FAQ's: the artist's life

I really enjoy the artwork of so many artists, past and present. Off the top of my head I'd have to mention Jules Bastien-Lepage, Joan Eardley, Hokusai, Ilya Repin, Albrecht Dürer, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Vincent van Gogh, and the Canadian painters The Group of Seven, Emily Carr, and Clarence Gagnon. And I would say my current approach to painting and my painting life has been strongly influenced by contemporary artists Daniel Greene and Burton Silverman.

And science in all its forms has long been a source of wonder and inspiration to me; everything from biology to chemistry to geology and on. There's inspiration there to last centuries!

I am also inspired by the great outdoors, by good writing, by brilliant minds, and by anyone who is working hard at their job no matter what it is.

Oh, some sort of ego the size of a jumbo jet, a complete disregard for common sense, an ability not to listen to the sound advice of others, etc., etc.! It's also nice if you can draw. Seriously, though, there are so many different types of art and so many different approaches that I can't really identify one set of skills that apply to everyone. And we all have different ideas of what 'success' means.

Develop business skills; constantly work at improving your art skills; try to avoid getting in a rut and repeating yourself; understand that relationships matter just as much as talent; work hard to develop your own vision rather than catering to trends.

Most important is to love creating art, because success may not mean financial security, it may not mean fame, it may not mean a full-time job in the arts. It may simply mean being happy producing work that you love.

That's a tough question. What I have found over the years is that most projects and commissions tend to be exciting in some way: either the subject matter or composition captures your imagination, or the client is one you consider important and you want to honor them, or the audience is one you particularly want to connect with. And it's important to find that exciting element and hold on to it, as that feeling will keep you working on the project with enthusiasm through the difficult stages (and there usually are some of these for every painting!)

To begin with I was simply happy to be making art and making a living! Now it's about the happiness art can bring, and particularly with portraiture. There's something about telling the story of a life in such a tangible way that really resonates with people.

And I like to use my skills to help other people, businesses, artists., etc. -- I want us all to succeed.

I also love the flexible schedule of a freelancer; having time to think; having my cat in the studio with me; and most importantly, making a living doing something for which I seem to be well-suited.

I really like to be outside doing anything from gardening to sailing, hiking, plein air painting, sketching, that sort of thing. Except when it's super-cold! I used to spend a ridiculous number of hours on end working in my studio. Now I achieve a better balance between indoors and outdoors.

I also read a lot, and in the winter I pick up more indoors hobbies such as printmaking, quilting, knitting, carving, playing the piano. I like making useful objects. I particularly love learning how to do skills by hand.

You mean beyond the usual 'lack of income' issue? When I started freelancing my biggest challenge was that I was not very knowledgeable about business. I had to learn from scratch about sending proper invoices, how to make your materials look professional, that sort of thing. I spent a lot of time researching what others did.

A business woman I knew could see that I was trying, and gave me some good basic advice about how to run a small business and actually make a profit. When I started looking at the process as being a matter of sales, creating a consistently high quality product, delivery, supplies, promotion, costing, etc., I was able to start making a living.

Recent years have seen great improvements in courses preparing artists for the real world, and I like to see emphasis on what might be called 'freelance prep'. There are full-time positions to be had in various aspects of art and design, but eventually many artists -- both commercial and fine art -- will end up working for themselves in some manner.

Business fundamentals--billing, contracts, professional conduct, marketing and branding, self-promotion--are an important part of a professional artist's life. Artists can keep themselves up to date in these areas in many ways: online, library, class, on the job, at a conference, and there are some very good books on business for artists/small business that can help you target what you need to know.

I mostly use a mixture of Winsor & Newton and Sennelier artist and professional quality oil paints. I started with these and so their qualities are very familiar. I'm currently experimenting with paint from Holbein, Gamblin, and Richardson, amongst others. I also highly recommend using Gamsol as a solvent; it's a very artist-friendly product. I mix it with 2:1 with stand oil or walnut oil to make a nice medium.

For brushes I still use some hog bristle brushes, however now I'm venturing into the synthetics with great success. Longevity is aided by keeping the rough dunking in caustic cleaners to a minimum, so I tend to wipe my brushes rather than constantly clean them as I work. At the end of a painting session I clean all my brushes with soap and warm water.

For canvases, I most often use the Fredrix brand of cotton and linen canvas, and sometimes use Claessens linen canvas which I buy in a roll.

Deliver a product of consistent quality, at your highest level of ability.
Be able to deal with the ups and downs of getting paid, mostly not on time. After your business becomes established there will be a more consistent cash flow and you can build a financial cushion. However to begin with, the best way to handle the feast and famine situation is to keep out of debt. If you leave school with debt, take any job you need to in order to pay it down as quickly as possible, and then stay out of debt to the greatest degree you can.
Recognize what helps you to be creative, what times of day are the best work hours for you, what environment works best, and then try to create that environment and work within that schedule.
Be able to diminish the distractions and focus.
Lastly, build a solid network. The support of family, friends, clients and acquaintances can help you on both a business and personal level!

Each painting has so many variables. Pose, lighting, background, patterns on clothing, all of these things play a part. I do have ballpark figures I use to estimate if I can complete a particular painting within a requested timeframe, but I purposely keep these loose. The painting process can include any number of surprises.

Most of the very realistic work I do takes weeks and months to complete as I work in layers and so paint needs to dry before I can proceed. And surprisingly, I have found that a smaller canvas is not necessarily easier or faster to produce.

Typically it takes me between 2 and 6 months to complete a portrait, and I know when a portrait is complete not by the number of hours I've put into it, but by some internal signal that says, "That's it! Put the paintbrush down and walk away!"