Success Interview: Jodi Ohl on Running a Creative Business

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to a fellow artist turned friend, Jodi Ohl. She’s here to share with all of us how, over the years, she’s expanded her art into a thriving creative business. So without further ado, please enjoy the interview …

Jodi Ohl Success Interview: Mixed Media

You started out on Etsy in 2007; it’s been nearly six years since you opened shop! How has selling artwork online evolved over the years?

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, Lisa!  When I look back from the time I first started selling my art on Etsy, I see not only how the format has changed but how I’ve changed my approach to selling online.  I think the biggest thing that has evolved over the years is just the opportunity for artists to show their work to a worldwide audience and not depend on having a gallery here and there to be their only outlet.  The stage has grown exponentially since I first started selling online, so of course there is more competition, not that that is a bad thing.  But with that said, if you have a mentality of,  “I’ll list it and they will come”, you aren’t going to be as successful as you can be. Rather, an artist who wants to be successful selling online has to treat the marketing and selling of their work just as if they were running a brick and mortar store. Perhaps one has to work even harder than if you were running brick and mortar stores because you have to convey your branding and merchandising over a computer screen. For me, selling online is just a piece of the whole puzzle for my creative career, where in the beginning, it was my only outlet to getting my work out in the world.

Your work is stunning. I thought mixed media was a newer trend, but you’re clearly quite experienced. How long have you been creating this type of artwork? 

Thank you so much for saying that.  Mixed media has been around for quite some time, dating back to the early 1900’s with Picasso using collage and simple elements like rope and string in his work to later on in the century with artists of all sorts combining papers, paint, inks, chalk, pastels into their abstract or semi abstract work.  I think most recently it has resurfaced into a very popular form of art because in a lot of ways, it’s about story-telling and using what you have or what you can find in your work. Recycling,  repurposing, reinventing, and reworking common objects often heading for the trash and giving a voice to one’s creative instinct without the restrictions of being perfect or working within boundaries  seems to resonate with artists of all levels, and in a lot of ways has made art accessible to both the seasoned artist and the beginner. I started working in mixed media around the summer of 2006 after a fire in my home destroyed all the watercolors that I had been working on among other things.  At that time I had so much to say and needed a new outlet, one that I could comb the yard sales or flea markets for items that spoke to me as I not only had to rebuild my home but also my art. Since  that time, my work has moved from focusing on collage and journal pages to paintings of all sorts which incorporate papers and texture along with a variety of mediums.

Jodi Ohl original artwork

Very interesting! You also manage a blog and run teaching workshops. How do you juggle the different aspects of your creative career? 

At times I do it better than others, the times I don’t do it as well are the times I let things happen rather than manage how my day, week, or year for that matter unfolds.  My 20 years plus of management experience in the corporate world helps me contain the creative impulse to just create all day and hope things fall into place.  What I do instead, goes against the grain of how a lot of creative types operate and that is to really plan, check in with myself,  keep  schedules, impose deadlines,  use spreadsheets,  maintain a planner, and treat all the aspect of my creative career as subdivisions of my business.  They all need attention, it’s about being proactive rather than reactive that keeps them all running smoothly.  I am still learning and tweaking as I go, because there are times when different parts of my business needs more attention than others.  I also am constantly looking forward into my career and seeking opportunities that will keep my pipeline of projects full so that I have the ‘opportunity’ of having income rolling in on a regular basis.  Nothing is a sure thing, but by not putting your eggs all in one basket and by continually filling that basket, you have a better chance at creating a strong and successful foundation for your business.

Excellent advice. Please describe your “zone.” Where do you create and what’s the atmosphere like in that space? What mood do you bring to a blank canvas?

I have a 17 x 20 studio that has three walls of shelves and a big open area for my easels and tables. When I first moved here, it seemed so huge, but I’m even starting to outgrow my studio as I move into creating on larger canvases. The zone I work in changes, in the morning I start off at my desk with an endless supply of coffee (I’m a bit of a caffeine junkie) handling administrative tasks, then around 9 or so I head into the studio. I don’t have a perfect studio, at times it’s chaotic because I often have to work on multiple projects at a time, but when I walk into it, I see opportunity and ideas floating from my head to the canvas.  I like to work with music when I am working at night or on the weekends but during the week I just simply show up and start working. The mood I hope to convey with all of my work is hope, empowerment, and positivity.  There are plenty of times I don’t feel confident or secure, or entirely happy,  but by creating the mood I hope to feel, I in essence become what I create. I hope who ever enjoys my work, feels that same sense of inspiration and in a sense, law of attraction. You are what you put out in the word in so many ways.

Jodi Ohl mixed media bookmark

What has been the proudest moment in your artistic career to date?

Oh goodness, there have been so many proud moments. Little and big milestones I’ve climbed over the last few years. I think that some of my most exciting moments have been seeing my work published in international magazines. I’ve  written  about 17 or 18 articles published to date along with 2 book contributions.  Looking at the bigger picture though, the proudest moment overall has been my decision to leave a very good job, an awesome job actually, as a bank manager and take the leap of faith to pursue my artwork full time. It was the scariest and most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life and I have no regrets at all for pursuing my dream.

What has been your biggest waste of time or money since starting your creative business?

That is a really good question and it’s not one easily answered because even with the things I’ve done that have been expensive and seemingly a waste of money, very often they have proven to present opportunities in ways I hadn’t initially anticipated.

The thing that comes to mind first and foremost is art festivals. They have not been my biggest monetary success, in fact, often times I lose money when doing shows, especially if they are out of town.  A lot of people have the mindset that everything I make at shows goes to me! But the truth of the matter is there are a lot of expenses that go into art shows, from the entry fee which can be as little as 50 dollars or so to several hundred to even a 1000 dollars or more, then you have trailer or truck rentals, hotels, food, material expense, advertising and promotional material, displayers, and tons of time creating inventory for the shows (there’s even a cost to holding back that inventory so that you have a  body of work to show where in fact it could be out in the world elsewhere).

Many times the patrons that come to shows are looking at the show itself as a social event, not necessarily seeking that perfect piece of art for their home…although that could be exactly what they are seeking.  I mentioned before that the shows often times present opportunities after the fact, and what I have found for me is that I’ve opened the door to gaining new students for my classes,  gallery opportunities (you never know who you will meet at shows), future customers for custom work, and  lifetime followers of your work who very often purchase online or in galleries even after the show.

Because I do so much online, I think sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking everyone  must know me but that is so far from the truth, there are many people who haven’t seen the magazines I’ve been in, or haven’t heard of me, or didn’t realize I teach…so in a nutshell, approaching art shows as a marketing event is how I go into each venture. I just have to be prudent on the ones (or how many) I do because I can only afford to do so many marketing events each year.

Jodi Ohl original

What’s the best piece of advice you could offer another artist just starting out and looking for their first sale?

Strive to do the best that you can do with each and every piece of art you create, but don’t let the fear of perfection stop you from putting your work out into the world.  Early on in my entry into my career as an artist, a friend gave me the book “Art & Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  In that  book, the authors address how few masterpieces there are in this world,  but yet how less colorful and beautiful our world would be if everyone just waited to put their masterpiece (if that masterpiece even ever comes into being) into the universe. I tell my students that talent is overrated and often misinterpreted. There are people out there that sure, just have that innate ability to create magic with whatever they touch. The rest of us get to where we are through hard work and dedication.

So if you want it, just do it, and keep doing it, then do it again.

The last piece of my advice would be that one needs to decide if you are doing this as a hobby or a business; that in itself can determine how you approach your art and that first sale. It all does boil down to doing what you love and doing the best that you can for where you are in your journey, and to keep on striving to do just a little more with every new work you put out into the world.  There is one more thing … surround yourself with people that support you and encourage you and then give that support back to someone else. It does make a difference and will help you grow then pass on that torch to someone else.

Thank you Lisa for having me, it’s been a lot of fun talking with you!

Thank you, Jodi! It’s been absolutely brilliant. To find more from Jodi, visit her at the Sweet Repeats blog and Etsy shop. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest! Until next time and all the best!

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