Secrets of success over coffee

Photo by Iván Ramos
I had coffee with my pal Iván Ramos yesterday. He’s a part-time photographer and a full-time realtor, although the proportions are constantly shifting. I recently recommended he read Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles. He’d just finished it.
Photo by Iván Ramos

Bayles’ idea of what makes a successful artist can be boiled down to this: they keep making art. (However, don’t think you ‘get’ the book from that capsule description because every page is an ‘aha’ moment. It will be the best $7.32 you ever spend.) Launching from that, Iván and I started talking about our own organizational techniques.

Photo by Iván Ramos

Eat the Frog First—this means to start off by getting the most detestable part of the job out of the way first. Often these tasks have the greatest long-term influence on your career, but you really hate them.  If you have to eat a live frog, it doesn’t pay to sit and stare at it a long time—it distresses you and bores the frog.

For me, the “frog” is marketing and organization and part of the reason I dislike them is that they ‘distract me’ from my fundamental job. But that’s silly; they are an integral part of my fundamental job.
Photo by Iván Ramos
Time Blocking—this means doing the same thing at the same time every day, and it’s how I live my life. I approach every task—from laundry to painting—as a process that is allotted a certain amount of time, rather than as a job that must be finished. I learned long ago that this is the single best way for me to avoid “painter’s block,” because I don’t waste any time jollying myself into painting.
Photo by Iván Ramos
Don’t Break the Chain—this simply means that an artist has to work every day to be successful. Iván told me that in the early days of his career, Jerry Seinfeld put a big red X over every day that he sat down and wrote. The writer’s job, he said, was to not break the chain of Xs.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or in Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Making money the old-fashioned way

Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell, 1951
A Norman Rockwell painting sold at auction at Sotheby’s in Manhattan yesterday for $46 million. This was twice its pre-sale estimate of $15-20 million and a record for a Rockwell painting.
The painting, “Saying Grace”, was one of seven Rockwells in the auction. Two other Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers, “The Gossips” and “Walking to Church,” sold for just under $8.5 million and a little over $3.2 million respectively.
These three paintings were formerly on long-term loan to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They were sold by descendants of Kenneth J. Stuart, the Evening Post art editor who worked with Rockwell for nearly 20 years. All three had been given to Stuart by Rockwell.*
Walking to Church by Norman Rockwell, 1952. You can buy a signed print of this for approximately what Rockwell was paid for painting it, or you could have gotten the original yesterday for about a thousand times his fee (not adjusted for inflation).
Rockwell was paid $3500 for “Saying Grace” in 1951. That translates to roughly $32,000 in today’s dollars. This would be tremendous money for any illustrator today, and shows how highly illustration was valued in mid-century America. However, even adjusted for inflation the sellers got around 1500 times the price Rockwell received for actually painting the thing.
Sadly, if you’re doing your job right as an artist, this is how it goes. This might seem counterintuitive when considering such a popular artist as Rockwell. But even during the Golden Age of Illustration, few people considered illustrators to be fine artists. It’s taken time and distance for us to see Rockwell, Howard Pyle, or N.C. Wyeth as the great artists they were. But consider John James Audubon, William Blake, or Albrecht Durer. Their work, too, has become more rarified by time, but they were also, fundamentally, illustrators.
The Gossips by Norman Rockwell, 1948
At any rate, the few hundreds or thousands you get for your work today will, if all goes as planned, translate into a fortune in some future swank showroom in, say, Abu Dhabi or Macau.
*Having done my share of illustration, this seems like a squishy provenance to me. It’s just as likely that the work got shoved behind a cabinet and forgotten, and Stuart had the good sense to take it home rather than let it be thrown away.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Some words of advice for the young artist

Last week I wrote about a young art school graduate’s struggles to make a career. In response, some of my successful artist friends have offered him advice.
Brad Marshall
Brad Marshall is represented by the Fischbach Gallery in Manhattan and has been featured in American Artist. He says:
Patience is required for success in art. It is rare to come out of art school and meet success right away. I struggled as an illustrator for about 8 years, taken various supplemental jobs along the way. I eventually found a good job as a billboard painter. It was another 12 years before my spare-time fine art led me to get a gallery. Living in an active artist’s community like Asheville is a good start. The support and fraternity of other artists should not be underestimated.
Just keep doing art. You can always find a corner of your home to set up an art table. It might restrict the size you work in, but shouldn’t keep you from your art.
Amy Digi
Amy Digi is a member of the United States Coast Guard Artist Program and has pictures in their permanent collection. She has shown extensively in the greater New York area and elsewhere. She says:
There has been a major change in the history of art called the Internet, which has never been exploited before—so take advantage of it!!
Find all free sites. There are hundreds but the basics are Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. Most importantly, do not use these for personal information, but just business, like pictures of your art work. Buyers want to know you are not a Sunday painter.
Open a Paypal account so that after people look at your work they can purchase it easily. Paypal is free to set up, but they take a small percentage of each sale.
Make an appointment with a Small Business Administration (SBA) office and have them help you set up your business accounts. Once you sell work, you are a partner with your state, and they want their tax money.
I have a lot of sales and get interviewed from people solely from the Internet.
Michael Chesley Johnson
Michael ChesleyJohnson teaches workshops in New Brunswick and Sedona, Arizona. He is a contributing editor for The Artist’s Magazine and the author of many books and videos on plein air painting. He says:
Here are some words of advice:  Don’t let your feelings get hurt, and learn to roll with the punches.  Get some practical knowledge by finding a local ‘business’ art mentor who can teach a little about running a business, especially the marketing part.  Don’t just do art, but eagerly look to see what other artists are doing to make a living.   But above all, be true to yourself – the money will follow.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!