Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Starving Artist and the Importance of Patrons

Jay's Sun-Dried Tomato Pie
(I am not allowed to tell you his secret sauce ingredient, but will say this.... it is bizarre, and oh so tasty!)

"A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects." -Wikipedia (

I'm not starving in a literal sense. Not by any means. This past week I was treated to both a steamed lobster dinner (thanks to Mom) and a gourmet sun-dried tomato pizza compliments of my brother. I felt extremely well-fed, perhaps over fed, and didn't feel like a financially-struggling artist at all. In reality, though, it is a tough economic road for most artists.

It isn't for lack of ambition. Artists tend to work hard. I'm not a slacker and I doubt anyone who knows me would say otherwise. I am grateful for all that I have and recognize that by many people's standards in this world, I am "rich". I have a roof over my head, food on the table, medical care when needed, and the usual North American material gadgets: car, TV, stereo, kayak, furniture, etc.

I work a full-time job which (usually) covers basic necessities and bills and though I am not selling my works (yet!) for thousands of dollars a piece, I do rely on the income I make from my art to cover the expenses of living in mainstream society.

Still, if judging by Wikipedia definition, Chris and I both fall under the category of "starving artist". We struggle financially and have to make choices everyday with where the limited income is to be spent. Most purchases require some sort of deep-thought or explanation. Our house could use some major repairs, we share one car, don't subscribe to expensive cable channels, and a bulk of our clothing is purchased through Goodwill. We don't travel, except to see family, and have no major electronic "toys" like Blackberries or fancy cell-phones. We rarely go to the movies or other events that require a ticket fee. When something breaks, it isn't a given that we can replace it. Simple things that others sometimes take for granted aren't on our list of possibilities.

In the whole scheme of things, though, our sacrifices are tiny. Nonetheless, we do make sacrifices everyday for our art.

That being said, we also could not do what we do without major support from those who acknowledge the importance of what we are doing as artists. We have been the fortunate recipients of various benefactors' generosity. Without the help that we have been given along the way, we would not have grown as we have.

"Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors."
-Wikipedia (

Our patrons have come in more than one form, and there have been many over the years. For any artist, writer, musician, actor, etc., patrons are a lifeblood. Without these supporters of the arts, genius works from the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci would not have been possible. Much of creative society relies on financial gifts for such things as museum collections, artist grants, and public radio and TV broadcasting.

My mind is flooding with all the patrons that Chris and I have had over the years. What these generous people and organizations are giving is more than a few dollars to pay a bill. They are helping to fund projects that in turn benefit a mass of people in society. Chris' poetry and novel will inspire many to analyze their own ways of being and aspire to be better people. My artwork hopefully will spark similar thoughts as well as bring joy and meaning to those who own and hold one of my creations.

I was the recipient of a life-changing fellowship that moved my work as a weaver forward. Three years later, I still feel the effects of that gift. We have had family members come to our aid, offer us a home, help with building studio space, and support with our education. As well, I am grateful for every person who visits our shop and for those who have been loyal returning customers over the years.

In turn, I try to give back to community and society by not only creating artwork that might either inspire or awaken to new thought, but by volunteering my time with projects such as Lubec Arts Alive or hosting sessions in the new studio. The patronage we receive has a ripple effect that affects many more than the benefactor probably realizes.

So, thank you to all those folks who have supported us financially or with volunteered time - those who have purchased our work, given us a home, made or bought us food, slipped us a few extra bucks for supplies, paid insurance and taxes, sponsored a building project, vehicle assistance, labored to make our studios more sound and beautiful, photocopied chapbooks, painted walls, fixed our toilet and funded hot water, sponsored travel/lodging to conferences and workshops, published poetry, hooked-up the kiln and lights in barn, hosted readings and gallery showings, landscaped, and to those who have given us incredible emotional support and direction over the years.

Without their support - we would not be where we are today.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On the Business of Being an Artist

Many people have a preconceived notion of what an artist's life is like. It isn't REAL work right? An artist gets to play with paint or clay and spend endless self-indulgent hours in the studio honing the fine art of fantasy. Spectators fawn over the magnificent creations and exclaim "how do you do that!" They roll out of bed at extraordinarily late hours to offset the night before that was no doubt filled with hordes of people gathering in a gallery toasting the genius of this talented super-human.

Um, excuse me, where do I apply for that job?

The truth is, while being an artist can be exceptionally fulfilling, it is also hard work. Yes, I said work. That four letter word that the non-artist community often thinks is in no way synonymous with the word art.

I have said before that a person doesn't choose to be an artist, rather, the art chooses the person. It is literally a calling. An artist feels compelled to create, much like a child who picks up a crayon for the first time and makes her first mark. From then on out, there is an obsession with making marks. For a two year old, they will make a mark with anything can they put their hands on. As children grow older hopefully this is nurtured and they retain some of that artist-self. For a few, that need to express outweighs life's other intrusions and that person becomes an artist as vocation.

So, what does an artist's life look like? How much of it is about "fun", and how much of it is about work? From my perspective, it is all work. That being said, it is work that fulfills me.

I am able to break my work as an artist into four categories.

I spend my full-time work week during the school year teaching. A lot of teachers claim that they are unable to be an artist while teaching because it is such a demanding and tiring job. For me, it is the opposite. Yes, demanding and tiring and wearing to the bone, but also inspiring. I have a job where I am surrounded by young minds creating all day long. Sure, there are school politics and endless amounts of paperwork, discipline issues, all those side things that go along with teaching, but, it is still inspiring to see the endless amounts of imagination that comes from these young minds.

Many artists that I know supplement their income with teaching. Maybe not all artists are naturally skilled with a patience and willingness to share trade secrets, but most that I know do enjoy sharing their knowledge and watching others' lives being transformed by the magic and power of art.

An artist is a visionary. They draw, sculpt, paint, photograph, dance, act, sing and compose a work that would never have existed, in a particular arrangement, without that specific artist's interpretation brought into physical existence. This is what artists, much like inventors, feel compelled to do. They have a vision in their mind, and they make that idea tangible for others to experience in the physical world.

Let this quote ruminate in your mind for a while.

"When I examine myself and the method of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing knowledge." -Albert Einstein

What is an artist's job? Is it all about self-indulgence and making marks that make us feel good? Or, do we have an obligation to society?

Doctors are expected to heal the sick. Lawyers are expected to defend the innocent. Teachers are expected to teach, and law enforcement are expected to protect. What is an artist expected to do?

On one level, we brighten the world. We fill museums with color, write novels and screenplays to entertain, and design clothes for folks to wear. We are architects who build inspiring spaces, photographers who capture a child's transition from infancy to wedding, and people who create music that makes others want to dance.

And, we are a voice that records the society in which we live. We hear and see what is going on in the world around us, and we translate that message in a way that people can understand. When visual arts transcend spoken language, the message becomes universally understood. With pictures, we help to make others aware of what is happening in our world, what we should celebrate, and what needs to be changed. An artist takes license to be the voice that speaks a truth.

Business and Marketing Specialist:
This is the least glamorous part of being an artist, but one of the most important aspects should a person wish to make an actual (financial) living at it. We don't create for the monetary rewards, however, to support the work of being an artist, money does come into the picture. Supplies are costly, and there are bills to pay. An artists time may be spent working at McDonald's to cover the bills, but it would seem a more fulfilling goal to spend those forty hours creating in a way that feeds the soul and then using the income from that to support the household. It is bittersweet to hand one of your creations over to another, since each unique piece is in a sense your child, but there is also this feeling of sharing a part of yourself and the knowing that something you created brings meaning to another person.

I estimate that I spend at least
one quarter of my creative time on the "business" aspects of being an artist. I don't want to go into detail on every component, but will offer up a basic list of what I contend with on a weekly basis that is just pure old grunt work.

The List: cleaning the shop, cleaning up after making messes, painting walls, painting signs for business, updating consignment lists, delivering work to shops/galleries, creating postcard announcements, thank you notes, organizing sales binder, tax forms, insurance paperwork, photographing artwork, blogging, community art meetings, banking, making tags, printing, contacting artists, networking, advocating, budgeting, ordering supplies, researching ideas, traveling to purchase supplies, making lists, making phone calls, paying bills, and continuing education/taking classes.

I am sure as soon as I hit the "publish" button for this blog, I will think of at least ten more things I should add the the list.

And while I am writing this blog, there are at least ten other things I should be doing! The shop opens at 10 a.m. today, so I need to shower, eat breakfast, get the sign up, turn on the heat, lights, music, price a few items, then get back to painting the sculpture that I have been working on for the past couple months.

So, if you are an artist, you understand this all perfectly well.

If you are thinking of plunging into the world of "working artist" then consider yourself warned!

Hindsight, knowing all that I know now, how much work and determination is required, the blood, sweat and tears.....

I wouldn't change a thing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Living the Artist Life: All in a day's work

One of the casts after it was removed from the Anne's belly

Anne, in her ninth month of pregnancy, plastered

Our third drawing session with Anne as our model

My drawings from today's drawing session

Living the artist life is interesting, to say the least. This past week was full of creative, and sometimes unusual, activities that non-artists probably couldn't imagine doing. I sometimes wonder, when life is moving full speed ahead and I can't catch my breath, what it would be like to be "normal". Is there such a thing? I have this fantasy that I will wake, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, and go to bed. No major projects to complete. No big list of things I need to get done that week. No 3:00 a.m. wakings where my mind won't stop buzzing with the next thing I need to design.

If I were to experience that kind of life on a regular basis, though it might decrease the blood pressure immensely, would probably catapult me into complete and utter boredom.

This past week is a great example of living the artist life. I felt completely immersed in the creative process everyday.

After I blogged last Sunday morning, I spent the day working on a tapestry, then Monday began the "official work week" where days were spent at school teaching. The high school Art 1 class learned the monotype process and we had loads of fun! Albeit, there is a huge sticky mess that I am still trying to clean five days later! My other favorite project at school this past week was the aerial paintings in the style of Maine artist Eric Hopkins. We're painting very cool images of local Lubec maps.

After school, I continued my personal work as an artist. Monday evening I rolled clay slabs then worked on my end-of-the-month (a few days late!) project update for the MFA program I am in. Tuesday evening, I began painting a new sign for my pottery business, and edited some work I had been doing for the Lubec Arts Alive portrait exhibit that opens next Wednesday.

I know, you are thinking, "this doesn't sound very exciting for an artist's life." about this? Wednesday, I plaster-casted a pregnant woman's belly. I mean, who gets to do something like this and not sound like a completely off-the-wall weirdo? Artists can get away with this sort of bizarre behavior all in the name of art. So, arrives Anne, I have covered the floor with two plastic drop cloths, cut strips of plaster, and loaded a bucket with warm water. Anne coats herself in petroleum jelly. I say how cool it is that she will let me cast her in her eighth month of pregnancy, then she explains to me that she is actually in her ninth month and says "I feel ready, like it could happen any day now." Of course, I'm not feeling too comfortable with that statement being that I am about to wrap her in a substance that dries solid and would completely render her immobile for a period of time, not to mention, I have zero experience in delivering babies!

We made it through the session. Two casts were made, one for each of us. And, those darn drop cloths didn't make much of a bit of difference. There was plaster all through the dining room, on the hardwood floors, into the living room, around to the kitchen, and into the bathroom. Somehow, there was even plaster in the toilet.

Thursday, I joined other committee members, my husband, and filmmaker Jon Wing Lum to view, for the first time, the video documentary about Lubec Arts Alive that Wing had been working on since last summer. We gathered at Jean's house, filled our bowls with popcorn, and settled-in to watch the DVD. This event definitely deems its own blog entry, so I will save the details for another time after the public screening occurs. I'll leave it at this for now. I am so incredibly touched by the film that Wing has created. He is a master of his medium and works from a place of love. I am deeply grateful for his presence, talent, and his willingness to share.

Friday comes the mundane but necessary. I spent several hours cleaning the house that had fallen into complete disarray over the past few hectic days of "living the artist life". I discovered that plaster doesn't mop up. Not at all, especially after it has hardened on the linoleum and hardwood for two days. Hands and knees, sponge and brillo pad. It wasn't glamorous by any stretch. But, I got the job done. Along with other cleaning and plant pruning duties to prepare for today, which was the third and final drawing group with Anne as our pregnant model. It's sad to see the sessions end, but I suspect she's willing to give up her gestational model sessions to birth that little bundle of joy.

The next week is looking to be just as full as this past one, thus the blogging a day earlier than usual. I plan to rise and shine at the crack of dawn on Sunday to fire the kiln, work on the tapestry, and prep for the days ahead that involve a small business workshop, field trip to UMM's Thou Art Fair, and the opening reception for "Faces and Stories of Lubec: The Portraits of Lubec Arts Alive 2009".

I kinda like how I live. I guess I'm not ready to give it all up just yet for a life of 9 to 5 and TV dinners.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Juggling It All

Beaver Stick Story Loom, linen warp

The pile

Preparing strips for weaving


Progress being made

Sunday morning, I thought perhaps a leisurely entrance to the day with a late sleep, but Bello decided that 5:15 a.m. was the perfect time to rouse me. I would like to think that it was his deep adoration for me that brought all sixteen feline pounds of him kneading at my goose-down covered slumbering self, but it is more likely that he was hungry and demanding a can of marinated chicken morsels. Up I rose to begin the day, which in all actuality, is not so bad. Fog is slowly lifting and despite the current grey, we are expecting sunny skies and warm temps for this Oestre Sunday. Spring is finally emerging, the daffodils are sprouting, birds are chirping.

The past week seems a blur. A lot has transpired, pulling me in a multitude of directions. I try to keep my mind focused on last week's blog entry about letting go. I feel I can say that I have let go of the outcome in some respects, but while in the process of trying to elevate myself to that higher level of understanding, I found myself hanging on tighter than ever to other situations. I am starting to wonder if it is part of my path at this point to be a warrior of sorts and fight for what I truly believe in. I did not see this battle rising, but here it is. So, despite the understanding that whatever will be will be, I need to stand up for what I feel is right, to fight the injustice, in my own semi-pacifist style!

That being said, It felt great to have a weekend a bit more mellow than the past few. I worked overtime hours this week on my current clay sculpture. I had set a goal to finish all of the "wet-work" by last Friday night. It took me until 9:00 p.m. but I got it done. It was an incredible accomplishment and freeing of my mind, allowing me to focus on the long list of "to-do's" that had been building over the past month. I had been longing for the meditative ritual of weaving, and finally yesterday, I was able to return to the tapestry that I began in January. The new "Transformation Tapestry" is well on it's way, and time wise it is at mid point to completion. I am fickle though. One minute I love it, the next discouraged and wanting to start all over. Chris reminded me, though, that I always say, at this point in a tapestry, that I don't like what I am seeing. But somehow, it all comes together and I am happy in the end. I will hang onto that thought and see where it takes me.

This time of year, skilled organization and scheduling is deemed of greatest importance. We are in the final quarter of school and that means field trips, art shows and competitions, grading, service learning projects, room-cleaning, and submission of re-written curriculum to meet new state standards. I am trying to fit in my Spanish lessons a half hour here and there. Lubec Arts Alive meetings still happen regularly and we are preparing for a public exhibit of the portraits created last summer, due to open April 14th. My MFA projects are due in less than six weeks, and I am busy with marketing and prep for the seasonal opening of my business. Toss in a few road trips to see family, adjusting to my warrior status, and the usual spring house duties, and I seem to have my hands full. Not to mention, my plan book is pretty much filled for the entire summer already!

This all being said, I realize that I best end this blog entry and get to work! The sun is peeking through the fog and should energize me for the day ahead.