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Life & Work with Clare Wuellner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Clare Wuellner.

Hi Clare, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?

As a kid, I had two obsessions: drawing and horses. I wanted to be a jockey or an artist, but my parents told me these careers were not worth pursuing. (Perhaps this dictum sounds familiar to you? If so, listen to me: YOUR PARENTS WERE WRONG.) 

So, in high school when I had two fantastic science teachers who turned me on to science, I thought I was set for life. I taught high school biology and then went to grad school to get a master’s and Ph.D. in Biology.

My Ph.D. advisor was a brilliant, gentle soul who was an outstanding academician. And an artist. On a stroll through campus, we were gobsmacked by the beauty of a huge persimmon tree bespeckled with brilliantly orange fruit that contrasted perfectly against the bright blue sky. Byron remarked, “I’ve always thought of myself as a scientist by training, but an artist at heart.” My innards leaped when he said this.

You mean making art is more than an indulgence?

It never occurred to me that creating art could be an essential part of who a person was. Maybe it was even an essential part of me. The seed was planted.

A postdoctoral position at UT offered the conversation-starter research job of studying fire ants. A couple of years into that job, I met my Better Half, parted ways with academia, and started a family.

While raising my kids, I was “Side-hustle Sally,” doing a wide variety of jobs: feline behaviorist (“Why is the cat peeing on my bed?!”—O! the stories I could tell!), painting interiors, lawn maintenance, walking dogs, assisting a master carpenter, maintenance for an apartment complex, and more.

As my children grew, my creative side grumbled to be fed. For a year or so, I had wanted to make stained glass mosaics. I bought some glass, experimented with what was possible, and started making and selling my artwork.

In 2018, my love of horses came back into the picture. I started horseback riding lessons and wasn’t back in the saddle too long before a horse threw me, and I found myself on the ground in a jagged heap.

I sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) (Yes, I was wearing a helmet) which muted many of my strengths and competencies. Cognition and memory as well as my ability to talk, walk, and balance were all affected. Months of physical, occupational, speech, and cognitive therapies rewired my brain and retrained nerves and muscles. I’ve made a lot of progress but will never really get back to “normal.”

My disability has meant adjusting my expectations and how I live my life. I won’t list the things I can’t do but guess what I can do…

Yep, create art.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in academia, but you can still see the influence of science in my art. My background in science has amplified my wonder at the beauty of living things and this, in turn, informs my art. Artistry and imagination intertwine with my passion for living things to create vibrant images that just might change the way you look at the natural world.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

The road hasn’t been smooth, but I think that’s the rule rather than the exception for folks, right? Some folks’ roads are rougher than others. My road is my road, and I’m just going to keep walking until I drop.

Coping with the TBI is my greatest struggle. Here’s why. (Strap in for a metaphor.)

Most folks have two batteries that supply their brain’s energy. Battery “A” is your standard human energy-generating battery. Battery “B” is your reserve energy-generating battery.

So, for instance, when you have been traveling for 24 hours and still have six more hours of airports, taxis, and checking into motels; you will probably manage fairly well because you have a standard “A” battery that will get you through the first 24 hours and you know you have your reserve-energy “B” battery to keep you going for the last 6 hours. You also know that after a couple of good night’s rest, you’ll be recovered and will be able to do it all over again for the return trip.

An injured brain battery setup is different from the aforementioned brain in three important ways.

  1. The injured “A” battery has a reduced capacity compared to the regular “A” battery.
  2. The injured “A” battery takes days longer to recharge than the regular “A” battery.
  3. The injured brain has no “B” battery. Period.

So, this means I must plan my activities very judiciously. If I’m going to do a pop-up art show on Friday evening and have an art exhibit installation the next morning, I must spend days figuring out every detail to make things as easy as possible during the actual events. During the events, I will depend heavily on help. I will plan to not be able to do much of anything for days afterward.

The consequences of having a TBI has meant I can’t do any of the jobs I was educated and/or trained to do, which is a pretty major loss. But I do have the good fortune of being a Creative. Not everyone wants to be an artist, but for me, being an artist has been a life-long dream, so I am very fortunate in this respect.

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?

I’m proud of how much I have accomplished given how late I’ve come to being an artist, given and how little formal training I’ve had.

Working through a disability is another thing I do. I’m not sure if I’m proud of this; I simply must do it. I’ve always been a high-energy, tenacious person, so working with at disability is just one more thing to be tenacious about.

Those who know me well tell me that my energy level is higher than most. I think this is true, and I finish projects I start nearly 100% of the time.

I know I see things differently from most people, but this is something all creatives share, though our ways of “seeing” are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I think what sets some creatives apart from others is their ability to successfully communicate what they see to others. I think I’m good at that, too. 

I have specialized in a variety of media over the years. My recent project has been photography with a twist. More on that in a sec. I am also keen on doing installations. I’ve done two and am excited to do more.

Okay, so “photography with a twist”—the germ of each work is a photograph of a tree. With each modification I make to the photograph, the image speciates from the original capture and draws attention to something extraordinary about the tree. In some works, I emphasize the architecture of the tree. In others, I use the tree’s branches to outline the subject matter. Some show trees with the vibrancy that I see. All of them have stories.

This project has been a helluva ride. I am obsessed with what I am doing and people’s reactions to this new direction have been strongly positive, which has only fed my obsession with this project.

Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?

Yes, I have some advice about mentoring and networking.

  1. Network and Find Mentors: There are excellent mentors out there. Your job is to do what it takes to find them. Showing up and being known is the single most important thing you can do to build your business. 

In fact, I’d say it’s more important than talent—plenty of talented people go undiscovered because they don’t do the work of putting themselves out there. Conversely, plenty of not-so-talented people makes it because they network and find people who can help them succeed. 

The short of it is you will not find opportunities to get your art out in the world if you don’t make connections within the art world.

  1. Put Yourself Out There: Introverted? Shy? Awkward around people you don’t know? Fake it; turn it on for the few minutes it takes to meet one new person.

The primary thing you can do to facilitate your “inner social butterfly” is to listen carefully, ask authentic questions, and then listen carefully some more. Talk to the person who is too young, too old, too “duuude,” too ivory tower. Talking with people of all sorts will help you in countless ways.

  1. Join a Crit Group: “Crit Groups” are groups of artists who get together to share their art and get feedback from each other. Being in a good Crit Group is Mentoring and Networking and a Whole Bunch More. I cannot recommend doing this highly enough.
  2. Be Authentic: Be you. Don’t bullsh**. Don’t posture. Even if you’re an introvert doing your “social butterfly” routine, it’s possible to be 100% you. 

Some people will like who you are, and some won’t. Some people will like your art, and some won’t. In response to this, there are some who say to “develop a thick skin.” I disagree. 

Having “thick skin” is just armor and doesn’t change the fact that a negative opinion can get to you. Instead, get to the bottom of why you are beholden to the opinions of people who shouldn’t matter to you. 

Brené Brown says to keep a list of just a few people whose opinions are essential to you, the people who have your back and will tell you the truth (and the ability to tell you “Hard Truths” with tenderness). This shortlist of people? They are your mirrors. And everyone beyond that group of folks? If they don’t like you and/or your work, they are not your mirrors; they might be fun-house mirrors or they might not “reflect” you at all. 

On the other hand, if people do like you and/or your work, these are the people whom you hope will fall in love with your artwork and take some home, along with a little bit of you.

  1. Collaborate More than You Compete: There’s a gray area between self-promotion and being braggadocious. If what you’re saying is meant to exhibit your talent and accomplishments, you’re probably safe, so long as you don’t over-do it. If what you’re saying is designed to put you in a better light than someone else or to put someone else down, then STOP. It’s possible to be proud of your accomplishments and share your successes with others without turning everything into a competition. 

Creating is meant to be synergistic—the sum should be greater than the parts—and that means collaboration is an inherent part of bringing art to the world. So, avoid toxic ego (in yourself and others) and seek collaborative people.

  1. Operate with Generosity and Gratitude: This advice dovetails with being collaborative. Give as much as you get. The people who have helped you should be crystal clear on what their help has done for you. Don’t just fling a “Thank you” at the organizer of an event as you jump in your vehicle and speed away. I am astonished by people who have received opportunities from mentors and art organizations, show up late, break rules, don’t care to connect with the other people involved, leave events without finding their hosts and expressing heartfelt gratitude, etc. 

If someone is advancing your career or helping you make money, think of meaningful ways to express your gratitude. Write your gratitude in social media posts, promote the organization that helped you, help when you can, donate art, volunteer when asked, and—pay attention here—read emails and follow instructions. 

Oh, and for goodness’ sake, every once-in-a-while, show up to help or say “Hello” even when there’s nothing in it for you.

  1. Cultivate Curiosity: Are you interested in other artists’ art? Their process? Be honest. If you’re interested in anything less than nearly everyone’s art and process, cultivate this in yourself. 

Here’s a thing you should know: if you aren’t interested in other people’s processes or stories, then you are missing countless opportunities to learn and connect with other creatives. I have learned something from damned near every creative I have talked to.

Contact Info:

  • Email:
  • Website:
  • Instagram: @ctwuellner
  • Facebook: Blue Victory Gallery
  • Twitter: BluVicGallery
  • Youtube: Blue Victory Gallery

Image Credits
Personal “headshot” photo Karoll Xavier Talla The rest are JPG files of my work.

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