Interview with a Creative Coach Jessica Serran
Jessica Serran is an International Artist and the Leader of the Becoming Artist Movement. Jessica was born in Canada but now lives in Prague.As a Visual Artist she uses drawing and painting to touch the forgotten and hidden parts of Self. When not making her own art she helps other Visual Artists who struggle with discovering their Calling to become Leaders of an International Creative Movement through the Power of Community.
Where do you come from and how did you get to Prague?
I first came to the Czech Republic to do an artist residency in Tabor, back in 2009. Many things happened while I was there, including a trip that led my mother and I to find long-lost relatives in Slovakia. During that time I fell in love with a man in Tabor and decided to move there and start a life together. That didn’t go well. 8 months later I packed my bags to move to Prague to start work on an art project that I had received funding for from the Ontario government in Canada.
Have you been living in Prague the whole time?
I’ve been in Prague for six years now and was in Tabor for nearly one year. Because the art project that I received funding for was specific to this country – Field Guide to the Czech Psyche – it made sense for me to be here. I was interested in this place, the people here and my own Slovak ancestry. The project took three years to complete. During that time I met many wonderful people, established friendships, colleagues and opportunities started opening up for my career. I decided to stay and have been here ever since.
What made you to dive into the world of mentoring and teaching?
It was a pretty organic process. Back in 2012, I started studying business and marketing. Many of the people I studied with were either coaches or entrepreneurs who had online businesses. All of them were working in the field of personal development and social change. The more that I learned, the more I felt inspired by this group’s people and the work that they were doing. I quickly realized that I’ve basically been trying to coach and inspire people most of my life, so why not do this professionally? I’ve always been interested in human potential, transformation, the creative process, and what it takes to give birth to something new.
What is the secret behind the success of your career as an artist?
Well, success is certainly relative, but tenacity and conviction have gotten me a long way. I’m stubborn enough to not take ‘No’ for an answer and have consistently dove head first into unknown territory. I also discovered early on that if I could find a way to turn something that I wanted to do into an art project, I was more likely to make it happen. Doing this has always helped me to clarify my goals, document the process and kept me accountable (since I always make a public announcement when I’m about to do something like this.) I also realized a long time ago that I didn’t have to know how I would make something happen but that I could figure it out along the way. That has served me well.
Would you say that there is a difference between an THE artist and freelance artist (I mean craftsmen – e.g., commercial) in how to kick off his/her career?
Yes, but I think that both have to take something very essential into consideration, which is who their work is for. Now I have to be careful because I’m not at all suggesting that a fine artist should make their art to fill a specific demographic’s need or desires, but that at some point (after the art is made in the case of the fine artist), both need to be aware of what their work does, who it is best suited for and what problem it helps them to solve. Once you’ve identified this it is much easier to find clients and collectors, or to decide which gallery is a good fit for them and their work.
It is common to hear this term “starving artist.” I believe that many of your mentees who comes to you for the first time might be them. What is the main thing that an artist or a designer should focus on when they feel the passion but do not know how to start making money? (It may be a mindset thing.)
I think that it’s two-fold: artists definitely need to be working on their mindset. Specifically, they need to identify the limiting beliefs that have become engrained in their psyches and are holding them back. They also need to work on the practical skills that are required to make money – things like marketing, pricing work, having a sales conversation and most importantly, how to communicate the value of what they do.
Can you see the same problem with school as I do? The school spits out the artist but never teaches them how to make money.
Absolutely. Artists leave art school and often have no real ideas about how to start their careers, set up businesses or identify which steps they really need to take.
What about this syndrome of people being a victim?
Being a victim rarely gets us the results we desire, which makes it an inherently problematic stance to take. While it may be true that being an artist does have distinct challenges, and that it’s helpful to know what we’re up against, we also have to recognize that each of us have the power to create the kind of lives we most want to live – especially as artists and CREATORS! Who better to tap into the power of what it takes to create something than an artist? I always encourage artists to use their creative energy not just to create art, but to create careers that they love.
What are the basic skills that an artist or a freelance designer needs to learn to succeed and make a solid living?
All artists need to have solid, cohesive bodies of work (or portfolios). They need to know what it is that they are creating, who would be interested in it, why someone would want it, and how to communicate these things. They need a healthy relationship with money and the confidence to communicate the value of their work in the world. They should also understand some basics of running your own business, marketing and how to be productive and prolific. They also need to be ferociously resilient – especially in an industry where rejection is inevitable.
Can you see any mistakes that people do over and over again that prevent them from succeeding? (By “succeed” I mean to get into the creative business, secure their position and ideally grow as well.)
One of the biggest mistakes I see is the common belief that, “My art is for everyone.” It’s not! Too many artists, especially fine artists, believe this. They end up wasting time, energy and valuable resources, and as a result, rarely finding the collectors or clients they desire.
Can you read and interpret any differences in these terms – teaching, mentoring, coaching?
I can, but I would say that the borders between them aren’t clearly defined. In general, I would say that “to teach” implies a passing on of specific knowledge or skills, whereas coaching, in its purest form, is less about passing on hard skills, and more about helping someone find their own answers and come to their own conclusions. Mentoring feels more similar to coaching, but with the additional inclusion that mentors have usually walked similar paths as their mentees and have gained specific wisdom and lessons on that path that they can then pass on to their mentees.
What is your opinion on hiring a mentor or coach to give someone an advantage in your field?
In my experience, having a coach helps accelerate the process and keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel. I also love what this commonly repeated idea implies: No Olympic athlete has gotten where they are without a coach. Coaches help us to thrive and see things that we can’t. They help us to set goals, achieve them and become the best possible version of ourselves. That, to me, is invaluable.
I know that you focus on a specific group of artists – more spiritual ones. Can you tell us about using the right communication and language as a mentor?
Language becomes important in several ways. When trying to market to or find new clients, it’s important to be authentic, which means using language that feels natural to us and lets our personalities shine through. A potential client needs to feel like they can know, like and trust us. Similarly, members of our tribes identify not just with what we do, but with how we do it, and how we communicate what we are doing. They need to feel that they can relate to us not just as mentors but as human beings. They need to know that we are “speaking their language.” Language is powerful. We register it both consciously and unconsciously. Though this might seem to be in direct contrast with what I just said, when I’m coaching a client I also try to mirror things back to them using the very same language they used. The subconscious mind often needs to hear things in our own language.
What is the main message of your teaching?
Use the same creativity that you use to make art to create a career you love.
What does the term “healing” mean in your teaching?
For me, to heal means to become more whole and who we were born to be. To do so, we have to examine the beliefs and traumas that are holding us back, become intimate with our own experiences (both past and present) and then find ways to give ourselves the love, permission and compassion that we didn’t get in the past when we needed it the most.
In the Czech Republic, there is this stigma around so-called “advisors” or coaches. The reason might be a bad reputation from other areas like finances or life coaching. The next thing is that people here, especially in the creative field, are not used to having to pay for anything like mentoring. What would you say to help these people to see the value?
I believe, and experience has shown me, that investing in ourselves is always a good idea. We get out of something what we put into it. If we really want something we have to be willing to invest at every level – financially, mentally, physically and emotionally. Going after our dreams is not the easiest path, but if we’re committed and dedicated to it, it’s wise to give ourselves the support and resources we need along the way from others who have walked the path before us.
Do you think that a mentor needs to be the top artist or designer to be able to really help others?
I think that a great mentor has experience doing the things that their mentees would like to be doing. Of course a mentor can’t be expected to know everything, and I don’t necessarily believe that they need to be the top in their field, but they should have reached a level of skill and success that qualifies them to mentor (and inspire) others.
Some mentors used to have their own businesses but now they are focused only on mentoring / coaching. In your opinion, is it important for the mentor to be active in the creative business?
For me it’s quite important. I believe that we all need to continue stretching, learning and pioneering new territory. It keeps us on our edge and helps us to lead the way for those whom we are mentoring. I personally want to work with coaches who consistently challenge themselves to be and do more.
What information should someone look for and questions should someone ask when looking for in a mentor?
I think every person needs to understand their own decision-making process. For some, it’s about doing a whole bunch of research, for others, the decision tends to be more intuitive. I always listen to my gut feeling. Most coaches or mentors offer Discovery Sessions, which are one-on-one phone calls (or interviews) designed to help both the mentor and potential mentee determine if they would be the best fit for them. I highly recommend getting a potential coach on one of these phone calls. It’s also helpful to peruse the mentor’s website for testimonials and evidence of how their support has helped others to achieve their goals.
What is the best way to find and approach a mentor?
Most coaches have websites and offer free, Discovery Sessions. Talking to others in your industry is a great place to start. Once I find someone I’m interested in I usually follow them on social media, take advantage of any free resources they provide and then if it seems like a good fit I’ll schedule a Discovery Session.
Do you see any obstacles in not seeing the mentee face-to-face and work only online, via Skype calls or using online courses?
Of course there are things that could never be translated over Skype, like the subtle nuances of a person’s body language or how they move through the world. Those things are irreplaceable, but I have actually found that for most things I prefer to use video calls because of how focused and concentrated we both can be. A lot can be accomplished in an hour of distraction-free time.
Is there anything more you would like to leave the people with, especially those who feel that they lack some knowledge in creative business, but they have never thought about finding a mentor?
There’s a great quote from Marie Forleo that I love. She always says, “Everything is figureoutable.” I find this to be true, and a very important philosophy to have. The first step in any creative pursuit is to know what you want to accomplish and then commit to it. After that, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to figure it out. Everything can be figured out when approached with an open mind and a healthy dose of curiosity.