Some Thoughts on What it’s Like for Me These Days as an Artist

This business of being an artist is unique as a career. Creatives have to be self-directed and productive, because nobody tells you what and when and how. Well they do, but we don’t have to listen. In fact, sometimes it takes a bit of wherewithal to NOT listen. Thank goodness I only need my career to support my habit for paints, brushes, canvases and frames.
So far, it’s done that.

Always, I paint what I want to. Suggestions like, “You should try painting some non-objective abstracts, I bet you’d be good at it” are meaningless because other than maybe trying something different as an academic exercise, or just for fun, I have no interest in it. I paint for me, first and foremost. I don’t love commission work because by necessity, it’s a painting for someone else, and there is quite a lot of angst that takes place on my part on pleasing the client. I do take commissions on a fairly regular basis, though, and so far, it’s turned out okay each time. no plans to stop doing that! It just feels more like work than when I make my own choices.

If I decide I really don’t think a painting I made came out as well as I had wanted, I have absolutely no problem scraping it down and using it for the next idea. It’s easy enough when I paint on a rigid panel. Things on canvas tend to retain the image, so painting over them doesn’t work for me, and those go on a burn pile. Every spring, we have a yard waste fire and then I videorecord throwing the discarded paintings right on that.

I find it liberating. Some of my artist friends find that appalling, because I’m getting rid of my “art”. Some artists can’t part with anything they’ve done. I feel this is a mistake. These are not my children. I don’t want my worst work saved for posterity! Believe me, I still have a couple of hundred paintings stored all over the house and in the gallery. Too many. Probably time for another purge.

Then, there’s showing my work in public. As a member of a cooperative gallery, I get to choose what I want to show each month. There’s really no angst involved, just a decision-making process based on which wall I get. They vary in what color they are, where they are situated in the gallery spaces (of course), and a little bit in size. Once every two years it’s my turn to be the “Featured Artist”. This past June, I had my turn. I presented about 25 works in a show I called “Local Waters” all oil paintings of places I’ve visited in person, some many times. They were landscapes with a view of water including the Puget Sound, the Hood Canal, Fidalgo Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. I sold five paintings during that show, which was certainly an affirmation.

My featured image for this post was in that show- is an oil on board painting called “Tourists”. It depicts a view of Fidalgo Bay from a park in Anacortes, Washington, on a chilly gray day in March. Me, observing the observers…

While I do sell the occasional painting through the gallery throughout the year, most of my sales there each month come from note cards and the quirky ceramic pieces I’ve been producing. My painting sales come more often via social media.

I apply to many other shows each year. Some are local, some require mailing invited entries out of state, some are online only. I’ve come to have a better handle on what judges seem to look for, so I’m better at getting accepted. My acceptance rate has gone from 35% of shows a few years ago to about 60% this year. (I applied to 32 shows) I suppose that some of that may be because I’m a better painter now than I was a few years ago. I even win the occasional prize, which always shocks me.

On the other hand, it always pings a little when I don’t get into a show, but that’s not the worst thing, really. Every juror has their own idiosyncrasies and their decisions often seem arbitrary and capricious, especially when I view a show later and see what actually got in.
I can usually take those rejections with a grain of salt.

The worst thing is when I apply to other galleries, and they show a great deal of initial interest, and then decide my work won’t fit with their present needs. This has happened to me three times; once just before COVID, and twice in the last month. These are galleries that actively invited me to submit an application. I do the best I can, go to interviews prepared and relaxed, the interviews feel like they went well, and boom.

I suppose it’s all part and parcel of being a working artist. My audience does seem to find me. I enjoy what I do and I want to keep doing it. And so I will.

Oh. The two paintings shown below are now hanging in a show called “Light and Color” in a gallery in Stanwood, Washington. I’m sure you can see why they got in.