New Year, Fresh Ideas: 2014 Art Plan

New Year is a perfect opportunity to review the past year and think about how to make the most of 2014.

2013 Review

Wow – that was a busy year. It was a transformational year for my painting too. Firsts for me in 2013 were:

Out of the studio:
– First major joint exhibition. This took place in March when I shared an exhibition with Mark Judson and Denise Shearing. It was a great experience: the planning, the setup and the sales. It was a massive confidence builder as it resulted in commissions which have taken me all the way through to Christmas.
– Started Running With Brushes in July. 25 other artists have joined the project and we have now sold 142 paintings, raising over £2100 for Care for Casualties in the process. 312 paintings have been completed for the project to date.
– Held my first Open Studio event as part of the Saffron Walden Open Studios weekend.
– Made my first online sales this year.

Painting:
– Tried my hand at mixed media and working in acrylics on a 2 day workshop with the marvellous Georgia Mansur (expertly organised by Mita Higton)
– 77 Running With Brushes paintings – great for brush mileage
– Explored new subjects and managed my first portrait and figure painting.
– Took part in Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days – more brush mileage and a great way to build up my Running With Brushes works.

Things that didn’t work so well:
– I spent a lot of time travelling to take paintings to exhibitions that just didn’t work for me. Some because they were too busy, and some because they were badly organised.
– Although I took my paints and paper with me while I was on work trips, I still find it difficult to get into painting mode when I’m away from my studio.

Here are some of my most popular paintings of 2013:

2014 – The Plan

Out of the Studio:
– I’m planning to be more selective about the exhibitions I take part in during 2014. The time I spend in preparing for an exhibition is painting time lost and I’ve decided it must be worthwhile to warrant that sacrifice. So for 2014, I will only take part in selection exhibitions if I can submit my work online, or it is a local exhibition. I’ll be cutting out those that I’ve tried in past years and that haven’t worked for me for 2 years.
– As other bloggers will know, writing a blog takes a huge amount of time. It’s been wonderful having new readers commenting this year, and I will continue to blog. I enjoy experimenting with paint and the posts about my experiments seem to be some of the most useful. I’m considering a new series on What’s in my Studio which will go through the tools, materials and references I use. I hope this will prove a useful subject for other artists.
– In addition to Saffron Walden Open Studios, I’ve signed up for Cambridge Open Studios this year. That will give people one weekend at the end of April/beginning of May, and two weekends in July to visit my studio. Last year, I loved meeting people who wanted to talk about painting and were interested in my work. More of that in this coming year.
– Lots of exhibition visits, particularly at the Mall Galleries where there are many exhibitions of works from artist I admire and who inspire me to keep on painting and stretching myself.
– Expand my online sales which got off to a good start in 2013.

Painting:
– Continuing my pursuit of brush mileage to improve my painting skills, I am taking part in Leslie’s January 30 Paintings in 30 Days series. I pre-painted my first share which was actually posted online a couple of days ago. But as it’s a gift for someone whose birthday is today, it was done a couple of days ago so I’ve counted it as day 1.
– I’ve spent some of today organising my studio, and resolved to spend more time doing paint exercises and recording the results of my pigment studies.
– There is a pile of magazines and books in my studio which I have read superficially. 2014 will be the year to go through them in more detail and spend time making notes and working on ideas and tips I gather from them.
– More time spent on challenging subjects. Portraits, animals and figure work will be on the agenda.
– Texture, texture, texture – it’s thrilling and I love it when the texture transforms a painting.
– I have a fabulous week of Plein Air painting in France with Olivia Quintin and Fabio Cembranelli planned for September. I’m challenging myself to get comfortable painting outside the studio.
– Doing three open studio weekends means I must paint enough new work to make it an interesting and worthwhile experience for visitors. Setting deadlines for myself is a great way to make me paint, paint, paint.

Happy New Year everyone, and Happy Painting.

Mixing media

Landscape watercolour painting - Mist Clearing
Mist clearing (watercolour 40cm x 28cm)

So often, it strikes me that there is a parallel between my current painting and something else I’m working on at the time.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the various online profiles we have and been aware that it’s all too easy for social media to give a skewed perception of who we are and what we do.  LinkedIn provides a reasonably comprehensive view of my working life, while Facebook and this website focus mainly on my painting. If you read any one of the three, you’ll get a very specific picture of who I am and what I do – but it’s only a think slice of the whole.

Last week I set up an About.Me page to pull all aspects into one single page. It took a few attempts to get the balance right between all aspects, and a good number of runs at getting the text right. I’ve written before about how difficult I find it to write about myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a challenge. I got some extremely helpful feedback from friends along the way which helped enormously to refine my thinking about balance and tone for the content.  In time I’ll probably add some information about my work life to this website so the balance follows through here, but my blogging on this site will still be about sharing my painting.

On which subject – I’ve been thinking about doing some work in mixed media, something I’ve only touched upon once or twice in the past. I find the variety of marks created by different media can give a painting a different type of depth and interest so today, I had a go using watercolour, gouache and gesso in a painting.  If I were to start over from scratch I would probably tweak the composition in one or two ways, but overall, I quite like the atmosphere of this painting and I’ll keep on using multimedia in future. Maybe not for every painting, but certainly for a fair few.

Advertising your exhibition

The success of an exhibition is partly due to the advertising and marketing. Naturally, the purpose is to get as many people to see the exhibition as possible. But in addition that, it’s also worth considering who you want to be in that group. Ideally, you want to be targeting people who are interested in original art, and likely to:

a) buy original art

b) spread the word about work they like (word of mouth can be the most powerful marketing of all)

c) provide you with valuable feedback on the work.

Here are a few ideas you may want to consider:

Develop a mailing list

These are people who know your work and would like to be invited to a preview event.

  • When you mail them the news of your exhibition, ask them to forward the news to others they think will be interested, or bring friends along to the event. People sometimes need to be reminded that they are welcome to do that (and in fact that you actively encourage it – it’s a good way to build your mailing list).
  • Keep track of who has accepted so that you can cater adequately at the preview event, and also so you can;
  • Send a reminder email out 2 days before the event. Include map and parking information in this one, as well as any other last-minute information
  • Expect at least 10% to drop out at the last minute. Stuff happens in people’s lives.

 

Put out a press release about the exhibition and send it to the local press (newspapers magazines and online)

  • Include a photograph of a painting that has great impact. The more attention-grabbing, the better. We included Girls’ Best Friends on the event poster and that resulted in it being used by a number of publications to illustrate their piece about the event.
  • Compile a spreadsheet to track the publication names, contact person and email addresses of all your local media. This will make it easier to get in touch with them for future events.
  • Think about the demographic of the readership of the magazine, particularly in light of the audience you would like to attract. If a publication has a high proportion of readers who are interested in the arts, it is more likely to publish a piece about an art exhibition. Double bonus: better chance of publication, and the opportunity to reach a higher number of the people you want to attract.
  • Be mindful of deadlines. In particular, printed publications often have quite long lead in times for publications. It’s worth finding out what they are. We left it a bit too late for some of ours and missed out completely on getting into a few key publications.

Cambridgeshire Journal, March 2013

 Look out for local ‘what’s on’ websites and e-bulletins

  • Get in touch with them to get a listing in at the right time. For the weekly editions, a couple of weeks run up to the event should be sufficient.

Put up posters in the local vicinity if you are allowed to do so by councils

  • If you can’t get them onto pavements or public spaces, ask a few people who live close to the venue if they would mind having a temporary sign on their gate or fence. This may only work in villages. It certainly worked in ours.

On the exhibition days, make sure the signage is good

  • People will give up and go away if they can’t quickly and easily work out where you are.
  • It is also a good way of attracting serendipitous visitors. People who have a bit of time to spare and see your signs may well want to pop in for a browse.

Social Media

  • Set up a Facebook Event and invite the Facebook friends who are based in the area where your exhibition will be held.
  • Tweet your event when you announce it.
  • Post news on Facebook and Twitter as your plans develop and things get done.
  • Post news about event publicity. The publications get additional exposure so they love it too.

Get creative

  • Partner with local businesses where you can.
  • Think about what public holidays are taking place during your exhibition time and see if you can take advantage of them some way.

exhibition invitations

What other ways have you advertised your event? Please share them in the comments.

The more people get into the habit of buying original art, the more they will buy original art in the future.

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Staging an exhibition: Venue

As we go through the process of staging our exhibition, I thought it might be helpful to do a few posts about the process.

Once we’d had the idea to do a joint exhibition, the first thing to consider was venue. My initial approach was to ask other artists in the area for suggestions and then consider the following factors:

  • Location
    • Is it easy to get to?
    • How far will people on my mailing list need to travel to reach it?
    • Is there convenient parking
    • Access via public transport
  • The quality of the space
    • Natural light, if any
    • Wall space and scale
    • Size
    • Flow – is it easy for people to wander round the exhibition
  • Cost
    • How affordable is it?
    • What additional costs are there likely to be which are related to this venue?
  • The quality of the space
    • Are there good hanging facilities
    • Tables
    • Electric lighting
    • Comfort facilities (kitchen and toilets)
  • Manning the exhibition
    • Temperature (is it either too hot or too cold for comfort)
    • Location (if it’s very far away, how easy will that be)
Whittlesford gallery
Whittlesford gallery

There are loads of other things to think about that I’m sure I’ve not added here. In the end, we chose not to go for a gallery space in town. We chose The Whittlesford gallery which is 10 miles out of the centre of Cambridge but it ticks the box on many other features. The building is an old school house which has been used as a gallery for many years on and off. It has lovely high windows and, although the size is modest, it has a lot of charm. There is parking, but we will have to be creative about hanging facilities as it has not been used as a gallery for a little while. It’s close to home so manning it won’t be difficult and it’s cost effective so we can put more resource into marketing. Overall, we also like it because it has a history and doing something like an exhibition is good for the community and the neighbouring business.

And being 10 miles out of town doesn’t seem to have hurt us. We’ve already got almost 100 acceptances for our preview night between the three of us. It’s going to be a great weekend. Thank you, Sue, for the opportunity.

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Writing an Artist’s Statement

Watercolour detail - letting go.
Watercolour detail – letting go.

As one of the steps towards updating my website, I’ve been working on my artist’s statement. Somehow, writing about myself feels quite difficult. I’ve soldiered on, worked my way through it, and in the course of getting my thoughts into a readable form, it struck me that the process is a bit like painting in watercolours:

The more we strive to control, the harder it becomes. It’s only when we simply let go and loosen up, that we start to move towards mastery. So too with writing my artist’s statement. It was only when I stopped stressing about how uncomfortable it felt that I could get some thoughts on paper in a coherent form. I’m sure it will continue to evolve, but for now my artist’s statment feels about right.

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Visibility

Twenty years ago, your sphere of influence was probably limited to the people you knew personally, and perhaps some who knew them. Most people didn’t create waves much further than that in their circle of family, friends and business Now:

  • Its much easier to talk to people all over the world, but
    • its also much harder to be heard above the noise
  • Messages on Twitter, Facebook and other ‘broadcast’ sites are quickly overlaid with new ideas, but
    • profiles and facts about you are on the internet forever
  • Its easy to hit the ‘send’ button and spread your ideas and your messages, but
    • each idea has so much more capacity to help or harm your reputation.

Seth Godin’s post about person brand tells three powerful stories illustrating why we should care about everything that’s ever written about us online. Your reputation is your most valuable asset – protecting it should be a priority.

So here’s a challenge for you – have you ever typed your name into Google and done a search on yourself?  What does your online personal brand look like? What does the world read about you? Hopefully there are no disruptions or dents in your image.  But if there are, what are you going to do about it?

Sharing success

Are you comfortable sharing success on social media? For example, it is becoming common practice for artists to share the news when they sell a painting. But some artists find that difficult.

I’m not sure whether this is a particularly female characteristic, I think its probably something most people feel to a greater or lesser degree. I do know that I have had moments when I have been reluctant to step into the spotlight.  Our culture teaches us from an early age that its wrong to be boastful, that vanity is a bad thing, and that ‘nobody likes a show-off’.  And yet, we forget some of the equally sensible messages about being the best that we can, and not hiding it. The quote by Marianne Williamson (now widely acknowledged as having been incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela), kinda says it quite well – “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” So our sharing success benefits others.

When is it OK to be sharing success?

sharing success on social mediaI have come to realise that it’s context that makes all the difference. Of course, nobody likes a show-off. But how easy is it to see where the tipping point is on this? When is a parent talking glowingly about their child seen as boastful, and when is it seen as simple loving pride?  Iss it acceptable to speak proudly about the achievements of your organisation, or is that considered ‘pushy’ business talk? When is it OK to share the news of a painting sale or having work selected for a prestigious exhibition? We don’t always know how much sharing is just good PR, and how much is over-the-top.  The result of this confusion is that I think many of us lean further further towards keeping quiet about the special things we’ve done.

So I say – blow your own trumpet! Share your success. Tell people what you’re proud of. And encourage others to do the same. It takes a bit of thinking to overcome our conditioned reticence, but it will get easier with practice.

Energy or engagement – which takes the lead?

Does energy create engagement, or the other way round? Have you noticed that people who are really engaged with what they do, also seem to have a special kind of energy. So here’s the question – what comes first: the energy or the engagement?

Can we be energised by being more passionate about what we do? Or should we find ways to boost our energy levels in order to become more engaged? I know when a painting is really working – it flows. People talk about time standing still when they are enjoying the process of creating. That’s exactly how it feels. There is a sense of tunnel vision – a focus that is so effortlessly intense that all else fades into the background.

However, this doesn’t mean either that it happens every time I pick up a paintbrush, or that its a simple step by step process to get to this mental state.  Not so at all. There are times when I can be in the studio for hours and the urge to paint is still elusive. There are times when I start to paint, only for the creative muse to disappear and my painting stagnate.

I’m not sure I can say which comes first – energy or engagement. But I can tell you what helps for me:

  • Loosening up about the outcome is an essential starting point. It’s more important to enjoy the process than to be hung up about the end result
  • Music – good solid rock and roll often gets my energy levels going. My movements get more fluid and so does my painting
  • Work on more than one painting at the same time. If there’s a series of work on the go, I can’t get too hung up about one of them. It keeps things moving
  • Pause and really look at what’s happening with the paint. Find the juicy painterly bits that you love and just enjoy the moment (or the day or two) before you move on with the piece
  • If all else fails, tidy up. When I am really feeling stuck, I find that pottering around in my studio eventually leads to a paintbrush being picked up and things start to get going again. Its a bit of a battery recharge.

So which comes first, the energy or the engagement for you?

There’s creative value in getting organised

There’s a perception that an artist’s studio will be a mess, but for many artists there’s real value  in getting organised.

It seems counter-intuitive to slow down in order to speed up.  But that may actually be well worth a try. Getting organised and sorting through the piles of half completed painting, art materials and references does take time. But it also creates far greater clarity – and then time to reflect on the really important stuff.

I find that I go through periods of just painting and allowing the untidiness to build up because I don’t want to stop creating. But eventually I reach a point where I absolutely have to stop and get sorted out. It’s almost as if the build up of chaos is like ballast that increasingly creates drag. At some point it the clutter feels so unwieldy that my creativity starts getting stifled and my painting rate slows down. That’s when I absolutely have to stop and take stock.

Clutter creates drag. Getting organised makes painting easier

The benefits of getting organised

  • Discard whatever you’re not going to use. I’m pretty sure all of us creatives collect things we think are going to be super-useful. After a year of taking up studio space without being used, will it really be useful?  I’ll guarantee that really useful receptacle/tool/surface will never be used, and won’t be missed either.
  • Get greener – this is a great opportunity to think about how you are re-using/recycling, what materials and containers you use, how green your studio really us
  • It makes headspace. Somehow the process of getting organised is quite liberating. It seems to free up thinking space.

Getting organised aids creativity

Resist the urge to just keep your head down and plough on when the clutter starts to bog you down. I find its  a lot better to pause for reflection and reorganise my studio.

Effort vs Knowledge

Thank you Jacci for this great story about the impact of effort vs knowledge. Its not new, but the message is powerful:

Effort vs Knowledge - how does this apply to art pricing?Ever heard the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owner tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine. Then they brought in an old man who has been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do.

After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer.

He gently tapped something.

Instantly, the engine lurched into life. The engine was fixed! A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read:

…………………………

Tapping with a hammer – $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap – $9,998.00

Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort in your life makes all the difference.

So too with artwork – its the value of  effort vs knowledge

We’ve all heard comment about a piece of art: ‘My toddler could do that.’ (or something similar). The reality is that a toddler hasn’t spent years working on a creative skill. A toddler hasn’t had the insight, the inspiration and the perseverance to create a finished piece of art.  So often artists undervalue their own work – and I have been guilty of this myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that artists overprice their work. There is a sweet spot at which every painting will sell. Knowing where to find that particular price band is difficult and can be quite daunting for an artist. But make no mistake, the ratio isn’t quite as extreme as the case in the above story, but the skill of the artist is certainly worth more than many multiple of the material costs.  Its the sum of the artist’s effort AND more importantly, their knowledge.

If you’re an artist, don’t undervalue your work.

If you’re an art buyer, this is a gentle reminder that the price of the painting also encompasses a portion of all the hours and materials the artist has invested in work that led up to this piece of their inner world that will be hanging in your house from now on.