Redeemed Artist Part III

This is a continuation from my last blog post where I described my art journey up to the point where I got the idea to find a commercial gallery to represent and sell my paintings. I think that this part of the story will be especially useful to the aspiring artists. There is something to learn from every fellow art traveler, and that’s why I am writing this blog – for any one of you who can find something helpful here to use on your own art journey.

By early 2005, I was fully committed to painting landscapes and to my art career and I was entering “The School of Hard Knocks”. Most of it was fun, but I have to point out that concerns of the commerce did knock out some of the artistic innocence out of me. Here is how it all started.

By this time I got to know many professional artists, and I learned that self-reliance and resilience are important keys for success. But another important key are good business partners, especially for the commercial side of the endeavor. I decided that making art and building an art career late in life, in parallel with my day job was difficult enough. I was not going to sell my own work – I need someone who already knew how to do it. I am an engineer by vocation, I always worked for a “company” and I had absolutely no clue about sales and even less about “small businesses”.  I kept all my paperwork in a shoe box, and I claimed what I earned from sales in my tax return under “other income”…and that was the entire extent of my business knowledge. Oh, how much we can accomplish with so little worry! Ignorance is bliss indeed!

The most important thing for me was to put together a “consistent body of work”, which was about 30 acrylic landscape paintings which showed an emergence of a style. I think that the style came to me through the art of the masters that most inspired me (group of seven, the impressionists, the fauvists), through my unique treats (quirks of the brain-eye-hand coordination, taste for preciseness, affinity to the na├»ve…), through the characteristics of my chosen subject matter (shapes found in Canadian landscape) and through the particularities of the medium (techniques that can be done with acrylics).

Few paintings from my first solo show in 2005

I have shown my collection in January 2005 in a community gallery – The Port Moody Art Center. They gave me a solo show to which I invited everyone and their dog! I was so happy to let the world know that I managed to put together a solo show!  Looking back, the best value here was this quite sizable body of work and having no prejudices over its quality, value or destiny. I was like a kid at the “show and tell”, completely open to possibilities (and criticism).  Of course I had doubts and knew that some of it wasn't up to the par, but I just simply didn't have time to dwell on that. I was too hungry to start my art adventures. I will forever be grateful to the venue that hosted the show, to my hubby for the emotional and logistical support, and to the few wonderful art lover angels that purchased a few of my paintings. Few of them were colleagues from work that happened to love art.

 I will especially remember one woman whom I met three years earlier in West Vancouver where I was painting plain air with my art class. She had tears in her eyes and told me that she would buy if I ever decided to sell. So three years later I mailed her a photo of the painting and an invite to the show, and she stormed into the gallery crying “is it sold, is it sold?!”. If that kind of story doesn't get you inspired, I don’t know what will!

the “is it sold!?” painting

But the really interesting reward came soon after the show when a novice gallery owner contacted me and asked four questions:

  1.  Am I already represented by any other gallery in her area?  NO
  2. Do I have a body of work sufficient for a solo show? YES!!
  3. Is it all framed and ready to hang? YES!!!
  4. Can she come to my studio to meet me and see the paintings? …Studio?...ahem…yes…sure!

She had just opened a gallery and needed to fill it with affordable art. She looked up the web site of the best art association in the town (Federation of Canadian Artists) and emailed all the artists whose art she liked, or perhaps all of them, I don’t really know. In any case mine was there, and that’s how I got into the mix. Eventually about 5 artists from that bunch joined in. To put things into perspective, FCA has about 2000 members (not all of them artists), about 100 had put up their art on the web page, and about 5 of us joined the gallery. So lesson learned here was that it’s good to join places where artists gather, to put your best foot forward, and make sure you have lot of available pieces ready to hang.

The last piece of the puzzle was the actual meeting in “my studio”. I guess she wanted to see if I was a professional artist, and all of us who are balancing a day job and building a career later in life tend to doubt ourselves in this regard. So it may be helpful to understand my thought process at that point. I WAS a professional (I was very successful and respected in my day job). I  WAS commercially oriented (had a few sales from the FCA group shows and from my first solo show). And I WAS fully committed to my art career on daily bases (just not full time). It so happened that I was in the middle of selling our apartment and buying a house with a wonderful, huge ground level basement which would become my studio (and still is). So I met with her in my apartment, the paintings scattered around, and I think that worked great because 30 paintings in a small room look like a lot of art!

Pic from my first show in a commercial gallery

This first solo show in a commercial gallery (Lambert’s Gallery and Shop in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighborhood) went quite well. We sold a few pieces and the sales kept trickling in over the following few years until 2009 when the gallery closed down. By the way, galleries opening and closing is a reality of the art world that one gets used to, but that’s a topic for another part of the story. I will forever be grateful to Pamela Lambert for this early opportunity and for the time we worked together. We had many interesting experiences, memorable clients, and lessons about the art world that we learned together.

But “one gallery doesn't an art career make”, so I kept sending submissions to several other galleries that I thought would be a good match for me. I did this once a year, usually in January, reasoning that this is probably the time when they are doing annual planning. I sent about 5-10 submissions each time and got many friendly, polite and brisk rejections. I won’t dwell on it, but I will point out that the few friendly rejections encouraged me to re-submit each year and eventually landed me a great gallery four years after my initial submission. So my advice is to stick with reasonable and friendly people even if they momentarily are not able to help. On the other side, if someone is disinterested, disorganized or plain rude, I prefer to stay away, no matter how great business they do with other people. This is one great benefit of becoming an artist late in life, in parallel with, or after another career that gave us financial stability. We don’t have to work with people that we don’t like!

In 2007 I was accepted by two lovely galleries – Evans Gallery and Framing in Kelowna (BC) and Lando Gallery in Edmonton (AB). I just recently had a solo show hosted by the Lando Gallery, featuring Rocky Mountain Lakes. If you happen to be in Edmonton, drop by and say hi to Brent and Marie and take a look at my latest paintings, I hope you will enjoy them!

Maligne Lake, Jasper, acrylic, 24x30

There is so much that I want to write about my gallery experiences, which I will do in the next installment of the “Redeemed Artist”. And by the way, if at any time a question pops up, please don't hesitate to ask!