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November 2008

So you want to blog -- now what?

It's Thanksgiving Week, so I want to offer a big Thank You to everyone who reads this blog - and an even bigger Thank You to those who leave comments.  There'd be little point in blogging if there weren't readers out there smiling at the Ancient Artist or throwing paint brushes at her.  So, when I received the following comment to the post "Sometimes You Need To Shake Things Up", I wanted to write a longer answer than what I might normally leave in the comments field.

I'm wondering how you got into blogging, as an additional expression of your work? Or to satisfy that other creative urge, writing? My wife is the painter and I'd like to do some blogging about art, especially hers, but I can't seem to figure out how it is done - nearing 70 and always interested in ancient history, I initially took your blog to be about archeology - be well, Jan  (H F Jansen & Carole Estrup, )

I know many of you found this blog because you were searching the Internet for ancient art.

There you were, innocently looking for information about Greek statues and the there I was, hanging out between cave art and the Egyptian Pharaohs.  So, that's lesson number one -- perhaps finding your readers through such a roundabout manner is not the best plan for a successful blog.

However, Ancient Artist is what popped into my head when I first thought about writing a blog.  And I knew if I worried about finding the perfect name, I'd never take the plunge.

So...I  went with my first inspiration: it describes  me and the intended audience for this blog, but a word to the wise - see that little painting to the right?  Between a rock and a blue plate The title is "Between a Rock and a Blue Plate, (oil on panel, 6 x 6, @ sue smith 2008).  It pretty much describes your situation once you name your blog and get going, so give it some thought.

How did I get into blogging?  Because of Alyson B. Stanfield, The Art Biz Coach, through one of her excellent on-line art career classes - and if you haven't taken any of these, I would highly recommend them.  Alyson has an easy way of nudging you toward reaching your goals.  If you aren't up to an on-line class, her book, I'd Rather Be In The Studio has been invaluable to me.

But back to blogging...yes, it functions as a way for me to write, and to clarify my thoughts about my work.  It keeps me thinking about the bigger picture in terms of being a professional artist, the business side as well as the creative and philosophical side of things.  It forces me to set deadlines and offers a structure for accomplishing my goals. 

For the first several months, my posts were merely a way to figure out what blogging was all about.  I was learning how to use the templates, upload photos, and experiment with what I wanted this blog to be.

I eventually decided Ancient Artist was an Encouragement Blog, where I share what I learn with other artists, and they share with me.  I also started a Studio Blog , and the focus of that blog is my artwork and studio tips.  The audiences for each of these blogs may have some overlap, but I think of them as two separate groups. 

So, after you've picked out a great name, and you've decided what type of blog you want to write, you need to decide on the service you want to use.

Ancient Artist is a Typepad blog.  Sue Smith's Studio is a Blogger blog. 

Typepad offers a lot of features but there is a monthly fee.  Blogger, which is a free service from Google, is nearly as functional and very user friendly.  If you already have a website you have all the computer skills you need -- able to take, resize, and upload digital photos, type in rich text -- you don't even need to worry about html because the sites take care of that for you.

Set up a Google account for email if you don't have one already.  This will be the first step and when you go directly to the Blogger website you will be asked to set this up.  Next, use the drop-down menu to find Blogger - mine is listed under the "more" tab.  It's very easy to get started, although it may take you an afternoon to decide on the template and colors you want, and fill in all the information.   Blogger is easy and intuitive.  As you get more comfortable with the format you will soon be adding widgets (those fun things in the sidebar) and polishing up your presentation. 

The other real reason to blog is the creation of community with your fellow artists, your collectors, and interested people in general.  You start conversations and find interesting, talented people who share your interests and artistic passions. 

And it is for this artistic community for which I am most thankful.

Happy blogging.  I look forward to reading what you write.

Sometimes You Need to Shake Things Up feel stuck in your old ways.

Sometimes...your art just seems to be going nowhere. can't find inspiration even when it's delivered to you in a paper bag. just have to shake things up.

For quite a while now I have been kicking around the idea of shifting gears, shaking myself up.  Oh, not where it comes to being a painter, but in the subject matter. 

It's such an insignificant thing, really.  For me, I was so used to promoting myself as a landscape painter -- even with the abstract paintings -- that I didn't think I could be interested in painting anything else.  But one day I realized that a tiny idea had been growing, day by day.  Could I?  Should I?

It took a bit of recklessness.  I mean, after investing so much energy in working in one general direction, it felt like I was avoiding something.  Like...maybe I was just afraid of failure so if I jumped on some other bandwagon it would help postpone the inevitable.

Isn't it funny how we can so easily talk ourselves into or out of things, using some very logical arguments, when what we're really doing is playing it safe.  But I've decided that I'm too -- well, mature -- to continue playing it safe.  And you'll never really know what you are capable of until you try.

Besides, failures are easily disposed of with no one the wiser.

Three Reasons Why You Can't Drive a Car Backwards

I was watching a movie the other day where the heroine, while being chased by the bad guys, skids her car around and then has to continue driving backwards.  It was great.  She was looking over her shoulder, crashing into trash cans, bouncing over curbs while the stunt people were diving over hedges to get out of her way.  And it occurred to me that, while this idea was thrilling in a movie, it probably doesn't work very well in real life. 

So here are three reasons why you shouldn't drive your car backwards:

You're making it harder than it needs to be.  Sure, sometimes you do get turned around and have to go with the flow.  And you'll probably feel really good about how well you're driving and rising to the challenge.  So what if you bend a few fenders or bounce over a few curbs?  It's exciting this way, isn't it?  So focused on avoiding the obstacles you aren't really sure where you're going.

You're probably running over or crashing into people who ought to be your friends - and instead, you send them running for cover. 

If you're looking backwards, and driving backwards, even though you think you're going forward you really aren't.  You're focused on what worked back then, not what you need to do now.  Nothing changes faster than change.  Especially if you're not looking. 

Does this sound like something that could work for an art career?

The Value in Mini Marketing

We all have different ways of working.

Depending on your media of choice, there will be aspects unique to your process, as well as influences that affect your thinking, perhaps without you even realizing it.  You walk into a successful gallery and see artwork that emphasizes decorative surface design and wonder if the public taste is moving in that direction.  You read reviews of the latest museum show at the Whitney addressing social questions of inequity and feel a vague sense of what...discontent?  Uncertainty?  A lack of weight in your own work?  I know I feel this struggle -- between what I do and what I imagine I should do.

In our culture we often evaluate our own performance against that of others.  It's intuitive: one can imagine ancient man learning to hunt by observing the successful tactics of others.  And artists have always learned their craft this way. 

But if we're habitually looking at the success of others, we may be overlooking the success we ourselves experience: the first really good artist statement, the painting that opened your eyes to the power of values, the invitation to hang your work at the local bookstore -- or the best gallery in town.  And without acknowledging our successes, it becomes harder and harder to move forward, to keep up the emotional stamina to live this artistic life.

What can we do?  I believe a part -- a big part -- of honoring your work as an artist is to pay as much attention to the business side of your life as the artistic side.  This means not letting the economy assume such a huge importance that you stop doing what you need to be doing: marketing, replenishing your supplies, learning and improving your skills.  There will be artists who will wring their hands and use the current situation as an excuse to walk away from their work -- but you're not going to be one of them.  I'm not going to be one of them.

Mini Marketing  

Of course the first thing I started to worry about when the economy tanked was paying for necessities  without it disintegrating into a choice between food and art.  Because, food would probably win that argument.  But there are ways to still accomplish goals even with limited funds.

I discovered recently, thanks to a mention by Clint Watson on his Fine Art Views blog, and this is what I like about this company:
  • I can order postcards in units of 20, with multiple images.  I used five images, giving me four cards with each image. This allows me to target my mailings - abstract people get abstract images, realism people get the landscapes and still lifes.  A real plus right now when my marketing budget is competing with my art supply budget and I know I need both.
  • The price is reasonable ( about $1.00 per card ) considering that I have the flexibility to get multiple images as opposed to one large order of the same image. I also like ordering in units of 20: I ordered a total of 40 cards, enough to touch bases with a critical group of clients and galleries without worrying too much about the costs. I would probably use Modern Postcard or a similar company for larger mailings of a single image, because the price per card is considerably less. But right now, I don't feel comfortable purchasing 250 cards with labels and postage. I realize that  affordable marketing is better than none at all.
  • The print quality is as good as Modern Postcard, although the delivery time was constrained by the fact that this company is based in England.
  • The ability to upload my images, enter my text, and see the finished product from the comfort of my home office is very appealing to me - I'm an instant gratification artist, and I also want that sense of total control.  
  • The website was generally easy to navigate, but a word of warning - double check for typos and if you aren't happy, start your project over.  There is no human on the other end, although there was a cute little mini-moo who communicates with you, so at least you think there's a human on the other end.
  • I have also ordered business cards with multiple images, and although I haven't received that order yet, if they're as nice as the postcards, I'll never print business cards using my computer and store-bought materials again.
So I encourage you to look at your own mini-marketing plans.  Explore the internet or look for local resources available  - perhaps a print shop willing to work with you, or a group of like-minded artists who will go in together on a larger promotional event. Look at your budget, find something you're comfortable doing, and move forward.  That's what I'm doing.