The business of art

This painting contains a rhythm in colour and composition. I visited a gallery where I show paintings, and the comment was, "people like your painting but they don't know what it is." The owner was referring to an abstract painting called September (shown here) with colours of fall.

I have met others who don't understand abstract art unless they can connect it to something representational. Abstract paintings aren't like still life or wildlife paintings but instead the interplay of the structure, colour, balance and tension in the painting may evoke intellectual, psychological or emotional responses.

I went to an arts symposium yesterday, where there was a discussion about artists and marketing. One speaker I learned a lot from was Chris Tyrell, the author of Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist. He said that art is a business not based just on ability or talent. It means hard work. It may mean painting for a market which may not be the artist's first choice. But if it means one can profit as an artist, is it worth it? He said if you start a business and don't make money in five years, you shouldn't be doing it. That goes for artists too. This was interesting for me to hear because I've been painting since the eighties, but don't necessarily have a timeline for my art.

Marketing oneself is key to making it as a professional artist. Creative maturity to me means making successful art and polished writing. He said that most art purchases were from buyers who knew or had some type of relationship to the artist.

I have sold to people I know or who got to know me through my exhibitions. I have a mailing list to announce my shows and sales. I also have paintings on consignment and sell art cards with images of my paintings. Another speaker said that marketing yourself as an artist also means developing an elevator talk, something you can say in a few minutes to tell what you do. If you downplay your abilities, how will others take you seriously?

Many people have told me the colours in my paintings are notable so that's a strength I can talk about. So now when I talk about myself as a public speaker, artist and writer, I say it with confidence. Most people don't want to hear about mental illness. I fight stigma by talking about mental health in the work I do.

As a writer and an artist, I don't really want to choose one over the other. As a result, my focus is mixed. But I think they complement each other. I go through phases of writing and painting which are part of my creative process.

Are you worried about the war, Steven?

I painted this work in February 1991 when Saddam Hussein's troops were occupying Kuwait. I had visited my friend whom I often went to see and in the kitchen, my friend's brother was reading the newspaper. I wasn't sure if the Canucks had lost or if he was ill, but he looked saddened. I took the moment to grasp a pen and sketch when he wasn't looking.

A few days later, I painted this portrait, wanting to know his thoughts. He's not the type to verbalize what he's thinking. He desires not to discuss the trivial, only things that are essential or meaningful for him. I entered this painting into a juried exhibition but it was rejected. The comment was "we'd like to know what he's thinking." I did sell this painting eventually. I still think it stands out as one of my best.

Self-Portrait: The Big Bang Theory

This painting was done years ago but it is still relevant to me. This painting draws from pop art and culture. My colours are bold and vivid. My content is basic and has a visual impact over an intellectual one. The outlining style is characteristic of comic books. The face is elongated, the ribbing of the sweater contain suggestions of piano keys, rhythm and music. The cigarette symbolizes sophistication apparent in many classic movies. The green hand was based on a pair of green leather gloves which I still own.

Andy Warhol stated, "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." In this work, I see myself at a Warhol party discussing the big bang theory over a glass of wine. This pseudo-sophistication is a fantasy. Instead of the portrait only representing me, I also become the person in the portrait.

Writer's block

In the past while, I've experienced writer's block which basically means I spent more time rehashing old stories and not writing anything new. In March, I decided it would be great to write a novel about a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. I sat down and put together a rough outline. I wrote the first chapter and posted it on a writers' forum.

Quite respectfully, I was told my writing style needed to 'show' more and 'tell' less. This particular weakness of mine has been there since I began to write! So what to do? My response was to slow down and dwell more on each scene, get more into the characters' shoes and describe what they sense, think and feel. Another comment was that the flashbacks were only exposition or backstory which I disagreed with.

The good news was my first paragraph was fine. However, reviewers stated I was trying to put too much into one chapter. One suggested I write an outline for each chapter in the book, start off with the female protagonist POV and then move into flashbacks in the second chapter. I attempted to work on my first chapter again, but still fell into the same traps.

Frustrated I considered making it into a screenplay, thinking I could concentrate on great dialogue and conflict in each scene. However, my story line didn't take advantage of cinematography or special effects. I had a scene on a beach but that was about it. Also when I tried to frame the story into a screenplay format, it became a talkie. The story was told through dialogue not through visual action. However, I was able to write a basic plot line and subplots showing the relationships or lack of between my characters. Also, I had to decide who is telling the story and who is my main character in a love triangle. And so it goes. Rome wasn't built in a day! However, I did feel encouraged by the comments and good advice I received.