Tag Archives: creativity

Art of the sale

28 Sep


The image of the “starving artist” as a tortured soul who chooses to live in poverty to maintain the integrity of his artistic vision has long existed in popular culture. This perception visits upon the artist a bohemian lifestyle of eccentricity and excess during a lifetime of obscurity. And, of course, as anyone familiar with the life of impressionist Vincent van Gogh knows, the impoverished artist’s work gains acclaim and monetary value only after his death.

Many of today’s fine artists, however, have shed the cliched smock of the starving artist and repainted, resculpted and resketched their images and lives. Sixty percent of artists in the United States are self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that doesn’t mean they’re all living in squalor, surviving at subsistence levels by selling their souls one canvas or sculpture at a time.

“Only the most successful fine artists are able to support themselves solely through the sale of their works,” the bureau reports in its 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Most fine artists have at least one other job to support their art careers.”

Some artists supplement their income by taking secondary jobs that have nothing to do with art. Others hold art-related jobs, such as teaching privately or in schools, and a number are employed as curators at art museums or directors of publicly funded exhibitions. Still others go into the business of selling art as gallery owners, brokers or agents.

“THAT WHOLE TORTURED ARTIST THING does not work for me,” says Renee Williams, owner of Gallery 26 in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock. “I find that the happier I am, the more I end up creating. In fact, I have to stop myself from making stuff.”

Williams, a painter and jewelry maker, sells works of other artists, as well as her own, in the storefront she opened in 1995. Her art business has its own sideline, a framing workshop that accounts for about half of her revenue. When she set up shop, the framing enterprise was to be the sole business. “That was the plan anyway,” she recalls. “But then we found we had enough room for display space so we decided to open a gallery, too.”


Renee Williams and artist Delita Pinchback Martin before Martin’s opening event at Gallery 26.

Williams and other central Arkansas artist/gallery owners say, whether by intention or happenstance, they’ve found being in the business of selling art is a natural for them. They enjoy discovering and nurturing local artists, as well as introducing artists from other states and nations to Arkansas art lovers. They say having primary income not dependent upon selling their art frees them to pursue their creative proclivities without the pressure of those pursuits being their livelihood. None believe, as some might claim, that they’ve “sold out” or compromised their artistic integrity in any way by entering into the business side of art.

“It’s quite the opposite,” Williams says, explaining that sole dependence upon art to pay the bills can cause artists to question their motivation. “They have that pressure of thinking, ‘Am I doing this piece out of love or because I need to bill it?’”

Stephano Sutherlin’s vibrant paintings of locomotives and colorfully creative portraits of noted artists such as Frida Kahlo are a physical testament to his belief that “you don’t create your best work when you’re depressed. I don’t think that’s true at all.

“IF I’M DEPRESSED, I DON’T PAINT,” says Sutherlin, who owns Stephano’s Fine Art Gallery in the Heights. “I’m much happier painting when I’m happy.” One thing that makes him and other artists happy is selling their work. An artist who has a gallery finds a ready outlet for his own work, plus gets to surround himself with the work of other artists while helping them sell.

“I want every artist to make money,” Sutherlin says. “I know it’s tough out there. If artists aren’t making money, they’re not happy, and they’re not creating their best work if they’re not happy.” Sutherlin’s position differs from that of other artist/gallery owners in that he isn’t deeply involved in the business end. His wife, Ashley, handles that as well as decides how to best display their wares. He also attributes ownership of the gallery to his wife.

“I wouldn’t have done any of this if we hadn’t met and fallen in love. She’s the one who’s great with people,” Sutherlin says. “I’m OK with people but I’m better off in my studio painting.” Because of the business, however, he spends more time outside his studio. He sometimes paints at the gallery or on the sidewalk out front. He talks with clients and other artists. As an owner, he also has opportunities to teach young artists how to market themselves and profit from their work.

“The hardest thing for young artists that they can learn from old artists like myself is pricing,” he says. “If you price your work too low, it looks cheap. Price it too high and no one can afford to buy it. So it’s that happy medium. You have to know how the pricing structure in your area works.”

Kyle Boswell, owner of Boswell Mourot Fine Art in the Heights — just a few blocks from Stephano’s — is a glass blower and sculpts with glass and steel. He says he thrives on the gallery environment.

“I’M INFLUENCED BY MY ARTISTS,” Boswell says. “I’m influenced by what I carry and I carry what I like. As an artist, I feel like I have a grasp of the different mediums because I’ve worked in most of them — until I found my niche and the medium that’s best for me, which is three-dimensional.”

The marketing aspect comes easily to him, he says. “I love marketing. I love marketing my gallery and my artists. It’s even fun to design the postcards for my shows.”

Boswell says he worked in politics in Washington for eight years before burning out. “I left Washington and said I’d never wear a suit again.”

Owning a gallery “is the first job I ever had that I enjoy coming to every day,” Boswell says. Like Sutherlin and Williams, he says being content with his life invigorates him and informs his work. Running the Little Rock gallery and another in Miami keep him busy, but he makes time to create art. He’s always thinking, always imagining, so when he gets into his studio, he may make 10 pieces in one day.

Sutherlin, Boswell and Williams sell some of their own work in their galleries, but not exclusively. They also show in other galleries, usually outside the immediate area or out of state. While these three artist/ gallery owners have found that their business endeavors improve their ability to create, Greg Thompson is an artist who discovered that selling art is an art in itself.

Thompson, owner of Greg Thompson Fine Art in North Little Rock, took art classes throughout his childhood, then got a degree in art at Hendrix College. He held a job as a graphic illustrator for two years, then began exploring the idea of selling art for others. In 1995, he held his first art show — featuring the work of Arkansas artists — in his apartment and made as much money in one night as he did in a month at his job. So he quit the job and put down his artist’s tools. He no longer creates artwork. His passion, Thompson says, is in the art of the deal, in managing and finding markets for other artists.

Thompson’s gallery isn’t the typical walk-in-and-browse type. He shows one artist’s work at a time, although he represents many contemporary Southern artists as well as some artists from around the world.

“I’ve learned that it’s just as easy to sell 30 paintings to a corporate client as it is to sell one painting to one client,” Thompson says.

Does he miss creating art?

“NOT AT ALL. I LOVE WHAT I DO,” he says.

Williams says she has never felt a sense of either/or in terms of art. “I’ve always wanted to have a mixture of social interaction and alone time. You have to have a balance.”

She believes that artists need to have something other than art to sustain them — creatively, emotionally and physically — and recommends that working artists get a part-time job. “It’s really good to have some other interest or stimulation. I think artists are more successful when they have something else to work on.”

This article was published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sept. 11, 2013
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Pride of Place

18 Mar

Arkansan filmmakers who left the state are coming home—and they’re finding their state is much more than just a setting


Director Chris Hicky (second from left) on the set of “The Grace of Jake,” filmed in Arkansas in September 2013


Quiet on the set. Roll camera. Roll sound.

The camera’s eye focuses on a man with slicked-back hair and tattooed forearms plucking razor-sharp twangs from an electric guitar as he sings, “It’s gonna rain, it’s gonna rain. Better get ready …” about Noah warning his people of the coming flood. The singer’s gritty voice rises above the metallic patter of raindrops upon a couple of window-unit air conditioners, inspiring a feeling that the tiny church may float arklike into surrounding fields if the rain doesn’t end soon. It’s almost too perfect—the rain breaking a month-long drought in the Arkansas Delta on the day Forrest City native Chris Hicky films a pivotal scene in the movie he’s come home to make. In the scene, ex-con Jake testifies about his coming to grace after traveling from California to Arkansas to confront his father. The rain provides a coincidental metaphor of renewal and restoration that fits the film’s themes but, thankfully, brings with it no threat of biblically proportioned devastation.

The downpour that began before dawn turned the churchyard into a bog, forcing Hicky to rearrange the shooting schedule so the crew could spend the day filming scenes within the church’s paneled walls, saving for the next day an exterior scene in which Jake helps the preacher paint the church. The crew members made the change easily, their synergy representative of everything Hicky had hoped for when he returned to Lee County to shootThe Grace of Jake, the feature-length film he dreamed of making for the past 10 years, which he spent in Los Angeles working his way up the industry ladder, from production assistant to director of commercials and music videos.

In bringing his passion project home to Arkansas, Hicky joins the ranks of other Arkansas filmmakers who left the state to create lives elsewhere but—inspired by nostalgia, personal experience and pride of place—have returned to make independent movies. For them, The Natural State isn’t just a backdrop but a fully realized character, sometimes breathtaking in its beauty, while at other times appearing timeworn, cantankerous and uncooperative. These filmmakers look through the twin lenses of heart and memory to see their home state as a character that is always alive and kicking, with a strong sense of self.

READ FULL ARTICLE as it appeared in Arkansas Life magazine, Dec. 2013

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How ’bout them “pigs sunny side up”?

7 Nov

Sunny side up

Every day, WordPress provides me with a list of the search-engine words and phrases that directed people to my blog. Some make perfect sense while others are cryptic. Some are downright hilarious.

Here is my Top Ten list to date:

1. “campbell’s cream of tarantula soup”

2. “pig sunny side up”

3. “siamese dogs by the tail”

4. “mean pomeranian”

5. “small breed dogs with bare legs”

6. “winsome bluebird”

7. “frogs dead”

8. “shotgun ammo apocalypse amount”

9. “how not to be a fangirl musician”

10. “charley horse in pectoral muscle”

Today’s resolution: Spinning a dizzying low

30 Oct

My world has been spinning for a solid week now as I fight vertigo resulting from labyrinthitis brought on by who knows what. A virus? Upper respiratory infection? Gremlins? BPA in my water bottle? A lack of hops?

I feel like I’m walking on the Titanic  and when I’m stationary, my head’s still a top on a string. So I haven’t been writing and I’m sorely missing it. I feel out of touch with reality, with imagination, with life, with the words that are the tools for my connections and how I keep things sorted. Every word puts something in the right spot, regulates flow of meaning like rings on pistons. Or something like that. As I said, spinning here.

My good news this week is that the venerable NPR radio show for Southern writers, Tales from the South, has accepted my story “Tony’s Gift.” I’ll read it on the Nov. 8 show at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock.

I sent the story in last month as a exercise in moving beyond my comfort zone. I figured if that went well, I would proceed on the next phase of pushing even farther outside the C-Zone. So now I’m out here, thrilled and terrified and hoping I don’t stutter.

Fortunately, I’ll be in the good company of fellow writer Tim Bennett, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for more than 20 years.

If you’re inclined, please come to the show and buoy me and Tim with positive vibes, all that good stuff. Tickets can be purchased here.

Now I feel the need to spin off in another direction… the inner ear provides a wild ride. But I know my friend Laura would add a song if she were writing about vertigo, so here you are — U2-Vertigo.

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Today’s resolution: A little mind dance

20 Oct

There have been times when my imagination has gotten me into trouble or thrown me into an anxious looping frenzy. Mostly, though, imagination has been my salvation. The world of my mind is a bright, brilliantly intense place of dance, color, light and song (yes, there, I can actually sing … and I dance, dance, dance in the music video of my life), and it’s full of imaginative people with the faces of flowers. As you may imagine, I have never needed hallucinogens.

Imagination means I never run out of ideas for articles and stories, and I never tire of interviewing interesting people. I marvel at my life sometimes, amazed that I’ve managed a career that allows me to run with my imagination.

So, today, I share with you another favorite passage from J. Ruth Gendler‘s The Book of Qualities:

“When Imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth. When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars.

“Some people accuse Imagination of being a liar. They don’t understand that she has her own ways of uncovering the truth. She studied journalism in junior high school. It gave her an excuse to interview interesting people. She was surprisingly good at writing articles. When in doubt, she just made things up. More recently, Imagination has been working as a fortuneteller in the circus. She has this way of telling your fortune so clearly that you believe her, and then your wishes start to come true.

“Imagination is studying photography now with an eye toward making films. She has no intention of working in one of those factories where they manufacture images that lull us to sleep. Her vision is more complex, and very simple. Even with the old stories, she wants us to see what has never been seen before.”

I very much want to meet Ms. Gendler.

Dancing statues near the Clinton Library, Little Rock, Ark. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Love Whimsy

9 Oct

From The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler. The first time I read this passage, I thought, “This is me!”:

I painted my bathroom a bright shiny purple and put a huge gecko on the wall. It's a little crazy, but I like it..

“Whimsy is not afraid to be outrageous but she is basically shy. She has all kinds of books, and she arranges them on the shelves by the color of the cover or how the titles sound next to each other. She was especially pleased to put a book on African dyeing called Into Indigo next to a dark blue book on Jewish mysticism. Her clothes are also kept by color in the closet.

“When Whimsy was a little girl, she would stay in the museum with the marble walls talking to the statues after everyone else left. She has trouble keeping her shoelaces tied but in every other way she is as practical as your next door neighbor. Because she is wild, people expect her to entertain them. She is not encouraging anyone else to live like her. Remembering how abruptly her brother was locked up for being a troublemaker, she fears people who treat her like a curiosity. Freedom is her lover.”

Today’s resolution: ‘After the mystery’

5 Oct

As a writer, I’m always interested in other writers — why they write, what they get from it, what they hope to convey. Sometimes I look to them for explanations of myself, of what I do. Today, I turned to Wallace Stegner and his essay “The Law of Nature and Dream of Man: Ruminations on the Art of Fiction” (Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs) and found this:

“The writers I admire, and still admire, are not carpenters but sculptors. Their art was and is a real probe of troubling human confusions. … They were after the mystery implicit in the stone.”

Yes, the “mystery implicit in the stone.” That’s what I hope to uncover while writing. I want to reach a deeper meaning of something, of anything, of everything. I want to dig into those “troubling human confusions” that confound me and create currents of anxiety that are somewhat soothed by the perception of having touched upon a pebble of understanding.

The writing process is a struggle for I can never be satisfied with knowing just the facts. I have to find the why — more than the why, in truth. I often compare myself to other writers and wonder what satisfies them and if I’ll ever be satisfied with what meaning I manage to uncover through thought and language — or thought through language. So many doubts.

I find some comfort and inspiration in Stegner’s words: “By now I am prepared to guess that any method that lets a writer lay bare a moment of mystery is legitimate. Skill is whatever works. Different skills will work for different writers, and upon different readers, but any skill must work toward something.”

I have work to do.

Today’s resolution: If there is no choice?

3 Oct

As we begin another work week, here’s something to think about from one of my favorite poets, W.B. Yeats.

The Choice

The intellect is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.

Entering the woods of the river walk at Two Rivers Bridge (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: The task at hand

27 Sep

“We should do every task for its own sake as time and place demand and not with an eye on the result. Then each task turns out well, and anything we undertake succeeds.” — I Ching 25, Wu Wang/Innocence (The Unexpected)

My plan today? Surprise myself by not worrying about the future and results; instead I’ll focus on the task at hand.


Lovely surprises such as this are alternately known as Surprise Lily, Magic Lily, Naked Lady and Lycoris squamigera. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Paradigms reordered

26 Sep

“You will have written exceptionally well if, by skillful arrangement of your words, you have made an ordinary one seem original.” — Horace

Old bricks made in Malvern. (2011/RO)