In my previous blog post, from coach to full-time artist, I shared the thought process that went into this career change. But you may be wondering what were the 'boots on the ground' steps that I took to make this transition.
Let me see if I can walk you through the steps. First of all, from all my years in my coaching business and my fine art jewellery business - I'm a certified goldsmith as well as a certified life coach, I had a list of contacts.
What's a list? It consists of the private emails that people have given me over the years as well as my social media following.
Now you might be thinking - those people aren't going to follow this radical shift in profession. How do you begin again with a whole new product? You simply let them know that you are making a change. That's it. Some will leave, that is okay, while others will join in, partly to watch the transition, and partly because they are curious what you can create.
My number 1 advice is get a list, nurture your list, stay in touch with people who already have an interest in you. If you don't have a list, start now. It's pretty easy. All you need is a mail sending program. I recommend Active Campaign, Constant Contact, or Mailchimp. Then simply invite family, friends, work colleagues, your dentist, your hairstylist, whoever you can think of to join you. Every month compose an email letting them know what you are up to. No need to get all widgy about it. Write the email as if you are speaking to one person and once a month send them updates, images anything of interest going on in your creative life.
I have a very simply theory about my art business.
Not so easy. Let's start with point #1
Create lots of great art.
#1 Figure out your materials.
#2 Figure out how to organize yourself.
Materials. Okay, so you are starting out, you don't really know what you are doing, where do you even begin? In my case it was pretty easy. I don't like mess. Charcoal, graphite, pastels, conté..... not interested. Too messy for me. I don't like my hands getting dirty. I don't even like eating fruit that gets me messy - drippy oranges.... oh no. Ick. I also knew from experience that acrylics dry too quickly for me to enjoy working with them. Now oils, they scared me at first, because, come on, they are oil paints. The prestigious material of the masters. Who am I to use this highly regarded material? Note to self: changing our mind about who we are is a constant process when you are exploring a fine art career.
a) decide on the materials that you are drawn to work with, and start figuring out how to use them. What are the techniques to applying this medium? What surface is best for it? Is there any special surface prep or finishing that I need to be aware of? This is where the library came in really handy. There are so many books to help with the technical stuff.
b) spend the time to learn how to use the materials. Great to read it online or in a book, but until you actually practice you have no skills.
At first you will likely be disappointed with what you produce, this is always the case because what we imagine is possible, is not actually possible with the skills that we have. Don't be discouraged. You can acquire the skills, it simply takes a bit more practice.
Being an artist is very much about being self-motivated. You are on your own when it comes to inspiration and doing the work. You have yourself to rely on, which is the good news/bad news. One thing that helps me so much is my schedule. Very early on I timed myself, from start to finish, of a piece. Literally, when I start composing an image, transferring that image to canvas, preparing the canvas, and every step thereafter, I had a timer running. I use a free program called Clockify. It allows me to set up projects, those projects are each individual painting I plan to paint. When I start on the concept of the painting, I start clockify. When I get up for a cup of tea, I stop the timer. You get the idea. What I'm most interested in tracking is the actual time it takes to create that project.
Once I have the time for a given piece, then I can calculate the minutes per square inch that I took to create that piece. This has been such valuable information as I plan my career.
This is what used to happen. ( internal self talk)
"You scheduled 15 paintings this month and based on your painting speed that will take you 85 hours to produce. This month you have been able to paint for 30 hours. No wonder you are not able to reach your goals."
Do you see how valuable this can be? When you have a better idea how long each piece takes you, and how many total hours in a week/month you have to paint then you can set appropriate goals and actually reach them.
When I started keeping track I was taking 6.2 minutes per square inch. Now I'm averaging 2.5 minutes per square inch. Part of that change is from changing my process. I no longer do a full "grisaille" or greyscale underpainting.
As a full time artist I don't have a boss telling me which items are a priority and how to use my time. I have to do that for myself. I'm a big proponent of producing painting in a series, a group of 5 or so paintings that will hang together as a unit. This could be by size - all 12 x 12", or by subject - all landscapes, or by price - all under $400. This helps your audience understand what you are promoting. It also gives potential buyers a choice within a given theme.
1) I take my own source photos so I have control of the image I work from. There is no copyright that I have to be concerned about when it is my own image. Plus I can compose and capture the lighting of the image just the way I like it.
2) Once back at the studio I load my images to my computer and sift through them looking for the really special ones.
3) From this first selection, I do compositional studies to determine and isolate what my focal point will be and what sorts of shadows/lines will help reinforce that composition. Each image does not necessary compose well.
When the dimensions of the composition have been worked out I can decide on the canvas size for the painting.
Let me walk you through this.
With an image that has been cropped to 63mm x 71mm (I place a plastic ruler up to my computer screen to measure the width and height). I then divide 63 by 71 = .88 This is the ratio between the short side and the long side of the painting. (Always divide the small number by the larger number)
I have created a spreadsheet chart with the common canvas sizes and their ratio, just to make it easier to pick an appropriate canvas dimension with this ration. 0.88 is a bit of an odd ratio. At this point I have a couple decisions to make. I can go back to the composition and change it slightly to arrive at a different ratio or I can choose a canvas that is close to the .88 and make it work. I see that the 16 x 18.5" is 0.86. That will likely work just fine.
Now at this stage, I create an inventory sheet for that piece. Here's a blank sheet that you are welcome to emulate.
This inventory sheet is printed on regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper and slipped into a plastic page protector. I slip a photo of the proposed painting, which I print out on regular printer paper, just as a reference, into the sleeve as well. I fill in as much detail a I know at this stage. The size of the canvas has been determined, so it goes in that space. etc. I will also apply an inventory number and often a title.
Next to the size of the canvas I will add the calculation of timing. Let's calculate this based on the 16 x 18.5" canvas for this .88 ratio piece. Multiply 16 x 18.5 = 296 square inches x 2.5 minutes /squ. inch = 740 minutes / 60 minutes = 12.5 hours.
This painting should take me 12.5 hours for the painting time, plus the canvas prep and image transfer time. 15 hours should do it.
The next major number to figure out is how much time you have to paint. If you are working a full time job currently, then perhaps you have 4 hours per week that you have to dedicate to painting. That means this piece will take you 3.5 weeks to complete. I would then jot this down on a calendar with a completion date in mind and go for it.
This helps so much with the procrastination/what do I work on now question. There is no doubt what you have to work on.
Here's a caveat, shuffle projects around to focus on what you are inspired to create. Just because it's on the schedule doesn't mean that is the piece you 'have to' work on. You get to decide.
Show your art to lots of people
How are you going to show people what you are creating? Your list, your social media contacts, local shows, art fairs, juried exhibitions etc. These are just a few ideas of how to show your work to lots of people. You get to decide what works best for you. Keep in mind some of these opportunities have some upfront costs like booth rental and perhaps commissions that you will want to keep in mind. Note: Be careful that you can afford the upfront expenses before you commit to it. You don't want to have a resentful feeling towards the event if you don't sell anything and you've spent money you don't have to be there.
It is very possible to sell your artwork and it is going to take time to find your collectors. Just because you are going into the local art fair does not mean you are going to sell anything. Yes, you will get exposure and know that your entrance fees are giving you that, for sure. However, check that you don't have big expectation of high sales right off the bat. In my experience, this is simply not that common.
Make it easy for people to buy from you.
This is a big piece that many people overlook. If for example you are relying on e-transfers to be the sole way you recieve money for your pieces then I would encourage you to look for alternate methods. Here's why.... many people do not bank online, do not feel comfortable with the technology, and don't want to be embarrassed that they are not savvy with this. It's a hurdle. Now most people have gotten accustomed to using a tap process. To make it easy for your clients to purchase from you get yourself a tap device. Square is a reliable source for this and the one time fee is about $50 for the device. This will enable you to collect payment by debit card or all major credit cards. Pretty slick.
When you receive your square tap device, you will be prompted to hook up your bank account to the device. This is secure so you needn't worry. When you hook up your account square will send you a small amount, and then withdraw that same amount. This will ensure that the connection with your bank is working properly. This takes a few days to do that, so make sure you have time for this process to happen.
Once you have a square account you will be able to take payment with your tap device and you will also be able to send a client an invoice by email that they can then pay with their credit card on their end. This is super handy when your client is not in your local area.
With your email list, social media presence, and your tap device/square account you are now ready to start spreading the word about your work.
The next business element I encourage you to consider is to purchase a domain name (Namecheap is my recommendation for purchasing domain names) appropriate for your art business and create a simple website. One step at a time. I use Weebly which is partnered with Square. Squareup, different than Squarespace, is another option as is WIX etc.
I hope this is a help. It may seem a bit confusing at first, however, begin at the beginning by deciding what your medium of choice is and get started producing the work you feel inspired to produce.
You know when things don't always turn out the way you think and you are faced with making a new decision? In 2019, I was the head coach for a local company with clients from Brazil to Amsterdam and all over North America. It was exciting to be invested in other women's lives, helping them, diving into those conversations that reveal what they really want to create in their lives.
Until things changed, unexpectedly. The working agreement changed without warning and rather than remain for the new 10 month program, I felt it would be less disruptive if I resigned right at the beginning.
The trouble was, I'd set aside my own coaching practice to work for this company. I didn't have a roster of my own clients, I had to start from scratch. Energetically, I wasn't up to creating a new coaching practice. I was a bit worn out and realized I wanted to create more of what I'd been coaching other women to create. Don't get me wrong, much of my coaching career was great. However, after 10 years in the industry, I just wasn't willing to sign on for another 10 years when something else was calling me.
In those early days, March 2019, there were a lot of tears, praying, and hoping for some sort of guidance. What came to me, over and over again.... "Just go Paint" Just go paint, Ciel. Don't worry about all the other pieces, just yet.
I pulled out my stored materials and started. I had supplies from my visual arts degree, it was simply a matter of dusting them off and getting started again. Or was it? There were lots of gaps in my knowledge and skill. I was terrified of colour for one thing. I was wasting a lot of paint and making a whole lot of mud.
There were a few artists that I admired. Renato Muccillo, a local landscape painter with amazing skills. Here he is with one of his pieces. That's a painting. Amazing.
Thomas Darnell, an American painter, living in France was another artist that I was inspired by. Here he is.
And lastly Mickie Acierno, the only female in the group to catch my eye and inspire me. Here's Mickie.
The question in my mind when I looked at these inspiring artists work was: "I wonder if I could paint like that?"
I've been in that inquiry ever since.
In my earlier life I spend 2.5 years at the Alberta College of Art & Design studying all kinds of subjects, glassblowing, weaving, 2D design, 3D design, drawing, jewellery etc. I also attended the University of British Columbia earning a Bachelor's degree in Visual arts. These were great experiences, however, they didn't teach me how to paint like I do now. Sadly.
In fact, my third year drawing instructor, at ACAD, asked, after we hung our work for critique, "Whose piece is this one?" I raised my hand. His reply was "Sweetheart, this clearly isn't for you and proceeded to waltz me out of class." He literally kicked me out of his class because my skills were not to his liking. Wait.... aren't you my instructor? Aren't you supposed to teach me? I guess he missed that memo.
While attending The University of British Columbia, I was once again thwarted by my instructor. After assessing my painting, as he walked away, he said "Your work is very painterly" I said "thank you." He replied over his shoulder his shoulder "That was not a compliment." Well f*ck you. What do you want from me. If you are not going to teach me, then I'm going to find someone who can. I was so discouraged and pissed off.
One day while flipping through a local newspaper I saw art classes being advertised at a local community centre. One of the classes, colour pencil drawing with Catherine Robertson, looked interesting. I could take my pencil crayons with me, so not a lot of art supplies to haul, that sounded good. So I enrolled. I'm so glad I did. Catherine was the artistic angel that I needed. Finally someone willing to teach me the nuts and bolts of making marks, composition, using a medium, everything I'd missed in both my college and my university education. Most importantly she saw my potential and helped me have a bit more confidence in myself. I'm forever grateful for Catherine's kind, loving direction.
Another angel that helped get me started on my journey was the late Mary Benz Gilkerson. Mary's wisdom, skills and vision for my ability really helped me imagine a fine art career.
My local library was my best friend in these early days. I took out as many books as I could get my hands on to start to study techniques, canvas preparation etc. I also watched a few Youtube videos and listened to podcasts from other artists. It was invaluable.
In the early days, I didn't always get it 'right' whatever that means. I wanted first and foremost to make sure the canvas surface was prepared properly for the painting to have longevity. I began my process by transferring the image to canvas in pencil, then going over the lines with waterproof ink and a fountain pen. This worked, however, the dark lines were too dark to cover easily particularly with white petals or lighter coloured flowers. I retired that method and went just to pencil. This proved problematic as Titanium White, the white that I use, becomes more translucent as it cures so those pencil lines end up revealing themselves in time. Darn it. More research revealed that pencil crayon is a suitable medium for the transferred drawing, so that what I'm using now. I use the appropriate coloured pencil crayon for the item that I'm painting. If the lines do show up in time, they will be the appropriate colour and not offensive to the viewer.
March 2019 I started painting seriously and by October I was ready for my first solo show. Most of the pieces in that show were done in the grayscale - this was in my "I don't know what to do with colour" stage.
January 2020, I committed to painting full time and really going for it. Which meant I would have to learn to mix colour. So off to the library I go. I ordered a book through inter-library loan called "Alla Prima" by Richard Schmid. This book gave me enough information to get started on mixing colour charts for myself. It changed everything!!
As Covid was just starting to take the world by surprise, I launched my next collection online via my own website. I sold two pieces. One to a friend in San Francisco and the other to a business colleague in Scottsdale Arizona. I remember when it happened, I'd walked down to the beach in the sunshine, enjoying the summer day and celebrating all that I had accomplished. As I was in line to pick up my fish and chip order my phone pinged that something had sold. I was jumping for joy, calling my husband in tears, so happy to share the amazing news.
The Federation of Canadian Artists has been around for 80 years and was founded by some notable artists like Lawren Harris and Emily Carr. The Federation is a non-profit organization giving artists opportunities to be juried into shows and showing their work. After submitting and being juried into several shows I was able to apply for my Signature Status, an elevated level of distinction within the Federation.
In April 2022, 22 jurors assessed my work and awarded me my Senior Signature Member status with The Federation of Canadian Artists. Oh my gosh!!! At the time there were about 3000 members of the Federation with only 105 reaching Senior Signature Status including Robert Bateman, Gaye Adams, Charlie Easton, and me. Very very cool.
This past August had me flying to Toronto for the opening Gala of an International Art Show hosted by the Society of Canadian Artists. One of my pieces was selected from the hundreds who applied, so I really wanted to be there to celebrate the opening and the accomplishment.
In September 2023, The Nomad Gallery in White Rock, BC hosted me for a solo show titled 'Bloomin.... Lovely' It was a wonderful show with elbow room only at the opening. Amazing. So what's my work like now?
I hope you have enjoyed this little foray into my journey as an artist. Let me know if you have any questions.