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May 2007 - The Intangibles

On the first day of my workshops, I always inform my students that we are all here for the same reason. Somehow we all feel this innate need to grab an idea out of the ether and create a tangible expression of that inspiration. Man has heard this calling as far back as the Paleolithic cave paintings. Considering the number of people who have walked the face of the earth, what we endeavor to do in creating a work of art has really been attempted by a very few. It’s a priesthood of sorts, and when the muse nominates you to embark on the creative path, resistance seems somewhat futile.

The road to creativity is long and winding, and the artist must necessarily travel the road alone. It is fraught with frustrations and obstacles that only we artists can know. In the fields, or in the studios, we fight our battles in solitude. Only we can know the pain of pouring our hearts and soul into a work of art, only to have it fall desperately short of our expectations. It’s like it hurts and there’s no place to rub.

Conversely, we artists are some of the luckiest folks in the world.

We get to see the world around us in a way that few people ever do. Who else walks around measuring skies, looking at the reflected light under the eave of a house or marveling over complimentary yellow and violet flowers in a summer garden? And what a joy it is to begin with literally nothing and bring a beautiful creation into existence. Yes, the dividends truly outweigh the heartaches.

So how do I take this calling and parlay it into a way of life and a sustainable income?

I’m certain if you ask twenty successful professional artists how they got from point A to point B you would get twenty different answers. However, I am certain that you would find commonalities in their persistence and commitment. Despite setbacks and impediments, there was never a doubt in their minds that ultimately they would succeed. You have to envision yourself as a successful artist and affirm it over and over until it becomes a reality. This requires fortitude and dedication, even in the face of rejection and indifference. The universe had a way of testing our commitment. It’s the “many are called, few are chosen” syndrome.

I’ll share one example from dozens in my personal experience:

John Pike, the incredible watercolorist, was one of my early inspirations. I noticed that the large percentage of his watercolors were in the General Tire International collection. I used to muse on how nice it would be to have corporate sponsorship for my artwork. So I set out sending photos and resumes to various corporations with ideas for prints or co-sponsorship in various causes and whole array of other ideas. I got back a basketful of pleasant refusals.

A year or so later, I was having an exhibition at the Americana Museum in El Paso, Texas. It was a successful show, and when it was over I drove down from Santa Fe to pick up the unsold pieces.

It was a hot, sweltering day and I had just loaded the van in preparation for my five hour drive home, when one of the board members suggested that I unload the van and bring the work back into the museum, because there was a fellow coming that might be interested in purchasing one or two. At this point, I was hot, sweaty and not really in the mood. Nonetheless, I reluctantly acquiesced, and took remaining work back into the museum. Well, I sat there for another hour and a half thinking a lot about my impending five-hour drive. Finally, the fellow showed up and did indeed buy a couple of paintings. We chatted a bit and I handed him a brochure with some data and a few pictures of some of my original work. He flashed on a watercolor in the brochure and asked me if I could do a large oil on a similar theme for his house. So we drove to his house, he showed me the space for the painting and we agreed on the terms.

To make a long story short, he was the CEO of an international corporation, and that one commission turned into about thirty over the next eight years. The commissions ran the gamut of subject matter from landscapes to large historical scenes (many as large as four feet by eight feet). And despite the fact that I almost threw the whole thing away, the universe had finally rewarded my persistence. Here, at last, was my corporate sponsorship.

My point here is that if you really want to be a professional artist, you have to see yourself winning. You have to reaffirm daily that you are a successful artist, even in the face of repeated rejection. Recognize your calling, and know in your heart that the path you are on and the rewards that you seek are ultimately waiting at the end of the journey.

“El Burro en Cuenca”   18x24 oil


Here’s a recently finished painting I thought I would share with you. This little mountain village near Sevilla, in Spain, is charming and quite paintable. There is a slow, airy feeling as you walk the cobbled streets. I’m excited about returning to Spain in September for the watercolor sketch workshop.