Quang Ho painting in the Face Off at Art of the Portrait conference 2018
Artwork Archive recently had the opportunity to travel to the Plein Air Convention and The Art of the Portrait Convention to talk with hundreds of artists about their work and path as professional artists.
There were many talks about what paint brand or brush model to use, but there was also a great deal of personal advice.
The overall feeling was one of a big, embracing community where artists were sharing their techniques and empathizing with each other's struggles.
From keeping an up-to-date inventory of your work, to finding your voice, facing failure, setting intentions, carving your own path, embracing mistakes and the role of social media in today's art careers, these accomplished artists shared some deeply self-reflective wisdom to help guide us—no matter what stage you are at with your art.
Here's what we learned:
Don’t be afraid to fail
Build on a foundation. If you aren’t confident with color, start in value and build your drawing skills.
I think the key thing is to do what makes sense to you. Rules are only useful if they make sense to you. If they make sense to you use them. Understanding brings you freedom. If you don’t understand a rule, ask them why.
If you make a decision in painting it is always correct. It’s when you don’t make a decision that you are not correct.
The principle is that there are two real forces in the world and fear is not real. If you think about it, what you are afraid of, no one else can see that —it’s in your head. That’s why I say when you make a decision about painting it is correct.
Make a decision. See what happens. Don’t judge it.
I think part of my confidence comes from never being afraid to fail. I feel the most alive when I’m like I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I’m going to find out.
I love doing things that make me uncomfortable. There are elements of this painting that feel that way now. It’s about resisting that urge to nail something down and looking for the flow of the values.
Follow your impulses. Every decision is the right decision.
Anna Rose Bain, Possibilities Await, Oil on Linen 36x24
Set clear goals for your art career to help control your fears
Fear causes us to doubt and not move forward. In fact, it makes us move backward. If we can take that fear and channel it into excitement, we can keep making progress. Why waste that energy on being afraid?
Especially at the start of the career when there is so much doubt and your parents are going, “I don’t know ... maybe you should marry someone rich.”
It’s important to have clear goals. If you have clear goals, you can drive those outside and inside voices out.
There is another element to confidence and it’s about intention. It’s about being authentically yourself when you approach your painting. So often we want our work to look like someone else’s technique and work. It’s important to love or work, and if you don’t — keep practicing.
The exploring stage of being an artist—which hopefully never goes away—is part of the fun. There is a struggle to it, but that struggle is beautiful.
Never assume you are not good enough in the first place
I have a secret to being successful: Never assume that you are not good enough in the first place.
I entered a painting in the Portrait Society at 25 years old and had no idea that I had a painting that was finalist material. I might not have entered that year because I thought it wasn’t good enough; why should I try?
You are not always the best judge of your work.
You don’t ever know what you are capable of doing. I remember being here in college and being in awe of the ladies here on the panel—and now I am here.
Only you can define your own art practice
An art career means something different to everyone. You may the person that cannot quit your job because you need that income. You may be caring for a sick spouse or family member but you don’t have the emotional energy. Or, you are full time with a studio.
What works in your life?
Don’t compare yourself to what someone else is doing. Be aware of external elements and carve out what is right for you.
Being a hobby painter has a bad connotation. Winston Churchill said painting came to his rescue at the most trying times. He was a hobbyist painter. There is beauty in painting as a pastime. Embrace it.
No one says to someone who goes out and golfs on the weekend, “you know it’s time to make some money with that golf.”
Lori McNee, Rain Flowers 2014, Oil on Arches Oil Paper mounted on panel
Nothing is precious
Nothing is precious. Just play and have fun. I’ve learned more from my mistakes than my successes.
A diamond is made from pressure and a pearl is made from irritation.
Being a team player gets you ahead in the game
I do homework on artists. If you’re not a team player, you’re not on my team. If you don’t support other artists, we don’t support you.
I follow artists on Facebook and want to see what you’re doing and how you’re progressing and what you like.
Apply to shows. I want to see you applying and being gutsy. There is no failure in trying. I want to see you with other big artists. Enter shows that are judged. I want to see you in those shows. Whether you win awards or not is not as important to me.
I want to see if your website is current and doesn’t have your bio from 1956 or from 2014. I want it from this year. I want current information. I want the pieces in my gallery on your website. You need to take it down when it is sold.
Be honest with yourself about where you are with your art
Every gallery except one found me through a juried show. But, you have to learn to have a thick skin on this path. You won’t get into every show.
There are benefits: exposure to galleries, the chance to meet collectors, media recognition, resume building and potential sales.
As for choosing which shows to enter, consider skill level and where you are in your career. Start with local or regional because national are very competitive.
Like the Olympics, you don’t take three skating lessons and then try out for Olympic skating team. Find the shows that meet you where you are currently at with your art and in your career. Make sure you meet the criteria.
The toughest thing is always the rejection letters. But, gallery owners are watching so be gracious. Don’t slam. This year’s AIS show had over 1600 entries and only about 100 selected so lots of great works were not accepted.
I recommend a 20-minute pity party and then move on and use it as motivation.
Go see the work at the show. In the face of rejection, I would give myself a good honest talking with and say, “you’re not there yet.” Then, I would buckle down and work harder.
In learning an artform you also learn about yourself
Old masters would teach their apprentices very specific things—it wasn’t based on hope. There are a certain set of technical skills. The most singular thing in a painting and drawing was to learn how to make a flat surface dimensional. The learning is very specific. If you can somehow give that painting a sense of space, then it becomes magical.
It has nothing to do with opinion or personality—it’s very learnable.
The process of learning is fascinating. Ultimately what you find is that, not only are you learning to paint, you are learning about yourself. You have to investigate why you think certain things and why you have certain attitudes about others.
Share what makes your artwork meaningful to you through content
Galleries won’t open emails that are unauthenticated or unknown. I believe that it’s important to have a nice 8x10 print of your work and mail it to galleries. In the beginning, I made seven portfolios and put them in mail slots. I got calls.
I want to make art that is so good, so heartfelt, and so real. That’s the importance of content.
Make a video about what your painting is all about. Content can give [your paintings or subjects] a voice and make them real.
In terms of websites, I looked at my dream galleries and designed my website to look like it would fit in their brand. I want them to see me in their gallery. You want to look like you’re way more important than you are—that’s what the internet is for, after all.
Being genuine will attract others to you and your work
If you’re genuine and being genuinely you, sharing what you are passionate about, that will attract people to you. Reflect that in your social media accounts—the brand of you.
I have more things to share because I am doing more now than when I was starting out. And there are more means to share than 30 years ago.
There is great value in association with people that have done great things. Comment on other artists’ pages on social. People will click on you if they like the comment.
If you care about your work and your growth, things will fall into place
It all comes down to the fact that content is still king; it’s always what best represents you.
Finding success to me is reaching out to an audience and expressing things that are important to me This can be done on Instagram. If you look at
If you care about the work you are doing and you grow as a painter, then everything will fall into place. Embrace it as a tool in your chest to share what you are doing.