One Year (and a Bit) On...
Some of you reading this will be familiar with many aspects of my journey over the past year. For others, a little back-story may be necessary. So, please indulge me while I recap a few key things before I give an overview of the year that has been and things that might be.
Amidst the craziness of all things pandemic - within the space of a couple of years - I had a major health crisis and for unrelated reasons, lost my job of twenty-something years. (You can read a much more detailed account in my previous blog post). Both tested my faith in different but similar ways. The first prepared me for the second. And both have prepared me for the trials of the past year and those at my doorstep. As I stepped (or stumbled) into 2022, after a period of prayer and reflection, I started my own art business - teaching and making art. And eventually, this was supplemented by casual relief teaching at my former place of employment when restrictions eased. That is probably sufficient backstory to set things up for the remainder of this post.
I would like to present a fairly transparent account of the journey so far and the journey that may lie ahead. I hope this approach will allow my readers to connect and identify with the various thoughts and challenges expressed on a deeper and more personal level and that blessings may come through my vulnerability. I know that this is not generally the recommended approach to building a business and getting established in an industry but I know that the people I most enjoy following on various platforms are those that seem most human and are willing to share the downs as well as the ups of life with others. I know that my readers will come to this blog seeing things perhaps through quite diverse worldview lenses so feel free to skip any parts that don't interest you (although I do hope you'll indulge me). Grab a cuppa if you haven't already, get comfortable and let's reflect together from the vantage point of "one year on" and project into the future - thinking about things that may be.
In the first half of 2022, much time was spent researching what equipment would be needed for my online art teaching business and then purchasing it bit-by-bit. Things started on a small scale with the classes but gradually momentum built as the year went on. As things moved into the second half of the year, it was a blessing to have many of the students continue on with classes. A few dropped off along the way but others joined. I was encouraged to know that it wasn't my performance as a teacher that caused some students to stop taking lessons but rather that life had opened up other opportunities for them or they simply had a learning style that didn't suit online classes so well. And I'm aware that my approach to teaching art with a strong focus on realism might not suit the child that wants a more craft or cartoon based approach. I had a good mix of mainstream and homeschool students - including a student in Japan. It was a great blessing to be asked if I would like to run a homeschool art class for two of my nieces and a friend of theirs (whom I had already been teaching online). That class still runs at my sister's house and I'm loving the opportunity to spend more time with the girls and to have the privilege of speaking into their lives more than I usually could. My classes with a homeschool family in the Blue Mountains has continued and despite some challenges with internet connectivity, we always enjoy the hour we spend together delving into the world of watercolour. Earlier this year, Renee from "Blossoming Through Books" organised a homeschool "botanical art" workshop which I led. We anticipated more students but not all could make it - but the five who could come were very attentive and produced some lovely, detailed colour pencil drawings of flowers I had in the house.
My students often challenge me artistically to try subject matter and techniques that go beyond my usual choices and familiarity. Throughout 2022 I tutored Miriam (a former student of mine at the school). She is speedily growing into a confident and prolific young artist. Miriam was very keen to learn, discuss and explore. In one lesson, she wanted to learn how to create a feeling of movement in her work and I found myself creating a watercolour painting of a frog surrounded by rippling water and lily pads in a style that was more akin to Beatrix Potter's than my own generally highly detailed one.
Perhaps the greatest challenge so far has been to paint a detailed watercolour of a blue Dutch iris flower. I had always been very intimidated by botanical artists and thought they were in a league of their own. But I was happy to oblige the request of my Blue Mountain students to have a go and I'm so glad I did. The end result for me was more than I thought I could accomplish and it gave me courage to pursue other subjects and media that I'd been holding at arm's length.
In the second half of 2022, I established my own YouTube channel - "Mr Kingdom's School of Art". The key reason for this was that it could be useful in building a following in preparation for doing prerecorded art lessons/courses for people to pay to watch/download. This has been one of my biggest challenges so far. Learning how to use video editing software was a steep learning curve and I had to dip into YouTube many times to learn how to use the various functions in Final Cut Pro. Aside from the technical challenges, a key challenge has been pushing past my insecurities and hang-ups about my appearance and voice. It can be quite confronting editing video footage of yourself! It has been helpful to hear stories from popular YouTubers about how they got started. It's a great comfort to know that they experienced the same issues and fears and feelings of awkwardness as I have been experiencing and an even greater comfort to hear that it does improve with time and repetition. I'm still waiting for that point when I'll truly feel at ease in front of a camera but it has gradually become easier along the way. It's been a challenge to know quite how to present myself - but I figure that's the key: just present myself. I don't wish to project an image that is incongruent with who I have been designed to be, what my true personality is like and where my true interests and passions lie. I would like to smile more, nonetheless, but in realising this, I am becoming aware that there are deep-seated issues that have over the years stolen my cheerful, mischievous smile that I often possessed as a boy. I know that God, in time, will restore that smile as I lean more into His healing, loving arms. By the end of the year, I was much more confident with the editing process and feeling more ready and prepared to tackle the prerecorded lessons.
One of the most exciting aspects of starting up my own business has been making and selling art. Towards the end of 2021, I was commissioned by the school principal to create an artwork that would be presented as a retirement gift to the Head of Primary. In consultation with her family, I decided on a soft chalk pastel drawing of 'The Cliffs' area down at Werribee South, where the river winds its way to the sea. This then inspired the creation of two more pastel drawings of the same area.
I was very surprised to sell the second drawing within minutes of posting it onto Facebook. It was sold to a dear friend who wanted to give it to friends of hers to celebrate their friendship over many years. This was the place where they would meet. The third drawing was snapped up quickly by friends who had had their eye on the previous one but just missed out. Further commissions came when I was approached by my pastor and his wife to do a drawing of their brick-veneer house in Werribee which was about to be knocked down to make way for a new-build. This, in turn led to another commissioned 'house portrait' which then led to another.
A new market was opening up for me through these artworks - that of "house portraits". I am realising just how many memories are held in the houses we live in - or have lived in - and having them captured in an artwork can be a wonderful way to keep those memories fresh and alive. A good friend of mine from the other side of the world - a mostly retired business-adviser - encouraged me to devote more time and effort into the commissions side of things and I have started advertising this aspect of what I can offer since then. And since creating some artworks featuring animals I thought that I could add "pet portraits" to the list of possibilities. Landscapes, buildings, animals and even plants/ flowers all lie comfortably within my repertoire. In fact, my neighbours recently inquired if I might be interested in doing a "tree portrait" featuring the towering eucalyptus in their backyard! People portraits are not yet on the list - having not spent much time with portraiture over the years, I would need to hone my skills there to be able to capture an exact likeness. That said, I am working on it - especially as many of my students want to develop their portraiture skills. Here's one of my attempts - almost there with the likeness!
Framing my artworks has become something of a joy in recent months. As you may well be aware, custom framing can be quite expensive and can make a significant difference to the overall sale price for framed works. Two things have helped me to save money for both myself and prospective buyers of my art. The first being secondhand/vintage/antique frames and the second being ready-made frames at my local framing store. I've had many hours of fun searching various stores - including vintage markets - to find frames with character and charm. Some have shown a lot of potential but were in need of upcycling. That's where my new favourite thing has helped: chalk paint. Because of the nature of chalk paint, there is minimal preparation required and the ones I use are non-toxic (which is a plus for my ever-sensitive sinuses). It has turned rather tired looking frames into works of art in their own right - or pretty close to that. An extra blessing with the framing is that the framers I use are very happy for me to bring old frames in and they will supply the mounts and any other parts needed. Here are some samples:
It is always a challenge to figure out pricing for my artworks. There are a number of different factors that come into play. I have to consider how much time the artwork took to create, the cost of materials used in the artwork, the framing - if I spent time preparing parts of it myself and what the frame/mounts cost. Some artworks (like the sketches I do in my classes) are reasonably quick to produce while others (such as pen drawings) take more time because of the detail required. And the larger artworks tend to take a lot of time and make a bigger dint in my supplies. I'm mindful of those who would struggle to pay higher prices for my art, and try to provide the occasional "budget conscious" items. Yet, I don't want to undervalue my artworks either and I believe it's important for artists to be paid for their time and talent just as much as any other profession deserves. I'm very thankful to those people around me who have valued my work enough to purchase prints and originals - and not simply to help out a "struggling artist" either but because they truly see worth in my work. It's lovely to know that my artworks are in many homes now for generations to come, blessing and enriching those who dwell and visit there. Here are some that have been sold in the past year:
Those of you who have been tracking along with my journey over the past year will be quite familiar by now with my entry into all things "Zazzle". For those unfamiliar with Zazzle, it is a printing company with over one-thousand different products and they have sites in Australia, the UK and the USA. Last year I started my own store on Zazzle: Robert Kingdom Art. Right from the start, it has been loads of fun placing my artworks on a large variety of products and at times designing artworks/images specifically with certain products in mind. It was a lot of work to set up over several months and to start with there wasn't much to show for it profit-wise. But as the year progressed and Christmas drew near, I saw a significant increase in sales. It is always a delight to see people share images of my products on social media and to hear how happy they are with them. Sometimes I have needed to ask for reprints of items and there have been a couple of products that didn't grab me as much but the staff at Zazzle are always willing to bend over backwards to replace items or offer refunds and they do it so graciously. My favourite items so far have been the classic and latte mugs, aprons, ceramic tree ornaments, matte-finish cards, calendars, easel plaques and all-over shoulder tote bags. I've seen some lovely cushions and even a lunchbox too! Here are some samples:
Adult education was never something I thought I'd get into - it always seemed rather intimidating. But, as I was trying so many other new things, I thought I'd give it a go. I tried to get some watercolour workshops happening and despite some interest shown, things didn't eventuate there. And a pen and ink workshop that I was planning to do in conjunction with the glorious Villa Alba Museum in Kew, Melbourne, didn't attract enough interest to make it viable. Perhaps some of these ventures may come to fruition down the track. However, things did begin to get traction when a couple of friends expressed interest in doing some "in-person" watercolour lessons at my house. We sat around my large mahogany farmhouse-style table with coffee/tea and dessert on hand and started exploring the basics of watercolour. It quickly became one of my favourite classes and I discovered the joys of teaching adults (it did help that these two adults are delightful people who love a good laugh). After a while, a third student joined the class (with a fourth potentially about to join). My students have progressed well - helped along by an ability to laugh at their mistakes and fears. It soon became apparent through direct feedback that these classes were not only helpful artistically but a social outing to look forward to and offered opportunity for these busy mums to have some downtime. I was encouraged to hear that the ambience of my house with all its antiques and fine china provided such a refreshing and inspiring backdrop to the classes. Moving into 2023, a second adult class has just started up with a fresh bunch of dear people - keen to delve into the world of watercolours and tap into their creative sides.
Stepping aside now from the art and education side of things, I'd like to spend some time mentioning some of the other developments in my life over the past year.
I devoted a previous blog post to my health journey. (You can go back and read that later if you haven't caught up with all that.) 2022 saw a clear reduction in the anxiety symptoms and sleeplessness that had plagued me in 2020 and 2021. I was able to come completely off any forms of prescribed medication for anxiety and sleep. Working mainly from home suited my wiring and health needs much better than the hustle and bustle of the classroom and the shift played a significant role in my journey to recovery. Please note, I'm not having a go at the profession - it's really that along the way we learn more about ourselves and some of us realise that there are those who thrive in a busy, sometimes noisy environment, but that's not us. It's nothing to be ashamed about - there's no need to feel like a failure. In my case, I do much better teaching in smaller groups where I feel more in control of my environment and am surrounded by things that bring a sense of calm to my inner world. Sleep has been so much better. It's still not perfect but it's a far cry from what it was and I don't generally even need to take any natural sleep supplements anymore. You're probably aware that fitness has played a large role in my recovery. Towards the end of 2022 I decided to take on a personal trainer - Isaiah (Izzy) Cuzzupe. Izzy was a former student of mine and I had seen him make great progress with his own fitness as he grew into a young man and started his own personal training business. I felt a bit stuck in my progress and wasn't sure the best way to construct a decent program for myself. Izzy introduced me to a large number of new and interesting exercises and helped me to learn skills in the food manegement side of things. In the three months I've had with him, I've seen encouraging progress in my fitness and muscle tone and have been really impressed with Izzy's professionalism and knowledge. I would have kept going but my "artist's" bank balance was telling me I'd better hold off for a while. I hope to pick things up again when I have better cash flow.
The ongoing health issue for me is the ever-annoying sinus congestion. I've tried many things to help narrow down the cause. Some things have helped more than others. I'm realising, however, that this is my body's key way of expressing that there is something at a more base-level that is not functioning as well as it could be. My body is no doubt still rebalancing its systems after the trauma of the past few years and and the toll over twenty years of prescription medication took. Things have shown some improvement, thankfully, but it is still rather draining (forgive the pun) on my energy levels and it makes thinking and communicating that extra bit harder. I often bring to mind my Grandpa Kingdom's favourite Scripture verse:
"And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Somehow, the Lord gets me through my lessons and activities despite the remaining challenges. I don't know why this issue is lingering but He has a purpose even for this - even if just to keep me humble and resting in Him!
I've enjoyed having more time to spend in my garden (or the garden that I'm renting). Being able to water the plants and catch some rays of sunshine in the mornings has been a great blessing. The pesky sinuses do, however, mean that I need to wear a dust mask and sometimes a face-shield if I'm doing any weeding, digging and planting. There's so much I'd love to do out there but between the sinuses and the lack of time and resources, there's only so much I can realistically achieve on my own. The plants though continue to refresh me daily as I look for signs of growth and watch fresh blooms open up (occasionally I can even smell them!). Here are some highlights from the garden:
As a quick side-side note, I rekindled my childhood love of aquariums (forgetting how much time and money they require to maintain them well). Here are a few of the tank's 'surviving' celebrities: Bertie Bristlenose (with a photobomb from my Gold Ram 'Pookie', Harry Humbug with Pookie and my latest edition - (yet-to-be-named) a female betta sporting a lovely blue skirt (suggestions welcome).
I kept up my violin practice throughout 2022 - still finding it to be a great release for built up tension and a way to lift my weary soul towards higher, brighter things. Six months ago I started attending Altona Evangelical Church and quickly got involved with the music ministry. I've always struggled with large, bustling churches from a sensory point of view, so Altona suits me well with its smaller congregation and more traditional approach to church music. I'm always blessed playing hymns alongside two of my dear friends who play the grand piano and lead the singing. I'm able to tune in well to the messages without distractions and feel very enriched by each service.
As 2022 drew to a close, I felt mentally exhausted. It had been a year full of new frontiers and challenges - with new things to learn and wrap my head around. My brain was very full. I took the summer holiday period off from my classes and from making YouTube videos. It's important to recognise when the warning lights in your body and soul are flashing and telling you to pull over and rest for a while. It was a challenge, however, financially to have many big bills come in around Christmas time but very little money flowing into the bank.
Classes have started up again as the school year has kicked off. I'm back doing more casual relief teaching at the school that has been my vocational home for over two decades. And I'm having my faith tested as I see those financial warning lights continue to flash.
I've been able to take stock, somewhat, and get a better picture of how to step forward. In recognising how much better my overall health is for working from home, I'm keen to build up the educational side of my business to a point where I have a consistent flow of money giving a bit more stability. And I'm very keen to take on more commissioned works. I've taken steps to get the ball rolling with making pre-recorded lessons through 'Teachable.com' but I haven't had sufficient time yet to really sink my teeth into it. I plan to keep making YouTube videos but it's not my highest priority as it doesn't bring me any income at this point and when there are bills to pay...well, you get the picture.
I've already alluded to the challenge of doing life/work on my own - whether it's gardening, making decisions about this and that or needing to do tasks that don't fall within my skill-set. It's a dawning realisation for me that the beauty of life in the kingdom of God is that people help each other. They humble themselves to give and receive help. They acknowledge without shame that they cannot do it on their own. I don't find it easy to call upon others for help. I don't think it's so much that I want to be independent as I don't want to impose on other people's time and resources - especially when I can't really afford to reimburse them. But maybe I'm denying others the blessing of giving when I don't call out for help - and of course denying myself the blessing of receiving. So, I'm setting myself the challenge this year to put my hand up when I need help and support. It's healthy to learn our limitations. For me, I'm not blessed with a financially astute mind, I'm a novice when it comes to organising and structuring a business, the thought of setting up an online store scares/overwhelms me and practically speaking, there are things around the garden and in the house that require more time and energy than I can afford. I also see the importance of community and now that I'm working mostly from home, I'd like to be courageous enough to just let someone know "Hey, I need company - let's have a coffee" :) I know that many might be thinking "why don't you just get a housemate?" or "why don't you amply someone to do this or that?" They're legitimate thoughts worth considering but life comes with intricacies and constraints and sometimes the timing and finances don't pave the way for things to be quite so straightforward. I guess that's where creative thinking comes into play (and God's providential hand and inspiration). One positive step in the right direction has been taking on an additional adult art class at my house - opening up more opportunities for social interaction for me. I plan to add one or two more such classes this year - God-willing.
The bottom-line is that I feel blessed to be doing what I'm doing, to be using my gifts to bless and help others and I am excited, despite many challenges, about the possibilities for the future. I feel that adventurous spirit within me again. In fact, I'm currently working on my first oil painting in a couple of decades - challenging myself to give the medium another chance!
I'm very thankful to God for His leading, protection, healing and provisions over the past year and for the support and love He has given me through many of my followers, family and friends. I think the key word that sums up where the journey has taken me so far and where it is leading is "faith". It's a daily battle but when I stop looking at the swirling waters raging around me, and see the peace on the face of the One with outstretched hands, I know that I am in safe hands and my Good Shepherd will lead me on to green pastures and a full table. I looks forward to continuing to share the journey with you all in the months that remain of this year, 2023.
Many blessings - and please, stay in touch,