INTERVIEW WITH DYLAN AND JO: CONTEMPORARY FOLK ARTISTS
by Kim Chernecky
Dylan Curry and Jo James are married artists supporting themselves as independent contemporary folk artists. They call themselves "a mom-and-dad business, a two-person company of artists"..."We make the kind of art we like, then we open our doors to you. All of our creations are made one at a time. We make them with our own hands, since these are the only hands we have." According to Dylan and Jo, they call themselves "Cart Before The Horse because we're always getting ahead of ourselves."
Their art includes eclectic, folksy creations such as wall hangings, painted quilts, and one-of-a-kind hand-made dolls that you honestly have to see to appreciate! Each and every one is hand-crafted and hand-painted to create a piece of art to treasure for generations to come! Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating and inspirational couple!
Thank you so much for doing this interview! You two are such an inspiration for people everywhere who want to follow their passions.
Dylan: Thanks for inviting us, Kim. Is this microphone on? Can you hear us in the back? OK.
Let’s start with a little background information. Can you tell me about your artistic style and how it came to be?
Jo: We call our style contemporary folk art. It has an awareness of traditional elements of designs, but the honesty (for lack of a better word) of folk art. I have a background in sculpture and painting, but have always loved traditional crafts so our stuff just sort of evolved from the combination.
How long have you been supporting yourself with your art? I assume at some point you had a regular J-O-B?
Dylan: We've been supporting ourselves on art alone since January 1st 2006. Before that, our work history goes like this. . .I worked as a bellman at a timeshare resort near Disney World in Orlando from 1995 to 2003. Don't picture funny hats and tips for opening doors. Picture marathon trips up and down three flights of stairs for angry people who are changing rooms and have mountains of luggage and groceries. I think I might miss it there! So work didn't fulfill any creative impulses for me in those years, but I was playing in a band with Jo's brother and writing and recording songs during that time.
In those Florida years, Jo was at home being the best mom any kid could hope for, and going to college full time majoring in art. Once Jo had her diploma in hand, we relocated to the Oregon coast without any jobs lined up or anything. We had a safety net though, so we weren't too worried. Jo's folks lived there, so we could stay with them until we were settled. We stayed with them 10 days before moving to a little house down the road. Jo found a job babysitting an art gallery, and I stayed home with the kids and tried to get the art business underway. That meant learning how to sell on ebay, learning to take and edit digital photos, and learning html, all of which was new to me. I had only recently learned to use email, so I was a complete novice. Jo soon got another part time job at Jo-Ann fabrics, but I was beginning to pester her to quit all of it and just do art. But she wasn't convinced yet, and spent 2005 managing a Curves workout place that her mom bought. Finally I convinced her to give art her full attention by telling her that if it didn't work, we could switch roles again and I'd go punch the time clock and she could stay home with the kids. Fortunately, it has worked out so far.
Was there some defining moment for you when you actually decided to make your living creating art?
Dylan: My mom was a potter, so the art show scene was an influence on me. When I was a kid, I had no idea how hard those artists worked, but they seemed to be free of the rat race, so I always wanted that lifestyle. They looked the way they wanted, and they made what was in their head. That seemed pretty cool to me as a kid.
Was it something you always knew you would do?
Dylan: No, but it's something I always wanted. I wanted to make a living with art or music, but I didn't know if I'd ever get to. If it were me by myself, I'd probably still be carrying luggage up stairs. And if Jo were on her own, I don't know if she would have ever jumped into making art for a living. It seemed to take a lot of cheerleading from me on the sideline. I think it's sometimes easier to recognize the talent in someone else rather than yourself. To me it was obvious Jo should be using her artistic abilities to make a living.
Most artists are free spirits and find themselves frustrated by the constraints of a conventional job. How did you make the leap into entrepreneurship?
Dylan: It was a leap of faith as well as a calculated decision based on numbers. Basically, we were making and selling art while Jo was still punching a time clock. After gaining a bit of a following on ebay, I pointed out that we were making more per hour doing art than her job paid. If you can get to that point, you start to wonder what you could do with that time if you didn't have to go work for someone else.
Did you have any business training or advice when you began? And if not, did you just learn as you went along?
Dylan: We didn't have any business training, so it's a learning process that will always continue. If you're using new technology as a tool to make a living, you will always have to learn and adapt. Etsy is our main source of income right now, and they really haven't been around that long. In 5 or 10 years, how will we reach the public with our art? We'll just have to see.
Knowing what you know now, are there things you would have done differently along the way?
Sure, but it doesn't work that way. I don't worry about the mistakes we made. We just pull our socks up and keep moving.
Both of your kids share your artistic and musical talents. Do you find yourselves encouraging your kids to follow their own dreams? Have they ever expressed a desire to follow in your footsteps?
Dylan: We do encourage our kids to use their talents, and also to make bold moves toward their goals while they're young. It's easier to take chances when you're still under your parents' wing. Neither one of our kids wants to do what we do, but they both have tons of talent that they are developing.
It’s not easy to make it in this economy, particularly as an artist. What is the hardest part of being self employed artists?
Dylan: You're always at work. Maybe some people would say the opposite, that you're always at home, but Jo and I have this work ethic that just says "Go, go, go!" so we have to make ourselves relax sometimes. We often don't know what to do with a self-imposed day off.
You use a variety of marketing techniques such as blogs, email campaigns, selling on Ebay, Etsy, and your own website. How long did it take for you to build up enough of a following that you were able to say you really made it as artists?
Dylan: I'll let you know when it happens. I think it's a dangerous thing to ever feel like you've made it. Where does the drive come from if you've made it already?
It’s easy for people to become discouraged in this business, hence the term ‘starving artist’. Do you have any tips for those who are looking to start their own creative arts business, or for those who are struggling to grow their own following?
Dylan: I think the best way to have more money is to need less money. Starting in 2003 when we moved to the Oregon coast, we have simplified our lives over and over again. The first house we lived in here in Oregon looked like a little gingerbread house and was only $500 a month. We've since moved into more comfortable digs, but we still don't have cable TV, we don't have a house phone since we have cell phones, and we only need one old reliable car that we paid cash for. I even like to leave the car parked as much as possible, heading to the store and post office on my bike fitted with giant wire baskets for hauling stuff. Gas prices are only going to rise, so using a bike saves us lots of money.
Jo and I are talking about cutting costs again in a big way when our youngest goes off to college in three years. We want to renovate an old Airstream trailer to live in for a while to see if it suits us. A sparse, nomadic life may be more comfortable and less stressful than owning all this stuff. The internet is in the air all around us now, so staying connected to customers shouldn't be a problem.
How do you find balance in your lives? Dylan, I know you often joke about always working, ‘stuffing little doll arms’ while sitting in front of your computer. Have you been able to create a schedule that allows you to spend time doing other things you love or do you have to remind yourself not to let the business become all-encompassing?
Dylan: I constantly have to tell myself that it's OK to spend time and energy on other things that don't make any money. So I force myself to work on my music or videos, always feeling a little guilty. But we're supposed to be living, not just working, so I give myself that luxury despite the internal conflict.
How do you handle the ‘business’ part of owning your own art business? Do you outsource any of it, such as bookkeeping? Do you have any tips for others who might be struggling to keep good records?
I'm probably not the best one to ask about bookkeeping, since I do the bare minimum. The bare minimum is basically throwing all the receipts in one spot until tax time. All the rest of the numbers you need are kept track of by paypal, the bank, etsy, etc. If you have your receipts in one place, you can pretty much look up everything else when Uncle Sam has his hand out.
Dylan, in addition to the art you and Jo create together, you also have a band and have created music videos, which I love. Do you plan to branch out and do more with that?
Dylan: I don't really have a band, but I like to record and pretend I do. I'm working on my third music video right now in the garage. When I'm finished with that, I'm going to work on recording more music with my son on the drums.
What suggestions or words of encouragement do you have for people who want to support themselves with their art or any creative endeavor for that matter?
It's worth it. Even if you never make a lot of money, even if it only provides a supplemental income, it's worth it. Using your talents is rewarding in itself. Suggestions? Work like the devil's chasing you. Work like it's sink or swim. Work, work, work! It doesn't take a certain amount of time to reach your goals, it takes a certain amount of work. Then it's time to set your goals higher and work some more. But if you're doing what you love, it won't feel like work. . .at least most of the time. It's a very rewarding life to see your ideas become reality.
Those are truly words to live by! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us! I hope others will find your story as inspiring as I do!
Dylan: Thanks for inviting us, Kim. This was fun.
To see Dylan and Jo's Contemporary Folk Art visit:
Dylan's newsletters: http://dylansnewsletters.blogspot.com/
Dylan's Music Video "Too Lazy to Bleed" (explicit):
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OPRAH WINFREY GIVES AMAZING SPEECH ON IMPORTANCE
OF BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF AND FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS
BREAKOUT by Fine Artist Lucretia Torva
Interview with Chrome Artist Lucretia Torva
by Kim Chernecky
Thank you so much for doing this interview and for sharing your story with us! Tell us a little about your background. How did you get started as an artist?
I've always had an interest in and skill at drawing. I enjoyed art museums even as a child. I did not select art as a major my first year at U. of Illinois because I thought it impractical. Yet, my interests and talents prevailed and I chose art as my major my sophomore year.
How long have you been supporting yourself with your art? Did you hold a traditional job before you were an artist?
I have been supporting myself predominantly from art for the last 11 years. “Art” means any kind of painting: Murals, faux finishing, decorative painting, portraits and all kinds of commissioned work. It has been especially challenging since 2008 and in January of 2009, I got a job as a driver for a Town Car/Limo service. I continued to do that part time some of 2010.
I sold one of my fine art paintings of collector cars (a '59 Corvette, titled “Breakout”) in Feb and that alleviated a lot of financial stress....for the moment!
Was it hard to actually decide to make your living creating art? Was it something you always wanted to do?
The decision was made for me by my former employer's demands and actions. They were short-sighted and non-supportive, so, with no financial cushion. I decided to accept their offer to leave. I'd always had a vague vision of my being an independent artist, yet didn't know what that truly looked like.
Did you get any business training before you made the leap into entrepreneurship?
Not much other than a few workshops about organization, time management, taxes and various and sundry topics I don't remember.
What is your biggest challenge as an independent artist?
Juggling time spent promoting/marketing/networking with time spent making art.
Do you have any advice for other artists who are thinking about leaving their jobs and supporting themselves with their art?
Freakin' do it! Be yourself. Be brave. Be strong. Be ready for a roller coaster ride. Be stubborn.....and be sure you're good at what you do.
It’s not easy to make it in this economy, particularly in the creative arts. What is the hardest part of being a self-employed artist?
Effective promotion and marketing on a shoe-string budget.
What marketing techniques do you use to market your work?
Networking and niche-ing myself into a small enough market that many people know each other and I can meet a lot of potential clients at events. My specific area in which I am building credibility and visibility is with collector car enthusiasts.
I've even been told a few times; “Wow, I see you everywhere!”
Have you used any non-conventional ways to publicize your work?
I suppose it is non-conventional to appear in non-art publications? I have an article about me coming up in this month's Auto News, www.autonewsonline.com . I have my automotive themed work on display at the new Scottsdale International Auto Museum instead of an art gallery. It seems to work! The painting I sold went to a gentleman who saw it at the auto museum. My paintings include Classic Chevys and Corvettes, GT500 Shelby Mustang, a rare all stainless steel '36 Ford, a completely custom, one of a kind sports car valued at over a million and a half $$, and more.
Was there a turning point where you felt you were a successful artist, and not just a hobbyist?
Well, I've generally taken myself seriously and knew I was in it for the long haul. I definitely knew I was a professional at my art when I started working in mufti-million dollar homes, alone, and receiving checks for more than 3 thousand dollars.
Do you have any suggestions or tips for others hoping to make a living in the creative arts business, or for those who might be struggling to make it?
OK...this will sound contradictory, yet it appears to have worked for me! Be flexible/versatile...yet seek a niche for your art.
My versatility has kept me busy. I literally paint on anything and paint anything; from a 100ft Tuscan landscape on a wall around a pool to faux marble columns to perfect Lion King characters in a kid's room to a portrait of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. Do you think I've learned a lot from all those projects? Heck yeah! Are my clients satisfied? Very! So, my versatility has allowed me to stay away from regular employment and allowed me to get better at my craft.
So, write anything/everything...dance everything...sing everything...and in the process, you will find your niche.
I've been containing my marketing to car people and events for about a year and a half and it is working! Need I say more!! Examples of specific events: http://www.wheelsofwellness.org/ , an event showcasing rare vintage race cars, supporting a foundation that assists cancer patients. Another event coming up in April: http://tourecco.com/cannonball/phoenix.php . Last year I displayed my art, received a custom commission from an attendee and then donated 10% of the price to the event's charity of choice, Operation Homefront, which assists military families.
How does it make you feel knowing that you are able to support yourself doing something you love?
Awesome....and people tell me regularly that I am fortunate.
What suggestions or words of encouragement do you have for people who want to support themselves with their art or any creative endeavor for that matter?
Be focused, single-minded and stubborn. Don't listen to nay-sayers and whiners. Practice your craft and be a perfectionist because you don't want to be taken for a “Sunday Painter”! I've told people that I am an artist and they react with an ”OK” or “That's nice”...then they see my art and say “Oh! You're a REAL artist!” This must mean they feel there're plenty of pretend artists out there.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us!
To learn more about Lucretia and her artwork visit:
Watch how Lucretia Torva creates her famous chrome paintings:
TURNING HOBBIES INTO DREAM BUSINESSES
Here's a great article from Entrepreneur Magazine about people who have created their dream jobs from hobbies they love. Right click to read it here:
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