Artist Success: Making a Soul Connection

by Carolyn Edlund

Kristen Jongen, founder of Soul Soup, built a successful creative business by sharing authentic and heartfelt messages in her work.

 

Artist, writer and poet Kristen Jongen

Artist, writer and poet Kristen Jongen

 

Writer, poet and visual artist Kristen Jongen developed a bestselling line of books, prints and greeting cards that are sold internationally through more than 400 retail stores. Standing the test of time, her original artwork and related products continue to offer  “nourishing words for hungry hearts” to an appreciative audience of collectors and fans. We recently spoke about her journey and what makes her work popular and memorable.

 

Kristen Jongen's studio

Kristen Jongen’s studio

 

AS:  What “superpower” do you have that connects you with your audience?

KJ:  Ha! I would love to have a superpower! However, I suspect the element(s) that relate my audience and I are the opposite of anything extraordinary. I think my strength is the willingness to admit my unheroic truths. We connect in the humble and vulnerable spaces that make us mere mortals.

 

Inspirational prints by Kristen Jongen of Soul Soup

Inspirational prints by Kristen Jongen of Soul Soup

 

AS:  As a visual artist and a writer, you’ve found a way to combine those talents to create and scale a full-time business. How did that happen? 

KJ:  It was a long process. As a teenager, I made jewelry, hand-painted fabrics, tee shirts, glass vessels, hair sticks, clothes, you name it. In college, I devoured business books because I wanted to make art and produce it commercially. I was (and still am) fascinated by the interlocking pieces required to build a product line.

I had always been both a writer and artist separately. It wasn’t until many years later when I combined the two worlds that my work took off. It was a very long process and is still a lesson in tenacity.

With my poetic collages, I started by taking the first large, awkward sized pieces to fine art galleries. It was one bomb after another. I was clueless. Each rejection taught me valuable information about framing, submissions, and sales.

I knew I had something worth pursuing because they responded positively to the words and concept, even though my presentation was a mess. Eventually, once I got it together, a gallery owner said in an exasperated tone, “This is not fine art, it is craft!” (as if it was an insult.) It stung for a moment as I went out to my car and circled the proverbial edge of despair…until I realized she was right. Her honesty did me a favor.

Fine craft has always been my first love. She not only gave insight, but permission to stay in my lane. Instead of bucking the system, I was grateful for the direction. I then pointed my ship accordingly and went about researching craft galleries and print reproduction.

 

"Standing in the Light" original painting by Kristen Jongen

“Standing in the Light” original painting by Kristen Jongen

 

I talked to many other artisans. I loved my poems and didn’t want to have to re-create each piece. I researched production. I eventually heard about wholesale shows. I applied to the Buyers Market of American Craft in 2003 and not only was I accepted, I received the award for best emerging artist in mixed media. I was off and running. It was a great way to be introduced to the market.

None of it was overnight. All of it took a lot of patience.

AS:  Quotes and signs are trendy gift items these days. How do you differentiate yourself? What makes your work distinctive and how do you create to keep it uniquely yours?

KJ:  I was fortunate to get into this business at a time when casual word-art was in its inception. Up until then, poetry was only in formal books and inspirational quotes were from scripture or people like Abraham Lincoln. I was inspired by new writers using contemporary language, such as Maryanne Radmacher and Bryan Endres.

 

"Strength" print by Kristen Jongen

“Strength” print by Kristen Jongen

 

Nowadays, soulful messages are everywhere. Heck, you can buy bandaids with thoughtful insights on them!

Since those days, there are hundreds of cute ways to say that women are strong, have proverbial wings and a feisty group of ride-or-die girlfriends, but I find most of them insulting. Every woman I know is more complex than a trite byline. None of us can fly. You won’t find “Live, Love, Laugh” or an “I’ll meet you in jail” quote anywhere in my line … ever.

I hope what makes Soul Soup distinctive is the level of depth I am willing to explore. I have personally lived through devastating times that have taught me a lot about surrender and letting go. Creating is home for me. Whether I am dissecting grief, expressing a complicated love, or merely having fun, I am sorting out something inside of myself. I do it for me. That alone makes it uniquely mine. The fact that others relate to my gnarly and color-filled inner world is a huge surprise and my biggest blessing.

I made a conscious decision not to disguise the fact that I am as lost as the next gal. I also decided to be transparent about the fact that I ask God for help. Faith is central for me as I flail around with the rest of the human race. I get into dicey territory when I start thinking I’m some kind of dysfunctional prophet. Instead, I focus on the still quiet voice that may be confused or injured, but is always searching for the light.

 

 

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YES PLEASE!

Comments

  1. Great article full of inspiration that I resonate with. Thank you!

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