Yesterday morning I was a stand-in tutor at our school Art lessons. It proved to be great fun - I think for all concerned - but made me think again about my chosen career - that of the penniless artist. The question is why? The constant struggle to pay bills was never in my game plan.
Art Class sketch
The answer is simple enough, because it is one thing that I was reasonably good at, (my English teacher would have insisted that I write 'at which I was reasonably good', but it still reads and sounds stilted to me). Also, I enjoyed skiddling about with pens and pencils and paint. And I do still. In fact it is more than a pleasure, it is a need. I can feel quite low if I am not working on something or other.
25 years ago I gave up my job as a motor underwriter to pursue a career in art, having made pictures all my life.
Gill and I opened a gallery in Campbeltown (Argyll, Scotland) so that I could do this and, until established, earn a living by selling gifts and crafts. I dare say we could have chosen a more lucrative location to do this, but - with a few ups and some regular downs - we had a fairly successful business. We survived for 22 years before deciding to move on, which says a lot. But our business success included the need to add picture framing to the mix; not something I would have chosen to do, but one that I enjoyed for 20 years. I certainly produced many artworks during this time and had a number of good commissions which kept me painting. My own projects tottered along but even now, await my full attention to see them completed. Now in my early sixties, painting continues to be fun, and equally continues to fall short of the basic requirement to provide a living.
...and 'skiddling' with paint
Of course, moving to Ireland and leaving the Artist's Open Studio Network, Artmap Argyll has taken me down the snake to start the game again, and I am faced with the age-old challenge: Do I spend my time on building connections, or concentrate on producing the work? Both is the requirement that must be embraced.
No matter what I do, the actuality is that earning well from my artwork is a long-term thing ... again. The journey is enjoyable, more so than the arrival, for I believe that most artists appreciate the act of creation rather than the end result, which frequently disappoints; even if the artwork is a masterpiece, it never lives up to the initial inspiration. Maybe that is just me, but I don't think so.
My father, who signed his paintings 'Mackean Stewart', only really began his artistic career about retiral age, after a successful life in business, despite art training when in his twenties from the renowned Scottish artist, Macintosh Patrick. Over a period of 20 years he produced hundreds of paintings - mostly of Argyll and Kintyre - and sold most of them.
All the advice one receives nowadays is to 'follow your heart' and turn whatever you love doing into a business as a surefire way of success. That may well be true for many, but omits to mention that one needs a sound business sense and perseverance. I have plenty of the latter, but not enough of the former.
In the class we had a time of sketching with charcoal pencils, followed by some playing with watercolours and I have included my own sketches in charcoal and paint to give you an idea of what can be done in no time at all.
We had an hour and twenty minutes of fun, laughter and creativity. That, I strongly suspect is the real reward for the endeavour.
G J Stewart
Humphreystown, Co Wicklow
2nd May 2015
Happy Birthday, Gill!