Friday, April 27, 2007

I called myself an artist

I have always had artistic or creative inclinations since I was a small child. It seems about as natural and easy as breathing... The funny thing is- I actually have some issues with maybe it hasn't been all that easy or natural.

Anyway, I studied art in college and I would work on my art for deadlines, critiques, and special projects and the like but I always questioned myself. I wasn't an artist back then. I was simply someone who could do art and I thought at the time it was an easy route for me to actually make it through college.

I would question my loyalty to the subject, my passion and drive. I saw people artfully dressed carrying their sketchbooks, drawing furiously in the corner of the coffee house. It seemed like no one else existed to them. I saw the guy on the corner with his easel, painting all day in the summer sun. I saw the cool crafty artist who worked at making social statements on t- shirts with xerox transfers.

There were the artists that read about other artists and knew all the contemporary masters by name and could talk about their styles with ease. It seemed like so many people ate, drank, and breathed art. I was simply someone who had been doing it all my life but pretty quietly. I knew the old master's work that is popular with the print market set, and I didn't have a sketch book, in fact I don't even doodle when I am on the phone. I felt that I lacked the intensity. I thought that to be a real artist I must stay up all night, eat nothing and think big thoughts with other starving and passionate artists.

So, what changed? How can I confidently tell people I am an artist with a straight face and not feel like I am lying...

It happened gradually, and it was a bit uncomfortable at first. So, the statement "Fake it till ya make it" became my mantra. I would write notes to myself as proof that I was an artist. I had a studio - check!I had supplies(even if half of the canvases were from dumpsters, or estate sales and hand me down paint) Check! I painted occasionally- check! I felt some sort of kinship with Edward Munch and loved to spend time in Museums when I got the rare chance- Check! Oh yeah and I did have that 5 year studio degree in Painting from a University Check!

I kept a record of every show I had been in; small group shows, community college shows, whoa! even some juried shows, and then as the list grew, I saw that this wasn't totally a fluke- I had some credibility as an ARTIST- Check!

I also decided that calling myself a Personal Assistant, Reader, AmeriCorps Worker, Guided Literacy Aide and Survey Giver felt less true than when I called myself an artist. Around this time I read a book that really helped me, Art Marketing 101: A Handbook for the Fine Artist (Paperback) by Constance Smith. I checked it out from the library a few times and then I bought it and I still refer back to it. I highly recommend this book.

The author does a great job of talking about some of the psychology involved with being an artist as well good nuts and bolts business advice that I was never taught in school.

So, even when I was still working those outside jobs, I started calling myself an Artist and when you put that out there, you don't want to be a liar so I started painting more than occasionally. I got a sink put in the little back porch room so it became an even better studio. I checked out more books on the arts and art business and began identifying with newer artists than Munch, and I put my work up all over my house, and I then I created a tiny little group called the Rebel Artist Collective of other folks that were starting to want to take their art to another level.

When I put my name out there as an artist people came to me, since I must be an artist to have started a collective and that was enough for them. I was offered an opportunity to start writing articles for an online version of the paper about local art and art events around town. It was great! I was even getting paid. I felt I was on my way, and the momentum carried me to where I am now.

So, call yourself an artist if you feel like you might be one. Put yourself out there.You don't have to dress in black, chain smoke, sketch all the time, or even be starving.

Someone is going to believe you when you say it, and then you may start believing it yourself.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Experience

Before I get into talking too much about Art making, marketing, promoting and all that... I thought it would be helpful to talk about my background a bit. I am a visual artist. I paint mixed media and oil paintings on canvas. I have been showing my work for more than ten years, and I am currently represented by 4 galleries and have many exhibits scheduled. I get asked questions all the time about how to get representation, how to market and promote art and artists, and it is a subject I love. I am one of those reportedly rare artists who loves to promote art almost as much as I love to make it.

I always loved to draw and paint when I was a small child and young teen and then I took a break from visual art to focus more on Drama when I was in High School. In my senior year I decided to explore art again, and that rekindled my desire to paint and draw. When I finally decided to go to College I chose art again. I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BFA in painting. This of course is the short version of my background, there was also much time spent wondering if my art was good enough, if I was passionate enough, if this could be done for a living, and also lots of time spent working odd and not glamorous jobs.

I worked in a secondhand store for free clothes, I worked in a BBQ place that was most likely a front for something. I nervously ran a cash register at a huge smoke house/bakery. I washed dishes for years in fine dining to fresh Mex restaurants. Also before my restaurant career, I sold things, and I would sell things off an on for years, and I never thought much about it. I never thought that this skill might prove useful one day.. I have sold studio portraits from a leader in the industry, I have sold newspapers in Arkansas, and Oregon, I have made sales appointments for the driveway, siding, window man to come to your house and give you an estimate. That was truly awful and I have to say they let me go from that one...and I was grateful. I stripped beds and cleaned rooms at an old hotel that no longer stands. I have read text books onto tape for the blind. I have been a personal assistant. I have conducted phone surveys for the University of Arkansas and the Louisiana school for the blind. I have gotten people to sign petitions for animals. I've asked the community to come together and give money and school supplies to a local school while being an AmeriCorp worker. I have written an art column for a online version of a local paper.

So what... Well, the reason I told you of all of those jobs, and I am sure I have left off a few, is that even though they were not the greatest and had little to do with art, they most likely have helped me do what I am doing today as an artist.These jobs have either taught me something I needed to know like -"I hate using cash registers." Or, that I really don't mind washing dishes, so if things fall apart I have options...Seriously, these jobs helped me to learn how to read people. Selling the paper, photos, and anything else I have sold over the phone helped me learn basic sales techniques. These jobs have also taught me how fortunate I am now to do what I am doing for a living.

Life is messy, I say this like I know and accept this. I have a hard time with this concept still. I really wish it wasn't. I am just a person who did art, stopped doing it, did it again, worked a bunch of jobs, learned about art again, and then decided to get out of my own way and go for it. This blog is about how I got out of my way, skills I learned in the process, and the resources I consulted to get me where I am now. I am still growing and learning and I don't have all the answers, but I feel obligated to share what has worked for me with all the other artists out there.
So here goes...