the artist's life

Four new paintings you won't find on my website

Having a strong individual voice is as important in art as in anything that gets marketed. It's confusing to the viewer if you're constantly in flux, and clients or galleries prefer a distinctive look. 
Lots of people who are just beginning in art paint a vast array of subjects: still lifes, landscapes, people or animals, and they experiment with many different media as well. Recently a few people have asked about learning abstraction from me, but I don’t think it is something I can teach. My theory is that you need to go through a long period of experimenting, of trying new things until you find something that really fits you and is unique to you.

One friend, Kayla, told me that she had a friend over to her house who immediately recognized my painting: “Oh you have a Mary Anne! I love her paintings!” This was a huge compliment for me, both to be recognized for my style and to be recognized, period, by someone who isn’t in my immediate family.

However, once you find your “style” you need to be able to evolve it enough so that you can keep growing. We’ve all seen painters who get trapped by their success, churning out copies of their one original style because it sells. I wonder if this turns the wonderfully creative act of painting into manufacturing.

I have spent a lot of 2012 playing in the studio, experimenting with work that is quite different for me. First off, I’ve been doing some representational pencil drawings, which I can use as layers on my process paintings. Secondly, I usually paint on panels, but I had some canvas panels gathering dust and I wanted to do something new. The results are these paintings which I have tried to layer using paint and medium, with mixed results. But I like these paintings very much, I’m not sure where they will lead, but sometimes you just have to follow the creative muse. In the ten+ years I’ve been painting, I find that whatever you do in the studio is never wasted, it shows up somewhere. No matter where you are in your painting life, you need to try new things.

The Lows

Since I’ve already written about the highs of being an artist, I thought it only fair that I should write about the lows as well.  Recently a couple of incidents brought me down to a new low.

First off, I finished all the calculations for my tax return. Yes, I do realize that if I was on top of my income and expenses on a monthly basis, the final tally would not be a shock. However, that would require a personality operation to remove the procrastination gene, a nice idea but highly unlikely.
For the seventh consecutive year, my gross sales of artwork have risen (hooray!), but at the same time, my expenses have been steadily rising as well. Studio rental, photography, website management, promotion, gallery commissions and raw material costs were all higher this year. The final calculation showed that I was still making a profit, but if you divide that profit by the hours I spend in the studio…let’s just say that sweatshop workers might turn their nose up at my hourly wage. So that was a painful realization that had me feeling discouraged.

Then the second blow. I received an email from one of my galleries telling me that due to the economy, they would be returning all my paintings and severing the relationship.  This took me completely by surprise since in the past ten months they had sold five paintings, which I thought was pretty good.  But I have no idea what gallery standards are.  
This dismissal felt to me a lot like when someone breaks up with you. Immediately I felt stunned and upset, that punched-in-the-gut feeling.  After the initial shock, the self-doubt takes over. I started thinking about all the ways I should have managed the relationship better, with more frequent contact and communication.  And ironically, I had just ordered new panels, since I was planning to create some new artworks and offer to exchange them for the old ones that my galleries had in inventory.  When I went to pick up the order I felt depressed instead of the anticipation I usually feel when I get fresh new panels. Here I was spending so much money on panels and what would I do with them?

This depressed state has lasted for a while. The worst part is that it limits my creativity. When I’m low, I can't do the normal things that inspire me. Seeing art shows or even chatting with artist friends makes me feel jealousy at the successes of other artists, which in turn makes me feel petty.  Usually painting is a great solace for me, but when I'm down I begin to second-guess myself in the studio, wondering about my worth as a painter.  Then creating satisfying new work becomes difficult. It’s a horrible circle of negativity.

Okay, it's not depressing art, but since I usually do happy, that's all  I've got.

My only answer to the lows is to keep going to the studio. I worry about creating new work in a negative frame of mind, so that limits me. What I can do is to keep putting in the time and working. Some months ago, I had gotten feedback from another gallery that a client did not like the sides of my painting. Resin dripping is pretty unavoidable, and I feel it shows the process of the work in an interesting way. But apparently not everyone agrees, so spent several days sanding and refinishing the sides of some finished paintings. Other days were spent cleaning the studio, organizing my paper supplies and trashing unused materials.
Eventually, I know that feeling sad and doing mindless work will clear the way for some brave new art.