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January 2009

December 2008

Did Your Art CareerJust Enter an Empty Room?

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The Empty Room
oil on linen
@2007 Sue Favinger Smith   

When you look forward to 2009, does it feel as if you're looking into an empty room?

    I know - for artists, the past few months have been, well, challenging. 

    Everywhere I looked, or read, or listened, I heard messages about the economic outlook and how my art career was about to change.  That my planning, my hard work, those moments when the door seemed to open - had suddenly disappeared in a little poof of dust as the future collapsed. 

    Back in 2007, when I painted The Empty Room, I was actually thinking about a women involved in a relationship: she is standing on the threshold, but is she leaving an empty relationship, or staring into one?  I left that determination up to the viewer, and it is the same determination I use now as I stand on the threshold of the new year.

    Am I leaving an empty year, filled with closing galleries, slowing sales, enthusiasm for the work but with few sales?

    Am I staring into an empty year, filled with real economic sacrifice and uncertainty?

    Or do I see the empty room as one that is open to a wealth of possibility?  Filled with new choices, new work, and new opportunity?

    No one really knows the future.  What we know - what I know - is that I do have control over how I experience the future.  There might be some plans that are put on hold.  Others might be discarded while new opportunities appear.  It's all in how you see it. 

    We have a choice. 

    Live on Purpose.

Update on Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist, a Business Plan for the Mature Artist.

    I have almost finished this project, and I'm in the process of figuring out the best way to publish it.  But I thought I would give you a small excerpt from  the section titled The Power of Action:

    I read once that life doesn’t really get interesting until you know what you want.  I would have to amend that statement: life doesn’t really get interesting until you act on what you want.  Knowing is passive.  It’s a purely intellectual exercise.  I know that I like chocolate, but I can only appreciate how much I adore, desire, and would do nearly anything for chocolate by taking a piece of rich Belgium creaminess and letting it melt slowly on my tongue. 

    Of course, acting has its downside.  Since the effort to reinvent your life can be harder than doing things the way you’ve always done them, there’s probably no real reason to risk it. Except for when you look back twenty years from now and wonder why you didn’t.

Have a wonderful 2009


If you would like to republish this article on your blog or e-zine, please do.  Just be sure to add this complete blurb:

Sue Favinger Smith is a professional artist who began her art career at the age of 50.  She writes Ancient Artist: Developing an Art Career After 50, a blog dedicated to empowering artists seeking to reinvent themselves at mid-life.  You can subscribe by visiting

As always, I appreciate your comments and interaction.  And if you know someone who might enjoy this blog, please forward it to them.

A Christmas Message

It's Christmas Eve and I wanted to thank all of you who have supported me this year, particularly those of you who have purchased through ebay and etsy.  As a result of your generosity, I have been able to pass the creative energy along by making another Kiva loan, this time to a 57 year old woman in Tajikistan.  She is a widow, trained as a nurse, but selling furniture in a retail environment to support her children. 

Your purchases accomplished more than just the acquisition of a pretty piece of art.

Thank you!

Red Light, Green Light
6 x 6
oil on panel

Have a Joyous Season!

Best Regards,

Sue Favinger Smith

It's Christmas - time for merriment

Okay - ever since I saw this link on Vivian Blackburn's blog I had to try it just for the fun of it.  I liked the cat people cards, so I got this image....I wonder what I would have gotten if I asked for one of the other card designs? 

You are The Star

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Star is one of the great cards of faith, dreams realised

The Star is a card that looks to the future. It does not predict any immediate or powerful change, but it does predict hope and healing. This card suggests clarity of vision, spiritual insight. And, most importantly, that unexpected help will be coming, with water to quench your thirst, with a guiding light to the future. They might say you're a dreamer, but you're not the only one.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

So How Would You Describe Artistic Technique?

Apple with Chinese Vase
Apple with Chinese Vase
6 x 6, oil on panel
@Sue Favinger Smith

    There's a lively discussion growing out of my previous post about what art career question should you never ask.  I appreciate that so many of you have shared your opinions and viewpoints. 

    As the comments came in, I realized there were many ways to think about artistic technique. 

    In fact, here is one of thousands of informative articles on oil painting technique.  Between the search engines and YouTube, an artist can find out how to do almost anything. 

Red onion amber jar

Red Onion, Amber Jar
oil on paper, 7 x 5
@Sue Favinger Smith

    In an earlier post, called Sometimes You Need to Shake Things Up, I talked about trying my hand at still life. I enjoy doing these small paintings, and wouldn't hesitate for a moment to share the methods of preparing the paper, ideas about building a color palette, setting up the lights, or finding subject matter than inspires you. 

    And if - during that art opening - the paintings on the wall had been traditional oil paintings, I probably wouldn't have thought a thing about the artist's question.

    But - the paintings were not traditional.

Duo Momento

Duo Momento
Oil on Panel, 16 x 16
@Sue Favinger Smith

     The work being exhibited was from my Elements Series.  While it is hard to tell from the image, the surface quality is visually intriguing and unique.  Arresting, in a way, as people always stop and comment, whether or not they would purchase something in this style.

    An experienced artist - and believe me, I've been asked about my methods by plenty of professionals far more well-known and successful than I am - would be able to study the painting and surmise the probable techniques used to achieve the results.  Part of my discovery process was to study what artists had done in the past and to experiment with modern materials and unconventional approaches.  In fact, I was counseled by a prominent artist at that show when she noticed the interest from some of her friends:

        She said, "They're going to ask you how you did it but don't tell them.  Just say 'It's far too complicated to go into with you right now, but it's the result of several years of study and experimentation and I'm so pleased you admire them'."  And she added: "Don't ever tell anyone your technique."

     I received similar advice from a gallery director.  She said, "People will ask you but don't tell.  I have another artist here who won't even tell me how she does it."

      And I have also learned the hard way, sharing some of my earlier "tricks of the trade" with other artists and then seeing those "tricks" show up on the gallery walls in work with their name signed at the bottom and not mine. 
    If an artist today were to start producing silk screen images of famous movie stars and soup cans, we would all immediately think - hey, Andy Warhol already did that.  The new work would be diminished by comparison.

    But most artists have not reached that level of visibility.  And they probably have a right to be sensitive about protecting what they are developing as their signature style, their brand.

     It has been said that there is no honor among thieves. While I would never brand a fellow artist as a thief, I do feel that we, as professionals, must sensitize ourselves to the fine line between commonly held information and proprietary information.  Draw inspiration, certainly.  Study, think about what you are seeing and then work on the problem of how you might create something unique.  Do the work.
    It doesn't have to be anything dramatic.

    It just has to be your own. 

    (My apologies in advance to anyone who thinks my position is too severe. I would love to hear your thoughts for an alternative approach)


If you would like to republish this article on your blog or e-zine, please do.  Just be sure to add this complete blurb:

Sue Favinger Smith is a professional artist who began her art career at the age of 50.  She writes Ancient Artist: Developing an Art Career After 50, a blog dedicated to empowering artists seeking to reinvent themselves at mid-life.  You can subscribe by visiting

As always, I appreciate your comments and interaction.  And if you know someone who might enjoy this blog, please forward it to them. 

Quick - What art career question should you never ask?

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"Mama's Kitchen"
5" x 7", oil on gessoed bristol
@Sue Favinger Smith 2008

Influenced by the Russian Impressionists and the Daily Painting Movement, painted from life, using my own personal color preferences, my habitual brush marks, and inspired by my own memories.)


Quick -- what art career question should you never ask?

Answer:  "How did you do that?"

I'm not talking about the simple curiosity question, "Gee, that's beautiful, how did you do it?"  I'm talking about the standing at the art opening, walking up to the artist and saying something like "I'm an artist, too, so how did you do that ?"

In the corporate world, asking a competitor how they made their secret sauce would be considered corporate espionage.  So why is it any different for artists?

I was asked this question recently, and my answer was, "I've spent several years experimenting and pushing the envelope on what I could do with the materials I'm using.  Even if you copied me, it wouldn't turn out the same for you.  You need to experiment and find your own way."

The funny thing is, this person is a highly respected artist in her own right, working in a different medium, of course, but she's "thinking about a change."

Being artists, we operate in an extremely competitive environment, and there's a fine line between being "influenced" by a particular artistic style, and "appropriating" what someone else is doing. 

If you are influenced, you have responded to a larger trend and applied it to your own exploration, using your own visual style. 

If you are appropriating, you're not only taking someone else's creative output, but you're stifling your own.  And one day, you may realize that you've "stifled" your creative abilities into oblivion.

So what's the real question behind "How did you do that?"

It goes directly to the heart of the issue of developing a signature style.  We're told that in order to succeed we must have a signature style, a consistent body of work that is immediately identifiable as "ours."  In Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist, the Business Plan for Mature Artists that I am currently working on, I will go into this subject in more depth.  But until then, here are some suggestions:

  • A Signature Style can be developed through your choice of subject matter, a specific technique, color choices, or anything that occurs repeatedly - either through a subconscious approach or a deliberate design - that is uniquely yours.

  • Paint every day and your stylistic mannerisms will quickly emerge.

  • Choose a medium (oil, acrylic, watercolor, photography) and stick with it.

  • Choose a format, or a limited number of formats (square, a 2.5 to 3.5 ratio, on custom sized panel) that you use consistently.  If you are a potter, choose several types of vessels.  A photographer might choose B&W, or focus on Large Format work. 

  • Push yourself to innovate, to take risks in doing what you've never seen done before. Use materials in "totally inappropriate ways" - which is what I once told an interviewer when she asked about how I created some of my work - or focus on doing one specific thing very, very well. 

You will know when you're on to your Signature Style.  Everything will flow.  You won't be forcing yourself to emulate someone else's style when you don't feel the same inspiration they felt.  Your work won't feel stilted or stuck, but liberating and pure joy.

And the best part?

Knowing that you have a Signature Style is a huge confidence builder.  It is what you should strive for, struggle why would you ever deny yourself that by copying others?


If you would like to republish this article on your blog or e-zine, please do.  Just be sure to add this complete blurb:

Sue Favinger Smith is a professional artist who began her art career at the age of 50.  She writes Ancient Artist: Developing an Art Career After 50, a blog dedicated to empowering artists seeking to reinvent themselves at mid-life.  You can subscribe by visiting

As always, I appreciate your comments and interaction.  And if you know someone who might enjoy this blog, please forward it to them. 

Are You Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

Where your art career is concerned, are you putting the cart before the horse?

I know I did.

For the first few years out of art school I focused on what I had learned: painting.  I painted big, Abstract Expressionist canvases with energetic brush marks.  I took endless "resource photos" and tried my hand at landscape.  I did figures.  I felt like a yo-yo, responding to a gallery's request for "more Italian Paintings" and then wondering what went wrong when she didn't take any of them. 

I bounced around.

I have stacks of paintings to show for it, too,  stored in plastic in the garage, bound for eBay at $29.99 if I'm lucky.  Free fright (don't ask.)

And then it dawned on me - I was putting the cart before the horse.

What I was doing was counterproductive.  I was throwing everything out there, hoping some of it would stick, without doing what I should have done first.

I should have thought out exactly what I did and did not want to accomplish.

Do you know what you want to accomplish?

Have you decided what kind of art you want to make?  Is it the stuff bound for galleries and a high price tag, or are you thinking about art fairs?  Do you like actively selling your own work at a gallery art opening setting, or would you be happier pushing your product on the internet?  Maybe all you want to do is create lovely artwork to give to your friends and family. 

But it's important that you know. Because having a detailed understanding of how you want to use your creative talents will go a long way toward making productive decisions and avoiding spinning your wheels like I did.

So where do you start?

Well...that's part of the problem, you can't start until you've gained some experience.  But what you can do it start a business plan. 

Most business plans begin with The Mission Statement.

Which is just -- in your own words -- why you want to be an artist.

Did you write it out?  No more than five sentences? Two is optimum, brownie points for you, but 5 will still get you a gold star.

(...listening to all those pens scratching across the paper...)

Are you done yet? Good.  Now you've started your business plan.

See how easy it was to get that cart back where it belongs?

Since this is December, it's time for me to start working on a business plan for the coming year.  I have a 1 year detailed plan, a 5 year goal-oriented plan, and a 10 year you-gotta-dream-big plan. 
Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the organizing and planning techniques I gained through 30 years of small business ownership, with the hope that I can create a detailed art-centered plan on a new squidoo lens.  The market is changing so rapidly it's a good idea for artists to revisit their goals and methods of achieving them, and to keep an eye out for future opportunity. 

...I still hear pen scratching...who's still writing?

What's Your Dream Web Site?

Over the past few weeks I have been looking at artists' websites trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.  I think now, more than ever, an artist's site must both distinguish itself and meet the artist's business needs.

A passive, on-line portfolio lost in a sea of other portfolios seems counterproductive - once you reach a critical mass of participants your individual visibility drops.  And yet the ability of these portal sites to rank high in internet searches remains a strong selling point, and ultimately, it's the artist's responsibility to drive the traffic through his or her own marketing efforts.

So what works and doesn't work for you?

What do you like about your own site?

What frustrates you?

What do your clients look for?

And what works the best to drive traffic to  your site?

The Dream Project - Making Art that Makes a Difference

Over the past few weeks, I set my intention upon finding new ways for my art to make a difference.  What evolved over the course of half-formed ideas and impulsive urges -- the kind that tell you to take the leap without knowing all of the details -- is The Dream Project.

The Dream Project is a way for dreams to be kept alive.  It isn't earth shattering - no, it's small and quite ordinary, but I hope it will produce some extraordinary results.

Etsy group 1 These are Dream Boxes.  Dream Boxes capture and protect your dreams and aspirations.

Inside these wooden boxes, I've placed either 2 or 3 white stones.  The sealed boxes are then painted metallic copper.  Hand stained papers are applied and rubbed with earth colors to add to the aged patina.  Finally, an affirmation is added, with a painted spiral representing your path as you move toward your goal.

The symbolic meaning of copper often relates to sun energy and was the first metal used by humans.  The spiral is also an ancient symbol representing the life journey.

Each box is designed to fit comfortably in your workspace.  They are very tactile, and as you turn them over in your hands the stones inside softly remind you to believe and to dream.  I use mine to center my creative energy and to remind myself that art is a journey and not a destination.

These Boxes come in two sizes - the smaller one is $9.95 and the larger one is $14.95.

But here's the real purpose: I will send 10% of the profit from each sale to Kiva, an micro-financing organization that works with individuals around the globe to create loans to the working poor, entrepreneurs and dreamers just like you and me.  These are "Loans that change lives."

This is from Kiva's website:   

    "Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

I have been a Kiva lender for quite a while now.  I promised myself that I would take a portion of every art sale and lend it to others.  It's one way I express gratitude for the opportunities I've been given. 

Small 4 I've put the Dream Boxes on Etsy, and you can find them here.  You can also mouse over the images in the My Etsy Store widget in the sidebar and click on any image. 

I'm sure other creative products will find their way into the Dream Project as the ideas evolve.  My hope is that you will also be inspired.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.  ~Anne Frank