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Sculptor Darryl Johnson's Eye Disease Creates His Artistic Vision

Transforming Challenges Into Advantages

Estimated Reading time: About 8 minutes
Tired of reading? You can listen to the Tip-of- the-Week!

Darryl longed to focus on art since he was young, but his family was very concerned that he would not be able to make a living as an artist. So he attended Indiana University and received a degree in Political Science. He later attended Ball State University and received a master's degree in Information and Communication Science. After graduating Darryl worked in government and the private sector.

As you will learn in this interview, Darryl’s journey to become a figurative artist has been unusual and is a great lesson in how to transform challenges into opportunities. Studying martial arts intensifies his knowledge of human anatomy. Darryl has mid-level belts in both Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido.


A.C.T.: What prompted you to start your art career?

In 2007, I was diagnosed with a rare eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. I lost my ability to drive a car, so I was sidelined from my corporate sales job.

Next I had the opportunity to homeschool my kids for two years. I really cherished this opportunity, so I attended Cleveland State University with the intention of obtaining my license to teach middle schoolers.

Again I was sidelined.  My academic scores were high, but many of my peers and some professors questioned my ability to manage a classroom of teenagers in a tough environment due to my lack of eyesight.

I had not completed any type of art in over fifteen years. One day I felt compelled to visit a local art supply store and purchased some air-drying clay. In three days I sculpted the Maasai Warrior sculpture. I poured my heart and soul in this sculpture.

© Darryl Johnson ‘The Warrior’

My wife said – ‘Hey you have a real gift here. You just found your career.’ With her encouragement I went further.

A.C.T.: What is your “life’s work” as an artist?

All of my sculptures are reality based and human figurative in nature.

I am self-taught. So I am still learning how to make best use of my processes, tools, and materials. I believe learning how to produce high quality art efficiently will help my professionalism. I am also now experimenting with casting in metal and painted metals.

My work focuses on depicting the human figure in a wide range of activities and situations - through various phases of life, in mythology or the supernatural, in action, yoga and meditation.

One of my themes is to take people with disabilities like mine and put them into different situations.

‘Divine Suffering’ is about a character I invented - the Blind Monk - suffering on a cross under a disability symbol banner.  The other two in the series will show the Blind Monk dealing with challenges associated with being legally blind.

© Darryl Johnson ‘Divine Suffering’

My wife is my principle model. I’ve dedicated three sculptures to her. In ‘The Goddess’ she is Isis from Egyptian mythology. I researched the hieroglyphs for their hidden meaning. Isis used her magic to literally put her husband back together again and breath life back into him after his brother cut him into pieces. I thought this was reminiscent of my wife directing me towards art after several other doors have closed, and I felt cut into pieces.

Not all of my sculptures depict such somber themes. The Beautiful Woman, Tribal Conflict, and Urbane represent such diverse themes as beauty, tribal conflict, and cultural pride.

© Darryl Johnson ‘The Beautiful Woman’

I believe Art should celebrate the human form or enlighten the mind and make us think. True, we can survive without Art, but that life would be short and brutish. Many ancient societies celebrated visual arts. Modern times should not be an exception.

I am not interested in surviving and getting by. I want to live. I want to thrive.

A.C.T.: What is your art business direction?

I am only two years into my career, so I am still very naive about how to turn my art into a business. I am open to displaying my work at small galleries, schools, and libraries or on-line. Mainly I am just eager for people to see my art right now.

I’m really working on learning the craft, the process and just getting good at my work and technique. I am happy with ten of the twenty sculptures I have completed - both traditional figurative sculptures and mix media reliefs that can be hung on a wall like a painting.

A.C.T.: How does your vision impairment challenge your life and affect your life as an artist?

‘A person with normal vision has frontal and peripheral vision. The eye can see an image by interpreting light hitting the back light-sensing cells, the rods and cones, which line the retina. If something happens to these cells, then vision distortion or even blindness occurs. A person with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) loses much of their peripheral vision and sees an effect sometimes called “tunnel vision.” A person with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) loses some vision usually in the center of their field-of-vision.’ Source and images

That happened to me in my 30’s. There are no cures, stronger glasses, medicines or surgery. Retinitis pigmentosa is degenerative so every year it gets a little bit worse.

Because my rods are shot, I have no peripheral vision so I don’t see around the edges. I have only central vision, cones which control color. I see a partial silhouette in daytime if I look at someone. At night, cloudy days or overcast, in shadow or when I come indoors my vision drops – in some cases to nothing.

Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disease, but it looks like I am generation one. I discovered it because when I walked I started bumping into things; I hit my house with my car.

I went to multiple doctors. Finally I went to a brain surgeon who sent me to a Neuro ophthalmologist– someone who studies the pathway from the eye to the brain. Good news  –  my brain is very healthy. They told me I could become totally blind. I don’t believe that. In the next fifteen to twenty years, I believe I may see this way all the time.

I use a lot of technology to create my Art. I take photographs of my models or use professional art modeling sites. Next I download the pictures to my iPad for maximum size and resolution. I can’t use a computer because I can’t see the cursor easily or simultaneously both the screen and keypad. Once I have a clear image I begin sculpting.

A.C.T.: How do you manage your time, money and energy?

I sculpt every given moment I have. When I am not sculpting, I am teaching children and adolescents Art. And I paint, draw and sculpt with the kids. I prepare a lot, so that everything they do, I’ve done before the classroom starts. As I learn it, I teach them the steps.

After I completed several sculptures, I was having a casual conversation with members of a nonprofit board of directors and a private school. They saw my sculptures on my iPhone and asked if I could teach children about Art. They gave me the opportunity to teach at a S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) academic summer camp at Morehouse College. I was able to link art to those four core areas.

For example, I took a historical figure like Benjamin Banneker, who was one of the surveyors for Washington, D.C. I taught the kids how to do architectural drawings.  In the process they learned about parallel lines, intersecting lines, and right angles. Once you understand how to draw – creating a vanishing point and depth – you can relate that to math and science.

In the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo and other artists of the era were great mathematicians and scientists. Now with computers, everything is so specialized instead of connected as it is in nature. To do figurative drawing – and animation - you have to understand biomechanics and biology – how the arm or leg moves, so kids are interested in that.

If you really study nature, you can’t separate math and science. Take sunlight. The rays reflect through the atmosphere and that’s how we are able to see. The question of what your eye can pick up or not pick up determines your vision.

I am currently employed as an Art teacher at a private school. I teach the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and sculpture. I use Art as a vehicle to other topics such as Art History, Mathematics, and Science.

I also make toys. I taught my students how to play chess and we made our own board and chess pieces. Someone suggested I could see these because people are ‘going retro’ and want to get away from technology and sit around and talk to people.

A.C.T.: What obstacles have you encountered in your art business and how have you handled them?

The first two or three years of going through the eye disease, losing the ability to drive was very hard, especially in the United States. When I was no longer in corporate America I lost friends. I realized that the only thing we really had in common was the job.

I’m in Atlanta and the city grew very fast so the Infrastructure that would exist in a north east or mid west city doesn't exist. There aren't a lot of sidewalks here. To cross the street, I have to really plan my route. There are times of the day, and situations when I simply can’t cross so I have to know that.

When doors close, you really have to focus on what are my passions and strengths and what am I really going to do for the next twenty years. There have been challenges and frustrations but losing my vision has also given me the opportunity to let go of things. That really reveals who and what is important. If not for this, I’m sure I wouldn’t be painting and sculpting.

A.C.T.: What peak moments have you had as an artist?

When I complete a well-executed sculpture that makes it into my portfolio, then I reach a "peak" moment. Right now especially – the idea of the Blind Monk series because it really makes a statement that gets people thinking.

The first one I exhibited was just standing there with a blindfold and his blind stick and I talked about why I created it – the isolation. To create that sculpture that embodies the pain and frustration and have people get it is really peak.

Art is a great vehicle to transport people into different worlds and perspectives. I believe the Blind Monk series accomplished this. Here my goal is to transport the viewer into the world of blind person.

© Darryl Johnson ‘Study – The Blind Monk Side view’

As an Art teacher I had several peak moments with students. Introducing students to the Harlem Renaissance and studying various artists associated with that time period has been particularly rewarding.

A.C.T.: Who are your role models and mentors? What was the best advice they gave you?

I have some mentors who are totally blind - a professional athlete who woke up one day totally blind and some veterans. I wasn’t aware of this community until I became legally blind.

I do not have a formal art mentor. Sabin Howard, Paige Bradley, and Brian Craig Booth are the people I want to be when I grow up. They have such mastery of technique in capturing the human form. That’s my goal – to have the skills to express ideas that are limited by my current skills.

A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to artists who want to succeed in any economy?

Seek financial stability and a means to pay your bills first, and then you will be in a better position to pursue your Art. Even if that means working your craft after work or on the weekends. Be consistent and make the time.

A.C.T. How you feel artists can benefit from the types of programs, services and products we offer at Artist Career Training?

Mentoring and professional development is a critical need for new artists like myself.

If you’d like a little guidance on how to transform challenges you are facing into opportunities, please book a free fifteen-minute conversation with Aletta. You’ll find out how to make your good common sense into common practice with simple suggestions about what to do next. 


The Productive Artist: Do You Make a Difference to Your Community with Your Art?

Make Art Make a Difference  

Estimated Reading time: About 2.5 minutes

When I first moved to the Bay area, I only knew one person. I wanted to meet artists, so I spent the summer as a volunteer for the arts organization ArtSpan.

ArtSpan started as a grass roots, volunteer-run group of artists that wanted to organize themselves to engage directly with the public. This gave birth to the first SF Open Studios event in 1975, an exciting neighborhood crawl that included demos, live music, events, and an inside look into artist studios, completely accessible to the general public.

Thirty-seven years later SF Open Studios has expanded from 100 to include almost 1000 artists in San Francisco, spanning virtually every SF neighborhood over four full weekends, still and always direct to the public, accessible to all. SF Open Studios is the oldest and largest in the country.

ArtSpan’s mission is to connect the public to visual artists in San Francisco and to create a platform for these artists to thrive. While this mission might sound broad, it really encompasses how broad and diverse the visual arts community is in San Francisco.

ArtSpan asked Joshua Coffy for ideas to engage people to make art at a street fair. He jumped at the idea. Giving to his community fit right into his “Gift Prolific Project.”

“I created a really interesting mural project where 144 people each painted a small piece of one of my paintings. Then we reassembled the pieces as a large mural. I think the final painting was better than the original.

People who participated thought it was cool to be able to paint without paying to do so. Some said, "I can't draw" so they did a mono-color square. 

We thought people would come back at the end of the day to pick up their dry piece, but no one did. That gave us a complete painting that we displayed in a local bar. So not only did members of the public have a chance to be an artist, they also were exhibiting artists!”  

Joshua Coffy and ArtSpan Mural Project 2012 - Photo by Cristina Ibarra 

Artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn also create community art from the favelas of Rio to the streets of North Philadelphia. They involve the people who live there to paint entire neighborhoods.

Even before they did any crowdsourcing to fund their bigger projects, these artists engaged with the local community to make things happen. Before they asked for anything, they gave food and connection by having barbecues.

So eat, drink and make art in the company of your community. You never know how your contributions will make a difference.

Let me know how I can help make a difference to your art career. The first 15 minutes is on me.

P.S. If you want to make a difference to other artists, please consider making a donation to CERF+. I’ll send you a free book if you do this. 

(Make sure to let me know you donated and send me your surface mail address to



Art to Feed Your Soul May Feed Your Bank Account

Make Art Make Money

Estimated Reading time: About 2 minutes

Art feeds your soul. No argument.

Art making, by itself, doesn’t feed your bank account.

You have to add marketing to the right people at the right time in the right place. Then the right people have to buy.

Again, no argument.

But what if you turned the idea that art feeds your artists soul on it’s head?

Instead of thinking about your soul, think about art that feeds the viewer’s soul.

Not only is that a smarter way to market, your art could feed your soul on a larger scale.

When art becomes a way to contribute to the daily lives of people who might not be able to buy art works, your art makes a bigger difference.

And when your art makes a bigger difference, you stand to make money in entirely different ways than by making straight sales.

And that will feed your bank account too.

San Francisco artist Joshua Coffy did random acts of kindness to combat depression.


Josh in the Gift Prolific Gallery at Burning Man 2012 - Photo by Lady Bee

Giving to others took me outside of my own struggle for a bit, and I felt more in charge of the depression. Even doing a small random act for five minutes made me feel more normal, and so I started looking at gifting as a way out.

One of the principles of the Burning Man gathering is gifting.  Giving to others with no strings attached.  That really resonated with me at the time.

So, as a way to bring Burning Man's ethos into my daily life I started giving gifts to people, every day.  I really liked the way it made me feel.  Then I came up with an idea to help me involve my artistic expression. I created the Gift Prolific.

What began as a way to boost his own spirits expanded into boosting the spirits of those who received his random acts of kindness and the paintings he made about those acts.

The project created community at home and created connections with people wherever his paintings went all over the world.

From that community, his reputation grew, as did his sales and requests for commissioned paintings.

You can improve your results by taking simple action.

  1. Ask three of your art buyers to describe a random act of kindness they’ve experienced.
  2. If they come up with one, ask them if they can think of a way you can help them pay that act of kindness forward.
  3. If they can’t come up with any, ask them what small act would make a big difference to them or someone they love.

Bottom line:
You are in charge of your art and marketing.
Your audience is in charge of your sales.

Let me know how I can help you get your new year off to a great start. The first 15 minutes is on me. 



Money: 9 Inexpensive Ways to Expand Your Art Income

Make More Money

I’m preparing my year-end documents so my accountant can file my taxes for last year. I know many of you are doing the same. Not that much fun.

But thinking about how much more money you’d like to make – much more fun.

So it’s a great time to explore anything that allows you to gain new footholds on more income.

I researched “recession proof industries” and got 308,000 results in less than a minute. 

And then I narrowed my focus to three industries and came up with three ways in each industry to add to your art income this year. That makes nine inexpensive options to make more money.

Take a look. 

1. Health Care

Think about the last time you were in a waiting area. Can you remember what was around you?

The worst one I was in last had a noisy television blasting out the latest depressing news. Not my idea of a good diversion from the reason I was there.

But the next waiting room before my medical procedure had a large wall tank with tropical fish and an array of art on themes from the sea. I alternated between reading and watching the fish cavort. Much better. 

On my way out, I saw Andy Warhol prints on the walls, along with recent art by local artists. That told me that there was a current budget and someone was managing the collection for the hospital. I made a note to find out that person’s name for one of my clients.

On the other hand, the gift shop I passed was woefully bare of artful items.

My marketing mind went to work right away:

  • The gift shop was missing opportunities to bring artists and art viewers closer together - cards and fine art gifts for starters.
  • The same artists could piggyback artist talks onto the concerts already offered on Sundays.
  • And why not go a step further and add an art demonstration or class for patients, caregivers and friends?

2. Education

When I was recovering from a health crisis twenty odd years ago, I took an evening class called “Art for the Absolute Beginner.” I thought art would be a good diversion from taking care of my health.

By coincidence, several other students had either chronic or terminal illnesses. I often had to leave the class early because my energy ran out about 8 o’clock.

The teachers were attentive to our energy. They created a separate class for us during the day and modified the contents and techniques to be about art as a way of healing.

So think about other places where there is space where people congregate and you could bring art classes to them.

Shopping malls are a great example:

  • Empty stores or display windows in shopping malls are often "phantom galleries.” These spaces could also become temporary art classrooms. Classes could be designed for drop-ins at any time.
  • Most malls have large parking lots where you can find a safe area to set up drawing classes using free live models of people, cars and buildings.
  • You could copy Toronto artist Gary Smith who created a variation on a flash mob. One day it was way too hot to paint outdoors so he took a group of artists to the Eaton's Centre shopping mall.  He liked the various mannequins and drew them in pastels. They have great impossible poses and they don't move!

3. Sports

I am not a downhill skier. The thought of hurtling down a hill has little appeal for me.  But I sometimes accompany skiers because I find the beauty of the mountains mesmerizing and peaceful.

I once discovered a tiny art studio in the ski village, offering classes in fused glass, ceramics and collage. I wasn’t the only non-skier there, so someone had done some thinking beyond the typical audience.

Imagine the untapped possibilities to engage people who go to sports venues with sports fans, but who might enjoy art instead. Consider: 

  • Gesture drawing classes to teach the skills of capturing movement - an ideal way to make use of what’s already going on
  • Photography of sport figures, fans and equipment can be done for reference - or for final photographic art.
  • Plein air painting – it doesn’t have to be in pristine nature preserves. I’ve been to vintage car shows that offer many art possibilities for photographers and painters.

I have a mind like a tennis ball machine when it comes to generating ideas for you to be as creative in marketing your art as you are in making art. Let me know how I can help you get your new year off to a great start. The first 15 minutes is on me.

A Recipe for Your Sweet Artistic Success

Four Ways to for Artists to Get Multiple Streams of Income: Grants, Jobs, and Diversity Offers and Actions


Money: Four Ways to for Artists to Get Multiple Streams of Income: Grants, Jobs, and Diversity Offers and Actions

Estimated Reading time: About 2 minutes

If it's not the weather, it's the economic climate that irks people.

Both the weather and the economic climate fluctuate.
Both the weather and the economic climate require protective clothing or shelter.
Both the weather and the economic climate may put you on a slippery slope.

Neither one is the main reason that your art business goes up and down.
Both are in the background of everything you do and you cannot control either one.
Don’t confuse them with the foreground where you are in charge.

A downpour or a downturn isn’t a signal to hit the brakes on your art business. You might skid right off your path. If you slow down, you may get blind-sided or take longer to build up momentum again.

Better to learn from what’s behind and keep a clear focus on what you can see ahead.  Then accelerate at a steady pace through upcoming curves and you’ll be in a good position for the next upswing.

© 2014 Aletta de Wal Keep your eyes on the road ahead.

Four Ways for Artists to Get Multiple Streams of Income: Grants, Jobs and Diversity

If you are not generating enough income from your art to be self-supporting right now, you have at least four choices:

1.  Get a Grant.

2.  Get a part-time or full-time job outside your studio.

3.  Get new customers by diversifying what you offer.

4.  Get new opportunities by diversifying what you do.


Let’s look at each one in more detail.

1.  Get a Grant

A search for "individual artist grants" gets 883,000 results in less than a minute.

You do have find out if you qualify and that will take more than a minute. It’s worth investing your time for the possibility of money at the end.

Before you do that research, take three minutes to read my depth interview with author Gigi Rosenberg about what artists need to know before they apply for grants.

And you can read these two articles in less than a minute:

A Grant in the Hand is Worth Two Paintings on the Easel

Searching For Your Perfect Match

2.  Get a Job Outside Your Studio

Before you moan about getting a job outside your studio, I am certainly not telling you to dump your art career. I consider being an artist to be a real job.

And, though there has been significant job growth in the past year, you’ll still have to compete.

A search for ‘jobs in the arts’ gets 761,000,000 results in less than a minute.

If you have to get another job besides being an artist, you may as well explore the arts. The obvious choice is galleries and art stores, but don’t limit your options by staying too close to your creative home.

You probably pay money to see dancers, buy music, and go to the theater.

In turn, the people you meet in these other art forms buy visual art - especially from someone who invests in them. Imagine if you get a job in one of these other arts, how much more trust and interest you can generate in your visual art. (And you might even be inspired to create new forms of visual art as a result of the new experiences you’ll have.)

3.  Get New Customers by Diversifying What You Offer

If you invest in the stock market, you probably know that a diversified portfolio is the safest. The same goes for investing in your art business.

If you have all your eggs in one basket, and that goes down, you have nothing else to fill the gap.

I’m a big advocate of artists having multiple streams of income for three reasons:

  • Reason #1. You have alternate ways to make money when one source of income diminishes.
  • Reason #2. You expand your audience because you have different options for people with different art choices and different budgets.
  • Reason #3. You expand your creative footprint when you diversify what you have to offer.

Here are seven ways you could create those multiple streams:

  • Offer reproductions as well as originals, e.g. giclées, posters, art cards
  • License your art
  • Offer different art display options, e.g. matted and/or framed for two-dimensional art, with or without pedestal for sculptures.
  • Offer installations services, e.g. hanging and lighting
  •   Publish a book of your art
  •   Teach art classes in your studio
  •   Create online art instruction

4.  Get New Opportunities by Diversifying What You Do

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

As you can see from my searches in this article, there is a wealth of ways to create more wealth. You could get lost in reviewing all of the options available for you to generate more income.

No worries, one of my colleagues does most of the heavy lifting for you. Benny Shaboy understands artists. He has worked as an editor, researcher, writer, teacher, carpenter, draft and military counselor, cartoonist, fashion jewelry designer and craftsman, and at many other paid and unpaid jobs, and is an exhibiting artist under another name.

Get your share of the over $8.1 million from Benny's Art Opportunities list, published monthly for artists and photographers.

Choose from art contests, grants, juried art competitions, fellowships, residencies, public art commissions, art awards, scholarships, teaching assistantships, calls for art, art deadlines, scholarships, art shows, photography contests, RFPs, RFQs, sculpture commissions, percent-for-art, slide registries, university art galleries, non-profit art galleries, or other artist opportunities and venues normally outside the commercial gallery system.

You can get a sample copy at: 
Art Opportunities Monthly is the only service that double checks each art opportunity to make sure it is real and worthwhile. This is especially important because many of the so-called competitions, contests and other calls for artists are scams that will take your money (and sometimes your art) and do nothing for you. Many opportunities are well meaning but just a drain on your time and budget. Art Opportunities Monthly doesn't list those.

(I know – this is a lot to plough through. If you’d like a little guidance to make the most of your time, money and energy this year, let’s have a conversation. No obligation. Just 15 minutes of good common sense and suggestions about what to do next.


Balance: What Makes You Happy?

The Productive Artist

I’ve never had a poker face (so I don’t play cards.)

Read my face; read my mood.

I was mostly a serious child. I made wrinkles in my forehead when I was really thinking hard about something. When I was sad, my mouth turned down. Angry or frustrated – I had a wrinkled forehead, eyes blazing, downturned mouth and my lower lip rolled down to my chin. I never acted out physically but my face showed major churn going on inside.

Equally true - simple pleasures make me smile, satisfaction makes me glow, and what tickles my funny bone makes me laugh out loud. (In fact, when I worked in a corporate open concept office, I used to get in trouble for laughing too much.)

I’ve been thinking a lot more about success and happiness as I work with artists to help them get more of what they want.

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong.

"Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished."

In a Ted Talks video, Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the "end of history illusion," where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we'll be for the rest of time.

He supports this premise with intriguing research:

  • We vastly underestimate how much change happens in the future.
  • We overestimate our preferences.
  • We find past experiences easy to remember and a future harder to imagine, so we believe that future is unlikely to happen.

So, think of yourself as a wonderful work of art in progress as you plan what’s next in your art, life and marketing.

Choose a palette of many colors and water-based media or layered techniques. Step back periodically to check your progress and make new decisions that please you as you go.

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