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November 2007

Let's talk about focus

In my previous post I listed ten things you can do now to start developing your art career, and over the coming weeks I want to write in depth about each subject.  Focus is certainly fundamental,and beyond the fact that it seems more and more difficult to do the older the Ancient Artist gets, it helps you direct your energies in a targeted manner.  One target is certainly easier to hit than several running around like wild rabbits.

I come to this realization kicking and screaming.  For the past several years I have heard authority after authority talk about the importance of creating a clear message, and for artists, this usually translates into deciding on one particular style or medium.  But it was so hard to give up on one in favor of another.   I kept believing I could successfully blend my abstracts with the landscapes.  There's even an earlier post attesting to my confidence, which you can read in the archives (Understanding Your Market, May 2007), if you wish, and then comment with an "I told you so."

I recently took the plunge and turned my original ArtSpan web site into an exclusive Abstract site featuring the Elements and Ancient Walls paintings.  What I realized immediately was how this one little change made the site seem more -- well...professional.  My Wild Oregon Landscapes just landed on a web site of their own, over at Clint Watson's Fine Art Online site, which has a  "personality" of realism and tends to attract people looking for traditional art.   Artspan comes up first on Google searches for "Contemporary Art", and I know from my stats the main interest was the abstract art, so I am hopeful that people interested in the genre of landscape will gravitate more to the Fine Art Online site. Either way, I confess with an embarrassed face that yes, they were right.

Ten Things You Can Do Now

Here are ten things you can do right now to develop your art career.

1.  Focus.  If you're an Ancient Artist, you don't have a lifetime ahead of you in which to "find your way."  You have to focus right out of the starting gate.  What do you want to achieve?  Where do you want to be this time next year?  I've found journaling to be extremely helpful in getting to the bare bones of what I want and believe.  If you get stuck wondering what to write, this is what works for me:  I start by writing "So what are you thinking about now?"  I carry on a written conversation with myself, asking and answering questions.  And I'm usually surprised at how vague ideas slowly become clarified.  This works well if you just want to vent, too, then throw the stuff in the shredder.

2.  Draw on your strengths.  Lets face it - you've already lived a successful life.  You've handled challenges, taken risks, probably had a career and a family, and figured out how to pay your bills.  You know what hard work is and no one's going to kid you, developing an art career is hard work.  But you have the strength of your accumulated life experiences to draw upon.  Those experiences will support you when the muse abandons you, or three months pass and you still haven't heard on that portfolio review you sent out.  Trust that you are where you are supposed to be and that you have the resources to get through everything.

3.  Start treating yourself as a professional.  You would be surprised at the number of artists I talk to who haven't kept the names and contact information on people who have collected their work, or who never thought they needed to be computer literate.  They just want to sell their work -- or get someone else to sell it for them.  Here's the hard truth: there are many more artists out there than there are collectors.  The competition is tough.  Be ready today for where you want to be tomorrow. 

4 .  Create compelling art.  We all want to think that our art is compelling, original, unique, right?  But it just ain't so.  Do an Internet search for abstract art or go to E-Bay and see what I mean.  After the first three pages of thumbnails, everything looks the same.  This is not cause for despair, though, because  those other artists don't realize what you know now: you must be different.  Oh, not earth-shatteringly different, but put some thought into what you create.  Read about the inspirations that motivated Rothko (you'd be surprised) or find a group of artists and use their process as your inspiration.  Find a way to tell a compelling story, which is the perfect segue into #5.

5.  Create a body of work that tells a story.  Buyers tell me they connected to a work of art because they connected to the story the artist was telling, even if that story wasn't the artist's, but their own.  Maybe your strength is in the way you use color, or capture the light.  Maybe you create still-life paintings like the Dutch Masters, or non-representational pieces that capture the imagination.  By working in a series, you begin to distill your story.  And no doubt you will have hundreds of stories to tell, which translates into thousands of paintings just waiting for you to complete.  But here's the point: if your story so compelling that you need several canvases to completely tell it, then it will be compelling to others.  If it's something that's over and done with in 10 minutes, you might as well call it wallpaper.

6.  Continue to learn.   It's when you think you know everything that you get into real trouble.  Know that there will always be artists ahead of you who can help light your way, just as you can help light of way of those following in your footsteps. 

7.  Start local.  Believe it or not, the best place to get started is in your own home town.  There's a mystique about knowing "the artist next door" that fascinates people.  You'll find it easier to network with other artists, attract media attention, get your work exhibited in public venues, and  learn the finer points of marketing and promotion by doing it in front of a friendly hometown crowd.  It's also an excellent way to get feedback about  your work.

8.  Research the market.  There are many ways you can research your market.  When you visit galleries, ask questions as to what is selling and at what price point.  If this seems to awkward for you, just visit the galleries on a regular basis and see if they rotate out the work regularly or if the same pieces are hanging around forever.  Go to community galleries, where the volunteers will probably be more generous with the information, and ask them what appeals to people.  Go to the frame shops and ask what they are framing.  Look at the home decor magazines to see what kind of artwork is featured in the photographs, and the color schemes of the room decor.  You can check out  Pantone's web site for the latest in color trends.  Go to the major art organization web sites and look at the exhibition pages.  Join those organizations that are a good fit to your work.  Make friends with the Internet search engines and manage your bookmarks.  Some of my headings are : Art Business, Art Organizations, Blog links. 

9.  Get Digital.    If you aren't doing it already, get a digital camera and start using it.  If you don't have Photoshop on your computer, get it, or some other software that allows you to manipulate your digital photographs.  There are organizational programs for artists that allow you to catalog your work, and I've found this to be increasingly more important to me as paintings go out on consignment to multiple locations.  I use a program called Art Works Pro, but there are several programs available and each has it's benefits and short comings.  You will want to get a web site eventually, if you don't already have one, and then there's promotional materials where you'll need to send resized jpegs or tiffs.  If you can design and print your own postcards you can start mailing to your list on a regular schedule.  Which leads into tip number 10.

10.  Stay in contact with everyone.   There is so much that could be said about building up a mailing list, that it can be overwhelming.  But start small.  Go with your friends, those people who have bought pieces from you, local galleries, the local newspaper, the Arts magazine reporters, anyone within your local area who might be interested in what you are doing.  Your goal in the beginning is to gently introduce your work, get them familiar with your name.  And to gently introduce yourself to the idea of self-promotion.  No one else is going to do this for you, not even those galleries you want to get into, unless you are exceedingly lucky.  I have had to pay for and mail my own postcards, split magazine advertising costs, show up for art openings when I didn't have a clue, allow horrible pictures of myself to be printed along with inane quotes because I didn't think about being prepared.  Reporters are busy, they just shoot and write down part of what you say.  You want to control the message.  That means you take responsibility.  Don't wait for someone else to do it.

Plowing the Land

Autumn has always been a favorite time of year for me.  Walking through the fallen leaves, hearing the crunch beneath my feet, feeling the last rays of warm sun against my face even as the air turns crisp.  Overhead the geese are moving, and faintly, above the sounds of traffic, you can hear them calling.  I stop, fascinated by the drops of water collected on the the fallen leaves,transparent jewels on orange and yellow, wishing I had my camera.  What a painting that would be, although no one would believe the image unless it was a photograph.  It's a time for me to center my thoughts and see where I intend to go in the coming year.

Intend is a word I use deliberately.  Just as painting is something I feel compelled to do, like an addict, so is the intention I have of developing my knowledge and skill levels in any way that I can.  Teaching has been an inspiration to me.  In the beginning, it is easy to only see how much more I knew than my students...the facility with the brush, the automatic mixing of favorite colors...the things beginners struggle with, and yet are so eager to learn. What I came away with, though, was how much more I want - and need -  to learn.  I would like this blog to be more than bragging about what I'm painting , or where I'm showing those paintings.  I want to share my journey: I have found inspiration through the journeys of other artists I admire, and I want to help pass that inspiration along.

I currently have six books that are of particular interest:   

    Wassily Kandinsky: Concerning the Spiritual In Art, translated by M.T.H. Sadler
    Search for the Real: Hans Hofmann, edited by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr.
    Milton Resnick, @ Pat Passlof
    Hawthorn on Painting, collected by Mrs. Charles W. Hawthorn
    Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting, by Richard Schmid
    The Essential Haiku: versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa, edited by Robert Hass

I know...there was a collective "Whaat?" about that last book.  What does Haiku have to do with painting?  It is inspiration for me...if I could only capture in paint -- and with equal eloquence -- the image that Buson created in the following haiku:

                    Autumn evening --
           there's joy also
                     in loneliness.
                                 -Yosa Buson  (1716 - 1783)

I have used my "landlocked, working obligations, isolated location" lament ( "I can't get to those workshops..."  ) as an excuse for laziness, or fear, or the idea that I couldn't learn what I needed to know through my own efforts and readings, that someone else had to "give" that information to it was a wrapped present or something, a Christmas Box I could open and -- Voila -- I'm an artist.  Teaching has gently forced me to admit that I could -- and should -- teach myself, and the reading I am doing has revealed that life-long learning was integral to the development of the icons I admire.  Certainly, if I could take a workshop from any of the artists whose work I admire, (assuming they were still living, of course) I would.  But in the interim, I will do what I can with what I have, as should you.  Waiting around for something that's "right" only wastes precious time...


Edge of the Vineyard
16 x 20

It's time for me to plow the field, allow new inspiration and knowledge and insight to be greatful for every moment I can hold a brush in my hand.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

There's so much to learn

In my previous post I asked for help with the photo aspect.   "White Balance" suggested that the problem was WB, that little icon that appears in the instruction book of my camera.  Yes, WB stands for White Balance.  Now I'm not techie and I hate reading instruction books...but I tortured myself.  In certain modes I can set my WB according to the lighting fluorescent, cloudy day, conditions that, as an artist, I think about all the time when choosing colors and adjusting shadows.   Yes, well, in my defense, I think of myself as a painter, and camera instruction books are...well, lets just say  I consider myself lucky I even found the darn thing. 

Good1It's night where I live.  Late.  I have fluorescent lights in my studio as well as a daylight collected bulb that works great when it's a few inches from what you're looking at but get back a bit and ...hum... 

So what's a girl to do except go for it.  Can't wait until morning because I'll be rushing around getting ready for work, spilling coffee, tripping over the dogs who just LOVE to camp in the studio doorway...

Set my dial to P, worked my way through the menu with that little up and down button, found the WB and highlighted fluorescent.  I have to say I notice a difference in the warmer colors being truer to the painting, and the blue doesn't seem so harsh.  But that's just on my monitor, and I know that monitors  see things differently, so it's  kind of  risky anyway as to what I see and what you see.  But I do appreciate White Balance's advice and hopefully I can get a better handle on things. 

Of course, when I actually post this and see NO difference between the two images...well, that'll have to be another story.

Humm...I checked this post after publishing to compare.  In the first image I see more contrast, but the colors are truer in the second.  I usually use ISO and a fine setting.  ISO doesn't let me adjust the WB, but maybe I can adjust something else...this could get messy...

Canyon Light

I love doing my abstract art...don't get me wrong.  There's something really magical about the poured paintings.  The images set my imagination spinning.  What am I looking at?  How deep is that space?  They are movement.  Forming and unforming.  Fascinating mysteries of color.

But then I've gotta come back down to earth, I mean real terra firma.  I have to paint landscapes.


Canyon Light, oil on linen, 22 x 28  @ Sue Smith 2007

I miss several things about my open studio, but one primary loss was the ability to talk to people about a work that was either in progress or possibly finished ( I use the word "possibly" because even though a piece is signed, it's never really finished as long as it's within reach of my paint brushes...a really bad habit , I know). 

I am open to all comments.  Please give me a critique.

One issue I've been having lately is with the photography...the water isn't really that blue, but it doesn't seem to matter whether I shoot indoors with a variety of light conditions, or outdoors in shade or overcast water (in several of the river paintings, actually) always reads a different blue.  I'm using a Sony cyber-shot, with 7.2 mega pixels, and I usually shoot using auto, programed and ISO settings to see which one comes the closest to the correct color.  Any suggestions short of taking it to a professional?