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Artist, Businesswoman

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Jocelyn Escava turned her art into a business, with the help of The Angel Fund

By Jocelyn Escava

I thought I would have to go out and look for a desk job. I’d have to leave my home and wouldn’t be able to spend my days painting anymore—but—could I possibly turn my painting into a real business? Maybe?

It hadn’t worked out so far, but then again, I never had to worry about making a living before. When I was barely 20, I had gone straight from Parsons to marrying and having children. Though I was always an artist, for most of my life, my art was a hobby. It was perhaps a little more than a year before this financial shakeup that I first sold a painting. Someone who knew I loved art had asked, “I have an old canvas that I don’t like anymore. Can you redo it?”

Now, painting over another painting takes much more time and entails more work than simply starting from scratch. But it was the first time anyone had hired me for anything, so I didn’t think to question the request. Then, other women began calling. They wanted paintings that matched their rooms, and I would create art in the requested color scheme.

I became very busy. But I wasn’t making money. I would spend tons of time on each project, and I was scared to charge even a fraction of what I should have. I hated asking for money at all, spent lot of time worrying about what I should charge, and even hesitated to collect once I had finished to job.

I kept attended Ladies Angel Network events, and each time I had gone home inspired, thinking that I was going to turn this into a business, but I didn’t have a business mind and didn’t know what to do.

Until I didn’t have a choice—the art had to either become a business, or I would have to find another way to make money. “Let me try,” I told myself. “Let me go to The Angel Fund, show them what I’ve been doing, and see what they say.”

I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to make a decent amount of money in the art world.

When I met with Irwin Dayan, he surprised me when he said, “You have the customers. That’s the key. This could work. You just have to value your time and charge accordingly.” This could work?

Kim Dabah and Margie Sarway joined the team. Margie knows art—she was able to look at my paintings and assess what they were worth. Kim, Margie, and I met often. We brainstormed what I should do to grow the business—should I look to have my work displayed in galleries in Manhattan? Or focus on serving my current customer base in the community? We discussed it and agreed that while being in a gallery was prestigious, I needed to make money now, and my customers were here. I just had to learn how to think like a business woman.

First came my pricing structure. Irwin, Kim, and Margie helped me come up with a way to figure out the cost of a painting, based on the size, what materials I used, if it was custom or not, and other factors which made each piece unique. It became more scientific rather than based on what I was thinking, feeling, or worrying about.

They taught me how to speak to the customer, and be confident when asking for a deposit and for payment in full when I delivered a completed painting.

Every time I met with them, we’d go over the rules of my business again—so I wouldn’t get weak and anxious, and would maintain the confidence they had helped me built. Kim pushed me to set aside specific time to take care of the administrative details, bookkeeping, and scheduling appointments. I became very organized.

I needed a website, and I never would have gotten to it if Kim and Margie hadn’t taken charge. All I had to do was take photos of my art, name and measure the pieces, and Maurice Harary did the rest. When I asked what I owed, he said nothing.

Now you can see my work online, and Kim and Margie are always making sure I stay on top of it, constantly uploading new work, and keeping the content fresh so people have a reason to come back and see my latest.

When the Sephardic Center hosted their Decorating Day, my paintings hung in the lobby, and I received a lot of attention. When The Angel Fund held their annual parlor meeting at The Parlor Gallery in Asbury Park, my paintings also hung on the walls, and I received more attention. Now, we’re planning different exciting ways to increase exposure for my art, like a pop-up shop and different exhibitions in city stores.

Sometimes my customers purchase a finished piece, sometimes they want something custom to fit perfectly into their dream room. But no matter whether the canvas that’s currently on the easel is a customer request or something that floated into my imagination that day, in the sun-lit room off my kitchen, I’m home painting, and making a living doing what I love.

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