Like a lot of artists, I have spent many hours thinking about (worrying about) how to make a living with my talents. I am far from an expert here but, I think that it is generally accepted that best paths are either, get a job that is somewhat related to art, or find a gallery to sell your work. Since my drive to make art is a whole hell of a lot stronger than my drive to stand around talking about it, teaching was out and, those thoughts drifted towards the ideal gallery situation for my art.

For a long time, I always came to the same conclusion. I can do just about everything that any gallery that would take me is offering.

Now, before we go any further with this, let me give a little background on that decision and, for those of you who think that I am foolhardy, stick around until the end. In my relatively short time attempting to be a professional artist, I have done pretty well on my own. For the last few years, most of my income has come from art. I am pretty far from being able to quit my day job but, to the point where I can spend a majority of my time in the studio. Even better, I have managed to get some good press and put my art in front of a lot of peoples eyes. This isn’t written here to brag, just to outline some things that I have been able to do for myself, no gallery required. This isn’t written here to brag, just to let you know what I was thinking when I started asking, for 50% of the money, what am I going to gain?

And there is the problem. When you are relatively unknown, like I am, galleries obviously don’t want to take too much of a risk on you. Most of my talks with galleries have reflected this. They want to try out a few small pieces, which is completely understandable but, at the same time, my ability to sell small pieces has already outpaced my drive to make them. I was not looking for a gallery to dip their toe into the shallow end to see how it felt, I was looking for someone to help me make the leap into consistently selling larger, more elaborate pieces. So, my decision has always been to build the foundation myself. In other words, I wanted to continue keeping all the money until someone noticed how awesome I was and was willing to let me skip past the whole development phase. It should go without saying but, when you have minimal bills and a landlord who gives you a little leeway on the late rent, you can afford take some risks and see what works…

Recently though, I have begun to see the error in my ways. At this point in my life, I have a wife, a house, even a little orange dog. I think it is safe to say I am an grown up and, being a grown up with other living things relying on me means I can not always spend as much time in the studio as I used too. Doing all the work myself was great when I was focused only on being an artist but, it was also a hell of a lot of work and took up most of my time and energy. Like a caveman, or a used car salesman, if you don’t kill, you don’t eat. Sometimes cuddling up on the couch with my wife and little orange dog is just more appealing than hustling out in the studio.

Which brings me to the point when I realize what everyone else already knows.

There are a lot that goes into being an artist. Obviously, you have to create art. But that is really only a small part. If you want to have any chance at supporting yourself, you also have to do all sorts of things that really come down to getting your art in front of an audience. You have to get your work included in shows. You have to write about art. You have go out into the world and meet people who care about art. You have to do a lot of things that are not creating art. If you are someone who has already made the foolish decision to make art as a career I don’t have to tell you this but, when you suddenly find yourself with less time available to devote towards all these aspects of being an artist, there is one thing that is not going to be cut from that list. That is the actual creation of art. For better or worse, everything else is optional.

And this is what I was missing about what galleries were offering me. They were offering my art a place to continue to grow when I was busy living my life. I know this is pretty obvious and seems simple but, it is hugely important. I was looking for someone who could help take my career to the next level, which would have been great but, equally important is someone who could maintain all that I had worked for when my focus had to be elsewhere.

When I started writing this post, I expected the end to feel a lot more dramatic but really, it was a simple lesson that I feel foolish for overlooking for so long. In any case, I am back in the studio, back to hustling and attempting to regain the momentum that I lost this year while I was off being house broken.

Expect a lot more art related rants and stream of conciseness blog posts in the near future (along with some announcements about upcoming shows). For now, be sure to head over to Sloane Merrill Gallery where I have some new small and affordable pieces in their 10×10 show that opens this Saturday.

nick-ward-10x10-sloane-merrill-gallery

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I have been acting a bit out of character lately, working on small paintings. In the past, I really struggled to translate the process and feeling of the large paintings into a smaller, more affordable package. I have a very particular way of working, and I just can’t seem to convince myself to paint any other way.

When a lot of painters work, they are editing out a lot of visual information. They are taking the complex real world and simplifying it, deciding what is important, and including only what is necessary to create a nice clean image. This is a great way to work. I don’t do it.

When I work, I generally take the biggest canvas, and the smallest brush I can find. I like to pack in as much information as possible. Instead of taking a complex area and simplifying it, I am taking simple things and breaking out every possible color that might possibly exist there. This is a bad way to work. It takes a long time and it just doesn’t work at anything less than large scale. I do it anyways.

The thing is, I really think it makes interesting paintings.

I want anyone who buys one of my paintings, whether they spend thousands of dollars on a large piece, or tens of dollars on a tiny one, to come home with a piece that I think is good and interesting. If someone buys one of my paintings, I want it to have the things that make a painting mine, no matter what size it may be. Because of this, I have not sent out many small paintings lately.

Recently, my friends at Sloane Merrill Gallery asked me to create a few small paintings for their December show. So, I headed into the pathetic small spare bedroom that is my current temporary studio, determined to come up with some paintings that I would be happy showing.

I think I finally found the right balance. Instead of trying to scale down my techniques, I just painted with the same intensity and scale of strokes that I would use on a large piece. In the case of these smaller pieces, there is just less of it. So, for the first time, if you like the large pieces, you should see a lot of what you like in the small ones.

I am interested to see how people respond to these pieces so, please head on over to Sloane Merrill Gallery for their 10×10 show next week (or any time in December), have a look at the pieces and let me know what you think. They will be hung along side a lot of other great pieces, including a few by my old studio-mate (from the infamous studio 11), Tony Bevilacqua. Official show details along with information about the opening reception below.

10by10_sloane_merrill

Twenty painters given the same dimensions

10×10 Inches

Opening Saturday, December 6th from 3-8pm! Artists include Carlo Russo, Jeremy Durling, Adam Vinson, Leo Mancini-Hresko, Matthew Saba, Jeremy Miranda, Tony Bevilacqua, Kyle Bartlett, Kelly Carmody, Nicholas Mancini, Margaret Langford Sweet, Brett Gamache, Andrew Fish, Michelle Arnold Paine, Nick Ward, Michael Compton, Aurélie Galois, Frank Strazzulla, and Jonathon Nix.

At Sloane Merrill Gallery, 75 Charles Street Boston, MA


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Recently, I was visiting my friends over at Sloane Merrill Gallery and they decided to give their summer intern the task of putting together a short artist interview with me. For those of you that know me personally, it is obvious that this is a fool’s errand. Giving me the stage in a room full of lovely young women and turning the spotlight on me is no way to get any work done. What started as a few simple inquiries about my art turned into hours of dodging questions, intern teasing, and rambling stories (mostly stories about cows that day). While the afternoon was enjoyable, I didn’t expect many lucid or relevant thoughts to be caught for the interview.

She did, however, manage to sift out one important thought that I want to elaborate on today. When listing to music, I am often overcome with waves of emotion. These moments are very unpredictable and run the spectrum from overwhelming rushes of nostalgia, or feelings of amazing calmness, all the way to what I described as a full body tingle. That rush of excitement that sweeps from head to toe, vibrating your whole body with excitement.

I often worry that people do not experience this sort of purely emotional response from purely visual, static forms of art like painting and sculpture. Looking at great paintings is always intellectually stimulating and is quite and enjoyable experience but, those intense feelings that music so often brings out in me are missing. People tell me that paintings have the ability to stir these emotions but I just don’t get it. It should go without saying; this is a troubling realization for someone who spends so much time and energy creating paintings.

After talking about this concern with the women at the gallery, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am always chasing this idea when I make paintings. I am always trying to create images that I think will trigger these feelings. Images of moments that we have all experienced in some form, images that should trigger nostalgic feelings, or memories of pleasure, or maybe memories of pain. I am fine tuning the colors, adding contrasting visual elements, bits of text, nothing seems to work.

Then it hit me. I have been experiencing these moments the entire time, not with finished paintings but, during the creation of them. So many people describe creating art as therapeutic, relaxing them or bringing them increased feelings of sanity. This is not at all what I experience in the studio. Making art is hard. Not hard physically but, mentally draining. It is a stress filled rollercoaster ride, like a whirlwind romance, filled with dramatic mood swings and chaos, waves of pure pleasure followed but crushing frustration.

Realizing this made me feel a little more relaxed about wasting my life creating paintings. Like so many things in life, it is more about the journey than the destination and, it seems that people can find and appreciate these struggles and emotions in the finished pieces of art. This realization also helps explain why my best paintings feature models that I know and love, even if the imagery of the piece does not necessarily reflect their personality or my relationship with them.

With that in mind, I want to show you my latest piece. It features my, soon to be wife, sunbathing. Like most of my sunbather paintings, I have corrupted an old masters representation of the lamentation of Christ but, that is not important for this blog post. What is important in this context is that I did the initial studies and photographs for this painting, a few years ago when we first met. Back before we were (almost) newlyweds, she was just a pretty stranger walking through The Distillery building, and I was just a broke artist who needed someone willing to model for free. As we started dating the creation of this piece got pushed aside as I was inspired to (somewhat obsessively) work on a large scale portrait of her instead. Now that our relationship is changing once again, I thought it was a good time to bring this piece back, to finish the painting that initially brought us together.

Sunbather #4

Now, that story has little to do with the message and imagery of the completed painting. I came up with the concept for the painting before we even met and in its world, she is just a helpful volunteer. However, in the studio, where paintings are frequently abandoned incomplete, and the (fairly simple and easy) act of rendering is turned into a dramatic battle within my own mind, having that deeper connection and interest in the model is often the difference between success and failure.

The title of the piece is simply, “Sunbather #4”. It is done in oil on custom birch wood panel and I will be dropping it off at Sloane Merrill Gallery (on Charles Street in Beacon Hill) this afternoon. By popular demand, I have conceded to make a series of smaller pieces that are a bit more affordable and, most importantly, fit into apartments or houses with normal sized walls. If you like this piece, let me know and go by the gallery and have a look. While I really love working large, I know that large pieces are just not practical for many people. So, if the pieces sell and feedback is good, I will try to keep focused on making more small pieces.

At my house, we often joke about how our favorite news anchors feel like another member of the family. These are people we have never met but, they talk to (at?) us every morning and we enjoy their (virtual) presence in the house. Just like any other member of the family, we grow and change with them, we notice if they are sick, and when we don’t get to watch for a few days, we miss them. I know we are not alone feeling this way but it is worth mentioning because I have noticed that I experience a very similar feeling when I am working on paintings.

Right now I am working on this, rather large, piece:

portrait in progress

My friend Cassandra was good enough to model for the painting. She is a pretty interesting girl who normally spends her time hanging with famous (infamous?) Bostonians, doing the sort of cartoons that seem to be rough drafts for comedy performances, and creating her own paintings. Despite all these great qualities, and the fact that we have generally enjoyed each others company, we don’t really manage to see each other all that often. Now, normally this would not really be note worthy. Everyone’s life is busy and most people probably have a handful of friends they love the idea of seeing more often but don’t actually manage to visit. However, in this case, I have just spent a couple of weeks closely studying and painting an image of this person. Strangely, this has left me feeling like I have spent the last week or two hanging around with the real Cassandra. Just like the newscasters, who I have never met, spending this time with Cassandras image has left me feeling closer to someone, who I rarely see.

Beyond the, sort of silly, feeling of bonding with someone I have not actually seen, realizing this has helped reveal some other trends in my work. I have found myself struggling more than usual with the last few paintings and I was having trouble figuring out the problem. Suddenly it is making more sense and I have discovered a few things about my process.

The first thing I do when paint in a portrait, or figure is the eyes. I like the start off by establishing that this piece of wood will soon be “human”. Once I can look a piece in the eyes, it becomes easier to figure out how to approach the rest of the image. Two of the pieces I have been struggling with were figures that were not facing the viewer. I was unable to look the image in the eyes and establish that connection. It sounds so strange to say that out loud but, it seems to make a big difference when I am actually in the studio working.

I also started to see a pattern developing when it comes to the models in my most successful pieces. Most of the people that have modeled for my paintings have been friends of mine. This makes sense when you are trying to establish yourself as an artist and money and deadlines are tight. Friends are willing to show up at odd times and work help out for free. I have discovered that having a personal connection with the model offers another advantage. I am going to be spending weeks or months working on a painting. Since, in some strange way, it feels like I am spending this time with a real person, it had better be someone I want to hang around for that long.

The curious things that happen when you spend too much time in the studio.

I know that was sort of a long strange post for a Monday morning but, let me know what you thought. If you liked it, I will do more longer posts.

Also, if you want to see a painting that I struggled with (but ultimately, became a good piece) head over to Sloane Merrill Gallery on Charles street and see my latest sunbather piece. It will be hanging in the Back to Back show for another week or two only. The weather is great, the gallery is beautiful, and Charles street oozes Boston charm so, take a walk and enjoy Spring.

I generally hate doing multiple posts in a row about the same show but, this time it is a little different. Sloane Merrill Gallery is one of a small handful of new, commercial galleries that have popped up in Boston recently. Now, while we are no New York, Boston has a pretty solid scene of underground performance spaces and alternative art venues. In other words, there is no shortage of places for artists to hang out on the weekend or try out new ideas. When it comes to making actual sales, it is a different story. There are very few commercial galleries in town so, the emergence of three (I think?) new ones this season is pretty uplifting. That said, obviously times are still shaky for galleries everywhere and many around here seem to have responded by taking less risks and being sticking closer to their proven artists (not that I blame them).

Jeremy Durling, 'Anika'

Jeremy Durling, ‘Anika’

With that in mind I am truly excited that Sloane Merrill Gallery has stepped a little outside the traditional commercial gallery comfort zone and partnered with the, more community based, Boston Figurative Artists Center for this show. They put their reputation on the line and did a lot of extra work (I sat in on some of the jury process and there was a considerable amount of entries to sort through) to allow more local artists and talented amateurs to hang in the gallery with their regular roster of artists. Mixing a juried component into the regularly scheduled show is a pretty interesting way to get people excited about a new space and a great way for a gallery to give a little back to the Boston arts community.

Justin Hess, 'Study of Alicia'

Justin Hess, ‘Study of Alicia’

Come out this Friday (the 12th) for the opening reception or, for the next month or so during normal gallery hours to check out the show. I have not seen everything hung yet but, what I have seen looks great. Let the people that run the gallery know that their efforts are appreciated and if you can, maybe even buy a painting. I assume you will know my piece when you see the biggest, brightest thing in the gallery.

I just completed a new piece for a show at Sloane Merrill Gallery. The show opens next Friday, April 12th and there will be an opening reception at the gallery from 6:30-9:00pm. Check out the new piece and then see the official announcement below for more details on the show.

Suburban Dream?

Please join Sloane Merrill Gallery in collaboration with the Boston Figurative Art Center on Friday, April 12th from 6:30-9pm for the opening of Back to Back!

The collaborative exhibition highlights the figure as an important subject in our modern world — one that is both beautiful and a struggle to capture. The theme of the show marries the often sacred and sensual use of the human back to represent form with the more abstract concept of what it means to be “back to back”. The participating figurative artists explored this theme in oils and their visual experiences will be shared at the exhibition opening.

Back to Back at Sloane Merrill

Two of my favorites from the show: Tom Grady, ‘Spine’ and Damon Lehrer’s keekaroo high chair reviews, ‘Green Chair Nude’

Back to Back has two distinct components — one half is an invitational and the other is juried. Invitational artists include: Damon Lehrer, Jon Nix, Leo Mancini-Hresko, Nick Ward, Rick Berry, Tony Apesos, Gene Dorgan, Paul Goodnight, Brett Gamache, Jim Burke, Freda Nemirovsky, Britt Snyder, Ann Hirsch, Tom Grady, Janet Monafo, Paul Rahilly, & Kelly Carmody.

Jurors are Damon Lehrer of BFAC, Liz Devlin of FLUX. Boston, Jon Nix, Fr. Iain MacLellan of Saint Anselm College, and Ali Ringenburg of Sloane Merrill Gallery.

More information at: http://sloanemerrillgallery.com/exhibitions/2013/1/29/back-to-back

Join the event on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/146883525483652/