Meet Cheryl Kline of Kline Academy of Fine Art Article from Voyage LA, November 27, 2017
Today we’d like to introduce you to Cheryl Kline.
Cheryl, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. The struggle for most artists is whether to starve or not to starve, and I did not want to starve! I knew from the time I was 5 years old that I wanted to be an artist. In college, it was clear that I was going to need another way to earn a living besides fine art. So, for many years I freelanced as an advertising illustrator and art director, until my painting began gaining attention. It was a juggle, draftingtable/computerr at one end, easel at the other and trying to find time to hone my skills as a painter and create a body of work worthy of a gallery show. It was a big decision the day I finally decided to give up all of my corporate design accounts where I was earning six figures and house payment looming over my head but I did not want to become an old woman sitting on my porch thinking “I wish I would’ve, could’ve done it.” So, I made the break, gave up all my income earning clients and became a full-time artist. I went to Italy to study classical painting, studied with other extremely wonderful artists and then launched my fine art career. Sales were slow at first and I had to cut back on many of the luxuries I had grown to love but my drive to make it as an artist was what kept me going as well as a new relationship where my partner was very encouraging. As my sales grew, I rented studio space and met other artists. Soon, people started asking me if I would teach them how to paint. So, I started a small workshop teaching classical painting techniques. My own painting sales were going well and soon I was earning a very good living as an artist.
In 2007 after a very successful exhibition, I purchased a building on Motor avenue to become a multi-functional space: gallery, classroom and my own private studio. Then 2008 depression hit and changed all of that. All the galleries that represented me went out of business.
Going into survival mode, I quickly reorganized a business plan and focused on the art academy one hundred percent. I hired my artist friends to teach with me who would have otherwise struggled to make ends meet.
In the beginning, I started with 10 students. Every Friday was like a mini victory. I felt like I drank all night and stayed up to the wee hours. The end of another week we managed to not just survive but thrive. I cleaned the building myself, the toilets, sinks, floors. I had to wait until the last day to pay the electric, water and sewer bill. I would wait until someone paid me for a month of classes, run to the bank to deposit the check, and then drive to the DWP to pay the bill before they turned off the electric. I divided the upstairs into 3 studio spaces to help offset the huge mortgage and expenses that incurred every month. I painted the building myself with the help of a friend, did the accounting, web design, marketing, instructed 3 classes and if there was time left, I could work on my own paintings. Painting sales had dropped off dramatically so I added more classes and hired more artists in need of work but kept my strict criteria of teaching excellent painting skills and focused on Classical foundations.”
Some people think it is an oxymoron to put the words “artist” and “business” in the same sentence. There is also a fine line between staying true to one’s mission or cause and to simply stay in business. Creating art, being an artist and even having an art school is not an ideal profession in terms of financial stability. Any intelligent person not on a trust fund, big inheritance or lucky to have a rich partner would ever in their right mind pick this profession if they did not want to struggle and work harder than they could ever imagine.
In order to keep Kline Academy going, my struggles continued: an owner of a competitive school threatened me with his family’s money that he would force me out of business. Banks stopped lending and my 3-year interest only deal with the original-building owners was about to expire. 11 banks turned me down. The first refinance finally happened but not without strings attached and blood tests to prove I wasn’t HIV positive and not a drug addict. Seriously the bank demanded blood tests to approve the loan! Complicating life more, my Mother was becoming more in need of help due to Parkinson’s disease and now living with me and my partner which added considerably to my expenses. “So here goes a new business plan: I needed at least $12,000 minimum per month to make bare expenses. Adding income from upstairs rents and 30 paying students, I was still short about $4,000 per month! I need to add more classes and sell at least one painting a month. I could also go back to web design and try to get 2 jobs a month. I can make this work. I have to make this work.”
And I did make it work along with my incredible staff. Even after injuring both hands from getting ready for a show and not being able to paint and teach without taping the brush to my arm, we have thrived. Slowly adding more instructors and more classes the students grew to more than 100 per month. But as in any small business if the entrepreneur knew what was involved, they probably wouldn’t even have bothered. Unexpected expenses always pop up: plumbing problems, taxes, maintenance, better lighting, easels, tables, supplies, advertising the list is endless.
No matter what – I will not give up and I believe there is always a solution to succeed. I have been fortunate to study with some of the best artists in the world and I feel it is my duty to pass on this linage, a timeless tradition of teaching skill-based technique to those who seek it.
Teaching makes me a better artist. Aesthetics and what you or anyone believes about beauty in this life is debatable. My aesthetic is conservative in that the bar has been set by master painters and artists before us. It is up to us to at least achieve the same level of excellence and hopefully surpass those before us. Beauty is fundamental to our cultural existence in the many fields of art from painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, theater, etc. By creating this school of art – Kline Academy – I feel like I have contributed to the art community by continuing to promote skill-based art in Los Angeles. Art picks you. You have no choice. It is like an addiction that can never be overcome. Once art gets into your veins, you feel the visceral effects of the medium, the eye candy, the visual gratification, that spark of creativity that acts like dopamine to your brain, you are smitten, a love affair that will only end when you die. And I guess once you understand that and accept that, then all the stuff that comes with it is tolerable and you make it work. And the thought of being able to do art every day is actually an unbelievable gift. The fact that I can share this with the hundreds of students that come to Kline Academy is an awesome achievement. No other school does quite the same thing that we do. And I can assure you that no other school has the passion that we do either. Passion, beauty, blended with excellent technique and skills breeds the type of art that is lacking in today’s contemporary world.”
“It has now been over 10 years since I opened the academy. We started with 3 classes and 10 students and now we have classes everyday and hundreds of students each month. Each Friday is still like a mini victory. I made it. I did it. We did it. Do I love this? I think so, although sometimes I’m really not sure. Sometimes I just want to go to that beach with the warm water and stay a while. Not worry. Just play. As I look in the mirror, my face is etched a little deeper with “rings of growth.” The skin on my hands has started to look like crepe paper and when I run up the stairs everyday I sometimes feel my knees not as strong. I rarely look back or even think back to the days when I would run to the DWP before the electric would be shut off. I still worry and I still constantly wake up in the middle of the night with ideas on how to market the classes better or how to help a student who is struggling. I’ve managed to carve out time to continue my own art. I’m showing in 4 galleries and art sales have been stable and I’ve authored my first book on Portrait painting. Of course, I have not achieved this by myself. I have an understanding and encouraging, incredible life partner and an amazing staff. Our support team is invaluable. We have the best instructors in Los Angeles and I kept my vow that all of them are artists who I myself would want to study with.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Kline Academy of Fine Art – what should we know? We are a skill-based atelier (studio). Years ago, when contemporary art began to take over the art world, Colleges and Universities stopped teaching art making skills. It became very “conceptual” and basically in my opinion they threw the baby out with the bath water!
“Go…create…it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to draw…or paint.”
BS! So many of our students are people who come to us with Bachelor and Master degrees and are embarrassed to say that they were never taught art skills. That is what we are good at, actually that is what we are great at!
Not only do we stress classical painting and drawing foundations, we use methods from the French academy, Italian and Renaissance masters as well as Contemporary alla prima (all – at – once_ painting techniques.
All of our instructors are pro artists who make a living with their own art.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role? Of course my Mother was my biggest fan. She told me from an early age that I could be anything I wanted to be. She encouraged me always, came to all my exhibits and bought me my first paint set. My partner of 24 years has always encouraged me and believed in me. I have the best staff from Jason our Administrative Director, Juri who is also an amazing instructor runs the studio, our pro instructors: Scott, Sharon, Miguel, Laura, Kenny, Natalia, Thom, Jackie and our interns Aden and Sara. But none of what we have created would have been possible without the incredible loyal students we have worked with over the last 10 years.