Raphaella Vaisseau Heartful Art Gallery

Five years ago, I quit my day job in LA and moved to Southern Oregon to go for it as an artist. The first five months were heaven, the next five months were hell, and throughout the next four years of ups and downs, I survived. I opened Heartful Art Gallery in Sausalito last June. Its my dream-come-true venture. I have succeeded in living my dream.

Published: April, 2002
 

Five years ago, I quit my day job in LA and moved to Southern Oregon to “go for it” as an artist. The first five months were heaven, the next five months were hell, and throughout the next four years of ups and downs, I survived. I opened Heartful Art Gallery in Sausalito last June. It’s my dream-come-true venture. I have succeeded in living my dream.

My art products are varied, but all have vibrant color. I produce magnets, posters and wall art, sometimes with combinations of words with image, using either my own or famous quotes, things like Lincoln’s “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”. My art is most commonly referred to as “happy” which fits my mission of “assisting people everywhere to empower themselves and others.”

When viewing my art, most people are surprised to find that watercolor is my medium because of the brightness of color. Color is my thing. Layers upon layers of color. I love it! In fact, color is one of the reasons I moved from Minnesota to California in 1988. Minnesota is beautiful, but it’s mostly green or white.

At first I didn’t think of art as a career, although I had been painting for ten years and selling my work. Once I had my photo taken in front of Laurel Burch’s studio on Bridgeway here in Sausalito. I kept that photo on my easel for years to inspire me. Laurel Burch has been my art hero since I first bought her earrings in the 70’s. I’ve followed her career since then and always in the back of my mind was the possibility of success in art. I thought, if she could do it, maybe I could too.

Then, in 1991, while still working as a secretary, I met Vicki Leon at an art show in Los Angeles. Vicki is a now renowned artist who does sandblasted glass design. There was something different about her approach. She didn’t have the usual “starving artist” mentality. I wanted to learn more about the business of art from her, so I asked her if I could work her booths at art shows for the rest of the summer. She agreed and thus she became my mentor. (I now sell her glass designs in my gallery.) At the end of that summer, I started my own company, with a line of watercolor greeting cards.

Working evenings and weekends, I increased my income enough to feel that if I put full time energy into it, I could do it. I made a commitment to myself and took Landmark Education’s Curriculum for Living. My final project for that class was to open my own shop and make my living from art. I picked Ashland, Oregon, a small town that had a nine-month tourist trade because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival held there. I am a “go for it” person. I just said, “Ok, I am going to do this”, and I just did it.

I quit my job (I now refer to this as “jumping off the day-job cliff”). The only savings I had was my IRA, which I decided to use to make my dreams come true. I gave myself six months to quadruple my business. You understand, I didn’t have a husband. I didn’t have an inheritance. I didn’t have anybody to support this venture by giving me money. It was just me, my belief in myself, and my perseverance.

Five months later, I had succeeded in increasing my sales by 300%, but I was out of money. I had needed the full 400% to meet living expenses. I call this next period “my dark night of the soul.” I thought, “What have I done? Am I out of my mind? Here I am in a strange town far away from friends and family with no money and no options.”

I knew I needed to be around people so looked in the newspaper and found the church that had the most social events listed. It was the First United Methodist Church of Ashland and those people were truly wonderful. I call them my “hammock” because I felt cradled by them through the most difficult time of my life. Within six weeks I was back on track, believing in myself and my dreams again.

I thought about giving up and getting a day job, even though the going wage in Ashland is $8/hr. for almost anything from marketing to administration. No hope there. That wouldn’t even cover my rent. So, I said, “This is crazy. I am going to have to make it as an artist.” And I did.
In hindsight, my spirit knew I had to go to an extreme space where there were no options for quitting. If I had been in LA when I ran out of money, there’s no question that I would have returned to the land of day jobs. I would have given up and put my dream of making my living from my art back on the shelf. But this way I couldn’t get a job, so I just had to make more sales. I refined my product line, became a marketing expert, and learned from every mistake. I stopped doing hand-painted greeting cards and developed manufactured products - magnets, posters and prints.

In the fall of ’99, I was discovered by some people who suggested that I come to the Bay Area for greater exposure for my work. They were instrumental in my transition to Marin County but as soon as I arrived, they decided not to be art reps anymore. So I’m thinking, “Here I am in the most expensive part of the world… what am I going to do?” I had my art in a number of galleries and stores around the country and I was getting monthly checks in the mail from them. So I thought ok, I just need another gallery.

When I first walked into the space where I now have my gallery, I knew I was home. I didn’t know it would be mine one day, but I knew my art would be there and it was. Within months I was managing that space for the previous owner and when she decided not to renew her lease, I was ready with my business plan and closed the deal.

I opened Heartful Art Gallery on June 2, 2001. Three weeks later my brother died, and then came the events of September 11th. It wasn’t the easiest time to begin a new business venture. On the other hand, through it all my art remains happy, empowering, and uplifting, and is just what people need during these times of renewal.

It’s been a challenging time for everyone in the world. It has been hard, but I am a survivor. I love what I do, and I love people. Every day, people come from all over the world. And I love each one of you. I have a sign in my gallery with all the words people taught me for saying “thank you” in all their languages. I’m learning them all. Then I’ll start learning the word, “welcome.” Then, “please come again.” What a joy it is to be living my dream. My heart is full of gratitude for every lesson learned and every step along the way.