“A year in rearview” – a comprehensive update since my last blog post

My last post on this blog was written quite some time ago, all the way back in October 2019 during my participation in Georgia Color plein-air invitational and smack in the midst of purchasing my very first home in the USA. A 400sq.ft. art studio that is the heart of this house is where I now create and conduct a big chunk of my work as an artist; going forward I will refer to it as “the Art House” (pictured at the bottom of this page) It was a very exciting time in my life to take action on the vision I’ve been concocting for a while: acquiring a creative live-in work-in space. Little did I know at that time that the bombshell of our times was about to take place – the Covid 19 pandemic – changing our plans and the way we live our lives! I had planed the year of 2020 around international events brought about my volunteer work as the new representative for the USA branch of IWS (International Watercolor Society), events that eventually were thwarted by the immense impact of the pandemic. Since it has been the most challenging of times, not only in my own life, but globally, I thought is deserving of writing a blog post dedicated to summarizing my most significant artistic endeavors during these times when my classes, art shows and other income producing art activities got cancelled due to the pandemic. It is also a testimony how taking the leap and purchasing a house for the purpose of having a live-in work-in space for me and my family end up saving my sanity in these unprecedented times. This is a glimpse in my life as a full-time artist, sole proprietor and sole parent, an idealist committed to making a living from doing what I love. It is also worth mentioning the sweetness of modeling possibility for my two teenage daughters who also want to pursue art professions. So if for no one else, perhaps they will enjoy reading this slice of life later on 🙂 Here I go – to whom it may concern.

November 2019 I have the keys to my new home and my new supporter Paula who is an interior designer facilitates for me a small team for hire to do a few modifications so that the art studio gets waterproof flooring, and a much needed storage is built under the staircase. They have one week to finish until we are scheduled to move into the Art House! (Moving residencies has been equated with the pain of laboring when giving birth, and I confess I now agree. Despite the thrill of moving in, the effort it entailed turned out to be a painfully exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally) The in-person recording of “Ep. 76. The Path Of Highest Excitement with Diana Toma”, an interview for Money You Should Ask Podcast takes place soon after I move in; our conversation addresses making money in the field of art (listen to it here) At this time I have a calendar filled with upcoming art exhibitions, painting workshops I teach, and international trips to attend art events.

December 2020 Wrapping up teaching weekly classes at Spruill Center for the Arts and the last commissioned painting orders. Every spare time is consumed with unpacking, designing and setting up the art studio at the Art House. I start painting a 16 feet tall mural representing an elephant swimming under water in the main space. I now also have a brand new intern for three whole months from the SCAD’s masters degree program (Savanah College of Art and Design). Lisa and I meet to discuss and form a plan of action for her new internship with me.

January 2020 The new year starts energetically with hosting at my new Art House, Canadian-Turkish artist Atanur Dogan (founder and president of IWS) who flies to Atlanta accompanied by his wife to perform at my invitation a demonstration for Georgia Watercolor Society, and to lead a workshop I organized for him at Spruill Center for the Arts (many thanks to the Education director Kristin Wilder and their CEO at the time Bob Kinsey, who so graciously donated their biggest room at the center to host this 15 participants watercolor workshop) Mr. Dogan and I are ardently planning during every single free moment we have together – at breakfast, dinner, during driving to our events – the future of the IWS branch, discussing ideas for organizing a first IWS USA international exhibition. I agree to self-sponsor a trip to Turkey for the IWS annual festival in Ismir that is scheduled to take place in spring, and Atanur offers to return the favor and be my host in Izmir during the festival. Later into the month, the 6 months art rental agreement with a local business hosting 20+ of my largest paintings, ends, and my intern Lisa helps with brining them into my new studio. It’s so helpful to have an intern! My first participation in Trinity’s Artist Market takes place. “Spotlight on Art” is the premier art show in the Southeast for both avid art collectors and casual buyers, showcasing once a year since 1982 original works by invited well-known and emerging artists, with nearly $1 million sold each year. The winter quarter at Abernathy Arts Center commences – I’m teaching there three weekly classes for adults, one in each of these mediums: watercolor, acrylic on oils. I’m excited to work with returning students and a few newcomers. Unpacking moving boxes is mostly complete.

February 2020 Between the weekly classes at Abernathy Art Center and teaching a painting workshop at Spruill Center for the Arts, I fly to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to perform a commissioned live painting at a private wedding event. Following soon after, my very first international trip for IWS takes place – together with two American artists from California and Ohio, we fly to the Center of Excellence in Arts and Design of Mehran University in Pakistan to attend the 3rd IWS watercolor biennial Pearls of Peace. After a long strenuous trip East, visiting Jamshoro is worth all the effort and more. We receive a warm welcome and we are treated like royalties; every part of our day is thoroughly organized to a T. Hundreds of reporters and camera-mans flood the festival reception where the red carpet is literally roll out for us guest-artists who have flown in from different parts of the globe. The watercolor biennial is attended by hundreds of participants, and a wide variety of performances take place (Taj Mastani, a very well known singer from Sindh, wins my heart) along side the international watercolor exhibit curated by Fatima Ali. I find out that my painting received the best in figurative painting award. I meet and have heartfelt conversations with IWS Country leader of Pakistan, Ali Abbas Syed, who is a renowned watercolorist with very impressive work. I am looking to learn as much as I can, meeting the participating artists and organizers, from which Prof. Dr. Bhai Khan Shar, the university vice chancellor, stands out with his warmth and humor. The festival ends with a masters painters and visiting artists televised watercolor demonstration in front of a cheering crowd. I take part as well, painting the portrait of an earlier performer on a slice from a staggering 22-meter long sheet of watercolor paper. I return to Atlanta jet lagged, but thoroughly inspired (see photos from the event here) Lisa’s internship ends.

March 2020 Back in the States, I am installing my a collections of watercolors at Condesa Coffee Shop in Old Forth Yard, Atlanta. The weekly painting classes continue. I get to teach a one-day workshop at Spruill Center for the Arts when the announcement about the pandemic comes in, and all art centers announce that activities must temporarily close. First wave of shock begins. Abernathy asks me if I am willing to do live facebook video demonstrations in the time frame of my weekly classes, and I gladly accept.

April 2020 Georgia’s governor issues a statewide shelter-in-place order to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Schools close, my daughters are at home with me. Traveling to IWS Turkey festival is cancelled. All art venues and exhibitions I’m participating in close. I take advantage of this break and focus my energy into doing improvements to the Art House, and start creating plans to reinvent my slopped backyard with the scope of creating a luscious garden for teaching plein-air workshops. I hire a landscaping company and the lower part of the backyard gets a circle-shaped leveling while at the top part a rock bed is built to divert water, so what the flowers I want to plant won’t get washed out. I serendipitously find a local vendor to deliver sectioned tree trunks. They form a retaining wall at the newly leveled area cut in the slope that also double as seating, with outdoor painting sessions in mind. I start filming live Facebook painting demonstrations to inspire my fans to paint, in a quest to save our sanity during the stay at home mandate. Requests for purchase these paintings start coming in, bringing me an unexpected and welcomed income. Then Spruill Center for the Arts shows their love for all of us independent contracted art instructors, doing an unprecedented gesture of support: estimates half of what we would have earned from student enrollments, and mails each of us a check towards our cancelled Spring 2020 quarter classes. The atmosphere fills up with hopes that “everything will be ok” (Spruill’s slogan)

May 2020 A new wave of panic sets in. I continue making painting videos lessons for my community and the response is phenomenal. My Facebook followers start donating money ranging anywhere from $5 to $100, and I get present to the importance of the community I have been creating around art, and that fills me up with new creative energy. I continue planning my yard and now I paint in my studio almost every day, committed to use this extra time to develop a new body of work.

June 2020 Art sales stale. I didn’t expect this stay at home to last this long. My main energy remains dedicated towards doing as many Art House projects I can while at home. I finish painting another large floral mural, and my curved uphill driveway gets a very needed concrete extension for better vehicles access. I’m convincing myself that investing for  future gain is a good idea, although the incoming revenue is significantly decreasing. Abernathy Arts Center reaches out and proposes that I would do 45 minutes painting classes via Zoom, an app I have to learn to use, offering a prorated payroll, and I accept. The Zoom classes are offered free of charge to the public through Fulton County Arts and Culture website. Art sales pick up a little bit towards the end of the month.

July 2020 Spruill Center for the Arts reopens for in-person classes, mandating the use of face masks, keeping 6 feet of distance and sanitizing classrooms. My class fill up quick. The Georgia Watercolor Society show at the Sautee Nacoochee Center and Museum takes place at their gallery. I am invited to come back on “Live Your Music” radio show and I give a live one hour interview with Margaux Joy DeNador based on questions my Facebook fans asked (listen to the show replay) Margaux choses the best of questions, and I gift my fan an original watercolor painting. I’m told it was one of the best interviews for the podcast, and I feel reenergized. Thou my income continues to suffer, in a leap of faith I hire two day workers and the Art House gets a full new exterior paint job. Art sales flatline.

August 2020 I start collaborating with fellow artist Matt Blogger who is a retired landscape artist – he is helping me understand the health of the soil in my yard and we meet to create a masterplan for my vision of creating a plein-air garden. I have a better understanding that this will take time, years to fully develop; it teaches me preplanning. I sense that what I’m learning is going to reflect in my own art. The rest of the month is spent in painting in my studio, teaching a couple of classes at Spruill Art center, and hoping my plants will survive Hotlanta summer heat. It feels like I have been holding my breath for too long. And then… the most unexpected tearjerking piece of mail comes in: out of the blue one of my workshops participant and art collectors (who asked to be kept anonimous) sends me a handwritten note “when ones talent brings such joy to others, you deserve a surprise thank you!” including a $5,000 check! I had read in art history books about artists who had art benefactors and patrons; in awe, I revel in who I am to another. In the past it would have been hard to accept such gift, but my own life experience has taught me that one learns to give by the same measure one opens up to receive. I reach out to thank her and she tells me about the impact my art lessons had on her. I feel like I just took a big gulp of oxygen… I wonder if my art benefactor will ever understand the mark her generosity has made in my spirit. I spend the next weeks daydreaming scenarios of ways I could impact others just as powerfully. A few new unexpected art sales also come in, and I get a new request to have a new intern for one full school semester and I joyfully accept – it’s Max, a high school student that is the son of my dear friend, student and art collector Laura.

September 2020 Fall debuts with a live wedding painting commission – I have been booked in advance for this even before the pandemic started. The wedding still takes place with a reduced attendance, outside, where I paint from life the first dance of the bride and groom, right after receiving the most heartwarming and passionate introduction by my client – the bride’s father – to the attending guests. I continue teaching a few in person small group classes at Spruill Art Center, and via Zoom for Abernathy Art Center and Fulton County.

October 2020 In an impulse I post on social media that I am thinking of opening my Art House for a 1st painting workshop here. The response is overwhelmingly positive, and I schedule a second workshop for the overflow to accommodate everyone. My goal of teaching workshops at The Art House is coming true! The day of the workshop arrives, Max is here, too, helping arriving co-creators with parking; we start at 10am and end at 4. We have the best of times co-creating in a first painting adventure at the Art House!

November 2020 Heart filled with the success of my first two Art House workshops, I decide to continue scheduling one workshop a month. The 3rd watercolor workshop takes place in my home studio. A new project for a mural comes in, this time I’m painting over an installation of old recipe books in a corporate setting at Inspire, thanks to Amy my new wonderful recruiter at Art & Associates.  I continue teaching classes in person at Spruill Art Center, with some getting cancelled for low enrollment. I miss so much having a full class of 16 participants – now the new limit is set at 9 for ample social distancing. I get an unexpected commission to create two paintings as gifts for HBO Max film directors of the new series Raised by Wolves.

December 2020 The 4th Art House workshop in watercolor takes place. I paint a new mural of a Dalmatian dog wearing “glasses” that are formed by two vanity mirrors in the master bathroom. 3 times, that is, painting, covering it up and repainting it again, keep changing my mind. Art sales pick up as the year comes to an end.

January 2021 Starting feeling isolated in my art studio when I get a new request to teach at a newly built state-of-the-art retirement center in Peachtree Hills. Craving interaction, I am happy to accept. The class fills fast and they schedule a second workshop for the overflow.  The 5th workshop in watercolor takes place at my Art House studio. I get a new gig to paint an abstract mural in a tubular skylight at Spruill Art Center, and bring each of my daughters to help me in different consecutive days. I love to expose them to seeing me at work in different scenarios, so they can observe work ethic. An installation of paper doves accompanies the mural, and I help with creating a guided direction for the flow of paper birds that are being installed by a group of volunteers. Art sales are flowing in, and I breath easier again.

February 2021 Corinna Sephora invites me as a guest on “Connect & Create Episode 47: Diana Toma”, the interview takes place via Zoom, flowing beautifully with a small  attendance, while technical difficulties get in the way of broadcasting the event live on Facebook, where most of my audience is. Corrina invites me back for a follow up interview scheduled for April 6th (access the Facebook event here). The 6th Art House workshop takes place, this time in acrylic, and I meet new students as well as some I haven’t seen in a year. I complete and deliver a new commissioned 4 by 4 feet painting for Chick-fil-A headquarters, another of the gigs Amy has found for me.

March 2021 After lengthy negotiations and a visit to the most impressive printing house, I sign a new contract with Paula Product – together we will make prints of my art available to order online in a wide a variety of sizes for both corporations and the general public! I receive great news, the mural proposal I had created for Spruill Center for the Arts gets approved by the city council to be painted on a 9-by-24-foot wall at the entrance to the art center located at 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. This will be my largest mural to date! (learn more about it here: https://reporternewspapers.net/2021/03/20/dunwoodys-spruill-arts-center-chooses-first-mural-design-for-building-improvements-project) A writer from the Dunwoody Reporter reaches out to conduct an interview and we have an explosively wonderful time chatting up over the phone for over an hour about my journey as an artist. I paint a book cover commissioned for an inspirational book written by a group of women in their 50’s, a collection of tools for cultivating confidence and creativity. The fencing on my backyard gets repainted and I purchase few thousands flower seeds and bulbs. April is planting time!

It has now been officially a year since the pandemic changed our lives. Our lives go on. We are adapting the best way we can. A new reality is becoming the new normal. The words heard at the Spiritual Living Center of Atlanta are being whispered in my ears: I live in a Universe of abundance. As I freely and joyfully give, I join in the divine flow… and all that I share with life, returns to me multiplied abundantly. And so it is.

Hear, hear for resilience, and for a life well loved even in the face of challenging circumstances.