Thursday, 16 May 2013


Sea Dean - Misty Walk on Long Beach
Re-posted from my Artslant Blog, April 2012 ..... It's fun to look in the rear view mirror occasionally

My goal is to complete 100 paintings this year. This may seem like a lot but read on and you'll see why. A close friend mentioned the other day that she thought I was very prolific and then said "how many have you sold?". To people on the outside looking in this is a logical question but it's difficult to answer with a simple number and it's easy to get depressed when you have to say zero.

Firstly it helps to compare Artists to professionals in other fields. Would you ask a medical student in the first year of college how many people they had operated on? The thought wouldn't even come to mind because we expect a few years study and practical supervision before a medical student takes a scalpel to anyone. And yet we think an Artist should start selling work as soon as they pick up a paintbrush. Why is that?

As an Artist, you start producing work at the offset and that work has SOME value, at least to compensate for the ever escalating cost of supplies. But you can't expect to earn a living and call yourself a "Professional Artist" until you have a certain amount of study and practical application under your belt. It doesn't really matter if your education is at a famous Art School, at night school or alone with a computer and a paint brush, you will eventually hone your skills and embed what you've learnt so deeply that your work takes on a professional look. A certain "something" starts to shine through and that is the point when sales take off. This doesn't happen overnight and somewhat depends on the hours you are willing to dedicate and how serious you are about making a living from your art. Many students have dropped out of medical school to take up another field of study and many would be Artists have given up after they experience a few rejections. As in all fields it is the dedicated few that achieve a comfortable income and/or make it to the top.

I was reading the "Artist's Statement" of a prolific Professional Artist yesterday ... his name escapes me but he states that most experts say it takes 15 years to become established. He did it in 3. He also said it took 645 paintings before he had his big break. Now I'm not a mathematician, but even I can see that's over 200 paintings a year ... roughly 4 a week!

Another Artist, Iris Scott, who is making a living from her work, had a breakthrough in 2009 after she spent a year in Taiwan. She said you have to get away and live somewhere cheap so you can create at least a painting a day for a year. If you calculate in a little R & R you can still see that is over 200 paintings a year. Living cheap for a while means you can spend the bulk of any income on supplies. Iris recommends selling those first paintings for whatever you can, in order to buy more supplies. Daily Paintworks or eBay are a good place to start.

It is nothing new for artists to have challenges selling their work and since wealthy patrons seem to have gone the way of the Dodo, learning how to market your work is another skill you need to develop which I will talk about in a later blog. Make sure your friends know you are serious not just dabbling and you need money to develop your skill: Ask them to consider one of your works as a gift or to purchase one for themselves. Let them know you are willing to negotiate a price or a payment schedule that works for both of you. After all Leonardo carried Mona Lisa everywhere with him until his death probably hoping he would find a wealthy buyer. And look at Van Gogh... perhaps if he had produced a painting a day and stepped up his sales skills to pay for supplies he would have kept his ear and died rich.

One of my mentors, Okanagan Artist Julia Trops has sold over 1100 paintings in 10 years. I've just realised that is SOLD not PAINTED and I would like to know how many she had to create to sell 110 a year ... I must ask her. Another mentor Roisin O'Farrell in Ireland appears to sell about 100 paintings a year even in this economy and they are mainly 80 - 120 cm square which is a considerable size with the amount of detail she adds. She is also raising a family so where she finds the time I've no idea.

Jerald Blackstock in Calgary, makes a living teaching Art and says he can get you past anything that ails you by showing a student how to complete a work in half an hour. Frankly, I can't even choose a subject, design a composition, prepare a canvas and brew a pre-painting expresso in half an hour, not to mention signing, varnishing, framing, photographing, and posting on facebook and my website which in my opinion is all part of the task of "finishing" a painting. We can no longer stick our head in the sand in the area of marketing - it's at least 50% of the profession.

Before chatting with Jerald I thought my "Paint a Masterpiece" class was spectacular, taking people from squeaky clean beginner through prep to completing a copy of a Masterwork, varnished, framed and ready to hang in only one day. Even for people with some Watercolour or Oil painting experience this class works to introduce them to Acrylics. My students get so excited by how much they learn and it kick starts them into becoming confident artists. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. I love it when a group of friends organise a PAM painting party because they instantly have painting buddies to share their experience with. I travel and teach this class around the world and it never ceases to amaze.

So back to my goal of 100 paintings this year! It looks pretty sad compared to the giants mentioned above. Each week I should complete about 2 paintings. We are now 16 weeks into the year so I should have 32 works; I'm at 26 plus a few touch ups from my incomplete pile which I don't count. At the rate of 200 paintings a year I should be 64.

How do successful artists do it? Well I aim to find out and I'll let you know. I understand the reasoning behind mega production and agree that if I'm really serious, I have to step up my game. I need to take my Art to the elite athlete stage of training.

Anyone got any paints and canvases they don't want?

Posted by Sea Dean on Artslant 4/23/12