Monday, December 29, 2008

Midlife artist, Michael Bailey had this comment a while back on this blog:
As a member of the mid-life group hoping to emerge successfully into the art world I am faced with all of the daunting forces every artist has at the start, how do I market my art, do I try and land my art in a gallery, am I better with an online presence to introduce my art around and work at getting my art into shows and competitions? And of course all the questions of how do I finally price my work when I have it complete, am I too high or too low, will my customers perceive my work as an actual item of worth to spend money on?

This says it all, doesn't it? Galleries? Online? Shows? Can we do it all? Should we do it all? At the same time? Conquer one at a time? I would love to hear more input from others on this but I do have a few thoughts.

For me, I picked one of the above. It's so daunting, especially for someone unestablished, unknown, and inexperienced! There was no way in heck I could have walked into a gallery 5 years ago looking for representation!! Here's my true story, and go ahead and laugh, I do!:

After I had done enough practice pieces that I felt reasonably sure I could pull of a commission, I made up cards and took my Brutus the boxer on the chair portrait that was nicely framed around to vets and pet stores in my area. Now, what you don't know about me unless you know me in real life is that I'm very outgoing. I love talking to strangers, have always dealt with "big shots" in my real life jobs, have no difficulty at all getting up to give a speech, etc.

But that day, whoa boy! I sat out in the truck with my dogs (who came for the ride) with butterflies like crazy!!! Finally I talked myself into going into my first place with my cards, a pet shop. I walked in, showed the kid behind the counter my portrait, said, "I'm a pet artist, and I was hoping I could leave some cards here" in a too loud/too high/too fast voice.

"Sure, ma'am. Leave them here on the counter," he squeaked, sounding like the burger flippin' counterboy in a Simpson's episode, his voice changing.

What was I so afraid of? That he'd say, "NO! You are no artist! You're an imposter!!"????

For many of us, it takes some dipping the toe in the water to get over that fear and to feel like yeah, I'm an artist.

So where to start getting your work out there? I'm glad I did commissions first, but that's a skill to learn too. There is SO MUCH to learn about promoting your work in any fashion, and the first thing? You need lots of pieces. IMHO!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Following as I say...not as I do!

So many of us complain that we love making the art but hate the marketing. If that's so, then every opportunity that arises needs to be taken dead seriously. I am saying this from experience. I have been really remiss in taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves because AT THAT TIME, I was busy and time just had a way of running away from me.

I was asked to put samples in a frame shop. But at the time, I was swimming in commissions (was asking very little for them!) and never got around to it.

I was called by a vet in another state asking for flyers. But I was, again, busy and all the steps to getting flyers to him...the printing, cutting, and mailing...had to wait and I just didn't get the job done.

Another wanted me to show her samples of my human portrait work, but I had done them a while ago before a computer crash and would have to wade through disks looking for them...never done.

THis is really stupid. You never, never know what will lead to what.

I thought about this today because I saw a post on wetcanvas in the art for sale forum of someone who posted a link to their work, was hoping to sell some pieces to buy more art supplies. Another member inquired...about size, price, etc. was interested. And the original poster..never got back. Ever. Opportunity lost, sale lost, who knows what would have led to what?

I recently decided to buy my cosmetics and shampoos, etc. from a local avon dealer who had knocked on my door instead of the grocery store. I know how happy sales make me, so why not help someone else out, all things being equal.

I bought over $40 worth, got free shipping, am happy enough with the products and yet...I have not only never gotten a thank you, she ignored my inquiry about whether she was aware that I bought from her and instead, pummels me with spam asking me to order something!

Now, this poor soul bought the catalogs, walked around knocking on doors, got a decent sale, and will never get another one from me. I would have been a regular. All because of not paying attention to the follow up. I will bet that instead, she's out there with more books, working awfully hard for that next new customer.

Now, art isn't the repeat business that avon is. But I do get repeats, and I also get referrals, when I follow up.

Some of my customers still email me from 5 years ago. But I've sold dozens and dozens of aceos and have never, ever sent a follow up email, or tried in any way to cultivate the interest of people who I worked awfully hard to sell them the small piece they bought from me in the first place.

Why not? Because I am waiting for the correct time? When I have more pieces? When I have bigger pieces? When I have a series? ETC.

Crazy, huh?

Well, I do want to be ready to have credible sales of non commissioned work, but I pledge I'll be ready this spring to see if my oldies can be reinterested!

How about you? Please don't tell me you're not going to let golden opportunities fall through your fingers. Because every opportunity might turn out to be gold!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chuck Close is Watching Me!

Earlier in the year, I made my way to a gallery across town on my lunch break to see an exhibit of Chuck Close's. I'd heard his name bandied about and checked him out online but (no surprise to any of you), seeing his work in real life was astonishing.

If you ever have the opportunity, don't let anything stand in your way.

Knowing a bit about his life story...the incident that put Chuck in a wheelchair...made the experience all the more humbling.

So I have the postcard promo piece from that exhibit in my cubi at work. In it, a self portrait of Chuck is staring straight out at me. When I feel tired, discouraged, full of self doubt...Chuck stares me straight! How can I put off artwork just because I'm tired or grumpy? How can I let the circumstances of my life get me down? Not with Chuck watching me!

What a life well lived. To not only make imaginative, fabulous art, but to inspire artists way down the food chain.

I'm never throwing that postcard self portrait out.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Stop Marketing!

That's what I'm doing! Last Christmas season kicked in full tilt around this time of the month, and I accepted every commission. I was exhausted, didn't enjoy things I usually enjoy like baking, was stressed, etc. I had marketed a lot in the previous weeks and the chickens came in to roost about this time.

This year, I'm taking a break. I haven't been a marketing fool, of course, if any come my way, I'll take them...or SOME of them.

My feeling is that more than marketing, what I need to make a jump and not a hop is to improve my skills on every level. Not only in draftsmanship, but in creativity. I want to become a really good artist. Not just a selling artist, but a really good artist. That's my real goal, and I feel like I've been in a bit of a rut and haven't moved along as much as I would like.

The portrait inquiries really made me think about where I want to go. I not only want to be able to do portraits that laypeople say "looks just like him", but that other Same with my prints.

To that end, I'm going to take more classes. I'm really really fortunate that I live here in the Philadelphia area because I have so many options for excellent community based classes. In the city and out, there's lots of offerings. We have a tradition for classical training here and I'm going to take advantage of it.

In fact, one of the locations where I can do life painting, you have to jury into. And that made me good am I, really?

So...while I'd love to make the leap to a full time art career right now, I think that marketing more isn't the answer for me. I think I will improve my chances of really leaping if I first take the time to study.

And the art shows and contests are a component of this...Anything juried will teach me something...good or bad!

So the way I'm looking at this, I can either market more at what I already can do...or I can devote more time to growth. I think the "big picture" is to grow. What do you think?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More Grand Plans

I already got my calendar going, but I have big decision to make, too. Do I follow the human portrait path full tilt or no? I've done them, and enjoy them, but my early success was with the dogs and that's where I went, figuring I had to get good at ONE thing before moving on. And I get lots of inquiries, so if I do, I need more samples to show. I unfortunately lost several I did in a computer crash...

I actually think that in some ways, humans are easier (no worries about breed, lol!), and the photos tend to be better. But I have a lot to learn, but who doesn't?

Am I going off onto one of those tangents that is the opposite of staying focused towards a goal? I am already committed to printmaking, I love it. So another new direction? Too much?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Planning ahead...what are YOUR grand plans?

Okay, we're making the jump, either a giant all-or-nothing leap or a more modest hop on the way. What are your grand plans and how are you working them? What's number one on your list? Here's what I'm hoping to do...

I realize that in addition to putting time in on the art, itself, I need credentials. I have a zero art resume, save lots of commissions and a few show wins. So time to build that up. I'm going to scour the 'net for juried shows and contests I think I might fit in. I've got a calendar just for art to diary the due dates, etc., and I'm going to try and enter the ones I identify.

No, I'm going to do it!!

How about you?

What are your grand plans?

Take a moment to answer my poll to the top right...what is your number one goal?

My pet portrait website: ; my art and animal blog:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Risky Business

Linda Blondheim pointed out in her comment on this blog, and others echoed, to make the leap requires a risk taking personality. I'm not sure risk is exactly the right description...I think it's risk and...


Not words that usually are seen in a positive note, but frankly, I think you have to have it. It requires that almost blind pride that parents have in the early years. Their baby is smarter...all of our babies are smarter...than anyone elses, of any baby that was ever born. Every baby will be a doctor or president!

You have to love and have confidence in your work in the same way. We try to tamp that hubris down, but I think it's a necessary ingredient.

I know we can find famous artists...masters...who were full of self doubt, etc., but SOMETHING made them keep going on their particular path, and I think that something is that bullheadedness that they were going in the right direction for them, despite what critics or friends or anyone said.

Not that they ever arrived. Really good artists are always moving forward down their path. We have something in mind and it seems always just a tad out of reach, skillwise.

There's that inability to quite define on canvas or paper where you want to go. Who was it that said that they could never get that light...the light that they saw in their minds eye and spent their lifetime trying to convey?

So I think there's a funny push/pull between that cocky pride in your work and the just out of reach "something". And I think that's where delicious energy and life reveals itself in good art.

I think that's why someone like Thomas Kinkade's work seems so dead.

We of course have to view our work critically and welcome crits. But we also have to have be bullheaded about ourselves, our ability to "make it" be in love with our work, even if it's not nice to say so!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Creative women...we just can't help it!!

One of my favorite webspaces is artist and photographer, Carole Holt. Now, Carole's interests are different than mine, she's into antiques and primitives and was before "country" was a decorating fad. But what I really like about her site is that she has gathered together in one web spot her artsy friends who share this niche and others she's discovered along the way. I've met many of them...Carole is a family friend...and have really been struck by how creative these midlife women are.

I remember sitting with Carole and her buddies and listening as they discussed problems, issues, joys, shared news...all about their unique creations...much like we as moms did years ago about the detail of babyland! Each woman's art was different, and yet that common bond of creativity knit them together.

One of the artists she features on her site is rugmaker, Louise Tietjen, who dyes her wool the old fashioned way with natural materials and then hooks them in traditional designs she's unearthed.

Another wonderful artist Carole showcases is her friend and my dear "aunt-in-law", Carole O'Neill, who paints fabulous portraits in a primitive style, colonial-era inspired murals (along with the other Carole) all over Delaware and SE Pa, and fabulous hunt scenes.

I wonder if it has something to do with being a woman? Is it just natural to find something else to create after your days of "creating" children are done? Is there something about women that needs to make something new, that hadn't been in the world before...whether we have had children or not?

My site for pet portraits, my art blog about art and animals. And this whole blog can be found here. I hope you'll comment!! And I'd love to hear what the men think about my theory?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The midlife artist ... walking through those open doors

Last time, I mentioned that I wasn't quite ready to "make the jump" again...wanted to have some other ducks in a row and wondered out loud about whether being a successful artist is an all or nothing deal.

I also mentioned in another post that we emerging midlife artists have an awfully short runway. So today my question is...if we wait to make the there a "too late"?

I think there is. Let's face it...we aren't going to be the "next NEW young thing"...and we all know of Grandma Moses because it WAS such an unusual career.

I think there's a point in time where you HAVE to give it your all, and waiting for the perfect economic time might not be it. I don't want to look back on my life and realize that I never accomplished my goals because I was paralyzed by making sure I was absolutely financially secure first (are we ever???)

Tina Mammoser is another painter whose work I really love. Tina was a little young to be "midlife" when she made the jump at 30, but she really jumped. She sold a house to finance her art dream! Tina's taken some art paths that didn't suit her entirely, and has the luxury of time to try out and craft what DOES work for her. I think there's a time where you just have to make a decision about security and's definitely something to consider!

Working part time while holding a day job means having to make a lot of choices that really can limit us. MANY open doors are impossible to walk through. There's just not enough time, no matter how efficiently we use it. And which door I walk PAST would have been my entry into the "big break"? I'll never know.

And one door leads to another....

So, deep down I know...if I wait for the perfect financial moment, my art moment will never happen. I have to have the courage to make the jump...

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my art, my website is . And if you've found this post and would like to read my whole blog, just click on the banner at the top.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Do you really want this?

I'm so glad to see other artists commenting! I hope you'll share your insights and opinions as well. Because this is just my viewpoint, what I've learned so far and I think it's great to mull issues over.

Some days I say I want to be a fulltime artist, others, not so much. I think that means, for me, that I'm really not ready, despite the fact that chronologically, I should be firmly entrenched in my art career if I want to "make it". But does "making it" have to be all or nothing?

I like having the money to buy any art supply that I might feel like. Even if I use it once and say, "not for me". I recently bought every shade of printmaking ink that Daniel Smith sells, before I had even printed in color. I like that luxury, and when I tried out working fulltime a few years ago, I was very very careful with money and wouldn't have done that.

Same with taking art classes. I knew I needed them, and exceptional quality community classes are available to me. But they do cost money and when you're hoarding your money in case your commissions dry up....

I feel like I stopped my art growth because if I didn't have commissions, I had to market to get them, again to pay the bills. And bottom line? I really want to be all that I can be, reach the best of my abilities as an artist, first. Sell, second.

I like not having to produce salable art all the time to pay the bills. I couldn't just relax and try something different, and fail. I felt guilty when I was out in the garden, one of my other interests. That's nuts.

I also didn't like the isolation of being at my home studio day in and day out.

I learned a lot when I worked art fulltime, and one of the things I am sure about is that if I were to do it again fulltime, I would need a studio out of the house among other artists. And to be in a financial position to grow my art business freely.

So for me, and I suspect for many people who still hold "day jobs", the question is, how much do I want to make this jump? Again, is the jump all or nothing?

On the one hand, it's hard to build momentum when you have less time to devote to art and your art career.

On the other hand, day jobs take a lot of pressure off of you. A lot to consider.

Right now, I am content with part time art and full time work. When I do leave the day job world, I don't want to ever need to go back. The trick, then, is to make the best use of the time I have when I'm not at work...and I'll talk about that next time!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Kind of Art Sells

I frequent artist discussion websites and frequently see posts from midlifers looking to get into the "art biz".

Of course, think that's great. Many of us are finally tapping into the creative sides of our personalities that have long been pushed down by work and family demands. And selling art is a thrill. To know that someone parted with THEIR hardearned dollars to own something you created is an incredible feeling.

But it saddens me when I see the cart before the horse.

I see people with 5 year business plans, who work diligently on getting their "brand name" out there, who work on pricing like it's a widget (let's see, if it takes me 10 hours to paint, plus $20 in supplies, plus overhead, plus my salary per hour...I get $___ per painting!) who want to maximize the profit by producing the most salable art...whether they like it or not.

This makes for some very bad art.

If your heart isn't in it, it shows. Trust me. I've seen abstracts done by people who honestly believed that a monkey could do it...and don't sell.

I've seen landscapes by people who never go can you possibly capture the feel and mood of the outdoors if you never experience it? One of my favorite painters is Florida painter, Linda Blondheim, and I love her work because I was raised in Florida, spent a lot of time in nature with my parents, and swear I can smell and feel Florida outdoors when I look at Linda's work. Now Linda is not strictly a plein air painter, she combines both outdoor work with studio painting to make her magnificent paintings, but you can tell...she's been there, felt that and best of all, loves that and it comes through.

Same with animal art. I've actually seen people say they were getting into the pet portrait business, because they see that artists like me who specialize in pet portraiture have lots of commissions. But they always seem to fail. A few samples, and no customers. Why? Somehow their lack of genuine interest in the subject matter shows.

I can't tell you how, I can't tell you why. But artists who love what they do...who are drawn to the subject or genre they produce not by money, but by genuine interest, can't help but to let this emotion come through in their work.

I have an online artist friend who draws "portraits" of antique cars and has a ton of business. But his genuine love of old cars shows through. I might TECHNICALLY be able to draw a car, but his have that extra something that shows through and can't be faked.

And the funny thing is...the buying public sees it. Again, don't know how!

So "what kind of art sells" isn't the question. The question is "How do I sell my art that I love to create?"

If you are producing art and marketing it and it's still not selling, it might not be the economy, it might not be that nobody buys originals (untrue), might not even be your technical skills. It might be that you haven't found your art true love yet. It's certainly something to consider.

Want to see more of my art that I love so much? Check out my website for animal portraits and my blog about animal art And if you happened upon this blog entry and want to read more about my rantings about the midlife artist, just click on the banner at the top of this post to access all of my blog entries.

Friday, November 7, 2008

How it Begins....that little voice - the Midlife artist

I became SERIOUS about art after I drew my niece's boxer, Brutus. His portrait is on my pet portrait website , But I did do some art before that, and it was when that little voice began in my head.

I went to a craft show when "country" was just 20 years ago. And figured, hmmmmm...I could do THAT. I asked my wonderful aunt in law, Carole, who is an antique and primitive buff and had been long before the craze, what she thought was a good thing to make, and she thought "old fashioned, sad looking santas".

Now, you've seen tons of them, most from Chinese sweatshops, since then. But at this time, they hadn't hit. So that's what I started with, sold in local inhouse shows, along with handpainted slates, etc.

Then I went back to work and had no time for any of that.

When I got laid off, I tried my hand at the craft shows again...and hated it. I just couldn't get into the decorative painting thing...making the same exact thing over and over and over.

So went online, looked around, and started painting more creatively...and sold nothing. The VOICE said, "you are not a crafter".

Have you ever been to an exhibit or museum and it upsets you? It's the voice.

I've listened to it...and its led me to strange paths. Like a medium that wasn't terribly respected...colored pencil. And now woodcut prints.

I do what I like ... and like what I do. And that part...listening to your own voice, I think is much more common with midlife artists. We just don't have time to listen to everyone else, do we?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Short Runway - Starting off as an artist in midlife

When I talk about midlife artists in this blog, I'm not talking about artists who are professional artists who have reached this point in life. Their experiences are completely different from ours. I'm talking about those of us who are really starting our art careers in midlife.

And I'm not talking about folks who are content to dabble, to just play with it.

I'm talking about those of us dead serious about becoming all we can be as artists, and expect to get paid to do it, probably don't have a formal education and certainly don't have experience in the "art world" at large.

How do you take off?

Our runway is short, we have a lot of work if we're to accomplish our goals. Here's general list of goals I think we share (feel free to comment and add your own)

1. To make art worth making.
2. To feel comfortable about being an artist. To be able to talk the talk, and walk the walk.
3. To be able to find our buyers.
4. To continue to grow.
5. To avoid common deadends.
6. To use technology both to learn and promote.

None of the others matter if the art isn't worth making. If the quality is poor, if it's unimaginative and boring, if the compositions are lacking. I've seen folks who have unimaginative, boring and amateurish pieces assume that it's their marketing that's lacking and that's why they can't sell. It's hard to say it...if all of your family and all of your friends are praising your work to high heavens...well then, it must be wonderful.

Especially if all you have is talent and no formal training and want to do realistic work, which seems to be what most of us midlife artists want.

Remember, the younguns in art school emphasizing realism are making art all day long, every day. Drawing is a daily warm up activity, not THE art activity. They are immersed in it. They critique and are critiqued. They are forced to try techniques they don't like, subjects they find boring, etc., and they are learning something every step of the way.

If you can take classes, even informal, community based classes, take them! Either way, I am convinced that the most important thing you can do to train your hands to do what your eye sees and your mind processes, is to draw every day. Every single day. Draw anything. Draw your dog, big gesture drawings. Draw your hand, draw the pillow, draw the computer mouse. Train that brain!

I'm (Mostly self teaching) American Animal Artist, Robin Zebley. My pet portrait site is . My art blog is I'd love your input.

Starting the Blog as a Midlife Artist

I know I'm not alone. I began making art the day we dropped my "baby" off at his college dorm. Like many moms and dads, my life centered on my kids, my job, my mate and my home. With kids gone, though, a giant hole opened up and that little voice that I'd kept at bay all these years...that I WAS an artist, if only I had time to devote to it...became a shout!

Not that I don't love young artists and their art, I do! But since I've started creating art, I see so many of you out there, also listening to that shout and pulling out those supplies you always knew you'd use...someday. And I'm really interested in our helping each other out, sharing information, and talking about lives at midcentury with art as a large component.

When I say art, I mean really, anything visually creative. Drawing, painting, printmaking, rug hooking, soap making, any art or craft that you explore and learn and do because it's really fun to do something more interesting than watch t.v. at night!

I hope you'll join me in discussing Mid Life Artists, and link here, and I'll link to you, let's see if it's a second career, just for fun, or what?