During the last while I’ve been giving my two bits worth to several would-be painters. These folks are young, well educated and talented. They want to talk about the business of making art, the possibility of going to art school, their future in art. They also check my modest brain for what I might think galleries want, price points, popular sizes, that sort of thing.
While this is all very nice, I’ve glazed over a few times, and frankly told one of them to paint a hundred paintings and give me a call when she does. There was a significant silence on the other end of the phone — as if it was just around the corner that I might coach creativity into her. “Think of yourself as a factory,” I said. That was the end of that call.
Not many of us can be convinced that working in a factory is a lot of laughs. Being a factory may be even worse. But there’s something to be said for building one and getting into it.
Artist-wannabees need to find a physical place to be. For artists who think big and lofty, an unused loft in a rust-belt town might be the choice. But a factory can also be in a corner under basement stairs, or an easel at the bottom of a garden. Factory is a mental thing.
An art factory is a place where unmarked supports enter on one side, become caressed with the physical manifestation of human imagination, and are subsequently pushed out the other side. Whether these modified supports are commercially destined or not, it’s a process that needs to take place.
When the factory gets the steam up and things begin to happen, the worker becomes hooked. Also, as skills are learned, techniques defined and directions found, the place begins to look like a perpetual motion machine.
Theoretical folks don’t always understand that the factory itself turns its operator back into a student. The factory becomes a school. If you like the idea of do-it-yourself learning, and you are curious about what you might be able to do, a little private factory is one fine institution. If your factory starts small and gets productive, you’ll need a bigger factory. “Room service? Send up a larger room.” (Groucho Marx)
PS: “You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” (Annie Dillard)
Esoterica: I often ask folks how much they like working on their own. Funnily, almost everyone says they love the idea. But when push comes to shove, many can’t go long without phoning somebody, or hanging out. It’s a distracting world. It may also have something to do with the interactive way kids are raised these days. Unless aspiring artists are particularly introverted or antisocial, it can be a struggle to achieve the full factory focus that creates proficiency. For some folks it only comes with maturity.
Forty hours a week
by Paul Edmund Herman, Arcos de la Frontera, Spain
He Haw! Your letter made me laugh but I agree wholeheartedly Robert! In thirty years as painter it has been the most common failing I have seen in young artists: not realizing that though the inspiration must be artistic the method must be disciplined. Being a painter requires at a very minimum the 40 hours a week. “Sincere” artists who wait for inspiration to pick up their brushes find themselves waiting longer and longer between paintings. When uninspired, one does uninspired work but he still learns, and the more uninspired work he does (in the minimum of an 8 hour workday), the more frequent will be the visits from the muses (who have never respected the idle).
If I think of romantic characters like Lord Byron or P.B. Shelley, images of wild amorous affairs, travel, adventurous and noble spirit and lying around with minds blasted by sensual drugs come to mind, but in-fact both these men spent extraordinary numbers of hours alone writing, editing and agonizing over words.
One hundred is minimal
by Chuck Marshall, Mason, OH, USA
I have heard and used many times “go paint a hundred paintings if you want to learn to paint.” Although this isn’t the only answer to learning to paint, it certainly has huge rewards. I teach artists at many levels in their journey at becoming artist. Typical of today’s society, everyone wants to learn everything in a week and get on with creating great art. Paying one’s dues is a lost concept, and is even considered an insult when brought up.
I get asked every so often how many paintings I’ve done in my lifetime. I have no idea how many, but it is probably in the thousands. All that means is I did maybe 10 good paintings after all those thousands over a 50 year span. This is my idea of good paintings, and I sold many a painting out of those thousands good or not. I will retire only when it is physically impossible for me to continue. Until then I will continue paying my dues and hopefully learning. If I get lucky I may get another good painting in the process.
by Gail Mally-Mack, Detroit, MI, USA
The factory is a good “building” in every context of the word, really, metaphorically, and in spirit. We live in a time where the mind set of the entertainment world dominates. We want what we want now. We deserve money, notoriety, fame, success. It’s called “Affluenza.” We see this in our schools where many children cannot read, and the writing on a college level is very poor. They are not putting in the effort and don’t even know they must. I teach art in a Community Art Center and am amazed that the people who wish to learn art have no awareness of the hard work that it is. They feel the first line they draw is a masterpiece and when they see that it isn’t feel they have no talent. They are shocked at how much they must learn to master the basics. Not only physically in manipulating their tools and materials but in visual knowledge; composition, color, form, and other foundation information. Also how important it is to study and learn from the masters and non masters. SEEING, LOOKING, INTERACTING, DOING continually. The “factory” the space, the commitment, the time invested is vital. A poet who writes in another language must first learn the language. A musician must master their instrument and know the music.
One hundred as life lesson
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada
There’s a fine line between knowing “what the public wants” and being true to one’s own vision, and knowing where and when to compromise — or not. Your advice to paint a hundred paintings is sound: After 100 paintings the wannabe painter should begin to see what they are capable of, the direction their brain and imagination may take, whether there is truth and beauty to be mined. It may be that painting 100 paintings for their own sake is deemed too hard, or not rewarding enough, and that is a life lesson in itself. It may be preferable to take up accounting, or cooking — honourable (and often creative) callings both.
The painting nest
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
For most of my life, I’ve also used factory metaphors for my painting process; working at home was a ‘cottage industry,’ before a big show, I was in ‘production mode,’ worried about ‘inventory.’ I thought about ‘efficiency’ and ‘market-driven pricing.’ But now I find myself using different metaphors. Although I have a fancy studio/gallery down on Main Street, I do most of my painting in a renovated single-car garage at home in what I call my painting nest. The Painting Nest environment is intimate, personal, private, comfortable and safe. My paintings grow, evolve and burst into existence. I reflect, focus, nurture, and love to paint. Maybe it helps, when we are just starting out, to think of ourselves as painting machines, but ultimately painting shouldn’t feel like working; it should feel like living.
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Art school mythology
by Diane E Leifheit, Paul Smiths, NY, USA
When I was in school in the early ’90s our design teacher arrived one day and informed us, “New York City schools are graduating 10,000 art students a year. There isn’t enough room for everyone.” Indeed, a counselor/illustrator at the school graduated as an art student and was counseling to make ends meet. Another artist on the campus, a painter who was very prolific, constantly going through materials, yet working in video editing, told me he had no room in his life for a relationship, friends maybe, some ‘snuggle time’ occasionally but nothing at all permanent or serious. Art schools churn out tons of artist wannabe’s who look enviously at the living famous and curiously at the hardworking locally recognized artist. There is a lot of competition out there. Add that to the fact that a young artist has not even been noticed yet and it gets pretty discouraging. School only hands out the tools to get there. The diploma means only that the aspiring creator has the basic skills. Nothing in school prepares them for the hard work, disappointment and frustration of being a living artist seeking recognition at any level. “Gotta pay your dues.”
One hundred paintings? whether they are viable or not, is a great first year goal. How else will you find your voice?
Now’s your chance!
by Dana Bolton, Stratford, ON, Canada
I am recently unemployed (from factory work), and my whole family is telling me, “Now’s your chance!” But I keep saying, “I am used to working in a factory, I wouldn’t know where to start.” I never thought of art in those terms before. It makes perfect sense, and makes this thing seem much more do-able and practical. I’ve always been the whim sort of artist, waiting for mood or inspiration to strike like some kind of divine right, or like trying to catch or discover some kind of rare plant or insect that only exists very briefly under specific light, temperature and barometric pressure. This just makes it ordinary, like mastering any kind of skill. I already have a studio built (glorified shed), on idle for five years. I have the table; sought after for many years, and of course the proper light, replaced numerous times for faulty inspiration radiant lighting. I’m always looking for excuses… I think I’ve run out. Common sense prevails. This is the third reality cheque I’ve cashed this week.
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Artistic duo share passion
by Laurel Knight, Bend, OR, USA
I have been an artist all my life… but only recently have I been able to paint full time, as my children are all raised (except for a 15 year old grandson that we are raising since a baby). My husband is a sculptor, and we met 25 years ago, both single parents and fell in love and into business together. At the time of our meeting, my husband was a sales representative, working for a company that sold bronze products, one of which was his relief belt buckles. And I was a hair stylist at a salon. Both of us were working in an artistic field, although it wasn’t directly working with our fine art. As time went on, we decided to make our art together. One project after another, we set out to make a commercially viable art product. So, as we raised our children, with all the many trials and tribulations that a combined bunch of 7 kids brings with it, our personal fine art took a back seat. Long story short, all these years later, and many hours of combined business learning, as well as the personal explorations as artists, we are both pursuing our fine art together. We have the wonderful benefit of being able to work together, but in separate studios, so we can create our individual art, as well as critique each others work. We also have the brainstorming meetings over coffee in the morning.
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
Produce, edit and burn. My mother always said that to become a good cook one needed a large dog to eat the mistakes. I am lucky, I work in wood and have a fire place. Still produce, keep it all for a while, study it, learn from it and do not be afraid to burn the rejects. BUT PRODUCE, more and more, all the time. Obsessive behavior is required. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
Young Picasso in Barcelona was a dandy — tailor made clothes and the whole bit. (There is wonderful painting in the LA County Museum of his tailor which he did in payment.) But he would get up early, (early for a Spaniard) work like the devil was on his tail, dress for the afternoon round of cafes, and then go back and work until mid-night. Why was Mozart a child prodigy? Because by the time he was 15 he had played hundreds of pieces, over and over. Being anti-social may be cause or result.
Value of joining daily painters
by Diane Morgan, Indian Wells, CA, USA
Telling an artist to paint 100 paintings before asking for a critique is a meaningful admonition. Until this year I only managed to create about 20 paintings a year. In April I decided to join the ranks of the daily painters. It has been the best thing to happen to my career. I make a point of doing one small painting a day, in addition to working on larger pieces. Some days you don’t feel like painting, but you do it anyhow because you have made a commitment. I rather quickly passed the 100 mark. This daily assignment has increased my productivity, improved my creativity and painting skills, and opened up several opportunities for me that would not have happened. I’ve also begun listing the daily paintings on eBay and they are selling! I’ve become a little factory and the regular production is producing a steady income… all accomplished in a not-so-lofty extra room in the house with no view but my easel.
Factory as classroom
by Kim Attwooll, Tryon, NC, USA
I have had the good fortune to be in my wonderful factory since 1996. Sometimes it was a spare bedroom, for the present time it is a glorious studio large enough to produce prolifically and teach in. The factory becomes a safe place… giving the artist more experience and the confidence to tweak, explore additions, play with options and find countless new directions. While all that is great stuff, if the artist is inclined to pass on the many discoveries, the joy of teaching further enhances the teacher. I feel that my growth as an artist has been richly served by my constant search for how to best demonstrate a point in class. The Internet, coupled with my library of how-to books has honed my focus and clarified so many obscure subjects. This gives me the confidence to pass on skills that open creative doors for me and my students. I have no training as a teacher but a strong desire to share the excitement I feel here in my “factory.” In this very busy schedule your Painter’s Keys plays a wonderful part and is highly recommended to all.
Art in a hospital
by Wayne Wright, Wyoming, USA
I was involved with art for a few years until I married and a family and a job overtook my art because I let it. Now, at 59, I have no wife or family or job or home, I am without the trappings of that, I don’t even have a friend. I have a vicious form of mental illness called bipolar that has reduced my quality of life more and more until I am now institutionalized, most likely for the rest of my life. Contacts, such as you, Robert, connect me to the ‘real’ world, but a funny thing, I now have the time and talent and energy not to sit and feel sorry for myself but to lose myself in the arts. I have published a book about my experiences with my mental illness, and I am working on two more now. I have resumed painting and am just pretty darn good at it. I am expanding into drawing and watercolor from my usual acrylic landscapes. I teach an art class here at the center. I just want you to know that we can indeed make our own factory, maintain self-dignity and make a contribution to society. Thanks for your fine letters and I hope that you will actually see this instead of a member of your staff dumping it, you perform a fine service to the arts. Thank you my friend.
(RG note) Thanks, Wayne. Readers may be interested to read Wayne Wright’s Odyssey in Hell, his remarkable journal of experiences at the Wyoming State Hospital.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Build the factory…
the progression on an oil painting
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Mark Hope Wasaga Beach who wrote, “Working alone is vital. I’ve found even having a companion can be a distraction. If the factory is to survive and thrive there needs to be focus.”
And also Mark Larson who wrote, “At a gallery seminar I attended recently, the speaker said, ‘Most artists don’t work hard enough,’ and ‘Inventory Equals Success.’ It’s impossible to make a living as an artist with ten paintings. 100 paintings is a start.”
And also Vittorio who wrote, “As in the carbonated drink of coloured water that brings millions to corporations, the idea of packaging garbage is what fools a gullible market. If the incapability to discern parallels what is presently happening in art, it is difficult to blame those who believe that following a market mentality will produce works of art.”
And also Vianna Szabo who wrote, “The grunt work of creating a lot of bad work, learning from it and continuing forward in your artistic pursuits is the real job of the artist. In the long run, tenacity wins over talent.”
And also Dwight Williams who wrote, “A hundred paintings may not be enough. Over the last forty years I have told more than one studio or workshop student to first paint a thousand paintings.”
And also Paul Kane who wrote, “One of the hardest things is to be your own boss, especially if you are an artist. If you are an artist, no one cares but you if you actually do your job or not.”
And also Moncy Barbour who wrote, “It’s all about Natural Selection, survival of the fittest. Thank you Charles Darwin.”
And also Vkapusta who wrote, “My problem with your thesis is that a factory produces a product that is identical, with dictated standards. The workspace needs a name that reflects the unique nature of an artist’s processes. Playpen?”
And also Sandy Davison who wrote, “I would love to become one of your mentees and would appreciate finding out how to go about it. Is there a formal bit of information, submission packet to make the process sensible? Please let me know.”
(RG note) Thanks, Sandy. And thanks to the others who asked for personal mentorship. I’m honoured and grateful for your trust. But I’m sorry, I’m unable to directly coach a volume of artists no matter how much money or kind they put in the mail. (We return it) My current method is to give unsolicited (free) suggestions to artists of promise who appear in our art listings pages.