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For Love and Money

by Lori Woodward on 1/20/2010 11:51:44 AM

Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is also a contributing editor for American Artist's Watercolor and Workshop magazines and she writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  Find out how you can be a guest author. 

I loved the discussion that ensued during the last post on adding value to our work. It was exciting to hear what tools you all are using to learn and improve. Now, I'll move to the next step: Finding out what kind of art you are motivated to make, and sticking with it long enough to master it. Sounds kind of frightening doesn't it - sticking with one thing for a time? I understand... you see, I'm an artist who loves variety, but I also understand the business end of art well enough to know that in order to be well known for something, that "something" has to be identifiable by collectors.

Whom Do You Paint For? Yourself, Your Collectors, or Both?

There are many fine artists making a terrific living today who worked previously as graphic artists. These are the ones who learned the basics and foundations of good design and drawing, learned self-discipline in order to make their deadlines, and paid the bills by doing the work for someone else. Many of them later slipped easily into a career in fine arts and today, enjoy painting for love as well as money.

You can make art for the love of it; you can make art for the money. Commercial artists work for the money. Fine artists are supposed to love what they do - and not be bound by the desires of their collectors. But what if you... yes, you... could paint what you love and build a collector base for it?

Build Your Skill Set By Narrowing Your Focus

Artist's skills are built like a structure - first the foundation of knowledge, then the layering of practice - then adding more knowledge, followed by practice and experimentation. Your expertise grows like a building - one brick at a time. For some reason, we don't fully understand what we learn until we put it to use in our work.

Where to focus...?  Have you determined your favorite medium, and are you working towards mastering that medium? Do you use the best materials - substrate, brushes... the quality of your tools and materials determine how professional the final product looks. For example, I am not a good watercolor painter when I use less than the best, mould-made watercolor paper and kolinsky sable brush. When I use inferior materials, I paint like an amateur, no matter how hard I try.

This past weekend, Richard Schmid talked with a group of us about painting what we love and learning everything about it. He said we'll naturally be more interested in working with something that excites us than with something we think we "ought to paint". That got me thinking... although I am pretty darned good at painting people and still life, I have to say that landscape trumps the other subject matter when it comes to what my heart adores. But, landscape is more difficult for me... Yeah, I have made a lot of money over the years painting portrait commissions and still life, but what if I got really, really good at painting landscape? Wouldn't I be happier if I were famous for something closer to my heart than something I'm merely good at?

What if I could make just as much, or more money painting the subject matter that truly motivates me? Since it is a given that in order to attract a collector clan, I'll need an easily defined, connected body of work with a unique style, why not make that body of work something that I'll never tire of? It's certainly something to consider... especially since I am a "fine artist" and not a commercial one.

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Topics: Art Business | Lori Woodward Simons | Productivity 

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Sharon Weaver
Loving what you do can't help but show in the finished work so I think you should go for painting the landscape. For me there was never a choice, plein air painting is an addiction. I love the challenges that come up every time you are out in nature, from the changing light to attack mosquito, all that only makes it more rewarding.

Patrice Federspiel
I completely agree: we paint (or create) best, that which we love. Painting what we love is a good way to create a series of paintings. These themes then provide collectors with a sense of ease, knowing they can add to their collection at any time and be assured the paintings will feel a part of a cohesive whole.

ria hills
Thank you for this article Lori! I've been struggling with this issue for years. I started daily painting in 2006 and I've developed better working habits and discipline as a result.

Although I enjoy the process of painting almost any subject I would much prefer to focus on larger surreal paintings, which can be very challenging and rewarding at the same time.

I struggle with this because the bulk of my sales come from the daily small works. Since the shift in the economy my sales have down a bit. This seems like the ideal time to focus on subjects that I have the greater passion for.

Helen Horn Musser
Lorie your points are well taken; painting for history is probably going to be lost in this day and time but, what we paint today has influence on painters of tomorrow. Your subject matter, thoughts behind the painting, and an artist's passion is provative of the time and place you paint. We see the painters of the past; perhaps not always happy with their life but, continued to paint their dreams and passions. We are entrusted with a sacred trust to paint our times and problems we live in today.

Jean R. Skipper
Most of us pursue a careerer in art because, unlike a *job*, it's our passion. When we fully engage by creating the type of art that makes our hearts sing...and when we do so using well deveoped skills...our enthusiasm is contagious, and collectors respond.

If we create it, they will buy!

Esther J. Williams
Lori, I created a landscape 2 weeks ago, a seascape last Friday and a portrait last Saturday. I love all three subjects and more. Heck, I love still life, florals and animals, but I don`t paint those as often as the first three subjects. I just work in a series within each subject until my attention gets caught by another subject matter. Or I go from differing landscape scenes to ocean scenes. Where I live there are so many choices between the ocean and the mountains to paint. I love it all. I line my paintings up around my studio and house and have many times examined them. I see a progression from my earlier ones to the present in style shifts and palette choices. Composition, values, focal points have all progressed in quality and artistic technique. All the present paintings look cohesive because my style is getting a 'unique quality' and my palette is consistent. There always room for improvement too.
Whoopi Goldberg just came out with a new children`s book and was on the NBC Today show talking about teaching children to explore many subjects, hobbies and life paths until they get a feeling for which one they want to seriously pursue, but still be varied in our interests in life. I agree with Whoopi wholeheartedly and it can transpire to artists. I think a varied subject matter makes life interesting and allows us to explore and pull out abilities that we might not have known we have unless we tried them. So, maybe that makes me a child still and not ready to give up my freedom. I see other successful artists who paint in different subjects here in my area, I think I am in good company as long as I develop the consistent style. I could attract different types of collectors this way, I have people who like my landscapes, some like my portraits and some my seascapes. So I can please all sorts of collectors and be happy that I do not limit the creative psyche in me.

Lori Woodward
Esther, I'm glad you shared about your desire to paint many subjects, and I fully support you in that. Some of us love variety.

I paint along side of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Richard paints only what he feels like, but he's got his own distinct style no matter what the subject. He once said to me that he paints what he wants, but then would make a decision as to what gallery to send certain subjects to.

I will probably continue to paint still life and figures, but sometimes I paint those things simply because I think they'll sell better than my landscapes. That's when I'm painting for the money and not for love. Sometimes I just need the money... that's OK. Sometimes we just have to buy groceries. I just want to be aware of when I'm being true to myself and doing it just for income.

Suzanne DeCuir
Not only is it a good idea to paint what fascinates you, I think it's essential to your sanity. Virginia Woolf's remarks on writing are just as apt if you substitute "paint" for "write": "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison."

Do what you love and the money will follow.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Lori, love this series of articles! (Hm, they're like a series of paintings, showing the same thing in different light and from varying angles?)

I paint for both me and my followers. I paint because I must paint, and because I send a message, and it is wonderful when they 'read' a message (not necessarily the one I painted) into my art, and love it so much they want it, and thus giving me the ability to continue to paint. It is "bilateral".

Best materials and supports, focusin on one medium? You bet, even though I have to import it myself. I can make do with less superior things, but will not. Maybe only I will know, but I do my best for the customer, *and* me, as the good stuff is so much easier to use.

Subject. Here's where I'm contrary, as my passion is colour and light, be it in landscapes, seascapes, animals, figures, faces, still-lifes, etc. But, I have to say, I do focus on the light of the landscape/waterscape/cityscape. I do 'scapes'. With the fascinating microcosm of still-lifes or portraits for a change. I could do a series, but I crave variety, it is who I am, hardwired into me, and I've chosen to not fight it. Doesn't mean I don't do projects, just means I may do one in a series, then something else, then two in the series, something else, and so on. Enough of a trick to make me believe there is greater variety. :-)

Looking forward to your next article!

Michael Cardosa

Another thought provoking article! Thank you!

Lori Woodward
Charlotte, thanks for your thoughts! I think working in a series is an excellent idea. It's done me well when I've stuck to one thing for a while... even if it's a couple of months.

If I skip around too much (at this point in my career), I don't get the full benefit of improving in one area.

Hey, I have a question for you guys/men? Do you like to paint many subjects or are you happier focusing on one?
Hope that doesn't open a can of worms ;-)

Michael Cardosa
Lori, I'd say that I enjoy painting different things but it seems they all tend to fall in the landscape, cityscape, seascape genre... so maybe I don't!

I am experimenting with size. I generally paint larger paintings, 24x30 or bigger but recently went to some smaller formats, the most recent a 5x7. (anyone interested in seeing that one it's at I've taken a lot of ribbing from the group I paint with on Sunday mornings for going to extremes but I'm also thinking that I can finish more smaller paintings faster and maybe add a little speed to my learning curve. However, maybe that just my wishful thinking coming through...

Carol Schmauder
This is another great article Lori. I have been doing a series I call Shattered Realities for several years and have sold a number of them but occasionally I get tired of them and need to do something else for a bit. I paint a landscape or still life or whatever and then need to paint another in the series. Lately I have been painting a shattered painting and then painting the same subject without breaking it up and have found this to be quite fun. I have some loyal followers that seem to like one style or the other but seldom buy out of both styles. Whatever I paint, I always enjoy it.

Mary Spellings
Lori makes some very valid comments. One problem we face as artists is that a lot of us are not financially independent. Most artists that I know create what they love, but also have to do some more "illustration type " stuff to offset the cost art supplies. Sort of pay for their habit. It would be great to create, just to create. I agree that being creative is a gift. It is very unfortunate that compensation for creativity is not as good as some more generic, but necessary skills, like cleaning septic tanks and working on cars.

Esther J. Williams
Lori, I hope I didn`t come across persnickety or rude, I would like to add smiles :) :) on what I said. I guess you are in a better postion than I am when it comes to being in several galleries that sell a specific subject of your work. I am not in a professional art gallery presently. When I do get asked to be a part of one, I will hopefully be able to give works of a subject I like to paint. I was in a professional gallery that wanted works of the local area and I am glad that the guy no longers owns it and Iam not in the gallery anymore. I couldn`t enjoy painting just a bunch of images of one area. So, back to your question, I paint for myself and for collectors. Sometimes I know if I pant a well known tourist area, it will sell. I enjoy painting them, so it pays to keep doing it. If an artist knows a subject is popular and they love the subject, by all means, go for it. Then if the fad wears off, it`s time to find another trendy subject. To me, I have to paint small paintings that sell for under $200 to get supplies once in awhile. It`s bread and butter money I call it. Painting larger is more desired, I have to go and paint right now in fact.

Helen Horn Musser
Mary, Your dreams of freedom will come true some day and I hope quickly. I am older and no longer work at the family business giving me time to paint and do the works I am passionate about. Selling as I paint does pay for supplies. May fortune shine on you brightly.

Lori Woodward
Persnikety? Not at all Esther.

Just to clarify, right now I've chosen not to work with galleries. That could change, but I'm happy selling on my own.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a few galleries. One wanted only still lifes, another wanted desert landscapes with flowers (I never put flowers in my desert landscapes because I'm not there when they bloom), and a third gallery wanted only figurative works.

As can be imagined, I felt so confused and overwhelmed by having to create 3 bodies of work. So I pulled out of all of them to regroup.

Judy Mudd
I paint for both. When I was much younger, my mother's painting made an impact on me. As a young nurse, I was making a home visit and happened to see one of my mother's paintings hanging on the wall. That person cherished my mother's painting and displayed it proudly. My mother passed away 25 years ago, but to this day I have people tell me how much they love her paintings. For me that's wonderful. If I can enjoy the artistic painting process and at the same time give pleasure to other people, that's terrific with me. Fortunately, I love painting all subject matter, so whatever I paint, even if a commissioned portrait, it still thrills me.

Judy Mudd
I see several have mentioned working with galleries and having to conform to their needs when painting. I've been hesitant to approach galleries for that very reason. I've been putting my paintings up in public places, such as the nearby library, salons, etc. and have gotten exposure and commissions that way. Still, I'm not ruling out working with galleries in the future, just not now when these venues are giving me adequate sales and commissions for the time I have to devote to painting. Once I quit my "day job" then who knows?

Lorraine Khachatourians
Thank you for these comments Lori. I too love landscapes but rarely paint them. Having just received Richard Schmid's new Landscapes book makes me really want to do more. However, where I live is not my landscape. We came here because of my husband's work, and although I enjoy it for a lot of reasons, the landscape doesn't catch me. Some skies we get here do, so that may be where I will need to start. I love still life, old buildings, glass, really old things, and succulents (my current passion). Your comment about painting to sell being okay is reassuring! Those little ones tend to do well these days, but now I am experimenting with big! It is always an adventure, and something new to explore.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Response to Michael C: The best advice regarding developing quickly I ever got was to paint many many many small quick studies of max 2 hour's worth of work, without putting the pressure on of doing 'finished' work. One per day was the aim. (Didn't reach it, but the 40 sketches I did really made me take a quantum leap. Now it is time for more of those sketches.)

Michael Cardosa
Hi Charlotte, Thanks for responding to my comment. Sounds like a good exercise and goal. I'll give it a try...

Tuva Stephens
Great article Lori! You ask am I happier focusing on one subject matter. I would say I am more comfortable, but I do not want to think about limiting myself myself to one subject matter. If I did that,I would be setting myself up for an artistic block. I like the idea of painting for myself and not galleries. Do I like to paint the same subject several times? Yes, Cheng-Khee-Chee said if you want to know a subject, paint it 10 times or more. He knows his subjects and literally paints them intuitively without even having any reference materials. Although he paints different subjects, he has a style. I think that may be more important than subject matter. When it comes to style, why not have the freedom to change your style in different stages of one's life. Go with the flow is what I say! The subject matter calls out to me and I listen. Be true to yourself.

Marsha Savage
Another great article, Lori.

I have finally settled on two mediums which do help each other: pastel and oil. I occasionally do acrylic if there is a valid reason -- such as a time line for a commission that won't fit with the drying time of oil.

As for subject matter, I am definitely a landscape artist -- and trees, creeks, rocks are probably the most consistent characters in my stories.

I teach classes and workshops and end up with many partially done demonstrations. The past few weeks have seen me pulling out those that speak to me at this time. I have completed 5 or 6 paintings from these demonstrations -- and without using any of the resource material, meaning the photograph. I do paint plein air as much as possible so the photograph is not an essential once I have made my design and composition on the studio piece.

This has been fun, because it has allowed me to take a look at what I pull out to finish -- what is the recurring theme of subject matter that is my love. Time and again it will be pasture with trees and those wonderful negative spaces created by the tree against the sky or mountains, as well as the pasture. An occasional creek with rocks, but it will always have the trees and those negative spaces. This tells me what my love is!

I try to paint some for the gallery, which means sizes they want and subject matter of my local area -- but that just happens to be the subjects I mentioned above. Then I get to paint some for myself -- landscapes that I have visited and am loving but not really saleable in this area -- the American West -- like Sedona or Taos.

Paint what we love no matter if it is for ourselves or the gallery or a show. The best will show up and someone is going to love it.

Thanks again for thought provoking articles -- and the comments are mostly the same and enjoyable to see what other artists are thinking and doing.

Hi Lori,
Firstly, thanks so much for the articles. I read them daily and they always get my mind going.
This one especially hit home because,
a) I am not a person who lives off her art work. I work in an office as well.
b.) I feel that I have watercolor down to a science as long as I have my Windsor Newton paints, sable brushes, and 150lb coldpress Windsor Newton paper. Anything else and I turn into a mixed media artist bringing in all sorts of things to create.
c.) I primarily paint animals. I advertise myself as an artist who specializes in pet portraiture and I do have a blast doing it.

Lately, I feel that I should be doing something "else". I have been picking up acrylics, painting landscapes and portraits of myself and they're "OK" to the people who do look at my watercolors. People who are close to me say that I would have better success if I stepped away from painting dogs and cats and do other things. But they're not artists themselves, so do they really understand? I have been struggling with the comment that I usually get from my watercolors which is "Oh It looks just like a photograph." And I know they're made to be compliments by why do I take it as an insult? Because it's the more painterly style that my acrylics produce that I actually like to look at. Anyway, I'm rambling and basically I guess I'm just confessing that I'm a 'torn' artist between the commissions and the passions and will always be there. Maybe it's what keeps me going.

Lori Woodward
Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts, experiences, and advice. I really appreciate you all taking the time share.

Christine, when you're doing commissioned animal portraits - it's probably a good thing for your work to look like a photograph. People want an accurate representation of their pets.

If you have time, perhaps you could keep the commissioned work as your "grocery paintings" and then experiment with acrylics on the side. It's not uncommon for artists to let their "fine art" works differ from their commissioned pieces.

Let your experimental, looser style be like taking vacations from your tighter work.

Diane Donicht Vestin
Ok.Ok. I'm a day late again! I just finished reading Lori Woodward's article "For Love and Money". I just love her truthfulness about painting what we love to paint and foregoing painting what the collecters want. So what if you're not making a bundle of money. I'd rather be happy painting what inspires me than anything else. I don't make a living as an artist, because I don't sell much art. I need someone to market for me so I can have time to create. If it comes down to where I don't have good marketing of my work, which I know is very essential, I'll still be "happy" knowing I'm sitting in my studio with my two dogs and two cats painting. I used to paint in colored pencils and won many awards, a medal and even sold my first painting for 1,200.00. Then, I came down with degenerative arthritis and had to quit the colored pencil practice. I boo hooed for six months and then finally realized that God gave me the gift of creativity so, I switched over to acrylics. I LOVE them! But I'm still a "baby" when it comes down to mastering the medium. So each day and even on the weekends I go to my tiny little studio and paint. I love it because I'm still doing what I love to do. So, listen to Lori. She knows what she's talking about.
Diane Donicht Vestin

Donald Smith
To answer your question, I paint to please me, which means mostly landscape paintings, a few still lifes, and someday a few portraits, and a LOT of just exercises to work on specific skills. I paint still lifes and portraits for the experience, and to push myself as an artist, not to sell. Growth can come from trying new things as an artist.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

I decided some years ago to stick with acrlic painting, however my subject matter comes in waves of usually six to eight paintings and then switches. My collectors don't seem confused and always know my work based on the style and coloring. I think subject is second to style.

Debbie Flood
I am one of those artists who is painting what I love and generating money. I've been honing my skills at painting children in watercolor. I have always loved painting horses and now I am putting the two loves together to create portraits of children with horses or other pets.I also now include adults with the horses. You can see all the different portraits I have painted on my child a day Blog
It can be done. An artist can earn an income from the art they love to make. Just focus and hone those skills.

Lee McVey
Lori, I always enjoy your articles. Thank you for writing them.

I paint for love and money, but if the money wasn't involved, I'd still have to paint. If other things interfere and I can't get to my painting, I get cranky. I'm a landscape artist and can't imagine painting anything else. I'm not interested in landscapes with many buildings, animals or people. Just the landscape. This preference may change and evolve, of course, but that's where it's been for a number of years.

Carole Rodrigue
As I said in a previous post, I'll stick to my acrylics forever for many reasons. My subjects will always be horses and still life. I just can't give one up for the other. They are both passions for me, especially realistic still life. I looks at others' work and fall in love and think, "Now that's what I want to do, except in my own style." Horses and still life. That's the burning in my belly and I can only hope I can develop a following for both. Passion is passion, and to deny it is to deny a big part of yourself. And nothing in the world is worth denying your true self for. And I think that's what real art is, exploring and sharing your passions.

Fay Terry
I think I am getting closer to narrowing my focus to what I love most. Until I read your article I thought maybe it had to be what I did best that determined my niche but now I see that it doesn't have to be. At the start of my painting education, I remember saying that I didn't know what area I most wanted to paint but it wouldn't be landscape. Well, I was wrong.
I love your articles because thay make me rethink my ideas.

Teddy Jackson
Hi Lori:
Congratulations on another wonderful article.

I have been painting with acrylics for several years. It is difficult to find workshops and other resources for improving my skills in acrylics. I was hoping that some of you fine artists out there have some suggestions for me.

Many perceive acrylics to be more difficult than the other mediums. I find acrylics to be extremely flexible and lend themselves to my fast pace of painting. When I use them in plein air painting, I truly enjoy the quick clean up, and the ease in transporting and framing them while on the road. I teach both Oil and Acrylics at GOT ART Gallery in Lee's Summit, MO. Teaching is great way to learn and grow as an artist, while sharing my passion with others.

Thanks again for your commitment to share your thoughts and experiences with us.


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