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September 2008

Time for an Equity Stake in Yourself

Sometimes it feels as if everything has derailed.  Our personal hopes and dreams are eclipsed by larger dangers and catastrophes.  Worries pop up from beneath our feet and the path we charted is now so steep it's impossible to move forward.  For the creative personality, these fears can stop us dead in our tracks.  But it doesn't have to be this way.

We can take out an Equity Stake in ourselves.

Why not take advantage in the economic slowdown to slow down our own mad dash forward?  Revisit a few old paintings that haven't sold and see if you can improve them.  Find an artist you admire and spend as long as it takes to learn three new insights about their work.  Buy those little 6 x 8 or 8 x 10 canvas panels and paint one every day, even if you never thought of yourself as a Daily Painter.  Your skills will improve, and you can put these small works up for sale on sites like Etsy or eBay if you like them. 

Continue to market.  Yesterday, I joined the Chamber of Commerce.  Our town is in the midst of urban renewal with an emphasis on the arts and I think I can contribute.  More importantly, I want to contribute. 

With Chamber membership comes the list of other members who will be added to my mailing list.  With that in mind, I am also looking for a new computer program that will handle my marketing.  Excel is fine for some things, but the last time I tried to sort I lost some data and haven't gone back in to correct it. 

I am continuing to plan my next postcard mailing, and working out initial brainstorming ideas about a news letter sent out by snail mail. Or maybe an E-book.

I am actually grateful for this period of removed pressure.  My work is currently for sale in three venues, and in an exhibition that will close in November.  I can allow myself to step back from the self imposed pressure to produce huge bodies of work and assess what I've accomplished so far.  I know that my interest in landscape is interpreted both abstractly and realistically.  In the area of realism, I can look at my current work and see how much farther I know I can go.  If things were selling now at the same pace they were two years ago I wouldn't have realized that the work could be better.  I most likely would still be assuming-- as I did then -- that I was near the top of my game. 

But the game is ongoing.  The silver lining in all this is the confirmation that -- if the artist is to sustain her ability to create art -- the emphasis should be more about the process toward achieving the desired product, and not the end result by any means.  As we saw from the  AWS post, artists who become too focused on the end product risk several things, among them the inability to adapt to changing public tastes, and the potential for an underlying insecurity that could stop them from creating something that was not dependent upon artificial means. 

Artists need to balance both aspects of creating: process and product.  There is no career without a product that is marketable.  But there is no authentic product without a process based in the artist's own efforts.  Your "defining style" comes into being through your willingness to move beyond duplicating the visual work of others.  How many times have you looked at an artist's work and thought "just out of art school?"  I know I have.  And -- in fact -- I have looked at images of work I was selling two years ago and thought -- "eeegaad! I can't believe people bought that!" (Although I am grateful that they did and are still enjoying the pieces.)

But more than anything, the silver lining in this slowdown is the gift of patience. Your art career does not happen over night.  You need a 5 year plan just to get your level of craftsmanship up to snuff.  To field test your ideas. Like -- how do I hang these panels?  Or -- will this process appeal to people?  Some experts say it takes a ten to twenty year plan to become self sustaining as an artist.  Not much different from a business plan in the real world.

But every plan starts with a single action. And then another.  An Equity Stake in your future.

This week,

I painted several small paintings.
I joined the Chamber of Commerce.
I started studying the books by Edgar Payne and Sorolla.
I revisited a painting and completely changed a major element.

I like this silver lining.

Sunday Salon: The Dust-Up at AWS and the Continuing Relevance of Duchamp

Apparently there's quite a scandal brewing at the American Watercolor Society.  Recently, they awarded the Gold Medal to an artist who allegedly used copyrighted photographs which were not her own and passed them off as original acrylic "hyper-realism" paintings.

The bare bones of the argument

The underlying argument - setting
aside the ethics of stealing someone else's work and passing it off as your own -- is whether or not this artist actually painted her image or printed it off after manipulating the photographs and passed that off as a painting. 

Such fraud could easily be detected by submitting the work to a conservator.  An analysis of the pigments -- or inks -- used would solve the mystery -- or fraud -- quite easily.

But this argument leads to another equally important question: is the use of technology such as Photoshop to manipulate images legitimate in the creation of art? 

Duchamp vs Thiebaud

Duchamp will always be remembered for his "Fountain" challenge to the art world, raising the question of whether something is "Art" simply because we say it's so.  Duchamp said, "The word 'art' interests me very much.  If it comes from Sanskrit, as I've heard, it signifies 'making'" ( Artist to Artist by C. Brown, p10).

So, if an artist uses technology in the "making" of her art, isn't it legitimate according to Duchamp's analysis?

But Wayne Thiebaud has this to say: "Art is one of the dirtiest words in our language, it's mucked up with all kinds of meanings.  There's the art of plumbing, there's the art of almost anything that you can say.  My own sense of it is that it means something very rare, an extraordinary achievement.  It's not delivered like the morning paper, it has to be stolen from Mount Olympus" (Artist to Artist by C. Brown, p10).

Wouldn't this argument suggest the artistic necessity of drawing on some inner inspiration in the making of art, to reach deep and hard,  and not rely on the conveniences of technology ( "the morning paper" )to create desired visual effects?

Is it Art?

With this in mind, I'm showing you a few examples of my new body of work.

Cutout "Nest, painted with a limited palette and flattening spacial arrangements" 

Underpaint,brush accented edge,stroke "Exaggerated Brush Stroke Landscape Painting in a hyper-impressionist style"

Spotlight directional "Dramatic Night Time Painting"

Acented edges "Art Patron"

Girls "Girls"

Artistic,underpainting,brush, watercolor "Very Interesting Modern Figure Painting"

Actually, I completed this entire body of work in under two hours.  Amazing.  But more amazing -- if you click on each image an enlarged view will appear.  Look closely at these images. You will probably recognize the styles of some very successful painters.

This isn't to argue either way whether we should considere this acceptable technique or not -- particularly as I was shocked at the color, composition, and beauty in some of these images and may actually paint one or two someday.

But here is my problem with using technology: for me, it takes too much of the human element out of the act of creation.  Technology is addictive. Further, you are relying on the work of someone else --the code writer who programmed the filters in Photoshop. In the end, it has the feel of little more than filling in a coloring book.

For example, looking at the enlarged image, you will see how Photoshop has actually given a road map for values, colors, edges, form.  One could easily upload such an image into any of the on-line giclee services and get back fairly decent prints on either paper or canvas, hand embellish here or there and pass it off as original art.  As long as the original photo is yours, there are no copyright issues.

But is it Art?

Certainly art is the product of each generation.  If nothing else, we live in the technology generation.  Why wouldn't we expect public taste to prefer images that mimic computer generated animations and glossy commercial graphics?  Isn't this an extension of the themes first explored by Warhol with his giant screen prints of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell Soup Cans? 

Look around and count the number of influences in our daily lives that are created through technology.  Now look at the number of art museums.  Even our art history classes rely on photographs -- technology reproducing reality -- to acquaint us with the incredible diversity and talent of past masters.  Is it any wonder that people would be captivated by "artistic output" that offers a technologically perfect version of reality?  To the point of awarding it the "Gold Medal" in one of the most prestigious shows in the world?

But it isn't an argument with an easy answer.  As a visual tool, being able to manipulate your images with a photo editing program can be extremely useful.  I have used the grayscale often to solve value issues.  And since I am still struggling to "see" what it is that I'm trying to capture, I was immediately struck by the last image, shown again here along with the original photograph and a gray scale version:

Artistic,original101_0687 copy

Artistic,underpainting,brush, watercolor
Artistic,underpainting,brush, watercolor copy


But in reading some of the discussions at Wet Canvas, I realized that artists are not just using manipulated images to help them "see" better.  Artists are printing out gray scale versions and painting over them - a modern take on the traditional techniques of the Old Masters or the lazy artist's guide to painting without learning to draw?

What do you think?  How far is too far in relying on technology in our artistic endeavors?

My thanks to Shanti Marie for mentioning the ASW story about Sheryl Luxenburg at David Darrow's Daily Painters Discussion Group.  You can read the details here and also here.  It's an education in copyright infringement as well as artistic ethics.

The Easy Cure for the Markaphobic

A friend asked me the other day, "How do you actually sell art to people?"  We had been talking about the gallery setting and the people who pass through, sometimes so thoroughly disengaged I wondered if they were on a required field trip and more concerned about the next food break than looking at the art.

My answer was simple.  "I don't sell art.  I build relationships."

I don't believe you can sell something as intangible as the emotion aroused by an artist's vision. People connect with what they connect with, it's that basic.  But what I can do is build a relationship, first between the potential client and myself, and then transfer that connection to the artwork and the artist.

This is actually the way we should be thinking about marketing.


There are going to be those pauses in our careers when we stand there thinking, "I need to be marketing this artwork."  And, for a markaphobic, the next thought is, "I can't possibly market."

Not surprisingly, many artists - myself included -  are markaphobic.  When confronted with the necessity of marketing our work, we paint the idea with a very large and inaccurate brush.  It needs to be comprehensive.  I need a logo, a brand, positioning myself in the marketplace, a catchy jingle...oooh, yes, and dancing paint brushes, a huge promotion...videos on YouTube, viral marketing, maybe a 15 second fast forward of me creating my...being somewhat of a creative, my thinking can get out of control. Along with all those "needs."

But what if we reframed the idea of marketing from "selling something" to "relationship building"?

The Bulls Eye Approach

Being big on self-cures, I have devised what I call the Bulls Eye approach when it comes to "relationship building" and my personal art career.

The center of my Bulls Eye is labeled Local.  Within this area are activities I might employ to build relationships with people who like art, who think or write about art, and who sell art.  Or who make art.  Or who accompany their spouses to art openings because next weekend they get to go fishing.   The goal is safe: just make yourself visible.  Shake a few hands.  Tell funny stories about how you had to rush some artwork into a gallery when it hadn't completely set and the heat of the lights melted your painting (true, actually happened).  It's sending an email to a local arts writer with a link to information they might find interesting, or talking with the photographer who shoots your pictures (not literally, with his camera, silly), or volunteering to help out at that local fund raising event you were going to attend anyway, so it's easy enough to call it marketing -- oops, relationship building.

See how easy it is?

The Outer Rings

Anything more complex falls into the outer rings of the Bulls Eye. Museums are a great first step.  Just visit them.  See how your work follows similar themes.  When you feel brave enough, you can extend your relationship building to visiting galleries in other cities, where you can observe first hand how other artists present their work, the level of skill, the subject matter.  If you start to feel tense, just breathe in and out and repeat the mantra "I can... do this."

Once you feel confident, tackling your mailing list is next.  Ordering postcards and actually mailing them out is important: it doesn't count it you leave the postcards in the box they came in, so if you need a markaphobic sponsor to talk you through it, send me an email and I'll try to help. Of course you might need to help me work through my fear of the artist portfolio, but I have full confidence that if markaphobics unite, we can find the strength.

The Easy Cure?

You have something you want to communicate.  It's worthwhile.  It deals with our human condition, our insights, our vision for the future or something as indescribable as a sensation or an emotional understanding of the place where things are formed.  Of course you aren't about to stand on the street corner hawking your wares like some caricature from a used car commercial.

Set that image aside and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a body of work (10 - 20 pieces) I sincerely believe in?
  • Is my "product presentation" comparable with the marketplace?
  • Can I tolerate the uncertainty of public reaction?
  • Do I have enough patience for the process?
  • Am I comfortable enough with my artistic path that I will continue no matter what the initial outcome?

Then go out there and build those relationships.

The Best Award

The best awards come from fellow artists, because I know you live the life and know what's important.  I am always grateful, surprised,and humbled when one of you reaches out to tell me you enjoy this blog.

In recent months I have received some of the awards that are given by blog readers to blog authors.  Know this - I am honored to receive these votes of appreciation.

My deep but belated thanks to Bonnie, and -- trying to do better --  my thanks also to Vicki and Marsha.

Youmakemydayaward2Award The best thing about these awards, though, is the chance I get to discover new blogs and new artists. These talented people inspire me.  Others offer information or share their experiences and frustrations and their ultimate triumphs. 

I read blogs by artists who don't paint the way I do, by artists who paint the way I aspire to paint, and blogs by people who are in other creative businesses besides the visual arts.

I read design blogs.  I read New York Scene blogs.  I go to websites where the sheer talent, or compositional expertize, or color sense, or virtuosity with the brush tell me what being an artist ought to be.  So here are some of my current favorites. By not passing along the award to seven bloggers (how could I choose?) I know I'm not playing exactly by the rules here, but I hope that you explore some of these blogs and find something exciting.  Informative.  Or at least beautiful.  And for every blogger out there that I haven't mentioned, please know that you also make my day and are brilliant!

Design Sponge

Edward Winkleman

Diane Mize

Larry Moore

Qiang Huang

Fongwei Liu

Don Gray

Carol Marine

Clyde Aspevig

Jeffry T Larson

Additional Thoughts

We are all still trying to work out some of the lingering bugs with typepad since they upgraded their features.  Barney Davey tried to post these comments, but after a "typepad failure" ended up emailing his comments to me.  I'm posting them here.

Hi Sue,


Thanks for your kind words. I feel your frustration. It is not easy managing any small business. But, when you are the general manager, creative director, worker bee, and marketing guru wrapped into one. It's just hard no two ways about it.


I added some additional comments on the Absolute Arts blog post. I thought a couple of paragraphs  were apropos to your thoughts here:


In a pure sense, art is above commerce and marketing. In the ideal world the worthy artist would make work that sold well and for regularly increasing prices with growing recognition and collector bases evolving naturally. But, then reality sets in and for those artists who wish to earn a return or have grander ideas of making a career, well then, they have to incorporate some form of marketing to make that happen. I think the challenge is not in doing the marketing, it is in doing the marketing creatively so one gets enjoyment from it....


Most things in life that turn out pleasurable are the result of proper balance. I think this is true of art and commerce. Find the right mix to keep on balance and the business has the best chance to flourish, and your psyche has the best chance to be creative. All said, of course, in my humble opinion. 





Barney Davey



New Work: Terra Incognito


Terra Incognito (Unknown Land) @ Sue Favinger Smith 2008

oil on panel   24 x 54

Barney Davey had an interesting post today about marketing.  I've always had a love/hate relationship with the idea of promoting my work - I think of it the same way I think about  lowering my cholesterol, as something I know is important, something I really want to do, but I just can't figure out how best to go about it.

I mean, do I build up a mailing list of every name I can find and use the shotgun approach, blanketing the state with images of my work and my name?

Do I try to use social networking sites and comment incessantly on other blogs in the hope that the click backs to my sites will be significant enough to keep me encouraged?

What about participating in every artist cattle call that goes out?

There are artists -- successful artists -- who use this approach and I applaud them.  I have used postcards in the past, and there's something very satisfying about seeing an image in glossy color with my name and contact information, going out to hundreds of people who've never met me but who might like what they see.  I blog, have two websites because I have two styles, I can waste time up there with the best of them scouring the RSS feeds looking for insightful content.  And yet I still feel...lost.  Wandering in an Unknown Land.

In a time and place where the individual feels more invisible than ever before,  with online media experts of every sort available a mere click away, how can the artist work through all the conflicting information and find the best path for their journey?  I wish I knew.  Sometimes.  And then other's like I don't have to know.  I just have to focus on improving my craft, and leave the rest of that stuff to the universe.

This may sound like I'm hiding from the necessity of marketing.  And maybe it is. 

But maybe it's also a form of allowing my subconscious mind to work on the problem for awhile while I do other things. 

But I do question whether any of the various schemes being promoted out there actually work to create a solid foundation in an artist's career.  There simply can't be one or two tricks that will guarantee you success for more than the five seconds it takes for someone else's viral marketing to knock you out of position.  And I think that's the real trap I rile against -- because I'm as prone to believing that there is some "magic" action as the next guy.  I remember just after I started my first website I was getting encouraging, chatty emails from a "successful artist" who played me like a champ.  I ended up buying his "book" which had absolutely no relevant information in it and I was too embarrassed to ask for my money back.

Foolish.  My inner critic loves it.

So what do I do? 

Well, I trust certain voices - Barney Davey, Alyson B. Stanfield, Clint Watson and the others where I have links in my sidebar.

I think about how what they are saying applies specifically to my personality (introverted) and my work(slowly becoming more clearly defined). 

I clarify the kind of art career I want, and define exactly what I'm willing to do to get there.

I start.  I pick one thing and I work on it.  Then I pick a second and work on that.

And I paint.  I push myself into that Unknown Land.  And I can't wait to see what I find.