Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Making a living is like making a painting

2010 . 02 . 26 - Comments / Commentaires (4)

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Even though I write a lot about the business of art on this blog, marketing has never been my favorite part of being an artist. But, whether I love it or not, it’s a necessity. I need to keep making money in order to keep making paintings. To that end, early on in my career, I reframed my view of marketing. I began to think of making a living like making a painting:

1) They both have a myriad of styles. Over the years, I’ve developed a way to put paint on canvas and my mark-making continues to evolve today. In much the same way, there are many paths to making a living as an artist, it’s just a question of choosing what feels right to me.

- I could be one of those artists who discounts her art, or I could be one who doesn’t.

- I could look to some kind of middleman or sponsor to help give my work a different kind of credibility, or I could sell through my own website.

- I could try to do it all alone, or I could partner with other artists.

2) They both have a variety of tools. Just as my repertoire of paint brushes has evolved in the last ten years, so has my range of marketing tools.

- I read a lot of marketing books—both art-centered ones and ones with a broader focus. I’m always looking for fresh takes on the problem.

- I used to have just a portfolio website, then two years ago I started this blog and signed up for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, each tool adding to my marketing whole.

3) They both take time. A painting isn’t finished in a day, and marketing is not quick and easy.

- Since marketing must be a part of my job and since it requires a significant time investment, I try to approach it with a good attitude—I even try to make it fun! I’ve always been a closet word nerd, so it made sense for me to start a blog. I get to write, which is something that I enjoy, while also updating my site regularly and making it more interesting and useful.

- Marketing also takes time in the sense that developing a marketing voice isn’t something that happens overnight. When I first started out, I knew what a press release was and I thought I knew how to write one. I didn’t. If Eva Lake interviewed me about my first professional show on Artstar Radio it was only because she happened to see my work as she was walking by the venue.

4) They both take persistence. Since these things take time, it can be tempting to give up, especially since there’s a lot of hard work involved. 

- I receive a good amount of rejections from venues, but that doesn’t stop me from inviting each of them to show my work every time I come out with a new series.

- For years, I’ve been contacting art historians who write about portraiture. For the most part, my queries have been ignored, but my tenacity has finally paid off. Richard Brilliant, the widely published scholar and art historical authority on portraiture, wrote the catalog essay for my upcoming book about Subjective.


step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

Marketing is a creative act…

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

...and seeing it in this way has helped me to embrace it.

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

With a painting like this one, I’m responding first to the subject’s face—Jeffrey is my initial inspiration and his likeness is my guiding principle when I am having trouble with the painting.

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

In much the same way, art is my initial inspiration for marketing my work, and the possibility of continuing to make more work gives me direction and a good kick in the pants when I’m worn out by the effort of making a living as an artist.

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

Much of working on a painting involves responding to what’s already there.

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

Usually, when I take a process shot, I’m happy with where the work is at. Somewhere inside of me, I know the painting isn’t quite done, but I’m in love with that particular stage at the moment that I take the photo.

American artist Gwenn Seemel painting

Similarly, the career of a working artist evolves and changes over time.

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

Wherever I’m at in my career feels pretty good for a while, but, at some point, I find myself ready to stretch a little more. 

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

In a painting, I’m often laying down marks without understanding what role they will play in the final composition—if any. Individual marks feel right when I place them, but as the painting progresses they’re often obscured. They are an integral part of the layers without being directly visible in the final painting. 

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

Likewise, I launch a lot of boats in my career: I contact this person about an opportunity or discuss partnering with that one. 

step by step painting a portrait in acrylic

A lot of times, these boats are diverted along the way or even lost at sea, but it doesn’t matter. Every time I put one in the water, I learn about how to get better at launching, and, whenever a boat gets lost, I get to explore new territory.

Jeffrey Gitomer portrait painting

Gwenn Seemel
Jeffrey Gitomer
acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 inches
(detail below)

detail image of Jeffrey Gitomer portrait painting

What’s more, a lot of times, these boats do eventually dock. Paintings are finished with forgotten layers and potential contacts become friends.

Case in point, in late 2008 I read Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections. Throughout the book, Jeffrey talks about giving value first since he believes that business works better when there’s generosity involved. Couple that with the “no one is unapproachable” theme from the book, and I thought it would be fun to call Jeffrey’s bluff. I contacted him, asking him to sit for me in exchange for the portrait I would create of him. 

As it turned out, Mr. Gitomer is everything he seems to be. Last March, when he came through Portland for a seminar, I interviewed and photographed him. This is the finished portrait!

- How to make a living as an artist
- Branding yourself as an artist
- Why making money from your work makes you a better artist

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Business of art - Process images -

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(4) Comments / Commentaires: Making a living is like making a painting

-- Vanessa -- 2010 . 02 . 26 --

I feel the same way about my writing career. You put it so lovely. I especially identified with the boat metaphor and this quote, “the possibility of continuing to make more work gives me direction and a good kick in the pants when I’m worn out by the effort of making a living as an artist.” Some days it can feel like an overwhelming effort to continually find new outlets for your work, new ideas, new directions and connections. It is good to remember the reason why we do the “icky stuff” (marketing.)Thanks for this piece.

I love your blog and I think I may even take inspiration from you here (read copy you) and do something similar for writers on mine. Of course, I will link back to you as well. wink

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-- Carla Sanders -- 2010 . 02 . 26 --

Gwenn this is a fantastic article. I followed your links and it got better with each one. I’ll be blogging you on my site, and linking at my FB art page. You and your work are awesome!

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-- Claudia -- 2010 . 03 . 06 --

Wow! I never thought about it this way before. Very well written and totally makes sense. All those layers may not be visible in the end but like in a painting they add up. I love reading your blog. And I am learning a lot from you and now just have find a way to incorporate it creatively into my own art/marketing process.
Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

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-- Patricia -- 2010 . 10 . 15 --

Excellent article Gwen.  Thanks for sharing your expertise and experience.

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