Life as an Artist
G e t t i n g S t a r t e d
How does one find the secret of living the dream in a society that requires a continual flow of cash? How do we break out of the Matrix? How is the young artist able to support themselves on the sales of their art? Most aspiring artists seek the representation of a quality art gallery, which usually doesn't come immediately.
In order to obtain that gallery representation, the artist first has to find their own niche, a direction . . . an identifying signature style. In today's world, it takes more than just being talented. A gallery or collector wants your art to have a unique characteristic(s) that holds your work together as a unit and is identifiable even without your signature. To discover that 'personal style' often requires spending many long hours of concentration and experimentation in the studio. But, there's always one issue that always gets in the way-- those pesky living expenses.
When the aspiring artist has to work an outside job to cover their living expenses, it means hours away from the studio-- a break in concentration which makes the goal of becoming a full-time artist more distant. If you’re working forty hours a week at a job you don’t enjoy you may not have the energy at the end of the workday to begin work in the studio. So how does one fulfill the dream and overcome such seemingly, insurmountable obstacles?
For me, I knew from a very early age that I wanted to spend my life painting canvas' until the end. I quickly discovered that objective was easier said than done. I realized I could only get there by setting priorities. One huge factor that kept me running on the treadmill was debt. If I was to break into the world of art I realized that I wouldn't have to work outside the studio as much if I had fewer bills to pay.
Of course, we're all different with different needs. Some can live with fewer comforts than others. In my case, I was willing to sleep in my van if I had to in order to eliminate the biggest expense on the list -- a mortgage or rent. It's easy to live without a credit card (at least for me it was). Being tied down with a car payment was out of the question. I found that by reducing expenses, one by one, life became less stressful and demanding, but to really lighten my load, I had to toss the largest financial burden off my back. So, I took a year off and bought a few inexpensive, secluded acres in the backwoods of the Arkansas Ozark Mountains and single-handedly, built a house and studio. At the time I didn't have any building experience. I only had the fierce determination to be free.
Obviously, we all can't follow my unorthodox path. One thing that could be in the grasp of the aspiring artist would be to use their creativity by offering an artistic service of some kind, like graphic art, inexpensive portrait paintings, pinstriping or hand-painted signs, home murals, calligraphy, or a hundred different artistic endeavors that might bring in enough extra cash to allow them to work part-time, instead of full-time. Showing their art on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and others are free so I'd suggest taking advantage of them. Once they've tightened their belt, that part-time, independent work might be enough to cover their monthly expenses. In my case, I began to paint hand-lettered signs for small mom-and-pop businesses. Painting signs for one week gave me enough money to pay my bills for a month and enough time to spend the other three weeks in my studio developing my signature style.
Bottom line . . . at least in the beginning, streamline your expenses to a minimum by eliminating debt, establishing a rainy day fund, and purchasing less because it takes a while before an artist becomes recognized and established to the point where survival from art sales only is a reality.
The Learning Proccess.
""I am still learning ---Michelangelo
"So am I" ---Kingneon
As I mentioned on my About page, I was born with a paintbrush in my hand, to say the least, the hospital staff was shocked. Actually, art is in my DNA, my father was an artist but unlike me, his passion and determination must not have been as strong since he didn’t choose art as his profession. As a kid growing up I was always drawing, and on my twelfth birthday my mother gave me an oil painting kit, and at fifteen she enrolled me in a home art instruction course. Thanks, mom.
After high school, I spent my first year of art study at the Newark School of Fine Arts, in Newark, New Jersey. The next summer I studied advertising art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. It didn’t take me long, however, to realize that as an advertising artist I would be employed creating advertisements for products I didn’t necessarily support. That’s when I determined the only satisfying art career for me would have to be as a fine artist (starving or otherwise). From the start, I had a need to draw and paint realistically. When I discovered the pioneers of the Photoreal art movement of the late ‘60s thru the early ‘70s— artists like Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, and others, I became determined to follow in their footsteps and paint photo-realistically, in fact, I studied briefly with Ralph Goings in a Masters class at Arizona State University.
Thinking I needed an additional edge, I enrolled in the Memphis Academy of Art. I loved the energy of my student peers, but I was disappointed in my professors. They came from the era of abstract expressionists, minimalists, and at best, expressionists. As such, they could not help me develop my photoeal ambitions. One of my better painting professors, however, suggested I personally contact a living contemporary photorealist painter in the US in an attempt to study side by side with them (like the Old Masters employed apprentices to work with them in their studio). After a few attempts, I was thrilled when the contemporary photorealist, the late Gregory Gillespie, accepted my proposal.
I spent that summer studying with Gillespie. After my apprenticeship concluded, and while everything I learned was still fresh in my mind, I decided to go off somewhere and just paint. Remembering Paul Gaughan’s years in Tahiti, I opted for the island of Jamacia. With my paints, brushes, and easel in tow, I explored the island until I found a small town with no tourists, rented a house, upacked my art supplies, and began to paint in paradise while I sipped on coconut water and Red Stripe beers.
Once back in the states, I began working as a sign painter part-time, and painting canvas’ most of the time. In those early days, I was still searching for my signature style, knowing art galleries didn’t represent artists who had not found that level of maturity. One day, out of the blue, I had an epiphany! Instead of painting signs for businesses, I would begin to paint vintage roadside neon signs of the ‘40s and ‘50s on canvas – as fine art, and I would paint them photo-realistically.
Large photoreal canvas’ of the old neon signs gained me one gallery after the next. Miami to Scottsdale, L.A. to San Francisco and finally one-man shows in New York City. Passion, hard work and an unwavering determination is the key. Besides the gallery shows, in 1998 I was made an “Officially Licensed” fine artist for Harley-Davidson, Chevolet/Corvette, and Mattel Toys. I’m been living my dream ever since.