Studio Materials 2

Studio Materials 2

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Empty Well

For the last few months I’ve not been painting much, nor have I been pursuing ideas, reading about art, or participating in discussions about art. I’d had enough, already. I’ve made my living as an artist my whole adult life, twenty-four years to be exact. Twenty four years!!!! When I graduated from art school, I immediately sought out and landed freelance work as an illustrator. Seven years later, in 1994, I began painting for myself and exhibiting as a fine artist, and I never looked back…until this year.

Something inside dried up. It really was like that. The work I began at the beginning of this year felt like a slow drip, drip….and then….nothing. The well had run dry.

I’ve gone through periods like this, the dreaded artist block. It’s a period of time when you feel an emotional disconnect with your artistic soul. Everything you create is dreck, and the process of creating is painful. The first time it happened to me I was very frightened, but I was also very lucky. At that time I had a mentor, a wonderful illustrator named Isa Barnett who held my hand through the process. He told me to just stop. Stop making art. He told me to stop thinking about it, stop talking about it, stop worrying about it. He did give me one small morsel to chew on, though. He told me that above all else, I should, in the future, focus on my process, the atmosphere I cultivate for creating. He said in a phone conversation I will never forget that, if I focus on the process, the results would come. I have savored that advice for nearly 20 years and it has been reliable nourishment.

This time feels different. Fueled in part by an economy that makes it virtually impossible to sell artwork, I found myself surrounded by stacks of unsold paintings and a hovering feeling that making more of them was putting good energy after bad. Furthermore, I was really starting to resent my poverty, and therefore my artwork. Artists who make their living selling work have a different relationship with their art than those who create for the joy of creating. I’ve had a love/hate marriage with my art ever since I graduated from art school and I finally wanted a divorce. Once I put my brush down and pushed my easel out of the way, I discovered a view of my life I hadn’t noticed before.  I realized I could live a very different life if I chose to. Parts of my artistic personality had been ignored for too long and I wanted to nurture them.

I have lots of interests! Music and writing are at the top of the list. This blog was begun because someone took the time and energy to point out that I’m a good writer, and that I have something to say. He further took the initiative, or the great risk of pissing me off, to set up a Blogspot account for me so that I’d have very little impediment from beginning my online diary. (Thank you again, Tom Degan!) Now, I’m pondering my posts with anticipation. (ah, alliteration!) As for music, I’m seeking out more live experiences and investigating new acts via Pandora Radio. What a great invention that is!! I’m thinking of purchasing a mandolin once finances are in agreement.

I began cooking lessons and hope to continue them. My latest obsession is eating locally resourced foods. I savor visiting nearby farmers markets and natural food stores. The difference in quality and the knowledge that what you will be eating is the freshest food possible make it well worth the slightly higher cost. More importantly, I am much more present in act of choosing my food and preparing it. Shopping and cooking have become forms of art. The other day I purchased a $12.00 organic free-range chicken butchered the day before. I massaged that chicken with a butter, brown sugar and clove concoction and then slow-roasted it to perfection. It was the best chicken I have ever had and my dinner companion concurred. You can be sure, none of that bird will be wasted.

There may be a career for me in this localvore industry, I can feel it. Maybe I’ll work at a farmer’s market. Maybe I’ll write about locally resourced products, or farm-to table-restaurants. The other life changes and affirmations that I’ve experienced in the past few years would also make a good read. Since I’ve allowed myself to imagine a whole different life I feel liberated and empowered. Sure, an artist’s life is different from the norm and it is a rewarding life. For me, though, making my living as a painter began to feel stale. Now, the career possibilities I’m considering are new, fresh, and undiscovered. I’m scared shitless, but I’m also very present. I’ve got my attention.

There’s something else to share here, yet another development. While teaching a plein air painting class the other day, I was demonstrating to a student and working on a small oil of a garden scene. After giving her instructions about what I wanted her to concentrate on, I sent the student off to work on her piece and continued playing with mine. Suddenly, an idea came to me for a series of paintings. My well is full again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The View from Both Sides: The Job Interview/Part Two


Interview/ Part Two
Business Nitty-Gritty

The next few questions may make you squirm while asking them, but it is a good idea to glean this information from the gallery director before commission agreements are signed. In this way, you will know exactly what business practices to expect from this gallery and avoid any unpleasant  surprises.

What is the gallery’s commission percentage? Most galleries take 30 to 50%; get used to it. Don’t bother with galleries taking more than 50%. That extra 10 % isn’t worth the moral dilemma of a gallery making more money than the artist in my opinion.

What is their payment schedule? Fair payment turnaround is in the range of 14 to 30 days of the sale or from the end of an exhibition. That gives plenty of time for checks and credit reports to clear. Any more time is an excuse to cover expenses the gallery can’t pay for.

What does the gallery’s insurance policy cover? You’re not asking for an umbrella dollar number here but whether your work is covered for it’s retail or replacement cost if damaged on gallery premises, covered in transit in one of the gallery’s vehicles, covered in a satellite venue of the gallery, and covered in shipping back to you, the artist, if proximity to the gallery is a problem for you. A reputable gallery will cover all of these scenarios.


Wow! This is all heavy stuff, but important stuff that, once clarified, will make your relationship run as smooth as an Alpha Romeo. Again, as in a previous article, I offer inspiration from The Godfather. When interviewing for the right gallery, “It’s business, nothing personal.” Further quoting from that classic film, “Leave the gun, take the cannollis.” Put aside your potentially explosive emotions while involved in this complicated process, and you’re more apt to reap the sweet rewards of your efforts.
Next time, I’ll discuss presentation and  marketing strategies for your work and delve into specifics of the consignment agreement.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The View from Both Sides: The Job Interview/Part One


The last article’s reconnaissance mission concluded with your revealing yourself to the gallery director as an artist seeking representation. I’d like to continue this mission with the interview phase, which is your opportunity to gather as much information about this gallery as possible. Remember, you are an employer  searching for someone to represent you and your work.

Interview Materials
Always be Prepared

Have along with you at least 6 of your best pieces,  a few of which should be professionally framed.  Also, bring your updated biography, resume, and a good quality reproduction of your work. Now, leave these items in the car. Never assume that the director will have time this day to view your work. The gallery business can be a hectic one and you don’t want to interfere with sales or the process of cultivating them. Suggest showing your work now but be prepared to schedule an appointment in the future for reviewing work. After scheduling, offer your reproduction as an opportunity for the director to make an initial decision about whether they feel your work is appropriate for the gallery.

Interview/ Part One
Getting the Big Picture

Asking the director some very basic questions will help avoid wasting time reviewing your work with a gallery that isn’t a good fit or doesn’t live up to your business priorities.

Is the gallery currently looking for artists? Obviously, the answer to this question will tell you whether this is a receptive new partner. Be prepared that they may wish to represent only the current handful of artists or they may have so many artists already on exhibit that there’s little chance for wall space for your work. If this is the case, be gracious and offer to leave behind your information. Keep the director abreast of your exhibition schedule with subsequent mailings. They may hope to add  you to their roster in the future. If, however, they are looking for new artists, continue with the next question.

How would the director describe the theme or mission statement for this gallery? The answer you receive should reinforce your initial instincts about the gallery and reveal something of its director. For example, their answer might be, “ We specialize in promoting local and regional artists,” or, “Our focus is providing high-end contemporary artwork to our clients.” These responses show some clarity in the mind of the director as to the goals of the gallery. If, however, the answer you receive is somewhat scattered, you may be dealing with an inexperienced or unmotivated director. Make a mental note of this and move on to the next question.

What is the best-selling subject matter or genre for this gallery? Related to the previous question, the answer reveals whether the gallery’s goals are reinforced by its sales. If the walls are filled with landscapes but the director mentions still life as the best-selling genre, clearly something is askew. If your work fits the best-selling genre mentioned, clearly it would  be a marketable addition to the current collection. However, if your art is out of that realm but you are still partial to this gallery, don’t be afraid to ask if the director would consider trying something new and fresh.

What is the most common price range for sales in this gallery? Ideally, the bulk of your prices should fall somewhere within the range mentioned or no more than 30% above or below. Allowances might be made for work that is higher priced than average but which obviously shows high standards of craftsmanship and presentation. If your work is currently inexpensive and/or isn’t measuring up to this gallery’s standards, consider improving on these levels of craftsmanship, presentation, and ultimately pricing.

How have sales been lately? Hopefully the director will be forthcoming with this information. Even if sales have been slow lately, a positive response to current market conditions is a good thing. Your future employee needs to match their good attitude with yours. Steer clear of gloom and doom directors. Their demeanors never seem to get any better.