I’ve been distracted from my retrospective reflection by my current project.  I am in the midst of preparing a curriculum for a workshop I will be teaching at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival the last two weeks in July. (Advancing Your Watercolor:  Art and Career).

The workshop is designed to encourage artists already working in watercolor to dig deep and expand their approach to their work; to envision where they want to go with their art careers based on a foundation of their deepest values;  to do some strategic planning to set goals and develop first steps; and finally,  to develop some of the ‘business of art’ tools  and materials they will need along the way.  If all goes well  one of the best things about the workshop will be the community created among the participants.

Altared, watercolor, 20 x 40

I have decided my next few blog posts will be the text of an interview I gave not so long ago that outlines my thoughts on career development for contemporary artists through the lens of my personal experience.

What attracted you to the profession of an artist? I was introduced to art at a very young age watching my father (a farmer) paint. He did beautiful realistic oils. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be an artist. My parents supported me because they thought it would be a better economic choice than farming. I knew I would be an artist for many years before I actually went to art school.

How do you measure success as an artist? At different times in my life as an artist there were different measures of success. Sometimes just being able to keep producing art work in the face of other life responsibilities was the greatest measure of my success.It’s very expensive to keep the process of being an artist going. You have to commit time, real time, and that can mean the same as money. I could make more money in my day job if I would work full time, but then I could not focus as much time and attention on my art making. So I ‘pay’ for the privilege to take the time for my art. Perhaps some day I will earn more from my art that I could from my day job. That is a measure of success, but its not how I measure my own success as an artist.

Learning to believe it mattered whether my creative voice was in the world was the biggest challenge for me. It took me years of struggle to accept I was an artist even as I struggled to build a career and gain visibility. Now I believe I and others have a right and an obligation to bring our creative voices to the world. While I am now working on letting my creative work support me I now measure my success by how truthful my art is and how well I do at getting it out in the world. I’ve decided that the next level of success will be to both to make the art that speaks my truth AND finding ways to let my creative work be my primary means of earning a living.

Why do you spend so much time encouraging other artists? I don’t believe in the zero-sum-game. I believe there is enough to go around so I don’t need to be competitive and hoard what few bit of useful resource I have to share.  I put myself in the position of supporting other artists because giving others permission to believe that their artistic voices matter reminds me that my voice matters too. I found if I help other artists, push them toward where they are going already,  they get there just a little faster, then I’m likely to be standing right next to them when they arrive. I get an enormous amount of personal support and return in helping other artists.

Have you been able to make a living as an artist? Yes, but only because I was fortunate enough to be able to earn tenure and teach art on the University level.  After a decade or more teaching college I left university teaching and the academic artist track for more time to focus on my art and to move back to the city where my family lived (I had been commuting).  Now I have a day job (as a part-time university administrator) and I teach classes and workshops privately… and make I my art. More and more my income comes from my art and as it does I do less of other types of work to earn my living.

Most artists that I know, unless they have partners or parents willing to support them financially, find another way to bring income.     Finding at least a part-time job that provides insurance takes away the pressure of medical issues and being able to purchase basic art supplies.  (Just a note. I believe if we had universal health care all kinds of entrepreneurial spirit would be released, including that of artists.) It is no shame for an artist to have to find other ways to make money. We buy our art independence that way.  I encourage artists to be creative and choose work that allows them to save as much creativity and energy as possible for their art.


What are the primary requirements for making art?

What is necessary for someone to sustain them self as an artist?

How important is it that an artist understands the business of art?