Six artists Keith Allen, Cathie Bleck, Hilary Gent, Mike Guyot, Jess Sheeran, Salli S. Swindell shared their best advice during a lively panel discussion held at the beautiful Keith Berr Productions studio. Just to see the studio alone was worth the trip. Bonus to hear nuggets of wisdom from these dynamic talented artists. Moderator Linda Barberic kept the conversation moving and hosted the event with aplomb. Kudos to Spike Radway, CDPUG Programming Director, and Linda Barberic for pulling together such a diverse group of well-spoken artists.
The evening covered so much ground, we’ve decided to break up the discussion into several posts.
When asked “What was the best advice you were ever given?” each artist had something to say:
Salli S. Swindell: Don’t be so rigid in where you think you’re going. Be willing to meander. Let one thing take you over here and correct course if it is not right. Relax your expectations – that opens up room for you to surprise yourself. I graduated thinking I was going to be a fashion illustrator and I am very, very far from that. I never would have thought that I would be co-founder of a large online illustration community but a couple things happened, we (my brother and I) followed them. It turned into a whole new business for me. Let your career open up in a more organic way.
Cathie Bleck: I got my first job walking in off the street to the Chicago Tribune without an appointment. Be fearless. Be very resilient. There is a lot of rejection. There is a lot that happens in a very organic way. For instance my last show in Chicago, the curator was from L.A. This curator was the person that used to give me advice in NYC when I was there. She closed her gallery there and became a curator. I knew she was showing some work in Chicago so I went to their show and I brought my leggings to give to her because she was so nice to me for so long. I didn’t mean to have anything happen. She was talking to Bert Green the gallery owner and mentioned she’d like to give me a show. So, I really like the idea of doing small products as gifts. Many people buy them as gifts. I use them as gifts too. These gifts are a way to spread the magic around.
Hilary Gent: On that note of rejection – I remember being in art school. I had some pretty intense professors and I am really thankful for them because they taught me a lot. I learned a lot about constructive criticism and not taking things personally. If someone critiques your work and it seems really negative and you are not impacted positively by it, don’t take it personally. Think about what they are trying to help you do; even though their commentary might seem like it is jarring. Some people just react that way when they see something they like or don’t like. Don’t take too much personally. You hold baggage that way. I think sometimes it prevents creativity from flowing if you are overthinking something that someone said about your work that hurt or made you upset. Just don’t take things too personally. Just keep going.
Jess Sheeran: I definitely echo that. If I took the things that people said to me at art shows personally I probably would not be working in art anymore. In fact, I have a notebook dedicated to the weird things people say to me at art shows. I share them on Instagram. For example someone said, as they were looking at my critters while I am standing right there, “I would scream if I had to wake up next to this every morning.” So, I took that quote, made a little caption on top of the critter they were talking about, and posted it on Instagram. That post blew up – it was hilarious. So now I expect it and I want it. Someone else said: “What kind of drugs are you on?” I don’t even drink. I don’t take drugs. If I took these comments personally I’d probably get really offended by it. Another thing is price point too. A lot of people when I first started out said I was not charging enough for these handmade toys. I said this is crazy; I can’t charge more than $10.00 for a stuffed animal. No one is going to pay that. But I started to up my prices a little bit. Looked on Etsy and saw what other sellers were selling stuffed animals for. Look around. Ask your friends. Ask someone ‘would you pay this much money for this’, or ‘do you think this is enough?’ Or ‘is it just high enough that you would want to save up for this?’ I definitely have different price points also. I started making $20.00 nuggets because it is just so easy for people to hand you a twenty dollar bill. I really should be charging more but I don’t think I would make the amount of money I do.
Keith Allen: Do the work that you are passionate about. I feel like those are the projects that really shine through. Those are the projects that people relate to. And it is good for your soul. I think sometimes flipping through Instagram and things like that you’re thinking: my stuff should look like that, or this seems really popular now maybe I should do that. But I think listen to yourself and do the work that you have a passion for.
Mike Guyot: Best advice I ever got: tons of Gatorade and at least half a dozen clean sweat tops – you really need them after you set your booth up. One thing about social media – I just use Facebook. I don’t tell you what I had for lunch or anything like that. I’m just posting new paintings. George, my insurance agent, told me one time: “I see that you are posting your shows on Facebook and where you are going to be. Don’t do that. People know you’re not home. I bet people break into homes because of this.” So, the next day I got ADT security. I don’t post it on Facebook now. But I have a very large email account with anyone that has ever bought anything. We send them individual little posters of shows. Then I found out people are printing those and framing them and not buying anything.
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It’s already been decided to repeat this successful program! Save the date – Thursday, January 28, 2021 for the third edition: “Successfully Selling Art: Completing the Triptych.”