Interview by Holly Picano, Visual Communicator.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kathy Rennell Forbes. Kathy is an award-winning artist who is “working the dream.” I interviewed Kathy to find out what it’s like to be a full-time artist, how she got there and what advice she has for emerging artists.
1. What is your job like?
“I love my job as a self-employed artist with three streams of revenue: teaching art classes, teaching art workshops and selling art. People say I am ‘living the dream’ and I reply, ‘No, I am working the dream.’ I am typically teaching or in my studio 6 days a week.”
2. A typical day?
“I typically walk to my art studio, where I plan out my day in my head. I have usually reviewed email, social media and the papers online, over coffee at home before I head to my studio. I finish up any paperwork, correspondence or shipping out any sales. After a quick walk to the post office, I can then focus prepping for classes or painting. Most of my classes start with painting a demo emphasizing a different technique. At the end of the day, I will follow-up on any other important correspondence calls. Then I will enjoy dinner and a glass of wine.”
3. What do you paint and where do you teach?
“I am a watercolor, oil painter and instructor. I teach at Chastain Arts Center (one day per week) and at Kennesaw State University Continuing Education (two days per week). I also teach watercolor workshops in the U.S. and abroad. Last year, I led workshops in Cuba, Maine and Tuscany. This year, I just returned from teaching in Spain with plans to go to Venice, Italy in October. I also compete in art competitions, in particular en plein air paint outs.
4. What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
“I am a one-person shop (planner, painter, teacher, scheduler, marketer, and shipper). I do pay a tax accountant (fired myself from that duty this past year and it has already paid off), I have someone create and maintain my website (but I provide all input), I get some assistance with marketing from my husband and the staff where I teach. I also use a wonderful local printer to print my Giclée and cards.”
5. What kind of problems do you deal with?
“I feel very comfortable teaching and painting whether in a small group or large. My biggest challenge is keeping up with new and ever-changing technology and social media. Taking classes and speaking to my kids has helped. When I switched to MailChimp to deliver my emails that was a huge time-saver and a great vehicle for me to communicate with my customers and students.”
6. What kind of decisions do you make?
“Everything – I am the CEO of my art company. As my business grows, I hope to be able to hire an assistant to help with some tasks, especially around the holidays when sales pick up (but my teaching schedule is usually lighter then).”
7. What percentage of your time is spent doing what?
“About 1/3 teaching, 1/3 painting, 1/3 administrative [which includes marketing, record keeping, packing and shipping, prepping for shows, corresponding, etc.]. I also try to take one workshop a year from an artist I admire and a class on topics I need to know more about (i.e., social media, etc.).”
8. How does the time use vary?
“It changes as the classes I teach run eight or 10 weeks each session with a week or two off in-between. June is an off month for both, so I typically teach a workshop at an out of town destination and in-between class sessions (2-4 times per year). I usually host an art exhibit at the studio I share with another artist, Cathy Ehrler. We typically have 2-3 shows per year, either just the two of us or we invite other artists to exhibit with us. Time also varies depending on commissions and shows I am creating paintings for.”
9. What was your first job after college?
“I earned my BFA in Art and Art Eduction from UGA. Two months before I graduated the state of GA dropped all art and music classes so all the art teachers were let go and no new positions were available. I took a job with Citicorp, then IBM, which helped teach me time management and other skills which help me to this day.”
11. What experiences have led you to your present position?
“I started teaching adults at a local art center, as my popularity grew I added more classes and another art center. I have been asked to teach more, but I need time for planning for the classes and painting on my own. I currently teach three days per week with three days in the studio painting and prepping. I eventually started adding art workshops in TN and FL. This also grew in popularity and now art travel companies have been reaching out to me to teach in exotic places such as Cuba, Italy and Spain.”
12. Can you suggest ways a student could obtain this experience?
“Start small and work at it every day. As I said, ‘I am working the dream and I love it,’ but it does require lots of hard work, trying new things outside our comfort zone and networking. Be selective about what you do, you cannot do everything.”
If you would like to see more on Kathy’s artwork, you can click the links below:
Upcoming Venice Workshop