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Things I wish I’d Known At the Start
The following article was written by Debra Keirce, a regular contributing author to The BoldBrush Letter.
As artists, we all want to maximize our growth and work as efficiently as possible. We’ve all got a list of things we wish we’d known at the start. Want to compare? Here’s mine:
1. Don’t spend time in the activities you don’t understand or connect with. For me, although I absolutely love many art media, I only have one lifetime. So, I choose to spend my energy in places that bolster my drawing and painting experiences. Plus, drawing and painting don’t involve fire or heavy objects usually, so my history tells me I will live longer painting…but that’s a different consideration.
The thing is, there is often a pull to try new things. When I participated in the street fairs, functional art always sold best. People buy earrings, coffee mugs, and bowls on impulse. They think a lot longer about purchasing paintings or drawings. It was really tempting during that time, to try creating in different genres, and I did some of that. I ended up in the craft realm, knowing that was not where I belonged if I was playing my personal long game.
2. WHEN I am creating is important. If I try to work when I am tired, or distracted, I don’t end up with quality painting sessions. I need to be alert enough to problem solve. You know those warnings on medications that say do not drive or operate heavy machinery? That is how I need to treat my painting time. Otherwise, I end up correcting mistakes... lots and lots of mistakes.
3. Focus on what is exciting. For many artists, experimenting IS part of the process. I have learned to recognize that this is not my story. It may surprise you to know I am rarely concerned about my subject. What really excites me is my process. I love the illusionist aspect of what I do. Creating a painting in 2D that looks and feels 3D is what makes me happy. It excites me, like I am doing magic. When I focus on learning, practicing, and networking with people who also prioritize realism, I am excited by those interactions, and my fun meter pegs out.
Contrast this to many years ago, when I had a spray and pray attitude. I tried everything, and quickly learned I can’t do everything AND do it well. When I started to focus, I zeroed in on the things I read I was supposed to. I spent a lot of time blogging, doing street fairs, trying different art genres, targeting specific collector groups. Those were all great, and I learned so much. But 20/20 hindsight says a better use of my time would have been to immerse myself in realism workshops and practices. I believe I would be further along in my career now, if I had.
4. How to become an artist is something you can only learn by doing it. There are so many books, videos and companies who offer guidance. Bold Brush has lots of free and paid advice FASO members can access. But if you have ever dipped a toe into all the business and art making tips out there, you know that it is an overwhelming and confusing place to be.
I really feel this is because there is no universal method for the best way to become an artist. It’s not like being a bus driver, where you read the manual, pass the test, and begin driving your route. It’s more like finding your way out of the Grand Canyon. Do you want to scale the rock face and build skills while doing lots of camping and introspection? Do you want to hire a mule and enjoy the scenery without wearing your legs out on the way up? Do you prefer to follow the river till you meet up with others, and then you can form a plan together? Do you have the cash to walk to the visitor’s center and call an Uber? All of these solutions could spawn lots of different advice on the best way to solve the challenge. But in the end, you should be doing what feels right for YOU. What being a successful artist looks like for me, and the best way to get there - it can be very different from what it looks like for you.
5. Where I create and where I sell my art is important. This has evolved over time. In the beginning, I did plein air painting and I had a very minimalistic approach to supplies. I could pack up my whole art studio and take it anywhere. I could paint in wineries or at schools, restaurants, coffee shops and festivals, in the same way I painted at home.
It was years before I had a proper studio, where I could stock tools and supplies I may only use some of the time. But this is the exact instant when my art started to take on a life of its own. I finally had what I needed to create work in layers, where I have several pieces in progress at once. I came to understand that a big part of my inspiration is witnessing the way my pieces come to life, and being able to take the time to watch them slowly develop. The paintings became part of the conversation. If I pay attention to them, I notice the places I need to add a little of this, or take away a little of that. At the start, I felt I could paint anywhere, and my studio space didn't matter.
I finally figured out what works best for me right now. It is creating work in my studio that I sell online or in brick and mortar venues. I never knew to think about these things at the start. Honestly, I just went to wherever there was sales potential. It was about 30 years of creating art before I even considered approaching galleries.
6. Who I paint for isn’t my decision. What I mean by this, is my collectors find me. I don’t find them. I put my art where people can see it. Then I work to provide communication tools that make me easy to connect with. With very little prompting, the art lovers who like what they see will seek me out. They will subscribe to my monthly newsletter. They will follow my FASO art alerts.
In the beginning, I read a lot of marketing advice that told me to figure out who my ideal collector is, and do targeted marketing. I spent a lot of time, money and energy figuring out the age, gender, profession, expendable income and life style I thought would describe my ideal collector. I ran ads in all the publications that person would read. I showed my work in the places that person would frequent. I even started local social groups that I believed would attract that person to my friend circles. I geared my extracurricular activities toward things I thought would bring me in contact with that person.
None of this brought me more than a handful of sales. It was a huge undertaking, and the first of many lessons about how we can’t control who sees our art or how they relate to it when they do.
The big pivot was when I just began painting for me. My sales continue to grow, and my number of collectors has grown. Guess what - That ideal collector person? I really don’t think there is a single one of them in the group of people who are in my top 20 collectors today. My ideal collector is the one who loves and buys my art. That’s all I need to define them by.
7. Progress comes most often in very small increments. It’s important to notice the very little movements of the needle toward my goals. If I am always focused on the prize, I become frustrated that it’s taking so long to get there.
Between all of us, this list could be a very long manual. But these are the thoughts I believe most of us relate to. Even if some of the items on my list do not apply to your experiences, I hope you can look back, wherever you are on your art journey, and acknowledge the progress you’ve made.
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