Artist Stephanie Fehrenbach; Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

QUESTION:What was your biggest challenge as an artist?

Stephanie: Clarity, I think. I have two parts of my business and I think of them as such separate things and I just, I kind of was, I was making, I’m making okay money, but I just don’t have this clear focus of where I’m going and what I’m doing.

QUESTION: What was your other challenge as an artist?

Stephanie: Organization. I really did feel like I’m sort of floundering. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but that’s not an excuse. I needed to really be stricter with myself to create better systems because how am I ever going to grow if I just think that, you know, this is the way I am? I need to make sure that I’m being really professional. I was always professional with clients and stuff, but I just felt like, I was just spinning my wheels and not being very methodical and planned.

QUESTION: What was your other challenge as an artist?

Stephanie: Before my wedding I just got into painting watercolors because I wanted to create stuff for my wedding, and I was sharing it on social media and it kind of blew up and I became this online teacher. And I teach online classes for watercolor, which I really, really love, but it’s not my oil painting. It’s like they’re two separate things and I don’t want to give it up, but I had to try and I wanted to try to find a way to join what I do and figure out what it is that I really like… What my mission is so that I can make all aspects of my business unified.

QUESTION: How did you start to increase your focus?

Stephanie: So this was my receipt holder, which is so embarrassing. So basically I always had it in my calendar saying, every month I’m going to tally all my expenses and then I would just shove all my receipts into that little thing and then never deal with it because it was too scary and it would just pile up and just got worse and worse. And then at the end of the year, at tax time, I’d be going through everything. And that happened for years on end. It wasn’t just once that I did that, it was a pretty bad scenario where I wasn’t creating a system that works for myself. I knew that when you say “where’s your mess?” that was a huge mess and that needed to happen. So I had this filing cabinet for years, which I was always planning on doing something with and I was like, ‘well it’s time Steph!’. So I just got all my folders and I basically sat and went through everything and made sure that not only was my receipts cleaned up for tax time, but I actually had things prepared so that now going forward I know what I’m doing. I’m not sticking things in here anymore. I’m sticking them in their right place and it’s so much clearer because I don’t even think about it. It just goes right in there and it’s automatic.

QUESTION: How long did that take you?

Stephanie: It took me about an hour to go through everything, probably more, but it was worth it in mental clarity.

QUESTION: How did clutter affect you?

Stephanie: Just having this (receipt jar) in my office, I would stare at it and it gives negative vibes and energy because you look at it and it’s awful and you think I just don’t want to do it. I want to shut the door on it. And you just need to deal with those problems.

QUESTION: How did clutter impact your finances?

Stephanie: In my studio I always clean up before I start or the night before it’s clean so that I have this fresh slate. I’m never coming into this crazy mess, but for some reason receipts and money things; I have this emotional mental block there that needs to be cleared. So that was something I really needed to work on, yeah.

QUESTION: Why did you avoid focusing on your money?

Stephanie: I think I was fearful. I do know generally how much I’m making, I always know how much I’m making, but I think I was afraid to know how much I was spending because that takes away from what I’m making, right? I think it was just fear to be like, well, I’ll deal with that later because then I can just focus on the happy number of what I actually sold. And then when you think about the net, it just makes it a little bit like, Oh God, I really have spent a lot on materials or whatever.

QUESTION: What has been your biggest learning so far?

Stephanie: Just be willing to be vulnerable. So, I’ve completed course one and I’m getting into and just started the visioning. Actually yesterday I did the death meditation, which was; that was, that was good. That was good one, it was cathartic in a way. It was hard and there was lots of tears, but I needed that and you say in the writing that you can’t think your way through it. And that is I think the biggest mistake I’ve always made is I always try to think my way through these problems and you really have to get more in touch with your emotions and let yourself feel and go get into that space. And I think that’s scary for most people, but you have to. You just have to do it, you have to do it because that’s where you find the good stuff.

QUESTION: What has changed?

Stephanie: Busy tasks beat me more: like these little receipts, I’m making a painting inventory of all my stuff, all those things that are on my list that I always think I’m too busy for. You’re not too busy for. You need to do those mundane tasks. Those things are really, really important.

QUESTION: How do you feel?

Stephanie: I feel like I’m in control. I can handle this. There’s nothing to stop me.

QUESTION: What have you learned about your values?

Stephanie: Really realized that I have this inner need to be doing, doing, doing, and I realized the only place I wanted to be was snuggled in my bed with my family. With my little boy up there and with my husband and talking and being together. I always felt like guilty for that for some reason, like I should’ve been taking him out on an adventure, I should’ve been doing this. And it’s like, no, I just wanted that peace, that time. That’s all I wanted was just to hold them close and feel their bodies. That’s all I wanted. And I think that was really enlightening to me because I put pressure on myself to always do, do, do, do, do not to just be. And I think that was a huge takeaway for me because I so guilty, like I’m missing it, always, I’m just missing it. I’m missing the present moment all the time. So that was a big, huge thing for me.

QUESTION: What else have you learned?

Stephanie: That it is not about you, which I’m learning. Because you’re taught, like I went to art school, I did the whole thing and, it’s not about you, it’s about other people. It’s about serving other people. And I think in some way we know this, but I think we’re very consumed with what am I going to express within myself and all this. And that’s kind of how we’re taught.

QUESTION: What advice would you give your younger self?

Stephanie: You don’t have to follow the mold. You’re not given any information in art school except go do your masters or get into a gallery. And I have two galleries right now, which are actually good relationships, but I’m not making enough money from them. So you just don’t have to follow the mold, like create your own path, create your own way because nobody’s going to do it for you.

QUESTION: What else would you tell her?

Stephanie: I hated writing artist statements, it just never felt like me. I rejected the snobbishness. I just didn’t like the world, but I wanted a way to just be a painter and I never knew. So I think if I told myself now I just be like, you know, forget all that BS and just focus on what matters to you and just be you. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or what the idea looks like to other people. Focus on you and you’re going to find your way.

QUESTION: What do you think of artist statements?

Stephanie: I’m embarrassed by my own. I only have them because galleries asked for them or because I’ve entered in art shows and they asked for them and the ones that I have are currently so old that they even reflect me, well, they don’t even reflect anything. They’re terrible. They don’t feel authentic and I have a real problem with not feeling honest. I don’t like ever feeling like I’m putting something out there that’s not true.

QUESTION: What did you learn in art school about making a living?

Stephanie: In terms of actually learning? I wasn’t even given like color theory or even taught certain simple techniques. I felt like; what am I doing here? I just don’t belong. I was disappointed that the technical wasn’t taught. I was expecting to learn more technique and I was expecting to have some sort of information about how to be, and how to live in the art world even if it wasn’t actually being a painter, but how to have a creative life outside once you leave school. And I have no information about that. Once a month they’d have a visiting artists come in to talk to us and that was sort of their way of saying this is how you live as an artist, but they would either be going to residencies or they had their MFA and then they were becoming professors and I was like, well that’s not the path that I want. So they really didn’t seem useful to me or helpful, really. I never saw myself in their lives.

QUESTION: Should other artists apply?

Stephanie: Oh, I would say do it. I haven’t gone very far so they can take what I say as they will, but already, I’ve been working at it since almost the beginning of January and it’s just been invaluable. Even just to learn about yourself as a person. I know I’m in that beginning spot where you’re really just focusing on you, but I just feel like I’m motivated and it’s giving me an answer to what’s been irking me as an artist/business owner like I am. I was just following the mold doing shows and I’d get some success, but I just wasn’t on a path. I feel like you need a plan, even if the plan is iterative and you change but you need to focus and I didn’t have that. I think a lot of artists struggle with that.

QUESTION: What if an artist is an introvert?

Stephanie: Okay, first, I am an introvert. Yes. I am a teacher and I do like people, but I am. I need my alone space. I can be shy. With strangers, yes, it’s intimidating. I don’t like going on Facebook either. So yes, I am that person, but it’s invaluable. And one thing: they’re strangers. So if you don’t get along with somebody you don’t have to talk to them again. But I had a lovely conversation and so far the community has been nothing but welcoming. I had my little welcome Facebook post and there was some wonderful comments. I’ve only had one call so far, but it was lovely and we did “the remembering process”, which I was nervous to do, but honestly it was so much fun. We had a great conversation and it was really easy and it flowed and there’s lots of people here so if you don’t mesh with one person- try another. And everybody’s accepting and I felt like you don’t have to be on Facebook in general, but it’s just this little community. It’s like being in a little coffee shop group, you’re not spouting it and spreading it to the whole world. It’s just this one little community. So, it’s not intimidating. It’s good.

QUESTION: What was your first study partner meeting like?

Stephanie: I was really nervous because I thought; oh, this is my first study partner call and I have to be all personal, but it was so good and it was really fun. Fun is key. That’s the thing, when you’re doing this. That’s why the study partners. Because I know even as an introvert, you think you want to do it all yourself, but it gives you that slight little bit of accountability, but you don’t have to be perfect. I guess that’s the thing. We always struggle. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves, but you know what? Life’s too short.

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