Kimberly Brooks is a contemporary American artist and author. Kimberly integrates landscape, figuration and abstraction to address subjects of history, memory and identity. Her work has been exhibited and featured internationality.
Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in literature from U.C. Berkeley, and was Valedictorian. She has taught art as a lecturer and adjunct faculty instructor, and was a featured speaker at TEDx Fullerton.
In this episode, I talk with Kimberly about her work as an artist, author, and editor. We talk about how she uses ConvertKit to reach and grow her audience. We talk about what people can learn from fine art, and apply it to their newsletters. We also cover the path to becoming a successful creator, and much more.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The secret to achieving your breakthrough moment
- A job most creators should charge for, but rarely do
- What you should be doing instead of blogging
- Should you be posting on Instagram?
Links & Resources
- Steve Jobs
- Huffington Post
- Craft and Commerce
- John Baldessari
- Adobe Photoshop
- Leonard Shlain
- Milton Glaser
- Walt Disney’s Imagineering
- Warner Music Group
- Seth Godin
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Arianna Huffington
- Huffington Post: Fine Art
- Anderson Ranch Arts Center
- Otis College of Art and Design
Kimberly Brooks’s Links
- Find Kimberly on Instagram
- Kimberly’s website
- Kimberly’s Ted Talk
- Huffington Post article, “The Gap Logo, New Coke and the Legendary Walter Landor”
- Kimberly’s book, The New Oil Painting
The fundamental way to learn is, you imitate, assimilate, and then you can improvise with anything. You’re going to be thwarted in the beginning many times, and you can’t give up. You have to say, “Okay, well, I don’t care if it sucks. I don’t care if I’m going to fail. If I’m gonna fail, I’m gonna fail big. Let’s just go on.”
In this episode I talk to Kimberly Brooks. She is a fine artist. So, painting, she has all of her art in galleries, that whole world, which is super fascinating to me. She also plays in the creative world. Newsletters, podcasts, and interviews.
She built the whole art editorial section of the Huffington Post. She built that to millions of readers. She’s done all kinds of things in the design community from the early days. So, we riff on that; Mad Men-style ad agencies in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Some great stuff.
Then she brings it all the way through to talking about what she does with ConvertKit. How she sets up her sequences, and everything else, and things that people can learn from fine art, and apply to their email newsletters and sequences.
So, it’s a fun episode. We have to do a part two, because we filled up all the time we had, and I think I only got through half my questions.
So, anyway, I’m going to get out of the way and dive in. So, here we go.
Kimberly, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me, Nathan.
There’s so many things I to talk about, because you come to the creator world from a different perspective than I do, though we both share a love for Photoshop.
We’ll start with where we met. It was at Craft and Commerce, some number of years ago.
I can’t even think. Three years ago? Four?
I think it was three years ago, and it was such a random whim. I don’t even know how I ended up finding it. I fell in rabbit hole. And then I came upon ConvertKit.
I was actively looking for a better way to send art show announcements. Because I’m a painter, I’m an artist.
I just felt after my previous experiences, I knew how important having a subscriber-based service was. I don’t want to get too nerdy, but I didn’t really like the competitor who shall remain unnamed. But, I found you guys, and I started getting the advertisement for the conference, and it was in Boise, Idaho.
And so I thought, I’ll just go. It was like a Ted conference for really creative nerdy people like me, but it was exactly what I was wanting. It was about marketing, which is really such a weird word because it’s really about sharing, and I loved the title.
I loved everything about it. I met some of the people that I’m really, really close with now. Then the next year it was canceled because of the pandemic, but it was amazing, and I met you, actually.
And, and we had a really fun conversation. one thing that I want to talk about, for you is the intersection between fine art, right. And painting and that world. And then now you’re also in this world of being a writer and a creator in the sense, right. You you’ve been a writer and creative for a long time, but, but it’s, it’s like a different world of the selling things to your audience.
And. Earning money directly in that way. And so I want, like, I want to hear that as you like weave in and out of these two worlds and then just your experience there.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I, when I was in elementary school, we had a really competitive game of tetherball constantly going on on the playground. And it was just sort of that pole with a ball attached to a rope we would, people would line up and we would get it, and it was, see how many times, and it was just sort of like, it was very intense and I always felt like being an artist.
Being an art to me was it was the pole, you know? So like my pole is art is making art and everything about what I do. I write about it. I interview people about it. I interview other artists about their work. I make paintings 90% of the time in my studio. Like, it’s all about art, you know? So that’s like the beginning.
So I do see myself sashaying between different worlds. And I think everybody kind of does that. And then as the bicycle of technology was being built to use kind of like a vague reference to like Steve jobs is, you know, what happens if you put a man on a bicycle and you know, like how fast can he, as the bicycle was kind of entering our world, I thought, what if you kind of mixed art with the bicycle?
You know, what, what happens if you, you know, Make an artist’s website. So I was like one of the first people I knew that made an artist’s website. And I remember, it was, I had, was having lunch with my mentor. Who’s, the late John Baldessari. He was a great, great, great artist. And, he’s famous for, you know, he burned all this stuff and graduate school and then became a conceptual painter, you know, very, you know, Howard work in, you know, conceptual anyway.
So I brought my laptop to this Mexican restaurant in Venice, and I said, I wanted to show you something. I made a website and our studios were really near each other. And he said, Oh, I, I don’t know if I would do that. If I were you, I was like, why not? He said, because you’re, you’ll piss off the dealers, the galleries, the galleries, you shouldn’t be selling directly.
It’s going to take away from what their job is. You know, when you hang a show and you have art in the gallery, the gallery is selling the artist and it’s their job, you know, and artists are supposed to be kind of this, you know, semi mute, black turtleneck wearing, you know, mysterious, mystical ShawMan goddess.
I call it goddess on the hill. Like you’re not supposed to really get in the way of what your artists about. And so I thought, oh gosh, you know, this is, and I had put the paintings for a show was about to have. And so I started making, so my postcard for that show had the name of the show and it had the name of the website, cause no galleries had website.
Then this is in like the two thousands, you know, this is a long time ago. And I remember meeting people when I handed them a postcard. If like I felt comfortable with them, I would like secretly write a password so that they could see the website,
Oh was you were, you had the website, but it was
Yeah. So I password protected it. I password protected it because John Baldessari told me that it’s probably not a good idea to have a website.
This is again, no artists ad website.
How did the galleries and the community
The galleries didn’t have websites either. And the galleries, I remember. They started it. Like some of them had websites, but it was super janky. It was like sometimes most of the time they did an, and it was just sort of this mysterious world that 99.9, nine, 9% of the public didn’t understand.
Doesn’t understand it’s better now. And you’d have to be walking down the street or you’d have to know somebody who knows somebody, you know, it’s, it was just a different world then.
But did any of those negative things come about? Like, did anyone look down on you on it for having a website and for
No, no, no. Eventually I just said, screw it. And I took the password off.
And, interestingly, I don’t want to date myself, but I think I already have, but the at the time flash was very. sexy. And it was like, and so artists would have, if they did have website, firstly, they would be horribly designed and they would have like a flash animation of a curtain opening and a door.
And it was very like CD rom mentality. Like, you know, it was pre-internet thinking, you know, anyway, like I said, the big nerd here.
Flash was big until 2000, like the iPhone 2007.
Until Steve jobs killed it, just took a knife. He took a sword and he just, during a keynote, just, you know,
Yeah. Oh, and the two biggest reasons were, that the bandwidth of the phones couldn’t handle it. And then also the battery life on the phones couldn’t handle it.
Wasn’t there another reason there was another technical reason that had to do with plays well with others. I can’t remember exactly what it was,
Yeah. I mean, it was a restricted technology. Like it was owned Macromedia. And so probably that apple was trying to do to get to play. And Adobe was playing hardball and apple was probably like, okay,
You know, we’ll play this
Yeah. It was, was, it was, it was just the evolution of, you know, of Photoshop and Adobe products. And so I grew up with Adobe. I learned I was an early adopter, always, you know, I just sort of like analogy. Yeah.
I want to dive into all kinds of things. I want to talk about, more in the financial world and the business of that and everything else. But back and maybe start earlier in your career.
Than elementary school.
I guess we didn’t go to elementary school a little bit after elementary school. What what did the early days of your career look like
I was a, you know, I’m a first, or I guess I’m a second generation American, so, and I’m Jewish. So of course I was supposed to be a doctor. So my, we used to get, you can be anything you want just as long as you’re a surgeon first. So I got the makings of a woman’s surgeon and, you know, it was just like, as a book that was a book that I received many times in my middle school years.
And then, you know, it was like, that’s great, you’re so talented. But you know, you really, you know, after you get out of medical school, you can, it was just sort of what you did in my family. And, and my father he was a well-known surgeon and he became an, I don’t want to say artist. He became a writer, so he’s a well-known writer.
And he started writing. So he kind of became an artist before my eyes, you know, so as I was getting out, as I was graduating college, he published his first bestselling. That was just, and I would like sit at the book, you know, when he gave a lecture at an art gallery, because it was called art and physics.
His name is Leonard Shlain so I would like sell, watch him, sell the books, you know, like give a lecture and then I would check out and I would get, take people’s cash and then give them a book, you know, at the end of the lecture. And he used to tell me, he used to say, honey, you have to be shameless.
You have to be willing to just talk in front of four people. It doesn’t matter. You just need to do it. If it’s just, it was just a big, it did. It made an imprint on me because I was watching him grow out of his own discomfort zone, which I still struggle with of talking to people like instead of through your paintings or, you know, talking to an audience saying being on video, it took me six months to figure out how to be on video, but I’m getting ahead of it.
So you asked me like my CR about my career. So I was an English major. I went to an English, major architecture, minor at UC Berkeley. And at the time that I was graduating, painting was considered dead. And I know that that for artists today, they don’t quite appreciate that. But after abstract expressionism, there was sort of this mood in the art world that everything had been done and like, forget about figuration was the last thing people wanted to see, you know, and I wanted to paint people.
So I just figured, okay, I’m going to just do that on my own, but I’m going to, I love reading. I love writing. So I became an English major and I was valedictorian of, of the UC Berkeley English department. And so my first job, I wanted to combine my love for art and literature. So my first job was.
Design. So my, so I, was mentored by a gentleman named Walter Lander, who is the founder of landlord associates. And he was sort of the west coast, Milton Glaser, Milton Glaser from a design point of view, like he was, he just recently passed in the last five or so years, but he like did the, I love New York, you know, like he’s this famous, famous graphic designer because the field of graphic design is, is relatively new.
It’s relatively, it’s like a century old, you know, like th the serious field of it. And Walter was a pioneer in it. And he did, you know, my first job was like working cause I, cause I minored in architecture was, helping design the shell oil, gas station, you know,
So I was doing like architecture design, and then he asked me to write speeches.
And so they had, their company was kind of designed like a brain. So they had like a language division and they had like the design division, like they did the loose soon milk and they were so famous then such leaders. They had 1800 people in offices all over the world and it was like a big deal. And they had an office on a ferry boat.
So that was my first job out of college. I was a speech writer for Walter and I was in the, I was in the word department. Like I think I designed, I helped name, a cigarette, you know, like was just a weird, but it was fascinating, you know? And it was meeting fascinating people. The grateful dead would like come over on the boat after it was, it was, it was a wild time at, in San Francisco in the late eighties, early nineties.
Totally wild. So, So I was like, so all the designers are starting to learn Photoshop. So there was this thing called Photoshop because they were doing everything by hand, you know? And then I was like, oh, so I got Photoshop 1.0, you know, and then I had th there was no layers. So you had to do everything in alpha channels.
And it’s interesting just to be a big nerd. Cause you’re a designer too, right? I mean that’s yeah. Yeah. So if you can try to imagine there was Photoshop without layers, it meant that you had to do everything inside the masking tool that’s built in that nobody really uses or knows about now called alpha channels.
So I had to create everything using masks, but it was very oddly more similar to what you did with your Exacto knife and ruler, know, I still think one of the biggest, the saddest things about Photoshop. I mean, I think everybody should know it, but it has some feature bloat, but I think it kind of buries the power of alpha channels.
And I think that if people knew how to use it, it would like, it’s like a little thing to know that would hugely leap them out of the more artificial aspects of doing those filters on things.
Anyway, like I you have to be careful with me because I can go into real. I can crawl real deep into these nerdy things.
Are there other things from those early days of, of the graphic design art agency, like that kind of world, that you still take with you today
Thousands of Gillian percent. One of them is the four DS that every project is discover, design develop, deploy. And I know I lost that. I also saw that, like, if you could name it, you could charge it.
Is there a story behind that? If you could name it, you could charge for it.
You know, you’d see these hundreds of thousands of million dollar contracts going out to these major people. And I used to have to help write the proposals and I would see how they would divide they’d phase out, like a lot of designers. Again, I don’t, I hope we’re so not too off topic, but a lot of designers will not charge for discovery.
You know what I mean? Because they haven’t named it. They didn’t name it They’d Just be like, oh, let me Research all about your company. And then you’re going to pay me to give you some designs, and then I’ll give you the designs and then hopefully they’re smarter. Anyway, like I said, big, big topic.
Yeah. But think there are a lot of people listening who are in the either freelance or agency space and they, provide services to newsletters or creators or they’re growing their own on the side. And I think it’s a really important point that, if you’re if you’re structuring your proposals and all your interactions with clients around the deliverable, then you’re failing to talk about a substantial portion of the work And probably the part of the work that differentiates you from the other freelancers who are just like, oh, you need a logo. And they dive like right into Photoshop or whatever tool. Whereas if you’re good at what you do, you’re probably taking a step back and looking at the whole landscape and spending probably more than half of your time in that Research discovery and learning stage rather than the deliverable stage.
It’s actually the most important time intensive stage of any project. And so not just design. I mean, I think you saw my Ted talk, the creative process in eight stages. And I think I talked about how as an artist, I don’t want to give anybody whiplash, but like you, as an artist, you have, a period of time where it’s like a rest in music where you don’t, you’re not making work.
It doesn’t look like you’re doing anything on the outside, but that’s the most important part. And it’s when. Gathering, but you’re doing it in a subconscious, like in many different ways when I’m, when I’m making a painting, I’m having to listen a lot, you know, you have to listen and look and just inhale before you can exhale.
So anyway, that, but I mean, we could, I think, I think we could do a whole hour on Landour. Cause that was just a, such an interesting, you know? And, and I was actually, I was actually there, I dunno. Well, you’re, you probably weren’t born, but there was a, Coke released a new design and they, they, and Landour was the leader of this new design.
And I was like in the boardroom, in my. In pantyhose. Cause that’s what we that’s what, like you had aware that it was very far, it was like mad men. It was like mad men where like everybody smoked and the women were gorgeous and the men would like have these glass offices on the side of the boat. And they would like go in and light up a cigarette and call London, you know, like they were like, or Japan and, and they had, it was just extreme, chic, crazy environment, very male dominated.
And I was like, I’ll often the lone woman in a room, you know, but anyway, that’s a separate side conversation and they were introducing the new Coke and it was a flop. It was like, it was like, there was a backlash against the new design because it had like big fat. It was like, whereas the old Coke kind of has that Victorian, which they still use now that, that very Sarah fee or Nate almost like your create above your head, but more, you know, whereas.
Where the new version they were doing was super kind of chunky. It was like new Coke, you know, anyway. But, it was a wild experience. I wrote an essay about it and I’ll, I’ll give it to you if you, if
Yeah, we’ll put it the Shona
On time on that.
Yeah, no, the whole, here’s the thing. I wanted to be an artist, and a lot of times I believe a lot of, and I believe there’s a lot of people who have an artist inside them and a lot of times they will, work in a field that brings them near art decisions to make themselves feel better.
That they’re not being an actual artist. And I was one of those people.
Okay. So how did that play out for you of your you’re close to the design and that sort of
I was like, yeah, it was, I couldn’t be closer. I was like, I was like in, I was behind the curtain of Oz doing the, with the, with the best people and everything. Again, this is so long ago, but, but I felt like technology at the time, again, Photoshop was just starting. There was no whatever. I was like, you know, I needed, I need a break.
I need to like push the table over. So I quit. I moved to Paris to paint for a year. I played piano in bars at night. That was like a whole other wild. We could do a whole show on that, but, you know, then I was like, well, I can’t, I’m not going to be able to make a living doing this. Like I was painting, I was sitting at the sore bone and I was like, I had this little gig in this bar, but it was a couple of Franks and I wasn’t legal in Paris.
And I just had this big because of my literature background I have does such a, you know, I love you. I was so somewhat of afraid.
So how old were you when you
I was in my early twenties.
Okay. When you, quit and said it’s time to do painting.
Yeah. I was like, it wasn’t a straight line. And that’s another thing. Like most artists don’t like some artists grow up and everybody goes, oh, you’re so talented.
Which by the way, like hate that expression. I must like tell people, like don’t ever tell people they’re talented. Say you have great raw material, you know, just say, you know, just like great mom material, but like, you have to like do it for eight hours a day in order to like express something. Great. And then, then we’ll talk about talent, but in any case, so some people have parents that say, you’re honey, you’re so talented.
I want to send you to art school. I want to spend a couple hundred grand and I’m going to send you to art school. Undergrad, let’s say a good, let’s say a typical artist, a college education is this amount. And then I want you to get an MFA from Yale or the best school and have that checked off. And then I want you to go get in galleries and be an artist there’s 0.01% of artists have that route.
They have parents that say, we support this. This is good. This is a good plan. I would say that’s like a very rarefied small group. Cause you have to have, well, there’s so many things that need to happen in order to have that setup. Most people, most artists, even artists that I know, like one of my good friends Enrique he was a PA getting his PhD in physics read my dad’s book, art and physics and decided he wanted to be a painter
So like, there’s a whole bunch of artists that were doctors that were lawyer, you know, that, that, that they, they were catching the train of you know, the I’m a good student, I’m a diligent worker and they, they, you get routed onto a track and then you’re on that track. And then suddenly you wake up at at 30 or whatever, and you say, you know, I’m here and I’m super successful, but this isn’t necessarily really how I want to be spending my time.
You know? I mean, th this is the conversation, right? You know, how do you, how do you decide and what you can want changes in your life? You know, but if you know what you’re pull, the tether poll is like, if you know what, your deep inner core desires. are And, you know, and you, you have, you’re remotely in touch with that and you, you need to go, you need to go towards that light.
You need to go towards that center then everything will radiate out from you afterwards.
Was there a catalyst that pushed you, you know, you were thinking about it, you’re feeling this, but what was the thing that made you go like, all right, I’m
Well, okay. Like I said, we don’t have enough time to get into all of this, but there were, I made three huge dramatic, you know what? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a Monty Python movie, I don’t know. But like when you push the table over and you throw all the plates and you break everything, like you just come, it’s not a reboot, it’s way more violent than that.
Just kind of like you take the tablecloth out and you just say I’m out of here. You know, I think I did that three times before I got closer to. You know what it is. And one of them was moving to LA after moving to Paris, I moved to New York and then, then I moved to LA and I was like, okay, this time is going to be it I’m being artist.
Like, and you know, it’s a couple of years later, it’s after Paris. Like, you know, cause you have to get, you have to, I had to make money. You know, I had to make a, I had to have a job. And so I had to kind of like do, do design work and stuff like that. So when I moved to LA, my first, I went to a Mac conference, like it was like 60 booths.
It was so small, like Mac was seen a teeny little thing and, and Microsoft was the big thing windows and,
And I made a business cards and I said, it said artist. And then when I, I walked, went to this conference and I was practically like often the only woman, you know, and I would say, yeah, I’m an artist.
And I know. And so the first job I got was making the first CD rom for apple computer that they said distributed to every single apple. So they distributed over 2 million copies worldwide, and my name was on it. And that kind of, that was a huge breakthrough because suddenly I was being offered insane jobs.
And next thing you know, I was anyway, like, I don’t want to dwell on this because we haven’t talked about newsletters yet.
That is okay. that is okay. So you just made a leap from, I went to this conference to,
Yeah, by the way speaking, we started with going to a conference.
A big deal. We are we talking about that as well, but this leap from going to the conference to your work, being on the CD,
Well, so they were, it was like, again, I was on the bleeding edge. I could not explain to my father Who would come down and visit me. In the warehouse. I, it was, it was an artist and a coder who, but they had both met in art school and they brought me on to be the creative director.
And it was like, it was almost no money at first. And then it became like a bigger thing and apple, the more that apple saw it, the more they were like, wow, this is really good. so then the next conference I went to was in San Francisco was Macworld and my art was everywhere, everywhere, and I got job offers from Imagineering. They wanted me to design why the Disney, they wanted to be the head. Of Warner music was doing a new interactive division and digital don’t digital.
I can’t remember the names, but it was very, it was a very heady time. It was very, it was very fun. I felt like, wow, I found this place that has it’s the intersection of art design, narrative and technology. And it was exactly where I want it to be. And that was just, that was sort of, and I set up an easel in my office, I had a lot of people working for me and it was just, it got very, it got very fancy, you know, and I, and I took a lot of, I took a lot of like what I knew at Landour to attach in this before email this before the internet.
You’re talking early nineties at this point,
Yeah. Like you no, like a mid yeah. Mid nineties, you know, 96, maybe. So, yeah. So I took a lot of my, knowledge that I gleaned from working at land or like the discover design develop, deploy to whip these engineers and designers into shape, you know? And anyway, I was still stalking what I really wanted to do, you know?
Okay. So tell me more about the difference between what you wanted to do and what you were doing, because you just described your art being on everything.
No, no, no, actually, honestly, honestly like I would listen to like Liz fairs, exile in Guyville, as I drove downtown by the toy factory in downtown Los Angeles back and forth, like every day, like at these, I was a big album listener.
And when I was designing, I would listen to full albums and I was just like, wow, this is it. I am so excited and energized and everything. then I started studying painting again. So I started so like I had taken a hiatus. And then I got into the, Otis, which is the art school here, You know, when you get professional, when you become a professional in anything, even being an artist, there’s a, single-minded rigor focus and clarity. one brings their whole self to what they’re doing, you know? And if you know that if If you’ve been successful in anything else or anything like that, you can, if you bring that to your art, there’s literally nothing that can stop.
You. You become a wire cutter. It’s like, you’re going to munch through like, I, you know, really understanding, painting in the deepest way possible. Like I was thinking if I can understand alpha channels, I can figure out how to tone a canvas. You know, just like I just, because painting is a technology, honestly.
I took everything in my being to it. And that was like a third moment. Like that was like another moment I skipped some moments, but there was like where I was knocking at the door, knocking at the door. And then I knew that in my art would become the, that I had when I started painting in full force.
Like not just having it in my office, but saying this is what I’m going to do. And I’m going to do it as so ferociously, like stand back, everybody, nothing is going to get in my way.
So you were painting, I mean, you had is this like painting a few hours a week, a few hours a day, and then you dove into doing that, just like.
This is like 40 hours. I mean, I basically gave myself an assignment and my assignment was I was going to paint a hundred new. Because that’s the hardest thing to do as a body. Cause you have to deal with the translucency of skin. And I could literally talk about painting all day, but you have to deal with light form and shadow and thinking in three dimensions and it creates it’s.
I don’t want to knock marketing and technology and the stuff that you do, but painting is that most people do, but painting is a true, like you have to really, it’s a very intellectual as well as mindful and spiritual, but it’s a very, it’s a very deep, deep, deep way to approach the world. And when you become a painter or you actually like listen to the little voice inside you that says that they want to learn this.
It’s a skill, it’s a skill. And when you do that, your brain expands and your world expands and you see things differently. So it’s a very transformative thing and it takes years. It takes years and years. So my assignment was I’m going to paint a hundred nudes and, and if I have like 10 good ones, I can have a show.
So I want to tie that to maybe the experience that other creators listening would have, or anyone who’s on the fence about getting started. Right. It might not be painting that they’re trying to do, but they’ve had these fits and starts of like, I’m going to, learn to code, start a podcast, start a newsletter, any of these things, you know, learning to play an instrument, whatever it is.
And then like start and it goes, maybe it goes well for a week or a month, or like what, what advice would you
Isn’t there, isn’t there like a guru isn’t there like a guru in the subject that calls it, the. Who’s that guy. Do you know what I’m talking about? Yeah. Somebody told me that, cause I was saying this to somebody and they were like, oh yeah, that’s somebody’s Seth, Godin’s the dip. But yes. You know, when I was younger and all through all through my, you know, middle school and high school and college, I played piano quite seriously.
I was a classical pianist and whenever I would learn a difficult piece, I would play it over and over and over again. And I would have to, like, I would start to suck. I would get better, but then I would start to suck and I’d have to walk away and then come back at it the next day before I would be able to play it perfectly.
Like, I mean, you know,
Learning an instrument actually teaches you this better than anything, because if you make a painting at first and it sucks, you can be easily thwarted, like a, you know, a drawing or whatever. But, but in order to like worry the bone of like how to get that legato, right. And that Greek piano concerto or something like you got to just sort of do it again and again, and again and again, you know, like it’s, the fundamental way to learn is you, you imitate, assimilate, and then you can improvise.
So you have to like, you play these pieces. And so with anything, you’re going to be thwarted in the beginning many times and you can’t give up, you have to say, okay, well, I don’t care if it even sucks. I don’t care if I’m going to fail. If I’m gonna fail, I’m gonna fail big. Like I’m
Go all out.
Let’s just go on.
But that specific assignment that you gave yourself of painting 100 nudes, do you think that an assignment like that is a good way to go as a creator of saying this is the commitment that I’m going to make, I’m going to get to a hundred podcast episodes or I’m going to, I don’t know, write a hundred blog posts, and then I can decide if this is something I actually want to pursue.
Absolutely. I think that when you make a commitment like that, to devote your energy into building a body of work of any kind in any media, you, your life will change everything. You are going to gain skills that involve every facet of that media. So like, if you’re a podcaster and let’s say you record in iMovie you’re going to learn iMovie or whatever they, whatever they edit podcasts.
In And, and I think if, you know, if Leonardo DaVinci were alive today, trusts me. He would know Photoshop He would know he would be all over this stuff, you know, he would love, he would love it in this nether world space, because there’s, I’m, I’m going off topic a little bit because there’s a little bit of a prejudice in the art world where people were thinking they were resisting the newer technological versions of artwork.
But back to process, what you were saying is that if you do something in a committed way and you basically measure it and say, I’m going to do it until I get to this point, I think a hundred might be excessive, but you’re going to get the hang of it.
I mean, I haven’t mixed feelings though, about blogging cause I started a blog again, when I was, really getting into.
Consuming. I mean, consuming isn’t the right word. When I was throwing my entire body into the art world, one of the things that I did to expand my own knowledge was to write about other artists. And I think that’s also something that’s super unspoken, especially in the art world, because a lot of artists are just saying Me me me I want attention.
I want to get people to focus on my show and my work, and I want a gallery and I want this and that. And I think one of the most important, aspects of breaking through to any next level of anything is generosity. Generosity of your attention to other people who are doing the same thing. And that for me, that general, I mean, I didn’t think of this.
This is red, this is a in retrospect, but at the time when I look back on it, I was airlifting artists that nobody had heard of and writing about them along with other big art, you know? And so I had a successful weekly column where I was keeping a blog again, this was before social media and that’s how, and then the Huffington post came along and then I started publishing it, the, having a post.
And that’s how I said, I was asked by Arianna Huffington to be the, to found an art section. And so I was like, I was perfectly positioned because I was, I was a big nerd. I had had these other experiences. I was a full-on painter. I was having shows galleries the whole thing. And then she was building this incredible Site to celebrate bloggers. And I was one of the bloggers So I had to build an audience from zero to 10 million people within two years. I didn’t have to that’s what happened.
I have so many things that I want to ask about in this, one thing that I want to highlight that you talked about is as you’re doing the painting, there’s the side of it, of, Research where you’re researching other painters, learning from them and all that. Most people keep that Research to themselves, right?
That is not a public thing that happens. And I think a lot of the most successful creators that I see are the ones who do that recent. And, and share their notes and share that and work in public and do the interviews and all of that that you were doing. because it does a couple things. One people follow you, not only for your own work, but then also for your notes on other people.
And then too, it’s incredible for meeting people. Like when you do a profile, either if they’re a, say an upcoming artist or someone who’s established either way, they’re going to be like, when you, you know, when you send them an email, they’ll like respond and be interested and engaged. And, you know, I mean, that’s a reason that I do this podcast is so that I can meet and hang out with people that I want to more about
It’s amazing for network.
Yes. I think you’re exactly spot on. This is no different than what I did with artists, this, except for I wasn’t involving video, I was writing about it and interviewing them. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I also think that you can get too carried away with that though. Like you have to be careful, you have to make sure that you’re, you know, I can become easily like Clydesdale the horse.
I’m like, well, that’s another month and I have to do another,
It becomes more important than the art, which was the
It feels more time than
Yeah, yeah. Like, so eventually I had to leave, because it was just sort of eclipsing. It became so much bigger than everything else I was doing that I had to like go, okay, this isn’t, you know, I’ve got a show coming up. I can’t devote all this time and energy. And then of course, social media kind of made it all really different.
Like in what way?
Well, because not only we could, you know, writing a really thoughtful piece about an artist and looking at their work and, you know, relating it with art history. And I also found that if I could relate it to like a contemporary event, like there was this one painter who painted battle scenes and we were just going to war with Iraq, I think, anyway, we were going to war somewhere.
You know, it was a horrible time, but like, I would talk about going, you know, this contemporary news event. And I would link it with the artist who was painting these battle scenes. And then seeing that it went, go.
Was another, that was another big learning lesson is like, if you put a number in a headline, like 10 things, you, you should tell, you know, 10 rules for your kids and screens, you know, then people would read that more.
So I could see the analytics of what people clicked on. You know, that was like a interesting learning experience. But when social media happened, then suddenly you also had to tweet it. You had to post it on Facebook and then you had to tweet about it and then it just got to be social media. here’s my take, if I could just say one thing, because I want to get it out there.
I think social media is great for first impressions so that when people see you for the first time they’re going to go that person’s like a real artist or they’re a real whatever, and they’re legit. And they don’t just have like three things that they’ve said about the subject. They’ve actually like, I trust that they’ve done some deep things.
Like me painting a hundred nudes, you know, like this person knows how to paint.
So I think social media, it’s just so easy to get carried away. I hope one day it goes away. Is that terrible to say? I think emails should be everything. It should just go away.
I don’t think it’s terrible to say at all. You have something in your Ted talk. you talked about like the compulsion to paint being taken away by your smartphone and these distractions, And I’d love for you to talk about that because I think there’s so many things of like, if I’m on Twitter or checking my email, or even interacting with the ConvertKit team 2,700 times a day, you know, it makes it so much harder as a creator.
And so I like, I just want to hear more of your experience there.
Well, I mean, in order to even get into my zone mentally to paint, I have to like have at least 90 minutes where I haven’t spoken with anybody. Like I just need to kind of like clear it. Like I need to, I mean, I can be in it and I’ve got all these, you know, because people everybody’s different. Some people like beginnings, some people like middles, other people’s like ends.
So you have to get in touch with which person you are, you know? So I, I love middles and beginning. I actually like all of them, but like, I’m better at certain things. So whenever I go into the studio, I have to start in paintings that are in the middle, that many going on at once. so you have to get in touch with like what time of day you’re best at.
And I always begin things at the end of the day when I’m already like nice and a well-oiled machine, well-oiled creating Machine.
I never begin things in the morning. I always begin. at the end of the day, I never begin paintings in the morning. I was beginning, you know, I mean, I, I’m not, I know I’m not answering your question.
Your question is, compartmentalizing your time to protect it away from social media. I teach a master class and I teach a Masterclass with artists who are building their first body of work, or they, they want to build a body of work in the masterclass.
I make them take an oath an Instagram oath Instagram is it’s so draining psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and the effort that you put into it that you really have to like commit and, and, and artists feel pressure to post their progress and post once a day and stuff like that.
And the truth is, that algorithm, the algorithm is so fraught right now because you really only see the last 20 people that you liked more often than not. And you’re not, it it’s just, it’s not healthy. It’s not healthy for a visual artist Because you’ll be on it. You check it like a diabetic checking their insulin level.
It’s just like, oh, did it get enough? Likes all that. It’s like, Ugh. So I use, later to post once a week because I don’t really want to deal with it. So I’ll do like four months at a time. But if like I have a museum show opening up on Saturday, so I have to make a post this week. And so that that’s like in my brain, oh God, I got to make a post this week.
And when my book was coming out, like that’s a whole other topic about promote, you know, how to tell people and that a book is coming out. yeah. So I just kind of look at it like, you know, kind of like a creative sinkhole,
Yeah. And so it
Makes sense to avoid it. I think we hear that advice from a lot of talented creators and it’s easy to be like, yeah. Yeah. But I can, I’m the person who can sit down and write with a moment’s notice, you know? And then you you get totally stuck on writer’s block or whatever thing, because you’re like, you actually didn’t create that space.
And, like you talked about in the Ted talk of that time to like daydream and to actually be there, present with yourself and your thoughts.
Yeah, it’s true. I mean, there’s this thing in neuroscience called empathetic mirroring. Do you know about
I don’t know.
It’s this, it’s like when you see somebody, for example, write on a chalkboard, the neurons in your brain, I’m not going to say this. Right? So if a neuroscientist says I’m like slightly wrong, but like, it, it, it has this effect where you feel like you’re doing it, you know, like, and it’s, that’s why people love to watch people write things.
That’s why a chalkboard is an excellent device for, I actually have a chalkboard in my office because I started to. Take videos of me make with my talking points of me writing it on a chalkboard, because even though it’s considered like, you know, yesteryear technology, it actually helps people receive the information better to see it written
Rather than being next
Rather than just show a PowerPoint slide.
Yeah. And so this, the act of seeing it rhythm, but so if, if you think about the power of empathetic mirroring, that’s going on in your brain, when you look at something happening, think about how much it can pollute your brain. If you’re watching a stream of all these things happening in your Instagram feed or your Facebook feed, it’s like dangerous.
Like you have to be protective of what is going inside your mind. It’s that they say like garbage in, garbage out, you know,
I want to hear about you getting into the world of, of like teaching classes and that side of it, and then you have a book as well. There’s a lot.
Oh yes. So I have this book,
So, you know, around a decade into, you know, being a serious painter, I started to feel bad from the fumes because painting isn’t really taught the way other things are taught. Painting is sort of like, there’s, there’s been this somewhat mystical, you know, here’s a bunch of art supplies go to the art store and then let’s see what you come up with.
And then the, the, the classes tend to be more about critiques, about what you’ve done versus about,
How do something.
About the, the true, true granular house, you know, the, how, like the basics, like things that you should know. And, so I started to get sick and I happened to be the arts editor at the time of the Huffington post.
And I reached out to, and blogging was a very interesting, it was around 2004 or five, I think. Maybe, maybe it was a little bit later, but it was an interesting time because other people were thinking what I was thinking and I could see it in search for it. Whereas I couldn’t, I couldn’t have done that a decade earlier.
And so I would reach out to leaders in the field, scientists, whatnot, to write about this topic of safety, you know, like that. And, but then when I read and I had, by the way, been consuming, Disneyland books, everything about painting, and I just saw this huge gaping hole of knowledge of how. Communicated. So I started writing this book all about painting and the book that I ended up publishing with Chronicle books is just one small piece of it because it was kind of too big.
It was like James Joyce’s Ulysses, you know, it was like a tone. It was like a Magnum Opus. and it’s one of the key things that people don’t realize is that you don’t need to use solvent’s P many people believe that you need to have like an open can of turpentine or some kind of solvent to dip your brush and defend the oil paint.
So it’s like super basic and most people when they go to the art store, and this is just my short, my short, skinny on the book. As most people, when they go to the art store, it would be like only buying canned or prepackaged. They don’t know what’s in it, you know, they don’t know like that you don’t need all those things.
Like, but if you were like learning how to cook, you would know the difference between a garlic and a shallot and when to use canola oil or olive oil extra-virgin, you know, so I wanted to create, to start a book called the Y that was like Strunk and White’s elements of style, but for oil paintings. So that’s like the famous book that most writers use and just sort of shows you.
And it’s funny, actually, it’s like a great book. So I wrote that book and that’s called the new oil painting and it’s published by Chronicle and it came out in June and it’s like staying at the top, like five books of oil painting, which is great, you know? So I’m very excited about that. But in any way, in that journey of writing the book, the book, the book deal I got was two years ago.
It was like a while ago. And so Susan. Did that I thought, you know, I would be a fool to not have a class that went with the book. So to the summer of 2019, I had, I had like four solo exhibitions in a row and I thought, okay, I’m going to devote six months and I’m going to record videos and I’m going to do that.
You know? So I created this class that I wish that I had, and it was way bigger than the book. It was like everything I’ve ever thought about oil painting and that’s called oil painting, fluency and flow. And, so yeah, so I launched a class, so the classes are out there
Are the classes something that, you know, you’re teaching in an online course? Are you there in person or through a partnership with.
So once I, once I learned about. That you can oil paint anywhere like you, Nathan tomorrow could decide, you know what? I w I’ve got an artist in me. I want to, I want to learn how to paint and you could set it up next year, you know, like in a little side table next to your computer, and there would be no fumes, no nothing.
And it’s much better for the environment it’s not made out of plastic. It’s like, you know, you could do it. So I wanted to get the word out. And, so my first class is, and so I was started teaching at major institutions. So the Anderson ranch in Colorado and the Otis where I actually took lessons, I taught there.
And then, I just thought to myself, you know, this is highly inefficient because I have to like schlep over there and go there for, you know, hours at a time. And I could reach so many more people if I recorded. Instruction. And so I made these recordings, that’s a hybrid of recordings and live sessions and critiques.
And I have, you know, I have about 78 students right now. They’re from all over the world and it’s like the boast enriching wonderful, fabulous thing I’ve ever done
To being an artist, you know,
And so how does that interact with the newsletter that you have?
Well, I mean, so all of my experience, just as an artist has taught me that you, your value that you bring to any situation is the people that you can tell about what you do. It’s like a tree falls in the forest. Nobody knows you’re having a show. You know, you can’t just rely on your art dealer.
And the The dynamic has changed where. People don’t have one, rarely do people have one gallery that represents them. And then they’ve got a bunch of satellite galleries. So you kind of have to be a little bit more entrepreneurial as an artist. And so you need to gather an email list. And so I stopped blogging and instead I have a newsletter because I want, you know, and I I have a narrative of stories that I tell about creativity about, about like I’ll crawl deeply inside the making of a single painting of mine, or maybe another one.
And I, and each email I send out, I spend a lot of time on, and it’s like a work of art by itself because it’s, again, it may be a different thing. a newsletter may be slightly different than a blog, but it’s still words and image and it’s just how. It’s like another work of art, it’s another work of art.
And I love, using ConvertKit. I mean, I really, really do I tell people about it. I tell people about it all the time, because I think it’s, it’s the first software I’ve encountered that, allows you to very easily create a sequence. And, you know, you can I tell people, I say like, if you want to think about it, you could unspool Tolstoy’s war and peace.
If you wanted, like you could, every week you could give like a little section and you can start at the beginning and it takes the pressure off needing to constantly have every email be a first impression. So you can really get, let people to get, to know you in a much deeper, more personal way, because you create a sequence of letters to them that
Well, I think that’s a really important point about starting at the beginning, because when you’re sending these one-off emails to your newsletter, you don’t know where people are joining. Some people for years and other people that is the very first thing. And so every time I find myself adding these caveats are like, Hey, if you’re new here, you know, any of those things and with a, an email sequence, you know, the automated series, it starts at the beginning every time and it works people through it.
And so I’ve had that. I’ve had so much fun creating those because you can chip away at them. Like I have one that I’m kind of writing now on, I guess it’s on personal finance, you know? And it’s just things that I wish that I had known as like, Moderately successful creator. Like, Hey, you’re now earning a full-time living, what what’s next?
And so I can just write about that when I feel like it and add to this, that’s now like 10 or 12 emails long.
And what’s your frequent.
That one I said to every week, but if I don’t write for it, everyone just kind of pulls up at the end and weights, you know, for the next email. So it’s 10 emails And then I add to it. And so like last week I didn’t add a new one. And so now there’s like a hundred people that are all the way at the end and they didn’t get an email last week,
Yeah, no, I have that situation. I have a two year sequence
I mean, I know like I sound, I probably seem super extroverted and voluble and everything like that, but like, I, I, it’s very difficult for me to sell. It’s very, it’s very not. It’s not cool for an artist to be. So like, I mean, it’s just hard.
It’s also just hard for me. It’s my personality. Like I even posting on Instagram is like a stressful thing for me. It’s like, did I get everything that, you know, like I just, it’s just not, I’m not one of those people that just casually throw stuff out there. I just, I’m very thoughtful and I want it, you know, it to be meaningful.
And, but anyway, I was having trouble announcing that a workshop was over. Like serious trouble. Like I would put it off and I’d say, I can’t do it. I can’t press the send button. Like I just, even though you have the schedule feature on the broadcast, I was like, I can’t do it. I can’t do it. And you know, I, I can’t remember the name of the marketing guru who was, have the five day sequence or, you know, basically a launch sequence is a series of emails where you first email is all about it.
The second email might address one’s reservations about it. The third Emile email might be testimonials. And then the fourth and fifth email are like last chance to get it. Like that to me is like, I would rather have needle eyes surgery than do that, you know, so I built it in, so I basically have the sequence where every quarter there’s a launch sequence.
Is that crazy
No, it’s fantastic
Because then, so, so that way, like I can just set it and forget it, like back to the Crock-Pot thinking like, you know, like, you know, just set it and forget it. You’re going to sign up. You’re going to get an announcement for a walk shop, a workshop a couple months after you’ve gotten to know me.
Do you think that, well actually I guess really quick, the thing that I love about that is you can be completely immersed in your painting, right? And there you are selling a workshop and you’re like, you don’t, you have to think about it or know about it. Cause you did that work once and now you’ve finished a whole day of, of painting.
Start something new at the end of the day. Cause that’s the way that you roll. And then also you can say like finish up and check those sales and check that engagement. See, oh, people.
Yyeah, yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s just, it’s I think people before they’re going to buy anything, need to feel. Most people need to feel, you know, a level of comfort about what that person is about. so, you know, I haven’t touched you tube. I haven’t really, I honestly, I haven’t made, I haven’t made a huge effort because I’ve had the book coming out and I F I ha I had a big exhibition in June because, I designed a series of, excuse me.
I designed, I painted a series of abstract paintings, for the cover of the book, because I wanted the cover, the book to be stellar and represent like a specified stroke, like hanging in air, like, to just convey the idea of painting and not be like a landscape, because for some crazy reason, if you, if you look up oil, painting, all the books, About oil painting are so poorly designed.
It’s like, it’s strange because you would think people who are artists would care about design, but it’s like pink pallet, Tino, bold 14 point font over like a green sunset. it’s
Yeah, well, design and painting are not necessarily the same thing you happen to come from a world where you have a lot of this. Even those two worlds have intertwined for you a lot over your career. So it makes sense to
Yes, but, but when, when, but if you get, but the painting books, like if you see a PA a painting book that has like a landscape on it, what if you don’t like the landscape or they all have a landscape, or it has like the, the, you know, a face that’s loosely drawn with, you know, painted with turbine, you know, Alla prima anyway.
I’ve had so many exhibitions and like, I have a, I have a show coming up on Saturday and I’ve got to tell people about it. So like, I have to be, I’m already out there as an artist. So I have two different sequences and newsletters. I’ve got like a workshops for people who express interest in a workshop within the main newsletter.
Like if, if, like, I’ll say like I have this one great newsletter where the subject line is, who is this gorgeous woman? And then I show a picture cause they used to paint these beautiful renditions of the faces of the Egyptian mummies inside the sarcophagus, like beyond gorgeous. Like if you looked it up, you’d say, oh my God, this most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen.
And it looks a lot like Francesco Clemente, which is an artist that like paint uses the same aspect ratio. It’s like, you sort of go, oh, that’s where that guy got that idea, you know? But. I’ll talk about the pigments and that they used to, like, they used to burn mummies and then take the ashes and make a pigment called mummy brown.
I know that sounds really kind of gross, but like, but, but they that’s what they did. And I I’ll say like, if this interests you, you might be interested in like a workshop. then if they say yes, then they’ll go into my workshop sequence and they’ll get notified when I open them.
Are there other things that you do with email and with your newsletter
Yeah. Like I, like, I really want, I really want people to easily update their preferences. So I created a jot form like that simple select, you know, check box check if you’re no longer interested in, workshops. No problem. Let me know. And I don’t get enough work. Ominous, but hopefully, hopefully you’ll put that feature in soon.
We’re actually working on building that feature now. So,
Are you kidding? When does it come out
It’s one of those asking where the paintings are done. It’ll be done when it’s done.
The other thing that I do is I really think gifts are important. And I think the marketer, the marketing community is really cheesy about it. Like they always do like outtakes from friends for reaction shots.
And it’s just so horrible, but I mean, it’s just corny and you know who I’m talking about, but, you know, anyway, a gift is a beautiful thing because it’s a movie that plays automatically and it doesn’t have sound and. it can be so beautiful and subtle, you know, so every time I make a news that I usually have like an, it’s like a work of art to me, you know?
And sometimes if I want to emphasize a word, I’ll paint a picture of that word and I’ll integrate it in it. So like I really spend, I really love making them special. Yeah. I have one about the creative process and about not, not the Ted talk that you saw, but like I have one that’s on the lead up to talking about the masterclass.
Where it’s called the curse of perfection. And I show, I talk about how, when I was a kid, my mother used to always like, she would sometimes wear like super smudge makeup and it was psych, it was called the smoky eye. I mean, they still do it now, but now the beauty people make it super specific, but then it was not that it was a little bit more like, woo.
And I found a beautiful GIF of like a smokey eye, like slowly opening and closing. And I then go off on this whole subject about how, you know, it’s as a painter, you have to let go of that, of the chains of perfection. You have to let it go in order to.
Yeah. Well, I love that you’re taking a medium that you know, of email or gifts or any of these things that a lot of people use in one way. And you’re bringing those styles in that like class and sophistication and really just the level of effort. I think a lot of people are like hearing. Oh, I’m supposed to have, images or gifts.
I’m supposed to be funny. And so they just look for something and slap it in there. And there’s a level of effort that’s not happening there, but because you’re doing these automated sequences and you know that if you put this effort into it, it will last and work for you for years, then it’s worth it.
You can do a custom painted, you know, word or something like that to illustrate a point.
I mean, I have the luxury of having hundreds of paintings, and pieces of paintings, and video of—there’s nothing sexier and more beautiful than watching somebody mix paint. There’s literally nothing more gorgeous than that—So, I’m lucky.
And I understand that other creators have to find other things, but there’s a way to do things that have like a metaphorical—I here’s what I would say. I would recommend that people seek to enhance their ability to think in metaphor when they write.
So if they’re gonna talk about a subject, and they’re talking about a roadblock, instead of drawing a boulder on a road, find some other image or GIF. I use a lot of GIFs from ballet. You can find beautiful GIFs just by searching “Swan Lake” GIF, and it implies a physical movement.
It goes back into that empathetic mirroring, where you feel that your own body is doing these movements that are surrounding this idea. It’s not directly about what you’re talking about, but it’s like a little bit to the left, or it’s just kind of a metaphorical version of it. It creates the space in between what you’re literally saying, and what you’re actually seeing that ignites the imagination and the view.
Yeah. I love that. Just putting that extra bit of effort into defining the thing that’s adjacent, rather than blatantly the first thing that came to mind. I think that makes a huge difference.
We need to do a part two, because I have like 25 more questions to ask you, and we’re out of time.
I’m in. I’m in.
This has been amazing. Where should people go to subscribe to the newsletter?
They should go to KimberlyBrooks.com. The newsletter’s right there in the footer and on the top. I really love communicating this way, and it’s been an honor to be on this podcast, because I really love the product you’ve created. I really couldn’t do it without you—without ConvertKit.
So, I just, I’m such a fan, and I’m an evangelist, so kudos to you.
Wow, thank you.
Well, we’re excited to host Craft and Commerce again in 2022, and we can have a reunion then. It’ll be great.
Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Yeah. Thanks for coming on.