Tag Archives: art success

Resistance


If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.
Sun Tzu

The-War-of-Art_straight_1024x1024

A few weeks back one of my best friends; Daniel Ionson: http://www.facebook.com/daniel.ionson shared with me an audio book titled: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  My friend is a good writer trying to chisel his way into the novel market.  Danny and I have similar tastes and he has a great eye for books.  Anyways, he told me this Pressfield book hits it on the head, so I said sure send it my way.  [Steven, if you ever read this, I promised myself to buy a real copy of your book.]

Anyways after a few weeks of procrastination, I uploaded it to iTunes and started it just the other day while painting Ionson’s novel cover.  It only took about 30 seconds to realize this book was for me.  The forward by Robert McKee left me wondering where the hell was Pressfield the day I needed his words the most: when I decided to enlist instead of exploring art school with any real conviction.

As I listened the prose carried into my soul like one of Caesars speeches to his legionnaires.  Chapter one hit me like a laser guided bullet.  The words were as right as rain.  I wasn’t just listening and painting, I was soaking Pressfield in like a dry sponge does water.  I will admit I’m only about 25 minutes into the audio book but I feel like I’m better informed and educated to fight the battles ahead that will assure me art success.  If you follow my blog and are too wondering what it is I’m exactly talking about with this Pressfield book, simply open another browser window, and paste this link in:

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=steven+pressfield+the+war+of+art

You will thank me later.  🙂

So what I have decided after taking in just a piece of Pressfied’s The War of Art, is to find an artist retreat somewhere, off the grid with NO internet, NO cell, NO TV!  Nothing but my paints and paper.  I’m going to find out what I’m capable of as a full time painter.  Call it an extreme artist makeover.  I’m hoping to find a scenic quiet place with a great view away from the world.  That is my self motivational kickoff to turning a new leaf.

Any location suggestions with vacancy maybe late next spring or early summer?

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A Day In The Life


    “I read the news today, boy
    About a lucky man who made the grade” 

John Lennon

There is a false sense of security one can wrap themselves in when accolades start coming your way.  This year has been very good to me in the awards department.  I pulled in $1650.00 in prize money in three out of four juried shows I attended.

Lincoln Art Festival Best of Show

Lincoln Art Festival Best of Show

Make no mistake, winning awards is great, they are confidence builders and nice annotations to the art resume.  They don’t equate to sales; 2012 was far better for me.  I think of what new paintings I had showing compared to last year: only four small 5″ x 7″ marble paintings and one 5″ x 7″ fruit.  The latter was only on display for my last show in Lincoln Illinois.  Ultimately I feel my booth presentation improvements have helped considerably.  It’s a bit easier to spruce up a tent than it is to churn out 20 new paintings.  Consistency  and uniformity in frames, mat quality and cutting as well as professional signage are all important elements to having a good both presentation.  Yes the art is what matters most.  I feel as if I am riding on the coat tails of my older paintings.  Why?  Let me explain.

Working a full time day job sometimes makes painting after hours seem like a second job.  Often I get home and simply don’t feel like painting.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want to paint, I just don’t feel motivated to start after working all day.  Ever feel like that?  Yes I know, the picture isn’t going to paint itself, you’re right.  I want to paint but I simply don’t start.  I’m sure there is some pill for that.

Don’t let me fool you, I don’t dig ditches, throw trash or haul bricks all day.  I don’t even walk uphill to work.  Quite the opposite actually.  Rather I sit on my ass in a shared office, doing a tech job that isn’t very fulfilling.  It’s a paycheck; a good one, but one that I do because I must.  I am one of those guys who works to live, not vice versa.  I wish I liked my job, but I don’t.

Ultimately my art must be able to completely replace my 9-5 income, before I quit my daily grind.  I guess that’s my dream, to wake up being my own boss, and yes, get paid for it.  Sounds ambitious right?  Perhaps, but who wants to work a long day and not get paid?  Wouldn’t you rather do something you love to do and make good money at it? Isn’t that the dream, getting paid doing what you love.

Staying motivated is the key.  Having discipline to work regardless of motivation is the answer.  Regardless of talent hard work is the difference between success and failure.  There are no less than 20-30 paintings in my head that are worth painting.  How long is it going to take?  I don’t know, but none of them will get finished unless I get my butt in front of my stretched paper and start.  I have to make the grade, by my standards.  I’m lucky to have accomplished what I have since taking up the brush back in 2006.  Right now I feel like my output is sitting at a D.  So I’ll leave you with a bullet point list of helpful thoughts.

  • Paint at least two hours a night, five days a week
  • Sketch Daily
  • Blog twice a week
  • Start using a art calendar
  • Read more art related material
  • Have short term, mid term and long term goals written out
  • Take a workshop from another artist
  • Open my Amazon store front
  • Sync my FB/Blog and website with updates
  • Get my website redesigned using a WordPress theme
  • Daily Painter
  • Seek out quality galleries

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Saving the Best for Last


In two days I will likely attend my last art festival for the season, unless my wait listed status for the 4th Street Art Fair in Bloomington Indiana changes, which I doubt, as it’s the 4th year in a row I’ve been wait listed.

Actually Lincoln may be my last festival in the Midwest.  This festival has been good to me over the three years I have attended.  I’ve enjoyed decent sales, a great booth location and most surprising two wonderful awards I was given by the jury.  The first; a Best of Show, and the second a First Place in Fine Art.  Last but not least was Marty Ahrends who organized the show the first two years I attended and was a wonderful host.

Looking back at my July blog post, I was in much the same place as I am now, a few days out from the next art festival hoping for good weather and crowds.  Sugar Creek ended up being great.  The crowds were wonderful as was the weather.  Topping it off was a First Place Award in Fine Art.

2013 Award Winners

2013 Sugar Creek Award Winners

So after five years of banging away at watercolor paintings I think I’ve established myself locally with a solid body of work, a handful of notable awards and some great opportunities to teach others my craft.  Now there is a strong possibility I will be packing my bags and moving to Oregon.  Getting roots down somewhere else won’t be as difficult, but I will be leaving behind some friends and a community of artist and patrons whom I’ve enjoyed working with and painting for.

Tonight the tent gets packed and we drive to Lincoln to setup.  The weather forecast looks good, my booth spot is the same as last years and I’ve knocked my prices down a bit on my originals.  I have not moved one in a long time so we will see if I’ve adjusted correctly.   If you’re reading this, it may be your last chance to walk away with an original

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Past Present & Future


Fourteen blog posts in 2011. Not bad I guess, but not good either:

New Resolutions:  1/5/2011
First Salvos:  1/20/2011
Losing Momentum:  3/1/2011
The Good the Bad & The Disappointments:  3/31/2011
Paying to Play:  4/15/2011
Small Watercolors, Small Steps:  4/18/2011
A Little Art Exhibit:  5/3/2011
Reading the Signs:  5/25/2011
Picking up the Pieces:  6/11/2011
Art that is Personal:  6/29/2011
A Short Break:  8/12/2011
Making Time:  8/26/2011
Art Galleries are they worth it?  10/19/2011.

I just skimmed over everything I wrote from 2011.  Looking back I have to say it was a tough and expensive art year for me.  My festivals were hit and miss, mainly miss.  The exhibitions, contests and shows I applied to were mostly filled with rejections.  I managed to complete twelve original paintings of which seven sold.  I made it into the TWSA National and won a Juror’s Choice award at the McLean County Art Center’s first local watercolor exhibition.  I even found an artist roommate to share the studio space with which has helped on costs.

Towards the tale end of 2011, I started teaching watercolor classes at the McLean County Art Center and also began individual lessons at my art studio.  I have always thrived on learning from other artists and it has been nice to give back and teach others what I know about painting.  It sort of feels like I’ve come full circle in some respects.  I’m still clawing for success and validation with my work but whether that manifests itself now, later or never doesn’t really matter.  It is the journey that is important right?

What will this year bring?  An end to the Mayan calendar for sure!  Other than that, probably more of the same, but maybe there will be a show or two I get into this time, or an exhibition I’ve been hoping for.  Maybe I will be able to paint thirteen paintings this year and post more on this blog without letting almost ninety days go by without a word.

I want to thank those of you who I have interacted with over the last year.  To my seven followers, you have my sincere thanks.  I will always look up to Crystal Cook’s Blog for inspiration, she rocks the blog scene and does a great job of conveying the good artists message.  Dan Vangeli, you’re the man and we are overdue for a phone call.  May your 2012 be even sweeter than 2011 was for you.  Many thanks to two of my mainstay supporters, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Stoeckley.  You both have been great sounding boards for me over the years and I appreciate it.  I also want to shout out to Doug at the MCAC, thanks for doing what you do and looking out for me this last year.  I want to express my gratitude to Natalie and Bekah at The Pod for entertaining my son on his weekly visits and for selling my art!  Last but surely not least, I want to thank my family for putting up with the trials, tribulations and moments of success I’ve experienced and shared since this all started.

Ok, let’s roll.

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Art Galleries, are they worth it?


If my blog was one of my kids, it would have died from neglect.  I can’t count the days that I had passing thoughts about writing something insightful or interesting but the moments passed and I guess I just got caught up in the day.  Days fade into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it your online journal is old and dusty.  It is not just being busy that keeps me away from blogging as much as one ‘ought’ to.  The fact is, at times, I don’t think anything I may write is worth reading.  I guess it’s better to say nothing than to just vomit out posts on the basis of being regular.

Regardless I’ll press on from where we left off at the tail end of August,  galleries.  I really don’t have much experience as an artist interacting with the art gallery scene.  Initially I thought galleries to be a waste of commission money, but I have come to learn that a gallery can be worth the money.  Promoting yourself as an artist requires many different hats, all of which require time to wear.  Most painters I know just want to paint and we all wish the rest would just fall into place, but it doesn’t.  To be successful as an artist, you have to be a marketing manager, a publicist, a web designer, blogger, a tax adviser, business manager as well as the crafter.  Good galleries can wear a few of these hats for you.

Galleries and artists have to possess a symbiotic relationship in order for both to be successful.  I  have found such a gallery, The PodIt is co-owned by artists Bekah Berry and Natalie Wetzel.   The Pod opened last July during our local fine art festival which I was showing in.  As it was a good show for me, I know the The Pod did very well and business was booming those first two days.  Since then, I have established an art presence there and become friends with Bekah, Natalie and their great families.  I have even learned a bit more about what a good gallery can do for an artist.  Hold that thought, I’ll get back to this in a minute.

If you are an artist, ask yourself this:  How do I get my art out there to sell?  Online? Festivals? Contests and exhibitions?  If you have read my blog enough, you will know that festivals are the most labor intensive and risky.  The costs an artist bears is considerable and the ROI is as unpredictable as the weather.  How much online sales have you garnered assuming your website/presence is even capable of e-commerce?  Art exhibitions can also be expensive and usually require original work only.  You have to give up a piece for the duration of a show.  Often the exhibitions will take a little cut of your proceeds if your piece sells.  You have to pay to apply, pay to ship and you wait.  Sales during these events are uncommon if not rare and the competition is tough, so having expectations to take home some prize money is a foolish notion.

Exhibitions are a great way to get exposure.  Often they are covered in national circulated magazines and can draw the attention of galleries, collectors and customers.  They are also a great way to meet and greet other artists, patrons and society organizers.  Most nationally ranked shows such as the AWS, NWS & the TWSA are located in very busy venues that get lots of traffic.  Some even have traveling exhibitions where the show is displayed in several large cities around the country.

Now back to the gallery.  Some offer a co-op where you pay for wall space or rent and keep 100% of your proceeds if something sells.  Others take a commission and still some do a combination of both.  Over the long haul I find the renter type of gallery to be cost prohibitive and in some sense counterproductive.  Think about it, a gallery that is a wall rental operation only has to worry about getting the rent check.  They don’t have to know you, your art,  or even really value your craftsmanship.  Their first concern is paying their rent from the rent checks they collect from the artists.  There is less motivation to sell and often the more art this type of gallery can cram in, the better.  I like to call it wall sprawl.  You will know it when you see it.   Art starts inches from the floor and will go inches to the ceiling, around corners and in places that are not really idea for display.  Pushing maximum density comes to mind!

Combination galleries who charge wall rent and also take a commission tend to be even more costly to the artist.  Often the rent and commission fees are cheaper but together they often surpass the other two types of galleries.  If your art sits in a rental gallery for too long, you are more or less giving it away or losing money.  This forces artists to either up their prices to compensate or bring in larger expensive pieces that can afford to depreciate over rental time and still make the artist some money on the back end of a sale.  Given the economy, who wants to add yet another monthly expense?

When I first considered galleries as an option, my first thoughts were, “50%…. really?  The hell with that.”  Then I got myself going with festivals, and found that not only was I putting in travel expenses and the time and costs of showing at a festival, it was hard work and often unrewarding.  Rinse and repeat this process and soon, 50% seems more appealing.  I don’t have to setup a tent, sit in blazing heat for 12-20 hours and hope sales are enough to warrant the effort.  There is far less risk in damaging my art in transit and I don’t have to worry about inclement weather, setup and tear down difficulties, hotels and all the other intangibles that spring up during a festival.

Alternatively I can walk my paintings down to The Pod gallery, and have them nicely displayed in a place that has far more foot traffic than my studio at a cost I can afford.  The best thing is, Natalie and Bekah are honest, friendly and very energetic about my work.  It’s an honor to be included in their repertoire of artists and I know they have my best interests in mind.  Their rates are very fair and they are flexible enough to allow me to call the shots on what art I hang there and for how long.  I’d go as far to say that they have bent over backwards to accommodate me.

I’m fortunate to have such a gallery just a block from where I paint.  Not all artists are so lucky.  The important thing to remember is what works well for me may not for you.  You may find the festival circuit far more appealing, or the rental gallery option.  Just be sure you cover all your bases before you risk your original art to the hands of strangers.  The risks need to be shared, and if you feel your being steered into a deal that puts everything on you, then just say no.  There are always greener pastures to find, just keep looking.

The Collector hanging in The Pod Gallery: Uptown Normal IL.

Made in China hanging in The Pod Gallery: Uptown Normal IL.

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Art that is Personal


Conveying something personal in my art has been one of the most challenging parts of painting.  I’ve learned, albeit slowly,  that mechanics and craft aren’t everything.  Connecting your creations to the viewer is another skill altogether.  I think the artists at the top of heap are masters of both mechanic and the transcendent.  Art has as many meanings to people as there are opinions in this world, however there are some things that I think are universal.

People want a narrative, a story or something they can relate to.   That is why music, movies and books are constants in entertainment.  Before there were words, or instruments there were pictures.  The pictures that have a narrative to them as well as fine craftsmanship and uniqueness become timeless.  Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David or his work in The Sistine Chapel are fine examples of a narrative that transcends the artist and becomes something greater.

I’m going to tangent here, but I hope in the end all this will tie together.  I’ve been writing down ideas I get for future paintings.  Right now the list is up to fifteen, and will probably grow.  I’ve found this helps a great deal when I am sitting down debating what to start next.  There is a trend developing in the list and that contains the human element.  If you go back to my previous blog post about Learning from Artist Magazines, I mentioned that the largest chunk of award wining paintings were portraits.  My list has six ideas that incorporate the figure or portrait in some fashion.  The last entry on the list was about this lucid dream I had the other day:

It was a bright summer day and I was lounging in a park near a small stream.  The grass was a lush green and the sun was bright that afternoon.  There were trees and birds and bugs flying about their business.  I think I was with someone but I don’t recall because I never saw them, but I was as I am now.

Ahead maybe a half a blocks distance, just down stream, was a young couple walking with their small boy.   He must have been five or six tops.  The trio glowed in the summer sun and were happy.  As they drew near I recognized them to be my parents but they were young and vibrant and smiling.  It felt so real and I just watched them walking.  The little boy broke out ahead of them towards me, a bit wobbly in his step.  He wore what I thought was a little boy scouts outfit, with the bandana around the neck and a tan shirt but there were no patches or anything.  Khaki shorts and brown sandals hugged his chubby legs and feet and he had the most curious look.  He stepped right up to my feet, and smiled.

I lay there looking at myself as a child.  It was surreal.  I glanced back up to my mom, who could not have been a day older than thirty.  She gave me a short motherly stare; as if she was reading my mind, and smiled, knowing somehow, without a word spoken between us, that little Johnny would remain innocent of the situation.  I smiled and cast my gaze back upon the boy in front of me.  He said to me, “My name is John.. as he smiled revealing a missing front tooth.  I replied, “That’s my name too”.  We talked for a few minutes, and there was a desire for me to tell him some words of wisdom about us, but in the end I could not bring myself to spoil it.  Moments later the trio: my Mom, Dad and me said goodbye and walked away just as they had come.  The scene passed…  I woke up.  I remembered this with such clarity.  It was one of the most unique dreams I’ve ever had, and I really wish I could go back to it.

This will be my first self-portrait attempt in watercolor.  This scene… It’s perfect in every way and I can’t begin to describe the feeling I had inside the dream, and just thinking about it brings a range of emotions and thoughts about my life or what could have been had dreams become reality.

I’m not a portrait painter yet.  I’m a still life painter for the most part.  Just as I desired to do complex still life work when I first started, I quickly realized that I had to learn to walk with watercolor before I could run.  Some subjects were beyond my ability.  I very much want to jump feet first into this self portrait, but I need some time to hone the art of portraits to a level that my still life work presently resides.  Anything less and I will be disappointed.

Ultimately, I want to incorporate more into my still life work and begin to paint people.  I see surrealism around the corner, and by the time I work through my list of fifteen, I think my art will begin to speak to a wider audience.  Maybe one of my paintings, will transcend my time here and speak to future generations in a way my earlier work was unable to do.  Time will tell.

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Reading The Signs


Tracking your own growth and success is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake in self-assessment.  If you’re not on a rocket ship to the top of the art world, it can be difficult  to read the signs of success.  Getting outside your own art box can help.

Generally speaking, I tend to underrate my art by being over critical of myself.  By doing this I also tend to diminish others perceptions of my art and me.  Taking compliments used to be as difficult as criticism.  “They are just being nice…” I would say to myself.  Hell I do that, everyone does.  For example, when your girlfriend or wife asks you if they look good wearing the jeans she has on.  A wise man will smile and say “Yes”.  Pause even a moment and you have failed.  Overdo it and become a zealous yes man and you have failed again.

Image from www.tonedeafcomics.com & John BogenschultzDespite the social politeness and courtesies we extend to one another, it has a tendency to fog the lenses a bit, especially when it comes to art.

Lets rewind a little.  2006: I’m 37 and I’m sitting in a evening watercolor class at Heartland Community College.  Nineteen years had passed since I held a paintbrush that wasn’t intended for a wall.  I was the oldest student in the room, I wasn’t sure about much of anything as far as art went.  Was it like riding a bike?  I’d find out in a hurry with another dozen peers to compare to.  Sign number one:  My end of the semester watercolor painting won the best of show at the student art show.  Big deal right?  Not really.  I chalked it up as good luck.  The story goes on… Acceptance into a bachelor’s program three months later, then into a masters program at a fairly prestigious art school twelve months from the day I started at Heartland.  Then comes the first year of art festivals.  Four shows and two originals sold and a best of show to boot.  Yes there were some Dear John’s along the way but considering I was a festival virgin, things went well.

Moving forward to my last blog post two week ago.  I dropped a few names in that post.  It was a huge surprise when I received a thank you email from one of the artists I mentioned.  Small world it seems.  How on earth did he find my blog?  I guess it was the magic of Google.  That means people do read it, and care enough to write – Thanks Dan! –  http://www.danielvangeli.com/

So my blog is sputtering forward, I’ve been juried into more shows this year, as well as a local Watercolor exhibition hosted by the McLean County Arts Center  http://www.mcaart.org/mcac/html/index.html  Commissions are trickling in, and I’m getting some foot traffic at the studio as well as a sale or two.  Which reminds me that I need to be painting instead of typing.

So if you are reading this and are wondering to yourself  how you are doing as an artist take a bit to reflect on where you were a few years ago and where are you today.  What are the signs telling you?  My signs are telling me that my ship has sailed, and made it out of the bay, ahead is a vast ocean waiting.  Hopefully I’ll be heading into calm waters and red skies.

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