Sunday, September 30, 2007

Feeling Better

That's me standing on the hill just outside the kitchen of Nate's parents' house in the mountains, trying to catch a quick 6x8" sketch of the sunset. My audience is the daughter of some good friends, who actually had enough interest and patience to stand there and watch me do the entire painting! She's a great kid, and cute too - I painted her portrait a few years ago.

Anyhow, I just wanted to say thanks everyone for providing such encouraging comments on my last post! It's good to hear some positive thoughts from people in the business, and know that I'm not alone here. I spent about a day wallowing in negativity after that post, which surprisingly made me feel a lot better! After that I got back to work on pieces for my show, and I've been making a lot of progress.

I've got almost five weeks left until the opening, and so far I have 17 paintings done for the show. I'm aiming to have about 20 pieces, so I feel like I'm in pretty good shape right now. I'm planning to do one more 30x40" piece, and another 24x36" piece, which will probably each take about a week, and then I'm just planning to work on some smale 8x10" or 9x12" studies. Most of the paintings I have done are either framed, or at least ready to be framed in frames that I already have (don't get me started on the expense of framing an entire show all at once!!). I gave images to the gallery on Sunday to use for the mailer that will go out in a couple of weeks, and my SW Art ad has been designed and is ready for publication. I just have to finish the remaining paintings, get everything framed up, and get all the photos up on my website and the gallery website.

Once the paintings have been delivered, I think I'm going to take a week off and relax. I have some creative projects that I've been wanting to do around the house since we moved, and I'd love to have some time to do them. I think it would be nice to take a bit of a vacation from "work" too. I feel 100% blessed that I get to do this as my job, but it's hard work to be a fulltime artist AND a fulltime mom at the same time. I think by the end of this month I'll be ready for a rest!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Faith, Persistence, and Patience

"Lena Basin"
Oil on Canvas

A lot of artists put their blogs out on the web as a marketing tool - a way to get new paintings out there and make an audience for their work. Me?? Not so much. I don't link from my website to my blog, or title it in a way that makes it easy to find if you google my name. Sometimes I question whether I should change that, but for the most part I keep it the way it is because I don't necessarily want it to be read by a bunch of potential patrons.

I started this blog to document my attempt at becoming an artist. The two reasons I keep it up are to record some of my thoughts and feelings so I can see where I've come from, and to put my experience out there for anyone who might think it's remotely interesting or helpful. I want be honest here, or else this has no purpose.

I haven't posted much lately because I haven't felt like I had anything positive to post, and I didn't want to post anything negative because well, you know, you never know who might read this blog. But I feel like I'm cheating myself that way because I think I'm in a spot right now where I'm really moving forward, and I don't want to move on and forget someday what a struggle this part of my career was. So the following paragraphs are going to be me being honest about the status of my career and my feelings. And this post is probably going to be really long and rambling so be forwarned. I just think it's important to be honest, so here goes...

Nate and I keep talking about how stressed we are right now. We're both thrilled to be doing exactly what we want to be doing - him building houses, me painting. But because we both love what we do so much, there's this added level of desperation to make it work, and right now we can't see the outcome. We don't know where we'll be a year from now, or even at the end of this year. We've come to the conclusion that God is trying to teach us a big lesson in faith, persistence, and patience. Faith that we're doing what God wants us to be doing and that it will work out in the end, persistence to get the work done that needs to get done to make it successful, and patience as we wait for the outcome. We've both taken that leap of faith, and we're just hanging in the air waiting to see where we land.

If somebody asked me to describe my life lately with one word, I would choose the word, "overwhelmed." After about a half year of just trying to get my wits about me after quitting my job, having a baby, and moving, I've finally settled into a bit of a routine that has allowed me to feel like I can finally try to move forward and expand my business. I've been spending all my spare time getting paintings ready for my first solo show, and starting to approach galleries to show my work. My mom watches Aspen two days a week for about six hours, and Nate's mom watches her one day a week, so I'm getting more time to paint than I ever have. The other days of the week I spend enjoying my little girl, and squeezing in painting time during her naps and after she goes to sleep. It's tiring, but I love it, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

The gallery I show in here in Denver is doing a one-woman show for me in November, which I'm totally excited about because it's my first, and also because I'm hoping it'll bring in enough people that there'll be some decent sales. I'm working really hard to put together twenty quality paintings for the show. Once it's been hung, I want to know I did my best. I also just want it to look good and be successful, and I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to do the best paintings I've ever done. Of course, not every painting is a success, so I've had some moments of frustration, and I have a growing pile of paintings destined for the trash bin. It's a small pile, but I still hate to add to it. At the same time, I think it's important not to get attached to my failures, so into the trash pile they go. Luckily I'm also starting to accrue a big stack of good paintings at this point, and so far I'd say I have about 12 decent paintings done and either framed or ready to be framed for the show.

In the process of getting these paintings done, I think my work is improving. I'm trying to be more sensitive with my brushwork and bring more mood across in my paintings. If it's a rainy day scene, I want it to feel like a rainy day. If it's a bright sunny day, I want it to feel like a bright sunny day. When someone looks at one of my paintings, I want them to feel where I was. I don't just want to copy a photo of a pretty scene. I think this is something that I'm going to work at for the rest of my life, but I feel like I'm at least making some progress right now, which is great.

I'd love to say that all that matters is my art, but with Nate starting his own business right now I actually depend a little bit on my income, so it's important that I'm selling too. Hence the search for new galleries to carry my work.

One of my goals at the beginning of this year was to have representation in a number of regions by the end of the year. I quickly realized I wasn't being realistic, since I had just had a baby and hadn't figured out yet how to find enough time to paint to supply more than one gallery. But after we moved in May I finally got into a groove and started to get a lot of work done, and at the start of August I decided I had enough good paintings in my studio that I could go out and bug some galleries.

Since I'm busy getting ready for the show, I sent packets out to only two galleries. I've visited each numerous times, and felt that my work would be a good fit for the gallery and location, and felt good about the way the gallery was run.

I never got a response from one of the galleries, which is kind of surprising because I enlosed an SASE so they could return my packet if they weren't interested. I don't like to call and bug gallery owners when I get no response - I kind of feel that if they liked my work enough to sell it, they'd follow up. (This goes against everything I've ever been taught when job-searching in and out of college, btw, but it's just how I feel when it comes to my art - I don't want someone selling it unless they want to). So anyhow, who knows - maybe they kept it on file and they'll call me someday. For now, I assume they just aren't interested.

The second gallery is apparently looking for new owners, so they aren't taking on new artists. But they liked my work and went to the trouble of passing on my packet to another gallery down the street. The owner of that gallery then contacted me saying he might be interested in looking at some paintings in person.

I was also familiar with this gallery, and hadn't sent him a packet in the first place because, quite frankly, I felt it was out of my league. It's the sort of place I see my work in a few years down the road, but not now. So I was pleasantly surprised and with a little bit of trepidation followed up and took some work in.

We chatted for a long time about my work and where I think I'm going and the art world in general - I actually felt like I was being interviewed for a job, which I wasn't fully prepared for. It was good though - forced me to verbalize some things about my work that I might not otherwise.

At one point he took some paintings down and hung a couple of mine on the wall. The painting next to them was by a former instructor of mine and had a $50,000 price tag on it. The painting on the other side was a fantastic painting by a favorite artist of mine, again with a huge price compared that what my paintings go for. I cringed as my paintings went up on the wall, thinking they were going to look elementary next to paintings of such a high caliber.

The good news? They didn't look all that bad. I think they actually held their own. They looked simple, but I'm starting to realize that that's just part of my style, so that's okay.

The bad news? He couldn't decide what to do, kept the paintings overnight to think on it, and then called the next day to say he couldn't keep them at this time. In the end, my initial impression that this gallery was out of my league was right on. He just didn't think he could take me on and be loyal to his existing commitments, which is honorable. He didn't have much constructive criticism for me and I came away feeling like my work showed well and I was on the right track. I actually walked out of there feeling pretty good about my work and where I am.

But the thing is (and here's where I get honest), it still just sucks to be rejected. Even when the person likes your work and thinks you have all the potential in the world, it hurts to be told no. I've been trying to be all positive and productive, but underneath it all I'm bummed out. I'm waiting on responses for a couple more things, and I'm just dreading that I'll get another rejection or worse, no response at all, and it's just got me down. But I think that's okay - sometimes it's okay to just feel it when things hurt.

So that's where I'm at right now - I'm feeling that rejection and trying to use it to grow and improve. I have confidence in my work. I think it stands on it's own next to people who have been painting much longer than I have, and I feel like I have a lot of potential. I know my work is just going to get better, and I love working toward that - it's a challenge with every painting. I just wish I could find the right person to see my work and love it and want to sell it for me right now. And it's a struggle to figure out the best way to do that when I'm busting my butt working on the upcoming show.

So anyhow, I've been wallowing in self-pity for the past day or so. I finally decided to just allow myself to be sad and dejected for a while so I could get through it and move on. And it's been good. I finally came to the conclusion that even though I feel like I need to be selling more, I need to table the gallery search until my show is over, and spend this time focusing on putting together a quality show and making sure that people come to see it. I don't want to spread myself thin trying to do both, and then not succeed at all. I'd rather spend the time making sure my first show is a success. After the opening on November 2nd, I'll jump back in to marketing mode and try and get my work out there - for now, forget it.

I'm at peace with that decision, because I think all of this has been pointing me in a direction of focusing on my work alone, and that's a good place to be for now. I've actually started to feel like I want to learn and push myself again, and I've been figuring out the best way to do that. Five day workshops just don't do it for me right now - they're often watered down and I never learn that much anymore. I also want to work with someone who can teach me on a long term basis so that it applies to what I'm doing in the studio, not just what I do on location.

To that end, I contacted a guy I've studied with before who I know does a mentorship program for artists, and I'm planning to go through the program with him along with a few other artists. It's a pretty intense six month program with lectures every week and assignments that will push me in the studio and in the marketing department. I admire his work and his business skills, so I know it's going to be a great opportunity. Unfortunately, it doesn't start for a few months, so I'm on my own until then. Then again, I guess that's a good thing since I'm going to be stressed out to the max getting everything ready for this show!

So, that's the full story of what I'm up to right now - I think this must be the longest post ever. I really really hope that a year from now I'll be able to look back and think that I've come a long way from this point - who knows...