Season 4 – epiBLOG 9:
So… my fiancé Dana and I decided that we would spend one of our Saturday afternoons in August going to the Artwalk at Liberty Station here in San Diego instead of sitting on our couch for 12 hours binge-watching a series on Netflix. I mean, it is pretty sad that anybody would want to ever stay home on the weekend if they live in San Diego, but it happens.
Anyway, we arrived in the early afternoon. We found the perfect parking place that felt like it was 10 feet from one of the entrances of the Artwalk. Anyone who lives in California knows what a monumental achievement it is to find any parking space anywhere, let alone one that you’re actually happy with.
The sun was out, but it wasn’t too hot or too cool. It was “just right,” to quote the Three Little Bears. The sky was blue, and we climbed out of our vehicle with our six pound brussels griffon and a pink leash.
We were instantly impressed by the many intriguing pieces of art that we saw and the proud and talented artists that were sitting in the booths next to their months of hard work.
After being there for a little over an hour, and having visited many booths already, we walked into Tesa Michaels’ booth, and we were immediately drawn to one of her pieces that was hanging right before our eyes.
I don’t know anything about fine art, but I do know what I like. Her work was so captivating and unique. Like the down-to-earth business woman that Tesa is, she greeted me with the best customer service that one could have ever asked for. And in a heartbeat, I knew that I wanted to interview her for my blog. So, I asked if she would be interested and that my only requirement for all of my featured artists is that they are doing their art full time… and fortunate for me and for all of you… she is a full time artist… and here is her story. (cue the Law & Order: SVU sound)
Today’s topic is my interview with the talented and spectacular fine artist Tesa Michaels.
Interviewing Tesa was inspiring, encouraging, and informative. She has this wonderful “girl-next-door” personality that makes it so easy for you to connect with her.
Nitara O: Based on my research, I noticed that you attended The Art Institute of Colorado.
Tesa M: Yeah, that’s correct. It was a fabulous experience.
Nitara O: I taught Effective Speaking and English at The Art Institute of Phoenix.
Tesa M: Small world. That’s great that you were able to do that.
Nitara O: Yeah, it was awesome. So, just how “fabulous” was your experience at The Art Institute in Colorado and how did it contribute to your success as an artist now?
Tesa M: I knew right away that I wanted to attend that school. I signed up as a junior in high school. I was one of the first students in my class to be signing up for college, but I just knew this is what I had to do.
Nitara O: A high school junior choosing a college. It’s funny how some people simply follow their gut instinct.
Tesa M: Yeah, it is. And the program that I originally entered into was for Visual Communications. Half way through the program, they modified it to where students in this program had to switch to Graphic Design or Computer Animation if they wanted to stay at the college. I was geared more towards fine art, so I chose Graphic Design because I had absolutely no interest in working on a computer.
Nitara O: Tough choice, but doing this led to so many great opportunities for you, right?
Tesa M: Absolutely! By choosing Graphic Design, that experience gave me a better education. It pushed me a little more “outside of my box” to go into Photoshop and QuarkExpress. It pushed me to learn in a different way and to apply myself in a different way. I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design, which prepared me for the career that I chose right out of college. I was able to jump into working in the industry with my associate’s degree. I graduated in 1998 and the industry happened to be flourishing at that time.
Nitara O: So, what was life like directly out of college?
Tesa M: I worked for a printing company – hated it. (chuckles) I then worked for a big corporation in Colorado from where I’m from. I did product design, I was their marketing director, their art director, and I even traveled internationally with them. Amazing experience. I then went to work for J. Walter Thompson, which was one of the most successful advertising agencies. They were number five in the world at the time that I was working for them.
Nitara O: I’m sure you learned a lot with that experience.
Tesa M: Oh, yeah. I started off with them as a freelancer and was then “promoted” to being their art director. I was honored to have that job. I worked on Ford commercials and many other brands. That’s why I’m so thankful that the Art Institute modified their program because it prepared me for work that I would have never even considered. This experience taught me some of the business side of art. It gave me a foundation as a fine artist.
Nitara O: Nevertheless, based on what I read about you, you knew that you couldn’t do this for the rest of your life. Graphic design, that is.
Tesa M: Yeah, it was definitely not my thing. I didn’t like sitting in front of the computer for 8, 10, or 12 hours a day… I mean, that’s what I expected out of computer animation, not graphic design. It just got to the point where I was just missing that “artist,” which was who I was deep down inside.
Nitara O: I can definitely understand and relate to that feeling.
Tesa M: I was just missing that hands-on/fine art aspect of who I was. And going to those roots. This is just who I am. It’s embedded in me. This is who God created me to be. That’s what I needed to “pull back in” and once I did, I feel like I rediscovered my calling in making a decision to become a professional artist.
Nitara O: I went through the same experience as a writer. Different circumstances. Same feelings. How did you transition from being a graphic designer in corporate America, to doing the job that you did after that, to being this professional fine artist?
Tesa M: That’s a good question. I did struggle with that for a while. I understood that I had to make a living. Yet, as a fine artist, you don’t get paid right away. You have to develop a body of work. You have to build a foundation for your career. I was actually a little scared of taking that “leap” at that time. I made excuses and tried other things creatively. It just never worked. It never really clicked.
Nitara O: What was it that caused a shift within you?
Tesa M: I finally ended up painting under somebody who was my mentor at the time. Clifford Bailey. He is the top artist in northern Colorado. He’s so humble. He’s such a beautiful person. An amazing artist! He influenced my style. Once I started painting underneath him, he positively pushed me as an artist to be able to enhance my skills enough to where I had the confidence that I could go off and be a professional artist.
Nitara O: Was having a mentor a game-changer for you?
Tesa M: Yeah, it was. And when I split from Clifford, I knew I had to develop my own style. And that’s when I realized this has to be full time. I read a couple of books that were helpful in providing me the information I needed to make this a full time career, and I moved forward. There were a lot of steps along the way. It wasn’t just one thing that allowed me to become a full time artist. I had a lot of support from my family. I just had an amazing support system. Encouragement. They love all of my work. Even the crap that I made years ago. (laughing) I wish I could tell you it was just this one “thing” that made all of the difference, but it was so many things that got me to where I am right now.
Nitara O: I understand.
Tesa M: Building a foundation for your career is important.
Nitara O: For sure. I can see that. So, while you were working underneath your mentor, you were done with corporate America, having all of those self-inflicted doubts, and strengthening your artistic skills, what were you doing for a living at that point in your life and career?
Tesa M: Well, I met a man. Damn, how that happens. (chuckling)
Nitara O: (chuckling) That can be helpful, I suppose.
Tesa M: I got really sick. I almost died of Lime disease two years ago, actually.
Nitara O: Oh, no. I’m sorry to hear that.
Tesa M: Yeah, um, thank you. Yeah, it was the Lime disease that they thought I had since I was 10 years old impacting my life as recent as two years ago. And even when I was working at J. Walter Thompson. I was back and forth with being sick, which is the reason that I had to leave that corporate job. I had to deal with health struggles for about a year and then I got better. This is one of the reasons I struggled with making that decision to jump into being a professional artist full time. I needed to make a living. I couldn’t really find my footing at that point because of being so sick. So, I went into personal training so that I could work my mind and my body back to health. Without your health, there’s not much you can do.
Nitara O: Wow – working through health challenges while being at the crossroads of a career change would be overwhelming for anyone.
Tesa M: It was. But… like I said before, I met a man. Fell in love. Moved to the country. And, unfortunately with a small town, my only career option that I saw at the time was to work in advertising and marketing for a newspaper. There just wasn’t that outlet for me for my art. My husband and I decided to start a business together. For his business, actually. He had two agricultural businesses. I became heavily involved in that – in helping him and doing that for a living. You know, I married for love and we decided to put our efforts into his agricultural business. This is exactly where a lot of my business skills come from – from owning my own business. But… (reflecting)
Nitara O: You still wanted to create your art?
Tesa M: Exactly. I had such a calling for it. I would do little paintings on the side. That’s when I had to paint in the basement with no heat. I painted in the dining room where we were eating. I was just trying to get by here and there, and to keep it secondary, if you will. Then it just got to the point where the business was completely built up. I wasn’t doing this for me. I was doing it for the two of us and for money, but I still had this calling. And that calling just became stronger and stronger. As I worked underneath my mentor, the feelings to be an artist became intense…
Nitara O: It can be challenging to find the balance between making a living and doing what you truly love.
Tesa M: It definitely can. Well, without going off topic too much, we ended up getting divorced and I then took some time for personal reflection. My calling just continued to pull me in the direction that I’m supposed to be in. It
was like this awakening. God has taken my life through many twists and turns.
Nitara O: With all of that doubt and disbelief, what was that moment like when you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt just what you were called to do?
Tesa M: I was just so determined. I just knew that I could do this. It’s not an ego thing. It’s not an arrogance thing. It’s more like, “This is who I am.”
Nitara O: That was powerful. Thank you for sharing who you are with me and all of the loyal readers. Your time is appreciated. Dana and I were at the Artwalk for about 3-4 hours that Saturday we met you. We saw countless pieces and went to hundreds of booths, and I only invited two artists to be interviewed out of the 200 that were there, and you were one of them. As much as I loved what I saw in your art that day, what I appreciated the most is that you came up to me to take the time to greet me. You definitely have talent… and a great business acumen.
Tesa M: Aww, thank you for saying that and thank you for having me, Nitara. I’m very excited to have done this interview.
Today’s LESSON is to allow the experiences that you encounter to transform and evolve you into a stronger and well-equipped individual.
FUN ASSIGNMENT: Reflect on where your career as an artist is at this very moment. Write down a list of five opportunities that are directly in front of you that you can take advantage of. If you are not currently aware of any opportunities, write down people in your life that could somehow benefit from your art. Don’t judge yourself or your work. Connect with these people and begin building a business relationship with them, keeping in mind that somehow your art will benefit them. The point of this exercise is to get you to discover the wonderful opportunities and/or people that are already in your life that could be enhanced and/or benefit from your work. Tesa took advantage of many opportunities in front of her, and because of that, all of those learning experiences helped to build a foundation for her entire career. What can you do right now with what you already have at your disposal?
Tesa Michaels is a fine artist “inspired by nature’s abundant landscape.” Her work can be seen in Adelman’s Fine Art gallery, where her “Illuminated Elements Series” will be exhibited September 1-17, 2017. You can meet her on Saturday, September 9th at the opening artist reception between 7-9pm. In the meantime, review all of her beautiful art work here.