decor8 Interview: Meet Claudine Hellmuth

I'm back from vacation feeling refreshed and ready to go, go, go! I thought I'd make a comeback by sharing an inspiring chat I had recently with talented Florida-based artist and decor8 blog of the week, Claudine Hellmuth.

Claudine's home studio space

For those of you trying to make a living doing what you love, you'll find Claudine an excellent role model, and we all know how much we need more shooting stars in the world - people that don't say they'll do it, but actually set their life course on following their dreams. Whether it's making the best grilled cheese sandwich you can make or painting a masterpiece, no goal is stupid or "not good enough" if it's your dream and you want to pursue it. If you can dream it, you can achieve it, right? Yet, somewhere along the road of life, we toss aside our dreams and follow the natural progression of life and its stages. Fall in love, get married, buy a home, get a dog, have a kid, and continue working in a profession we dislike in order to support the life we're not too keen on in the first place. Then you meet someone that leads by example, like Claudine, who shows you that you really can follow your own inner compass, and not the one society hands you, and find happiness and inner peace by going your own way. Ah, the beauty of that reality, huh? Would you like to meet Claudine?

decor8: Hi Claudine! I'm so happy to have a chance to "meet" you, if only through email, I'll take what I can get because I find you to be quite an inspiration. I've watched all of your DVD's from Creative Catalyst and read your recent book, Collage Discovery Workshop: Beyond the Unexpected, which inspired me to paint this during my recent vacation, so being able to take a moment with you is very exciting for me. Okay, so let's get to talking! Being that your name is all over the web lately, and reading your website seeing your huge list of accomplishments, I have to ask, now that you are being recognized for your beautiful mixed media collage art, at one point in your journey did you wake up and feel like you've "made it", you know, you had "arrived"?

Claudine: I am such a striver and pusher, that I wonder if I ever will feel like I have "made it" because there is always something bigger around the corner to "make it to". Sometimes I wish I could just be like "ahhhh this is the goal I wanted, I am here now, I am happy". But that usually lasts about 20 minutes and then I'm onto the next thing. I think it's the chase of the goal that excites me more than reaching it. I have to remind myself to celebrate the steps along the way. I am seriously working with my coach on that!

decor8: Because so many questions I've had were answered in the various interviews I watched via your DVD's and from the Martha Stewart radio program, I learned quite a bit about you. For decor8 readers that haven't had a chance to learn about you and your work yet, I'd like to talk about the early years. You studied at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, DC. Looking back at your art school education, what 5 things did you like, and dislike, about the experience?

Claudine: The 5 things I liked: lots of studio time, being around other artists, new ideas, art history classes, living in Washington, DC. 5 things I didn't like: critiques, typography (this was before computers), the wood shop, welding, and wheel throwing.

decor8: In one interview I watched on your DVD, Collage - MORE Textures and Techniques, you mentioned that you enjoy reading magazines that span many different genres, some that you aren't even attracted to. I found this interesting because you said that this helps you to appreciate art and also to not focus just on one specific art form. Can you explain exactly why you think it's important to stay open-minded as an artist?

Claudine: Sure. I think it keeps things fresh to look at a variety of different styles of art. Even if I come across a piece of art that I don't like, I ask myself why I don't like it. What is it about it that I don't like? Is it the color, the shape, the message? You can learn just as much from looking at work that you don't like as you can looking at work that you do like.

decor8: Wow, that's a very unique perspective. I recently started buying altered art magazines and although all the angel wings and fairies do nothing for me on a creative level, I think you're on to something when you say you can learn a lot by asking yourself what you don't like about it. I have to start doing this! Next question... You love color and your paintings never cease to incorporate lots of it. Give us 3 color combinations that you swear by.

Claudine: That's easy! Teal, red, and green is one. Then there's orange, lime green, and yellow. Finally, hot pink, butter yellow, and turquoise.

decor8: Now let's get down to business. You once said that artists need to either have good business skills or hire someone to represent them if they don't. How does an artist go about acquiring business and marketing skills if they aren't a natural at it already, and cannot afford to hire someone to help them?

Claudine: From personal experience, I really enjoy the business side of working on my art because it's all about my work and my career. What's not to like when it's all about me!? Everything I do works toward bettering my business. I have recently found The Switchboards and they have a forum there which is very helpful for indie crafters and artists. They have lots of great advice on there. I also read a lot of business/PR blogs like The Publicity Hound and Art Biz Coach.

decor8: Thanks for pointing us to those resources. I know they must be working for you because you seem to be a lady about town - you're all over the internet! You've written a few books, teach workshops, you have several amazing DVD's through Creative Catalyst, and you've even been on Martha Stewart Radio and HGTV! In addition to all of that, you accept commissions and paint constantly. You're married, maintain a home/office, have fur kids, and travel a lot. (I'm out of breathe already!) Being so busy, what 5 key things help you stay on top?

Claudine: Number one is being organized. I have a calendar and I stick to it. Second, to answer emails promptly and check email a lot. Next, I try to blog every day. Fourth, I work every day. There is hardly a day where I take off completely. I like to stay in my bubble and keep on making the kind of art that I like and keep moving forward. And fifth, I have a business coach (Feisty Females) and she helps keep me on track, especially when I feel overwhelmed.

decor8: When you feel overwhelmed, how have you learned to pull out of that feeling and move forward?

Claudine: Well, when I feel a rut coming on, it means I need to play more and relax. So I try get out of the studio, read, watch movies, and just take a little break. Even if it just for a day or half a day. Something!

decor8: I heard you work from home, out of your living room. Can you describe your workspace and provide some images of it so we can take a peek?

Claudine: You heard right, Holly! My current studio is in our formal living room, so it's the very first room that you come to when you walk in the house. It used to drive me crazy that it was there and everyone could see my stuff, but then one day I realized that no one comes over but family anyway so why should I worry about it. Now I really like it there. BUT my dream studio is a little tiny matching house in the back of my "real" house and that little house can be my little studio. I can imagine if I do get that one day, I might feel lonely out there in the little house and want to be inside! So now I have come to terms with my current studio!

decor8: You said in one of your interviews that all artists should be online either blogging or with some web presence. I couldn't agree more. Especially when it comes to blogging, as it's a very easy and inexpensive way to voice yourself and show your work. What are some tips you can give to artists that want to start a blog but have been told, "Serious artists go straight to galleries, you can't sell art online!"

Claudine: I love the Internet! Everything that has happened to me has been BECAUSE of the Internet. I actually sell my work better online then I do in real life. I think through the Internet you can find your right audience, the people who will love your work. Locally I have a much harder time selling my work because it limits that audience. Blogging is magic. It opens you up to a whole community of people that are also blogging. I love it way more than I thought I would. My blog feels like a little community to me, and I am checking it a million times a day to see if anyone has commented about my posts. :) If you are starting a blog, the best way to get the word out about it is to post comments on other people's blogs. Thoughtful posts. Not just "Hi! Check out my blog" because that is the equivalent of spam. Also make sure you post often to your blog. If you start a blog and then only post every once in a while people who visited your blog will forget to come back. I try to post at least six times a week and sometimes more. decor8: Great advice. And finally Miss Claudine, what are 10 things that you can't live without.

Claudine: Hmmm...1) Crystal lite - I gave up diet coke a year ago and now I drink lemonade crystal lite ALL the time. 2) pets 3) gel medium 4) my wonderful husband 5) PITT pens 6) my computer! 7) email! 8) Tylenol PM 9) Thai food and 10) 10+ hours of sleep a night!

Thank you Claudine!

You can visit Claudine's blog or website to learn more about her and to inquire about her commissions or classes. If you'd like to know more about Claudine and how she grew her business from the ground up, visit her website and make sure to listen to her interview on Martha Stewart radio (click here).