HOW TO HAVE AN ART LIFE – REALITIES & REVELATIONS OF BEING AN ARTIST
This year I’ve decided to show you that there are many ways you can have an art life. I want to show you how artists I know handle creating art, building an art life and paying the bills. Not everyone will have a dream path of going to art school, having a sell out show and getting into the top galleries, but it doesn’t mean you should let the outside world destroy your desire to create an art life. In these monthly instalments I want to take you out to see how other artists do it. What they do to build an art life and how they handle the ups and downs of being an artist. So jump on board as we take a few trips beyond the easle on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!
To start with I guess I should practice what I preach! Here’s my current take on how I run my art life.
Where you always a creative person?
Yes, always. I was always getting in trouble for making a mess. This mess would be colouring books, cutting out paper shapes and creating little 3D towns an hats with hat boxes. My mother was always doing a lot of crafty things and she was a fantastic dressmaker. I was always stealing the ‘good scissors’ from her sewing box to cut up stuff. My dad was a carpenter and always fixing something and ‘tinkering’ in the garage every weekend. He built half our family home. I was always surrounded by people who made things.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I loved making things, drawing and painting when I was a kid. I was always collecting things I could transform into something arty. My room was always crammed with collections of fabrics, papers and pens that were always ready to be transformed into something arty.
I did majors in Textile and Design as well as Art in my high school years. I dreamt of being a fashion designer, but a fill in teacher gave me an insight into the costs involved in doing the design course and it just wasn’t practical. I was interested in Graphic Design too so I ended up going off to University and completing a four year Design Degree. Getting a B. A. D. Bachelor of Arts in Design.
From there I worked my way up from junior designer to Senior Designer and through to Studio Manager with a team of up to 10 designers.
When did you decide to dedicate more time on your art practice?
In the Design world was a lot of ridiculous deadlines and unpaid overtime. There was a stack of stressful situations. Over the years I soon learnt that design was more about discipline than creativity. While I was designing, I went in search for something more ‘creative’.
Taking myself off to a book illustration course in the evenings I discussed the idea with the teacher at the time about creating an art school. One thing lead to another and we ended up starting an art school in Mosman with 3 people running a life drawing class. Over the next 12 years we built this up to 150 students a term. I was doing this as well as my full time job. It was a lot of work but the art school didn’t make enough money to jump from design. While I was doing this I was also trying to improve my own painting, trying to fit in creating around everything else.
Eventually I made the jump to just run the art school and start to build an art career. I would try hard to get numbers in my classes, build up the holiday programs and add some private tuitions in order to pay the rent. This was a great idea but low enrolments meant that some classes even got cancelled! A disaster. So I had to get creative inventing new classes. I developed programs such as kids art parties and corporate programs.
Where do you make your art?
I am lucky enough to have a tiny studio in my backyard. My garden studio sits under the flight path on the way to the airport. It’s a little noisy but it’s a dedicated art space I can build on my art practice and work in any time of the day.
Where do you store your paintings?
Basically any space I can find. An artist can never have too much space so living in a tiny two bedroom semi doesn’t give you much. I also rent a storage garage which is packed to the roof with all my paintings, art equipment and teaching resources.
How do you plan your art making?
It often starts with a trip to a location. I love travelling and a lot of my landscapes are based on my travels. It often starts with sketches on site and sorting out colour palettes. Then I hit the canvas. I like to work in a collection so I plain at least 4-6 works on the go. My work takes a lot of layering so I work from one piece to the other in stages so that the layers can dry and be ready for more layers.
What mediums and materials do you use?
For my sketches I love ‘pen and wash’. That’s waterproof black ink pens and water colour washes.
I usually paint on canvas, but I have been experimenting with timber panels. I like the way the paint soaks into the panel. I start with a charcoal sketch and then an acrylic paint layer first. I look and see what those marks make and then start to work up the shapes and colours with oil paint. I use a galkyd gel to help speed up the drying process and allow me to make translucent layers.
What is the focus of your art practice?
I’ve been working on developing a style I call Fragmatism® for a number of years now. The byline is ‘Deconstructed shape, reconstructed colour. The style is semi-abstract and I like a lot of distortion. Themes are of still life and landscapes. Fragmented shapes often evolve into a camouflage type pattern. I use this as a device that beauty is often hidden. Creating the ‘sensation’ of a place is far more important to me than duplicating a scene. I have to be inspired by a lived experience and the work is often the product of a residency or travels I have taken. I am influenced a lot by many of the great artists of the past too. They are some of my greatest teachers!
How do you schedule your time?
The one thing the Design world taught me was the importance of a schedule. I teach art classes, do workshops and online mentoring, so I have to work my painting time around that. It’s also a balance of keeping your marketing and social media platforms up to date, which I hate because it steals your painting time. I have set times for painting. I have found it’s best to get the painting time in early on in the day if I can so all the other ‘to do’ things don’t steal it away. It’s also good for your head space.
Do you like to work in complete silence or do you have music or other things playing in the background?
I’m not very good at silence, especially where I live. You need music or the radio sometimes to block out the planes overhead. I love listening to audio books though. It’s an extra incentive to get back into the studio.
Where do you show/sell your art?
I am with a few galleries which is where I sell the bulk of my art. Manyung Galleries in Victoria, KAB Gallery in Terrigal and GalleryONE88 in Katoomba. Of course I would like to sell all my work that makes it into competitions but that doesn’t happen very often. I also have revamped my website so I can sell it direct there too.
How do you pay the bills? How do you balance your art making income and out goings with other income?
Selling your artwork is a great idea but it doesn’t always happen. You also need income to pay for your art equipment, couriers, competition fees and framing. None of that is cheap but it boils down to the quality of the work you want to put out into the world. Most of my income comes from teaching gigs, workshops, tuition and mentoring. Selling a painting is a bonus and that money usually goes straight to the art store for more equipment.
How do you keep motivated? When do you hit a flat spot and how do you get over it?
I don’t often hit a flat spot but it does happen. Usually when I put a lot of work into something and see no results, be that a competition entry and miss selection or a show and get minimal sales. Some days it is hard not to get negative but I just remind myself of what it would be like to have to go back to the design world and I am instantly appreciative of my art life. I get to paint every day if I really want, and that could never happen in the past.
I love learning and try to plan events where I can learn a new skill or experience that I can add to my skill set. I have found art residencies fill this need and really inspire me. They also introduce me to new places and people in the art community.
How do you tackle social media in the new ‘self promotion’ arena we find ourselves in.
Coming from the Design world these things are not so foreign to me but I also know you need to spend time on them if you want them to be good. Establishing your personality and how you want to be perceived in the world is almost the opposite of why you want to paint. I do realise however that it is also an opportunity to put your work out in the world and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to do it. I mentor artists and they all agree that this is one of the most challenging speed humps to get over. Having a plan always helps so I usually have a structure and stick to it for twelve months on instagram, facebook and for my blog. Consistency will reinforce authenticity and integrity. As much as I hate that it takes so much time, it really helps you define the kind of artist you want to be and what kind of art you stand for. As much as I hate to say it, that ‘personal brand’ is something collectors look for these days so you need to have something they can look at when they do a ‘search’ for you.
What is the hardest thing about being a painter?
Staying positive and soldiering on. I a world where art seems to be slipping slowly down the ranks of importance, some days it is difficult to keep up the momentum. Really that is all about the outside art world. When it is just me and my paint I am completely happy.
What would you say is the best thing about your art life?
No 9-5 schedule. No one telling you how to do everything. Getting to paint a lot, teach art to others and go and see all the fabulous art around.
What is one thing you would recommend to others struggling to get more art in their life?
Commit to spending more time on your art. You can’t get better by magic. You have to be doing it. Commit to letting something go in your weekly schedule and give that time to your art.
Where can others see your work or find out about your workshops?
Workshops I have coming up are:
Do you have any exciting art adventures happening in the near future?
Yes, I’ve just been accepted for a residency in France later this year which I am super excited about. I’m also doing some judging in Sydney for an art prize and a have a few art projects and shows in the pipeline too. I’m lucky I have a lot of great things to look forward to this year.
To those lovely folks who have heard me bang on about some of these topics before I send my apologies. It is sure to happen again as I bang on a lot!
The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com
© Kristine Ballard 2020