion.

Ann Rea: (14:52)
I know! But you know what’s interesting though, but that’s the first thing you mentioned. So it’s still living inside of you. So we got an opportunity right now to heal it.

Claire McKenzie: (15:01)
Let’s do it.

Ann Rea: (15:02)
Yes, let’s do it!

Claire McKenzie: (15:03)
I would say, “Oh my goodness! This man is responding to his own pain and has nothing to do with you. You don’t have to hate him, but you don’t have to let his criticism in. First of all.” I would also say, “No matter where you are in your journey, whether you’re, you know, a little or a lot, whether you’re wise or foolish, like we all only know what we know.”

Ann Rea: (15:41)

Claire McKenzie: (15:42)
“And your truth and your experience in this moment, and you’re making art to depict that is valuable.”

Ann Rea: (15:49)

Claire McKenzie: (15:50)
“And so, be proud of what you’ve done. You don’t have to be ashamed of”

Ann Rea: (15:55)
And don’t let other people undervalue. You do not need to be seeking validation from this list of people, this bullshit list of people of 43 strategies. If you want to gain validation for yourself as an artist, you sell your art. That’s how you do it.

Claire McKenzie: (16:12)
That’s it.

Ann Rea: (16:14)
It’s that simple. Okay? You don’t need a stupid art contest award. You don’t need to build your resume. You need to build your customer list. That’s what you need to do.

Claire McKenzie: (16:23)

Ann Rea: (16:23)
So let me ask you this. Do you feel like Making Art Making Money has had an impact on your life? Has it changed your life as an artist?

Claire McKenzie: (16:36)
I think already it has. Yes.

Ann Rea: (16:38)
And how? Can you just share like in one way. In one way, how has it changed your life?

Claire McKenzie: (16:49)
So far?

Ann Rea: (16:50)
So far.

Claire McKenzie: (16:50)
{Unintelligible} anymore I think so far.

Ann Rea: (16:52)
Yes. She’s not done. I’m not done with her yet. ,

Claire McKenzie: (16:55)
I still have a long ways to go. But I would say, it’s changed my life by, forgive my pauses.

Ann Rea: (17:10)
That’s okay. Take your time.

Claire McKenzie: (17:12)
Yes. I would say, your work, not only is valuable, but it is the work you deserve to be paid for the work that you do. I mean, that’s, that’s just in the context of this program. That you don’t need to be giving things away for discounts and for free anymore.

Ann Rea: (17:45)
So that’s what you’ve learned that you don’t need.

Claire McKenzie: (17:48)
I learned that my work isn’t frivolous, essentially.

Ann Rea: (17:50)

Claire McKenzie: (17:50)
I’ve learned that it is yes, it’s a luxury, but that it is, it’s essential and it’s worth its monetary value.

Ann Rea: (17:58)
Absolutely. Yes. So if someone was sitting on the fence and they weren’t sure about applying, I ask everybody this question by the way. If they weren’t sure, “Should I apply, should I not apply?” What would you honestly say to them, Claire?

Claire McKenzie: (18:13)
I would honestly say that if you know that you want to continue this art path like, you know, particularly, and you have the resources, I might have jumped a little fast financially. So it was a little scary for a second thing.

Ann Rea: (18:30)
You did. But you earned your tuition in two weeks.

Claire McKenzie: (18:33)

Claire McKenzie: (18:33)
I would say so if somebody is in my position, I had that deep gut like drive to join. And so I would say that if you’re willing to put the work in and you really believe that this is the path you want, go for it. This is absolutely worth it. And you do need tools to learn how to run it as a business because that is severely lacking in our education on a whole.

Ann Rea: (19:00)
Great. Just like you need tools to learn how to make art.

Claire McKenzie: (19:03)
Yeah, that’s right.

Ann Rea: (19:04)
Right? So why wouldn’t you need to learn tools and gain tools and learn skills and get mentorship and have community? Of course you do. Right? So, it’s kind of ridiculous that even anyone’s even wondering that this is a requirement. Of course it is!

Claire McKenzie: (19:24)

Ann Rea: (19:25)
But what you said was key, Claire. Don’t apply to enroll in my program if you’re unwilling to do the work. Because you’re not going to get any results if you don’t do the work. This isn’t magic. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. This is a very serious, deliberate business program for fine artists. And that’s why it’s only available by application. Because frankly, I don’t want your money if I don’t think I can help you. And that’s because Claire’s success, all my students’ success is my success. Can I guarantee it? No. Because I can’t guarantee they’re going to do the work. But Claire did the work and she’s still doing the work. And I hope that what you shared will help other people heal some of the injuries that they received in art school. You know, I actually just hired a brand new brand manager and he is one of the leading brand experts in the world. I’m not exaggerating. He’s amazing.

Claire McKenzie: (20:28)

Ann Rea: (20:29)
He’s amazing. And he is really excited because he loves my mission. But here’s the thing. Now he’s one of the top branding experts in the world, but he was so dismayed by art school. He quit for three years and worked a dead-end job.

Claire McKenzie: (20:50)

Ann Rea: (20:50)
And then found and was miserable as hell. And then somehow he found the inner resources to go back and finish. And now he’s an amazing success.

Claire McKenzie: (21:01)

Ann Rea: (21:04)
So the point is sometimes you have to take a pause like you didn’t paint for five years. I didn’t paint for 12.

Claire McKenzie: (21:11)

Ann Rea: (21:12)
But that doesn’t mean that you have to quit if this is something you really want. If it’s a hobby, you know, don’t apply to my program. This is not for hobbyists. But if it’s something you really want and you see yourself as an artist, and it’s something that you just have to do, you can’t quit because when an artist quits, something inside of their soul dies.

Claire McKenzie: (21:35)
That’s right.

Claire McKenzie: (21:38)
And you can’t quit at the end of the day. It’s like, it’s just.

Ann Rea: (21:40)
You can’t, it’s like you really can’t. So, the point of these interviews is to help share some my student, allow my students to share some of their wisdom and lessons from a perspective that’s different from my own. So I hope this was helpful. I do want to let people know we are currently running a 5-day trial, which is complimentary until it’s not. So take advantage of it. There’s a link below. We’ve already started day one, which happened today, but the replay is available, so I would do it if I were you. Claire did something similar before she joined so that she could get a taste of what the program is about and how, what my philosophy is. So take advantage of it. Claire, I’m so glad. I think it’s really interesting that your whole, your mission and this conversation was around healing. I don’t think that’s an accident.

Claire McKenzie: (22:38)
I don’t think so either. The whole thing’s incredible. And hey, thank you for letting me in the program by the way.

Ann Rea: (22:44)
You’re welcome. You’re welcome. And I don’t care that you’re Jewish and you want to talk about Jesus. Do you know I have Chrismukkah {unintelligible}?

Claire McKenzie: (22:52)
Oh! We totally do now. We’re like {unintelligible}.

Ann Rea: (22:55)
I have a number of Jewish friends who are Russian Jewish immigrants, and in one year one of my Jewish friends said, “Could I come over for Christmas?” And I said, “Hell yes, you can!” .

Claire McKenzie: (23:08)
It’s so– oh there’s, yeah, we have like a woven mixture of the two in my world.

Ann Rea: (23:14)
It’s like we’re all the same, you guys. We’re all the same core needs. We all have the same needs. We’re not that different.

Claire McKenzie: (23:21)

Ann Rea: (23:22)
Alright then. Thank you very much for your time and for sharing your personal story. And I know that it’s going to help other people, so thank you.

Claire McKenzie: (23:29)

Ann Rea: (23:31)
It will. Alright. Bye!

Ann Rea

Ann Rea, Fine Artist & Mentor

Ann Rea is a San Francisco-based fine artist. She created Making Art Making Money, the leading and most reputable business program for fine artists since 2005. Rea’s art and business savvy have been featured on ABC, HGTV, Creative Live, The Good Life Project, in the book Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields, the San Francisco Chronicle, Art Business News, Fortune, and Inc. Magazines. Rea’s artistic talent was commended by her mentor, art icon Wayne Thiebaud. 

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