“I wish I could do that!”
Sh*t That Isn’t True
“So why do you want me to do this again?” Joked Kristyn Watterworth, owner of Kryart Studio. It was a Tuesday evening and I’m pretty sure I had just pulled her away from an easel, no doubt completely disrupting the artistic process.
I had met Kristyn in late 2016 and fallen in love with her artwork. We became fast friends when I discovered that her personality was even more remarkable than the images she could create. Eventually I commissioned some original pieces from her — and extracted a promise of an interview for this blog.
“Well, you’re awfully good at what you do,” I offered in response to her question. “And I’ve have some people look at the blog and say: ‘All you feature are business people and entrepreneurs — where are the artists?’ Personally, I think artists are entrepreneurs, but I acknowledge they have a point.”
“Yeah, I think about that quite often actually,” laughed Kristyn. “I think to be an artist you need to be an entrepreneur. At the same time, you’re trying to follow a different path. It’s difficult.”
“What do you mean, that as an artist ‘you’re trying to follow a different path’ than an entrepreneur?” I asked.
“I guess as an artist, you’re meant to follow your heart,” Kristyn responded. “I think as an entrepreneur, at least in the business sense, you’re meant to follow the money. Often those two things don’t line up with each other.”
“Especially when it comes to making art: you just think ‘I want to make this’; then you follow your heart and create. Sometimes when you do that it explodes and something amazing emerges and people want to buy into it. Sometimes, the absolute opposite happens. But as an artist you don’t worry about that beforehand — you just start creating.”
Now, Kristyn’s entrepreneurial credentials cannot be questioned: she started her first business at the age of 13 when her mother refused to buy the t-shirts Kristyn wanted, telling her: “you could just make those yourself!” Soon enough, everyone in her class was sporting a Watterworth original t-shirt.
“Plus, I think they figured I would be able to help on the farm more if I wasn’t, you know, working at McDonald’s,” joked Kristyn.
She went on to open a studio gallery — Kryart Studios — that works almost on a restaurant model: you can visit for an afternoon and effectively “order” the kind of painting you’d like. You choose the size, style, color scheme, and subject matter. However, instead of having your choice delivered to you, you spend an afternoon being taught how to create it yourself.
As such, I wasn’t about to let Kristyn deny her entrepreneurial side.
“Kristyn!” I exclaimed teasingly, trying to make my voice drip with mock offense. “Are you trying to call all of us entrepreneurs heartless money grubbing capitalist assholes? You know you’re one of us!”
“Oh wow, I never said that!” She shot back, laughing. “In fact, entrepreneurship is often the same process: you find yourself saying, ‘I have this brilliant idea. I have this idea that I simply can’t contain.’ Then you start working on it…and it completely falls flat.”
“So what I was saying Drew,” she continued pointedly, her voice needling me a little,
“Any entrepreneur is an artist because what you’re doing is incredibly creative. It’s really just a matter of figuring out your tools and putting those tools to work for you. “
“However, as an entrepreneur, when it comes time to try to sell your company, it’s very important that the numbers tell the story. I think artists tend to ignore the numbers.”
“Sometimes to their detriment?” I asked.
“Definitely,” she said, sighing a little, before her voice took on a harder tone.
“But that doesn’t mean we should discourage people from being artists because the numbers might not be there,” she said forcefully. “That’s what I want to focus on for your blog: the myth of the ‘starving artist’. That shit isn’t true.”
“Was that something you were told growing up?” I asked.
“All the time,” Kristyn responded.
“As a kid, when people asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I’d always say ‘I want to be an artist.’ Immediately they’d make some comment about how I wanted to starve for the rest of my life.”
“You know what?” She continued. “I’ve never starved. As long as I’ve been following my heart, I have not had any trouble surviving. But that has always upset me: the way it was reinforced that you can only choose your passion if you’re willing to starve. My whole life’s purpose is to reject that idea…so I eat…a lot.”
We both broke out laughing for a moment before her voice got serious once again.
“Look, I think when anybody is doing what they love they’re not starving,” Kristyn said. “I think a lot of people who have a cushy lifestyle actually have part of them dying inside: they’re not fulfilling an essential need they have. I would call that starving.”
I liked Kristyn’s perspective, but I felt compelled to take on the role of devil’s advocate.
“Look, it’s nice to say if you’re following your heart you’re never starving,” I pointed out. “But let’s be honest — you actually have to survive physically. You have to pay rent and buy groceries, and you can’t do that with emotional fulfillment.”
“You know what’s funny Drew?” Kristyn responded right away. “I honestly can’t explain how it works, but I do know whenever I’ve expressed that I need something, that thing tends to show up. I don’t know why or how or if it’s 100% in my mind, but I do know this: when I have been hungry, food has shown up. One day I broke a tooth. I was chewing on something, and my tooth cracked. I thought to myself, “I need a dentist.” Literally the very next day a dentist walks into my studio and says, ‘I need some artwork.’ I said, ‘I need a new tooth. We’ll make a trade.’”
“No way!” I said.
“That’s just one instance,” Kristyn replied. “I have had very, very similar things happen many, many times. I can’t explain why it works, but it does.”
“Perhaps things only show up when you need them when you’re chasing the things you really want,” I offered. “If you don’t bother trying because you’re afraid they won’t appear, they actually don’t. To make magic happen, you have to chase it.”
“You have to believe in that idea,” replied Kristyn. “And artists believe in chasing their ideas. Trying to make them real.”
She paused for a moment.
“You know what’s really important to remember?” She asked.
“We all have the capability of being artists. It’s that heard-earned belief in chasing ideas that separates everyone else in society from the people we call artists.”
I had to ask what I felt was a crucial question.
“So as someone who has made her life about chasing her ideas — trying to make them manifest in the world — what advice would you give to someone who wants to be more of an artist?”
Kristyn began her answer before I even finished the question.
“Every time you say, ‘I wish I could do that’, stop wishing and do it,” she said forcefully. “Take the first step towards that wish, then continue stepping forward.”
“But people won’t do it,” she continued. “In my gallery I have people come and see me just standing in the middle of the room with an easel and a canvas in front of me. So many of them say, ‘I wish I could have done this. I really wanted to be an artist, and then this thing happened in my life. It never worked out. I wish I could be you. I wish I could be doing this.’”
“I always ask them: ‘Why don’t you? Why don’t you stand right here beside me and paint with me today?’ They all come up with excuses that don’t make any sense. They tell me, ‘well I can’t right now.’ Why not? What are you actually doing right now? You’re in a studio. You have all the materials in front of you, and I’m offering you the chance to do just what you’re wishing you could do.”
Kristyn paused for a moment. She had been getting legitimately worked up. She took a breath and continued.
“That’s why I built the studio the way that I did: for those people that kept telling me that they didn’t have the time. They had all these reasons why they couldn’t. I removed all of those blocks, and said, ‘Well you can. You can do that right now.’ Then, we got people painting or got people making things. I got them to see that they could do it. It wasn’t as scary as they thought.”
She paused again, then spoke quietly.
“I think being an artist has to do with knowing the skills and tools that you have — knowing them so well that you can then play with them and try and create new arrangements so you can explore things in a different way. That can be done with whatever you’re really great at: numbers, event organizing, the law, medicine, even driving!
Taking a different route can open up your mind and make you feel more human I think. You just have to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start.”
“Sounds like you’ve settled on some different ‘sh*t that isn’t true’,” I pointed out.
“What do you mean?” Kristyn asked.
“Well, when I initially asked you to think about this, you told me right away you wanted to talk about how the concept of the starving artist was what you were going to choose. How you wanted people to know how that was nonsense. But judging by how worked up you got, it sounds to me like ‘I wish I could do that’ is really what you’d like to take down as a saying.”
“Oh wow! You’re right!” She exclaimed. “I get so sick of people saying, ‘oh, I wish I could do that’ or ‘I could never do that.’ Those statements kill me. It’s like when people tell me, ‘I can only draw stick people.’ Some people have made phenomenal art careers out of only drawing stick people! That doesn’t mean you’re not an artist. If you have something to say and you try to say it, that’s what makes you an artist. It’s about just going out there and doing it: actually putting something on the paper, something on the canvas. Draw something on your wall. Do anything. Express yourself. Don’t just say, ‘I wish I could do that.’ Move the damn blocks around. They’re your blocks…and they’re not that heavy.”
So how do you live as an artist-leader? Give up on being able to say “this is who I am.” Instead, seek to understand the various essential pieces of yourself well enough that you can move them around: rearrange, experiment, reinvent. True leaders aren’t looking to become something forever — they’re looking to get to a place where constant reinvention is possible and desired.
Leaders “move their blocks around”. After all, as Kristyn pointed out: “they’re not that heavy”.
About Kristyn Watterworth
Kristyn is the owner of Kryart Studio, an open-concept space designed to help people unleash their inner creative spirit. Her work spans many different genres but is mostly about movement, colour and dynamics. Her work resides in collections all over Canada, the USA, Australia, and many countries in Europe.
If you like this post, I’d be grateful if you would click the little ❤. Find more leadership insights at drewdudley.com.