This week, I had the privilege of speaking with celebrated watercolourist Angela Fehr about the development of her art practice and business. Angela is a great example for Northern artists looking to find creative ways to support themselves with their art. This article is the second in a series debunking the “Myth of the Starving Artist”, you can find part one of the series here.
Since the early 2000s, Angela has developed a robust presence on YouTube where she shares watercolour techniques, as well as her journey as an artist to more than 80,000 subscribers. Combined with her in-demand workshops and sales, her enterprise has grown from $10 a month in ad revenue to a six-figure operation that supports five employees, which allows the artist to live comfortably while working part-time.
For Angela, it all started at 18 years old with a watercolour class she attended at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery. Since then she has worked to find her place in the local painting scene while developing her voice as an artist. As she explored watercolour on her own, she would have “little lightbulb moments”, which sparked excitement and curiosity about the medium. Desiring an outlet to share these discoveries, she started her YouTube channel, which you can find here.
Art and business first melded when she took a job as a graphic designer in her early 20’s, where she honed her skills in technology and marketing. For Fehr, marketing and art are about communication, which is why she finds joy in both. In terms of business strategy, there is no such thing as one-and-done. Angela’s business is constantly growing to adapt to changing technologies as well as fluctuating online landscapes. She relishes this change however, because it presents opportunities to tailor her career to suit her lifestyle.
By approaching her business in the same creative way she evolves her art practice, Fehr has been able to cultivate a flexible and fulfilling career. "So many women say that they used to be an artist until they had a family, and I was terrified that would happen to me,” she says. Instead of sacrificing her art for her family, she painted during nap times and adapted her enterprise to fit her lifestyle. “If you love it, you won’t let it go”, states Fehr, and by using her artist mindset, she was able to find a balance.
When she began, Fehr would upload her videos at midnight when the internet connection was more reliable. Now, she has an online following that has expanded since the lockdown, as people began to explore the arts at home. Prior to Covid-19, Fehr taught watercolour workshops internationally, which meant taking trips for business and pleasure.
“I would book a workshop where we had our vacation”, she said with a laugh, “which helped subsidize our travel expenses.”
However, this international success did not happen overnight. Invitations to teach were not forthcoming, which frustrated the artist until she realized that an invitation was not necessary. Angela took on the initiative to organize her own workshop in Jasper, Alberta, which was attended by faithful students from as far as the US and Belgium. About this experience she says, “Don’t ask for permission, just put yourself out there.”
Now she regularly turns down opportunities to teach all over the world.
“As artists, every time we start a painting we are stepping into the unknown”, says Fehr, which explains why she is comfortable shaping her career as she sees fit, and not according to a preconceived template.
Her story proves that with ingenuity and determination, Northern artists can find success doing what they love. She stresses that Northern artists have more options than ever now, you just need to be a little creative. Afterall, says Angela, “Who is better suited to think outside the box than an artist?”
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