As a student schlepping drinks to earn her way through college, Alexandra Hall watched her patrons carefully as they slipped into topsy-turvy conversation and sometimes on to sloppy oblivion. Hall entertained herself by attaching a variety of cartoonish traits to hobbling drinkers. Anthropomorphic characters lived in her mind, each one a reflection of a customer. Most became images of juicy, high-society frogs, the first growing from a particularly well-dressed woman adorned with a hat, heels and pearls. Hall collected the images in her mind, then set to work on canvas where she released bold colors with broad brush strokes, capturing the energy of her characters with a sense of humor spiked with sarcasm. A self-taught artist, Hall studied Russian and biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She was all set to head to medical school when her own brother threw her a curve ball. Knowing Hall had been a “closet artist for a very long time,” Hall’s brother asked if he could purchase all the paintings she had ever produced. When she questioned his motives, she learned that her brother had booked a show for her work at the Dash-In on Calhoun Street.
That was one year ago. Since that first surprise show which pushed Hall out of her closet, her hobby has turned into a full-time operation, and at least for now she has put med school on hold. It seems that when Hall commits, she commits 100 percent, and she has proven that – with thoughtful focus and drive – an artist can make it.
Hall learned early on that building a network is key to making any business endeavor a success. She joined the Fort Wayne Artist League, a group known for more conservative and seasoned artists, and was quickly swooped up and supported. Hall gleans knowledge from the group’s experience and feels supported by them as she works to broaden her client base. In turn, they welcome her youthful spirit and enjoy the knowledge of technology that she shares.
“People from the guild always make a point to show up at my openings and artist meet-and-greets,” says Hall, who is appreciative of the relationships that have developed within the guild.
By participating in local shows and art fairs, Hall quickly developed a reputable client base in Fort Wayne. Clients enjoy working with Hall on commissioned pieces that represent and capture the quirks of their own family members. Many ask for nods to college themes or a favorite food or drink. “People get a kick out of seeing their loved ones depicted as frogs,” says Hall. “People are looking for fun art that makes them smile.”
Hall’s head for business led her to reach beyond the local scene and into a broader market to include larger cities like Chicago and even places farther away such as Leesburg, Virginia. Breaking into the regional art fair circuit proved to be a challenge, as part of the process involves sending quality photos of an artist’s booth space – quite a task when no such booth exists.
“I put all my energy into everything that I do,” says Hall, who set up her first booth in her backyard and filled it with nothing but drinking frogs in order to photograph the setup to send off with her inaugural juried show application. It was a longshot, but her efforts met with success and she now finds herself turning down invitations to art fairs.
Hall credits her success to family. Five siblings provide a supportive network led by two parents who have coached her along the way. Her mother works in real estate, and since Hall’s childhood, has modeled successful business practices that the artist continues to follow today. Hall proudly claims that her mother taught her to set goals in order to move precisely and effectively forward.
“My mom is a realtor, raised five kids and kept us all alive,” says Hall. “That required constant organization. When we were younger she made us keep planners for school and helped us make lists for each day. You achieve more when you have things listed.”
Hall has lists of where her pieces are and when to pick them up.
“It’s a constant juggle when you have a show,” says Hall. “You have to shuffle pieces, make sure they will be available for specific shows and keep track of everything in between.”
Hall relies heavily on social media to promote her work. Facebook and Twitter have helped her sell pieces.
“To have so many avenues to use, it is difficult to keep track of them all,” says Hall who also keeps on top of regular mailings to clients. She claims she would have not thought to do those things if she hadn’t seen her mother gain success from them.
While she has a head for business, Hall isn’t all work and no play. Her work clearly reflects her high-energy passion for life. She often paints while listening to music, which is evident in her guitar series that directly channels blues and classic rock.
Hall limits her color palate to the primary colors: red, blue, yellow and white. She mixes all her colors as she goes along.
“All my colors are very unique,” says Hall as she describes her style as “loose, fun and colorful.” Her drinking frog pieces have starry eyes and slack faces. Sizes are large, averaging 30 by 40 inches. Each piece has a personality which she constructed inside her own mind as she daydreamed while handing drinks to patrons.
Whenever possible Hall hand-delivers her work to clients. She once presented a painting as a Fathers Day gift to a client,
“He cried,” says Hall. “People are somehow mystified by meeting the artist. I think it is funny.”
Drinking frogs are certainly beyond the traditional barn and sunset paintings that many have come to expect from this region. Luckily for artists, the market is expanding to include a broader range. Hall says there are young people in town who want more out of the art scene.
“Young people want art from a local artist. They are part of what is making downtown different and they are turning things around. It is all very interesting to watch.”
Hall is proud to be part of the movement to bring more contemporary and unusual art to the city. She recently held her first solo show at Northside Galleries and plans to keep moving forward with the momentum she has gained. For now, med school is still on hold.
“I took a year off to pursue the art thing,” she says. “I hit the ground running.” With a show schedule packed to capacity, Hall’s plans to attend med school may have been permanently derailed by singing guitars and drinking frogs.