This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world. Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
A feral cat showed up one day, slinking under the plants lining our back patio. He was so thin and hungry we coaxed him to eat a little. He began hanging around, showing up at meal time to scarf down some food. He never came close enough for us to touch him but we became attached to the little orange tabby, Slinky. Then he disappeared; we figured our little feral cat had been grabbed by a wolf or went Tom-catting.
After a couple of months, I suggested we go to the shelter and get a rescue cat. We ended up with two totally black, female cats. Molly, the larger of the two, loves to garden with Mikki and follows her around like a puppy. We have a small lake, at the back of the property, that is filled with waterfowl all year. To sit and enjoy the ducks, we installed a free standing swing under a large hackamore tree at the lake’s edge.
Last week Mikki and Molly were sitting on the swing watching green wing teals bathing and flapping their wings. Molly saw something near the water, decided to investigate and headed off through the thick grass. Suddenly, Mikki heard a crashing noise come from the direction of the 5,000 acre ranch bordering us on the north. In an instant, a young deer ran across our meadow and leapt out into the lake. The doe’s hind leg was dragging and covered with blood. She was followed closely by a Mexican Red Wolf. Mikki jumped to her feet and the wolf stopped about twenty yards from the swing. Molly instantly ran up the nearest tree. Yelling and waving her hands ,Mikki frightened the predator away. The deer remained in the water until the wolf had vanished. We watched the sky for a week and never saw any buzzards circling, which means the young deer lived. It was a close call for Mikki, Molly and the doe.
Wolves have become a real problem all across the west. The government protected them from being killed and introduced packs of big grays back into Yellowstone National Park. Now, those wolves have spread all across the west. A pack of wolves will kill a rancher’s goats, sheep and calves. They have been known to kill young foals. Texas and New Mexico have seen the Red Wolf of Mexico move north this past decade. They are not as large as the gray wolves but just as deadly. Wolves kill not only for food but for sport as well. I recently read an article telling of one rancher losing 74 Angora goats to a pack of wolves in Ozona, Texas.
What lessons can an artist learn from wolves? Well, certainly not their desire to kill for sport. But wolves do have several survival traits artists can learn from.
Cooperation. Killer Whales and wolves have one thing in common; they work together as a team to capture their prey. Killer whales swim in circles that become tighter and tighter until they make a ball of fish. Then, they swim in for the feast. A wolf pack does the same thing to their target. In Nevada, where there are a million wild horses, wolves use the same skills on them. Two or three will attack the front, pulling back before a hoof strikes them, while other team members nip at the horses’ flanks. When an animal is crippled, the entire pack goes in to finish the job. I know all this gore sounds horrific, but it is nature’s survival pattern. The food chain is made by the larger fish eating the smaller ones.
It’s too bad we don’t see more teamwork in the art community. I have found artists are reluctant to share their trade secrets. Secrets they’ve learned from other artists. I remember visiting a show in San Diego; one artist had a beautiful readymade frame. I thought the plein air style moulding would be a great frame for my readers to know about. I picked up one of her paintings and noticed Hecho in Mexico stamped on the back. Still, she was reluctant to share. I did say, “I know these frames are made in Tijuana. We could help a lot of artists if you will share your source.” Out of fear she refused to tell me. If wolves acted like artists, they would starve to death. Perhaps that’s why there are so many “Starving Artists.”
If you are represented in an art gallery, realize you will do much better as a member of their team than if you just freelance. Teamwork is the main key to our gallery success.
Consistency: Wolves do the same thing every day. They get up with one thing on their minds. They begin to hunt at daybreak and continue until the sun goes down, 365 days a year. Wolves have a wide range of territory; they don’t just hunt in their back yard. They are known to travel a hundred miles seeking food.
Would any of us walk all day to make a sale? Many artists won’t even stand during a two day outdoor show, they bring a lawn chair. Worse yet, a lot of them also take a book to read. The wolf knows if he doesn’t hunt, he won’t eat. Wolves know how to close the sale. They don’t miss many opportunities. The young deer would have been breakfast if Mikki had not interceded. Wolves have a knack for circling the prey and using a method that has worked for thousands of years. Selling is so simple you already know all you need to learn by the time you are three. I wrote The Magic of Selling Art hoping to teach the simplicity of closing a sale. If you can’t afford a copy, then email and I’ll send you one for free. You have to know how to sell if you are going to earn a living in art. Wolves teach their pups to hunt as soon as they are old enough to leave the den.
Communication. While hunting, a wolf remains silent. They tend to howl at night, but during the chase they run without barking or attracting attention. Their single focus is to reach their prey. They seem to communicate with each other by ear and eye movements, otherwise how would they know who takes the flanks and which ones make the frontal attack? The biggest failure I find with artists is their inability to communicate. Remember this, no one ever listened themselves out of a sale. Some of you talk too much. If a wolf talked, their prey would run before they got there. Two mistakes artists make with their blogs. One, they think the reader cares about their daily activities. Make your blogs interesting for strangers. The second thing is have a call to action like sign up here, this item is for sale or follow this link to my auction. Why have a blog if there is no call to action?
Complacency. Wolves don’t know the word complacent. If they have a headache, the wolf still goes to work. Tired is never an excuse for not chasing game. All of us get tired, but the professional presses on. Many times I drove until 2 or 3 in the morning to be in the town I was hoping to sell the following day. I would ask the motel for a wakeup call. Shower, shave and grab a Mickey D’s for breakfast. I wanted to be outside the targeted furniture store before they opened. My goal was to bang on the front door until they let me in. With no customers, I was able to get the buyer’s full attention. I made my biggest sales before 9AM. Like a hungry wolf, I worked until my car was empty of art. I drove home, produced more art and the following Sunday headed out to the next destination. The first five years, I didn’t take a day off. When my sons began to play sports, I found time to be at their games. By then, I was established and earning a lot of money. I had hired two men to do bank shows for me. But even then, I never allowed anything to keep me from making art. I paid my dues in the trenches. Know this, I don’t teach theory. I only teach things I’ve done or experienced. A wolf can’t teach her pup unless she has learned the way.
Jack White circa 1976
Capricious. One wouldn’t associate unpredictability with a wolf, but they can change directions on a moment’s notice. For instance, they may be tracking a rabbit when they catch the scent of much bigger prey. Their intense focus turns to the one providing more food. All too often an artist will continue to do shows that are small producers, rather than try to upgrade. At the end of the year, we evaluate our gallery sales. Our goal is to replace the bottom sellers with those we think will do better every two years. The idea is to continue to grow upward. The horrible art economy has foiled some of these plans. We had four good galleries close in 2010 and 2011. I recall back when I was doing shows; Sunshine Artists Magazine published a book on rating outdoor shows and festivals each year. I religiously studied that report, then targeted the shows I felt would be an upgrade for me. This was after I stopped doing the gold leaf and was selling prints and oils. At that time Sunshine Artists Magazine was the bible of outdoor art shows and festivals.
Cavort. Last, but not least, wolves know how to frolic. They take time for diversion. What’s the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I saw a documentary on wolves. The adults find time to romp and have fun after a kill. For us, it’s closing a big sale. Wolves do more than grind out a living. When they are full, they stop and enjoy the results of the hunt.
To our credit, we have traveled the world and been on more cruises than I care to admit to. We would work long hard days and then take off to some vacation spot. One of our favorites was Ambergris Cay. Mikki has become a big sports fan. I managed to get us tickets to the NBA finals and watched the Spurs win the Championship. We have been to a few Super Bowls and seven Arena Bowls.
I know you don’t think you can afford to take off, but trust me, everything you have to do will be there when you return. My biggest regret as an artist came when I traded a large painting to Geoff Broom, who was voted International Big Game Hunter of the Year. He invited me to stay on his 135,000 acre ranch in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He was located next to the 85,000 acre Wankie Park, where wild animals had never seen a human. I had pressing commissions and never went, even though my trip was totally paid for. He wanted me to stay six weeks. I didn’t follow the advice I’m giving you. Now he is dead and frankly I’m too old for such a grueling trip. I don’t think I’d even be allowed in Zimbabwe today. Do like the wolves, stop and smell the roses a little bit each day.
You can learn a lot from wolves. Take their strong points, make them yours and follow them on your hunt to success.