Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009: My Year In Review

2009 was a good but sometimes difficult year for me (as most are).

It began in the midst of the greatest recession America has seen since the Great Depression and I was wary of how it might affect art buyers and their ability to purchase new work. As it turned out, the shows — at least for me — went well and I not only sold paintings to previous buyers of my work, but I managed to pick up a few new collectors as well.

By the time summer rolled around, the recession seemed to be easing up a bit and I was still selling work through galleries and directly from my studio. This turned out to be a true blessing because at the end of August, my wife was laid off from her job.

Like many artists out there in the early stages of their career, my income isn't as consistent as it needs to be to survive as a single-income household, so the loss of my wife's job brought much stress and fear about how we would manage financially. Thankfully, my sales continued and we really didn't experience any financial difficulties from her no longer working.

We did however, have to miss out on some painting trips we'd planned (and were very much looking forward to), including missing the Western Visions Show at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming. A consolation trip to Rocky Mountain National Park for a week at the end of September helped ease our disappointment a bit — and I did pick up some nice reference material. If everything goes well, we’ll reschedule those trips for the coming year.

A few of the highlights from this year included conducting an oil painting workshop in Nebraska, speaking in front of the Gilbert Visual Arts League (a local art group here in Gilbert, AZ) as well as judging their annual art show. And, being invited to participate in a show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had tried to get into NatureWorks several times before and had previously been denied. I’m really excited about attending this show but it has definitely added to my workload. So goes the difficult life of an artist.

Since the trip in September, I've been working hard at producing new paintings for the coming show season and to replace older work in galleries. My wife is still out of work, but it looks like that will be ending with the start of the new year — she's very excited.

All-in-all the year was productive, rewarding and sometimes stressful. But to tell you the truth, I wouldn't have changed a thing. Although I'm sure my wife would have preferred to remain employed, I've really enjoyed having her around with me all day even if it meant she came down with a touch of cabin fever.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Paint What Inspires You And Success Will Follow

One might think that painting what inspires you as an artist is a universal truth — that this is what motivates all artists. You'd be wrong.

In my years working as a full-time fine artist, I have been surprised by the number of artists I've met who think of their work in terms of product. They paint for "the market". The subject matter they paint, or draw, or sculpt is directed by their perception of art buying trends and interestingly, not a single one of the artists I've met who approach their work in this way have seen much success artistically or financially.

Painting for the market is a term you might hear on occasion and I see it often at some of the shows I attend. For example, an artist sees that another artist's western landscapes sold very well at a particular show, and the following year that artist brings a bunch of western landscapes — only to sell very few, or often not sell a single one.

This way of thinking about art (at least from an artist's perspective) is flawed. Being an artist and selling well is most often a long process of finding what it is that inspires you to paint and painting countless hours to develop your identity as an artist, while slowly gaining a following of loyal collectors. These are collectors who not only buy your work because they enjoy the subject matter, but because they connect with your work on an emotional level and appreciate you as an artist. It is through the relationships of an artist's collectors that the artist will find long-term success and these relationships can't be cultivated if the artist isn't true to what inspires them. Savvy art collectors are very good about noticing the subtleties that communicate an artist's intentions in their work; did the artist paint this subject because it inspired them, or did they paint it because they thought it would sell?

I paint western landscapes and wildlife because it's what I love. My paintings are romanticized versions of my experiences in the outdoors. I grew up in the west. My subjects are ones I'm intimately familiar with and I paint them because they inspire me. Fundamentally, I am a painter and I would be painting regardless of whether or not I could make a living doing it. I simply must paint. My subject matter is what I love to paint. I hope this comes through in my work and that people who enjoy my work can see this. I'm not concerned with financial success as much as I am artistic success (growing as an artist, and eventually producing work that moves myself and others). In the end, I believe that by staying true to what inspires me as an artist, success will eventually follow — both artistically and financially.