Starting my online art school #1

In 2020 I’m starting my online art school; right here, on my own website. Why am I pursuing this goal? How am I going to get there? And what do I need to tackle? I’d love to take you along on this journey and share my struggles and victories. I’ll be talking about this bi-weekly in this series of blogs. Stay up to date on new blogs by joining my newsletter.

When Kara Bullock asked me in 2018 to do a solo class for her art network, I was hesitant. By then, I had only participated in collaborative courses and being one out of 50 talented art teachers feels a whole lot safer than being out there on your own. I must admit that the only reason I said ‘yes’ to her offer, was because I trusted her – being a long-term and respected business owner – and not so much my own teaching capabilities. Starting an online art school or even teaching a solo class wasn’t in my planning at that point but somehow the thought wouldn’t let go of me.

I quickly said “yes!” and then had a mild nervous breakdown about what I’d just done. What was I going to add to other people’s art journey?! I did have one advantage; I’ve worked as a freelancer for a long time. Planning, problem-solving and making deadlines was my life up until the summer of 2017, when I suffered from burnout-like problems which forced me to rethink my life.

Rethink may be an overstatement, because my brain at that point wasn’t doing much of anything anymore. All I wanted was to get away from it all. Literally all of it. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t want to answer my phone, I didn’t want to get out of bed anymore and I didn’t want to be mother. And that’s a scary place to be. A lot of that recent past plays an important part in my current life and decision making proces.

It’s not that I really didn’t want all of that. No one in that position actually wants to stay in bed all day, every day. And no one wants to give up their kids. The best thing I ever did was to realize that it was my brain going into survival mode, almost like a biological instinct taking over. And that – as a sentient being – I needed to face it and take from it what I needed. 

The things I needed in my life

What was that was lacking in my life and caused this state of mind? One was human love and genuine connection. Over the years I had surrounded myself with fellow entrepreneurs. What little personal contact I had with them, was limited to talking about business and complaining about clients. We all pretended to have it all, need nothing and be made out of concrete. None of it was real and none of it was genuine. So I stopped going to network meetings.

Another was real creativity. Not the pseudo kind, where you start out all fresh and then client demands and feedback reduce it down to you picking the colors. Technology is a wonderful but also tricky business to work in as a creative person and it was eating me alive. I gave myself 3 months to finish up my work and ended most contracts.

The last thing I needed and didn’t know I needed until I got it, was gentleness. Kindness. Compassion, empathy, understanding, whatever you want to call it. There was so little of it in my life. When clients wouldn’t pay, my fellow freelancers would go into a raging fit. I wanted to call them, to ask if maybe they had problems, maybe they wanted to talk and we could work it out. But there was this general rule in freelancing that money was strictly business. That you had to be cold and distant about it. It was the same with deadlines or the amount of hours you worked. No pain no gain. Got a kid? Send him to daycare full time. Got a migraine? Deal with it. Want to go away for a few days to spend some time with family? Take your laptop and work on.

I felt sick and trapped and pulled the plug on all of it. Just in time, I suppose.

The things I got in return

When I had to quit all of it, I never felt more empty and failed in my life. No big revelation here. 🙂 It was just a great big mess and I don’t want to write the type of blog where everything turns into rainbows and unicorns in the final paragraph. I don’t thrive well on insecurity and my character is more rigid than a 10 inch thick plate of steel. So to give myself some kind of deadline (old tricks eh) I told myself I could have 2 months of nothingness. Just to see what would happen.

I was sitting in the bus on the way to my mum, browsing Facebook, when an ad popped up on my feed. It was a painting course at an online art school by Juna Biagioni. We talked about that when we met later on and still can’t figure out how it ended up there based on my internet browsing history. But I remember thinking “what is this thing?” and later thinking “oh well, why not?”. And I purchased it.

It was a bit of a big deal to me because I rarely spend money on myself. So I took it awfully serious. I worked really hard on it and figured that that would ‘make it right’ somehow. That I’d come out on top and ‘win’. It’s almost hilarious how these deeply ingrained patterns pop back up the minute you’re not looking. 

I think during those weeks I realized one of the most important things in my life; that change wasn’t a one trick pony. It’s not something that ‘happens’ and voila, you’re brand new. It’s a process where you keep on repeating the same destructive shit, with one exception: the point in time where you realize you’re doing it again, comes closer and closer to the moment you’re doing it. Like action and reaction moving towards each other until they’re are almost in sync. That’s change I guess. When I thought about it that way, I stopped thinking “oh fuck, I’m doing it AGAIN” and leave it at that. I watched myself and tried to accept that there wasn’t anything I could change right now and that was ok. And in that acceptance was – ironically – the change itself.

The online art community

During my weeks in the private Facebook group for Juna’s class, I looked around and saw a lot of people struggling with these type of thoughts. The posts about how we felt by far outnumbered the posts about any technical skills. Art – like music – has a magical way of tuning into our souls and as much as I tried to keep it all rational, there’s no way to deny that.

The art community that I met outside of the privacy of a closed group was even more astonishing. It’s more than just any online art school. It’s honest and open and non-judgemental. Dare I say it restores one’s faith in humanity?

It was this knowledge, knowing that you will land softly, that made me say yes to Kara. And it made me say yes to not going back to old, familiar but destructive ways of living. To look for a future that won’t weight so heavy on a creative heart. 

So that’s what I’d like to write about here, in this series of articles. Not really how to start any online business but to share how I move through life with a sensitive, creative heart. Share what I’d like to see reflected in the way I teach art. Ups and downs and the whole grayscale in between. I hope you’ll join me and leave your thoughts behind as well, as they connect us even from afar. 

33 thoughts on “Starting my online art school #1”

  1. Glen Collingwood

    I wish you well . I think your openness and sincerity will carry you far.. There is far too much windowdressing in the world.

    1. Cat Hartgraves

      Sabra, As i read this, i kept thinking, is she telling MY story?.. I knew as artist people, we have similarities but this was too close… Thank you for the honesty and technical support that you give. I too,one day, would love to share my art (if i could just get the computer thing dailed in!) Love and support CAT

      1. Sabra Awlad Issa

        Cat, I know that feeling so well! I think when we share our stories, we find there are always people who have scary similar experiences. We find them only by opening up. And I’m glad to have found you <3

        Much love, Sabra

  2. As someone who has experienced periods of severe anxiety and depression myself and who looked for so long in all the wrong places for comfort, I felt, from the very first lesson on ‘Paint your Heart and Soul’ a connection with you: it was as if somehow I had met you before and my heart went out to yours in friendship. Sabra, you are an amazing teacher. I am excited to have the privilege of sharing your experiences. Thank You.

    1. I am so excited for you this year!!! And for all of us, too, as we grow with you through this series! You know just how much I love you, your transparency and your wisdom. You WILL rock this year!!! I cant wait for your school😍

    2. Sabra Awlad Issa

      I’m deeply grateful to have found you, our shared thoughts on things and just your loving words. I know what you mean when you say it feels like you’ve met someone before. Kindred spirits. <3

  3. Shirley Gordon

    What an exciting news to find in my email this morning! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and goals with us. Your talent and teaching astounds and inspires me. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to follow your journey!

    1. Congratulations on starting your own online art class, Sabra. I look forward to your classes and to reading more entries into your blog here. I too have been, or rather “am in”, in a state of “how do I change this”, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts and following you along this journey. Well done Sabra.

    2. Sabra, I took your class on Kara’s let’s face it and loved your honest and open videos and comments. I just came off of antidepressants and trying to make my way in my art again. Community is so darn important. I am so with you on this journey.🤗

  4. So touched by your story. I can see myself in that exact moment of doing the same “wrong” things again and again. You inspire me. Can’t wait to learn more from your classes.

  5. Hello Sabra, I loved reading this and would love to share this journey with you. I “discovered” you as a teacher through LFI this year and watching your videos and listening to you made me feel very connected to you. I hope you don’t mind me saying that. I had the same feeling doing Juna’s Drawing in the Soul course a couple of years ago. I am pretty old now … 71 … but believe age is no barrier to friendship. I raised 3 children on my own, (after an abusive marriage) going to university at that time and became a teacher then a headteacher. I burned out too, sort of recovered, went back to work and was then diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer which I believe to this day was caused by anxiety, fear and stress. I had to retire…it came back three times but I have been ok for 11 years now. I took up painting, drawing, etc and singing in a choir just before my last surgery. I have always loved creative arts but grew up in an era when it was complete discouraged in my school. I made up for it as a teacher and nowadays my art and my singing (and my 3 gorgeous grandkids and family) are my world. Art, singing and writing poetry and stories keep me sane. I was lucky enough to remarry a kind and decent man who doesn’t paint or sing but encores me and stood behind me the week I worked on your lesson a couple of weeks ago, (me saying “it’s too hard”)saying “keep going, keep going” ☺
    Anyway, that’s me and I would love to support you in this venture and wish you happiness and great success. 😊

    1. Sabra Awlad Issa

      Thank you so much for sharing that Lynda! I looked to my mother and my grandmother as saw the same struggles and the same need for art and music. You deal with it the best you can, within the era you live in, under the circumstances that are your life. But I think we all relate and connect on the same level, no matter age or culture. I’m so happy that you now have love, laughter and art in your life. Thank you again for your beautiful comment! <3

      Much love, Sabra

  6. That should have said “encourages” not “encores”. Reading other people’s comments too makes me feel this will be a wonderful community. Like others on here, I was so happy to find your message in my inbox today, so hello to all like souls 😊, lovely to meet you.

  7. Well done!!! Kudos for taking a leap of faith. You are creating a very good, solid place in this community with your “down-to-earth-ness” and honesty. I applaud this. Can’t wait to see where this will take you. 🤩🤩 Superstoked ! ❤️❤️

    1. All the very best Sabra, looking forward to following your blog and further art Journey. Juna was my starting point too- that amazing lady has lots to answer for!!
      Xx

  8. Phyllis Riley

    What a lovely and exciting thing to wake up to this morning! You are fabulous and I will be as supportive as I possibly can. Now go do this thing!!!!!!❤️❤️❤️❤️

  9. Your message was a very lovely surprise this morning. Though different circumstances, art has brought me healing in a similar way, so I love following your journey. I also love learning from you and am excited for what comes next…..

  10. Sabra I am so looking forward to this journey. You are amazing and I love learning from and with you.

  11. Excellent writing! I really enjoyed your class in 2019 , I even sold my blue drippy man (without having the the money to frame it). I am looking forward to more writings from you ! Several of my art classmates are deeply worried about “the point of it all”. Today while looking for something to eat in the refrigerator I said I will never be framing my work and “everything” I do will just die at that point 🤷‍♀️ Lol. I appreciate you so much !

  12. Kristine Toms

    How great that your journey has led you to this point! I am thrilled for you and excited to continue to learn from you. As others have said, your ‘genuineness’ and love of discovery are such a welcome haven. I love to listen to you as you paint: you share so much with us beyond just the art. Bravo!

  13. Yes! So very glad to hear this news today. I almost feel like saying it’s about time for you to have your own! Can’t wait are more words that come to mind. And finally let’s go girl, you are doing it! Yes!

  14. I loved reading your story, Sabra. And I am so immensely excited that you will be opening your own online art school because the class I took from you on Kara’s site (Mixed Emotions) was the most influential class i have taken thus far. It pushed me in very uncomfortable ways that helped me grow both artistically and emotionally. I wish you all the best on this journey 🙂

  15. Leonora Marges

    Oh Sabra – how I admire your courage and honesty!
    I’m 66 years old and only recently (gingerly!) started daring to try to make art. My family migrated from The Netherlands to Australia when I was seven – a challenging step for all concerned. The priorities were work, survival and ‘assimilation’. One had to willingly submit to the treadmill. Hence, for me, the veneration of art, music and literature was a private affair and the creation of it definitely for others.
    Now, years later – in my dotage almost – it’s an unbelievable luxury to have lessons available online. LFI 2020 is my second year-long course with different teachers. With so much content and variety, I’m learning to pace myself and honour the elements that resonate. Although I’ve not posted my attempts at it, I was much taken by your lesson. Good luck in your new venture. Will follow it with interest. Thank you.

  16. Marjanne Straatman

    Looking forward to your story and posts. I am an recovering perfectionist and sometimes thinking about new possibilities in life. Reading about someone else’s journey will be great and inspiring.

  17. Sabra, your honesty will take you far in this world. Given the current atmosphere, all people want is to be told the truth. Please, the truth! And to be heard. I am so happy to see you bringing forth what has been buried in yourself far too long. You have much to offer and so many followers who will gain from what you share. I plan to be along for the ride.

  18. Jeanne R Melanson

    Oh, I love your spirit so much, Sabra. Everytime I listen to you speak and hear your honest tales about your past (and present), it feels like home to me. Just like a lot of other people, I relate to you. Your comment, “… knowing that you will land softly,” is so beautiful. It instantly spoke to me about letting go and trusting that all is as it should be. At least I hope so. I suffer too. Peace to you, Sabra. Thank you for helping me “to look for a future that won’t weight so heavy on a creative heart.”

  19. Hello Sabra, Thankyou for sharing your personal story. I too turned to art to ease my anxiety and it has amazed me to find so many similar stories to my own in the online art community. I have had the pleasure of completing two of your classes, PYHS2019 and LFI 2020. I was so impressed with your teaching after PYHS that I signed up for your Mixed Emotions class, although I admit I haven’t completed it as yet. I had a crisis of confidence and thought I’d practice more so I could do it justice, which is when I discovered… Juna Biagioni! Another fabulous teacher who breaks things right down and gives very detailed and helpful feedback. Just like you. I’m gaining more confidence with painting now and can’t wait to find out more about your art school and the courses you will offer. All the very best. You will be great!👍

  20. Sabra, I have had the pleasure of watching you teach in PYHS2019. I am happy to have found such connection encouragement and respect in the art community. I love your honesty about your journey and your courage for sharing. We all have a story that somehow connects us as living beings. Can’t wait to see what you bring to us next✍🏾

  21. I salute your honesty and bravery. It is hard enough to bare your soul to family And friends, let alone to the community out here. I think we all share some of your feelings. I only started art a few years ago but it has opened a whole new vista for me, and I’ve made new friends along the way. To be honest, I never knew I had a creative bone in my body! But even if I’m never great at it, it’s a great way to shut out anxieties, worries and deficiencies and just be in th moment. I’ve loved your work and your classes and I’m looking foreward to your blog. I hope all our well wishes inspire you with confidence.

  22. Taylor Donaldson

    Hello Sabra, you are a “one of a kind” woman; you are an amazing human being. I feel this strongly. My first introduction to you, your nature, and your art, I believe was on the LB Summit in prep for the 2020 Lifebook. You, the person, touched me very deeply. I instantly wished to know more….. AND, then here you are popping up in my email on March 2nd. I have read everything on your website – each and every comment as well. I hesitated to comment. Why? Not ever really sure. I am shy, sensitive, caring, and vulnerable to a fault. Writing to you where other’s will ‘see me’ is a big stretch….. My husband strongly believes ‘there are no coincidences in this life”. Perhaps not.

    Sabra, I am so excited for you and your new adventure! We all need what you have to give. I will be awaiting to hear and see more. On LFI 2020, admittedly struggled through your lesson. I began my creative pursuits a little over two years ago. I crave to create – even find art in my dreams. ** Mixed Emotions is a class I am eager to begin.

    As I write to you from the USA (Colorado), I realize we are ocean’s apart, yet, I am so excited to be a small part of your new journey. I wish you all goodness, love, and whatever your sweet soul desires. All the best as you move forward!

    Warmly and lots of love & hugs!

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