art

fashion illustrated

David Downton is one of those prolific artists whose work just seems to pop up everywhere. His illustrations have graced the pages of Vogue, The Financial Times, Harper’s Bazaar and V Magazine, and he draws for commercial clients including Chanel, Barney’s, L’Oreal, Dior, and Tiffany & Co.

Doesn’t his style look familiar? I didn’t know anything about the man behind the brush strokes, however, until I caught a recent profile on Fashion Television.

In 2007, Downton started an international fashion illustration journal called Pourquoi Pas? Printed on heavyweight paper in a limited edition of 1,500, the periodical is intended to “celebrate drawing in our digital, disposable, point and shoot world.” Pretty fantastic.

He also published a glossy coffee table book last year called Masters of Fashion Illustration, which celebrates some of the world’s most outlandish talents (himself included). Light on text but heavy on eye candy, it looks like a gorgeous source of inspiration — whether you work in a visual field or not.

posted 19 Jan 11 in: art, books, business, fashion, inspiration, media. This post currently has no responses.

stalking the streets

photo by The Sartorialist

Surely you all know (and maybe love) The Sartorialist, right? Photographer Scott Schuman is the reigning curator of street style, with a ridiculously popular blog that attracts people-watchers from around the globe. He also does assignment-based client work and is represented by the same gallery as Annie Leibovitz, Chuck Close, and the late Andy Warhol.

Scott’s no shrinking violet when he puts the camera down, either. He was more than happy to flaunt his alleged physical prowess in this 2009 interview with Amy Verner for the Globe and Mail.

Whatever you think about the man behind the lens, I enjoyed watching this slick, day-in-the-life film by Intel — a company that’s obviously leveraging Scott’s cool factor in an attempt to boost their own.

Check it out here or on The Sartorialist blog. What do you think?

posted 12 Jan 11 in: art, business, fashion, media. This post currently has no responses.

christmas sounds

Rockstar Diaries is one of my daily blog reads. Writer / dancer / photographer / red lipstick afficionado Naomi Davis has such an unbridled zest for life that you always want to know what she’s thinking and what vintage frock she’s wearing.

Her site recently saved my carol-addled ears with a great online holiday album called, Hey, It’s Christmas.

And while we’re on the topic, what are your picks for best and worst Christmas songs? Here are mine:

Best: It’s a tie between Band Aid‘s Do They Know It’s Christmas**  (’80s nostalgia) and O Holy Night (beautiful).

Worst: Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney. Oh, Paul. My ears are bleeding tinsel.

Happy Holidays!

** p.s. Morrissey clearly doesn’t share my love for the 1984 charity single:

“I’m not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I’ll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of Great Britain. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn’t done shyly it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.” [1]

posted 22 Dec 10 in: art, inspiration, music, performance. This post currently has no responses.

zoe meets carolyn

paintings by carolyn stockbridge / images courtesy elliott louis gallery

The very best thing about the Internet (in my humble opinion) is the chain of inspired connections it promotes. Have I written about that here before? It’s definitely one of my obsessions, and I think it goes far beyond the immediate links of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. I love stumbling into fresh ideas and creative work online, just as we used to rely purely on bookshelves, gallery walls and local clubs for new discoveries.

In the same spirit, here’s an interview that Zoe Pawlak recently did with one of her artistic heroes, Carolyn Stockbridge.

It’s fun to read their conversation and meet another abstract painter who counts Cecily Brown, Joan Snyder and Willem de Kooning (one of my favourites) as creative influences.

Oh, and if you happen to be in the Vancouver area, Carolyn’s exhibition, Grounds for Interpretation, runs at the Elliott Louis Gallery from January 4-29, 2011.

posted 21 Dec 10 in: art, business, interviews, media. This post currently has no responses.

meet zoe pawlak

photo by RAD Studio

Today, my friends, you’re in for a treat, because Vancouver-based painter Zoe Pawlak is sharing her well-earned wisdom on art, persistence and strategic creativity.

I first met Zoe through Loaded Bow – a venture she co-owns with Genevieve Ennis designed to connect and support women entrepreneurs. Zoe’s one of those people who can turn strangers into allies in five minutes flat. She’s warm and driven with a ridiculously sharp mind for business. Most importantly, her paintings draw you deep into the canvas with vibrant, vivid colors and hypnotic images.

Zoe studied painting at Concordia University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She’s the rare artist who enjoys both a thriving critical practice – including solo and group shows across the continent – and a successful career painting commissioned, site-specific works. She also served as Head of Community Relations for the 2010 Cheaper Show and writes for the Art Toronto blog, impression / expression.

Whew.

As the mom of two kids under five, Zoe’s determined to follow her creative instincts and support her family. She also talks about painting with a sense of excitement that’s surprisingly rare.  Zoe’s downright giddy about spending her days in the studio and sees sales and marketing as a welcome challenge – and a great adventure.  So sharpen your pencil or power up your iPad and prepare to take notes. There’s so much to learn from this lovely and talented lady.

1. What fuels your work?

I started painting because I love people, so I painted the figure for a long time and I practiced figure drawing and portraiture, because I wanted to tell the story of what people physically look like and how they move through the world. Over the last few years, my work has been emotive landscapes that are either physical or emotional places, and the paintings are made from memory. I arrive at them through experimentation and intuition and I just sense when they’re complete.

These days, I’m moving back into figurative work and trying to combine the figure with partial narratives and stories about women, specifically, and what we’re experiencing.

2. How do you balance the different demands of painting and business?

There’s a natural intrusion that occurs and I actually really enjoy it. It’s the spontaneity that drives my work. When I’m painting, I have a lot of time by myself and ideas just come to me about how I could sell work and move it through the market. I actually enjoy the peace and the rest that painting gives me. It fuels creative ideas and innovative ways of doing business.

I’ll paint for about an hour, hour and a half, put on music and get into it. If an idea comes to me about a client that I have to follow up with or a really beautiful blog that I forgot to write down, I’ll stop painting. I have my laptop in my studio and I’ll work for 20 or 30 minutes and pursue certain ideas. I’m a strong believer in always putting your work out there, so for the past three or four years, I’ve always spent a minimum of 15 minutes a day putting my work out into the world.

I feel like being in business drives a lot of the ways I think about painting. I have a responsibility to make honest work, but I also want it to be relevant to people.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

I really admire two Vancouver women: designer Martha Sturdy and Jane Cox, who works in partnership with her husband at Cause+Affect.

Martha is very persistent and she’s built an empire. She paved the way for us. We get to do what we do because women like Martha Sturdy have pushed through. I was fortunate to have a phone interview with Martha once and she ended by saying, “make sure that you’re always having adventures.” But throughout our the conversation, she kept saying that you have to be persistent, make what you want, put it out in the world – and if you love it, people will love it. Well, sometimes they won’t, but as a creative person, you have to continue to make the work that you really want to make.

I’ve recently gotten to know Jane and I respect the fact that she’s worked hard and shaped the company based on her strong philosophical beliefs. Jane is very attentive to what she thinks is going on, what people need, and she’s behind so many great cultural events in the city, like the introduction of Pecha Kucha in Vancouver. She’s taken Vancouver up as a calling. I think she’s very wise and innovative, and I feel that Cause+Affect thinks farther into the future than many other companies.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

I make my money only through painting and drawing, but I do so in two ways. One is selling my original paintings and the other is commission work, which I’ve really pursued and tried to carve out as niche for myself by providing clients with a service. I say service, because people do receive an original painting. I believe in that originality and I don’t make prints.

Last month, for example, I worked with a clinic that needed art for their interiors and I sold them five paintings. Three were commissions based on their space. They sent photographs and I took elements from the pre-existing colour scheme and other details and I made them into original paintings. They also two bought two of my original pieces. I always make sure to bring the work right into the client’s space. Nine times out of ten when I bring work into a space, it doesn’t leave.

I’ll give minor discounts and I offer payment plans – I try to make it accessible – but I pay real attention to customer service. I think of myself as a people person and customer service is of the utmost importance.

I applied to participate in a recent city mural project with RUF Project and for Brief Encounters, as well, which are dependent on grant funding. I’m really interested in the public and performative aspects of painting.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Commissions probably represent 60 percent of my income. The sale of original pieces accounts for the other 40 percent.

How do people – especially other artists – react to your focus on custom work and the idea of customer service?

Artists want to make a living from their work, but a lot of them don’t want to alter their art to meet the needs of clients, or they don’t even think of the people who buy their art as clients. So, sometimes it’s met with suspicion. Most artists believe that they’re doomed to carry another job and few believe that it’s possible to make a living independently. But when you go through traditional systems, such as galleries, you’re still subject to other people’s ideas of what your art should look like and how it should ultimately be.

I’ve seen a lot of artists who think they’ve arrived after securing gallery representation and then they’re either disappointed or surprised if they don’t sell well. They just assume “Okay, now I’m in this big gallery, now I’m going to sell,” but if they’re not making a living, their studio practice suffers. At the end of the day, my mission is to support my studio practice, which affords me the ability to make new ideas happen. I get to advance my career and I work full-time in the studio. I don’t take that lightly and consider it a huge blessing.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

I’ve done other things, such as teaching, and I’ve let my attention become very divided in the pursuit of making a living. But time and time again, my husband always says, “you pay yourself the most when you’re painting.” At this point in my career, I’m very committed to doing what is the most lucrative. I only have to sell one big painting in order to make my monthly income, for example, so why would I do 15 other little things and run around like crazy? But you still have to do a lot of work to ensure one or two sales.

photo by RAD Studio

7. What tools or money-making opportunities do you think artists and creative pros should consider?

Right now, I’m really excited about video. I think video and YouTube are a great way to give people a glimpse into your studio practice and who you are. Essentially, I believe that people are looking for connection – across the board. Through Oprah, through yoga, through everything, we’re looking to connect with each other. So, anything that allows you to touch your customer and connect with people is going to make you more prosperous.

I also believe in follow-up. My last 50 clients have come from following up on leads. You have to be first-of-mind for people. I often meet people who don’t have any money – they’re students, they have debt, whatever – but I know that in seven years when they have $2,000 in the bank, I trust that they may buy a painting from me, because they’ve responded to the paintings, I’ve planted that seed and I’m authentically building that relationship.

I feel honored, too, when I sell a painting, because that means you’re leaving a piece in someone’s home. They live with that painting every day and they’re giving you a huge piece of their interior physical space. It’s a big responsibility. People wake up in the morning, they’re drying their hair and doing their thing and I feel honored that they let me live permanently in their homes.

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Design*Sponge. In 2008, Grace Bonney featured my work on her blog and I sold over 20 paintings in three days. It also led to a commission with Chloe Warner of Redmond Aldrich Design. She hired me to create a piece in San Francisco, which was my biggest commission to date. I also got to travel down there and the piece was photographed for Martha Stewart Living.

Building visibility in my hometown, Vancouver, has also been valuable. I’ve done that through the Cheaper Show, IDS West, and a couple wedding fairs. I also send free thank you cards (with my website on the back) for real estate agents. They give the cards to clients who have new homes with empty walls. I’ve also offered agents a deal on a commission and they, in turn, give their clients my card with the gift of a custom painting. When the agent knows their client is an art lover, it connects me to the client, the homeowner gets a commissioned, one-of-a-kind piece – and they always have more walls to fill.

After the first Design*Sponge feature, I wrote a story for the site’s Biz Ladies section and provided a PDF of my thank you card. Anyone who reads it can take the PDF to a printer and, of course, the card has my website on the back. That led to about 300 email requests and now those cards are living out in the world. There are all kinds of ways to do things for free.

From a business perspective, I never see selling one painting as good enough. If someone says they want one painting, I bring three and show them more. Or if they say, “I love that, but it’s sold,” I say, “I’d love to do a commission for you. Let me come over and I can customize it to your space.” I work hard to meet people’s needs. There’s no such thing as a dead end.

I’ve also done a lot of business with women through Loaded Bow. I give work to charitable auctions, which has been awesome and ultimately, very lucrative. I make sure to attend the auction and talk to people. You can’t let your piece sit out in the middle of nowhere. I also promote emerging Canadian artists for impression/expression, which is the Art Toronto blog. When I write for others, I always ensure that my name is hyper-linked to my site and I get a lot of traffic back that way.

Is there anything that hasn’t been worth the effort?

I’ve done so many things that aren’t worth it! I did a joint show during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. At the end, we realized, “oh, so people were here for the sports and the beer!” That was an expensive mistake. We rented an empty space and took a month out of our studio practice to be present and the show, but no one came. The South Granville area was like a ghost town.

Still, I wouldn’t discourage people from trying new things. Make small, thoughtful investments and do them really well. I’ve made this mistake a lot – and I keep making it: Appearing mediocre because you’re too cheap or unwilling to go all the way to fully realize an idea. That is a weakness.

Even if you only have a bit of money, do it 110%. Really commit. People recognize quality and they’re looking for quality – and if you’re not good at the little details, ask for help. I outsource all the time. I’m always asking to do trades with people. I trade for yoga and haircuts and massages, but also to promote my business. Try and outsource that which is not your strength. Again, I pay myself the most when I’m painting.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

Ever since I had kids, I feel strongly that you need to do what you’re meant to do. The biggest investment is actually the time you give up to work. You have to be apart from your home and the people who matter to you. I spend a lot of hours in the studio in pursuit of this thing that I could be wrong about and that I’m often wrong about. It takes faith to commit your time and energy. I was out four nights last week promoting my work. I feel very fortunate that I can do it, but it’s still a sacrifice and an investment. I really want my children to do exactly what they’re meant to do in the world – whatever that is.

photo by RAD Studio

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? What would selling out look like to you?

Why are we creating this polarized conversation about selling out versus purity? I’m so excited when I experience art that comes from a clear vision. Someone like Rothko, for example. When I look at his work, I’m so grateful that he never deviated from the “purity” of his vision. He never sold out, so to speak. I think there’s a stronger cultural impact if someone is true to his or her art. But can you afford that in this capitalist world? I’m unwilling to suffer in the ways so many artists have and still do. I want to have a balanced life more than I want to have my ideas completely manifested through my paintings.

Ultimately, I know when I’ve sold out. I know when I’ve sold something and I thought it wasn’t really done or very good or it deviated from my true style. But you can only find your compass by messing up. I hear that from a lot of entrepreneurs. Cut ties with the things that you know are wrong, right from the beginning. You knew it six months ago. You knew it a year ago. Then when you’re free, you have space for other things to come in.

Thanks, Zoe!

posted 6 Dec 10 in: art, business, inspiration, interviews, media, performance. This post currently has 7 responses.

monocle magazine

Anyone out there suffering from information overload? Yeah? Me, too.

It’s a constant challenge. Carving out quite time and space is one piece of the creative equation. The other part requires what my friend Lisa calls “drinking from the fire hydrant.” You’ve got to fill yourself with all manner of inspiring stuff — words, music, eye candy and real-life experiences. And regardless of what you create, it’s critical to know what’s happening in your field and beyond.

One of the best ways to stay current is to find your filters. Monocle magazine has become one of mine.

The magazine was launched in 2007 by good Winnipeg boy* Tyler Brûlé, who also created Wallpaper and writes a column for the Financial Times. The print mag is crammed with smart writing about global culture, politics, design and business. Most of the website content is subscriber-only, but steer over to the “sections” tab and settle in to watch short videos on everything from Turkish soap opera tourists to an interview with the CEO of Lego.

It’s a quick way to expand the world beyond your Firefox window.

*For my lovely American visitors, other prominent Winnipeggers include Neil Young, the Weakerthans, Brett Hull, Carol Shields, Miriam Toews, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Nia Vardalos and Monty Hall (okay, maybe the word “prominent” is a stretch in some cases…)

Happy Friday!

posted 8 Oct 10 in: art, business, media. This post currently has no responses.

in the line of fire

Tonight I’m going to see Arcade Fire – Montreal’s indie darlings who now fill stadiums around the globe. That means, of course, that music geeks are beginning to call them “sellouts.”

On the website Consequence of Sound, Alex Young writes:

“I feel like Arcade Fire has reached that point where they’re now Mother-approved. As in, you’ll soon be receiving a call from your mom asking if you’ve heard of this band called ‘The Arcade Fires’, because she read about them in Entertainment Weekly or heard them on NPR’s Morning Edition. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, of course…”

Ouch.

It’s an age-old story. A band / artist / designer / performer tips into mainstream popularity and is immediately branded dull and irrelevant. But unless they start churning out sub-par material (see U2), popularity doesn’t have to equal creative compromise.

As for Arcade Fire, their third album, The Suburbs, has received heaps of critical acclaim and they’re known for serving up positively electric live shows. They’ve also become savvy viral marketers.

The band doesn’t court mainstream press, but partnered with Google Chrome to release a buzzy, interactive film that quickly made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. They also created eight different covers for The Suburbs and multiple purchase options, including CD, premium digital files, double 12-inch vinyl, and combinations of all three. They’re smart with social media — and they give back, with a focus on rebuilding Haiti through the KANPE Foundation and Partners in Health.

Sellouts? Not in my book, but we’ll see if they deliver the goods tonight.

posted 28 Sep 10 in: art, business, music, performance. This post currently has no responses.

photography

I’ve been thinking lately about photography as a tool for innovation. Of course, it’s also a serious art form, but even the most amateur photos reveal something that’s nearly impossible to write or speak. Cameras are instruments of creative democracy.

Painters, architects, writers, foodies, fashion designers — name an artsy pursuit and it inevitably intersects with photography. Still images offer inspiration, reference, perspective, memory and so much more.

My first camera was a Kodak disc. I took it to the zoo and when the prints came back, I had shot after blurry, bleary shot of llama nostrils and elephant skin. Following a series of increasingly high-tech point-and-shoots (a mini zoom lens! leather wrist strap!) I graduated to my Mom’s Nikon FG manual SLR, which had been gathering dust in the broom closet. I took an art college course to learn basic shooting and darkroom techniques and began snapping photos for my university’s student newspaper.

I loved the constant access to a darkroom and, more importantly, I was thrilled to stand below the stage and capture Radiohead, the Cowboy Junkies, Art Bergmann, Billy Bragg and long-gone punk bands in the dusty light. I lost track of photography after I graduated and struggled to join the digital revolution. But I’m finding my way back. I have a new camera that I love and I’m using it more often for interviews and to explore my favorite subject — people.

I hope to post more photos in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I dug out some old black & white prints and put the scanner through its paces.

How do you use photography in your creative work?

posted 16 Sep 10 in: art, inspiration, performance. This post currently has no responses.

meet gretchen gammell

all images courtesy Gretchen Gammell

Is it cheating that I first saw Gretchen Gammell’s paintings in a gallery just a block from my home – and that I had a wine glass in my hand? Regardless, I was quickly smitten. She’s got a graceful, evocative, deceptively simple style and a near-obsession with technique.

Painting has always flowed through Gretchen’s veins. She was a creative kid whose grandfather is a working artist and whose uncle is a children’s book illustrator. “In my family, it wasn’t considered completely crazy to be an artist,” she says. “I was comfortable with art as a career path.”

After completing a painting degree from the Oregon College of Art and Craft, Gretchen began exhibiting her acrylic and watercolor work in Portland. Soon, the Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, B.C. came calling, then the Hallway Gallery in Bellevue, followed by Whistler’s Hayden Beck Gallery. December will take her into SoCal with a show at L.A.’s Left Coast Galleries.

Gretchen now lives in Vancouver, Washington (the other Vancouver) and takes commissions from private clients and businesses, in addition to expanding her gallery roster. Like her hero, the late American watercolor virtuoso Andrew Wyeth, Gretchen is focused on mastering her chosen subject matter – the female form. She’s determined to improve her painting with every brushstroke.

She’s also a heck of a lot of fun. You’ll notice that this interview is a little long. That’s because we kept talking and talking. If only Gretchen herself lived right around the corner…

1. What fuels your work?

I’m obsessed with becoming absolutely adept at working with the materials. Trying to master acrylic and watercolor paint is my main focus. It’s not about the images – it’s about asking myself, how can I come up with the best color palette? How do I handle line? How do I handle paint? It’s almost a science experiment for me when I’m in my studio.

I want to be a really, really good craftsman and luckily, I also really enjoy coming up with subject matter and themes and there are lots of things that I love to paint and draw, but once I’m actually working, it’s so process-oriented. I’m a perfectionist and I want to be the best painter that I can possibly be – in a strictly manual sense.

2. How do you organize the business side of your career so you still have the time, energy and focus to paint?

I find it amusing how people think that being an artist is so glamorous. They imagine I’m on an existential high all the time – and it’s so not like that. The older I get and the more I branch out, it also increases the paperwork and schedules and details. It’s exhausting, but I make painting my first priority. That’s what comes first. I treat painting like a job, and that means I go to my studio for at least an eight-hour work day, and I work and paint for that time, just like anyone else with a 9-to-5 job. Then I take care of all the other things and I usually go back to work until I need to fall asleep. So, I just work all the time.

I used to work in a separate studio, which I loved, but now I work from home, so I have access to everything else I need to do. It’s totally boring, but I can do laundry, take care of my dogs, handle mail and I can take care of everything else that goes with it.

3. Is there another artist or creative pro whose business model you admire?

No, but not because there aren’t people I would admire, but because I never make time to find out what’s going on with anybody else. That’s just how I am. I don’t know many other artists and I don’t really talk about business with many other people. So, I never know how anybody else is doing it. It would be great if someone would show up and say, “Hey, I have this fantastic business model! Try it out.” But, I’d need it hand-delivered to my doorstep.

4. How many revenue streams do you have?

Two. Gallery representation and commission work.

I’ve almost always had a part-time job on the side, too. There are a couple reasons for it: One, I’m super paranoid. I was raised by a father who wanted to make sure I was completely capable of taking care of myself financially, and being an artist is such an unpredictable thing that it’s nice to have one paycheck that you know is coming – even if it’s $90. Also, working from home as an artist can be incredibly isolating and your world can get smaller and smaller. Having a reason to get out of the house and be social and be back in touch with reality is really necessary for me.  Right now I’m working as a barista. I do that two days a week and I really like it.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Gallery representation. But, it does change from year to year. It’s very unpredictable. Some years I get a lot of commission work, and some years I don’t.

Where do your commissions typically come from?

Often people will see my website and contact me to request a commission. Other times, they’ll have seen my work at one of the galleries and maybe the piece they wanted had sold, so they want to talk to me about creating something especially for them. I’ve also noticed that a lot of businesses are starting to pay attention to artwork in their décor, so I’ve had a big increase in commissions from hotels and other companies.

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

No. I’ve thought about it, but I’m not ready to go there.

Why?

I don’t think I’m established enough to make prints. I’m a big fan of one-of-a-kind pieces. It’s really wonderful to think about someone having the only piece. However, I’m not against prints. I think they’re great, but I feel like I need to be at a higher level to image that my work justifies having editions.

I also think craftsmanship is a really lost component of art these days. I think that art – fine art – is a craft, just like carpentry. It’s something that distinguishes artists from each other. It’s really important for me to stand behind my work, not just conceptually or aesthetically, but also to know that I made it the best I could possibly make it and it’s not lacking attention to detail – even the details that people don’t know or care about.

7. What tools or opportunities do you think artists often fail to leverage?

I know there are grants and other funding sources out there. I hear about them, but I just don’t have time to look into those things and I don’t have the energy to convince someone to give me money to make something. Maybe I’m choosing the harder route by not taking advantage of those opportunities, but I know what kind of energy levels I have, and I can only put my energy into so many places.

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

Honestly, it’s people who are generous enough to support and spread news about me through word of mouth – even perfect strangers. I get a lot of emails from people who see my work and want to write about it, or post it on their Facebook profile, or they bought a piece and shared it at a dinner party. That’s how I’ve gotten attention over the years. I’m always amazed by how willing people are to advertise for someone they don’t know, just because they’re excited about the work – and that’s great.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career?

I think there are two:

When I first started showing my work, for about four years, I would always send a note to anybody who bought a painting – just to tell them something about the painting that they didn’t know, or to thank them for coming to a show. As a result, I have this box filled with the most amazing letters that people sent in response. They would send me very personal letters about themselves and pictures and incredible stuff that they were entrusting me with, just because they had one of my paintings. It was so cool to have these private notes and I think at the time, it gave me a great perspective on how people react to art. I don’t have the time to do that anymore, and I wish I did.

Then, two years ago, I got divorced and was having a very difficult time. I was burnt out and struggling. So, I went to France. My plan was to stay for three months to paint and get in touch with myself again, and I ended up not painting for three months – which sounds like the antithesis of investing in my career. But, it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself. It was the first time since I was a teenager that I didn’t touch any art materials at all. I just played the piano and shut my head off, and it was amazing.

At the end of the three months, I was supposed to come back to the U.S., because I had two shows opening and I needed to start working on them. I realized that if I didn’t make the shows there, I wouldn’t make them at all. I didn’t have a visa, but I had my materials sent over and I stayed another five months. I painted there and shipped everything home. It was really expensive and I was terrified that I was going to get deported – and I’m someone who doesn’t like to break the rules – but I just had to do it. And after those three months of not painting, I was so ready to work and something had changed for me. I was more focused than I’d ever been.

What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

It definitely wasn’t a waste, but art school was frustrating because I was very, very clear about what I was doing from a young age. My instructors all said, “You’re too young to know what your style is yet. You really need to start from the basics, then when you’re older and have more experience, you can start to develop your own style.”

I just knew that wasn’t true for me, so it was a battle all through school. I knew my style was young, but I just wanted to get a grasp on it and flesh it out and get better. I’m happy that I went to college. I met wonderful people and it was a good time to learn about materials, but it was difficult in the sense that I had to be kind of a brat in order to preserve what I thought was most beneficial to me as an artist.

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate? Do you believe it’s possible to sell out?

I don’t think that trying to make money from your art and treating it as a business is selling out. I don’t think you need to be starving and struggling all the time in order to be an authentic artist. Learning how to be a good business person, in my opinion, is a really smart move, because it’s all about protecting yourself and providing the means to be a better artist.

What I think of as selling out is taking your art in a direction that isn’t what you truly think it is. For example, because my paintings are so figurative and I use a lot of symbolism, they tend to get interpreted as having all sorts of deep meanings. But, I don’t have those kinds of thoughts, and I’m not super profound. If I claimed to have these really intellectual, deep, political, feminist theories behind my work, it wouldn’t be authentic and that would be selling out. People can project that onto my work as much as they want, and that’s fine, because it’s there for them to do so, but I can’t claim those things. That would make me a sell-out, because I’d just be pleasing what people want to hear.

Is there anything else you’ve learned and want to share?

The business side of being an artist is completely overlooked. I think it’s hard to balance being creative with being a businesswoman, because I’m not necessarily oriented that way. I’m very visual, I’m very color-oriented, so then I have to think about math and deadlines and being formal and it’s a very different side of me that I’ve had to train over the years. But it’s important, because you can get really taken advantage of. It’s not necessarily about making money. It’s about protecting myself and being in charge of what I’m doing. It’s about being self sufficient, and that’s really important to me.

Also, I think that simply making time to work is one of the most important things an artist can do. A lot of people don’t have the discipline to just work. When I was really young and thinking about an art career, my uncle said, “my only advice is that you go into your studio and you stay there until your work day is over – even if you just end up staring at a wall.”

Thanks, Gretchen!

posted 23 Aug 10 in: art, inspiration, interviews. This post currently has 9 responses.

a passive plan

photos by Jamie Beck

In every Inspired Outsiders interview, I always ask, “do you have a passive income stream?”

The answers have been as varied as the definitions of “passive.”

To me, it’s something you make once and then leverage to earn a profit multiple times over. It doesn’t require hands-on hourly work (other than sales and distribution channel upkeep and any applicable customer service tasks) and can literally sell itself while you sleep.

At this point, you’re probably either intrigued or repelled. The phrase “while you sleep” smacks of bad pyramid schemes, late-night TV gadgets and desperation. But passive income streams are powerful — and they don’t have to be cheesy.

Remember Jamie Beck and her lovely photo blog From Me to You?

Jamie and web designer Kevin Burg have just released a new blog theme called Southern Afternoon, based on the imagery of a hand-collected scrapbook. It sells for $49 to anyone who wants a nostalgic look for their blog or online journal.

Kevin gave From Me to You such a distinctive look that Jamie was constantly fielding design questions and flat-out requests to use her theme. The pair spent three months dreaming up a new, customizable template and now they’ve got a passive product that reflects Jamie’s charming visual style and extends her brand as an artist — without a hint of hucksterism.

Nicely done, Jamie & Kevin.


posted 13 Jul 10 in: art, business, interviews, retail. This post currently has no responses.

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