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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

From Tentative to Bold – Going Pro


"Sandhill Cranes at Twilight" 24 x 30 acrylic on canvas, in gold frame with black liner
It happens gradually that transition between learning a skill and mastering it. One day you realize you’ve mastered a color mixture or a technique. You’re painting a face or a landscape with confidence and with fewer brush strokes. You’ve gone pro.

It happened to me while painting a leaf. In the beginning I’d try to mimic what I saw unsuccessfully. There was usually too much paint on my brush and only a gut feeling of what to do. My mind didn’t seem to be engaged. That may be a good thing once you’ve mastered a skill or technique, but in the beginning concentration and execution take thought. As the T.V. artist, Jenkins’ said to his students: “Don’t rush the brush.”

"Maestro" Work-in-Progress 9 x 12 pastel on Bristol
Now I find myself painting intuitively and skillfully. Instead of adding veins on the leaves as an afterthought, I leave lighter line areas untouched, forcing the creation of realistic veins without having to paint them. This was an eye opener. I could do this with other things: the smile lines on a child’s face, creases in an older man’s forehead. Instead of painting hard lines which often age a younger face, I could place shadow next to the highlight for a softer looking crease.

These simple revelations come to all of us as we practice our trade. The more you do something, more ways open up to do the same thing in a more efficient and realistic way. I found myself telling a few other artists how to paint portraits. I remember thinking: “wow, so now you’re the expert?”

"Maestro" 9 x 12 Pastel on Bristol
We all have self doubts. But once we cross that threshold of confidence and skill, there’s no going back. The next step is to start acting and thinking like a professional. In the beginning we worry about pricing. We see every mistake we ever made on a canvas, and wonder who would buy it? We price our efforts low and even feel somewhat guilty in trying to sell our wares.

Oh, go on – I know you've felt this way, too. After a few sales and some commissioned work, we begin to see our own work the way others see it. We value our skill and our talents. I use a simple rule of thumb. Width times length equals value; i.e. 16 x 20 = $320 add price of frame, etc. A good asking price is $350.

"Brown Thrasher" 16 x  20 acrylic on canvas
As your skills increase and your name becomes known, the prices go up. Always factor in the cost of the frame and the percentage a show or gallery charges for showing your work (30-40%) and price accordingly.


Once you cross over from beginner to Professional, don’t let anything hold you back.