Sunday, October 25, 2009

Informational Interview with visual artist Jill Van Sickle

I met with Jill Van Sickle for an information interview at the Urban Bean coffee shop in Minneapolis on October 25rd, 2009. This was my first interview for the project and it was so awesome! Jill was so kind and open and willing to lend advice. She gave me a lot of practical advice and resources!

I found Jill while I was perusing the Springboard for the Arts website looking for cool artists and I saw this photo of a Jill painting. I found her website, read her bio and she sounded perfect so I sent an email to the one she had listed on her site. She got back to me right away and was very open and willing to meet with me. My advice for other students: don't be afraid to contact someone about doing an interview, even if they're really famous or elusive. The worst that can happen is that they say "no."
Here's a little bit about Jill, taken from her website:

Jill earned a degree in Fine Arts with an emphasis in textiles and glass at the University of River Falls, Wisconsin. Her Senior year she completed a semester of independent study in Europe, visiting 9 countries. She spent a majority of her time in Holland (where her Grandparents grew up) studying the country’s world-class flower cultivation. This subject is a major influence for Jill’s work.

After college, Jill lived for six years as a resident artist at the Tilsner Artist Co Op in St. Paul, MN. She participated in fourteen St. Paul Art Crawls during this period. She also backpacked for a month through Central America where she worked to record sea, landscape and plants images to be used later in her work. Later, Jill traveled for another month throughout Thailand and Laos. Here she was most inspired artistically by the saffron colors of the monk’s robes.

Jill works out of her studio in Minneapolis and is currently focused on painting. Her work is showing at the following galleries:

Gallery 360 - Edina, MN
Krista Artista - Anoka, MN
NEW! Milward Farrell Fine Arts - Madison WI
NEW! Gallery 310 - Stillwater MN
Minnetonka Center for the Arts -MN
The Artist Mercantile - St. Paul, MN
I Like You (glass only) - Minneapolis, MN
Your Arts Desire, Minnetonka, MN

Right now Jill is in her first year of working as a full-time artist after years of being a bartender to support herself.

Jill likes to think that we don't have a choice, art (or fill-in-the-blank) chooses you. Having this mindset can make 'taking the leap' easier. I really like thinking this way!It's pretty overwhelming to decide what you want to do with your life, especially when you're leaning towards something nontraditional. One of the hardest things for me has been committing to my dreams and making that decision to follow them. Well, maybe it chose me and as much as I'd like to think that I have control over it, I really have no say in the matter. I like that. :)

We also talked about how we're the same people we were when we were 5 years old. All of Jill's teachers she was going to be an artist when she was in the 2nd grade. However, she didn't decide to be an artist until she was in college. I've had similar experiences with singing and writing, and I think it's comforting to know that these things have been with me from the beginning.

One thing that was comforting for me to hear from Jill is that some days she feels confident about her path and sometimes she doesn't. She often gets nervous about not being able to support herself. You don't have to feel great about something all the time, even if it's the right path for you.

As stated above, Jill went to River Falls and she told me taking a year off to make for money for school. She really recommends that students do this. Having some real world experience was helpful for her to find out what she wanted to major in and how she would use her education.

Jill also recommends traveling before big decisions. I think that I'd like to do that soon, as I'm entering the real world. Even though I don't want to spend the money on a huge trip, I think that a smaller one will still give me the insight I'm looking for.

A huge reason I want to do these information interviews is to learn how artists make their living. I have no idea what kind of job to look for once I'm done with school. Jill was a bartender for 9 years and didn't necessarily recommend it, but it did allow her to only need to work for 3-4 days a week and then have time to work on art. What she didn't like about the job is that it made her jaded towards the world, which doesn't really make one want to make art. Being a bartender, it was impossible to keep her creative wheels spinning all the time; she had to isolated different parts of herself/brain.

I told her about the full time job I had this summer, and I think she agreed that it's good to have a day job where you can think.

Because I found Jill through Springboard for the Arts' website, I asked her about how she's used them as a resource for her career. She said she took a great class about filing taxes. She also mentioned that MN State Arts Board is also a good resource. I've known for a while now that Springboard was going to be a great resource for me once I'm done with school. I'm going to one of their workshops in November that is aimed at musicians and plan on using them in the future to figure out my taxes, health care, marketing, etc.

I asked Jill about what her typical day is like, and she said she's on the computer for about 2 hours per day and paints for about 4 hours per day.
Jill told me how 50% of her job is the business end, and a lot of this is using the internet for promotions. She updates her website almost daily, uses Craigslist in other cities to get feedback, and uses other online arts outlets for networking. This is one part of her job that Jill didn't seem too crazy about.

In line with using Craigslist in other cities, Jill recommend that I branch out to other places, even overseas with my work.

One of Jill's biggest pieces of advice was to do different projects. “You can get in trouble just doing one thing.” She says to think of your job is a bunch of different gigs. Think of using them as "buying time." For example, Jill's boyfriend Chris is a musician, and he writes jingles for extra money. Jill explained how one jingle can buy him a month of time to work on his music.
Some "gigs" I'm considering are singing at weddings, doing voice-overs, doing copywriting, etc.

One of the biggest things I want to remember from my interview with Jill is “bank on” (no pun intented :)) situations where people are willing to spend money. Examples would be weddings and Christmas. I'm considering writing custom songs for friends that they can use as their Christmas gifts this year.

Jill and I also talked logistics with computers and websites. This was great because I know that I need to get a personal website one of these days. She really recommended that I buy a Mac for their easy and cheap website hosting. I've been considering buying one for a while now because of their music programs, but what Jill told me might be enough for me to go ahead a get one.

Talking with Jill was really great because even though I don't plan on pursuing a career as a visual artist, I do want to be an independent artistic professional. Musicians and artists use similar business strategies and are in similar work. It was also great that Jill and I seemed to have similar personalities. We don't fall into the stereotypes of artists/musicians. We both are organized, plan ahead, and "read all the books." This can make me feel like an outsider sometimes so it was cool to meet with someone who's like me. More advice to other students: anyone who's making their path and following their passion is worth talking to, even if they're not in your "field."

What I'm really looking forward to about doing these interviews is that they lead me to action and open up my mind to possibilities. After meeting with Jill:

-I'm going to put time into figuring out how to pursue part-time gigs. I already have a couple of ideas and have some experience with singing at weddings and doing session work for commercials. I'm now going to pursue these things as ways to support myself financially.

-I'm going to Springboard's workshop for musicians

-I'm considering buying a Mac (!), or at least am feeling that I need to get a website and make my myspace better.

-I won't feel so guilty about spending money on a small trip soon\

-Will be reading Art and Fear (which I already have!) and Taking the Leap (this one seems like it will be an amazing practical resource)

I'm feeling really excited to continue with the project and continue to do interviews.
Thanks Jill!
(Plum Tree, Jill Van Sickle)