Claiming the Name “Artist”

Yesterday I wrote about getting ready for my first art exhibition and thinking about how to price my pieces. Our group, Uni4Artists, can submit thirty pieces, which means each of the members can submit two or perhaps three, depending on how many of us submit. This is an annual event at the Morganton Jailhouse Gallery and includes a reception and citywide art crawl. Last year, I was impressed by the turnout and by the art submitted by our members. In fact, I was humbled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I started painting in 2016, after I moved my massage practice and needed something to put on the walls. My point is that I am a less experienced artist than many of the others in the Uni4Artists. While I know it is death to artistic expression to compare myself to others, I’m also aware that I need to be careful to neither overprice nor underprice myself. Likewise, I have very few pieces that are truly original. I am sure I suffer at least a little from being overly attached to the pieces I think are worth submitting, and I’m trying to be mindful that I may not able to evaluate their value accurately. To my credit, I’ve asked for help.

The show last year got me thinking about originality and the point at which you stop feeling like a student and start feeling like an artist. All my classes have been online, and except for a few dud teachers in some collaboratives, I’ve learned a great deal from all of them. In the beginning especially, I did a lot of copying, which is an excellent way to learn, but you can’t sell paintings you’ve copied from a teacher, no matter how good they are. While I was copying for the most part, I felt like a student, and I resisted venturing out on my own. Some of my excuses were valid; some were born of fear of failure.

Portraits from watercolor class

Dark-skinned African-American girl and Native American girl for Faceinating Girls Around the World, a class taught by Andrea Gomoll. I copied her techniques for skin colors and layering of watercolors and some of her mark making and background design techniques. I tried to make the look of the girls my own. However. I would not feel comfortable selling either of these pieces, but I do feel like I got good practice.

For the last year, I’ve been trying, more and more, to do my own thing. That means I’ve got more than a few pieces that just aren’t very good and lots and lots of practice pages and canvases that are just meant to be practice and were never intended to be sold. I’m okay with that. Somewhere along the line, I decided I had to let myself make a mess. “It’s only paint and paper” someone said. I still copy, by the way, but I do it when I’m intent on learning a technique or on imitating a style before adapting it and making it my own. The best of both worlds occurs when I can learn the techniques but put my own spin on the lesson, like in the portraits above. I think anyone who sees them would recognize those as my girls and not mistake them for Andrea’s. (The teacher was Andrea Gomoll.)

Toward the end of last year, I decided not to sign up for so many classes and to really work on developing my own skills and style. This year, I’ve spent a lot of time with watercolors, a medium that until now I haven’t really enjoyed. I’ve also spent more time painting flowers and animals. I learned last year that I like story art, and I like combining nature and people. Although I miss some of the teachers and fellow students with whom I’ve traveled these last few years, setting my intention to develop myself as an independent artist and working toward that end feels right. I’m dreaming of the day when I will have trouble deciding which of my many originals I might want to submit for exhibition. I already feel like an artist.

Selling Art

Girl and hawk original by Suzanne Hollifield

Original oil pastel by Suzanne Hollifield

Last year I was invited to join a local art group named the Uni4Artists (the Unifour is what we locals call four of the adjacent counties that make up our cultural/geographic/economic area). The artists in the group create in a variety of mediums, and I’ve enjoyed our meetings a great deal. I still feel like a newbie, but I am getting more comfortable. The other artists are warmly welcoming, and because we alternate meeting locations between three venues, including a museum, a gallery, and a teaching studio, I’m exposed to a variety of professional and student art.

One thing the group does is participate in at least two shows in which artwork may be sold. I had no idea that galleries were so strict about the criteria for submissions. For example, last year, I didn’t submit anything because all paintings had to be framed, and they had to be wired for hanging, Gator hooks were forbidden. Who knew?

Over the past year, I have bought some frames, and I’m now watching YouTube for instructions on how to make exhibition-ready pieces. Most of my acrylic pieces are not varnished, which I’ll have to do if I decide to submit one of them. The piece I’m using as a logo for this blog is a possibility, but I won’t submit it without doing some more work on her nose and eyes. I can do noses better now, and this one is too wide. The eyes aren’t sparkle-y enough either. They aren’t alive. I’m glad it isn’t varnished yet, but time is wastin’ if I’m going to use this piece.

I have no idea what to charge for a piece, and the price and other information has to be turned in in ten days. I personally think the cost of the painting needs to be at least as much as the frame. Again, I’m back to YouTube and the group. In fact, we were supposed to have a program on framing, pricing, and photographing our art a couple of months ago, but it was canceled because of sleet. I needed that program. I don’t know yet whether the frame is always sold with the painting or not. (Note to ask that!)

On one hand, I’m excited to be putting pieces of my art in a show. Even if it doesn’t sell, it feels like I’m really able to call myself an artist. On the other hand, I’m truly nervous about getting the details right. Of course, it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t. Let’s get this in perspective, Suzanne. The worse that can happen is they won’t hang my pieces. But somehow, knowing how to prepare and price my art seems like the final piece of really calling myself an artist. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.