When I was a kid, reading a good book always made me want to write something myself. Seeing a great movie filled me with an urge to re-enact it. I didn’t have a name at the time for the drive and yearning that experiencing good storytelling engendered, but now I understand that it was inspiration. Experiencing someone else’s great art has always gotten my own creative juices flowing, and it’s no different now than it was all those years ago. Hearing a fantastic cast of singers makes me ache to unleash my own voice.
Creatives gonna create. The expression of creativity itself is inspiring. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that folks who excel in one area of the arts are drawn to other areas of artistry and entrepreneurship. “Side art” might be a source of great joy and expression, it might be a little extra income producer, it might take over and become one’s raison d’etre.
The artists and entrepreneurs featured in this month’s first-ever Cindy’s List Holiday Gift Guide, have inspired me, and I thought it would be fun to ask them to share more about what inspires their work. (BTW, make sure you check out the list directly —- many of the featured vendors are offering exclusive discounts for Cindy’s List readers)!
JOANIE BRITTINGHAM: Watercolor Paintings
Soprano Joanie Brittingham has always painted for fun, but when her artist grandmother recently passed away, making her own art helped her process her grief. Inspired by beautiful music and by swirling, often mercurial watercolors, Joanie sees a correlation between the visual and aural. “I love that color washes sometimes yield unexpected results, and that, like singing, a variety of color makes it special,” she says. “My works are mostly inspired by opera--I do some paintings depicting scenes I imagine while singing, and others are painted directly over the sheet music with aspects of the aria or how I envision the character. Painting lets me hear the music through the brushes--I'm able to see the colors that I want in the sound. It has given me a clearer map for my singing, and has given me a new range of vocabulary for my students as well!”
Friends and students encouraged Joanie to open an Etsy shop, which she has recently done. She also takes custom orders. Singers can request paintings over scores of their favorite piece of music or phrases, and make specific requests regarding colors and themes. “I love the idea of collaborating on my art the way that I collaborate with other musicians,” Joanie says. Like her grandmother, she also loves the idea of art being affordable to everyone, and is adding digital downloads to her inventory. “That way, even singers who are saving their pennies for coachings can still have interesting custom art on their studio wall!”
TONY HOWELL: Digital Strategy for Artists
Tony Howell began as an actor in Broadway tours, Off-Broadway premieres, international and regional theatre, while continuing to freelance in graphic design. In 2013 he founded his digital education company, and now helps artists build their brands full-time. His clients include Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Olivier, and Tony winners, as well as technophobic artists of all levels.
He is, he says, inspired by death.
“I lost my father at a young age and realized that life is short. We don't have any guarantees... so #YOLO is real! I'm driven by legacy and impact, as are many of my clients. I think that's why my business has had the ‘success’ it has—which is another interesting word to personally define!” Tony says. His bookshelf includes Simon Sinek's Start With Why, as well as some other business books like Purple Cow, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and Blue Ocean Strategy, all of which inform his work.
Tony still sings for fun, but his performances now takes place via teaching. “It's in alignment with my initial purpose or calling to the arts: to inspire and to create,” he says. “Ultimately, I want to help change the world.... and I do that by empowering and equipping artists with tools to reach more people and have a bigger impact.”
TARA FAIRCLOTH: Freelance Budget Matters for Musicians
Stage Director Tara Faircloth trained as a singer, but was bitten by the directing bug during the last semester of her master’s degree when she was asked to direct a show for the early music ensemble. Like many artists, she has spent her entire life as a freelancer, with almost no education in finances.
“I decided to write this guidebook after I had breakfast with a dear friend… a singer who had recently won a large prize,” Tara remembers. “I was going on about how this prize was going to offer him so much freedom, when I realized he was being very quiet. I looked at him, and with tears in his eyes he said ‘I don’t even know where that money went.’ I knew at that time that I had something to share… something that would make a real, vital difference in the lives of singers everywhere.”
She knew it was time to encapsulate the system she had developed for herself over the years, so that other artists could experience the same peace of mind. She began to offer a budget workshop for the young artists wherever she works as a stage director, and created the guidebook as a companion piece. “I want every artist to feel they have understanding and control over what is happening in their financial lives … I hope to help artists take control of their finances so they can make good decisions and live the lives they are meant to lead. Financial peace = better artistry.”
VALERIA GIRARDI: Val’s Crochet Creations
Soprano Valeria Girardi was inspired by her beloved grandmother, a master with the crochet hooks, who passed away on Christmas Day 2016 at the age of 101. Regretful that she had not learned the skill while her grandmother was alive, Val picked up Nanny’s needles just a few months ago. She quickly realized that she had a natural affinity for crochet, and began to make all sorts of items, including her own patterns. She has always had an interest in fashion and enjoys using her creativity and fashion sense in her crocheting. When she’s not fashioning yarn into hats, shawls, halter tops, dresses, scarves, or baby clothes, Val is performing opera and sacred music in the greater New York area. She’s been heard in venues across North America and many times in Carnegie Hall.
NICHOLAS PALLESEN: Transformative Coach and Mental Performance Consultant
Nicholas Pallesen wasn’t always a Transformative Coach and Mental Performance Consultant. His fifteen-year career as an operatic baritone took him to the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, English National Opera, and many other companies in the US and Germany. He was a winner of several major competitions, including including the Richard Tucker, George London, Sullivan, and Giulio Gari competitions, and as a Grand Finalist in the Met National Council Auditions, was featured in the documentary, "The Audition".
Struggling with his own severe anxiety, depression, and stage fright led him to his current work. “While there are countless resources in our training and development focused on technique, stagecraft, style, diction, etc., we aren't really having any conversations about the mental/emotional/psychological aspects of being an artist both on and off stage. I wished that there were more resources out there to help artists with the unique challenges and demands that come from our profession, and I wanted to change that. One day I thought, "Why not me?" and the rest is history,” he says. His experiences as a performer, managing the ups and downs of praise and rejection, good and bad reviews, triumphant and terrible performances, and work/family/personal life balance, help him connect with clients on a deep level.
What exactly is a Transformative Coach? Nicholas likes to say that he helps performers “get out of their heads and into their lives”. He addresses the same kinds of issues that people would take to therapists, performance psychologists, or life coaches, but has a unique approach. “In my work, I help people see that it's totally okay and awesome to be human; that they already have everything they need to thrive, and that peace of mind, joy, and aliveness are already available to them. When people see that, they naturally start to get out of their heads and flourish and shine in everything they do with much less effort.”
“I come alive when I'm working with my clients in a way that I didn't as a performer,” Nicholas confesses. “Watching people wake up to the full magnificence they already have within and overcome challenges both they and others thought they would never overcome fulfill me more than any standing ovation I've ever received.”
REBECCA CARR: Belle Pietre Jewelry
Soprano Rebecca Carr was discovered by a neighbor who heard her singing over the roar of the family’s riding lawnmower and called her mother to suggest she have voice lessons. She eventually attended AVA and has enjoyed a regional singing career in the US, along with European tours, and now lives and teaches in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where she grew up.
Her jewelry-making career began in a similar fashion: on a lark with a friend, Rebecca visited a beading shop where they both made statement necklaces. A few weeks later, the proprietor of an artisan jewelry shop admired her necklace, asked if she were a designer (she fibbed and said yes!), invited her to bring him some pieces to sell … and Belle Pietre Jewelry was born. Rebecca sells her works in selected shops, private trunk shows, and via her website; and she loves to create bespoke pieces, especially for fellow artists. “I’ll admit I love having the luxury of going to my studio and whipping up just the right piece to fill the neckline of a gown, or a bracelet and not-too-matchy statement earrings, for a specific event, “she says, and of course, she always wears her own creations when she performs.
“My jewelry is an extension of my life as a singer, my connection to the art of Opera, and my love of Mother Earth's beauty,” Rebecca says. “My creations are the tangible result of my imagination, expression, and unique artistry, the very elements I bring to an operatic character in performance. It is what guides me in choosing gorgeous stones, quartz crystals and Mother-of-Pearl shells that speak to me of the qualities of a role I have performed, those I hope to one day, and those I can only dream of.”
She likes for her pieces to tell a story and hopes they will serve as conversation starters about opera and the arts in general, literature, history, and language. She wants her customers to have a story to tell as well. “Perhaps it’s about a specific piece, and the character for which it's named. Maybe it’s the stones & shells themselves; perhaps they're a birthstone or that of a child, or a reminder of an exotic trip. I aspire to inspire my wearers, and those they encounter, to look for - and FIND - the connections to, and interconnectedness of, culture, beauty, creativity in everyday life!”
MELISSA ZGOURIDI: Melissa Zgouridi Studios
Mezzo-soprano Melissa Zgouridi is a Fulbright Scholar and recent graduate of the Mozarteum University, where she earned a Masters in Lied and Oratorio. She lives in Salzburg, Austria, where she is working on her transition from student to professional working musician. A self-taught photographer, she did portrait and headshot photography for her colleagues during her undergraduate studies at Eastman, while dabbling in web design.
Melissa stepped away from her lifelong passion for photography and design while she was pursuing studies in Austria, but soon realized that she missed it too much, and Melissa Zgouridi Studios was born. “I believe that portraits and websites are very personal products and should be as unique as the individual commissioning them,” she says. “My creative process with photography and web design is deeply rooted in the idea of collaboration. I always take time to talk with and to get to know my clients before we start working… My ultimate goal is for my client to feel like the product represents who they are as an artist and reflects what they want to share with their audiences. Furthermore, I also aim to give my clients the skills and tools they need to take control of their products once I hand it over to them.”
As an emerging artist, Melissa loves the independence and flexibility that her photography and design business offers. “As a singer who has had a lot of different side hustles in her life, the ability to focus on singing while at the same time building my own business is definitely one of the most exciting parts,” she says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I am able to pursue my dreams of a singing career while at the same time being independent and growing and running my own business.”
MICHELLE TROVATO: Michelle’s Embellishments
Soprano Michelle Trovato is a plus size diva whose budgetary challenges inspired her to stretch her wardrobe by investing in a few simple pieces and creating a variety of embellishments to change up each look. She first began selling her designs in a popular Facebook group for women opera singers, and when the group transformed into online diva shopping mall Shoperatic, Michelle created her own shop. “I was making myself wraps, sparkly belts, hair pieces, etc. already, so I decided to do that for other divas and the Shoperatic community! I’ve created designs for capelets, wraps, faux fur and feather pieces, and incorporate sparkle in the form of Embellishments in different ways. It’s basically add-ons to make garments you already own more ‘diva’ and more unique!” she says.
Michelle has found great inspiration from her colleagues on the site, as well as blogs, magazines, and shows like Project Runway. She focuses mainly on the plus-size market, as it is underserved when it comes to divawear, but many of her creations are one-size-fits-all. “I just want every diva to feel that she has OPTIONS. She does NOT have to wear the same gown that every other plus size diva already owns- she can customize it and make it her own!” Michelle says. She loves to collaborate on specialty items and custom orders (like the fabulous faux teal fur she created for my photo shoot last year); she also sells gently used gowns, audition wear, vintage jewelry and gloves; and her services include tracking down that dress you just have to have. You can even visit her NYC home to shop by appointment.
Creativity is always inspiring. I hope you find something that inspires you among these artists and their work —- maybe to indulge yourself or offer the perfect gift to a friend, maybe to create your own “side art” or services that complement and support your own singing career. Happy Holidays!