PLEASE NOTE: This article was written in 2001. Many things have changed, but I hope the article is still useful to you.
A small, pale drawing of a subject I no longer remember, drawn in a medium I’d never heard of, that years ago I saw hanging on the wall of a no longer living relative’s home changed my life in ways no one could ever, not in a lifetime of guessing, predict. I learned that day that the drawing was done with Prismacolor colored pencils. Intrigued, I soon bought a small set and got Bet Borgeson’s The Colored Pencil book from the library. I’d loved to draw since I could remember, and had dabbled in pastel, graphite and watercolor during high school, but unsure of my abilities, I’d always passed up art classes opting instead for a “safer” degree in English Education.
When I stumbled on colored pencil, I had two small children, and any creative juices I still had between heating bottles and changing diapers were being channeled into gardening, cake decorating and origami. We had no money, and one of our children was autistic and often ill, so there was nothing extra for expensive art supplies and no extra time for setting up paints. But these colored pencils were cheap, there was no set-up time, no clean up and they felt like home the minute I tried them. My neighbor saw my first piece and said I should enter it in our small county fair. I did. I won first place. I liked that! And I was off and running.
Thirteen years later, my life is colored pencil. I’m a professional children’s portrait artist with a 14 month waiting list, author of an internationally-distributed art instruction book Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step, with a second book in the works, an instructor for portrait workshops nationwide, an art competition juror, member of the Colored Pencil Society of America and creator of a colored pencil e-magazine, From My Perspective. All without a day in art class! To tell you the truth, I can hardly believe it myself. So, how did I get here?
The simple answer to how I got here is that I felt I had little choice. When I was divorced 12 years ago, I’d been out of the career track for almost six years. The only thing I could do without further education was substitute teach, which would have meant putting my autistic son into day care - something I was unwilling to do. I’d been working with colored pencil for a little over a year by that point, and had been accepted into a gallery where I’d sold a few things, so I decided to take the plunge. And what a plunge it was. I was painfully broke for most of the next 11 years!
Art is no easy business to make a living at. I remember a time when, after filling the car with gas and loading the kids and a portrait in the car to deliver to a client in Oregon, I had exactly 17 cents to my name. I prayed a tire wouldn’t blow. But no matter how low the down side, the up side was worth it. I was my own boss, I often worked in my robe and slippers, I was home for my children, the commute was a few steps down the hall, and most importantly, I was doing what I loved. But maybe even beyond that, when you’re self-employed, the possibilities are endless and that’s what kept me going through the leanest years.
The even simpler answer to how I got here though is that I never quit trying to get here. Some things I tried worked; others didn’t or at least didn’t seem to at the time. Like most everyone who jumps into the creative arts business, initially I was sure all I needed was that big break; that one commission, that one client, that one award that would make all the difference. I’ve since learned that waiting for, or even trying to make that big break happen is a waste of time. It’s all baby steps followed by more baby steps; and with tenacity, talent, and a little luck, one thing leads to another and you eventually get there.
So, what was the first baby step? Gallery representation. Within a year of working in colored pencil, I was hanging in a well-respected, busy gallery in Seaside, Oregon. I was scared as all get-out to initially approach them, but they immediately accepted my work, and sold most of the 10 or so figurative pieces I gave them the first season. But with gallery sales, you receive only 50 percent, and the framing comes out of that. You never know when you will sell, so it is a tough business.
About that time, some family friends asked me to do a portrait of their two children. That was baby step number two. Again I was scared. After all, I’d never had to make a painting look like someone, but they were thrilled with my portrait and I loved getting a check upon delivery! So, my next step was to start calling friends, family and acquaintances. That took nerve I didn’t know I had, but when a mortgage payment is calling, it’s amazing what you can do! I never asked flat out for commissions. Instead, I said I’d love to use their children as models for a painting, in hopes that they’d buy the finished piece. That approach worked every time I tried it.
In the meantime, gallery sales did fine the second season, but stalled completely the third year. I started cleaning houses while my son was in preschool. A friend suggested a “silent auction party” in her home to sell all the unsold work from the gallery. She was well connected and had a lovely home she volunteered. About 40 people showed up, and I sold all but one piece that night. House payment covered!
Then I did get a break. I received a call from a Portland, Oregon woman who’d seen my work in the gallery two years prior. She’d taken my name and was calling to ask if I took commissions. Turns out she lived in a wealthy neighborhood and had a zillion friends. One commission led to another, and all these years later, the Portland area is still my portrait base with anywhere from six to 20 new children’s portrait commissions a year. Initially, my prices were very low. I charged $700 for a large, framed portrait, but I raised them by 10% every six months until I felt I was getting a fair price for the time and work involved. (Colored pencil is a very slow medium; a 16 x 20 portrait can take me up to 3 weeks to complete.)
I would never have found this woman on my own, so the lesson here was that even though I made very little money from the gallery itself, that representation changed my life. I actually have two completely separate careers: the portrait business and the teaching business. Success in the portrait commission business provided the base for the instruction side, but has taken many more steps to lead me to “success.”
The first step was to join the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA). Nearly every aspect of my non-commission career is directly related to joining CPSA. Through that organization I met people who asked to include my work in art instruction books they were writing and was also accepted into several CPSA International Exhibitions which led to my work being printed in the Best of Colored Pencil book series published by North Light Books. My published work gave me credibility and led Cynthia Daniel, of The Stroke of Genius website (www.prtraits.com) to ask me to join her incredibly professional, beautiful portrait website. Inclusion on her site led to more great things, but I’ll get back to that later.
Next, I began calling local art leagues to ask if I could give a demonstration talk about colored pencil techniques at their meetings. No one turned me down, I made a little money, I made great contacts, and I got practice talking about my technique. Before I knew it, people were asking for more and I held my first workshop. Again, I was scared spit less! Not only had I never given a workshop, I’d never attended one! I also wasn’t really sure how I achieved my results in colored pencil, but nothing teaches you like teaching. By needing to pay attention to what I did in order to teach it, the mystery of my own technique unfolded and I was able to break down and articulate my particular methods. (Isn’t it funny how life works; my two years of teaching junior high English and my expensive Education degree were starting to pay off after all.)
When I saw an artist’s work I admired, and who seemed further along in their career than I, I made appointments to talk with them. Most were gracious, and I learned lots. I learned about the American Society of Portrait Artist’s through one of those contacts, so I joined, then promptly asked if I could write an article about portraiture in colored pencil. I knew the medium was new for fine art, and decided early on to capitalize on that “newness.” They accepted my article giving me more exposure, more credibility and one more line on my resume!
I sent photographs of my work to the manufacturer of the Prismacolor pencils that I use. This seemed initially to be a dead end, as I never heard back from them. But about a year later, I received a call from Sandra Angelo asking if I’d teach a workshop in San Diego. Turns out the manufacturer had forwarded my art to Sandra. The next payoff from sending those pictures didn’t happen till last year when an attendee of my San Diego workshop, who’d since moved, asked me to come teach in Utah. I’ve now held three profitable workshops there, with three more scheduled for this year. All from sending a few photos seven years ago…
When a clerk at our Seattle Daniel Smith Art Supply store commented on how many colored pencils I was buying, I asked if he’d like to see what I do with them, then went out to the car to get photos. He immediately called the store workshop coordinator and presto! A new workshop venue! And don’t forget about trade magazines. I’ve had a subscription to the Artist’s Magazine forever. When I couldn’t afford it, I asked for a subscription for Christmas and birthdays. Nothing tangible has come from subscribing (yet!) but ideas, inspiration and just feeling connected is easily worth the cost.
With the number of books I’d been featured in growing (thanks to CPSA), I received a call over three years ago from an acquisition editor, Jamie Markle, at North Light Books asking if I’d like to write an art instruction book. Intimidated, but ecstatic, I said, “Yes!” The advance was low, the amount of work overwhelming, but I knew this was a chance I couldn’t pass up. I got right to work, and found my years of teaching workshops absolutely invaluable in writing the book. I basically just sat at my computer and gave a workshop. I delivered the manuscript a year later and then had to wait 15 months to actually see Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step in print. But it was worth all the work and the wait.
And finally, back to the Stroke of Genius website. I somehow had the foresight to add that website address (which includes my email address) to the “About the Author” section of my book. As soon as it was published last spring, people started viewing me on that site and I began receiving “fan email” from all over the world. It was so exciting! I saved each email, having no idea what I might do with them. That is until last fall when Deb Mason from Texas emailed asking if I could give her online lessons.
That’s when the idea of a subscription-based monthly colored pencil online magazine was born. I sent an inquiry out to the 200-plus artists whose email I’d saved, to see what sort of response I might get, and within 3 weeks had over 50 subscription checks in my mailbox. Terrified about having committed to a website when I didn’t know the first thing about web-design, I bought two technical books and plunged ahead. Five months into the venture, I have over 200 subscribers in 43 states and four countries, and it’s growing every day. And as a bonus, I’ve received six web-design jobs since I put my site up. (2015 Update: This magazine is now available in print and digital download.)
Last but not least, last summer, as soon as I saw that my book was selling fairly well, I proposed a second book to my editor. The contract was signed last week for Soft Realism in Colored Pencil and now I’m petrified as to where I’ll find the time to write a book, but excited about the possibilities.
There are a few common threads here in all the baby steps I took. First, they were all about networking with others in the field. Second, one step seemed either to lead to another step or help with the next one. Third, I was really scared each step of the way. But, I just didn’t let the fear stop me… or maybe I should say the fear of being on the streets has always been greater than the fear of my newest project.
So far, without ever actually setting any goals, my career has taken me places I wouldn’t have dreamed of. When my 18-year-old daughter was a baby, I’d settle her in our hand-me-down stroller, and we’d walk down to the local gallery a few blocks from our apartment. I wanted so badly to have a picture hanging there but was afraid to dream that big. This year, I was asked to serve as juror for their annual exhibition. Sometimes I still pinch myself.
(Written in 2001. Re-published in 2015.)
Ann is the author and publisher of numerous books on colored pencil. She continues to champion colored pencil enthusiastically in publications and in workshops held internationally.
After yesterday's Facebook hurricane over Sally Ford/Robertson getting a "trademark" on the phrase colored pencil, I went to bed feeling incredibly grateful to the hundreds of supporters who leapt to my defense. But there was a little nagging unease deep inside, too…
The truth is that I am not entirely blameless. So, in pursuit of a conscience as clear as the rain we are not getting this summer - a history…
The first issue of my colored pencil magazine was published in November 1999, after Deb Mason from Fredericksburg, TX emailed me and asked if I could give her lessons online. My daughter suggested that instead I write a monthly online magazine which could then instruct many at the same time. This was right after my Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step book was published and had created quite a stir in the then teeeensy world of colored pencil. I called the magazine From My Perspective or FMP for short. I had 200 subscribers within a couple of months and I was elated, energized and having all kinds of fun. Although I love drawing, I love teaching even more, and as an ex-English teacher, I also happen to love writing. Add the fact that I’m a people-person into the mix, and you can see that writing a magazine about a subject I’m passionate about and skilled at would be a dream come true. It was.
The magazine thrived and I kept publishing, month after month. The magazine at that time was only online and the only option was to subscribe yearly. Once I had a sizeable audience, I realized there was potential for offering other products that would benefit artists. I knew I had a gift for breaking instruction down into “do-able” bits. This may be because I have a very autistic son and had to learn how to break tasks (holding a spoon) into the tiniest possible increments in order for him to acquire any new skills.
Regardless, I created my first set of project kits around 2003; the Apple, Orange and Pear. (I guess I was on a Vitamin C kick!) Those kits flew out the door! I was amazed and having even more fun. About that time, Anne deMille Flood had her Realistic Pet Portraits in Colored Pencil book published after I recommended her as a possible author to my editor at North Light Books. I didn’t draw animals, so I asked Anne if she’d like to create a kit for us. She did and to this day, our best-selling kit is still Anne’s Cat Kit. Soon we had a whole bevy of kits from various artists skilled at particular techniques or subject matter and soon a better part of my business was through selling products other than the magazine (germane to the rest of the story…)
In 2010, Sally Ford (Robertson) emailed asking if I’d be interested in taking my online magazine to print. I “knew” Sally through Scribble Talk, an online forum of sorts that she used to own. I knew nothing about the history between Sally and Gemma Gylling and Arlene Steinberg. But even now, I’m happy that I didn’t know that there was some bad blood there or I wouldn’t have gone forward with Sally. And for reasons that will become clear, I do not regret my brief alliance with Sally.
When Sally approached me, I was particularly overwhelmed with work and life so I let Sally run the show far more than I should have and we went forward without a contract. It’s so easy to say, “But I’m such a trusting person and expect everyone to be as honest as I am.” Yeah. Well, I’m no spring chicken. I’ve lived in this world a long time. I now think that attitude is cowardly and lazy. It puts the onus of responsibility on the “other” and if bad things happen, you can play the victim with a lovely violin soulfully playing in the background. Yes, I’m a trusting soul, but I also have a responsibility as a grown-up to protect myself, my business and my own interests. It wasn’t up to Sally to protect me. So there was Fault #1. No contract. You could call it a mistake, but really, it was not. It was a failure on my part to take full responsibility for my life's work and I am the only one to blame.
Over the course of dozens of emails (all of which I still have) Sally and I together decided that the magazine needed a name change. I suggested “COLOR”. She liked “Colored Pencil” better. She is a graphic designer, and since she was doing all the design work, her idea won and Colored Pencil magazine was born. A flurry of activity followed, all handled by Sally, including her creation of a separate website for the magazine. In retrospect, I can clearly see that sanctioning that was my biggest mistake. More on that later…
Once she had our first issue designed and ready to go, we published it through Magcloud. Sally had done the research on printing and she did a great job with that research. Sally is a hard worker, no doubt about it. Although I personally didn’t think at that time that people would pay for a print issue since it was nearly triple the cost of the online issues (I was eleven years in significant poverty when I started trying to make a living at art and still struggle with issues of perceived “scarcity”) it turned out that Sally was right. We sent an email to the nearly 5000 people in my database, and they bought the print issue!
So all is well for a while, but then I started seeing something alarming. As people searching online for “colored pencil” were being drawn to the magazine website, they were not being drawn to my own website, annkullberg.com. My non-magazine related business was suffering. People, the truth is that there is very little profit in any printed publication. Costs are too high. No matter how many new print subscribers we acquired, it didn’t begin to make up for the loss of traffic to annkullberg.com. I mentioned to Sally that this was beginning to be a problem and we might have to merge the magazine site under the umbrella of annkullberg.com. She poo-pooed the idea from the start and I remember being a bit puzzled by that. I had assured her that she would have full control of the magazine portion of my website, and I knew it would actually bring additional subscribers which would benefit us both, so I was bewildered. Over the next month or two, we went back and forth on that idea but she just became more adamant that the websites remained separate. I can’t prove it, but now I have to admit that I wonder if she had planned to break off from the beginning?
Then I was hit with a sudden hospitalization. Self-employed, I have “junk insurance”, basically, with a $7000 deductible. Website traffic down, business down, a huge hospital bill…something had to change and change fast. I emailed Sally again, carefully outlining the circumstances. I was very clear, at that point, that the magazine simply had to come back home to annkullberg.com. She replied curtly, in effect saying it was not happening. In frustration, I responded more stridently than is generally my style saying. “Sally, it’s my magazine. It will always be my magazine. I can’t let my own magazine take my business down that I’ve worked 12 years to build.” Sally response: We’re done. This is the last issue I’ll do together with you. I’m going to continue publishing without you. And that she did.
(Those of you who've read both magazines, you now know why both magazines have the same format and sections - "You asked...___answered", the Showcase (Gallery), etc.)
I was completely, totally, incredibly stunned. It was the day after Thanksgiving. My world had just sort of fallen apart at all seams.
How could she do that? Fault #2: massive inattention. I hadn’t even noticed that she’d copyrighted every issue she designed and the copyright was hers, not mine or even ours. I couldn’t even legally sell my own past issues from that year. Print subscribers were now in her database. Print subscription fees were going to her. Copies sold individually on Magcloud went to her. A hearty percentage of my former online subscribers had switched to print. I was left with a bit over 400 online subscribers. (To be clear, Sally reimbursed me for my portion of profit for any back issues sold after the split, from that year's collaboration.)
Scrambling like a madwoman, and literally going weeks with three hours of sleep, I had to hire a designer (with little income) sort out trademark stuff, come up with a new name for the magazine and figure out how to somehow let people know what had happened without getting ugly. But it got so ugly. She had my Facebook page taken down. It’s not entirely true that I’m not a fighter because I retaliated and had hers taken down. It went on like that, but I really had no stomach for it. I’m non-confrontational and really just wanted to just move on. I couldn’t even justify to myself telling the whole story to the world as I knew it, because I knew my part in the mess was substantial – I hadn’t protected myself.
But I honestly, to my core, have no regrets. About any of it.
For one thing, I’d renamed my magazine “CP Magazine” and in an effort to strengthen the “CP” brand, the idea of the first CP Treasures book was born. I would never have even thought about publishing a printed book had it not been for Sally showing me that colored pencil artists will pay for print. That book was an amazing success and since then I’ve published two more. Besides being profitable, those books have been good for my whole being. When I started using colored pencils, I felt like I was one of maybe a dozen people creating art with them; I truly felt isolated. To now publish books with colored pencil artists from 16 different countries is like having Mom’s amazing lemon cake with extra whipped cream for my soul. So, thank you Sally. CP Cats by Gemma Gylling and Cynthia Knox’s CP Horses books came next. They are selling well. Again, thank you Sally.
I admired Sally’s sense of graphic design, so bought a few books on design and they’ve helped me so much. Thank you, Sally.
Sally has a tendency for typos, and I’d heard that complaint a few times so I hired a copy editor, colored pencil artist Susan Cottman, who is a gem, and you won’t find typos in my magazine. Thank you, Sally.
And last, the magazine did need a new, contemporary name, and this latest trademark issue has spurred me to go back to the name I always loved, COLOR. Both a verb and noun, I think it’s descriptive and perfect. Thank you, Sally.
You probably think I am being ironic or sarcastic with all these thank you’s. I am not. I made gigantic mistakes. Lots of them. I will choose to call them lessons, though. It’s so much more forward looking, and I am all about forward. Readership to my magazine has increased nearly 5-fold since our meltdown. I now employ seven different free-lancers. I have more ideas for cool new colored pencil stuff than my garage has cobwebs (and that’s a lot!) I have countless dear, dear friends and supporters who are as passionate about what I try to do as I am. I have my health, my parents, my children, my granddaughter and a thriving business I truly love.
So…I carry on.
"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." - Albert Einstein
If you've been at colored pencil for a while, you might think you know just about all there is to know about colored pencil, but someone is always coming up with someone new!
to read an excerpt from our book, CP Treasures, Volume III - 35% Off now through May 31st!
For my Super Workshops (5-days, limited to 5 students) I require students send me their reference photos and line drawings about a month before the workshop begins. I become Mean & Picky Ann at this point, and won't let them transfer their tracing onto their drawing paper until I'm completely happy with their tracing. When it comes to portraits, you can not be careful enough with your line drawing (tracing) and if you rush this step and trace inaccurately, all is pretty much lost from the start.
I received the following perfectly understandable email this morning:
Hi Ann, The jump in the digital price of a magazine was a little under 25%. That is quite a lot. As a senior on a fixed income, that's a significant increase for me. As you know, I've been a regular buyer but I am not sure if I will continue going forward. I'm sorry about that. Sincerely, S.A.
We understand completely. We hate price hikes as much as anyone.
In 2005, the price of a yearly subscription was $35.99, exactly the same price as it is now. That's a decade of rising costs without a price hike. And unfortunately, it's a reality that everything gets more expensive for us, too. We've added staff, our various editor's fees have gone up by a total of 40% in the last 3 years, and all of the machinations that make the digital magazine delivered automatically have become more expensive. We don't want to raise prices again for years and years ahead, so we went with a bigger hike.
Digital Subscriptions are still $2.99 per issue. Subscription prices will rise slightly in January for NEW subscribers, but current subscriber's $2.99 rate won't ever go up! Subscription info >
When you publish a magazine like ours, with a teeeeeny tiny niche group, it's always tough. We are publishing for an entire market of thousands rather than millions. This small market is the reason large publishing companies won't publish a colored pencil magazine. With so few colored pencil artists in the world, there's simply not enough demand. It's also the reason North Light has stopped publishing new colored pencil books; lack of substantial demand. There's no question that colored pencil is growing in popularity, but it will always be a small group of enthusiasts.
Only micro-publishers, like us, can even attempt to make it work! The time, effort and expense that goes into each monthly magazine is substantial. Somehow we have to keep up with expenses. A raise in price once every 10 years seems reasonable? And even with the new price, it's still cheaper than a latte, cheaper than a movie and cheaper than a piece of pie that's gone in a few minutes...except where it lands on our hips. :-)
We hope you'll understand our decision, and that you'll consider subscribing soon!