PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We'll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
I'm so excited to share this PROfile interview with Charleston, South Carolina based artist Teil Duncan with you. Her work is such an inspiration, and her joyful spirit always shines through on her Instagram account. It's such an honour to have her be part of this series. Enjoy!
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
My first proper job was a juggle. I worked at a pre-school half the week and waited tables the other half, all the while taking commission painting jobs on the side.
Has art always been in your blood?
As far as I can remember. My mom noticed my affinity for all-things-drawing at a pretty early age, and was always intentional about placing me in extracurricular art classes.
What is your favourite medium or technique to use, and why?
My first and foremost favourite medium is acrylic. I love the speedy drying time. Since it takes no more than ten minutes to completely dry, I can keep pushing the painting by applying layers of detail until it’s done. It really suits my attention span.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
I honestly didn't ever dream of having a business. It sort of evolved that way as the demand grew. My aim from the beginning was to live the dream of being able to do what I love and get by financially. I never anticipated it would ever be more than that. The more interest people paid, the more my imagination grew for the future of my artwork.
How did you go about starting your own business?
I started by taking out a very small loan, and saying ‘yes' to all the commission requests, and spent the rest of my time experimenting with paintings I desired to create. That process was very impulsive and intuitive, yet painful and full of doubt. As soon as I started tapping into a style that was working, I ran with it and opened an online shop.
What is your typical daily routine like?
I wake up pretty early, make a decent breakfast (by far my favourite meal), sip on some coffee and read for about an hour and chat with my roommate. This is such a precious time to me. We like to talk about things we are struggling with, things we’re thankful for, things we’re learning and pray for each other before we walk out the door. It’s a pretty amazing way to start the day and I highly recommend it! I head off to the studio and chat with my amazing right-hand lady who handles all of the business. We problem-solve and set a to-do list for the day. I paint for about 5-6 hours thankfully next to my best artist friends- painters Lulie Wallace, Raven Wilson and graphic designer Megan Simon (look them up!). It is a ridiculously wonderful working environment. Afterwards I try (emphasis on try) to work out, eat and hang out with my boyfriend, come home and completely crash. That’s a standard day.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
None. Just kidding! Honestly, at first thought I really would say ‘Oh, I can only paint and make pretty things, so any business skill takes great effort. I’ll leave that to the left-brained folks'. But artists (including myself) underestimate that side of their abilities. If you’re an artist, you enjoy being creative. Part of running a business and holding an audience’s attention involves staying fresh and coming out with new work; constantly evolving, reinventing, and growing. If artists are doing this, a crowd will feel the need to stay updated and engaged, then a business can very organically evolve. This of course has everything to do with using social media tools.
You’re most known for your beautiful beachscapes and colourful figure studies, how did these subject matters come to be?
I work out of a shared studio space called Redux. They offer figure drawing classes on occasion, and one day I poked my head out of the studio and decided to paint the figure model. I took photographs (with her permission, of course) and painted the same poses over and over again. It became more of a color study than a study of the human form. After a while, summer came around and I frequently visited the beaches here in Charleston. I found myself taking photographs of people on the beach. I didn’t know why I liked the photos so much, all I knew was I found them beautiful and was eager to paint them. In hindsight, I see that the beach was a subtle segue from the nudes. The beach was an entire field of figure studies! Not only that, they involved so many pops of color and pattern to play with, in contrast to the vast, empty sky and sea. I still have so much fun painting both subjects.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
Going the online route. It’s nice to sell yourself and keep the full commission.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
Yes! Not always, though. Part of my job is exactly that – a job. I set a goal and I try to reach it, even when it feels like an obligation. Then there are those times when I am exposed to a new artist, a new town, even a new restaurant. Something about seeing beauty makes an impression on me, and gives me a little bit of a high. I think to myself, ‘This place/work is beautiful! Get me in my studio so I can make something I feel just as proud of!'
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
I am surrounded by other great artists all day, so thankfully no. If I worked in isolation, I’m sure I’d lose it and cut off my ear like Van Gough or something.
How do you relax?
A power nap. I specifically got a futon in my studio so I could sporadically fall asleep if need be.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Great question. I would say, ‘Teil… have some PATIENCE!!!' We live in a ‘give it to me NOW' culture. If you feel compelled to make art for a living and are currently frustrated with your work, know that it takes lots of time and lots of trashed paintings to get there.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Another great question. More than a great artist, I would say a selfless person. I cringe when I think of my selfishness in my relationships with friends and family. At my funeral, if people say that I cared for others as much as I cared fore myself, that’d be nice. And that’s with all people – not just the easy-to-love ones.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Off the top of my head, my collaboration with Christian Siriano – what a talent he is!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Well I get to set my schedule, do what I love, work with my friends…. I mean what did I do to deserve this!?
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business?
Positive challenge: keeping up with demand. Negative challenge: Having a hard time resting and the temptation to work too much and not say enough is enough.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Regarding painting, I actually read this quote from a local artist here in Charleston one time. He said ‘Paint what you want to paint, then figure out why you’re painting it.'” I had been taught before that it was the other way around, and that was a bit stifling to the process for me, personally. I would try to come up with some meaningful concept first, then think of imagery that represented it. That method was a roadblock for me. When I read that quote, it really freed me up to act on intuition and to be experimental, even if it turned out completely unsuccessful. I still tried and failed and learned something. I actually can look back now at my short career and pinpoint reasons why I paint what I paint so clearly now, as opposed to conjuring up a reason before I started.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
Josh Garrels (a musician) and his wife. His music is so great even if I didn’t know what he was saying. Then I read his lyrics. Not to sound cheesy, but in all seriousness his words are kind of like water to my soul. Do yourself a favor and check out his album, ‘Home'.
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