This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world. Jack authored seven Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Recently, I heard from an artist with better than average skills explaining - in depth - his Plan B, just in the event he couldn’t make it in art. He has been painting full-time for about ten years. To be honest, his correspondence stunned me. I thought his confidence and past successes would have left him believing he couldn’t fail.
People with a Plan B are those who don’t really believe in what they are doing. They are planning to fail, why else would they have a second option? He got me to thinking. How many of those reading my columns have a Plan B? How many of you have a contingency plan to fall back on in case your art career fails? I’d probably be shocked to learn the number. I hear the voices say, “I can always go back to nursing”, “construction”, “teaching”, “truck driving”, “being a cop” or “cutting lawns”.
I’ve mentioned my personal story of some success and a myriad of failures a few times before in my articles, but since we have added several thousand new readers, I feel it’s important to restate some things (Big applause to FASO for the growth). After college, I drifted toward the construction business and by the time I was 36, my personal net worth was over a million dollars. A million dollars in 1964 was a lot of money; WikiAnswers says close to a billion dollars today. I was building in Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City.
As one reader suggested, there is a big difference between earning a lot of money and wealth. I had wealth back then, later I earned a lot of money as an artist. I owned two miles of property across the highway from Lakeway on Lake Travis. Today, that property is worth at least a couple of billion dollars. I was in the process of constructing a 600 unit apartment complex when the Insurance Company paying the bills folded and stopped paying me. I made the mistake of continuing to carry key people on my payroll and even sold that valuable property just to keep going, but eventually ended up totally broke. My heart was bigger than my brain.
Flat broke and dejected, I visited my very first art gallery on Christmas Eve in 1969. After an hour or so looking at art, I decided to become an artist. My wife almost had a heart attack when I told her. I sold my first piece of art for $10 on Valentine’s Day 1970 and quickly realized my oils were not going to sell. They were worse than pathetic. A few nights later I dreamed about how to make gold leaf art on the backside of glass. The next day I invented the process and coined a name for my new technique. Using my Greek Lexicon, I invented a word to go with my art technique. Ek means 'out of'. Crus is 'gold'. Ous means 'having been done.' So literally the word Echruseos means, 'Out of gold having been done.' It’s pronounced Ek-Cru-soos.
I ended up earning over $48,000 with the gold leaf my first full year as an artist. In six years, I was selling over $500,000 a year of the gold leaf on glass and was named the Official Artist of Texas. Very few artists were better known in Texas than Jack White in 1976. That’s because I’d sold the gold leaf art to gift shops, galleries, furniture stores and retail business in every town in Texas, large or small. There is no way of knowing how many thousands of gold leaf pieces I sold in those eight years. A conservative estimate is over 20,000 pieces. More realistic would be 35,000 gold leaf paintings, not counting the serigraphs I did with the same process. They were my print version done on Plexiglas. I purchased a silk-screen machine to crank out a volume of serigraphs. Remember, with the help of a couple of assistants, I could produce one hundred 8” x 10” Echruseos in a day. The gold leaf was better than printing money; it was legal.
My passion to learn to paint with oils was so deep I decided to give up making the gold leaf art and force myself to master the medium. Think about walking away from an art process that was bringing in half a million dollars a year to learn to paint with oils - a technique I knew nothing about. Would you have the passion to do that?
My last year making and selling the gold leaf art I brought in almost $750,000, which in 1978 was a mind blowing amount of money. With no Plan B, my bedroom became a studio and I began the process of learning to mix colors with oil paint. I can promise you I never had any doubt I’d find a way to learn to paint and earn a nice living with my oils. It’s a good thing I didn’t know how bad my oils were or how much I needed to learn. I was greener than alfalfa hay in the spring. After two and a half years of throwing all I painted in the dumpster, I was forced to begin selling my oils. My bank account was running on fumes and I had kids in college. I either had to sell the oils or break my pledge and go back to making gold leaf art again. In Texas, we don’t renege on our word.
My desire to learn to paint kept me in the studio 14 to 16 hours a day. That’s my definition of passion to paint. I removed the telephone so no one could interrupt and spent several months just mixing colors. I purchased every tube of color I could find. I remember getting a fixation on Davy’s Gray and Mars Orange. I asked Rush Art in Dallas to order a box of each color. I hounded them for weeks until they got these colors. The moment I squeezed them from the tube, I knew they were worthless to my learning to paint. Had I not given up the gold leaf process I possibly could have become almost as well known as Kinkade. I see no reason there would have been anything slowing down the gold leaf sales. I just needed to expand my base from the Southwest to an International market.
As if by a miracle, the gold leaf idea came to me in a dream. There was nothing brilliant on my part in thinking out the idea. I literally dreamed how the paintings would be made. The process is astoundingly simple. It took no genius, just someone willing to put the ideas together. One thing to keep in mind, I was 38 when I first began selling my art. After I switched to oils in 1979, I earned a nice living, but no year came close to the last one selling the Echruseos. If I had only been interested in money, I’d still be cranking out the gold leaf art.
I remember I told my wife I was going to be an artist shortly after I had read the life story of Alexander the Great. I recalled him attacking Persia, which had a greater army than that of the young leader. Twenty-five year old Alexander gave his Generals an order to burn their ships. It’s said he told his men, “We will sail home on Persian ships or we will die.” I had that mindset when I decided to become an artist. Alexander had no Plan B and neither did I. The thought of failing as an artist never entered my mind. Even after three days on the road with no sales, I still didn’t come up with a Plan B. When I set aside the gold leaf I never had any thought of failing to earn a living with oil paintings. Failure is not an option in my thinking.
In Braveheart, William Wallace gave a stirring speech. He boldly proclaimed, “I see the whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny! You have come to fight as free men and free men you are. Will you fight? It will be two thousand against their ten thousand.”
A voice shouted, “No! We will run and live!”
Wallace shot back, “Yes! Fight and you may die. Run and you will live at least a while, dying in your bed years from now. Would you be willing to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just a chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom?” William Wallace had no Plan B. Can you be like William Wallace, “It’s win or die.”
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin knew when their capsule settled on the moon they might get left on the barren planet. There was no Plan B. They didn’t know if their capsule would carry them off the moon. They were willing to chance death in order to walk on the moon. Can you be that dedicated to your art career?
Very recently, 42 year-old Felix Baumgartner stepped off the ledge of a helium balloon into space 128,100 feet above the earth. That’s twenty-four miles high. In his free fall, he traveled at a top speed of 833.9 miles per hour, breaking the sound barrier at 690 miles per hour. Once his first foot moved outward gravity took control, sucking him into the emptiness of space. His only option was to continue the downward spiral until he could safely open his chute. There was no Plan B; he would land alive or flat as a pancake. There were no rescue planes to swoop in to pick him up and it’s said returning in the balloon was not an option. The capsule was released from the balloon and floated down with a parachute. It hit the ground at 55 mph. The impact would have killed him. His choice was jump or die.
You know you have true passion when you take the same unprotected risks as Alexander, Armstrong, Aldrin and Baumgartner. They had to win or die. The true stars in any field are those with no Plan B.
Sometimes we give our best when there seems to be no hope. If we burn the boats, we find an extra gear to produce and excel past our normal level. The moment the bank account drops very low I seem to take a step up. Selling oils was entirely different than the gold leaf. I had to sell the oils; the gold leaf drew people in like flies to sugar water.
I’m certain some of you are thinking as you read about no Plan B, “Do we need to be that focused. Why not be more adaptable and have a backup plan in case this doesn’t work?”
My question back is, “When does working two plans serve a purpose?” The Bible says, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” I think that means plan your work and work your plan. Follow your plan because without it how will you know you are there if you don’t know where you are going? To succeed, become laser focused on your goal. Establish yourself a Plan A and then etch those directions in stone.
The reason most artists don’t succeed is their failure to focus on what works. They burn through pages writing down goals only to cave at the first bad turn in the road. Look back over your successes, expand on them and you will find more. You can be adaptable within your plan, adjusting your sails to catch the best breezes. Burn the bridges of Plan B behind you and go for it. You can reach your goals.