Interview with the Artist

Questions you always wanted to ask a street artist. By Tanya Tyler.


In 1976, after eight years of teaching university art, Warren Cullar resigned his position to pursue a career as a full-time artist. Friends and family all told him, “You can’t make a living as an artist!” but Warren turned a deaf ear. For the next 40 years, Warren was a street artist traveling from art festivals to art shows. He moved his own artwork, displays, and tents a dozen shows a year. Most of his shows were in Texas, Colorado, and a few were in California.

Today, these types of art shows no longer fit his lifestyle, but he is still creating and selling his art worldwide. Warren and his wife Kitty Biel, a CPA and travel agent, live in Wimberley, Texas and travel the world, always looking for new adventures and inspiration.

1. Reflecting on 47 years of Artistry.
Warren, it’s been nearly five decades since you embraced the title of “Artist.” How does it feel looking back on this journey?

“It feels like just yesterday when I resigned from the college teaching position to become a full-time artist. That was 1976, so my last paycheck from an employer
was 47 years ago!

Time seems to have melted into one long, wonderful life. Despite the challenges, every moment has been a testament to the freedom of charting my own course. With Kitty by my side, I’m grateful for the opportunity to create art and sustain a fulfilling life.”

2. Influences that Shape Life.
Who has had the greatest impact on your journey?

“My father’s wisdom has guided me through so many of life’s challenges. His advice to ‘Get the facts before you act’ remains a cornerstone of my decision-making
process. He also wisely said, ’Don’t spend money you don’t have.’ I have always lived below my income and wore 2 hats. The big hat is the business side of the art
business. I spend 85% of my time dealing with my collectors, going to art festivals to sell art, and doing paperwork. The small hat is the artist's hat. As an artist, I create art only 15% of the time. Dad always said, “Warren, plan your work and work your plan.” I make goals for the day, for the week, for the month and for the year.”

3. The Art of Making a Living.
Your ability to thrive as an artist is remarkable. Do you have a blueprint for success in the art world? “My father gave me a book a long time ago and instructed me to study the secrets and apply them to my life. I still read a few lines from that book every so often. The book is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I read and reread the book until I learned how to create goals. Those ideas not only worked when I was 18, but they’re still working today. Even though I was a below-average art student in the early days, I had an immense appetite to become accomplished. Once that happened, my eight years as an art instructor at the university level gave me additional skills both in teaching and in honing my craft.

In 1976, I opened my own art studio. After ten years, I was doing well financially as an artist. I like people; I like to talk, and I have more energy now than when I started out. Selling is easy: display the artwork, tell the story or the sizzle and say, ’Would that be Cash or Charge?’ I mark it as sold.”

4. The Magic of Selling Art.
How did you venture into selling your artwork?

“A friend at the college asked me what I had painted that summer. I invited him to bring his wife and another two couples to our home. I had nine watercolors framed and one easel with a light. We served them coffee and pie. I showed the paintings one at a time, and I talked about each one for two minutes, explaining the story behind the painting. I sold one painting to each couple and invited them back with other friends in two months.

I learned the key to successful selling is to invite your guests to an art party because most people want to go to a party. Your guests want to be entertained, enjoy a glass of wine, become educated as to the story behind the art, and then sold' Will that be cash or charge?’”

5. Art Festival Preference over Galleries.
Why do you prefer selling at festivals over traditional galleries?

“Galleries charge 40 to 50%. I think that is the worst business model for any artist or any business. The better places to sell art are juried shows, which often cost from $400 and up to enter, but are usually worth the money. If an art show has been regularly held for years, it develops a reputation that draws both a more affluent crowd and attracts more professional artists. After being accepted a few times into such a show, you can almost count on being accepted into others that are similar. Applying to those shows was the way I would plan my calendar for the year.

Often, I could count on selling $5,000 or more in a single weekend. I still prefer such art festivals to galleries, because the artists earn a great income; otherwise,
they are called ‘starving artists.’”

6. Artistic Barter.
How do you approach trading artwork?

“I offer my artwork in trade for whatever service the other person specializes in. I learned how to trade from my dad. Over the years, I have traded artwork for: 2 horses; haircuts (when I had hair); doctors; dentists; a chiropractor; a small sailboat; raw land; diamonds; building materials; landscaping; tree clearing; jewelry; tailor-made suits; cement work; and the most fun trade was a 3-bedroom home in Beulah, Colorado, with a great view. I traded value to value, 54 halfsheet, framed watercolors over a five-year period. The most high-value trade was $24,000 for a cement circular driveway, and the foundation for our remodeled house.

I also learned what not to do: one night, I traded for a pickup truck, and I somehow managed to drive it home. Advice: Don’t ever trade for pickup in the dark. I was able to trade the truck to a sculptor the next day in exchange for a small stone sculpture. He was much happier with that old truck than I was.”

7. Commissions.
Do you accept commissioned work?

“Absolutely. Collaborating with collectors to bring their vision to life is a rewarding aspect of my artistic journey. Each commission is a testament to a shared creative vision and mutual trust.”

8. Early Artistic Beginnings.
Could you share some pivotal moments from your artistic beginnings?

“I left home at 18 with only $350 and an old ‘49 Chrysler. I cleaned a beauty shop for a place to stay and washed dishes for $.75 an hour. I decided to improve myself by attending college.

As a freshman, I enrolled in architectural school, where I learned about perspective, freehand drawing, and three-dimensional design. During my second year I was required to take a watercolor course. A visiting artist created a wonderful two-hour demonstration in watercolor painting. I think the experience of watching him paint influenced me to start on the path of becoming an artist. I excelled in painting “growies” or bushes, trees, and landscapes surrounding the building designs. I think I enjoyed the watercolor painting more than the architecture!

After my second year in the program, I was working too many hours, starting to fail in several classes, and I didn’t want to get drafted. I joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve, went to boot camp and combat training, then spent the next 7 years in the reserves. When I returned from combat training, I changed colleges, and switched my major from architecture to art education.

I worked my way through college and made a commitment to become successful through a career in the arts. During my last year in college, I read How to make a living as a painter by Kenneth Harris and was inspired to open a small art gallery. I learned one thing after nine months—I never wanted to be in the art gallery business again!

My first job after graduation was as a commercial artist at an advertising agency, and later as an advertising manager for a department store. My new wife and I moved to Mexico so that I could earn my Master of Fine Arts degree at the Instituto de Allende in San Miguel de Allende. After two years, I completed the degree and moved back to the States.

I remembered the day, years later—I was filling out a form which required me to write in my occupation. I wrote “Artist” and fully believed it for the first time, even though I had already been successfully making a living for three years selling my artwork.”

9. Post-Resignation Reflections.
What was your first step after resigning from teaching?

“We bought a home that had an on-site restaurant (destined to be my future studio) in Bertram, Texas in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. My wife, Donna, said she would assist me in the new art business. In September of 1976, we opened Cullar Gallery with great anticipation. The walls of the studio were filled with watercolors, ready for new homes. We had a sizable crowd of one hundred or so folks attending our grand opening. Shockingly, not one single painting sold. We had just enough in savings to hold us over for several months.

Working together, we created a watercolor workshop business, and along with the sales of my watercolors, we began a steady climb up the ladder of success. Five years later, we held demonstrations and workshops in 52 cities and towns in Texas. I became a painting machine, but the work and travel became too much for my wife. After ten years of marriage, she wanted a quiet divorce. It was the saddest time of my life.

I lost my home, my studio, and my best friend, and had to start over. At 40, I moved in with friends and painted for long hours every day. Traveling and selling my paintings at art festivals became a way of life. My art sales were increasing dramatically. In 1983, I was able to purchase a home from the sales of my watercolors.

My painting skills and income have continued to rise almost every year since 1976.”

10. Teaching.
Do you continue to impart your years of knowledge through teaching?

“At this point, I feel that I’ve finished that part of my career. I enjoyed the workshops I taught in the past, but I have moved on to other things. I’m happy to say that some of my past teaching assistants have become successful artists.”

11. The Timeless Nature of Creation.
How long does it take to execute a painting?

“As my CPA wife answers a tax question, the same applies to creating art: ’It all depends.’ First, I don’t sell my time or my canvases by the square inch. I sell ideas, my ideas, and collectors have paid me for a lifetime of creative work. It is not the number of actual hours that I put into the artwork: I have produced successful paintings in a few hours and have also spent over a year working on a single painting.”

12. Pricing Artwork.
What is your pricing strategy?

“In the beginning, I started selling my small pieces for $5 each. That seemed like a fair price at the time. I slowly marked my work higher. Today, my work is priced
according to a variety of factors, but one main gauge is a comparison with a selection of artworks of the same size that I’ve sold in the past. Art sold at auction is often based on this kind of comparison. I often price a piece higher if it turns out to be even more impressive than I had originally envisioned.”

13. Monumental Sales.
What is the highest price you’ve received for your artwork?

“I’ve had the privilege of selling paintings and sculptures for significant sums, reflecting the intrinsic value of artistic expression.”

14. Escaping the Starving Artist Stereotype.
How did you navigate the financial aspects of being an artist?

“The simple fact is that I painted, and then I painted even more. I quickly realized that to be an artist, one never has enough inventory. When I decided to resign from the teaching position, I had about 35 paintings ready to sell. When I am going to show I want to have about 20 paintings, and it depends on the sizes but to have extra work available is security.

When I started selling at art festivals, I realized that many people wanted my art, but they didn't have the extra cash, so I was willing to take partial payments on my artwork, with a little bit down, and the balance to be paid in monthly installments. I charged no interest, and the collector could take the artwork home immediately.

This approach enabled me to relax and focus on creating the work, rather than stressing about sales. I basically created what I thought of as my ’mailbox money.’ I have always had healthy accounts receivable, and very few problems collecting money. If I were selling TVs, that would probably be a big mistake, but art collectors seem to have a different type of personality.”

15. Artistic Challenges.
What are some of the most memorable art-related experiences you’ve had?

“I painted watercolors and created drawings alongside a film crew in Brazil. We filmed several tribal dance celebrations over the course of a month. Another expedition was to Southern Venezuela with the University of Texas, where my job was to create watercolors of the native art painted on the walls of shelter caves. We slept in two large, thatched huts in hammocks, and were careful bathing in the Orinoco River because of the Piranha fish.

On another occasion, I was part of an anthropological expedition on Easter Island where we excavated a cave, and I painted watercolors and created wet paper
impressions of the rock art found in the caves. On yet another team, with Dr. Ray White, we surveyed the ruins at Machu Picchu. My job was painting watercolors and creating drawings of all the carvings in the complex that had nothing to do with building construction. We camped 4000 feet below Machu Picchu and bathed in the snow melt of the Urubamba River.

In the deserts of Southern Spain, I was on an anthropological team that was digging in search of the remains of Australopithecus. I did line drawings and I also
got to dig! I found a three-toed horse that was 2 million years old! We lived in a man-made cave.

I was later commissioned to create 7 watercolors of the archeological ruins and landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula on behalf of a hotel chain in Cancun, Mexico. They wanted my watercolors for their board room. All my expenses were paid. When I was ready to send them the paintings, they changed their minds, and I was told to keep them. I quickly sold them.”

16.Unforgettable Adventures.
Which adventure stands out as the most memorable?

“My friend Bill Oliver had relocated his foley (sound effects) business from Hollywood to Hong Kong. He called and asked me if I wanted to go on a 32’ sailboat trip with himself and 3 other 5 men. Of course, I said yes. During the 7- day voyage, we navigated across 700 miles of the South China Sea, which is one of the most pirated seas in the world! Sailing through the South China Sea encapsulated the full spectrum of human emotions, from peaceful tranquility to abject terror. Such experiences remind me of the boundless potential for discovery and growth that are just waiting for the adventurous.”

17. Secrets to Sustained Success.
You’ve been a success for years—what are a few of your principles/secrets?

“The first few years were difficult, but I kept my commitment of what I call ’PMA’, (Positive Mental Attitude): no matter what happens, you must have the discipline
to create goals and carry them out, regardless of obstacles. I judge success as having a good, balanced life, with moderation in everything.

One of my secrets was saving: out of every dollar I made, I put a nickel back into the business, plus I invested 3 to 5% into a saving plan. I always lived below my
income and did without a lot of things. The first 20 years I was a plein air watercolorist. I painted outdoor landscapes and sold them at art festivals. I developed a rhythm of painting and selling, and the art business continued to improve and grow.

I have been blessed to have lived life as an artist. The professional artist’s life is difficult and tiring, yet one is living life under one’s own set of rules and there is
no obligation to anyone else. I would do it all over again, because the ride is dramatic and wonderful.

Another piece of advice is that you must believe in yourself when everyone tells you that you can’t make a living this way. Now my life flows…I am blessed to live my life as an artist. I give God thanks for a rewarding life, and for the wonderful wife who has loved this artist for over twenty-five years. Yes, I am successful in every way that counts.”

18. Artistic Influences and Evolution.
Why does your artwork reflect so many different influences?

“After 50 years as an artist, I have experienced many forms and mediums of art, so why would anyone be perplexed at the scope and variety in my body of work? I first started painting representational landscapes in watercolors in 1972, studying with Bud Biggs, a retired commercial artist, who taught watercolor workshops.

Bud became a trusted mentor, and one day at his studio he gave me some sage advice: ’Warren don’t wait until you are my age to paint full time.’ I returned to
our home and started preparation for my resignation from the college. At that time, I had spent eight years teaching art at college and university. Everyone told
me I was crazy for throwing a good job away and for foolishly thinking that I could make a living as an artist. I didn’t hear them.

Years later, I changed course again: I took a refresher course in acrylic painting, and for a while, I set my watercolors aside after having made a successful living as a plein air watercolorist for almost twenty years.

In 2001, I hired a silkscreen artist to work in his studio creating serigraphy, then I hired an artist to work with me, creating a series of soft ground etchings and
adding watercolor.

Later, I worked in a potter’s studio, an assemblage artist’s studio, and with a jeweler. I kept wanting to discover more ways to express myself in the magical world of art.

One day, a collector asked me to create a small bronze; I said yes. I had originally begun learning about bronze sculpture as a student in Mexico. After that first commission, I began creating other bronze sculptures, and now I had a new career achievement to add to my list.

That next year, in 2003, twelve friends and I self-published ’Sketch Book’ (yes, it has an ISBN number). This even included our silk screening the cover, and hand threading the binding for this book of 70 ink line drawings with a story about each drawing. I now have a writing career.

So, in my artist lifetime, I have created and sold of all the following: paintings in watercolor and acrylic, soft ground etchings, drawings, serigraphs, assemblages, welded steel, pottery, wood block prints, jewelry, cast bronze sculptures, and lithographs.

In the past few years, I have been influenced by Picasso’s art. I am still painting in acrylics, and I am finishing a series of editions of etchings I started twenty years ago.

For every work of art I create, there seems to be a collector. Picasso said: ’Painter's paint what they sell, and artists sell what they paint’. I guess I really am an artist!

My art is like the Texas weather: wait a spell and see what happens next.”

19. Joy in Creativity.
What brings you the greatest joy during the creative process?

“Exceeding my own expectations and venturing into uncharted artistic territory brings satisfaction. Each breakthrough confirms my passion for creating.”

20. Advice for Aspiring Artists.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become an Artist?

Here are 10 essential tips for aspiring artists:

1. Master the Skill of Drawing:
Enroll in drawing classes and invest in hardbound sketchbooks. Keep your
sketches pristine and carry a sketchbook everywhere to capture visual inspiration.
2. Educate Yourself:
Pursue a Fine Arts degree with a business minor. Learn finance, economics, and
business math, as art production is just a fraction of your time; the rest is
dedicated to the business side of things.
3. Find a Mentor:
Seek apprenticeships with seasoned artists. A mentor provides invaluable
guidance and accelerates your learning process.
4.Build Your Art Library:
Start collecting art books from garage sales, library sales, and thrift stores.
Cultivate a deep understanding of art history and art techniques.
5. Gain Experience:
Work in art galleries, supply stores, or museums. Volunteer to assist and gain
hands-on experience in various aspects of the art industry.
6. Practice with Purpose:
Remember, it's not just practice but perfect practice that leads to mastery. Seek
out reputable instructors and continuously refine your skills.
7. Create Consistently:
Make art regularly and strive for improvement with each piece. Quantity leads to
quality, so keep producing and evolving as an artist.
8. Connect with Successful Artists:
Network with artists who have thriving careers. Learn from their experiences and
insights into navigating the art world.
9. Immerse Yourself in Art:
Attend art shows, visit museums, and observe art demonstrations. Surround
yourself with creativity and inspiration.
10. Honor Integrity:
Above all, maintain honesty and integrity in your artistic endeavors. Keep your
promises, uphold ethical standards, and believe unwaveringly in your talent and