Tag Archives: Blogging

How to be a professional artist

I have met many people in the last few years with great skills and talent. They all have the same thing in common – “day jobs.” Creating art is their hobby.

Well for some of us, we start getting more involved in our “hobby” and maybe start selling some of our artwork, or get commissioned to do a drawing or painting. At what point do we cross that line and become the ever valued professional artist? Well I have been trying to figure this one out and I finally struck oil. In order to explain my enlightenment to you, I will have to take you on my journey.

Here I was, a chubby twelve year old boy with a colored pencil set. My mother told me that my grandmother was an artist and that it runs in my blood, but all I did was just get bored one weekened up at the family cabin and draw a few pictures. They were not that great as I look at them subjectively now – a sunset off a cliff in one and a farm house in the woods for the other. But when my mother showed them to everyone and the praises started coming, I realized I had true talent. You know the same way my own daughter must have felt when she was five years old and I told her  that she was the most beautiful dancer in the world.

Parents lie to build self-esteem. Thank goodness I did not know that back then.

I kept drawing and then came my first acrylic painting set. Ok, I was definitely not a professional artist in middle school. Nor was I even one when two other artists and I organized the 1992 Grand Haven High School Art Show. I only took one drawing class in college, so that does not help. I kept painting that whole time here and there, but I am not sure I even reached the level of a hobbyist up and through college. I drew pictures for other people, but that was usually to get dates or because I was too cheap to buy a real birthday present.

Well after I got my “day job” I started doing some commissioned drawings, but I was not good at asking for appropriate pay, so that became more hassle then it was worth. Still far from being a professional artist.

Finally I had my artwork on display at the Grand Rapids Police Department in 2003 in a show with a talented artist from the fire department. We even got in the paper. Then a whirlwind took over and I met up with a printer, who made limited edition prints of one of my paintings and we sold those for $119 each. Now I was ready to start the business and make the move when the printer, who was also going to market my work, disappeared from town.

Now how was I to sell my art?

Art and craft shows usually have more crafts than art. And even at fine art shows most spontaneous buyers only buy water colors, pastels, photos, or prints; not large original oil paintings. I was not to be deterred and hence came my quest to get represented by a gallery. That would surely mean I was a professional!  I went to many in town and even showed a few my work.  They liked some of it, but said I was young and my work was too sentimental.  I worked harder and reapplied only to be told the same thing.

Finally I took the best advice ever and signed up for a workshop from a respected artist, Jim Connelly. That is when I decided to forget being a professional artist and to just enjoy painting and experimenting and growing at my trade.  Besides, there are artists in galleries that only sell a few paintings a year anyway.

But then it happened…my wife wanted to start framing my paintings, so we opened our business, Kemme Fine Art & Framing, LLC. I made fancy business cards, letterhead, fax cover sheets, and started on a brochure. My wife worked all winter learning her trade and then I go and accidentally cut off my left ring finger on the table saw while doing yard work. Ooops. That ended my wife’s framing part of the business – she just did not want to hop on the saw after that. And just when we were getting professional!

Well that was ok. I still sold some paintings to friends and family, so I decided to keep painting and donate a few paintings a year to charities for tax write-offs. Unfortunately I shortly discovered that I can not write-off the fair market value since I created the art. That is when I decided to try commission work again. 2006 marked the first year when I became a commissioned oil painter (mostly landscapes). Fallasberg Covered Bridge was my first piece. To top it off, I even created a professional looking postcard to advertise my new niche. Looking back, I’m not thrilled I spent the money to print several hundred of those things.

Anyway, I got another mention in the paper for a portrait I did of our police chaplain. I even had somebody see my name and say that they were happy to meet me because they recognized me as a local artist they liked (those donations to auctions had a happy surprise).

That was it! I became a professional artist…right? Oh but wait, I still have a “day job” and there is no sign of that going away.  You know – family, mortgage, health insurance, etc.  But what if people view me as a professional artist because of this blog and my fancy postcard sized brochure? Does that count? What if I make several thousand dollars this year in sales? Does that push me across that line?

On second thought, who is even the judge on whether I am a professional artist or not? What if I were to quit my “day job” and paint full-time, but do not sell any more paintings than I do now? 

Apparently I do not have the answer after all. If you figure it out, can you please tell me?

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Why an art blog?

You may ask, “What is this blog, and why should I read it?”

Well during the last several years I learned a great deal about the art community here in Grand Rapids, and I realized that, at least in the circles I belong, that there is not a large amount of dicussion over fine art. There was even less prior to Art Prize coming to town a few years ago.

But even now, we have our festivals and a rich culture, a few art competitions (ok Art Prize is the largest cash prize competition in history), and a number of non-centrally located galleries. But that is it. It just seems like our medical community draws more conversation than our art community.

Art Prize winner 2010

Art Prize winner 2009

I have found a select few who will engage in a conversation with me over brush strokes and the pursuit to avoid sentimentality in paintings. Unfortunately, most people that I know judge a painting on how realistic it looks. The closer to Photorealism, the better the painting, and therefore the better the artist. Just look at the winners and the top two-dimensional entries in Art Prize.

I admit that I had a huge learning curve these last ten years. I mean, I did not study art in college, and it was only a few years ago that I took my first workshop. As I grow as an artist and strive to create something more profound and emotional as opposed to creating a larger Kodak print, I realize how art can not only affect the artist, but also the audience. I have also found other artists and have heard their struggles to survive and support a family as well as others who wish they could make the leap to be a full-time artist and leave their unfulfilling “day jobs” behind them.

This would be a good place to make one of my confessions…I am a history buff. I’ll leave it at that for now, but it has been clear to me how art has been highly valued throughout history. Not just the good times, but the really bad times filled with war and plagues. I just can’t belive why people today do not value art and what it can bring to society, and why we do not talk about it at every third water cooler. I say ever third, because you still have to fit in the war in Iraq and the economy.

This brings me to the blog. I moved my website to the blog in order to merge it with the newsletter, The Art Advocate, I had created a few years back. I called it the Art Advocate because I wanted to advocate for art. Art and the discussion of it, the pursuit of it, and the appreciation of it, has value for us and I want to promote that. This blog is my attempt to bring art to those of us who do not hang out at an art salon (or do not konw that an art salon has nothing to do with your hair).

To answer the final question, Why should you read this? I honestly have no good answer for that one. I can say that one of my goals is for other more interesting writers to contribute as guest posters in the future, so be patient.

Until then, I hope your next water cooler (ok nobody actually talks at a water cooler anymore) conversation will include a discussion about the controversial issue of the use of photographs as reference material.

Kemme Studios grand re-opening

Well we went from a site I designed from scratch to a WordPress blog.

You might ask, “Why on earth would you do that?” I know, I know.  I spent weeks reading the Idiot’s Guide to Frontpage, then months creating my website, only to start all over on a blog. I have been running a WordPress blog, kemmefitness.com since July of 2010 and love the ease of it. I found that I never touched my Kemme Studios website, other than to update photos for completed paintings because it of the difficulty of it. Kemme Studios remained stagnant.

This new format will be easy to update and add to. More importantly, I will be able to post articles about painting and hopefully create some discussion among artists and those interested in art. A blog is the perfect format.

Enjoy.