This has been the year of “coming out” as an artist, in the sense of becoming the artist I want to be. Although I’ve been painting since the 1990s, it is just last year in 2013 when I decided that it is time to share with the world my art, my vision and my identity. In this process, and according to the traditions of the end of the year, I want to review and share some of the lessons I’ve learned in becoming an artist. I am doing this because I know many people who are trying to get out, not only as artists, but as entrepreneurs or wishing to shift careers or making their hobby (or secret passion) something more than a pastime. This is for all of them.
The first lesson is:
You need to put your art out there! Nobody is going to “discover” you.
The first person who needs to “accept” this new identity is myself. This is something that it is not that easy… as ever, the first question somebody asks when they first meet you is: “what do you do?” and the straight answer would be: “I am an artist”… but getting there has not been easy. Indeed, my part time job as an educator has been a heavy part of my identity, most of my friends are academics and I’ve felt very attached to that identity. Coming out of the closet means that I am now an artist, an “artist/educator” to be more precise, as I think both identities can play together. And I have to say “I am an artist” to myself, say it to everybody I meet, and I mean everybody, and not to be apologetic about it! It is easy to start babbling about that you do art but also you do something to earn some money… well, if you start your path like that, you will never own being an artist!
Selfie a la Frida. July 2014.
One of the things most artists fail to do is to “promote ourselves”, there are all sort of prejudices outside: a sense of expected “humbleness”, a fear of being perceived as “sold out”, or “too much on your face”… these are fears perhaps related to cultural practices, but at the end these preventions do not really improve either our self respect as an artists, neither the perception of people about artists. Why do we cling to the image of the “tortured/starving” artist? What is romantic about it? I don’t know you guys, but I want to be a thriving artist: an Abundant Artist (as Cory Huff) would say! To have a clear “vision” of what you want to be as an artist is a starting point… during this year I’ve had so many meaningful conversations with artists like Charmaine Lenisa, Lesley Longworth, Jane Glynn and Jill Taylor, about this idea of “becoming”… what type of art we want to do, what type of artists we want to be, or what type of artists we are, what is what makes us tick? These are of course, ongoing questions, but it is important to keep having this conversations.
It is also important to realise the times in which we are living. I don’t think that there are “patrons” who will be looking after us… or if there are, well, they are few and not around the corner. Nobody is going to come and “discover me”… even less likely if I don’t put my self out there.
How have I done this?
I created a website, this blog and a facebook page, spaces where I reveal my identity as an artist. I also ordered some business cards from moo.com. This affirmation of identity, for me took a lot of courage: I am a self-taught artist, painting for almost 20 years on and off; however and maybe because I am also an academic I am so used to be “validated” by institutions like colleges or art schools. But my art speaks by itself, and that is the point. As Lilla Rogers said, the best way of promote your art is to do good art. Nobody is going to examine your CV… it is your work that speak by itself.
I created a space for my art: we invested in a garden-booth studio where all my materials, desks, brushes, books and paintings are at reach. The studio is my haven, my temple, my creative womb! Small or big, you need to have a space that it’s yours only to create: tend it, use it, enjoy it and share it with everybody around!
I organised my own first exhibition of the year alongside other artists: Stuart Adams and Lesley Longworth. We did it in the local garden center. This was an amazing “coming out” party… although the venue is not the most “artistic” the truth was that planning, organising and producing work for the exhibition was a huge boost to my confidence and my identity as an artist. It was a beautiful event, where I learned so much about planning, art management, events management, etc. Most importantly, this gave me the opportunity to see much of my work together. From here I was invited to exhibit in a proper commercial gallery: the Art Nest, and this was amazing!
I value and price my art accordingly. This has been also a difficult process for me, as I was used to give away my paintings: for friends or as little presents. That’s fine, but now when somebody ask me about a painting I give them a price… I must admit I am still a bit embarrassed about it, I feel that people would feel offended (specially friends)… indeed, last year, my first proper patron Prof. Heather Hopfl (r.i.p) showed me that she was willing to pay for art. It was a bit of expensive commission as I had to use more expensive suppliers, but, she was so OK with it, and this gave me a very important boost. Of course, I am aware of the category of prices of my art in this starting point, but I try to make it fair in the sense of paying for the materials, a bit of the time and also to give my art the value that it deserves.
I am networking with other artists – I will talk about this later in this annual review- because talking to other artists give you a sense of reality, a sense of identity and it is so important to share both learning and also anxieties of being artists. I’ve joined the Society of All Artists, also the Artists’ Network of Bedfordshire and I have joined forces with my hub to do exhibitions, delivering workshops and sharing what we do as artists! I am also so grateful to Cory Huff’s the Abundant Artist and Melissa of Creative Insurgents, because their podcasts, ideas and blogs, although in the USA are so relevant for my work.
I have participated in some few competitions out there… I sent some samples for the RA Napkin Competition, and I also sent my book “Fossey and the Gorillas” for the Fondo de Cultura Economica Children’s Book Competiton. I did not win any of the prizes, not even was shortlisted, but the fact of participating is enough for me. Indeed, thanks to the FCE competition I finished this project that have been hanging in my desk for almost three years! So all good.
Watch this space, this will be fantastic next year… looking for publishers!!
So in all, and to finish this first post, believe that I am an artist, own it and share it to the world, it is a first but definitive step in this journey.