Thursday, 13 December 2012

Outside the Gallery: Artist Opportunities

Artists can overlook opportunities that seem unworthy, like being asked to do a pet portrait, or asked to cover the walls of a confectionary, or when only two people show up to an opening where one is the mother trying to stop her son from eating all the host's cookies. A bad experience, even though it’s fairly benign, can end a career. On the opposite end of the spectrum, young artists can have all their work stolen; yet the artists persevere.

So galleries are sought out and seen as the appropriate career makers. They can certainly generate status for the artist, yet not always earn them money. Some commercial galleries, mostly in bigger cities can be entirely corrupt. Even public galleries, because the staff get regular paychecks from the government and not earn money from sales, often have no interest in selling the artist’s work, or even know how to. So it’s good to keep options open, and good to remember that one can be a successful and professional artist without ever having to show work in a gallery. Small venues, odd locales, and unusual experiences can have great advantages.

A nineteen year old in Vancouver paid for her university education by taking advantage of a surprise opportunity. Before she handed over her pet portrait to her grandmother, she slid the portrait into the outer clear plastic sleeve of a portfolio she recently purchased in order to see what reaction her work might get from strangers. Soon after, on a bus ride, she got a commission. From then on she kept her best work in the clear sleeve everywhere she went. Whether it was walking, riding the bus, taking the Skytrain or ferry she became a walking display and self-promoter. She charged $300 per pet portrait, taking half in advance, sometimes on the bus, and half upon completion. She was doing nearly two pet portraits a week.

It helped her to be in a big city. Yet locally, in coffee shops and restaurants, sales  can happen regularly if the prices are reasonable, or priced to match the other goods or the atmosphere. Over time works in such locations can be seen by many hundreds of people, often more than if the work were in a gallery. So it's not unusual to see the work of both beginners and professionals at these venues.

In the 1990s an artist was making more than $30,000 a year selling his work in a posh restaurant in Ottawa. Based in Victoria, a landscape painter had his work in fifty different locations, small galleries, craft shops, coffee shops and restaurants. He made more than $50,000 a year, supporting his three children. Of course, he painted like a madman. There are lots of artists like this, but they can be cagey about their success.

Artists have sold work through laundry mats, gelato shops, offices (doctors, dentists, politicians), bakeries, bookstores, banks, hotel lobbies, and their own homes as demonstrated by local walking art tours. Or like former Thunder Bay resident, Pamela Masik, a controversial artist and rare exception to our concept of starving artists, she opened her own gallery.

Masik is doing very well in Vancouver, selling her paintings for many thousands of dollars, along with creating performance art and music. She often has her silver Porsche sitting outside her gallery. If you are a collector or a reporter, her agent will give you a tour of the gallery before you meet her in person. Masik will be covered in paint and holding a glass of red wine. Masik started out with a blog and grew her fan base over many years, taking efforts to stay in the public eye.

Alexis, a co-owner of Calicos, is delighted to show local artists’ work. The artists decorate her shop and keep it fresh with a new look every month. Currently, Victoria Beldoc is showing her work of pretty birds and other animals at Calicos. She is also Calicos' contact for organizing the shows (

At other venues artists can talk to the owners. Some include; Sweet Peas (now showing Patricia Ambrose and Kathleen Beda), the Growing Season (Luke Nicol), Starbucks in Chapters (Crystal Nielson), Gargoyles (Guy Dufrense), Lot 66 (revolving show), The Bean Fiend (walls available), Portobello Home (Megan Stout), Bistro One (Leslie Shaw).

If you know of other venues showing original art by local artists, please let me know.

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