We had the good fortune of connecting with Jay Wilson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jay, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’m sure the word risk means something different to everyone. To me, taking a risk simply means there’s a chance you may be wrong, it make not work, you may even fail. But there’s also a chance you may be right. One thing’s for certain, you’ll never know the answer unless you embrace some risk.
After 30 years of being in business for myself, I’ve experienced success and failure, both on spectacular levels. My ego has been inoculated against the wince and fallout of a big loss as well as tempered against too much self congratulation on the wins. When the plan implodes, I’ve found that it’s important to own it, learn what you can, then try again. ‘Failure isn’t fatal’ as some college football coach probably said at some point in the past.
I think the biggest risk of my career was 15 years ago when I took my foot off the gas of my successful graphic design business to seek a life-long aspirational passion…as a working fine artist. There was no large cushion of cash reserves to smooth out the bumps as my wife and I raised our three young boys during this time. Beyond an intense desire and belief in myself, the support of my wife and a few key friends, no rational argument existed to support this venture. Absent of any established inroads in the fine art world, I needed to establish awareness about my work and figure out a way for people to see it. I started by creating a pen-name, O.M. Norling, and set out with a strategy to donate paintings to fundraisers, large and small, to build visibility and name recognition for my work. It was a slow process and felt foolhardy at times… but little by little, the plan began to work. Over the course of five years, the auction price of my donated paintings went from hundreds of dollars to several thousands of dollars per painting. Most importantly, this positive trend translated to an ever-increasing demand for commissioned paintings and several successful self-produced solo art shows.
Today, I continue to work as an independent artist producing paintings for individuals and collectors around the country. Graphic design continues to be an important part of the equation although it now plays a much smaller role in terms of time and revenue.
I think risk is an essential ingredient found within meaningful goals and aspirations. Growth as an Individual and businesses owner means pushing past previous boundaries and comfort zones to discover and explore the what-ifs.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Aspiring to work and succeed as a fine artist is easy. Making this aspiration a reality is hard. As I thought about taking on this challenge, two critical questions needed to be addressed:
Why am I doing this?
Would I create paintings even if nobody wanted them: Yes.
How will I build awareness?
It was clear early on that I would need to build awareness on my own as opposed to shopping my art to a gallery to market it for me. This venture wouldn’t work financially with the normal 50-50% gallery split. I needed to keep 90-100% of what my paintings sold for. So I relied on my experience in graphic design and marketing to build a brand around O.M. Norling.
The assets of this brand are a website, email campaigns, post cards and self-produced art shows.
I built a website that did more than just display my artwork. I think art buyers buy the artist as much as the painting. With backstories and articles I’ve created an informative and interesting ethos around my O.M. Norling pen-name and the artwork in an effort to define and distinguish myself as well as my art.
Over time I compiled a mailing list composed of people that had bid on my paintings at fundraisers and others that had shown interest. Armed with a growing audience to communicate with, I designed emails via the MailChimp platform. Emails are cheap, especially if they’re overly focused on self-serving interests, i.e., ‘buy my paintings’. So I generally only send them out when I can tie-in to a fundraiser where I’ve donated a painting, at the High Museum for example. This approach has been successful at building credibility as well as goodwill.
I think having the gallery style show is important beyond selling paintings and feeding the ego, the shows are essential for building awareness for my paintings. I’m lucky in that my wife Amy had a career in the special events business. She finds a commercial space to rent, then plans a week of events including previews, an opening night with live music and plenty of wine. Schools are also invited to bring art students during the day. The key is that it has to be visually interesting and fun.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Atlanta is a city that with so many good things hidden in plain site. City of Decatur has been my home for 20 years. I would have to spend an evening on the square in Decatur. Incredible restaurants like Leon’s and Victory and pubs like Brick Store with it’s Belgian beer tasting loft all contribute to an authentically lively and unique part of town anchored by the historic courthouse.
The Oakhurst neighborhood is a walkable gem built around the ‘village’, a collection of restaurants, coffee shops and pubs like Scout, Steinbecks, Mescalitos and Universal Joint each with their own vibe and personality.
I would also spend some time on the belt line. This surreal walking and biking corridor flanked by restaurants business and condos makes this big city accessible in ways you never thought possible from your car. A stop by Top Chef finalist, Kevin Gilespie’s ‘Cold Beer’ restaurant is a must.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
While it may be possible to believe in yourself or an idea in a vacuum, I’m not sure it can be sustained over time without the support of a wonderful wife that is willing to ride through the low points with you and trusted friends that will offer candor and care when needed. Will always be grateful to my wife Amy, and friends, Mike, Steve and Luca.