Jane LaFazio is a watercolor and mixed media artist, art quilter, and all-around creative force with a passion for travel and teaching others how to draw and paint. However, with a background in graphic design and technical illustration, this is not the combination of work LaFazio thought she would ever do full time.
LaFazio traces her creative roots back to her parents, who both encouraged her to be creative. After her parents divorced, LaFazio lived with her mom and would visit her father every month in San Francisco. “He is the one who took me to museums and arts-and-crafts fairs and theater and turned me on to all the things that I love now—all the cultural and arts scene,” she says.
She remembers how much her father, a chef by profession, liked to create. “He had a card table set up in his apartment in San Francisco and he had glitter and pipe cleaners and crepe paper and those wooden heads…and we would just make stuff together. In fact, when I would go visit him on holidays he would make [these] enormous—at least in my childhood memory—crepe paper creations.” One Christmas he sent LaFazio home on the train with a giant Christmas tree made out of crepe paper and covered with candy at the base. “I would carry these home on the train and inevitably the conductor would say, ‘Little girl, do you have a ticket for that?’”
Her dad devoted the weekends of her visits to “Jane things and art things,” and then she would return home to her mom who had a clever parenting rule.
Jane LaFazio in her studio. Photos courtesy of Jane LaFazio
“If I was doing something creative—and it could be rearranging my doll house or cutting out paper—she would not interrupt me to do chores,” LaFazio recalls.
LaFazio and her husband, Don Strom, in August 2016.
In her 20s, LaFazio met and married Don, a slightly older man who had a stable job at Hewlett Packard. Her dream was to travel the world, and she worked briefly as a flight attendant, first for a small charter that flew internationally and then with a four-year-stint with British Air until the airline went on strike. In her 20s, LaFazio met and married Don, a slightly older man who had a stable job at Hewlett Packard. Her dream was to travel the world, and she worked as a flight attendant for a charter that flew internationally. She traveled the world for four years and during that time she met Don. She likes to tell people, “I met him in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day.” (He was there with her neighbor who made the introduction.)
Together they were globetrotters in the prime of their lives when all their plans unraveled. Don collapsed at work and had to receive emergency treatment for a brain aneurysm. The surgery left the professional communicator partially paralyzed and unable to speak. “I was 42 and he was 47. You never think anything like that is going to happen,” says LaFazio, now 66, recalling the scary days that followed. “I thought to myself, ‘I love this man more than anything in this world and I’m going to stick by him.’ ”
When he was discharged from the hospital a month later, LaFazio focused all her energy on helping him recover. “He had to learn to read and write and walk and talk all over again,” she says. “I was also grieving deeply for the future we had lost. I didn’t know if he’d be able to talk or work again. I had no idea what our financial future was.”
Meanwhile, LaFazio recalls feeling as if she had lost something else too. “I was realizing that I had completely lost ‘the Jane,’ ” she says, recalling what inspired a friend to suggest she sign up for an art class at the local community center. She enjoyed a drawing class, and then ended up reluctantly taking a watercolor class after her drawing teacher moved away.
“I took the class and made some friends,” said LaFazio, who credits these classes and the challenges she had already faced with preparing her to launch her art career when she was laid off from her job in 1998. “I learned the business of art while I was still working full time,” she says, referring to lessons she learned while working with a group of 10 other women. “We became artists together…. We learned how to frame our work. We learned how to put on exhibitions. We learned how to hang them. We learned how to put on receptions, send postcards, send invitations, get business cards, make up resumes.”
One of LaFazio’s watercolors.
“Without what we went through I wouldn’t have taken that leap,” she reflects. “It’s so where I should be. I really love what I’m doing. I love teaching.”
“Ringling Brothers,” a mixed-media piece by Jane LaFazio
These days, LaFazio creates a majority of her work in journal form, documenting every day in her life. She also makes art quilts and creates mixed media collages; she enjoys stitching on paper.
When she and Don married, LaFazio admits she didn’t expect it to last. “It amazes me,” she says, laughing. “My mom was married four times. I really didn’t think this marriage would last more than five years.” After Don’s recovery, the couple had to recreate their lives. She helped him get volunteer work, and he took over the grocery shopping and laundry duties while LaFazio returned to work. And they’ve been together more than two decades since.
The couple will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in February 2017. “We’ve created a wonderful life,” she says.
“10 Objects 10 Ways,” an art journal page by Jane LaFazio
Six Business Tips From Jane LaFazio
Jane LaFazio has learned from her experience operating an independent art business and teaching her own online courses that she designs and promotes herself. Here are some tips to help small business owners take it to the next level:
- Set up organized systems to manage sales and teaching. Keep track of whom you sell work to, and organize workshops and class lessons so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you teach the class.
- Don’t get hung up on creating branded social media. “I don’t have a brand,” LaFazio said. “I’ve read all these articles about Instagram brands. I guess not having a brand shows that it’s me. It may be my new tennis shoes one day. It may be what I’m working on in my artwork. It may be my husband drinking a beer. I just share genuinely on social media.”
- Use Pinterest. LaFazio has found it helpful to create pinboards that have exposed more viewers to her work.
- Trust your instincts when it comes to the work you make. Don’t fixate on trying to make work that will sell. “I’ve found early on in making art that the art that I wanted to make is the most well-liked,” LaFazio says.
- Don’t be shy; pitch a story idea about your business to your favorite newspaper or magazine. Submit article ideas to your favorite industry publications to get your own writing out there and build your reputation as an expert in your industry.
- Consider doing it yourself. While there are well-established companies that regularly partner with artists and crafters to create web-based classes, LaFazio decided to create and market her own independent online courses. She hires people to film her classes and pays an annual fee to use the service Ruzuku to host the courses she creates, but she gets to keep 100 percent of the profits.
Jennifer is a journalist, podcaster, printmaker, fiber artist, swimmer and community college media adviser. She is also the editor and publisher of CraftSanity Magazine and has produced a podcast about art and craft by the same name since 2006. She blogs at CraftSanity.com, sells her handprinted t-shirts and wooden CraftSanity weaving looms at craftsanity.etsy.com. Jennifer lives in suburban Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband and two daughters. Follow her fitness and creative adventures on Twitter and Instagram under the name @CraftSanity. Watch her craft tutorials on the CraftSanity YouTube Channel. Contact her by writing email@example.com.