We had the good fortune of connecting with Aileen Brandt Merling and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Aileen, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Early on in my life, I always had the “bug” to have my own business. Ask my sisters. I was known for my “next money making plan”. If it wasn’t the Gold Nugget cookies, it was the make-up based on your season colors. Or writing letters for people who needed to send a Dear John/Betty letter. Or using our acre property to park cars during the 4th of July nearby park location. You get the idea, I came up with fantastic ideas as a kid. But no one took me seriously. Little wonder. Being my own boss and taking risks was calling me much like the 49er’s hunt for gold in California. I just had no idea about what my gold nugget would look like as my income source. Even though I would have liked to sell cookies out of my mother’s oven nationwide, deep down inside, I knew that plan was too risky. My DNA makeup is 2 parts adventure and 1 part risk, 4 Tablespoons of logical planning, and a cup of enthusiasm with a sprinkling of fear. The trouble was always folding in the sustained joy of the project. Everything I came up with as a child quickly lost it’s glamour when you had to bake at a hard work temperature. I had to find something that would light my passion and never fail to excite me no matter how hard I had to work. It was art. As I grew up, like most children, I put my dreams away with play toys and began to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Amazing how my DNA suffered during those responsible years of paying bills, raising children and keeping up with the cost of living. So I allowed my recipe for joy to simmer on the back burner for the next 20 years. I’m a believer in using the talents or gifts you are given. Essentially mine was drawing and painting. I was always drawing or painting landscapes in high school. Actually won a couple of awards and became convinced art was my passion. I wanted to go to Art Center College in LA. Too bad I never heard about The Art Center until I was finishing my senior year of high school. If a parent, mentor or school counselor had guided me to apply, groom my path of scholastic and community achievements, and had a fortune in money lying around in grants and loans, I might have made it. Not to be, and I happily entered Palomar Junior College right after high school and graduated with a prestigious AA degree in Commercial Art. Considering graduation came long before the advent of personal computers, my skills in grey markers did not make for a memorable resume. So I started out aimlessly in the working world. First real job was working at a gift store and creatively decorating display shelves. Applied at newspapers for display and typesetting, again, no computers. And finally ended up working at a recreational vehicle campground at Vail Lake. You can see how that commercial art degree came in real handy in aligning campers and trailers into strategic, aesthetically pleasing locations. It got old, so my parents were happy when I found a great boy and got married. Another 12 years went by, marriage ended, raised children alone from 1st grade to adulthood. And went back to full time work. Also began taking evening art classes from a local art teacher. Maintained a very modest household income raising children, working full time and stretching my budget to include art classes. After a stimulating venture in retail customer service and designing for Cherokee Watches, I landed a job with benefits and all I had to do was match up invoices, with purchases orders and receiving slips. Easy peasy, and I now had medical and dental insurance for kids and myself. Life was good. But not great, I did have to put painting aside due to budget constraints. (Lunch money, gas and rent seemed to constrain all of my budget.) I eventually expanded my accounting talents to include payroll and organization of information to include employee paper trails in the wonderful world of Human Resources. Everything was paper intensive in that decade. Files and files of W-2’s, personal information and benefit records was my life. And I truly enjoyed my career in HR on many levels. But the part I enjoyed the most was conducting employee and manager training. Helping co-workers to grow successful and productive career objectives was very rewarding. But personally, I was still struggling on how I was going to grow my latent talent as an artist. I remember a grade school teacher explaining to the class that the artisans of some Central and South American cultures who created pottery, believed that if you had a gift from the Gods, and did not use it, you were forever punished. He also said, the same artisans always left a little mark or blemish on the bottom of their pottery as a sign of imperfection, because God was the only one who could create perfection. Now I don’t know if he made that up, I remembered it wrong, or I misunderstood, but all these years later, I still remember holding a pottery bowl and hearing the story he told. And even today, I chose to accept that philosophy. Your talent must be practiced and improved or it will be forever lost. You cannot produce perfection, only excellence, so complete it, sign it and send it out into the world. So I joined, supported and then moved on from a couple of local Co-Op galleries. Excellent starting place to build confidence and be among your peeps. I was just about ready to venture into the entrepreneur game for real. No! There was so much I still needed to learn. After 2008, I began to think seriously of looking for another HR position where I could expand my skills as an HR Manager. Didn’t want to venture out of my comfort zone, however that burning desire to become known as an artist continued to simmer.) That’s when it happened. I was terminated from my comfortable position and my career in HR came to an end. I quickly wanted to go out and get another comfortable job doing something I know how to do so well. But by then, my need to support children diminished and my priorities and dreams for a fulfilling life became more obvious; I sold my house, packed up my belongings, and simplified my life in order to concentrate on my art. There were many steps I took to get to this current stage in my creative career. The first, and for some reason the most difficult was calling myself an Artist. I was hard on myself. Being an Artist had to be earned. Don’t know exactly what I felt I had to earn, but I knew I’d be embarrassed to call myself an Artist if all my art was tucked away under my bed. But I wiggled forward and began my journey. Gave up a lot of “wants” and concentrated on only the “needs”. I photographed my art work with my phone, posted shots to my computer, signed up for a well-known build-it-yourself website program, got some business cards, built a .com site and sent it out to the ether. And sat back and waited for the accolades and sales to start pouring in. They never did. So what advice would I give to others trying to avoid my mistakes. Don’t doubt yourself. I did. You’re a prejudice judge. Family and friends are not great critics either. They mostly love you and will tell you what they think you want to hear. Others need to see your art to be able to get a true perspective of your talent and skills. It’s too early in the game to believe or give up on yourself. How many times did you toot your own horn? My first adventure into building my own art website was a flop. I just built it and expected everyone to just find it and buy everything. Wrong! I didn’t tell anyone about my website? I just assumed everyone would be exploring the web and just run into my beautiful artwork. Let’s be honest, people are lazy. They are not going to spend time searching for your artwork. We don’t even look up or memorize phone numbers anymore. You make it easy for them to see your work, and they will come. If they can save the link or join your newsletter, they will come back again and again to see something different each time. Post new work each week to social media. Make sure you attach your website link to each new posting. Upgrade your skills set. Take more art workshops. In person workshops are expensive; travel, lodging and hauling supplies. Online workshops are fabulous! Stay home and make your own lunch, visit with peers through Zoom. Collect names and email addresses. Soak up all the information and tips others will offer. And stay safe and healthy. The more you paint, the better you get. Not every piece you paint will be a great painting. Most will simply be studies that you study and learn how to make better the next time. Upgrade your computer skills in social media and web design. Sorry, but unless you are 20 years old and already have a decade of social posting skills, you are officially technically challenged. Take online or adult education courses in web design, digital photography, and Social Media. Or…get your 9 years-old grandchild to help you understand how to start an Instagram or Pinterest account. Post to Facebook. You’d be amazed how computer-savvy that child can be. Wiggle Forward. Just take one step at a time. You don’t get from A to Z, you get from A to B, then to C and so on. Just keep growing, learning and wiggling forward. Now you can believe in yourself.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I was born in Hilo, Hawaii when it was still a territory of The United States. Both Mom and Dad and their parents were born in the islands. Immigrants from Portugal and Eastern Europe came to work in the sugar plantations. Raised in Southern California since 5 with my 2 year old sister. Mom and Dad divorced and Mom remarried when I was 7 and my new Dad and old Mom moved us to Fallbrook, California to follow my step-dad’s relocating work. Loved growing up in the California country. Excerpt from Short Story-”The Piano and the Peach” by ABrandt Summers were always my favorite time as a kid. Sort of. Hated all that summer heat and dusty gravel – but the fruit trees made up for all the sweaty dirty necks. And since my dad was really into cow manure and water, we grew the biggest and best tasting peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, corn and watermelons. Being a fruit and vegetable lover – like dad – it was a hot heaven. Nothing better than climbing the wild walnut tree overlooking the nearly dry stream bed, perching among the branches and biting into a softball size fuzzy golden peach. There are moments in life you would always like to live over – that would be one of mine. No peach or tree or summer breeze will ever come close to that wonderful sensation. Until today, I think back with nostalgic fondness to that exact moment, biting into a peach, juice running down my hand and arm, the wind swaying me and the branches of the Walnut tree. One long summer day, I was moving the water hose, helping my Dad with the never-ending chore of watering the bounty of crops on our 2 ½ acres……. As I was soaking my favorite peach tree, my annoying sister, Claire, whose only purpose in life was to ride and get bucked off her stupid horse Rusty, OR annoy me. She decided annoying me was easier that day considering I had never thrown her into a corn field. I tried to ignore her. Didn’t work – Claire was in one of her particularly agitating moods and decided if I didn’t talk or look at her, she would kick muddy water at me to get my full attention. I defended myself with the hose, squirting Claire to send her away from me and out to torment another critter. But Claire, but was relentless. I swear that stupid horse was encouraging her from the corral across the yard. It wasn’t until high school that I finally graduated from crayons to actual paint in art class. I won two awards in high school for art projects and got myself and a 7 foot pink paper mache giraffe featured in the Fallbrook Enterprise newspaper. Won the Best Artist of the Year in my Junior year and won a San Diego County sponsored contest for the “Avocado Capital of the World” logo submission. My parents had to drive me all the way to San Diego City Hall for that presentation. For a family from North San Diego County, who had to drive over the Bonsall Bridge (only a two-lane narrow bridge at that time) to Interstate 5 and what seemed like 100 miles to San Diego, that was quite a feat for my parents. But I knew then as a City Official handed me that check for $25, that is what I wanted to grow up to be – an Artist. My parents were just thrilled with my choice. Think of all the prospects for supporting myself out in the world! I think silently they prayed I’d find a nice boy and get married right after high school. But I wouldn’t settle for that. I wanted to go to Art Center College in LA. Too bad I never heard of The Art Center until I was finishing my senior year of high school. If a parent, mentor or school counselor had guided me to apply, groom my path of scholastic and community achievements, and had a fortune in money lying around in grants and loans, I might have made it. Not to be, and I happily entered Palomar Junior College right after high school and graduated with a prestigious AA degree in Commercial Art. Considering graduation came long before the advent of personal computers, my skills in grey markers did not make for a memorable resume. So I started out aimlessly in the working world. First real job was working at a gift store and creatively decorating display shelves. Applied at newspapers for display and typesetting, again, no computers. And finally ended up working at a recreational vehicle campground at Vail Lake. You can see how that commercial art degree came in real handy in aligning campers and trailers into strategic, aesthetically pleasing locations. It got old, so my parents were happy when I found a great boy and got married. Loved being a newlywed in the suburbs with other married couples. Found my green thumb in designing and landscaping our backyard. Had 2 children 3 years apart. Needed to financially help support the household and opened a home childcare. Love kids, but only so much finger painting you can do to satisfy your yearning to paint. Found someone to watch my kids and opened a home business selling Home Interiors decorating items. That was a time of great camaraderie and confidence building, and also having adults talk to. As the kids got older, I agreed to move to Maine – husbands’ brilliant idea – big mistake for California Girl. Marriage ended and moved back to So CA. Divorced, raised children alone from 1st grade to adulthood. And went back to full time work. Also began taking evening art classes from a local art teacher. Maintained a very modest household income raising children, working full time and stretching my budget to include art classes. After a stimulating venture in retail customer service and designing for Cherokee Watches, I landed a job with benefits and all I had to do was match up invoices, with purchases orders and receiving slips. Easy peasy, and I now had medical and dental insurance for kids and myself. Life was good. But not great, I did have to put painting aside due to budget constraints. (Lunch money, gas and rent seemed to constrain all of my budget.) Adding to that skill set in accounting and payroll, I eventually expanded talents to include payroll and organization of information to include employee paper trails in the wonderful world of Human Resources. Everything was paper intensive in that decade. Files and files of W-2’s, personal information and benefit records was my life. And I truly enjoyed my career in HR on many levels. But the part I enjoyed the most was conducting employee and manager training. Helping co-workers to grow successful and productive career objectives was very rewarding. But personally, I was still struggling on how I was going to grow my latent talent as an artist. As my kids grew older, I transitioned more of my free time into teaching beginner art classes, both as a personal growth course for employees and later at Michaels Stores. It fulfilled my desire to help others grow and fall in love with painting. It also reawakened my love for the smell of Pink Soap. If you paint – you know Pink Soap. But teaching was not enough, I wanted to present my work to others. So I joined, supported and then moved on from a couple of local Co-Op galleries. Excellent starting place to build confidence and be among your peeps. Learned so much from that experience. It was a step all would-be artists should experience in their journey. You make friends with talented artists who are as passionate about their work as you are and learn how to present finished work for display. I participated in the exhausting work of hanging a fresh monthly gallery, and how to gracefully converse with fellow artists displaying work that is far better and far worse than your current talent. Humbling and confidence building lessons at it’s finest. After experiencing the depressing and stressful side of HR during the Recession of 2008;(boy, in light of our last year the first two weeks of 2021, 2008 wasn’t that bad), I began the excruicing task of laying off and terminating employees. To go from 87 employees when I began my career with this particular company, to see it grow to a profitable 300+ staff, and then begin the arduous task of downsizing to 200 stressed survivors and later lose another 50+, it became a toxic atmosphere for someone like me, who liked to see people grow. When the recession stabilized, I began to think seriously of looking for another HR position where I could expand my skills as an HR Manager. (But that burning desire to become known as an artist continued to simmer.) Expanded my HR talents and learned from my shortcomings in several 2 to 3 year engagements, but never allowed myself the time to paint. Too busy earning a living for myself and 2 teenage children. Still simmering…. Then it happened. I got fired. No great loss, the restaurant industry I worked in at that time was a hard place to thrive. And it’s only gotten worse in the last year and a half. Good people in that industry, still friends with many co-workers. Feel terrible for the hardship restaurant owners, bussers, chefs, and waiters were and still are going through. But the moment I lost my job, I started going through the painful task of looking for another HR job. Force of habit. But….I began to hear that inner-voice, calling me back to art. Now is the time! I seriously started to believe the universe was trying to tell me something. I remember a grade school teacher explaining to the class that the artisans of some Central and South American cultures who created pottery, believed that if you had a gift from the Gods, and did not use it, you were forever punished. He also said, the same artisans always left a little mark or blemish on the bottom of their pottery as a sign of imperfection, because God was the only one who could create perfection. Now I don’t know if he made that up, I remembered it wrong, or I misunderstood, but all these years later, I still remember holding a pottery bowl and hearing the story he told. And even today, I chose to accept that philosophy. ● Your talent must be practiced and improved or it will be forever lost. ● You cannot produce perfection, only excellence, so complete it, sign it and send it out into the world. So as my need to support children diminished and my priorities and dreams for a fulfilling life became more obvious; I sold my house, packed up my belongings, and simplified my life in order to concentrate on my art. There were many steps I took to get to this current stage in my creative career. The first, and for some reason the most difficult was calling myself an Artist. I was hard on myself. Being an Artist had to be earned. Don’t know exactly what I felt I had to earn, but I knew I’d be embarrassed to call myself an Artist if all my art was tucked away under my bed. But I wiggled forward and began my journey. I photographed my art work with my phone, posted shots to my computer, signed up for a well-known build-it-yourself website program, got some business cards, built a .com site and sent it out to the ether. And sat back and waited for the accolades and sales to start pouring in. They never did. Q:So what advice would I give to others trying to avoid your mistakes. ● Don’t doubt yourself. I did. You’re a prejudice judge. Family and friends are not great critics either. They mostly love you. Others need to see your art to be able to get a true perspective of your talent and skills. It’s too early in the game to believe or give up on yourself. ● How many times did you toot your own horn? My first adventure into building my own art website was a flop. I just built it and expected everyone to just find it and buy everything. Wrong! Did you tell anyl people about your website? Did you send them a link to your website? Did you tell friends about your site and show them your work? Let’s be honest, friends are people and people are lazy. They are not going to remember how to look up your site. We don’t even look up or memorize phone numbers anymore. ● You make it easy for them to see your work, and they will come. If they can save the link or join your newsletter, they will come back again and again to see something different each time. Post new work each week to social media. Make sure you attach your website link to each new posting. ● Upgrade your skills set. Take more art workshops. In person workshops are expensive; travel, lodging and hauling supplies. Online workshops are fabulous! Stay home and make your own lunch, visit with peers through Zoom. Collect names and email addresses. Soak up all the information and tips others will offer. And stay safe and healthy. The more you paint, the better you get. Not every piece you paint will be a great work of art. Most will simply be studies that you learn how to improve the next time. ● Upgrade your computer skills in social media and web design. Sorry, but unless you are 20 years old and already have a decade of social posting skills, you are officially technically challenged. Take online or adult education courses in web design, digital photography, and Social Media. Or…get your 9 years-old grandchild to help you understand how to start an Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook account.. You’d be amazed how computer-savvy that child can be. ● Wiggle Forward. Just take one step at a time. You don’t get from A to Z, you get from A to B, then to C and so on. Just keep growing and wiggling forward. Q…the sterotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about? ● Face the fact that you need to be able to have a minimum of $200 – $300 per month for art supplies, web support and marketing expenses. If you find a way to do it for less, great! But be realistic. If you have to work full time, part time, or budget a portion of your earning, Social Security and/or retirement fund to keep you plugging along until you develop a following of patrons. ing It’s part of building your business. ● Do what you do best and hire a professional for the rest. I learned from my first website I built myself, that I didn’t have a clue about so many things about a web business. ○ How to reach an audience ○ How to write a posting ○ How to take the best photo of my work ○ How to send a invoice with sales tax and shipping ○ How to print, mat, frame, and ship my work or prints. And the list goes on and on. There are several art marketing companies out there who have already resolved some or all the intricacies of virtual art gallery sales and marketing. Sites such as; Wix, GoDaddy, Agora Gallery, SquareSpace and Art Store Fronts. My best and highly recommended experience has been in working with the great team at Art Store Fronts. They have helped me every step of the way to build, update, set guidelines, and on-going technical support and learning tools. In addition, Art Store Fronts connected me to recommended printers available who do all the shipping of my prints. And with available support, I also have an assigned marketing team to help design brand postings to Facebook. Even though I am completely responsible for approved content, Art Store Fronts (ASF) has saved me countless hours with their marketing tool. And I get to do more of what I do best. Create art! ● Don”t expect to become a well-known success overnight. Most artists don’t. But some artists achieve success, fame, fortune and creative pleasure which is all relative to their goals. Many great masters of the past did not become famous in their lifetime, living through plagues, wars, famine, and religious persecution. It may have been decades or centuries before their incredible talent was recognized. I haven’t reached that magical place where sales come in every month, but I will. Today’s Artists have the added advantage of the internet, advertising and UPS! You are so far ahead of the game. Keep wiggling forward! ● Change your mindset, not your soul. If your inspiration and creativity takes a dip, think, what could I do differently to get better results. One of my paintings sums up my next move, “Where does this Lead? Turn Left”. You’re still heading towards your goal, but changed the course to get there. No telling what inspiration and wisdom you might pick up along the way. Elbert Einstein is credited in saying, “ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Bob Burridge, California artist, teacher, mentor and my hero taught me; “before you begin a painting, find a concept.” Great tools to help focus a concept are the dictionary and Thesaurus. Decide on a feeling, mood, place, or noun you’d like to express. Go to the Thesaurus and look up the synonyms associated with that word. You will only be attracted to words that touch your soul. That’s your concept for countless paintings. Q: Please tell us more about your work, what do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. I have two great loves, well, actually three great creative loves. I love painting bright abstract pieces in acrylics, adore my on-going affair with oil painting land and seascapes, and writing amusing stories about life. Many of my stories are captured in my paintings. Someday, I’ll organize them all in a book. Whatever I specialize in,It will only be a period of my life and will include lots of color, views for your imagination to travel mountains, forests and oceans all while laughing with pleasure and at yourself. Q: And what do you hope others will take away from your work? I love creating images that inspire and capture your imagination. And I hope my patrons enjoy the pleasure of that image they purchase. Many of my pieces have stories behind them to jump start the viewer into their own story. It is always so nice to be able to think back on the inspiration behind the painting as it hangs from your wall. My stories are posted in the long description of the individual painting literature on my website. It recalls a pleasurable image, waiting for the viewer to expand in their mind. Q: Please tell us more about your work, what do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. I have two great loves, well, actually three great creative loves. I love painting bright abstract pieces in acrylics, adore my on-going affair with oil land and seascapes, and writing amusing stories about life. Many of my stories are captured in my paintings. Someday, I’ll capture them all in a book. I’ll never specialize in the same subject or style for very long. But whatever I’m working on, it will include lots of color, views you can imagine in travels to mountains, forests and oceans all while laughing at yourself with pleasure. Q: What sort of changes are you expecting over the next 5-10 years? I expect I will be moving to the East Coast to be closer to my children in the next decade. Expect to be living a thriftier, smaller lifestyle as stuff means less and less to me, with relationships and art becoming the most important part of my life. I also expect to travel more, with friends and family in Hawaii, roots in Southern California and family on the East Coast, my art will reflect the beauty of the three worlds. Aren’t I lucky!

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
San Diego County has so many wonderful places to visit I don’t need to mention the usual standards like, beaches, Zoo, Pacific Coast Hwy. So I’d like to encourage readers to take the scenic route through the foothills of North County. Take a trip to Fallbrook and enjoy breakfast or lunch on The Garden Cafe patio, then travel out of town on Reche Road to Myrtle Creek Winery for a glass of wine and beautiful garden setting. You have the day to relax, so travel south on old 395 to the Hwy 76 and head east towards Pala Indian Reservation. Casinos and restaurants are beautiful in the foothills. Park on the top floor of the parking garage. What a view! If you’d rather sit with the hummingbirds instead of slot machines for the afternoon, keep heading east on Hwy 76 until you get to The Lazy H Ranch in Pauma Valley. Beautiful setting, good food, hummingbirds that get along and keep you entertained and, added bonus, the best Bloody Marys around.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
1. I would love to receive your positive thoughts, prayers, critiques and questions. I love receiving your notes. And I am never too busy to reach out to answer your emails. Not only does it help me relate to my audience, it builds my confidence and gives me insights into what types of art are appealing to my patrons. That doesn’t mean if I get twelve “likes” about flowers I am only going to paint flowers all the time. (See above – I don’t change my soul.) 2. Send all your friends and business associates to my website and Facebook links; www.abrandtfineart.com and ABrandt Artist 3. Please join the newsletter link to my website and “friend” request to the Facebook link to receive updates on new work and website gallery and eBay sales. 4. My website will also have links to other social media postings such as; Pinterest and Instagram. 5. And very importantly, I would be honored to have my art and your favorite images hanging from walls in your home or office. Is there something you would like to purchase?

Website: www.abrandtfineart.com

Instagram: abrandtartist

Facebook: ABrandt Artist

Other: Phone 760-705-7863 Email abrandtartist@gmail.com Pintrest abrandtartist

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.