Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Healthy Summer: Painting and... Crossfit

August already... it has flown by, but this summer has been a good one. I kicked the season off with a trip to Dallas in June to teach a sold-out portrait painting workshop. I was in Texas for a full week and painted almost every day, either for private commission work or for teaching demos. It's amazing how daily practice creates momentum and catapults you forward in your skill set! I wish I could say I painted every day ALL summer, but unfortunately that was not the case. When life gets crazy, you just have to adapt and find ways to make it work, even when you lose your inspiration or feel tired and unmotivated.

Demonstrating for students in Dallas, June 2017 

"Hathor" - 16x12" - oil on panel - finished class demo

Something that has helped me work through this regular conundrum of high/low moments in my art is that I've started attending Crossfit classes 4-5 times a week. This sounds random and unrelated, but hear me out.

I have spent the last 10+ years of my life focusing so intently on my art career that I can't say I willingly gave 100% to any other effort (except for my family, of course!). I suffered with horrible chronic back pain during my first year and a half of motherhood. But because I was so worried that if I stopped pushing myself to paint regularly, my career would dissolve--I didn't put time or effort into getting healthy. Instead, I kept painting, suffered through the pain, and tried to accomplish two things each day: keep my kid alive and do something--anything-- art or business-related.

I have since learned that life requires more balance than this crazy cycle I put myself through. I started Crossfit two months ago, and I'm completely hooked.  Steve says I talk about it way too much, but it's hard not to talk about something you're excited about! It's the first time in my adult life that I've pursued something just for me, free of expectations of making money or using it in some way to further my career. I like the challenge of doing a different workout every day, and just trying to become the healthiest, strongest me I can be. As a result, I actually end up being a happier and more loving wife and mom. Sometimes my shoulders hurt after a hard workout, which makes it tough to hold up a paintbrush(!), but I just laugh about it and push through.

It doesn't hurt that my gym is inside an airplane hanger and boasts a great view of the front range! Also, the instructors are awesome. :-) Check out MBS Crossfit here

Here's how Crossfit has actually helped my art:

  • Because the bar is set SO high, I'm learning to show myself some grace, all while pushing myself harder than I ever thought possible. In my art, I am my own toughest critic. Both of these disciplines--Crossfit and painting--require a healthy balance of gentleness and grit.
  • Being new to Crossfit, the learning curve right now is exponential. I haven't experienced that kind of "newness" with my art in a very long time. The excitement of learning all these cool skills (like power lifting and climbing a rope), has renewed my hunger for learning to paint. While that hunger has always been there, sometimes it gets pushed aside by commission deadlines and mundane responsibilities. I'm giving myself permission to more regularly attend painting demos or watch instructional videos, to keep asking questions, and to keep experimenting with new techniques and subject matter.  
  • The daily practice I mentioned earlier... it's true of both fitness and painting. Just as we must exercise our muscles every day in order to grow strong, we artists must also keep practicing the skill of direct observation.
  • Being healthy makes you capable of doing so much more! I can hike ten miles with a 20-pound pack (holding art supplies, of course!) and the payoff is I get to paint at some pretty amazing locations that most artists wouldn't bother trying to get to.  

One of my plein air paintings in an early stage, at Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

As summer continues, some of the challenges I set for myself remain unresolved. I can't really do pull ups yet, and my power cleans are not good (as evidenced by the grapefruit-sized bruise on my thigh). Certain paintings sit abandoned in my studio, waiting for the work to resume at a future date when time and experience have helped me find the solution. Whether "failed" or "successful," each piece is propelling me forward in my comprehension of the visual world and making me better at my craft. And, each failed rep at the gym makes me stronger and more determined.

Artists are human beings... sometimes weird ones who struggle to find balance in life. Our work is a reflection of our culture, our experiences, and our hearts. We pour ourselves out like an offering in each new creation, and when a collector takes home one of our paintings, they are taking a piece of our personal journey with them, which includes both the ups and downs. I'm thankful for my collectors, and for everything I'm learning this year. And of course, I'm always thankful I get to do what I love.

I'll post the new work soon!


Monday, July 10, 2017

Epiphany: On Music and Breaking the "Rules"

This post was recently published on the OPA blog, but I thought I'd also share it here. :-)

I am a professional artist, but what some people don’t know about me is that I've played piano since I was eight years old. I was classically trained all the way through college, with a major in art and a minor in music. I took all the music classes: ​ ​ theory, aural skills, counterpoint. I even took voice lessons and sang in ​the ​choir. I loved music with a passion that rivaled my love for art… it was that big a part of my life.

But there came a point when I had to choose, because I couldn't devote 100% of my time to both. These art forms each demand much more of a person when it comes to choosing a career path. I chose painting, and the music gradually diminished from my life.

Recently, however, I’ve returned to playing piano once in a while just for fun. Since I've played some of the same stuff over and over for the last 15 years, I decided to order some new sheet music to freshen up my repertoire.

At first I was excited to play through the new material, but I quickly realized that the music was just "ok". Honestly I got rather bored playing through these lovely but cliche arrangements of popular songs.

This made me realize that I have changed. I'm not a student anymore, but a person who is capable of taking something and making it my own. And as a recovering rule-follower, it has taken me years to realize that I can do this. The possibilities are limitless.

Now I know why my high school piano teacher was pushing the "Fake Books" on me, but I never wanted to try them. Now I know why jazz musicians can really let loose, and why improv performers can take an ordinary tune and turn it into something amazing.

What does this have to do with art? Well, as with the music, I am arriving at a similar place in my painting. One can spend a lifetime playing scales or painting color charts, and working solely on technique, but at some point, we have to break away and start becoming artists. We have permission to use our imagination and just roll with it. Let the art carry us on an unexpected journey. Those of us who struggle with perfectionism will constantly hear voices in our heads telling us to play it safe, and do things the comfortable or traditional way. Follow the "rules" because they are time tested.

But that is ridiculous! I have the vocabulary, and I’ve had it for years-both as an artist and a musician. Why did chord charts always scare me? Because it meant I had to take something and be "original" with it! Why does breaking away from classical art scare me? Because it means I am forging new territory and I have to own it.

I've been having conversations with other artists about ways that we can break away from traditional molds. Here are a few ideas:

  • ​Glaze an area down to improve the value structure and overall design.
  • Eliminate or add elements either from another reference source or from your imagination.
  • Do an entire painting in only one color family.
  • Choose unusual subject matter (I am currently starting a series on people working out at the gym!).
  • Go through stacks of old studies and paintings and analyze why they worked or didn't.
  • Drastically change some of them to see if your problem solving skills have improved since you first painted them.

The list goes on and on but I’d love to hear what you have to say about this. How are you successfully ​"breaking the rules" in your art?

"One More Rep" - 12x20" - oil on panel

Above: This piece is the first in a series that explores subject matter outside my usual repertoire. I'm excited to see where this goes!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I SEE YOU: The Art of Capturing a Likeness

I've been thinking a lot over the past month about a comment I received more than once while painting my Face Off demo at the Portrait Society of America conference. Several observers said, "You nailed the likeness. You really captured her soul." I know it was meant as a compliment, but I wonder if these kind folks realized the gravity behind what they were saying. To go from "nailing the likeness" to "capturing the soul..." well, that's rather profound. And I've been thinking about what it really means to see someone, and translate that image to marks on canvas in a way that is meaningful.

So what is behind the art of capturing a likeness and what does it require? Is it more than simply copying a person's proportions and tones? Is it a natural ability or intuition that some are just better at than others? Who are some artists who do this really well?

I'll attempt to answer these questions as best I can, but before I get into the technical aspects of painting a good likeness, I think it's important that I offer some brief insight into my worldview.  My pastor gave a sermon a couple of months ago about Hagar, from a series on the life of Abraham. The title of the sermon was "The God Who Sees."  In the account from Genesis 16, Hagar becomes pregnant by Abraham and gets banished by Abraham's wife Sarah to suffer in the wilderness. In spite of every party involved wronging the other (Sarah abuses Hagar, Abraham is complacent, Hagar despises Sarah), God still blesses each of them in the end. We know from Scripture that He gives Sarah a son in her old age, and that Abraham goes on to father the nation of Israel. But the part of the story that really moves me is when God sees the lowly servant woman Hagar, in her oppression and despair, and calls her by name. He blesses her and promises that her son will grow up to be a mighty warrior, with descendants too numerous to count. She responds to Him in verse 13, "You are the God who sees me."

As my pastor says, "God's seeing is a form of compassion." He sees into us - sees our souls, the essence of who we are, and He cares for us. And He doesn't just see us in our lowly state; He does something about it. He overcomes sin with grace, and He blesses the oppressed.  Do we see people the way God sees them? To have compassion in their suffering, and in spite of their flaws? I certainly hope I do, and painting is the channel I use to see and bless others.

One of the common threads that ties us all together - and gives me reason for believing in a Divine Creator - is RELATIONSHIP. God chose to create us for the purpose of being in relationship with Him. And our earthly lives, for better or worse, are shaped by relationships more than anything else. That is why I love painting people. Although I am introverted by nature, I think it's unnatural to completely avoid fellow humans. I relish the time alone in my studio, but I find it even more important to spend time with people, whether they be my family and friends, other artists, or my models.

Whatever your worldview, I think it's pretty obvious that if you are going to do your human subjects justice, you need to actually care about them. The common thread is that people MATTER, and their intrinsic value is far beyond quantifiable worth.

So... from a technical standpoint, how does one capture a likeness? Obviously, strong drawing skills are a must. An artist must be able to identify the unique relationships between shapes and values within a face.  Overall structure and carriage are more important than detail. We recognize friends and family from a long way off because we know the shape of their head and hair, and the way they carry themselves. Eye color, wrinkles, and even skin tones, are relatively unimportant when it comes to likeness.

It helps to talk to the model and become familiar with their mannerisms. It is possible to paint a child from life and capture their likeness, even though they can't sit still. If you take the time to observe them carefully, you will notice positions, head tilts, or expressions that they keep returning to, if just for a split second. Choose one of those familiar gestures, and you'll be on the right track. Impose your own ideas about a pose on someone... and the spirit will be lost.

I used to try to make the model fit my idea or concept by posing them exactly how I imagined they should look in my head. Once in a rare while, the painting would turn out, but most of the time, the resulting image looked stiff and unnatural. I've discovered that it works best if artist and model can collaborate together on the pose, so that both are bringing something of themselves into the final work.  Below are some examples of artists who truly excel at capturing a person's spirit and soul.

Rose Frantzen

Max Ginsburg

Jeffrey Hein

Nancy Guzik

Jeremy Lipking
And while it's hard to follow such amazing examples of painting who SEE people, I offer here a few of my own works:

"Colquitt" (14x11", class demo painted from life in about 4 hours)

Detail from studio painting, "Native Daughter, Modern Woman"

"Judy in Blue," 18x14", a portrait of one of my dear Texas artist friends

Detail from studio painting of my daughter Cecelia, "Looking Through"


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The "Art of the Portrait" 2017

I returned home from Atlanta late Sunday night, April 23... and I'm still recovering. Actually, I just haven't had much time to write, since I got thrown head-first into potty training Cecelia... but I'm sure you don't want to hear about that. :-)

This year's annual Portrait Society of America conference was particularly exciting for me, albeit exhausting. I came back with a very full heart and have spent the last week or so sifting through photos, following up with artists I met at the event, and catching up on time with my family.

Before I left for the conference, I made sure to get a photo of Cece with her portrait. I borrowed the painting back from a collector in Scottsdale, and had it re-framed by Masterworks Frames just for the conference. They did an amazing job and I would highly recommend them! Somehow, my little 8x6" painting was able to hold its own in the room of finalist artworks, all of which were substantially larger and more commanding.

The opening event of the conference is a popular demonstration called the "Face Off," in which 15 artists gather in the ballroom to paint from live models simultaneously, for a total of 3 hours with breaks. It usually ends up being three artists to a model, and this year, our models were also artists. We don't get to find out where we'll be set up or who we are painting until the last minute, when numbers are drawn. This year, I drew a spot painting Lea Colie Wight, and was set up between Alicia Ponzio and Tony Pro. Even though this was my second year participating in the Face-Off, I felt incredibly humbled to be in the company of these amazing artists. There's no pressure like painting with your peers. Thankfully, my painting turned out okay. :-)

Photo by Matthew Innis

Photo by Maria Bennett Hock

My finished demo with Lea Wight. I painted my demo on an Artefex panel and absolutely loved the surface!

The next morning, PSOA's executive chairman, Ed Jonas, gave the opening welcome speech, and a video was played highlighting this year's faculty, finalists, and certificate of excellence winners. I teared up when I saw my sweet girl on the big screen. This means so very much to me!!

Photo by Judy Takacs Pendergast

Friday morning was pretty fun for me; I had been asked to serve as the main stage moderator, meaning that I would introduce the morning's speakers, and make announcements before the breaks. After getting over the initial shock of the blinding lights and ear-splitting microphone, I really enjoyed the honor of welcoming the first demo artist to the stage, Jeffrey Hein. Jeff was supposed to be a faculty member last year, but cancelled last minute due to illness. It was pretty cool that this year, not only was he back and an active participant, but he got to do a solo portrait demo on the main stage. His demonstration was phenomenal!

Later on Friday I participated in a break-out session called "Doing Your Visual Homework," alongside Ed Jonas, Dawn Whitelaw, and Jeff Hein. Each of us discussed our unique approach to problem solving and planning out a painting.  Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from this discussion, so I'll just share here the opening picture of my slideshow, which demonstrated that painting and drawing from life can happen anywhere. :-)

Above: a photo from my "Visual Homework" presentation. I did this little study of Cece while stuck in a hotel room during a blizzard.

One of the best parts about going to a painting conference like this is socializing after the day's events. This year I volunteered to mentor a fellow artist through the Cecilia Beaux Forum's mentorship programs, and she and I enjoyed a delightful one-on-one dinner (rare to get at these kinds of events!). Sometimes I think I'm learning more from her than she is from me. :-)

Friday evening featured "meet the finalists," where we stood in front of our artworks in the gallery and talked about our work to anyone who was interested. This was followed immediately by the popular 6x9" Mystery Sale, . Below: my contribution this year. I was thrilled when the person who bought it introduced herself to me later!

Study for "Blue Maiden," 9x6", oil on panel - donated to the Portrait Society for their annual mystery sale

Friday night I went to bed early, saving my energy for the next day. I had to be up early to kick off the day with a panel discussion for the Cecilia Beaux Forum at 7:30 a.m. I really thought no one one would show up, since most people were up late conversing, but there was great interest and it ended up being standing room only! The panel consisted of myself, Judith Carducci, Dawn Whitelaw, and Katherine Stone, and our conversation attempted to broadly cover the topic of navigating a successful career. I talked about "painting what you're passionate about," and then nodded in emphatic agreement as Kate Stone discussed what it's like to be a professional artist and a mother (She and I later decided we should make a push for having a separate round table discussion on this topic next year). Dawn explained how she keeps her studio organized and manages her time carefully so as to maximize time at the easel. And Judy talked with fondness about her career from the standpoint of someone in their 80s, looking back. As I sat next to her and listened, I had to hold back some emotions. It was a huge honor to be on a panel with someone I've looked up to for so many years. I'm convinced Judy is part of the reason I've made it this far. :-)

After that I helped do portfolio critiques, and I signed a few books. I grabbed a quick hug from Nancy Guzik, who was there with her beloved Richard Schmid. Richard was signing copies of "Alla Prima II" (in my opinion, the best book on oil painting that has ever been written), and the line of people eager to meet him went out the door. Richard would be honored that evening for his contribution to art education.

Meanwhile, I was grieving the fact that I didn't have any more scheduled demos... so I crashed Tim Rees's party and set up to paint with him in the exhibitors' hall. The Raymar folks "adopted" us and let us paint there, even giving me one of their fantastic L64C lead-primed linen panels to work on for my demo. We roped Jeff Hein into modeling for us, and he was great. I think my painting would have turned out better though, if I hadn't been so intimidated to be painting such an amazing artist. Still, he ended up taking my demo home with him, which is the biggest compliment ever. Thanks, Jeff! :-)

Photo by Shana Levenson

Tim and I didn't want to stop painting, so we set up in the hallway and painted the amazing Gregory Mortenson. I wish I'd had more than an hour to do his portrait - what a great head! I had to rush off though and get ready for the banquet. It sure was fun to paint with the boys though.

Jeff let me try one of his ABS plastic panels for my portrait of Greg. I liked it. Now I need to find a local plastics manufacturer where I can buy this stuff by the sheet. :-)

I sat with my longtime friend and mentor, Michael Mentler, at the awards banquet. Some of the things he's told me over the years will probably stick with me forever... tips on design, form, anatomy, painting materials... the list goes on and on. I'm so honored to call him my friend!

When the awards were announced, I was privileged to receive an award of exceptional merit for my painting of Cece. All I can say is that I'm grateful. Thank you, PSOA!

Photo by Adrienne Stein

The top awards went to Ming Lu (first place painting), Sookyi Lee (first place drawing), Susan Wakeen (first place sculpture), Johanna Harmon (2nd place), Casey Childs (third place), Paul Newton (4th place), and Mary Sauer (5th plcae). The Draper Grand Prize and People's Choice went to David Kassan for "Love and Resilience, Portrait of Louise and Lazar Farkas, Survivors of the Shoah." 

Several years ago when Leslie Adams became only the second woman in PSOA history to take home the Draper prize, I remember feeling like her victory was also my own. Life is so much about overcoming: fear, pain, doubt, guilt, ignorance, bias, etc. But I rejoice that David won this year because that is what his monumental work is about: two survivors who have overcome. You can see all the finalist works and awards on the Portrait Society's Facebook page here.

Meanwhile, I am going to shoot for becoming the 3rd woman to win the top prize... next year. ;-)

With the Draper Grand Prize winner, David Kassan. His work is so important and so necessary!

Richard Schmid was honored with a lifetime achievement award for Excellence in Fine Art Education. I lost it when he came up to receive his award, and there was a standing ovation for him. I've written a great deal on this blog about what his contributions mean to me personally, and it's overwhelming to think of how many hundreds of thousands of people he has impacted directly or indirectly. Either way, every one of us in that room were part of his legacy, and it was very moving.

 Photo of all the finalists, by Matthew Innis

After the banquet, the party began! I stayed up till 3 a.m. for the first time in years. :-) I loved hanging with so many friends, both old and new! Here I am with two fabulous ladies I'm privileged to know, Lacey Lewis and my conference roomie, Tina Garrett (who is one of the fastest rising stars I've ever met! Check her out!).

Sunday morning: breakfast with some of my favorite people (above:-)), and Michelle Dunaway (below) gave an absolutely fantastic talk and slideshow during "Inspirational Hour." I spent the rest of Sunday morning visiting vendors, chatting with fellow artists, and decompressing.

I'm still processing everything from the conference but I have to say that I'm so thankful for the Portrait Society and what it offers to artists: an extended family.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

News so Good it Made Me Cry...

This week I found out that "A Fleeting Moment" was selected as a finalist in the Portrait Society's international competition!

This is a really big deal... for me, anyway. :-) I've applied to the competition every year for the last eight years, but never made the cut of the final 20 or 25, although I have gotten top 40 two years in a row. The Portrait Society's annual conference is one of the biggest highlights of my year. Last year they honored me with a place on the faculty, and this year, I not only return as faculty, but also as a first-time finalist. My painting is one of only 23 works chosen from 2000+ entries and the work this year is... well, incredible.

When I got off the phone after receiving the good news, I had tears of joy running down my face. I have worked so hard for this and feel incredibly grateful!

I'll be borrowing the portrait back from my collector, and bringing it with me to display in Atlanta next month at the four-day conference and compete for top prizes. Most finalists exhibit work that is large-scale and costs a fortune to ship. My painting is only 8x6 inches... I can carry it onto the plane!

They asked me to describe my inspiration behind this painting, and here's what I wrote: "The subject is my greatest muse, my 2-year-old daughter Cecelia. She had been dressed up for a special occasion but instead of mingling with the crowd, she wanted to be outside, exploring the surrounding neighborhood. I watched as she flitted like a butterfly from door to door, but for a split second, she stopped and stared off contemplatively. Everyone tells me that these early years pass by in an instant. It was this concept, wrapped up in the immediacy of a single moment, that I hoped to capture in the painting. The portrait itself is but a wisp, a moment's breath conveyed through its small size, loose brushwork, and simple design."

I knew this piece had a chance at the competition when my good friend, world-class artist Quang Ho, had nothing critical to say about it. He described it simply as, "A big little painting."

Thank you, Portrait Society of America! I am truly honored and grateful!

"A Fleeting Moment" - 8x6" - Private Collection
2017 Finalist in the PSOA's International Competition

P.S. There will be a limited number of copies of my book, "The Wait and the Reward," available for sale at the conference. I will be doing a book signing on Saturday, April 22, from 12:30-1. Anyone who purchases my book and comes to the book signing will receive a signed limited edition print of this painting, "A Fleeting Moment" (only 12 prints available).  So please stop by!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Recent Happenings

Where has the year gone already? My goal was to live this year with intention and yet somehow, blogging ended up getting cut from the list of priorities... unintentionally. I will try my best to give a recap of the last month, as I happened to be extremely busy but with all good things.

Vacation in Cancun
In mid-February, Steve and I spent a short weekend vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, and for the first time in my life I realized there is a difference between "traveling" and "going on vacation." This was actually a vacation! But, I brought my painting stuff along anyway. I'm really glad I did. Painting waves, palm trees, and sunrises turned out to be a joyous pastime. Even better: the weather was perfect, and my office attire was a swim suit!

While Steve kept a safe distance from the local wildlife, I was utterly delighted by all the iguanas that sunned themselves each day by the beach. Next time I come back I will have to paint them.

Painting waves: the ultimate challenge. If you think a person sitting for a portrait doesn't hold still, well... just try painting the ocean!

Since this was an international trip, I decided not to worry about using solvent, which would be very hard to find locally. I used walnut oil to thin my paint while I worked, then cleaned my brushes with linseed oil soap when I finished for the day.

Above: my last painting of the vacation: a sunrise over the ocean, 8x10". I had to finish this one in the studio, since the sunrise happened so quickly. But I managed a good block-in and it didn't take long to bring the finished painting together.

Workshop in Georgetown, TX
February 17-19 took me back to the familiar and friendly state of Texas, where I taught a 3-day workshop in the small town of Georgetown, outside of Austin. I had a wonderful group of students and models, and the Georgetown Art Center proved to be an excellent venue. I'm already looking forward to coming back!

Happenings in Denver
February blessed us with a couple of really beautiful 70-degree days. On one of those days, my dear friend and fellow artist, Adrienne Stein, and I collaborated with one of our favorite models to paint on location at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Sydney is a fantastic model and will be showing up in many of my upcoming works. Sadly for us, she is moving off to France, so we have tried to work with her as often as possible before she leaves! I've said this before... the best models always move away. :-(

A new painting of Sydney, 24x16", "Flora" (available)

In addition to lots (dozens!) of independent projects I have going on, I'm thrilled to say that I'm now working with three new art galleries around the country: Cecil Byrne Gallery in Charleston, SC, TwoTen Fine Art in San Antonio, TX, and Saks Galleries in Denver. My painting "Among the Hydrangeas" received special recognition in Cecil Byrne's recent "Bringing Beauty Back" exhibition and is currently available through the gallery. I am working on some brand new figurative works for Saks Galleries' upcoming spring show, opening May 12. So lots of exciting things in the works!

Finally... I always greatly look forward to the annual "Art of the Portrait" conference hosted by the Portrait Society of America. This year they have asked me back on faculty and given me lots of exciting things to do, including painting in the Face-Off demo, announcing on the main stage, giving portfolio critiques, book signing (for my book "The Wait and the Reward"), and participating in a panel discussion about managing a successful career, as well as a break-out session called "Doing Your Visual Homework." If you are a figurative artist, this event is a must. They are not paying me to participate - I simply LOVE going each year and learning from other artists. Now I'm thrilled that I can give back and be a part of the fun. :-) So I hope you'll join us next month in Atlanta.

Photo of me from last last year, painting in the "Face-Off" demo at the Portrait Society of America

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Conference Insider" for the Portrait Society of America

As promised, here is the article I've been working on for the Portrait Society. I think it's worth sharing beyond the audience of the PSOA. :-)

When I was asked to write an edition of the Portrait Society's Conference Insider, I had to think for a moment about what I have to offer as a member of this year's faculty. I could discuss my working methods, studio habits, or some other aspect of art making, but I realized that sometimes the best I can do is simply provide an affirmative nod to my fellow artists that yes-you got this. All technique, creative processes, and art knowledge aside (I know you're working hard on those already!), we artists are really heart-centric creatures who find ourselves needing encouragement on a regular basis.
On Saturday, April 22 at the conference, from 7:30-8:30 a.m., I will be part of a panel hosted by the Cecilia Beaux Forum in which we discuss "establishing and managing a successful art career," and I hope you will join us as we talk in depth about our experiences. For those of you who decide to sleep in instead, I offer here some thoughts about my own personal journey, and I hope it is of some benefit to you.
A couple of days before writing this, I presented a question to the Facebook universe asking, "What does success look like to you?" The hundreds of answers that rolled in were diverse and insightful.
"With success comes responsibility: teaching, passing on what we've been given."
"Feeling true happiness and satisfaction to the depth of your soul. The source and tactical steps differ for each individual, where many of the basic needs are common to all, while higher-level needs become increasingly individualized."
"True, honest effort."
"Freedom to live life on your terms, not to be confused with accumulating wealth."
"Setting goals, reaching them and setting new ones."
"Having work that is creative, satisfying, and contributes to society."
"Doing what feeds your soul."
"The idea of success is not only different for every person, but every person has different concepts of success in different aspects of their life. There's career success, personal life success, and even success or failure with a particular piece you're working on! Additionally, life has shown me that what I believe is success or failure in a situation may end up not being the case at all!"
Girl with Dreadlocks (3-hr alla prima)
12x10", oil on linen panel 
The answers went on and on (thank you to everyone who responded!). My conclusion was that success is an attitude or mindset, not something quantifiable. Success should not be your driving force. It can easily consume you, to a point where the integrity of your life and work are compromised. It can also give a false sense of security and become an idol. And, if you are too busy comparing yourself to the successes of others, you risk losing your authenticity, and your idea of success will become distorted. Success to me is finding a healthy balance between pursuing and achieving my goals, and being at peace with myself and others. It means honoring my Creator by pursuing excellence (not necessarily perfection) in all aspects of life.
For me it was never a question whether or not I would succeed, it was just a matter of how hard I was willing to work in order to get there, and I found my version of "success" by setting goals. One of my goals as a kid was to someday paint presidential portraits (I've since changed my mind about that)...  Another goal I had, which was recently realized, was to paint in the Face-Off at the Portrait Society and be considered a peer by the artists I've always looked up to.
Crystal Standing (3-hr Alla Prima)
16x8", oil on linen panel
Given that I grew up in a very small town in rural Wisconsin amidst a culture of hunting and gathering, with parents who supported me but couldn't afford to send me to a fancy art school, well... the odds weren't exactly in my favor.  I was self taught until college, at which point I took on seasonal jobs to pay for school and worked hard to earn scholarships. I graduated from Hillsdale College in 2007, held a "normal" job for about a year, got married, and moved to Texas in 2008 for my husband's job in engineering. His income was steady enough that I was able to simply paint, and not worry about finding full or part-time work. This came with the caveat, of course, that I would not waste any time. I still remember the first day my husband left for work at his new job, and I sat alone with my little French easel in the giant, empty space that was supposed to be my studio. A few of my college paintings sat up against the walls, but otherwise, I had nothing to show for my claim of being a "serious artist." I began to paint anyway. I painted every single day. I started off with still lifes, and on days that weren't outrageously hot I would venture outdoors for plein air. I took commissions whenever possible, even the difficult ones, and used the funds to purchase more supplies (and better quality ones, too!).  I found a life portrait group to attend every week. I began making friends with other artists, and attending workshops and events, such as the Portrait Society, in order to continue educating myself. I found that these 3-4 day events, several times a year, were exactly what I needed to propel forward. I would come home from each event, my head bursting with newfound knowledge, and the things I learned kept me busy for months at a time. It was a period of great challenges and self discovery. 
Enchanted Blossoms, 20 x 20", oil on linen
I was 23. Nearly ten years later, I have come to realize that "challenges" and "self discovery" are things I'll be faced with for the rest of my life, and that's okay.
In 2014, I had a baby girl, Cecelia (named after the great Cecilia Beaux, of course!). Having a child obviously throws a wrench into things. Many women artists choose not to have children because they don't believe it's compatible with their art. At its worst, motherhood causes you to question everything you're doing, while at its best it elevates your work to heights you never imagined possible. I learned to embrace both extremes for what they could do to help me grow, but I also chose not to dwell too long at the bottom. I will be the first to tell you that motherhood made me a better artist.

Finding one's place in this expansive world of creative talent is not easy, especially as the work just keeps getting better and better. So I keep coming back to painting what I know: the world around me, the people I love-and realizing that maybe it's not popular or trendy right now but it's honest. I have learned to embrace my own unique story in all its beauty and ugliness and its moments of pain and bliss.
So... any advice I have on getting established in one's art career, I offer from my own personal experience. It may or may not work for you, but it's something to consider. Here is a basic and ever-growing checklist of things that have helped me become a modestly successful artist (by the definition I've outlined above). 
  1. Banish fear.  If I could change anything about my path as an artist, it would be to have seized more opportunities... to be less shy when approaching and meeting other artists, to ask more questions, and to stop being so darn afraid! Don't allow fear to control your decision making, or worse... cause you NOT to make a decision. The greatest misfortune of all is to look back on your work and wonder what might have happened if you had seized the day instead of holding back out of fear. Fear causes us to miss opportunities.
  2. Stop worrying about what people think. I'm still working on this one!
  3. Spend as much time at the easel as you can, even if you don't feel like it.
  4. Have a critical eye for your work. If something bothers you, don't let it slide. Does it have impact? (Visual or emotional or preferably both?) How does it read from across the room?
  5. Don't be afraid to take on commissions. Many times we're scared to put ourselves out there, but commissions are the perfect opportunity to get paid to learn. Obviously they can be extremely challenging, but they are invaluable for adding to your technical and creative repertoire. Every commission that I've taken-or actually, every painting that I've done-whether bad or good, has led up to where I am today. For example, I never anticipated that I would become a mom, but previously to that I painted many children, and they were great practice for the work I do now.
  6. Get rid of the extras. I had to learn to let go of a lot of things that were sucking up my painting time, including TV, extraneous commitments, and even some toxic relationships that were holding me back.
  7. Have a strong support system/network. Much of our success depends on the support and belief of others: parents, mentors, friends, spouses, children, peers, etc.
  8. Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise. Strengthen your mind and heart through Scripture reading, meditation, etc. Spend quality time with your loved ones.
  9. Paint or draw from life as often as possible. We may not be professional athletes, but if we want to be professional ARTISTS we have got to be at the top of our game, and life drawing is essentially the practice of artistic calisthenics.
  10. Don't spend all of your energy on things that will help you make money. If your primary focus is on the quality of your work, money will follow eventually.
  11. Become comfortable with promoting yourself and your work. In this day and age, no one is going to do that for you.
Anna and her daughter, Cecelia, in Anna's studio in Westminster, Colorado

One more thing: the "appearance" of success is very different from real success, and also very dangerous. It's easy to see all the perfectly curated posts on social media and find yourself wondering, "Why doesn't my life and art look that good?"  I can guarantee that every single one of those artists has bad painting days, moments of self doubt, and days where they don't paint at all. Don't worry about it. At the end of the day, it is always about the work.  Pick up your brush and keep giving it your all, and you will reap the hard-earned benefits of a life defined by the pursuit of excellence. 

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