Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making a Living

"Jackson Lake December"
Oil on Panel

There's been a bit of discussion over at Escape from Cubicle Nation about whether or not creative types are doomed to be "starving artists" for eternity. When I read the initial post, I immediately jumped in with my opinion that it's actually quite possible for artists to make a living selling their art, and that believing the myth that it's impossible is quite likely to be the downfall of many a talented artist.

I know a lot of artists who live off of their art, and I guess I just feel like a combination of really good work, serious discipline, and a whole lot of marketing effort can indeed pay off for artists. It may not be easy, but it's possible, and I think that difficulty is what makes it necessary us to find mentors who have been there and can guide us through what works and what doesn't. Of course, not everyone agrees with me! Maybe I'm naive about this, but I'd like to think that my naivete, and my unfailing belief that I can make a living at this, are necessary components of my success.

Anyhow, go check out the original post and the following comments, then come back here and tell me what you think. Is it possible to make a comfortable living from fine art alone? Don't we need to first believe it's possible in order to make it a reality? Am I out of touch (and selling out) because I paint landscapes?


  1. Hi Stacey!I don't think its possible to make a living from fine art alone.May be for some,but not for all.Not in my country!I've experienced this myself.I wanted to be a full time painter,leaving my family business aside.But so far,my career hasn't taken off.My kind of art doesn't sell.I've been trying for almost two years now.I'm so happy that there is still a market for realistic paintings and landscapes in the west.Sometimes i'm jealous for the same reason.

  2. Oh!By the way,I forgot to comment on your painting!I got carried off!I liked your painting very much.Beautiful!Awesome!

  3. Hey Stacey, I just read the original post and had a similar reaction to yours. I think we have built up this myth of the poor artist, and now people expect to be in that situation, instead of expecting to be succesful. This just reinforces the problem. As you said, if you think you will make it, you are more likely to succeed. My experience with other artists is that they want to sell their paintings and support themselves, but they want to jump right into a nice gallery and start selling out shows. It takes years of hard work to get a following for your work, and it takes years to get a high end gallery to give you a big solo show, or really promote your work. Yes landscapes are a bit easier to sell, however I have sold abstract paintings when I was first out of college and trying alot of different things in my paintings, and I've sold nude figure studies... if you are willing to put the work in, to find the people who appreciate your art, then you can make a sale. And you also have to put a ton of work in to be able to create high quality work. If it means enough to someone to want to make a living in the arts, they can put in the work and eventually things will get going. It also helps to be a friendly and approachable person, who galleries and customers will like to interact with.

    The one thing I think I disagree with you on, id that you don't necessarily need a mentor, or guide through this process. At least I didn't have one (although it may have saved me from some early mistakes) and I am always struck by how different everyone's experience is in selling their work successfully, I used to do alot of outdoor shows and that helped me build a lot if interest inm y work, which now makes me more valuable to a gallery. I bring a customer base with me. I see people like Carol Marine doing her daily painting blog and I think that does a great job of spreading interest in her work. I love the idea of these daily painter blogs in terms of a way to grow the business of your art, while also improving skills. I also know some people who teach workshops and do painting demos, or who participate in plein air events to spread their name. I look around and just see alot of potential to make this work. But as you said on the original post, it's way more than a full time job. In the beginning maybe that's all it was for me, but now the business side is almost a full time job, and the painiting side is another full time job. Both are actually rewarding in their own ways, but painting so much is the real reward for all of this work. I meet people all the time who want to paint more and I always encourage them to do it and offer help, but I think it comes down to how much it means to any particular person... whether or not they want it badly enough.

    Thanks for the intriguing post.

  4. Stacy,

    Great post and your comments at the other site really hit the mark too. I have a little trouble "identifying" here because I also have a 40 hour per week job so my "living" IS work. I really don't like the whole part time versus full time argument. It is really about sales and income in my book.

    On the subject of landscapes and the dirty word - "sellout." Well, I for one say paint what you are good at and find your customer. I think it would be much easier to slap some paint on a canvas and create an abstract expression of my mood today. Hey, I could even vomit the paint so I can call myself a "shock" artist. I use that example because I watched a television show (Ripley's Believe it or Not) that actually gave a guy airplay because he feels his "art" (vomit art) is unique. Well, I for one know that I can party like a rock star and do the same "art" the very next day. So, in my opinion you are creating art that you enjoy (along with many others) that you can make a living from. You are not selling out because you sell. All artists would starve if we gave it away!

    Here is one point that I need to make. If an artist (a painter) wants to make a lot of money and that is the goal...he/she should become a portrait artist. My research (as lame as that sounds) has revealed to me that portrait artists generally can charge far more than a landscape, or other type of artist genre.

    I hate the myth of the starving artist! I can make enough from my art part time to feed and house my family and me. have the things I have and enjoy life's luxuries (as I do), and afford the health expenses my wife and I endure I also have a good job with excellent benefits. Am I a sellout? Am I not successful? To some...yes and yes. To me, I am living my dream. I make a lot of money, I handle my expenses, I am a professional artist, and I have a great career with a solid retirement plan to boot.

    Stacy...I admire what you have done and what you do! I admire all artists who push forward with a plan to meet their goals - as small or as grand as they choose. It is silly to listen to the masses because their idea of success and what an artist is supposed to be is ignorant. The masses I speak of are in the same group who think one can be a detective because they have seen every episode of C.S.I.

    PS...I could use a mentor. OH! and by the way I went to "Drafting and Design" (not an engineer - but in the field at any rate) school because when I was 17 it was decided that it would be "safer" than art school. After several years designing metal buildings, then D.O.T. highway signage, then store layouts for a major retail store, I decided enough was enough! I really just wanted to be happy.

  5. Stacey, you are definitely not selling out or taking the safe road. You are doing what you love. From what you tell about your background I can't imagine you doing anything else.

    I have known artists, musicians and actors (I am an Los Angeles kid and grow up in the theatre and movie industry crowd). Many of the artsy folks I know make a great living, some not so much. I depends a lot on luck, timing and talent (the subject of talent is a sticky one, I know).

    Some people paint what sells today. Twenty years ago you could hardly give away a landscape painting. Today there is a good market for them. You cannot guess what will be hot tomorrow, you just have to do what you love, find your market and do what it takes to get your art in their hands.

    I do not make a living with my art. I think my work could sell. I believe there is a potential of make a living income with it. My problem is that I have not really put in the time and effort it takes to find the market and try to sell it. That will soon change, by the way.

    You have outstanding skills as a painter, a great heart, and the business sense and discipline to make a living as an artist. Artist of any medium and subject could learn a lot from your example.

  6. Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful and intelligent comments you guys!

    Ramesh - thanks so much for your perspective. It reminds me that I should be thankful that there is a thriving art market here in the West. Thank you also for the compliment on the painting - your work is absolutely beautiful, so it means a lot!

    Colin - thanks so much for the thoughtful response. You got me thinking more about my statement about needing a mentor, and I think you're right. I think it's just important that we don't isolate ourselves, and that we have other artists in our lives - whether as friends, teachers, students, painting companions, etc. - to share information and inspiration.

    Michael - thanks so much for your thoughts! I think painting the landscape can be very fullfulling from an intellectual standpoint, so I don't waste much time worrying about what others think, but I thought it was an interesting question to ask. Also, I started out painting portraits - at the time feeling more comfortable with the earnings potential - so I find it funny that you mentioned that!! I finally just followed my heart =)

    Michael - I think you've got it just right - selling one's work takes a lot of effort marketing and selling, and also the intial belief that it CAN sell. It's fun to see you making push to get your work out there - I'm looking forward to seeing what you do!

  7. Stacey: Your work is superb. Found you off of my friend Milind Mulick's blog. We are currently doing a painting "dual" that includes Terry Miura, Milind, me and Mike Bailey. Boy do I LOVE Collin's work! I'm not rolling in money like a lot of those Wall Street people WERE, but I do make a living as an artist. I am an adjunct art prof., a gallery and commission painter, and a workshop teacher. But as Colin wrote, it helps if you are a good at marketing, good at organizing your time, and a friendly/approachable person. Keep up the good work!

  8. First of all, another great painting. I really like the small area of darks against all the mid and light value areas.

    Your work is already at a level you have a shot at "living" off it now. It will take continuing marketing. The world is a random place which gives possibilites of you becoming very well known and very well paid, or struggling for a lifetime. In either case it will not be from lack of painting skills. I'm predicting you will have a long and very successful career in painting. Someday you will be mentoring another young painter.

  9. I think the talents we are given as artists are a gift and putting it on canvas (or paper or metal or clay) is our gift back, our way of sharing our gift. If we can also make a living doing it and find joy in making a living, then I do not think there is anything wrong with that at all.

    Your paintings are amazing. I wish you much growth as an artist and also financial success this year.

  10. If you don't mind me asking, why would you think landscape painting is "out of touch" or "selling out"?

  11. David - thanks for commenting. I think some of the skills required to be successful as an artist are the same ones required to be successful at anything!

    Onpainting - thanks for the vote of confidence. I made enough off of my work to pay a lot of our household bills this year, so I know it's posisble with some more effort.

    Kste - there's nothing better than actually finding joy in making a living, which is why I love my job!

    Kevin - For the record, I *don't* think that landscape painting is selling out at all! I actually think that painting the landscape can be very intellectually satisfying. That question was a nod to the person who responded to my comments on the other website by saying I'm only making a living because my art "goes well above people's couches" - implying that landscape painting is less of an "art" than, say, smearing dog poop on canvas.

  12. I knew there had to be something there I wasn't getting.By looking at your paintings and the amount of work you put into this it's obvious your heart is fully in it.
    By the way, you don't know where I can get a good dog poop on canvas painting do ya'?

  13. I'm coming late to this, but I've been thinking about it. Stacey -- you're committed (I think for all the right reasons) to landscape painting, a genre (lucky you) that quite a few people like and want to buy and own. And you have talent, you work hard, are organized, presentable, businesslike, a terrific writer (great blog, one of my favorites). Hurray! Nothing wrong there. I just want to put my two cents into the discussion, after forty-some years in various art worlds (printmaking, abstract fiber art, academia, scientific illustration) -- and lots of jobs, farm work, homesteading, raising three kids, teaching. If I had one bit of advice for a young woman artist, it would be not to have a lot of kids if you really want to make a lot of art and not be poor. (I'm not regretting any of the three artists I raised, but there's a trade-off there.)

    There are lots of kinds of visual art, lots of reasons to make it, and many artists with something to say that not many people want to hear about or pay money for. Saleable doesn't equal good, but it doesn't equal bad either. And the less monetarily successful artists aren't all using dog poop (is anyone? That strikes me as a cheap shot.) Genre doesn't determine artistic integrity or intelligence. There's more bad and mediocre art out there than good, in any art world. And I think there's good art being made in all those worlds. Risk-takers gravitate towards the less conventional practices, and have to learn not to whine!

    I learn the most when I keep my mind open and go look, learn about, think about at all kinds of work, and find artists (from prehistory on) whose voices and works speak to me -- through sculpture, abstract painting, site-specific installations, photography, movies, whatever.

    No matter what, it's hard work to make a living. There are advantages and disadvantages to either choice, to try to live by selling work or to work at something else, and keep art-making and money-making separate. Keep asking the art questions -- that's what it's about. If you wake up some morning and don't have any, that's a problem. You don't seem to be in any danger.

    I like coming to your blog because I particularly like the way you use grays and blues with yellows (Vermeer comes to mind), and because I have never seen the Rockies, and I get a feel for these spectacular places from looking at your work. Cheers.