Artist John Tunui
Currently, he sells postcards which feature his original hand created paintings of San Francisco. He sells his products in a single booth at the marketplace in front of the Ferry Building,on the corner of Steurt and Market in the city. He works independently Monday through Friday, and does not have employees (although he adds that it would be nice to have assistance).
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, John held a day job like the rest of us. He worked in restaurants serving as a cook, busboy, and a dishwasher. During that time, he developed and sold his creations. In 2007, he left his day job to pursue his art full time.
Originally, his first calling was writing. His gift for words is evident in his speech. He just recently published his new manuscript. (Stay tuned for more information about this in a future blog article.) He has previously published his poetry and writing as well. And you can find some of his work in the Margo King Lenson (ed.), “Pacific Voices” Talk Story, vol. i (Vacaville, 2001).
He was trained in the classical style of painting, but he considers himself self-taught and self-discovered as far as his unique style of painting today. He uses watercolor to capture highlights of the city, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Castro, and Baker Beach. In the near future, he will host his artwork online. Thus far, he’s sold over 30,000 cards in 5 years.
His words of wisdom for up and coming artists, are:
1) Always keep in mind that you are an artist first.
a. Don’t let commerce dictate your art.
b. Don’t rely on sales to justify your art.
c. Be open to learning more because multiple disciplines round out an artist.
2) Get your administrative work done first!
a. These days, buyers want to invest. They want to know that you will still be around to create art.
b. Market your image now, and organize the administrative aspect of your work life. You don't have to wait until after you’re dead to be discovered; you can reap the benefits now. One recommendation is to connect your daily life to the arts: the two can co-exist.
c. John shared the first steps to starting his own art business in San Francisco:
1. Small Business city permit (cost about $35). Register your business name.
2. Seller’s permit (free) from Board of Equalizers.
3. Post an advertisement in the newspaper, and keep the advertisement for one month. City Hall will give you the most affordable advertisement.
4. Open a business checking account. You can either extend it from your personal account, or open a separate business account.
3) Be confident because your talent is between you and God.
4) Be proud because the artist in you can never be bottled. “You can never be ‘made in China.’”
He finds inspiration in many forms. He’s reading “The Great Gatsby”, and studying the simplistic style of writing, and the effectiveness of clarity. He added, “F. Scott Fitzgerald is a great writer!” He also enjoys the paintings of Raoul Dufy, J.J. Sempe, Spencer Gore, and Marc Chagall.
John is of Maori descent and was born in the Cook Islands. Currently, he works in San Francisco. I chose him as my first interviewee for The Dream Makers Project because I felt a kinship in our Polynesian heritage and our love for the arts. I am also inspired by his self-employment. Someday, I’d like to be an entrepreneur, and examples like his remind me that it’s possible.
Interview conducted on June 3, 2012.
By Ruby Fa'agau
John Tunui's business card:
John Tunui at work:
John tunui's hand-paintings: