There was an interesting article in The Observer last week about artist’s, be that visual artists, writers, actors, and the second job they need to take to support their artistic endeavors. I do know some artist’s that make a living solely from their work, indeed one of them, Andrew Tift, is currently acting as a mentor for me and my own work, but it remains a real difficulty to sustain yourself solely from your work. I’ve never managed it, and have always supported myself with part-time jobs. At present it is through lecturing, which is rewarding and feeds my practice a great deal, but in the past it has been through working in areas such as community arts, and also places such as the Post Office and factory work. It is only in the last six years that I have made any serious money as an artist largely through grants, commissions and sales through my website and exhibitions, not through being represented by a gallery, although this remains a long-term aim.
HR Smoke, 'Personal Messages Obscured By Smoke', acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100cms, 2012
In my experience the energy and time required to get out there and apply for things, promote yourself, make networks etc, is a full-time job in itself, and really needs to go hand in hand with the creative output you try to achieve. I have writer friends who have agents to help with this, but in the visual arts it is the gallery who generally assumes this role. However, if you haven’t got a gallery behind you, then what? Well, after years of poor self promotion and hard lessons learned by continuous rejections, I’m currently working with a freelance arts consultant, Elizabeth Hawley, to help me think of more effective strategies to raise my profile and promote myself. Before this, I worked last year with another consultant, Angela Swan who helped me put together my bid to the Arts Council. Her breadth of experience and the precision of her advice was key to my success. Elizabeth recently reflected to me that she thinks more artists should seriously think about working with people like herself to develop and extend their networks, and not try to do it all themselves. I think this is true, and worth the financial investment (which has not been very much either), as hopefully it will repay itself in the long term.
Andrew Smith, 'Untitled', painted photographs, 2012
I think another good way of creating wider networks and support systems is by collaborating with other artists. I have to confess it’s not something I’ve enjoyed in the past, as being the loner (or control freak) I am I prefer doing things on my own, and like trying to create some sort of more personal statement with the installation of my work, that I often find difficult in group. More importantly, however I find it difficult to meet like-minded artists to work with and feel comfortable enough to have a more critical, honest and serious dialogue. I’ve found myself in many studio groups over the years, where politeness or silence seemed the rule, and nobody said much about each other’s work. A general air of paranoia seemed to pervade which is no good for the creative mind. I made some good friends there, but I don’t look back to working in places like that much in terms of the impact it made on my work. For years, most of the time I have just talked to myself through my journals and sketchbooks about what I do. This is one of the key reasons I wanted to initiate working with some artistic mentors, including Elizabeth, during this period of funded research.
Hugh Marwood, 'Closed 2', acrylic and mixed media on board, 100 x 100cms, 2012
Lately though, I’m glad to say, in recent months all this has started to change. I’ve been getting to know and discuss my work, and even collaborate, with local artist Andy Smith, who is also a colleague and lecturer in English at the college I teach at. Andy himself makes some really interesting work, ranging from painting, photography, sculpture and writing, and all of these things combined. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about his work, and Andy himself, and his visits to my own studio have been really useful. We have also decided to organize a group exhibition in November at The Works Gallery in Birmingham, together with other local artists Chris Cowdrill, Craig Underhill, and also Leicester based artist, Hugh Marwood, who I have been communicating with through my blog, and his own terrific blog (see link and imagebelow). ‘If A Picture Can Paint A Thousand Words Then Why Can’t I Paint’, promises to be an eclectic exhibition of painting, photography, illustration, ceramics, sculpture, with some spoken word performance, and possibly even a musical piece, which will be performed at the Private View, by myself and Andy in response to the themes in the work. I’ve dusted off my bass guitar for the occasion, but I have to say it is Andy who has all the ideas with this. Even so, it’s really exciting to be doing something different and a bit more playful.
So things are opening up for my practice lately thanks to all these really interesting and exciting individuals. It feels great….
Here’s a few links to keep you busy….