Almost Spring, Monterey Hills, 20 in. x 24 in.
New version, different format of an earlier work, for an upcoming August show in Salinas
While finishing a couple of pieces for this show, I clarified my problem: the lack of any reliable formula for producing a successful painting, along with my inner critic’s constant drone that every stroke of every painting “should” be looser, faster, more decisive, more like this-or-that artist, or otherwise somehow just better. Every. Single. Painting. At some point on most, I am frustrated and confused before fighting my way out. The “shoulds” extend to my productivity, marketing, promotion and every other aspect of the art business.
I was self-critical during 25+ years of illustration as well, though somewhat mollified by the fact that, for better or worse, most commissions were collaborations with designers and clients, and projects were just business, the images short-lived. Particularly after becoming the mother of a child with serious health issues, whenever I was holed up working I felt guilty about not attending to home and family—and vice versa. I worked countless all-nighters to meet deadlines, often rendering subject matter I hated (money, cars, computers, somebody's weird idea--ugh.) Nevertheless, I mostly liked illustrating, and the flexible hours and somewhat regular work made it an OK second income. I had a rep for a while, won a few minor awards, and got some national work; but I never achieved the level of skill and financial success I once sought. The one time I thought I had a shot in a New York show (The One Show for children’s books), my publishers promised to enter then missed the deadline. Throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s, I climbed the mast of a sinking ship, as much advertising illustration succumbed to the digital age. Children’s books, a last bastion, were a mountain of work, paid a fraction of the rates, and sometimes ended up poorly produced; so in 2010, after illustrating thirteen books, I was done. I began painting more seriously.
With no art director, no deadlines, and no constraints (other than huge, ever-present family stuff), painting initially was fun. But the more I learned, the more vocal the inner critic became, and I began experiencing some of the same resistance I had with difficult illustrations. I soldiered on, hoping to improve and build a clientele. I sold some work in an out-of-town collaborative gallery for a year but could not sustain the monthly commute. I built a new website for my local studio tour and took on its Facebook promotion; it made little difference in attendance and sales at my own studio. I applied to a local gallery, but after reviewing reports and seeing the price range for the bulk of their sales (low), I declined. I recently donated a painting and got some promotion on my well-known auction website. For the six paintings I showed during my featured week, I had significantly more “views” but only one $100 sale—no more than I typically get in that venue. At this point, even in a best-case scenario, the odds of any reasonable profit from painting (without major marketing and promotion efforts, teaching, etc.) seem remote. I am not bitter, just tired. So, after 30+ years, despite mixed feelings (bordering on disbelief) about not focusing on art, I’m changing direction.
I don’t need to earn a lot (in fact, my interests lean more toward tilting at windmills than making money), but I need to do something less isolating and more intellectually challenging; something that feels like it matters. Law always intrigued me and became more of an interest after some life experiences. At this point I'm not sure I have enough commitment or working years to justify investing in law school; but I’ve decided I can spend one year in a paralegal certification program and work in the field for a while to see if I like it. I took the plunge, enrolled, and will start in August. Classes are three nights a week, so I may continue painting in the spaces (pretty much what I’ve always done), or not--we’ll see.