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

Until recently, I never considered the impact of my studio space on the art I make. I didn’t have too. I had a big space, with easy access, in a building that housed a lot of other artists. Unfortunately, progress stops for no one and, eventually the time came when I had to leave that that big open studio space behind so it could became a few, smaller, fancier, more expensive apartments.

With that space gone, I took another space in the building. It could only be accessed by a tight stairwell that restricted the size of work I could do, and it was a bit more expensive but, it was big, open, and I didn’t have to leave the building of artists behind so I jumped right in and continued working.

Unfortunately, that space was a little rough, and the price kept creeping up so, late last year it was time to leave that studio behind to look for greener (less expensive) pastures. That search took me through four studios in the last year or so and, as a result my work really started to suffer. I started to understand the importance of having a good space to work in and saw the impact of different situations in the paintings that I was doing. During this period of studio chaos, one painting came along for the ride and saw the effects of all 4 spaces. It started out in a space that I was settled and comfortable. With good light and lots of space. It moved with me into a dark, dirty, cold basement studio that I just could not convince myself to visit during the warm summer days. It followed me when I fled to the outskirts of town to work in a little garage and it finally settled into a tiny spare room in my new house with me. It started big and bold and loosely painted, it took on strange colors when I worked in bad light and it became more realistic when the space was too cramped to step back.

Somehow, the painting ended up looking pretty good. It is definitely a little different from similar pieces I have done in the past but, I am betting that a lot of you might think it is a step forward.

Normally this is the part of the post where I would reveal the final piece but, in this case, it will be heading out to a show and they have asked me to keep it under wraps for now… but I just can’t resist giving a little teaser.

And I Realize That Most of My Wounds Are Self Inflicted

If you want to see it go through a lot of changes, some strange color choices, and a bunch of different studios check out my instagram page where I have posted some progress shots of the piece over the last few months.

For now, there is a happy ending to this story, I am settled in to the tiny little spare room studio in my new house, taking the opportunity to work on some smaller pieces while I try to figure out, what makes a good studio and, where can I find or build one in this city.

Portrait of Jessica

Working on this painting has been a struggle. In fact, working on pieces with this particular model, has been a struggle. I don’t want to cast the blame on her, though, this struggle is mine, she just stumbled into it. To be fair, she may be the most experienced, easiest to work with model I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with. She showed up when she said she would, she was beautiful, charming, and had an incredible ability to position herself in just the right way for each image. By all measures, she nailed it. Unfortunately, this sort of thing just doesn’t help me make good paintings.

Now, let me elaborate on that. This sort of thing would help immensely if I had the opportunity to have her in the studio for an extended time, so that I could work from life. The reality is that I just don’t have the budget to do that yet. The reality of being an artist, working in a style that is not exactly in fashion, is that I have to stretch a dollar. The reality is, I have to work primarily from photographs. Nobody wants to hang around my studio for weeks on end, staying as still as possible, without a really good reason (if anyone wants to volunteer, I would certainly prefer to work from life). This is not a complaint though, I accept this reality and, to be honest, for someone who is often accused of being a photo realist painter (an accusation which I would adamantly deny), I just don’t spend too much time worrying about what things actually look like.

Here I am, struggling away in the studio, hardly caring what things actually look like, barely even looking at a bunch of shitty photographs (did I mention that I am a shitty photographer?) to make sure that all the body parts fall roughly in the right place, trying to create representational art. Not exactly the best case scenario but, sometimes it works. The times that it works, are the times that I am painting people who I know. People that I know well enough to paint a convincing likeness within these less than ideal parameters.

Back to my struggle. In this case, like the other paintings I have attempted with this model, I am breaking that pattern. I am staring hard at the reference images, trying to figure out if my painting actually looks anything like her. I am trying so hard to figure out if I am on the right track but, in the end, I just don’t know all that well what she really looks like. I am spending a lot of time worrying about this, when it really shouldn’t matter. After all, what I am trying to paint is not what someone actually looks like, but the feeling of looking at someone (or something like that), and since I don’t really know what looking at Jessica feels like, I struggle.

In any case, while I am not sure that this painting looks anything like her, I think I am finally happy with the result.

“But, How did I get to.. Now?”

48″x48″ oil on canvas

But, How Did I Get To Now..

Those of you that hate the text paintings will be happy to see that I restrained myself here.

For anyone in the Chicago area, this piece is headed out that way in April, more details on that show will be posted soon. I will be out for the opening so, if you show up and claim to actually read these posts, I will buy you a beer.*

*if I have any money.

I like to make big paintings. I like to have plenty of room to work. I like to be able to include a lot of texture and chaos while still painting realistically. I like to incorporate the smallest of details without feeling cramped. Also, big paintings just look impressive on the wall. If you are reading this, those statements are probably not news to you. However, big paintings take a lot of time, money, and energy to create. Big paintings are expensive. Big paintings need to go places with big walls.

The most common thing people say to me when they see my paintings–more often than mentioning the nudity, more often than questioning the strange use of text or bright colors–is the paintings are just too big for their walls. Open studios weekend is coming up at The Distillery (June 2nd) and I expect to be told that my paintings are too large… a lot.

So, I am making a regular sized painting. Here it is after a couple afternoons of work.

Jessica eyeliner portrait, painting in progress

And, next to a big painting for scale.

big painting small painting comparison

Next up will be a sunbather in similar scale so, for everyone who asked for smaller paintings, here is your chance.

I have had a lot going on, preparing for shows and traveling but have still managed to get a good amount done on this piece. I have been trying keep posting daily shots on my Tumblr page whenever work on it so, go have a look at how it has progressed. Here it is as it stands now after about 12 days of work.

Portrait In Progress