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.

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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