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.
Elise Mesner is one busy lady. Not only does she excel in architectural, documentary, beauty, fashion, food, and conceptual fine art photography (including styling and editing), she also does video & art directing, as well as mixed-media painting. Phew! Everything she does is done with such a confident style and flair that you can’t help but be impressed! I was fascinated to find out more about what makes this multitalented woman tick, and I think you’ll agree her interview makes for fascinating reading!
What was your first proper job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
I jumped into the accounting/real estate world because I had a love for organisation, a fascination with the market and I liked the no-nonsense fast track of learning numbers, but both those career paths led to having minimal time to spend on the arts. It was lucrative, but always a cyclical pattern of heavy workloads and brain melts. Especially during tax season with 80 + hours a week spent at the office. I spent a good decade of my life behind a desk crunching numbers and then up and quit cold turkey after not receiving my yearly bonus for missing 2 loan approvals. It was enough to send me thru the roof to a new career choice. Art shows, modelling gigs and fun projects were always side-projects but eventually I flipped the switch – started teaching painting instructional classes and mixed that life with flying around the US taking photos for ballet competitions which were quite angelic to watch and capture but still didn’t leave room for the kind of creativity I desired – so it was short lived but my solo photography career bloomed quickly before long. Some of my first jobs were photographing, creating concepts and photo identities for local Detroit musicians. Certainly auditing loan processes was not something I had ever intended on but tasting all the previous sour and surviving the hefty discipline sure makes one appreciate the sweet.
Has art always been in your blood?
Yes indeed. Right from the start, I always enjoyed creating. It’s how I played as a child, learn as an adult and how I maintain happiness and also cope with sadness/stress. There’s a great amount of artistic talent on my Father’s side that has spanned thru generations, which has really led me to believe that there’s something completely heritable about creativity. My father is a carpenter, oil painter, and the list really goes on with his creative abilities/interests. It runs thick thru the veins and has a heartbeat of its own and also connects all of us. The arts are just plain good for us all. It’s a creative outlet that reaches across all divides and encourages us to explore the unknown. It strengthens focus, increases attention and fuels the imagination.
What’s your main creative discipline and how did you get started in it?
I started with making a vision and putting myself there, right smack inside the vision Charles Dickens wrote something in his novel Dombey and Son that I completely adore: ‘He did each single thing as if he did nothing else'. Full on dedication and follow-thru is SO important to me. I like to slow things down, enjoy and value my time while each task is handled with urgency and full attention. Without a sense of urgency, desire starts to lose its value and to have that great urgency, it’s important for me to be ‘in the now' and in the ‘right now'. Creating lists, setting priorities and clearing distractions, squishing all the ideas you love together like a little pancake and dumping syrup on it.
Do you see yourself as introverted or extroverted, and does being either affect the way you work?
I really fancy the Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ personality test. Great way to learn communication and learning styles. I find myself as an extreme ENFP-A with results of: 98% Extraverted, 96% Intuitive, 100% Feeling, 95% Prospecting and 95% Assertive. Although I enjoy spending time alone and consider myself to be a predominately hermit-y, I’m no wallflower. It’s interesting to think of these functions. Although I’m extroverted, I expend energy when I’m with others and really don’t recharge my batteries until I’m alone. All the disseminations of understanding both introversion and extroversion are fascinating. I’m sure each affect work in different lights, but neither are right or wrong. I’ve always been completely intrigued and attracted to introverted types. I haven’t put much thought into the self-dissection of my extrovertedness and how it impacts work. I suppose I focus more on the creative chunks and get lost there.
What is your favourite kind of commission, and why?
When one of my best friends in the whoooooole world, Aunt Kat (recently passed) said ‘I need something for the house…'. And so she asked to have some art to hang up. She hung up several pieces throughout the house. So special to my heart. We both supported one another when creating and always enjoying creating things together. I’ll never forget how special she made people feel with her loving spirit, her wittiness, and straight talk – she’s my absolute favourite and my ‘favourite commission'.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
When I was working 80+ hours per week, under extreme work stress and not spending my time the way I really wanted, I realised the value of time and how important it is to stay away from things that erode your quality of life. Always putting lots of pride and integrity into my art life but wasn’t able to spend the time that I really wanted because it was soaked up with work. Totally wrong-o. Another perspective is that every time we find ourselves immersed in something that seems overwhelming, we have an opportunity to learn how to deal with challenges better. I’m a firm believer in my ideas, open to learning new ideas, and pretty good at managing my time and that time finally came to start a new venture.
How did you go about starting your own business?
People tend to make things happen when they want them badly enough. You believe in yourself. You believe in ‘it' and never give up. There wasn’t some big business plan, I just started dancing to the beat of my own drum with my eyes wide open. It more or less kinda fell in my lap so to speak – doing what I enjoy, what I love and care about and believe in.
How did you secure your first clients?
Getting involved in community and people generally do business with people they like and trust and good recipes for securing clients. And the act of CARING is an important business venture on its own.
What is your typical daily routine like?
Mornings are my favourite part of the day. Right when the sun barely pops out. I stretch, focus on my breath. Just as you feel the sun when you step outside each day, the desire to create starts barking at the sky. As if it were the gravity of your entire being, pulling you towards your fate. And that’s how the days go.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
Fellow artists have great appeal and integrity. I think it’s imperative to have a bulletproof stance on business terms and to really run a great true-to-thyself and others type structure.
How does being an introvert (or an extrovert) help or hinder you when it comes to business?
I like to celebrate the differences between introvert/extrovert. As an extrovert, I find it easy to communicate fluently, witty conversation and laughs. I think that warms people up when they are in front of my lens but I’ve known many introvert types that generate warmth and friendliness in their presence alone, and they are excellent listeners.
Do you have a favourite medium or technique?
The technique of pioneering and finding new ways to work with limitations. I seem to enjoy having limits. For example, I haven’t upgraded any of my gear. Always sticking to my old junk and making it work. I don’t know what a fancy lens would do to me.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
Knowing myself well and knowing what I’m made of and can create. Moving to Los Angeles and learning what it means to make your own luck.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
Oh yes indeed, I’ve got a burning desire to create, always. The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings we can have. No matter our talents, education, background, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before and “creation” means bringing into existence something that did not exist before and I love everything about that.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
I haven’t experienced any aloneness within my work, more a great sense of community.
How do you relax?
Honouring the present moment and allowing it to be. Daily gratitude and mindfulness. Oblivious to molehills and mountains. Even your meals become a bit tastier if you mindfully focus on each bite.
Where do you find inspiration?
Living in the moment and enjoying what I’m doing or observing someone else’s joy right in the moment.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Trust that your intuition is your most trusted advisor.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Telling the story straight. Selflessness, kindness. Compassion and all that sweetness, plus goofiness.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
All of the daily creativity is so very fulfilling to me so it’s hard to break it down to one moment.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Indulging in my deep desire to create. Inspiring others. Getting weird.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
I’ve noticed stepping away from tangles and not getting too deeply immersed in a difficult situation helps recognise it isn’t as dire as it seems. Extract what you can learn from obstacles and then allow it to pass.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ll never forget when I was a little gal, I was asking my dad all kinds of adult questions with worries about the future – will Earth explode into the sun, why do people get old, etc. etc., His response was ‘just be a kid'.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
I’d adore sharing a meal with Bowie.
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