When Los Altos Hills resident Aletta de Wal suffered two strokes at age 40, art served as inspiration on her long road to recovery. Now, it’s her way of life.
De Wal, now 59, has parlayed her business background – and her unwavering determination – into a career as a unique kind of art instructor: She helps her students launch art careers that bring financial as well as spiritual rewards. The idea behind her firm, Artist Career Training, is that painting, drawing and sculpture can indeed be day jobs.
Most of her students are between ages 40 and 75, attempting to build new careers after retiring or being downsized, said de Wal, who serves as director and artistic adviser. She focuses on having artists properly market themselves so that they can pursue full time what they love doing.
“It’s the perfect way to share my skills as an artist, educator and entrepreneur,” de Wal said. “I feel like I’m finally doing what I was meant to do. I help fine artists make more money so they can get back to making more art.”
Toward that end, she offers sound advice on factors like making a good first impression and how “retail is detail.”
“I’m known as the gentle nag,” de Wal smiled. “I help them build a pathway that suits them,” but all require “time, money and energy.”
De Wal has her students amass an inventory of 100 pieces to jump-start their new businesses.
She’s beginning a new round of classes next spring, as well as releasing a new book in January, “My Real Job Is Being an Artist.” The book culls her best advice and experiences gleaned from years of working with thousands of artists.
As for her own art, she refers to herself as a tree painter and “layerist,” with layers of material often pulled back to reveal the inner workings of the piece.
For de Wal, her journey has been remarkable considering the effects of her strokes nearly 20 years ago, suffered while she was a banking executive in Toronto.
“I couldn’t walk, I could barely talk and I couldn’t understand what people were saying,” she recalled. “I had to begin all over again.”
Diagnosed with neurosystemic lupus, for which there is no cure, she has controlled the symptoms, initially through medication, these days through diet and exercise.
Her three- to five-year rehabilitation included enrolling in a class, “Drawing for Absolute Beginners.” De Wal benefited from “two wonderfully generous art teachers who focused not on the fact that we were ill, but that we wanted to get better.”
Along the way, she learned to use art and creativity to heal the brain faster. She found that focusing on big-picture thinking worked best in problem solving.
“You get much better solutions to problems than linear approaches,” she said.
Inspired, de Wal founded her business, Artistic Intelligence, and converted two floors of a textile factory in Toronto into a studio. The business was a success, but by 2001 she needed a change of climate. She moved to Los Altos Hills the following year and assumed leadership of Artist Career Training.
Another goal for de Wal, who says friends describe her as “a dog with a bone,” is overhauling art school curricula to include supporting marketing students’ careers.
“Don’t get in my way once I decide to do something,” she said.
“(The schools) teach, but then they kick you out on the sidewalk.”
She also supports arts in schools programs so that future generations of artists – and art appreciators – can take hold.
De Wal’s Artist Career Training is located at 101 First St., Suite 103, Los Altos.