In 2016, The Village launched its Art and Business as Mission Fellowships as a way to support artists and entrepreneurs in the church. Mandy Rogers became one of the first fellows for the program. She works as an abstract artist in Dallas and is a Covenant Member at the Dallas Northway campus.
You describe yourself as an abstract artist. What is abstract art? Why do you enjoy it?
Abstract art invites the viewer back into the creative process, allowing them to see it as their own. With nearly every piece, I’ll explain what the piece meant to me as I was painting it, but it’s still open to the viewer as to how they see it. Each person will see it differently, and that’s one of the beautiful things about it.
What was the first full series of paintings you did?
My first time doing a full series of paintings was the one I did with The Village, “Awaited Hope.” Since this was my first gallery, I felt both nervous and excited when we hung everything at the Flower Mound campus. It’s always nerve-wracking to put your heart out there and see how people respond to it. It was also the first time I took the time to really think through what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and be really intentional in painting.
What was the inspiration behind that series?
The series was about suffering, but I didn’t want to tell a story of suffering without telling a story about hope. That was a big goal: to make sure that hope shined through in the midst of pain and suffering. I kept coming back to mountains and blue hues and the way light comes into them. I really wanted to capture that feeling just before the light comes in, that hope, but also the heaviness and weightiness.
I really wanted to let the viewer know that hope can be hard to grasp, but it’s here and it’s coming.
We were studying Exodus as a church body at the time I was painting, and I thought a lot about the Israelites in Exodus, the way God presented Himself in the skies for them. He was so present before them in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and yet when Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God, they went back to their idols. Hope was so present before them, but there was also a weight of sin upon them.
Is that something you can relate to?
I wouldn’t say I’ve had a lot of suffering in my own life, but I’ve had some that has shaped me and helped me to understand grace. Sometimes hope can feel heavy. It’s hard to grasp or hold onto, and it can be easier to hold onto your doubt or hurt. Hope is the harder thing to come to. I really wanted to let the viewer know that hope can be hard to grasp, but it’s here and it’s coming. That’s why you see the white sweeping down in the paintings.
How did you become involved in the Art as Mission Fellowship?
About a year ago, I’d just done my first art show in Deep Ellum with all these random things I painted…looking back it kinda makes me cringe, but I was so proud at the time. After the show, I remember walking down the streets and thinking, “I wish there was someone who would invest in me as an artist and give me the time and finances to figure this out.” But I didn’t think it was a real possibility; I laughed it off. Maybe a month or two later, I received an email from The Village about the fellowship, applied and was accepted. The fellowship gave me a space to work in at the Mill Street House and the finances to develop myself as an artist. It also gave me accountability. Before, my life was so busy trying to make ends meet, there was no time to figure out my purpose with art and what I wanted to do.
Growing up, did you want to be an artist?
I always drew or painted to some extent, but I never considered myself an artist. I remember taking one class in high school, but I haven’t taken anything since. I actually doubt myself a lot because of that and get really nervous about my abilities. It took me a long time to gain the confidence to tell people, “I’m an artist.”
So did you go to college and study art or something else entirely?
I actually started out as a business major in accounting at Texas A&M, just because I was good at math and had no idea what I wanted to do. Within a couple months, I knew I didn’t want to do that and spent a lot of months searching. I ended up changing to landscape architecture and truly loved that for a time, as well.
What was the moment you decided to pursue art as a career and start your own business?
I had been working a lot of hours at my firm and knew I needed a change. I randomly decided to join the 100 Day Project, and people started to ask to buy my work. At first, I just gave the sketches away for free, but that kind of got the ball rolling for me.
Has art become your full-time job?
No, and it’s kind of crazy how much less I make in comparison to when I worked as a full-time landscape designer. I’ve had months where I didn’t know if I could pay my bills, but God has been good to always provide in some way. Besides painting, I work part-time in city engineering and planning. When starting your own business, there's a real draw to work 24/7 because you’re so nervous that you aren’t going to make it, financially. Often, I end up working more hours than a full-time job would entail.
What does a typical day look like?
A lot of people like to be by themselves when they do their work, but I’m not one of those people. It’s hard for me to work in silence; I like lots of noise and life around. As far as the work itself, it depends on what stage of the process I’m at. At the beginning of a series it’s a lot of brainstorming. I’ll probably do 10-20 little paintings or sketches before I start on the real thing. Once I’m doing the series, I’m painting every day. After that, it’s a lot of computer work: communicating with clients, getting everything on my website, a lot of writing the vision behind the series and writing for the website. Then there can be a lot of social media to write and send out, and that can take me awhile to figure out what I want to say.
Is that something you didn’t expect when you started your own business?
Yes. Writing and computer work is so much more a part of it than I realized. And also all the back-and-forth emailing and communicating that you have to do with clients.
How long does it take to finish a painting? Does it depend on the size or even how inspired you are?
It does depend on how I’m feeling that day and the size of the painting. For me, a painting can take anywhere from 1 – 5 hours, depending on the size. I can usually only do two 24×36 paintings at most per day because I’m just so exhausted by the end. But it all depends on the series, the number of layers I’m doing, if I have the direction figured out yet. If my heart’s in the right place. I’m a real busybody, and my mind can’t always settle down enough to paint.
One of the things I love about art is that it allows me to connect with people and meet their hearts.
Tell me about your Subscription program and your vision and hope in starting that.
Two things really stirred my heart for this: allowing the average person to buy art and getting them involved in the process. I don’t want to keep the average person from being able to buy my art…like me, I couldn’t even afford my own art right now. I want it to be accessible for everyone. So the Subscription allows people to pay an amount over six months, with the end result being that you receive an original painting by me. It invites the person into the process; there will be a lot of email conversations, some snail mail, and they will get to see the progress of their piece as we go along. It’s hard for [clients] to grasp how expensive art is. It costs me so much time and money that, if I were to sell it for a price they’d be comfortable paying, I wouldn’t be able to make a living.
Why is the cost so high?
Supplies for painting can be expensive: paint, paintbrushes, canvases. One small bottle of paint could cost $12 – $15, and the canvas could be a few hundred. I have been encouraged to know artists who are able to charge more for their paintings: They have a large following and a higher skill level and have worked hard to reach that point. But for now, I feel really blessed to be where I’m at, and am extremely encouraged by the trust my current followers have for me.
Are there specific ways that you feel like your beliefs shape your work?
Yes, it is the foundation of my work. When I talk to people, I don’t say, “I’m a Christian artist,” but I definitely want them to have experienced grace after looking at my art. That’s my goal. One of the things I love about art is that it allows me to connect with people and meet their hearts.
Artists often create platforms on the web to get their art out there. Do you feel a burden as a believer and an artist to communicate truth through your various platforms?
I’m up to about 830 followers on Instagram, which could be a little or a lot to some people, but that’s 830 people that read and see what I’m doing. That’s 830 people who God has given me the ability to speak to, so it becomes much more important that what I say is filled with truth.
At the same time, a platform on social media can be fleeting. So I’ve learned to do what I feel called to and be a good steward. And if that is in line with what God has for me, it will flourish. I don’t need to put that weight on myself. I’m learning not to carry it, and it’s been a relief.
Responding in thankfulness versus comparison helps to dismantle envy.
How do you deal with comparison?
When I’m working on my website, I’ll go look at other artists' sites to see what they do, and often find myself thinking, “Their work is so much better than anything I could do.” I want to maintain a respect for them and learn from them, but it’s hard not to play that comparison game. Sometimes the best thing I can do, if they’re willing, is reach out and ask questions and even receive encouragement from them. Reaching out to the artist and letting them know you love their work helps them to become a real person to you. It lets you appreciate them and their work for what it is. Responding in thankfulness versus comparison helps to dismantle envy.
What advice or suggestion do you have for other artists or entrepreneurs just starting out?
If any artist or entrepreneur has the ability to be in a co-working space, even just occasionally, I think they should, just for the connections they’ll make and the encouragement they’ll receive and the community that will gather around them. Working at the Mill Street House with other creatives and entrepreneurs has been a huge encouragement to me. This is probably the most encouraged I’ve felt in community and pushed forward. Working here has made my business stronger.
If someone was interested in doing the fellowship, would you recommend it?
I think it would be good for anyone starting their own business. It’s hard to transition from having a boss who gives you tasks to work on to being your own boss and figuring that out yourself and deciding what the end goal is. I came into the fellowship thinking, “They’ll give me things to work on for the church.” But that’s not how it worked. In the end that was great because I realized I would have to sustain this on my own after the fellowship ended, and now I have to figure out how to do that.