Saying YES!

I am sure you have heard the first rule of improv right?  The first rule of improv is to always say yes.  When you say yes you keep the movie rolling.  You advance the story.  You help sell the jokes and make the show memorable.  Sometimes our art business can feel like that,  We say yes to all kinds of things.  I am here to tell you that saying YES can be a good thing….a great thing.  But it has it’s limitations too.  If you missed the last blog post about saying NO you should read that first.


Saying YES can be super.  It can also create a lot of burdens for yourself.  So let’s look at YES and how to more effectively take on the things you love.

1. Be Ready To Say YES – Make sure you cab do the gig.  As artists we get asked things that may be outside our wheelhouse from time to time.  And sometimes its OK to sya yes to these things but other times we end up promising things that we cannot deliver.  SO try saying yes to the things YOU KNOW YOU CAN DO.  Like if someone came to me and said I need a painting of several irds…..YES.  That is exactly what I do.  So make sure you CAN do it first.

2. Bite Off More Than You Can Chew – Not every time….but once in a while it’s a good thing to go big/  Bigger than you are used to.  Saying yes can help you see what you are made of.  Youve never painted a 6000 square foot mural before….but you will have help and you can see it happening.  Say YES.  You will learn a lot of things.  You will work with great people and  communicate hopefully better than before.  But you can’t do this one all the time.  You gotta know where your limits are.  So be ready to say NO.

3. Integrity is EVERYTHING – I never tell people yes unless I am absolutely going to do it.  I have had a whole slew of health problems over the last few years.  But even though that is an issue I have always given the projects I say yes to my 100%.  Last year I worked at a Arts Center teaching young people to make art.  I wan only there a week….then my kidneys failed.  I shit you not I was actually considering still going to the class on the last day….even when I was so sick I couldn’t stand up.  When you say you are gonna do things….do your best to do them.  But don’t die trying to do them.

beata-ratuszniak--6mZyblCys4-unsplashSaying Yes can help you make great connections, pay the bills, show in new spaces.  Just be careful with it.  Think of it like this….You can only give out so many Yeses cause  that means time and energy, and you only have SO MUCH of that.  So sprinkle them around….say no in between.  And live happy.  You MUST take care of yourself.  You have to guard your time and choose the things you really want to do.  If you say yes to too many things you will eventually have to say NO to some really good ones.  It takes practice.  And then there is always y motto….Go big or go back to the hospital.  Until Next Time.

When to say ‘NO!’

Are you overworked?  As an artist do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ to every show, every gig, mural, commission, one off show piece, etc.?  Do you do this because you are scared that if you don’t it will mean you’re being lazy?  Or maybe you won’t be able to pay the bills….In my first year, I basically said to anything and everything.  I still get do it sometimes and have ended up stressed out and even in tears.  Meeting all the deadlines and keeping it all organized can be a five ton 18 headed snake monster.  It can get even worse when it drains your creativity that you NEED at the crucial moment.  So let’s examine why we do this to ourselves, why it can be detrimental, and learn how to say NO and be happier.

Tired artist leaned on easel, closeup

Like I mentioned before, sometimes you need to pay the bills.  That’s completely valid.  I have heard artists say that they feel like if they say ‘no’ that they won’t get asked to be in more shows.  Like their response will somehow put them on the ‘naughty’ list.  Some people I have talked to are worried that people may perceive them as lazy….they themselves would think that so why wouldn’t others think that?  There are a ton of reasons we take on everything we can.  And sometimes it’s killing our creativity, our reputation, and our production.  The truth is when you don’t have enough time to make your best work you cut corners.  You stay up late nights freaking out about things and skipping details.  I have done it….a lot.  I was once the master of painting things a day before the deadline….or so i thought.  When I look back at any of that work that I crammed for….it’s not awful but its not nearly as good as the stuff I gave myself ample time to work on.  Saying no to more projects will create that time for you to not cram.  Give yourself the right amount of time.

Yeah we all need to pay the bills.  I am so broke half the time and the demands of my 9 year old grow each day, money wise.  When we take on more work from this perspective we can sometimes sell ourselves short.  Have you ever taken on a commission for cheap because you really need it?  Had you just stuck it out and asked for what it was worth you’d obviously be better off right?  I always run into this.  I will take on some job for cheap thinking…damn I need groceries.  Then while I am in the middle of that project someone comes along with a great project with a box of cash and I can’t say yes cause I literally can’t work 24 hours a day.  So the cheap project killed my chances for the better more lucrative one.  I have even been dumb enough to try and take on BOTH.  And both of them were…well….weak.  I am so unhappy with both of them that I don’t usually include them in my portfolio.

Being scared that a gallery won’t ever ask you to be in a show ever again seems so real.  You maybe just started working with a super great gallery.  you had one successful group show and they even sold your piece.  Now they are sending out a call for a new show and they need it done in 2 weeks.  You wanna say yes so they keep calling you.  I mean you tried for 2 years to even get them to let you be in a show in the first place right?!  So you say YES even though in the next two weeks you have 2 surgeries, a wedding, your kid’s birthday and a trip to Disneyland planned.  Oh and you have to finish a solo show in 2 months but you know…..YOU KNOW you can squeeze it in.  After all it’s just a 16×20….how hard could it be?  Then the day before the deadline you wake up in a panic.  Today’s the day.  Shit.  I haven’t even done a drawing yet…..oh man.  Tears at the easel.  Sound familiar?  Over the last ten years I have done this kind of thing a thousand times.  STOP.  STOP it right the fuck right now!  Galleries will still work with you if you say no.  Gallerists know that sometimes people are busy.  They get that you got hustle.  They know about 100 other artists that they may be able to ask to be in the show.  Saying no can be hard but here are a few things to make it easier for you.

Male graphic designer with hand on head sitting at desk in a modern office

Saying NO 101

1. Say NO as soon as you can.  –  My good friend and mentor Eric Rewitzer at 3 Fish Studios taught me this.  When you just can’t play along in a show or cant take on more work and you need to say NO….Do it early.  Giving the gallery or the patron your ‘NO’ right away allows them to cross you off their list and look for other artists that might say yes.  It’s a respect thing.   Don’t leave them on the hook wondering if you can or can’t.  They have shit to do.  Shows to prep and such.  So tell them as soon as you can that you cannot do it.

2.  Refer someone that may say yes  – Sometimes I can’t do a mural or a pet portrait.  It makes it easier for me to say no when I have a referral of someone that might be able to do it.  The client may or may not call them….that’s not your problem.  But it makes it easier on ME to give a referral.  Sometimes it works out and you may get a referral yourself from someone in the future.  Remember a rising tides lifts all boats so tell your clients about your favorite artists in your community and let’s all win.

3. Say NO to the right stuff…..erh the WRONG STUFF  – This one has taken me some time to learn.  But it’s best summed up by the amazing Kenny Rogers song ‘The Gambler’ where Kenny says :

He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run


You gotta take on the right stuff and say no to the wrong stuff.  By that I mean, as a policy there are some things I just won’t do anymore.  I won’t draw your tattoo.  I don’t design logos.  I will not paint portraits of your kids.  I do not paint nudes….no matter how bad you wanna take your clothes off for me.  This year I have decided that I can no longer do murals.  Every time I go out for a mural I end up in the hospital….so no go for me on the wall stuff.  I won’t do free stuff.  etc.

Maybe make a list of things that you must say no to.  Stuff that drives you crazy or isn’t in your skill set.  It will really help you with those crazy requests….and it will help you even more when you try to talk yourself into a gig.  ‘Maybe I could paint their baby,….I mean how hard can it be?’  NO!

4. The Blacklist Nonsense  –  Look the work will always be out there.  Stop thinking you wont get asked for the next show.  Say no in a good way and they will come back around.  And if they don’t ask you anymore maybe they weren’t all that great to begin with.

Portrait of an attractive female artist.

I promise saying no more often really will make things better for you.  Also if you are still worried about paying the bills….maybe more work isn’t the answer.  Are you charging the right amount for your work?  What is your sales percentage like?  Are you doing all you can to sell it?  Maybe a review in some other areas will help kick things into gear.  So take a look at the other stuff.  Like I said you need to leave yourself the time and sanity to make your best work and if you are really doing that then you can charge correctly for it and SELL it.

I hope that this helps you think about being less stressed out.  Less deadline crazy.  Less panicky.  And you won’t always get it right.  But do your best to really consider things before taking on more work.  It will pay you back every time.  Please leave any strategies you have for saying NO in the comments.  Take care.

Piecing Together A Story…Working In A Series

Hey all,  I am so sorry for the very extended break.  As you may know I am facing some tough health challenges.  But I am recommitting to be back on track with at least one post a month.   Thanks for you patience.

Have you ever worked in a series?  Have you ever staged a show that added to that series and gave many layers of story and depth to the work?  My good friend Shane Izykowski has done just that very thing with his latest solo show ‘Midnight In The Garden of Goodbye.’

Shane is a fantastic painter, make up artist, production designer, and host of the ‘Drawing From Experience’ podcast, which is available however you stream podcasts or on the show’s website.  Currently his show is on exhibit here in San Francisco at Secession Art and Design.   And it is a masterclass in not only painting skill but also in building depth, story, and interaction into the work.

Shane had been kicking around an idea of people letting go of their regrets and was struck by images of a night time garden where people could do just that.  After all to find peace, we all need to let go of some things.  This idea conjured up several images in his art brain and as a superb storyteller he has created a three act story with a dark and brilliant cast of characters…each one moving you towards liberation.


To create more depth, Shane placed a podium in the gallery with a lovely old typewriter, and asked people to share their regrets.  Near the end of the show Shane will be Burning these regrets live on Facebook.  Some of the things people wrote are a little funny and comical…but several of them are real burdens.  It’s a very exciting idea that will force each participant to connect to the show as well as be excited to see what Shane comes up with next.  They will indeed follow more of his story.

This is how Shane seems to work out shows.  Working out a concept, visualizing ideas, creating work in a series, staging a show that entices people and draws them in.  And it is incredibly successful.


Here are a few reasons I like working this way.  One – The story dictates the direction of the work.  If you’re gonna paint all the Greek gods….you’re not gonna sit there and think of what to paint next.  You know you gotta do Zues and Herra, etc.  So it can help with making some of the imagination stuff happen quicker.  Two – By adding something to your show that deepens the story and experience you are showing people things that they may not see the first time around.  Each time they see the show they may realize new things.  Some of my favorite albums were made 20 years ago and I still find new things.  That is artistic genius.  And Shane is definitely there.

Now I’m not saying you have to go create a whole experience for each show you have.  You don’t even have to work in a series.  Shane has been working like this for some time and has a lot of experience.  If he didn’t, this might seem gimmicky.  But that is certainly not the case.   I am saying to give it some thought and see if something like that would make its way into your work.

I am also sayin that you need to go see this show.

The show ends Saturday June 1st. 

Also….I was one of the models for he show….so ya know.  Say hi.

So you wanna sell a painting?

Recently I asked for readers to send in their questions about art business. And one of my favorite artists, Frank Gonzalez, asked ‘How do you sell paintings?’

I thought to myself ‘he must be kidding…I mean by all accounts he is doing well and has more experience than I do at selling work.’ And I kind of wrote it off as a joke. But as the days went by Frank’s question stuck with me. It burrowed it’s way deep into my head…how do you sell paintings? I don’t really believe in luck…and this IS my full time job. So let’s take a look at how I sell paintings.

In your quest for the red dot you will have to overcome a few obstacles. The first of which is something that happens in your studio. You are going to have to determine if the work is done or not. Of course you can paint the sides of your panel, varnish the work, and even put hangers on it. But what I am getting at has a lot more to do with ‘are you done?’ Are you happy with it? One thing you definitely don’t wanna do is put out something that you feel doesn’t best represent you. Sometimes fast approaching deadlines can make you cut corners or turn in work that you don’t believe in. I have also made work for shows and commissions that weren’t in my normal realm of what I do….and have made weak work because of it. Other times I have made some of my best work with these limitations. So stand back….take a break (I take naps) and come back and look at your work. Are you 100% on board with it? Can you fix it so that you would be happier with it? Make good art that you believe in…and finish it.

Another step in your bid to sell work is one that I personally find is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. You have to have a story. We are not simply image makers. If we could got paid just to paint pretty pictures that would be great…and some people actually do…they are illustrators. But as artists we are expressing our own ideas, feelings and stories through art. The things we create are self driven. Even when we enter work into shows with themes we are responding to the theme the curators set forth. And often times at art shows and such I am asked ‘Why do you paint these birds?’ Or ‘what is your connection to these animals?’ I find that it really helps to have good and interesting answers. For instance…’I paint birds because my grandmother was a big bird person. And she was the kindest person that I ever knew. So for me, birds represent kindness and love…And that is what I am focusing on with this piece.’

Saying what drives me to make this art and connecting my story to the painting is something that can deepen people’s interest in the work. They are still free to assign their own story to the work, which I enjoy hearing as well. Sharing my story sounds a whole heck of a lot better than saying ‘uhm, I don’t know why I made it…it just popped out.’

Sometimes I don’t sell my work. Not even a little bit. Nowadays a lot of the selling of my art happens in a gallery setting. Yes I go to the openings and meet folks and tell my story. Yes I email folks and invite them to go see the work on display. Yes when I talk about my work I speak positively about it (see my earlier blog piece about talking about your work). But a good majority of the work is done by the gallery owner. They reach out to the collectors that they believe would like my work. They talk about me and my work. They make the sale. And the galleries that work hard to sell my work definitely earn their commission. So work with galleries that will work hard to sell your work.

In an open studio situation or if you stage a show yourself, YOU are going to have to do that work. If that is the case a few things can help. Look approachable and inviting. The last thing you wanna do is just hang out in a corner with your friends all night drinking and telling in-jokes. I have been to a lot of open studios and the ones that don’t do well are easily the ones where I felt like I wasn’t invited. For me, sobriety is a big one. I am a sober person. You don’t have to be sober. But getting hammered and partying isn’t ok either. A drink or two to loosen you up may be fine. But stay in control. You need to be able to relate to people. Remember that for you, this is a work event.

Clean your space…set up lights, and be ready to make the sale. No one wants to see you scramble through drawers to find your Square Reader or price labels to put on your work. Treat your space like your gallery. After all, you are the one earning that commission…so get your shit together.

I am sure there are lots of other answers to Frank’s question. I am also certain that it varies greatly from artist to artist. But this is some of the ways that I have found to help me be successful in the art game. I hope that helps you on your quest for the red dots. Go forth and kick ass.

Now for some announcements. Thank you.

This upcoming weekend (Dec. 1-2) I have two shows to tell you about. The first is at my studio at Arc Gallery (1246) Folsom St. in San Francisco. Dec. 1st. From 12-3. So much art. Please stop bye.

The second show is Sunday Dec. 2nd at this he Richmond Art Center in the East Bay. See you there.

The Price Is Right

Recently I made a social media post asking for folks to post their art business questions.  And boy, did I get a lot of responses.  Thank you so much.  Here is the first one in that series.

Artist Rosie Garcia asks “How do you price work, for example if you sell through a gallery or not. Do you have same price either way?”

That is a very good question and one that I get asked a lot.  So let’s look at some pricing tips.  I have 5 helpful pricing tips and #3 definitely answers Rosie’s question.


1.  Separate Feelings From Facts – I don’t know about you but for me, when it’s time to price my work DOUBT shows up in a big way.  I often hear my brain say things like “there’s no way it’s worth THAT much!” or “I wouldn’t pay that kind of money for this, it’s not that good.”  Doubt creeps up.  Stop that shit right now!  Galleries, collectors, and patrons don’t get to see your feelings and your doubt.  They are looking at prices based on external facts.  They see the market (other art like yours), size, materials you used, and hear your story as to why you created this piece (artist statement).  They aren’t inside your head being told it’s not worth it.  So when you are pricing get in the mindset of basing you prices on facts NOT feelings.

2. What ARE the facts? – You need your work to cover a few costs.  Your time and materials should be factored in.  It also helps for you to go do your homework.  Look at other art that is similar in your area and see what it is selling for.  Does your work fit into that range?  Are people buying it at certain price….Should you charge more or less?  Also look at work you have sold in the past….is your pricing consistent with older work.  You can do some research and figure out the numbers that may work for you….You don’t have to pull the price out of thin air.

3. Set It And Forget It – I know it sounds like an info-mercial.  But I have a policy that when I am done with a piece I set the price based on facts….and THAT is the final price.  It never changes.  Why?  Well mostly I want my prices to be consistent for my collectors and my galleries.  I wouldn’t want a person to buy a piece at a gallery for say $1000 and then go to another gallery and see the similar series paintings for $600.  That collector would feel stiffed and ripped off.  ALSO the galleries that find you changing your prices may not want to work with you ever again.  This is also true for my Open Studios shows.  The price is the same at my Open Studios as it would be in the gallery.  My good friend Jennifer Farris the Owner of STUDIO Gallery told me a bit of wisdom years ago and I live by it.  She said “You deserve 50% of the sale for making the art, and someone deserves 50% of the sale for SELLING the art.”  So if a gallery does their job and works hard to sell your painting they totally deserve it.  And if you work super hard on your open studio and make the sale….YOU deserve that half.  So keep your prices consistent.

4. Stand Behind Your Prices – Once you have done the research and homework.  You have factored in all the things like costs, times, materials, other art, etc.  You have a a number that looks right….feels right…and is backed up by the facts.  You may also want to get some outside help.  You can ask your peers if your pricing seems on target.  You can even talk with the gallery owners and curators sometimes and find out if your pricing fits for their gallery.  Often times I have found that I was undervaluing my work (see tip #1).  So don’t be scared to ask for some outside help.  And once you have it….stand on it.  You are the only person that makes work like yours.  You have worked for years to get to where you are now in your art journey.  You have spent countless dollars on supplies, bills, and education.  You have put in so many grueling late night hours perfecting your thing.  You have a style.  You are bold.  You are strong and courageous and you believe that your work is worth it and you have the facts to back you up.

5. Overall Prices Of Your Body Of Work – I tell artists this next sentence a lot and sometimes i jars them a little bit…so get ready.

“You don’t owe it to anyone to make affordable art”

I hope that doesn’t scare you.  Here is what I mean by that.  Over the course of your art career you are hopefully going to make a LOT of art.  Some big things….some small things.  Some good…..some not as good.  You are gonna price things wrong sometimes….and sometimes you will nail it.  Many artists I talk to tell me that they make art that is cheap for their friends and family.  And when they talk about it you’d think they didn’t even cover their costs.  That only hurts the artist.  As artists we don’t always have a lot of income steams….so undervaluing your main source of art income only hurts you.  Price things correctly. If someone likes one of your larger more pricey pieces but cant afford it….maybe they can afford a smaller piece or a commission.  You are going to make art with all different price points and sizes.  Maybe one of the other price points will fit their budget.  Maybe they aren’t that serious about it in the first place.  I mean…if someone is really in love with a piece….Nothing is going to stop them from having it.  So keep that in mind when you are looking at pricing your current body of work.  You owe it to yourself to get this right.

I am sure I could spout off plenty of more things about pricing your work.  Heck I am sure I could talk my way into a book deal about pricing.  Artists all over the Bay Area have asked me for pricing help.  It is a topic that comes up at every workshop I give, even if it’s not a workshop about pricing.  Take these tips and go forth.  You will get it right.

Photo on 1-14-18 at 2.37 PM #2

As for more questions, I would love to hear what you wanna know about art inspiration or art business.  Please Comment with a question and I will work to get in on the blog.  THANK YOU!

How to have a Victory with Open Studios!

Here in San Francisco we are just a few days away from open studios. (Mine is on Oct. 12, 13, 14….oh man)  ArtSpan’s SF Open Studios is largest and longest running Open Studios program in the country. This week I am frantically making lists of the things I need to do, and fighting off the panic. As the co-chair of ArtSpan’s Open Studios committee I get asked a lot of questions on how to prepare for the event. Over the last 6 years of doing it I have a good amount to share. Here are some key incites that will help you to have a some victories with Open Studios.


First Stop – The Toolkit – Did you know that ArtSpan volunteers have comprised a toolkit to help you succeed at Open Studios?  It has a wealth of information in it.  Anything from postcard designing, to sales receipts and what food to set out in your studio.  If you have questions….hopefully its in the toolkit.  So stop there first.  One of my personal favs in the toolkit is the timeline….showing you when you should be ordering postcards and getting ready.  I find that super helpful.  Check it out here…

Check The  Variables… – Look…there are things you can control about Open Studios and things you cannot control.  You can say to yourself I wanna sell all of my work and make ‘X’ amount of dollars during my Open Studios.  But that is not something you can control.  There are things on your list that are NOT variables.  Like, you can invite 50 people by phone.  You can go door to door and tell all ten of your neighbors about your Open Studio.  You can give out 100 postcards to people.  You can make sure that the coffee shop down the street has SF Open Studios Guides.  Do you see where I am going with this?  You can do action items that are attainable and if you do that to the best of your ability you will have a successful open studios.  Which brings me to the next piece…Victory.


Defining Victory – What does it mean to be successful at Open Studios?  Is Open Studios a good place to sell your work?  Can I pay my bills with this event?

Certainly for each of us the answers vary greatly.  I have always approached Open Studios as a ‘get to know me’ event.  Since I can’t control if people buy my work or not, I tend to not look at it as a SALES event.  My mission is to show people my work and studio and get them acquainted with my story.  I work to get names and emails onto my mailing list.  I give out commission information.  I talk and tell stories all weekend.  I work really hard to invite a lot of people to my event.  And I curate and present my work in the best light I can so that people can enjoy it and start to follow what I do.  And if that is your goal and you put in the time and work….you win.  Even if no one buys a single painting, you nail all the things that you can control and have a victory in that.  THEN when someone does buy a piece of work its like a bonus round.

Approaching the event this way has really helped me on the days that there were no sales.  It has helped me see that maybe I didn’t make much money one day, but I did get 46 new people on my mailing list….and as I have managed that list over the years, some of those people have followed me and come out to shows…and even now collect my work.  So for me, Open Studios is about playing long-ball.  It’s nice to sell stuff…and I usually do well with prints and things, but its really great to meet new collectors and get people excited about what I do.

Now I know this approach may not work for all of us.  Some folks are in this event to pay their bills.  More power to them and I hope they kill it.  Even still….look at the things that you do have control over and make sure that you do that work.  Then you will have a victory either way.

I hope to make it out to all of your open studios this year.  Its a huge event.  Go kick buns.

See you soon.


SF Open Studios  – Check out over 800 participating artists over 5 weekends of SF Open Studios.  Its a huge part of the SF art community.  Artists are happily welcoming YOU to their studios…so please check it out.

Change of Seasons

This Saturday was the first day of Fall.  And for a lot of us, it’s our favorite season.  This got me thinking about how the light changes.  How the sun hits the trees from a different angle and how the shadows all change from how they were months ago.  And it got me thinking about big projects.  I work in series very often.  And a few years ago I came up with a metaphor that works for ANY big project.  Especially art stuff.  Check it out.

You can look at the nature of big projects like the seasons of the year.


Spring –  Ah Spring.  The fresh air and smell of grass and flowers blooming, so vibrant and so alive.  Spring is like the place where your ideas are born.  And sometimes they run fast like a raging river.  They bloom almost by instinct.  You have all these fresh ideas and you just do your best to write ’em down before you have MORE new ideas.  When you are starting a project this is certainly the brainstorming and also the planning part.  You are excited, alive, and ready to make the magic.


Summer –  Summer, the days get longer, you do cool stuff like play in the yard with the hose.  Or in your studio.  You are doing the WORK of your project.  It’s fun and memorable but it can also be challenging.  Just like Summer can be too hot, you may find yourself pushing hard to the end of each day.  You planned 20 paintings in this series and now the rubber has met the road and you’re on painting number five.  But hey, enjoy it.  The parts that you love in the end are the work.  I mean, this is what we signed up for, right?

Autumn in Boston Public Garden

Fall – This is it…all the work is done.  All the preparations for the show are finished.  No more work can actually be done.  All the seeds were planted, the plants were tended and now it’s time to harvest.  You are going to present your series in a gallery or your giant sculpture to the world for public consumption.  You will gather and garner all the support and nourishment you can from them.  THIS IS THE HARVEST.  Enjoy it.  You earned every bit of it.


Winter –  The harvest is over.  The food is stored.  The crowds all go back to their homes and now you are left alone to rest and hibernate.  You need time to fully see the scope of what you did.  You need time to rest.  To sleep.  To get solid.  Often times, you need to repair the things you have been neglecting while you were out working.  So take the time to repair.  Soon enough you will see signs of spring again.

And the whole thing repeats.  Sometimes our society heavily values Spring, overvalues Summer, and is obsessed with Fall and pays very little attention to WINTER.  If you look at folks working big career jobs in the United States, their time off is rarely valued.  As artists we get told that we are lazy if someone should see us resting and refilling our brains with ideas.  Sometimes that person telling us to get to work is ourselves.  You must take time to refill the batteries.  So don’t discount Winter.

On that same note, try and find a balance between all the seasons.  You can certainly work way too much in the Summer.  It happens.  That is kind of why the days get longer.  You can work on your stuff and turn it in half-assed just because you need the Harvest so much.  So I see a lot of artists rushing things just to be in shows…..maybe that isn’t the best way to go.  Although I have done it too.  And Spring can be deceptive as you have all these amazing ideas springing forth you forget that eventually, you gotta get to work.  Spring slips into Summer somewhere.  You can’t stay there forever and NOT do the thing you came to do.

As an artist do your best to check in with the seasons and see where you are in your project.  That certainly does not mean you have to line it up with the actual seasons. It’s a nice way to keep you and your time in check for a project.  This is one thing that has really helped me a lot over the years.  Kind of a Zen way to see it.  See if that resonates with you.  Till next time.




Written by Josh Coffy and edited by Harmony Anderson.

What To Do When You Can’t Make Art!


Frida Kahlo being unstoppable.

Have you recently had to deal with some big life changes? Maybe a newborn baby or another health related issue has stopped you from being able to make art.  You could have moved to a new house with a smaller studio space….or possibly your studio area is SO dang cluttered and messy you just can’t….You just can’t.  Whatever the reason you are not making art right now, you should know, that it is temporary.  I mean after all most of us have made art our whole lives.  This month I wanted to write out a few things that have helped me get back to work.

In July,  I was hospitalized for four days.  My kidneys have decided to basically give up.  Immediately I was placed on dialysis.  Now 3 days a week I spend 4 hours in an outpatient center hooked up to a machine that does the job that my kidneys once did.  12-14 hours a week is like a part time job.  And dialysis makes me super tired.  Some days when I get home I crawl back in to bed and sleep for hours.  I try to stay positive…but at times my new found landscape is depressing and on some days, paralyzing.   And as you might have guessed my art production and art business grinded to a halt.

Now it’s September…and it’s time to get back to work.  I feel it.  Plus many of my print orders and deadlines are screaming at me.  But how do I get back on the horse and make art….My schedule and energy haven’t changed much.  How can I get back to work?  Here are some things that are working for me.

1. REST UP – You HAVE to rest.  Whether it’s a health related issue, a new baby, divorce, moving, etc.  You need to rest.  We are going to get nowhere if you are weaksauce.  Take the time to sleep, get showers, relax and do the things that help you recharge.  *Sidenote – Drop the guilt.  A lot of us work so hard that when we rest we feel guilty.  Cut that shit out right now.  YOU deserve rest.  If you really work as hard as you do in your head you ABSOLUTELY need to take breaks and rest.  TRUST me…Guilt kills rest and relaxation.  Drop it.

2. SMALL BITES – After you have rested you may see clearly all of the things you SHOULD be doing.  And seeing it all at once will intimidate most people.  I mean after all being a working artist is like working 10 jobs.  Art Maker, Art Promoter, Computer Technician, Photoshop Master, Printer,  Delivery Guy, etc.  We do A LOT!  And there is a lot more to be done than just making pretty pictures.  Have you ever heard that question “How do you eat a whole elephant?” and it’s amazing answer….”one bite at a time.”

view of elephant in water

Photo by Pixabay on

This is like that.  You have to start small.  You’re not gonna hop back in your studio and produce a Solo Show on the first day.  You have to look at all the things…and start small.  Send an email.  Call the vendor that you have been putting off.  Send one print out…even if you have a list of 30 waiting.  You have to start somewhere.

And many of us use this step to make a To-Do list.  The To-Do list can be a double edged sword here.  Yeah you can sit down and make the list and see all the things.  You can prioritize this over that….maybe make little stars next to the important things.  Or put deadline dates next to each item on the list.   And for the most part that is ok.  I mean when you were on top of your game the list helped right?  The problem I have with the list, especially when you are down and are struggling to make art, the list becomes a source of guilt.  It is a HUGE burden.  You’re allowed to do stuff without a To-Do List!   Skip it for right now if you can.  DO not let it add to your guilt and put you right back at step one.

3. BE PROUD –  I have a kid.  And on days when I am solo parenting it is an uphill battle all the way.  He is older now and a little easier, but when he was a baby, HOLY HELL it was all work.  I learned early on that you have to take your victories where you can get them.  That applies here.  If all you can do today is ONE thing towards your art business then you should be proud of that.  At least that is one more thing that is done that wasn’t done yesterday.  When you can celebrate or relish in your victories eventually you can look back at a string of production.  And THAT feels really good.  Action kills depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other things.  So even if it’s small….you deserve the gold star for doing it.

4 LIFE RAFT – In these times we all could use a little help.  So don’t be scared to reach out to your community and your network.  When I was a first year artist I would have loved to go help any of my mentors make prints, varnish paintings, or hang a show.  So maybe you have someone super eager to learn some stuff from you and come ‘intern’ for a day.  Or maybe you are just starting out….if you have made a few connections those people will likely understand what’s going on and help.  But you have to let people know you need it.  We are all so busy, we don’t always see that some people are struggling.  So speak up.  And if you have the ability, lots of artists would do this kind of work for a little financial support.  So don’t discount hiring someone to help you clean your studio, or babysit so you can work….EVEN if you work at home.


Photo by Pixabay on

5. STOP BEING HANGRY –  Are you drinking enough water?  Imagine the power of your favorite food improving your mood.  For me it’s Fish Tacos (thankfully still on my diet).  If I am ever in a bad mood or struggling….FISH TACOS always help.  Now I am not saying go eat donut everyday….Fish Tacos everyday would stop being a special thing.  But make sure you are eating well and treating yourself well.  It will make a big difference.  My studio mate Amy Ahlstrom (Check out her amazing work here) and I joke about how we plan to make a coffee table book about the crappy food we eat as artists.  Cold spaghetti while you stand with the refrigerator door open.  Eating leftover fried chicken while you hover over the sink.  Cup of Noodles…barely warmed up.  Eat better….feel better.

6. OUTSIDE THE STUDIO –  Sometimes my studio space feels like a chore to get to.  And other days when I am there too long it feels like I am trapped there.  All of which make it even harder to get excited about being there…..especially if I already don’t feel well or am exhausted.  Just getting to the studio can be a victory and a burden at the same time.

So SKIP it today.  Chances are you can do a lot of things outside of your studio.  Maybe you are having a hard time walking….got a laptop?  Maybe you can do some stuff right here on the couch.  Maybe you can send some emails or make a few calls.  Here in San Francisco coffee shops are FILLED with people on their laptops.  So maybe today is one of those days.  You can organize your photos, update your resume (really good if you need a boost), write artist statements, look  for calls for art, plot your world takeover and more all with a few pieces of technology.  Especially good for napping babies or folks that are debilitated physically.

7. BACKGROUNDING –  One of my techniques that has really helped me out over the years is what I call ‘Backgrounding”.  It is the idea that you don’t have to paint the focal object every time you paint.  There is a lot of panel prep, backgrounds, underpainting, and things that are a little less detailed that need to be painted too.  If you’re trying to get back to painting you may not feel like painting the portrait or likeness right away.  But you could handle doing some of the background work.  And a lot of times my muscle memory kicks in.  I get a feel for painting again.  I also use this trick if my lighting is low in my studio.  Paint the less important stuff….the other stuff will come.

8.SNAPSHOT –  Finally, the biggest thing to remember with all of this…Is that it is all TEMPORARY.  Your new life change is a big change.  And it has taken you out of your studio and your work for a bit.  It will pass.  You will adjust and start making art again.  As I said before most of us have been making art since we were young.  We make it compulsively.  We’ve made art on notebooks in class, doodling while on long phone calls or in doctor’s office waiting rooms.  We have made art through weddings, airplane trips, and funerals,  Nothing seems to stop us for THAT long.  So you need to understand that your break is only temporary.  You don’t even have a choice.  hehe.

And proof of that….During my dialysis I have been learning how to create art digitally with my ipad and Apple Pencil.  If I am gonna be stuck in a chair 12 hours a week I might as well be making art.

I hope these techniques help you get back to work.  I would also LOVE to hear any techniques that you have employed to get back to work during a tough time.  Thanks for reading and following along.  Get back to work…




Written by Joshua Coffy

So You Wanna Be An Artist Series #01 – Your Headquarters

So you wanna be an artist?  So do I!  I want to make awesome art and show it in all the cool galleries all over the world.  I want to show my work to the masses and have them shower me with praise, money, and doughnuts.  hehe.  Years ago I had no idea where to start.  I knew that I liked painting and wanted to explore that.  So I got together some cheap brushes and some paints and started painting in my kitchen.  Right at the kitchen table.  I didn’t really know what I was doing but I felt like that was my studio space.  Then it dawned on me…I wanna make a real studio space and really give this a shot.  I want to make art that people would see in galleries.  And hopefully, BUY one day.  Along the road to galleries I have learned quite a few things, some of them the hard way.  And I would like to share them with you in a new Mini Series on the Zen of Hustle Blog called ‘So You Wanna Be An Artist’.  In this series, we will talk about all the things you need to do to make art and get it ready to approach galleries.  For many, this will be neat stuff to learn and for others, a good brush up on some skills you might have forgotten.  But don’t worry, this series isn’t the only thing I will be posting on here.  We will look at all the advanced ins and outs of art journeys too.  So let’s jump in.

jcoffy web

Me in my current studio at Arc Gallery and Studios.

Your World Headquarters – In planning your art world takeover, you need a space.  A space to make art.  Lots of art.  You also need it to be useful for some of the art biz stuff like promoting your work or communicating with your adoring fans and galleries.  Even if you don’t have much of that right now one thing is clear…YOU need a space.

As you read before I started out at my kitchen table.  I have seen so many unique artist setups over the years.  One artist was painting in a large bedroom closet.  Some folks take over their garages for art studios.  I have seen people use a small dimly lit corner or their living room, bedrooms, and yes, I have even heard of one artist working in their large well lit bathroom.  You can, of course, spend a ton of money on a studio space and make it legit.  But if you are just starting your art business I don’t recommend that.  It is an expense and sometimes it can be quite pricey.  Either way, find a place and call it your own.  Sidenote: This may be tricky with kids and pets so find a place that you can really make your own.

Now that you have claimed a space, you’re gonna need to set it up.  Here are some things to consider.

  1. Workspace – A table of some sort, maybe an easel if you are used to them.  You need a place to actually DO the work.
  2. Supplies – Get all your stuff together.  Organize it so it’s easy to get to.  The last thing you wanna be doing is searching through boxes in your bedroom or garage in the middle of a painting.  I do not recommend buying art bins at the fancy art store as they are overpriced and usually you can recycle bottles or get the same containers at the dollar store.  Save your money for the actual supplies.
  3. Light – Shed some light on things.  Maybe you can be near a window for natural light or you can add a couple of lamps to the table to really get a good amount of light.  Art lamps come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.  But I’m not opposed to nine dollar clip-on lights from Ikea. Do whatever works for you.
  4. Ventilation – You got fans?  You will.  Especially if you are working with toxic materials like oil paints and thinners and such.  You need some fans.  If you are close to a window see if that window can be opened from time to time.  Get some air moving through your space.  Also, this is just good for your sanity.  I don’t work with toxic materials in my space but it gets dang hot in there on warm days and a fan is crucial.
  5. Storage – After you have made your fifth masterpiece you will start to really understand the need for storage.  You need to find a place to keep your work.  If it’s next to your table and you are painter, trust me on this, you will get paint on the finished pieces if you do not store them properly.  Finding a closet or a space to store your work can be challenging.  What you are looking for is a dry, clean, cool, and pest free place to store your work.  Keep it safe.
  6. Computer –  Not everyone but most people have a computer nowadays  This device can be super helpful in communicating with galleries, collectors, coffee shops, local art friends, and even Aunt Jeana who buys paintings from time to time.  Plus, eventually, we are going to track art and sales with this thing.  So get ready.
  7. Other Stuff – Make your space a great space to create.  Maybe a rug that really ties the room together. Or a music player that plays all your favorite Kenny Rogers tunes. Some people like house plants, skulls, toys, and whatever else may inspire them to be in the space and work.  Hopefully you are gonna be spending a good amount of time in your studio, so make it nice.  I have always wanted a big fat comfy chair in mine and luckily, my studio mate has a couch that we take naps on from time to time.
  8. YOU – Last but not least…YOU belong in your studio.  You may have to battle for time in your space.  I have an 8-year-old and recently have been dealing with lots of health issues so studio time is harder to come by.  One thing that helps is knowing when you like to work.  I like working in the daylight so that’s when I do my best work, while the sun is shining through my studio’s skylight.  I also NEVER work on art before 10;30 am.  It’s just a thing I know about myself.  So pay attention when you LIKE working best.  When I was younger I would stay up all night painting.  Now that rarely happens even if there is a huge deadline.  So figure out when you WANT to be there and fight for that time.

Your ideal setup? Maybe.

This should get you started on your home base.  These items are the same basic needs in all studios.  Most artists, from the dad in his kitchen making paintings to the fancy museum artist, need these things.  In the rest of this series we are going to talk about:

  • Finishing Your Work
  • Wires and Hanging Hardware
  • Pricing Your Work
  • Getting Work Photographed
  • Archiving Your Work
  • Scouting Galleries And Venues
  • Approaching Curators and Galleries
  • Deadlines and Delivery

All of these items are internal.  Meaning that all of them have to do with YOU and your studio space.  As we move through these things you will see how that relates to dealing with galleries.  You can think of the rest of the series as a Standards and Practices of your art biz.  And here we go, one foot on the path.  Until next time.


Road To Gallery Representation

(presented by Joshua Coffy and Claire Frost) for ArtSpan

Monday September 24th, from 6:30-8pm @ SOMArts Cultural Center

This workshop is free to all ArtSpan Members and sliding scale donation for Non-Members.  Come learn about how to get your work ready for galleries, how to approach galleries, and how to successfully navigate that part of the art world.  It’s time to learn to show your work.  Join me at this workshop as many of the things on this blog are in the presentation.  Facebook event here.



Express Yourself (Talking About Your Art)

How do you talk about your art?  Do you love each and every piece of your work?  Have you ever said that this piece isn’t your best piece?  Is that a good idea?

woman standing infront of a wall mount painting

Photo by Bara Cross on

One of the challenges of being an artist is speaking well of your craft.  At times, we can be unsure of a certain piece or have doubts about it and that can lead to talking about that piece in a negative light.  I have met with several artists in their studios and at openings that do this.  EVEN when you compliment their work they seem to want to bash it, as a form of honesty.  But this self-deprecation can be incredibly detrimental to the sale.  After all…if the artist dislikes their own piece how do they expect anyone  else to like it?  Patrons want to buy work from artists that LOVE their work.  So let’s dig into this a little deeper.  Here is a recent conversation I had with an artist…at their opening.

Joshy: “Hey, congratulations on the show everything looks terrific”

Artist: “Thank you.  Thanks for coming out.  How are you?

Joshy: “I’m doing great.  Wow.  This bird piece is my favorite one in the show.  Just spectacular.”

Artist: “oh that one.  yeah well, it was a really tough one to do…I made a lot of mistakes on the feathers.  I’m sure you know how it is.  But I think it came out ok.”


At that point, I wouldn’t have even looked for mistakes in the feathers.  And, if I had seen something, who is to say that wasn’t a stylized choice made by the artist?.  Internally as artists we know all the mistakes with our work. But get this…WE are the only ones that usually see them as mistakes.  The viewing public sees these things as artistic expressions.  So you don’t have to give a disclaimer to all of the problems you have with your work.  When someone sees your work for the first time and they make a connection with it.  LET IT BE.   They like it for their own reasons.  You certainly don’t have to undercut their expectations and connection by saying you didn’t like it.

Age Of Wonder

Age of Wonder (Line Drawing Piece)

One year at open studios I had meticulously put up several paintings in my studio.  And just for fun I put up a panel on my easel with just the background and a line drawing on it.  I figured it would show my process.  Literally, it was a colorful panel with a bear line drawing on it (Left)….in white charcoal pencil.  After an hour or so into day one, a woman came to see my work.  She loved it all and looked at the piece on my easel.  Before I could say ‘Oh that’s a piece I just started and its a bad line drawing…etc.’ She looked at me and said, “I will take it!”  I hadn’t even considered selling this unfinished work, it was literally just a sketch.  But she loved it and HAD to have it.  So I told her I needed a day to varnish it and then I could deliver it.  She paid for it in full and walked out.  I was shocked.

You never really know what people see.  And it really isn’t your job to GUIDE them.  Your job is just to make the art.  If you don’t like something, guess what – You get to paint something similar on the next 500 paintings.

Now before we get too far off track…Let’s go back to talking about your work.  It is imperative that you speak well of your work especially if you want it to sell.  Patrons and supporters want to support someone they believe in.  And if you believe in your art…they will too.  Now, how do you do that?  Where do you start?  Try appreciating all the things that this painting taught you.  Maybe you struggled with it during the drawing part.  Well, that is a good lesson that drawing takes practice.  Maybe the colors never were quite right for you….again color and composition are a skill that takes years to get a handle on.  If you look at each painting as a learning experience you will have better things to say to people.  When you speak about your work from a place of appreciation it is far more positive than the deprecating negativity bits.

Patron: Speaking of one of your challenging pieces – “I really like this crow piece you painted it’s so colorful”

You:  “Thank you,  I am so glad that you like it.  This piece taught me a lot of new things about colors.  And I am really happy to have learned about some new color combinations…”

Sounds way better than “yeah that one was a huge pain in my ass and I can’t believe you like it.” doesn’t it?

So try starting with an appreciation for each painting.  Another technique I use is Talking Practice.  I learned this from rock musicians.  Whenever big fancy rock bands come out with a new album it’s always “their best album yet”.  At least that’s what they say.  Why do they do this?  Do they always make the best albums…no.  They do it because they want you to check out their latest work.  Artists can do the same thing.  Each new thing you make may not be your best.  But no one really knows that, especially if you say that this is the best for where you are right now.  And maybe you did struggle with some pieces in this series which is actually part of the gig. After each piece is finished in my studio, I practice the things I am going to say at the opening about it.  And I connect a cool story to it and practice that before it leaves my studio.  Then I’m better prepared to talk about each piece to people at the opening in a positive upbeat manner instead of relying on self-deprecation.  Give this a try for yourself.  I would love to hear what kinds of things you say about your work in the comments below.

photo of woman painting in brown wooden easel

Photo by Burst on

Lastly, there is a weird paradox afoot with art making.  Over the years, I have found that the pieces I have made that I thought were absolute shit and weak for whatever reason, sold first.  That piece I hated was sometimes the one that sold first at open studios or gallery openings.  Someone would come in and be like “THAT is my favorite one of  yours!”  WHAT?!  Conversely, the pieces that I think are my absolute masterpieces are still in my inventory.  So it behooves you to speak well of all of your work.  It’s all part of you and your journey.  And you never really know what people will connect with….again your job is to make the art and present them all together so people can make up their minds.  Don’t stand in their way with negativity.  Thanks.  Until next time.



Edited by Harmony Anderson.  Written by Joshua Coffy.