Making Money and Creating Art (sometimes simultaneously)

I do not make my living at art.

I think it’s important to state this, because too often artists feel ashamed of not being able to live off their art. Many artists (especially on social media) allow viewers to assume art is how they earn their living, while in truth they may make the majority of their money by teaching art lessons, by being a landlord, having a day job, or through the support of a spouse.

Some schools of thought dictate that you should NOT try to make your art carry the responsibility of supporting you- that it taints creativity to put financial pressure on the art. Though I appreciate the sentiment, I disagree.

I have a job because:

  1. My family could use the money now, not some time in the future when my ship comes in.
  2. It makes the time I have more precious, motivating me to paint faster AND smarter.

That being said, I plan to grow my art sales to the degree that I may no longer require a day job (and I trust that when that day arrives, I will recognize it. That process of discernment may be the subject of a future blog post…). I am doing a number of things to improve my art income- primarily involving: tons of research, some networking, and as much easel time as I can manage.

I do not have a day job because my creativity is fragile. As William Faulkner said:

 

I only write when inspiration strikes.

Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.

 

I will sit down and do the hard work at the easel, and I will do my day job. For now….

 

 

such a fan

“Vintage Fan” 2017

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Instagram as Accountability Tool

While I use social media to promote my art, my snobby side tends to feel the marketing work is “beneath me”– a waste of good old fashioned easel time!

The thing I often fail to recognize, is the absolute exhilarating benefit of the accountability social media lends me.

I do not require an audience to paint. In fact, I would be quite content to paint alone in a room where no person ever trod and no eyes ever ventured. Yet, the fear of failing can quite dampen and slow my productivity on a regular basis. As I have gained a small group of friends and followers on Instagram and Facebook, I feel the weight of their expectations and also their joy at seeing art magically appear in their feed.

While I struggle to see anything but the failings of my work, genuine viewers greet my work with eagerness, and it lends me a burst of giddiness that helps to propel me to greater productivity.

It’s refreshing to see my work with new eyes, and I am so grateful for the love and support I receive. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Follow Me: @hhighfield

 

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Quick Sketch in the nude… Wait no- OF! Of the nude.

The human figure is generally considered the most difficult things to paint and draw. Many representational artists study anatomy as a scientist or doctor might, and it has been a practice used for centuries. A couple of months ago I was doing a LOT of drawing and anatomy sketching and decided one day I just could not pick up the pencil one more time. Paint won’t let me ignore it for very long- it gets impatient, jealous even! So  that eventually, I’m obliged to indulge it.

So I sat down and did two quick figure studies in paint. It felt so easy and so natural after all that drawing. Maybe I should remember to make paint wait every so often….

 

*Reference photos courtesy of the amazing New Masters Academy image library!

 

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My reward for doing hard things

My days (when not at the day job/when I don’t have other boring grown-up appointments) generally start with 2 hours of charcoal drawing and 2-4 hours of oil painting (consisting of masters studies/experimenting with techniques/ commissions/juried show pieces).

I love charcoal drawing and I love oils. However, it’s very focused technical work. After 3-4 hours of analytical work my brain is toast. That’s when I know it’s time to bust out my watercolors (or gouache).

Yes, I still have to use my brain to do a watercolor piece. But I try to just make something simple, small, and experimental. I also know very little about water-based medium so the pressures off to be a pro. I paint a flower or a woodland creature and just try to have fun. (And Painting on paper makes my bad ones very disposable!)

But it’s still creative and my hand and brain still have to communicate!

What’s your creative reward for doing hard things? (You know, aside from things like tv and ice cream. Though I’m a fan of those too!)

No big deal

Being “high-quality” is the best… supposedly. You know the good old “quality over quantity” adage. But man that word “quality” throws me off my game some days. I can sit down at a painting (or drawing) and think “I’m not going to stop until this baby is perfect.” But then, it’s never quite “good enough” to stop.

When I’m disciplined enough to call it quits on a piece more quickly, I find that my skills improve faster. I also enjoy the process more because it’s less drawn out and agonizing. I recently stuck a bright pink post-it next to my easel that reads “FAIL MORE. FAIL FASTER.” In fact the QUANTITY of art created will beat an attempt at QUALITY (or more accurately “perfection”) any day.

My skills are constantly changing and after every piece I think how much better I want my work to be. The best painters never sit back and think “Ah yes, I have arrived. I have won at art!” Which means I need to be able say, “Hey, this is where I’m at, and that’s good enough for now” and then set the brush down.

Expecting paintings to fail doesn’t mean I stop thinking critically- it’s not a sad or pessimistic experience. It means I work my butt off (for a reasonable amount of time) take a few risks, try to learn a lesson or two, and then move on.

One of my favorite artists, Carolyn Anderson wrote this list of “everything you need to know about painting.” I particularly love numbers five through eight:

5. When Your Painting Doesn’t Work – Identify the problem and find a solution.

6. When Your Painting Still Doesn’t Work – Take a break. Drink coffee. Read No. 5.

7. It Still Doesn’t Work – Never beat a dead horse.

8. How To Know If Your Painting Is Finished – You have a run out of time or have nothing else to say.

It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Painting is incredible- but it’s not everything. It’s just a thing. A thing I like too much to take too seriously. I want to make a painting and move on like it’s no big deal.

 

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And in the spirit of “failure” here’s a piece that I did in a workshop with Sean Cheetham recently. It took my three days to paint this portrait. It’s not a successful or finished piece- but hey, I learned some things in the process.

Kicking it up a notch

Things are settling into place now. Unpacking and setting up the new home is essentially done. It’s been 5 moves in the past 3 years, and I must say I’m loving the warm fuzzy feeling of a year-long lease.

The studio space is set up. I’ve unpacked all my supplies and flipped through old paintings (some worse than I remember, some better). I’ve cut back my day job hours to the bare minimum, and I’ve signed up for a weekend workshop with Sean Cheetham at BACAA (Bay Area Classical Artist Atelier) in April. I feel like a total ass-kicking artist ready to take things to the next level.

Mostly.

The rest of my brain swings wildly between “THIS IS TOO MUCH. I CAN’T DO IT. I’ll just stick with the day job, thankyouverymuch.” and “AAHHHHH!!!” (*AAHHHHH roughly translates to: extreme fits of excitement akin to the ravings of a three year old on a sugar high). Both make it very difficult for me to get shit done.

So I’ve chosen a fun experimental painting to work on for the next day or so (pictures to come). And I take little breaks to calm my crazy-self down before getting back to business. Because my crazy self isn’t a great painter, let me tell ya.

In other news, if you’re in the bay area make sure to stop by the 56th Annual Lodi Community Spring Art Show at the Woodbridge Winery April 15-17 where several of my paintings will be on display. Including these two:

 

A Move & a Masters’ Study

I just moved (from LA to the San Francisco area) and boy did that slow down my art-making! It’s not a good excuse but it happens to me every time. As a way to make painting seem fun and manageable after the emotional and physical ordeal that is moving, I pulled out a little series of masters studies that I started ages ago.

The best things about this project:

-I already started it (there was less to do)

-They are tiny (and seem less scary)

-As masters studies they don’t require a high degree of creativity

-The excitement of looking at Masters to choose from is highly motivating

-As a selection of different artists, the project allows me to switch rapidly between styles (which keeps me excited)

And it worked! I feel enthused about finding my own style and growing as an artist. And I’m excited to visit new galleries and meet the local artists I might learn from!

Here’s my little master’s study sampling project so far (Masters: Sargent, Liepke, Sargent, Burdick, Anderson, and Zorn) I still need to add that little Sargent face on the upper left. Compositionally this was a weird way to lay it out, but I have a better idea of how to handle that next time. And the important thing is… I painted!

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I love painting. It’s the worst.

Yeah, so I love painting. It’s the best. Sorta.

When I’m painting for a long stretch of time (you’re supposed to frequently take a step back from a painting… but I get lazy, so this may be part of the problem) and I walk away from a painting I am always shocked to see it again. Sometimes it’s a good shock, like: “Oh wow, I’m awesome.” But usually it’s more of a: “Wait… WHAT. I’ve been working on this for x hours and it’s not good at all. I’m a failure!”

And sometimes I switch back and forth between believing I’m awesome and believing I’m  failure quite rapidly. It’s truly a dizzying experience.

However, a few things seem to calm me down:

  1. I remember that I’m still learning.
  2. I remember that I’m still learning. AAANND that my learning time (& budget) has been fairly restricted this past year, so I may be learning slower than I have in years past. And that’s ok. Because generally, I’m still headed up the mountain.
  3. A good cup of coffee.
  4. Posting a painting on social media and having friends and family say nice things about it (even though they aren’t artists, it feels good. And that helps a lot.)

 

Stopping and starting and stopping and starting…

You know, for as much as I love drawing and painting you’d think I would do more of it.

Sure, I could blame my day job. It is absolutely easier to make art when I’m not working. But I cannot justify watching four consecutive episodes of Parks & Rec (but it’s so goooooood) when I could be practicing my drawing or starting a new painting.

I have time available to me.

I forgive myself for being silly with my time (it’s important to live a silly life, I am sure of it) but I know that there is a little tiny voice inside me dying to create. But I get nervous and squirmy at the thought of making a bad piece of art… so I go eat some chocolate and distract myself instead.

So here’s to a daily art practice that I am starting… again. And if I get nervous and stop I will just start again. And again. And again. Because starting again is the most important thing.

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I’ve started at the beginning of the Watts Atelier curriculum (again) and I will work my way through it. Here are some skull studies I did for one of the first course assignments.

Rosemary Brushes

Instagramentry

Well, I’ve been working the good ol’ day job pretty regularly for the past couple of months, which means my painting & drawing time has been less than ideal! But I did manage to whip up this fun little photo entry for an Instagram contest in a desperate attempt to win some amazing brushes from Rosemary & Co. (The BEST brushes). Fingers crossed!

LCAC Spring Show

I am thrilled to have received an honorable mention (in the oils category) at the LCAC Spring Show. The painting is a small alla prima study of strawberries entitle “Strawberry Jam.” There were so many amazing pieces. I am so grateful I was able to participate. About 600 pieces were submitted to the show and only half were accepted.

Honorable Mention