Artist and CEO Jodie King shares her passion for paint and business and how she combines the two to make a life.
Entrepreneurship may be in Jodie King’s blood. Her mother was an entrepreneur. Her stepfather was an entrepreneur. All the people in her life were entrepreneurs, she says, so it’s normal for her. It’s the only thing she knows.
In her early 20s, she was running her mother’s restaurant, Lynn’s Steakhouse and Seafood, in west Houston. To find calm away from the hectic city life, she and her then-husband moved to Fredericksburg and opened a wine bar, Lincoln Street Wine Market. This was 1996 on the leading edge of a young hospitality genre. Around the time they sold it in the early aughts, at the age of 35, this businessperson and mother of two needed something for herself.
Why she wanted to paint, she didn’t know.
“I just woke up one day having zero artistic desire to paint, ever, my whole life, and decided I wanted to paint, and I picked up a paintbrush,” King says. “To my surprise, it wasn’t terrible. I still have the first painting I ever did. It’s not great, but it also doesn’t suck.”
The first painting she sold went for $900. She sold it off the wall in her home during a Fredericksburg Historical Society home tour in which her bungalow was featured. The interest in her artwork during that tour led to selling her paintings in a gift store in Fredericksburg and then a home furnishings store, and the journey of this accidental artist began.
King’s early work was repetitive, she confesses, paintings of women saying sassy things. “It was my way of saying things that I didn’t necessarily feel like I was safe to say just for myself and my own life. I was saying them on the canvas.”
King didn’t have a personal art story. She wasn’t the kid who wanted to be an artist, nor did she go to college to major in art. What she also didn’t have was a “starving artist” mindset. Having a plan B was never part of her vernacular, and she applied her experience in business best practices to her art business.
Searching for the vehicle that would make her art profitable, King started an organic clothing company, I Wear Red Shoes, with her friend Debbie White in 2004. The clothing featured her designs, and the line was picked up by Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Whole Earth, and 60 different boutiques in the US and Australia. That early clothing startup shuttered, though.
“I made the consummate error of underfunding the company because I was funding it all myself,” King says. “I had underfunded it and had gone through a divorce. I had never been in the clothing industry, which is a totally different industry. You have to buy for seasons and seasons and seasons out.”
But today, King uses the depth and breadth of her experiences to lead the team at Jodie King Media. Her tenets of business are simple: Follow the Golden Rule and treat people the way you want to be treated, which cannot be overstated, she says. Hire people smarter than you and treat them well. Lastly, have a good time because most of our waking hours are spent working, and King doesn’t want to do it if it’s not fun.
We sat down with Jodie King for a conversation about art and business, and how the two can
coexist to build a living and a life.
When did you establish Jodie King Media and firmly take a step into that world?
My youngest daughter was about to graduate. I had stopped working, stopped doing everything except I continued to paint and sell my art. I thought, Okay, it’s time for me to go hard on my art business. I talked about it all the time.
I started teaching in-person workshops. In the pandemic, everybody held art courses or online courses, but this was back in 2014/2015. I thought if I did something digitally, then I’d be able to reach more artists.
Then 2016 came. I was still in a little studio. I had people coming—but I hadn’t done any digital workshops, any digital anything—and I was teaching one or two workshops a year, painting, selling my art.
In 2018, I left my husband, and the divorce took a year. But in 2019, I established Jodie King Media. Because [the divorce] was taking so much time, I started putting together the background stuff to develop and train, making sure that my website would be ready.
On the day of mediation at the very end of the process—it was such a difficult day as anybody who’s been through a divorce will tell you—it didn’t go my way.
At the end of this very long day of tears and disappointment, my attorney was very well-meaning—and she was a great attorney—she’s putting her papers in her briefcase and she looked at me and she said, “You better get a job.” She knew I was an artist because we had already talked about it. She just said, “You better get a job.” I thought, just watch me.
In 2019 I launched Jodie King Media and thought, it’s go time. Since that time, my sales have had a triple-digit increase in revenue.
Let’s talk about diversification. Do you find that most artists don’t think along those lines? How do you teach artists different ways to increase their revenue streams?
The standard practice—and I know this from experience—is: You paint, and you hope. Hope is not a strategy. Even if you paint and hope, maybe you paint and you post it on social media and you hope. That is what people think is the strategy: Post on social media, and hope it sells. That is what most artists do. That’s what I did, not the social media piece, but I just thought, just hope, right? But there is a strategy.
I knew I wanted to do a digital course, but I thought it was going to be just painting like the workshops that I was teaching in person. I thought that was going to be my digital course, but when I was teaching those workshops, I always had Q&A time. Ask me anything. Those questions were business-related questions. I was thinking, okay, I’ll continue to do these workshops, but I’ll add things that artists may need to know like: How do you pack and ship? How do you use social media? How do you work with interior designers? How do you get into a gallery?
It’s been remarkable to see artists really getting to do what they love and make a business out of it.
November of 2019, I launched the Color Course for Rebels, which is my creative course. So only four or five months later in March of 2020, I was supposed to teach an in-person workshop in Sedona, Arizona, the first week of April 2020. It was canceled. That was a significant loss of revenue. I thought, well, sh*t. I can’t teach in-person workshops, and that’s one of my big revenue streams.
Are people going to be buying paintings? I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I started going live on Instagram, Monday through Friday, and I contacted my digital marketing person and said, “I’m going to go live every day during the week for six weeks,” because I’m sure the pandemic will be over in six weeks.
I would try to offer value when I went live, and I said, “Ask me anything.” I thought the questions were going to be like, “How do you mix these colors?” because that’s what I’ve been teaching in my workshops, and 90 percent or more of the questions were about the business side. How do you market? How did you get started? What if I have a commission, how is that going to work?
We started our first Mastermind in May of 2020, and that has morphed into the online course, Art Biz for Rebels.
It’s been remarkable to see artists really getting to do what they love and make a business out of it, and we start with our “why.” We go into money stories and how you build a brand. I teach 16 different revenue streams from using gift stores and salons and how you maximize that to how to send to an email list, how to teach a workshop, all of this information to help artists diversify their revenue streams.
How many revenue streams do you have, personally?
I focus on three a year, and this year I’m focusing on selling my paintings. That’s always going to be one of them because I absolutely love it. Then I have the digital courses, but I’m adding a podcast to it. The reason for that is I was going live on Instagram to reach my audience, but the problem with that—and there is no problem with it really—it’s just that for my goals, I want to champion artists all over the world. With a podcast, I will have more reach. Then, I’m writing a book.
I always encourage artists to have three; pick three for a year and focus on those.
You have dabbled in NFTs. What do you think of them, and what do you do with them?
NFTs are really fascinating. It’s cooled this year, but I think within a year, it’s going to be back because the entertainment industry is all over NFTs. The music industry is all over NFTs. There are too many industries that are invested in NFTs.
NFT stands for non-fungible token, which tells you nothing at all about what an NFT is. But it’s basically something that is minted on the blockchain. It’s proof of ownership more than anything. But to your question, what do you do with them? That’s what everybody’s question is if you are 40 and over. If you are younger, you know.
What do we need an NFT for especially if it’s art? It’s basically because you love it, and you want to own it. It’s a way for some people to flex because it’s a one-on-one. But there are companies now—Tokenframe is one of them—that created a frame where you can display them in your home. It’s art that you can enjoy, but it’s also about that ownership.
The reason I got into it is because NFTs, when you mint them as an artist and you offer them available on some NFT platform like OpenSea, when somebody buys that piece of art as an NFT and they resell it on the secondary market, the artist continues to make royalties on that up to 10 percent into perpetuity because it’s on the blockchain.
When people buy [traditional] art, they buy it for one or two reasons. One, they just absolutely love it, and they want to hang in on the wall and just enjoy it. The other is because they love it, but they’re using it as an investment. When a collector resells art, sometimes for millions of dollars more than they purchased it, the artist sees none of that.
Who are your mentors? Who have been the people that have helped you through your journey?
It’s the people that I surround myself with. I don’t have this one person I talk to all the time, but I surround myself with people that are smarter than I am, which is not difficult on some days.
We all have our skill sets, and I have a group of women business owners who I talk to regularly.
My daughters are my mentors. They have taught me more about myself than anyone else.
What future plans do you have for Jodie King Media? You’re working on a podcast about the business aspects of being an artist, correct?
It is about the business aspects of being an artist, but you can’t talk about being an artist without really talking about what it means to be an artist. So much of that is an internal process. There will also be some human interest; it won’t be just business. It will be about the life of an artist, and we’re going to talk about burnout as an artist.
This is the foundation for me to be able to move into the next thing. It’s very similar to how I’ve done other things. I didn’t create an online course until I taught the workshops in-person and really fleshed out the things people were asking, what they were wanting, etc.
The podcast is going to help me flesh out and connect with artists all over the world. The idea is to reach a lot more artists with that platform.
The book is going to hopefully come out in Q4 of 2023 or Q1 2024, but 2023 is going to largely be spent getting that book published, again, reaching a larger audience.
The future is always going to have me painting. So those are 2023: paint, book, podcast.
What part of your business keeps you up at night?
I tend to want to look at what works; let’s do what works. But the best advice that I was given is, “Jodie, trust your gut.” What keeps me up at night is changing my whole business model from what I’ve done in the past to pivoting and doing something new, like this podcast, and having to trust my gut.
During waking hours, I’m like, “I so got this,” and then at 3 a.m. I’m like, “What if I don’t got this?” It’s all on me. I’m supporting myself. I’m supporting my team, and my daughters are looking to me, because they’re artists, to see if it works. Other artists are looking at me asking, “Does this work?”
What keeps me up at night is hoping that this whole “trust your gut” thing is going to continue. It has, but I have so many moments of self-doubt.
Do you think that’s normal for most artists and businesspeople?
I think it is, but I don’t think it’s talked about enough, the level of fear that never goes away. As entrepreneurs, as business owners, as leaders—I don’t care if we’re leading five people or leading 50,000—the fear that we would let these people down, whether it’s our employees or it’s consumers, that’s real.
A question I get often is, “I’m afraid to this. How do you do it?” I just say, “I am afraid all the time, and I just do it anyway.” I’m more afraid of getting to the end of my life and not doing something because I was afraid—that’s everything from business to missing an opportunity to savor something important in life.