‘I followed the fake it ’til you make it strategy. Who am I to start a business? But I did.’
Betty Cole, Commack
“I went to SUNY New Paltz to become an art teacher. Finding art teaching jobs was hard. I became a first-grade teacher, spending years doing things other than art, but an artist must create.
“Eight years ago, I left my job. My husband and I went out for dinner. We shared a bottle of wine to celebrate what comes next. When we finished, the waiter threw the bottle in a bin. I asked if it was a recycling bin. He said, ‘No, we just throw it out.’ Well, I drank the wine, I paid for it. I took the bottle with me.
“I knew that I was going keep that bottle out of a landfill. That’s the cover story. Waste is something we have control over. Without a job, I had free time. I cleaned the bottle, brought it to the beach and started painting it. Someone saw me and gave me more bottles.
“One thing led to another. It became a full-time love and business. Bars, restaurants and vineyards saved the bottles for me. I made hand-painted bottles that became olive oil and vinegar dispensers or had lights inside to become home decor.
People come to my workshops for different reasons. It’s more than just coming to make something. It’s about the process that we go through for the time that we’re together.
“When I started to sell at art fairs, I noticed that people asked questions. They wanted to try and do it themselves. Well, I’m a teacher, artist, have a background in recreational therapy; let’s see if I could put it all together.
“I’m not going to say it was easy. I followed the fake it ’til you make it strategy. Who am I to start a business? But I did. I began to run painting workshops. My business is called Off Your Wall Art. People like to make things they can use. We repurpose wine bottles, make coasters, soap dispensers and charcuterie boards. I teach at libraries, do corporate team building, fundraising and [am] hired by people planning life events.
“My work has two components: One is I make and sell it. I’m in some retail stores, still do fairs and really love the people that I’ve partnered with. Teaching is the other part. I don’t want participants to think they’re attending art class; that will limit who the audience is. I structure programs so that everyone is successful.
“People come to my workshops for different reasons. It’s more than just coming to make something. It’s about the process that we go through for the time that we’re together.”
Interviewed by Shoshanna McCollum