I started attempting to paint in 1996. I was 25, owned a hair salon in Brentwood and was looking for another creative outlet. There was a client of mine, Gail McDaniel an accomplished water colorist, that started this series of watercolor painting workshops that lasted 8 weeks. This was way before the "sips and strokes" craze so there was no expectation that I would actually learn how to become an artist. I signed up with a couple of friends and at the end of every 8 weeks, we would sign up again. It was a great fellowship and a lot of fun. We would meet every Tuesday at the Brentwood Methodist Church and paint from 9-1. Some would work on one painting the whole 8 weeks and nuts like me thought there should be a stack of finished paintings every Tuesday. Our teacher, Gail, had a lot of patience for our shenanigans because it was clear early on that it was all about hanging out.
The start of 2014 marked the 15th year that I have been painting to grow a business and working to cultivate collectors. And I mean working on it everyday. In that time span there has been a lot of change. One of the most notable is- Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Etsy and shopping carts on a website. Something as simple as business cards required a lot of effort and money. Hustle meant for real HUSTLE. Advertising would cost you real money with no guarantee of results. Finding a show to participate in was hard as well and don't even get me started on the cost of a portfolio before digital photography.
Over the years I have tried it all. I have painted every conceivable subject matter and on every kind of surface. There have been a few hits and a lot of misses. I have participated in fine Art shows, festivals, fundraisers, home parties, gift shops, antique booths and everything in between. I have sold a lot and nothing at each of those. I have made great friends and I have rubbed some people the wrong way. I have seen many businesses come and go. I have seen many artists and crafters with incredible talent buy supplies and go gang-busters only to stop. I have seen several become household names. I have never thought of quitting but I have had to course correct many times. And I have learned something valuable with each experience.
As much change as there has been the most important things remain the same. I still have a love affair with color, those girls I started the watercolor workshops with are still my dearest friends and biggest cheerleaders, I still have the same collectors, I still love the craft of doing a good haircut and I am still so incredibly grateful for every opportunity I get in life. Even the one to pay taxes today;)
It occurs to me that there are a lot of “i's” in this post. This year has also ushered in something else new. Since my “Where Women Create” article, I get a lot of emails and visits at shows from aspiring artists and crafters for any tips that I could share. That change has had me look back in a way that I have never done and putting into words this journey. I know I sound like an old coot with my “back in my day” language and how technology has really paved the way for anyone to have a store front. I do that only because it is an important distinction to make. In 2014, if you have the talent, the discipline and the patience to stay professional in sometimes unprofessional situations....the sky is truly the limit. There has never been an easier time to get in the face of collectors. So my “i’s” are to encourage you.
I don't always follow my own advice but I want your take-away to be this: it is ALL about the work and the collector. You will run into more drama than a “Law and Order” marathon if you pursue this business as a career. The great news is that it rarely affects the collectors, the events run by professionals or the big companies that license....in other words....the people that hand you the money. Because they are ALL about the work. I encourage you to keep your eye on the prize and savor the moments when you realize that what you are doing is actually working! And don't spend too much time dwelling on the times when it is not. You have to define for yourself why you are doing this and when the drama has you revisiting that reason try your best to be a professional. Just because it is a creative environment there is no real excuse to blur the lines of professional behavior. I have blurred this line at times, and regrettably so.
As I write my check to the IRS today I am especially reminded of the details of this journey. When I got to the part in my return that asked " did you get paid any royalties" it made me a bit weepy. Most of my time is now is spent designing for mass production. When I think of those images being everywhere, it is hard to wrap my head around. I still live in the world where my work is packed up in a box that fits in my car and I am thrilled to have sold 20 things.
In the spirit of revisiting, here is a watercolor that I painted for my Best Friend, Teresa in 1998 and it hangs in her house today.