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March 2007 Newsletter

I’ve heard it said that if you are able to make a living at something that you love, then you never have to work another day in your life. Well, I have to admit that sometimes I do feel a little bit like the cat that ate the canary. For some twenty-five years I’ve been able to forge a livelihood out of some paints, some paper and some canvas, doing something that I would probably have done even if I weren’t getting paid. Quite frankly, there were several years when I essentially wasn’t getting paid. I frequently recollect those leaner years and it helps keep me grounded. I’m now much more appreciative of any small successes that I may have achieved and I can assure you I never take any sale for granted. I mean, how many businesses do you know of where you can grab an inspiration from the ether, turn it into something concrete and source a new line of prosperity that will eventually be shared with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker? With all its ups and downs, it’s been a great ride, and if I were to do it over, I’m not sure I would change a thing.

Young artists (and even some not-so-young artists) frequently ask me what steps they can take to become a professional artist and get established in the art world. The answer is not exactly straightforward and simple. If I were to ask twenty-five of my peers how they got from point A to point B in their professional art careers, I would probably receive twenty-five different answers. Nonetheless, I would like to offer some suggestions to anyone out there that might be contemplating a career in fine art, or who may have a child heading in that direction.

First of all, it’s fair to say that I am a representational artist. I’m concerned with interpreting the world around me. I don’t know much about, or particularly care for “non-representational, or “abstract” art. If that is your inclination, you may not find these suggestions useful.

The first and most important thing is to work on and perfect your skills. That will always be the one thing that you have control over. You want your work to be ready when opportunity comes knocking. Look for instruction and criticism at the highest levels. If you are planning to attend a school, I would suggest avoiding college and university art programs. They tend to be non-representational and inclined towards more commercial applications. I speak from experience. I have a BA in Art and I tell people that, despite the degree, I have actually been able to make a living in art. Send your children to The Art Institute in Chicago, or the Art Students League in either New York or Denver. There they can study with real working artists who will teach them to draw, to design and to see. If you are past college age, study with artists whom you respect. Learn what they have to offer, and amalgamate those experiences into something that will become uniquely yours.

Here’s a word of caution. Some well known artists have a particular subject or way of handling paint that is distinctively theirs. It’s attractive, commercial and seductive, and their workshops have spawned literally dozens of clones that want nothing more than to paint exactly like them. I call it “falling in love with the ‘better idea’ syndrome. Avoid that trap! Remember that you were born an “original”, and you don’t want to end up a “copy” and thereby rob the world of an opportunity to hear your own, unique voice.

When you’ve begun to cultivate a product that you feel is competitive, test the waters by entering some juried exhibitions. This is a wonderful way to assess how your work stands up against your peers. I would suggest starting out at a local level and progressing to regional and ultimately national shows. Admittance to these shows gives your work exposure, and enables you to build a resume. Any awards that your paintings might win are just pure “gravy”. All of this builds “credibility”, that all-important intangible that will be of assistance to you when you approach galleries and other venues.

When I started my art career in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I entered several local and regional shows, including the New Mexico State Fair. They had a beautiful gallery and thousands of people would attend the exhibition each year. After being rejected a couple of times, I finally got accepted and eventually began to win awards. Then one year I won the big one – the “George Marks Award of Excellence”. The state of New Mexico purchased the painting, the newspaper covered the event and low and behold a couple of galleries actually approached me and asked me if I would exhibit with them. I began to sell some work and finally had, if not a foot, at least a toe in the door of the art world. It really can work!

In the next newsletter, I will cover approaching galleries.

 Paint on!


 Here’s a painting that I recently finished titled “Bivouacked”. It’s a 24x36” oil that is destined for the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. As you can see, my choice of subject matter is very eclectic. Painting a wide variety of subject matter keeps the whole process interesting for me. In the art world, diversity can have its drawbacks. I will address this issue further in the May newsletter.