'You better get a job': Instead, rebel Austin artist hits it big on Instagram
After an all-day divorce hearing at a Houston courthouse in 2019, artist Jodie King settled on a none-too-favorable agreement with her ex-husband.
"Here I was, 50 years old and starting over," King says. "As we were leaving the proceedings, my attorney, who is a great, but old-school lawyer, as she was stuffing papers in her briefcase, looked at me and said: 'You better get a job.'"
King felt the sharp slap of indignity.
King: "It helped me want to make it."
Come 2022, King, now 53, has relocated to Austin. Her children are grown. She works out of an airy, 750-square-foot studio on South Lamar Boulevard.
And for the first time in her life, she's a full-time artist.
Working in mixed media and abstracted portraits, the painter has attracted almost 30,000 Instagram followers (@jodie_king_). She also coaches and teaches workshops via that visual platform.
With followers, King shares lessons in entrepreneurship picked up during decades of creative and business projects. She answers: How to diversify revenue? How to land commissions? How to work with interior designers and on social media?
Her Instagram slogan: "Calling B.S. on the 'starving artist' myth and leading the way."
When asked politely about her artistic income, the sometimes feisty and free-spirited King grows quiet and smiles: "More than six figures."
Now that's a comeback.
A free spirit in Texas
King joined Instagram in 2014.
"I used it like everybody else," she says "Pictures of vacations and dogs. But Instagram has more than a billion users. 'Why waste that kind of audience on pictures of my dog?' the inner entrepreneur in me said."
The self-described "Cajun girl" was born in Abbeville, Louisiana. King's mother owned a successful Houston steakhouse, where King later worked as manager. Her stepfather made a living in oil and gas as well as flying for Southwest Airlines; her birth father separated from her mother when King just was 6 months old.
King moved around — Lafayette, Dallas, Hurst, among other spots — but graduated from Klein High School in the northern suburbs of Houston.
"I always started fresh, not knowing a soul," she says.
King deadpans one of her favorite movie quotes, which she repeats at key points during our interview: "She's a runner."
The personnel management side of business fascinated her from an early age. "I wanted to know what makes people tick," she says. "I was on my own at 18. I came from a time when you didn't find your passion, you found a job."
Some of her early ventures were partnerships with a "starter husband," Todd Smajtsrla, whom she met in college and who remains a friend. In Fredericksburg, they owned the Elk Store, named after the Elk Store in West, Texas. They sold it, but Smajtsrla bought it back
The couple also opened the Lincoln Street Wine Bar in that tourist town. She designed fabric for furniture and got into creative interior design. In 2004, she started another business, an organic clothing line that bore her early paintings on fabric.
With Smajtsrla, she had two children, Mason, now a comedian, and Lovell, now a writer. With her second husband, "who will remain unnamed," she helped raise three other children.
She first moved to Austin in 2005. After moving away, she always longed to get back, as soon as the youngest child went off to college.
"I just loved it," she says. "I knew it was where I wanted to be."
An artist's life for me
King started painting on canvas at age 35 as a creative outlet.
"I was raising kids," she says. "And for whatever reason, I painted pictures of women saying sassy things."
In 2003, her Fredericksburg bungalow was featured on a home tour. Visitors asked about the artist whose paintings (hers) hung on the walls. One visitor who owned a store insisted on offering her art.
"I had no idea what I was doing," she admits. "I had no formal training, not even YouTube training. I knew exactly one other artist. But I started buying books. And eventually became an accidental professional artist."
So when divorce came in 2019, she moved back to Austin and got serious about her art.
"My mixed media sells well, but it's a tedious process," she says. "I felt I needed more physicality in my painting, which reflected needs in my life. I needed more expressiveness."
When one art expert told her to forget one style to pursue another, she did the opposite.
Again: "She's a runner."
One thing that works on Instagram as well as in person, King shares stories of her life along with her art. Among the recurring subjects are her rebel heroes, especially women.
King: "All my favorite people are rebels."
Perhaps prime rebel was her great-grandmother, Ozite Lovell, who grew up on a houseboat in the Louisiana swamps and made her living trapping muskrats.
For a striking portrait, on view in her studio the first time we met, King worked from a photograph of her great-grandmother, sitting in a chair, staring back at the camera, her middle finger outstretched.
"She was tough," King says. "She taught me now to cuss in French. She lived to be 102, and besides my daughters, she was the love of my life."
Her abstracted portrait is decorated with sayings that King associates with Lovell, including, crucially: "Giving zero (expletives) since 1904."
Asked its price, King says: "It's not for sale. Ever."
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.