A while back I needed a new space for my coaching, and I wanted somewhere that reflected the creativity of the coaching process – something that allowed my Clients to drop into a space where they felt comfortable, supported and able to open themselves to new possibilities. Luckily I searched and connected with the gorgeous Janin Mayer. An artist who had studio space available that would allow me to work in, whilst she carried on with her artwork and teaching. It really is a match made well. The walls of her studio and rooms are filled with colour, vibrancy and fun – which I think places people in a different mindset to the cliché therapist-esque environment of white walls and a couch.
Beyond just a room for rent was a new friendship, Janin is one of those sparkly people, smiling constantly (although she says there are dark moments too!) who makes art for a living. Her business, The Art of Happiness is thriving and growing from its beginnings only one year ago. Janin is manoeuvring her way through a career born from her passion, and building a supportive community around her of like-minded people through art and teaching.
I thought it time to speak with Janin, and hear her perspective on creativity and living her passion. She hosted a group of my girlfriends a couple of months ago for a life drawing class and I highly recommend her inclusive, practical, comfortable and humorous approach – there is chit chat, a wine in hand, and her way of instructing breaks it down to basics to make anyone believe (and see) they can do it.
L: So I am making an assumption that creativity is your passion?
J: Um, yeah, just a tiny crumb size piece, ha ha yes, yes it is!
L: So what does creativity mean to you?
J: Freedom, that is the biggest thing. That is where it started for me. More and more as time goes on I actually find it a more rational, problem solving process. Being able to solve problems in a painting, in myself, it helps me solve things emotionally. Yeah, it’s problem solving in a really weird way. I find it a divergent way where I don’t have to worry about other people’s opinion, it is about being self sufficient to find out what works for me, what feels good to me. Whether that is with colours, with line, or creating a new piece, pushing a new technique, it all relates to my own life as well.
L: I believe ‘everyone has creativity’, and it is a choice to tap into it and express it, what would you say about the statement?
J: I agree, I think everyone is creative. It’s part of being a human. As I said it’s a problem solving process, so can be applied in business or something like fashion. Some people just enjoy it more than others, like any energy, people are and aren’t comfortable with different energies. In my business, people are coming to me either comfortable with it or wanting to explore it. So I am really inviting, I don’t want to shove it down their throat as people can be genuinely intimidated or scared.
L: So how did you start that path of following your creativity, you mentioned it started with freedom?
J: Looking back on my childhood and me being a little person, I was always really creative and getting in trouble. That was my urge to want to do things differently and not listen to people, in some ways a rebellious streak. I’ve always loved art, making things, chopping up clothes and hair, I was always doing stuff. As I grew older, I realised not expressing myself made me very unhappy. Increasingly I reached a point where if I did express myself through art, I grew into it more and more. It was a correlation between happiness and productivity hence the freedom. It was my freedom from feeling suffocated and restricted. I realised I don’t have to do things the way people tell me to do things, as long as I am not hurting other people, who says I can’t. I don’t see limitations on anything, it’s just the outside world that assumes that.
L: So when did you identify with the problem solving side of it?
J: For years I felt like I was up against a brick wall with lots of obstacles. I had no money, I didn’t know how to create the work I wanted, I didn’t have the space, and I didn’t have the people around me that I wanted. That translated into me being alone, sad, and feeling really shit. It took looking at the process beyond just being a painting, how can I make money from doing what I want to do, putting myself fully into it. Before that I was teaching, doing anything I could to paint on the side. I knew I could make money from doing what I love, so I’m now learning how to deal with the business side. Technically with art too, teaching people how to paint, how to draw, I realised more and more if you show people how to problem solve it’s more effective. Creativity is not just this amazing gift that only a few have, it’s not that daunting, it’s quite logical and then you can add your touch to it by seeing it in a different way, you way, it becomes a puzzle and not so scary.
L: How would you describe your business?
J: I’m still learning about how I perceive business. The biggest thing that surprised me is being in the right space, this new studio has doubled the people coming in. I am not teaching as freestyle as I used to, I was projecting myself into I think. As I’ve shifted (physically and emotionally) so have the people I attract. My role with students has change dynamic, before I just thought people wanted the space for freedom to paint their own way, to express, but lots want some structure. I’m just going into year two now, and it’s going well, it’s a lot more stable than I thought it would be and I’m learning so much. I’m trying different ways of selling paintings, using galleries wasn’t working for me, a lot I can do myself without a middle man. Bit by bit I can see it paying off, and how it can work – what I can offer people and how it’s valued. It’s interesting.
L: Do you think that learning will ever go away?
J: I don’t know. Maybe. I may get to stage where I am a master at my craft, and will start to collaborate with others in new mediums. Getting to meet other teachers and art business people has been really good, it’s not bullish or competitive – but sharing with each other. It’s really nice.
L: I learned a lot about my business from the creative process, rather than trying to predict the outcome from a goal being set – but being in the process and doing your best in that moment and just reviewing and seeking improvement for each project afterwards. Does that make sense to you?
J: Totally. Here is another way of explaining it, I was in a meditation class the other day and gave the teacher some honest feedback, I feel that the ‘traditional’ way of practicing meditation distracts me, its less useful. My art process is mindful, its my priority for being present – going with it when I need to and also noticing when I need to let go, admitting this is shit and start again, don’t cry your arse off and get upset, just go onto the next thing, keep pushing through. So rather than goal setting ‘a masterpiece’ there are so many variables that can distract you, so being in the process rather than controlling the output as a goal works.
L: It’s nice as we talk to hear that you’re bringing your values to your work, living your life this way.
J: Which I feel so lucky about. I think part of it is also my husband supporting me, if you look at most artists they have a good support network around them. It has bought me back to the value of community – in turn I try to pay that forward, people come to me who don’t have the space to paint or anyone to cheer them on. I have my own cheer squad in him, and it’s important for everyone to have it, and I feel very fortunate to have him around me. And then I get to support him in his dreams too.
L: So being able to pass it on?
J: Exactly. Building that support and community.
L: How about when you’re stuck, any advice for people on how to overcome that feeling of being stuck, in life or creatively?
J: Yeah! About half the people that come to the Art of Happiness classes are feeling emotional. For instance, I had a student come in recently who was physically shaking, he was scared and hadn’t created anything for many years, but desired to create something really beautiful. People can cry during class, and it’s a space of shifting blockages. My approach is to not to engage in it, but create a space where that is okay, and just allow it to happen. I think allowing that fear or the block of creativity to come up and out (letting the idea of a goal go) and supporting people being in the process helps them enjoy it, be warm and comfortable, to have a laugh. I try to take on the role of a bit of a joker in the class, I can crap on, you’ve seen me, I like to lighten the mood, it’s not serious. My role is often less about teaching the technique but more about supporting an emotional space. Once you’re in, the creativity comes. Once people start to relax they realise they can do it. The first thing you learn as a teacher is don’t set your students up for a fall. Don’t make it unobtainable.
L: When we did the life drawing, you broke it down into really simple steps and by the end I felt completely confident I could draw. It was energising and fun, realising you’re not that bad! Just putting the effort in and once you get started it flows. Everyone in our group was surprised.
J: Having the space, the materials, everything supplied helps too. It’s all there, music is playing, there is conversation, a glass of wine, chocolate, not much can go wrong. It’s all about the right environment.
L: How much do you think environment, or place, is crucial to creativity and happiness?
J: Massively. It’s an argument I had with my hubbie. When I met him he was living a really simple life and in a place without any visual stimulation. When we moved in together, I created a more vibrant place. He was resistant to buy or build beauty and aesthetic around us, feeling it would cost a lot of money, but I explained it doesn’t need to be. I guess my argument is that you can make your place beautiful even if it’s not glamorous – the positive energy you put into it helps too. It’s a reflection of you.
L: What is a typical day for you? How do you spend your time?
J: I wake up every day excited and think, ‘I am busy, I have people coming to me for classes AND I get to paint’. I’m organising in the morning, then painting for about 7 hours in the day, then teaching at night. They are pretty long days, from about 6.30 in the morning to 8 or 9 at night and Saturdays. Sundays are the only day off. I do get exhausted as I am dealing with a lot of people and have to get myself in the right place to teach, to paint, as you spend a lot of energy on a painting and then it can turn to shit. On one hand I don’t have the time to be emotional as I have classes, I can’t lavish in it as the classes contain me. At the moment it’s about 50-60 hours a week.
L: Do you ever feel like you switch off?
J: Now that is the problem. No. But I don’t want to switch off, it’s art. I try to on Sunday’s, to be with my husband and not crap on about art. I dream about it, I can wake up in the middle of night and think about what I can create and find it hard to stay in bed, the more that I paint, the more I am achieving my goals. So the more I do, the more productive I am, the more it comes; more commissions, more ideas for future classes. I am always planning.
L: I find if you’re driven by the money when owning your own business you can stress when trying to switch off, but when it’s core is a passion, you flow and enjoy the fact you’re working all the time, do you feel that too?
J: Exactly. When you love what you doing it’s energising. I have endless resources, love, excitement, curiosity, I read and absorb, it’s straight up passion. Of course you have to work your arse off for it, but the reward is some money!
L: It doesn’t feel like work when you’re in the flow, right? Money is a reward. I think investment needs to come on many levels with your own business; it’s your time, your energy, but you also need to invest some money to feel the return – not being extravagant but generous.
J: That is a good point. When I started I had no money, and I had to sell my car, which was a massive sacrifice and symbol of my freedom. At that stage I had trust issues and felt like I was trading things off for an unknown business, but it ended up being a lot easier that I thought. It was a gamble, I wasn’t getting anything back initially, but it’s now coming back. At the time I was teaching myself about how I invest money in all areas of my life, how I chose to spend it and how to not waste it!
L: I became really frugal and careful on how I chose to spend every dollar.
J: Exactly. We did a cheaper wedding, and we still discuss being careful about how we spend our money, weighing up holidays and other purchases in day to day over the investment required for the business. It is a choice where to spend and put our energy.
L: Just going back to that point on trust, how important is trust in the creative process?
J: Massively. Trusting myself, it was hard. I had to learn a lot about myself. Anything that is out there like art, you get criticised. You have to learn to let go, be less critical of yourself. Trust is exactly it. Setting up a studio, wondering if people will come to classes. Having some hope and blind faith – and trusting it will work, because logically it should. If I put in the right energy it does pay off. Even learning to have the right instinct with people and classes. Trust is important.
L: How do you keep the momentum?
J: One of my good friend’s is a management consultant, and was worried about me, as she was aware that the business relies on me, and my energy. As we discussed it, I explained it is something I am passionate about, that I find it easy so it’s not draining. I am happy, one day that may change and I’ll move into more of just me painting or have teachers come in and help teach, it’s just not structured like other businesses, I don’t have a back-up plan.
L: How important is your self-care then?
J: So important. I don’t switch off much, if things get too much I retreat to a space of calm, but I timetable going to the gym, and I pay attention to the food I am eating.
L: So you’re not living into the stereotype of the artist, sleeping all day, smoking cigarettes and all broody?
J: Definitely not. That is not motivational, I wouldn’t be achieving, it is too emotional. I can decide some days that I am going to be moody and just allow it, work it into the schedule… I can have brain snaps.
L: Like all of us! Working through those blocks sounds like it’s part of the process though.
J: It is. Sometimes I can’t release through the week, I don’t have time and people are around, so I have to suck it up and find the space later on the weekend or when it’s appropriate. When it happens I think about my business, and think about my relationship.
L: That’s life, everyone can’t just fly off the wall in a meeting at work, we all need to work through it and manage it appropriately being aware of others, just being an artist doesn’t give you permission to act crazy.
J: Exactly. The perception of artists is they can do what they want. My goals of the bigger things I want are far more important that being emotional right now. There is time and space and I will enjoy it then. Then I’ll calm down again and have a sleep.
L: Lovely! Thanks for your time today Janin. It is so appreciated and I know my readers are going to enjoy your perspective and hearing of your success. I also know there are some budding artists in there who’ll be looking at this as inspiration for unleashing some creativity soon.