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Daily Inspiration: Meet John Howell

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Howell.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
At age five, I knew I wanted to be an artist. By the time I was in 10th grade I had won every local and regional art competition that I entered, including an art competition hosted by Disneyland. In college I studied illustration, and won a national art contest with the Society of Illustrators, in NYC at the Illustrator Hall of Fame. My goal was to someday be an artist doing artwork for book covers, magazine articles, etc. As college was coming to an end, I got a job offer to work for a video game company, which I turned down, because I didn’t play a lot of video games growing up. Instead I moved to Southern California to pursue my dream of being an illustrator, close to where I grew up. I got a few art commissions early on to do paintings for Capital One Visa, Book illustrations and other jobs. However, I learned quickly that illustration was a very lonely career. Having little interaction with the outside world, I would paint and paint and paint all day long. Somedays I wouldn’t even talk to anyone.

That is when I decided to open up an art school in Temecula, California. I loved teaching, and I loved seeing the look on my student’s faces when they left with a beautiful drawing or painting that they were proud of.

Art taught me how to think outside the box. It wasn’t long before I was using my creative thinking skills in other areas. The art school in California was my first taste of what being an Entrepreneur felt like..and I loved it. The business skills I learned at my art school, led me to become curious to other businesses. I became interested in real estate, and started investing in small projects. Those small projects turned into big projects, and before I knew what I was doing, I had bought a few commercial buildings in the Austin, TX area. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had started a real estate development company with 3 other partners in Texas. We started building small neighborhood retail centers. Then we started putting together bigger retail centers, with national tenants like Wells Fargo, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hometown Buffett, Gas Stations, Hospitals, banks, and all the “big” players.

And then 2008 came.

The next 4 years were the hardest years of my life because I watched all the success wash away with the economic crash of 2008. My family and I lost everything. At that time, I had 4 daughters, the oldest was about 8 years old, and I was worried about how I would take care of my family.

Fortunately for me, I have been blessed with the ability to adapt, and to solve problems. Even though I had completely failed, I knew that I could start over…So I did. This time, I knew more about who I was, and what makes me happy. ART makes me happy. Working with people makes me happy. So, it was time to go back to being an artist.

I opened Cordovan Art School in Round Rock, TX in 2009. I taught all of the classes, and had students from ages 5-80 at the beginning. It was a lot of work, but I felt like I was doing what I was born to do. As we grew, we hired more teachers.

In 2017 we opened up our 2nd location on the opposite side of town in Cedar Park, TX. The response was amazing, and we realized that so many people want to have a place to exercise their creativity.
In 2019 we opened a 3rd art studio as we ventured into the Northwest Austin area, where we were met with the same type of enthusiasm from kids and adults alike.

In February 2020, just 1 month prior to the Covid outbreak, we opened the doors of our 4th studio in Southwest Austin. By March we realized we opened this art studio at a really bad time, not knowing that Covid-19 was coming.

In April, the local governments forced us to shut down our doors for our businesses, as they grappled with what to do about Covid.
For me, it felt a lot like 2008 all over again, and I was scared for my family and our businesses. But, fortunately, I had already been through the economic disaster of 2008, and learned a few lessons. We made it through Covid, and all of our art schools are back to servicing their communities, helping create the next generation of artists.

In 2021 on the heels of Covid, we purchased an art school in the Woodlands, Houston, and we are now bringing the joy of art to that community as well.

For me, what makes me happy is to see the personal growth come from our students who learn a new technique or skill. We have partnered with local arts councils, and local city governments to bring art festivals to the communities where we live. We are very proud of our partnership with the city of Round Rock, where we helped create a chalk walk festival that has been running for over 10 years. Over 40,000 people attend each year. We love spreading the joy of creativity and the joy of art.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
My last response covered some of these. I failed in 2008 during the economic disaster. However, that massive failure lead to my biggest success story, because Cordovan Art School was founded in the midst of my biggest failure.

Covid 19 was another pivotal point in our business history. Again, we found even greater success after making it through the difficulties of Covid. We thought we could lose our business, but now, we are doing better than ever.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Professionally, I am an artist/ illustrator. I have painted commissioned artwork for hospitals, corporate reports, retail companies, book publishing companies, personal portraits, etc. However, what I have found to be my TRUE passion–what really sets me apart is my ability to teach other people how to be an artist. Our company slogan is “WE CREATE ARTISTS!” I hope that the passion I have for teaching has translated to my business. One of the things that I am most proud of is how all of the art teachers who work at Cordovan Art School, are encouraging. They really care about their students and they tell them what they are doing well, which opens the door for real teaching opportunities.

We have all had experiences along the way with teachers or coaches who ‘put us down’ or discourage us by the way they treat us. We pride ourselves on being positive, and encouraging.

What’s next?
We have expanded rapidly over the past 3 years. This year, we plan to open 2 more art schools in the Austin, TX and/or Houston, TX areas.

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