I’m often asked to answer a set of questions by art students, as part of their studies I guess, and as these were particularly interesting ones, I thought I’d share them here. A cheap and cheerful post, that’s what I like…
What are your motives for the subject matter you work with?
I just like to record the world around me but I’m drawn to the idea of the journey, of being in between places.
Have you remained faithful to your original narrative and ideas or have you adapted them towards a more commercial slant?
I think that in an ideal world, you would just produce what you felt like at any given time but unfortunately if you want to make a living, you have to learn to be flexible and adapt.
If you want to be taken on by commercial galleries, and that’s where a lot of potential buyers will see your work, then you have to be able to sell for them. It’s not too difficult getting galleries to accept a couple of paintings for a group show, say, but if they don’t sell those paintings, they won’t ask you again. They have bills to pay too.
Of course, you can always make your art in your free time and have another unrelated job that pays the bills. Personally I never wanted a regular job and, other than a few stints temping in offices, I’ve never had one.
I guess I have adapted to what sells in order to keep the money coming in – but in moderation. You have to be pretty bloody-minded about your work to keep slogging away year after year in a freezing cold studio and anyway, people aren’t stupid. They pick up if you’re just going through the motions – passion about your subject always shines through.
Was linocut your first medium, or did you investigate other ways that would be sympathetic to your work?
I have a degree in painting and half of my practice is still painting. When you’re starting out, getting a foot in the door is easier if you have prints to offer a gallery at first. Like any other retail business, they have to justify the space they let you have and a few prints in a browser is less of a risk to them when you are still unknown than a big spot on the wall.
Do you work to a rigid timetable of production, as in ‘so many pieces per year’ or is it more fluid?
No timetable as such, but for instance, if I have a solo show coming up, that might mean supplying the gallery with forty framed pieces, in addition to which I will have other commitments. I have to have a timetable in my head (if only to reassure myself that I will be able to do what I’ve agreed to).
Has it been ‘easy’ to reach the position you are in now?
Not really – unless you’re prepared to work exceptionally hard, you won’t get anywhere. It’s a very competitive field and there are so many other talented artists waiting to step into your shoes, if you let them…
Would you recommend it to an art student?
Yes, it’s a great life – but if money matters a lot to you, then probably not – you never make enough to relax.
Have galleries been a vital part of your career?
Yes, I don’t sell through my website – I haven’t got the time – and so I’m more than happy to let the galleries do all that for me (in exchange for the commission, obviously). Lots of people I know do sell very successfully through their websites but the downside is that they don’t have good long-lasting relationships with galleries (who are in effect being undercut by the artist selling direct).
It seems to be difficult to keep the momentum going if you don’t show in the ‘real’ world from time to time. Hiring a gallery is an option but it is time consuming and expensive. I prefer to send off work to galleries and let them take the strain.
Does your web site work as an effective tool for sales and publicity?
It’s very effective as a publicity tool and it’s so much easier to send a link to your website than lugging around a portfolio. Also you can reach much further afield (world-wide even!) than would have ever been possible before.
And NO details of course, but can it be considered as a ‘living’ for you?
Yes, I make a reasonable living but I work long hours and I can’t rely on the same amount of money (or any, occasionally) going into my bank account every month.
So there you have it – and if there’s anyone still left reading after all that – are there any questions that were missed out?
That certainly is an interesting and well thought out set of questions. I like that you would recommend it to an art student – so long as money is not their primary motivation (but then, if money is your main reason for "being an artist", perhaps that isn't really what you want to "be" anyway…)
I'm sure it is a hard slog. I am working on my business only part time and that's an interesting feat of juggling. I do not think I could cope with trying to make a living from this… I admire those who have the skill, talent, determination and drive to make it work for them!
Thanks, Lizzie – I think artists generally have great skill and talent but there's definitely less drive and determination about.
I don't know why – perhaps those qualities don't sit so well with creative people – but to be successful in any field, especially in such a competitive one, you really need all the determination you can muster…