Oil on canvas, 20x20As I was standing in the back yard painting this piece yesterday, I found myself thinking about success and how it's measured.
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When you're employed by a company, it's relatively easy to measure success. You get raises and promotions. Even the worst boss occasionally tells you that you've done a good job - or tells you you've done a bad job and then falls quiet while you improve.
In this new life, it's harder to find the markers of success. Or maybe it's that the gauge keeps changing. Making a painting that pleases me, that's a wonderful marker. But by now, I have made a hundred paintings that please me.
Painting a scene, or part of a scene, in a way I could not have managed a year ago, that's another great marker. In this painting, the background trees have a luminous and abstract quality that I'd never have seen a year ago, let alone been able to paint. And the foreground trees are touched by a streak of light that, again, I'd not have seen a year ago. Surely, this is success, I thought - except that it was easy, and so, the achievement didn't feel like success.
Having a show is a marvelous marker of success, in and of itself, and I know this. Having my work in galleries is a marvelous marker of success, too. But showing work and selling nothing shakes the ground beneath me.
In the end, it feels to me that sales are really the truest marker of success. And artists aren't supposed to worry about money, right? But the truth is that I can only continue to do this if I continue to sell my art.
So as soon as I have my work together for the March show at the Wallkill River School Gallery in Montgomery, N.Y. , I am going to make another huge marketing push. Get my work in more galleries, in more places where more people have money.
If any of you have ideas about galleries I should approach, please let me know. Some of you have sent me to places that have really helped me define and find success.
I feel your pain - but don't despair. Remember the economy we're suffering through. I've been painting full time for fifteen + years, and still, sales of paintings (other than private commissions) currently makes up only about 25 per cent of my income. The balance comes from doing commissioned work, decorative painting, custom finishes on furniture and cabinetry and murals. Everything other than paintings I do for myself is, to me: a job, because I'm doing it for someone else.
January and February are dismal for sales - try to arrange your next one person show in March, April, October or November. These are my best sales months, because folks are either happily looking forward to spring with redecorating and renewal zeal - or they are shopping for gifts for the holidays. It's amazing how much timing matters.
Remember too, that less than 5% of all the artists who are graduates of art schools make a living from their art. I say this not to discourage you, but because in reality, only about 5% of the population ever buys original art, and we as artists have to be educators. We have to work toward having a buying public who appreciates and values original work. Big printing businesses, huckster "starving artist" promoters, cheap "decorative" art from department stores - all these compete with us directly and unfairly. It's up to us to make people understand that that stuff is generally crap that they'll be throwing out by the next change of fashion.
When it's all said and done, I still wouldn't trade my current life for the one I left behind. The struggle to be "known" continues, people and jobs and relationships will disappoint, but the art itself, and the making of art never lets me down.
Keep your prices competitive, keep painting, and show your work in every venue that you can. Network with other artists to find the best places to sell. Hey at least you have a bonafide gallery showing your work!!
My best personal sales come from a small area gallery that benefits from its location in an area of affluent and educated second-home owners. The gallery itself is not-for-profit and I receive 70% of the sale price - much better than a commercial gallery expects. If there are any such galleries in your area, seek them out, do demonstrations, talk to everyone you possibly can. Show off your amazing animal portraits and tell everyone and anyone about the good works you do (and the plight!) of you and other artists.
I was once told that you must work at art for at least twenty years before you can expect to be famous. Ha ha... I don't need fame, just paying the bill would be fine.
This is the longest comment you'll likely ever get!!! I apologize for the length, but I want to assure you that you are not alone, and to offer the perspective of an artist who's been working for nearly forty years at making stuff.
Hi, Patrice - Thanks so much for this note. I am going to post the whole thing, because other artists need to read what you've written.
I know Jan and Feb suck as months for selling - and that the economy is bad - but I needed the reminders. Thank you!
I think the point for me is to use my emotions as a prod to action. I am glad that I have the outlet of the blog, to vent, to share, to get feedback. I feel that I am catapulting into a new dimension of drive, and striving, and reaching. I am revived and excited - and your note has been a major part of the shift for me.
Patrice is a genius!
I am not the one who made the piece on your your show at Lighthouse happen, that was Rick Koster, who receives all the gallery openings, sorts through them and picks one for the front every Tuesday. He's a great guy and a a dog lover.
But I did enjoy your call and passed on your thanks to him.
I wanted to tell you that, for that piece, I was scrolling back through your blog postings looking for a painting jpeg that I could steal. (Lighthouse had sent us a postcard but hadn't yet sent a hi-res jpeg) I found one, as you saw, but I while I was at it, I was struck by how your paintings have changed since you began and I wondered whether you realized that.
Your current paintings are much more self-assured now than when you started. You're much more consistant in terms of communicating what you see and feel. Even the pet paintings, which came so naturally to you, have improved. Your color palette has become a signature, and you've really tamed the brush and the palette knife.
I find myself lately rejecting success, at least the traditional landmarks of career and money and authority as indicators of my success. Instead, I find myself thinking about fulfillment, looking at how I spend my time. Of course, I have to pay the bills, but I'm trying to make good decisions about what I do with the other time, rather than just letting it tick away until I have to go out and make more money to pay the bills again.
I know that sales are validation in a way, a concrete demonstration of legitimacy, but I agree with Patrice that we're in this horrible economy and money is just so tight for people, more and more so each week. Maybe we have to measure success by how many people smile at or are moved by what we do, and find another way to help pay the bills.
An incredibly wise career counselor once told me that it is a rare and lucky person that finds fulfillment and a mortgage payment in the same place.
I don't know. For what it's worth.
(Blushing) aw... Thank you.
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