Encouraged by her parents, Gail Sibley studied art, then started to build a following for her hand painted tiles and pastels in the markets of Salt Spring Island. People began to ask her to teach, but she found herself limited by the number of people she could serve in a single class.
Now at How To Pastel and the Gail Sibley Art School, Gail provides her students who want to take the next step with community, commentary, and lessons to help them ignite their passion for art with others who are doing the same.
Today, Gail joins the podcast to share the story of how she succeeded in a unique and highly competitive field, the power of knowing your value, and how the membership model is uniquely designed to serve creatives.
- How following her lifelong passion allowed Gail to experience success as a working artist and art teacher.
- Why Gail transitioned from offering a successful course to a thriving membership business and powerful community.
- The thing that surprised Gail the most after she launched her membership site.
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- “You can really create work that comes deeply from you.” – Gail Sibley
- IGNITE! Art-Making Membership
- How to Pastel blog
- How to Pastel with Gail Instagram
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Gail Sibley, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE thing podcast. Buddy, how are you?
Gail Sibley: I’m excited. I’m excited to share my journey.
Shelli Varela: I have a serious, soft spot for artists, having been somebody who’s written and painted and created digital art for virtually my entire life. So, I’m super jazz to chat with you. Would you start by sharing with us, who you serve and what you do?
Gail Sibley: I basically serve empty nesters and retirees who are wanting to ignite or reignite their creative souls. Quite often, a lot of those people had to leave their art for careers and family and are coming back to it. So, they’re kind of rediscovering and some others have never tried it and want to discover that part of themselves.
Shelli Varela: I love it. And I’m always quick to add the explanation to those who think that art is simply art, like when it allows the person who’s creating there to connect to themselves, it’s almost like meditative in some states and just have that quiet space to just kind of recalibrate and just be with your thoughts and be with your art and put that out into the world. I have such a soft spot and a fondness for people who do what you do.
So, first of all, thank you. Would you mind sharing, how did you get to be the person who has this art membership site? We’re all familiar with the term starving artist and yet, you are a person who has a membership site teaching art and creating recurring revenue. Who were you at the very beginning of your story?
Gail Sibley: I always had art in my life. My parents were artistic and they always encouraged me to go after what I wanted to do and my heart’s desire. So, the idea of me going to art school didn’t faze them, they encouraged it which was amazing and I know a lot of people, other people don’t have that opportunity. And so, just basically, I went through art, I went into a time when I was in art history, but then I came back in the end to art making because that is really what my kind of soul in a way wanted. It was telling me, no, no, art is your thing, go back to it.
And so, I moved from Toronto to Salt Spring Island which is a very artistic community. I went into a life of hand painted tiles and selling in the Saturday market there which was really quite wonderful and I love connecting with people there, but I also wanted to get my art out. And most of my art at the time and still is, is done in soft pastels and taking a framed pastel to the market, where the wind and the rain can be very much there.
I started making prints and that got me more known. And really, I think that was where my teaching really started to come in. People wanted to know how to do it. So, I’d started doing in-person workshops which was fantastic, but at the same time, you only reach so many people, you can only help so many people in a one-on-one workshop. So, that’s sort of the background of where I was.
And then, in a new part of my life, a new chapter of my life, my partner said, “I know you really want to create art. So, do your art. Don’t worry about making a living, don’t worry about getting odd jobs, just go and do your art for two years. Just go and do it.” And I began doing that and it was probably one of the richest times of art making I’ve had. At the same time, I started to feel this weird, niggling feeling like, I’m not really making any money, I feel a little bit dependent and I’ve been fairly independent. And I’m not contributing to the household income or anything.
So, this was interesting because the sort of anxiety and stress around that was starting to build. And I’m trying to make my art, but I really felt like it was starting to affect my ability to be completely, fully in my art, like deeply in my art, like I felt this thing. And so, that was okay, what do I do about this? Do I go and get a job? No, if you get a job, you’re going away from where your heart’s desire is, this thing that lights you up.
And so, I was definitely in the online world trying to learn about online business. And so, I thought, you know what? I’m going to create a course, an online course. So that’s really where the start was, getting into the online world. And it definitely took me a lot longer to create that than I expected, that was a very big surprise, but I also wanted it to be a full on everything you want to know about soft pastels.
And I launched it and surprisingly, it was hugely successful. I guess not fully surprised me, but it did surprise me that it took me into this other income bracket that I’d never been in my whole life and that really opened up the idea of what is possible in the online world, and the income impacting, helping so many more people, and also helping me.
Shelli Varela: Well, I love that you said that because here you are, a person who has been trained by your parents to follow your heart’s desire and you know that art is your thing. And we were talking before we started chatting, everybody’s heard the term starving artists, starving artists, starving artists. And it’s so interesting that you were talking about, your partner said, you have two years to just like paint and do your thing. And at the end of the day, while that’s great, it’s not lost on me that the thing that gave you your autonomy, your income, and your ability to create your art was creating a community.
And you were talking earlier also about when you’re out painting the tiles and you just love the connection of the community and paying attention to the questions that you were being asked and creating a workshop out of that, after you launched this course and created more money than you thought you were going to, how did that lead you to a membership site?
Gail Sibley: Well, it was thrilling to create something and put something out there and then, have people say, “Yes, I want it.” So, that was the real impetus to go, “Okay, I’m going to go look further into this.” So, that was super exciting. And then, I started to think, right, but this is a real roller coaster. This is put it out there, launch, okay, go do my art. And then, oh, I have to relaunch it again. So, it was this roller coaster of launching, so roller coaster of income and roller coaster in the life of an artist of trying to, oh, yeah, okay. And then, I didn’t want to tire my audience of just these continuous launches. So, I only did it maybe twice a year. And so that was, I don’t know, if this is maybe good enough, so then the idea.
Shelli Varela: So, when you launched your course and you had the people who were buying in that you’re wondering, like, where did all these people come from? I wasn’t expecting this kind of success, was there a piece of that that’s enticing because you want to launch again, but at the same time, there’s that sort of rub in, you know you have to work on your business and be in your business? And the gift of your business is the creating of the art. It is that concept that your parents taught you when you were young, just like follow your heart’s desire. Was there a piece of when you’re in creating the courses and you were in launch mode and feast and famine, you have income, the no income, was there a piece of that that was pulling you away from the very thing that inspired you to start it in the first place which was the actual art?
Gail Sibley: Absolutely, yes, because when you’re in launch mode, you go full in and it takes 100% of your time, I would say, to really do it successfully. So yeah, it was taking me away from the art and again, that creates that tension between, okay, I need to launch again because of the income and then, oh, but I need to paint. So, it was this ping, ping, ping, ping pong thing, which really, it was uncomfortable, getting launching and having… the income was great, but then the rest not so good.
So, the idea then, okay, I need to do something about this. And the idea of memberships, I can’t remember exactly the moment, but it was definitely in there, somehow following all the people in the online world and I thought, okay, this is what I need to do. I love this idea of recurring revenue and somehow, I ended up with Stu and TRIBE, but originally, I was thinking of going to maybe Patreon, which is a place where a lot of creators go, but I also thought they charge so little and how much do they give. And I think I wanted to build a membership that was really huge value, really, for people who are committed and moving their art forward, not necessarily just dabbling. I wanted people to ignite, I really want them to ignite this sort of artistic fire in them.
And I remember once asking Stu that and just, he said, “No, don’t compete on price. Just be, you know what your value is. And don’t worry about what other people are doing.” And I had joined TRIBE by this time because I had committed. I have to say, one of my little mind blocks, what stopped me for a little while about creating a membership was that I was afraid that once I started a membership, I was committed, I was committed to creating, to being there, turn up every day, week, month, whatever it is, but this commitment, and I, frankly, was kind of terrified of that. And I put off doing a membership because of that.
And then, I remember my partner said, “but you do a blog, you’ve been doing it for 10 years, and you turn up every week, and you write your blog.” And then, I thought, oh, and I don’t actually get paid to do that. I am helping. And so, that was part of the real, I got over that, that was a huge little shift for me and then, I went into the membership.
Shelli Varela: Well, I think, you’ve made a couple really significant points. And when you are the kind of personality that is wired to be in your art, you’ll find a lot of artists are a little bit introverted, I’ll say, in terms of you just want to get into the studio, you want to do your thing, you want to create, you want to be immersed in, in that which you love. And when it comes to selling the beauty of a membership site, especially for those type of creatives, is you only actually have to sell it once. And then after that, as opposed to a course, your job is only just doing the thing you love and doing it more and doing it well and immersing yourself in the very art and craft that brought you to that in the first place.
Gail Sibley: Yeah.
Shelli Varela: If you were to give somebody advice with respect to, exactly like you said that, that initial, is this possible for me? Is this going to be a drain on my emotional battery? Am I able to do this? Now that you’re on the other side of it and you have created the membership site and you get to have recurring revenue and do the thing you love, what advice would you give to somebody who’s listening to this right now and thinking, man, like, I wonder if this is actually possible for me?
Gail Sibley: I would say, definitely dig into it. I think, especially if you’ve done any kind of teaching and have that love of teaching, I think you need to love teaching or you need to, I think, have this sort of passion to pass on what you know, I think then for sure, go and explore it because it’s an amazing feeling to have time for your art, create art because you’re doing it for your membership, be able to have the reward of helping people and then also making some money when you’re doing it, having that financial kind of security, that also then feeds back into creating your art and you can create art that comes from your soul. It’s not like, oh, I better do a painting of a seagull because it’ll sell or something. You can really create work that comes deeply from you.
Shelli Varela: So, when it comes to the misnomer of price, what is your opinion on value because the limiting belief when we think about starving artists as an example and Stu said to you, don’t compete on price, what’s your opinion on the limiting belief of what that actually looks like? Because at some point, you did go ahead and charge a price and it sounds like people said, yes, even though before that, you thought they might not. What was the mindset shift that you had about that? And what was the most pleasant surprise you got from your membership site that you weren’t expecting?
Gail Sibley: Well, regarding the price, it really took some time to get over this idea that, Oh, I’m going to charge $4 a month. The thing is that I thought, if you are charging that amount of money, you have to have a whole lot of students to make a living and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a living from this. And also, so you’ve got to have a lot of students, and how are you ever going to be able to connect with those students if you’ve got thousands of them? This was at the beginning.
And then, I started to think, okay, well, what is it? What can I charge? And I started to really look at the numbers in a way, what is my ideal amount that I would like to have? And also, then how many students would that mean? So, that’s how I kind of came up with the initial founding members price which was definitely higher than the, say, Patreon numbers. And I’m so glad that I didn’t get caught into that. I’m eternally grateful for Stu just like, no, don’t compete on price.
And really understanding how much value and knowing how much value I have because I do have a blog and people are always saying how much they learned. So, that was really how I got off over the price. And then, I just thought, okay, now I just have to set that price, just set it and move on from there.
Shelli Varela: What’s been the best surprise that you’ve had as a result of creating this membership site that you didn’t anticipate before you started?
Gail Sibley: I think probably, the surprise was first of all, people would buy in, I mean, that was definitely the biggest surprise, not biggest, but just it was like, oh, my gosh. And I had my stretch goal of 100 and I had 142 people sign up initially which blew me away. So that was, oh, okay. Everything is good, this is good. So, that was probably the biggest surprise at the beginning.
And then, I think, another surprise for me is just the pure enjoyment I get. I mean, I love teaching, but the enjoyment I get of being able to see people come in do the work that we’re doing and see their work changed and then, them entering shows or moving into galleries, I mean, all of those things. And my membership is only, not even a year yet, a year old, and I just feel that reward, I think that was a surprise for me was just the huge satisfaction of seeing that and hearing just how they were feeling through that.
Shelli Varela: What’s so interesting to me when we trace it all the way back to the root, there was a person thinking of starting an art membership site who could have said no. And when you think of exactly what you said, the recurring revenue and the autonomy and you get to continue to do the art that you love and now these students that you have are out there entering contests and things like that. And it always, always, always comes back to that moment. And for all of us listening, when you have the opportunity and to make it happen, all you have to do is say yes.
Gail Sibley: Yeah, that’s true.
Shelli Varela: Well, this has been a complete pleasure to be able to track your journey, to share your journey, and to be able to share the nuggets of what it looks like to be able to, as your parents said, follow your bliss. If people are looking for you online, where’s the best place they can find you?
Gail Sibley: I would say to go to my blog, howtopastel.com. I do have a new website where my membership is but it’s not fully built out, but I think for people to connect with me and see how I teach what I do, howtopastel.com would be the best place. And on Instagram, howtopastelwithgail.
Shelli Varela: Amazing. Well, Gail, thank you for coming by and sharing your story. You are amazing.
Gail Sibley: Well, thank you so much, Shelli, for the invitation. It’s been amazing to share my journey with you.
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