Linc Thelen Shares His Artistic Journey
Linc Thelen joins us today. A multitalented artist, who not only paints beautiful works of art but also designs and builds contemporary high-end homes for which he has been critically acclaimed. NOT REAL ART founder Scott “Sourdough” Power caught up with Linc at the 2019 Art Basel to talk about his impression of the show, exhibiting his work, and the art that has captured his attention.
Having a formal education in both art and architecture, Linc is in a unique position to bring his clients something from both worlds, an aspect that has gained him a large public following. He shares how his journey as an artist has taught him to see differently, how he was unexpectedly influenced by minimalism and his hope of creating art that brings positive energy to people’s homes.
When you look at his paintings and house designs, there is a recognizable narrative running through all of them, and this he ascribes to being intentional and consistent about the atmosphere he wants his work to exude. Despite these noticeable traits, he does believe in experimenting with different things and seeing how the audience responds to new approaches. For him, that is part of the artist’s journey and the constant quest to find out which innovations resonate with people. On a more practical note, Linc talks about time management, selling on social media, contracts and agreements with galleries, and why there is no getting away from hard work if you want to be a successful artist.
Key Points From This Episode with Linc Thelen:
- Thoughts on Art Basel 2019, the different venues, smaller satellite shows.
- Showing at different galleries globally and developing a unique technique.
- Linc’s formal education in both art and architecture
- Learning to see the world differently and how it ties into his art.
- Applying the principles of positive energy and minimalism
- Being hired as an architect to bring his unique aesthetic.
- Maintaining a consistent through-line and narrative in his work
- The importance of having a relationship with his clients.
- Balancing all facets of life by learning to manage time and workflow.
- Receiving awards and publicity for renovating a church into a home.
- How his art career has benefited from his ability to be pragmatic and rational.
- Understanding the elusive art world and what people want.
- Partnerships with galleries, their value and how they fit into his future growth.
- How contracts work in the context of selling through his own studio.
- Thoughts on consignment sales and carrying risk
- Selling work on social media and the type of content on his feed.
- The study on circles and experimenting with new ideas.
- Managing stress by having checklists of tasks that help mitigate stress.
- Using time efficiently with no substitute for hard work and dedication.
- The time when the economy crashed and he went broke as a single parent.
- Ideas around how the art world can go about attracting new art buyers.
Read Our Interview with Linc Thelen Here:
Sourdough: Today I'm honored to be joined by a multi talented artist who paints beautiful works of art, but also designs and builds contemporary, high-end homes, for which he has been critically acclaimed. My good friend, the one and only, Linc Thelen of Linc Thelen Art and Design. Linc, it’s good to see you here at Art Basel Miami 2019
Linc Thelen: It's great to see you and it’s a great time here. Our second year in a row together here at Art Basel Miami.
Sourdough: It's getting better each year. Third year is going to be a charm.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. Now we, you know, our second year, we're really finding our foothold of navigating through Miami and the show.
Sourdough: Yeah. So for our listeners who aren't here at Art Basel Miami 2019, tell them what you think. What do you think about Art Basel this year?
Linc Thelen: Well, you know, I guess maybe some people who haven't been here wouldn't know how many different shows there are- Through our Art Basel and different events from untitled, to scope, to context art Miami, Art Basel itself, Pulse, and each one of those venues, you know, offering a different arrangement of artists- In quality of art.
Sourdough: Say nothing about all the smaller satellite shows that are happening in hotel lobbies and, you know, cafes (laughs) and any number of other places.
Linc Thelen: Yeah, this is the biggest show, you know, in the country, you know, this year. You know? And everyone looks forward to coming out here to be a part of it.
Paintings For Sale
Sourdough: Now, you have about 10 paintings showing this year?
Linc Thelen: Yes. Yes, I do. I have 10 paintings.
Sourdough: How many years have you been showing at Art Basel?
Linc Thelen: So, this is the second year showing. So, you know, I show worldwide now. I show in Hong Kong, Germany, London, you know,
Sourdough: Those are different galleries in those markets.
Linc Thelen: Yes, right. So I'm with a London gallery and a New York gallery.
Sourdough: Okay. Shout out to those galleries. Which galleries?
Linc Thelen: I'm currently with Cube gallery in London and Michelle Marie gallery in New York in SoHo.
Sourdough: And they're both here at Art Basel-
Linc Thelen: They're both here.
Sourdough: Showing your work, now?
Linc Thelen: Correct.
Sourdough: Yeah. And you've got some red dots, do you not?
Linc Thelen: Yes. So far it's been good. Sold about half the paintings so far. And, you know, tomorrow's a promising day. We have a lot of people coming back.
Sourdough: Yeah, it's not over yet.
Linc Thelen: Nope.
Sourdough: And you sold through last year too, right?
Linc Thelen: Yeah. Yeah, last year was a really good show. I sold just about every piece and, you know, it's tough to do. You just hope, I think with the galleries and artists in mind, we come here to try to get away, be in the warm weather, try to break even. So it's, you know, there's a lot of competition. So, it's a plus being able to be on top every year coming out of here.
Sourdough: Yeah, in all candor, depending on which show you're at, it feels like there's a sea of sameness sometimes. A lot of the same stuff, you know? But quite frankly, I'm not saying this because you're sitting in front of me, but, your work's pretty damn distinctive. Like, I haven't seen work like yours here. It's pretty unique.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I've kind of been fortunate to find a path in the, the art that was, that is unique. I mean, I am a painter. So, I studied classically, but with the abstract painting, I've kind of came up with my own techniques. It's basically driven by technique.
How To Become An Artist
Sourdough: So, what was your journey as an artist? I mean, did you study art in college? Did you, were you formally trained?
Linc Thelen: Yes. I mean, I studied both architecture and art. And so, I had a lot of the formalities of classical art and design. And I studied under a professor who actually was a minimalist artist, which would be surprisingly different from what I actually wanted to be creating at that time. And I think what I took from him is, is how to learn how to see.
Sourdough: How to see?
Linc Thelen: How to see. So, how to, to interpret things, and how to see, and understand your reactions to things, and understand why you're doing things.
Sourdough: Do you remember the moment when it clicked for you and you said to yourself, "Okay, now I get it. Now I'm seeing differently, or I'm seeing better?"
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I think it's taken probably 20 years. You know? It's a process of understanding. You keep experimenting and then all of a sudden, I'm like, "Yeah. I get it." I don't have to, I'm not really, I'm searching within the art, but I'm not searching why I'm doing it anymore. I found my place.
Why Make Art
Sourdough: Why are you doing it?
Linc Thelen: Why am I doing it? I like to create- I like to be creative. I like to be passionate, I like to create an environment that's free and painting allows me to explore those ideas. I'm a dreamer. So, I get to dream within the art. So, I'm creating art that, that reflects hope, a dream, happiness. So that's what I do. I try to experiment within the painting to create that atmosphere.
Sourdough: Yeah, well I can, say my impression of your work is that it exudes positive energy. Which, you know, might sound like a sort of general statement, but I feel good around your art.
Architecture and Art
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I want people to be happy. It's just what I want. That's how I know when a painting's finished. If it's calming, relaxing, has good composition, has a nice push and pull, and then the use of materials is used well.
Sourdough: Well, and you have the, kind of, unique, skillset to not just be able to create paintings that people can have in their homes, but because of your architecture background, your building background, you can (laughs) actually design and build the homes that your paintings are in. That, you know, people feel good inside their homes because you helped also design and build their homes.
Linc Thelen: Yeah, that's correct. I mean, touch on that. Yeah, I design, build, five, six thousand square foot homes that are very more towards the more minimal approach. The approach is somewhat the same as what I do on canvas. Just trying to create a composition, use some materials, creating content within the architecture that people have to think and question. So that's what I try to do in the homes, is have people, you know, question why you did something. Bring up the materials, the importance of those things. How they react to each other.
Sourdough: So you think your architecture clients hire you because of your aesthetic and they want your aesthetic, or are they hiring you to realize their aesthetic, or some combination in between?
Linc Thelen: I've been fortunate they hired me to do my thing. You know? They try not to get in the way. They hire me to create my vision for them. And hopefully, we have somewhat the same vision.
So, obviously they don't know how to carry that vision out, which I do. But, the usually let, allow me to, to take reins. And like my recent client now, she teaches and handles all the fundraising for the school music in Chicago. And she interviewed a bunch of different architects and builders. That's why she chose to go with us. It’s because of our aesthetic and having an artful background.
Sourdough: Well, there's a consistent narrative to your portfolio, right? I mean, I’ve had a chance to see your work over the years and I’ve been aware of your design career, both in architecture but then also in your art. And, looking at your work over many years, it feels like there's definitely a consistent narrative in there. I mean, your vision, your voice, if you will, is clear, I think, throughout. There's a through line.
Linc Thelen: Correct. There's a clear path of what I'm trying to produce and the approach, and the overall aesthetic, and the feeling that I want someone to feel within the home and within the art. And I try to keep that true with it. So it is more of a minimal approach. Less clutter, simplifying, knowing your negative and positive spaces, knowing how important those things are, and, you know, trying to find, I guess, the beauty in simple things. That's just it. You know, taking the purity of everything. And that's kind of with architecture and art and being a fine artist, in terms of being abstract. It's really about the purity of your technique, the materials that you use, your actions, are pure. And I think that's what makes great art, when it's pure.
Sourdough: Would you say the majority of your architecture clients are also collectors of your work?
Linc Thelen: Yes. So, yeah. It came about years ago. I was kind of hesitant to push onto my art. With them. But, now, the last decade, basically every client's had a couple pieces of mine.
Sourdough: How does that make you feel you’ve finished a project? The blood, sweat, and tears of a project is, of course, these things are not easy. They're very stressful. High stakes game. And you get through it, you’re done. You're finished. People move in, they're happy, they, they're living in your creation, they're living with your art. How does that make you feel?
Linc Thelen: It is just like you said, it's the process of getting there to the finish line is a tough one. (laughs)
Sourdough: It's a contact sport.
When Clients Become Friends
Linc Thelen: Yeah. So, I mean, you kind of almost don't really savor it or, until after the fact maybe months down the road. All my clients wind up being my really good friends. A lot of them have summer homes and they allow me to use the houses anytime I want. They're very thankful, they're hugging me, they ask if I want to come over for dinner. So, you know, that was what I wanted. I wanted to have a relationship with people. So, that's why I like designing, working with the clients, and painting.
Painting, when, you know, you have clients buying your paintings because they're also happy. And they come to the studio, they're ecstatic. Oh, my God. I get letters, you know? And that's awesome. That's a good feeling.
Sourdough: Do you know off the top of your head how many paintings you've sold in your professional career? Who's keeping score?
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I don't know, maybe 500? You know? So, I mean, obviously that's, last two years, over 200. So, it's been crazy. I can't even keep up.
Sourdough: I have to ask, how the hell do you find the time to paint, I mean, when you're building homes? I also believe you're a husband and a father. How do you find the time?
Work Flow Design
Linc Thelen: Well, you know, it's taken years of being efficient with time. And, I had a professor who taught me very early on. He's like, "Don't be building these huge canvases, and spending all this money, and being hesitant at finishing them. Just take a simple piece of paper, and draw everyday, and paint, and just keep working your craft. And so, I've created an environment where my process is very efficient. I have people helping build the stretchers, you know, painting them, building the canvases, getting setup for me. My studio's very accessible. And so, my limited time of painting is done very effectively. So, when I paint, I get stuff done. You know? I have to work evenings, w- weekends. You know? Early in the morning. An hour here, an hour there.
So, you know, I've heard people say, "Well, I have kids so I, I can't paint." Or, "I got to work so I can't, you know, dance, or do this," and I just was never one of those people who would ever say that.
Sourdough: Right. Well, you, seems like you've been effective at designing a system for yourself or a work flow that works for your lifestyle.
Learning to Say No
Linc Thelen: With the new year coming up, though, I am going to stop taking on projects for designing homes and building them for a while. I don't know if that'll be indefinite, but it's definitely gonna be on the back burner now so I can focus.
Sourdough: Is that going to be hard for you? To walk away and say no to projects that, you know, that come your way?
Linc Thelen: No. I'm actually looking forward to it.
Sourdough: Okay. Need a break?
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I'm actually looking at it as like a retirement or moving on to a new career. I actually feel like I accomplished something that has been very difficult and I've done it. So, I'm ready to move on from it and kind of, you know, pat my hands and move on.
Residential Church Conversion Project
Sourdough: Well, your architecture work has been critically acclaimed. You've been published, you've won a lot of praise for your work. I believe, perhaps one of your more well known projects was the so-called Church project?
Linc Thelen: Correct. Yeah. I renovated a church into a home and it's been published over a hundred times and been awarded awards in China, and I've been in Architectural Digest Spain, Mexico, Russia. Yeah.
Sourdough: So, tell me about that project. I mean, you renovated a church. What does that look like? I mean, how the hell does somebody own a church?
Linc Thelen: I think what really caught everyone's attention about this church, it's because it wasn't like you renovated a church and you made it into still a church. And it had, like, an old fireplace, you kept it that cliché of, old materials in there. What really made this church stand out to everybody, it was so contemporary and current with today's design, but in the envelope of a church.
We still kept the stained glass windows, but we were able to, like, make a space that was very large, actually shrank it where we added more rooms but enlarged it in other areas so it didn't lose that lofty feel. So, to be able to accomplish something that's very current in design, that was fluid, that worked, that didn't look gimmicky, it just really caught everybody. Because a lot of people have done churches. And, we got contacted by many publications in Europe, obviously, 'cause the church is out there in London. And they were just, you know, people were just blown away with it. So, it was kind of one of those, it was the perfect playground for me because… because that's how I work. I work contemporary, I work with what is current and what I'm feeling.
How to Win a New Client
Sourdough: Right. Now, did you have to pitch for that project, did you have to win that project?
Linc Thelen: You know, I had someone come in, actually, that she originally hired another designer, or an architect, and she wasn't happy with the direction he was taking. And so, she wanted me to meet with him. And they were very well-established, more established than I was by far, and I met with him, we discussed the project a little bit, and I was like, "Well, why don't we do this, or what about this?” And he looked at me and goes, "I'm … We're done here.” I go, "What do you, what do you mean, 'We're done.’"? He's like, "Yeah, I'm, I'm done working with her.” And I'm like, "Does she know this?” He was…
Sourdough: A little salty.
Linc Thelen: Yeah, and he didn't want anyone else coming in telling him what to do and I had no idea that conversation was gonna go that way. And so, that was it. I got the contract right after that and worked away on it.
Managing Project Timelines
Sourdough: Yeah. Awkward. And so, how long does a project like that … ? I mean, this is not a fair question, because every project is different, but how long did that project take?? Was that a two year project?
Linc Thelen: Yeah, they're a two year project, two and a half. Like, from doing the drawings to, you know, depending on what city you live in. You know, obviously, if you're in New York, you wouldn't know the difficulties of getting a permit there, and that process, and lengthiness, but you know, my projects do take longer, year and a half. You have to really know the home, and know the person and the climate, and then what you're trying to produce. And there's only one of me, so I have people helping. But in the end, it really takes all my time. There's all those little design details. I can't really give them to anybody else. It just requires my time. So …
Managing Project Budgets
Sourdough: You said most of the homes you typically work on are five, 6,000 square feet. Is there a sort of average budget? Are you working with five million bucks, two million bucks? Does it just vary all over the place?
Linc Thelen: Well, in the Chicagoland area-… you know, homes like that are in the $2 million range. You know, million dollar renovations. I can do a lot with a million, you know, more so because we design and build everything. So someone's million dollars I could … it may cost someone a million three, where I can do it for a million, just because We custom make all the cabinetry. We make the furniture. You know, I have resources that allow us to get things done for less money.
Sourdough: And you come by this honestly, don't you? Didn't your father build homes?
Linc Thelen: He was more into commercial building. He did build some homes. He wouldn't want to work with the homeowner in construction. It’s difficult to work with a homeowner opposed to when you're working with, you know, someone who owns a business. You know? It's a different process.
Sourdough: Professional developer. Right.
Linc Thelen: Well, yeah, plus, you know the time frame. Like it's-… gotta be more pragmatic. You have this much time. This is what we're gonna spend. Okay, let's move on and get it completed. Obviously, with a custom project, you know, it changes … You know, even if I don't like that, that's the [inaudible 00:18:26] beauty of it. That's why it takes time, custom homes, because you do wanna make it custom. And some of these answers you don't have until you're in there in the thick of things.
Finding Success as an Artist
Sourdough: Where does your artistic gene come from? Was your dad artistic?
Linc Thelen: You know, he's more like an engineer, pragmatic. And he does architecture drawings. And so, in the building process, it was, you know … it was him, but my mother was … she's more the artist and free spirit.
Sourdough: So you seem to be a pretty good blend of the two. You've got the left and right brain happening.
Linc Thelen: Right, which is a rarity. So that's why I think I've been successful as a painter-.. an artist just because I know how to-
Sourdough: Well, so many artists … are challenged. Right? In terms of being rational about their business, and your artistic career's probably benefited from your ability to be pragmatic and rational as an artist. Which is a blessing. Right?
Linc Thelen: Yeah, I think, you know, if people were trying to figure out … Whatever craft they are, or, or if they're an artist, or architect, or dancer, you know, art is in everything. It's just art is about doing something well and understanding it and figuring out what that value is. And then once you figure out what that value is, then how do you obtain that value in terms of monetary reasons, so we can keep on doing it?
So, you know, what I've done is, is try to be on everything. What does that mean? Well, get on Instagram, get on Twitter, email people, send out newsletters, you know, do a show at a library. I don't care where, a coffee shop. Do a charity, do some advertising, you know, work in a gallery. So I've done … I do everything, all those things. I do some charity work, I give paintings away, I do free seminars, I help out with the children, I donate my time with the architectural projects, I do advertising. I'm on Instagram, and I find, you know, now it's working. Like, I get calls.
Some … you know, one month it's, you know, someone found the ad. Another month I did a charity event, so they found me from there. The galleries then sell paintings, and then I sell paintings on my own… and I work with designers. So I think there is, you know, an artist … There is no one formula. You just have to be out there-… in everything you can.
Finding Success Through Focus, Determination and Hard Work
Sourdough: Well, the one thing that I've appreciated about your career and watching your career, 'cause you and I've known each other for many years now, you've always been, at least in my assessment, quite thoughtful about your choices. You typically know where you want to be, where you want to go. You sort of break those goals down into smaller goals and steps, and you execute well. But you're incredibly thoughtful. You're not, at least in my assessment over the years, you're not impetuous, you're not reactive. You tend to be pretty intentional about your choices.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I'm not all over the board. You know? My choices since from basically high school through college has all been towards one goal. Not that, that goal has always been apparent, but it is, it's always been to try to be creative and to produce stuff, and, and just try to be … I'm trying to add something. I'm trying … What am I trying to create? I'm trying to create a work that people can gravitate towards. I wanna, you know … I wanted to say something. You know?
Sourdough: Do you think the current state of your career, are you sort of on track? Do you feel like you're on track, or are you ahead of the game? Are you behind? Do you feel like … ? How do you feel about where you're at right now?
Artists + Art Galleries
Linc Thelen: If I was talking about building homes and the architecture world and design, I'm way ahead, you know, for my age. So, that has succeeded, farther than I could even imagine. I didn't even imagine ever being published all over the world and going to China to accept an award. That's not even … It wasn't even in my vocabulary. And even now with the art, I didn't even know, you know … It's something that I've been doing forever, but still I’m naïve about the art world. I don't think anyone knows the elusive art world. What is the art world? You know? What's the gallery? What's the artist?
Yeah, I think now, even being in the second year in Art Basel, I'm finding out we're all the same. The artist and the gallery are the same. We have the same dilemma, figuring out the public, where to go, what show to be in, you know, which direction. You know, artists look up to the gallery, but the gallery's almost the same. They're just as lost as the artist sometimes. They're trying to figure out what show they want to be in, and how much they should be spending for this, and are they gonna be advertising, what artists should they have? Who's the next big thing? And so, they don't have, as much as artists want to search for the answers with the gallery, but they don't … a lot of them are in the same boat as we are.
Sourdough: Isn't that fascinating? I mean, it's statistics, right? I mean, 90% of small businesses fail and most galleries are small businesses. You know ? And it's a struggle. And to what extent do you feel like … What do your galleries do for you and your career? Like, what, what value add are they bringing? What are they bringing to the table for you?
What Art Galleries Do For Artists
Linc Thelen: Well, what I've … You know, I've been in galleries for the last 20 years, some smaller, some bigger. You know, that first big gallery I was at was on Superior Street, which is in the River North in Chicago. And that was the street to be on, so I thought I made it. Yes, I'm 26, so I made it. I'm on Superior Street. And then I got to really know the gallery and found out, you know, they're just … they could be selling shoes. They didn't … it's just about selling a product, and they didn't really care about my work. They just wanted to make sales. They liked the work. They like art, but they weren't … they didn't have the same passion I did. We didn't have the same beliefs, so I ended that with them.
And, so then I've been with other galleries. They're small, that it's just kind of brick and mortar gallery, that people come on in, and they try to create some clientele, and show your work. And they're enthusiastic, and they like art. But the galleries I'm with now are ones that show all over the world, and they do these big shows, and they really push the art. And they have more clientele, and their outreach is further than what I have at this time. So it's opened my eyes to a whole new opportunity. To be selling all over the world is amazing. Having clients in Germany, people buying your work in Paris is awesome. I would never have that without them, so I find them very important. You know, it's a partnership.
Sourdough: Do you feel as though you … that you guys can grow together … ? Where do you see your career five, 10 years from now?
Linc Thelen: So that's a good question, a two part question. One, you know, if you're looking for gallery representation, or, hey, if you're looking for a job anywhere, that's a good question that maybe not a lot of us don't ask ourself. Is that career path … if you're going for another, you know, hired from a company, are they gonna grow the same way you're gonna grow? Is the gallery I'm with now gonna be the end all gallery? I don't know, because I plan to keep growing faster and faster. And if the gallery can keep up with that, then yeah, I would stay with them.
But, you know, we have a great relationship, and we discuss our paths together. And I'm assuming that if our paths would change, we would have that conversation.
In terms of where I see myself in five and 10 years, you know, just keep on pushing the envelope to make better art. And then being seen in the right places and understanding the art world a little better, I guess, and making … you know, like being seen, but try to start getting to some museum shows.
How Art Galleries Work
Sourdough: So for those artists, young artists, out there who aspire to be where you're at as you've already sort of alluded to the art world can be a sort of a opaque kind of world. Part of the reason we're doing this podcast is to help demystify it and help educate folks. I mean, from a nuts and bolts perspective, is your relationship with your galleries a contractual relationship? Is it an exclusive relationship?
Linc Thelen: It's not, but it is in a way. Like, you know, depending on what level you're at, it is a contractual agreement with … like, you're not gonna be showing in two cities with two different galleries. That's just … You know, that's not gonna happen unless you're with some small galleries that don't care. But-
Sourdough: And just to be clear your galleries now … we would consider them mid-sized galleries, right?
Linc Thelen: Yes.
Sourdough: Sort of mid-career galleries, what have you. Your New York gallery is your North America gallery. Right? You're not showing in Chicago?
Linc Thelen: Correct. You know, I have one gallery that I work with in Chicago on a limited basis now, just because I've established myself on my own in Chicago, where I don't need the gallery per se. I'm not saying that in a negative way, but, you know, people in Chicago, my hometown know my work.
Sourdough: But you're still selling art through your studio. You don't have to sell through your gallery in New York.
Linc Thelen: Correct. And they know that.
Sourdough: And then the gallery in London that you have was introduced to you through the New York gallery?
Linc Thelen: Uh, yeah. The New York gallery knows them well, and they, over the course of the last two years have been seeing my work. And they approached the New York gallery and asked if it was okay.
Sourdough: Okay. So there's some understanding there and an agreement, sort of informal maybe.
Linc Thelen: Correct. You know, a lot of these galleries that I travel all over through these shows know each other. They've been doing it for 15, 30 years. You know? So they know. They have a relationship with them. So they know which artists are good, and they … you know, people who've been in the business long enough try to respect each other.
Sourdough: So, I'm guessing the rev share split with your gallery is 50/50?
Linc Thelen: It is. In general, it is, but I've been fortunate enough to be in a position where I actually get 60/40-… due to how we hard we work together and due to the sales-… that we have. So-
Sourdough: They know you're selling.
Linc Thelen: We sell a lot. And so, she wants to keep me happy.
Risk Management for Artists + Galleries
Sourdough: Right. You know, there's some controversy out there on social. I've noticed recently artists sort of pushing back against consignment sales and wanting galleries to pay upfront, almost a wholesale kind of deal. Right?
So, you know, assuming more of the risk. I think a lot of artists out there feel … Certainly young, emerging artists, you know, or even, maybe mid career artists feel, based on what I'm reading in social, that they take on too much of the risk. They want galleries to take up more of the risk. How do you feel about that issue?
Linc Thelen: Well, for someone who, I'm at both ends of it since I have a fairly large studio in Chicago, which is expensive. And I advertise and do the business side like a gallery would. I know that stuff isn't for free. So a good gallery should be doing stuff like advertising and reaching out. They're not just having people just walk in. They have to have a gallery space. They have to turn the lights on. They might have other assistants that they pay, you know, percentages.
So even though you think 50/50's a lot, like when you do these big shows like Art Miami, Art Basel, you know, they have to pay for the booth. So if they're spending 25,000 dollars on a weekend, they have to sell a lot of art just to break even. They're splitting it. So, you know, if the gallery is not working for you, then it’s not worth it. If they're thinking the art's like shoes, that people are just gonna come walk in off the street and just go buy, spend 10,000 dollars, well then, that's just the wrong gallery for you.
How To Sell Art on Instagram
Sourdough: Right. You mentioned your presence on social. Have you sold art via Instagram?
Linc Thelen: Yes. It's been great. You know, I get people from all over, especially California. It seems like that's a great market for me. That's been selling quite a bit. And Instagram, you get the followers. And, you know, I've had people, I have one client that's in Newport Beach that's bought four paintings already.
Linc Thelen: Sight unseen.
Sourdough: They found you on Instagram.
Linc Thelen: Yup.
Sourdough: They contacted you. They DM'ed you through Instagram.
Linc Thelen: Yeah.
Sourdough: And you've since sold them four paintings.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I have a great, well she's a friend now, but she's from Oregon and she, her husband, they flew out, you know, they commissioned a piece and actually flew out to Chicago for a weekend and they purchased one of the larger paintings. And that was through Instagram. Sight unseen. It's amazing. You know, people spending big dollars without even seeing a piece of work or following.
Sourdough: How often do you post?
Linc Thelen: Uh, you know, that comes and goes, depending on how swamped I've been. You know, let's say over the course of a month, maybe 10 times, 15 times? 15 times depending on how busy I am.
Sourdough: Is it posting images of you, of your studio and your artwork but you're also posting photos and images of your architectural work-
Linc Thelen: Yeah. So my feed is I guess a real feed of real life. And I'm not creating content to put on there just to put it on there so it looks like it's so cohesive that I'm trying to get a million followers and that I'm gonna get an advertiser. Some of it's raw. Some of it's with my child painting, my wife, you know, me in the studio. You know, stuff that I think that might be interesting, or the process. Showing the process of the work. And then some of it obviously polished, when it's professionally shot with the architecture. So I'm just trying to find stuff that's interesting in that process and share that.
How to Live with Artistic Integrity
Sourdough: So the work that's selling for you now is sorta the culmination of an exploration you began many years ago, sort of a study on circles. Talk a little bit about that study, where you started and how you got here.
Linc Thelen: So, you know, what happened was, in 2009, recession hit in the housing market and I was more into painting like classical paintings, the dark, rich browns and landscapes and still lifes and I decided I needed to do something different. I said I can do contemporary architecture and design. That kinda stemmed on it's own merit. I didn't need anything to guide me because I had my own guidance of how to design. And I'm like, why can't I do that with the art? You know, it was always about the subject before.
And so I took up a bowl and like, lemme just trace over a bowl and make some shapes and circles and, you know, just see what can come out of this. And I'm like, oh that looks pretty interesting. I was getting kinda all white paintings, kinda like a grid shape. And then I sold a couple of them just kind of a fluke. You know, not for a lot of money, but women thought they looked like bubbles, so they made them happy. So I'm like, oh okay.
So then I kept on experimenting with that process thinking, well maybe I can paint these circles to bubbles to create a composition that could be read like figurative or read like the landscapes. And so then I started experimenting with that. But then again, they still looked, you could still see somewhat a subject. So in terms of finding yourself as an artist, it wasn't still all about the process. There was still some idea there. It wasn't as free. It was still somewhat controlled.
And then I was working with a gallery in Chicago and they said "Well, we like your circles but we want you to do something a little different." So I had started like six of those circle paintings. I'm like, well what am I gonna do with these? So I started painting over them, scribbling over them and just scratching out the circles. Which was a freeing moment.
Because here it is. I'm just playing around, just scribbling and covering up circles. And some of them were coming through and it was like, oh these actually look pretty good. And so then I continued that process without it being so controlled. So right now, the process is very loose. It's almost like Cy Twombly. It's the gestural movements are like dance or music notes.
The technique is never ending. They're like metaphors. Nothing has to be one thing in the painting. So I get to experiment with all the different tones of colors, from one painting to another. Each painting looks different. It's the same fluidity in the painting. There's definitely a sense of style that's in each piece but, you know, you're not gonna see four green paintings with the same mark on them and look like I just did the same painting but changed something in the corner.
Sourdough: But the success that you're having is sort of a double edge sword, right? Because you found something that is working. It's working for you. You're enjoying it. It's working for your gallery. They're selling and people are buying and loving it. I mean, do you feel pressure to sort of stay the course or are you cautious about changing? I mean, do you wanna innovate? Do you wanna move forward?
Linc Thelen: I am moving forward. And I am experimenting. This last show in New York, I'd say out of 12 pieces, you know, when you're working, I work on a body of work at one time. It's like writing a book, right? You kinda write chapters of each book.
Or a character, let's say. So I had two of these paintings that are a character. Let's call them rambunctious and livelihood. And so the gesture marks were bold and there was tons of color. I call them confetti.
And that's the kinda characters that I was able to experiment with. I kinda let myself go and let's see where this painting took me. And so out of that body of work, you know, there were different characters and I pushed them different ways. And that's what the beauty is, to be able to have these shows and to work with galleries that are showing your work constantly, is that you’re able to keep on producing stuff and seeing a reaction and see what people think, if they like it, don't like it. You know?
And I do hear stuff from my gallery and people that are like,"Well, I want the light ones." And then she's like "Oh, I want really bold ones." So then at the show I have both light and bold. They both sell. And she's like "Well, you know, maybe some people really like lights and some people like bold." I'm like, yes, they do. Like, I see people buying all different kinds of stuff.
I'm not one thing. You know?
Sourdough: Right. It’s not one size fits all. So would you say your practice is, or in terms of how you evolve and how you grow, is it an evolution moving forward for you in terms innovating through a more iterative process? Or do you see yourself sort of being revolutionary and saying "You know what? I'm throwing all that out and I'm just starting with something 180 degrees different."?
Linc Thelen: No, because my journey and my work is a journal and you can't skip that page that quickly.
Sourdough: Chapters in a book.
Linc Thelen: You can't because they build from one to another. So just like I said, the circles came into me covering the circles to the squiggles to … I didn't do the circles and boom, I'm already to the squiggles. I needed some of those circles still there. You know? So, it's a general process of manipulating those techniques.
It's like dance or like like maybe jazz music. Jazz music would be more representative of maybe an abstract painting. So jazz music could be fluid and combustible and soulful. And so the art is the same. It's like it's improv.
And so depending on that evening or that day or that audience, the work can change. And that's what the beauty is of this technique that I've came about. It's never ending. Like, I don't see an ending to it. There's no one thing to it.
So it can change daily, weekly, as my story changes.
How To Be Creative
Sourdough: Now, as an artist, what do you need to feel safe to create? You know, we had an artist on awhile back who was saying that the secret behind his success was his wife. You know, because his wife supported him in so many ways. And she didn't necessarily even like his art. She just liked the fact that he was creative and she liked that fact that he was an artist, what have you, and he gave her all the credit for sort of creating the space for him to feel safe and be able to create. What do you need to feel safe so that you can create?
Linc Thelen: Well, I think I can maybe bring up my professor again. He always said artists needed to be two things. And what he meant was just kinda what you were saying. How do you be safe? So a lot of artists are, you know, either they work in a restaurant and then they paint or, you know, or dance or they act or, you know, or they have a professional job like they're a teacher and then they have summers off and then they paint. So you need to be able to be in a place where you're not 100 percent always pushing the envelope.
At anything. In business, they call it 80/20. 80 percent you know, 20 percent is new. So if you're working in a world that's 100 percent new all the time, you're at risk. So as an artist, being safe is, I'm not creating work that I think is completely 80 percent safe that I know is gonna sell and then 20 it's not.
I never really relied that the income from the art was gonna be paying my bills.
So I've always had a balance between doing the design architecture and then doing some painting. And they both complemented each other and allowed me to keep creating the work that I wanna do. But maybe a more micro comment would be, last year I was producing some very large works. I have about 12 of them started. What I mean by large, they're like seven or eight feet by six feet. And to me, they're some of my more beautiful works. But, you know, selling those works is much more difficult. And so, you know, after I was working on them for like two months I'm like, well, you know, I gotta make some smaller paintings too because- I'm just putting all of my eggs making these big paintings, which is great- And I'm like, I can't. I gotta make some smaller paintings.
So, you know, I've still worked on those paintings. I've completed most of them. Some of them have sold. But that body of work is gonna be mainly for a solo show. You know? It's not gonna be meant to sell. If they sell, that's great.
But that work, again, those are difficult to ship. I can't just be shipping them to New York. Given the space that they require. So that's work that I guess is the 20 percent. But I think it's one of the better works. But it's, I'm not relying on those things to make an income.
How To Manage Stress As An Artist
Sourdough: Right. How do you manage the stress? I'm listening to you and you've got a lot at stake. I mean, you've got clients, architectural clients. You're building custom homes. You've got galleries counting on you to create work. You're married. You're a family man. You're under a lot of stress. I mean, what do you do to manage that stress and keep your focus?
Linc Thelen: I wish I had the answer to that one. (laughs) So recently, the stress has been, been a lot. But I guess instead of running away from the stress-
Being older now is trying to figure out one, how you manage that stress, but get the task done. So I try to figure our what is causing that stress and how do I solve it, opposed to just being 100 percent stressed over something, for instance.
I try to, hey do I need to send this couple of emails? Do I need to call these people? Do I need to get this stuff? Well, then get that stuff done so then I can, you know, kinda get rid the stress.
So, you know, I think yeah, the anxiety of being an artist can be tough because you don't have that direction and stuff like that. But you just, you gotta make those lists and you gotta check them off.
Sourdough: Yeah. I can imagine that there are, there are artists listening right now who are curious about how you manage your time. How you manage your work flow. You've got a lot of balls in the air. How do you approach time management in the course of a day, in a week, in a month?
The Truth About Success
Linc Thelen: You know, that the thing. You have to be a hard worker. So if you wanna be an artist and be successful, the formula …
For me was, you get up early, you know? Even if you have to get up at 5:00, you get up at 5:00. You work 12, 13 hours, 15 hours a day. That's what it takes, you know? I'm no different than a laborer half the time. I'm building $2 million homes and I'm out picking the garbage up. You know? I'm doing tasks that someone would make for minimum 15, $20.00 an hour.
Sourdough: You're swinging a hammer.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I was swinging a hammer. Like, I'm getting it done. You know? You got to take charge. So, you also got to be smart with your time. Be efficient. But you can't be afraid to get your hands dirty. You know, you got to work for everything you get. And it's, as the older folks in Florida say, "Tomorrow is not promised.”
So, there's no recipes that everyone can follow. I guess you work hard, you continue to work hard and it's never gonna end. You've got to keep pushing it, you know? You don't see Coca-Cola not advertising. They've made it, but they advertise. They spend a lot of money. You have to do the same.
Sourdough: Listening to you talk it was hitting me. You're saying, you know, "Accept responsibility." Right? I mean, accept responsibility for your goals, you know? Take action. Execute. Work your ass off. You know? Be faithful, right? Be committed.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. I don't rely on anybody to make my goals come true. You want something, you want to be somewhere. You want to be on TV, you want to be famous, just go get it. You know? I don't rely on anyone, I don't point fingers.
Sourdough: Yeah. Well, you also love what you do and I think that's part of the joy. Hopefully, right? The joy of being an artist, of being a creator is that a large part of the compensation comes in the doing and the making, and certainly you gotta convert into real dollars. You got to earn a living. But at the same time, hopefully you're enjoying the process because at the end of the day it might be a while before you make enough money.
Linc Thelen: Yeah. There was no guarantee, you know? So, I mean, I guess a pivotal point in my life was, yeah, just about nine years ago. Nine years ago when the economy crashed I was building houses and working with developers who stole money. And I didn't get paid. And I had a staff. And basically, I worked everything to build this company. And then I had to let the staff go one by one and, as the year went by you think next week's going to get better.
Linc Thelen: And it didn't and it's like, next six months didn't get better. And, I went broke. Just 'cause I had clients that owed a lot of money that didn't wind up paying. Just didn't get it finished, banks weren't giving the money. And so I said, "Well then, I'm just gonna be a painter. I'm just gonna work here. If I'm not gonna make money, I'm gonna paint. I'm gonna just try to enjoy some of my time then, and paint."
Linc Thelen: And while I was doing that, I didn't borrow any money. And I lived, you know, I had a child at that time. And I lived in a small studio. Got rid of my house I was living in, and I lived very poor. You know, I had a hot plate and I'm in my 30s with a child, and-
Sourdough: Single dad, yeah?
Linc Thelen: Single dad and, like, struggling and finding myself. I mean, making barely any money selling a painting, maybe a couple paintings a year, for like, $1500.
Just getting by. And I told myself, you know, "I'm not gonna borrow any money. I'm not gonna ask my family for anything. I chose to be an artist and I'm gonna see this through. And this is gonna show me if I really want to be an artist, this is what I have to deal with."
Linc Thelen: And so I didn't borrow any money and I lived true to where I was at.
I didn't mask it by lying to myself. You know, this is the path I chose to be an artist, and at that time being poor, you know? Struggling. But I figured if I could come out on top of that, I would know then I'm gonna not- either one, not be an artist anymore, not be a designer, not be an architect and I'll choose another path.
Sourdough: What artist do you admire? Who inspires you?
Linc Thelen: I mean, if we go with everyone an artist would know it would be Picasso. You know, obviously that's, that's a clear choice. Why would you say, choose Picasso? I'd say Picasso, only because I didn't understand him.
And I would never say Picasso if you asked me ten years ago. But after getting to really know his body of work and seeing how great of a painter he was, it wasn't that I loved the style of his paintings and stuff like that. But I loved that he was able to create work the way he wanted to. And he could destroy things and deconstruct stuff with his work. And his attitude towards the process without trying to appease anybody. That is what I would take from somebody. Obviously, in terms of classical sense, you know, Caravaggio. I'm not into political art. So, none of that stuff I would take from, like a Jackson Pollock. Although he's obviously well-known. I don't really take anything from his process as a painter. So, even though I may enjoy looking at some of his work, it's not something that I want to take into my studies.
Sourdough: Well, we're here at Art Basel. What have you seen here, or have you seen anything that inspired you?
Linc Thelen: You know, I like the combination between the fine art with a little bit of the graffiti mixture. I find it playful. And funny. And if it's done well, then you see the fine art of the craftsmanship. How the paint is layered, the tones of the colors. I appreciate. And then the ones who quote writings and letters. And the thought process. And that idea that it doesn't have to be this beautiful painting, you know? It's kinda more real. So those are the pieces I gravitate to.
CONTEXT Miami 2019
Sourdough: So there are several shows happening here. I know you haven't been to all of them, but which show was your favorite and why? That you've attended.
Linc Thelen: I think CONTEXT so far. You know, it was mid-tiered artists. Artists that are more established, somewhat like myself. And like, someone that's been around for 20 years. Galleries that have been around for 15 or 20 years. Some of their body of artists are more established. But it wasn't to the high end pretentious stage. Still fun. Current. Abstraction. Contemporary. Then we got a chance to go on the Art Miami which is connected to CONTEXT, which has more blue chip artists and stuff like that. That's more higher tier, closer to Art Basel? Again that had some enjoyable work.
Sourdough: What turns you off about Art Basel being here, all the shows, all the parties? I mean, what, what annoys you as an artist? What turns you off as you walk these shows?
Linc Thelen: I don't know if anything really turns me off on the show. I guess each one has their own critical eye of what they want to be seeing. But as this is now the second year around, seeing these different venues, they offer so much at different levels. And different levels for the artist and different levels for the consumer. And, you know, you never know what people want to see. So, yeah, I think you need it all. You know, everyone has a different eye.
Sourdough: I think part of the challenge for the art world and for artists is, how do you grow the entry level marketplace, right? Like, how do we get people, 'cause there's way more supply of art than demand for art, right? Well I'm not saying it's all good art. I'm just saying like, there's just a ton of art out there, right?
Linc Thelen: Yeah.
Sourdough: A glut of inventory that's being unsold. And I see some of these shows. I mean, we were at Scope earlier, and it felt like that was a show that was good for a lot of first-time buyers. You know, people sort of coming into the art market for the first time. And I just feel like that's a huge opportunity for the art world to figure out how you get new buyers into the marketplace. There's way more art, original art out there, you know, between 500 bucks and 50,000 bucks, right? Than 50,000 and above, it feels like. And it's just like, what are we doing to bring new people into the marketplace?
Linc Thelen: Well, I mean, what's the art world doing, you know? I think the art world tries to get people, all different types of people in. And that's why Art Basel is fascinating and great for everyone, because there is so many different venues and different tiered type of artists.
That you can see. So, just like you said, Scope is a good one for newer buyer, prices are lower.
Sourdough: Well, but then you have shows like the Affordable Art Show. It's like, "Please come, new buyers, and consider these young, emerging, independent artists who are making interesting art you can afford."
Linc Thelen: You know what affordable means is, you know, these paintings are typically under 20 thousand. So affordable is in the 5 thousand to 10, maybe 12 thousand dollar range. So maybe that's affordable to some but maybe not so much for others.
Advice for Emerging Artists
Sourdough: So if you could give your younger self advice…Obviously, you've learned a lot all these years. What would you tell your younger self?
Linc Thelen: You know, I would just say, "Continue the path that you're meant for.” "Be honest with yourself and your pursuits," you know, I can't say this advice I have taken yet, but it's hard to savor those moments of success. Because in this world of design architecture and art, you're never ending. So you know, I haven't been able to really sit back and savor some of the achievements.
Sourdough: Do you think that you need to? Do you think you need to be more willing to savor moving forward?
Linc Thelen: I think so, yeah. I think for health reasons. You know, it's something that you gotta take a moment to savor those moments and enjoy them. And, you know, not always be rushing to get to the next point, This next year, that's what I plan on doing.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Linc Thelen — http://lincthelenart.com
Linc Thelen on Twitter — https://twitter.com/lincthelen?lang=en
Art Basel Miami — https://www.artbasel.com/miami-beach
Cube Galery — https://www.cube-gallery.co.uk
Michelle Mariaud Gallery — https://www.michelemariaud.com
Picasso — https://www.pablopicasso.org
Caravaggio — https://www.biography.com/artist/caravaggio
Jackson Pollock — https://www.jackson-pollock.org
Man One — http://www.manone.com/
Man One on Twitter — https://twitter.com/ManOneArt
Scott “Sourdough” Power — https://www.instagram.com/sourdoughpower/
Not Real Art Conference — https://www.notrealartconference.com/
Not Real Art on Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/notrealartworld
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