Artwork for podcast iCreateDaily Podcast
Turning a Silk Painting Passion into a Business with Joanna White
7th January 2020 • iCreateDaily Podcast • iCreateDaily Podcast
00:00:00 00:39:35

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It’s never too late to do work you love.

Joanna White is building a thriving art business, creating and teaching the art of painting on silk through her company, Fiber-Visions.

“I was a late bloomer”, Joanna said. “I didn’t get into silk painting until in my 60’s.” Now 70, she is full on into growing her business with the enthusiasm and commitment of a young entrepreneur just getting started.

Silk art painting – image by Joanna White

These are the stories that inspire us to do our art with a vision of the future. We’re in it for the long haul, and Joanna’s energetic enthusiasm will inspire you to persevere in your artistic aspirations.

Joanna’s art is the unique process of painting dyes on silk with a brush. She’s been accepted into the area’s most prestigious art guild and on the weekend we’re publishing this Joanna is in the middle of a two-weekend stint of having booths at the largest artisan shows in the region.

Enjoy learning about more about her process, fabric art journey and business building in this podcast with silk fabric artist and designer, Joanna White.

Resource Links from this Episode


Artist’s Way Morning Pages by Julia Cameron

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver

Silk Painting: The Artist’s Guide to Gutta and Wax Resist Techniques, by Susan Louise Moyer

Silk Painting for Fashion and Fine Art, by Susan Louise Moyer – Joanna’s Website


90 Day Goals Journal 

30 Day Intuitive Art Journals

Full [unedited] Transcription:

(Please pardon the speech-to-text mistakes for now 🤓. We believe it’s more important to post than to be perfect, or as Seth Godin says, “to ship it!”)

LeAura: Hi this is LeAura Alderson

Devani: and I’m Devani Alderson here with iCreateDaily podcast. A podcast for creators. 

LeAura: Our guest today is Joanna White fabric artist and instructor living in Asheville North Carolina. Welcome, Joanna!

Joanna: Thank you for having me! LeAura this sounds like a great idea.

LeAura: We’ve had a wonderful response from it so far and it’s a blend of our passion and purpose project. So while it was not the best time to start it with everything else we have going on. We were compelled to do so… seeing the need out there in the artistic community; to figure out ways how to make their art their livelihood, and essentially how artistic creatives and authors do that, which is something you’re doing. We’re going to get into a little bit more over the interview. Could we begin by you sharing more about what you do what your artistry is and what you’re doing with that?

Joanna: OK. Well, basically I grew up in a family where the women were makers. My grandmother had her own millinery shop in Amsterdam before she came to this country. And then when she got here she made her living from her sewing for other people. I was taught this by my mom and my aunt. And I was interested in fiber and I can remember sitting in front of now this will date me but you know I’m older. I was sitting in front of the man’s first walk on the moon in 1968 in the summer of 1968 creating a tapestry woven tapestry a needle and thread kind of thing. So it’s always been in my gene pool, fabric.

And so when I finally was approaching that dread year 60, altho it was not a dread year for me, I decided that if I didn’t start I would never start. And so I’m a late bloomer. I’m self-taught. I primarily use dies on silk and so I don’t die, I paint with the brush so it’s a single brush and everything is painted by hand so it’s not quick and dirty it’s one of a kind. So what to do how to start. I was taking a watercolor class and having such a frustrating time because it was on paper and I thought ‘Why in the world did I sign up for this?’. So surely there is something about painting a fiber so I went online to YouTube and I learned to paint silk on YouTube.

Devani: Amazing.

Joanna: And you know it was the beginning and what it did is that it opened doors for me to find other people.

And in North Carolina at that time there were not that many people painting on so I could not find a local teacher. So I found a woman in the United Kingdom who offered way before her time an online course in silk painting and she’s very successful. Her name is Jill Kennedy. So she was really my first teacher and I started just following along and doing. And the more–silk painting is truly very addictive. How the dies when you drop them on plain white silk and they move. It’s like flying through the air on an airplane or in an airplane you now have a textures and then you just feel like you’re just flying well, That’s the way color on silk works.

Silk art painting by Joanna White

Silk art painting by Joanna White

[00:03:22] LeAura: Love that.

[00:03:23] Devani: Oh my goodness that sounds so much fun. I’ve dabbled a tiny bit in watercolor on paper and it’s very difficult. But man that just love textures and feelings.

[00:03:36] LeAura: That sounds fantastic. And by the way, you said when you’re around when you were 60 so that would have been years ago which people are not going to move it because you don’t even look over. You don’t even look 60. But that was 11 years ago which there wasn’t even that much on YouTube at that time.

[00:03:58] Joanna: Now there is a man out in California who does nothing but put online classes up for makers in lots of fiber artists have online courses now. Now that’s how I started painting and of course when you paint you start stacking up scarves and there are only so many scarves you can have and only so many friends will take your scarves, so you have to find an outlet. So I began to investigate what does it take to do outdoor shows. I had a straw at the time my husband was living and he was a strong supporters so went and visited artists and he would interview artists on what was the best tent. Why did they like the tent they had. I would walk around wearing my scarves trying to figure out if I had what it takes to be able to do that. And someone came into my life at the art in the park in Blowing Rock and she said if this is your art–pointing to my scarf–then yes of course you have the skill to be. And so she encouraged me and I applied and got even when she also was part of a gallery in Blowing Rock and so I lived there and got in there. So that was the beginning. Outdoor shows and I was doing maybe the first year four or five at the height of my outdoor experience I was doing 11 which was way too much because I had the equivalent of a full time job, in addition. I think the hardest piece of all of this is that it’s very very difficult to make a living from your art.

[00:05:26] Don’t quit your day job because your day job is like Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert I love her book.

[00:05:34] Devani: Big Magic.

[00:05:35] Joanna: Big Magic. That’s it. And she talks about how she waited tables. She had all the stuff she wrote every day she never quit her day came after she had two successful books. So you can make a living doing art. But it doesn’t happen overnight.

[00:05:54] LeAura: Well you know when you think about it and so this is the thing that I think that many artists and authors creatives in general. Somebody mentioned back when we interviewed Corey the other day he mentioned this and this is such a good point.

[00:06:07] And that is that you know basically it is it is a business you know and businesses are not built overnight either. You know no business starts up and then is successful. It often takes years. And as we know you know many of the ones that get started it’s about one third are no longer around in five years. And like maybe 50 percent in 10 years. And it’s the same probably with artists but even more so because there’s the frustration of realizing that you are your own business and that isn’t the strength of many an entrepreneur. I mean artist rather than the artist creatives who can balance and blend a little bit of that world as you have done and are doing and started out with the help of Thomas those who end up making out the other ones end up making it are those who continue creating daily. Who keep on going in the direction of their dreams. And because like anything that we can create it does require consistent persistent effort you know.

[00:07:07] Devani: And one thing you mentioned before we got on the podcast you sent us an e-mail this morning saying you had just gotten into an art guild. Congratulations on that. We wanted to sort of ask you and to share with other artists what the benefit of joining an artist guild is for them and also on sort of the process of doing that when they should start looking toward getting–applying–to be a part of the guild.

[00:07:35] Joanna: Right. Well I think with art guilds give people as well as juried art shows. It gives you credibility in the artistic community. It says that you know your work is good enough because each juried situation you are in is a learning obviously learning situation and so on.

[00:07:58] You know I think it isn’t overnight you can anticipate applying to gilds three four five six seven times before you get in times. And in North Carolina we’re really blessed because we have three very fine artistic guilds. The Carolina Designer Craftsman Guild which I joined seven years ago was accepted. The Piedmont Craftsman Guild which is based in Winston-Salem covers the whole United States and even beyond I think, and I’m still working to get into that guild and have been invited back to do the show and will be juried at the show in November.

[00:08:31] I have my fingers up to that. But it’s it’s my fourth time I believe I lost track four or five I don’t know. Anyway that’s the other thing you just have to be persistent. If you can keep it going.

[00:08:44] And not a rejection personally. That’s the big big thing cause you know this is the absolute best work I’ve done and they don’t like it. Well maybe I’m wrong. But you’re not. You just haven’t maybe haven’t paid your time and dues. I don’t know yet. And then just recently moved to Asheville and you know this was my first shot at Southern Highlands Crafts Guild and I know people that have done four or five times to get into. So I went in without a lot of expectation. However I have to say that the work that I’m doing now is the best work I’ve ever done. So I don’t think I could have said that along the way and previously I don’t know if that makes any sense but I know it was good. But this is really good stuff now and I have a lady that helps with the stitching so that it’s perfect because I got dinged for that early on. So it’s persistence. What does being an art get get you. Well the Southern Highlands craft guild has four art galleries that you can put your work in. Plus it’s got a huge reputation and because it’s geographical location is the specific to the Appalachian chain. You’re sort of in a niche market.

[00:09:55] So for instance they have a gallery on the Parkway on the North Carolina Parkway at MosesCone in blowing rock and that’s well-traveled gallery at Biltmore Village in Asheville which is another tourist spot.

[00:10:09] So they have four galleries Piedmont craftsman has a gallery on the trade street Asheville and Carolina designer craftsman does not have a gallery and they do one show a year so. Indoor shows are easier in some ways than outdoor shows because you don’t have the weather to contend with. And I remember a show where we set up in the rain and the rain turned to sleet.

[00:10:34] Devani: Not good for fabric.

[00:10:37] Joanna: oh my goodness. And then the ambulance came because the wind had not. And another area of room where I was standing knocked at Potters tent over and the tent fell apart the pieces of the tent flew and broke her arm.

[00:10:50] LeAura: Oh my God.

[00:10:51] Joanna: I have been in 40 mile an hour in sleet snow and hail and it is not perfect.

[00:10:58] Devani: Art is a dangerous craft, guys!

[00:11:05] Joanna: And nobody tells you that. And also I live next to a hamburger cooking tent one time with my sail. Oh my under it. Oh. You know every show you do is a learning experience.

[00:11:17] Devani: Yeah definitely. You could just provide some interesting stories. I’m sure along the way though. Yeah.

[00:11:23] Joanna: It’s fun. It really is fun. It’s hard work. People think it’s so easy but you’re there at 5:00 a.m. in the morning you’re setting up with lanterns and head lamps because you can’t see the complicated tents together. So it’s challenging. So being in a guild removes you from the need I think to be in outdoor shows. Because if I’m successful and get into Piedmont Craftsmen that will get me for indoor shows a year. And that’s probably enough with galleries. Another track that artist you and I have a friend Mary Edna Frazier who you should really interview in South Carolina Charleston. She has had tremendous success. She never called herself a fiber artist although she paints on silk. She is a boutique artist. She uses wax and dies on silk. And she goes up in air planes photographs and then does these wonderful huge pieces that are then installed like in the Charleston airport.

[00:12:21] Oh my goodness she did it in the air and space museum in Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian she was the featured artist. We did a show there so her focus is galleries museum shows and teaching.

[00:12:34] My focus is indoor shows now and teaching and at end I realized that oh I have a friend here who is part of the North Carolina group I was in. And she moved to Florida and opened fiber art studio. And she’s doing very well. And she shared with me that I could paint scarves and make clothing all day long and I would not do as well as I’m doing reading this.

[00:12:59] What does she like. No. Very good.

[00:13:02] Devani: Yeah we have a few people in our community who are working they’re not. Not all of them are necessarily craft artists some of themare photographers and such but they’re looking at you know one of their goals. We have a 100 day creator challenge both free and paid and one of several of the people’s goals are to have a studio space. And so it’s good to know. And it just gives you that one point and location does show up to and have all set up for your art. But also it’s great for marketing and just having that location because you mentioned also before we started recording that another one of your moneymakers is also having other artists come in and teach classes which not only introduces the collaborative artist environment for your business but also just helps uplift your community and people learning people coming in and people who have been there it just brings the art community together like we’re doing online you’re doing not in your location and that’s just awesome.

[00:14:02] LeAura: Yeah. So you said that she said it wasn’t make as much money but you are also starting your own studio for some of this reason. Is that right.

[00:14:10] Joanna: So what she said is what she indicated is she could paint art all day long and she wouldn’t make as much money as she is now doing. She’s doing much better having regular what I call a real guy rock star artists come into her fiber art studio and teach us so teaching in her studio. But in addition she has real name talent come in and she is mentoring me. And I think that’s another person for you all to interview. Her name is Suzanne cars. She’s in Stewart Florida.

[00:14:40] And her gallery is called a Y A L A. I I believe I have a fiver anyway. So I’m having hosting my first visiting teacher.

[00:14:50] The end of this month. Her name is Kerr Grabowski. Another very successful artist who has made a living part of her shtick was she was the fiber director of the Peeters Valley crafts school in New Jersey and that’s real near New York so she had contacts in New York City and she sold her art in New York City as well as she was director of school.

[00:15:16] Can we take a break. Yeah.

[00:15:22] Joanna: OK. Looking at ways how can I market my art. And you’re rightly or I had no business sense. I can’t tell you what a piece of scarf her clothes actually cost in real time. I don’t even try to figure that out. I know that I don’t make much per hour. That’s not much point in doing it. My point has always been I need to make enough to break even and forward and be able to keep growing. I have been able to do that and now I’m actually making a lot of money which is a nice thing to know.

[00:15:58] My husband who is my backers You know and did suddenly died. So I was on my...