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.


“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!



“Birdsong”  Acrylic on Board

So, you want to take your art to a gallery.

I originally was going to talk about my gallery experiences in this post, but then realized that it would be important to first talk about what you, as an artist, need to do to get ready.

Although I was not very prepared when I first went into a gallery, I did have one thing going for me. I had a “body of work”.
In law enforcement a “body of evidence” is a group of things related to a crime that lead to or point to a certain suspect or theory of how the crime was committed. In Art a “body of work” should point back to the Artist. In other words, when people look at your work they should see something that makes it recognizable as coming from you. The most important link between pieces is your style. Style is different than subject matter. Some artists like to paint western scenes or fantasy, but how you render those subjects is your “style”. This is also sometimes called a signature.

So how do you develop a style that is unique to you and brings all your pieces together? When I decided to try painting, I got some cheap canvases and started trying to paint a painting. I had taken painting classes in College, but the wisdom of the time was to just paint with no instruction and you would find your way. Sure, there were exercises and mixing color, models and still life to paint. There were drawing classes and critiques, but no real instruction on how the ‘old masters’ actually created their work.
So, I figured I would just dive in and see what happened. I painted this and that, anything I could think of. I would try to copy paintings I liked, paint a still life that I set up in the studio, and draw things from nature. Some of the first canvases became so thick with paint, from painting on them over and over, that the paint started to peel off. So my recommendation is to copy from anyone, do it over and over, keep trying new things, until you find a way of creating that is unique to you.

Eventually I started finding my way to a style of painting that was all my own. Even when I copied other painters, the paintings came out with my style embedded into the piece. Once I had my style,(which by the way will continue to evolve as I grow and develop my painting skills) I could start to build a body of work.

Next, I promise to address galleries.

Keep Making Art!