Lorelei Sowa - Women to Watch

Artist and Small Business Owner

I’m inspired by Lorelei Sowa and I think you will be too. She re-entered the art world after an almost 30-year hiatus and is creating an amazing business selling her fantastic paintings online. She’s figured out social media strategy, how to build a website, and how to sell online – all in the last couple of years. She’s an amazing artist and businesswoman. Plus she paints in Central Park and has an enviable NYC lifestyle. Check her out at her website, https://www.paintbylorelei.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

First things first – what would your walk-on-stage music be?

Lose Yourself by Eminem from his 8-mile soundtrack. Besides loving the opening line, “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment would you capture it, or just let it slip?”

I love the slow build with the piano percussion juxtaposed with the fast energetic beat of the guitar. Like Eminem, I grew up in Michigan. I recognized his struggle to rise above his circumstances. No matter what we are dealt with in life – I think this is the universal call. In addition to all that, I catch myself bopping with energy every time I hear the song. It would be the right energy for me to face my fears to actually walk on stage.

When did you start your business, and why did you create it?

My company officially formed on November 13, 2020. I was 8 months into lockdown and living in NYC at the time. One of the greatest blessings of the Pandemic is that it forced many people, me included, to take stock of how I was spending my time and what was important in life. Prior to lockdown, I was so busy doing errands that I never stopped to figure out what errands mattered and what didn’t. I was shopping, eating, entertaining myself, and avoiding the big questions of what would I do if I could do anything I wanted? Ironically, in a period of time when most people couldn’t do any of the things that brought joy, I discovered that what brought me the most joy was creating. With all the shops, restaurants, theaters, and museums closed, I passed my days wandering about Central Park with my dog and a backpack full of paints. I would return home and show the doorman my latest creation. Eventually, I had a whole bathroom full of paintings and my son suggested I start organizing the images on an Instagram account just for art. Once I did that, I started following other artists and a whole new world opened up to me. When I graduated from art school in the early 90s networking on social media was not a concept. At that time, there was really only one way to break into the art world and that was through the gallery circuit. It required a broad network of connections as well as slides on 35 mm, and studio practice to complement it all. I did not own a computer in those days so even typing an artist statement was a chore I had to manage on a typewriter. Most of the people who worked as artists in my day needed to go full in. I wanted that too, but not at the expense of being a wife and mother.

Today I know loads of women in the art world that can balance all of that, but I didn’t have the connections back in the 90s. I lost touch with the art world and entered the world of how to raise a child, and cook supper. Everything was a challenge, but without knowing what I was doing, I was discerning what was essential and what I valued most. I wouldn’t trade my children or my husband or my artistic voice for anything in the world, I just regret that I didn’t keep my art connections and follow my teachers and classmates. It was before the cell phone, and I left Chicago right out of the gate to join my husband in Kansas. I worked in art galleries in Kansas City, but found it boring sitting all day. I wasn’t creating any work, just selling other people’s work. When my children got into high school I took a volunteer job in Hartford as a docent at the Wadsworth Atheneum. I loved re-engaging with my art history background and felt energized being around the art. After my youngest graduated from high school, my husband and I moved to NYC. I toyed with the idea of getting a master’s in art history and wanted to work as a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the track I thought I wanted and was working on applying for when the city shut down. And then I remembered… I wanted to be an artist. So I self-proclaimed myself as one. But I wanted to be recognized as an artist, so I set up an LLC. Now I am doing the hard work to be recognized as such. I became a small business owner and an artist the same day.

Lorelei Sowa Painting of Central Park

Tell us about your business and what makes you unique in your field.

In my field, lots of artists, especially those of my generation, did not form LLCs. I have an artist friend who told me she never sells on social media because she doesn’t want to figure out the taxes. She has been working with galleries since the 70s so she likes them to handle all the business for her. I am modeling my business off of the new generation and turning to reels, Facebook, and Instagram for self- promotion. Of course I would love to be in a gallery, but what I love more is giving myself to everyday people – not just elite collectors and tastemakers. If someone comes to me with an idea or a concept, I work very hard to make that happen. I do commission work on subjects they are interested in because I think being a professional is considering the lives of others. It is a collective idea, not just my idea. Yes, I have something to say and convey in my art, but I am also an interpreter of others. I love playing with ideas and don’t get lost in my own likes and dislikes. Of course, I paint what I like, but I also paint what other people like. I provide many price points of size and scale so that I can be accessible to all economic situations.

What do you feel makes your audience special?

I find that the people that connect with my work are quite similar to me. We connect on many levels and after a sale, I really consider them friends. This does not mean you must buy something to be my friend, not at all, it just means that I really love my audience. Even those people that just punch a “like” on a post, I really am genuinely grateful for the support. I never take it for granted or expect it.

If you could magically give all of your community members one thing in this world, what would it be, and why?

The knowledge that doing art is nothing different than pouring our soul and emotion on canvas. When they make a purchase, I wish for them the gift of an emotional connection. It is emotion that provides us with humanity. They are feeding my soul, and I would wish to return that nurturing.

Has anything surprised you about starting a website?

How hard it is and how easy. Making even the smallest change can take me days of learning, but after the learning curve all the minor tweaks are so relatively easy. It is the best organizing device I have ever had. It required me to make decisions and categorize everything and it is so powerful with integration in mailing lists and social network platforms. I honestly do not know how an artist survives without one.

Did you create your own website or hire it out? Do you use WordPress?

I do not use Word Press, but rather WIX. No real reason, except that my nephew who writes code, told me it would be easy. He was wrong of course. What is easy for one person can be incredibly difficult for another. I now come to understand he meant relatively easy! I may investigate other options at some point, as I do have concerns about relying on a third party to keep my records, but for now it’s working.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?

I think it is a bit like raising children. If you actually know all that is involved you would never do it. It is incredibly rewarding but it will rob you of hours of sleep. There is no single perfect way to run a successful art business or actually any business. It is the combination of hard work, passion and persistence.

Lorelei Sowa - Artist at Work

If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would you do and why?

I would have kept my art school connections and I would have started earlier. I had no excuses after the internet, but I spent too much time trying not to be the weird artist. I didn’t want to be judged, but now I realize that we are all judged one way or another and it has nothing to do with ourselves. It has everything to do with the judger. I feel so free being me. It took me so long to accept myself. But that was part of the process.

Do you have an email list? If so, did you start it when you launched?

Yes. I basically launched it the day my website went live. I sent out a newsletter to all my friends and told them I was launching my artwork on a website and I added them to my email list. After that, it was by sign-up only, which I promoted on Facebook and Instagram.

Is this your only job? Did you launch your business while working another job?

This is it! I am fully vested!

How do you promote your site?

I send out a blog and a newsletter, and I broadcast all events over Facebook and Instagram. That’s it really.

Who are your favorite bloggers or podcasts right now? Or what is an influential book that you’ve read lately?

My two favorite podcasts currently are: The Art Biz with Alyson Stanfield and Art2Life with Nicholas Wilton.

Books! I love listening to audible while I work so when I say “read” it is in the modern sense- It means I “listened to”. I recommend Essentialism by Greg McKeown, Art Inc by Lisa Lisa Congdon, Originals by Adam Grant, and The Practice by Seth Godin.

In the fiction world, which I also enjoy, I must give a plug to Jodi Picoult’s The Book of Two Ways. She credits my favorite art history teacher Dr. Colleen Darnell as her source for Egyption reference. On a side note, If you are looking for Egyption culture or have any interest in it, her Instagram is one of my favorites to follow and worth checking out for the 1920’s fashion she connects to the ancient culture. It is https://www.instagram.com/vintage_egyptologist/.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I absolutely must give a shout-out to Gavriella Abekassis – Gavriella is the founder of The Artist Entrepreneur Club. This is the platform that I was introduced to YOU! You were a guest speaker in one of our meetings. I am energized through my connections in the art world.

7 Responses

  1. Lorelei is a very talented artist!!! I am honored to own a few pieces of her art. This blog has given me greater knowledge and appreciation about her. Thank you for writing and sharing about her.

  2. You have proven that anything can be done with hard work and passion! Excited to always see what you create next!!

  3. That’s an amazing interview Lorelei! I loved reading it and I loved learning more about the way you love your audience. This feels so special. Thank you for the sweet mention at the end, I feel so honoured!

  4. Lorelei is such an inspiration to me. She took the risk to allow herself to transform into her true self. She has the internal drive to push herself to become greater every single day. Even since she kinked the fire on her business in 2020, I have seen her paintings evolve to a point that I truly see her emotions expressed in them. Her paintings are not only beautiful, but they connect the viewer to a piece of humanity, an emotion that transports us to a memory or a glimpse of life from another perspective. I am uplifted with every new painting, and the story behind it, that she posts.

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