Patricia Watwood is a skilled oil painter and incredibly deserving of a lot of praise for the art career she has built for herself. She’s also quite willing to share her approach to building a network for her art, as she attests below. Enjoy!
|The Honorable Clarence Harmon, Mayor of St. Louis
by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 24 x 18, 2002.
Collection of St. Louis City Hall.
Someone recently asked me what I did to get recognized and become part of the art scene in my hometown of St. Louis, but the truth is that when I lived in St. Louis I wasn’t part of the art community. In fact, I was not involved in fine art oil painting at all during that time of my life.
I left St. Louis right after high school and have been based in New York for the past 15 years. It was only about five years ago that I started to realize that St. Louis could be a wonderful “second base” to balance out my New York art community. (Plus it would allow me to combine work trips with visits to Grandma’s house with my kids!)
It all started with a few portrait painting commissions. My mother worked with the former mayor on education policy and when the time came for his official oil painting portrait, she said, “I know a talented portrait artist you could consider–and she’s a native of St. Louis!” (Thanks, Mom!) I submitted a portfolio and subsequently won the commission.
Building on that success, I did two commissions for Saint Louis University. This experience with portraiture taught me that business is built on two priceless intangibles: word of mouth and personal relationships. So, being in the right place at the right time and developing one-on-one connections whenever I went back to St. Louis or corresponded with interested individuals over the phone or email was the key. It’s a slow process, but I found that this kind of networking is the most common way to receive new painting commissions.
|Dr. Kenneth R. Smith, Jr. by Patricia Watwood,
2010, oil on canvas, 40 x 40.
Collection of Saint Louis University.
Two years ago, I decided to have a showcase in St. Louis and do an event to draw people in and get the word out about my paintings. I sent invitations to my family’s extended network of friends and anyone else we knew in the community with an interest in art. I then converted my mom’s living room into an art gallery, bribed my mom to bake a bunch of delicious cakes, and we hosted a party. I put together a slideshow presentation about the process of commissioning a portrait, and set that up to play on loop in a corner of the “gallery.” I also gave a short talk about my art background, the New York art community I’m involved with, and the importance of portraiture.
From this event, I made a good contact with a museum director in the community. The executive assistant to the President of Saint Louis University also came to see the showcase, and she recommended my work to the director at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art. Happily, they eventually invited me to have an exhibit at the museum in order to bring the world of contemporary realist painting to the St. Louis audience.
So work to develop key relationships in your circle of art, and over time this can lead to new opportunities. And remember that friends and family can be your greatest allies in spreading the word about your work. And if your mom’s an awesome baker–put her to work!
I find Patricia’s story so inspiring because it seems like the road she took was quite natural and made sense with who she is and wants to be as an artist. To hear how other artists have made their careers come together their way, and for tips and instruction in painting that will assure you have the means to match any commission you come across, the entire year of American Artist issues from 2010 is available now on CD. It can give you the know-how to jumpstart your career right away wherever you are!
P.S. What are your experiences building your own artistic network? What strategies have you used? Leave a comment and let us know.