PleinAir Podcast - Debra Joy Groesser -
Nebraska artist Debra Joy Groesser, featured in the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads, Episode 161

Welcome to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads. In this episode Eric interviews Nebraska artist Debra Joy Groesser, who is also President of the American Impressionist Society.

Listen as Debra Joy Groesser shares the following:
• How doing something as simple as choosing an inspiring password helped bring her goals to fruition
• Her transition from art to real estate, and back to art by transforming her basement into a studio where she taught children after school, growing her art career to success studio
• The role of the American Impressionism Society, the art it represents, and how to enter
• Her experience of opening an art gallery, including the pros and cons, and more!

“When you’re born with that creative spirit … it’s not what you do, it’s who you are.” ~Debra Joy Groesser

Bonus: This week’s PleinAir Podcast includes an Art Marketing Minute!
Eric Rhoads, author of Make More Money Selling Your Art, shares advice for making prints of your artwork, and how licensing works to help you make more money from your art in this Art Marketing Minute Podcast.

Listen to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads and Debra Joy Groesser here:

Oil landscape painting by Debra Joy Groesser
Debra Joy Groesser, “Crescent Bay Blues,” 8 x 16 in.

Related Links:
– Debra Joy Groesser:
– American Impressionist Society:
– Eric Rhoads on Instagram:
– Eric Rhoads on Facebook:
– Sunday Coffee:
– Plein Air Convention & Expo:
– Plein Air Salon:
– Publisher’s Invitational:
– Value Specs for Artists:
– Paint by Note:
– The Great Outdoor Painting Challenge TV Show:
– Figurative Art Convention & Expo:
– Fine Art Trip to Russia:

FULL TRANSCRIPT of PleinAir Podcast 161:
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio recording of the PleinAir Podcast. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.

Eric Rhoads 00:00
This is episode number 161. Today we’re featuring artist Deborah Joy Groesser president of the American Impressionist Society, AIS.

Announcer 00:22
This is the plein air podcast with Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of plein air magazine. In the plein air podcast, we cover the world of outdoor painting called plein air. The French coined the term, which means open air or outdoors. The French pronounce it plenn air. Others say plein air. No matter how you say it. There was a huge movement of artists around the world who are going outdoors to paint. And this show is about that movement. Now, here’s your host, author, publisher and painter, Eric Rhoads.

Eric Rhoads 01:00
Thank you Jim Kipping. And welcome to the plein air podcast. If you’re listening to this as it’s released right on time, I’m leaving this week for a few days in Russia. I’ll be painting in Russia in the winter in the snow, which is pretty darn exciting. I think what they tell me is they put vodka in their paint to keep it from freezing up, and they probably put a little vodka on the inside of themselves to keep themselves from freezing up. I guess I’ll find out. I’ll be shooting an instructional video with a world famous Russian Master, which will be announced soon. And I’m working on two different documentaries. So I have interviews set up with some of the top museum people and some some of the top schools it’s going to be pretty exciting. Plus, I’m doing site selection for my summer 2021 publisher’s Invitational trip into the places in Russia where lebreton and shishkin and reppin and others painted. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ll tell you more about that in the future. So if you want to follow what going on. Check me out on Instagram or Facebook. It’s Eric Rhoads Rhoads on Facebook. I’m at my limit of friends but you can still follow it. I know that. Anyway, I get back just in time for the final last minute details done for the plein air convention. I hope you’re coming I hope to see you there. This is our biggest yet we’ve blown out all the attendance records from the past. And by the time you go to the website if there are no seats left, I know it’s down to the last few. If there are no seats left, there will be a waiting list in case somebody drops out. At the time I’m recording this. There’s not many so visit Also you have until March 15 I believe it is to enter your paintings for the final season of plein air salon art competition. This is the last bimonthly and then all the winners in any category get entered into the judging for the answer You will prize which has 27 or $30,000 in cash prizes plus $15,000 for the main winner the first prize you also get the cover of plein air magazine. If you’re not a subscriber, by the way to plein magazine. Check that out anyway, you can enter at coming up after the interview, I’ll be doing art marketing questions and also the art marketing podcast now it’s called the art marketing minute is now a podcast of its own. If you want to check that out. If you don’t want to listen to this, heaven forbid, let’s get right to our interview with Deborah Joy Groesser. Deborah joy groesser. Welcome to the plein podcast.

Debra Joy Groesser 03:44
Thank you, Eric. I sure appreciate you having me.

Eric Rhoads 03:47
You know, I can’t even believe it. All this time has passed and we haven’t done a podcast yet. And that’s like I was looking the other day I thought Wait a minute, we never did her. So here you are. This problem. Important Person, and we completely forgot you. So please accept my apologies.

Debra Joy Groesser 04:06
Oh my gosh, I don’t know about prominent and important.

Eric Rhoads 04:09
But I guess the benefit is, you know, we did a lot of very, very, we started out with, you know, really, really, really, really, really big important names when we launched the podcast was about two years ago. And the good news now is that there’s so many more people listening than then of course, you can listen to the back episodes that a lot of people do. So it might be to your benefit. Now, as just, you know, we’re well over a million downloads on this podcast. And so who knows what will happen as a result?

Debra Joy Groesser 04:44
Well, I’m ready. I’m ready and grateful. So thank you again.

Eric Rhoads 04:48
I’m trying to remember but I think the first time we met would have been, I’m thinking maybe the Las Vegas the very first plein air convention. But it may not be right.

Debra Joy Groesser 05:02
It was, Yep. I was there long time ago now.

Eric Rhoads 05:09
Well, I remember we had such a hard time selling that because first off that was the first plein air convention and nobody knew what a plein air convention was. Yeah, I think that they had these visions of you know, when you say convention, they had these visions of people running around with lampshades on their head or something. But, and then the other one was selling Las Vegas because you know, Las Vegas you think of glitzy lights and we were out on the corner at Red Rocks and beautiful.., you remember that snowstorm?

Debra Joy Groesser 05:40
I do. I remember freezing when we were out there doing our big paint out and the sleet was coming down and hitting us and, but boy, I was so surprised because I’d never been, you know, outside of the city of Las Vegas. I didn’t even know how beautiful it was all around there.

Eric Rhoads 06:00
yeah, it really was special. I don’t think I’d ever been so cold in all my life though, because I don’t think anybody was prepared for that random snowstorm that came.

Debra Joy Groesser 06:12
I know I wasn’t.

Eric Rhoads 06:15
It was fun. We were up painting and everybody was a trooper. And I remember some woman, I can’t remember her name, but she had kind of lavender hair. And she came up to me and she said, Thank you so much. She said, I, I would never have experienced painting in conditions like this, you know, because I just would never do it on my own. And she said, I discovered that I have it in me. I discovered I can do this.

Debra Joy Groesser 06:43
yeah, that’s great. That’s great. I actually went at – one of my favorite stories from that convention was there was a woman that that I met while we were out there painting in those terrible conditions. And I didn’t even know from that point on. She started following me and you know, on social media and my, my newsletter and things and a couple of years ago, she ended up coming to a show and bought a couple of paintings and I hadn’t seen her since the convention. And so now she’s a wonderful collector. So, you know, you just never know

Eric Rhoads 07:20
You never do and you know, you think about it, there were people at that event who were attendees, who now are, who were virtually unheard of who now are on the stage. It’s really interesting to watch and you know, careers like yours, and others who I mean, you were already pretty prominent at the time, but to watch your career soar and watch so much about what you’ve done since then. is pretty remarkable. And we’re going to dig into that a little bit today if that’d be okay.

Debra Joy Groesser 07:54
Oh, absolutely.

Eric Rhoads 07:56
So, for the benefit of somebody who might be listening in Dubai or, or India or something, and they might not know your story. Tell us just briefly, how would you describe yourself as a painter?

Debra Joy Groesser 08:12
Well, I do both landscape and portrait. And my main love is plein air painting. I got hooked on that about, I don’t know, 25 years ago now or more. But I my style, I guess is kind of impressionistic, realistic kind of, I’m kind of on the more realistic end of Impressionism. I guess I is how I would describe it. But I do it full time. I’ve been a full time artist since 97. And try to paint as much as I can.

Eric Rhoads 08:51
Well, let’s talk about your journey as an artist then. Yeah, you were if I remember correctly, you were a real estate agent. How did you go from a real estate agent to becoming an artist?

Debra Joy Groesser 09:04
Well, I actually was an artist first and then took a detour into real estate. So I got my art degree in college. And it was from a small liberal college. It was a liberal arts college is a private college. And it was pretty self directed, as far as painting. So not a lot of you know, like showing techniques and all that kind of thing. But when I got out of college, the first job that I got was as a graphic designer at a bank, and I did that for a few years until I got married, had my two kids and then decided to stay home with them. And I did some freelancing. And then my first husband was the home builder and decided to start his own building company. And so one thing led to another and I ended up getting real estate license so I could sell his homes. I just really missed painting and really missed my art and so my, my password and I don’t, for everybody listening, I don’t use this password for anything anymore. my password for the Multiple Listing computer was artist. And I just kept telling myself every time I logged into that computer that I was reminding myself that this is just temporary. I’m really an artist. This is just temporary and someday I’m going to get back to my art, you know,

Eric Rhoads 10:31
I’ll stop you there for just a second. There’s an important lesson in that, you know, from a marketing perspective. And let me tell you why. They first off what you did is you took a goal or a dream, and you forced it into something that you had to use every day you had to look at it every day. And the idea of looking at something and thinking about something every day can make such a huge difference. I’ll tell you two stories about that both of them have to do with cars. The first one is, I told myself years ago I back in the 1980s, I had owned a small radio station in Provo, Utah in Salt Lake City. And it was a struggling station. And I didn’t know if I’d ever make any money or not. But I told myself that one day when I made my first million dollars, when I sold the radio station one day, I was going to buy myself a Porsche, because I always wanted to have a Porsche. So I, I took a picture of a Porsche and I cut it out, I stuck it on my mirror in my bathroom. And every morning and every night, I see that Porsche and even though you kind of get to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore, it’s implanting into your subconscious mind. And, you know, after about a year, all of a sudden the phone rang and somebody wanted to buy that radio station and I said, sold it, I made my first money. And then I bought a Porsche. Now being the conservative guy that I am, I bought a used one because I didn’t want to go buy a new one. But the and so the same thing happened to me the other day, I’ve been driving the same car for 17 years. And I told myself, I was going to drive this car until we got to the point where my kids graduated from high school. And then I get something a little nicer. And so 17 years, my kids are getting ready to graduate. And I kept saying to my son, you know, son, one day, I’m gonna own XYZ car, I’m not going to say what it is. And he said, Dad, you’ll never do it. You’ll never do it. And he said to me yesterday as I was driving him in the new car, he said, Dad, you’ve been talking about this for 10 years. Why did you just now do it? I said, Well, you know, took 10 years of repetition, but I think the idea of putting that in your password What a great idea.

Debra Joy Groesser 12:58
Yeah, yeah, it made all the difference. And you know, he was my first husband was the home builder so I started doing drawings of the houses, you know renderings of the houses that we could put them on flyers to hand out during open house and things like that and one of my realtor friends saw those and she brought me a note card one day and had a pen any drawing at someone’s house and she said, Could you do something like this for me and I’d like to give these out as house warming presents and so I did a set of note cards for Did you know Did a pendant a drawing of this house that she had sold she gave it to him as a as a housewarming gift and then pretty soon, couple other realtor said, Well, can you did it do that for me? And then a couple other builders said, Well, can you do renderings for me And long story short, eventually, well, I went through a divorce and, you know, first husband was not supportive of the art part at all. And actually said I was no good at art and I would never do anything with it. So quit wasting your time.

Eric Rhoads 14:09
That’s the wrong thing to tell somebody like you.

Debra Joy Groesser 14:14
Yeah, yeah. Well, I was pretty crushed, you know, to start with because, you know, I think I think when, when you’re born with that creative spirit, you know, it’s not what you do, it’s who you are. So, it was like saying, you know, like, I wasn’t valid as a person almost is almost how it made me feel. But eventually, you know, it’s amazing how things worked out and things fall into place. And eventually, you know, I kept doing these note cards and then I was doing house portraits. I was doing little pen, and ink drawings with watercolor on them, and just selling the heck out of them and I got to the point Well, a couple years later, Don, and I got married, and I know you’ve met my husband Don. And it wasn’t long before I was making just as much money doing these house portraits and drawings and things as I was selling houses. And so, you know, and it was a heck of a lot more fun. And so and then, you know, he saw some of the paintings I had done back in the day, and he, he just looked at me one day, and he said, Honey, how do we get you back to your art full time? What would it take? And I said, Gosh, you know, I guess I really hadn’t thought about it. And he said, Well, what about teaching, you know, could you teach, you know, and I said, Well, you know, I’m still selling real estate full time. But yeah, I suppose I could. And so we just sat down, start brainstorming. We had this unfinished room down in our basement. That was probably 18 by 24 something like that. And so he’s like, come on down here. Let’s go downstairs. So you said you think this room would be big enough for a classroom and Well, yeah, maybe so and, he said, Well what we need and i well i need a sink and I need this I need some tables and chairs and some shelves and okay. And two weeks later it was done. And he just went at it and got it all done. He said, Okay, here’s your classroom. So how are you going to get students? So I was doing when I was in real estate, you know, looking back now, it was such a blessing that I had that training, you know, in selling and marketing and one of the things that I had done was started a newsletter. It was a paper newsletter and when I first started it, I couldn’t afford to mail them all out so my kids and I would stuffed them in door hanger bags and walk and deliver 2500 around the neighborhood. So I was doing that newsletter and I said, Well, I’m just going to put a little ad in my own newsletter and, you know, say how I had my art degree. And I was going to start offering classes for kids. So I did classes after school from four to 530. And I filled my classes. I was teaching five days a week, within a year during that four to 530 timeframe. And it was that was a time when I usually didn’t have real estate clients, because, you know, we either had clients during the day or we had in the evening. So it just worked out great. And then I guess it was probably night in 1996. So my business had taken over the basement had taken over the spare room, had taken over our office and then it was spilling out into the dining room. And my husband said, You know, I think it’s time for us to find a place for your Career here. And there was a little building for sale down in our little downtown. And we went and looked at it and bought it. And it was big enough for the first year and then I outgrew it really fast. So we did a big addition a two-story addition. And built my dream studio opened a little gallery had a classroom. And that’s how it all started. And we opened that in 97. And that’s still where my studio is today.

Eric Rhoads 18:34
so, you taught, kids. And that’s how many years ago when you first started doing that.

Debra Joy Groesser 18:42
I think it was probably around 92-93

Eric Rhoads 18:48
around there. Yeah, a long time ago long enough that though some of those kids are adults, and

Debra Joy Groesser 18:54
oh yeah.

Eric Rhoads 18:54
And do you have any examples or stories of How taking that one simple art class with you may have impacted some kids.

Debra Joy Groesser 19:08
Oh yeah, I’ve got. I have two students that are award winning architects now and I have a couple others who teach art. I have a couple of better interior designers. I have some that are graphic designers. But my favorite story, I’m so glad you asked this. There was a probably one of my favorite students. He was really quiet. I had him and his sister both and he would come in and sit down. He was so talented. He had so much natural ability as far as drawing he could draw anything I put in front of him. And always he stayed on task. He just was really into it. And I told his mom one When she came to pick him up, I said, My gosh, you know, he is just such a joy to have. He stays on task. He works hard. He just does such beautiful work. And she looked at me like I had three eyes in my head. And she said, What? My kid? And I said, Yeah. And she said, you know, he’s failing in school. And in the way he was in school, and the way he was with me, and the art classes were completely opposite. And so fast forward to about four years ago, I think it was. So this young man’s mother is the president of when it’s big credit unions here in town now. And so we were invited since my husband’s mayor. We were invited to the grand opening of their brand new headquarters building, and we walked in, and she was there and she said, said, My son is here and he can’t wait to see you. So this is the son that I had had in class all those years ago. And he walked up and he’s in his 30s now, and he designed that building and he won a big architectural award for that. And he came up to me and he, said, I just have to tell you, that without you and your encouragement, I would not be doing what I’m doing. He said, You were the one who told me or taught me that it’s okay to be creative. And just because you’re creative doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It you’re okay. And, that’s something special. And he said, without that, I never would have had the courage to go on and do what I did. And of course, you know, I just melted into a pile of tears. And I called my daughter that night. My daughter is an elementary school principal and I shared that story with her and I’m just crying, crying. She said, Well, Mom, now you know why we teach. Because, you know, knowing that you made a difference in just that one life. That, to me, is probably my most rewarding thing that has ever happened in my art career was just that, knowing that it made such a difference for that boy. And now he’s a successful man and with a beautiful family and supporting his family, all because of an art class he took.

Eric Rhoads 22:34
Well, you know, I think we sometimes forget the impact we have on people. The idea of encouragement can go so far. You know, when I’m out plein air painting, if kids come up and the parents are with them, I’ll say to the parent, do you mind if I give your kid a little lesson real quick? And they’ll say, Sure, sometimes they don’t. And I’ll put the brush in their hand and I’ll say okay, here’s how you mix color and will mix the color I say, put it on my painting, right there, and I’ll show them. And I’ll say, now you do it, you do the next one, and they’ll do it. I don’t care if they mess up my painting, I can fix it later. But they light up. And then I say to parents, this is called plein air painting, and here’s how you can go learn it and your kid. You know, so sometimes it’s just a matter of taking that spark.

Debra Joy Groesser 23:23
Yeah, it is. it just, you know, it breaks my heart that, you know, art programs are being cut so much, you know, in the schools and, I mean, it’s just the lifeblood for some of these kids. You know, not everyone fits into that neat little box and not everybody learns the same way. And I think creative people learn so differently than, you know, than others and so, I was very, very grateful to have had that chance to work with him.

Eric Rhoads 23:59
So Now, Deborah, I think that this, this idea of taking art out of the schools is, is really starting to cause other problems too, because you have a generation of kids who may not ever have become artists, but they, you know, they would have been exposed to art in school, but we’re not. And right, so now this is a generation of kids who are buying homes and cars and properties and who do not necessarily have not been sensitized, so to speak to art have not been exposed to it. And I think that part of the responsibility that you have and I have and all of us have, quite frankly, is to try and look for ways that we can educate people who never got that opportunity to be educated.

Debra Joy Groesser 24:44
Right. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Eric Rhoads 24:47
How did this plein air thing begin for you? How did you decide to go out and start outdoors painting?

Debra Joy Groesser 24:53
Oh, gosh, um, well actually it college. We did a few plein air things. Excellent. versions with just with water color, just you know not far from the school. And I didn’t think too much about it way back then because that was back in the 70s. But I took a workshop with Jim Wilcox out in the Tetons back it was probably 97 ish and it was quite an experience. The very first day the winds were blowing 50 miles an hour and we spent all day just chasing our hats and our canvases were blowing off and everything and I thought well this is a whole lot of fun. Not but the second and third days. The rest of the workshop was really wonderful and you know painting out in the Tetons and seeing all of the color that you know that you see all the purples and the pinks and oranges and blues that you see in those mountains. It was just, you know, I love being outside. Anyway, I was brought up, you know, with a dad who was born and raised in the backwoods of Maine. So, you know, being outdoors was a big, big part of my growing up and so being outside and being in the Tetons was pretty special. And probably the biggest lesson I learned from that was, it was back when before digital cameras and so I had my 35 millimeter camera and I had I think I shot 36 rolls of film of the Tetons, and I’m going to do all these wonderful paintings when I get home. And I came home and got that film developed and everything was brown and gray. And I couldn’t believe it. It was like where were all beautiful colors that I had seen. And so all I had to reference that was the plein air studies. I done during this workshop, and that was just a huge awakening for me. Just the importance of gaining from life. And so probably a year or two after that. I took a workshop with Kevin MacPherson and we were down in Bermuda. And he had me trying the Zorn palette and all kinds of things. But and then he had a spring photos of our work. And he sat down and kind of did a little critique up for everybody. And I’ll never ever forget it. He just he looked at my portfolio. And then he looked at me and he said, you know, if you stop painting from photos, and you start painting from life all the time, we’re going to be reading about you someday. And that just blew my mind. And so I went on to study with Kevin, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve, I’ve studied with him now but he’s become such a dear friend and a mentor to me. And he literally changed my life. I mean, he really opened up my eyes to plein air painting in a way that I never imagined and I just was hooked. You know, it’s, it’s something that you know, once once you, you get the hang of it you just..I can’t imagine not painting outdoors now.

Eric Rhoads 28:37
Well, you know, it’s those of us people like yourself, I shouldn’t include myself in that category. People like you who people look up to. You know, there’s a wonderful responsibility that comes with the idea of encouragement. And I think that, you know, you don’t want to be blowing smoke or false encouragement, but you do want to look for any opportunity to give somebody Lift and you never know what that lift is going to do. That’s, you know, Kevin is such a warm and giving and lovely person. And he’s done so much for this. I want to say industry, it’s not an industry but this movement, and has been such a leader and has been so gracious and so giving.

Debra Joy Groesser 29:23
Yeah, yep. And that’s, something that, you know, really struck me that, you know, watching him do critiques and how, you know, he always found the good, you know, to say first, and it seems like, you know, no matter how bad my painting was, he always found something good to say. If you found one little nugget of something positive to say, and, I think that became such a good lesson for me and that’s how I am with my students too. It’s you know, you have To you have to find something positive, you know it, just doesn’t work to say, Well, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong, you know, or do this better, whatever, you know, there’s always something to to encourage people over. And I kind of feel like that’s become kind of what I enjoy the most is that encouraging of people and inspiring them.

Eric Rhoads 30:30
You’re doing it on a very big scale now. Let’s talk about the American impressionist society and the role that you’ve taken on there and what a talk about encouragement and having an impact on people’s lives. First off, tell everybody, what is the American impressionist society, and how did you end up getting involved

Debra Joy Groesser 30:58
well The American impressionist society or AIS for short. We are a national nonprofit art organization. And we do two national juried shows every year. We added a second show four years ago. So we do our big national win in the fall. Just had our 20th Anniversary Show at the Salmagundi club in New York last September, which was really exciting. And then we do a small work show. And this year, small work shows coming up in March next month, and Texas and we have about 1700 members nationwide and in conjunction with our shows, we do an educational program and a paint out and that kind of thing. And we have master members, we have 24 masters and we have a couple of hundred or so signature members and then the rest are associate members and so the way it it came about, I entered juried shows I started kind of decided to stick my neck out and kind of get outside my comfort zone and entered enter some national juried shows and so of course, OPA and AIS were the two main ones that I submitted to and the group I ended up getting accepted into all that one show after over a period of 10 years and the other organization it took me 13 tries to get in once. And so I thought, wow, you know, I think this might be where my work belongs. And so I started going to the shows. As I was getting accepted, I would go to the shows and one of the shows I volunteered to help find the gallery venue for it and I was at one show, and we were at a gallery. I’m thinking it was maybe Indianapolis or Nashville. I don’t remember which one. But I was a gentleman sitting in the corner in a chair and he was in the downstairs level of the gallery. And it turned out it was TR Dickinson and TR and Charlotte Dickinson; Charlotte was one of the four original founders of AIS, and it went up and talk to him and introduced myself and he started coughing and I went and got him a glass of water and that was that and never thought too much more about it. And a couple years later, I get a phone call out of the blue and they were looking for a new president and he said email. I never took your card. That Day, but I never forgot you. And the kindness he showed me and he said, Your name came to me when we were talking about who to call and talk about, you know, being floored. I had no idea. They even knew who I was. And I actually originally told them no that I didn’t think I could do that. And they said, well just think about it. And, and, you know, we’ll call you tomorrow and just just sleep on it. And so my husband comes home and I said, You’re not gonna believe what happened today. I got the call this call from the American impressionist society, and they want me to be president. And he said, so what did you say? And I said, Well, I said, No. He said, What? He said, of course, you’re gonna do it. He said, How many people get an opportunity like this, to make a difference, and you can make a difference, and I’ll be with you every step of the way. And I thought, well, Okay, well, how do I say no now? And so they called me back the next day and I said yes. And the rest is history. It’s been quite a ride and such an honor. Wow. never in a million years did I think I would be running a National Art organization like this

Eric Rhoads 35:22
What is the purpose of AIS, what’s the mission? Why should somebody become a member?

Debra Joy Groesser 35:30
The mission is to promote the appreciation of Impressionism through workshops, art exhibitions, and in other media and education. It we’re basically we’re an educational nonprofit. And so, what a members tell us is they they find that their work is accepted in our shows kind of the same experience. I had is where their work isn’t accepted in shows that are, you know, more geared towards tighter realism. And and as you know Impressionism we always get asked what is the definition of Impressionism and it’s such it encompasses such a wide range. And I think the fact that it is a very wide range from very loose, almost not abstract, but still representational. And an example would be like, Eric Jacobson is one who’s kind of on that end of the spectrum, too, and it goes all the way to the other end where it’s not like photo realism, but it’s a little bit more defined, but still loose, so I guess kind of like what I do and so with that big range And we also accept oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, and gouache and so it’s not limited to one media. there’s a lot more variety and a bigger range of the type before that that’s accepted as well as the type of mediums that are accepted. So, a lot of people have told us, you know, that one of the things they love about it is is that, you know, because of the variety and they feel like they found their tribe with us, because, you know, they maybe paint looser, and, you know, it’s not something that is accepted in a lot of other shows,

Eric Rhoads 37:48
so it doesn’t have to be somebody who’s purely impressionistic does it

Debra Joy Groesser 37:55
No, no, not really. No, you know, and you don’t have to be juried in either so you can join as an associate member, and you don’t have to be juried in so we have a lot of people that are just beginning their artistic journey. A lot of people that are just beginning at beginner painters you know, plein air painters, we have a lot of plein air painters that are members just because, you know, plein air painting is inherently impressionistic, because it’s all about, you know, painting the effects of light and, so we have, like I said, I think we have about 1700 members now

Eric Rhoads 38:37
That’s incredible and when you joined, I think it was half that, you probably have doubled.

Debra Joy Groesser 38:43
Yeah, when I became president in 2013, beginning of 2013. We had about 900 members, and we’re at about 1700 now

Eric Rhoads 38:52
that’s very impressive. Well, I think that everybody listening to this should consider it and you can enter – Can you enter the competition as an associate member? Can you enter as a non member? How does that work?

Debra Joy Groesser 39:07
You have to be a member. And so our annual dues right now are $60. And we did just hire a new executive director, well, actually not new, but our very first. And so, that’s really exciting. Because, you know, with me being a full time artist, and then, you know, all of our other officers are also full time artists. So we’ve been, running this as volunteers for the last, Well, it’s always been run by volunteers forever. And now we actually have a professional, full time person who, that’s her job now and we are so excited about that. And, you know, we’re working on some new opportunities and things that have been on the back burner for a while that we just never had time to get to. Really, really exciting stuff in the works for the AIS.

Eric Rhoads 40:03
so huge congratulations on that you talked about the importance of, of entering juried shows and, and shows, I would add to that competitions.

Debra Joy Groesser 40:18
Yes, absolutely

Eric Rhoads 40:20
first from your perspective, because you were nervous about it in the beginning, what is the benefit to an artist to put themselves out there because, you know, if I, I enter a competition, I know I’m up against some pretty heavy talent. And, so you know, part of you says, Well, why even bother to enter? Because you know, there’s somebody important out there who’s gonna get it What, is the mind shift that takes place when you start putting yourself out there?

Debra Joy Groesser 40:52
Well, number one, you know, you have to go into it knowing that you know, the majority of people that Don’t get accepted right away. In fact, like I said earlier, there’s the one organization I entered, it was the 13th time before I was accepted into their national show and by the way the paintings name was faith strength and perseverance if that isn’t crazy, but when you enter a juried show, you know the benefits are – or a competition – Boy, if you get accepted, you know, you have such an opportunity for you know, exposure not only to galleries, but to magazines and you know, collectors and things like that. I think as far as you know, you need to make sure that the the competitions and shows that you enter I tell people, you know, it’s kind of Like, starting to ice skate or starting to learn a sport and then the first year you enter the Olympics, you try out for the Olympics. Not a whole lot of people are going to get in, you know what I mean? But so you know, you might want to start with something on the local or regional level. And then after you have some success with that, then go on to the national ones. That was the path I took. The National shows, actually every single gallery I’ve ever been represented by, I gained representation, because I was in a juried show that was shown at their gallery, every single one without exception. And so I think that’s a pretty good reason to stick your neck out and do it.

Eric Rhoads 42:57
I think there’s also a shift in your thinking when you put yourself out there that you know it. It’s frightening.

Debra Joy Groesser 43:07
It is.

Eric Rhoads 43:08
you’re putting yourself against against isn’t the right word I guess. But, you’re putting yourself out there and there are other artists competing for the same things. And by doing it, I think it just says something to your brain of I’m getting serious about this. Now I’m a player now and whether or not you win, and by the way, sometimes people winning or getting accepted. I mean, so you know, if it’s a competition, it’s winning a category or something else. But I think the idea being that, you’re now saying, Okay, I’m moving up to a new level. I’m going to put myself out there. I’m going to try these things. And I may or may not make it but I’m just going to keep beating that drum and keep getting out there because that’s what it takes, is it takes persistence, perseverance, faith.

Debra Joy Groesser 43:59
That’s exactly what I did. And I thought, you know, okay, so I’m, I’m up to this point, you know, where I was getting into some regional things and I thought, Okay, this is the next step and was I scared to death? Heck yeah, I was terrified. But, you know, when when I was in real estate, one of the lessons that we learned in all of the marketing seminars that we went to, you know, it’s you don’t sit around and listen to the people that are standing around by the coffee pot complaining that they don’t have any business. You do what the successful people do. You know, you’re out there putting yourself out there, you’re sharing your work, they’re sharing, you know, in the case of artists, you know, you’ve got to put your work out there somehow. Because if you don’t, you know, there’s an awful lot of people out there that Wonderful artists that nobody knows about, because they haven’t had the courage to, you know, take that step. And so when I started entering these shows, I looked for, I think the important thing is look for shows or competitions that are number one, you know, comparable with your style of work. That, you know, some are limited to specific media. So make sure that if if you’re going to enter something, make sure that your work would qualify. Yes, do your homework and follow the instructions on the prospectus to the letter. I can’t tell you how many times that we end up seeing, you know, images that are out of focus or they’re oriented the wrong way for the jurors or They have grass in the background that people take the picture on the ground or on the bumper of their car and they don’t crop it so that all you see is the painting itself. You know, there’s so many little things that will increase your chances of getting in. And I think another thing that you have to remember with these competitions and shows is that every single one, you’re competing against a whole different group of paintings. So, you know, we’ve all heard the Everett Raymond Kinsler story, I think about how he had a painting that he entered in an exhibition one year and it was completely rejected. He entered the same painting in the same competition the following year and won the gold medal. And, you know, that kind of thing happens all the time. So just because you know, you enter this painting and this show and it doesn’t get in doesn’t mean it’s a bad painting. It just means That, you know, if you enter it in another one, you’re going to be in a whole different pool of competition.

Eric Rhoads 47:07
So, There’s two reasons to do that. From my perspective, we see this in our plein air salon all the time. You know, first off, the judges oftentimes change, right? One judge might favor a particular style or type of painting. The other reason is that the competition changes. And so you might be up against some really, absolutely incredible paintings in one year, and the next year, yours might be the absolutely incredible painting and there are, you know, lesser paintings behind you.

Debra Joy Groesser 47:46
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And the number of paintings, you know, submitted changes, you know, all the time. So, you know, some shows you might have, you know, 500 paintings that are submitted And maybe 100 get accepted. So 20% get accepted, you know, our shows, we usually get 15- 1600 entries. And you know, we might take 150, so you know, only 10% rather than 20%. So, that’s something to kind of check out too if you can find those numbers, you know, what do they average as far as the number of entries and how many do they accept and make things like that?

Eric Rhoads 48:28
Think about what that does for your head. Think about how if you know you submitted something, and there are 1500 other paintings or artists who are entering and then you do get accepted, you’re one of 150 that’s really pretty special.

Debra Joy Groesser 48:44
It is very special. It is very, very special. And one of the things I’m particularly proud about with AIS, we have every year we get brand new people that get accepted to our show. And we do something called the blind jury where the jurors, we have a panel of five jurors. So I’ll just talk about, you know, the shows that I personally have been involved with, with jurying and that but we have a panel of five years, and the jurors don’t know who each other are. And they work independently from their own homes, their own computers. And they are not shown the names of the artists, it’s just the title and the image and the size and the description. And, that’s all they see. And they score the painting from one to seven. And so you know, the highest possible score is 35. And the lowest possible score is five and what it boils down to is when all the jurying is done, the top scoring paintings are the ones that are accepted and it’s based on the number of paintings that That particular gallery has room for so they have 150 of the top hundred and 50 scoring paintings. So it’s the most fair way that that we’ve figured out, you know, to do it. It’s based solely on the quality of the piece that submitted and not on anything else. It’s not based on who you are. It’s not based on anything else.

Eric Rhoads 50:26
And I’m sure being the head of an organization like that people want to throw politics and friendships, and all that stuff to make sure that you have a system that overcomes all that. I want to move forward and a couple other areas before we wrap up because we’re going to run out of time before we know it. You decided once you started doing your art school, you decided to open an art gallery. And I’m curious about what that experience has been like what the pros and cons would be

Debra Joy Groesser 51:01
Okay, so when we first opened, when we first opened the gallery, we had it from 97 to about 2001. And then I started having opportunities to travel and teach, you know, outside of Omaha and which is where we live in Ralston, Nebraska, which is a suburb of Omaha. And I just found that the, you know, being tied to retail hours, kind of got to be a drag. And I had to have employees to cover when I wasn’t there, and it just got to the point it was just, it was just time to let it go. And, you know, we started off of teaching we had the gallery we had, I was doing my own commissioned work, and we were doing custom picture framing too. So we slowly looked at what was working and what was profitable and what wasn’t, and that was all part of the decision, and letting the Letting the gallery go at that point. And then fast forward now to two years ago, we had, we have a florist that rents Bay where my gallery used to be. And then we had a hair salon on the other side and in the front of our building. And she decided to retire two years ago. And the space is about twice the size of my old gallery on the other side, and I had probably 50 paintings sitting around upstairs in my studio, and, we started getting more retail businesses in our little downtown area. And it just felt like the time was right to do it again. And so it’s been open for two years now. And I’m only open Wednesday through Saturday, so I’m not open seven days a week like I tried, you know, 20 years ago, and it’s just been a blast. I absolutely love It. I’ve got a couple of friends that come and help me when I can’t be there. My husband started doing woodworking and back when he retired I told him he had to find something to do because he couldn’t be in my studio standing over my shoulder when I’m painting and so you took up woodworking is making beautiful pieces. So we have his work in the gallery and since he’s the mayor, too people love coming in and seeing what he does and seeing what I do. And we actually right now, I have had a couple of special shows now. So right now I’ve got some members of AIS that are that have some work there.

Eric Rhoads 53:42
So I was gonna ask you if you have other artists in your gallery, and the answer is yes,

Debra Joy Groesser 53:46
I do now. Yeah, yeah, just for special shows. So we’re going to do special shows about three or four times a year.

Eric Rhoads 53:53
And is there an upside that, you know, for people who might be considering it, what are The upsides and what are of the downsides, real quickly.

Debra Joy Groesser 54:04
The upsides are well, you know, it’s having a retail space now. I’ve had the opportunity to get a lot more people in to see my work and my husband’s work and now introducing them to other people’s work. It’s given me great exposure as far as in our greater Omaha area. The funny thing is, you know, when you’re an artist, it seems like you’re a lot better known outside of your area, and not so much in your hometown. And people now are finding out that I’m here and, you know, it’s, it’s been really fun. And I’ve had people coming in now from all over the country, and that’s been exciting. I think the downside is, you know, you just have to make sure you have your hours covered and you have to Be open regular hours. That’s probably the biggest thing. But, you know, with social media now and, you know, advertising and things, it’s, just been pretty amazing to me what a difference between, you know, trying to do business back then versus now. I think it really has helped having more businesses in our downtown versus 20 years ago where I was pretty much it was me and a florist and that was it. And so I think, you know, the other part of it is we do own our building, and it’s, it’s paid for so I don’t have to pay rent. So that’s a huge advantage for us. And then I do have another tenant in our building that pays, you know, that ends up paying the utilities and the insurance. So we’re kind of we’re probably in a little bit more unique situation than a lot of people would be in but I just love it and when I’m sitting in The gallery I can either paint or what I normally do is I save my bookkeeping and my advertising and my marketing time. That’s when I’m sitting in the gallery and I’m on a computer. And so it’s given me a specific time for that too.

Eric Rhoads 56:15
and from the standpoint of selling art. Out of all the art that you sell, what percentage is sold in your own gallery?

Debra Joy Groesser 56:25
Oh boy, it’s gotten to be a lion’s share of it is now through my own gallery.

Eric Rhoads 56:32
All right now, it’s coming through your community. Are they locals who buys?

Debra Joy Groesser 56:37
Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot of local people, my own local and regional people that have found me there. So. Yeah,

Eric Rhoads 56:46
so best advice to somebody who is considering opening their own gallery? What would you tell them?

Debra Joy Groesser 56:53
Oh, you know, just make sure you have a good business plan. You know, and know that you don’t sell things. Every day, you know, you really have to stick to a budget. And I think, you know, local advertising is really important. I’ve started doing my paper newsletter more often. I never did stop doing a paper newsletter, even from my real estate days, I carried it over and just made it an art newsletter eventually. And so I do that three to four times a year now and send that out to our whole local area. And then I’m advertising in some local high end magazines here locally too and that’s really helped with the exposure for the gallery. And then also, you know, I’m doing a lot of speaking engagements and demos and things like that. And we’re doing open studio nights too at the galleries. So there’s a lot of a lot of local artists that have actually come in and Not only taken workshops and done the open studio, but they’re buying my work too. So that’s really fun.

Eric Rhoads 58:06
that’s important, you’re promoting you, if you own this, you have to be constantly promoting and coming up on deals and being out there. And I believe you’ve taken a kind of a two tiered strategy, if I’m right, correct me if I’m wrong, but you know, I think an artist requires or needs to have a local strategy and a national strategy. And that is locally, you know, promoting and advertising locally trying to draw people locally in it. And of course, if you’re in a tourist location, getting into tourism publications, and so on, and then national, which is going after the collectors. You know, you’ve got, I saw your painting in a gallery just the other day, actually this past weekend. And knowing that, you know, there are national collectors who are going to run into you and see you and building your brand and you know, getting out that way that’s important too.

Debra Joy Groesser 59:01
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s been interesting. I know a lot of people kind of make their, their reputation on the local level and then go out nationally and mine has kind of happened backwards. And I don’t really know how to explain it, but it seems like you know, more people knew me nationally. And now that I have this national reputation now people are finding out that I’m here and it’s like, Whoa, we didn’t know you were here.

Eric Rhoads 59:28
Well, Deborah, this has been a pleasure having you on the plein air podcast. Thank you for doing it today.

Debra Joy Groesser 59:36
Oh, well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. So it’s been a pleasure.

Eric Rhoads 59:42
Well, thank you to Deborah joy Groesser. And thanks for all you’re doing with the AIS. Are you ready for some marketing ideas?

Announcer 59:49
This is the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads, author of the number one Amazon bestseller make more money selling your art proven techniques to turn your passion into profit

Eric Rhoads 60:00
in the marketing minute I try to answer your art marketing questions to give me a question or two, Tell me who you are your name and your town and email me [email protected] Today, two questions come from the same person Brent in northern Utah. He says I paint really, really small, often five by seven or less with watercolor pencils. I also have painted a lot of digital paintings using art rage, which is a an app. Because of the nature of my original pieces. I believe the best way to monetize these would be to sell prints in this way. I could even be scaled up if I desire. So my main question for you is, what’s your best advice on selling prints? Well, Brent, it’s an interesting question. It’s one that comes up a lot. A lot of artists talk about selling prints. Selling your originals is an option of course. But In most cases, the smaller you paint, the smaller the price, you may or may not get a lot of money for smaller paintings, it’s hard to know I haven’t seen your work. But exceptional work will sell no matter what the question is always the price point. The nice thing about your medium of pencils and painting small as you can scale it up. Or if you’re painting and art rage an app, you can scale it up to almost any size print. The print market can be tricky. And prints are oftentimes a question for artists But usually, because they don’t want to devalue their originals by making prints some fear that it’s going to make the buyer feel like it’s less of a painting if there are more prints out there. But I quite frankly think it’s the opposite. I think if you have a couple of really good paintings, I wouldn’t do it with every one. They have a couple of really good paintings, you make prints of those. You’re ahead of the game. If you’re the buyer, because you have the original and of course others can have a print but it’s not the original and of course it can be signed and numbered if you want to do that. So I don’t think it hurts you. And of course, the question becomes where do you distribute and sell these prints, you do it online, you do it in a gallery. There are lots of online sites willing to carry your images and, and print on demand. And you want to vet out their quality before picking them, because you want to see if they’re going to get your colors right, they’re going to do nice paper and so on. And dig around till you find somebody to do that. Now, you can also work with a print distributor. Some of these companies sell to galleries or hotels, or even places like Target, they mass produce them. So they’re not necessarily printing them out as you play prints, but they’re mass producing, printing them. And then they pay you a per print fee or royalty of some kind. It’s not a lot of money, but it can add up if you get a lot of volume. And of course, if you’re at a place like Target, they may sell thousands or maybe 10s of thousands. So lots of these companies can also do licensing your work. I see your second question. Here is the licensing the images, but you have no idea how that works. Well licensing is a big industry for those who don’t understand it. Let’s start by saying that if you have a brand name, let’s say it’s Coca Cola, coke will license their image. And you’ll see it on products. You know, if you walk into any gift shop, you might see nostalgic Coca Cola posters with Santa Claus. Or you might see the polar bear is a stuffed toy. They don’t make all those products, they licensed them. And people who make products go around and find people who have interesting names that they can logo put their their logos on their products. So a friend of mine does this with prints or not prints but with paintings. So he has a deal with a major licensing firm who sells his license of his images. And they represent him at the big annual licensing conference where people shop for brands for their products. In his case, his paintings go on calendars and mouse pads and coffee mugs and you name it t shirts. He gets a percentage of everything sold. It’s negotiated for him by the firm, and they keep a percentage for doing it for him. And he’s making a few extra thousand dollars a month, which is not so bad. Some years are good. Some years are not good depends on how things do you know, and art styles can be cyclical. But he’s been consistent for about 20 years, getting money every single month from paintings that he could have only sold one time and so this way he gets more money out of his paintings. So I think it’s a good thing but you want to find a professional licensing firm that’s going to be trustworthy. Do it all for you because trying to do this on your own is not a good use of your time these people know their market. Well, I hope this has been helpful. This has been the art marketing minute.

Announcer 64:54
This has been a marketing minute with Eric Rhoads. You can learn more at,

Eric Rhoads 65:01
a reminder to grab the remaining seats at the plein air convention and or get on the waitlist and also get your entries in for the plein air salon. If you’ve not seen my Sunday morning blog Sunday coffee, check it out. You can find it for free at I don’t know if it’s posted on the plein air magazine website it might be. I’ll check that out anyway, you could check it out, too. Anyway, this is fun. We’ll do it again sometime. Like, well, next week, we’ll see I’ll try to get something pre recorded for while I’m in Russia or maybe I’ll record something while I’m over there and do a Russian podcast. You may have to learn how to speak Russian though. I’m just saying. Okay, well, I’m Eric Rhoads publisher and founder of Plein Air magazine. Remember, it’s a big world out there. I’m about to find that out. And I’m going to go paint it. You should do that too. We’ll see you bye bye.

Announcer 66:00
This has been the plein air podcast with Plein Air magazine’s Eric Rhoads. You can help spread the word about plein air painting by sharing this podcast with your friends. And you can leave a review or subscribe on iTunes. So it comes to you every week. And you can even reach Eric by email Eric at plein air Be sure to pick up our free book 240 plein air painting tips by some of America’s top painters. It’s free at Tune in next week for more great interviews. Thanks for listening.


  1. I really enjoyed this interview as Debra was very unpretentious and relatable. She has come so far and is really at the top of her game. I found it refreshing she was so open about some challenges she has found gaining acceptance\ success in some national organizations, yet AIS, where she became president, was much more open to her. Good to hear her story, and good interview

  2. This interview is outstanding. Debra’s story is truly inspiring. What an exceptional painter… and what an articulate, highly accomplished, capable, generous and humble human being!
    Bravo Debra!


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