Falling Off the Cliff

"Karma""Good Karma"No, not the fiscal cliff, the artistic cliff. Have you ever been asked to create something you have no history with? Did it make you have flop sweat or feel slightly sick?  You are not alone.

Recently I was asked to paint a portrait of a dog. Having never painted or drawn a dog, I was nervous.

I wasn’t sure I could do it or if they would like it.  But, I chose to step outside my comfort zone and am glad I did.

For many people a dog is a member of the family.  Trying to capture the personality that they know and love can be tricky, especially if you have never met the dog.  I worked from pictures and made it clear to the client that there was no obligation to like the painting.  I felt that gave us each an option to walk away if things did not work out.

The first painting was well received and someone else saw it and asked me to do their dog (the one pictured here). That became a surprise Christmas present and the person receiving it was delighted.

I captured the heart shape spot on the nose and it was (unbeknownst to me) a special feature on their dog.
I now have two more paintings I am going to do.

Stretching your abilities is very scary and thrilling at the same time.  I guess the lesson here is that you should never be afraid to try something new. And in trying it, you may find there is an area of Art that you enjoy doing.

Keep making Art.

Selling You and Your Art

You cannot seperate you from your art.  You are the one who creates the art, so your soul and personality are front and center whether you are in the room or not.  Get used to the idea that you become part of what is being marketed.  Marketing is a multi-level effort, so I will first talk about the one piece of advertising that every artist should use, your business card.  It is the first impression people get of you as a professional artist and if it is not inspiring, it may be the last.

A representation of your art on your card becomes your “logo” that reminds people of your art.  I recently went through some artist cards I had saved and found one with no image.  I have no idea what the artist does or why I was interested enough to save his card.  I could probably find out by visiting his web site, but in this busy world can you blame people for just dumping it?  So, be sure to show your art.

When I first needed cards, I tried to save money by using the computer paper that pulls apart into cards.  Of course my computer skills were less than perfect and my Photoshop knowledge was non-existent.  But, even if I had all the skills, these cards would not have impressed.  The paper quality is too light and the finish has to be printable, so it cannot have a nice coating..

I started collecting other artists cards and seperated them into successful and non-successful cards.  Things started to stand out.  Whether you print on both sides or not is up to you.  If you print on the back, you lose the spot you can write a note such as the name, price , and size of a piece a client is interested in.  On the positive side, you get more coverage; more information out there.

Putting your image on the card with lettering over the top can be problematic.  If your letters get lost over part of the image because the colors are too similar, you defeat the purpose.  Keeping the image and the lettering seperate works the best, although it decreases the size of the printed area.  One way to make this all look good is to stick with one really easy to read font and change the size or boldness to highlight information.  Keep it simple.  Pick out the most important information, you name, perhaps a phone number, e-mail, or website.  If in doubt, leave something out.  This is not your entire resume, just a way for people to contact you.

Start small with a few cards.  Good sources of cards in small numbers are www.vistaprint.com or www.overnightprints.com.  They both have great deals on a small number of cards.  250 business cards for $15 plus shipping or some variation.  The great part  is you can keep the general layout each time you print and simply change out your image.  I have seen artists lay out several piles of business cards with a different image used for each stack.  It can work as an opinion poll, the image that gets taken the most is a winner!

The most important thing is to get a card!  Everyone expects you to have one, live up to those expectations, keep it professional and keep making art.


“Tall Vase” Acrylic on Canvas

Well, OK, with all your best efforts, sometimes you just don’t get into a gallery or make a sale.

First I want to talk about galleries. Galleries are a business and the bottom line for them is making money.  Some of the big ones go with already established artists and won’t be of interest to you until you become “established”.  Others may reject your work because the person making the decision does not like your work or feels it will not sell to his or her known client base, or….simply has made the biggest mistake in the world!

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

The same goes with potential sales to individuals.  Either they simply do not like your work, don’t envision it fitting into their world, or have just lost a great opportunity!  (I was just in a gallery where a person really wanted a sculpture, did not buy it and when she came back the next day, it was gone.  Bet she won’t do that again.)

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I have watched people walk right past my booth at a fair and other people ‘ohh and ahh’ over the work.  For, as many styles of art as there are in the world, there are as many artists who create that work.  If it makes you feel better you can mumble bad things about the people who don’t buy, “they don’t have any taste, must be a rube from the country, etc. etc.”, but in reality the magic just did not happen.

It is more helpful to your well being to think that for every person who does not like your work, there are many more that do.  And for the many more that do, some of the sales are lost because they simply don’t have the money right now.  Or the timing was just off.

Every missed sale is still an opportunity, every gallery that rejects you is a potential venue for your work at a later date.  And sometimes, just sometimes, your work might have not been good enough…..right now.

But, don’t despair, Keep Making Art.


“Table Vase”   Acrylic on Canvas

For years, I was the one in control, I could adjust the Horizontal and stop the Vertical from rolling.  When I first approached a Gallery, it felt like I had entered the Twilight Zone naked when everyone else had clothes. The Gallery owner has all the power, especially when you are just starting out.  You have no history with showing your work; no reputation to fall back on.   I had no control over the situation or the outcome… or so I thought.

Lucky for me, I had two things going for me.  First I was fearless and simply did not know any better, and second I had a body of work to show.  I approached a Gallery that I had admired and visited often.  This was a Gallery that carried pieces of work that I liked and seemed like a good fit for my Art.

I was so new to this process that I packed my pieces into the car, drove to the Gallery, and asked the owner if he wanted to look at my work.  I guess I figured I could live with the rejection if he said no on the spot, but did not want to go through the telephone calls.

He looked at my work, gave me some advise on matting the pieces that I have never forgotten and took some of my work into the gallery immediately.

I surely did everything wrong and it worked out anyway!  I would not recommend anything I did as a template. Learning by stumbling around is not only inefficient, it can make you look unprofessional.  I had no business cards; no artist statement.  Later I learned to have a representation of my work.  Initially it was slides as expected by Galleries and now digital images.  I also carry a small photo album (most art supply houses carry them as a “professional archival presentation book”) with images of my work so I can show to a Gallery on the spot, if the opportunity arises.  It would also be optimal to make an appointment, but if you are there and engage the owner in a conversation….

  • Rule #1   It is not productive to approach a Gallery that you have not done your homework on.  A Gallery of Western Art will not be interested in your Abstract.
  • Rule #2   Take your time to get all your ducks in a row.  That includes cards, an artist statement (no matter how brief) images of your work to show and e-mail for juries, and all of your pieces ready to go into a Gallery or Show.  By that I mean an inventory list of your work and a label on the piece with the same information.

All of these things take time, but it is worth the effort.  And if at first you don’t succeed,  Keep Making Art!


“Flowers II”   Vintage Fabric

“Rain”   Mohair, Silk, & Beads

So, how did my interest in art get rekindled?  While a Police Detective, I had an opportunity to take classes and become one of several people trained to do forensic art. Forensic drawing is a tool used by the Police Bureau to translate the memory of a victim of a violent crime into a drawing of the suspect that can be distributed to the public.  My training never was in this area, but I jumped at the chance to learn to draw faces.  After a week of intense training, which started with some very scary drawings, I was reminded that I could draw.  The classes taught me how to refocus on  looking at the face the same way you look at anything you are drawing.  I was also taught how to break the face up into grids.  I  learned how to draw from a witness description of the suspect they remembered.  HOW COOL!  OK, it will never make it to a museum, but it sure was amazing.

After that experience, I was on my way back to working with art.  But where to start?  I looked around the house and realized that I have a lot of fabric just lying around.  I started thinking about how I could use that fabric without just making a ‘wall hanging’. 

I wanted what I did to rise to the level of “art” and have people not just view it as a craft.  (I have seen many fabric pieces which are true works of art, but some people will never consider it such unless it is framed.)

So, I began to experiment with how to attach the finished fabric to a surface to create a collage and make sure it stayed put.

My idea was to then mat and frame the work, just like a drawing.  I was afraid to use an adhesive for fear that over time it would release inside the frame.  I then had to figure out the proper mat and frame combination.  Some of the pieces needed to be framed in a deep frame because of the addition of three dimensional object.

Although I felt like I was reinventing the wheel, I was sure that other artists had already been there.  As it turned out,  I have never seen anyone do anything exactly like this.  I have had the pieces in galleries (I will talk about that experience later) and they are quite popular.  I have shown two pieces at the top of this post.  Immediately you can see the problem I faced;  photographing the finished work is very difficult.  Shadows change how the piece looks, but they also show the depth and details that would otherwise be lost.  Beading gets lost unless the light catches them, but that then distracts from the image and the collage elements.  So, it became difficult to send pictures out, they had to be seen in person. 


My journey began with solving the problem of affixing the collage within the frame so it would not move.  I tried wiring the collage to a mat board using grommets in the fabric.  I then ran wire through the grommet and the mat board.  That solution seemed to limit what I could do with my designs (always using the same materials on each collage).  I made lots of experiments and finally punched holes in the mat board with an ice pick.  I then actually sewed the collage onto the mat board with fine mono-filament after temporarily affixing it in position with a glue stick.   The collages are made using an underlayment to position the pieces on, they are washed sometimes, painted on and beaded after washing.  I use found materials, sometimes cutting the finished product apart and reconstructing into another form.  The possibilities are endless, but I was limited by how big I could make them.  The design elements seem to lose structure as the pieces got bigger.  When the piece became too large the fabric pieces became distracting as fabric instead of a shape of color.  Also, all of the small details really meant that the pieces needed to be more intimate.  So from across a room you see an abstract collage and up close you see all the fine details.

I still make collages and some are still fabric.  I have had much more fun learning how to paint and have been using some of the materials from the collages as part of my paintings.  Next time I will talk about my first gallery experience.

Keep making art!