Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Following Your Heart

Cape Freels, Newfoundland 

"I wanted movement, and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life." ~Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness

In the past week I have received a couple of emails from fellow artists who have been out of the creative loop for awhile. These individuals wrote about wanting to implement change in their lives, about wanting to change the course of their existence by pursuing their love of art. They questioned how I managed to stay on course, how I coped with the financial ups and down and what kept my spirit afloat during the inevitable ebbs that come with the job. 

These emails fill my heart with happiness. To help someone by encouraging them or inspiring change is a large part of why I am a painter. Money is necessary and sharing your vision on canvas is imperative, but supporting and helping other people constitutes a currency that far outweighs money in terms of value to the human spirit. I am so happy that these folks felt compelled to write and share their stories. I thank them for that and hope my words might help them. I do not pretend to know the answers to any of their questions, because really everything is relative to our own situation...I can only share what my own experience has yielded.

I wonder if perhaps during this time of financial uncertainty, a rapidly changing world, and an overall tentativeness, this period of reduced activity, fewer jobs and a wait-and-see outlook encourages people to return inward, re-examine what makes them happy and perhaps lights a long dormant fire within them in the form of creative pursuits. However, transitioning from a job with regular pay, possibly benefits and relative stability, to one of uncertainty, sporadic payment, but unbelievable fulfillment is surely intimidating if not downright frightening. I can understand that. So why do it? The answer is inside of each of us, and it is unique to each of us too. But it is there, screaming out or quietly waiting, that voice is within us, that courage to take the leap is there. Will we listen to it? It is patient I believe, and we will answer it when the time is right.

 Gulkana Glacier

So how do you do it? How do you follow your passion and become a full-time painter/writer/poet? Here's a little list of elements that have worked for me:

Discipline. Follow regular work hours, or, if you need more flexibility, figure out how many hours you want to work a week and then implement that timeline into your week accordingly. I cannot paint for eight hours a day unless I absolutely have to, so I stretch my paintings hours out over a six to seven day work week. It is not a bother, because I am doing what I love to do. Therefore it really doesn't feel like work, which is the beautiful part of it. 

Develop a body of work. Have a solid group of paintings that you can submit to galleries, something cohesive and strong that you can stand behind and say "this is what I do". Galleries probably want to see a minimum of twelve recent paintings, but you are wise to have up to twenty paintings prepared. Then you are able to go about submitting packages to galleries for representation. You can look at Abbozzo Gallery and Loch Gallery, my two main galleries, for an idea of what sort of artistic diversity and quality they are looking for. 

Promote yourself. Your galleries will promote you but you can also promote yourself through your own mailing list with email newsletters/updates, as well as blogging, your own website (you can look at mine as an example), printed samples, advertising in books for artists, any number of options are available to you. I must say that I believe a website is mandatory in this day and age. If someone googles you and wants to see your work, your website, along with your gallery's website should come up for people to find you.

Network . This is a relatively new one for me, and I suppose technically we could group it under Promotion but I am going to give it its own spot here on the list. As a friend of mine says, emailing is fine, but nothing beats interacting with a person one on one, making a connection, leaving an impression. Many artists balk at the idea of leaving their studios to do this, but it is healthy to do and a crucial way to get out there and meet other creatives, spread the word about your work, and build relationships that can help you down the road. Everything and everyone truly is connected, and we can all help one another and support one another by sharing wisdom, tools of the trade, critiques and general social events that bring us together. 

Learn To Save/Budget. This one is really important. Of course your situation may be very different from mine, but if I want to take one soul-enriching journey each year, and afford to live, I need to be careful with money. Having a cushion for the slower periods is so very important. Learn to budget and watch your money as carefully as you can. Sometimes it amazes me when I receive money that it has come from something that I love to do. I still have that rush of amazement from time to time. I wish money did not enter into the equation, but it is a reality, and to support yourself with things you have created out of excitement and enthusiasm is priceless. 

See this 300 year old tree on Salt Spring Island, BC? It only knows how to do one thing: grow and thrive. You should do the same. Truly there is no where to go but up.

So that list contains a few of the most important variables that go into becoming self-sufficient as an artist. There are many other ingredients that are not included, but perhaps  these might ease your transition a bit. When the world seems poised to come crashing down on you, when the full swell of panic hits you in the chest from time to time when you ponder your uncertain future, walk into that fear. You never know what will happen, but with hard work, discipline, direction, and most of all passion for what you do, uncertainty is something to rejoice in and walk towards. Follow your heart. It will not lead you astray. You won't look back or, if you do, you will be to see how far you've come.    

"One must work and dare if one really wants to live." ~Vincent Van Gogh

Here is some information on my Newfoundland Exhibition in November of 2009. I hope to see you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

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