Aunia Kahn of Rise Visible: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readOct 5, 2022

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Believe In Yourself — There is no better cheerleader in your life than yourself. Even if you have amazing family, friends, partner or kids — what you think of yourself is what matters most.

If you do not believe in yourself, it is time to step up and do it. We only live once and we should not live a life to impress anyone but ourselves. Impressing others is fine, if we impress ourselves first.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Aunia Kahn.

Aunia Kahn is the CEO of Rise Visible. With 24 years in the field, she is a highly sought after digital marketer, strategist, public speaker and digital influencer. Rise Visible has been named Top-Ranking Woman-Owned Digital Agency by Clutch, Best SEO Agency in Eugene 2022 by Expertise, and is a certified disabled and woman-owned business. She is also an internationally recognized and awarded visual artist, photographer, author who has shown in over 300 exhibitions in over 10 countries; at places such as San Diego Art Institute, iMOCA, and the St. Louis Art Museum. She founded Create for Healing and the host of the Rise Above Be Visible Podcast. Aunia also identifies as a disabled business owner surviving and thriving with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Type 3), Mast Cell Disease, Dysautonomia, and POTS, PTSD, etc.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a very challenging home environment and I did not have much support or encouragement for schooling or a career. I was also harshly bullied through most of my school years for being different from the others — which now, of course, I embrace with ease!

I love being creative, neurodivergent, and just all around me. I hope others can take from this, that they should embrace themselves in all their flawed glory.

An unsafe home life coupled with being bullied left me with very few secure resources. This always left a hovering dark cloud over me and sometimes even led to thoughts of self-harm or leaving this planet entirely. During these times I turned to drawing or making some kind of art.

It never occurred to me that being an artist could become a career. However, due to my challenging upbringing, I decided to pursue my schooling to become a therapist and help others.

The idea was to attempt to understand my childhood dysfunction so that I could help others overcome childhood trauma similar to mine.

This is how the journey started, but this is not how it would end up. My dreams became unattainable and my road went in a new direction which led me to where I am today.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I ended up losing my job and having to drop out of college due to 9/11 and my health started to take a turn for the worst. I ended up needing to find work that I could do that would work around my challenges.

At the time I was skilled in website design, graphic design, and a bit of marketing and used those skills for fun. I decided to see if maybe I could leverage those skills to make an income.

While working on the computer and using Photoshop for work-related things like flyers, and album covers, I not only started building a business but started to explore those tools for art creation. I was severely allergic (life-threatening reactions) to paint and all other mediums, even colored pencils so I stopped creating art altogether.

However, with tools like Photoshop, I was able to tap back into my creativity. I created art that was biographical portraiture, I also used myself as a reference to help me work through my challenging upbringing as well as my current medical issues.

I never planned to share my work, it was a very private exploration. One day, I met Roger Popwell, a photographer for a local newspaper and we became friends. After he saw my work, he encouraged me to show my work in galleries. He helped me photograph my art and create slides (this was back in 2005 before digital submission).

Being a digital artist was a lot harder back in 2005 than it is now. Most galleries forbid digital art submissions. Taking my skills in graphic design, website design and marketing, I forged my way into the gallery world and I have even shown digital work in museums.

At this point, I have been in over 300 art exhibitions and have shown work all over the world. I am honored to be a working artist. It was never a dream, but I feel like it has always been a deep part of my life.

Art is one of the two career choices that I actively pursue. I also run a full-service digital marketing agency, Rise Visible.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting story of my career is never planning for this to be a career for me.

I also feel by looking back at my artwork from 2005 until now and my photography from 2012 to now; I can see the whole story of my life through a visual story.

Not everyone gets an opportunity to look at various bodies of work and see them as a biographical representation of their life. Since a lot of my work featured myself as the subject matter out of necessity, there is a huge story that unfolds when I look at the work together as a full story.

I am just so happy to be alive to see it — since I never knew I would still be here! It’s pretty remarkable and very personal for me.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently, I am working on some artwork for various art shows. Right now I have a group show at Modern Eden Gallery, CA, and Strange Factory, NM. I also just had the opportunity to be a part of the jury for the Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at Maude Kerns Art Center in Eugene, OR where I live.

Additionally, I have stepped into learning about AI art and have done a couple of workshops on the subject. I’ve been involved in writing guest blogs on the subject because it is a hot topic for us artists. Some love it and some hate AI art.

The conversations are thick and heavy and are important to talk about because AI-Generated art is not going anywhere. We will need to learn to adapt and use the technology to our advantage. So I am trying to educate artists on amazing ways to take their power back and not be intimidated by AI-Generated art.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The most interesting people I have interacted with are everyone I meet. I think that everyone has value and I have learned so much, even from chance encounters. I know that is vague, but it is true.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

The work I create is inspired by the heartfelt desire to connect to the world where real-time participation has been minimal. As a human who struggled with an undiagnosed illness that left me on the brink of death for two decades — creativity has been my lifeline.

This unforeseen lifeline provided a vessel to channel numerous ways to engage with my unfolding story. What is more, it has become a direct connection to other people’s stories in this vast world of beauty and complicated life challenges.

For years, my work was based on survival. Now, entering another phase of my life, my work has transitioned into a narrative of personal evolution and highlights how grateful I am to still be alive.

The work is rooted in symbolism and touches on subjects such as vulnerability, loss, challenges, beauty, wisdom, and the voice we all have inside.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I do try. I have curated various art exhibitions for awareness on topics like mental health, domestic violence, animal rights, human rights, etc.

In 2020, I was finally able to start painting with real paint after getting a diagnosis and medical treatment. To further learn how to paint with real paint, I launched a portrait project and made a call for people to submit photos of themselves or loved ones. The Portrait Project was created because it felt like I was starting over as an artist — and I wanted other “real humans” to be a part of that story and healing. For each portrait that I painted, I mailed it to the person for free.

I have also spoken out very publically in lectures about domestic violence, child abuse, disabilities rights, chronic illness, and overcoming adversity.

I also created a website in 2021 called Create for Healing, which is a creative community offering courses, workshops, and journal exercises to help people explore challenging topics like narcissistic abuse, identity, depression, panic, PTSD, and more. Most of the classes are free or pay by donation.

On my artist Facebook page, I have over 400K followers and each Friday I do a “Friday Art Share” to give followers and many other artists an opportunity to get access to my followers and meet new people. It helps them gain exposure, and build community and it just feels amazing seeing all the art being shared!

As an owner of a digital marketing agency, we donate monthly to a charity of choice. Secondly, we just launched the Rise Visible Pro Bono Program. Our program focuses on marginalized populations, small businesses/start-ups, or non-profits that are in need of support for their business and want to make an impact in their market.

We work to directly improve the lives of women, people of color, those with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. We believe businesses deserve the most effective tools to foster equal opportunity and advancement for everyone.

Third, we are outspoken advocates for DEI and accessibility in the real and digital world. We believe in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. We are committed to making sure everyone feels represented, respected, and included.

I do a lot of advocacy for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) with a focus on disability in business and marketing.

These are a few of the things that I do to try to bring goodness to the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

You’re Will Make Bad Art

First, you will inevitably make terrible art and you should. It is unreasonable to think that making art will be glorious and everything you make will be a masterpiece. Even the art masters made terrible art in the beginning of their career and also at the height of their career.

On average if an artist produces 10 pieces of work, they are lucky that one or two pieces is great work. If someone tells you that if they make 10 pieces of art almost all of them are good, they are either lying or a robot.

The best way to make good art is to make a lot of bad art. If you just keep making the artm over time you will get better and better. Don’t give up.

Also watch this video by Ira Glass about, where he talked about the Gap in the Creative Process — it was really eye opening and helped me understand the creative process better. https://youtu.be/91FQKciKfHI

Finding A Unique Style Is Not Easy

Second, finding your own unique style is not easy. When looking at the artwork of various artists that we like. We can see an artwork is a specific artist’s work by its unique style. Finding that unique style takes a lot of time and exploration as a creative person.

Years ago I was told that to find your style, take 3 artists you like. Find the 3 most interesting, intriguing and special parts of their work and create your own recipe. It could be a color palette, the way the pain strokes are handled or oven how the composition is expressed.

The idea is not to copy other artists. However, as you are learning it is okay to try to copy the work of artists only for study and not for promoting or selling. Studying a style or artist is common and encouraged. Finding your own style from that exploration is the goal.

Doing What You Love Comes With A Cost

I know I am not like everyone with this opinion, but working as a professional artist can ruin your creative spark if not careful. When money is attached to something you love it can be a wonderful thing, but over time it can wear on you.

Especially if your income is based on your creativity. Not everyone can magically be creative any moment they want to and produce amazing work one after another after another. Creativity takes focus, inspiration, time and sometimes we just don’t have the spark. Having to keep making art while not being inspired to pay the bills can make you bitter.

This is one of the reasons that I own my own digital marketing agency, Rise Visible, because I can keep making art professionally and working with galleries without the worry and pressure that if my work does not sell, I might not be able to eat.

This gives me a lot more flexibility to make better work and having the other business is also creative, but in a different and more stable way than being an artist.

Don’t Please The Masses

As an artist, it is really easy to get sucked into likes on social media and what makes other artists successful. Artists should never change their whole style and artistic voice to appease the masses. I have also seen artists that will keep making the same work over and over again worried that if they step outside what they’re known for and will get chastised for it.

This will age me, but years ago when Metallica cut off all their hair and changed their sound, people lost their minds. Even if you don’t know this band, just think of any band or musician that you love and think about them changing their sound and whole look — it rarely goes over well.

When I experienced that change with Metallica as a young girl in high school, I saw what the change meant for them even back then and I was excited for them to take a risk. I am a calculated risk taker by nature, so when I see people that don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, it makes me pretty excited.

As an artist, it is okay to find a style and make a lot of art in that style, but it is just as important that when you feel like changing or expressing yourself in new ways that you do not let your friends, family, collectors, galleries, etc tell you not to. Your artistic journey is your own and some of the most famous artists in the world did not just do one thing over and over again.

Feedback from the masses means nothing, just do what you love and people will love you. Being authentic is more important than following some formula to get money or likes.

Believe In Yourself

There is no better cheerleader in your life than yourself. Even if you have amazing family, friends, partner or kids — what you think of yourself is what matters most.

If you do not believe in yourself, it is time to step up and do it. We only live once and we should not live a life to impress anyone but ourselves. Impressing others is fine, if we impress ourselves first.

It is okay to feel good about yourself, to give yourself praise and believe in yourself. That does not make you a narcissist. Healthy confidence is a lot different than arrogance. If you are worried you might come off as arrogant, then you are self-aware enough and you probably are not an arrogant person.

Walk into a room with your head high. Walk into your arena knowing that even if you create some bad work, you are still a rockstar. If no one else believes in you — I do!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I feel if a movement of altruism in business could exist, I would lead that movement of good to the greatest number of people. There are so many lives that could become success stories if only more people used their influence or abilities to offer compassion and help to those who cannot do it alone. To be able to carry unified values to help others succeed as we succeed ourselves sounds kind of perfect.

We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.

Joe Dispenza is one of my all-time heroes. He went from a traumatic injury that could have cost him his life to helping himself heal and has helped others heal. Changing the lives of many people.

With a better understanding of neuroscience and brain plasticity, we are learning that we can heal ourselves in ways we never knew we could — with scientific proof! As well as that we can make ourselves sick but we can change that too.

Just listening to him speak is an amazing experience. He is kind-hearted, smart as a whip, and revolutionary for his time. His book “Becoming Supernatural” is one of my favorite books. He’s remarkable and it would be a dream to spend real human time with him.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Thank you for asking. I appreciate it.

https://www.facebook.com/auniakahn

https://www.instagram.com/auniakahn/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator