A Few Words with Frank Eber
The Second in an Artist Daily Exclusive Series:
The Realities of a Fine Art Career
|Lost Arrow Road, Yosemite by Frank Eber, watercolor painting.|
What did you find most surprising about being a full-time painter?
The commitment level it takes to keep it all going was surprising. It sounds quaint when I tell people I am a full-time artist. The reality is that it's hard to see how much work actually goes into it. To develop your "craft" is a lifelong process, it must never stop! You're never "there' because if you were, you'd be stagnating!
What did you find most difficult about starting a full-time professional career?
Having enough cash flow to make a living. Without savings or an advantageous life situation (i.e., independent wealth, a sponsor or benefactor) it may be impossible. Everything costs money: competitions, framing, shipping (to clients and venues), online and print advertising, website design and hosting-on top of art supplies and studio rental.
Do you recommend keeping another source of income while launching a professional career?
If it's possible timewise! Interestingly enough, I've only met a few "starving artists". Most artists I know have income from other sources: pensions if they're retired; their actual full-time job or business if art is part-time; husbands/wives who are the primary breadwinners; independent wealth. Definitely have some savings to tie you over the first couple of years.
Do you believe gallery representation is still the best way to go?
Generally speaking, yes, I do. Galleries not only promote our work and get it in front of collectors, they build our careers. A gallery is the only place where we can admire art, aside from museums. Where else would you go to buy a painting? Online? Sure, but premium-quality fine art worth in the thousands of dollars isn't going to be purchased with the click of a mouse. A serious art buyer will go into a gallery for the experience: to see the artist's brushstrokes, to get a tangible response because of its qualities, to think about why they want it. Additionally, gallery owners or assistants offer their knowledge. I like that.
I don't want to completely discount internet sales, but you can't trust everything you see on the internet. Always buy from the artist or a trusted gallery.
Did you have a career plan with specific goals when you started?
Not really. I've always wanted to be a professional artist but never thought I was good enough. For me, it was happenstance. One day I just thought, "I am going to enter competitions this year." That got the ball rolling! Getting accepted into national shows right away was a good barometer for my work.
How prepared were you for the business side of fine art-record keeping, gallery contacts etc.?
Ill-prepared, really. Learning by doing is the key here. The thing is with most artists, they can do it if they're forced to! Artists need to exercise their left brain, more often. Staying current with bills and invoices, filing papers, actually reading contracts, thinking ahead to the next quarter or the next year. Organizing my first own local art class was an adventure! Taxes was another, which is why I have an accountant nowadays!
|Last Ride at Vernal Falls, Yosemite by Frank Eber, watercolor painting.|
What do you wish you had known about the art business before you started?
I'm going to be direct here; I'm German born so I'll tell it how I see it. I wish I had known about the jealousy, pettiness, and cliquish nature of art in general. Call me naive, but I always thought that if I was really good, I would go places. (And I have… but I've also learned a lot along the way.) I wish I had known more people involved in the art business, and more influential artists, to begin with. Connections. It's also true that you'll go farther if you have considerable social and marketing skills. You can be a mediocre painter but be well-connected and successful.
How much of your time is devoted to the business of art?
Approximately two hours of my day are devoted to email, office work, marketing, organizing, etc.
With all the other obligations of a professional, do you have enough time to paint?
This is a bit of a leading question that really sets the wrong priorities! Painting should be priority. It is the most important thing. Everything else comes later. I mean that. Everything. I paint every day (sure, some days I can't, or I take a break and that's normal) but the most important aspect of being an artist is to actually produce art! Painting is my job.
Are you able to maintain normal working hours -six to nine hours per day?
Are you kidding? You ever hear the expression once you're self employed you get to work 16 hours a day? (laughs) Well, it's not that bad, but overall independent contractors / business owners do work more than people with a regular job. I do almost nothing else. Watercolor is my life, it consumes me. Having said that, I do try to maintain a certain normalcy: paint during the day (naturally), business stuff toward evening.
What are the hidden pressures of fine art that most of us are not aware of?
You have to be prolific with no significant downtimes, especially when you start selling. It's always the newest work (say, in the last two years) that counts. You have to be able to paint in front of an audience and to speak about your art as well.
What is the best advice you could offer an aspiring fine artist?
Go into financial consulting where they pay you $300/hr. Kidding! Seriously though, don't overestimate yourself. Anything that is worthy and good needs time and lots of work (I'm referencing the 10,000 hour rule from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers). Don't ask your friends and family for critiques. Enter local and later national competitions to gauge where you are in your artistic development. If you're winning awards, that's a good sign. But it still doesn't mean you're a great artist. Stay humble. Don't embrace mediocrity. Take what everyone says with a grain of salt: people will tell you what you want to hear
There are many avenues as an artist. Some artists only teach, some are fortunate with success and never teach. Look for where you might fit in the art world. Go to art openings and talk to lots of people. Educate yourself. Remember, if you don't do it yourself, it won't get done. Don't wait for a miracle, don't wait to be discovered.
Do the leg work and most importantly: NEVER think you're great, because there will always be someone better than you. Always look to improve your art!
Frank Eber was born in Europe and is a full-time professional watercolor artist living in California. Frank has painted throughout Europe and America. He is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society, the National watercolor Society, the Transparent Watercolor Society of America and Watercolor West. Frank teaches and conducts workshops and demonstrations on both national and international levels. For more information about Frank, visit his website.