Thursday, April 2, 2015

Kelley Devine - The Highs and Lows of Being An Artist


"There is no part of this job that is not a lot of work" was what kept ringing in my ears after leaving Kelley Devine's studio last Friday. The myths of being an artist, specifically a painter, swell in the minds of people - people who might want a different job and think all they are lacking to be a painter is talent.  They might fantasize about setting up a canvas and slowly painting the day away, much like doing yoga, while breathing in and breathing out.

But the life of a painter is something Kelley told me that she doesn't wish for anyone.  The struggles she has gone through to get where she is today are something any freelancer or solopreneur can understand and applaud.
"Think twice before doing this.  I love it, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.  I have a bi-polar life.  I'm not bi-polar.  My life is.  Welcome to the highs and the lows."


Here is an example of a low.  Kelley had a one night show in the gallery of her studio.  Her husband was flying in from out of the country to be at it.  200 people had replied they were coming.  And it rained.  It didn't just rain, it was a monsoon.  All that work - all that money she was banking on, now washed away.  And to top it off, she felt as if she was failing in front of the one person she wanted to see her succeed the most - her husband.  After this, her rule was no more one night shows.  

Here is a high.  Last year, her business tripled.  So much so, she was unprepared for the success.
"You have to do so much to get by, that when you do start making money, it's a surprise."



Quickbooks is now her friend.  She had to stop, while riding this exuberant wave, to buy it, learn it and set up a system.  Now when pieces sell, the exact amount for taxes is taken out.  Every artist I have represented has found themselves in this exact same situation. It's hard to be an artist, an accountant, a marketer, a photographer, and everything else it takes to be successful.
"Sometimes I give a piece to a place like MAX's Wine Dive and then I remember, I forgot to take a picture of it or make the label.  That type of stuff takes a lot of time.  I have to stop thinking like an artist and think of it as a business.  Then, when that's done, pick up my brush and think like an artist again."

When I ask her what was the hardest thing she did when starting this, but is now one of the easiest . . . it's something all creatives struggle with and that is talking to people about her work.  When people would show up at her studio or she had to talk at a gallery, she used to feel uncomfortable.  
"Took me awhile to get used to talking to people that came in the studio.  90% want to know the story behind the painting, and others just hand me cash and I get out of their way.  Once you do start talking to them, you have to learn to shut up.  You have to learn to read people."
Maybe selling water door-to-door in her twenties might have built up a lot of the muscle needed to read others and talk to the general public.  
"It's hard to put yourself out there and get kicked in the teeth.  And for no particular reason.  When I started I did not have thick skin, now I have (as she knocks on the chair she is sitting on) skin as thick as this."


Part of that skin thickening is having your studio accessible during one of Winter Street Studios open studio nights when the general public is walking through to see your work and meet the artist. People will come in, look around, say nothing and leave. Sometimes that might happen 5-10 times in a row for the first hour and as an artist sitting there, waiting, it can be excruciating.  

Meeting Kelley 5 years ago, I see the growth in her confidence not only about her work but the worth of her work.   Artists normally have two problems when it comes to their work:  talking about it and pricing it.  When I ask Kelley about that, she says . . .
"People often ask for discounts.  I don't give discounts. I now say 'This is what my work is worth.  If you love it, buy it.'  And I no longer hold my work.  People would come in and ask me to, and I would to be courteous, but now, I just say 'I don't do that.'"


Kelley is the mother to one boy, Nate, and one girl, Elle.  When I ask if they like to draw and if she encourages them to be artists, she says . . .
"Nate still likes to draw, more like an engineer.  He also does a lot of origami.  Elle normally draws things more socially oriented.  And I encourage them to be doctors. This life is not for everyone."

Kelley is also a competitive bike racer.  I've seen her fly around the track at Memorial Park at speeds where I think - one poor move by any biker and you are going to the hospital.  Yet, she thinks her art is more dangerous than her hobby.
Painting is like bike racing.  You can't slow down, because someone else will go faster.  It's really competitive, because there is no stopping.  Just because you got paid today, doesn't mean you will tomorrow.
Being represented by Esperson Gallery in downtown Houston has helped Kelley's work get noticed.  They were the link that got her pieces in the new Marriott downtown, an installation worth making the trip to see. Kelley was impressed with how the staff at the hotel is required to learn about the artwork.  When she walks into the lobby, people at the front desk say, "Hi, Kelley." 


When I ask about hiring help or an assistant, we look at how that would work.  What they might be able to assist with, what might take too long to teach or what might be too hard to teach.  An example of the hard to teach might be stretching her own canvas for all of her paintings, because if she buys it ready-made, it has to much 'give' to it and is difficult to paint on.  It's hard work, and on her best days, she can only get 3 canvases stretched in a day. 
Kelley's inspiration wall of sorts in her studio
There are two things I always love and admire about artists: their generosity and their candor.  When I first started doing this, I was amazed how they open up and tell me anything and everything. Kelley is no exception.  She clearly loves what she does.  But she doesn't sugarcoat the struggle of what it took to get to this point. Supporting two children on her own for many years (she is recently re-married) as a full-time artist, made her often think - I need to give this up and get a damn job - to I can never give this up and get a damn job.  I think we can understand her comments of having a bi-polar life.  Keep going Kelley.

1 comment:

tammy wolfe said...

Great article on Kelley! I appreciate getting insight on the artist and how she thinks! I love her work. Molly I am so happy that you are writing and sharing your
talents with us.