Jerry Lebo, 2007
I worked on some commissions over the weekend. The client for the above painting requested a southwest view similar in style to my painting titled, “North of Espanola”, which is a large painting (30x30 inches). Needless to say, it was a real challenge trying to pack a similar landscape into a 6x6 inch panel. I also wanted to do something slightly new with this commission, so I changed the rock formations and sky based on some photos I had from up in Northern New Mexico from our vacation last summer. It brought back a lot of memories to be painting a summer scene, while the weather in DC is turning cold.
Earlier in the week, I had a chance to go down to the JMW Turner exhibit showing at the National Gallery of Art. I have never really been a big Turner fan, but there were a few pieces that were worth seeing. There is a lot of work at the show from the Tate in London that was collected from his studio after his death. That is the work most worth seeing. I think the same was true of Corot, I have also seen many of his little studies he made for his own use in the studio, and I find these to be the most interesting work. It makes you wonder sometimes—are all these little notes and studies that I am doing in the studio going to end up in a museum show after I die? I’d better pick them up off the floor and dust them off a bit.
Anyway, leaving the exhibition, I noticed they were selling copies of the 2001 biography of Turner by James Hamilton for $10 (half-price), so I bought a copy and have been reading it on the train and in the evenings. Reading about Turner got me thinking about the business of art—and in particular about the current “painting-a-day” movement (PAD). Turner was a very astute businessman, who never let an opportunity to make money off his art pass him by. One could argue that he invented the “painting-a-day” approach. Not only did he paint nearly everyday, but he would churn out little watercolors for his collectors at the drop of a hat. He used to keep detailed list of scenic views people had requested, and next time he was in the area--he would rattle off a quick watercolor and send it out. He even offered to hand out small paintings to the Royal Academy in order to get elected as an Associate (art as bribery!). In fact, Turner started out as a youth selling his small watercolors off the walls of his father’s barbershop—for about the price of a haircut—to the wealthy patrons who came for a trim. He was a businessman and an artist. Perhaps, that is why he was so successful—he painted a lot—and understood that to keep painting, he needed to sell his work regularly by whatever means available.
Is “painting-a-day” a fad? I think it depends on how you look at it. From the artists personal point of view, for many, I think the answer maybe “yes”. I have been surfing around the blogosphere and web lately, and it is not hard to find numerous abandoned PAD blogs—with a couple, or even months of postings—but then nothing. As I said when I started this blog, I think the PAD approach is actually very hard to keep up as a practice—sure for a month, or a year, but 10 years? How many artists have the stamina?
As for myself, I have never professed to be a member of the PAD movement, simply because I have painted long enough to know that it is not possible to do it with the time I have available. Even five paintings a week would be a big order. But, in my view, the main benefit of the PAD approach is not sales or being able to make a painting a day—it the consistent effort and practice that it requires to even try. As you know, I have proposed a more modest approach--a minimum of an hour per day in the studio. I think it is reasonable to produce 2-3 small paintings per week this way, if you are able to put some consistent time on the weekends—say, around 10 hours per week total. But, the goal should be to develop as an artist through a consistent effort--not output.
So back to the selling of paintings. I am not "anti-Gallery", in fact, I think you should have your paintings in Galleries, on Ebay, at art shows, wherever you feel comfortable selling your art. However, having personally taken a 10 year hiatus from selling, I think there is nothing wrong with not selling your art--the goal is to paint--not to sell. To me, it was a luxury to take a decade long break from selling--and just paint for myself--and take a day job. Before getting a full-time job, art was my only source of income for a while and if I didn't sell, I didn't eat. Talk about pressure--it is a quick way to lose your artistic freedom. I think artistic success has other potential downsides. If you are successful, you will be under incredible pressure to paint, "more like that you did for your last show". Or, your gallery will want you to paint in a certain way, like another painter that sells well. I am not kidding here, my artist friends have been asked by their galleries to do just these sort of things--more than once.
So what is the point of this post? Well, I wanted to make some suggestions for those who are thinking about whether they should join the PAD movement, get a gallery, or to paint a certain way. My first recommendation is that you should not be afraid to not sell your art. I find it useful at this point in my life to sell my art, but if you have a job--you may have your plate full and may not need the extra workload. It is more important to paint, than to worry about selling. On the other hand, if you want to try it--go for it.
My second recommendation is that you should not be be afraid to approach galleries, but be prepared for hearing a hundred "nos" for each "yes". Also, don't think that getting a gallery will solve your problems or make you enough money to quit your job. More than likely, it won't. But then again, Ebay probably won't either. The way to sell enough art to quit your day job is probably not what you want to hear. Here it is: Paint everyday for twenty years--and use every moment you are not painting to build people's interest in your art. Repeat every twenty years, until death. If you are lucky, somewhere in the first 10-20 year of doing this you will be able to paint full-time. However, the same effort will be required until the last step, death, regardless of how much money you make in any one month. The effort required to keep it going does not diminish.
My last recommendation is that you shouldn't get too worried if you are not part of the PAD movement, it is a good practice if you want to give it a try--but 365 paintings a year is quite a lot. It is more important to have good work habits and a consistent practice--not output. One painting a week would be a good start. Anyway, the PAD movement is certain to fade away as the art market and consumers lose interest. Although, I think the main attraction is not the fact there is a painting everyday--but the fact that artist are reaching out, sending paintings around by email, drawing attention to their work in new ways, etc. In any case, all art trends fade away, and this one will eventually too. That does not mean direct sales, blogs, and the Internet will not be essential tools for artists for many years to come. They will. It is just that the PAD movement may not be the underlying concept. There may be other approaches and ideas that will come along and replace it (maybe the sixty minutes a day approach!).
So there you go, some thoughts on keeping focused on what is important--a consistent effort. Forget the trends, painting has been around for centuries and artist with good work habits and some luck--are the ones that people remember. History is littered with talented artists that failed to apply themselves--no one has ever heard of them. Which one will you be?
All the best, sixtyminuteartist.