Monday, December 21, 2009

Inspiring the Uninspired

It's the end of December and the major holiday flurry has passed us by. With this, I am finding that it is hard for me to get motivated to get into the studio. Last week I had the excuse of holiday shopping and preparations so I didn't get to paint much, but now I really don't have much of an excuse. I find that as the days get shorter and it's darker earlier, I am less motivated to go into the studio. It's cold out and staying home underneath a warm blanket really sounds much better than shivering while trying to paint, right? So what do you do when you aren't motivated to paint? Here's my list...

1. If I'm going to stay home, I may as well get the admin side of art done. Things like updating my website, writing my next blog post, emailing galleries, and cataloging my paintings for my own records are good things to get done since I can do those things on my couch, underneath my warm blanket, while watching some seriously bad television. Currently I am watching the "Wendy Show" as I write this (Who is Wendy and why does she have a talk show????).

2. Organize and go through your "box" of inspiration. For me, that is going through all of the old photographs that I got for Christmas and deciding what would make good paintings. Before I started working on this series, I would go online and look at other artist's websites and see what they were painting. I also have many art books to look at. A few hours of this usually gets me revved up to start a new painting.

3. Visit a gallery, museum, or interesting retail stores. My favorite is Paxton Gate, a taxidermy/garden/weird curiosity store or Pearl's Art Store. Who doesn't get excited around new art supplies? Okay, maybe that's just me. Julia Cameron, author of "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity", calls these art dates. This is time that you spend by yourself looking at things that inspire you or finding things that can inspire you. Going to see art always inspires me, whether it's cause I see something great and I want to emulate that, or I see something that isn't as great and I think I can do better than that. Sometimes just walking around to different stores gives me ideas and I find interesting supplies to use. Now this means I would have to leave the house and go out in the cold, but sometimes that's the price you have to pay for inspiration.

4. Make a date with a fellow artist. Sometimes just talking about art with another person is all I need. Getting excited about what you are doing or listening to someone else talk about what they are doing and getting excited about it is contagious. Talking to other artists gives you a sounding board to bounce ideas off each other or work out problems you may be having with a painting. Having support from a fellow artist is extremely important to my art making process.

So there you have it! Now I am done writing this blog, I'm going to go organize some photos before meeting up with my writer friend, William.

Image: "Doug", 12" x 12", oil and encaustic on wood panel. This is a commissioned painting I did before Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Things I've learned...

We recently had our holiday art sale and I have come to some conclusions for shows like this. Here is my list (I seem to be really into the list format of writing lately...):

1. Small and REALLY affordable (meaning under $150) sells. Is this a result of the declining economy or do people just like smaller works? It's hard to tell. San Francisco homes tend to be on the smaller side and wall space is sparse. While most galleries want to see larger paintings from artists, the average home in this area can't accommodate paintings larger than 24" x 24" so it would make sense that smaller paintings sells easier. My average painting sizes are 30" x 30" but I try to do a bunch of smaller pieces, usually 8" x 8", at lower prices for open studios and sales like this. These smaller pieces are usually the first to sell. They are affordable and gosh darn people like them.

2. Place refreshments inside your area, close to your work. My studio space is in a giant warehouse and our spaces are more like cubicles. During the Fall Open Studios I set up my drinks and snacks outside of my space so that it wouldn't get in the way of people seeing my art. The area looked nice but some people would walk straight to the snacks, eat, and then keep walking without so much as a glance at my work. Now the snacks and drinks weren't that expensive so it's not a money issue, but would it hurt to take a look at the art of the artist that is so graciously feeding you? Just a look, that's all I ask. They don't have to buy anything, just look at the art. This time, I placed the snacks in my "booth" and people had to walk in and, hopefully, see the art in order to eat. I got a lot more people commenting on the work and "appreciating" what I do.

3. Having a painting in progress enables people to see your process and this enables them to understand your work easier. For the Fall OS, people were constantly asking me how I got my photographs so big and how did I transfer the images onto the wood panels. Now, while it is flattering that people think my paintings look good enough to be photographs, they are in fact oil paintings. When I would explain the process of how I uses old photographs as references, draw the images, and then paint them, I got some skeptical looks and some people just didn't believe that I actually painted the images. I had a work in progress this time so people were able to see that yes, I do paint the images. It answered the question of whether I paint the eyes of each figure and then block them out (yes, I do) or do I just start off with blocked eyes since only one of the three figures were completed. People were also able to see what my paintings looked like pre-wax layer.

4. I need to work on my people skills still. I find that I am still shy when approaching people and talking about myself or my work. If I'm going to do this full time, I need to be able to feel comfortable with talking to people. I need to have my 30 second elevator speech perfected and ready to go. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a 30 second explanation of who you are and what you do as an artist. During one of Jeff Schaller's presentations he talked about the importance of this and how you should be able to explain your work in that amount of time. I've got mine down pretty good but it still needs work. Another thing added to my list of things to do.

This is it. Thanks to those of you who were able to stop by!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It has begun...!

"Three Swimmers", 30" x 30", oil and encaustic on wood panel
As you know, this past year I have been seriously contemplating becoming a full-time artist and have been trying to figure out how to go about doing that. I have talked to a few fellow artists and have gotten their advice. I have also been discussing this with my significant other to get his thoughts and feedback since, if I fail, and I don't plan to, he would be supporting the both of us. After all of this talking, I've come to the realization that I was never going to take the plunge since I still had the safety net of my day job. It's easy to talk about quitting and just painting in theory and do little to nothing about it when I had a steady paycheck coming in. So yesterday, I finally got the nerve to do something about it. I walked into my Principal's office and told him I was quitting at the end of this school year! It was terrifying and thrilling all at once. I was tired of thinking "what if I fail...?" and other such similar thoughts that kept my dream from becoming a reality. I am now ready to take the plunge.

Now granted, quitting my job in June isn't as scary as quitting it now, but I have a plan. I have figured out how much it would cost to pay my bills for a whole year (in order to be safe, I did not take into account Ben's paycheck contributions or potential art sales and just figured out what was needed as a household to survive year one). This is the amount of money I have to at least have saved by the time my last paycheck comes in, in August. I subtracted the amount from what I already have saved and divided it by the number of months I have left until that dreaded last check. Once I took a look at that amount, it did not seem as overwhelming. I figured I could worry about year two another time.

Next was to come up with some monthly goals that were easily attainable. This is a working list that I will be adding things too as I come up with them. For now, here are my goals/ list of things to do EVERY month:
1. Research and email 5 galleries a month that I think would be a good fit. I have a compiled list of galleries to contact that keeps growing but have yet to email them. 5 seemed like a workable number to contact and not feel overwhelmed.

2. Write and post on my blog at least twice a month. I haven't been very good about chronicling my adventures into artworldom partly because, a) I haven't been doing much to promote my career, and b) I kind of felt like I had to write a masterpiece each time. I've decided that I should just write. Yes, keep the information useful, but write about as much as I can regarding what I am doing with my art. I promise to never write about what I ate or about what movie I watched unless it is revelant to my art career!

3. Go to as many gallery openings as possible. There's nothing like networking to get your career going, and getting inspired by other artist is nice too. While I am at it, I should also get on the mailing list for these galleries and also on the lists of artists whose work I like.

4. PAINT, PAINT, PAINT. With my full-time job I realize that I can't paint as much as I'd like to but I should paint a minimum of 15 hours a week. 20 hours would be preferable.

So far, this is it. It seems very doable and I am excited to actually be starting the path to becoming a full-time artist! I'll keep you posted on my adventures, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ask Amber George...

The first time I saw Amber George's beautiful encaustic paintings was two years ago when I was doing a random search of encaustic artists. I stumbled upon her work and fell in love with her paintings depicting leaves, intricate patterns, and lovely textures immediately. What can I say, I like twigs and leaves, as is apparent in my previous series, and Amber does nature extremely well. We became Facebook friends (I guess it really is good for networking) and she has been a tremendous source of information in my quest to become a full-time artist, even though we have never met in person.

I had a ton of questions for Amber and she was nice enough to answer them and give me some sound advice. Here is a summary of what she said:

1. Before quiting your day job, get your money stuff squared away - pay off what ever you can and save up as much money as possible.

2. Figure out what you'll do for health insurance since you won't have a full-time job that pays for benefits anymore.

3. Consider either going part time or plan on teaching a couple of workshops or one-on-one sessions to transition into quiting your day job. This helps on the months that nothing or little sells. It's piece of mind to know that you have some income that is steady and it helps you continue to network and be social.

4. Look at galleries across the country to represent your work and do your homework. Is your work a fit? Do they represent only abstract when you paint figuratively? Do they represent emerging artists?

5. The key ingredient is the work. Make sure what you send them is a good representation of your work. If they like the work, it could take up to a year before a gallery decides to represent you, so be patient. If not, nothing you do will change the fact that the work is not a fit.

6. Talk with artists about which galleries to work with. How do they treat their artist? Do they pay on time? Are you comfortable with their policies? Not all galleries will have what you need. Just because a gallery wants to represent you, doesn't mean it's a good fit for YOU.

7. When submitting, look at the website and see if they have a submission policy and follow it. Nothings annoys a gallery more than an artist who doesn't follow instructions and wastes their time. If the gallery has no submission guidelines, then send a brief e-mail with a small jpeg or two of paintings, a link to your site and a 2-3 sentence abbreviated statement. State that you'd be happy to send any additional information per their request and apologize in advance if this is not their preferred method of submission.

8. Market the hell out of your work. Send e-mails, cards, packets to galleries anything you can do to get it out there.

Great advice Amber! Thanks again for answering my thousands of questions! To see more of Amber's work, visit .

Image by Amber George: "Sewing Strips", 18x18 inches, encaustic, sewing pattern paper, auto repair manual, thread, 2009. Courtesy Julie Nester Gallery.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Open Studios

Ben Morse standing next to his macro photos.
Every year San Francisco holds it's open studios in October that is sponsored by Artspan. This having been my eighth one that I've participated in, having visited MANY studios during the years, and having recently read a lot of articles on what makes a good open studios, I've come up with some suggestions that have helped me have a successful event.

Rosemarie Hughes-Croucher and Larry Vassan showing off work in their studios.

1. Research which galleries you would like to show at and see if they are a right fit. If they are, send them an invite at least two weeks in advance. You never know when one will stop by and it's a good excuse to get your name out there.

2. If you have a home studio and it's convenient, find a local artist space where they can rent you some space for the event. Having open studios in a space like this allows you to benefit from other artists' contact lists who will also be invited. You are also more likely to get a larger group of people visiting since people like to go to fewer locations with more artists. Seeing many artists in one space is a lot less intimidating to the average person than going to a person's home studio. In addition, it's just a lot more fun for you and you can see other people's art and get some feedback from other artists also showing.

3. Advertise on social networking sites. Sites like Facebook usually charge a minimal amount for advertising and we know there are a lot of people on those sites. Twitter about it. Update your status and write about the upcoming event. Write about the event as you are there. take pictures and post them. If your open studios is for more than one day, as San Francisco is, you may get someone who reads and sees your posts that may just want to come out and see what all the hub bub is about.

4. Clean your space. No one wants to climb over panels or feel cramped cause there is no place to stand. A clean studio may not be something that you're used to, but it's all about how you present your work. Also, don't serve snacks next to any sort of painting supplies, like turpentine or adhesives. You'd be surprised...

5. Display your work nicely. This means hang your artwork straight on a wall that is preferably white. Have clear labels or a price list. I find it intimidating to talk about prices and I know a lot of people hate asking how much something is in these situations so make life easier. Have your prices available.

6. Make sure your artist statement is in view, along with your resume. People like to see that you have a reason for what you do and that your work is worth investing in. Be ready to answer questions about your process and your reasoning behind what you do.

7. Don't be afraid to have an "Open Studios Only" sale. I usually mark my work 20% off. People like knowing they are getting a special deal. Everyone loves a "bargain". Just be sure that if you are represented by a gallery, don't price below your prices there. They really don't like it when you undercut them and they will find out.

8. During the event, make sure you make eye contact and acknowledge everyone who stops by. There's nothing worse than an artist who looks like he's too busy to talk to you. Reading a book or talking on the phone is not inviting. Don't spend all of your time talking to your friends. You can see them anytime. Use this time to make new contacts and possibly some sales. Be friendly and positive. Nobody likes a sourpuss.

9. Make sure you have postcards, business cards, and a mailing list readily available. Snacks are good too. I find peanut butter filled pretzels a big hit.

10. Thank everyone for stopping by, even if they just walked by without really looking and just ate your food. Being polite goes a long way.

Melisa Philips in her studio.

Rebekah Goldstein and studio visitors.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WWJSD: What Would Jeff Schaller Do?

Artist, Jeff Schaller standing in front of his painting, "Lost in Translation". Encaustic, 36" x 36"

With all the resources available to artists regarding marketing and sales, I'm finding that talking to other artists has been one of the most useful resources I can find. I'm surrounded by artist at various stages of their career at my studio space and, after attending the encaustic conference at Montserrat Art College, I now know artist all over the US. Fellow artists are usually friendly and willing to answer the million of questions that I seem to have now that I've decided to be more serious about my art.

On a recent trip to the East Coast, I met up with Jeff Schaller ( at his Pennsylvania studio. Jeff does fairly large paintings of people (mostly beautiful women...hmmmm...) entirely in encaustic wax. Those of you who work in wax know that that is no easy feat, but Jeff is a master of it. Add in the fact that he does this full time and supports a family through art makes Jeff a rock star of the art world in my eyes. I knew I needed to pick his brain. I wanted to be like Jeff Schaller.

I started off asking him how he was able to "make it" as an artist and what I could do in order to "make it" too. He asked me what was my definition of "making it"? Did I want to show in museums and be known world-wide? Or did I want to sell enough paintings to get by? I thought about it for a moment and decided that what I really wanted was to be able to create art the way I wanted to, without any influence from galleries or clients and how well certain art would sell better than others. I wanted people to know me as an artist and appreciate my work. I wanted to be able to live comfortably from my art sales. I wanted to quit my teaching job and paint full time.

One of his suggestions was to create a local following and buzz. You do that by having as many local showings as possible. This includes open studios, putting on your own shows, and showing in alternative spaces in addition to gallery shows. The idea is to get known within your local community and have your name associated with art, your art. When people start associating you with your art, opportunity for sales and shows start opening up . I have noticed this to be true. In the last year, I had three different art centers/ galleries ask me if I would show my work in a group show just based on the recommendation of people who where familiar with my work.

"But how do you move from having shows where people love your work, to shows where people BUY your work", was my next question. His answer was to price work to sell. Jeff said that when he started out, he just wanted to sell as much work as possible. His prices were low and people started buying his work. He was able to build a client list from this, which is important. As he started making more sales, he would slowly raise his prices for the next show. Since he had satisfied clients and was building a name for himself by that point, he was able to raise the price of his paintings as his popularity grew.

Too many times artist start asking for high prices for their paintings when they don't have the reputation or following to demand those prices. You can ask for a million dollars for your painting and it may look impressive, but unless someone is willing to pay that million dollars, all your left with is a studio space filled with million dollar paintings. I started looking at my prices for my recent work. Since I had gallery representation and they had thought my prices were too low, I raised the price of my new work. I went from selling my work pretty consistently to having a lot of admirers of my work that wished they could afford it. Since I wasn't selling anything at the gallery where my work was being shown, and I had already decided to pull my work from there because of their lack of communication, Jeff suggested lowering my prices to a more affordable rate and start building up my client list again. Open studios was coming up and that would be a perfect time for my community to see my new work and see my new affordable prices.

These were the two major suggestions that really stood out to me and seemed the most useful. Build a local following and price your work to sell. Seems pretty simple to do, right? Thanks Jeff Schaller for letting me pick your brain. I'm sure I will be filled with even more questions the next time I see you...

Jeff Schaller, age 3... before "art-rockstar-dom".

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It Takes Three...

The other day I was happily painting in my studio when one of my studio mates, Scott Inguito, stopped by to see how I was doing. We started talking about painting (as always happens in an ART studio) and he started sharing his philosophy on "making it" as an artist.

Scott said that he was giving himself three years to just paint and see what developed before worrying about attempting to show his work. He wasn't going to worry about his style or creating a series of work. He was just going to paint and see what came out and what style formed on it's own. Scott truly believed that it took 3 years to flush ideas out and develop as an artist,
regardless of the art form.

I started thinking about how long I had been painting this time around. I started about three years ago and my style is completely different than from when I started and was learning how to use encaustics back in the summer of 2006. It's only been in the last six months that I found what I really enjoyed painting and my true style began to form. The series that developed is one of the strongest I've done, I think. I didn't realize until my studio-mate said it, but the three years rule really worked for me.

Scott also said he was taking the poet's approach to painting, having been a poet for most of his life. When writing poetry, he told me, you write many poems. You write just to write and to get things out. For every ten poems, you will maybe get one really good one. He figures that if he just paints, he may not paint a masterpiece right off the bat, but for every ten paintings he does, he'll be happy to have one keeper. He wasn't going to beat himself up for not creating a great piece of art every time. He knew that you had to paint some bad ones to get a good one.

I started thinking about what he said and how I was just beating myself up about the last two paintings that I had finished. I really disliked the last one, especially. I hated the amount of white space and the scale of the figures that I painted and felt like I was digressing, skills-wise. I can really be hard on myself when I paint and get upset when what I create isn't perfect. Sometimes this sets me back a few days before I can get back in the studio to paint again. What Scott said made sense though. I didn't have to paint a masterpiece every time. It was okay to have a not-so-perfect piece. It was part of the process of developing as an artist.

I am now giving myself permission to have paintings that I may not be happy with. I am letting myself be less-than-perfect and develop my artistic skills. I have to say that this philosophy has lifted a weight off my shoulders. It's so freeing to know that I can just paint and be okay with the outcome regardless of whether it's good or bad. Thanks Scott Inguito!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Schmoozing with the Gallery Owners

I was recently in Portland, Oregon visiting my boyfriend, MBB's, family and decided that while I was there, I should try and network with some galleries.  Before we left, we researched which areas had galleries that I thought I would like, and headed to the Pearl District.

While in the first gallery, the impressive Augen Gallery, all of my childhood shyness started to come out. Suddenly I felt too embarrassed to talk to the owner about my work and why I was there. My newly revised plan was to look around, see if the gallery would be a good fit, and then discretely take a postcard or business card, as I quietly snuck out, and send them a promo packet of my work once I got home. Unfortunately/ fortunately for me, MBB was a more social person and was on a mission. 

He waited until one of the gallery personnel approached him and then proceeded to tell her that we were from San Francisco, looking at galleries to show my work. He asked the woman what were the submission policies there and were they looking for artists at the moment. The woman was very nice and answered his questions. She said that although they were not actively seeking artists at the moment, these galleries were, as she gave us the PADA, the Portland Art Dealers Association pamphlet. She then asked what kind of work I did and made some suggestions as to which galleries would be a good fit. She was very nice and helpful.

Armed with our PADA and the new information, we were off to the other galleries. Each gallery person was just as nice and filled with helpful information as Augen Gallery. I was really impressed with how nice people were. The stereotypical gallery owner that barely acknowledges the average person and is unapproachable did not exist in Portland. At least we did not meet any of these people. I still had a hard time approaching people, due to my shyness, but thankfully MBB was there and had no problems talking to anyone and asking questions. Overall, it was a good experience. Now I just need to send out my promo packet...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Art Networking Sites

In the age of social networking sites, it would make sense that there would be sites specifically for artists, an updated version of the old school art registries. There are sites such as,,,,, and to name a few. I've had some moderate success through some of these sites. I had a gallery see my work and inquire about it. I was recently "artist of the day" on Brooklyn Art Project and had my painting on the front page of their website. I was also named featured artist of the month on Myartspace. All good things. But there are some bad things that can come of these sites if you're not careful.

This is where I tell the story of Razzy Popo. That's right. Some guy named Razzy Popo (did his parent's hate him? What kind of cruel person would name their child Razzy Popo????) contacted me after seeing my artwork on one of these sites. He said he was from London and loved two of my large paintings and wanted to purchase them. Sounds good so far, right? But then he starts to mention that he could only pay by check and would mail me a check that was over the amount of the paintings and would I please cash the check and give the remaining amount to his shipper who would be handling the paintings. It sounded pretty fishy. I still wanted the sale (it would have been a BIG sale) so I told him I would feel more comfortable using Paypal. After he made some excuses about not having access to it, I agreed to let him Fedex me a check that I would wait to make sure it cleared and then contact his shipper. He took my information and I awaited my check. It never came. I suspect this was a money laundering scheme or one of those scams that usually target old ladies and their retirement checks but since I was unwilling to comply with my "buyer's" instructions, Razzy Popo did not make off with my life savings.

After doing some research and contacting the artist site, I learned that scamming artist is the new thing to do (okay, maybe not new but it was new to me). How horrible must it be to be a struggling artist and have someone not only steal your heartfelt work, but also your hard-earned money? I have since been contacted by two other people "overseas" inquiring about purchasing my paintings with checks. I deleted their emails immediately. Artist beware. There are some pretty crappy people out in the world....

Step One...Getting Over Myself

I have always hated networking and schmoozing. I've never been really good at talking about myself and my work. When asked "What inspired you to paint this? What does this mean?", people usually don't want to hear "I thought it would look pretty. There's no meaning behind this".

So when all of these social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc., started popping up everywhere, I avoided them like the plague. There was no way you would have seen me starting a personal page on any of these sites and yet the more that I talk to people and talk about wanting to promote my art, the more I hear about the need to be on these sites.  Ugh!

I am now on Facebook and will open a Twitter account, along with Flickr. I'm not sure whether these sites will actually help. I still don't have any "friends" on Facebook who aren't, well, actually my friends. As for people really want a play by play of my art life (I kind of thought that was the point of this blog)? We'll see. I will be posting links to pictures of each major step of my paintings. That could be pretty interesting. Of course, so could watching paint dry... and in this case, literally.  

Getting Started....

I recently attended an encaustic art conference in Beverly, MA and after meeting and talking to many artist who are making art as their full-time job....AND succeeding at it, I've decided that that was what I wanted to do. It has taken me a long time to get here, but I am finally here.

Art has always been something that I do in my free time. It was my way of relaxing or letting out my frustrations in my personal life. I never wanted to teach art (and somehow teaching math made more sense and fulfilled my need to geek out with numbers) because I thought that it would somehow make art less enjoyable and it would no longer be my escape from reality. So I was left with teaching math at a middle school during the day and painting during vacations and weekends. 

I've always have been very lucky in whatever successes I have had in art. Shows and sales would literally fall into my lap with little to no effort. My work was apparently good and there were enough people interested in it to make some sales. I started to think that if this was happening with very little effort, imagine what could happen if I actually tried to make it as an artist and made an effort to show and sell my work. Despite these thoughts, I did nothing. And did some more nothing. And after a little more of doing nothing to advance my art career, I am finally at the point where this is what I want to do FULL-TIME. I want to be a full-time artist and be able to support myself while doing it. This is my story of what I am doing, trying to do, and want to do in order to get me to this goal.