The Art of Survival in the Survival of Art

Bill Farnsworth - Dawns Early LightSince the Great Recession hit, most artists have been impacted. Collectors cut back on luxury items and art is at the top of the list. Workshop enrollment is down as well, and if you teach a lot of workshops that can be a big impact. Some artists have taken on part-time teaching as a steady gig. Doing a couple of day’s part time teaching is fine, but if you go full time it may really impact your studio time.

As an illustrator for many years I learned very fast how to hustle if I was going to pay my bills. Self-promotion was a constant thing even with an agent. Making new contacts in the Illustration world was a constant thing. Tailoring my art to the Illustration market was not much different than the fine art field. However, the fine art has allowed me to paint what moves me and still be able to sell. The last two years I have transitioned into all gallery work, which means every painting I produce is spec. So now I am trying to use what I’ve learned in the commercial world, into the fine art world. Not all of it overlaps but the business practice does.

Bill Farnsworth - Wind Picking UpI try to do all E-mail correspondence, phone calls, and all other loose ends before 10am and then I will have an open block of time in the studio where I can think about the painting process and not a little thing in the back of my mind. If I want to contact a gallery by phone I will have to do it after 11am, if an email won’t work. At night I might go back into the studio to touch up a little, but mostly I plan for the coming months. Keeping steady workshops planned is difficult, but you can spread them out over the year. Teaching is great way to verbalize your approach and can be a great learning experience for you as well as the student. If the area you are in during the workshop has some great scenery, take advantage and paint it or photograph it on your free time.

I keep a studio calendar list of all my upcoming workshops, shows and paint outs so I don’t lose track of opportunities. Knowing when an important show is coming up will give you more time to set aside your “show pieces”. It’s always a tough thing to do a good painting that will sell and set it aside for the shows. Choosing my own painting for a show is sometimes hard for me, so I might post it on Face Book or have some artist friends over to get a reaction that will help me in judging the right painting for an upcoming exhibition.

Recently, I have been rethinking my framing and expanding my choices. I have about four frames that I use all the time and they look great on almost everything, but sometimes having a half dozen other choices might be the difference for a Collector riding the fence. I learned early in my career that a bad frame can kill a good painting. Let’s face it; it’s the package for your product. I was in a show at The National Arts Club years ago, and that year Everett Raymond Kinstler won best in show for a stunning painting and an equally beautiful frame. When the show came down and I picked up my art, one of the curators of the show told me my painting was very well done, but the frame made it look amateurish. He was right. Looking around at the other paintings with beautiful wide gallery frames made an impact on me.

Bill Farnsworth - Dawns Early LightAs an artist, I am not the best business person, but have learned a lot over the years in order to survive in an extremely up and down market. Some of my artist friends have taught me a great deal about good business and I have been able to use some their advice. When you sell a painting at a gallery make sure you can follow up with another piece to replace the sold painting. If there is a blank space on the wall, it will get filled with another artist’s work.

The last element in our survival in Art is the psychological aspect. Artists, I think tend to be a little insecure because of the volatile nature of the business. If we don’t sell a painting in a month we second guess the subject matter we paint and everything else. Having the right frame of mind is essential in creating our best art and succeeding. The illustration field taught me to have a thick skin because one day maybe a diamond and the next a rock. An artist’s ego can be a dangerous thing. Win an award, be happy for a couple of days, and then put your ribbon away. Living in a good environment surrounded by loving family and friends , will always be a solid foundation during the bumpy ride in Art.

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  • Chad

    great post!

    • Bill

      Thanks Chad. We are very fortunate to be able to hang out in our studio all day and paint!

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