We had the good fortune of connecting with Nan Phillips and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nan, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I had been teaching fused glass, stained glass, and figurative clay sculpture classes at other art studios for 5 years. My initial thought behind starting my own business, was that, even teaching 5 classes a week, I was making too little money to survive. No matter how many students were in a class, I still made the same $50 per class. That worked to my benefit when only a few people attended class, but not so much when a class was packed with 15 students. In 2008 my children were all away in college and I had extra space in my home to create a fused glass and stained glass teaching studio, so I decided it was time to strike out on my own. In determining how I wanted to run my classes, I thought about all my previous students. One of their biggest complaints was paying the art studio up front for a specific number of classes, so if they missed class, it was lost money. Since these were all adults who had work and family obligations, they almost always missed a class or two per session. Also, many of my students said that in previous classes they had taken, everyone was required to produce specific types of pieces in each class, stifling creativity and sometimes boring them. In starting my own business, I took these two things to heart. I set up my classes to be “pay as you go”, so if someone has to miss a week or three, they’re not out any money. My students appreciate this payment flexibility, and about half pay at each session, and half pay in advance, and I keep an account and only debit their account for the classes they attend. I also allow students to start or stop at any time, with no specific number of classes required. In a student’s initial class, I teach essential beginner skills, or assess their skill level if the student has had prior experience. After that, students are allowed to create the glass projects that they wish, and I teach them what they need to know to make each project successful. This way, everyone in the class is creating something different, so students are exposed to many more ideas and techniques than if everyone was working on the same project. My flexible payment system, along with allowing students to create projects that they will enjoy for themselves or as gifts, have proven to be extremely successful based on my class growth and student retention rate.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am basically self-taught. When I changed career paths, I looked into MFA programs but was told that because most of my undergraduate and all my graduate classwork was in business, I would need many hours of undergraduate art classes before I could move on to an MFA. At age 40 with 3 young children, years of classwork was not a road I was willing to take. I found beginner classes in stained glass, which I fell in love with, and ceramics, which I wasn’t very good at, but it did lead me to classes in figurative sculpture and fused glass, both of which I truly love. There were few fused glass classes available in the Dallas area when I started in the early 1990’s, so I took the classes that I could, purchased a kiln, and spent 3 years firing glass, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. To me, it was better training than classroom instruction, and it has allowed me, as an instructor, to give much better explanations of why to do, or not to do something in a particular way. It has also allowed me to experiment and create my own techniques, and to encourage my students to do the same. The journey was not easy. Selling art is not at the top of anyone’s list of money-making, easy road to fame and fortune careers. But until the 2008 recession I was able to sell enough work to keep my business going and even growing. I opened my own glass teaching studio in 2008, and within 4 or 5 years, had enough income, and my student base had grown enough, that I knew that my business was not going to fail. My teaching business has grown every year since I opened my doors, and I have supplemented that income with art sales at shows and with commission work. How did I overcome the challenges? Persistence. And knowing that failure was not an option because I didn’t like any of the alternatives that were available to me at the time. What I have learned is that it isn’t easy, but it is possible to start a business on a shoestring budget with little initial capital and no business debt. By offering a product that people want (in this case on-going art classes that fit conveniently into people’s schedule, giving them an outlet for their creativity, and the opportunity to make artwork that they can enjoy), and making that product affordable, I have been able to start and grow my business. As funds allow, I continually reinvest in my business, which allows me to continue to grow and offer new techniques, skills and creative opportunities to my students and for my own artwork.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
(Wow – this question is SO not within my area of expertise! When family or friends come to town we mostly stay home and visit and cook and eat together!) I would take friends and family to the Texas Sculpture Garden and Hall Office Park in Frisco to see and enjoy the artwork.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost, I dedicate this shoutout to my husband Tom Phillips, who saw something in me that I did not. Instead of starting all over again on my MBA after years of child rearing, he encouraged me to change paths and pursue art. This is not an option I would have considered without his encouragement, and I am very happy with, and fulfilled by my subsequent career path. Others to thanks are George Davis, who taught me figurative clay sculpture and encouraged me to join Texas Sculpture Association (TSA). Then Anne Neal, who, in spite of my protestations, encouraged me to accept the TSA presidency in 2008. That tenure changed my life and taught me leadership skills (sometimes learned the hard way) and volunteer service to an organization and other artists. Anne was also instrumental in encouraging me to apply for my first studio teaching position. The TSA presidency gave me the courage in 2013 to become a founding member of another art organization, Texas Jewish Arts Association (TJAA). In particular, I thank other founding board members Nancy Cohen Israel, Veronique Jonas, and Jan Ayers Friedman (who, over the years, had already helped me and my career in so many different ways) for the endless hours of volunteer work that went into creating this new organization. In 2017, I accepted the position as president of TJAA.
“Ode to Peace” – Cast Glass Sculpture by Nan Phillips “Tranquility” – Bronze Sculpture by Nan Phillips Commissioned Stained Glass Window – Designed and Created by Nan Phillips “Song of Light” – Tack-fused Glass Sculpture by Nan Phillips “And It Was Good” – Fused Glass Sculpture by Nan Phillips; Custom Steel Base by Toby Chapman “Into the Woods” – Fused Glass Sculpture by Nan Phillips “Breath of Life” – Textural Glass Sculpture by Nan Phillips; Custom Steel Base by Toby Chapman “Abstract In Glass” – Glass Sculpture by Nan Phillips