BLOOMINGBURG—Two watercolor artists have discovered the joy of doing art and along the way managed to make money doing it.
Janet Campbell and Mary McLaughlin of Bloomingburg have pursued their love of the art as mature adults, having first had another career or raised a family. They now have the time and means to work at something that fills their souls and gives them some cash.
They recognize this is the conundrum for today’s artists: how to support themselves doing what they love to do.
In watercolors paints are used for a translucent effect, and appear luminous because the pigments are laid down in a relatively pure form with few fillers obscuring the pigment colors. It takes years of practicing the technique to achieve the unique transparent quality that makes a great watercolor.
McLaughlin said she works in two ways. One approach involves lots of hard work. She does many studies of the subject. “It’s blood, sweat, and tears.” The other approach is relaxed, on location, and just for herself and her journals. Some subjects she “sits on” for years.
Nothing seems to work until she does what she calls her “inner work.” Her watercolor “Shelter” was this type. “Finally, I had opened up a place of shelter within myself and I could paint this.”
Janet Campbell improved her artistic skills through years of classes and practice. She said her first formal art classes arose out of the illustration program at the Bronx Botanical Garden. She worked a four-day week so she could take classes.
Her subjects come from “living on the Shawangunk Ridge and close to the Bashakill wetlands.” She calls herself a “perpetual student.”
Making a Living
The inner urge to create art is stronger than the need for financial success for Campbell and McLaughlin. “I didn’t care how I needed to make a living so much as that I got to do art,” Campbell said.
Campbell and McLaughlin credit their spouses as being especially supportive. “I’m fortunate that I’m married to somebody who provides for both of us,” McLaughlin said. “He’s happy for me. He knows my journey and has supported me 100 percent, more like 200 percent.”
Pricing her work is actually quite rational. McLaughlin said, “Believe it or not, you do it by the square inch. Figures are more valuable and cost more than landscapes, so you can charge more per square inch. It is a formula that’s fair across the board for all your work.”
“I never make a profit in my business. I just sort of get by,” Campbell said. She also credits her husband and said her mother-in-law also supported her with a matte cutter and “funded other things I have done art-wise.”
Campbell started teaching art about five years ago, which helped with finances. But there is a trade-off. “The problem is the more you teach, the more time you have to spend preparing for your classes and not doing my own art. “
A watercolor workshop doing seascapes Campbell does with artist Pat Morgan has proved financially successful. “It helps us to earn some money so that we can continue to buy supplies.”
Both artists have websites that show samples of their work and explain their approach to their art.
Business and Spirit
In the past influential people in society have supported artists. “Historically, a lot of people have been able to make it as artists because they have had patrons and funding in some way from church people or the aristocracy, kings and queens, whatever,” Campbell said.
Exhibits often launch an artist’s business. “I think it became a business once I took enough courses where I felt like I could exhibit in shows,” Campbell said. She has exhibited in Kindred Spirits shows in the mid-Hudson area and in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and has solo shows in Newburgh and in Bloomingburg.
People like art but, in tough times, are not willing to pay for the time and skill the artist invests. “One of the things that we as local artists notice is that, when the economy is doing better, the art sells better,” McLaughlin said.
“I go to the Wallkill show and the art is fantastic and the prices are low and I go ‘Why aren’t these flying off the wall?’ They are so beautiful and so reasonably priced,” McLaughlin said.
Some artists sell work only occasionally and may not treat it as bona fide business. “I decided that [my business] was going to be aboveboard. It became a business as I started selling things,” Campbell said. She makes a profit on a regular basis to be in good stead for tax purposes. “It’s not a hobby anymore.”
Artists can promote their work with postcards, artistic business cards, and websites. McLaughlin and Campbell have utilized business cards and postcards to promote their work. Campbell handprinted copies of her watercolors on art paper for notecards.
Shawn Dell Joyce, artist, teacher of art, and director of the Wallkill River School of Art, said it is important for an artist to support herself from her art. The school sponsors a Farm Art Geo Tour using the geocache craze to promote local artists. Artists are partnered with farm sites that participants can visit, collect a secret letter on a trading card, and win a geo token.
McLaughlin and Campbell acknowledge they are lucky that they can do their art for themselves and not for income. Campbell said, “I paint from the heart striving to keep the connection with the subject that inspired me from the get-go.”
“My intention when I paint is to connect as deeply as I can to the life force that dwells within all things,” McLaughlin said. “If you stay with [art], it can really bring you home to yourself.”
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