Professor Retires Early To Pursue Her Art Full-Time

Professor Retires Early To Pursue Her Art Full-Time


Artist Gerburg Garmann 
Indianapolis, Indiana

Ann Rea: (00:00)
Hello everyone. This is Ann Rea. I’m coming to live from San Francisco, California, and I have one of my recent graduates who’s about to join me, Gerberg, who is coming to us {unintelligible}. Hello there!

Gerburg Garmann: (00:12)

Ann Rea: (00:13)
Where are you sitting on the planet? Please introduce yourself and tell us where you live.

Gerburg Garmann: (00:18)
So my name is Gerburg Garmann and I live in the United States in Indianapolis, Indiana. And you can tell by my accent that I’m originally not from the States. I’m German.

Ann Rea: (00:29)
No. . She is very German. And we’re glad to have you. So what I’d love to do is just ask you a few questions. So just for those of you who are maybe new to me or new to making art, making money, this is one of my students who recently graduated. I’m just gonna ask her a few questions about her experience in the Making Art Making Money program. And what I would love to know is before you joined the program, what were your let’s say top two challenges when it came to marketing and selling your art or just in general?

Gerburg Garmann: (01:02)
Yes. I loved to dabble in art have been loving to dabble in art for over 20 years, but never ever got really serious about it in terms of building my own business. I just left another career and have made the leap. I’m very happy about this, but obviously I had a safety cushion until I made the decision. No more of that. I want what I really want to do that is to produce art and sell art.

Ann Rea: (01:32)
Yeah. Because life is short. So if you have that opportunity and I’m glad you didn’t– you were sensible. You didn’t take yourself and put yourself in a position where you were financially stressed out. You did this in the way that we recommend, which is you do it when it makes sense, when the dollars add up. What were you doing? So what were you doing before you decided to make this leap?

Gerburg Garmann: (01:55)
I still say I am. So now I have to say I was a professor of French and German and have had 30 years of experience at the university level.

Ann Rea: (02:07)

Gerburg Garmann: (02:08)

Ann Rea: (02:08)
That’s very impressive.

Gerburg Garmann: (02:09)
Thank you.

Ann Rea: (02:11)
I always feel smarter when I teach professors

Gerburg Garmann: (02:17)
Yes. No titles necessary to be a good teacher. It comes from someplace else.

Ann Rea: (02:23)
I think it does actually. I really do. So when you joined the program, you were dabbling and you were trying to make this transition.

Gerburg Garmann: (02:30)

Ann Rea: (02:31)
From really being a hobby artist to making money from it. And I guess the next question is like, what is it specifically that you wanted to achieve? You just wanted to sell your art? Did you wanna do more than just sell your art? Why was it important to you in the first place?

Gerburg Garmann: (02:47)
Good question. Of course I wanted to sell my art more than I had in the past, but I think the more I got into the program, I wanted to connect with people. And that is exactly what the program did for me among many many other things. But people had bought from me before. I didn’t necessarily see them again.

Gerburg Garmann: (03:08)

Ann Rea: (03:09)
So there is one time interaction and you pat yourself on the back and say, “Great!” But then comes the moment where you say, “Now what? What was this all about?” Right? What’s the meaning behind this and will I see these people ever again? Will I know if they enjoy the artwork they bought from me really over years to come? So I had no way of gauging that.

Ann Rea: (03:33)
Right. And so you were– so first of all a lot of artists feel really awkward when it comes to connecting with potential collectors and to be blunt, they make a hot mess of it by writing these cringy artist statements, which is really not a way to connect at all. It’s actually repelling people because they don’t understand what the heck you’re talking about. And let’s be honest, neither do we when we write them. And then what you also said was that you know, someone would buy something and then what, and I’ll tell you what, for those of you who are listening, you know, when someone buys something from you, they’re an amazing source of new business and they can give you a referral to another potential customer or client. This is really important because when someone refers you or excuse me, when someone refers someone to you, the artist, that person who has referred to you is about 82% more likely to buy from you and spend more money. And you don’t have to do a lot of selling because they’ve already been referred. Has that been your experience?

Gerburg Garmann: (04:46)
Absolutely. And that was totally new to me when I joined the program. And as you said, and in the beginning, I did feel a little awkward.

Ann Rea: (04:55)
Yes, everybody does.

Gerburg Garmann: (04:56)
When I got into the program, my self confidence, and I’m not a shy person, got stronger and stronger and stronger. And people tried to negotiate me down on prices. And I was able to say simply, “The policy is I cannot do this.”

Ann Rea: (05:13)

Gerburg Garmann: (05:14)
And that was usually the end of the discussion.

Ann Rea: (05:16)

Gerburg Garmann: (05:16)
That I learned and really fully embrace instead of saying, “Oh, maybe you know, maybe they cannot afford what I’m asking for. Maybe I cut them some slack.” But no, it’s the way to go.

Ann Rea: (05:27)
No. You do not– yes. That’s so good.

Gerburg Garmann: (05:31)
And I have had many referrals. One referral led to another. That is exactly what has worked for me. And this week I sold two paintings. Last week, I sold three paintings. Now this has happened every single week, but there is a direct correlation between the work I put into things. And then you have to have a little bit of a patience because that there’s not necessarily a turnaround overnight, but you can bang on it. 2 to 3 weeks later, people will contact you.

Ann Rea: (06:03)

Gerburg Garmann: (06:04)
And say, “Y Z referred me to you. And I would just love to come to your studio or I saw your website.” That’s when you actually apply what you have learned.

Ann Rea: (06:18)

Gerburg Garmann: (06:18)
In fact this “sales conversation” for me, it’s not a sales conversation anymore.

Ann Rea: (06:25)
No, you don’t do that. No, you don’t have to be salesy. You don’t have to be sleazy or pushy. As a matter of fact, it won’t work because you’re dealing with an affluent population and they’re not going to stand for that. So you have to be really genuine and very authentic and honest. And that’s how you’ve got a role. So I’m so glad to hear this. And here’s the other thing. No SEO.

Ann Rea: (06:50)

Ann Rea: (06:52)
There’s no SEO. There’s no paying for advertising.

Gerburg Garmann: (06:57)

Ann Rea: (06:57)
You keep all your money. You don’t pay anyone anything.

Gerburg Garmann: (07:01)
Yes. Yes. And I learned that too. After I had completed lesson X, Y, Z. I can’t remember which one it was. Then I really looked at my Facebook and website stats. And all the blogs I had done. Yes. A number of people had read them and commented. But the majority of the work I put into those exercises, which I thought are really cool, but it didn’t lead to a sale.

Ann Rea: (07:27)
No, they don’t. They’re really big. I mean, it can be by happenstance, but I’m not interested in doing something that might work.

Gerburg Garmann: (07:35)

Ann Rea: (07:35)
I’m interested in doing something that I know will work. And artists spend so much time with social media, posting giveaway contests, crowdfunding campaigns. You are wasting your time, and you’re boring the heck out of people who are receive reading your posts. I mean, they’re almost embarrassing. I’m gonna be really blunt. What we’re talking about here is authentic relationships and referrals, which is a critical foundation of all luxury marketing. So I’m so glad you have nailed this. You can see how easy it is compared to–.

Gerburg Garmann: (08:11)
It’s always easy.

Ann Rea: (08:18)
No. {unintelligible}.

Gerburg Garmann: (08:18)

Ann Rea: (08:18)
You know, as a teacher, right? Whenever like– but don’t even try to make me try to learn German or French. I would be horrible at it. And I would be really clumsy at it. But after a while with practice, like anything, you just get used to it and it works.

Gerburg Garmann: (08:35)
It really does. It really does.

Ann Rea: (08:38)

Gerburg Garmann: (08:38)
One other thing, if I may say so. As far as the, I call it, the referral culture is concerned, do not give up. It might not work the first time around. You have to be persistent and remind your collectors gently, but sort of firmly. “Well, listen, you had promised to get me in contact with X, Y, Z, probably. You had a lot on your schedule. Can we just, you know, nail something down by tonight? Would you be so kind and send me an emai?” And you have to be specific with your time. You set this over and over, but it is so true. If you say, “Oh I’ll get back to you.”

Ann Rea: (09:16)
Not going to work.

Gerburg Garmann: (09:17)
Not going to work. No.

Ann Rea: (09:18)
Yeah. And the good news is that people who care about art care about the artists. They don’t care about the middle man. People are more than happy. They’re actually inspired to help artists. Now don’t be needy and don’t be entitled because then they won’t want to help you. But if you are professional and you are confident and you are dignified in your approach, you’d be shocked. I will tell you my biggest sale came from a rejection. My biggest sale, like I was rejected. And then that person who rejected me gave me my biggest sale. So you never give up in this process, um, that we teach in the program. So let me ask you this. What are the, what are the three, what are three parts of the program that you think made the biggest difference from you, from where you are before, you know, when you enroll to where you are now?

Gerburg Garmann: (10:09)
Yeah. So first of all, the first couple of lessons where you really dig deep into yourself and find out what makes you tick, what drives you? It’s at times very uncomfortable. Um, definitely. But I think, uh, it’s, it’s the most important exercise to do, regardless which profession you are in, frankly, but particularly as an artist. So because you want to sustain what you are doing.

Ann Rea: (10:37)
Yes. You want to know your why.

Gerburg Garmann: (10:39)
Yes. And you want to create meaningful work for yourself. So there’s a ddifference, in my opinion, between happiness, trying to become happy. That’s something you do for yourself. And that’s a short term or short lived experience. Right. Because there’s always something else coming up that if you know your mission and you know what you stand for, people cannot get to you. You always have your own back.

Ann Rea: (11:05)
Yes. It’s so true.

Gerburg Garmann: (11:06)
People will come to you and say, “I don’t like your art.” And in down, down below you say, “I don’t care.” It’s okay. You’re polite, you don’t, but you to yourself, I don’t care. And you smile, right?

Ann Rea: (11:19)
Yeah. You basically get a tough line coding against rejection.

Gerburg Garmann: (11:24)
That’s a good one.

Ann Rea: (11:24)
Yes. You just don’t care anymore. You really don’t. I mean, not enough. I’m not saying you’re flippant. No, you’re sarcastic. You just actually don’t care anymore because you’re on a mission and you know who you are, you know what you stand for, you know, what you stand against. Yes. And in order to serve that mission, you gotta sell your art. Mm-hmm

Gerburg Garmann: (11:41)

Ann Rea: (11:42)
Not about just you anymore. So this is huge. Okay. So what, so sounds like you, it helped the first of three parts is you learned your mission. Uh, you also learned about the mechanics of how to gain referral sales, right? What’s a third part of the program that made a big difference for you personally.

Gerburg Garmann: (12:01)
Well, the study partners, definitely without a community, uh, you don’t achieve anything. Again, you might get lucky and have a sale here or there, but you need this constant support because you will be down at some point. And you, even, if you know who you are, you will question your approach. Uh that’s one part, the other part is people have ideas, the more good people you have in the room, the more ideas come to the surface. And I just had a, uh, meeting with a, uh, ma’am current ma member. Recently we stayed in contact.

Ann Rea: (12:35)

Gerburg Garmann: (12:36)
And yes, and I have stayed in contact with quite a number of people, which is also wonderful, but I learned something new every single time. Yeah. Every single time. And it’s sort of, I look forward to these conversations that it’s not dread, I’m saying, oh yes. Today I’m gonna see X, Y, Z virtually. Yeah. Obviously. Um, so that is very, very important. And I think everybody is kidding themselves if they think they can do it alone. Period. Um, what else I have learned is, uh, I had a big discussion with myself, um, gearing my art intentionally to the luxury market. Because as a teacher, you see people from all walks of society and I know who does have money and who does not have money. And so that was hard for me to get to the point where I really, uh, and, and, and wholeheartedly say, now that, well, just as I, as a high school student, a graduate student could not afford a Ferrari. I’m not saying I can afford one right now. Why should somebody, why should I make somebody able to afford my art at a pitance? Because I think that they deserve that. So that is sort of something that has been put into our brains from very early on, but it’s a wrong understanding of serving people.

Ann Rea: (14:07)
And, and it’s absolutely, yes, it’s an economic fact that art is a luxury. It is not like basic shelter and food and basic transportation. It is a luxury, no one needs art to survive. So it is a luxury. And if you try to sell your art as an conventional product or service, you are screwed from the get go, right? You have, you are, you’ve lost, you’ve lost. And it is another thing I will say about this is what someone can or cannot afford is none of your business.

Gerburg Garmann: (14:40)
I had to learn that I had to learn that you do not second, guess your collectors. It’s

Ann Rea: (14:46)
Not you, it’s not your business.

Gerburg Garmann: (14:48)
Right. And if they want it, they will buy it. If they don’t think that they will not buy it and you can try whatever you like, it’s, it’s not gonna work.

Ann Rea: (14:55)
Yeah. If we just flipped this, this, this table and said, you know, how would you like it? If someone were like, well, can you afford this? Can you not afford this? I mean, it’s really, it’s kind of insulting. It is. I think that it’s a grown adult will decide whether or not they can afford something. So get yourself, you know, have some healthy boundaries around things like that. It’s not, it’s not really at all appropriate to have any concern about what someone can or cannot afford. It’s up to them, not you, your, your job is to generate a profit. And if you don’t generate a profit, here’s what happens. You are never going to make a sustainable part-time or full-time living as an artist because what’s gonna happen is the IRS or your taxing authority will deem your entire endeavor, a hobby. And then all of your expenses will be disallowed.

Ann Rea: (15:44)
And then you’re you, without those would, without the ability to deduct those legitimate expenses and costs you can’t, you’re screwed. You won’t be able to make the money that you need to make. You gotta, you have to consult with your tax advisor. I’m not a tax advisor, but this is basic. No, no. Uh, taxing authority is gonna allow you to indulge in your hobby. Um, even if you’re making money, you still have to generate a profit. It has to be a serious business. So don’t operate with any illusion. It is a business. It is not anything other than a business when you sell your art. So I guess the other question I have for you is, um, I’d like you to fill in the blank, fill in the blank. I almost did enjoy the making art making money program because

Gerburg Garmann: (16:35)
It is expensive.

Ann Rea: (16:37)
Yeah. And what’s more expensive.

Gerburg Garmann: (16:41)
So I’ve heard this from previous, uh, folks you had, uh, as guests and over and over and over again, you will earn the money back, but you have to put in the word.

Ann Rea: (16:51)
Yeah. And not you sit there, you have to

Gerburg Garmann: (16:54)
Work. You have to go out basically on a daily basis and, and has shown us many, many tricks to keep score of what you are doing or not doing. Yeah. But is this accountability system. And really, if you stick to it, uh, you know what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. So I had a heart awakening, three, four months ago, I was falling short off making a profit. And it was the first time that I thought, darn, I have to turn this around. Yeah.

Ann Rea: (17:23)

Gerburg Garmann: (17:23)
Whole day, that very day I made five phone calls. I don’t know how many prototypes I got out of these phone calls at that point in time. But obviously they came all about at some point, right? Not necessarily that very weak. Yeah. But it’s very encouraging. Once you pick up the phone or once you see somebody in person and you simply ask, Hey, would you be willing to help me with this assignment? Right. People are genuinely interested in what you’re doing. Also always end, just so you know, a good way to market your program, which I have faithfully done. And I hope there will be more folks joining the man program. But that aside it is putting yourself out there. You get more respect. It’s quite the opposite of what you might think. Yes. You might think you come across as being salesy or needy. No, you assume a leadership function. And that is what I learned. And people like it. If there is somebody willing to lead them in whatever area of life it might be.

Ann Rea: (18:30)
It’s so true. Artists are leaders, even if you’re shy or introverted, artists are still leaders. Why are we the first to be commissioned? And the first to be executed during a political revolution because we’re leaders. That’s why. And even if you have look, most artists come into this program with very low level of confidence because they’ve unnecessarily and unwittingly subjected themselves to crushing rejection. Yes. We remove those obstacles. You’re not doing that anymore. And the average person who enters this program has a, on a subjective scale of one to 10, has a level of confidence and focus somewhere around about 2.5 upon graduation, it’s over an eight, that’s a triple increase in your level of focus and confidence. And that is life changing. Just that

Gerburg Garmann: (19:19)
It really is.

Ann Rea: (19:20)
Yes. And so, so yeah, it’s expensive, but here’s the thing what’s really expensive. It’s continuing to pay, to continue to keep losing opportunities to sell your art year after year, what’s really expensive is paying sales commissions of 50 to 70% to representatives and galleries. What’s really expensive is schlepping your art back and forth to art fairs and art shows where you don’t even make the booth feedback. What’s really expensive is paying for really unnecessary, expensive eCommerce sites that no one’s gonna well visit. Anyway, when you can go to Instagram, uh, stores and get it all for free, you don’t need an e-commerce site. That’s ridiculous. And you shouldn’t be building an e-commerce site unless you know your niche anyway, because you’re gonna have to do it all over again. So it is expensive. But in order to graduate from this program, you have to earn back your tuition investment through the sale of your art at a minimum during your final project, which you’ve done.

Ann Rea: (20:17)
And that was featured by ink magazine as an innovation in higher education. And so we do, we, you know, like, look, you wanna make money. You gotta invest in yourself. It’s just that simple. And you have to leap out into a certain amount of faith and really believe that you’re worth it. If you don’t believe you’re worth it, you know, that’s something to look at, you know, something to really examine, but if you’ve already sold your art, it stands to reason that you’ll sell more. If you’ve got, got a proven process, you have an expert community. And like you said, you have a supportive community who will help you when you’re feeling down or celebrate with you. When you make a bunch of sales, that’s really, really important. Really important. No, no one succeeds alone. I guess the other question I’d have for you is someone on to expand on this. Sure. If someone was kind of sitting on the fence and they were considering applying to enroll, I ask everybody this question, what would you honestly say to them?

Gerburg Garmann: (21:17)
Yes. And I have to laugh and smile at the same time at this point in time, because it is so ironic. If you think this through, right, the course that you offer costs money and it costs money for good reasons. And here we are, as artists who think and are creative as can be, but we cannot find the money. Think about this. I mean, this, this is crazy. So be creative in trying to find the money that you need to enroll in the class.

Ann Rea: (21:46)
Yeah. My experience is people do have a lot of people actually do have the money. Yeah. But they say they go into scarcity and they say, I don’t, well, that’s not always true. And I know it’s not always true. Sometimes it is true. And I don’t look, if you don’t, if you’re worried about your rent and you’re worried about paying groceries, don’t apply to enroll in my program. You should not be thinking about making you don’t have time to indulge in making art and trying to sell art. If those are your current concerns, this is not for people who are in dire financial straits. This is not a get rich quick scheme. No, one’s coming to say, no, one’s gonna discover you. Right. But if you’ve been selling your art for a while and you ha and you plan on continuing, then, you know, save yourself the time and hell of doing it the wrong way and come and learn how to do it the right way. That’s what I would say.

Gerburg Garmann: (22:44)
And it’s also, for me, maybe, particularly for women, I don’t know if I can speak for women, but women hesitate to invest in themselves because

Ann Rea: (22:53)

Gerburg Garmann: (22:54)
There’s always any somebody else who needs it more than we do ourselves. And it is so forgive my language, effing wrong.

Ann Rea: (23:01)
It is

Gerburg Garmann: (23:01)
We have to, we have to invest in ourselves in order to be able to be of service to others. And theoretically, we know that, but making that step is yet something else that you have to fully embrace. Yeah. And you also have to take a leap of faith, right? Yeah. At some point you have to say, okay, I’m gonna give it a go ahead. Or, and if it doesn’t work, maybe for some people, they would say it couldn’t get worse because I didn’t make sales

Ann Rea: (23:29)
Teams. It won’t get worse. You know what? I can tell you, every single artist I’ve worked with, who’ve done. Who’s actually done the work it’s worked for. Yeah. Now there are some, there are some who didn’t do the work and then they whine and and complain. They’re not a, a lot of ’em, but it happens. Don’t apply to enroll in my program who don’t plan to apply yourself. This program’s designed for busy people. I’m very respectful of people’s time.

Gerburg Garmann: (23:55)
You really are.

Ann Rea: (23:56)
It really is. I, I can’t stand these long winded. Like this is a really long interview. My lessons are really succinct. But one thing I just wanna say is like, just how proud I am of you. You really did the work. And you also showed up for other students. You made friends and you contributed to the community. And I know that those friendships will continue and that support us system will continue to get stronger. And, you know, just coming on today, you’ve provided an example of another artist, another person who is maybe identify with you can say, okay, well she did it. Maybe I can do it. You know, it’s

Gerburg Garmann: (24:36)
True. If I can do it, other people can do it as well. And this goes for every anybody who joins a program of that caliber and heads off to UN for the program you have developed.

Ann Rea: (24:46)
Thank you very much. I feel really flattered with a, when a professor says that because I’ve, I’ve had a number of academics come through the program. And I always think, oh, I wonder what they think.

Gerburg Garmann: (25:00)
Well, they think they think highly of you and they learn again, you don’t need a title. You don’t need two titles, which I have, uh, you need the commitment and you need a teacher who knows what they are doing. Yes. That’s what it comes down to. So

Ann Rea: (25:15)
Yeah, that’s really what you need. You need to, no matter what you’re trying to learn, you have to learn from someone who’s done two things. They’ve accomplished what you want to accomplish. Number one. But they have also been able to teach other people to do the same thing. And those are two different criteria. That’s really important. So whatever you decide, make sure you’re examining that criteria. So thank you so much for your very valuable time. Go get some more referrals, go sell some more art and congratulations to you. I’m very proud of you.

Gerburg Garmann: (25:49)
Thank you so much, Ann. All my love to you. Thank you.

Ann Rea: (25:52)

Gerburg Garmann: (25:53)

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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