Creative Coach and LA artist Zach Kleyn knows firsthand the joy of creativity, by helping other artists achieve
Becoming a creative coach was not Zach Kleyn’s childhood dream. At the age when adults start asking kids what they want to be when they grew up, Zach Kleyn didn’t have the typical 10-year-old boy answer. He didn’t daydream about fighting fires or taking after his dad, a medical doctor. His answer met with mixed reactions.
Zach Kleyn wanted to be an artist.
Beginnings of an Artist
When his mother noticed he was always drawing, she bought him the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by art teacher Betty Edwards.
“It revolutionized how I drew and how I saw things. It was my first exposure to mindfulness and brain science,” Kleyn says.
The book fueled his love for the arts, particularly its endless possibilities. What started as a knack for drawing led him to explore painting, graphic design and sculpture. He earned his Bachelors of Fine Arts from Biola University, focusing heavily on sculpture. As he earned his Masters of Fine Arts at CalArts, he added mixed media, video and performance art to his repertoire.
The goal upon graduation, being a career artist. “I wanted to make money off of my practice. That was my aspiration.”
Kleyn put in the work. He and his friends pooled their resources to open a studio space in LA’s poverty-stricken Skid Row neighborhood. He showed his work in galleries and museums. But something felt off.
“I’d been trying to make it for many years. I was feeling disappointed, jaded, something wasn’t clicking,” he says.
The collaborative and fun atmosphere of art school had been replaced with a competitive grind with little room for creativity.
“That model of being in museums or galleries, where millions of artists are competing for a few key positions and special gallery shows around the world tends to be really cutthroat and limited, in terms of where the work is seen and talked about,” Kleyn says.
“I had a desire to find my creative voice in a different platform and different way than the rigorous constraints of the fine art world, but also the desire to connect to a creative community that inspires and supports one another.”
He made a realization he’s now trying to help other artists’ make.
“I realized, creativity doesn’t have to stay in the realm of making contemporary art,” he says. “It exploded my idea of what having a really fulfilling creative life could look like.”
Be tenacious, be flexible
With a less rigid take on what creating art could look like, Kleyn pivoted to help other artists. Earning a Masters of Science in Counseling is a new goal. This combines his passion for the arts, his experience with creative frustration, and his desire to collaborate with and support other creatives to be a creative coach.
Kleyn now works with other artists facing the same roadblocks and questions he faced coming out of art school. He works with creatives, from visual artists and authors to musicians and innovative entrepreneurs, and most of them are grappling with the age-old question: can I make a living as an artist?
Kleyn’s website answers that question right out of the gate: “It’s time to make good money without selling your creative soul.”
He says that if a person is passionate about their creative work and making a living through that work, it is possible to do just that. But he encourages artists—from aspiring artists to veterans—to be open to different paths to get there.
“Part of my job is helping people to stay tenacious to what they’re trying to create in the world and help them stay connected to their vision. But also how to have creative flexibility as they build their dream,” Kleyn said.
There’s no “I” in Team
Kelyn teamed with marketing executive and coach Alisa Manjarrez to create a group coaching model they call Creative Think Tank. They bring together a community of six to eight creative professionals for weekly online coaching. For $199 for one month or $499 for three months, participants get critiques, encouragement, and accountability.
“It’s modeled a little after art school,” Kleyn says. “It’s an opportunity for people to experience that in an even more supportive environment.”
Live a truly creative life
Kleyn’s personal creative journey has many facets. For example, he’s in a gospel choir, is making pottery and delving into home cooking. He also works on long-term projects. Projects that may last a lifetime lifetime.
One that particularly excites him is a 10-year video collab project with his father. Paying homage to the home videos they shot when Kleyn was a kid, the two film one scene each year of a chase through the house. They film with the same camcorder used 25 years ago in Kleyn’s childhood home in Fresno, California.
“So eventually when it’s edited together, viewers get the impression that the scenes happen over a few minutes, but you see my father and me aging over time.”
Filming in the same living room where he drew skethces as a child, Kleyn feels content with his artistic journey.
“I’ve learned that creativity doesn’t only have to be used to make artwork. Creativity can be used to build a life.”
Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.