In this guest blog post about art business, Nicole Alger shares her experience on how she became a professional artist. To learn more about establishing a career in fine art, order your copy of the 2016 Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market book, which includes a free one-year subscription to ArtistsMarketOnline.com.
Nicole was a finalist in The Artist’s Magazine‘s 2014 Annual Art Competition.
How I Became a Professional Artist by Nicole Alger
I began painting after college when I had the good fortune to stumble upon Studio Cecil Graves, in Florence, Italy. After the founders went their separate ways, I attended the Florence Academy of Art. I had already spent a year in Paris trying to get a semblance of instruction, but the overwhelming message at the school was: Realism is dead, get over it. I didn’t believe that, and I didn’t care if the world believed that because I did not; I was also certain that there were others like me who felt exactly the same way.
By luck, and before I was set to return to the States to pound the pavements for another purpose, I took one last trip to Italy and found the place that changed the course of my life. My two American instructors, Daniel Graves and Charles Cecil, had been trained in the realism that I had hungered for but hadn’t found up to that point. I might have found another school somewhere, but I was fortunate to have found Cecil Graves when I did since I was on the brink of giving up looking and I was feeling the pressure to “grow up and get on with it.” My parents were dubious about this venture, but my enthusiasm and conviction that I had found the place, at long last, convinced them to support me over the next few months. Anyone with basic talent and enough desire learns very quickly, when exposed to solid realist training, so my progress gave my parents the confidence to support my studies.
In the early years of painting at school, I would sell here and there, mainly to friends and family. I received some wisdom at the time which holds true today: Don’t be precious about your work and don’t hold on to it. Get used to letting it go. As time passes and the vicissitudes of the market and your own life affect your output and how much you sell, remain flexible about your pricing. I learned that very early from painters who had been in the game much longer. Art making is exciting and humbling, all at once, and you have to bounce back if you don’t sell for a while, or you have to lower your prices in order to sell. As for how to price your work, that is a Google-able art business topic if there ever was one. You can easily research the metrics of price in your area, and price yourself accordingly.
For five years after I left art school, I focused on commissioned portraits, ones which I found all through word of mouth and not through the gallery system. People asked me all the time what my ‘real’ work was, and though I knew what they meant, it struck me even then as hopelessly Modern in attitude since my portraits were ‘real’ work to me. I was also painting landscapes and still lifes, but around that time I started to explore what it might be to push beyond my training, though I didn’t know what that meant. I did know that I had to follow my gut and that I had just enough experience to trust my senses if I departed from true realism.
It took a decade out of school for me to hit upon the first paintings that reflected something beyond my schooling. I can’t say to what degree a student, and then a professional, has her own voice, but likely it exists to varying degrees, and reveals itself at a different pace for everyone. The greatest shift for me has happened in the last few years, which would be some 20 years after I started painting. By that shift, I mean, I am more fully aware of what I value in this world and what I would care to explore. I know how to ‘read’ my intuitive hits more effectively; I know how to pay better attention. I am also more able to shift into a particular mindset that helps me to paint in the most focused way. All of these changes have evolved over years of practice.
The world itself has shifted quite a bit in the last 20 years, and I’ve had to learn how to maneuver through the cyber world of art business to find opportunities for work and shows. Creating a good website and keeping abreast of other artists’ work, of the galleries that inspire me and of the juried shows that are a good fit for my work has been a way for me to stay on top of the realist art world. Facebook and Instagram continue to be useful and insightful venues for showcasing excellent work, and engaging in invigorating discussions. The Internet helps create connections with other painters and that in turn can lead to show opportunities. This is in addition to finding work through word of mouth as much as possible, and continuing to work steadily and consistently on the craft.
All in all, despite continuous change in the outside world, the pursuit of craft in the realist world remains the same. It takes years and there are no shortcuts. In this era, and especially for a younger painter, it is likely to be very frustrating since the culture does not support such extended study for this art form, but there is simply no way around it.
To learn more about Nicole Alger, visit www.nicolealger.com.