Vanessa joins me today to discuss her art journey as a painter. We explore how she has been using coaching to develop a focused path forward, complete with timelines and expectations for her business plan.
- Music by Old Romans: https://www.instagram.com/old_romans
You can listen to the episode here (or wherever you listen to podcasts) or read the transcript below:
A Conversation with Vanessa Luhvek
Chain Assembly: This week on the podcast. I'm lucky to have an amazing another local artist local to Saint Petersburg, Florida. Vanessa Luhvek. Vanessa I have first come across her work at a it was an art walk in Gulf Port. I went to go visit a friend of mine, Luci, who is showing art there, some of her wildlife photography. And I walked past your booth and was instantly like, Oh, this is the kind of graphical stuff that I like. And I was blown away by the incredibly niche topics you're exploring, such as Clarissa explains it all as a theme. And I just I loved the style, the clean, but still brushwork. She is very graphical. I guess a better way to is and the best way to describe it because there's such solid background, solid colors, lets you focus on the theme or the words is a lot of text in the pieces. So I had to buy a piece. Usually my wife's not happy when I bring home art because our house is just loaded with it. But she was very excited to get the the one that I ended up with, which if I believe it's Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's with a silk facemask on and two Raccoons. Very cool. Yeah. Anyway, so thank you, Vanessa, for taking time to join me on this conversation. How are you doing?
Vanessa Luhvek: Good. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here. This is fun.
CA: Okay, cool. So let's start off with, I guess, kind of describing how you got to where you are. Like you, I saw before you mentioned that you had basically been in business, quote unquote, since 2021. Can I ask like, I guess, what is the catalyst there? You said this is the start. This is why you picked February 20, 21.
CA: Was it like an LLC? Was it the first time you landed or was it just like a mental decision you made? What happened?
VL: That's a great question. I consider that kind of the start date because that was really like the first big art show I did that wasn't, you know, like a couple dozen people, but rather several thousand people and kind of got a taste for what it was like. And I was like, you know what? I this is what I want to do.
VL: I could make a go of this.
CA: So what kind of art show was that?
VL: I did the the local topia and it was great. I had such a nice experience doing it. It was awesome. It was my art was very well-received and it was just a really, really positive experience.
CA: I've done local topia three times. The first time was great. It was like right after the pandemic, tons of sales, second time, terrible sales. And I think that's mostly because it was a much bigger event. So you're really competing for more people's attention because there's so many vendors. So the third time I did it, I, I tell people this little anecdote all the time.
CA: I just made like a very wide it was like one foot tall by eight foot wide vinyl banner that I put in the front of my tent that says chain assembly art tarot games. That made such a huge difference because at a distance people could tell whether or not they want to visit my booth. And I saw tons of people making a beeline to it because they saw that sign in the front of my booth.
CA: So that's something that I always need to that I'm always considering when I'm going into large events like that is like, how much are my competing for the attention against other vendors around me? So for your specific attendance at that local topia, but how many pieces would you say you brought to that event?
VL: I'm going to say for that first one I probably brought I'm going to say about 30 pieces, and I think I sold roughly about a third to a half of what I brought.
CA: Which is pretty darn great. Yeah. Yeah. So you do mostly sell your originals. You don't have a crazy amount of prints and like a accouterments for that, do you?
VL: No, there's a couple reasons. Number one, the people that buy original paintings are not the people that buy my prints. I don't find that there's much of an overlap there. So really what I've been really trying to work on is not so much my artistic ability or style, but rather learning how to sell my work. That's been like the biggest challenge for me.
VL: So instead of trying to have a ton of different plates in the air that I'm trying to spin, I really just wanted to focus on my original art. The second reason that I focus on that is because I work with resin and the reason it's really, really hard to get a good quality photograph and have my work show in a print as it does in person.
VL: So I figure, you know, until right now my work is so affordable that it just makes sense to buy an original piece from me. And at some point in the future, maybe I'll hire someone professionally to photograph and edit and do prints. But right now I'm just focusing on one thing.
CA: I understand that too, specifically because your style is I keep coming back to the term graphical like you are painting texture, using solid colors and things like that. And if it is done as a digital recreation of it, you kind of lose the you might lose the fact that this was hand painted.
VL: Right in even in some of the layers. There's a lot of layers to the work. And you just when you look from different angles, you can see the layers, you can see shadows that the lettering casts, things like that. And you don't get any of that in a print. Plus it's it loses all the shine right?
CA: So with that in mind, talking about the practicality of being at an event like local topia or an art walk where you're carrying pieces. Is that a hassle because your work is heavier than people who just do normal canvas? You have the resin on everything, you have frames on most of the pieces. But what kind of system have you figured out to help you be mobile in those situations?
VL: Employing the help of my wonderful husband, because yeah, everything is it's very heavy. It's it's cumbersome to move around. I've experimented with different ways to help protect my art, to move it around, trying to shove all of my stuff into a minivan. I've got three kids and three car seats in there, and it's a lot of work. But I just feel like because of the way that my work looks, that it's just very helpful for me to show it to people in person.
VL: So it's worth the hassle of transportation and carrying it around.
CA: So when you are transporting them, and I believe also as well as when you're selling them, I remember when I bought your piece, I commented on how you put it in a cardboard box for me, which I thought was awesome. So like, how are you packing them? I guess when you're just moving them to events and back and then how you packaging them when you sell it.
VL: So I used to package them or when I would transport them back and forth. I saw someone do this on the internet and it was kind of brilliant and I was doing it for a while, but I would take pool noodles and cut them down to size and kind of slice one of the sides open and slip them over the frame.
VL: And then it would give my art like enough space that it wouldn't touch each other. And, you know, the frame was protected and that was great, except I would usually wind up with a car filled with pool noodles that were coming off by the end of the show, and it just got to be a pain. So I started making these large bubble mailer envelopes, and that's been super helpful for storage for carrying them around.
VL: And I do all of those for my large pieces, like the two foot by two foot pieces that I do, the smaller sizes. I started doing something that now instead of the cardboard, the boxes, when people buy them, I made tote bags and I put them right into the tote bag. It's a really nice looking tote bag. It's got my logo and they slide in there.
VL: Perfect. They're protected. Someone can put it on their shoulder or walk around for the rest of the show and it's got my name out there and it looks great.
CA: That's a good idea. So things a few things to unpack there regarding the packaging, the tote bags. Did you print those yourself or get some get them printed somewhere?
VL: I did print them myself. When I do my artwork, all of my lettering, I used to hand paint all of the lettering, but that is like the bane of my existence. I hate painting letters. They're the biggest paint in the app are. But sorry. So I started. I got into try.
VL: I got into using a a cricut machine and I use that for all of the lettering in my work. And I just thought, you know what? I can use this on the totes. And then it just ties everything in really nicely.
CA: So are you doing vinyl decals that you're putting on to it or like pressing it, or are you just using stencils.
VL: Of vinyl decals? I tried doing stencils originally. I made a stencil and I spray painted a couple and they did not look so good. So I said, You know what? Let's do the, the iron on and the iron on looks great.
CA: Okay. So I tried that. So I have a silhouette cameo and I don't mess with it as much as I should. Well, last week was like the first time I kind of used it in a while. My wife was doing a she was part of this like, dog foam Pirate Party that was Barbie themed at the dive bar and so her and her friend built like a giant foam Barbie box for people to take photos in.
CA: And so I did like the Barbie logo cricket. I mean, vinyl decals and stuff like that. But why not even further back? I only once tried the heat transfer and it did not work at all. I don't know if it's the quality I did or the iron I have. I really wish I had a press because I know it'd be so much better, but I forgot where I was getting into that.
CA: Oh yeah. Tote bags. I really love that idea of having the tote bags, so I'm constantly looking at like for Imprint or Alibaba to get like custom things made. And the idea of having a tote bag is really good idea. But like another way you could go about it, or maybe I would want to go about it because I already have a few of these is just do like a linoleum block print on canvas.
CA: Totes. Yeah, we can whip out a whole bunch of them single color really quick. And one thing I was doing too back in the day was having laser etched wood panels and using that as a woodblock print so that way I could design it on the computer, have that converted to the wood, and then printing that onto paper that I was in watercolor on top of.
CA: Sure. With the the bubble mailers. Were you branding those too, or just using blank bubble mailers?
VL: No. You know, I'm I was just using blank ones. And right now I, I describe myself as a rabid environmentalist. So honestly, when I make those, I know that most people, they're going to get them home and they're going to be like, what the hell am I going to do with this? And they're not going to do anything with it.
VL: They're not going to save it, and they're going to chuck it. So I usually just give those to people to get it out to their car, maybe transport it, and then sometimes I'll get them back. And with my larger pieces, they're so darn heavy that I find people are just kind of coming back to me at the end of the day, grabbing them in their mailer and getting right to the car as quick as possible.
VL: Whereas my 12 by twelves in that tote, it's not a big deal to carry it around.
CA: One thing that I offer on my website and I have offered it in events but few people are taking me up on it is free delivery within 50 miles of the zip code or wherever I'm vending. So that's one way. If you want to be environmentalist, I guess it'll save on packaging. You will be driving, but they're going to be driving anyway, so but so I because my stuff's digital, I rarely ever have frames.
CA: I'm usually just hanging matted prints or prints and sleeves. But I do have an event coming up that I am going to be having a bunch of my larger framed prints on display. So my plan was just to put them in a trash bag for them, which I guess is not the best, and then like and wrap it with plastic wrap so that it doesn't like scratch up the the frame or something.
CA: But I probably should get some type of larger bag. I like that tote bag idea.
VL: Yeah, they were really inexpensive.
CA: So what how much are the tote bags?
VL: You know, off of the top of my head, I can't remember exactly, but I'm going to say I believe we've I figured that with my Ironman de cal material that I'm using and the tote bags that I got, I'm looking at like $2.50 apiece. My cost to create that.
CA: Yeah, but that's cheaper than I expected.
CA: Yeah. I guess you don't need, you don't need the transfer paper because it is the iron on. So you're just cutting out the shape, laying it over and then ironing it down. Right.
VL: I believe so. And I will say that if you're hesitant about it, I did a shirt one time with the iron on and I wasn't using an iron that got hot enough. And the shirt has since kind of come apart. It was, you know, first run, I used a better iron and there's no way that these decals would come off of the tote like they are on there.
VL: It's like they fuzed in. So I think.
CA: I had enough for t shirts.
CA: Okay. Well, now you got me excited about doing this. I don't think I'll do the transfer, but I probably will try block printing or even just getting a price cut to see how it is screen printed.
CA: Just try not to cut everything out myself. No, but I mean, just having if someone does buy one of those big pieces, if it's just big enough to hold so they're going to be 12 by 18 is usually the price, the size that I do my larger print side. So I really just need it to be like 14 wide to fit it in there.
CA: Sure. Anyway, so now we're talking about me, which we're not supposed to be doing, so. All right. So it was that local Topia event that made you say, All right, I'm going to dive into this. So like, what were kind of the first things you did to expand the business side as a result of that success?
VL: You know, when when I started, I was kind of a hot mess. I really didn't know what I was doing and just trying to do a bunch of things. And I'm not going to say that I had the wherewithal to just do it on my own. But with this 25 days of minis in that I will, I guess, talk about later, in order to get involved with that, you had to be part of it's connected to this other group and their coaching program.
VL: So I wound up signing up for their coaching program in May of 2021, which is another like huge artist milestone for me because that's it's between February and May that I consider myself officially doing this thing. And I've just been learning a whole lot about how to be a professional artist and it's been extremely helpful because one of the things that that I learned is I went to school for art.
VL: I didn't have any intention of becoming a professional artist, but way back when I went to college, we were told you could and I quote, get a job or get a degree in underwater basket weaving. And it didn't matter because you'd have a great corporate job when you got out, which not true. So I was like, Well, I'm good at art.
VL: I'll just do art and then get a real job when I get out, which I did. And it was horrible and I just felt like a fish out of water. But anyway, when I got into this coaching program, you know, we talked about how a lot of us went to school to learn how to create our art, but none of us learned how to run a business or how to successfully market ourselves or brand or anything like that.
VL: That was just it wasn't taught at all. So I think that's why you have a lot of people that are phenomenal artists that have incredible work, but they can't sell their stuff works and who you know, and they're sitting on all this fantastic artwork and not making money and getting frustrated and going back to their shitty corporate jobs and a lot of art careers die that way.
CA: Okay, So it was a coaching program that kind of helped help you get your your head on straight. I guess I'll be developing plans and stuff. So do you have like a five year, three year, ten year plan that you're trying to move towards? Or is it really just making decisions as they come?
VL: I have some big grand plans as to what I would like to do. As of right now, a lot of what I'm doing, though, is just learning how to get comfortable with going out to art shows. I feel like I'm very socially awkward, so just not feeling awkward, learning how to talk about my art work, learning to tell people why I create, how, how I create what I'm doing.
VL: And I feel like as I hash that out better, as I work that out better in my mind and down on paper that I'm starting to hone in on who my collectors are and how to find them and connect with them. And that's where I'm hoping to get my business success from that type of work.
CA: Well, one topic that's come up a few times in the last few episodes I've done is the practice of like writing a blurb to go alongside each piece. And I feel like you've done that really well, because when I went to your solo show, I guess it was a two person show that was like a block from my house at the recording studio.
CA: There was fascinating stories written for every single piece, and most of the time you're reading it and you're like, Why am I reading this? I'm just standing here because I've got nothing else to do. But yours are fascinating and great. So do you. Did you just kind of like, try that out for that environment or have you been writing those for every piece you create to get a practice?
CA: Do you do do you have those available at like temporary events, like, like an art event? Like what's kind of your plan with writing on your art?
VL: Sure. So at first, you know, when I kind of I, I went into this and kind of wanted to I had mentioned this to you before, but kind of like Banksy and just create something and not necessarily a graffiti artist, but just create this piece of artwork and kind of throw it out into the universe. I don't know how because I didn't want to talk to people, but just like, create this artwork and all of a sudden all these people are like, Whoa, look at this.
VL: This is so great. But if you're not getting out there and talking about your artwork, it's no one's going to know who you are. I'm not Banksy. It's not going to work that way. So one of the things that I did is I went to coaching and I'm terrible at small talk and in lots in group situations and just trying not to be awkward and just talking about my work and my coach said, you know, it would be helpful if you had stories for all of your work because that's a starting point about something you can talk about, even if you don't feel like you can start the conversation.
VL: If someone's looking at your work, they're going to see this little blurb about it and then they're going to be interested. And it's a starting point of a conversation. So I was like, That's interesting. And right after I started doing that, I started getting really positive feedback and now it's just when I create a piece of artwork, there's a story with it and the story gets told.
CA: Do you kind of approach each one of those with like, art? I'm going to have a 70 ward version, a 100 ward version, 150 word version. That's hard to say. Or do you just kind of like write and write and just when you feel like the story's done, the story is done?
VL: Kind of both. I usually have. I'm not. I was terrible with Twitter. I guess now it's X because it was what, 140 characters and I'm very long winded. That was never my thing. So usually my stories can be a little bit long. I usually try to make them when I print out my tags, so I do them on a three by five or a four by six sheet of paper.
VL: So I try to have them readable in that amount of space.
CA: Okay, so you're really kind of looking at the visual shape of that. Sure. So aside from the writing you do with each piece, is there any other type of documentation you do to just keep track of your output since you're making digital prints on those?
VL: I do. When I do, when I finish a piece, I will eventually, eventually list everything on my website. So what I do is I'll take some pictures. They're not like stunning quality, but the best I can do. I'll sometimes edit them if I need to take out any of the glare. I like to get a bunch of different thumbnail shots.
VL: I've recently just started doing video for all of my work because a lot of it has glitter and sparkly things. I think the video lends itself well, and then on my computer I have a filing system. I have, you know, each year I have a file and then within that file I have a separate file for each piece of art.
VL: And after I take all the photographs and edit everything, it all gets loaded into there. So if I want to do something with it in the future, I have it. It's categorized and if not, it's just there for my own reference.
CA: So since you do have kind of that gallery on your website, do you sell pieces through your site or is this really just to document the ones you've created?
VL: I do sell through my site, but most of my stuff I end up selling in in art shows. I'm hoping that, you know, because my stuff does lend itself better in person, that as people get more familiar with my art and what I'm putting out there, that they'll see stuff on the website and be like, okay, this looks awesome, but I know it's going to look way cooler in person.
VL: So right now I feel like the website's a stepping stone and eventually it will become a better tool down the line.
CA: Gotcha. And so with the the in-person sales, you're doing that through Square or some other type of point of sale.
VL: Yeah, I'll use, I'll use Square for that square and, and cash.
CA: Okay. Do you ever kind of play with any of the analysis tools on that too, Like track what sizes do better than others or anything like that.
VL: No, I, you know, I do my best to whenever I make stuff to do what I guess my coach calls clean creating. And when I clean create, basically it means any time that I go in and I decide or I'm going to do work and I'm going to create a piece, I try to not think of what do I think would sell, What do I think my collectors would like to see What's popular like?
VL: I try to just not pay attention to that at all. So with things like analytics and what size sells best, like maybe that's not the right way to do things, but I just try to go off of what I want and what I want to put out there and my feeling is that if I feel really strongly about the piece and it being a successful piece or whatever, that I'm going to be able to have someone else feel the same way about that piece versus me.
VL: Like, Yeah, well, I thought this size sells so. So yeah, I try not to pay too much attention to that stuff.
CA: I mean, I can say that I go into my analytics on my sales, but again, that's mostly because I'm doing like different types of products versus actual individual pieces. So yeah, there's different application for different type of stuff. Yeah. So. So how is your site built, What's it, what's the platform it's built on?
VL: Sure. I use Wix. I excuse me, I am I created the site myself. It's nothing. I'm not a website designer. I don't pretend to be one. So eventually I would love to be able to kind of hire someone that does do that and could do a great job. But for now it works. And it's simple enough that I can go in there and update pieces and not have to know code or really what the heck I'm doing.
VL: And it's still comes out decent enough.
CA: So I guess if I were to kind of assess this, basically your primary source of income with your art is you directly interacting with someone who is looking at the pieces, feeling them with their hand and then deciding to buy it. The Web site is really just to kind of anchor yourself online as a record of things that you've done and things you are doing.
CA: It's not really a source of income in itself.
CA: Yeah, But ideally in the future it may be correct. Yeah. So with that in mind, what is your reaction or your what is your relationship with social media in showing off pieces in more of a video setting? You did mention you're shooting videos of some of the pieces.
VL: So I'm I'm really trying to push the social media because eventually I mean, not that I'm so old, but I'm 40 and it really sucks to carry around the tent all the time and all of my artwork and kind of stuff. So ideally, I'd like to kind of get out there as much as possible now and then in the future or when I have more of a following, maybe taper down and just do like two or three huge shows a year and then direct people to my website.
VL: So I'm really trying to get followers through social media to kind of, you know, practice that selling and that video. Plus I have fun making videos. I used to make videos as a kid all the time and thought it was awesome. And it's like, I get to do that now, so why not? So yeah, I really just try to use social media to kind of funnel people to my website, get people to sign up for my mailing list, just that kind of avenue.
CA: So tell me more about the mailing list. Is this a way that you kind of directly market towards your collectors or is this kind of I guess how often are you utilizing that mailing list?
VL: I use my mailing list a lot. I'm actually it's been something that I begrudgingly did because again, my coach was like, mailing lists are so important. You really need to get on that. And I was just like, Oh, like really? I need to write an email. This this sucks. I don't want to do this. And it was a chore, but the more I'm doing it, I'm enjoying it.
VL: Now I have an email that I send out almost every single week without fail. Sometimes if I have a show coming up, I'll send out a couple extra and I don't necessarily feel like right now I'm selling a ton through that. However, I feel like I'm building brand value and that a lot of I have a lot of collectors who follow me, but I also have a lot of people that haven't bought for me yet, but they're, you know, they've got like their toes in the water and it's like, All right, do I want to do this or not?
VL: And they get a better idea of who I am, why I'm creating. So it's just it's been very helpful to me to get used to talking about my artwork on a weekly basis, to stay in contact with people. And every once in a while I share a piece of work and I have a collector reach out and say, Oh my God, I love that.
VL: How do we make this happen? So it's good.
CA: What's the main way you go about collecting people to be on that mailing list?
VL: So when I go to my art shows, I have I'll have like a little table set up in my booth and in that table I have a nice little mailing list and anyone who comes in there and, you know, not the people who are just in there super quick and leave, but people who are who look interesting when they're talking, I'll say, Hey, if you're not going to buy today or if you're interested in ever seeing my work at another show, I've got this email list you can sign up for I to give them incentive.
VL: I always try to share my new work with my subscribers first, so I tell them if you like stuff you get first look first dibs. You get to see what's going on and you get it first. And that's appealing to a lot of people.
CA: Okay, So they're there physically writing their email address down on a sheet of paper.
VL: Yep. And then when I go home, I transcribe them. I also have a a big sign and I don't have the QR code. I'm going to do that at some point. But people will take pictures of my sign and it's got my Instagram information on there as well as my website. And if you go to my website and you're on there for like 20 seconds, you're prompted to subscribe to my newsletter.
CA: Yeah, yeah. I believe I'm on your newsletter today, so I want to take it a bit back to your comment regarding Banksy. So I know you signed you signed all your pieces with the Lovick logo. You've created. So it seems like branding yourself as an artist is in that regard a little bit similar to how you said you kind of want to separate yourself from the art and be a little bit more anonymous and you're kind of coming around to that because Lovick is your last name.
CA: I guess you didn't really need to create the DBA to kind of, you know, create things under a different brand name. But I can say for me personally, I like the idea of being separated from my art because I want it to seem like there's a whole team of people under an assembly creating all this stuff. So can you kind of describe your relationship on like how you wanted to not be associated with it and then when you decided, okay, this is going to be the brand, I'm going to be doing everything under, I guess go into that a bit.
VL: Sure. So like I said, I, I have struggled my entire life with being just socially awkward, not being a social butterfly, having a lot of social anxiety. So the thought behind creating artwork and just leaving it somewhere and being anonymous, that was very, very appealing to me. But again, I had no intention of doing graffiti art. I'm not just going to throw a bunch of canvases around the street.
VL: So I realized I have to get out there and show my work I went with in kind of keeping separate is my last name is Levac, but it's spelled L e Capital V, as in Victor, E s, Q, u e. It's French-Canadian. No one would ever pronounce it right. No one would ever spell it right if I said, Hey, my websites will vec dot com, no one's ever going to get there.
VL: So I ended up taking the phonetic pronunciation of my last name and l u h e k and putting that as my brand. And in that way I have a little bit of separation from Venessa Levac and the Levac brand. It's still me, but it's, it's a little more fun. It's a, it's a little more whimsical. And that's how I got there.
CA: Okay, I do. I mean, I love that logo and I love that. Esthetically, it matches your style again with that graphical nature to it. And it also feels like it could easily translate to I don't sound silly, but like notebooks, like supplies, but like the fun kind. Like, I guess in my mind I'm picturing it as like Lisa Frank, but sassy.
CA: Yes. I love that match. Yeah. And then so like, can you I guess going into that, how would you describe the the themes of the art that you do?
VL: So a lot of the again, going back to kind of being awkward and not being necessarily in the group, I was usually the weirdo watching the group. I feel like there's a lot of social commentary. I started describing myself as a collector of stories and that's what my work is. It's it's a lot of me mixing like newer and more modern imagery or I'm sorry, older imagery like retro and vintage, kind of with newer and modern vernacular.
VL: And I do that with the vinyl lettering and just kind of mixing the two. And again, that's just sort of the kind of how I am. There's a lot of these disparate interacting aspects of who I am and, these layers. And so that's kind of how that's come about.
CA: Do you do any pieces without the lettering in them, or are they all going to have something that the viewer can read?
VL: Originally, I did. When I first started, there wasn't really any lettering and I don't know how that came about, but now it's just it's not all effect until it's got the lettering in there. There's got to be something fun and snappy and witty or whatever in that work.
CA: I mean, it definitely is a recognizable style. It's helpful that you kind of I know a lot of people struggle with coming up with their own style. I feel like I don't have a style, but the fact that you have one that you're comfortable playing around in is a strength for sure. Can you tell me can you tell me some more about this coaching program?
CA: Like how did you find it? What's it called? How long does it go?
VL: Sure. So the the name has changed. I believe they go by the artist initiative. When I signed up, it was the unshakable artist. But I believe now it's been changed to the artist initiative. The woman who runs it. She's a professional artist. She worked in sales and was highly successful in sales, realized she hated doing that and wanted to be an artist and everything that she learned with sales, she kind of put that into her art business.
VL: And after I'm going to say within five years she was making six figures a year selling her art and she decided, I can teach people how to do this. So a lot of her students are making I was just listening to a lady talk the other day. She's on track to make $130,000 this year selling her artwork and I learned about this program through a friend and I was like, You know what?
VL: Sign me up. It's a lifelong program. Once You join, you're in it for life. And one of the absolute most helpful things is every single week there's coaching. So you show up. Any problems that you're having in your business, anything that you're struggling with, you work it out in coaching and then you can go back and take what you learned back to your business.
CA: That's exciting. So you've definitely gotten value out of that.
VL: Tons of value.
CA: Okay. Is it more of a local thing or like a national thing?
VL: It's national. There's members from all over the United States. I'm not sure if we have any members outside of the country, but we do most. We do just about everything over Zoom and occasionally she'll have like retreats and stuff that people can sign up for. I haven't done one. There's extra fees and stuff and I'm not there yet.
VL: But for those things, they'll meet at a predetermined location.
CA: That's really cool.
VL: It's wonderful.
CA: Yeah, I love programs like that. I was a member of our CO starters, which is a local kind of it was a program that's specifically designed to help people get their like business idea into a physical thing. And over time it more and more got co-opted by artists. Honestly, I didn't find it that helpful because I was already like years ahead of what the program was teaching.
CA: As far as like helping you define your audience and setting up an LLC and organizing your taxes and all that stuff. So I'd already done all that stuff. So most of it I didn't learn, but it did help me get more comfortable with finding the things I can offload to people and then finding people who I can pay not as an employee but as a contractor to help with those individual things.
CA: So that got me more comfortable with those aspects too. And then there's a couple other things I learned from it. So I do recommend co startups for people who are just starting out. And then I also read this book recently that helped me totally rethink my art business called Profit First, which is really, Are you familiar with it?
VL: Yes, I am. I'm laughing because my husband got me the book and I haven't read it yet, but it's on my it's on my to read.
CA: Oh, I've told so many people about it. It I definitely recommend it because well, I guess specifically with me, while I'm doing so many different things because of the book, every bit of income I get, I then allocate to different things beforehand, such as like a percentage goes to taxes, a percentage goes to profit, a percentage goes to me paying myself, which I never did before the book.
CA: It was always just sitting in a bank account and by the end of the year I'd spend it all so I wouldn't have any income. And like one of the first things in the book that really convinced me otherwise is it sounds like you're you're spending all your money because you don't want to pay $10 to the government.
CA: It was a better example. But anyway, so now because of that book, like I am actually paying myself, I do like quarterly bonuses to myself and all the money I've been allocating towards taxes. I'm sure I'm not going to need all that. So it becomes a tax bonus that I'm paying to myself at the end of the year and then I still have funds that I'm dedicating towards buying new equipment.
CA: Even if I don't need equipment, it still gets me excited to say like, Oh, I got like $2,000. I can kind of play with and get like a camera I don't need or like a lens I don't need and make it a business expense. So it, it made it a lot more fun to play with the finances of my business.
CA: So I recommend you read that.
VL: Yes, I'll definitely I have to get on that.
CA: So we're talking about the financial side of your business. Do you keep all that separated? Do you like do any type of, I guess, accounting with the sales of that or you just kind of roll it all together?
VL: I do. I try to keep pretty decent records. Fun fact, I used to work for a bookkeeper and do all of the bookkeeping before I started doing the art thing. So I'm, I'm, I could definitely be more regimented, but I do I pay my taxes quarterly. I try and keep on top of what I'm spending versus what's coming in.
VL: So it's it's not a total hot mess box full of receipts, but again, it probably could be a little more tidy.
CA: Okay. Are you using any software like QuickBooks or something to track those things or is it just a spreadsheet?
VL: Just a spreadsheet right now I used to use Sage software. I wasn't a big fan of QuickBooks, but I learned on Sage and I would use that. And right now I feel like there's not. I'm sure with you it's different because of all the different products and stuff like that that you offer. And for me, it's it's pretty easy going to Michael's and Home Depot and buying my stuff there and Amazon.
VL: That's really it and I'm selling paintings it's not a bunch of so it's pretty it's pretty easy right now.
CA: So do you use like a do you have separate business accounts, like a checking account business, a savings account business credit card?
VL: I do, Yeah.
CA: Okay. Yeah, I'm the same way. So, like, I pay for everything with my business credit card, and then I just pay that back with what's in the business savings or business checking account for my bookkeeping. I use Wave, which is a free online tool. I'm very happy with it. It connects to your account. So whenever something gets spent, it automatically updates and all you need to do is categorize it.
CA: And then I pay my sales tax monthly. So like once you hit, I think over $1,000 in sales tax in a quarter, it forces you to do it monthly. I had a really good quarter. So now I'm stuck doing that for the whole. Okay, Every month. So but actually doing that does make it a little bit. Doing it monthly does make it easier for me to remember to do those profit first allocations from my income.
CA: But yeah, so again, I keep everything separate. I just kind of go in off of advice. And when I went into the darters, that was something that they hammered into people, but I was already doing so. So you mentioned also that one of your immediate goals is to start increasing your prices. I would say that the piece I bought from you was way too cheap.
CA: You should have charged me more. I would have paid more. But is there like kind of any specific, I guess, specific logic going into like when you're going to increase your prices and how you'll increase your prices and what that will be based on?
VL: Yeah. So I really I mean, we hear it all the time, supply and demand. And right now again, I'm just kind of getting out there and I don't feel like I have a huge demand for my work. So what I try and do is keep my prices so low that it's a no brainer to buy my work because you're getting in, you're getting, in my opinion, a high quality professional piece of artwork at a steel.
VL: So it's really, really easy for me to push sales when I'm like, Hey, this is like, this is a great deal versus me not feeling comfortable with that price point. And really, one of the things that we've learned in the coaching is you can put a price on anything and sell it. It has to do with what you feel comfortable with the price.
VL: So they've told us to kind of put our prices as low as possible to start and get really comfortable selling at that price point and get a ton of your artwork out there because it's such a good price. And then when you start going to shows and you're leaving with, you know, only half of your work or just a little bit of your work, it's time to kind of start bumping prices up.
VL: And I don't I don't know exactly what I'll bump them up to if it's going to be like $25 increments or $50 increments, I'm not quite sure yet. But as I'm selling more at shows, I will start to increase slowly.
CA: It's a fascinating way to go about it. It makes sense specifically if you're focusing so much on the branding as you are, because then people will recognize you a lot more readily and you do have that definable style, recognizable style. You have that recognizable signature that you have on all your pieces. So with that as a goal, that definitely makes a lot of sense.
CA: Do you have any plans to, outside of the paintings covered in resin that are mounted in frames that you do, do you have any plans for putting your name on other items?
VL: I you know, I'm kind of toying with the idea, even though I give some of the tote bags away when I when I sell the artwork, I do offer them for sale to people around Christmas time. I'll do little ornaments in typical of fashion. They're definitely kind of salty. I think I have some that they're like, get fox, things like that, you know, just fun fun little ornaments.
VL: And I just did a, a piece of furniture kind of like an up to and I'm not by any means trying to do furniture or be stuffing furniture into my minivan. But I feel like, you know, I do have a signature style and if I find the right piece, it would be kind of fun to give it the, you know, the treatment and the resin and just do something fun that people can just have a bunch of live stuff in their house.
CA: I think it's a pretty exciting I mean, for the listeners, it's great that you've started off with a plan and stuck with it so well and you have like a designated future and a plan. A lot of people are just kind of floating around hoping for a signal to do the next step. And I think it's pretty awesome that you have something that's been working for you and you're sticking through it and you you're not like lost in the fog.
CA: You know what's coming next. So that's exciting.
VL: Yeah. Thank you. Now, that's some it's interesting you say that, too, because I, I have had so many different jobs in my life. I have tried so many different styles of art. And any time that I would come to like a roadblock or oh, geez, well, I don't know how to do that, it would lose my interest and I would go off somewhere else.
VL: So what is it, Jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing. And again, one of the things I've learned from coaching, I feel like a broken record saying this, but I was kind of all over the place when I started and she said, Here's what I want you to do. I want you to pick something and you have to promise to stick with it for a year.
VL: So figure out what you want to do. If that's acrylic paint, watercolor, mixed media, whatever a subject matter, are you going to paint buildings? Are you going to paint people like narrow it down and you've got a year? And when I started, I thought, jeez, I don't how am I going to come up with this stuff? Like I don't have enough ideas to get me through a year.
VL: I don't even know if I want to explore this for a year. And now I'm at the point where I'll just be sitting on the couch and I'm like, Oh my God, I should do this. This is such a great idea because my brain has just been retrained to just hone in on what I'm doing and get so laser focus that it's just second nature to kind of create in this style and with this messaging that I have.
VL: So, you know, it's it's crazy that constraining yourself just lends itself to so much more creativity. And I feel like at this point, I will become in my lifetime a master at what I do because I'm spending all of my time on this as opposed to when it gets tough. I decide to go to watercolor or whatever.
CA: Yeah, I love that. Love that. So tell me a bit about your so your weekly newsletter is presumably the email blasts that you're doing so that you're doing every week. That's kind of how your schedule is.
VL: Mm hmm.
CA: Do you ever find you're like, Well, I don't really have any content for this week, so what the hell am I going to write?
VL: Yes, I do. And a lot of times I'll I'll pull up. I try to remember. I try to remind myself every time to kind of get myself psyched to do this is I'm an expert in my art. I'm an expert at what I do and I know exactly what to say. And that doesn't always come out. I don't always believe that, but I really try to go in every time I write that email with that mindset and just kind of think about what was I thinking about this week, what am I working on, What are some shows I have coming up?
VL: And even if I have ideas, writing down ideas and just having that running list going so I can just kind of pull from that every week and something.
CA: And how are you sending out those emails? Is it with like MailChimp or is that part of Wix or are you just sending an email with everyone back?
VL: It that's part of Wix as well. Okay. I really, really like how you can go in there and just make a really nice looking email, relatively easily. So that's how I've been doing that.
CA: So my site is built on Shopify. It also has a great email system in it too, where you can track how many people opened it, how long they were on it, how many people click the links within it. You can automatically put in graphics related to products you have on your store and things like that. But I only send out emails like once every two months because like, you know, I'm usually just using it to let people know when I have a new Kickstarter project on the horizon, kind of what my plans are.
CA: And I don't want to send an email with just one subject. I feel like I need to have two or three things to talk about, so I kind of wait until I have some big changes. I don't know if that's the best approach, but that's how I've been doing it. And like I've been forcing myself to create all this content since I started this weekly podcast.
CA: So maybe I should try it as a weekly email letting people know what the next podcast is about, or maybe even just like a preview of what the next episode is going to be. I could be probably a good idea. Yeah. Yeah. So tell me a bit about the 25 days of Mini. Is this new project you're working on?
VL: Sure. So I absolutely love this. It's I forget how many years they've been doing it for, I want to say about a decade now. But the creator of the coaching program, Theresa, she started it and what she would do is she started it on Facebook and she created 25 little mini pieces. She sells all of her artwork for thousands of dollars.
VL: So her feeling was, Let's do these little pieces, because a lot of people want to collect my work and I'll release them one a day and do like the 25 days of Christmas and it was so successful, I think she sold every single piece that she did that she started bringing on other artists to join. So this year we've got 79 artists, including me.
CA: Yeah, 25 pieces each.
VL: 25 pieces each. So almost 2000 pieces of art. And what we do is I spend all summer creating my artwork. I have some artist friends who are just finishing up theirs now, which wait until the last minute and then we have to have them all done by November 1st. And then on her end, behind the scenes, she's got a whole team of web designers all the technical people, and they go in there and they take all of our December 1st days and put them in this beautiful looking email.
VL: So on December 1st at 12:01 a.m., you're going to get an email with 79 pieces of art, one from each of us, and you can look at it at your leisure. Sure, a lot of people will set their alarm clocks because there's certain collectors that their work sells immediately. So it's fun. It's like an advent calendar and then it goes up until Christmas Day.
VL: Usually people will have like a little bit bigger of a piece on Christmas Day or something a little extra special. And it's just a great way to get your artwork out to thousands of people from the comfort of your home.
CA: That's so that kind of reminds me a conversation I had a few episodes ago with local Saint Pete artist Kyle Kelly. We went deep into virtual or digital gallery shows, which I didn't really understand the value of, and she explained how that basically is going to get you in the email inbox of thousands of people. So, all right.
CA: I think another great value of a program like this is you're going to be your work will be in front of so many people who will want to follow you, join your mailing list. So presumably the website makes it easy for people to click through to find you, even if they're buying your individual piece.
CA: And then of course, that also gives them the opportunity to say, Oh, I can't wait to see what this person does next week or next tomorrow.
VL: Exactly. That's a very big it's a lot of excitement. Yeah, it builds a lot of excitement. And it's fun too, because right now for my collectors, I started in the beginning of October and right now every week I'm writing an email kind of giving people an idea like building value about who I am, what my brand is, why I create what they can.
VL: One of the ones I just did is what you can expect from me when you purchase a piece of my artwork online, how it's going to come, package things like that and just kind of building up like this desire for people like, Oh my God, I really want to see what she's got coming. As we get closer, I'll probably offer just to my subscribers some little sneak peeks of what I have and let them know maybe the titles of the artwork coming up so people get really excited.
VL: I've I've done it before and I've had people emailing me and they're like, I kind of saw you working on this one piece and it looked really cool. You don't need to show it to me, but what day is it going to come out? So it really does generate excitement and interest.
CA: Is this the first year you've been a part of this program or this?
VL: This will be my third year, but it hasn't been consecutive. I took a year, a couple of years off and be okay.
CA: And how were sales for you and the other ones?
VL: You know, sales were not great, but when I did those, I did not have the Love brand. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Matter of fact, the first year I did it, I had landscape art. I don't do landscape art. I just I went in there and I was like, Oh, what do I think would sell?
VL: Which is not the way to create art if if you want to do this. So my sales were okay, this year. I feel really, really good about the body of work that I'm putting out there. It's 100% Levac There's no denying what it is. It's fun, it's sweet, it's salty, it's colorful, it's glittery, It's just it's wonderful. So I feel really good about it.
CA: There's the project dictate what your prices are going to be for each of those, or is that up to you?
VL: It's up to you. However, you're not. There's two there's a couple parameters. You're not allowed to do anything larger than 12 by 12. So if you're doing sculptural, it's 12 by 12, by 12, 2d are 12 by 12, and then you can't have anything more than 500. So I believe they want a minimum of 100 and I'm right at the minimum.
VL: So I'm like I want I want a lot of new collectors saying this is a no brainer. Let's buy from her. But there's plenty of the other artists that they're very well known and they sell their six by six minis for 350 $400. So it just kind of depends where you're at, but you get to dictate your pricing.
CA: Okay. And so are you charging shipping on top of that? Is shipping included? How does that.
VL: I do. I'm going to charge shipping on top of that because shipping, you know, like ten, $15 for that size. And again, for 100 bucks that I'm offering these framed pieces, I'm like, they can pay for shipping.
CA: Sure. I just wasn't sure if it's like a system where, like, you mail the pieces that's probably not efficient to mail it to, like, you know, and they do all that stuff now. Yeah, I'm guy. So you've mentioned collectors a few times. You have a lot of people who have fallen in love with the brand and are repeatedly coming back to you to see your new work.
VL: I do. And that's I think that is the best feeling. There's a couple people that I have several pieces of mine. I've had people that tell me, Oh my gosh, I want a whole wall of your art. That's my goal and it's really nice to stay in touch with those people. You know, there's been a couple of collectors that I have that I know that they like certain things, and if I have something that I'm like, Jeez, I think you'd really like this.
VL: I can reach out to them. So that's nice. It's it's building different relationships with these people and a lot of them becoming friends.
CA: It definitely helps too, because your art is it's approachable, but it's also niche. Maybe not niche, but like it's it's recognizable. You have that strong branding. So if somebody liked a piece enough to buy it from you, they're most likely going to like all the other pieces you make too. So yeah, so that that definitely translates to a desire to collect more pieces from you than just one.
CA: And I great work on that. Great plan. All right. So for anyone who wants to see your work or purchase some of your work, the 25 days of many project is going to be at W. WW that 25 days of mini sitcom your work is at WW w dot l u h v k dot com that's love dot com and you're on Instagram as at Vanessa Luhvek.
CA: Did I miss anything?
VL: Nope. Nope. That's it.
CA: All right. Anything else coming up other than that 25 days of mini shows. Anything we can direct people towards?
VL: Yeah, I'll be doing a bunch of, like, the art walks, the warehouse District Association. I'm going to be doing some of their shows between now and Christmas, I think. I believe they do. The second Saturdays I'm doing the first Fridays in Gulfport, their indie fair on Saturday, and then this weekend I'm going to be going out to I'm not participating, but I'll be bending at the art battle out in Tampa.
VL: I think that's a cop or tail brewing. So I'll be there this Saturday from 12 to 8.
CA: Okay, awesome. Well, this is going to be released after that event. So I'm glad you sold everything that you brought. That was congratulations on that. Good work on leaving without any pieces yet to take back home. All right. Well, again, thank you so much, Vanessa. It's been wonderful speaking with you in honor of your cleanliness, of definitive style and the focus of your art business.
CA: So thank you.
VL: Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.
CA: Thank you.
Chain Assembly: Art for profit sake is recorded through Riverside FM, distributed through Spotify for podcasters, and edited on Adobe Audition. The music is provided by Old Romans. If you learned anything useful or found this podcast helpful, please rate and review us five stars. If you want to learn more about me or my art, head over to ChainAssembly.com.