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  1. #1
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    Treat artwork like a job

    Hi all,

    So, I just started doing artwork about 6 years ago (stated in pen/ink, then watercolors, then finally off to oils) and have sold a number of paintings since then. However, during that time, I've also been taking a lot of workshops/art classes and, finally ended up studying with a professional oil painter (who makes her living selling oil paintings) for the last 2 years.

    One of my issues was that, even though I was selling my paintings, I realized that I didn't have enough inventory to expand to galleries and other venues. So, how do I get that inventory? I should paint more... but, the time that I painted each week was pretty erratic (10 hours here, 15 hours there, etc) Part of the problem was that I also have a full-time job (40+ hours per week and family).

    Well, I was reading "Mystery of Making It" by Jack White (which I highly recommend) and several things struck me as interesting. First of all, he says that, if the purpose of doing art work is to sell it, then you have to treat it as a product and, tweak it so that the consumers purchase it. This doesn't mean that you have to only do what everybody will buy. It means that you have to figure out how to adjust your paintings to be more appealing to others (which definitely flies against the convention of some Fine Artists where paintings should have deeper meaning and not just be decoration). I, incidentally, do treat my paintings as products.

    The part that I found interesting was that he said that you also had to treat painting as a job. Set up a schedule, etc. For me, it was a business, but not a job. Lately, by saying that "I'll report to work every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday night from 7pm - 11 pm", this has helped me keep producing inventory. In a job, you don't really have the option of not showing once in a while. You'll get fired. so, I really like this idea.

    Since then, I've begun producing about 3 finished paintings per week, rather than my one every two weeks. On your job, you just can't sit around, surf the net, play games, etc. You have to work.

    Dougie


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  4. #2
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    I can't argue with that. Yes, art is the expression of your deep deep feelings, but if it doesn't sell you can't pay the bills and if you can't pay the bills you are on the street. My father always says: "The first few years you work for your name. After that your name starts to work for you". And he is right, I believe. Right now people will appreciate your art for what it is. Later if you manage to make yourself relatively known you can sell them everything as long as your name is there. And yes, discipline is also important for every skill, art included. I can't wait for the summer, because now I can draw only from time to time and I'm often not in the mood to draw at all... I'm too tired of all this reading (law student here).

  5. #3
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    There is more to it than just treating it as a job you have to have a level of skill to make it a profession. This gets overlooked a lot. If you want to be in galleries your paintings have to command gallery prices, taking into account that a gallery will take 35 or 40% depending on ability. There are even galleries that take 50% if you let them.

    While everyone starts selling low; too many people nowadays want to jump into selling before they are ready. The lower you start your prices at the harder it is to raise them to a professional level. By professional level I mean able to support yourself.

    I studied with Matt Smith and Kevin MacPherson when I started. Both are top painters in the country commanding very high prices. Both told me 13 years ago that don't be in too much of a hurry to get into galleries and sell your work before you have the skill sets or you will get locked into a level that is hard to break out of.

    What people don't realize is you can't just double your price point because you get gallery representation. Galleries want people who have an established track record of selling at a professional price. You give them a percentage in hopes that you will sell more paintings than you could on your own.

    I took their advice and didn't approach galleries until I had some awards from national shows. Even then I held on to my job until my gallery sales equaled my yearly income and only then did I leave my high paying job to make my living as a gallery artist.

    I skipped art fairs and art and wine shows and just knuckled down and worked on painting better. Within five years I had national gallery representation and was getting national press in art magazines. I believe their advice saved me many years of frustration and helped me make it through the bad economy and survive as an artist on my own.

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  7. #4
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    Thanks for the comment dpaint. I totally agree with you about being ready. Since I AM relatively new to oil painting (2 years), my stuff is not ready for galleries. In five years, it will be. I've seen quite a number of paintings in galleries and wondered "Really? That's here?".

    Right now, I DO sell a number of paintings through gallery juried shows and from art fairs (pays for all of my art supplies, training, travel expenses, and a modest income). Not near enough to support me, but I'm getting there. No national awards, at the moment.

    My goal for the next five years is to create a much larger body of work at a higher skill level. Once I can do that and prove that my paintings can sell for close to gallery prices, then I can start approaching the galleries, seriously. Right now, I'm not there. It'll be tough to replace my software development income in the rural areas of Vermont, but that'll be my goal.

    I was more commenting along the lines that I realized that, if I treat my painting more like a job rather than just as a business, then I'd be less inclined to find that there are things that I "have" to do. In reality, those "have-to-dos" can wait until I finish my "work".

    Dougie

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    THe thing about bad art in galleries. One, never assume that the person showing the work is making their living at it. Two, never compare yourself to the bottom of the list, if you must compare yourself, compare it to the top; as painful as that may be it is a better bench mark for success.

    We all have seen work in galleries and shows and work that wins awards that leaves us going really? I'm sure there are people that say it about my work and I can tell you I say it about others to my friends. Its human nature and we all have our opinions but it never helps us as artists. I just try to paint better everyday and ignore whats around me as much as I can.

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  10. #6
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    That's true. The one mistake that I make is that I look at the stuff, compare my stuff to it, and say "That stuff sells". Well, mine should also. 'Course, I've had a number of art fairs where my stuff sells really well... and a number where I make no sales (Lot of it depends on the location, time of year, current buying market in that region, the quality of my paintings that I show, etc).

    'Course, it rarely occurs to me that the stuff that I see doesn't sell. When I'm ready for gallery, I'll compare myself to other artists that I know that their stuff DOES sell in the gallery and they make their entire living for their family from it. AND they do it on a regular basis.

    Dougie

  11. #7
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    It seems that uni and college are so vague in the real world marketting potential for artists that when the graduate leaves uni/college they think they can jump straight into gallery shows. I was probably one of those too naive. I believe my work is almost to the point of gallery showing. I just need more confidence and direction in my sales.

    Thanks for all the info, very insightful.

    check out my portfolio:
    www.sketchwalk.com

  12. #8
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    I completely agree with some of those assumptions Doug, and second dpaint's observations as well. Don't know that I have much to add but...being a successful professional artist requires a professional approach and a whole lot more going on than just making art. Most people don't want to work that hard or educate themselves and become aware of the realities so they make excuses...essentially they are dilettantes playing at "art".

    It also depends on where you want to go with your own expression, concepts of integrity and the niche you feel comfortable in. If you want to be a great landscape painter I feel you should study with the best that fall into the particular niche you are sympatico with. It is important to me to understand why I do what I do as well...part of that journey thing.

    Matt Smith is the tops for me (I "discovered" him before dpaint!) so I've gone to great lengths to take a couple workshops with him. Also Macpherson a bit at the first PAPA mass workshop in Colorado (which was cool because you were exposed to and surrounded by 10-12 plein air painters and took a few sessions with each). Took two 10 day intensive workshops with Christensen as well...about 45 paintings per trip, plus all the other benefits of being at Scott's Studio. I bring these up because they are like any other professional workshop, major conference or training that other professionals engage in. You go to these things to learn from contemporary masters and work your butt off (I did 7 paintings one day in Scott's). Want to paint in "Edgar Payne Country"? That's in the High Sierras at 10,000' average. So yeah, no excuses (not directed at you Dougie, just in general).

    Anyway, I could ramble on but dpaint pretty much said it all quite well. Great topic btw...
    What would Caravaggio do?
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  13. #9
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    Totally agree, Jeff. That's why, to get some serious feedback and training on concept art and composition, I'm doing the Illustration Master's Class in Amherst, Mass this year. Donato, Gurney, Vallejo, Bell, etc are giving intensive critiques for the week.

    I like the intensive Study that you did with Scott's studio. Unfortunately, by the time that I've done my show scheule and vacation with the wife, not much vacation time for doing a long intensive workshop. Maybe someday, though.

    Dougie

  14. #10
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    The Master's Class sounds great, big fan of Donato and Gurney. Gurney is the one who finally got me outside painting! Scott's workshops were great learning experiences, almost more on what I didn't want to as anything else...all good stuff though. Those workshops are also full of great memories and adventures.
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