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Building a Body of Work

by Lori Woodward Simons on 9/15/2009 9:47:34 AM

This post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

In an earlier post, I promised to write further about how to build a body of work, but before I get started, I'd like to point out some of the reasons why you should concentrate on - not only building a body of 10 or more paintings - but also concentrate on narrowing your focus with subject matter for a time.

This post is written to artists who are interested in selling their work and/or getting representation through commercial galleries. The artists I know who make a living with the sales of their artwork have over the years, developed a consistent, identifiable style that collectors can easily recognize as that artist's work. I generally can identify a Dennis Sheehan, a Jeremy Lipking, Dan Gerhartz, Nancy Guzik, Kathy Anderson, Rosemary Ladd, etc.

Style is something that seems to come about naturally for most artists, and the subject of style is worthy of a separate post, so I'll stick to developing a body of work for this post, but I wanted to mention style briefly because it is an important ingredient.

If you haven't yet developed a consistent body of work, here are a few things to get you started. I've seen these ideas work for many artists, but just try the ones that you feel the most comfortable with.

1. Look at Magazines and works Online:

When I taught art marketing workshops, the first day - the artists looked through stacks of collector magazines (that I furnished) and tabbed the pages with works that each felt attracted to. Not surprisingly, each artist selected work that fit into a category or style. Although it's not always the case, artists tend to learn to paint in a style that is similar to the work that they admire.

2. Copy the Works of Master Artists:

While my personal opinion is that it's always better to develop an original style, when artists are first starting out, it's wise to do some copying in order to learn the techniques and absorb composition and color harmony. I've often copied the works of 19th century landscape artists for learning purposes. If you decide to copy the work of a living artist, I suggest that you keep the results to yourself. Obviously, if you show this work, or try to sell it, you're infringing on the artist's copyright. However, my point is that eventually, after copying helps you learn the ropes of painting, artists should move on to develop their own way of painting.

3. Work in a Series:

If you're in the stages of developing a body of work and trying to improve your paintings skills, try painting similar subject matter until you master it. For example, I've found it helpful to paint the same kind of flowers in my still lifes over a period of time. If I were to change the type of flowers each time I painted (while I was learning) I'd have to learn how to paint a new flower each time.

Galleries like to see a consistent and recognizable style of work - the comment I hear most about why they aren't interested in an artists who seem to be fairly decent painters is, "they're work is all over the place". Some artists get away with painting a variety of subject matter but they have a distinctive and consistent style displayed throughout their body of work.

If you go to my website, you might say to yourself, "She's all over the place, so who is she to be telling us to be consistent?"  Well, I'm quite aware of that flaw in my body of work, but my goal is not to work with galleries but write my instructional column for Watercolor Magazine - which suits my tendency to paint a lot of different stuff. It all depends on what you're goals are. If it's to work with galleries, then it'll be worth your time and effort to develop a style that is recognizable as your own.


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Loading comments...

Jennifer Moore
I find that, even when an artist's work is "all over the place," most artists STILL have a distinctive style. Maybe they paint hyper-real images, or maybe they favor diaphanous color and forms. Etc. You'll find these individual trends will flow through all of their work.

I couldn't tell you what my distinctive style is in just one or two words, and I'm quite eclectic, but I'd still argue that I have my own style. It'll be clearer when I start painting again.

Great article!

wallace hugh Connolly jr
This is great advice, I am one of those "all over the place" persons.
I kept waiting until I got good to zero in. It is a good thing I forgot that thought.
the part about painting the same flower(in every painting) thank you for sharing whc


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