Interview: Layla Fanucci, An Unlikely Success Story

To see Layla Fanucci today–with her signature layered cityscapes, impressive resume of gallery and museum exhibits, and a staggering 260 pieces sold to date–you would never guess her inauspicious beginnings.
Though Layla had a background in the arts, her medium had always been music.  For more than 25 years Layla played clarinet, piano and guitar and taught music both in the schools and privately. The discovery of her true calling–as a painter and entrepreneur–was born of little more than a whim.
Finding no paintings to suit her Victorian home in St. Helena, California, Layla decided she would have to paint one herself.  The completed piece — her first painting ever – was so stunning that friends began asking her to paint for them as well.
“During that year, nine people ask me to paint a painting for them. That’s how I got addicted to painting. I’ve done it every day since for sixteen years. I thought, If people love my work, they love to put it on their walls and I love to do it, then maybe this can be a business. That’s how it started.”
Today, Layla and her family run the Charter Oak Winery, where she has her studio and her gallery. Layla and her husband spend their days sharing their respective art forms–wine and paintings–with people from all over the world.
Layla’s journey to success — while unlikely– wasn’t haphazard.  Layla took a bold and risky but, nonetheless, deliberate path. Here she shares the principles that helped to build her success.

7 Principles to Succeed By

1. Don’t indulge fear.
“Don’t hear the fear around you everywhere. You have to follow what you believe and what your heart is. It’s really hard to do because you’re always going to have those naysayers, and those naysayers can be people who love and adore you, but they’re fearful for you.”

“Right before my first major exhibit at the Walter Wickiser Gallery, my consultant left a message on my machine, ‘Layla, Walter’s giving you a great opportunity. He’s giving you a solo show. It doesn’t happen. I just want to let you know if you don’t sell, you’re done. Nobody will ever touch you in New York again.’ And then she said, ‘Have a good day,’ if you can imagine. I remember listening to that message 3 or 4 times — ‘If you don’t sell you’re done’ — And I thought, I’ll be done before I even start. Maybe this is too much too fast. Maybe I should do some solos and build up to this, instead of just being on a stage in New York. Maybe I should say ‘No, thank you’ and try to build a little bit more.”

“And then my daughter said, ‘Mom, you can back out if you want, but wasn’t it you that told us that it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all?’ And I was really quiet, and I thought Gosh, I hate when they listen to me! It hit home though, and I said, ‘You’re right. You know what, if I fail I fail. I should try.’ So I proceeded with the show, but the whole time I was fearful. Luckily I sold 9 paintings out of the 16 and I’m still here today, so it all worked out.”
2. Follow your heart.
“When I got addicted to painting that first year (and I DID!), I had 120 students at the school.  I had 40 private students. I wanted to quit teaching altogether after 25 years and wake up every day and paint for 10 or 12 hours a day and focus on my art. My friends, colleagues and even my husband said maybe I should just cut back to part time and see how it goes.”

I knew the only way to really succeed would be to paint full-time and focus in on it every single day. I gave myself a two year window to try and make it, and if not I’d go back to teaching. Within those two years I made more than I did teaching.  Sometimes I make more in a day than I did in ten years of teaching!”

“Listen to your own instincts and keep going. I’ve done that in the art business every step of the way. When I listen to the inside I always succeed.” 
3. Don’t avoid the parts of your business that scare you.
“What I’ve tried to learn is to take responsibility in my own hands instead of wishing that somebody would just do it for me. Artists just want to paint and let someone else sell it and market it. They want to work with that right brain. Most artists that I know just absolutely hate that left side and wish it would go away.They want other people to come in and do the business side while they do the art–a happy marriage. But it doesn’t work that way. I definitely don’t like the left side but I know that if I don’t work on that left side I’m not going to be able to do what I want on that right side. 


“I probably spent 50% of my time building business connections and communicating and calling and emailing and writing and pestering and just doing whatever I needed to do, and then the other 50% painting. A lot of artists have told me, ‘I can’t do that. I can’t call and call again and email and write, it’s just not who I am — I can’t do it.’ And I’ll be honest with you, if I didn’t do that I don’t think I’d be where I am today. I think you have to. If you really want this you have to do it for yourself.
4. Delegate household duties.
“First of all, my children are out in the world and grown, so that’s a huge part for me in being able to focus in on my art and my work every single day. I don’t know how you do it with kids around.  It would be — for me — too hard. I need to focus and I think you can’t do seven jobs well.

“I’ve delegated everything in the household. I don’t do anything anymore. I wake up and I paint. Rosa comes and does laundry–she does everything. My husband brings dinner home so that I can paint even longer. So, I don’t even do dinner anymore. It’s really lovely.”
5. Know your worth.
“I got to the point where I really believed in my work–because in the beginning you really don’t know is this good, is this bad. When I finally got to that point where I believed in my work, in my own uniqueness, I noticed that people love it. It’s a style that nobody paints in the world. I’ve learned how to present my pieces to people.  For me, the bottom line was believing in it myself. People feel that. They feel it from you. So you have to believe in it. “
6. Be strong.
“When I started the business, Walter Wickiser told me something that I never forgot. He didn’t know me at all, and he said, ‘If you’re not tough and if you’re not strong, if you can’t take a lot, then get out now.’ I think, looking back, he was right. You have to be very strong, very tough. You have to have a heart’s calling. You have to have passion. It has to be something you really want to do, not something you think you want to do or somebody’s telling you to do.

“Also, you have to know it’s going to be three steps up, one back, three up, and two back. It’s never going to be straight up. Those who go straight up fall really fast. That’s just not going to happen, so know it’s going to be a building process, like climbing up a ladder. It takes an incredible amount of strength and determination, but if that’s your heart’s calling, if that’s your passion, you will do anything to succeed.
7. Do it at the right time.
“I have a lot of people come in and say, ‘I want to write or create music or paint, but I’ve got four kids.’ Be realistic. Wait until you have time to develop and focus in on what you want to do in your business.

“It’s really hard to do three or four things at one time, and I think putting that expectation on yourself is self-defeating. Wait until you can focus on it, and then give it your all. It’s all about right timing. You can have everything. You just can’t have everything at the same time.


Want to learn more about Layla Fanucci? See her on the TODAY Show on April 7th and check out her story, along with the stories of 49 other extraordinary women, featured in Marlo Thomas’ new book It Ain’t Over…Til It’s Over which will be released on April 8th. 


Megan Barnes

Megan Barnes is the former owner of The Mogul Mom. She is a creative writer residing happily in Mississippi with her beloved husband and two dogs.




  1. Frankie Jackson

    Hello, layla has inspIred me to pick up a paint brush. I’ve learned that I too have my own style of painting even though I am an amateur my painting are nice and unusual. I just need to know how to get my work out there to highest buyer.

    Thanks Layla Fanucci


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